Monday, February 24, 2014

137. Slack Packing

At some point we become one with our backpacks. When we take the pack off, it feels like we've removed some essential part of our bodies. Hikers have the same kinesthetic understanding of our bodies as turtles do. We are graceful in certain environments, while appearing bulky, awkward and out of place in others. We carry our homes on our backs, and we have an enormous appreciation for pizza. I'm starting to think there was some hidden hiker agenda hidden in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I got so used to the weight of my backpack that I felt light and frankly a little naked whenever I took it off. The shape of my hips even started to change slightly over time, allowing a space for my hip-belt to rest. It was a little like when a sign is nailed to a tree, and the tree slowly and steadily grows around the sign. Our bodies morphed to become one with our packs. It was a little creepy. It was creepier to catch a glimpse of myself in a photograph not wearing my backpack. I really did look like a turtle out of its shell - if that were even possible, which it's not, because SCIENCE.

If you have ever gone hiking carrying only a little jaunty Jansport pack with just a few essentials in it for the day, you have been slack packing. The idea is that you are carrying some important things with you, but you are lacking the required equipment to be able to live long-term in the woods. Unless all you have is a hatchet, and then you can be like that hardcore kid in that book Hatchet that everyone in my generation read in 3rd grade, and subsequently figured out that all of our lives were extremely boring by comparison. That was back before every awesome young adult novel immediately became a high-budget movie. Don't get me wrong, I love young adult novels turned into movies, it just seems like a more recent phenomenon. The only good part about the lack of book-to-movies back then is that books like Hatchet were freed up to be as insane and badass as my imagination could conjure, and didn't have to fit any MPAA ratings.

Every once in a while in the midst of a long-distance hike, it is delightful to be able to slack pack. You get an entire day of being the weird little turtle outside of its heavy shell, free to do somersaults and cartwheels and dear god don't do any of those things on a trail you could seriously injure yourself, WHERE IS YOUR COMMON SENSE. JEEPERS.

Slack packing can only be done with the generous aid of people who love you, who are willing to schlep your stinky backpack 17 miles down the road to the next crossing. Or alternatively, you can give all of your worldly possessions to a complete stranger you met only minutes previously, and then tell them where they can meet you on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere at the end of the day to return your stuff. Choose Your Own Adventure! 

The one dark and dangerous pitfall of slack packing is mistakenly believing that the terrain will be somehow easier without your backpack. This is a filthy filthy falsehood, a dirty trick that your mind plays on your body. Hiking with a slack pack isn't any easier. It has the potential to be a little bit faster, but not necessarily. Hard terrain is hard terrain, regardless of how big or small your turtle shell happens to be. But you might feel a little lighter in general, and going up a steep incline or a rock scramble without a pack is definitely a bonus. It lowers the likelihood of you falling backward to your doom.

If you are someone partial to hiking poles (which I am), and you slack pack, you may decide to leave your hiking poles behind. This is your choice, but Be Ye Warned: after 17 miles of your hands dangling idly by your sides while you hike up and down mountains, your fingers will be swollen, waxy and stiff with all of the collected blood (ew, gravity blood). The only way I found to combat this affliction was to hike with my hands sticking straight above my head, do routine jazz hands, or just flail my arms around like the wiggly waving wacky-armed tube-men outside of car dealerships. This helped with the swelling problem, but hindered my efforts to not be seen as a crazy person.

At the beginning of the day, you are glad to be rid of your pack. But by the end of the day, you realize how unsettling it is not to have immediate access to anything your might want/need. It's funny because most people live their lives without their homes on their backs, but once you do it for a little while, it's weird to leave your home behind. At the end of the day, your happy to slip back into your turtle shell, and find your way back to the sewers to get more training from Master Splinter.

Clever Girl


  1. Don't know why this never occurred to us, thanks for the inspiration.

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