On The First Day Of Backpacking My True Love Gave To Me

On the first day of backpacking my true love gave to me, a long sardonic look as I counted out his allotment of gummy bears. There would be no partridges in pear trees for us as if there would’ve been, I’d have eaten them while my true love was looking the other way – the partridges, the pears, plus the trees. I knew his raised eyebrow was justified as I politely but firmly stated to him “The gummys must be rationed so that there are enough left at the end of the trek for us” (me). There was no need to remind me that on previous trips into the backcountry, I’ve repeatedly eaten my share of food and a significant portion of his. I’m a consistent fan of consistency so my true love, Scott is aware that on any trip with me, he’s about to lose the ten pounds he’s always focused on while taking extra steps on the Spam aisle to fluff out his Fitbit score. I remind him to be grateful for my food greed as it is personal training for him as well as a bear deterrent. Forget bear bells and spray, no bear would go up against me over a Clif Bar. I’m fierce when hungry and provoked – and the hike appetite is powerful.

Hiker hunger, as it is known by anyone schlepping Mountain House meals for two, can divide a couple faster than you can say “Who ate the last crumbs from the bottom of the Cheez-Its sack?” And only when waiting impatiently for a camp dinner to heat have I looked at Scott’s inordinately large calves and wondered if, in a Donner crisis, the muscle would render them inedible. That said, not eating one’s partner, in this day and age, is pretty doable but the ability to continue a successful romance while trekking is a much more multi-faceted endeavor than just divvying up the day’s calorie intake.

Take for instance, what to bring along on a backpacking adventure. I think it’s fairly obvious to most that camp chairs are a necessity so when I happened upon a couple of lightweight chairs, I bought myself one and then generously gifted Scott with the mate, “so we can sit side by side because it’ll be nice”, I said in my most enthusiastic voice as I handed him his. A month later I thanked my lucky stars for our thirteen-hundred mile, long distance relationship and his inability to see the chairs stacked beside my pack when the subject came up. “Teri, we’re not camping, we’re backpacking. You really want to carry chairs? In our backpacks?” he said in the mild tone that I know is misleading. “Yep”, I responded breezily. And then the convo continued:

“Won’t they be heavy?

“The value makes any weight worth it”

There was a brief silence and I realized I was in real trouble, he was Googling.

“Teri, they weigh-“

“A pound” I was ready and employed the ‘cut him off’ strategy.

“A pound and ten ounces” he responded.

“I was rounding”

He let that math-bending go but only because he was moving on to the next stat.

“They look-“

“Big?” I queried dismissively. “It’s the picture, totally deceptive, like side mirrors on a car”

 I detected a sigh as he listed his final concern “But the weight max is-“

“They’ll hold you” I knew I was safe as he wasn’t near the weight maximum.

“I know but if we’re on soft ground, we won’t be side by side”

And we weren’t. Upon arriving at the beach, we’d gamely set the chairs in the sand and then Scott would plop down and sink about two feet lower or chest level to me as I gingerly arranged myself and tried not to fall over backward in my chair. If I was of the busty persuasion my guy might’ve seen some benefit in this lopsided arrangement but in the end he was left only with noting how easy it was for me to have a view of the entire beach without his head being in the way.

On the up side, if the chair drama wasn’t a threat to our stability on the trip then evidently a badly sized backpack would not topple us either. The backpack in question was Scott’s and inexplicably it appeared, after close inspection, to be created for someone about six feet tall. The only time Scott approaches six feet in height is when he’s on a ladder so the backpack, which was supposed to rest upon his hips, constantly and maniacally slid downward until his gait was reduced to about a two foot stride, his thighs bound by the waist strap. At one point I found myself giggling as I observed that he resembled a Weeble that wobbles but doesn’t fall down. I chose not to share this with him as he was also chaffing and suffering through it silently. The chaffing was not funny – well, until we found ourselves purchasing ointment on the baby aisle and then it was too hard to resist asking him several times a day how he was doing with his diaper rash.

Of course paybacks are necessary to any healthy relationship so an infection in my pinkie toe rode in to offer Scott an opportunity. As he crouched in the tent doctoring said toe, I remarked “You know, despite not showering (for days), I’m pleased to report I can’t detect any unpleasant odor on my being”. I was also privately relieved that I seemed fresh as a daisy in the “watchie-lootie” area – a nick-name I’d arrived at earlier with my girls when I stumbled over the word “vagina” and failed yet again at feminism. It was at this point that Scott gave a Cheshire Cat smile and dished out the sentence every woman fears, “Oh I can smell you”.

“Excuse me?” I replied as my fight or flight sensor fired and I almost kicked him in the face with my injured foot.

“Yeah, I just caught a whiff of something and can’t tell for sure if it’s you or me”

“It’s definitely you” I snapped with a pointed look that was designed to remind him of an agreement we’d arrived at years before when he’d remarked that one of us had passed gas loudly in our sleep. In response, I’d been explicit that I did not need doors opened for me but that some gentlemanly behavior would be expected and that meant he was to claim all farts regardless of where they purportedly originated from. Apologizing for them would be optional. The addendum to that agreement regarding scents was that now he was also required to accept responsibility for all body odor (including watchie-lootie); it was implied that in exchange, the subject of diaper rash would not come up again.

And it didn’t but soon something else happened along to replace it, something completely innocent in my opinion but completely mortifying in Scott’s, the oft misunderstood and sadly ridiculed selfie-stick. A narcissistic little invention that allows one to get the damned camera a better distance from crows feet and age spots and if I could’ve ever figured out how to hold it without it swinging around upside down, we might’ve captured some truly spontaneous, unrehearsed island moments, right side up moments. As a former professional photographer, you’d think I could manage to steadily hold what is essentially a horizontal monopod but no, not the case, and then to complicate matters further, I was dealing with a mate who cringed every time I trotted the selfie-stick out, like he was being asked to mow the lawn naked save for chaps and spurs while his neighbors had a block party.

I’m a firm believer that adversity breeds character so I did not give up and as a result my attempts at Hallmark worthy moments went as follows: I’d root through my bag for the stick as Scott, terrified someone would see him, immediately and fearfully scanned the almost deserted beach. Next I’d attach the phone to the pole, adjust it, adjust it again, turn it the opposite way, and then finally creep toward Scott as if he were an endangered animal, and seek a position where my head didn’t look twice the size of his (yes, I can define irony). Finally, I’d hold my arm straight out, wonder aloud how to get my hand out of the frame, plaster a smile on my face to match Scott’s grimace and then wait, and wait, and wait – until Scott sighed, reached forward to push the timer and then lunged away from me, pretending to passers-by that he’d been reading the entire time. I did wonder if this was some crystal ball warning of what being intimate would resemble in my eighties.

Though my guy and I have traveled under more challenging circumstances than the wielding of selfie-sticks, this particular trek was new terrain in that it involved seventeen nights in the company of only each other as we carried just what would fit in our backpacks and this was done with a guy who is a passionate extra suitcase checker. He’s been known to tote along golf clubs, all manner of electronics, and a gas powered BBQ and don’t even try to scare him off with bag check fees as he’ll joyfully pony up the cost and then try to tip the person charging his card. It’s rumored that one of the major airlines will be naming a baggage retrieval turnstile in his honor and given that it involves overconsumption, we’re predicting it’ll be “American”. This was the challenge I was navigating but I’m proud to say he made it with just his pack and camera after I tranquilizer darted him on the way to the airport.

We landed in Hawaii and began lugging only the essentials on our back as we hopped across four islands while persevering through camping twelve days in a row; tenting it for two weeks with only cold water showers (at one campground shared with numerous frogs), washing our clothes by hand, and enduring each other’s idiosyncrasies – idiosyncrasies that are tolerable in the comfort of one’s home but up for discussion if one is carrying a home on their back as I discovered when Scott peered into my pack one day and asked to feel the weight of my coffee kit. I sensed a trifle hostility (probably residual from the gummy bears) which was truly outrageous and unfair. Yes, it is a coffee kit and it rides along in the pack next to the first aid kit as they are equitable; all coffee aficionados understand this completely. Scott ‘drinks coffee occasionally’, an eye-roll provoking comment if ever there was one. He is not in the coffee club therefore I told him he was unqualified to evaluate the kit and, after all, I was carrying eighteen days worth of coffee, sugar, and powdered creamer (I didn’t bring a carton of half and half, for goodness sake). Seven pounds was spot on. And I reminded him in a know-it-all tone, “If we’d have checked bags, the kit would’ve been vulnerable to being lost”.

On the first day of backpacking my true love gave to me, bottomless patience but I suspect he may have checked and then not retrieved the selfie-stick.

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