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May 2004

An Overnight Success?

Need a crash course in backpacking? Join our newbie and his brooding teenager as they fend off mountain lions, overzealous retail clerks, and other beginner hazards.

All that’s left is little stuff. I know I need clothes that “wick.” I am not sure exactly why, but it is clear, from my immersion in outdoor gear think, that the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition, without wicking fabrics, was nothing short of a miracle.

I’ve been hanging out at EMS and decide, just for variety, to try a mom-and-pop store. Joey and I head off to Country Sports in Canton, CT. There, we are assisted by Greg Blair, a ponytailed store manager with an infectiously spacey enthusiasm. Every time we bring anything to the register–a headlamp, a cookset, even some freeze-dried Chicken Teriyaki–Greg picks it up and beholds it, as if he can’t quite believe something this wonderful is for sale in his store. “These are great,” he enthuses.

Soon we have Nalgene bottles and a first-aid kit and water purifiers and a Buck knife. Greg helps us pick out clothes–fleece vests, convertible wicking pants, and Capilene long underwear and…and…more stuff begins to pile up on the counter. I had settled on a budget of $1,500. Without really adding everything up, I’m certain we’re cresting above that mark. Yet I can’t seem to stop. I brought a list, and Greg keeps saying everything I pick out is great.

The register is printing out a receipt that keeps getting longer, longer, until the paper strip is roughly the length of an adolescent condor’s wingspan. $721.80. For little stuff. Wicking sock liners and flatware sets on rings. Flush with consumer fever, I’ve bought several things that already strike me as absurd, including a titanium coffee mug. As I drive my overloaded Outback wagon home, I’m dimly aware that:

>> I forgot to buy trekking poles and a compass.

>> I’m likely not going to get a Grand Canyon permit in time, so I am now the world’s most over-outfitted camper with no actual destination. (Postscript: The permit was waiting in my mailbox–the day we came back from Arizona.)

We fly to Phoenix on a Friday, drive to Sedona, spend Friday night at the lovely Poco Diablo Resort, awaken late, drop in at Canyon Outfitters, explain our little mission to Giuseppe Medlin, and ask for recommendations on where to go. Giuseppe talks us through several options, but the one he likes the most is the West Fork Trail. We’ll have to hike about 3 miles, with canyon walls rising on either side of us. At one point, we’ll slosh through some water for about 60 feet. It will be ankle deep. A great place to camp is a few miles farther.

We vote to try it. We load our stuff in the rented SUV and cruise to the trailhead, where we’re met by a gloomy park service guy who regards us doubtfully.

“You’ll have to wade through water,” he says. “It’s knee deep.”

“We were told ankle.”


“Split the difference? Shin?”

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