Which brings us back to our high-end/low-end boys, Jeff and Mad Dog. I invited them on a 4-day trip into New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness because of their extreme backpacking beliefs. In a sense, they were trying to convert the other (and me) to their side of the philosophical fence. It must be pointed out that they were far from cutthroat toward one another. “Modern Man” Jeff sympathized over Mad Dog’s stoveless lunch of cold, gray turkey tetrazzini. And Mad Dog felt bad about Jeff’s load-induced blisters. But mostly they taunted and teased and took notes about the other’s trials and tribulations. Somewhere along the way, we all learned a little something.
In a meadow at the trailhead Mad Dog is reclining in the midday sun, humming to himself. He has consolidated his two packs into one, which sits beside him ready to go. Every now and then he glances at Jeff with an expression that’s two parts amusement, one part curiosity. Jeff hovers around his huge pile of gear, methodically sorting it into stuff sacks, zippered pouches, pockets, and zipper-lock bags. Every item has its place. He stands up, rain pants in one hand, rain jacket in the other. He looks at the sky with a quizzical expression. It’s painfully blue. “You never know,” he shrugs, then stuffs the raingear in his pack.
About half an hour and 60 pounds later, Jeff is ready. We roust Mad Dog from his nap.
The two shoulder packs and pose for a trailhead photo. Little guy with big pack. Big guy with little pack. Both smile.
Jeff comes out of the blocks fast. With long strides and hiking poles flailing, he motors up the trail. Mad Dog saunters along at a good comfortable pace, his bookbag thumping softly against his back with each step. He unbuttons his red plaid shirt as he walks, exposing his soft, white belly. The Dog isn’t shy but he pretends to be. “I’m not in shape like you guys,” he claims. “Even if for some bizarre reason I wanted to carry a big pack, I couldn’t. I’d crumble.”
When it comes to gear, Mad Dog is obsessed with numbers. For instance, in the pounds-and-ounces category, “Everything’s gotta be light. I hike to feel my body move, to feel the Earth and forest surge through legs, belly, chest, brain. To feel all this, I have to be comfortable on the trail, and this means going light.”
Price is almost as critical. “Why spend 150 bucks on a fancy synthetic fleece jacket, when you can get a thick, tough, pre-owned wool sweater for $3?” As a matter of principle, the Dog buys his gear at a local Goodwill store. The store’s proximity to L.L. Bean headquarters means he scores some pretty decent stuff.
After 4 miles, we arrive at Mimbres Lake, a small, stagnant, murky pool that gets smaller each day under the summer sun. Since water is scarce up on the arid spine of the Black Range where we’re headed, we stop-much to Mad Dog’s surprise-and settle in for the night. The Dog sets up fast: picks a spot, unrolls his pad and bag, props his satchel against a tree, brews a Carnation Instant Breakfast, then looks around for something to do. All in 5 minutes flat.