19 January 2009

Viva La Backpack

It was the early Nineties when I first attended college. A lot of kids were slinging their backpacks over one shoulder in those days. Not me. I always afforded the backpack it's proper respect. A strap for every shoulder, plus one that rides like a Breathe Right strip across the chest--barely touching the bottom-most border of the areola. I remember my blue canvas sack with a reinforced leather bottom that I used to smuggle Molson Goldens into a Pearl Jam concert.

Christmas of 1998 my older brother Bryan bought me an REI model that was what I call a triangle pack--not to be confused with a messenger back which was the rage during those days. Rather than a strap over each shoulder, there was one shoulder strap and a side strap that connected to the the main front strap for an ergonomic and fashionable hang. When I was in grad school I would load it up with 3-d modeling textbooks and head down to enjoy the media circus around the Ray Lewis murder trial outside Coca Cola World in downtown Atlanta. I would later be married across the street.

I started my patch collection before I even had the backpack. I think my earliest patch dated back to 1991 and the summer I spent studying in Innsbruck, Austria. I knew I wanted a patch for a backpack or a travelling knapsack of some sort, but wanted to save it for the right one. By the turn of the century this new pack already boasted a wide collection of travel keepsakes--the trip to the Southwest where I got engaged populated the bag with several patches from a variety of National Parks we visited. I'm not sure if I put a Lake Powell patch on that pack, but that's where I popped the question. I'm a big fan of the original Planet of the Apes movie and also the Edward Abbey novel Monkey Wrench Gang, so I kinda killed two birds with one stone on that stop (never realized before both works invoke primates titularly). The night I proposed I got drunk waiting for something magical. There wasn't much to do at the primitive campsite. Earlier in the day we'd set up the tent and went for a meal at the resort restaurant. When we returned the tent was gone. I thought it had been stolen, but noticed some green fabric in a ball some 200 yards away. Turns out there were 80-mile an hour windstorms that ripped the tent out of the ground. Some other campers had been nice enough to track it down and lay some rocks on it. I later thanked them and they admitted they'd only done it because they thought it was their tarp. We still camp in that tent. I haven't repaired the slight rip across the roof it incurred that afternoon.

My wife sewed the patches on my backpack. It was Gortex-lined, so the needleholes degraded the waterproofing. But it was the pack I'd waited years for. There's one on there with a frog from Costa Rica where we spent our honeymoon. Another with a lobster from Boston where I saw the Braves play the Red Sox thanks to a jiggered radio contest the summer before I moved to the Northwest. A few years later the zipper broke on that pack. It sort of rendered it unreliable as a means of transport. I may have even added a few patches after that--where else was I gonna put them? In the interim, I'd received Ortleib Pannier bags one Christmas: 2003, I'm guessing. We pronounce "Pannier" the French way even though Ortleib is a German company.

My wife works for an apparel company, and so I'm the lucky beneficiary of random items, including a similarly styled tri-corner pack. Since the onset of the Ortleib era I haven't had much reason to revert to the pack. I enjoyed that unencumbered feel of having nothing on my back while I ride. Then last week, I left my bike at work over the weekend. We went out for drinks on Friday; it was freezing cold. So I figured I'd just get a ride home. I wound up taking the bus in on Monday morning. I didn't want to carry my Ortleib bag over my shoulder. If you've done it, you know the little hook juts into your back. Not at all ergonomic. So I went back to the new/old backpack. And it's enjoyed something of a renaissance the entire week. It's cold enough that back sweat is not an overriding issue. It just felt right, familiar. If you haven't used a backpack in a while give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.