Wednesday, October 17, 2007


My new sleeping bag arrived in the mail. I was thrilled. I carried it to the bedroom and pulled it out of its stuff sack, watching in wonder as it self-inflated to a mass only slightly smaller than my bed. I tugged at the industrial-strength zipper and crawled inside. It was there, enveloped in a mountain of down, that I basked in the afterglow of consumerism. I congratulated myself on my shrewd eBay shopping - well, lucky happenstance - that netted me a nearly brand new, relatively rare product for less than half its retail price.

Beads of sweat started to form on my neck as I slipped deeper inside the bag. Buyer's remorse was beginning to trickle in. What was I thinking? What was I planning to do with this thing? Good deal or not, how could I go and spend more money on a sleeping bag than I did on my first mountain bike? I'm a cyclist, for crying out loud, not a mountaineer gearing up for a solo summit of Kangchenjunga.

I have never been the ideal American consumer. It's rare that I buy any non-food item that isn't either secondhand or heavily discounted. My closet is stuffed with hand-me-downs from my little sister, who is eight years my junior but has eighteen times as many clothes as I do. It's not that I care all that much about money. It's just that I've never cared too much about stuff. I had a built-in Alaska mentality long before I moved here. I like things to be functional, not frilly. I like things to be burly, not beautiful. I like to condense and consolidate. If I truly believed there was a bike out there that could fit all of my wants and needs, you can believe I'd only own one bicycle.

My camera is a good example of this aspect of my personality. It's survived the full brunt of impact in a 20 mph mountain bike crash and endless hours in my waterlogged pocket. Its picture-taking capabilities, however, are about what you'd expect in a low-end digital camera. It is the only camera I own. My friends have asked me, "You seem to really enjoy photography. Why don't you get, you know, a real camera?" ... A real camera? You mean a camera with a highly focused, fragile lens and 100x optical zoom that will spend all of its time sitting in a protective bag inside my house while I thrash and trash my Olympus during my adventures? Yeah, no thanks.

However, I'm worried that my paradigm may be shifting. I seem to have succumbed to the mad impulse to spend! spend! spend! I own all sorts of stuff now that would have made the Jill of five years ago spray Pepsi out of her nose ... a cramped little bivy sack, a snow bike that's worth more than my car, GPS technology I don't even understand, enough neoprene gear to assemble a decent scuba suit, and now, a -40 degree sleeping bag ...

All in the name of the reckless pursuit of wilderness. I may be turning into a good little consumer. Or, more likely, I may just be on the slow train to crazy.


  1. You wouldn't have used a camera to take a self picture of Pepsi spraying out of your nose, would you?

  2. I had the same reaction one year ago when my -20 Marmot down sleeping bag arrived and I was lying in it on the floor, sweating. What the heck was I doing, how did I get here?

  3. if you think your -40 bag is a bit excessive i'll gladly trade you my -20 bag for it. come late february when you're about to head out into the alaska range for 5+ days on your bike you'll no longer have any buyer remorse.

  4. Thank goodness I now know someone else who is also a gear junkie. Would you like to join my support group? We meet every chance we can, somewhere out in the wilderness. I'll send you the GPS coordinates so you know where to find us.
    I also have that bag (older version). Marmot makes great stuff. There is nothing, NOTHING, like the warm fuzzy feeling of a down sleeping bag.
    Dig a small snow cave, wiggle in and enjoy the feeling. You'll love it the first time you use it.

  5. Please put me down for a copy of a Pepsi out of nose photo also.
    Now that is an interesting phenomenon!
    We have probably all experienced it but who has a photo of that exact moment?
    For whatever reason in a moment of uncontrollable hilarity we express ourselves by emptying the contents of our mouth or throat through the nose! The timing must be precise yet un-rehearsed! A totally impromptu moment of delight resulting in embarrassment and that horrible feeling in the nasal passage!

    I know what you mean about the purchase. It's like a drug or a sugar high! There is an initial feeling of excitement (the high) followed by a sense of emptiness and loss then a kind of melancholic remorse and feeling of disconnection as though this is not you. How did you get into this situation with the cool expensive stuff? The only solution will be to use it as often as you can until it becomes a critical part of your kit.
    (I can't believe how much you can write!)

  6. My camera also is a 99 dollor cheapie that has taken a huge beating in back pockets of my jersey for about 2 years now. I take all my pics with it.

  7. I like to say that I'd rather take OK pictures of great places than great pictures of places I'm willing to haul a big camera.

    I have the non-bomb proof version of your Olympus but it's still weather proof. I can just through it in my jersey pocket and not worry about it. I'm not sure if will survive a crash but my 4 year old dropped it on concrete. It took a couple bounces but was still OK. One of my pictures of the Leadville 100 ended up on the front of a magazine and looked better than I expected.

    I'm generally against buying lots of stuff and a lot of my gear is past worn out. If I was headed out into the Alaska wilderness in the middle of the winter, I think I'd be buying a lot of things.

  8. I'm trying to deny the buying bug too; I didn't get a dividend but I did get a job with amazing discounts on gear. As for the bag - on days when you don't need that level of cold protection, just lay next to it, at that level of warmth it probably radiates heat a good 6-7 feet.

  9. After reading your expolits over the last several months I think you probably could solo climb Kangchenjunga - beautiful mountain - The Five Treasures of Snows"


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