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.