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Hanging Out With Area Hiking Crowd

The backpack guy never really introduced himself.

He just started in.

There had been an announcement on REI’s storewide public address system. Something about how the mini-clinic on loading a backpack would be beginning over along the store’s west wall, by the packs.

But the backpack guy, our good-natured instructor, didn’t waste time with formalities. He noted that his audience - there were about 20 of us Saturday morning - was larger than the previous week’s turnout (for a session on choosing a pack). And, kneeling on the carpet beside a pile of hiking/camping supplies, he explained that he would discuss both external-frame and internal-frame packs. Then, deadpan, he offered Rule No. 1: “Get your partner to carry more stuff than you do.”

The mini-clinic was under way.

Without ever seeming like Mr. Know-it-all, the backpack guy talked about how different packs and different hikes require varied weight-distribution strategies.

And as he actually stuffed a pack full of supplies, he offered thoughts about what is and isn’t necessary. Long pants, to his way of thinking, are a must. “You never know when something might happen,” said the backpack guy, a compactly built, balding man with a beard and glasses.

It’s just a guess. But most of the casually dressed men, women and children forming a half-circle around him probably knew most of what he told us. So why were they there?

Who knows. Maybe outdoors-lovers just like hanging out by all those sleeping bags and tents and compasses. Perhaps it was an easy way to steep in a vision of some hit-the-trail mytho-Northwest lifestyle.

Still, the backpack guy’s easygoing attempts to establish a dialogue met with limited success.

“What food do you guys like to take?”

Mumbles. Silence.

“Are you taking water filters?”

Mumbles. Silence.

“Now I know why you’re here,” said the backpack guy, smiling.

He talked about accessibility. “You want to be able to actually get to your stuff.”

Demonstrating “cram and jam” while loading another pack, he addressed pros and cons pertaining to various issues of what-goes-where. “Fuel bottles are always a point of contention.”

The backpack guy’s favorite phrase was “Good to go.”

And after about 45 minutes, a few of us decided it was.