Good gear is essential to a good trip. Unlike the life-or-death technical difference that defines good gear for, say, an Everest climber, for a traveler, 80% of the “good” in gear is born of the relationship you build with it over time.
For years, I traveled everywhere with an Eagle Creek shoulder bag that perfectly held a journal, guidebook, waterbottle and camera. It came with me to Korea, China, Italy. Somewhere in India, its zipper gave out, so I sent it back to Eagle Creek, who kindly fixed it for free, and I used it again – Guatemala, Nicaragua – until the waterproof lining began to peel off, the canvas weakened, and I had to give it up. The bag, which I still refuse to throw out, had reached its bitter, beloved end.
So I should have been prepared for what happened my first week on the road. To minimize what I lugged in and out of one-night stays, I packed my road clothes in a small, black Eddie Bauer duffle bag I bought circa 1998. To differentiate it from the crowd at baggage claim, I tied a white polka-dotted ribbon to the haul-strap on one end. It perfectly fits ten days worth of clothes, two books and toiletries for the road.
My first night in Taos, I pulled out my pjs and saw trouble. The black tank top in which I sleep looked as if it had developed dandruff on our 13 hour drive.
My jeans seemed to have lice. Had a spider hatched eggs in there? One item after another came out of the bag with the tell-tale signs of water-resistant lining peeling off the canvas like skin after a sunburn. For four days, I wore my clothes in shame, and mourned the imminent death of this good gear.
By Santa Fe, I was consciously suppressing the urge to tell complete strangers, “I don’t have lice – it’s just my bag.” Something had to be done. I bucked up and headed to REI to buy a duffle, aiming to spend no more than $40. I had to dig – through aisles of backpacks with padded straps and toggled bungees that hold gear, through beautiful Eagle Creek duffles with hard bases and rolling wheels. At last I found a multi-colored, slightly retro canvas bag for $49. Longer than my old one, and rounder, its zipper didn’t quite run the length of the top. There could be an uncomfortable reach to pack-in and grab-out, but it would do..
There is nothing to say about this bag other than it just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t mine. It had to go back – but not before I found the proper alternative. So I headed to Alpine Sports, a small, independent store four blocks off the Santa Fe plaza that has been the solution to many a traveler’s clothing dilemma (including my own). I walked in and asked about duffle bags, and there I fell in love.
I don’t know the name of the man who helped me. I can’t remember it – though I do remember he was the divorced dad of two-and-a-half year old twins. I just know that when he said, “all we have are those,” and pointed to a wall display of brightly-colored, sealant-immersed duffle bags with backpack straps and multi-colored zippers, it was as if the heavens opened and parted the Red Sea holding closed my wallet.
“But they’re Patagonia,” he said, knowing I wanted to spend under $50. I looked anyway. How could I not? I unzipped and re-zipped the pockets. I pulled out the display stuffing to discover a bright green lining inside. I checked the price, caught my breath, and listened as the clerk reminded me that if I bought one of these, I better like it because I wouldn’t need a new one for another decade. And then I went to have lunch.
While sitting at the Cowgirl BBQ, enjoying a harvest salad and Arnold Palmer with Spanky at my feet, I texted my better shopping advisors for advice. Before one could respond with, “do it, girl!” and another could forward the link for the Patagonia ambassadors page, I already knew what I would do. When you’re in love, you’re in love. No regrets.