Birthday in Yosemite

What a long strange trip it’s been!

Some of you may have heard of GoRuck. They make backpacks, and to sell more backpacks they invented the sport of “rucking” and started hosting “GoRuck challenge” events in various cities. So they’re known among the adventure/obstacle racing circles and have been on my radar for years. Their bags are highly optimized for air travel, sized well to serve as carryons, particularly for “one bag” travel.

Considering how much I fly, I’ve wanted one for a while. So when a little bit of unexpected money came in a few weeks ago, I decided to indulge. With free shipping and the military discount, their flagship GR1 bag came to about $225, a sum I could reasonably manage out of my recent “found money” pool. I received the bag and excitedly packed for my first travel ordeal with it, a series of single overnights back and forth between Western NY and the south.

Sadly, the bag underperformed, although by only a little. It turned out that an overnight business trip with my recreational items added (suit, dress shoes and hiking boots, dress shirt, change of base layer, toiletries, laptop, chargers and cables, other electronics,bathing suit, towel) just barely fit in the bag, not leaving room for food, and with some access and organizational problems.

Of course the solution was obvious: upgrade to the slightly larger GR2 bag, which has the same height and width but is much deeper, yet still supposedly sized to fit under an A321 seat. I decided to upgrade my bag, but since I got such a great deal on it, it made more sense to resell than return. I listed it on Reddit, priced modestly at $15 more than I paid for it, plus shipping. I got a few replies but one intrigued me: would you trade for a 34l GR2? Since that was my exact ultimate goal, it was a resounding “hell yes.” So we started planning the exchange. But how do two adventurers swap gear without meeting?

A few ideas were floated but none that solved the trust problem. I could cover shipping, that’s fair since I’m getting the better deal, but that means I’m shipping my $300 bag to a stranger in the blind hope that he ships it back, with no real recourse if he doesn’t.

He texted me from a number that my phone identified as “San Francisco.” That was a little intriguing if unsurprising; seems like half of Reddit is from the Bay Area. But so are a few of my friends. Real friends I haven’t seen in years. And I was just sitting around wishing I was on a trip in my RV, but stymied by a waiting period on a loan. So I posted to Facebook and messaged people, checked JetBlue, and sure enough I could throw together a trip on miles. So I headed to San Francisco to trade backpacks.

The trip was not without snags. Delays stacked on delays and eventually I arrived at SFO around midnight – apparently after my rental car agency closed for the night. There was one agency left open, and by my math the line would be going a good three hours, assuming they really had a dozen cars. Dan messaged me on Facebook. “You okay? Need rescue?” Yes. So I took a $35 uber to his place, listening to Muslim propaganda along the way in a car with disturbingly detuned headlights.

And Dan and I talked well into the night about all the things we needed to talk about, and it was good, and then I left for three hours on a quest for a rental car that involved some walking, some Starbucks budgeting, a train, a good deal of hiking, and finally a “fuck it, I’ll get an uber” for the last four miles. Then a hell of a shuttle, then another line, then a Jeep, and then hauling ass to the drop point.

Louis was waiting for me at the mall. I don’t know Louis, but we’re social media friends now. He wears scrubs so he must do something medical. Maybe he’s a doctor but I didn’t ask. The exchange now included a second bag, a GoRuck Bullet, and cash. We swapped, played with Venmo on our phones, and parted ways.

I had a few small missions planned in San Francisco proper. First lunch, at a little Mexican place Louis recommended. Good burrito. Next REI to exchange Christmas socks (wrong size) and top up camping gear – a way to secure my sleeping bag to the GoRuck and some camp fuel. Then Safeway for groceries- apples, granola, beef jerky, and of course water and beer. Then the road to Yosemite, showing… 6 hours? How did it go from 3 to 6? I underestimated traffic it seems.

So instead I decided to meet Gabe last night and embark to Yosemite during daylight the next day. Gabe told me about a place for a little hike along the way where I could try out my Bullet Ruck and not skip leg day. I logged just two miles but caught a beautiful sunset in a surreal pasture of hills adjacent to affluent suburbs. Feasted on In-n-Out burgers, then sleep.

Work woke me this morning as usual. I spent some time on various obligations and felt productive. I’m not really on vacation after all; I worked in the airport and on the plane and wherever else I get the chance. After all the nominal purpose of this mission is to make future business trips more efficient. After work and another gratuitous shower I got an indulgent California breakfast ?$15 pancakes) and headed east.

I finally arrived at the park gates at 4 pm, and received my coveted lifetime pass instead of paying. And was told that my plans were all wrong. I would need to head to the valley campsites and hope there was a spot left. There was, and I walked in the door for it at 4:58, the nick of time. I found the spot and quickly took off in search of a trailhead. Hiked through the sunset and got some mediocre pictures, then to camp to set up.

It’s funny how sometimes the best parts just don’t translate well to writing. That short hike was powerful. And yet it was private. It was my own experience, shared perhaps with millions judging by the well-worn rocks. I came back rejuvenated. What have I been missing? This is something I needed. I am glad I came.

So I came back to the campsite and set up my hammock. Had some challenges with equipment failing but in the end it worked out. I crashed a campfire and chatted with a couple from Berkeley who come here often; they gave me a drink. I needed sleep and took it, and I am now recovering from my second wind with the help of Ambien. Goodnight.

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