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National Editorials & Columns

Jeans and the Death of Trail Etiquette

“What else do you need me to fit in your backpack?”

Yesterday I helped my friend Catherine pack for a hiking trip across the Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia. She came over with her car full of knickknacks, unsure of what to bring and what to leave behind. Fire starters, sleeping bag liners, headlamps, a shovel for bathroom breaks and lacy panties just in case romance strikes in the wilderness.

I created piles: the must-brings, the if-we-can-fit-its and the leave-behinds. Catherine looked at me with concern, peering at her 65-liter backpack.

“The must-haves will fit,” I said. “Don’t worry.”

I spent two years living out of a backpack, including a stint working as an adventure tour guide in Australia. Packing for adventures is my superpower.

Mary Poppins’ magical purse has nothin’ on me.

Years of daily packing and repacking has given me a certain level of expertise when it comes to the important stuff.

“The flask is fine,” I told Catherine, “but I’d take a bladder of wine instead. It conforms to the space in your backpack, and after polishing off the bag, you can blow it up to use as a pillow.” See? The important stuff.

“Is there room for my jeans?”

“Jeans?!” I scoffed. “There will be no jeans.”

My skills have come a long way since the time I packed nearly four months’ worth of underwear because I was afraid I wouldn’t find a laundromat. Having realized the error of my ways, I unloaded the undergarments with a male friend of mine who was heading home from Europe just as I was arriving.

As luck would have it, my friend was stopped at customs and forced to explain why he had a surplus of panties in his luggage. Nearly a decade later, I still smile every time I think about him being pulled aside, his ears turning red from embarrassment.

There are very few things I like to think of myself as an expert on, but my backpack packing is one of them.

Which is why I almost choked when Catherine dared to say, “Jeans Guy would’ve made room for my jeans.”

Oh, Jeans Guy, my hiking nemesis.

Backpack packing aficionado or not, most hikers will agree there is a certain code of conduct on the trails. Trail culture dictates you give room for people to embrace their surroundings. You allow people to go at their own pace.

And you reserve judgment on nearly everything, from physical appearance to attire, even if they’re hiking in something as ridiculous as, say, jeans. Everyone I had ever met on a trail followed trail culture. That is, until I met Jeans Guy.

Jeans Guy and I crossed paths for four days while hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. And in that time, he broke nearly every rule of trail etiquette. His stupid head bobbed to the music booming out of his stupid iPod.

He would barge past me, allowing me half a second to decide whether I was going to step toward the mountain or the cliff before he made the decision for me.

Most annoyingly, Jeans Guy didn’t let me enjoy a sense of accomplishment or appreciation for where I was.

When I stopped at a beautiful lookout, Jeans Guy came up and said, “This isn’t nearly as beautiful as it is on Mount Fuji.”

When I stopped to catch my breath, he ran past, saying, “I didn’t stop when I hiked Mount Kilimanjaro, and that was 10 times harder than this.”

And when I’d commented on how amazing the Incan ruins were, he said, “Meh. The Mayan ruins are far more impressive.”

I hated him.

Worst of all, Jeans Guy was a bad influence on me. Now I, too, break one of the rules of trail etiquette. I now judge attire. Whenever I see a person hiking in jeans, I’m reminded of my nemesis and instantly filled with rage.

I want to rip the jeans off the person and scream,

“These don’t wick or dry quickly or zip off to become shorts! You’d be better off hiking in the nude. Or is that not how they do things on Mount Friggin’ Fuji?”

“Either the jeans stay or I go,” I said to Catherine, dramatically throwing her jeans onto the leave-behind pile.

I said I am an expert on packing. I never said anything about being an expert on maturity.

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