Boots, Bugs & Ballads: A Trip to the Attic

signThere are two old backpacks in the attic, one green, one rust-colored. The rust-colored pack is a large open sack without compartments or frame. The grey and green one has an aluminum frame on back, an upper and lower compartment and zipped pockets all around the sides and top, adornments created to give the illusion that I can keep everything readily accessible and at hand.

I think I’ll take the green one.

Of the three tents in the attic, two are suited for three, perhaps four people, but one sits low to the ground, weighs very little, and could hold a human and a dog, or two average-sized humans. It’s an old tent, made of nylon stitched together, well-engineered with shock cords that create tension on the roof line, holding off the rain and keeping the structure from collapsing.

I bought this tent nearly 20 years ago for $40 from my neighbors when they moved to Ohio. It’s still intact, except for a missing pair of shock cords, which I expect Jeff Bezos to deliver to my door any moment.

What else?

A water bottle is key. We can survive for weeks without food, but for scant days, in some places hours, without water. And while most of us don’t think about it, randomly picking up pints at gas stations or filling up Nalgene containers as we exit the gym, there are stretches of road where finding water can be a big challenge. So I want to have my own supply.

At the sporting goods store, my options are limited to .75 liter size collapsible tubes (lightweight) or monster three-lliter bladders. I would prefer something in between, but for now I’m going with the bigger one.


I’m going with the Oboz. I have been through a few pairs of Timberlands in the past few years, and they don’t seem to hold up the way they used to. I think they make them now to look nice. If I have to walk miles to find the next good place to hitch, I won’t be caring much about how my boots look. I want them to hold together. These babies will do that.

I’m taking along six pairs of socks. The package says that they do not smell. I believe that they do not smell while they are in the package, but when I put them on my foot and my foot in my boot, and let them stew for a few days, we will test the limits of truth in advertising. Likewise six sets of underwear, for which the manufacturers make no such claims.

A bar of soap, some dog treats, bug spray, sunscreen, matches, a device I call the Handy Dandy tool (it has a scissors, a knife, and an assortment of wrenches, pliers, and a file, though no one I know ever uses the file).

I will wear one pair of khaki pants that can turn into shorts at the pull of a zipper, and carry another pair with me. Each one is paired with a lightweight shirt. Since I only have two changes of clothes, I’m bringing soap that can double as detergent. I’ve been known to use sinks at truck stops and McDonalds as laundry basins, and to hang clothes on trees to dry.


There’s a lot of food out there, so I won’t be packing much. Some peanut butter. Cans of tuna. Fruit to start off the trip. Raisins. Some granola bars. I’m not allergic to much, and for a few weeks or months it shouldn’t hurt me to eat truck stop food. I’m sure I will have the chance to walk off any extra pounds I gain (I’m about 40 pounds heavier than I was in 1978, when I was probably 20 pounds lighter than I should have been. And no, it’s not all muscle.)

A Hat

I lose things. One of my big fears is that I’m going to leave a hat in someone’s car as I exit, and will spend hours in the broiling sun listening to my skull fry. Once upon a time I had a curly mane of golden hair to protect the top of my head, but now I must rely on sunscreen and a hat of some kind. I’ve ordered a half dozen lightweight caps and will tuck two of them in my pack, put one on my head when I hit the road. And hope I don’t lose them all and have to buy one of those trucker baseball caps with the square brim in front. People might think I’m old.

Toothpaste, toilet paper, hand wipes, extra pair of glasses – what else do I need?

Like I said, I have a cell phone and a credit card. The phone carries my books and my music (no Takamine this time). I also have my laptop along, and if I can keep it charged, I’ll try to post when I can from the road, with the aid of the mobile hotspot on my phone. A far cry from a time when we had to walk miles from a highway exit to a pay phone. Sometimes the phone didn’t work. Sometimes it did, but no one was home to accept the collect call. And there was no answering machine or voice mail to back us up.

I’m bringing a camera, a recommendation from my friend Mike the photographer. I am not sure it will be superior to the camera on my phone, but I know it will be better than the 110 Instamatic that Joe and I carried with us.

And no film to develop or mail home!



  • Patrick Coy

    I’m so happy you are doing this! But, did we really charge you $40 for our SD Flashlight bp tent lo all those 23 yrs ago? Sending you good energy for interesting rides…

  • Micere Githae Mugo

    You are so lucky you don’t have to worry about medicine…counting pills and packaging them in daily portions of up to 15 in each little container…for three weeks you would have needed 21 of these. Count your blessings that you have no pills to count! That you remembered your laptop shows you brain is intact. Not too long ago I forgot my laptop which had the keynote address I was delivering at a conference. I had to reconstruct the whole thing from scratch overnight.

    May “senior moments” be strangers to you!

    • Ed Griffin-Nolan

      I thought about the issue of medications and am so grateful that for the moment I just need my baby aspirin and a vitamin. The laptop met an untimely end at the hands of a very nice trucker who drove me three hundred miles. However, he accidentally dropped my pack and damaged the screen when hauling it into the truck. It has been replaced and the incident forgotten. I have spent the past day with an old friend and Syracuse University graduate and will soon be back on the road! Please give my love to Mumbi!

  • Micere Githae Mugo

    So happy the computer screen was replaced! I will give Mumbi your message. The road is all yours! Micere.

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