A Pack by Any Other Name (Would Smell as Sweet)
Words & Photos by Jeff “IBTAT” Oliver
It was the fall of 2017 when my white 3400 Windrider arrived at my doorstep. I was making final preparations for my upcoming Appalachian Trail thru hike. I didn't know it at the time, but that pack, a year later, will have taken on an identity of its own. It became as well known for its "trail patina" and custom "Adventurous as F#%k" patch, as it did the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Logo that's sewn onto its skin. I never gave my pack a girl's name while on the trail, which I should've, given the fact that it was attached to me nearly 24hrs/day for six months straight. After 2,190 miles, the pack had become an extension of my body. So much, in fact, I didn't feel right walking around without it. Case and point, if you were at Trail Days in Damascus Virginia that year, I think I was the only hiker in the parade walking around with a fully-loaded Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider. I wouldn't let that thing leave my side.
On the run up to Trail Days, the pack had been through two snow storms in Tennessee and North Carolina, and 22 days of rain through Virginia alone. By the time I had reached Pennsylvania, the once bright white pack had taken on a trail patina that I was quickly becoming damn proud of. I would read comments via Instagram/YouTube calling me "The Chameleon"– a reference to the ever-changing color of my beloved Windrider.
As I traversed through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, the pack had taken on an odor that couldn't be mistaken by anything else other than a stinking piece of Hikertrash. By that point, I didn't notice the smell, nor did I care. However, the day hikers and town folk that I’d pass were quick to remind me that its smell resembled something that had scraped its way out of the depths of someone's crawl space after 20 years.
Through Vermont, I had begun hauling a pint of Vermont Maple Syrup in one of the water bottle pockets of my pack because that's what you do in Vermont. One morning, amid a Hiker Hobble stumble, I accidentally kicked over the pint of syrup and spilled some of Vermont's finest all over my pack. I figured, "Screw it, that just added more character to it. If the bears can smell the syrup through that already ungodly stench, then come and get it." The stains and smells it was collecting were merely more memories in my mind.
By the time I had hit the White Mountains of New Hampshire, The pack that I had been so proud to post photos of the past four and a half months on Instagram was starting to get noticed not only on the trail but in town by locals. "Hey, I recognize that pack anywhere!" I’d hear, as I would leave it sitting outside a gas station in some random-ass town. The pack was beginning to show the wear and tear by the end of The White Mountains that only a brutal thru hike can dole out.
Snow/Wind/Rain/Mud/MORE RAIN/ICE/RAIN/AND MORE RAIN. If anyone can vouch for the "water-resistance" of this pack, it's me. The water may have destroyed three cameras on the trail, but the contents of my pack were always bone dry.
Which brings us to Maine. The Home Stretch. But, before we get to Katahdin, let’s talk about animal encounters. Not only has this pack been dealt the wrath of Mother Nature's weather, it’s also seen its fair share of wildlife. This pack has been bluff charged by a 400 lb bear in the Shenandoahs, came within a foot of the head of a Timber Rattler, followed a porcupine down the trail for a half mile while boulder hopping in Pennsylvania, and faced off with a 1200 lb Bull Moose during rutting season in Maine. This pack has seen some shit!
The night before I summited Katahdin, I lay in my tent in Katahdin Stream Campground beside my Windrider. I had one arm wrapped around it as I slept. Again, why didn't I give it a woman's name? I was spooning my pack for fuck’s sake. On summit morning, as most Northbound Thru Hikers leave their pack behind as they make the final push, I started loading up my Windrider as if I was back on Springer Mountain. I said to myself, "This pack has been through just as much shit as I have the past six months, it damn well deserves to stand at the top of the final summit with me!" I reached the top of Mount Katahdin at approximately 10:30 a.m. the morning of October 4th, 2018. I stood there, with my pack, without a soul around, in front of northern terminus sign that shows just as much character as the pack I wore on my back for six months. It was one of the proudest moments of my life!
Although I upgraded my pack for the Pacific Crest Trail, I will never, and I mean NEVER, give away that pack that I carried on the Appalachian Trail for six months. It is as much a part of me as the memories I cherish while I was on that trail, and it will always hold a special place in this hiker's heart!
Jeff “IBTAT” Oliver is a thru hiker, photographer, and YouTube vlogger. You can watch all his adventures and misadventures on his channel – https://www.youtube.com/ibtat and Instagram feed – https://www.instagram.com/savedbymtns/