The Gear Update

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In general, I’m happy with how the gear is performing. There are very few things I’ve packed that remain unused (the first aid kit and the malaria meds… so really that shouldn’t even count). Even better, I don’t recall any moments when I’ve thought, “Damn! If only I’d brought… (fill in “essential” item here:) a reversible ski jacket, Peterson’s Field Guide to Nordic Fungi, soap*. My clothes are showing some wear, and developing what might generously be termed a patina but would more accurately be called perma-grime. However if no one looks too closely and I don’t spend too many days around the same people it’s all fine. I’m getting a bit tired of the wardrobe, and am on the lookout for a new shirt (see below), but otherwise I’m content.

The Aeronaut is performing like a champ – even when I was hauling around two unedited guide books, and two books of fiction and two computers I was still about to cram everything in. I admit I’ve had to check it on my most recent flights, but that wasn't because it was over-sized, but because it weighs about 30lbs when it’s really packed tightly, and that’s well past the 10kg carry-on limit. I’d love to lose some of that weight, but I’m not sure how. And I’m still miles ahead of the people with backpacks so large they can’t walk under low bridges.

All packed up and waiting for the train to St. Petersburg.

As for everything else, here’s an update:

Gold Stars:

- My Palm Centro is always with me. I can’t believe I was thinking about not bringing a cell phone. It’s brilliant to be able to send text messages to friends at home, or new friends over here, or Twitter. And it’s great to be able to call ahead to hostels and hotels and museums and such. And I’ve got all those PDA functions to note down train times and keep track of expenses, and I can read e-books, and keep my packing list, and it’s my alarm clock, and has even pinch-hit when I’ve forgotten my digital camera.

- Miraculously, my sunglasses are still with me. I honestly can’t believe this, because I lose sunglasses all the time. I bet I could lose a just-purchased pair of sunglasses between the checkout till and exit door of the store. These ones have even survived me dropping them AND stepping on them outside the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. Both arms popped off and one lens is scratched, but I was able to snap them back together, and now just have to keep reminding myself that the irksome smudge on the right is a problem with the glasses and not my eyeballs.

- The convertible packing cube/shoulder bag has been handy; I’m glad it made the cut. It works really well to pack all my “in flight” (or, more commonly, “on train”) stuff into so it can be extracted neatly before stowing the Aeronaut above seat. I bought a light strap for it and now I can use it as a day bag when I don’t have a lot to carry or don’t feel like looking quite so geeky with my bright red Canada flag daypack.

Gone, but not forgotten:

- The fork from my cutlery set, carelessly forgotten at a cafe in Paris, but not mourned for long since it was the instrument that dealt the death blow to:

- The Asus Eee PC 901. No need to dredge up those sad memories, but for those who want the whole sorry tale again, it’s here.

- The Kwikpoint translator. In fact, I’ve only recently realized that this has gone missing, and I’m quite miffed about that. How will I find the waterskiing goats?

- A pair of socks that parted company with me so early on that I barely remember having them. It think it was Day Four, and I suspect they hitched a ride with one of the three Australian girls who were in my room at Stalag Russell Square. Then again, the Australians in question could not possibly have noticed they had my socks because their wheelie suitcases were so enormous they each could have accidentally packed a stray Volkswagen without realizing it.

- My space pen. I used it to draw up my plan of attack on a map of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and left it on the bench where I was sitting. It was gone by the time I realized it was missing and went back to retrieve it. That was a blow indeed. My ability to jot down notes upside-down, underwater, and in the vacuum of space has been severely curtailed.

- My Steripen water purifier. It worked beautifully in Russia… twice. Then the UV light refused to turn on and the little indicator screen showed a sad face. I had to send it back to Canada, along with my broken computer. Luckily Karen (my Personal Assistant, North American Division**) found another one and it will soon be on its way to me. When it worked, it was great.

Sad face.

Welcome to the party:

- A belt. My pants were getting a bit too stretched out and falling down-y. Now, however, I may have drunk enough Guinness and eaten enough bread, paté and cheese that I could dispense with the belt.

- Asus Eee PC 1005HA. Bigger screen, longer battery life, much bigger drive, and a funky UK style plug. It’s all good.

- Cotton t-shirt from my cousin Pam, mostly worn for sleeping in and when doing laundry. It’s been comfy. I only wash it at laundromats and other locations equipped with tumble-dryers.

- A pair of black running socks, acquired in Belfast. Excellent because they’re already black, hence I can pretend they’re still clean until they get so funky they actually go out for a quick 5k on their own.

- A roll of clear tape and an exacto knife. These were originally bought for slicing and re-binding guide books into lighter and more convenient sections, but both items have proved to be useful beyond those roles. It turns out an exacto knife will cut up a tomato or a melon just as well as a Swiss Army knife will, and clear tape will help keep the screen protector on a digital camera or a stupid plug in a wall (see below).

On Probation:

- My headphones. Creative EP-630s. One side has stopped working, but I haven’t bothered doing anything about it yet. It turns out that I mostly use the iPod when running, and it’s kind of handy to have one ear open to listen for large trucks and suicidal motorcycles careening around blind corners.

- The Patagonia Sol Patrol shirt. This one is crushing. I looked for the perfect shirt for so long that it pains me to have to report that the material the shirt is made out of is crap. About a week in to the trip I noticed that it was developing patches of “pilling” where my day pack must rub up against the back of the shirt, and around where the straps sit. ONE WEEK IN TO THE TRIP. Seriously? That shirt was not cheap, and it’s Patagonia, for God’s Sake, not some Salvation Army hand-me-down thing. I took it in to a Patagonia store in Dublin and the sales woman there agreed that it was unacceptable and offered my another shirt in return, but they didn’t have anything that fit properly. I still need to send a strongly-worded email to those slackers at Patagonia.

- Power adapter, euro-plug attachment. This is definitely a case of something trying to do so many different things that is does none of them especially well. Stupid thing. It was fine in the UK because UK-style plugs are so ridiculously large, heavy and tight-fitting that they sometimes require a swift boot in order to make contact. The problem comes with the euro adapter, which is just a flimsy little thing with two round prongs. It doesn’t grab into the recessed round sockets here very well so it’s always losing contact. I seem to spend endless hours cursing and grubbing around behind bunk beds among renaissance-era piles of dust trying to get the damned thing to stick into the wall. Then I give up and break out the roll of tape and literally have to tape the plug to the wall. Then the tape gives way and the plug gradually works loose and the whole cycle starts over again. I finally gave up and bought a specific adapter just for Europe, and now I just don’t know what to do with all this free time.

Good riddance:

- The neck pouch thingy for carrying valuable. Yuck. It was sweaty and uncomfortable and it looked stupid. I used it for the flight to Heathrow and I vowed that dead weight would never hang from my neck again. I bought a proper under-the-clothes money belt in London, and it is MUCH better. I wear it with the pouch part around back, and usually forget it’s there.

- The protective sleeve that came with the new computer. “What?” I hear you cry. “Wasn’t that the reason the now-missing fork was able to wreak such havoc?" Indeed, yes, but the sleeve supplied with the new computer was irksome. It didn’t fit particularly well, and the outside was covered in an annoyingly grippy material that made it hard to extract from the depths of a bag or backpack, and attracted dust and lint like a full cooler attracts hashers. I bought a smart new sleeve at a Fnac store on the Champs Élysées.

Much more fun than basic black.

- Every guide book I own. I’m normally a book-lover and am slightly Nazi-ish about the state in which my books are kept, but I’ve gotten over these tendencies when it comes to guide books. Instead, I try to think of them as tools and cull them mercilessly as I travel. Leaving Paris? Toss out the pages on Paris. Know I won’t be visiting the Loire Valley? Pass the exacto knife. It’s the only way to go.

There’s other stuff to report, I’m sure. After all, I’m in France. But you’ve heard about baguettes*** and you’ve seen my pics of the Eiffel Tower. I’ll get back to the travelogue soon, but until then, I’ve just got to send that email to Patagonia. What’s a polite way of saying “shoddy piece of over-priced crap”?

* It turns out that the only soap one really needs is shampoo. It will clean hair, skin, clothing, and dishes. The trouble comes when you’re carrying only 3 oz at a time. It’s pretty easy to power through the stuff when it’s performing four functions. I’d just like to say thanks to every hotel I’ve stayed at that's equipped with a big bottle of shampoo/shower gel bolted to the wall. They're really handy for refilling those tiny travel bottles…

** As opposed to Anne, Personal Assistant, UK Division. Or LJO, Mailing Address and Chauffeur Services, Dutch Division. Or Kai, IT Department, France. Or Nigel and Margaret, Camping Supplies, Scotland… and on and on and on…

*** Actually, you haven’t heard ALL about baguettes. I know I go one about it a bit, but they really do love their baked goods here. You can hardly walk 50 down any street without passing at least one or two bakeries. I see people wandering around with baguettes ALL THE TIME. And I've actually seen people do that thing where they tear the end off the baguette and eat it as soon as they leave the boulangerie. I have a vague memory of my French teacher telling us about this practice when I was in high school 150 years ago, and I guess if I thought about it at all it occupied the same area in my brain as beret-wearing, phrases like "Ooo la la", and Pepé le Pew. Turns out it's really true. And I've seen one or two berets, and heard a few "Ooo la las. No talking skunks yet.


Unknown said...

I envy your backpacking style of travel. These days it seems I have evolved into hotels and rental cars - which have their advantages, but definitely some down sides.

In the past I used to ask other travellers what they brought they found essential or useless and I got some interesting responses.

For me the usless item was the 4" dia. floppy sink stopper for washing out a few small items at night. As it turns out, I don't do that sort of thing so for me that item was a waste to cart around. I thought it was funny so I did not get rid of it and kept it as a bit of a joke on myself.

Good luck with the gear evolution. You will be lucky if ANY of your clothes last the whole year.

Cheers, rh

anne said...

I'm loving your blog and pleased to see you are accruing Personal Assistants all over the world (we should start a club!) Please ditch the belt if you're not wasting away anymore: it's visited more places than me and had a good time in its old-age. I feel a new shirt order coming on - surprised you're still plodding on with that one.

Kathryn said...

Pam - I think I qualify as your worst friend. Seriously. I lost the link to your blog and sat around all summer not doing anything about it. Finally got it again from Larry today. I spent the evening ready ALL your posts! I am blown away. You're my hero! I don't tweet - but do facebook and email - what's the best way to leave you a longer message?

Pam said...

@Kathryn - I sent you a message to your hotmail account. Check there. Or just use the email address on the blog.

Nomadic Matt said...

thats a pretty bag.

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