“Got something needs fixing?” asked the bearded man with long red hair. He wore a smile that made me feel as if we were childhood friends reunited after decades. He was working with Patagonia’s Worn Wear tour, travelling across the country in a beautiful wood-paneled truck named Delia to provide free repairs on Patagonia clothing (insider tip: they’ll fix your stuff even if it’s a different brand). That day the Worn Wear team had parked out front of the Patagonia store in downtown Portland and I had come to cash in on the free gear mends.
“My puff jacket here is hemorrhaging down from the cuffs,” I said. He took me inside the store, helped me stuff some of the down back into the baffles of my jacket and put Tenacious Tape over the tears.
“You from Portland?” he asked.
“No, I moved up here after hiking the PCT.”
“No way! What year?”
“2014,” I said. “You?” Thru hikers have a talent for recognizing one another.
“I was class of ‘15; trail name’s Wild Bill.”
I told him all about my plans to hike the CDT and about Hike the Divide. I told him that in order to reduce my impact on the planet I was using all my old gear or used items I got from friends or secondhand stores. He asked if I still needed anything.
“Well, I’m still looking for a shelter...” We had a few moments of silent eye contact, gleam in his eyes to match his huge smile.
“I’ve got a tent for you.”
Wild Bill took me back out to Delia, the truck, and fished his tent out of the back: a Nemo Hornet solo. He used it for his PCT thru-hike last year.
“It’s had some repair on the bathtub floor, but ought to be patched up tight now. Just send it to me when you hit the Mexican border. Even if it’s torn to shreds, I can just fix it up again.”
I didn’t have the words to express my gratitude, but doing so wasn’t necessary. Wild Bill knew how much I appreciated the act just as he knew I’d have done the same for him, despite having only met five minutes prior. If you’re familiar with the long distance hiking community (or have heard me rant about it, which, if you know me, is very likely), this act of generosity probably comes as no surprise to you. Trail family is real family, to be sure. Wild Bill made a film about his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail a couple years ago, which you can check out here.
I still have my pack, my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, rain gear, down jacket, stuff sacks, trekking poles, shorts, reservoir bags, solar charger, water filter, stove, spork and pot from my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike in 2014. Some of these items, like my backpack and my down jacket, needed some substantial repair, but were certainly not too far gone. Thanks to Wild Bill, I now have a tent and my jacket is good to go. I was still short a few key pieces of gear, but I was actually pretty excited to see how I could attain them without resorting to consumerism.
Luke at Truce Designs stitched the load lifters back onto my pack straps for me. Granite Gear sent me some of leftover fabric to patch up the holes in my outer pack pockets. I bought a used headlamp off GearTrade.com. I got a pair of killer (and slightly ridiculous) running shorts from a thrift store for two bucks. Altra Footwear was kind enough to donate a few pairs of lightly used Lone Peaks and Superiors that had been returned. My cousin Trey gave me some spare house-wrapping material from a construction site to use as my groundsheet. I did get some fresh new socks to hike in from Darn Tough Vermont, and I also had to buy a replacement water reservoir bag, a trekking pole tip and a new lid for my JetBoil. Just goes to show you none of us can be perfect; we can only do our best.
Does using repaired and secondhand gear exonerate me from my impact on the world, carbon footprint or otherwise? Of course not. But it’s certainly better than buying all new gear, especially when so much hiking gear is made of petroleum by-products. As they say over at Worn Wear: “If it’s broke, fix it!” In modern society, it’s a revolutionary act to reduce and reuse, to remove oneself from the vicious merry-go-round of materialism whenever possible.
When a material object is broken, we generally opt to replace rather than repair. We are often advised to do so. “Planned obsolescence” is a real thing in our society. That ought to give you pause. The simple truth is that the planet we live on is a limited system; you cannot have unlimited resources in a limited system.
I’m not trying to say you’re a bad person for buying things. This is what we’re told to do at every turn – it’s all we’ve known, especially as Americans.
I’m not saying that abstaining from materialism makes me a hero, either. Not at all. As I’ve said before, changing our individual habits alone will not solve any global issues; but doing so is certainly an important component of larger solutions. All I’m saying is that we have an obligation to consider what sort of practices are conducive to making sure we have enough resources for everyone to survive and live a dignified life. I’m choosing to behave in a way I find to be responsible, and I hope that you may be inspired by my example to determine what responsible consumption means to you.
It’s time to toss out this throwaway culture of ours.
As the human population continues to grow exponentially and both materialism and the consumption of specific materials become more and more universal, the illusion of plenty begins to dissipate. Whereas the forests of the world once seemed infinite, we are now forced to acknowledge their decimation. Look at the salmon, so proliferate that half the population can be lost to the food chain each life cycle and the species will still thrive. And now? The Atlantic Salmon is on the brink of extinction. Salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest are only now gradually rebounding after billions of dollars’ worth of (arguably misguided) restoration efforts and the hyper effective technique of dam removal. When so many in the world lack reliable access to clean water and food sources, it’s hard to pause to consider whether we may ever run short on the precious metals that are essential for making your cell phone, your computer, airplane turbine blades and so on, but this is a valid concern.
So here’s my advice: patch up those jeans! Get the shutter mechanism on your camera fixed even if a brand new replacement only costs a little more. Sit on that phone upgrade until your current device is broken irreparably, no matter how cool the advertisements and Twitter say that new iPhone is. If you’re going to have material possessions, be active in your ownership; don’t let your things own you. Need I remind you how much garbage we create, what the ratio of plastic trash to live fish in the ocean is, or what a burning mountain of discarded electronics looks like?
We rely on single-use containers like plastic water bottles and yogurt cups because it’s the social norm to do so. How do we change a social norm? Well, I’ll give you a hint: it starts with you and me. I’ll say it so many times during this hike that you’ll be tired of hearing it: WE are the people we’ve been waiting for.