I’ve been doing a lot of shopping lately. It’s a big deal for me, because I don’t like shopping much and I don’t do it often. Usually I find it hard to justify purchases. “Do I really need this?” “How often am I going to even use it?” “Where will I put it?” These are the thoughts that go through my head.

But it was clear to me that I would need a tent for this trip. And a sleeping bag that didn’t weigh 30 pounds. And so on. The good news for my sanity is that most of the things I’ve purchased so far feel like investments, because this trip won’t be the only time I use them. I’ll be doing a full packing list post at some point, as that sort of thing appeals to people like me, but for now I wanted to give you an idea of what I’ve been blowing all that carefully saved cash on, as well as what I decided against getting for this particular trip.



Tom Bihn Synapse Backpack, $140 at – This specific bag was highly recommended by Tynan, and the company has popped up several times when I’ve been looking for bags and backpacks. I haven’t had a decent backpack in years, and felt that I would need one on an almost daily basis for this trip. Here’s hoping the bag lives up to it’s reputation.

REI Passage 2 Tent, $160 at REI – My biggest desire in a tent was simplicity. I wanted something that would be quick and easy for me to set up, and take up little space both in the car and at the campsite. In a perfect world I would also get something that could be fully set up without stakes, as tent stakes are at the heart of most of my past camping frustrations. But maybe having a brand new bag of steaks and a proper mallet will solve that.

Matching Tent Footprint, $24 at REI – I considered whether this one was worth it, but Rob wisely pointed out that it’s the kind of thing you’d rather regret spending money on that regret not having when you need it.

Marmot Trestles 30 Sleeping Bag Long, $109 at REI – I think I must have tried out 10 different sleeping bags while I was at REI, and in the end I concluded that I don’t have a lot of opinions about sleeping bags. I’ve never used a mummy style before, so I’m hoping I don’t spend all my time claustrophobically kicking into the sides.

Platypus Softbottle Water Bottle, $8 at REI – This is more of an investment in my Bug Out Bag, but it seemed like it might be helpful on my trip, especially on long hikes.

Gorillapod Camera Tripod, $20 anywhere – I’ve thought about getting one of these since the first time I saw one many years ago. I’m not sure how much I’ll use it in my life after the trip, but I thought it would be helpful if not vital if I ever want to take a picture of myself at some fantastic location.

Rockforge Camp Axe, $19 at Home Depot I’ve only had to set up a campsite by myself once before, when I was volunteering at Mt. Rainer Park for the weekend. One of the perks of volunteering is that I got to stay in a secluded campground meant for volunteers and staff. They said there would be free fire wood, so I didn’t bother to pick some up on the way in. What I didn’t realize was that the free firewood was in gigantic logs. I had no way to break up the logs, and I ended up scrounging around the base of the woodpile looking for scrap bits that I could use to start a fire. I have no intention of ever doing that again. Plus a small axe just seems like a good thing to have around in life. You never know when something will need chopping.

Rubber Mallet, $5 at Home Depot – As previously mentioned, I shall not be defeated by tent stakes. Also this seems generally useful, see above RE: Axe.

Five Gallon Bucket with Lid, $4 at Home Depot – I figure a bucket is a combination kitchen sink and washing machine. I’m sure I’ll find many other uses for it. After all, it’s a bucket.

Canon Powershot, $150 at B&H – I felt like it was time to upgrade my camera, but I wasn’t interested in spending $1000. I did a little research, but quickly determined I’m not enough of a photographer to care about most of the differences I was comparing. The Powershot was recommended by a friend and fit my price point.

Merrell Siren Sport Shoes, $90 at REI – I spent at least 20 minutes putting on different hiking shoes at REI, but I ending up buying the first pair I tried on.



Travel pillow – I was a little worried that a normal pillow would be a bulky nuisance, but considering the price of the travel pillows and the likelihood of ever using it again, I’m going to stick with one of the regular old pillows I have in the apartment.

Camp stove – I lucked out on this one. My folks have a small butane stove that they’re letting me borrow.

InstafireThis stuff seems pretty cool, but so does becoming adept at starting campfires by myself.

Cooler – I already own a small, 9 quart cooler. The plan is to use the cooler more as general food storage and only occasionally bother with ice. It’s not much, and it’s possible I’ll want something bigger as I go. But a bigger cooler is something I am positive I can and will find at stores all across the country this summer, so I’m waiting until I know I need it to upgrade.

Know My Name

This is the first time my name has been printed on a business card.

My business cards

A friend of mine gave me the idea. I’ll be able to hand them out to people that I meet along the way to let them know who I am and how to follow my travels. Not to mention how much having that map with me every where I go is going to seriously cut down on unfocused gesturing.

The Deep South

I got the idea for this trip from my older sister and her friends back when I was in junior high. They would talk about taking a similar route around the United States, and I would overhear their conversations. For whatever reasons their plans never manifested, and the whole thing just sat in the back of my mind.

In my sophomore year of college I got an idea for a novel, following the adventures of the main character as she wandered around the United States (hiding from her past, unable to go home, that sort of thing). I wrote small bits of the story whenever I got inspired, but never really focused any effort on it.

My senior year I was suddenly filled with inspiration for the novel, and made a conscious effort to sit down and write more. There was one particular section of the story I felt sure was best placed in the Deep South, where things would be hot and sticky and rural and racist. But as I sat down to write, I had nothing. I couldn’t picture any details. Everything looked generic. I realized that my hot sticky rural racist South was based entirely on movies and books. I was setting my story in someone else’s novel.

It’s been pointed out to me before that being in the southeastern United States in July is going to be miserable. That is, generally, the point. If I want to write about that misery I’m going to have to experience for myself. I’ve been accused before of being too autobiographical in my writing, which to me is a silly accusation. Every writer is writing her own story. Every writer is writing the relationships and settings and characters that she has seen inside herself and in the world around her. Some just disguise it better than others. In my experience, the more you disguise it the more like your real life it ends up being anyway, but that’s a story for another time.

My point is, the Deep South is on my must see list so I can see and feel and taste what it’s like to be there. Unfortunately being there is the only thing on the list.

Deep South MapAs I mentioned before, I’ve been keeping track of possible U.S. attractions in Evernote. When I go to my notes on Mississippi and Alabama, all I’ve got on the list of possible places to see is the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, and I’m not even sure I want to go there. These two states stand as a single, solid block of “I’m sure I’ll find something.”

I can’t help but wonder what this is implying. Is it that I don’t know anyone who has visited either of these states? Or is it just that they don’t have any good news to report? I know I want to spend some time on the Mississippi river, so that’s a start. But what then? On all my maps thus far I take a straight path from New Orleans to Jacksonville. While I’m sure the gulf coast is nice, it seems an awful long way to go just to stay on the edge the whole time.

Perhaps I should just do what my main character does: head towards Alabama and get myself into trouble.  I don’t know if it worked for her, I haven’t written that yet. But I suppose that’s true for both of us.