The other day I found myself sitting on the floor of a well-stocked outdoor-gear store, surrounded by bags: three different styles and sizes of sleeping bag, each with its own tiny nylon stuff sack, for hauling, and big cotton sack, for storage. I'd also pulled off the shelf an array of sleeping bag liners: bags to put inside the bags. I was having a hard time deciding which bag I wanted, mostly because I hadn't brought the waterproof dry bags in which I planned to take my new sleeping bag canoeing, or the bicycle panniers in which I hoped to take it touring, or the backpack in which I might take it hiking. I wasn't sure which bag would best fit the bags I already had.
That's when I realized I had a problem. Outside the store, the sky was crisp and blue and uncontainably big. And I was inside under fluorescent lights shopping for the perfect bag. So I could go outside.
My name is Brad, and I'm a container addict.
I bike, I paddle, I hike if I can't help it, and the containing accoutrements associated with these activities are starting to take over my life. It also happens that I move around the country quite a bit: just in the last five years I've lived in Missoula, Austin, Ann Arbor, Anaconda, Bonner, and, as of now, Oberlin. Every time I move, I pack up all my gear and move it down the road with me. At this point I'm hardly moving things at all. I'm moving things to put things in.
There are three bike bags, four configurations of Camelbak, six hardshell Pelican boxes, at least five waterproof boating bags, and four sizes of backpack (one of which includes a zip-off daypack). That's not to mention the canvas book bag, the three camera bags, the laptop satchel, a nylon portage pack, and three duffels. Add three tents, each with its own pole bag and stake bag and compression sack, and two sleeping pads (just bags for air). Bags within bags within bags, housed in a dozen lidded tubs, themselves entombed in a fiberglass truck topper, a rolling profusion of form awaiting content.
And still I want more. Three years in a row now I've asked family members for a ridiculously expensive, canoe-classic, waxed-canvas Duluth Pack for Christmas. So far: no luck. Perhaps they think I have enough bags already.
But how could anyone ever have enough bags? And what are we, really, if not bags of meat lumbering under an envelope of sky, thin sacks of skin containing cells otherwise indistinguishable from those we breathe and excrete? When we're alone in the woods, or on the road, or on the water, the things we carry carefully stowed, we call ourselves "self-contained," proud of our self-imposed isolation even out of doors.
Alas, we meatbags—unlike Pelican boxes and SealLine bags—spring regular leaks. In fact, we're most nakedly and fully engaged with the outdoors—most uncontained—precisely when we're squatting awkwardly in the wild, fertilizing the earth from which we sprang. But even this communion with nature is increasingly threatened by our species' burgeoning containment strategies. Bears and the Pope may still shit in the woods, but for the rest of us it's increasingly good policy not to. For us, there are Wag Bags.
The Wag Bag, of course, consists of a wide-mouth plastic bag, a smatter of chemical pellets, a packet of tissue, a wet wipe, and a thick, sealable, plastic sack for socking it all away when you're done. To this kit I've added the innovation of a square Tupperware bucket, which gives shape and a certain amount of breeze-resistance to the receptacle sack, and an added layer of security. On river trips, I tuck the sealed Tupperware away in an old vinyl roll-top bag until I'm back home, where the Wag Bag can be deposited in regular municipal trash. How self-contained is that?
I'll be moving back to Missoula in a few days—the midwest can't contain me—so I'm cleaning out closets and emptying the bed of the truck, conducting a fresh inventory of things in which to put other things. There's the cooler in which I'll ferry refrigerator condiments back across country, the vacuumable Space Bags in which I'll stash my airless clothes, the teardrop-shaped bag for my ping pong, racketball and tennis tools, the redundant new rolling camera bag I picked up for a song at Goodwill, the padded guitar case, the garment bag, the toiletry bag, the ugly purple backpack full of fishing gear, the new expandable bike-rack trunk bag I bought to absorb the contents of two brittle old rubber saddle bags. That one's got a little zippered compartment containing a draw-stringed waterproof bag for protecting itself from rain. That bag has got its ass covered.
I'll fill it all up and strap it all down and set off down the road. And though it's not exactly en route, I may just swing through Duluth, Minnesota along the way and pick up that canoe pack. I don't know what I'll put in it yet, but I'm pretty sure I'll find something.