I’ve discovered a newfound love for something I never anticipated – my teal Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack.
It was not an overnight love affair. My affection for said backpack blossomed after reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild during my travels. The novel made me think about my own backpacking trip, which in a lot of ways seems more different than alike to Strayed’s.
For one, I’m not traveling as a solo woman across 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m not hitchhiking, camping outdoors, trekking up and down monstrous hills at incomprehensible altitudes, nor am I living off of freeze-dried food. I’m not trying to fill a void. I’m not soul-searching. I’m not nearly as brave.
But like Strayed, I’m a young, female traveler on a two month-long unforgettable trip that I’ve ended up writing about. I might not write a novel, as she did, but if I had the time and energy, I would. I could fill innumerable pages about my experiences in Europe – the highs, the lows, the teachings, discoveries, sights, sounds, people and cultures. Through this journey, I am finding and understanding new and undiscovered pieces of myself and the world, similar to Strayed. I’m facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities and gaining a broader, more global perspective.
But I’m certainly not alone. I have my two favorite sidekicks in tow – my boyfriend, Niko, and my backpack, unnamed.
I felt an instant connection to Strayed when she described her tremendous hiking backpack in Wild. The pack was half her size and weight, filled to the brim with practically every item on REI’s shelves.
“[The backpack] had an animate quality; in its company, I didn’t feel entirely alone. Standing, it came up to my waist. I gripped it and bent to lift it…it wouldn’t budge…It was exactly like attempting to lift a Volkswagen Beetle. It looked so cute, so ready to be lifted – and yet it was impossible to do…How could I carry a backpack more than a thousand miles over rugged mountains and waterless deserts if I couldn’t even budge it an inch in an air-conditioned motel room?” (Strayed 42).
After triumphant efforts, the Volkswagen Beetle was parked on Strayed’s back. She eventually named it “Monster” and it became her sidekick as well, even though sometimes she wanted to throw it over a mountain ledge.
I remember packing for my Eurotrip the first week of June 2017. I pulled my teal Osprey out of my closet, where it had been living for nearly two months ever since I brought it home from REI. I organized my piles of packing supplies – clothing, shoes, toiletries, electronics, chargers, etc. I thought to myself, there’s no way all of this will fit into this backpack, which was designed to fit snugly into an airplane overhead, one of the main reasons I made the purchase.
By some miracle, I filled every last pocket of space with my items.
You know when you get a new pair of shoes and it takes some time to break them in and get comfortable? But after a while you develop a love for those shoes that once made your feet raw and blistered? That’s more or less what it’s been like with my Osprey.
It always takes me a few seconds and a lot of awkward arm movements to get the Osprey straps around my shoulders. I’ve even staggered backwards beneath its weight a few times. It’s not until the hip and chest straps are buckled that I feel balanced and able to move. My Osprey makes me look a bit like a turtle. The rounded shape covers my entire back, resembling a green turtle shell. The weight also slows my pace and forces me to hunch over, furthering my turtle likeness.
Relief floods my body each time I heave the Osprey off my back. I immediately roll my neck and shoulders, removing the cricks and aches after sporting my hefty pack for minutes or hours. It feels like losing 20 pounds, finishing an upper body workout, lightening a massive load.
My Osprey backpack has now traveled with me to eight countries, and five more to go in the coming weeks. But I won’t let it gather dust in a closet once I return home. The pack will accompany me to countless cities, countries, trails and adventures throughout my life. This is just the beginning.
I can account for every item in my Osprey, as I’ve had to pack and unpack it dozens of times. I eagerly unzip it in each new destination, all of its contents still neatly in place, packed together like Tetris cubes. I can repack the bag in record time, with muscle memory of where each item belongs. I’ve purchased zero souvenirs, as I don’t have the space or the weight for anything other than what I brought with me. Most of the European airlines I’ve flown have weight requirements for carry-on bags, typically around 10 kilos (~22 pounds) or less. After realizing my Osprey topped 11 kilos, I chucked and consolidated my supplies until the pack lingered around 9.6 kilos.
I’ve grown to love all 9.6 kilos of my teal Osprey and embrace my turtle resemblance. It is my Monster. I’ve found solace in its warmth against my back, a constant reminder of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Everything I need lies within that bag, and without it I’d be lost. The brimming pack has become an extension of me, a pivotal part of my journey, and a friend that is always by my side. My Osprey carries me as much as I carry it.
I’ll treat my beloved backpack to a warm bath when I return home to the States. It’s in need of a washing from the underarm and back sweat that soaks into it as I walk briskly through airports, train stations and city centers. I’ve loved the pack well in Europe, and I’ll love it forever. It will always be my travel partner, my sidekick and my shell.