My backpack is heavy. Everything I need for weeks at a time — usually some filthy clothes and a toothbrush — is shoved in that sturdy but soft luggage. It looks like a camel’s rounded hump, transplanted onto my backside.
In the early 1990s, while traveling around Europe for months, I saw unexpected yet renowned history and art and culture at every stop. All I had was my Eurail ticket and that brown backpack, with its zipper pouch in front and two straps that could barely click shut across its belly. It was full of wadded up T-shirts, a few shorts and shower shoes in a baggy. Exploring out in the next wherever, I would heave that thing on my back and buckle it across my waist and we were off. At night, I would flop it to the floor and unzip it for a bit of rearranging. Then we could both get a rest before the next day’s slog.
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This beloved backpack, which I still have, deserves a nickname but doesn’t have one. It has been my dutiful companion on many of my far, then farther adventures. It’s been a compadre from Athens to Quito to Melbourne to Paris to Toronto and more — as well as on many jaunts in the lower 48. Even my daughter has taken it on an excursion. I’m amazed, after its rugged career, it has no rips or stains or broken plastic clasps. How’s that for endurance?
This Eagle Creek brand is a bland gray-brown, not shouting out "tourist" whenever I would land at a train station or bus stop. In photos that I trot out occasionally, the backpack blends in. Nothing exotic or colorful — just doing its job.
My carry-all truly carried all, always accommodating to fit in just one more Le Monde newspaper or whatnot memento. It’s not the largest luggage to lug — not one of those jobbers with metal rods and poles sticking out or a sleeping bag somehow fastened on. My backpack is a humble servant, though proudly wearing a few wrinkled airline tags wrapped around its handles.
At times, I felt like it weighed a dense 50 pounds, like a back-pachyderm. Fortunately, my muscles never ached after a full day of roaming around. Occasionally, though, my back would get sweaty after hiking with it attached all day on my shoulders and down my spine.
As a sort-of salty vagabond, I also always wore a money belt tucked in the waist of my pants, and my passport holder was strapped around my neck and tucked inside my shirt. Sometimes, I had a small "day pack" in front of me. Those smaller items completed my ensemble of travel gear. But the backpack — and I — really did the heavy lifting.
This trusty valet has earned retirement — now stowed in my garage — but I’m sure whenever it’s time to head back to the airport and venture out, it will faithfully enlist to come piggybacking along.