I did my slow breathing in the car and confidently entered the store. The first thing that hit me was the vibe. I’ve decided that the vibe in an REI store is an amped-up mixture of the nervousness and excitement of all the shoppers, just like me, who want desperately to get the right gear for the trip that they are so looking forward to, but who also feel completely overwhelmed and under informed. And it’s contagious, just like the vibe in the waiting room at the veterinarian’s office. Puppy was OK outside, but the minute you cross the threshold, it can sense the tension of the other animals and starts to shake.
I got a little shaky myself a few feet inside the door, but I persevered. I headed first to the tent department, but they didn’t have the tent I was looking for set up. It wasn’t even in stock. I was going to have to order it online. Undaunted, I moved on to the freeze-dried food section. I had actually eaten some freeze-dried meals over the past few nights to test them out and had decided on which ones I wanted to bring. I was perusing the selection, reaching for the very first item to put in my handcart, about to break the ice so to speak, when the sales clerk showed up.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Item number 3 on my game plan – Don’t talk to the cute sales clerk. I followed the game plan, I really did. He wasn’t cute. I didn’t ask him anything. He just started talking, telling me how the meals are really great, but only if you mix in the specially-processed smoked salmon that you can find immediately in front of and to the left of the register. “Not worth eating without it,” he says. “Tastes much better, adds required protein so you won’t suffer from malnutrition, and has a nice laxative effect.” I am not making this up. The part about him not being cute? Maybe he had been cute – 50 years ago – hence the concern about laxatives.
I smiled, took a step back, turned and headed upstairs to the clothes. Hard not to succeed at buying clothes, right? I guess it’s just me, part of being a greenhorn I suppose, but is there a requirement that you have to look like a sack of potatoes in the wilderness? I don’t need fine-tailoring, but for the prices that they charge the sleeves should be the same length as your arms and the waist on the pants should actually touch you. To keep the mosquitos from crawling in, if nothing else. After a few trips into and out of the dressing room with different sizes and styles, there was absolutely nothing I was willing to purchase.
Sitting dejectedly on the bench in the dressing room, feet resting on a pile of discarded UPF-rated, moisture-wicking clothing, I decided it was time for Plan B. I lifted my head up, stepped out of the dressing room, put my still-empty handcart down, and with laser-like focus walked to the front doors looking neither left nor right. I got back in my car, drove directly home, and opened my laptop.
Best part about having a bullet-proof shopping list? Google. Within four hours I had ordered everything but a few local-hardware-store items on the internet. My favorite gear sites? Moontrail, Backcountry, Steep and Cheap, GoLite. As far as trying on clothes went, one trip to the local Any Mountain and Title Nine stores got me high-quality performance pants and shirts that actually fit and were on sale. I bought everything at prices significantly lower than I had seen at REI. And my hands weren’t shaking at all.
My cool, new 4-season Terra Nova Voyager 2-person tent just arrived today. Set up like a dream. First I took a hose to it and tested it for leaks. Then I grabbed my bottle of water, an energy bar, and a pillow, and read The Naturalist’s Guide to the Arctic all afternoon enjoying the view out the front flap. Side benefit to my afternoon tent-test? The Naturalist’s Guide confirms it: I wasn’t completely crazy about the Musk Ox. They had been extirpated (the biologist smarty-pants word for a species that is extinct in a particular geographic area) from Alaska in the early 1900s. The Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced them to Alaska from herds in Greenland.
Plan B is complete and it turns out that I’m not a total idiot after all. Check.