I have a vision of myself as being the kind of person who magically has her act together, who can go on an adventure at the drop of a hat. At a moment's notice I'll be slinging that backpack I always have ready over my shoulder and trotting off toward the mountains. Like an outdoorsy Mary Poppins, I can simply reach into the depths of the nearest stuff sack and retrieve whatever gear the conditions call for.
This is what I think about as I stand in line at REI.
It happens the same way every Saturday. I arise gracefully with the natural rhythms of the season -- around 9 a.m. I fumble my way toward a cup of coffee, happy if I don't break anything on my journey from bed to kitchen, and curl up on the couch. I watch the sun elbow its way into the sky. I half listen to the news. I tell myself I'll be ready to go play outside by 10.
At 10:30 a.m., I tug on an assortment of mismatched, garishly colorful non-cotton layers. At 10:42, I assemble a PB&J I know will be soggy by lunchtime. At 10:50, I start to pack my bag and I realize I am missing something -- something essential.
I tear apart the apartment looking for it -- my spandex moisture-wicking headband; trekking pole baskets; glove liners; four-rated long underwear; stainless steel martini glass -- and I can't find it anywhere.
I can't imagine my outdoors experience being enjoyable, comfortable or maybe even survivable without my (insert superfluous-but-I've-convinced-myself-it's-essential item here).
By 12:30 p.m., I'm at REI. Again.
There's this deeply discouraging feeling I get when the car is completely packed with all my outdoor essentials, coffee buzz in full swing, and daylight hours are peaking. Yet, I'm not at the Glen Alps trail head, no. I am shuffling across an icy parking lot with hundreds of my closest friends and neighbors, all of us headed toward the entrance of our go-to outdoors store.
The sense I have as I walk through those doors is that I've failed. It's not just about the gear I'm missing; it's something more elemental. It's a gut feeling that tells me that instead of being at a store consuming the outdoors, I should be consuming the outdoors outside where it is traditionally found.
The thing is, though -- and this is the real kicker -- those REI people; they designed the store for me.
Once I'm inside, even when I need something very simple and small, my attention is always drawn away from my mission. The part of my brain that used to light up at the toy store as a child now glows as I run my hands across various displays.
I would like a bicycle, I think. I would like a fat tire bicycle. Then, after I look at the price tag for a fat tire bicycle, my mind jumps to: I would like a bicycle light. A new, shiny, blinking bicycle light to keep me safe.
That's how it gets to be 1:30 p.m. and I am standing in front of the kids' hat sale wondering if I am ignoring a fabulous opportunity to get a child an inexpensive and yet cozy warm gift. Such a win-win, I think. I may hate myself later if I pass up this unprecedented, probably once-in-a-very-very-long-while opportunity.
It goes on like this for a while but eventually I do make my way out of the store. The feeling of self-loathing that comes with every distraction gets too strong, and I suddenly and urgently must leave.
This is the amazing thing, though: There is a transformation as I go out into the cold air and start my way back across the parking lot. I have a feeling of wholeness, of completion. I nestle my new purchase in with the rest of my gear, and all is right in my world. I trash all of the packaging -- evidence of my unplanned trip to REI -- and go back to that vision of myself as Mary Poppins, pulling an entire ski set from my backpack to help a fellow outdoor recreationalist in need.
By the time I actually get out on the trail, it's well past 2 p.m. and I only have a few hours of good daylight left.
It's OK, though, I think, because now I have everything I need. Next time -- next week, next Saturday -- I'll be ready. Next time, I will be the self-sufficient magical outdoorswoman I know I am deep down. I won't need a thing.
Alli Harvey lives, works and plays in Anchorage