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Passing the Bill Bryson test

The good news is I passed the Bill Bryson test.
The bad news is, I’m in a whole world of hurt right now.

If you’ve lived under a travel rock for the last decade or so you might not be familiar with Bill Bryson, but he’s a laugh-out-loud-funny travel writer. I was given my first Bryson book when my friend KH was visiting me and reading In a Sunburnt Country (which apparently has now changed the title to proper english spelling, but unless I was on drugs I swear was spelled ‘sunburnt’ on my copy), about Bryson’s travels in Australia. She left me the book when she was done and from there it duly sat on my shelf for a year or more destined to be unread because I was “not into nonfiction.” Foolish me.

Then about a year ago I learned I’d be traveling to Australia on a school project and dug the book out from under the several copies of Ross Thomas novels that I like to re-read when I need some fluff to take my mind off reading school texts. I started reading In a Sunburnt Country and it was fabulous! Trust me, you’ll never look at poisonous critters or flowerpot bread the same way again.

Another Bryson book, probably his seminal one (if a comedic travel writer can have a “seminal” work) is A Walk in the Woods about Bryson and a friend walking the Appalachian Trail. I remember picking this book up New Years Day when the a fancy hotel I’d booked for my New Years Eve festivities forced all the revelers to book rooms for 2 days instead of just the one, and I could think of no better way to spend the day recovering than lying in their uber-posh bed doing nothing but reading and ordering room service. Unfortunately, I forgot to actually bring any reading material with me so staggered down to the gift shop and lo and behold, they had this title in stock.

In one of the best scenes in the book, on their first day of traveling, is when Bryson’s friend is so burdened by his pack that the empties nearly the entire contents over the side of a cliff (its funnier if you read it, believe me) — though I think he kept several pounds of snickers bars. I have since loaned the book to someone (I can’t remember who, I think either JM or RB so if you have it, please give it back to me when I return from Africa) so I can’t look it up and refresh my memory as to exactly what happened.

Anyway, after having finally purchased most of the stuff I’ll need for my trip and re-packing my backpack about 18 different ways (and removing lots and lots of toiletries from my list) I realized, OK my bag is not stuffed to the limits, that’s a good sign. But you know what the key to packing is – not how full your pack is, but how light your pack is. Or isn’t, as the case may be.

Well, I needed a bathroom scale anyway so bought one to learn my fully-loaded pack is around 30 lbs (13.5 kilos for you non-yanks) and I thought “well, good, it’s not the 45 lbs I thought it was” but then realized “30 lbs. Is that a good weight or a bad weight?” And really, there is no answer to that question. Only one way to find out is put it on and take it for a spin.

So today I strapped on the bag not-quite fully loaded (around 24 lbs/11 kilos of the 28-30 I expect to take) and walked on one of my usual neighborhood routes from my apartment to the beach and back, which is around 6 miles (10k) round trip. And I’m pleased to say I survived — without dumping the contents of my pack over a cliff. Or into the yard of any uber-posh Santa Monica residents who, I’m fairly certain, would have had me arrested had I done so.

I will say though, the last 1+ miles were killer and I really, really wanted curl up into a ball and cry. Everything hurt. My thigh muscles hurt. My left knee and ankle hurt. My calves really hurt. Even my toes hurt (though I think that’s just because I need a pedicure – I’ll have to rectify that right away…). Fortunately, the one thing that didn’t hurt was my back so I feel pretty good that the bag isn’t sitting on me poorly or anything.

So, since I made it home alive and with my bag still full of snickers bars, I’d say I passed the Bryson test.

Though extra-strength asprin is my new best friend right now…



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-13 Responses to “Passing the Bill Bryson test”

  1. Monica H says:

    In another life, when I was in grad school in Italy, I spent winter break backpacking around Spain. Met a fun Aussie who asked if she could visit me in Bologna (the city) sometime in the spring. Sure, I said.

    Got a call from her one day in April; she was in Austria and would it be OK if she came that weekend? Sure, I said; meet you at the train station.

    She arrived wearing her shirt, vest-jacket, jeans, and boots (and, presumably, undergarments), with one small bookpack-sized back pack. The kind you probably had in high school, or might take for a weekend trip to the beach.

    That was it.

    In her bookpack were truly the essential toiletries, a change of undergarments (or maybe two), an extra shirt and pants. Oh, and a camera I think, but maybe not.

    Now THAT’s traveling light.

    (Admittedly, the bag was originally the part that zips on to a larger backpack, which she had brought from Australia on her one-year walkabout, then quickly shed. I guess when you’re traveling around for a year, you soon learn what you really need to survive.)

    Have a great trip!

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