If you’re a regular reader of my articles and have a good memory, you probably remember several articles about my family’s store Old Town Outfitters; this is going to be another one. This April marks ten years since the shop was originally opened and three and a half years since it closed. The opening of the store marks the beginning of my love of the outdoors and how I made so many friends along the way.
When the store opened, I was 12 years old with no more than 4 weeks of cub scouts and some family camping trips under my belt; the most adventurous trip was a “backpacking” trip with my dad where we hiked half a mile to a campsite and left the following day. Leaving early wasn’t part of the plan, but when a Scout leader dies of a heart attack while hiking to a waterfall in the same park, it kind of puts a damper on your weekend. Honestly, none of us really had an expertise in the outdoors…we had a smattering of kayaking experience, a good knowledge of campgrounds throughout the Carolinas, and naivety tinged with desire to cut our teeth on real adventures.
All of our trips were done from the mindset of heading out to test out gear and build up our outdoor cred. if we had used the equipment out in the wild, when a customer asked if it would perform well we could answer confidently that we had tested it ourselves. Some of the best trips were the ones where we learned what NOT to do either through our mistakes or from others. A great example was during the inaugural Catawba River Race when some members of a local rescue team took to the water in canoes decked out with new radios and GPS units. As all of the kayak racers steamed towards River Park from the Dam, the rescue team was to bring up the rear and several safety kayakers were to keep in the middle; the problem was though, the rescue team dumped out before the last competitors made their way downstream. My dad, one of the safety kayakers supposed to be in the middle, ended up having to tow the rescue teams canoe and the members to the shore line. One immediately became hypothermic because he was wearing nothing but cotton (so he couldn't get dry), and none of them had seen fit to use dry bags to pack a change of clothes. They also didn’t use drybags for any of the electronics so they were all ruined as well. Motto of the story: Always, always, always use dry bags.
Another good example was a backpacking trip to Cold Mountain in Shining Rock Wilderness Area in Pisgah. It was early November and the weather forecast called for those 60 degree days that you can only find in the south at that time of the year. It is western NC though, so as a precaution we packed 2 clothing loads: one for if the weather held true to forecast and one for if the weather turned wintery. Once we hit 4000' on the drive up to Ivestor Gap, near white-out conditions hit and the wind was howling. It was easy enough to just put on the winter gear before getting out of the car so as we started our hike with 4 layers of clothing on, it was fun. You don't get the chance to hike in blizzard conditions often, and as long as you're warm, it's good fun. At the 4-5 mile mark, we stopped to grab some water and jerky when in the distance we saw some hikers approaching us quickly; the whiteout conditions had stopped, but it was still cold from the windchill. As they got closer, we noticed they weren't wearing large coats...actually, they weren't even wearing long pants. Not even responding to our hello, these backpackers were wearing running shorts and 1/4 zip fleece pullovers and that was it. They hadn't been prepared for winter conditions, and from the rosy red color of their legs as they practically sprinted past us, I think they wish they at least had base layers.
On the other side of that though, I've come across people who were too over prepared; while not technically good grammar, there's a difference between being over prepared and too over prepared. Let me explain: If you have a map, a GPS unit, a compass, and 3 sets of batteries for your GPS I'd say you were over prepared for a 5 mile day hike; not that you're in the wrong, but you're bringing more than I would think was needed. I've met some people who live by being "too over prepared" and evangelise that if you're carrying less than 60lbs of gear, you shouldn't be allowed to step onto the trail. That 60lbs of weight was irregardless of the duration of the trip or the size of the person carrying the load; that same 5 mile day hike, they would advocate 3 compasses, 3 maps, 2 GPS units, and 16 AA batteries (I'm only being slightly hyperbolic). When one of these proponents told my mother, all 5'4" and 105lbs of her, that her pack needed to be 60lbs she rightly laughed in their face; gear is your safety net, and I never advocate giving up that safety net. When your safety net tangles you up though, to the point it's hard to hike down the trail, you need to reconsider your thought process.
Most of all, these trips made me realize that the gear is only a means to an end, and that you don't need the latest carbo-tanium trekking pole or ultralight tent to enjoy the trip (I can say that now that I no longer sell gear). I know people who use tents that are as old as I am, and while they're maybe heavier than the newer models by a few pounds, they at least get used regularly. It's easy to get bogged down in technical specifications and the latest and greatest thing, but unless you're doing a 2,500 mile hike, or a 400 mile kayak journey, it's more important to just go out and do something. It's hard to justify spending $800 on a newer backpack, tent, and sleeping bag than what you have, which already works, when for $350 you can get a round trip airplane ticket to Seattle and go visit Olympic National Park for a few days. Instead of buying new gear that's nice to look at that but you can only afford to take an hour away, doesn't it make more sense to take that money and have the trip of a lifetime?
The six and a half year run of Old Town Outfitters was incredible and I wouldn't trade it for the world. A lifetime of memories was packed in too short of a time for me to remember it all, and since I worked there from age 12-18, it shaped who I am. I was an introvert to start with and it helped me find a common ground with people who shared my passion for rock climbing, kayaking, hiking, and just being outside; it taught me how to talk to people, how to get to know people. It taught me business and sales, how to communicate and how to teach complicated material to people who are inexperienced. (If you don't believe me, try teaching a kayak roll clinic to people with little to no kayaking experience.) All of these skills have helped me in my career in fields far removed from the outdoors.
To all those who made Old Town Outfitters special: Thank you.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.