I like to talk about gear. A lot. Sometimes, though, I'm fearful of forgetting that gear is a means to an end. The “end” is different for all of us. For some, it's lying on a thick pad, sipping a freshly brewed espresso, and eating jam straight from a glass jar. For others, it's skipping light across the land, with bars as fuel and bivy sack for shelter. It's easy for me to forget transcendent backcountry experiences, though, when admiring some shiny new titanium spork, or an amazingly light Cuben fiber pack. And, in these moments of forgetfulness, I think of Ed Talone.
Ed is a former colleague who quit his DC job, went to Florida, and started hiking north. Many would be satisfied to complete either the Florida Trail, or the Alabama Pinhoti Trail, or the Appalachian Trail, but Ed has strung them together all the way from Dry Tortugas National Park to Maine, and as I write, he's drinking tea at my apartment and contemplating heading north on the International Appalachian Trail.
Ed's backpackpack is a 1970s Kelty Serac external frame. When I picked Ed up at the trailhead, I struggled to lift the pack (only partially loaded) into the car. The frame is so wide I needed to turn it sideways to get it through my front door. From a distance, Ed appears to be a refrigerator box on legs.
At first, I'd offer advice and suggest that Ed use stuff sacks, rather than old shopping bags, or trade his tent in for a tarp. More than once I've asked, "Perhaps you'd consider a trail shoe, Ed, rather than a ratty pair of Keds?" I even made the mistake of suggesting Ed dispense with his beloved Kelty and consider an internal frame pack.
“I don't know any hikers that talk about gear less than me,” Ed says, and quickly loses interest in the conversation. He doesn't necessarily disagree, and sometimes talks about getting newer gear, but for Ed, it's all about the journey.
There's no way I would hike with a frame pack, a spare pair of sneakers, and a radio that weighs more than a pound. When beginning hikers ask my opinion, I typically steer them to lighter gear choices. On a spectrum, Ed and I occupy nearly opposite ends. Ed makes it work, and I can't deny that, despite his lack of interest in gear, he's hiked roughly 3,800 more miles than me this year.
I won't stop drooling over the “latest and greatest” gear, nor will I stop writing about it or testing it, but when I feel that I'm forgetting that it's all a means to an end, I'll think of Ed, lumbering through the mountains, rivets rattling as he goes.