In the spring of 2004 I bought a new book bag. At the time I had a strong loyalty to LL Bean; I had a navy LL Bean pack in high school and graduated to cobalt blue in college. Now, at the age of 25, I was looking for something more sophisticated so as I browsed the LL Bean website, I decided on a hiking pack. My new bag was a sleeker model with all sorts of trimmings. It had a pouch for a Camelbak. It had side pockets with elastic for holding snacks and water bottles. I could fasten the pack around my waste with lap straps and tighten the shoulders with an extra cross-chest fastener. Best of all, it was a coolly subdued olive drab.
A few months ago the black cloth material at the bottom of my pack began to give way, with heavy fraying and small slits showing. I tried sewing it but when I began losing pens and I could see the corners of my laptop protruding, I knew it was only a matter of time. This week the inevitable became a reality when I purchased a new hiking pack from the Boulder REI. However, I wanted to take some time out and write about the long journey that my hiking pack and I shared.
School Bag: When I first bought my pack I had yet to graduate college after having left in 2001 for financial reasons. In the fall of that year, I decided to finish up my degree online by attending Thomas Edison State College. I took thirty credits online and one final live class at my former university, Rutgers. My book bag was there for me the whole way, helping me transport text books, notebooks and my lap top to and from class, home and my preferred study locale, Starbucks.
Brief Case: Throughout my back pack’s storied career I have been a tutor and freelance writer. I worked for Kaplan from 1999 until May and my bag carried my Kaplan text books for SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT and TOEFL to and from students’ homes, class rooms, cafes and libraries in New Jersey, New York and Istanbul. Now that I’m a freelance tutor in Colorado, my bag carries a different set of books, but the load is much the same. As a freelance writer my backpack has also had to carry the three lap tops that I’ve owned in the past six years as well as assorted memory cards, memory sticks, external hard drives and digital cameras.
Carry-On Bag: Rather than buying one of those stylish Samsonite rolling mini-suitcases I have always preferred a backpack that I can stow under the seat. In six years my backpack logged 45 air trips, approximately a third of which were connecting flights. It crossed the Atlantic Ocean 12 times having reached as far north as London, as far south as Fort Myers, Florida, as far East as Kayseri, Turkey and as far west as Denver, Colorado. My book bag was also extremely useful in helping me amass my collection of in flight magazines that I keep as research and bathroom reading material. My pack has also been on trains, boats, subways, buses and God knows how many car trips.
Back-Packing Back Pack: In the summer of 2005, after graduating high school, my hiking pack accompanied me on an extensive backpacking trip through Europe. While I had a far larger Kelty metal-framed hiking pack for my clothes and gear, my LL Bean acted as a day back for trips around towns and cities while my larger pack was safely stowed in youth hostel lockers and hotel rooms. On an average day my pack would have my Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoe String (2004 edition), a cheap €.50 water bottle, a Moleskine Journal, pens, aspirin and Marlboro Light cigarettes (I quit in 2006). Together we toured England, Spain, France (and Monaco), Italy (and the Vatican), Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria.
Expat Back Pack: My LL Bean became an expatriate in 2007 when we moved to Istanbul, Turkey. My pack accompanied me on my foray into English teaching as I took positions with English Time language schools and Kaplan Turkey. My pack was also instrumental in the beginnings of my career as a travel writer, carrying my laptops, travel guides and the handful of English language novels that I could get my hands on. My bag also served as a form of protection from prying eyes when I would visit the few Greek butchers still left in Istanbul to buy pork products. While living in Turkey my bag accompanied me on trips to Cyprus, Sicily, Munich, Venice, Bulgaria, Romania and around the Turkish countryside. My bag almost made it to Greece but I left it at the hotel when I took a ferry ride from Bodrum to Kos Island.
My Coming of Age Bag: Since I bought my LL Bean bag I have graduated from college, got married, got my first pet and lived in seven different homes. I got published in my first magazine, travel guide, inflight periodical, technical journal and I launched my own website. Since I bought my pack I quit smoking, grew a beard and got a tattoo. I probably read a150 books or so, nearly all of which would have spent some time rattling around my lovely green LL Bean.
You were a good pack and you will be missed.