Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Trip to M.E.C.

Today was spent, as many of my days are, working. This was followed by a trip to M.E.C. to price out all of the gear I thought I would need for my upcoming trip.

Eight hours inside a community centre, watching the second hand tick by seemingly removed from normal space time relativity. I was learning to be a better teacher. The irony of me waiting for moments of engagement, amongst a mass of lectures was not lost on me. For a moment, I was my students. That's how my day was spent - in theory. What it may have looked like to onlookers, and those in charge, was a person sitting at a table drawing a plethora of poorly drawn cartoons. My cartoons, however, were mnemonics - essentially notes. And the professional development was actually quite beatifically. But, at one point my pictures began to represent my inner-thoughts, no longer the lessons being taught around me. They evolved into mountains, and glaciers, and open ocean.

Once again, I was considering the addition of Antarctica to my world trip. As it stands right now, the southern landmass is the only continent excluded my trip. It seems like a shame to miss it. Could I really claim to have seen the world without it? (Can anyone every claim that they saw the world?) My fault is that I consider Antarctica to lie beyond the Antarctic circle. Very few trips go that far, and the ones that do? They leave on very specific dates.

I also question whether I could survive the journey in the same clothes I plan on wearing in near-tropical locations such as Cambodia, and Vietnam. I would have a shirt, long pants, and my poncho. I would also wear my Xavier Rudd hoodie. That extra warmth has got to make surviving an Antarctic expedition possible, right?

In Toronto, I haven't warn anything more than pants, a short sleeve shirt, and my poncho all winter. It has dropped to minus twenty degrees celsius, and I've not been bothered. Antarctica in March floats just around freezing, if my research is correct.

As the professional development wrapped up, my thoughts of barren lands was replaced with far more pressing matters: tools, clothing, and gear.

It's not until you start spending money that trips become real. Some would say it's the first plane ticket, but for me? Any expenditure of money is commitment. Despite my ability to finance this experience, I am quite frugal. Perhaps it's better stated that because I am so frugal, I am able to finance this experience.

Hopping on the 509 street car, I realized I was headed the wrong direction. With an awkward pause, I pushed by everyone, and jumped off. The 511, which would take me up Bathurst to King, was nearing its stop. I had to run, full out, as the rain pounded down, and my feet splashed in the streets varied gradings, to jump on board before the doors closed. Out of breath, I took a seat. One stop later a field trip of grade eight students jumped on, boarding from both the front and the back door. Their screams and giggles kept me company until I departed.

Walking down King, I headed to 400. This would take me to a district known to all travelers to Toronto. The local hostel is located just up the road, and a scattering of small pubs are arranged to attract the touring crowd. At 400 King, however, lies the mecca of Canadian outdoors men, and backpackers. Mountain Equipment Co-Op. Inside those hallowed halls, I searched around and browsed, and wished, and complied lists of all the things I felt I would need for my upcoming trip.

What I'll Need to Buy

TSA luggage locks: I will need three of these locks. Two will keep the contents of my pack secure, while the third will allow me to lock up my day pack while I'm out and about. I thought long and hard about key lock vs combination lock. Ultimately, I feel I have a greater chance of remembering three numbers, than not losing my keys for an entire year.

Head Lamp: I had been lead to believe that there is no need for a headlamp, and that all it manages to do is make you look foolish. I was told, however, that this was the wrong attitude. What finally convinced me? Reading. I remember nights full of awkwardly holding a crank flashlight in one hand, while manging a novel in the other. Each page turn was a great effort. I will do anything I can to not repeat that experience. And to have a lamp strapped to my head? Well, I can finally live out my life long goal of pretending to be a coal miner. Two for one. That's value.

Long Underwear: I accept that I will get cold on this trip - especially if I end up in the Truth South Strong and Free. To be honest, I have wanted a pair of Long Johns since university, all those years ago. The time is nigh!

Spare Shoe Laces: I would never have even thought of these, except for the fact that I was looking at sandals. Having a lace break in Beijing and trying to figure out where to buy replacements could have been an awkward situation, to say the least. This will eliminate that awkwardness. Also, extra strings / rope: That's always useful.

Sandals: Just as I know it will be cold on my trip, it will also be hot. Sandals have been recommended as an essential item. Not just any sandals, either. I was told that any footwear I was going to wear best have toe covers. Without them, I will scream in pain multiple times, and be afraid to climb things. As we all know, one of the greatest joys in life is climbing things.

Windstopper gloves: While I've acclimatized to the cold, there does reach a point when I wish I could shoot photos without having to mentally eliminate all feeling in my appendages. To have hands free and fingers covered, while still being dexterous enough to change manual settings and shoot quality images? Well that's just a dream come true, isn't it?

Raincover: It will be windy, it will be cold, it will be hot. It will also rain. And my pack will soak. And I will say to myself, why oh why didn't I spend nine dollars on something to cover my pack? My novel that was ruined cost at least that. Well, gentle readers, with this sweet purchase, that will remain a phrase heard only in alternate futures. This time, I will be prepared.

Money Belt: It's a money belt, but it doesn't ride up high on your chest, under your shirt. No, it's actually a belt. A fully functional belt. I figure, if you're going to wear something ridiculous - you might as well buy something functional. Though I would have preferred a real leather money belt, I'll settle for the all terrain model.

Mosquito Net: I'm going to Africa. I'm going to South East Asia. Yes this will take up room in my pack, but that is temporary. Malaria is forever. Enough said.

Rain Jacket: I don't know anything about raincoat technology. I didn't even know there was raincoat technology. But there is, and this seems to be a fairly good representation of it. To be honest, I thought my Poncho was waterproof until today. My soaked shoulders informed me otherwise.

Quick Dry Socks: I need new socks. Why not get quick dry ones that can be washed in a hostel sink, and dried during the day? A few pair should be enough.

Solar Battery Charger: This is the big purchase. The one that I can not test ahead of time. The one I can not return. The one that must be ordered from the internet. In theory I could strap this to my pack, and charge up four AA batteries which would power my digital camera. This seems to be the perfect piece for use in Africa, and on the Inca Trail. It also packs small, and packs light. Unfortunately I have no experience with it, and would love any feedback that could be provided.

Pack Safe: This is the one item I considered, and then decided against. Honestly, I'm going to be hosteling for a year. I will have things stolen. I have accepted this. The lesson to be learned? Only pack clothes, and disposable items in your pack. Keep everything else on you at all times. Also, if I were a thief (and I'm not) I would consider a pack contained in a pack safe as containing more valuable items than the one just resting in the corner. Perhaps I'm wrong, and perhaps the Pack Safe would be a very wise investment. Please, by all means (e.mail or comments), let me know.

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