Weighty Tomes

Books are heavy. That’s why they get packed in small boxes when you move. This also becomes an issue when traveling. If you are a bibliophile and a traveler, you know what I am talking about.

I have learned that carry-on bags never get weighed like checked baggage. Granted, it requires you to tote your bag of books all over the airport. I always try to look casual while passing through the gate. No reason to trigger some airline employee’s memory from training that there is, in fact, a weight limit to carry-on bags. Wheeled carry-ons help.

With airlines being the misery-inducing organizations that they are, we occasionally travel without checking bags. Since clothes have to go somewhere, do I take an extra pair of pants or another book? (If you’ve never asked yourself that question, you can probably skip the rest of this post.)

But as shoulder-straining as traveling with a bunch of books can be, thinking about backpacking becomes a whole other matter. My “basic load” for Morning and Evening Prayer comes in at about 7 pounds (and a fair amount of volume as well.) Granted, I could swap out for a smaller Bible and prayer book.

Of course, besides devotional material, I want to take other stuff. A field guide for birds, maybe one for dragonflies and one for butterflies. And I still don’t have anything to read, just for fun….. It soon becomes evident that I need to hire a Sherpa to carry my library for me for a weekend backpacking trip. Probably not practical or affordable, and certainly counterproductive to one of the main draws of backcountry camping for me — solitude.

My experiences traveling have also taught me that I usually read less than I think I will, especially if in any suitably non-urban environment. I look for birds and I spend a good amount of time just sitting and thinking. I try to take this into consideration when I travel, but I am a contingency packer by nature.

A contingency packer is someone who stands looking at their bag/suitcase thinking, “What if?” We are the people who take the Boy Scout motto to “be prepared” to heart. I have been trying to curb this instinct in recent years and two things help. First, years of experience of almost never needing my “what if” stuff. Second, the presence of a credit card in my wallet so that in the case of some unforeseen contingency, I can probably buy whatever I need.

This is not true in the wilderness, of course, which is why I occasionally obsess over packing lists for trips I might not even take. Yes, I hear you say, “Just get a Kindle or read on your phone.” Well, no. First, I have an aversion to taking electronics backpacking. The one exception I might make is a camera. Electronics are fragile and heavy, batteries die, and then you are stuck lugging a useless, heavy object.

A book needs no batteries and is much more durable than any glass and plastic contraption. Plus, I carry a flip phone. I’m not reading anything longer than 140 characters on that. So, what shall I do? Well, first things first. I need to find some white space on the calendar to actually go backpacking. Then I can start making hard decisions in earnest.


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