G’day, Dragon Mates. This is my last column before my whirlwind jaunt to the land down under. Judging from the emails my dad keeps sending me of what appears to be a woman with striking resemblance to myself protruding from the mouth of a crocodile or practically Saran Wrapped in deadly jellyfish, clutching her throat, and waving goodbye to loved ones on the shore, it’s most likely going to be my last column. Ever. Note to my dad: Those pictures are obviously Photoshopped. By you. Quit trying to scare me!
I think we’ve known each other long enough where I can confess something. It may come as a shock to you but I’m not exactly the rugged type. There. I said it. This is especially true when I travel. I don’t need 4-star hotels and jetted bathtubs, but there’s a reason why those little shacks above liquor stores and ambiguous massage parlors are called youth hostels. They make me hostile! I wasn’t into them even when I was a youth. The whole “share a bathroom with new friends from all over the world” mentality doesn’t appeal to me. I didn’t like sharing a bathroom with my family. Plus, “hand over your money belt” is scary even when said with a French accent and a butter knife pressed against your collarbone.
I went to a very earthy, liberal college where people wore Birkenstocks and fleece, listened to the Grateful Dead, and spent weekends sleeping outdoors. By choice. I think this is called camping? That’s scarier than a French tourist with a butter knife. I’ve lived in the liberal Pacific Northwest for thirteen years and have never owned anything waterproof. If it’s raining outside, I get wet. I have never liked the Grateful Dead. Never. I don’t even like Cherry Garcia ice cream. I don’t like being upside down. I’m terrified of moths. If I can’t see the bottom of the body of water I’m swimming in I will become paralyzed with fear and drown. Worst of all, I’m terrified of being unprepared. Packing for a trip takes me days. Okay, weeks. I created a spreadsheet in Excel to better track all my essentials. That’s right. Excel. I’m that uptight. What if I get all the way to Jupiter, FL and realize I forgot cotton balls? Yes, I know I can buy them there. I never said it was a rational fear.
My Australian travel party includes two friends. One is a mother of two toddlers (who should be adept in the art of preparation and packing) and the other is a librarian (who should be adept in the art of organization and research.) When I asked them what kind of suitcase they were bringing, they laughed. Guffawed really.
“A suitcase?” The Mommy asked. “You don’t bring a suitcase on a trip to Australia. Maybe a duffle or a small roller bag.”
Clearly The Mommy is sleep deprived. I ask The Librarian to please set her straight.
“I’m only bringing a backpack,” she says, “to keep my hands free in case I need to wrestle you from the jaws of a crocodile.”
My stomach sank and not because it looks like my dad’s emails had reached her too. How did I allow myself to get roped into traveling across the world with two lunatics? Have they no reason? No realism? No toiletries?
It’s times like these I find myself thinking WWTD. Tabitha is not just a skilled wizard, she’s an accomplished adventurer, and to be an accomplished adventurer you must be ready to depart on your next escapade at a moment’s notice. Tabby doesn’t have the luxury of deciding between the kitten heels or the wedge. Judging from her ruddy complexion she obviously doesn’t use an exfoliant. If only there were a handbook to help with these sorts of things.
Every so often I see someone in the halls clutching a black binder a thick as a hatbox to their chest. It’s no secret that the contents are what will become the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook. Fortunately, it’s also no secret (thanks to New DM getting tired of us wandering into dank, dark dungeons only to realize no one brought a light source) that there’s a nifty checklist of adventuring gear inside.
“Give me that thing!” I shout as I jump from behind a potted plant into Scott’s path. He half-drops, half-shoves the 90-pound binder into my stomach. I’d like to think he gives in so readily because of my awesome intimidation, but really it’s because he’s also carrying his laptop, a latte and a cold piece of leftover pizza.
“Don’t take it within five feet of my cubicle,” he tells me. “It will self-destruct in your hands and probably ruin your shoes.”
Heeding his advice, I drop into a sit position right there on the floor and find what I’m looking for. A whole chapter on equipment. Food, drink, lodging. Carrying, lifting, and (more likely) dragging. Lonely Planet’s got nothing on R&D. Better yet is the handy list of essential gear, neatly broken out by category. Really, my Excel spreadsheet isn’t so different. I photocopy the list and bring it on Phase 1 of my great adventure. An exotic locale more terrifying than a shark-infested reef.
The fact that I’ve managed never to darken the mammoth door of this iconic Seattle establishment could very well have me extradited from the Northwest (and just imagine the packing nightmare that would be.) REI is as common an attraction as the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and the Ducks (all of which I’ve done and survived, thank you). The Librarian agrees to chaperone me, as even Tabitha’s bag of tricks can’t conquer this beast alone.
Looking at the standard list of gear in The Player’s Handbook proves helpful. Most of it has a department at REI. The backpack, bedroll, and trail rations. Belts, pouches, and lanterns. I might actually use some of this stuff. How about tucking a couple loaves of journeybread in your carry-on? You only need a few bites to fill you up, and it’s good for you! Beats a $15 tub of Pringles.
Let the consumerism begin.
They want you to believe REI stands for Recreation Equipment International, but really it should stand for “Remove Every Incidental” because there’s no way you’re getting sunscreen and a razor in these eensie weensy valises.
“Excuse me?” I ask the teenage tree-hugger unloading stock. “Where do you keep the Heward’s handy haversacks?”
“Heward’s?” he ponders. “I don’t know that we have that brand. But Eagle Creek makes a good day bag.”
The librarian pinches me. “Don’t be hostile. It’s not his fault you have a co-dependent relationship with your eye lash curler.”
Bitterness aside, I spy a backpack that measures twice the length of my torso and has more pockets that a pool hall. It’s also got a streak of yellow, which stands out in this canvas world of beige and navy. Does ergonomic have to mean drab?
I've got to give the peeps at Eagle Creek credit. My first choice is a vortex of space and compartments—certainly enough room for a couple weeks worth of novels and multiple shoe options. The teen tree hugger shakes his head even before pulling a measuring tape out of his sleeve. Who is this guy? Inspector Granola? He probably has a portable stove and some titanium dishware up there too.
“It’s too big for carry-on,” he tells me. “Try this.” Tree Hugger tosses me a compact beige swatch of canvas and I’m not exaggerating when I say they make envelopes bigger than this. Just as I’m about to purchase a steamer trunk, a vision of Tabitha flashes before me.
“Oh please,” she says. “Do you really need three pairs of jeans when you’re seven inches from the equator?”
Fine. I take the tiny bag, but still, wouldn’t something with wheels have been better… like a station wagon?
Personally I would prefer to hear the words “resort,” “day spa,” or “theme park” but almost every place we’re hitting has the words “rock,” “out,” and “back” in it. Looks like we’re going to need a climber’s kit. Tabitha’s version would have a grappling hook, hammer and ten pitons. She would also gain a +2 bonus on her Athletics checks while climbing.
I’m fairly certain a hammer and grappling hooks won’t clear airport security, so I’ll need an alternative. R&D, like everyone else in the Northwest, assumes we all have proper footwear because hiking shoes are nowhere on the adventuring list. I pick up a pair of shoes at the urging of The Librarian, who reminds me we’ll be traveling during what’s known as the monsoon season and my Chuck Taylor’s might get “dirty.”
“Now might be a good time to introduce you to Gore-Tex,” she says.
Now might be a good time to purchase travel insurance.
A bedroll sounds suspiciously like a sleeping bag according to The Player’s Handbook, but the only bedroll I plan to see better involve a pat of butter and arrive in a basket on my nightstand with its friends Danish and Croissant. The Librarian interprets this differently. She stashes a pack of disposable travel pillowcases into my backpack (she was one of those youth hostel types).
“My college roommate discovered a colony of dust mites living in her nasal passage after spending the summer in Austria,” she tells me.
I pick up a few extra packs of pillowcases as well as a toothbrush sanitizer, a facemask and a case of HygiMist.
Probably the most important tool I can get my hands on is a staff of defense, and I’m not seeing them anywhere at REI. The Tree Hugger offers to see if he can order me one. I have to admit the junior hippie is growing on me. I almost wish I could fold him up like a Swiss Army Knife and bring him along if for no other reason than to see what else he’s got up his polar fleece sleeve.
Any old wizard could use an ordinary implement to focus her spells, but an enchanted implement is handier than a collapsible java press. Should Tabitha be sporting one of these charming bad boys, she’d get an enhancement bonus on her attack and damage rolls with her arcane powers. Should I be sporting one of these—well—I’d probably be playing a wizard in a D&D campaign. It’s too bad, because the staff can double as a weapon. Should one of those sneaky-ass crocodiles, clingy stingers or disemboweling koala bears (no, really?) get all up in my business, I’d gain a +1 to my Armor Class (which right now is -3 thanks to a wind resistant jacket and a couple year’s worth of kickboxing classes – and yes, -3 is an improvement).
I’d like to point out that an empty chest and fine clothing are also on the adventurer’s checklist. I could also purchase a hippogriff to carry my load for a 1,000 gp, but I’m trying to turn over a new leaf here. Or eucalyptus, in this case. I’m not interested in traveling like a hermit crab with everything I own strapped to a knock-off Fendi backpack. Besides, the more stuff I leave at home, the more my parents can sell to pay off my travel debt.