Cannonballs for Backpacking


Ray Jardine

Cannonballs for Backpacking

"These are not ordinary cannonballs. They are specialty backpacking cannonballs, designed by computer and manufactured of the latest space-age materials to enhance the backpacker's wilderness experience."

Copyright © Ray Jardine

Imagine we are preparing for a big hike. So we study an entire pile of backpacking magazines, reading the articles (biased), the learned reviews (biased), and looking at the full-page glossy advertisements (biased). In some of those, we learn about the many important advantages of cannonballs, and why every serious backpacker should carry at least one, preferably more. Mind you, these are not ordinary cannonballs. They are specialty backpacking cannonballs, designed by computer and manufactured of the latest space-age materials to enhance the backpacker's wilderness experience. Naturally, some are more featured than others, according to cost. But even for the budget minded there are very simple yet practical models.

Many of the photos depict beautiful, happy hikers proudly toting their cannonballs. And the more serious backpackers are carrying much more sophisticated and expensive ones, and of course more of them.

Because we are new to hiking, naturally the idea of cannonballs seems a bit strange. So we visit our local backpacking store and talk at length with an exceptionally experienced and knowledgeable salesperson (biased). The gentleman directs us to the store's cannonball section, and shows us some of the many different models. Some are quite large, some fairly small and compact - or so we are told (they all look large to us). Some are green, some blue, one is chrome, one almost scintillates in sparkeling bands, one glimmers like a great diamond, one sort of ...vibrates.

Invited to try out some of the more interesting ones, we notice that all are, well ... heavy. Even the ones labeled "featherweight," and those labeled "Ultralight." They feel like they are filed with lead. But the salesperson assures us they comprise unimaginably exotic materials born of nano-alchemy. He then begins explaining certain key features. For instance, depending on the model and degree of sophistication, the backpacking cannonball is designed to stabilize the load within the backpack. Because of its inertial dampening capabilities, it reduces the side-to-side sway, the up and down jounce, and the back and forth hesitations. Equipped with cannonballs, we walk steadier and therefore with less chances of injury. On uneven ground we are more sure-footed. Also, the cannonballs even and distribute the muscular and cardiovascular workout through all parts of the body, thus relieving and in many cases entirely eliminating accumulated stress in certain critical areas such as the knees, legs and feet.

One type of cannonball contains a battery of microchips that resonate on the molecular level, and when placed in proximity to the third chakra it markedly enhances arterial and vascular circulation. This is an obvious benefit on any backpacking outing, especially at higher altitudes such as along the PCT and CDT. Another type has powerful rare earth magnets aligned in certain polymorphic ways to promote mental acuity. Students will no doubt soon be toting this type in their book packs.

The sales pitch continues, and we listen ever more enrapt. We have to admit, it does make sense! The salesperson then suggests that as beginners we might consider going with something reasonably priced; then after we have gained experience we can add more sophisticated cannonballs to our collection. So after deliberating long and hard to insure that our buying choice is the most thoughtful, we decide on a certain one. Yes, this one feels right!

Paying for it dearly, we lug it excitedly out to our car.

The long awaited morning arrives, and we drive to our chosen trailhead. Since we had loaded our backpack the previous evening, it is ready to go. And of course our new cannonball has assumed its rightful place inside our backpack. Thanks to the reams of hype, we are quite certain it will prove of inestimable benefit, despite its size and fifteen pounds of weight.

"We notice that all the other backpackers have their cannonballs"

Parking the car under the shade of a tree, we can hardly contain our excitement. Right away we notice that all the other backpackers have their cannonballs. Most have several, and some of the most serious and experienced backpackers are positively loaded with them. Some of those backpacks must weigh a hundred pounds! But what does that matter in view of the inarguable benefits of this unbelievable new technology?

Much to our dismay, within the first mile we are sweating like pigs and huffing like steam locomotives. Our feet are killing us, and the backpack is starting to feel more like a crushing burden. Imagine what this hike would have been like without the cannonball! Why, we would not have made it nearly this far. Come to think of it, we could not imagine hiking without it. Especially since everyone else is carrying them. If nothing else, think of our pride. And we have to wonder how backpackers survived without cannonballs prior to their invention? How did those people manage ten steps from their cars? They must have looked pretty silly, too, and felt almost naked in the woods with out our modern cannonball technology.

Back at the store, the salesperson explains that the reason we did not go far was because the cannonball we chose was - as he had advised - fairly moderate in its cost and therefore in its benefits. But he strongly cautioned us not to swap it for others of greater worth, but to carry the original one in addition to a few new ones. That way we would not risk anything in the switch, in the unlikely event that problems arise with the new ones. Good advice, we agree.

. . .

OK, in this crazy scenario we have everyone hiking with cannonballs. Why do they? Because they were led to believe in the cannonballs. But are the cannonballs of any real value? Only to the companies selling them. But to the hikers? Of course not. They are pure hype, plain and simple. In reality, the cannonballs are of course enormously hindering to the hikers.

In this story I use cannonballs because they are so obviously ridiculous. With this extreme we might be able to understand the influence of the magazines, marketeers, sales people, and peer pressure. In the story I could have used big, heavy boots, seven pound backpacks, trekking poles, or some other new-fangled implement.

In the larger sense, the cannonballs could also represent some of our limiting beliefs. If only we knew how much farther and more enjoyably we could hike (walk through life) without them.

And again, where did we acquire our cannonballs? From the people we trusted and respected in our youth - our parents, teachers, and classmates. Then the military perhaps, jobs and bosses, co-workers. Then magazines, marketeers, salespeople and even more peer pressure. Television ads, church, PTA, clubs, government, and maybe even UFO's   In short, from the entire body of external influence that has so effectively filled us with limiting beliefs and forged us into someone we are not.

Back to our parents (or guardians). Did they want us to be like them? Probably. How about our teachers? Yup. Television advertisements - do they want us to believe in what they are selling? Sure. Our friends - do they want us to be like them? Very much so. Look in magazines - are they not suggesting that we should look like their models?

In the wake of this lifetime of influence, what happened to the real us?

So perhaps we embark upon a journey of discovery. We might call this "walking our path." And we might spend the rest of our lives happily walking this path to self discovery.

"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look beyond the Ranges - Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!" -Kipling

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