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The World in a Kelty Backpack

Posted on October 5th, 2010

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When I dropped my daughter off at the airport and pulled her suitcase out of the trunk , I knew the weight of it even without a scale, a hair under 50 pounds. Jessica was moving to Argentina and needed to take part of her life with her but was too cost conscious (fiscally responsible?) to allow the airline to stick her with an overweight charge on her suitcase.

Jim DuFresne

Next to come out was her carry-on, then an oversized purse containing her netbook and finally, something that made me smile, the Kelty backpack that I gave her for Christmas one year. She said the backpack was practical; she could wear it while rolling her suitcase through the airport either here in Detroit or when she arrived to Buenos Aires. But when I mentioned, “I’ve read the Andes Mountains is pretty dramatic country,” she admitted …well, yes it would be nice to have the backpack in case she has a chance to do some hiking.

You go girl. Go to Argentina for a new job, go for the chance to live in a vibrant city and because the Latin American culture has always fascinated you. But most of all go for the adventure because that’s the way I raised you.

 Jessica was only four when I took her on her first backpacking trip. We hopped on the ferry in Leland and crossed the Manitou Passage to South Manitou Island, where we hiked 1.5 miles to Weather Station Campground. Her Pink Pony pack was loaded with her jacket and a stuffed animal, mine had everything else.

We slept in a tent, cooked our meals on my MSR stove while sitting on a log, and because Mom and baby brother weren’t around, ate sinful things every morning; sugar cereal and slightly squished cinnamon rolls. During the day we swam in Lake Michigan and hiked, at night we sat on a high bluff and watched huge freighters slowly pass by.

It was real adventure at a tender age, and when she boarded the ferry to head back to the mainland, she had a tinge of regret.

After that she and her brother were constant companions of mine as I traveled across Michigan hiking, camping, skiing and backpacking for a weekly column that I wrote called “Kidventures.” In high school she spent almost a year as an exchange student living at the southern tip of Chile. In her first year at Michigan State University, she joined me when I was working on a book in New Zealand, in her third year she spent it studying in Mexico. She spent a semester in grad school studying in Prague and when it was over took a month off to travel in Eastern Europe.

Jessica on first backpacking trip to South Manitou Island.

Everywhere she went so did her backpack. The Kelty is more than just a convenient way of carrying something while walking up a mountain or through the narrow, cobbled streets of Lisbon. Her pack has become synonymous with traveling light, living simple and always being ready for new adventures.

After all, a backpack can only hold what you’re willing to carry.

When the job from Buenos Aires was offered Jessica debated whether she should take it or not. It was a one-way ticket and half-a-world away from home. Finally late one evening while sitting in my office discussing the pros and cons she asked me something neither of my kids had ever asked me before because they are so fiercely independent:

“What do you think I should do?”

As much as I’m going to miss her, as much as I’ve enjoyed this summer having her around helping me with www.michigantrailmaps.com while she looked for work as a new MBA grad, I didn’t hesitate a second.

“I’d take it in a heart beat.”

And when I dropped her off at the airport, not knowing when I’d see her again, I gave two bear hugs, told her I was envious of her and then watched her enter the terminal with that overstuffed Kelty strapped to her back.

That’s the way I raised her.

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