Joshua Nguyen

Goodbye to the things I carried

Today’s a new chapter: I’m finally donating my backpack to the Salvation Army. After 31 countries, 13 years and countless steps — it has been with me longer than my wife — I’m moving on to a lighter and smaller pack now.

Together we slept under the Wadi Rum stars, listened to the Nelson Bay waves, saw the sun break over Ayers Rock, hurled over the Kepler Trail, hummed to Third Eye Blind on Vesuvius’ top, slid down the icy Catskills, skidded along the meandering Mekong, jolted over the rarified Yunnan passes, fought rats in Taman Negara, fended off leeches in Borneo, slipped past sheep in Wanaka — we were harnessed to motorcycles, tuks tuks, sawngthaews, trains, busses, feluccas, wagons and ferries, dusted by medieval soot, burned by yak butter tea, pulled by porters, dragged by touts — lost and found, hoisted and carried.

Kepler Trail, New Zealand in 2003

It is with a little sentiment that I say goodbye, and a little fanfare that I depart from my companion.

From the first time we met at the Army surplus store in Philadelphia, from our first and best sunset in Sorrento to the final walk along the crests of California’s coast and all the adventures in the between, it has been a faithful friend: a pillow in lonely tents under monsoon rains, a buffer on bumpy rides, a familiar sight, a piece of “home” on the road among the strange sights of “afar”.

At 70 liters, it was always a little too big for me, or perhaps I was always a little too small. It never sat on my hips well, pulled me back when going uphill, pressed forward when going downhill — unwieldy and quick to misery. Sweated buckets.

70 lbs

It carried knives, quick dry towels, water bottles, spades, carabiners, climbing ropes, boots, flip flops, bandannas, flashlights, pots and pans, plane tickets, journals, drawings, dried food, canned food, energy bars, tropical fruits, savory buns, sunglasses, propane tanks, stoves, maps, binoculars, hats, fleeces, rain jackets, mozzie spray, hoodies, coats, shirts, pants, socks, gloves, masks, fins, walkie talkies, CD players, CDs, iPods, cameras, photos, letters, postcards, leaves and grass and dirt and other gifts from the road, aboriginal carvings, tribal tapestries, Turkish glass, Indian tea, Italian wallets, Angkor statues, French baguettes, Swiss chocolates, Spanish posters, Carnaval costumes, offerings from villagers, food from well-wishers, advice from grandmothers, insults from strangers, kind and hopeful words from friends, a bit of life-as-is from humanity all over. It carried the best of who I am, my curiosities, my fears, my creativity, my tired complaints “oh-I-can’t-go-another-step”, my stubborn “just-another-fucking-step you-big-baby”, my dreams in front, my memories behind, my aspirations for what will come, my lessons from what has passed. It carried all of that and more as I entered and exited my twentysomething years.

sunglasses, propane tanks, stoves, maps, binoculars, hats, fleeces, rain jackets, mozzie spray, hoodies, coats, shirts, pants, socks, gloves, masks, fins, walkie talkies, CD players, CDs, iPods, cameras, photos, letters, postcards, leaves and grass and dirt and other gifts from the road, aboriginal carvings, tribal tapestries, Turkish glass, Indian tea, Italian wallets, Angkor statues, French baguettes, Swiss chocolates, Spanish posters, Carnaval costumes, offerings from villagers, food from well-wishers, advice from grandmothers, insults from strangers, kind and hopeful words from friends, a bit of life-as-is from humanity all over. It carried the best of who I am, my curiosities, my fears, my creativity, my tired complaints “oh-I-can’t-go-another-step”, my stubborn “just-another-fucking-step you-big-baby”, my dreams in front, my memories behind, my aspirations for what will come, my lessons from what has passed. It carried all of that and more as I entered and exited my twentysomething years.

I hope someone else will carry other things with it; and that somehow, even when they’ve cleaned it, the layers will remain: the smells of China, the stains of India, the heat of the Middle East, the dampness of South America and all the other marks already etched into those frayed red threads…

I never got around to naming it.