Ten pound mobile home

Things are going really well. Spring temps make everything so much easier. It’s a huge difference from wintry hiking, and I love it. We are in Virginia, which is of course for lovers, and just did our first 30 mile day. I had no idea that was possible for me. More good stretching, though not something we’ll do often.

I thought folks might be wondering, so here’s an entry for the wonks who wonder what’s inside our mobile homes. And how we got them to fulfill our every need (note: need, not want) and still weigh fewer than ten pounds.

(Water and food aren’t included in this weight, which is called “base weight.” The pantry and Culligan functions of our homes constitute another ten pounds when we leave town restocked, fewer when we’re cruising along three days later, eating the cupboards bare, so to speak.)

Let’s start with the house itself. I have a no-frills, frameless backpack: one large compartment, and three mesh pockets on the outside. Instead of a frame, I use two folds of a Thermarest pad inside the bag to keep it firm against my back. Instead of a rain cover, I have a dry bag: a plastic bag inside the pack that I goose-neck after filling with anything I want to keep 100% moisture-free. That’s the foundation.

Then the bedroom. (Here’s where hiking with your sweetheart pays off big-time: only one of us has to carry a tent, toiletries, pot and pan, stove, etc. There’s a lot of weight we can split, though there are also items we duplicate in case we ever got separated–both of us need water treatment drops, a fire starting implement, and some food.) We’ve got a cheery blue Hexamid Twin tent, just big enough for the two of us and all our gear. It doesn’t have a rain fly or use any poles–just a groundsheet, seven titanium stakes, dipped in orange paint so they show up on the ground, and two of our adjustable trekking poles. There’s a fluffy, 15-degree down sleeping bag (though they lie, they lie so bad: that bag will keep me warm in fifteen degree weather only if I am also wearing all my clothes, and possibly also clutching a packet of Hot Hands). An eighth-inch foam pad to go under the inflatable sleeping pad, and luxury of luxuries, an inflatable pillow. Also, earplugs, and a silver space blanket for cold nights.

How about the clothes closet? In cold times, my torso can sport up to seven layers (like any good Midwestern dip!). My legs have two pair of long undies, rain pants (which also work in wind and snow, I’ve discovered), and hiking pants that can roll up into shorts. There are three pair of socks: two of Darn Tough merino wool, and one of Gore-Tex that comes up to my calf and has saved my chilly toes many a time. I’ve got trail running shoes, and a pair of camp shoes I made from a cutout piece of nylon flooring threaded with cord, a la Chacos. There is a fleece hat and mittens, possum down gloves, and waterproof mitten covers. Soon, weather permitting, we’ll have less clothing, hence less weight.

Accoutrements for the bathroom: half a comb, a toothbrush sawed off and sanded down, a quick-drying pocket towel, tampons, a holy roll of toilet paper. There is a shower: it’s the cap of a plastic Coke bottle, drilled with holes and compatible with our water bladders… just boil water, fill ‘er up, and find a private spot to scrub off under its spray. Itsy-bitsy bottles of powdered toothpaste, sanitizer, Dr. Bronner’s soap, lip balm, tea tree oil, floss, sunscreen, Body Glide (it’s like moleskin in a cream, and also does a chapped nose good). Nail clippers, because I refuse to trim my nails with a knife. A vial of Anti-Monkey-Butt (shut up, it’s good for feet). A wee first aid kit, a wee compass, a wee patch kit. The medicine cabinet is a pill bottle containing Vitamin I (hiker-speak for ibuprofen), melatonin, Imodium, Benadryl, and a few tablets of Azythromycin.

The kitchen is a bottle of denatured alcohol for cooking fuel, a lighter and a few waterproof matches. The stove is the bottom third of a soda can, ingeniously punched with holes, around which is set a windscreen that also supports the pot over the flame. There’s a quarter of a green scrubby for washing the pot, lid and two spoons. The tiny pocketknife also boasts tweezers, a file, and a toothpick (which I wouldn’t use in my mouth for any amount of money). And there’s a neon yellow bear line, for hanging our food and odiferous items far out of reach.

The rec room consists of a Kindle Paperwhite, a three-by-five sketchpad, a guitar pick, a pencil, a pen, scratch paper for ideas and shopping lists, and my credit card and driver’s license and cash rubber-banded together. Zippy carries the smartphone.

Speaking of Zippy, let me interrupt this list for a shout-out to him. Without his painstaking research, I’m sure I’d be carrying a much heavier and less clever load. Also, he has absolutely wondrous MYOG (Make Your Own Gear) skills. Of all we carry, here are the things he made: wind shirts, rain jackets, rain skirts, stuff sacks, food bags, toiletry bags, mittens, mitten covers, his hiking pants, and small waterproof pockets that fit on our waist belts and can double as wallets in town. Last winter, he caught the DIY bug, taught himself by trolling Backpacking Light and the local sewing store, bought an old German Pfaff sewing machine, and got busy. Kudos, baby!)

Onward to utilities. Electricity? A headlamp. Plumbing? A liter soda bottle, a two-liter collapsible water bladder, and a set of Aqua Mira water treatment drops. Heat? …Heat? You must be kidding. That will come about June, I reckon. Then we’ll use chilly streams and cool drinks of water as AC. And perhaps institute la siesta.

That’s it.

My mobile home may be very, very small. But the living room is the whole world. And it’s so lovely right now.

Winter recipe

When chains of grey days crawl over the valley, grave and unrelenting, your eyes become empty and hungry. This is when you must forage and provide a feast.

Find a yew berry in an alley. You may have to kneel. Lean in. Let your vision be a giant sun of red. Your bloodstream may tingle, may even ache with consciousness after several minutes, but this is normal.

Find a yellow rose, in an arboretum or a warm shed with a window, however small. Bring your lashes to its petals, but do not blink. Your rods and cones will drink yellow, gulp it. They will become intoxicated. Yellow seeps down your spinal cord and you remember that you are a vertebrate, capable of passion and evolution.

Find a cobalt vase. It has been vacant for months. By now, you know what to do. Swim into the blue until you can close your eyes and still see blue, then swim deeper. Blue will unfold into your marrow, feeding the deepest recesses. Your cells are again prisms loaded with rainbows, stocked with nutrients of color.

Burn on

A walk-taker in a woolen Scottish cap greets me not with a chin tilt and a blink, but with a full-armed wave and a noisy hello. An old lady appreciates the mid-afternoon sunset and flecks of gold and flamingo pink dance in her eyes. People buy wasabi, cayenne, and fractals of ginger; they sweat at their kitchen tables. Dogs, predictably, leap at the abundance of dead things to smell and dig. Artists putter in their garages at night, warmed by concentration. So we know that the advancing winter doesn’t shadow northern spirits– no, we take it as a dare to burn on. And in the small window of a house that the south-clinging sun barely touches, a net of Christmas lights glows, all hours, despite rising electricity bills: a galaxy more luminous with each darkening hour.