Copper River Record October 10, 2019
By Robin Mayo
I carry a zippered blue nylon bag wherever I go, hoping I don’t need it. It is an oddly shaped bag of forgotten origin, about ten inches square with a zipper on three sides and mesh pockets.
This bag is transferred from day pack to backpack to dry bag dozens of times each season. Inside is a first aid kit, extra matches and lighters, spare headlamp and batteries. Latex gloves and empty Ziplock bags. Birch bark, wax paper, and the stub of a red candle for firestarter. A reflective bivvy sack that doubles as a small tarp. A small notebook, pencil, and first aid manual. Bandaids and Ibuprofen so I don’t have to dismember the first aid kit every time someone gets a boo-boo. Tiny bottles of Aquamira water treatment and a bug headnet in its own tiny stuff sack.
Most of these items are never used. I check them in the spring, replace crushed pills and tattered ziplocks, then tuck them back away again and forget about them. I subscribe to the philosophy of preparedness that believes the better prepared, the less likely you are to encounter misfortune, much as packing raingear seems to help the rain stay away.
But there is one item that comes out nearly every trip, sometimes every day. In fact, the contents of this tiny purple stuff sack are currently spread out on my bunk as I contemplate a tear in the hood of my raingear, which was brand new less than a week ago. I left it hanging on a nail outside the cabin and apparently an annoyed bear came along while we were gone for the day and tore it down. I’m glad there were no granola bars in the pockets or the whole thing would surely be shredded. The only scar is an inch-long tear on the hood where it parted company with the nail.
The tiny purple bag contains cord and string in various weights, dental floss and sewing thread, an assortment of sewing needles, a little tube of superglue, extra toggles and buckles, and safety pins fastened to the hem of the bag. There is black Gorilla Tape for repairing dry bags and backpacks. I’m momentarily confused by the absence of a roll of electrical tape, then remember giving it to my daughter as she fashioned impromptu dog booties for Echo, limping with a split paw.
For this job I’ll definitely be using Tenacious Tape, an adhesive-backed ripstop nylon perfect for patching raingear and puffy jackets. Usually there is a set of shoelaces, but we’ve raided these to make croakies for our eyeglasses after twice halting all progress to crawl around on the ground looking for lost spectacles.
What, no duct tape? I can hear your disbelief from here. At the risk of sounding like a bad Alaskan, I’ll confess I am not a fan of the stuff. It doesn’t hold up very well, and leaves behind a sticky, stringy mess.
The most important part of the repair kit actually lives in my pocket, a tiny multi-tool that almost universally draws coos from women and dismissive snorts from men. This is actually the second mini-tool, I snapped the pliers on the first one while helping build a bridge. In spite of this being obviously outside of the design scope of the tool, the manufacturer replaced it without question.
The teensy scissors on the multi tool are very sharp, perfect for cutting a rounded patch out of Tenacious Tape for my rainjacket hood. First I need to re-stitch the seam in the drawcord channel. I’m interested to see that no waterproofing was added when the seam was originally sewn. The dental floss I use sets deeply in the dense rubber fabric, forming a satisfying seal.
Then I line up and lay flat the jagged edges of the tear, and smooth on the oval of bright yellow repair tape. It’s probably not necessary, but I put a matching patch on the inside as well for good measure. Good as new, and now with a story to tell.
I repack the repair kit, making a note to replace the roll of electrical tape when I get home. A student first introduced me to the wonders of this stuff on one of WISE’s geology backpacking trips, strapping on the flapping sole of a hiking boot. Electrical tape doesn’t always stick super well to some materials, but it has a great combination of toughness and stretchiness that make it great for certain repairs. Since blowing out hiking boots has become a Geology Camp tradition, I took note and added it to standard repair kit stock.
The little multi-tool goes back in my puffy jacket pocket, where it’s weight will be reassuring. The tiny purple stuff sack goes into the “Just in Case” bag, which fits nicely into the bottom of my day pack, just in case.
Madison Carlton’s hiking boot gets emergency repairs on Bonanza Mine Trail during Geology Camp.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.