Packing, as it turned out, meant getting together two sets of stuff at first. The first set going with Fred and the second set going with us.

Most of our gear was going with Fred.  God love him, the man was driving his truck all the way to Arizona carrying his boat and camping gear, and, naturally, Kathy and her gear.  Not so naturally, he was carrying all my gear, Mike’s gear and Jason’s gear. He may have even had some of David’s gear in there.  I should point out here that ‘gear’ is a tiny and inadequate word for a big honking pile of crap.  First, boats.  Say it.  “Boats”- another short word.  But when you try to strap five of them to the top of a pickup truck, even one like Fred’s- one of those extended cab things with the big fiberglass topper on it- you start to wonder if their combined weight and complicated, conflicting aerodynamics will prevent the truck from going much of anyplace. More likely, you think, it’ll swing side to side in the breeze or even try to leave the ground.  The whole arrangement would have put an aeronautic engineer into fits.

As a side note here, I’d like to point out that the number of straps used to hold five assorted sized and shaped boats to a truck rigged for a long trip becomes, if you’re not in charge of the strapping, entertaining to see.  First and foremost, the straps have to hold the boats on the truck.  Simple.  An alarming thing to note is that when I say ‘truck’, I actually mean ‘the racks attached to the aftermarket fiberglass topper’.  And when I say ‘the racks attached to the aftermarket fiberglass topper’ I mean a set of top-of-the-line Yakima racks.  The racks themselves have seen a lot of service over Fred’s long and storied paddling career.  They look good and sturdy.  It’s the points at which the racks are attached to the topper that might worry you.  Rather, it’s the sunburnt duct tape that’s wrapped around them that’s worrying.  You can’t help but wonder what problem the tape is meant to overcome or obscure. Fred, after having been asked what the hell’s with the duct tape, tells us not to worry.  He doesn’t say “It’s just to make sure the something-or-other doesn’t do this-or-that.” He just says not to worry.  Fine.  We’ll use extra straps, we silently agree.  If one boat comes off this setup, they’re all coming off in a big lump- if they come sailing off the roof of the truck, there won’t be any missing it- or maybe not any missing the car just behind.

After making sure that the straps will hold the boats to the truck (and to each other) you must make sure that none of the straps will squash or abrade any critical part of the boats on this long and possibly (probably very) windy ride.  Pull too tight, and somebody’s deck will finish the trip looking sort of wonky.  Mike found that one strap was putting some odd tension on the cockpit of the Mamba.  Not wanting to arrive at the end of the drive to find out that the cockpit would no longer make a watertight fit with it’s skirt, we start fine-tuning straps.  Eventually, after tinkering with tension and location of straps, we just stuck an extra piece of closed-cell foam between the strap and the cockpit.  It was Art.

The next thing is totally absurd and counter-intutive. You check the straps for ‘twist’.  Normal brains, examining the arrangement, might assume that you’d want all the straps to lie flat and sleek on the boats and racks, and stretch neatly across the open spaces.  Anal-retentive people might spend a great deal of time making sure that everything looks just that tidy.  Those people would then get in the truck, drive away, and lose their minds.  You see- neat, flat straps hum.  They hum the same way that, say, a Cessna hums as it follows just above your truck for hundreds of miles desperately trying to land on it.  If you let it get to you, the humming will actually make you to stop your truck on a busy interstate while shouting uncouth oaths, order everyone out of the back seat –traffic be damned- to put untidy, ugly, mercifully quiet twists into the straps.  The final effect is that you allowed chimpanzees to tie boats to your vehicle, but in fact they were clever chimpanzees who, apparently, wanted  a quiet nap in the back seat during the trip.

Then there are the paddles, which are at least lightweight and not prone to add to the wind resistance of the vehicle the way that five kayaks on the roof will do.  No, the paddles are just a problem because of their length and uncanny ability to fit in the back of the truck until the very last second when they leap into the closing gap of the topper door and make a sickly crunching noise.  Broken paddles are not much use on rivers.  Broken topper doors are not much use on long trips when your truck is filled with giant, waterproof, expensive duffle bags. If you have ever tried to maneuver an armload of various kinds of rakes through a freshly painted room, then you understand how irritating handling lots of kayak paddles can be.

The dufflebags of choice were NRS Bill’s Bags.  They are marvelous things if you want to make an extended journey in wet or disgusting places but you don’t want your stuff to get wet and disgusting.  A Bill’s Bag (Named for Bill Parks of NRS) is a large waterproof duffle with a flat bottom and a top that rolls down then straps tight.  It has backpack straps and handles on it, too.  I think everyone on the trip had at least one.  NRS made plenty of money off our expedition.  By the time we were on the water, we looked like an advertisement for NRS, sporting the numbers of their logos we had.  We’ll return to that point later, because… well, you’ll see.  Just remember- NRS, Bill’s Bag, and the number of logos.

Now we’re all packed up.  Fred and Kathy and our stuff are going on ahead.  Jason, Mike and I are following along in Mike’s wife’s car.  It’s one of those stylish HHR things, with low profile windows and sort of retro design features to its exterior.  We’re going to do the whole drive to Flagstaff in one go.  Haul ass, as it were.  Straight through, boys!  We had the drive figured at something like twenty hours, so we were going to start early one day and arrive even earlier the next.  Good plan, right?

And the directions were easy.  1) Get on interstate 40, going west.  2) Stop 1378 miles later when you get to Flagstaff.

Let’s roll.

That is, let’s roll the next time I update this story.  See you then.