Urban Backpacking

Encounter in Blue
By Jene Galvin
  |  Gorp.com
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OK. This next thing could never happen in the backcountry. On the second day of my trip, with cars whizzing by my left leg during a rain shower, a cop "pulled me over," just up the road from Marge Schott's estate, the former Cincinnati Reds owner.

He got out of his car and stared me in the eyes, expecting a confession to something. I just stared back until he said, "Well?"

My reply. "I'm the urban backpacker."

"What's that?" he sort of smirked suspiciously.

So I explained my vision, and he smiled and replied, "When they call, I have to come," likely referring to a woman in an SUV who eyed me a few minutes earlier under my wet tarp eating lunch on the side of the road. He wished me a good hike and drove off.

Handy Tips for Urban Backpackers:

Plan your trip carefully, including the location of bathrooms relative to where you'll camp.

Never camp where you don't have permission.

For safety purposes, consider camping near police stations, fire houses, city halls, or in a friend's back yard.

Treat water with a purifier, not just a micro filter.

Walk only where local ordinances permit and only where you feel comfortable.

Of course, no campfires.

That night I slept on a wet knoll near a suburban police station, got offers of pancakes in the morning (I politely declined. . . remember the rule), and hiked off carrying water pumped from a nearby storm-water retention pond.

Sure, urban backpacking can have the look of a sad, old hobo movie, not withstanding the trendy gear labels plastered all over my equipment. An elderly lady offered me a ride in a driving rain. A guy watched from his tenement as I pitched my tent by that busy intersection. As I was firing up my backpacker stove for a dinner of noodles and pita bread, he quietly appeared. "Hey, man, you don't have to stay out here. You're welcome to crash up in my place."

But once everyone hears my explanation—I'm a little better at saying it than actually seeing it in my head—they look me over, awestruck, I'm sure, and rush off to tell how they met Jene Galvin, the urban backpacker.

My next two trails? This summer I'll push across the wild tundra of Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in search of a glacier they say is the size of Rhode Island. But before that, I'll again step out my front door into the streets of Cincinnati and hike to an inner city neighborhood called East End, where I'll slumber by the ripples of the Ohio River. Then it's on through urban communities to a place overlooking the downtown to pump water from a park pond. I'll camp that night on the campus grass of an urban university, where I'll pump drinking water from the fountain in front of the library. Then it's back home along treelined streets to my glowing fireplace, where my dog will lick my tired feet.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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