Traffic Jams, Trekking Poles and Music
An exploration of trekking poles at the Bonnaroo Music Festivalby Brendan Gahan
Friendly folks, cold beer, nag chamba, intense heat, deathly long lines for smelly porta-pottys, long human-powered treks to beat the traffic, lights and music screaming towards space—I thought I knew what to expect on my way to the Bonnaroo Music Festival.
It’s easy to get into Nashville International (bahahaha) Airport…the tricky part is making the 50 or so miles standing between me and Sam McAlister’s farm, the 500acre location where the festival is held. My goal was to get as close to the grounds as possible by hitching a ride and then avoid the inevitable traffic jams by hoofing it the rest of the way. In retrospect, I think I saw myself as far more the boy scout than I really am.
I grabbed my pack off the conveyer belt and headed into the crowd, checking to make sure my trekking poles hadn’t been confiscated as dangerous weapons by security.
The airport buzzed with the excitement of a carnival, as dreadlocked couples passed throwing peace signs, and musty odors swept past my nose, both pleasant and offensive olfactory hues of the late 1960’s. I wasn’t old enough to be there, but I’m guessing this is what it smelled like. Heading for the car rental department, where I was sure I would find my ride, a blond haired girl with flowers in her hair bounced past me, wishing me “peace and light.” Her only piece of luggage appeared to be a hula-hoop.
I found two older long-hairs named Louie and Greg who had plenty of room and agreed that I could ride with them and their new friend Tricia, who asked them for a ride minutes before. We piled into the Kia Sophia, an unnatural evolutionary successor to the VW buses of past.
We drove within 18 miles of the fairgrounds when we encountered the snake--winding ominously up I-24, a sea of tail lights shinning red into the Tennessee night. “Think we’re looking at twelve hours here kids,” spoke Greg. “Not for me,” I said, “I’m taking off on foot. Thanks for the ride.” I grabbed my pack from the trunk, and unloaded my Camelbak, which I filled at the airport, and Black Diamond Ascent trekking poles. I positioned the drink valve on my Camelbak, extended my trekking poles and headed off the shoulder where I could walk in the grass. I prefer grass to concrete in most situations, and besides, I didn’t have the rubber tips designed to make my poles concrete friendly.
Walking with trekking poles really does make carrying a heavy pack considerably easier. Instead of carrying the brunt of the pack load with my legs and back, the poles made it possible to distribute a good percentage of the weight to my arms. Walking erect instead of assuming the simian posture usually associated with men carrying heavy packs, I was making good time.
Back on the highway, kids were passing the time anyway they could. One carload played hackysac, a couple of them in the circle drinking beers. Another carload was passing a joint around and listening to The Band. I received strange looks here and there, a common side effect of using trekking poles to walk through a caravan of people possessed, and not in a bad way, with a time past. Tie dyes, bare feet and peace all around me, and here I was utilizing the only advancement in the sport of trail hiking since rubber soled shoes. I probably looked like a being from the near future, a robot with four legs sent to observe the hippie culture. I even received a strange look from a girl with angel wings tied to her back. I felt like a misfit, but tried to keep in mind the words a good doctor once wrote, “when the going gets weird the weird turn pro.”
Stopping to refill my Camelbak, I encountered a tall bearded kid named Jeff. He wore a blue shirt that read Funkster in red letters followed by a question mark.
“Hey man, got any water I can have?” He passed me a big bottle of cold Poland Spring out the car window, and proceeded to get out and inquire about my “ski poles.” “What’s up with the ski poles?” “Well,” I responded, “they’re not ski poles, they’re trekking poles, people use ‘em to hike.” He took one, examined it, then spoke. “Why would you need poles to hike?” I felt like a tech geek, but decided to explain. I told him how they provide stability over uneven terrain, and do wonders to alleviate pressure on your knees, legs, hips and lower spine. He told me the reason he was interested was because he was touring with a band called The String Cheese Incident, and didn’t have a car. “I always get a ride, but I also end up walking a good deal each day.” Handing him the set , I told him to put my pack on and try walking using the poles. “Now try without.” He walked around the car again and turned and smiled. “Yeah, that does make a big difference.” I left with a full Camelbak and the satisfaction of knowing that at least one person understood what the poles were all about.
Four hours later I approached the entrance feeling a sense of personal victory. I was haggard, dehydrated, wind burnt and asphyxiated with carbon dioxide but I had beaten the traffic jam using my legs, both the god given pair and those issued to me by Black Diamond. I walked through the gates, found a spot and dropped my pack to the ground. I set up my area for the weekend, staking out the vestibule of my tent with the trekking poles. “These puppies are coming with me everywhere from now on,” I smiled. It’s just a natural evolution.