A short while ago I finished an epic October hike with a 4-hour descent in a steady cold rain. As always, when the rain began I fished my trusty Helly Hansen full-zip rainpants out of my pack and slid them over my boots and hiking pants with nary a moment’s delay and continued on. Alas, within a half hour the rainpants were sodden, clinging to my legs, wicking moisture from the outside to the inside. It hadn’t always been so….these were one of my favorite pieces of go-to backpacking and hiking gear for over two decades and had shed rain faithfully during deluges from the flanks of Glacier Peak to the Milford Track in New Zealand and many, many parts between. At home after the hike, as I always had, I gently rinsed off the mud, hung them to dry and folded them neatly into my foul-weather gear box. But it was clear that these faithful companions, however willing, were no longer capable of the task I needed them to perform – heaven forbid, I’d have to contemplate finding (whisper here) a replacement.
The story of these rainpants began back in the late 1980s when my sister, just 15 months my senior, moved from southern California to the Seattle area and we became regular backpacking companions. She gifted me the rainpants on one of her first Christmases she spent at our house, my kids small and squealing over new toys. The next summer we embarked on a 4-day backpack up Milk Creek to the PCT on the northwest side of Glacier Peak, from there to explore up to Fire Creek Pass and over Vista Ridge. I’ll never forget the deluge that set in that afternoon, literally obscuring all but a few feet around us. In serious fear of hypothermia we threw our tent up in the only flat spot we could find – which ultimately turned out to be a wide spot on the PCT, though we couldn’t see that at the time. We spent a few hours in the tent playing cards and waiting for the rain to stop, lines jury-rigged across the interior, wet clothing hanging in a (vain) hope to dry them before morning. Finally lulled to sleep by the sound of the rain on the tent fly as dusk fell, we were awakened several hours later by hikers tromping past the tent, sunshine splayed out all around us. We emerged from the tent blinking and a bit embarrassed at the inadvertent roadblock that our tent was presenting on the PCT. The next three days were blissful, climbing to the heights on the side of Glacier Peak, places that would prove very difficult to return to after a 2007 winter storm that tore out roads, bridges and major sections of trail, irretrievably buried the Kennedy Hot Springs, and inhibited access for all but the most determined souls until just this fall.
Yes, gentle readers, this IS a story about my rainpants. I think everyone can relate to a possession or article of clothing that we imbue with rich memories; that call up warm images and feelings every time we pull them out. The Helly Hansons that my sister gifted to me that Christmas almost thirty years ago still take me back so vividly to that trip on Glacier Peak, and the many other backpack trips that she and I shared together before an ACL injury led her to abandon backpacking. Even the unsightly patch in the ripstop on the front of the left leg was a badge of honor, carrying the images of that wet day in the community garden patch that my sister and shared for several years, when I caught my rainpants on a piece of chicken wire we were rigging in a vain effort to direct the exuberance of our winter squash vines.
So, faithful Hellys, you will rest in a place of honor in a box under my bed, never to be discarded. I will probably still take you out sometimes to wear for insulation on chilly snowshoe trips. And to sit and remember days of sun and mist and rain and transcendent views and the fundamental joy of time with someone precious. I’ll be forever grateful.