One hundred fifty pounds of bacon. Now that is a lot of hog! Even for someone like myself who appreciates its flavor when added to everything from chicken breast sandwiches to donuts, 150 pounds sounds excessive. I suppose it all depends on how many people you’re feeding and how long the supply needs to last.
It was during a recent Alaskan journey that I came across that staggering figure of pork delight. The Northern Pacific Railroad Company recommended that amount for gold seekers intending to travel to the Klondike area in 1897. In addition to the amount suggested, the fact that bacon was the first item on the list also contributed to the surprise factor. Other things were included like oats, beans, and flour – also in large quantities. It even included a gold pan for everyone in the party. You’d think that would be obvious if you were participating in a “gold rush” but I suppose it is better not to assume. This is not a trip where one wants to get a few days down the road only to discover you need to turn around, go back home, and retrieve a forgotten item. It was a pretty exhaustive list, but none of the items raised my eyebrows quite like the bacon suggestion.
I tried to imagine hauling all of that pork on a trip. The airlines constantly remind me that my baggage is limited to 50 pounds unless I want to pay an additional charge. In effect, if I followed the Northern Pacific’s recommendation, I’d be taking three suitcases of bacon, and nothing to wear unless I had a Lady Gaga-inspired moment. If the bacon alone doesn’t get your attention, the combined weight of all the goods needed to survive for a year in mining country was estimated at about one ton. I pity the mule or horse that had to pull that cart. At least the weight should decrease slightly each day as travelers consumed their daily rations. Still, it would take a while before there was a noticeable difference.
Without convenient shopping malls along the way, the only other choices are to steal from others, live off the land, or simply do without. Either of those choices can place your life in jeopardy; neither sounds particularly appealing.
The Railroad Company packing list for the trip did remind me that life is often described as a journey. A professor from my days as a seminary student once lamented that everyone talked about life being a journey. Everyone seemed hellbent on getting somewhere other than where they were. But what, he asked, if he didn’t want to go anywhere? Perhaps he liked where he was. I never knew what motivated that mini-rant but somedays I feel his frustration. “Journey” can be a tiresome metaphor but it does have its merit. Even if we never leave the house, life doesn’t permit us to stay where we are indefinitely. If we’re heading out, a list just might help us be prepared and to survive.
Several years ago, while on a tour in the Swiss Alps, our guide prepared us on the first day for what we could expect during our time together. He had led groups from several different countries. Of them all, he said Germans were the most organized and predictable. They always arrived punctually, carrying a list of all the places they were to visit on the itinerary. That was part of their preparation for a journey. They then checked off each item when completed. Whether that was for pleasure or accountability is difficult to say!
On the first day the guide would say to his German guests, “Please take out your lists. Hold them in the air for us all to see. Now pass them to the front. When we travel, things don’t always happen as we plan or expect. I promise that you will see everything on the itinerary. It may not happen in the order listed in your program, but you will see them all. So, relax and trust me.” Then to their astonishment, in what was nearly as blasphemous as the destruction of a sacred text, he ripped the lists into little pieces and tossed them into the trash.
The next morning after greeting his guests, he would say, “Please kindly take out the list you made to replace the one I took yesterday.” Nearly all of them had one! Again, he’d ask them to pass them along to the front of the bus, where he repeated the previous day’s actions. Lists are for some like the Peanuts character Linus’ blanket. Keeping them in hand brings a degree of comfort.
Whether for comfort, preparation, or maybe accountability, lists can have a place. In the right hands, they are like bumper guards on a bowling lane, keep us on track toward the desired end. They can have a more absolute or authoritarian feel for those for whom the list becomes the raison d’etre: “Life by the list must not be missed!” In either case, they can be a lifesaver when they help anticipate possible future needs.
Travelling with 150 pounds of bacon is difficult to grasp, but the bulk of the load depends on the length and nature of the trip. If you’re passing through uncharted territory or exploring off the beaten path, being prepared is essential. I have a sister currently hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’ve listened as she thought through what she needs to include in her backpack. Every item that makes the list for inclusion has a purpose—and a weight. Every pound adds to her load. The heavier the load, the slower the hike and the greater the fatigue. What is necessary? What can be left behind? Skimp on the wrong thing, like food with protein, and the body may suffer. Who could use more bacon then??? No matter how unbelievable an item on the list may seem, it all depends on the trip being taken. Give a little respect to those who’ve traveled that way before and understand the demands. Pack the bacon (or a tofurky version if you prefer)!
Lists and I have bumpy relationship. If I bother to make a list, there is a good chance I’ll lose it, but I have come to appreciate their usefulness. I married a person who knows a thing or two about lists. She even has a list of her lists to prove it. Judi is a marvel when it comes to organization, and it has its advantages. She knows where an item belongs and where it is, or at least where it should be; whereas I know we own such an item, then may need to remember where I used it last before I can use it again. When we prepare for a trip, her lists allow her to pack weeks in advance and know that she has everything she expects to need; meanwhile, if I pack weeks in advance, I’ll inevitably need to unpack it and review what I’ve already done to make certain I’ve not overlooked anything. Granted, I rarely find myself lacking for anything of importance on a trip but it sure is fun to travel with someone who probably has whatever I need tucked away in some pocket of her carry-on luggage.
Flour. Beans. A gold pan. What and how much? It all depends on where you’re headed. And with whom. One thing is for certain. The journey is on. Make your list and pack your bags. And don’t skimp on the bacon!