An Interrogation of Anthropomorphized Tent Poles

I admit it: I talked to myself all the time on the Pacific Crest Trail. I can only listen to the same thousand songs for so long. Sometimes I would

6 years ago

Latest Post Immortality by Matthew Sluiter public

I admit it: I talked to myself all the time on the Pacific Crest Trail. I can only listen to the same thousand songs for so long. Sometimes I would break up the monotony with a podcast or an audiobook, but more often I'd just talk to myself — or I would anthropomorphize other things and talk to them instead.

Yeah, yeah. I know.

Right before entering the Sierra, I switched from my Zpacks Duplex tent to a Nemo Hornet 2P Ultralight, which is a two-person, freestanding tent. In retrospect, I didn't think that decision through very well. One trick of being UL is to reuse gear in multiple scenarios. For example, I use trekking poles for, well, trekking, but I also use them for setting up my Duplex tent. This makes the tent and the trekking poles part of an ultralight strategy.

To determine if the Nemo Hornet 2P Ultralight was also UL, I interrogated its constituent personas — Poles, Fly, and Tent — in an attempt to make each of them explain why they were worth keeping around. With me speaking each part (aloud), the on-trail-interrogation of Poles went something like this:

We find Poles sitting quietly in a room, alone. In front of him is a scarred wooden table, pocked with random cigarette burns and coffee stains. To his right is a dark two-way mirror. A cone of light shines from a single blinding light bulb overhead. The door to the room opens and Fluffy walks in.

FLUFFY: So, Poles. How's it going?

Fluffy pulls up a chair and offers a cup of lukewarm coffee to Poles, who gratefully accepts it. Poles quickly clears his throat and answers an octave higher than normal.

POLES: Oh, you know how it is.

Fluffy tilts his head to the right, never taking his gaze off Poles.

FLUFFY: Hmmm. I don't think I do. I want you to tell me how it is.

POLES: It's good man. It's good. Life on the trail is amazing, huh?

Poles is now noticeably fidgety. He reaches for his coffee, his eyes dart to the two-way mirror on his right, then back to Fluffy as he leans forward to take a sip. He grimaces slightly. This is bad coffee.


Poles, with a nervous chuckle, tries to make small talk.

POLES: How about that dusting of snow the other night, huh? Real pretty, real pretty.

Poles' voice trails off. He is now avoiding eye contact with Fluffy.


Chuckling apprehensively, Poles prattles on.

POLES: I gotta say, man, thanks for switching to me over that Zpacks guy. What a pain to set up on rock, huh? And that condensation build-up? Does that guy ever not wet himself at night?

We hear muffled yelling from behind the two-way mirror, where we find Zpacks — wild eyed and pointing at Poles — screaming at everyone in the room.

ZPACKS: That's not true! That's not true! That never happened! Oh, sure! Like that doesn't happen to other tents! Never! Happened!

Zpacks makes eye contact with everyone in the room while they try to hold back their laughter.

We cut back to the interrogation room. Fluffy releases his gaze on Poles and sets his coffee cup on the table in a slow and precise manner, then reacquires eye contact with Poles.

FLUFFY: It's funny you bring up Zpacks. I didn't think you two ever met?

POLES: Well, no. But everyone knows about those single-wall tents, man. I mean, they're just so temperamental. I once heard that—

Fluffy slaps his open hand on the table, cutting off Poles mid-sentence. He smiles affably and chuckles to himself before responding slowly.

FLUFFY: You know, I personally chose that tent... just like I chose you.

Poles freezes. He is starting to work out why he is in this room, having this conversation.


FLUFFY: Let's talk about your typical day, starting with what you do in the morning.

POLES: Well, I pretty much hold up Fly and Tent, you know. So, there's that. But then, you know, while you're putting Fly back in the bag, I hang out with Tent and make sure he doesn't lay in the dirt, or go running off with the wind. You know how he likes to do that, run off with the wind and such...

FLUFFY: Sure, Tent does like to chase the wind.

Poles nods vigorously and starts to smile. He's not quite sure what this is all about, but he thinks he's making progress in the right direction.

FLUFFY: So, tell me about the rest of your day. What do you do before setting up again in the evening?

Poles puts his coffee on the table and leans back in his chair.

POLES: Well, I mostly hang out in the left side pocket with the Water Bottle twins and just kinda make sure they stay nice and snug. Don't want to lose one of the twins, you know.

Poles pauses for half a second, then quickly tries steer the conversation toward the Bottle Twins.

POLES: But man! Those Bottle twins! I can never tell those two apart! You know, you should really consider labeling them, cuz I know at least one of them has done French Vanilla Instant Breakfast before. French vanilla makes a foamy mess inside a bottle, man. A foamy mess. And the mouths on those bottles? Filthy. Just filthy.

Poles is serious now, and timidly takes another sip of his coffee — it's now a touch colder and still bad coffee. His confidence begins to thin as Fluffy responds.

FLUFFY: Yeah, I've already talked to the Bottles about doing white powder and I think that's all over for now. But let's get back on topic, shall we? So, you don't do anything during the day?

Poles' eyes go wide. His face, blank. He knows what this is all about.

POLES: Well, hey man. I, I hold up Fly and Tent, man. Ain't nobody else can do that but me. You know how hard it is to get those two to line up? I mean, if you add in Ground Sheet, ain't nothin' gonna line up, man! Nothin'!

Poles leans back in his chair and folds his arms.

FLUFFY: So, you're saying that you don't do anything for me during the day. You only keep Fly and Tent in line at night. Maybe Ground Sheet too. Am I getting that right?

Poles throws his hands up the air and his now visibly upset. He raises his voice.

POLES: Hey, man! I told you: I hold up Fly and Tent! That's what I do! You can't get Fly and Tent to do anything without me! You need me, man! You need me! What did Fly and Tent say about me? Did they say they don't need me?

Poles is leaning forward now and aggressively pointing at himself. Fluffy looks away from Poles and gestures calmly with one hand in an attempt to calm the situation.

FLUFFY: I know, I know. You do an admirable job — but I think you know what this is about...

Poles gets up and slams both fists down on the table. He is now shouting.

POLES: Hey, man! You know what?! F that Zpacks "UL" sh*t, man! UL ain't everything, man! Besides, I got cred in the ultralight community too, you know. I got cred!

It sounds like someone yelled "Bull sh*t!" from behind the two-way glass. Fluffy smiles and gestures to Poles to continue.

POLES: Me and Fly and Tent, man, we got a packaged weight of 2 pounds 5 ounces, man. 2 pounds 5 ounces! Packaged weight! It says "Ultralight" right on the box, man! Right on the box!

Poles is now repeating himself, obviously flustered. The door opens and two men enter the room, their hands clasped in front of them. They move forward to stand on either side of the table and face Poles. Poles gives each man a brief look and then looks at Fluffy. Fluffy shrugs.

FLUFFY: I'm sorry, Poles...

The two men advance and reach for Poles, who is now backing toward the wall behind him, wildly flinging his arms around to avoid the men's grasp.

POLES: No! Fluffy! Come on, man! Come on! I can be UL! I can!

The two men drag a bucking and floundering Poles from the room. He tries to bargain with Fluffy one last time.

POLES: I... I can do other things, dude. Just let me try! I can... I can be a fishing pole. Yeah, a fishing pole! Or, or a snake poker! Or, or... I got it! I got it! I can be—

The door slams shut. We hear muffled shouts from behind the door as Poles is dragged away. Fluffy shakes his head and then looks toward the two-way mirror.

FLUFFY: OK, well, let's see if it goes easier with Fly and Tent. Send them in, please.

And that's how I switched back to my Zpacks Duplex. Poles just couldn't explain why he was just dead weight taking up space on my pack. Without Poles, Fly and Tent had no reason to be there either. They needed Poles and were just a mess of mesh and nylon without him.

FLUFFY: I guess it's back to Zpacks then.

Muffled cheers and whoops are heard from behind the two-way mirror.

Matthew Sluiter

Published 6 years ago