The Good-Enough-to-Get-You-Out-the-Gate Saddle Bags
In starting mule trips, good enough gets you out the gate and perfection keeps you at home. This week I’m fitting mule Polly with bags for her pack saddle. They’re not new. They’re not perfect. But they’re good enough to get us out the gate. At least they don’t smell like vomit.
Julia and I are 2 weeks away from heading off on our mule ramble. I’m calling the caper “Ride Out the Front Gate”. The idea is simple. We ride out the farm gate on our mules, turn left and…… well, just ride in to the mountains of North Carolina. There, we’ll write down, record, sketch and post what we encounter here on RiverEarth.com and on Julia’s blog Saddle Under the Stars.
In the spirit of summer, there’s no pressure for perfection. We’re just grabbing gear, much of which we already have, and heading out.
One piece of gear we didn’t have, but just got, are pack saddle bags. These are bags that fit on to the pack saddle that mule Polly will carry. We’ll carry our clothes, cooking utensils, food, journals and camera in them.
Sure, you can buy a hand tooled leather set and look like you just stepped out of “Gunsmoke”. Thing is, those buttery soft, fringey suckers are expensive – think hundreds of dollars.
That’s just not the spirit of this trip. No, the spirit of this ramble is more along the lines of a trip I took a few years ago with mule Polly.
Before setting off on a similar spur of the moment saddle trip, I borrowed a set of duffel bags from my friend Ronald Hudson.
All went well until they got rained on and I was overcome by the urge to puke.Turns out, Ronald had gotten the bags cheap because they’d been used to carry vomit bags.
You can hear Ronald tell that story here.
Not figuring the gagging and nose holding, those bags got me through a wonderful pack trip through the Uwharrie Mountains. (“That account of setting out is, Pack Saddle Tempation. The story on the Vomit bags is here.)
Flash ahead to now. Instead of forking over a stack of notes for a “real” set of saddle bags, I spent $80 on 2 surplus Army rucksacks. They’re called “Mollee II 3-day assault packs” which brings to mind a secret mission that involves being dropped behind enemy lines for a very short time after which time you’ll wish you’d brought more underwear.
This week, we hung the packs from mule Polly’s pack saddle. The bags are light, only 4 pounds each. To get Polly used to carrying a heavier load, we added sand bags.
The only thing dis-agreeable about these packs is the smell. Unlike the $400 leather set that smells of Montana mornings, these smell like Army pits. Something between an Army Jeep with the emergency brake on and the inside of an Abrams tank.
No matter, our bags are good enough. They’re gonna get us out the gate. Even if, wafting out behind them, trails a slightly military scent.