Dear Paco Pad, It’s Time for Me to Move On
A reformed raft guide writes a breakup letter to his favorite piece of gear as he upgrades to a (real) mattress
Dear Paco Pad,
We’ve been together for a long time. It’s been about four years, spending virtually every waking (and sleeping) moment together. Running rivers, crashing illegally in the back of my car, living it up at music festivals… We did it all.
Damn, we had some good times.
I remember when I first saw you, new and neatly rolled up, on the beach at Lees Ferry before we put in the Grand Canyon. My old whitewater rafting boss got you for me on a pro deal as a thank you for staying late in the season (as well as for inviting him on my Grand Canyon trip). It was love at first sight.
Normally, a 24-day first date would ruin just about any relationship, but for some reason, the chemistry between us never fell flat. You supported me over those weeks in the canyon, and I could tell you were in it for the long haul. I slept on rocks, roots, and river rubbish—and I never felt anything but your air-and-foam-filled goodness. You were open to trying tons of different positions, and when some of the oranges in my cooler started going bad, you helped by keeping them shaded. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
You were so fresh in those early days—not yet worn down by the experiences we’ve shared since. I fondly remember that summer guiding the Trinity River and our fall-season stint trimming marijuana plants in Humboldt. My boss wanted us to sleep out in the crop, and you were my only company and insulation, even on the coldest nights. Waking up in a sea of green, we enjoyed those crisp NorCal mornings together. Sorry for spilling coffee on you from time to time.
What about a couple of years later? That rafting season we spent squatting in Charlie Sands’s boathouse in Jackson? Every day I’d come “home” and stash wet bundles of cash under you from river-guiding gratuities. But you never complained or got moldy. If anything, you seemed to appreciate the better living situation that the tips promised—as long as I didn’t start eyeing new sleeping pads.
We even survived that disturbing night on the Hoback River, when a deranged stranger shat in our campsite. I remember lying awake all night wondering if some meth-fueled madman was going to jump out from the bushes and pad-nap you along with the raft and beer. I held you tightly that whole evening, along with my knife.
And the look on the TSA agents’ faces when I brought you as carry-on—rolled up and damn near overflowing from my pack—to Maui in 2017? But they let us on board! Sure, other passengers stared as I violently jammed you into the overhead bin, but who were they to judge? I’ll never be ashamed of you. Crashing together in that rental van was way better than paying for a fancy hotel room. After all, a year’s worth of guiding tips would have only bought a few nights at the Four Seasons.
Then, of course, there was that summer on the Rogue, working 18-hour days. Cook, rig, raft, cook, rig, raft, cook, do the dishes—then repeat, day after day. I’m still haunted by the sound of an early-morning coffee blaster as my fellow guides got breakfast going. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have made it, and the river would have broken me.
I love you, Paco Pad. We’ve shared so much, and we’ll continue to do so. But let’s be honest: it’s not like it used to be.
Sadly, I’m not in my twenties anymore. You know I’ll always love you, but our relationship has changed. When we met, I was in a different phase of my life. Gravel sandbars, sketchy out-of-view parking-lot corners, and obscure campsites made sense. A part of me wishes I was still that guy. But I’m not, and I’m sorry.
I have an apartment now—and a real bed—and my days of dirtbagging it out of Rhonda the Honda are over (hopefully). I’ll never replace you with another pad. I promise. We’ve got a trip down the main Salmon later this summer. And when it comes to laying out on the balcony and reading sci-fi, you and I still have a great thing.
But—being together every night—it just doesn’t make sense anymore.
My yoga mat is no threat to you, and I sincerely hope you and it can be friends. Trust me, there’s still no other piece of gear I’d rather spend a road or river trip with. OK, maybe the French press. For now, rest easy in the closet. You’ve earned it.
Yours in love, z’s, and dirt,