A hitchhiker's guidance: Do you know where your towel is?

  • Nov 03, 2014
  • 882 words
  • 4 minutes
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I’d been walking south India’s Arabian Sea coast, barefoot and alone, carrying all of my worldly possessions on my back, when I came upon a dog-eared copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that had been left randomly on an orange rock with an enviable ocean view. Someone had left Douglas Adams magnum opus behind. India’s unique brand of trail magic was doing its best to make up for the time a few months earlier that a monkey had stolen my copy of The Hobbit and thrown it at a cow that was camped out four stories below in the bustling lanes of Varanasi.

The midday sun was beating down on my sunburn-cracked ears, so I kept on my way, as any good hitchhiker should. I curled the little novella with the sun-blasted spine into my inner wrist, its cover long lost India’s to thriving counterfeit book trade. Even though I was growing tired from the weight of my pack, and really couldn’t stand to carry much more, I had a feeling I’d like the book with the familiar name. I was right.

I’d been wandering through south India for months at that point, and I was up for a bit of entertainment, but I knew there wouldn’t be anywhere to pick up a beer when I got where I was headed. There are no facilities at Paradise Beach, and it’s got more than its fair share of cobras, but the fish are abundant and the moon is impossibly bright when it’s full. Every so often fishermen came to shore to sell their day’s catch to whomever they find waiting. There can hardly be a more peaceful place in all of India.

I arrived at Paradise around midday, sun blazing overhead. I sought out the shadiest palm I could find, spread my towel beneath it, and decided I’d wait a few hours before I set up my tent. I reached for my bottled water and cracked open my newfound copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to pass the hours.

“A towel,” the guide told me, “is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly, it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand to hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward of noxious fumes.”

It was easy to draw parallels between Douglas Adams’ version of space and my own nomadic existence. I’d been using my towel as a blanket, a pillow and, of course, a towel for several years at that point. I’d covered my nose with it at a whiff of the noxious outdoor toilets of Delhi in the hot season, even though my towel was not that much more fragrant at that point, at least it was my own stench.

“A towel has immense psychological value,” Adams went on. “For some reason, if a non-hitch hiker discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

Adams did — and still does — make me laugh out loud, and I still always travel with a towel. So I was excited to give WillLand Outdoors $21 travel towel a try. Made of quick-drying microfiber and coming with a stuff sack that is tantalizingly close to a pillow in appearance, I saw this towel creeping into my backpack for many journeys yet to come. Was I right?

I wasn’t far off. My travel towel from Toronto-based WillLand Outdoors has been to Europe and the Caribbean, to the Rocky Mountains and the Maritimes. It does dry quickly. I’m not sure I’d say it’s the fastest drying towel I’ve ever had, but it came dry in good time even in humid sub-tropical loveliness that is the Caribbean during hurricane season, when the rest of the tourists stay away and you share island life with the locals.

A towel is, above all else, a pretty useful travel tool, and with a stuff sack, this is especially so. I’ve used it as a pillow while camping out in a hammock at my family’s cottage, and as a makeshift cape when I felt the need to dive into the sun dappled waters of the Caribbean dressed as a superhero on the idyllic coastline west of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. It’s the sort of thing that the exuberance of Jamaican life ought to inspire everyone to do, but only the travelers who know where their towel is can pull it off.


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