Goodbye blue shorts, and thank you for your service

A couple of weeks ago, on a camping trip, I was climbing down from the roof of the car, having replaced the gas bottle in its holder on the roof rack. As I reached my foot down to the rear bumper, I heard a ripping sound from near my left knee. Once safely on the ground, I took stock of the damage. My favourite pair of blue shorts had sustained a small L shaped tear. I knew this day had been coming, but I really didn’t want to believe it. I told myself it was only a small tear and once I got home I would be able to repair it, no worries.

Later that day I was walking across some rocks by the sea, trying to find a good fishing spot. With my rod in one hand and tackle box in the other, I had to squat down to get my balance, before gingerly extending one leg to the rock below. Another ripping sound emanated from my shorts. The L had now extended significantly, exposing the pocket inside. I set my things down to examine the damage. The fabric either side of the rip was fragile, I knew any attempts to repair it would result in the thread tearing through. This was later proven when I made a futile attempt to hold it together with safety pins. This was it, the end of my favourite shorts.

I purchased these shorts back in 2019, in preparation for a 4 month trip. They would need to withstand 3 weeks of bikepacking from Vancouver to Banff, followed by a week riding the Hebridean Way, a music festival and finally another 2 weeks of biking around the Cairngorms in Scotland. They performed admirably and my love for these shorts was cemented. We went through many a trial and tribulation together. We drank in pubs, slid down banks, swam in rivers, fell off bikes, performed Ceilidh dances, cried by the trailside. They were washed everywhere from 24hr laundromats to my friends grandparents house to caravan park sinks. Their internal and external colours began departing significantly from each other. But never did they fail me.

I have always attributed an unusual amount of significance to certain inanimate objects. I have far more memorabilia stored in my parents garage than my sisters. I find it difficult to part with things, to the point where I have hoarding tendencies. Every time we do a clear out, I always end up sneaking at least one thing back into the ‘keep’ pile, purely because I can’t bear to let it go.

Other people don’t understand how I can attribute so much sentimental value to objects. Especially clothes. Clothes are something to be used. You purchase them, enjoy them, wear them until they can no longer be worn, then dispose of them in one way or another. For me, they are like old friends. They have stories; where they came from, things we have done together over the years. Their fit is familiar, comforting. I continue to wear them despite stains, rips, peeling logos. Only once they are truly destroyed can I part with them. And not without a feeling of loss, a mourning period. Often I have already replaced them with a new version, so dire is their physical state, but only once they are gone can I begin bonding with their replacement.

I have been doing this since I was a child. My first favourite t-shirt was given to me by my grandma in primary school. It had a print on the back of progressively larger fish, encouraging me to ‘be a big fish’. I wore it non-stop, the fabric taking on that soft feel only produced by recurrent washing and wearing. I remember planning that once I outgrew it, I would cut out the picture and ask my Nanna to sew it onto a bigger shirt for me, so I would never have to part with it.

Ironically my grandma decided she didn’t like the message ‘Be a Big Fish’ in the end. She must have hated how much I wore it.

In 2009 I worked at a summer camp in Canada. That first year I discovered an outdoor outlet shop in the local town. For the 4 summers I worked at camp, each year I bought a new pair of the same model of quick dry shorts. Again, they were my reliable friends, worn daily. They mountain biked, swam in the river, shot arrows, built fires, comforted homesick children and refereed food fights. Whenever a pair wore out, it was a comfort to know I would have an opportunity to restock on my next visit to camp.

Camp shorts celebrating Big Trucks outside Walmart in 2011

I was forced to farewell my final pair while surfing in Lombok. Wearing my trusty shorts in the tepid ocean, I duckdived a large wave, but was a split second too late. The lip of the wave smacked me right across the backside, ripping the well worn fabric straight off the waistband and leaving my bather bottoms exposed to the elements. A sad but albeit apt ending for a pair of adventure shorts.

My most devastating loss of late was my favourite raincoat. I found it randomly at a pop up shop, it was only in my size, and on sale. It had been my companion for my travels across Europe. A few too many steins at Oktoberfest separated it from my possession. After some futile stumbling around on the night trying to find it, I resolved to visit the lost and found service the following day, much to my boyfriend’s chagrin. I insisted that we wait, hungover, for two hours in the line, only to discover it had not been found. I knew the likelihood of it being there was low, but I couldn’t leave Munich without at least doing what I could to try and locate it. I felt I owed it that much.

RIP beloved raincoat

I have been forced to confront my sentimental attachment to objects by my increasingly mobile lifestyle. Why? Why do I feel so connected to these pieces of fabric and thread? Do I need to change? To let go of this weird affection toward inanimate objects? With the rise of Marie Kondo, tiny homes and minimalism, should I be striving to free myself from these material bonds?

I acknowledge my hoarding tendencies in general do need to be discouraged (Dad, I’m looking at you and your garage). I don’t feel the need to stop connecting with my favourite clothes. If anything, this ability to attribute a higher purpose to these pieces of fabric comes with its own advantages.

When I was biking alone in the Canadian wilderness, I would lie in my tent in the morning, under my warm quilt, thinking about what potential hazards might cross my path that day. Bears, snow, impassable terrain, a mechanical failure. Despite this, I would get up, pack up camp, pull on my blue shorts and face the day. They were familiar, reliable, a constant presence in a life where everything else changed on a daily basis. My connection to these inanimate objects gives me a kind of super power, they help me tap into a confidence and bravery that might otherwise be inaccessible. With my blue shorts, I could face anything.

Of course they were never going to stop me becoming a grizzly’s lunch, but they did play their part in helping me deal with the unknowns that lay ahead. And although my strangely intimate connection to these objects does make it worse when our time to part arrives, I would happily mourn my blue shorts again and again in return for what they gave me.

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