Fire in the attic

When you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a long enough period of time you get to know the buttons which, if pushed, generate a certain reaction in your partner.  For example, my wife often plans projects to work on around the house while I am gone on hiking trips.  She does this to “surprise” me upon my return.  So, when she asks “Honey, where is the sledge hammer?” as I am getting ready to leave, she knows that this generates a certain level of concern on my part.  But, as in any relationship, this cuts both ways.  She knows that I rather intensely dislike shopping but there is an exception to this.  When I mention to her that REI is having a sale and I am planning to head out to do some shopping, a strong reaction results that I have come to call “dividend anxiety”.  Dividend anxiety comes from wondering if your REI dividend will be used up by your spouse before you have a chance to turn it into cash.


Unfortunately, heading to the local REI store is now a much more daunting prospect since moving to Wisconsin.  In Maryland, we had 9 REIs within a 60 mile radius of where we lived.  In contrast, Wisconsin has a total of 2 REIs and the closest one to where we live is now over 150 miles away.  Regrettably, when we chose to move to Wisconsin, selecting a location based on proximity to an REI store was not part of the equation


I have been a member of the REI Coop since 1977.  This fact is often brought up when I check out at an REI.  I present my 6 digit Coop number and the store clerk typically responds along the lines of “geez, you don’t see 6 digit membership numbers very often”.  The translation for this is something like “wow, you are older than snot – I wonder how many REI stores existed when you joined?”.  The answer, I kid you not, is that there were 4 REI stores in the entire US when I joined.  This means that I am, almost, older than REI itself, if not snot.


Before going further, let me stress that neither myself nor any member of my family, works for or owns any stock in REI, nor do I wish to sell you a bridge located in New York City.  But, yes, I am a huge fan.  On a backpacking trip this past summer in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains, the backcountry campsite I had targeted was already occupied.  However, the occupants graciously agreed to let me share their site.  I found out that the guys at the site both worked in one of Wisconsin’s 2 REI stores.  I couldn’t restrain my enthusiasm, gushing about how much I liked REI and their return policy which allows you to bring back items, even those with significant wear, for a full refund, for any reason.  With the look of a wounded puppy, one of them said “is that really the best thing about us?”  I blurted out, “no, the best thing is actually your attic sales”.


For the unaware, REI attic sales are open only to coop members and they give you the opportunity to purchase, at a significant discount, those items returned under the aforementioned generous return policy.  Beyond getting great deals, attic sales have huge entertainment value.  This comes from reading the yellow tag attached to the sale items identifying why something was returned.  For example, I purchased a pair of $70 REI pants for about $10 at an attic sale once – the tag said they were returned because of “spots on the pant legs after a hike”.  The alert reader might speculate that spots (i.e., dirt) could accumulate on pants if they are worn while hiking somewhere where there is dirt.  Sure enough, one washing machine cycle later, I had essentially new REI Sahara convertible pants for $10.  A pair of hiking shoes (“wore once on a long hike, afterwards my feet hurt”), a 1200 lumen bicycle light (“it was too difficult to attach and remove the light from the handle bar mount”), it just goes on and on.


It is the attic sale that actually turned around my wife’s attitude toward REI.  She is an avid seeker of bargains.  For example, when grocery shopping, we always need to stop at the end of the aisle where the store seeks to unload items that are perilously near, if not at, their expiration dates.  Despite this, we have managed to avoid symptoms of GI distress when dining on such items.  For her, being told about the attic sale was like handing a pack of cigarettes to someone trying to quit smoking.  Having no conscience, I happily provided this information and invited her to accompany me.


It got worse when we discovered a secret (THE secret?) of attic sales.  Initially we showed up early and stood in line, often for 90 minutes, to get first crack at the “good stuff”.  In Maryland, they let a fixed number of people in for 10 minutes at a time.  Picture Filene’s Basement’s wedding dress sales.  You grab what you can and then get ushered out into the main retail area.  One day however we couldn’t get to the attic sale until the afternoon.  At that point the crowds were gone and we were free to look as long as we wanted.  And then, a magical thing, especially for my wife, happened.  They made an announcement that every item in the attic sale was now 50% off the yellow tag price!  Game on/game over.  From that point forward our objective was to never arrive until just around the time the fire sale began in the attic.


How is this related to my planned AT thru hike?  Well, when hiking the AT, footwear doesn’t last forever.  From my research, it seems that one should plan on shoes lasting about 500 miles.  This means 4 to 5 pairs of shoes are needed.  Courtesy exclusively of attic fire sales, I now have 8 pairs of hiking shoes, all essentially brand new, purchased at around a 90% discount.  I have been testing them on the trail for the past 6 months and my feet are just fine, thank you very much.  These 8 pair which could easily have cost me about $1,200 dollars if purchased at full retail, ended up setting me back less than $200, in total.


I realize that laying all of this out could increase competition at future attic sales, but so be it.  Footwear-wise, I’m pretty much set for the AT and, if that goes well, the PCT as well.  And, I have found that attic sales are a safe, effective treatment for Dividend Anxiety, with few, if any, side effects.


2 thoughts on “Fire in the attic

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