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Listen Missy, Dental Hygiene Never Stops
Brushing up on an essential item to pack even if you're not going to be climbing
Being on belay, cracking up uncontrollably is not considered to be good form when you should be in the ultimate state of readiness to catch a fall. My wife was still learning the ropes, both figuratively and literally, and was surprised to see a toothbrush hanging out of the chalk bag of the climbing partner over her head. “Why the toothbrush?” she pondered aloud. And then quicker than one can jump out of a dentist chair, came the quip from above “Listen Missy, dental hygiene never stops!” Still decades later, we drag this one up in all kinds of contexts, especially when there’s a random toothbrush to be seen.
I no longer do any “gardening” up on cliff faces. Toothbrushes are great for scrubbing grime, dirt, and grit out of places where you want to stuff your fingers or gear. Having given up climbing long ago due to a number of annoying and life-changing repetitive use injuries, I no longer have a chalk bag let alone a toothbrush to go along with it. However, a toothbrush is still considered a vital element of my ultralight travel pack, preferably one that had not been used to scrub grime out of cliff face cracks in a former life.
In fact, if I accidentally left everything behind, the one item that I think I’d miss most is the toothbrush (if I ignore my passport, wallet and phone). Fortunately, being so lucky to have a great bill of health at the moment, I don’t have any essential medicines I need to take. Those would surely trump a toothbrush. But absent any future issues, it’s one that I would have trouble living without. As proved evident so recently…
Straight away after “retiring” from my desk job, I headed down the hill to visit some good friends in Santa Cruz and the Bay Area for the better part of a week. Striking out from Berkeley, I took BART over to San Francisco to spend an afternoon with my friends, Andy and Ellen. Unprepared for anything longer than a few hour visit, all I had with me was my wallet and phone stuffed into the pockets of my shorts. Andy asked if I wanted to crash at his place. Hmmmm…Why the hell not? All I’d really miss is a toothbrush. It’s only one night. But Andy, being the good buddy that he is, had me covered!
The next morning, another friend, Wes, invited me up to crash at his place in Fairfax that evening. How about another unplanned night on the road? Fast forward a couple of days later than intended, I found my way back to my folks place across the Bay. Andy’s gift made all the difference. For everything else I was missing, I could find a suitable substitute. Toothpaste is easily bummed off a friend but it’s much harder to share a toothbrush with that same guy. Yuck! No offense, Andy, but I think you share the sentiment.
Some people who know that I’m into this ultralight thing have asked me if I cut the handle off the toothbrush to save weight. Ha ha. That would be foolhardy! Actually, truth be told, I kind of did try this. You know those travel toothbrushes that come in two halves that you snap together? I took the better half of one of those on my 2013 vacation to Hong Kong in an effort to save on weight and space. Big mistake! What I found out mid-trip, like any good engineer would have realized long beforehand, is that leverage is important when it comes to scrubbing the moss off those pearly whites! Dental gardening isn’t quite so easy without a long handled tool.
After eating more noodles than a quality control taster in a ramen factory, I found starchy residue abutments shoring up my enamels. Gritty gardens indeed! The little half toothbrush could uproot only the least tenacious shrubs growing in my little oral botanical garden. Those in the back corners were starting to grow unruly. Good thing I had a dentist appointment shortly after landing stateside! Better call the office and ask if the dental hygienist can stay a little late…
After making that mistake for the Hong Kong trip, I always bring a full sized toothbrush, full handle and all. Desert island item for me? Toothbrush. It’s worth all the weight and size that it takes up in my backpack. And if I forget one, I can count on a good friend to gift me the one he has waiting in the wings. Dental hygiene never stops. After all, besides keeping your whites pearly, you never know when you might need to garden a cliffside face as you climb your way up to that hostel at the top of the hill. Hey, maybe that’s why they call it “Crest” toothpaste.