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Where The Adventure Really Begins . . .

October 29, 2000|LESLEE KOMAIKO

Summer may have ended, but the call of the great outdoors continues. Witness the crush of customers in West Los Angeles' Adventure 16 on a recent Sunday afternoon. We spent a few hours with sales associate Michelle Karlsen, 40, a 13-year veteran of the wilderness outfitting business and the store's accessories diva.

1:45 Karlsen approaches middle-aged man looking at dehydrated foods. "I'm a little leery of large pieces of meat," he volunteers. Karlsen recommends Leonardo da Fettuccine and Mountain Chili. "Just be sure to follow the directions," she says. "Let them steep. And incorporate the ingredients while they're steeping. Otherwise you'll get dry pockets of spices."

1:52 Teenager in "14 Reasons Why Guitars Are Better Than Women" T-shirt tells Karlsen he wants a headlamp. She shows him several models she considers superior to holding a flashlight and especially good "for peeing."

2:10 Karlsen cautions thirtysomething couple about "a big bear problem this year" at their Northern California destination. "A friend of mine had the back of their car peeled open."

2:45 A man looking at a Mt. Whitney map laments its metric measurements. "We're moving into a metric world," she says. The man grimaces: "I hate that."

3:05 Karlsen helps European couple choose binoculars. "These are good for birding," she offers. They intend to use them at the Hollywood Bowl.

3:20 Hollywood Bowl-bound couple departs with a snake-bite kit, too.

3:32 "That's the definitive guide," Karlsen assures a statuesque blond paging through "Hiking Trails of the Santa Monica Mountains" by Milt McAuley. "I just survived an ashram," the woman responds. "Now I'm trying to figure out where I was."

4:05 "That's a great unit," Karlsen informs a customer asking about SweetWater microfilter. "It'll take care of bacteria and protozoa, but not viruses."

4:07 Karlsen helps out at the busy rental desk. "We need to rent a backpack," says the mother of a high school coed traveling to Sequoia with schoolmates. Daughter looks bored in her Beastie Boys T-shirt, safety pin necklace and black nail polish.

4:30 Karlsen tells a student going to the Colorado River that he needs a waterproof whistle, "because it's very hard to hear someone yelling over running water."

5:28 Karlsen chats briefly with Mike, another employee. "How was it in boots?" she asks. "Hell?"

5:40 Older woman in flowing dress inquires about ice axes. "I just want to see the lightest," she says. "That would be the Grivel Air Tech Racing," says Karlsen, handing one over. "It's 400 grams."

5:50 "Be sure to lie on your side," Karlsen commands as a bald muscleman splays across a demo sleeping-bag-pad, "because that's where your hips are going to penetrate deepest."

5:57 Karlsen warns few remaining customers that store is closing.

6:02 Watching muscle man deliberate between two pads, Karlsen muses, "The great debate: weight versus comfort."

6:04 Karlsen wishes departing muscleman "a great trip." He's leaving the next day, it turns out. In most places, Karlsen confides, "people plan three months ahead. In L.A., they come in and say, 'Hi. I'm going to Thailand . . . tonight.' "

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