When I returned to my car after a quick stop in the store, someone had broken my passenger door lock and stolen almost everything I had in my car: over $4,000 worth of gear that I’d accumulated over many years of traveling in the mountains. After carefully adding up the costs of lost gear and repairs to my car door, minus a negligible amount covered by insurance, I need $3900 to be back where I was before the thief targeted my property.
The story began in April, as always, on the day the Mazama climb schedule came out. I eagerly flipped through the pages, highlighting what climbs I deemed the most interesting and worth blocking time out of my schedule for. I have a few criteria: a leader I know and trust, a limited total number of climbers, and some out of the way destination or unusual link-up. This climb had all three. I would climb with a man known and beloved by many, with a great big smile and awesome attitude. I would climb in a small group of 6, and I would be heading up to a mountain that struck me down, twice, just a few years ago. This was going to be a great trip.
All summer, I worked. Yes, starting a new business in a relatively new town sucked up a good majority of my time. I didn’t have as many opportunities as I would have liked to go out hiking and climbing, training for the big trip. Oh well, I thought, the adrenaline alone will push me through.
The week before, I began preparing. I’d tested out a brand new climbing pack on a shorter hike. I started making and dehydrating meals I could bring back to life at camp. I began laying out the wide array of gear I’d need for this trek: snow climbing gear, rock climbing gear, warm clothes, lots of food, emergency equipment, a bivy sack and tent (since I wasn’t sure what I’d bring), my camera, and many other items. Spending 5 days in the alpine, far from the civilized world, means you need a lot of stuff. The varied climbing terrain also ensured I couldn’t get away with carrying a light pack.
The morning before leaving to meet my carpool, I stuffed it all into my backpack, threw a few creature comforts in my car for the first night of camping, and drove up to Portland. I made a quick stop at REI just a couple hours before meeting my carpool to grab some last minute items.
When I got back to the car, this scenario unfolded: my door was unlocked, which was weird, and I looked over into the passenger seat. My bag of snacks and clothes was gone. Quickly, I looked into the back, and my multi-day pack, tent, sleeping bag and small day-pack were gone. Slamming the car door, I ran to the passenger side and noticed the lock was neatly punched out. Metal bits were strewn across the floor. This was no amateur. Someone had his strategy mapped out long before and I was not the first victim.
I blasted down the stairwell and into REI, looking around frantically for an employee who wasn’t busy. Yeah, right. As I marched down the aisle, a man in a black T-shirt asked if I needed any help. He did work there, and he was heading home. He kindly brought me to the front of the store and tried to summon a manager or other help. This took forever. In the meantime I got on the phone with the police and, choking back tears, tried to get some help.
“We can’t send an officer down for that, do you have Internet access?”
No, I asked if there was some other way. The operator said she’d have an officer call me back, which was way more comforting than getting on a computer to file my report.
The Response from REI
But this took some time, so I waited up front at REI for a bit and talked to a manager. She was also not very helpful. Let me paraphrase the message I received from both REI workers: “Oh yeah this happens to our employees all the time. Theft has been up lately, so we put up some signs. It would cost $50,000 to have security in the garage, so, you know…” I know? Really! Yes, I do think 50K (if in fact that is the cost) is a perfectly reasonable amount to pay for security for a company who sells high end outdoor gear. Even if they threw some GoPro cameras up in the corners or had an employee walk the lot every day, I bet they could nail some of the people that are cruising the lot for free goodies. There’s one way in and out of the garage, how hard could it be to provide security? This nonchalant attitude towards their own employees and customers getting ripped off made me sick to my stomach.
My trip was canceled for the whole team. The financial investment I’d made in my gear–some of it, gear designed to last a lifetime, was gone. Not to mention all the little things I’d worked on myself: the homemade meals, personalized first aid kit, time-tested clothing system, and the painstakingly researched purchases. Poof. The value of these items to me far exceeded the money paid at the time of purchase. To replace these items with brand new stuff would be much more expensive. I waited for discounts, scrimped and saved for what I had, and upgraded to the nicer stuff once I used borrowed gear and thrift store finds for years. Besides, the memories of the red #1 cam holding my first lead fall, the nights spent curled up in my fluffy down bag, and the hundreds of trips my beat up, old green RidgeRest has been on made these things even more precious. I didn’t need shiny new things, as the old gear was holding up just fine.
The Insurance: Adding Insult to Injury
“At least your insurance will cover it,” many people said, in an effort to console me. Yes, I’d purchased renters insurance several years ago after reading other people’s stories of car break ins and theft. I told the agent when I took the insurance out that this was the point, I wanted to protect my belongings left in the car when out hiking, climbing, traveling, etc and I have to leave things behind unguarded. I had my car broken into once before, while parked at a trailhead in the Gorge, but luckily I left nothing of significant monetary value in the car.
So imagine my surprise when talking to the friendly insurance adjuster on the phone who said, well you’re insured for $13,000 and 10% of that value if the property is out of your home, so that’s $1,300. Plus you have a $500 deductible.
This is where I kind of stopped listening and the anger deep within my soul began rising to the surface again.
So after all this, being “covered” by insurance, and I only get a maximum of $800? Not to mention, there were damages to my car as well, and THAT has a separate $500 deductible, bringing my net intake to $300 paid to me from insurance. I’m not going to do the math and calculate all the insurance payments I’ve made in my lifetime, but I can guarantee that’s far more than $300. Whew, good thing I paid for that renters policy.
Here’s what I know. I feel angry. I feel like I’ve been wronged by several entities in many different ways. I feel like I did the best I could to acquire and protect my property, and those efforts were not enough.
#1: Most people are amazing. Here’s the part of the story I haven’t told yet. Within hours of getting the word out that my gear was stolen, people from all parts of my life were reaching out to me asking how they could help. Lending gear, donating gear, lending money, donating money, or offering emotional support. Everyone rallied, including people in my life I haven’t heard from in a while and even complete strangers. It was, and continues to be, unbelievable. I am deeply humbled by the number of people expressing concern, sympathy and anger right along with me.
#2: REI needs to take action. If a company is in the business of selling expensive items and said company is fully aware that these items are being stolen from employees and customers at their location, and they refuse to do anything to handle the problem, they’re not doing good business. Boy, that was the most civil way I could put that. I’m looking at you, REI, and know that this is not over. Things need to change. I will absolutely not be replacing my stolen gear by going back and shopping at REI. And I will work to ensure that no more shoppers have to endure this nightmare.
#3: Know what your insurance covers or don’t get it at all. I’d like to think I’m a smart shopper. I don’t spend money freely, and when I do spend money, I make damn sure I’m getting what I need. So it was a shock to learn that my insurance coverage was absolutely not what I thought it was. If anyone has any tips on choosing an honest insurance company, send them my way. From what I’ve heard, most people are pretty unhappy with their insurance once they actually have to file a claim.
#4: Don’t ever leave gear visible, even for 30 minutes. If thieves have their eye on a sweet parking lot/garage where they know there’s no security, you’re a target. Last minute stops at REI? Avoid them. Buy things in advance or shop online if you can. If you forget something, I guess you’re out of luck unless you’re driving with someone and they can stay in the car. I don’t know what to suggest for road-trips where you’re taking multiple short stops and you have to leave stuff in the car, except if you have a trunk or car-top box, stash items out of sight.
If you’ve been the victim of theft, please feel free to share how you recovered in the comments below.
If you can help me send the message to REI that they need to improve security for their employees and customers, please contact me now.
If my story resonates with you and you want to throw in a few bucks to help me gear up again, check out my donations page here: