Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Closer to Fine

From A Trip to Evergreen

Douglas Coulter, the mad troubadour of the touring list, whose madness is one of the saner responses I've seen to these mad times, once wrote that all his tours are failures. If my goal is ultimate simplicity, I similarly fail on each journey, for my monkey mind gathers far too many shiny things and carries these burdens too far for too long. But, perhaps, a goal is only that which gets me rolling down the road, where my burdens resolve either into the strength needed to carry them further or the certainty needed to leave them behind. With thoughts such as these for companions, I pedal southward, into the wind. My gear today is too much, something I'll know for certain when I return home with unworn t-shirts and a laptop that I've lugged for miles and never used but in the words of the Indigo Girls, my kit is getting "closer to fine."

My gear today is minimal but more than sufficient. Using Colin Fletcher's metaphor of a house, my baggage consists of three main rooms. The bedroom sits on the bike's rear rack. A single waterproof compression stuff-sack contains my sleeping bag, bivy sack, Therm-a-Rest pad, tarp-poncho, ground-cloth, 4 tent stakes and my cozy camp jacket/vest. The jacket/vest, which is too warm to wear while riding, extends the comfort range of my 18 ounce sleeping bag down to the freezing point. The total weight of the bedroom is under 5 lbs.

Up front, a small handlebar bag contains the pantry and workshop. The main compartment holds whatever I feel like snacking on at the moment, today it contains Payday and Clif bars, while the smaller compartment contains a spare tube, patch kit, tire levers and chain lube. I have two water bottles in the main triangle of the bike and a Topeak Morph pump strapped behind the seat tube. Battery powered Planet Bike head and tail lights are sufficient to get me through the longest, darkest nights. For security, I carry an OnGuard Mini U-Lock on my rear rack. A bungie cargo net secures the load to the rear rack.

My closet is an Osprey Daylite backpack holding not only my spare clothes (a couple of t-shirts, a long sleeve wool t-shirt, a pair of wool socks and a second pair of shorts) but also way more technology than what any wanderer actually needs. In addition to my camera and cell phone, I'm packing my Eee PC in case I'm overcome with overwhelming web-withdrawal and my Peek Pronto connects me to all the email obligations I carry with me.

From A Trip to Evergreen

There's a school of thought that says I should be letting the bike carry all the weight and not use a backpack, but packs have proven to be handy to me over the years. The valuable bits stay with me when I lock up the bike and go into a coffee shop or wander around and keeping some weight on my back keeps me honest. The pack weight gets questioned every trip. In addition to the above mentioned items, the pack holds my toothbrush and razor, whatever book I'm reading, chargers for the gadgets, local maps and other bits that build up until I say "enough" and pare things down again. It's always a learning process.

The backpack expands and contracts as I layer clothes on and off depending on conditions. I wear a cotton cycling cap under my helmet and in cold conditions I wear a warm cap over the cotton one to cover my ears. Both my outer jacket and pants are convertible, with parts that zip off and dry quickly. It took me years to figure out that the key to wet weather comfort was not to battle to stay totally dry, but to have clothes that are comfortable when damp and dry quickly. My Marmot DriClime Windshirt is the best single garment I own and it is pretty much always on my person or in my pack. I carry the gets-damp-but-dries-quick theme down to my feet and found that the looks-dorky-but-really-works Pacific Northwest fashion of wool socks plus sandals.

From A Trip to Evergreen

On each trip I learn something. I've learned that by traveling light, I can travel far. With minimal gear, I need a minimum of gears, and touring on a fixed gear or single speed bicycle is not only possible, it's fun and instructive. In wind, rain, sun or whatever I can roll and think and learn something from every day, night, road and trail I roll down. The distance I have to cover is not far and I have sufficient time to hasten slowly. One of the wisest things I've ever read was written by the great sage Sheldon who asked "If you are in a hurry, why are you on a bicycle?" Since I am traveling at least as much to travel as to arrive, I have time to think and pause and photograph that which is odd or common or interesting. Each tour is not a failure, each trip gets me closer to fine.

From A Trip to Evergreen

Keep 'em rolling,

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