He approached me with an & jubilance unmatched by any cyclist I’ve met so far. He was tall & thin, much thinner than his oversized waterproof outfit implied. When he started talking, I could feel my eyes get squinty and my head cocking to the side. He had an accent, but I couldn’t quite place it. This made it difficult for me to understand him, but I listened intently as if I was to decode his words and solve some sort of pressing mystery.
He was excited to see me, but I wasn’t sure why. I was somewhat excited to see him too, I guess. Everyone else I meet on the road is on some sort of cycling team, be it friends or lovers, and it can be a bit difficult to wiggle your way into their social familiarity.
The lone wolves among us can go for days, even weeks, without actually connecting with anyone. I was approaching my solitude threshold, but still had a few days left in me. I could, however, understand where he was coming from, the fast talking, the excitement, the immediate feeling of fatedness, this man has been alone in the woods for while.
..and he was French! That’s it! French! “Je peux parler un peu de Francais!” I manage. He squealed in excitement.
“You speak French!” his eyes got all wide, and he started to look at me like I was dropped from another planet. “Oh! That is very very good! Many here do not know what I say.”
I nod. I can see why. Lucky for him, I have a fascination with languages, a background in French, and all the time in the world. We continue our conversation in a mostly English sometimes French and a dash of pictionary/charades. We manage to get out the basics of our travels.
- Where are you coming from? France. No Canada. No Mexico.
- Where are you going? Je ne sais pas. (I don’t know.)
- How long have you been biking? Four days, but before that I walked from Mexico. (This was a point of confusion because with a French accent work & walk sound alarmingly similary)
- How many miles do you go in a day? When I walk, I go 30-45 miles. I cycle about 80 miles per day.
- Are you an illegal immigrant? Haha, how do you say…? Not yet.
The fascinating part about this man was not that he was French or that he walked from Mexico to San Francisco or that he nearly cried with joy after meeting me, but that this man owned almost nothing.
“Would you like to guess how much my pants weigh?” he asks. I look at him confused. “Do you understand grams?” He doesn’t wait for me to answer. “Point zero zero one grams! That is like nothing! Would you like to touch?”
I reach out and feel the fabric between my fingers. Its some sort of ultra light weight waterproof material.
“They are pants for kayak! They were big & wide and went very very high.” He motioned to midway on his chest. “I took needle to them, and when I was done…how is it?… to needle? When I was done with it, many many ask where I buy my pants, but I say ‘I do not know. I needled them.’”
He was so proud, every gram accounted for, “People sometimes look at me strange for my bicycling outfit, but it is very good, weighs very little.”
It carried on like this for a while. He had only two small panniers, and I was to learn that one only contained food.
I’d ask questions, and he’d answer with either the weight of the item he owned or the way in which he lived without it.
- So no clothes? I have my bicycling outfit and my hiking outfit. All very light.
- Tent? I have one tarp with rope. Its less than a kilo.
- How do you sleep? Sleeping bag? A mat? I have a mat. Very light. No sleeping bag, I wear all my clothes at night. If it is very cold, I just keep walking until I am so tired that I must sleep. It works for me.
- Do you have a stove? How do you cook food? I eat food that does not need to cook. For 40 days now I have had dry mashed potatoes with olive oil & tuna. It is very good. I like it very much.
- Do you have anything to entertain yourself? Music? Book? I have not. Just my thoughts, it can get hard, yes. It’s true.
I was in awe. This is what happens when a mega-hiker turns to biking, a sleek, fast, ultra-light minimalist on the move. Anything he didn’t have, he just forced himself not to need. Suddenly, my two-pannier + backpack combo was just another clunky overloaded bicycle.
We stayed together until nightfall. He knocked on my tent in the middle of the night to tell me that he really liked me, and wanted to get to know me better. I told him that that was very nice, but he scared the shit out of me.
He apologized and told me that he really liked what I was doing, and that I should never give up. I thanked him and wished him a good night.
He was gone by the time I woke up.
Enough About Him, Let’s Talk About Me
As you can imagine, I have a close inventory on nearly everything I own by now. I’ve got this camping thing down to a science. Each bag contains it category of supplies, and can be easily transformed into a tiny wilderness sanctuary at a moments notice.
In the backpack, the most accesible bag once I stop moving, is my tent & sleeping bag. The tent is set-up first, followed my the rolled up sleeping mat that sits independently below my bike seat. From there, I unpack my sleeping bag, and put the backpack & panniers on the far side of the tent away from the door. Shoes and anything wet goes at the bottom of the tent and my most immediate needs including, my fanny pack, snacks, prized electronics and my book go near the door by my head. If anything is out of place it can take me an incalculable amount of time to try and find it. However, at this point the location of each item is so carefully mapped the instances are few and far between.
So what exactly does someone, such as yourself, bring on a endless bike trip?
Good question, and lucky for you, one day, a few weeks back, my camp soap spilled over my entire bag, and I was forced to take it all out and wash & reorganize it. It did not, however, force me to categorize, photograph and inventory it, that was my own neuroses at work.
Clothing for all weathers and occasions (38 items)
1 pair of jeans
1 pair of black jeggings
1 pair of gray yoga capris
2 pairs of bike shorts
1 pair of short shorts
1 blue gray T-shirt
2 long tank tops/ short dresses
1 long shirt/ short dress
1 polyester dress
1 partially see-through thermal nonsense
1 2005 RAGBRAI bike jersey
1 gray hoodie tank top zip-up thing
8 pairs of underwear
3 bras (including one nude strapless bra)
7 pairs of socks: many thanks to Sock Dreams. 3 pairs of black bamboo ankle sock, 3 pairs of thigh high wool socks, 1 pair of mid range alpaca wool socks) To see an ultra detailed account of why all these socks are perfect for all my purposes click it.
2 lightweight waterproof jackets
1 windproof bike jacket
1 black sweater
1 rainbow neon one piece swimsuit
3 tank top/undershirts
1 pair of Converse tennis shoes
1 pair of Teva sandals
All of these items, at least all of the clean ones, are scrunched together into this amazing waterproofer compression sack (1 item) which magically becomes my pillow at the end of each night. which is a perfect segue into detailing my sleeping accouterment.
How I lay me down to sleep (4 items)
1 tent (Flight Series)
1 sleeping bag (Cat’s Meow 20* F)
1 sleeping mat — the long kind. I could have gone shorter, but it was an accident and a long story.
1 bottle of Melatonin – I’ve never been one for pills, but these were a gift and have definitely come in handy.
Health & Hygiene aka. Feed Me I’m Dirty (29 items
2 toothbrush es + tube o’ toothpaste
1 very large camp towel
1 bottle of camp soap
1 tiny conditioner
1 tiny sunscreen
1 tiny lotion
2 things of floss
1 JetBoil Camp stove
1 extra fuel canister
1 wine opener/knife thing
1 aluminum pan/plate
1 pair of nail clippers
First Aid Kit: waterproof bag, bandaids, gauze, various medicines (allergy, tummy, headache, cold & flu), disinfectant, etc.
2 water bottles – though only one should count because one is a 1L Pelligrino bottle that I am refilling
Most of these things live in the panniers with my food stuffs and clothing. Clothing & hygiene on one side and food & misc. on the other. This system seems to be working out quite well for me. Which brings me to another category of items that most cyclists won’t have nearly as much of: The Digital
What?! It’s 2012. Get with the Program! (17 items)
Keyboard + charger
iPhone + charger
Tiny secret camera for undercover work + charger
Waterproof mount for tiny secret camera
Pin mount for tiny secret camera
2 converter plug things for Apple products
Safety Light/ Flashlight/ Rape Whistle/ Party Machine — I am sad to report that this item broke and was left at the last park in Oregon
Mini SD to larger SD storage converter thing
2 varying sized storage cards
Solar Panel that can charge anything I have
Disposable Camera — I gave this to Mono Rides to take pictures on his cross-country bike fundraiser
It might strike you as odd that I haven’t actually mentioned anything bike related for this bike journey, fear not. Most bike related things reside in a small triangular pack on my bike (1 item), and I have tools for any bike related problem that I actually know how to fix.
The Bike & Bike Related Gear (10 items)
1981 Fuji America Touring Bike
Kryptonite rope lock
2 sets of tire levels
Bike specific Multitool
So that’s how I get around, and make sure that I keep gettin’ around. Which leaves use with the final photo of my crap. This was stuff that didn’t easily fit in a category.
All that Other Stuff that Somehow Made it Into My Bags (19 items)
2 books – Hyperspace by Michio Kaku & To Hellholes and Back by Chuck Thompson
4 Lighters – yeah, I dunno. That’s how many I found when I moved out
Map of Oregon’s Coastal Bike route which has been replaced by a Northern California map
1 large notebook + 1 tiny notebook
2 bungees to attach my backpack to my bike rack
Metal card case + various cards
OK, I lied. There are two more categories that have not been photographed, but I definitely have.
Absolute Esstentials (7 items)
- Neon yellow fanny pack
- 2 panniers
- Lightweight Backpack (frameless daypack)
Stuff Given to me Last Week by Mono Rides (6 items)
- 2 Quicky dry shammies, like those kind swimmers use
- 2 safety sticks
- A set of brakes
- extra patch kit
- Lots o’ food
That’s it. That’s the lot of it. If you’re counting, like I am, that’s 135 items not including food.
However, if you’re counting like other minimalists on the internet are, underwear counts as one item (down to 125 items), socks count as one item (119 items), same with my first aid kit, lighters, bungies, shammies, floss, safety sticks & panniers (107 items), and I don’t need to count a recyclable bottle, I mean, com’n! (106 items). I can accept that number. That’s where I’ll settle. I guess I have to finish reading one of my books…
The Packing Saga….
- Yard Sale & Moving Out (Adventures in Minimalism)
- Moving into a Smaller Space (Sweating tthe Small Stuff)
- Downsizing: Round III (Adventures in Minimalism)
- Indecision Paralysis (Obsessively Compulsive Dilemmma)
- The Final Countdown (Hurry Up & Panic)