Friday, November 11, 2016

Every ounce counts

We left our home on April 23, 2016. By April 26th, we were in the Post Office, sending home two "if it fits, it ships" boxes with about 15 pounds of stuff. Our pruning was prompted by an issue we had with the rear pack: the bolt holding the pack to the bike had sheared while we rode away from Buellton. Granted, we'd had the "endless bowl of split pea soup" for lunch, but I don't think that was what caused the problem. We just were carrying too much weight.
If it fits, it ships!

So what did we send home? Well, we decided we could do without:
- the liners for the sleeping bags
- the camp shower thing (warms water in a bag so you can clean up)
- toe covers
- a warm layer for each of us - long johns, in essence
- some socks
- glove liners
- bike shorts
- a little sun hat
- extra sunglasses
- a larger towel (purchased specifically for this trip, alas!)
- a thermos for making our coffee while camping
- underwear
- pocket knife
- crescent wrench
- bandanna
- small folding umbrella (honestly, I do not know what I thought we'd do with that!)
- our second safety vest (I kept mine)
- a t-shirt
- a carry-all sack
- some waterproof shoe covers
- an insulated bag for cold stuff

None of this junk was outrageous on its face. Well, maybe the umbrella! But even that I thought might be necessary when we were off the bike and having to hang out in town when it was raining. My bad. We did not hang out when it was raining. We rode when it was raining, and for that - as well as for hanging out, for that matter - we wore our outer layer waterproof jackets.
Modest provisions for food while camping - but it all eventually came home

Mostly, we were guilty of thinking that we were going on a camping trip, and so much of this stuff was destined to make our camping easier or more comfortable. I'd imagined having access to many more campsites of the type we have here in the mountains or national forests - fairly close to the road, but limited in services. As it turned out, we never camped anywhere that we did not have access to showers or at least running water in the bathroom to clean up. So we certainly did not miss the shower bag. Sleeping bags without the liners served us just fine. We had plenty of clothing - never missed the extra pair of socks or undies. We kept losing our bandannas, so we had to buy some more, but that was easy to do and might not have been avoided even if we'd carried that other one 8000 miles.
Pretty sure most of this got sent home, also! (Hated to lose my binoculars, but . . . oh, well.)

Roger lost a pair of sunglasses (in the river in Washington) so maybe it would have been nice to have the back-up pair. But we were also able to replace those, no problem. And the coffee thermos? Well, we didn't get a chance to sit and enjoy a second cup of coffee when we were camping. We made and drank one cup each while having our oatmeal breakfast, then packed up and headed off. The take-away message for me: if you are camping on your bicycle tour, you are not really "camping" in the sense that you are going to be out there enjoying your time in the great outdoors. You are limited in what you can carry and how far you are willing to go to find that campsite. When you get there, you want to clean up, eat (pretty simply), and get to bed. No s'mores around a campfire, unless someone else invites you over. Mornings are usually the best time to ride, so no lingering over fresh fish or flapjacks for breakfast. The campsite is just where you are until you get back on your bike, so you don't need the stuff that you'd typically expect to have on a camping trip. Eventually we decided we didn't even need the cooking supplies, and sent them home, too. Then we finally determined that our last couple weeks would all be "on plastic" (aka, in hotels) and so we sent the tent and sleeping bags and packs back to Redlands with a friend.

We later sent even more stuff home. I gave up on the "miracle skirt," recognizing that I wasn't going to wear it in the afternoon if I was worried about mosquitoes.  Too much exposed skin! We were given t-shirts occasionally and usually sent them or another one home. Random stuff like the elastic brace went into the boxes as well. (Turns out that would have been handy in New York when Roger's arm swelled up like a football, but the Medi-clinic gave us a compression sleeve so we were fine, anyway.) What few souvenirs I collected (a couple of national park brochures and some beer coasters) rode along with us until we filled the next box home. I loved the little string of lights that fit my computer's USB port, but those went home as well when I acknowledged I was not sitting in a dark tent typing up my blog anymore. Ditto the solar panels, which proved superfluous for us because our campsites generally had electricity anyway.
Used it up, replaced it

Roger was constantly trying to shed stuff to reduce our weight. His greatest contribution was losing about 15 pounds, right off the bat! He had to buy a belt to keep his pants up (Goodwill, Sandpoint ID - $2). He endlessly bemoaned the weight of our toiletries kit. But this was one beachhead I was willing to defend to the end! We'd stayed with some Warm Showers hosts who shared photos of the stuff they'd packed for a multi-week trip down the Pacific coast. It was appealing - that tiny baggie with little tubes of sunscreen, toothpaste, Vaseline, lotion and shampoo. But I was not interested in trying to find another tiny tube of toothpaste every week. Honestly, in six months' time we would have needed dozens of those! So we carried a normal size tube, and we replaced it when we used it up - twice! I had full-size containers of my Olay face lotion and night creams. I used those up and replaced them, also. We picked up shampoo from the hotel stays, but we carried stuff like dental floss and I even had my pumice thingy for my heels. Because - and this was critical in my approach - a six-month or more trip is NOT like being away for two or even three weeks. You can repair the damage you do to your face and your body in a couple of weeks pretty quickly. But if you go out for half a year and don't take care of yourself, you're going to be a mess. I did not want to come home a wrinkled, sun-baked old woman. I know myself - when I am running out of something I scrimp on it to make it last. I wanted to be sure that I had enough of these basic care products so that I could do this trip and still feel good about myself and my grooming.  One VERY important product that we made sure to have PLENTY of was our chamois creams. Roger had a big ol' tub of some stuff he'd found, and I had my tube of Chamois Buttr. Because, really - you do not want to be scrimping on that. It makes a huge difference to our comfort on the bike. And I know - you can buy those tiny packets of cream, which don't weigh anything at all. But in 6 months, using two of those a day, we'd have needed several gross of those things. At $1 or more each, it would have cost hundreds of dollars, and we would have been constantly looking for them. So no - we carried big tubes, and replaced them when they got low so we would never run out!

And so all of this is just to say:  if you thinking about a bicycle tour, you will get all sorts of advice about what to take, and what to leave behind. And I am fully certain, based on conversations with every cyclist that we met, that you will pack more initially than you will have with you by the time you've ridden a week or two. BUT - and this is key - YOU GET TO DECIDE WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU. Everyone's pack will be different. Everyone will have that certain something that they just can't do without. So don't let anyone bully you into getting rid of, or taking, anything. Think it through, do your best to imagine what your days will be like, prepare for that, and then realize you can send stuff home or buy what you need pretty easily.
Really thought we'd need these, but no.

In our case, we knew that we were going to be riding through three seasons, at a minimum. It was cold in the mountains when we started, we had tons of rain in Oregon, we rode through the height of summer, and then it cooled off again. We needed to accommodate all that in our clothing and our gear. Some folks we met thought we had an awful lot of stuff with us, but then again, we met single people on bikes who were carrying as much weight as we were - just for themselves. Some people do no camping, so do nothing else. It all works out in the end. You do eventually get better at hauling your weight around as you strengthen on the trip. And then when you send some stuff home, you get that little boost from the decreased weight. So fun!
Beer coasters were about my only souvenir!


  1. Kathy & Roger, I've been reading your blog since you stayed with us in Morgan Hill, CA (warm showers). Such a wonderful read. You are a skilled writer and I enjoyed every word.
    So sorry about the finish but so glad that you both are ok.
    Kris Thompson

    1. One of the best parts of our trip was meeting the many kind folks who helped us along the way. I hope we can return the favor one day.

  2. Very nice post really ! I apperciate your blog Thanks for sharing,keep sharing more blogs.



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