If you’ve ever rid­den with me, you’ll im­me­di­ately dis­cover two things: I dread climb­ing and I wear a pack that weighs a met­ric shit ton on ev­ery ride.

You can learn a lot about a per­son by what they carry in their pack. A peek in­side mine will re­veal a col­lec­tion of mod­er­ately or­ga­nized tools half cov­ered in ex­ploded en­ergy gel. But some­where in that sticky pile of tools, parts of parts and a hodge­podge of what­not are snap­shots of all my best rides gone wrong— and if you look deeper still, you’ll see both the best and worst of me.

So, I ex­ca­vated my pack’s in­nards onto my din­ing room table in an at­tempt to pare down the calamity of over prepa­ra­tion I carry on my back. To a stranger, the layer of me­chan­i­cal de­tri­tus would make it seem like I’m some­one who pre­pares for a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse just in case, but in my ev­ery­day life, I’m the op­po­site. I travel lightly and am a min­i­mal­ist, as long as you don’t count my nine bikes and 12 pairs of jorts.

A decade ago, I spent two straight years trav­el­ing on the road. As a high­way tur­tle, I’d con­sol­i­dated my for­merly sub­ur­ban life un­til my worldly pos­ses­sions fit in the back of a car, and I still had room to spare. Years later, trav­el­ing with more than the ab­so­lute ne­ces­si­ties feels ex­ces­sive and down­right dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing.

But when it comes to the trail, I feel naked and ex­posed with­out my heavy pack cling­ing to my back, like some kind of masochis­tic tool-filled se­cu­rity blan­ket. Throw me out into the woods on a bike and I be­come Li­nus, ex­cept my blan­ket is made of rip­stop ny­lon and might give you tetanus.

On the trail, I feel a com­pul­sive need to sin­gle-hand­edly fix any prob­lem that comes my way, along with any prob­lem that comes some­one else’s way—but I’m start­ing to ques­tion the cost of it all. There’s a thin line be­tween car­ry­ing around so­lu­tions to prob­lems and shoul­der­ing the bag­gage of by­gone rides.

It wasn’t al­ways like this. In the be­gin­ning, I car­ried noth­ing at all, naive to the fact that rides go hay­wire more often than not, es­pe­cially as more riders are added to the pack.

Soon enough, car­ry­ing noth­ing evolved into shov­ing a tube and mini tool into a janky sad­dle­bag, and re­ly­ing on the kind­ness of strangers to lend me a pump. A few flat tires later and I car­ried two tubes, a patch kit and a frame pump that al­ways man­aged to be miss­ing or bro­ken when its ser­vices were needed.

When hy­dra­tion packs be­came a thing, I was ea­ger to in­dulge my in­ner hoarder in ex­change for the rec­tan­gle of sweat drawn on my back af­ter ev­ery hu­mid ride. Two tire levers be­came five be­cause my an­noy­ingly small hands re­quire three levers to get a bead off the rim. Plus, it’s guar­an­teed that one lever will get lost and an­other will break. And yes, I know the tricks to pulling a bead off with only my hands, but I can’t do it—and if I hear one more per­son tell me to “Just put the bead in the wheel well,” I’m jam­ming a tire lever in their wheel. Af­ter all, with five, I have one to spare.

Back in the ’90s, I came across a guy whose car­bon-fiber han­dle­bar had snapped

in half. This was back when the bike in­dus­try was still fig­ur­ing out how to be weight wee­nies with­out hav­ing their parts ex­plode, and one look at his sliced fore­arm is why I’ve been tot­ing a fist­ful of gauze in my pack for 15 years.

The in­clu­sion of CO2 car­tridges didn’t nul­lify my need for a backup pump and the num­ber of tubes I car­ried went up as bikes kept hav­ing a wheel-size iden­tity cri­sis. Duct tape is per­fect for mak­ing torn bike shorts slightly less ob­scene—a fact I learned too late, but I’ll be pre­pared next time. There’s bug spray and sun­block and even more bug spray, be­cause mos­qui­tos are lit­tle jerk­wads that will try to sting my soul the mo­ment I break down.

Once I’d crossed the thresh­old from min­i­mal­is­tic to “What’s one more tool go­ing to hurt?” my need to be pre­pared got down­right ridicu­lous. I added a Leather­man to the fray be­cause of the time I had to pull cac­tus spines out of a stranger’s shin, plus you never know when you might need to open a can of creamed corn on the trail. I also carry a full-size pock­etknife be­cause knives are ver­sa­tile and the one on my Leather­man can’t quite cut the stale trail mix bar I’ve been tot­ing around in my pack since the spring be­fore last.

There’s a mini set of chan­nel locks that I’ve car­ried ever since find­ing them on the trail, a sign from the trail gods that they’d serve me well one day. Some­times they al­most come in handy, but at this point, I need to carry them around un­til I do fi­nally use them, oth­er­wise I will have hauled them along all this time for naught.

The truth is that all of these silly lit­tle tools serve a sin­gle pur­pose. They are the placebo I take to con­vince me that I can stop things from go­ing wrong. I’ve watched the un­pre­dictable ruin plenty of rides, and even a hand­ful of lives, so I pre­tend that my bag of tricks will give me more con­trol than I have, which is barely any.

But I’m tired.

I’m tired of plan­ning for light­ning to strike twice. And I’ve al­ready ded­i­cated too much of my time be­ing pre­pared for mishaps that may never hap­pen. So I fi­nally did it. I light­ened my load. I left my past on the table and didn’t even pack a spare tube.

I drove a few hours and rode for a few more. Amaz­ingly enough, the ride turned out just fine. Bet­ter than fine ac­tu­ally. And those climbs? With my pack so much lighter, well, I still hated them just the same.


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