Discovering nature through buying crap

It’s a fact that if you’re planning to ride your bike from somewhere far back to where you are now you will have to do some minimal planning.

Here are the biggies:

  1. Where am I going?
  2. How long will it take?
  3. What will I eat?
  4. Where will I sleep?
  5. What clothes will I wear?

Number 1 is answered simply: Seattle.

Number 2 is even simpler: I don’t care.

But for numbers 3, 4, and 5, well, I care about those things. You’d think that since long distance biking has been around since the 1800s, when the first ride ’round the world happened from 1884 to 1886 on a 40-lb. penny farthing, that these questions of food, shelter, and clothing would be well trodden and easily answered.

But no.

Instead, I give you www.bikepacking.com. Everything starts off as you’d expect before devolving into the worst sort of “good times equals buy shit” product reviews you’ve ever seen. My favorite is the intro into bikepacking, so infused with enthusiasm and good vibes it’s almost poetic:

Simply put, bikepacking is the synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping. It evokes the freedom of multi-day backcountry hiking, but with the range and thrill of riding a mountain bike. It’s about exploring places less traveled, both near and far, via singletrack trails, gravel, and abandoned dirt roads, carrying only essential gear. Ride, eat, sleep, repeat, enjoy!

Backpacking.com writer on drugs

So you’re now ready to launch forth into the wilderness or the Long Beach Mountains, and they follow with a key assurance because the one thing you know about new endeavors is “maxed-out-credit-card.”

A common misconception is that bikepacking requires a small fortune to fully appreciate: the perfect bike, custom bags, and all the latest ultralight camping gear. 

Backpacking.com writer on even more drugs

Why is this a common misconception? Because it’s not a misconception. The first box below this paean to minimalism and “ride whatcha got” is the most complicated gearing chart I’ve ever seen, and I used to ride the track. And after assuring you that your beat up ol’ Specialized Stumpjumper is plenty good to get started, just so you know, you’re a complete dork without one of these bad girl-boys. That is, they provide a list of off-the-Experian-Equifax-chart of wildly overpriced two-wheeled toys. Starting with the Knolly Cache, you can get back to the simple, minimalist fun of riding a bike carefree and etcetera for a mere $5,299 (loaded version).

And what are you bitching about? When you get a burrito do you not get it loaded with sour cream and guac? ‘Course fuckin’ not, and you’re getting the loaded bikepacking bike, too.

It takes a handful of minutes when gazing at the incredible photography on the web site to realize that bikepacking is like backpacking is like road riding is like Life in the 21st Century: You are what you own.

The models on the web site are as perfect as it gets. A ruggedly handsome young man with neatly trimmed ragged beard, sitting seiza on a tile floor boiling water for a single cup of organic, locally sourced tea, after passing through the picturesque Land of the Yurts. He probably recycles his turds into organic yurt muffins. Weirdest of all, he appears to be traveling with a photographer and perfect lighting, and he packs a plastic chair and small house with tile floors. Mirrors? Hipster magic? Silly bullshit?

Real photo from bikepacking.com’s Camping at Home section

Which is a key point: If you aint’ doing yurts, you ain’t shit. Yurts are the ultimate in legit badass travel of all kinds. Asian people with no names and toothy grins, aged beyond their years living healthily outdoors and tending their goats, happily smiling at bwana as they bring him into the yurt, sing some songs handed down from their ancestors, feed him fresh yogurt, and send him on his way for $4.00, which is two months’ income in Yurtville.

The ruggedly neat model doesn’t speak Yurtish. Doesn’t know anything about the history of the Yurt people, and certainly couldn’t milk a goat. But as a white young man with the world at his fingertips, he can sashay into Yurtville with $20k in gear, bow, drink tea, absorb the wisdom of the ages, then load up the Gram and his product review post with the best pics evah.

Bikepacking.com is in fact, like virtually all backpacking and bicycling publications, built on an implied racism: White young men have the world at their fingertips, where they can eschew mortgages and the rat race for $12k bikes, $129 stuff sacks, and organic, locally-sourced porn sites. Women and non-white folks best see themselves as smiling Yurters or accessories to the main manly event.

Where are the Asian bikepackers? The black ones? The latinos? The women? The people over 25? They are somewhere else because this white guy badass land. Get used to it, bitches.

And why do we have learn that the handmade sleeping bag was crafted in the white state of Maine by a retired badass white bike racer whose new mission in life is to source his down bags with feathers that were not plucked from live birds? Are you fuggin’ kidding me? No–you’re selling me, and you’re doing a damn good job of it because I bought one of those fucking things. It better be warm and it better not harm my conscience.

And who pays for these spiffily dirty, ruggedly kempt, long-haired vagabonds who have made their life’s “passion” traveling from yurt to yurt and windswept Kyrgyz plain to windswept Kyrgyz plain?

Answer: You do.

The slumping, drooping, middle aged fart who has five days of vacation (nine if you string together two weekends) is the person who fills his suburban yurt aka mancave aka Zwiftcave with the latest and greatest overpriced bits of wilderness survival equipment that, the minute it rains hard, will be jettisoned for the nearest Motel Six.

But worry not! You may be huddled in front of the widescreen in a motel during a downpour, gnawing salty Domino’s and drinking PBR, dreading the next leg of your trip, but the humble Adonises at bikepacking.com have the words in place to let you know that but for that danged job, you’d be just like them. To wit:

Yes, I know, fresh produce is a pain to lug around. Squeezing in those extra carrots will have you scrutinising your panniers for valuable pockets of unused space. But fear not. You can shed pack weight and still ride healthy. Wise friends of mine in Ecuador shared with me the art of creating homemade camping fare. From their family farm, they harvest vegetables and dehydrate them, compacting them in ziplock bags of hearty goodness. On a recent ride along the Colorado Trail, our natural provisions – chard, carrots, onions, spinach, zucchini, and tomatoes – lasted us two whole weeks. Added to miso soups and rice noodles, they brought with them a sense of wellness that permeated both body and soul.

Bikepacking.com writer o’ding on carrots

Did you get the badassedness with which that paragraph was laced? “Wise friends” = In touch with the ancients. “Ecuador” = so far away from Detroit you can’t imagine + Not scared of South America, kidnaping, or coke cartels. “Recent ride along the Colorado Trail” = my easy days are your dream vacation. And who could miss “chard, carrots, onions, spinach, zucchini, and tomatoes lasted two whole weeks” = Moral and physical superiority of the Vegan Way + skinny AF.

And if you’re not feeling like a complete POS for scarfing that third Subway, the rugged gentle racist adds this little nudge, which really makes his essay a 10-point buck in the world of #fakeoutdoorsywhitedudebullshit:

After all, isn’t the act of toasting tortillas around the campfire more memorable than jet boiling a prepackaged dinner and rolling into your sleeping bag?

Backpacking.com writer going into insulin shock from all the self-love he’s ingested

It’s not long before you’ve sunk deep into the desperation swamp of “Holy fuck I gotta buy one of those and those and two of those and read the review on sleeping bags quilts tarps tents stoves tires” and then you realized you’ve been conned.

The best view of this strategic Buy Shit Now marketing endeavor is called “Make Your Own Cylindrical Stuff Sack.” It’s a little bit of fresh air authenticity to show you that even though you’ve already spent $1,500 and you still don’t even have the right tires, you can go minimalist by making your own stuff. See? They show you how right here.

All you need to start with is … a sewing machine. Of course! Let’s see, I’ve got four of those and since I took homemaking in high school I’m darned handy with a needle and bobbin. Oh wait! I must have misplaced them! Better go online and get another one! Oh, look! Here you can get one and they only cost $189.00! Throw in seventeen hours of work to learn how to do a basic sew, spend $75 on the remaining materials, $350 for the trip to the ER to have your thumb reattached, and you can have a stuff sack for under $800. Oh, wait, let’s see how much it would cost to buy one on bikepacking.com? What? $35-$89? And I get to keep my thumb? Hmmmm …

Going back to the beginning, if you’re gonna ride your bike, you gotta eat, sleep, and dress. I suppose you could ride what you got, eat what’s in the pantry, and wear what’s in the closet.

But where’s the fun in that?

END


Read this far? Then maybe it’s time to Go ahead and hit this “subscribe” link. Thank you!

19 thoughts on “Discovering nature through buying crap”

  1. Thanks for the morning laugh, Seth! Good thing I’m working from home these days. Folks in the office would have come to check on me.

    Seattle sounds like a great ride!

  2. Dear Seth,

    Note this got posted below to the wrong blogging. Pls delete according to your preference. It will probably make more sense here.

    Every outdoor magazine either folds or turns into an ad substrate. Sometimes both.

    Bonus points for making a gear review/ad look like travel writing.

    I know some of the contributors to Bikepacker, and yeah, we’re pretty white, pretty young, and pretty male. Not exclusively any of those things, but we trend that way. The ones that take a semi-professional photographer with them also trend towards pretty pretty.

    The ones I know personally either are underemployed (time off in January take the van to Mexico for a month? No prob! Pump up the coding gig! But they live on craft water, raw veggies, beans, and rice), or have day jobs and get out for the weekends. Long weekends. Crushing commutes on either side. Monster rides.

    That said, they are stone serious riders. That they are selling the experience back to us lets them ride more/pays the gas bill for the commute.

    Best Regards,

    Will

    1. I haven’t folded yet or ever taken an ad subscribe … ten years in. But you are right. Thanks for the comment and perspective!

      1. Ooooh such resolve! I have folded (and cancelled) several times because I want to support those that have the passion (gag- I said it) to get out there. There seem to be a fair number of female badasses bikepacking across continents, not even counting Reba Rusch. This was a FAF post and worth the re-subscribe a year or so ago…

        1. Too funny. My resolve is stronger than cooked spaghetti. Stouter than a vegan diet. Hardier than a Bichons Frise. Etc.

  3. The king of bike-packing, is Iohan. His page is http://www.bikewanderer.com/, and he has uploaded a shitload of self-made videos of his adventures to youtube. They are all fantastic, and I folded a long time ago and started supporting him on Patreon. Iohan has a lot of support now, but he started off on some pretty basic shit up in Alaska on the Ice Highway, and it’s been a long journey ever since. He is currently off the trail because of that covid thing, but after 5.5 years he finally made it to Argentina. Anyway, I would say if you have a couple of weeks to watch his videos, they are worth it. You don’t actually have to watch many to see what the basics are.

    I built a stove from a beer can that uses 100% alcohol of the rubbing kind as fuel. It boiled a few of cups of water in about 5+ minutes. Now, though I proved to myself it was useful, and worked, I never took that stove backpacking with me. Ha! Always take my pocket rocket and a propane can.

    Can’t wait to see how this plays out for you.

  4. Dean Patterson

    A long time ago I did several bike tours (that was what we used to call them). I found it funny that when push came to shove, even the most popular routes were pretty empty. Something about hard work for a week or six tends to inhibit most….Also, never forget that while British Columbia and the Sierras are cool places to ride through, rural Mississippi or Alabama isn’t nearly so frequented (flat, inhospital to white hippie types, but great ribs!)

    1. The South has some crazy good riding, and it’s pretty hospitable in my experience, except for the mosquitoes.

  5. We have a hammock with your name on it when you get to Seattle. Can’t promise it’ll be in a yurt.

  6. Reminds me about when I used to take week long high altitude wilderness backpacking trips. Shopping at R.E.I. I had bought the latest equipment and an assortment of expensive dehydrated foods. Along the trail I met an 80 year old man hiking alone wearing an old style backpack. I asked him what he carried and his answer was bagels.

  7. I suggest you read the accounts of some people who have ridden that route before. I write that because my neighbor has ridden from San Francisco to Orange County as well as from Orange County to San Francisco. He swears he’ll never do OC to SFO again due to the prevailing winds. The headwind that at first was a challenge became torture after a few days.

    To put yourself in a good frame of mind, you might try reading an essay or two by John Muir. I think a lot of his writing was done to politically promote conservation, but you may still find his “one with nature” philosophy interesting.

    Have a great ride!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: