The South Face

November 12, 2020 § 14 Comments

One of the best lessons I’ve learned about living on my bike is that you are always running into people you know. At first you chalk it up to coincidence but that is not why. The reason is because you aren’t indoors or locked in a cage.

The odds of seeing someone unexpectedly in your living room is zero. The odds of seeing people outdoors is, comparatively, very high. And if you’re meandering here, there, everywhere, you bump into people.

I’m not sure there is anything more viscerally pleasing than running into a friend, especially when you are far from home, and we were far from home, San Dimas, in fact. I had flatted at our McDonald’s pre-lunch stop in Glendora, and was looking for a bike shop to replenish the tube, the CO2 cartridge, and to also use a floor pump.

You probably already know that CO2 is a very temporary fix, as it leaks out quickly through the tire, and when at all possible you should immediately let it all out and replace it with regular old air.

In San Dimas I saw InCycle bike shop on the left and we wheeled over. A guy walked out, wearing a mask, of course. “How can I help you?”

“Pat!” I said. He stared blankly at the long hair and beard poking out beneath the mask. “It’s me, Seth!”

His eyes crinkled in the Pandemic Smile, where you can tell someone is smiling but can’t see their mouth. “That’s a new look!” he said. It was Pat Caro, badass bike racer and manager of one of SoCal’s best bike chains.

And with that serendipitous moment he ushered us into the store, where we restocked, swapped catching-up-on-life stories, and set out again. There is something very warming and human about running into people, and it’s never going to happen in your car.

A few miles later we were in a big parking lot, heading to the REI. There was a massive line of cars stretching out of the cavernous lot into the street. What could it be? Eager shoppers dying to get their hands (or feet) on a pair of shoes so they could hike? A sale on bicycles? People purchasing workout equipment?

No! It was a special deal on Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, where people who were already way overweight could sit in their cars for half and hour waiting to be served a deep fried concoction of the very worst sort. My buddy Pete has a saying that he uses to explain everything. Whereas I’m fond of the Iron Rule, “The rich get richer,” he prefers its corollary to explain why things are the way they are, AALAF. Americans are Lazy and Fat.

It is difficult, by which I mean impossible, to prove him wrong, especially at a shopping mall.

“Here you go, sir.” The nice lady at REI handed me a giant yellow bag.

I looked at it in shock. It was huge. “This?”

She looked at the tag. “You’re Seth Davidson, right?”


“And you ordered the North Face Mountain 25?”

“I thought I did.”

She smiled again. “Here’s your tent.”

“There must be some mistake.”


I lifted the enormous tent bag. “There’s no way this thing weighs ten pounds. Fifteen at least.”

She was skeptical that simply by lifting I could guess the weight. “We have a great return policy. If it’s too heavy you can bring it back and return it.”

“That’s a depressing thought.”


“I live 70 miles from here and came to pick up the tent on my bike.”

“Oh, goodness. That is a long way.”

It was, especially since I still had the return trip ahead of me. When I’d bought the tent I had the choice of getting it shipped, but all I had to do was think of the Great Sleeping Bag Shipping Debacle that had turned my last tour into a departure nightmare, so I’d selected “in-store pickup.” Problem was, the only store that had one was at the far edge of Rancho Cumamonga, about sixty miles by freeway and farther by the river trail bike path and surface streets.

Although I already had a nice, light bike touring tent, it was a three-season mesh tent with a rain fly, and I was starting to get nervous about overnight temperatures that got down into the low 30’s or colder and stayed there. I was also worried about the huge snowstorms, avalanches, and massive snow events that happen in Arizona, southern New Mexico, and ski meccas like Houston. Better to be prepared for the worst than to die under ten feet of snow outside Austin or Phoenix.

I lifted the giant tent sack again. “Could you weigh it for me? If it’s as heavy as I think it is, I’m not going to take it.”

“We don’t have any scales.”

I thought about that. In an “outdoor” store that has an entire section devoted to mountaineering and backpacking, where virtually all of the stuff is advertised as “ultralight” or otherwise touted for its weight savings, how could they not have a scales?

Answer: No customer at REI ever uses any of this crap, or AAFAL.

“I bet you have a shipping scales,” I said.

She brightened. “You’re right!”

“Could you go weigh this for me?”

“Of course!” She returned in a few minutes. “I found out the problem. You were right about the weight. It’s almost twenty pounds. Look what was also in the tent!” She pulled out a collapsible folding chair.

“What is that?”

“Someone had put this mountaineering folding chair into the bag for some reason. Without the chair it weighs just at ten pounds.”

“A mountaineering chair? You mean so that when you get to the top of, like, Annapurna or K2 you can sit down and brew up a cup of coffee to enjoy the sights?”

She wasn’t familiar with either of those mountains. “We have a lot of things that don’t make a lot of sense,” she said quietly. Then she brightened again. “But I’m really impressed you could guess the weight from lifting it up!”

I went outside and strapped the tent to my backpack. It was going to be a long ride home, but at least I wouldn’t be kept awake nights worrying about snowstorms. In Houston.


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