Enforced Minimalism

For once, a mass market fad that anyone can love:  perhaps because of the economic travails, everyone is suddenly talking about personal minimalism, or the art of living simply.  (Example.)  But how to start?

Here is a simple personal experiment to teach yourself how little you need:  go bicycle touring through the mountains, unsupported.

Years ago, I pedaled east out of southern California with two sets of panniers (luggage bags mounted to front and rear wheel forks), a handlebar bag, a tent and other gear strapped over the rear panniers.  

On Day 3, I lifted every last pound 5000 vertical feet from Ramona to Julian

Just as a starving man thinks of nothing but food, a heavily loaded bicyclist in the mountains thinks of nothing but lightening the load.  Next morning at the Julian post office, the slimming began.

By the time I arrived in Florida, I had only front panniers — no rear bags, no bar bag, no tent.  Excluding the bike itself, weight was down over 60%.

What don’t you need?  Spares of all types.  Forget spare tubes — carry a patch kit.  In certain areas of New Mexico, you cannot possibly carry enough tubes for the number of flats you’ll get.  Forget spare clothes — that second pair of socks feels pretty silly as you’re grinding up a 7% grade.

Doesn’t unpreparedness increase danger?  Actually, it’s the opposite (and interestingly analogous to the benefits of avoiding obesity).  If you’re only carrying 20 pounds of gear, you have the flexibility to respond to environmental extremes — for example, by carrying 30 pounds of extra water through west Texas, where towns are 100 miles apart.  An unloaded bike can stop faster, avoid dangerous traffic better.  It is more stable on the downhills, less likely to injure your knees on the uphills, suffers fewer flats, etc.

If you try a ride like this, and avoid distractions like phones and iPods, you will learn useful things.

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