Sunday, April 23, 2017

Madison, WI: The Ritual

There is a ritual common among bicycle tourists, and most lightweight travelers, I imagine. Sometimes known as “the great toss,” “the purge,” the choice swear words followed by an angry throwing of things over a cliff, or the “do I really need that,” I will refer to it here simply as “the ritual.”

When I did my first tour across the US, the ritual began while I was having lunch with some other cyclists. I pulled out a can opener to open a can of food, and they both looked at me, aghast.

“What,” one of them stumbled, “is that?

I could elaborate here, but the end result of that conversation was my can opener in the trash and the use of my Leatherman from that point on. Later that week I would lay out everything in my possession and mail home about 5 lbs worth.

For this tour (Cycle Humanity) I was hoping to come in at about 55 lbs dry. What that means is the weight of the bike and everything on it, minus myself, food, and water would weigh no more than 55 lbs. The bike itself is 26, plus fenders and a rack to hold the panniers (bicycle backpacks) another 2. When I did a practice pack, the two panniers came out at 21 lbs, putting the total at 49 lbs. Perfect.

When I left Minneapolis on Wednesday morning, I weighed everything together. I weigh 170, and holding the fully loaded bike on the scale, together we came in at… 255!? Yes, somewhere in there, my setup had gained 36 lbs, and the grand total of the bike, gear, food, and water was 85 lbs.

Needless to say, this was a little disappointing. Even if food and water weighed 15 lbs, 21 lbs still magically appeared from somewhere, and I didn’t even have my tent with me yet.

I could have done the ritual right then and there, but I figured I could ride with some extra weight for a few days and do the ritual in Madison.

Now that I’m preparing to leave Madison, I’ve made a few changes. For starters, I swapped my old Leatherman (the one I took across the US) for a much lighter version with fewer tools - a third of a pound saved there. I didn’t realize that my 15-degree sleeping bag weighed an entire 3 lbs, so I bought a 45-degree sleeping bag that weighs only 2 lbs (anybody want the old one? Used only twice with a liner. Seriously. Buy it from me). Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be prepared for that *one* night it’ll be 15 degrees out, but maybe I’ll just stay in a motel instead of carrying around an extra pound of gear.

So this week was a week of asking myself, do I really need…
  • A mini cribbage board?
  • The ability to change a broken spoke? (probably, but using a temporary “fiber spoke” I can do this with 20g instead of all the tools and a real spoke which amount to about 150g)
  • The ability to fix a broken chain? (tip: yes)
  • Two pairs of shorts? (going with no here)
  • A really cool belt that shows off my personality but whose cool mechanical buckle weighs half a pound? (no)
  • A 2.5 oz dumb phone in case my smartphone gets stolen? (no) - A smartphone? (so far invaluable for getting through cities...)
...and so on.

Not included in the 85 lbs was a 6 lb 6 oz tent which I left at home, having a 4 lb tent waiting for me in Madison - so to net lose weight I have to lose at least 4 lbs since I’m gaining the tent. I also discovered during my time in Madison that I would make copious use of lightweight hiking shoes (so I don’t have to walk around in cleats), so I found a pair that weighs in at 1 lb on discount at REI.

It’s a game that’s impossible to win, especially when you are touring for so long, so far from home, and especially when you have the mindset that wants to be prepared for every scenario, like me. It really makes you question what you need to survive, pushes how creative you can be, and the only person you’re punishing if you take more than you need is yourself.

I think a lot of people could benefit from an experience such as this.


  1. Weight rationing is a mixed bag for me. I try and hit the 80/20 of it when packing a backpacking backpack, but since none of my trips go beyond 7 days normally, I'm willing to stomach some extra weight to have things like a Kindle. I've never had to pack for a long-term continuous hike similar to what you're doing though, so I haven't been forced to really dig into it yet :P

    1. It sure makes things more complicated:
      - A week without reading material? Okay. A year? Hmm...
      - Call a friend or a cab if your bike breaks beyond repair? OK most places in the US. In Africa... maybe better to bring that tool.

  2. Did you take the cribbage board? Love you.

    1. Mailed it. Will live with just a deck of cards. Dirt or a pen to keep score, if it must be done.

  3. Is that my tiny cribbage board?! Does it have a few dates scratched into the side? I've been looking for that thing! Every time we go back packing I search the apartment for it... Glad it's been going on other adventures �� (Or glad you had a completely different one that's been going on adventures... ��)

    1. Lol, well it's in a box at Mom's now, sorry... but next time I'm home I can dig it up and check if it has dates on it. I think it was given to me by someone (Mom?), so it could very well be yours.