Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Which end of the continuum are you on?

Several years ago, I did a 50 mile backpacking trip where we followed part of the Pacific Crest Trail, then up to the summit of Mt. Whitney and out the Whitney Portal. While on the Pacific Crest Trail, we encountered a fair number of through hikers. Before the trip, we thought we were packing pretty light for four days in the wilderness, each of us carrying 40 pounds or so on our backs. The through hikers, however, taught us the true meaning of going light. Many of them had packs that, excluding food, weighed 9-10 pounds. In many cases, the 9-10 pounds included an ice axe--needed when descending the north facing aspects of certain passes. They also wore running shoes rather than hiking boots and typically ticked off 30 miles or more in a day.

I realized at that point that I was in a different place on the efficiency-effectiveness continuum than I thought I was. Hiking boots, while effective at protecting my feet, were not efficient for hiking long distances. Tents, sleeping pads, and gas stoves--all built to be as lightweight as possible--were equally luxurious. It was a lesson I was reminded of when I built my single speed.

While out walking with my family the other day, however, I realized that as comparatively inefficient as things like gears and suspension forks may feel in certain company, I've never fully probed the effectiveness end of the continuum. During our walk, we saw a guy riding through the neighborhood on his bike. His bike had a baby seat--no big deal, those things are hard to take off. He was also wearing jeans, again not anything unusual for a neighborhood ride. But on his jeans, he had a belt. And on his belt, he had some pouches. Specifically, he had a pouch for a cell phone, one for a multi-tool, and another for a small flashlight. He also obviously worked where I do, as his employee badge was dangling from the belt. I'll gladly spot him the cell phone and the multi tool, but at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, I'm not sure what he thought he would need the flashlight or the badge for. At least he was prepared.

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