Moment of Truth: D Rex vs. the Money-Go-Round

I am a gear fiend.

I cannot just hop on my bike and point myself in the direction I intend to go.  Oh no.  I must have gear first: gear to camp, gear to wash, gear to wear, gear to prepare, gear to strap down to my poor, overburdened bike and propel by the shear strength of my limbs from campsite to campsite as I make my way to my stated destination.  But, looking honestly at my development as a cyclist, I should have seen this coming.

It was mine and Dre’s first trips taking the Katy out to the winery at Rocheport that caused my renewed love of the bicycle.  We’d gather up bread, fruit, cheese, etc, put them in the milk crates strapped to the back of our “vintage” bikes, ride out, enjoy a picnic, and ride back.  It was a slow, leisurely, weekend pleasure cruise that gradually evolved its own baroque touches: finer cheeses, pasta salads, bubbly water, pickled things…  Then, I believe it was a year ago this week, we made our first trip to St. Louis and back.  Naively, we crammed our meager camping gear into those same milk crates, stopped at Café Berlin for a nice, fat breakfast, and hit the trail around 11am—still sweating out the beers we’d had with friends the night before (to toast my birthday and our eminent, brave expedition).  We made it a whopping 47 miles that day, and just barely, and struggled to slumber peacefully in the safe, sorta creepy confines of the Katy Trail Shelter in Tebbetts.  We made it to St. Louis and back, but we broke down and rented a hotel room in Jeff City the night before the final stretch back into Columbia, and we were still cursing and struggling up to the last 500 yards before we reached our doorstep.


But, strangely, after a couple of days to recuperate, I was itching to get back in the saddle and go.  And that’s when the idea of a longer trip started brewing.  So, when the ol’ ’76 Peugeot had a bad accident in the midst of my daily commute this spring, I decided it was time to get a more worthy touring vessel.  I settled on the Surly Long Haul Trucker—the truck—an exceptionally sturdy, and truly tour-worthy hunk of steel and modern engineering.  I could have gone with something a little less… modern… well-designed…  high-fallutin’… pricey…  But, dammit, I’d done my research, and I wanted to do the thing right.


So, it went from there.  What better racks to complement the truck than Surly’s Nice Racks?  With these, the truck becomes the true-blue 4×4 SUV of bikes.  The front rack can hold 70 lbs and the rear can hold 80.  Together, that’s very nearly an additional me’s worth of weight.  I doubt that I will ever want to put that much weight on my bike, but it’s nice to know that I can.  I also suspect that the armored tank look that these racks give earns me a certain respect among the motoring crowd—I’ve never been yelled at or had anything thrown at me while riding the truck, and believe me, this lack of hostility is a pretty unique experience among the bikeset.


So, you see, it’s not my bike that will be struggling under all of the gear I’ve acquired.  It seems clear that I bought and outfitted the bike with gear in mind.  I will be the one struggling and laboring to push all of this gear up every hill I come to, as it hangs idly from the sides of my bike, waiting to be dispensed at the next campsite.  The Therm-a-Rest lounger that converts my sleeping pad into a chair; the super-absorbent, fast-drying, $15 camp towel; the MSR Whisperlite International camp stove that will burn unleaded fuel in a pinch…  Do I really need all of this stuff?


I can’t say for certain.  No doubt, I will need some of it more than others.  However, my experience of touring thus far, and what I’ve gained from reading other peoples’ tour diaries, has led me to the conclusion that preparation is key.  If you want to cover miles, you should give yourself some comforts and be prepared for mishaps.  Mine and Dre’s trip to St. Louis this year was a relatively relaxed experience.  We even did the trip back in two 80 mile days (as opposed to three 60ish mile days) and still had the energy to take in a couple of drifters making their way west from Kentucky [shout out to Nick and Jack!] after we got back.  But we had better bikes, better gear, and we had done better research than on our first go round.  I’ve read numerous journals that ended prematurely because the cyclist was unprepared and uncomfortable.


On the other hand, all of this gear and preparation costs money.  And that’s what this bit of soul searching I am performing before you now is really about.  It is about the blow that my ego and intellect took earlier this evening when I figured up the cost of all of my gear.  I discovered that I will have significantly less money as I start this trip than I originally believed that I would have.  This discovery was followed by a slow, deathly, sinking feeling—like all of my well-laid plans were merely an apparition, and that I was, in fact, a bikeset fraud.


I must be clear, here, about a few points of my financial life.  As a student I was considerably less than frugal, and in retrospect, my recklessness appears pretty clearly charted toward bankruptcy: credit cards maxed out, payments missed, avoided phone calls, general denial of reality.  I can pretty easily re-enter some memories from this time period and understand my reasoning processes then: my intentions were pure Henry Miller, live life to the fullest and let God sort it out; and thus far, no matter what, something had always come along to bale me out of whatever situation I had found myself in.  I’m not entirely sure what pushed me out of this habit.  There may have been a shift in the balance of fiscally responsible friends and figures in my life, or maybe working a regular 40 hours a week helped clear my head a bit.  Regardless, I’ve always had a thing for self-reliance and deliberate living too.  I read Thoreau’s Walden for the first time in the same year that I first read Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.  The idea of genuinely not being in debt began to appeal to me more than the practice of believing that debt does not matter.


I put all of this out here by way of saying that I refuse to go into debt for this trip.  This means that it is very important to me that I have enough money to do the trip and also have a cushion of cash to get myself back on my feet, once they are not so firmly attached to my pedals.  I am very proud to say that I have no balance on any credit cards.  I have paid off all of my debts (except for my student loans), and still, I have managed to prepare myself for this trip.  That is an accomplishment in and of itself.  I am not willing to trade that sense of accomplishment for the renewed and grander romantic carelessness this trip could potentially turn into, if I were to pull out the credit cards and throw caution to the wind.


The funny thing is, now that I’ve put all of this on paper, it no longer seems like such a big deal.  I know what I am willing to do and what I am not willing to do, financially.  I know what my resources are and I will work with them.  I believe that I am still ready for my trip.  I just have to get used to a different dollar figure to start with and this will influence the decisions that I make from the day I set out.  Maybe I won’t be staying in the occasional motel after all.  I met a kid at the McBaine trailhead the other day who said he’d gone from Chicago to Seattle this summer and didn’t pay for camping or lodging once.  Maybe I can make it to DC without spending a dime, save for food.  If I do that, I’ll probably arrive with nearly the same amount of money I suspected I’d be arriving with anyway.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, I’ve put a moratorium on spending.  I have one more vet visit for the cats scheduled and I’m taking the bike in for a final tune up/fresh chain from the ever-helpful and kind Karl, but other than that, I’m going to see if I can make it to September 15th without spending a dime.


I’ll let you know how it goes.


D Rex


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