Tarps & Alcohol Stoves

I aim to bikepack light. The pursuit of it can, of course, become an obsession and a laughable absurdity, but, then again, such things are also the makings of a largely harmless hobby and an aesthetic. In an admiring nod to the Crane cousins, I went for one month in Ecuador and Peru where every day I got rid of at least one thing to drop my travel weight. “Things” could include tags on the inside of a jacket or lengths of overlong compression straps. It was an amusement and an inquiry, of sorts. Best not to take it seriously.

The promise is faster movement, longer distances, fresher legs to do and see and be more. Lifting the bike up, cracking down a techy descent, no Earthly pitch too steep. No doubt for some it’s an experiment in getting rid of possessions; it can also make some Europeans inexplicably righteous and angry. But light gear is often expensive, it can incur discomforts small and large, it can let you down if it’s fragile, or it can make it so that you’re less social, like when cooking only for yourself with your tiny mug or when you regretfully decline a ticket to the opera because your only trousers are ghastly stinking 3/4 cycling shorts.

And sometimes light stuff just irritates. Obviously, this is an expression of my own limitations. A few months ago I borrowed an alcohol stove from Nancy. The innocuous seeming bottle of harmless-ish fuel, the quiet operation, the existential relief of the parsimony of the design (it is, um, a cat food tin with holes in it): all of that was compelling. Night after night, though, I just scowled at the thing and its kind of warming my food performance. Inevitably it would run out of alcohol just short of an important milestone, like cooking. My companions were polite in not speaking aloud their moral judgment at my colossal lack of virtue.

On the other hand, I recently had only a tarp for conditions which, if you’d told me about them in advance, I would have certainly brought my tent for. Yes, I got a little wet from windblown rain, I had to mind the edges of the quilt a bit more to keep in heat, I woke in the middle of the night having to deal with pooling water near my head. But the rectangle of nylon was brilliant and I couldn’t have been happier.

Evidently, to me finicky cooking is a pain in the ass but finicky sleep is just flat out great. Lightweight gear seems more like empirical introspection about the bizarre idiosyncratic things you don’t care about than it is about rational equipment choice. I’m okay with that.