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Thursday, April 11, 2013

The more you know, the less you need

We are going to consider this "Aboriginal Proverb" in the title but first.......

...what's happening with me (and more importantly, with Farley)?

1. I am NOT going to American River Ride.  I'm going horse camping instead.  In a place with LOTS of hills.

I've been concerned about the trail conditions on the trails that American river uses, in both wet and dry conditions.  There's a lot of erosion and "funkiness" that has the potential for wearing a horse out and causing subclinical injury.

All trails of course have this potential, but I just don't like the feeling of the trail and the footing.  It's a lot to ask of the horse and a lot of risk, especially if you have a big ride coming up later in the season.

I didn't like the feeling in my gut when I thought of doing AR, and after talking to some people that have ridden the trails more recently than I, I found out that the erosion has gotten even worse etc. AND heard yet another person tell me that they had a horse that after AR, has been NQR ever since with intermittent lameness that can't easily be diagnosed.

I've learned to listen to my gut over the years, and I've decided that the better plan is to get in 50 or 60 miles on hilly terrain during a camping trip over a couple of days.  I'm not avoiding AR because I don't think that Farley couldn't do it, but I think the risk/benefit of that particular ride is not high enough to include in my prep.

2. Farley is doing well.  Melinda is getting Fat. That sentence says all you need to know.  I have GOT to get my act together, which involves LESS icecream and MORE running.  Important object lesson: stress is derailing my health, but hopefully the lack of stress in Farley's routine is helping hers.

3. It's impossible to have a bullet list with less than 3 points.  It just isn't done.  But I don't have a 3rd bullet point....ummmmmm.......Widow in the boot update!  Boot has been relocated to my back porch and a plan has been formulated.  Mirrors, flashlights, and vaccum cleaners is the working plan at this point.

"The more you know, the less you need"
I came across this saying as I was doing research into ideas for an ultralight backpacking trip I'll be taking this summer.

It rings true. I think there's 3 stages to an active sport like endurance or backpacking

Stage 1. You bring a moderate amount of stuff, but it's all the wrong stuff.

Stage 2. You add a bunch of stuff to your kit and now you have way too much stuff - some of the right stuff, but some of the wrong stuff too, left over from stage 1.

Stage 3. You get rid of a bunch of stuff and now you have relatively little stuff.

In stage 3, the amount of "stuff" has been reduced either because
a). you never used it, it expired and you realized that you wouldn't know how to use it if you did have to........or
b). it was redundant or.......
c). it was totally unnecessary

Another factor at stage 3 that may contribute to being able to bring less stuff is that you are less likely to make mistakes that would require a plethora of stuff and thus you can weed out some of that gear that was there to protect you if you did something really stupid.....however, often this backfires and you enter the optional stage 4.

Stage 4. Slightly more stuff than stage 3.  Usually a result of getting yourself in trouble in a kit that was too you've added some gear back in.

You can tell what "stage" someone is in by the stories they tell when they come back from a ride or a trip.

Stage 1: OMG everything went wrong and I had to totally improvise something out of baling twine because I had everything EXCEPT an extra stirrup leather in my crew bag.

Stage 2: Nothing went wrong but I was totally prepared and had my crew haul 2 extra tack boxes to every check!!!!!!! Since I don't have a story, let me tell you how prepared and organized I was!

Stage 3: OMG you would never believe the wacky thing that went wrong!!!!  I totally used baling twine that I found on my neighbors trailer to fashion a breast collar so that I could finish the ride!  Maybe I should throw a stirrup leather back into my crew box - that particular piece of equipment can double as a breast collar, stirrup leather, rein, girth......multiuseful!

In endurance, I'm probably still transitioning from stage 2 to stage 3.  I've weeded out a lot of my necessary stuff, but I have yet to have something truly horrible to happen that requires to me rethink my kit.  On the other hand, I probably still couldn't do a cavalry ride easily (completing an endurance ride with only the equipment you have with you or you can find on the trail). 

A much more fun and obvious example of the proverb is backpacking.  

Backpacking illustrate the stages very well because the motivation to go with less is HIGH - the more you have, the more unpleasant that trek up that very long, steep hill is.....You don't stay in stage 2 for very long!

BUT the motivation for being prepared is also high, since it can be very uncomfortable (not to mention life threatening) to make a "bad" decision and leave something at home.  Thus, you ALSO quickly move from stage 1 to stage 2......... thus the combination of this and the previous paragraph means there is a strong driver to go to stage 3 quickly.

I'm not going to bore you with my stage 1 and 2 experiences backpacking - it was a predictable trajectory driven by balancing the comfort of a light weight load with the enjoyment of camp once the dang pack is off my back.  (Pillow?  light but takes up space but oh so comfy.......Camera? Book? Comfy thermarest or lighter myler blanket?)

Much more entertaining is the incident that marked my move from stage 3 to stage 4. 

By New Year's I was firmly in the stage 3 of backpacking.  I had detailed lists of what I had taken on previous backpacking trips, what was actually used, and how much was used.  With these lists I had pared down my kit until only those items that I actually needed and used were included.  I wasn't stupid - I still brought matches even though I had never used them.  Same for the emergency poncho and such......but in general I had reduced and eliminated my kit to the barest of necessities and it was gloriously light.

And then....disaster.  On a sub-freezing evening only a day or so into the trip I got up to pee.  I ummm....."misused", my FUD and dumped a certain body fluid down the inside of my pants, completely soaking my undergarments, long underwear, pants, socks.

Not a big deal, you say?  Change into your spare clothes, you say? 

So......In the interest of weight, I had no spare clothes.  Just spare socks (because afterall, this is stage 3, not stage 1 and I know enough to at least carry spare socks in a ziplock and a myler blanket in case something like this happened).  Because of the cold temperatures that evening I was wearing every single layer I had brought - each layer being perfectly planned as to not overlap eachother in function.

Thus I found myself with a dog, a 15 degree sleeping bag (that was pre EN temp ratings and was NOT a 15 degree bag) without an insulating ground pad (to reduce weight....), and dry socks.  And a single digit night.  That was followed by a single digit morning. 

I was fairly miserable.  And cold.  And pathetic.

Not dead, not dying, but uncomfortable enough that I learned my lesson.  Minimalist is nice and while it was true I "needed" less stuff than when I first started and I was prepared "enough" that my situation wasn't life threatening (extra socks etc.) much weight would it have really added to throw in an extra pair of silkweight leggings?  At the cost of a few ounces if they hadn't been needed, I could have been quite comfortable, even in the face of my stupidity.

Let's share!!!!!!!!!
I would love to hear any good stories (here in the comments, or as a guest post - feel free to email me -, or on your own blog) that illustrate your journey through the stages, but I know that writing up a story takes time.  So, here's an alternative - I thought we could swap the following sentence completions.....

I always bring ______(1)______ to a ride/trip because I always end up using it!

I used to bring ______(2)_______, but now I leave it at home because I've never needed it and in some cases, after some reflection it was kind of ridiculous anyways......

After some "interesting" experiences I've added ____(3)______ to my equipment list, even if I don't use it regularly. 


Here's some of mine.

- Spare reins (3 pairs of reins broke in my second season)
- Garbage bag (a multitude of uses including segregating nasty things from the rest of your kit, insurance in case your water bladder leaks in your pack, emergency poncho, ground cloth.  If you haven't used it by the end of the ride you can always use it for manure :))
- extra water bottles (2 rides to date where waterbottles were damaged or lost and I didn't have spares.  I'm also known for not cleaning my water bottles and then realizing that they are full of mold once I arrive at the ride.....)
- a towel.  I under valued "the towel" on both rides and backpacking trips early on, but I LOVE having one and use it almost every trip :)

- book or magazine.  I love reading but usually can't concentrate or enjoy reading anything at endurance rides or on trips. A bottle of wine is much more amusing and engaging and has the bonus of engaging other people.
- Anything more requires more cooking than simply boiling water
- Heart rate monitor
- duct tape.  It never does what I want it to do, breaks down in the heat, and doesn't stick in the cold.
- extra batteries.  I put new batteries in my headlamp at home before the trip if I think that they are going to need to be changed.  If the camera goes dead, oh well. More applicable to backpacking than endurance riding.  When possible I chose equipment that doesn't need batteries.

3. "quik clot" pack, ace bandange [all sorts of uses - mostly has been used on other people, not me :)], water treatment pills (small bottle), feminine pads for wound bandages

Post in the comments!!!!!!!!


  1. It is impossible for me to be a minimalist. (As I sit here taking a break from packing for this weekend's 3-day ride, completely surrounded by bags of stuff.) I tend to plan for the worst case scenario of weather and/or gear malfunctions.

    That's definitely the short story version, but the longer examination of everything I bring and why will make for a good blog post...

  2. 1: zipties : Great for almost everything. I have used them to : replace broken bit hangers, make extra d rings, attach breastcollar/ crupper to saddle, attach extra hoof boots to saddle and other things I can't think of at the moment.
    2: Camping stove/backpacking stove- I used to bring it to every ride, but I never used it except at very cold rides, where I only used it to heat up hot water for my horse's mash.
    3. Raingear- I live in Humboldt County- I have now learned that even if its nice and sunny, carry raingear and spare clothes everywhere. You might not use them 9 time out of ten, but the one time you do, its worth it.

  3. I am a consistent #2 sort of guy. Bring everything you or your companions might potentially need (which is why my truck tool box is an appendage and not an accessory). But, your article really, really resonated when it came to reenacting because I went through all of those stages; full kit with tent, ice chest, candle lantern, sleeping bag, great coat, pistol, saber, spare clothing, etc, etc.

    Now I show up with a pad, pillow, 2 wool blankets, uniform, haversack, cup, plate, spoon, and an ice chest.

  4. Ack! My carefully and profound comment disappeared!

    Your article reminded me of reenactors and all the crap you think you need (great coat, pistol, saber, sleeping bag, and etc).

    Now I just show up in uniform with a pad, pillow, 2 wools, haversack, plate, cup, and spoon. And my ice chest!

    1. Comment moderation :). Your glorious previous comment wasn't deleted!

  5. I always bring a longe line. They have been used as replacement (very long) lead ropes, to tie stuff, in front of or behind a difficult to load horse.
    I used to take everuthing, and I do litterely mean all horse gear everu time I went anywhere. After tripping over everything in my tack room I have severely cut back.
    I have added extra hay to every outing. One time we had to leave my friend's gelding as he would not load, and another trip an entire bale went "missing" overnight.
    Fun post Mel!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. #1. extra underwear and socks. I try to bring double what I think I'll need. Also, electrical tape. And a sturdy knife.

    #2. workout clothes. Who is kidding who? And it takes up precious space in the bags.

    #3. Bathing suit. Never know when there's a hot tub or hot spring around!

    Love the zip ties and trash bags. Good suggestions.

    1. Love your number very (unfortunately) true.

  8. I live in New Zeland - we can go from 20 degrees Celsius to below freezing in a couple of hours in the hiking country.
    We carry for overnight/2-3 day trips ull thermals, including gloves, spare top and shorts, full wet weathers (2-3 layer goretex) mid/heavy weight fleece, water proof gloves, warm hat, good sleeping bag, thermarest type pad if not staying in hut/cabin, billy/pot and cooker + gas (again unless staying in a hut with gas provided - even then, normally carry our own in case of emergency). The emergency/first aid kit has 2 foil blankets, steri-strips (means we don't have to carry suture kit) and tape/dressings. This year and emergency locator beacon is being added to the mix.
    So far we haven't required anything more then the blister dressing for ourselves, however we have had to assist in the treatment/re warming of other people, unfortunately most of them have been american tourists with hypothermia. It's mainly due to underestimating the speed at which the weather can change and not being equipped for it.
    Please, if you come to New Zealand, and want to go hiking/tramping, please talk to DOC (department of conservation) and follow the gear guidelines. Even if you want to do the Tongarario Alpine Crossing - a day hike, you really need to be equipped to handle 4 seasons in one day. I have started the morning in a running singlet and shorts, due to no wind and sunshine) and at the top of the mountain (3 hours later) been in fleece and waterproof/wind proof trousers as there were passing mist clouds and high winds, so the wind chill factor had the temp below freezing.

    1. Good point. I know what the weather norms are for my area and what extremes I might encounter (for example, there will never be a freak snow storm in the valley, where I live that would catch my unaware), but it would be very very dangerous to assume that that applies to other areas! Good reminder

  9. Sorry, mines for hiking as I'm not currently riding :)

    1. I think there is a lot of similarities between hiking, backpacking, and endurance!

  10. I hope my AR ignorance is bliss (though I ride those trails all the time). But will love to hear about camping!

    I love that saying. I am a #2, I have a lot, and haven't needed it(knock wood!). One thing I always have is a knife (saddle bag, hiking, key chain). Use it all the time. And baling twine. And multiple caribiners.


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