Empty Days

Sunday, August 22, 2004



Ga-ga outdoors stores.

That's an expression from a world-tourer's site - that's how he calls those high-tech out-of-price outdoors equipment stores. He's absolutely right. I've just visited one today, having heard on the radio that it was having a big sale - the weather was really nice too, so I decided to take a look.

It was my first visit to such a store - when entering, I overheard somebody say something about Gortex. Made me chuckle. Inside I found very intent people dressed in latest summer fashion who were indeed shopping madly for madly expensive stuff - sale or no sale. I looked for rain overshoes and a pad to put under the sleeping bag. The cheapest overshoes were indeed exactly $20, just as I thought (but I found them a bit too low-cut for my needs), while pads were mostly therma-rest matresses in the $50-100 range. Hiking shoes were all over a hundred - and so on and so forth. So basically I spent some time admiring totally incredible stylish bikes and saw people actually buy some of them as if it were the most natural thing to do. All in all, these folks must be making some pretty cash on a regular basis to shop like that - in a way, it's a different species of people compared to my humble self. I know I will never graduate to be a "real" westerner - I'll always be a poor student or just a non-descript pauper and I'll never buy anything from all those "gortex ga-ga stores". Culture clash it was - I still maintain that it's possible to go on the road without all that gortex.

I looked at bike panniers too, to see how they're made (should I mention prices? perhaps not). It turned out that the cheap shoulder bag I strapped on my bike is made of exactly the same material - the shape is somewhat different of course, panniers are longer and fat rather than wide and slim. They also have a simple sheet of tough plastic inserted for form, which has two metal hooks bolted through. I can do that myself any day. A fat elongated backpack can also be strapped to the rack - and it's also made of the same material, though workmanship might not be as durable in the very-cheap variety. All in all, it makes no sense to buy ready-made panniers - unless a 100 bucks is like a 10 bucks to you, which was obviously the case for most of the people I've seen in that store. Holy crap - it's the same folks who buy all those SUVs and own houses and have those high-paying jobs. It's another world, a world I am familiar with only through tv.

The australian world-tourer on the internet made his panniers out of canvas bags found for cheap in army-surplus store. He also made metal racks himself. That's the way to do it - hunt for odd stuff that's sturdy and then adapt it for your needs. The high-tech stores are for those who swoon at the word "gortex" or "north face" - and who never consider they can or should do anything with their own hands. I wonder why not? Maybe it's a blessing in disguise that I can't easily buy from such stores and am impelled to do stuff myself.

I would grant however that they have very nice comfy hiking shoes in there that are probably well worth the price - the kind of stuff you could never find in a department store, no matter how similar it looks on the exterior. Shoes are the one thing I am particular about - perhaps I will get myself a pair of really good shoes one of these days, just after I discover I have cancer and have nothing to lose anymore. Heh.

*

All this reminds me of Ken Kifer's observations about what happened to biking in the 80's - when fashion and obsession with specialized equipment made things really complicated. Whenever some field becomes over-commercialized, prices soar and it gets really hard to get anything remotely decent for some reasonable sum. The same exact thing happened to outdoors activities - you can get very comfy handy stuff but you will die paying for it.

It would serve one well to remember all those 1920's explorers who went climbing in the Alps in nothing less than their tweed jackets. You might wonder how on earth they did it without gortex... I guess tough wool sweaters were just fine. It's also true that their preparations took a few years rather than just a few weeks of running around ga-ga stores... Yeah, things have changed - but you still can make it with what basic stuff you have or are capable of obtaining.

Not that I am going to the Alps, but it's an interesting subject nonetheless.

*

However I was still able to partake somewhat of the high-tech world by trying out my nylon pants as shorts - unzipped the leggins and off I went. They are pretty cool in that while I work up some sweat on the bike, they dry off almost immediately. I also tried out those padded mountain-bike gloves that I "took" from the department-store - extremely handy on pot-hole filled parts of the road since my bike is pretty hard and so are the tyres. I sort of hope that I will get less flats with these cheap but hard tires than I would with the softer ones that are easier to mount but seem a bit too ready for punctures. Sometimes cheap things are better than more expensive ones - let's see if this proves true in this particular case.





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