I have been visualising carrying a swimming noodle so I can whip it out and hit people over the head when they say, yet again, “Are you on an e-bike”. My mental swimming noodle is seeing lots of action, but I haven’t seen anyone flinch yet so I must be keeping it well within my brain. Pretty much every person we have talked with who isn’t on a bikepacking trip has asked us this same question. Are these people asking the question because they can’t imagine doing your trip on a normal bike, so they imagine it is only possible on an e-bike? Are they asking the question because they are on an e-bike themselves? Are they that stupid that they can’t look at your bike and figure out that there is no battery in it (ok, to be fair, the batteries are getting less visible but e-bikes usually have a lot more blingy tech on the handlebars than ours do). Or they making the assumption that because you no longer look what they would think of as young, you must be in need of an e-bike?
It is that last assumption that I rankle at. The world so badly wants to confine people by its expectations of them. You are young so you must lack perspective. You are old so you must need assistance. I get the need for mental heuristics, I really do, as I use them all the timeline to streamline my life. We need mental shortcuts so that we don’t have to think everything all the way through from the start every time. However, heuristics are a starting point, not an end point. If you see someone with hi-tech looking bikepacking gear and, when you ask them where they came from today, they name a place 70km away, do you assume that they would have needed assistance, or do you assume that they are quite accustomed to this activity and their own legs are all they need?
I have been pondering the pros and cons of age in relation to doing. There is always plenty of time to ponder when bikepacking – at present we are on a trip that has taken us from Wellington to West Cape, across to Whakamaru, and hopefully will take us out to the East Cape and then down to Hawkes Bay, wind, rain, bodies, bikes and COVID willing. The most tricky thing when bikepacking is recording what you think, because when you get to the end of the day, mostly what you want to do is get warm, eat and go to bed, rather than write prose.
The pros of age in relation to bikepacking are plenty. We have enough money to buy the bikes and gear that we want so we can have the lightest and nicest equipment. We have enough time to be able to go bikepacking, without abrogating responsibilities to others. We have lots of experience travelling and cycle touring that help us plan trips and days and hours and minutes (cycle touring is all about tricking yourself many times a day so that you can keep your legs and wheels turning). Our experience gives us spontaneity – we don’t have to plan the entire trip in advance, we have the gear and confidence to see what each day brings and make the most of it. We have experience of having to keep going when we really don’t feel like it but have no choice. Really, the only downside is that we might not have as much strength as we used to. So far, that hasn’t transpired as a major issue, obviously it will at some point. However, until it does, I would say that our age is an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
Clearly, however, people looking at us are not seeing our age as an advantage. They are only seeing the potential downside and reacting to it. When you communicate your expectations of people to them, it influences their expectations of themselves. Of course I don’t suddenly think that I am not capable of self-powered bikepacking when one, or even fifty, people ask whether I am on an e-bike. But, drip by drip, stone can be eroded, and one’s confidence in one’s self diminished.
As a little COVID final note, isn’t it amazing how we can zing (over the last 2 weeks) between all is well, and Level 3 lockdown. More amazing, and distressing, for Aucklanders than for much of the rest of the population. The thought hovers in our minds while bikepacking, what say the country suddenly gets locked down and we have to spend some period of Level 3 in Murupara? I guess the answer is, we would learn a lot that we don’t currently have the chance to about Murupara!
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