Simple guide to riding and living more (for complex humans)

Slipping into dreamland ©Matt Maynard

It can be difficult sometimes to do the simple things. The ones that could make us happy. Like checking out of everyday existence with a lightly loaded bike for a few days. With a nod to our busy and distracting lives, this month I’ve tried to list some tactics for getting rolling with the good stuff. And yes, I know you need to get on with the the next thing after this blog thing which interrupted your previous thing – so I’ll try to keep it short.

Make your plan

Good things do not come to those who wait. Waiting, deliberating or procrastinating only lead to frustration that the good stuff hasn’t started yet. Instead, take a large piece of card (perhaps try ripping the back off a cereal box) and state your intentions. Avoid a digital intention as it’s easily edited or deleted. Instead write with thick marker, and press firmly into the card like you mean it. Here’s a blueprint.

Change the date and add your name and you’re good to go! ©Matt Maynard

If you are feeling particularly misanthropic you could subtly leave your plan in tactical places. Like in front of the boss’ computer at work. Or on your partner’s bedside table. Better still, pin it to your bathroom mirror. The biggest saboteur of best laid plans is often ourselves. Once you have booked yourself out, it’s time to put the pieces together to make it happen.

Light is right…but it’s good to keep things in perspective ©Matt Maynard

Make do and mend

So you’ve made your commitment. Now’s the time to get online and buy the new stuff needed to live more simply…Probably not actually. “The right tool for the job” was a slogan undoubtedly invented by a canny hardware store owner. Outdoor shops today stock all the complex equipment of modern living we are use to, re-packaged as “essential items” for the simple life.  The more crap you accumulate, to keep you warm, dry, safe or clean – the less likely you are to get out there and use it.

Convenience is just a word to describe rushed ways of doing things, because we don’t have time to do them better. Take a look at a couple of bikepacking bags, and you’ll see there is no space for that solar shower or electric can opener. Instead make the time to camp and wash by a river. And use that same knife blade, to cut your bread and open your sardines. Your imagination will thank you on your return to spoon-fed civilization.

Seek out Trouble

Fresh drinking water from a mountain stream ©Matt Maynard

Once you’ve stripped back to a toothbrush and your pen knife – it’s time to let the wolf in. Living more adventurously can seem to invite more difficulty. And riding into the sunset creates uncertainty. Sure, there’s going to be a few more uncomfortable moments than sitting in front of the TV. But to “live deep” as the king of simplicity Henry David Thoreau said, isn’t to cut out all problems from your life – but to embrace them.

New challenges such as seeking drinking water from a mountain stream, or finding a place to throw down your bivvi bag at dusk, extend your discomfort zone. They recalibrate what you perceive as difficult. The benefits reach far beyond the last spin of the wheels.

Nurturing that disconnected feeling just before launching a trip ©Matt Maynard

Easy on the technology

Realistically, no one is likely to bikepack without a cell phone. And if you do find yourself in serious trouble in a remote location, a device like a SPOT satellite messenger could save your life.  But how much should you stay connected? Checking a weather forecast before crossing a remote mountain pass is probably advisable. But do you need to broadcast on Facebook how hard it will be? Or read up on all the mountain’s twists and turns? Probably not.

Technology can give you the confidence to initially get out there. But once that escapist feeling starts sinking in, it’s best to have a good reason before turning it back on.


Know your places and spaces

The Chilean south on a wide-eyed adventure ©Matt Maynard

So there’s definitely space for self discovery on bikepacking trips. But interacting with the people and places you come across is another reason for heading out. Busy everyday lives don’t have much space for neighbors, let alone strangers. And travel to new places can be seen as challenging rather than an opportunity. Exploring the country on a light bicycle however, seems to lift the cloud of suspicion and broaden horizons.

To really engage with the people and places you are about to encounter on your ride, a little research goes a long way. Even on short adventures, you’re more likely to break free or gain perspective on your daily existence if you have a strong sense of the place you are in, and it’s relationship with the rest of the world.


Change the plan

Wild camping on trails less travelled by ©Matt Maynard

So you planned time away, minimized kit and researched your route. The only disaster that could befall you now is sticking rigidly to the plan. Trails get closed and bridges collapse. There’s always a way round though. Keeping your eye open for the road less travelled by or the unexpected opportunity is the bicycle adventurer’s way.

To ride and live a little more, perhaps we need to concentrate a little less on that complex design we’ve created for our regular lives. And live a little more like animals – surviving on simple pleasures and instinct.

Call for comment

  • Have you recently tired to minimize your kit?
  • Do you agree that simplifying life and your riding is a way to happiness?

Matt Maynard is a British cyclist, writer and environmentalist. He is based in Santiago, Chile. Find more of his adventures on Twitter, Facebook and at his website

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