Smiley McWhiskers … would you talk to this man?
Bike touring is an immersion into a different worldview. One in which you have everything you need with you at all times.
This is a world in which you are essentially homeless. My friend Flyboy Dave was the one who noticed the similarity between the bikepacker and the hobo, and I think it’s really apt.
Actual hobos don’t have mountain bikes valued in the thousands of dollars. Nor do they spend hundreds of dollars on the lightest, most efficient camping kit they can find, after months of research and debate. Also they might not wear merino mtb riding gear and SPD shoes.
But for most normal folks out and about, whether in a big city like Brisbane or Perth, or in small towns like Toogoolawah, Dwellingup, Blackbutt and Donnybrook … well to them you look like a hobo, you probably smell a bit like a hobo after a few days on the trail, and if you’ve started talking to yourself after three or four days on your own, well it’s an easy assumption to make from there.
One of the ways I can tell that the Munda Biddi Trail in WA is not yet a roaring success is by the looks I got in the small towns on the trail. I stopped and spent money on food and drink and supplies in Jarrahdale, Dwellingup, Lake Brockman, Collie, Boyanup and Donnybrook.
And everywhere I went, I parked my heavily-laden bike within view. Some folks chatted to me (where did you ride from today? Wow! where are you going? OK, wow again!), but lots of people just had a good stare at the bike, with a mixture of trepidation, distaste and mostly total lack of understanding. Who IS this person and what the hell are they doing?
I’ve refined my bikepacking setup over successive trips. I think for this occasion, being on the road for eight days, I went as far as I could towards ‘full hobo’ (bearing in mind the cautionary words of Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder).
As a measure of how much I looked like a hobo, I counted all the things directly attached to my handlebar, and I think I came up with ten! Let’s see if I can remember:
1. Sleeping kit in big drybag (sleeping bag, thermal liner, hiker fly and pegs)
2. Which is held to the bars by a Revelate Designs Sling.
3. Jetboil stove and accessories (in a clip-on bag originally designed as a dump pouch for ammunition, according to its description on eBay)
4. Front headlight.
5. Clip for hydration hose (coming up from the frame bag, where the water bladder was stored)
6. Camera bag (with Panasonic DMC-LF1 inside)
7. Water bottle & snack pouch (in the same style as the stove pouch, just a little smaller, also bought from a military supplies store on eBay)
8. First Aid kit.
9. Garmin eTrex20 GPS.
Well, maybe it was nine, or maybe I was including the Spot Messenger GPS Tracker, which was in a top-tube bag attached to the stem, not the handlebar. The overall effect, though, is of someone who is carrying everything he owns.
When you go full hobo, you meet some lovely people who think you’re doing something slightly mad.
“I could never do that!” they say after a few minutes of conversation, with a hint of regret or envy in their voice.
“I could never do what you’re doing …”
But I think it’s a trick that we bikepacker hobos are playing on the rest of society. Cos going ‘full hobo’ for a week or so isn’t all that hard, and it is a hell of a lot of fun, and a really great way to see parts of our scenic and beautiful world.
I’m hoping to get out in my hobo kit again real soon, just in SEQ. Before the end of the year for sure. And I will make every effort to add one more thing that tips me over the edge to ‘full hobo’.
If you see me out there, I’m really not that scary.
NB. Homelessness is a real problem still in our society, and I’m not downplaying that problem, or making fun of people who find themselves facing hard times.