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  • Mark Smith

My Kingdom for a Throne!

So Ann Henriksen and I struck a deal, and now there was much to do to prepare for the big Kyrgyz adventure. For weeks we’ve been comparing notes via email and chatting on Skype about bikes, bike components, how to train for the trip, what food to bring—but mostly we discuss camping gear, Ann’s favorite subject.

By her own admission Ann Henriksen loves to buy bike and camping gear. She says it makes her feel good. She buys some online, and otherwise uses what I now understand to be secret channels through which she secures good deals and avoids customs duties and national taxes. She describes surreptitious trips across the Swiss border into Germany to visit a favorite bike shop, where she purchases bits of “kit” at a discount by showing her Swiss passport. I think this is it but I’m not sure. Ann’s English becomes approximate when attempting technical explanations. Either that or she does it on purpose to thwart the authorities in case her lines are tapped.

In any case, the buying never stops, and any excuse is good to explore an opportunity to purchase something that may improve the quality of her life on the road.

There is no life without water, so it should come as no surprise that water filtering systems have occupied the lion’s share of our gear gab time. To Ann’s occasional frustration, but more frequently to her delight, the subject is not simple. Over the last several weeks she has sent me links to no fewer than 56 water filtering and treatment devices whose purposes and functioning will strain the average mind. You’ve got the micro-filter pumps for clear water and another kind for murky water. One demo video showed a bodybuilder’s forearm trembling with fatigue to extract a few drops of the precious liquid while the video narrator explained: “A few easy strokes of the hand pump and you’re in business.”

Then there are the ultra-violet sterilizing ray guns that kill all bacteria in a bottle of water, for example—provided your bottle’s mouth is wide enough to get the ray gun into. But since most multi-liter water bottles and bags have tiny openings, that solution had to be abandoned in favor of another system, Ann explained, and explained and explained. Once again, my mind went numb. But Ann’s persistence and meticulousness has reassured me. A couple of weeks ago she announced that she’d finally found the ideal water solution that will save us from dehydration and death in the desiccated wastes of the old Silk Road. I’d tell you about it if I could remember.

Sleeping bags comprised the next item for discussion. We both had one, but neither bag could handle the cold possible at 3900 meters (12,800ft), where we will camp for a couple of nights. Which new bags should we buy? After three weeks of correspondence it came down to philosophy: Ann, ever the believer in comfort, opted for a $600 bag that offers warmth in temperatures as low as -30F, but weighs a whopping 850 grams. More minimalist, I chose a 500-gram bag that should be warm enough, figuring I’d just ride down the mountain 1000 meters if temperatures dip below my tolerance level.

There has been lengthy discussion about tires, tools, pots, pans, bike boxes, dry bags, stoves, fuel, shirts, sunglasses, shorts, sandals, packs, elastic straps, battery chargers, head lamps, jackets, snacks, zip ties, luggage bags and more. Each item has constituted a curious nugget over which Ann and I have huddled, and at which we have poked and prodded until an ideal answer issued forth. There have been minor differences, a few concessions and many a virtual handshake—all of which creates bonds.

Somewhere in the middle of our cogitations we agreed on one thing each of us must absolutely bring to Kyrgyzstan, a place without campgrounds and almost no trees. What could it be?

Think about it: You ride your bike 30 to 50 miles over bumpy dirt roads in 35C heat all day, find a spot to pitch your tent, inflate the mattress, lay out the bag, set up the stove, extract the food to cook. You can’t have a cold beer. You can’t have a shower. What small concession can the gods confer upon a weary traveler?

Bingo—a chair! I wasn’t about to sit on the ground for three weeks.

But it turns out most camp chairs are HEAVY! I even found one that weighs 8 kilos, which is slightly less than my total anticipated payload. But Ann and I did not give up. We searched and searched, her in her routine spots, me in mine, and for the first time we came up with the same exact product—a foldable camp chair that is both comfortable and weighs a mere 500 grams.

I’ll post a picture of me sitting in it if I ever make it that far.


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