It’s on my mind again as we are packing our belongings for our move to Orkneyby Cal Flyn / September 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
A couple of summers ago, my partner Richard and I rode the Colorado Trail, a mountainous 500-mile route through the Rocky Mountains, from end to end. We travelled alone except for three horses, all of whom I’d rented—much like one might rent a car—from an enormous ranch on the outskirts of Denver. We rode the two painted geldings, and the third, a little Appaloosa mare, ran loose behind us as a pack horse.
After a few days of footering around with packer’s knots and diamond hitches, we soon settled into a good rhythm. We rose before dawn, fed and watered the horses, packed away camp and—by the time the red sun was peeking over the ridgeline—had them tacked and loaded ready for a day on the trail.
The key thing in travelling long distance, whether on foot or on horseback, is to pack wisely. Before we set off, we’d learned a great deal from online forums frequented by “thru-hikers”—the community of people who walk for weeks or months without a break. The thru-hikers’ maxim: it’s not the miles that will kill you but the kilos. They taught us about meal planning, back-country hygiene (less is more!) and cutting the contents of our packs to the bones. Change of clothes, waterproofs, tent, sleeping bag, mat, food, repair kit. Anything else is a luxury.
Many of the most prolific advice-dispensers were those who subscribed to a hardline “ultralight” philosophy, in which proponents go without stoves, tents and sometimes even waterproofs (preferring to go nude under a bin liner during rainstorms). Being Scottish, and therefore haunted by the spectre of hypothermia, we rejected many of the stricter ultralight edicts outright. But there was something valuable in it as a philosophy. It offered clear guidelines to live by, in a complex world: it’s not about what you want, it’s about what you need.
Once absorbed, ultralight thinking seeps into your way of life. And it’s on my mind again as we are packing our belongings for our move to Orkney. I find, with horror, that our book collection alone stretches to seven dense boxes, not to mention Rich’s six crates of records. When I look at our vast hodgepodge heap of mementos and knick-knacks, I can’t help but compare it to the…