How to ride a bike or Carefully Carefree

By David Fournet

NOTE: The following combinations of words are intended to demonstrate the practice of living more in the present rather than planning and preparing excessively. Translation: I read this over a few times, winced, made changes, and then said “enough already.”

I often carry a backpack with me. Not around the house, mind you, but when I sally forth. Sally forth? Who on earth says that? I think there’s a comic strip by that name. I wonder if she has a backpack. I suppose she does have a purse and maybe a handbag, so why not a backpack? They’re all basically the same thing. It’s simply practical to be able to carry stuff with you and not use your hands to do it.

So, what’s the big deal that I carry a backpack when I go places? Is that worth typing or talking about? Something, probably a sub- or partly conscious component of mind, suggests that it just might be. “Might,” is probably a good part of the reason we carry backpacks, and more importantly, the things inside them. I don’t know about you, but I like being prepared.

My backpack and contents are like a Swiss army knife on steroids, and, often enough, others benefit from The Pack as much as I do. It feels good to pull out moist towellettes, band-aids, antibiotic ointment and such when the need arises, or to be able to “McGyverize” solutions to the various breakdowns and malfunctions of modern life, using the gizmos and goods in the bag.

All the same, I wonder if I take it too far. There’s a pithy piece, “If I Had My Life to Live Over,” ascribed to an 85 year old named Nadine Stair that addresses this issue. In it she says “I’ve been one of those people who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.”

As a pilot, I’ve only worn a parachute when I flew an aerobatic plane once. Still, there’s an axiom amongst us aviators to “never fly your plane where your mind hasn’t already been first.” This recommends the other wing of a balanced flight, the methodical to complement the “winging it” approach. The injunction could, of course, be carried to absurd lengths, in which case one would simply stay in bed, or at least on the ground. Of course, we don’t need a backpack to think ahead. The pack and its contents are more akin to having enough fuel in the tanks, the right navigational charts, and a good-enough plan, written or not.

So, where are we in this mental meandering about backpacks and preparation? I’m obviously writing where my mind has not been first. Let’s check the G.P.S. (Gutt Positioning System). I appear to be justifying my security-blanket behavior with the Boy Scout and Accomplished Aviator arguments. True enough. I’m also looking to see what my wise and reasonable identical twin might do differently.

Another preparatory-preventive packing practice is that I usually ride my bike with a fanny pack turned belly-forward. This smaller carrying bag necessitates traveling lighter, so my “tool kit” is limited. If you want to travel lighter, buy smaller luggage. Along with my wallet and a bike tool in the pouch, I have my cell phone holstered on the left strap, my digital voice recorder in its sheath on the right strap, and a small can of Halt! “Dog Repellent For Personal Protection From Dog Attack” next to the recorder on the right.

A few weeks ago I rode my bike to the Fayetteville Square and then proceeded to stroll around the Saturday farmer’s market. I stopped to converse with and buy produce from Peggy Maringer. I was beginning to inquire about her edible plants when she asked me if that was dog spray on my belt.

“Yes. It’s pepper spray. I usually use it for my bad breath and on scrambled eggs.”
“Does it work?”
I breathed in her direction, “You tell me.”
“No, I mean, on dogs.”
“I’ve used it twice, on dogs, and one time the dog stopped immediately; the other time I was going pretty fast and missed because the dog was out of range. You seem pretty concerned with this. Have you had a problem with dogs recently?”
“Oh, yes, five of them, in fact. Pit bulls.”

Peggy proceeded to tell about being attacked while working in her garden by five pit bull terriers that had climbed over the fence. She got away relatively unharmed because her husband Tom came to her rescue with a machete and a pickup truck. Suffice to say it was a harrowing experience and that she would have been pleased to have had a can of Halt! strapped on her garden tool belt, preferably the Multi-Dog size.

I haven’t asked Peggy yet if she bought any pepper spray. I don’t know if a can of Halt! would have done her any good against the invaders anyway. Ironically, I, the pepper spray promoter, have lately given myself to leaving my can of spray, backpack and other accouterments at home more often. I’m deliberately expanding my comfort zone of winging it, of “performing without a net” when the risks aren’t prohibitive.
I don’t think there is one exact answer or solution to the question of how careful we should or shouldn’t be. I also don’t think that our brains or backpacks are big enough to prepare for every contingency. We’re left with this dance, a balancing act between being careful and being (relatively) carefree. We think and plan ahead (or not) using reason, intuition, and common sense.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the words of Anais Nin: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to our courage.”
For some of us, expanding our courage involves shrinking our equipment.

Categories: Legacy Archive