“What on earth are you carrying in that bag?”
My mentor, Richard Martin of Cyclewise, always refers to the pack he carries as his “bag of answers”. It’s a phrase that I really like because it tells me exactly why everything is there: it’s the answer to an issue or problem that might crop up. Equally, whatever issue I can think of has to be answered by the stuff I’m carrying. Simple really.
This was brought home to me in the strongest way possible last week.
Some of you know that I have another life as an education professional. Currently, I’m delivering some rivers studies sessions for Gilbert White’s House Field Studies Centre (FSC) The session teaches primary school children about how rivers work by getting them to stand in (a small) one. It’s a great session but, with my leader’s head on, there is a lot of planning goes on behind the scenes to make sure things are as safe as possible. We ensure that everyone is properly attired before we set off for the river. We brief people before they get wet and I have a throw bag in case someone falls over. I have an outdoor first aid qualification, carry a first aid kit and have a series of procedures for dealing with more serious accidents should they happen. As far as possible I have a plan for everything I can think of.
It’s the same process I go through planning and packing for a ride. Actually, I even carry the same bag.
Everything that is, except the weather. Being flippant, the wet weather plan is “if it rains: they get wet.” There is more to it than that but, simply, there is no alternative to being outdoors if the weather is wet.
The forecast for last Tuesday was miserable: properly raining. So I got all my wet weather gear out: full waterproofs, waterproof gloves, wellies. I also packed spare gloves, a spare waterproof, a couple of spare jumpers and a few hand warmers. I packed this stuff in dry bags. My bag of answers was good to go.
As I got to the river, the heavens opened. It was proper stair rods. I found myself standing, up to my shins in the river, with the rain pouring down my neck, trying to shout over the sound of the rain hitting the water. Two minutes and everyone was soaked, the rain had gone straight through my waterproof (in spite of having re-proofed it only weeks earlier). There was, however, no alternative to just getting on with it. At least it was warm.
Fortunately, the weather was so wet that everyone saw the funny side of it: I had drips hanging off my eyebrows and my nose. At lunchtime I denuded my bag of everything I could find that would make people more comfortable. The spare waterproof went to someone who had fallen over in the mud. The jumper went to someone whose waterproof proved not to be and their jumper was wringing wet. The gloves went to someone whose hands had got cold. I think I even lent out my hand warmers.
We got through the day. We got two more soakings but everybody kept their spirits up and we had a memorable but fun day out. When I got home everything got hung up: both waterproofs, the jumpers, the gloves, my first aid kit (which had proved less waterproof than advertised), my leatherman and my phone (which had happily proved to be every bit as waterproof as claimed), my trousers, my socks, everything. I tall dried out eventually but I learned a valuable lesson about EVERYTHING going in a dry bag. Everyone was happy, my bag had answers to all the questions asked of it.
Thursday couldn’t have been more different.
Instead of rain there was wall-to-wall sunshine. Distrustful of the weather forecast, the gloves and spare waterproof still went in the bag but the other stuff was replaced by extra sun hats. The first aid kit contains both sun cream and midge repellent but both were checked before departure.
This time, the crunch came at the top of the hill we climbed in the afternoon. The children arrived at the top red-faced and complaining of thirst. Fortunately, as well as the sun hats I’d packed a big bottle of water and was able to give everyone a drink. The bag had, again, provided answers to the questions asked of it. The military-issue neck cooler proved unnecessary but it was there just in case.
And the moral of the story
To return to the matter in hand, there are some things that always live in my bag of answers: first aid kit, tools, waterproof and portable shelter to name a few. There are some things that are chosen based on the conditions or length of the ride (notably sustenance). Twice recently I’ve had some stiff questions asked of my bag and, on both occasions it contained the answers. That’s why I ask the questions before I leave the house.
My job is to make sure everyone is safe and having fun. My bag goes a long way to ensuring that’s the case.
So, next time someone asks me “what have you got in that massive bag?”
You’ll know why my response is simply: “answers”.