Gear Doesn’t Matter

I just watched a video that really captured my philosophy: the gear doesn’t matter. It wasn’t always my philosophy. At one point, I dreamed of bikes, and skis. I would buy the magazines and drool over the latest gear. I wanted an SE Quadangle BMX bike, or a Cannondale road bike. I had neither. I ended up with a Diamond Back BMX bike, and a Peugeot road bike. Eventually, I got into mountain bikes, and the never ending stream of new things was hard to resist; carbon fiber, suspension forks, full suspension, and disc brakes. Skiing was more of the same. I wanted K2 VO Slaloms, like the Mahre brothers, and the North Face jacket, and Salomon ski boots like Scott Schmidt. I never had the North Face jacket. All I could afford were knock offs.

In 2004, I traded some photography for a Patagonia Ice Nine jacket. I used it until last year. It had duct tape on one sleeve, where I tore a hole tree skiing in Colorado. It also leaked on the shoulders. 18 years of use, for a jacket I got in a trade isn’t too bad. I still use Lowe Alpine ski pants that I bought in 1995, at Erehwon, in Madison, Wisconsin. They leak, but have no tears.

Mountain biking the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado

At one point, in the mountain bike industry, things started changing too fast for me to keep up, and at prices I couldn’t afford. I was still riding my Rocky Mountain Blizzard, steel, hard tail, when it was stolen after more than 12 years of use by me. My wife still has hers. It’s now more than 20 years old. She still rides it on trails. Granted she’s not riding double black, free ride trails, but she wouldn’t be even if she had a $12,000 enduro bike. I finally bought a new bike. It’s also a hard tail. It cost $1,200 with an employee discount. It’s fine. It does the job, and I have fun riding it.

When I got into photography, film was still in use. In fact, there were no real digital cameras. The technology changed, but at slower pace. I wanted nice stuff, but you could get good used gear at reasonable prices. Then digital cameras hit the scene, and it seemed like the mountain bike industry all over again. Every year things changed dramatically. $15,000 cameras quickly became $50 on the used market. The Kodak DCS100 was so expensive, it came with a free Macintosh computer at one point. That camera, now a collectors item, can be had for a few hundred dollars, though 15 years ago, was less than $100. It’s resolution is less than the camera on a cheap phone.

I’ve played hockey since I was 8. I’ve often had used gear. Now that I don’t grow anymore, I use the gear until it won’t function. Usually that means, the item breaks, and I duct tape it, and use it for another year or two. Generally you can tell who the best players on the ice are by the gear they have. It’s usually old and beat up. Good adult players have had the gear for awhile, and realize the gear doesn’t matter all too much. Newer players tend to fall into the gear trap, thinking more expensive skates will make them better skaters, or a more expensive stick will improve their shot. Sadly, hockey is hard, and unlike fat skis, or electric mountain bikes, the gear won’t help you.

Leadville 100

I keep my running shoes until the fall apart. My trail shoes are from 2013, maybe 2014, as I may have bought them on sale a year later. If I had specific foot problems that required more padding, I suppose I’d replace them more often. When we lived in Denver, we started signing our kid up for trail runs. The last one we did there, he ran in sandals. Why? No idea. It was his choice. It didn’t matter. His feet were fine, and he had fun.

The funny thing is, I never liked running, other than for sports, until around 2000. I was happy to bike, but not to run, much to my wife’s dismay. She liked running. One day we went to one of the local, metro Detroit trails, and upon getting my bike ready, I found the rear axle had snapped. Rather than sit around, I decided I would run the trail, so my wife could go for a ride without feeling guilty about leaving me to sit in the car. Months, or more, later, I still hadn’t fixed the axle, but I had continued to run. Now, I think I prefer trail running to mountain biking. I think it’s more akin to the mountain biking I did when I first started, back when there were no flow trails. There were no machine built trails. There were no man made jumps. It was just a path in the woods. It didn’t even require a mountain.

Old cameras and film
Diana and Hasselblad, with old roles of film

In all my (many) years of participating in these activities, at all different levels, I’ve realized that rarely does the thing I use make the activity more fun. Sure, when I was a photographer shooting architecture, interiors, and assignments for magazines, good, reliable gear was a necessity for what I did. It also made me more productive, which made me more money. Now, however, in all of these areas, including photography, my goals are different. I don’t race my bikes. Technically, I run in races, but I don’t consider them races. They’re just organized runs. Sure, sometimes (almost never), I win a race, but I don’t really care. I don’t train. I just run. Just like I just ride, and I just ski. And realized a long time ago, that I have fun regardless of the equipment. I want ski boots and skates that fit, but they don’t have to be top of the line. A friend picked up my skates on sale, for $50. I’ve been using them for a couple of years now. Previous to that, I broke two pairs of skates, and used them duct taped (I use a lot of duct tape) for at least an additional year each.

Never when I’m riding do I think about what I’m riding, unless it’s not working. I guess I’m more picky about my skis and boots, but even there, I used them until they break. I broke my last pair of skis, and my last pair of boots too. Apparently, you can break the plastic if you use the boots enough.

Currently, my photography is mostly film, on either my Hasselblad, a plastic Diana camera, or my phone. Both the Hasselblad and Diana cameras sometimes have light leaks. It’s okay. I’m not trying for perfection anymore. I just want to make interesting images. Mainly they’re for me, but other people seem to like them too, and I sell prints and license usage for music albums, books, magazines, and even t.v. shows.

I guess the point is, the gear really doesn’t matter. It’s the doing that matters. I couldn’t ride my bike, so I ran. If I couldn’t run, I’d hike. I can’t justify a $300 hockey stick, or $1,400 skates, but I still play with the old, used gear I have. I don’t think I’m any worse for it. If I really want to improve, I should probably sign up for some skills sessions. I’ll keep riding my hard tail until it dies, or gets stolen again. I’ll ski my next pair of skis until I ruin them (which I will do), and I’ll keep having fun, regardless of what I use.

The video that prompted this post is by photographer and Youtuber, Dan Milnor. Here it is:

Leave a Reply