3RR’s Second Sponsor: Thanks, Ibex!

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Alternate title: How I Saved/Earned Half a Grand by Fixing a Zipper.

As is to be expected on a trip like this, things wear down.  It’s not so different from life in general really except that, owning fewer things, each one of them gets a larger share of use and abuse than normal.  Tires lose their tread, clothes develop holes, the left shift key won’t stop sticking, bikes accumulate dings and dents and scratches, bodies become populated with fungi and other afflictions better left unpublicized…the list goes on.

This little story here starts with something tiny: the zipper on my favorite jacket.  It stopped working sometime a long time ago.  It wasn’t an issue at first, my occupation at that time being that of riding in epicycles around southeast Asia.  Even in the mountains in the evening, it was only on the worst nights that I would have to put on my jacket.  But even then, it wasn’t important that I couldn’t zip it up.  Most nights, I didn’t even wear it; I just rolled it up nice, fastened it in place with a compression strap, and used it as a pillow.

This situation lasted until somewhere around Bangkok, where friends and I formulated plans to cycle through Myanmar in May, Northeast India in the Summer, and hit the Himalayas by autumn.  The hottest days lay directly in front of me, but the coldest lay directly behind them.

Knowing I’d no longer be able to get by without full jacket functionality, I spent a few hours wandering around Bangkok seeing if I could piece together some sort of solution.  Tailors abound there; they set up shop for the day on any old street corner with their pedal-powered sewing machines and piles full of what were once clothes, but are now patches-to-be.  None of them had zippers, but one was kind enough to direct me to the local department store where they stocked a million.  None of them fit my goldilocks requirements though – I wanted the same zipper I already had, a nice little dual-zip system that lets you zip up from the bottom, closing the jacket over your belly, chest, and throat, and then unzip from the second zip, also at the bottom, uncinching the jacket from your waist and exposing a bit of belly.  Who would want to wear their jacket this way?  People who keep their body contorted in strange ways for long periods and don’t want anything bunching up between their thighs and chests.  Cyclists, yo!  I’m not sure whether the zipper system was designed with cyclists in mind, but I no longer wanted to live without it.

I walked back to my guesthouse slightly dejected, but as things would have it, my inability to solve the problem there in Bangkok was actually the start of my good fortune.  A new strategy formed in my head; instead of a local fix, I’d go intercontinental, straight to the source.  Why not?  I emailed the company with my story, paid homage to the jacket, and wondered aloud whether they might be able to send me a replacement zipper.

Deaf ears were all that I expected for an audience, but somehow my email managed to make it to the most Fauxbo-friendly Returns Therapist on the planet, a certain Ms. D. N., who told me that she had checked my blog, enjoyed perusing it, and was sure she could work something out.   I shot back a cutesy reply, something along the lines of “oh, and if you happen to find any overstock back there, uhhhh, you know who to think of.”  Wink wink, nudge nudge.

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A few weeks later, this behemoth arrived in the mail!  Seven pounds and 720 cubic inches (approximately) of love and support.  Tracking it down required a few days of scavenging, first in my contacts book to find someone who could find someone to take the package, then to the internet to find the address of the FedEx center when the address of my contact turned out not to be valid, then on the streets of Siliguri to find that the center had moved, then on the internet to find where it had moved to, then back to the streets to find that that was wrong, then back to the internet to see that the package had been marked “UNCLAIMED – RETURNED TO BOSTON,” then madly around to all the prominently marked DHL offices asking if anyone would clue me in about the address of the competition.  Finally, somebody came through and gave me the phone number of the head of the center.  I called him, had terrible reception, and couldn’t understand a word he said, but it seemed like he had been expecting me.  Indeed, he said that he had read all of my manic “Don’t send it back!  I’m coming, I swear it!” emails.

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Thirty minutes later I was on the other side of the city, sitting in the FedEx office, allowing them to inspect my passport, gazing longingly at the cardboard box that had been keeping me up for the past three nights.  Its contents were a mystery to me, all things that I had come this far without, things clearly not essential to me.  Still, in a life as directionless as mine, little quests like this take on immense significance.

Exhausted by my search but to the same extent delighted that everything had worked out, I returned home to reap the rewards.  And what rewards!  I think Ms. D.N. must’ve sent me the whole overstock closet.  The photo above is me attempting to wear it all:

-1x Stuffed Poofy Winter Jacket -1x Cycling Jersey -1x Cap
-1x Stuffed Poofy Winter Vest -1x Long Sleeve Shirt -1x Thin Gloves
-1x Autumn Jacket -1x Long Sleeve Undershirt -1x Arm Sleeves
-1x Autumn Sweater -1x Longjohns -1x Knee Warmers

…and 1x replacement zipper!

Know what the best part is?  Almost all of Ibex’s stuff is made out of Merino Wool, the fabric recommended by the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook as the best material for cyclists to wear.  It’s soft, light, wicks away moisture, and tends not to absorb odor.  That last one’s a big deal.   So is the fact that wool, when done properly, is a renewable resource.

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As overjoyed as I was with my haul, it was so much stuff that I couldn’t possibly keep all of it.  Chris the Shaky is seen here wearing a few hand-me-down hand-outs.  Dr. Stephen Fabes, also in Darjeeling at the time, lucked out with a pair of knee warmers.  Might not sound like much, but you’ll take what you can get when you’re about to try to cycle Pakistan, Xinjiang, and Central Asia during the winter.   I also gifted a few of the more fashionable items to future “gone back to a normal life, can’t afford to only have one outfit anymore” Mike; I think my stepfather is wearing them in the meantime.

So, thanks, Ibex, for your generous gifts to present and future me, to my cyclist pals, and even to my family!

*By the way and for the record, Ibex didn’t ask me for a gear review, an article, a mention, or even a thankyou.  I’m just doing this because it makes good blog fodder.*

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Now, time to put all my goodies to good use!  Here’s me somewhere along the way to Thorong La High Camp, elevation 4850m or so, decked out in just about 2/3 Ibex stuff: longjohns, undershirt, middle jacket, outer shell, and inner gloves.  It was cold up there in the mornings; even with double layers of gloves, two pairs of socks, and a bunch of plastic bags stuffed into my shoes to keep the snow out, I still half-expected to lose a few digits.

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By mid-morning, the sun was generally strong enough that the outermost layer could be shed.  And then packed into its own clever little pocket and carried around with ease.   See that little cutie there at the bottom-left?

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By noon, even with a foot of snow on the ground, the inner layer itself was more than enough to keep me warm.  Actually, here, I’m wearing it more to protect me from sun- and snow-burn than anything else.

Don’t mind those cracks in the camera lens.

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For pretty much a week – from 3500m up to 5000m and then back down again – I practically lived in my inner layers, keeping them on while trekking during the day and while under stacks of comforters at night.   It was so cold I didn’t even have the guts to shower until we got back down under 2000m – something like ten days later.  Even towards the end, though, caked with dirt and sweat and whatever snow leaves behind when it melts off, my gear didn’t stink.  I did, of course, but it didn’t.

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Thanks, Ibex, for helping this Fauxbo go inter-climactic.

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And special thanks to D.N.!   Hope you’re reading!

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2 Responses to 3RR’s Second Sponsor: Thanks, Ibex!

  1. louis says:

    awesome!! Mike we met in Laos a year and a half ago. I’m in South India right now, about to cycle for a few weeks to an eco project close to Kodai Kanal. I originally planned to go to Sadhana forest as per yours and other people’s experiences, but plans changed. keep it up!!

    • Michael Roy says:

      Yup, Louis from SaeLAO, right? Where in South India? I just made it into Andra Pradesh today and am about to cycle to Visakhapatnam and then down the coast to Pondi and Sadhana. See you on the road somewhere?