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North Texas

Speed of Light

When the Pony Express riders made their runs on horseback, they carried as much as 20 pounds (9 kg) of water with them. I intend to carry only five liters, which comes to exactly five kg (11 pounds), about half as much. However, I’ll also carry a water filter, which allows me to use any and all water sources I can find. The original riders had no such luxury and probably had to be selective about which water was safe enough to drink.

Under good conditions, a Pony Express delivery could cover the entire 3,100 km (1,900 mile) route on horseback in only ten days, at an impressive 310 km/day (190 mi/day). Importantly, that’s an average figure, meaning on half of those days, even more distance was covered.

This was made possible by having nearly 200 stations along the route, spaced approximately 15 km (10 miles) apart. At each station, a rider would switch onto a fresh horse, which meant he could ride at a fast pace at all times (less than an hour at a time for the horse). Every 75-100 miles (120-160 km), the riders would switch as well - the former rider would stay at the station and take care of the horses, while the former station attendee would take the mochila and continue the trek.

In order to facilitate speed, Pony Express riders had a maximum weight requirement of only 125 pounds (56.5 kg). Most had a weight between 100-125 pounds (45-56.5 kg), making them roughly the same size as a modern horse racing jockey. Aside from the clothes on their back, a Pony Express rider carried essentially nothing but water and the mochila, which weighed up to 20 pounds (9 kg) each. As a result, the horse carried no more than 165 pounds (75 kg).

The horses were also selected to be light and compact. The average Pony Express horse weighed 900 pounds (400 kg), whereas an adult horse typically weighs between 900-1800 pounds (400-800 kg). In other words, the smallest end of the “normal” range was where you’d find the average Pony Express horse; half of them were even smaller. As one might expect, this contributed to the name Pony Express.

By contrast, I’m both the only rider and the only “horse,” and I have to cover all 3,500+ km (2,200+ miles) of the new, longer route. As a result, my most ambitious goal is to complete the route in 20 days, twice the amount of time it took a relay team of 15-20 riders and nearly 200 horses. At that rate, I’d have to cover over 175 km/day (110 mi/day), by far the most I’ve averaged on a bike tour, and on difficult, sandy terrain.

125 pounds (56.5 kg) is less than I’ve ever weighed in my adult life, and that was the maximum weight of a rider - most had a weight falling somewhere between 100-125 pounds (45-56.5 kg). Also, while I’m not a tall man (165 cm, or 5’5”), I would’ve been roughly average height in 1860, and it’s safe to presume most Pony Express riders were shorter than average.

Chances are I can get my weight down to about 130 pounds (59 kg). In the spirit of riding like a Pony Express rider, I’ve decided my steed, a mountain bike named Teeder, will also carry no more than 165 pounds (75 kg). If I can get my weight down to 130 pounds, that means there’s another 35 pounds (16 kg) allotted for all my gear.

By adding the weights of everything Teeder will carry (including myself):

Me:130 lbs (59 kg)
Gear: 17.5 lbs (8 kg)
5L Water: 11 lbs (5 kg)
Total: 158.5 lbs (72 kg)

As long as I carry no more than 6.5 pounds (3 kg) of food, Teeder should never have to carry more than 165 pounds (75 kg). Not bad!

Apr 10, 2024
from Pony Express

I am a carbon-based life form.


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