If you were to be marooned on a desert island, what three items would you take with you? It’s the classic party game question that I didn’t think I’d ever need to take seriously. But now I’m playing a similar game in real life – I want to fit everything I need to work, rest and play into small bag; except I’m not marooned, and it’s a bit colder than a desert island…
So what’s in the bag? Well, firstly let’s not forget what’s not in the bag – what I’m normally wearing out on my bike:
The shorts are used for cycling, swimming, running, and for wearing while I’m washing my trousers. The black sleeves are the thermal top I’m wearing underneath the yellow cycle jersey – this jersey has three pockets on the back. The shoes are semi-barefoot style running shoes; I currently use studded off-road pedals on my bike.
In the back pockets of the yellow cycle jersey I carry my wallet, phone and cycle D-lock key. The smartphone is a Samsung Galaxy Note which is a man-sized phone with a manly processor to match – necessarily so because I manage all my business from it, use it to navigate, to take photos and to write on this blog.
Now for the contents of the backpack. It’s the Terra Nova Laser 20 litre pack, and it contains the following items:
From bottom right:
- mini can of deoderant
- razor with no handle
- toothbrush and paste all inside the little blue thing
- swimming goggles
- headlamp (includes white and red LEDs to provide backup bike lights)
- phone charger
- one change of cyclist’s socks
- warm woolly socks
- stretchy wind-proof trousers
- Thermarest Xtherm four-season inflatable mattress inside an Alpkit Hunka bivvy bag inside the mattress inflation sack (grey)
- and in the green bag: piano tuning tools!
My current experiment is that I don’t carry any sleeping bag, instead I have lots of down clothing which I wear to bed, all made by Peter Hutchkinson Designs up in Manchester. Underneath the down pull-over is a down vest for extra insulation.
Now, inside the little green bag are my piano tuning tools:
Through the trial and error of twelve years out on the road carrying tools to clients’ houses, these are the tools that make light work of 95% of the pianos I encounter. Starting from the middle:
- piano tuning lever, wedges and A = 440 Hz fork
- one syringe containing a common lubricating oil like motor oil, 3-in-1 or WD40 to lubricate the points of friction on ancient rusty strings before tuning
- another syringe containing Protek, a lubricant from New York made specially for the piano industry for the delicate wooden hinges – this stuff works magic!
- regulation tools for key-spacing, capstans and set-offs
- wood glue in a mini-toothpaste tube
- general purpose glue (currently Evostick Serious Glue)
- flat screwdriver
- 80-grit sandpaper
- assorted felts
- assorted felt washers
- return tapes
Q. Where’s your change of clothes?
A. I don’t carry a change of clothes because that would add weight and bulk to my pack; I get by fine with what you see above. If I want to wash the yellow t-shirt I can wear the black thermal shirt in the meantime. I can wear the trousers while I’m washing the shorts and vice-versa. On warmer days I can wash undergarments and put them back on immediately – cycling around for an hour will dry them. The only change I carry is one extra pair of socks – I wash one pair after every shower then either use an electronic hand dryer to dry them in two minutes or put them on my bicycle handlebars to dry while I ride. Alternatively I might put them one on each shoulder under my thermal top – they’re thin and synthetic so my body heat dries them quite quickly.
Q. Where’s your towel?
A. I don’t carry a towel, I use one of my t-shirts instead – after this I put on said T-shirt and my body heat dries it out quickly.
Q. What about waterproof clothing? What about a shelter like a tent or a tarp?
A. I don’t carry anything waterproof except for my backpack (to keep the contents dry). It doesn’t rain much in South-East England and I’m mostly in the city where I’m never more than a hundred yards from some form of shelter. I also daily check weather forecasts and rain radars which are very accurate in this country for the next 24 hours ahead.
Why the obsession with travelling light? It’s not like backpacking where more weight on my back would quickly get tiring – my bike can carry a lot of weight on pannier racks. So why not take a few more luxuries along with me?
It’s easiest to understand this by imagining the other extreme – try cycling around towing a motor car behind you. I think you’ll find that accellerating, braking, and climbing are significantly more difficult, and you can forget about clambering over a fence or carrying everything up a flight of stairs.
The lighter I travel with my bike, the easier it becomes both to cycle and to carry my cycle over obstacles. This opens up new routes involving fences and stiles, forest tracks blocked by fallen trees, fords across rivers and footbridges with staircases. I can travel faster for longer, with less stress on my knees and I feel fresher at the end of the day.
And with the weight I’ve saved by cutting down on unnecessary gear, I’ve created space to carry what ever else takes my fancy – for example I could carry extra food and water for one of those epic rides to the middle of nowhere.
It also makes life easier when I get off the bike and hang out in a pub, café or friends’ house because I don’t have to occupy my hands with lots of heavy bags.
But travelling light is not only about how easy it is to cycle around and carry stuff about – it means a lot more than that to me. It means ridding myself of all the unnecessary clutter in my life and the distraction and expense caused by it; it means a lot less stress because I have less things that need fixing, less things that might get stolen, and less things to rummage through when I’m trying to grab an item from the depths of my bag. It means that if everything gets stolen, I can easily start afresh without breaking the bank because there’s not much that needs buying.
Ultimately I feel enlightened, both physically and spiritually. I feel more free time and energy to give to the people and projects and passtimes that I love.