Stuff

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:

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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.

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Now for the contents of the backpack. It’s the Terra Nova Laser 20 litre pack, and it contains the following items:

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From bottom right:

- mini can of deoderant
- razor with no handle
- toothbrush and paste all inside the little blue thing
- swimming goggles
- earphones
- 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.

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Now, inside the little green bag are my piano tuning tools:

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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)
- pliers
- 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.

40 thoughts on “Stuff

  1. Pingback: Ultralight | Richard the Piano Tuner

  2. Hey Richard, it’s Richard. Met you at the Jugular event on Thursday. Just checked out your website and blog. Very very interesting. I dig it. Particularly the ‘stuff’ page. And change of clothes. I’m a million miles away from this kind of lifestyle, but really admire it. Keep in touch, man.

    Rich

    • Hi Rich, great to hear from you. Jugular was a fun event, it promises to be quite a spectacle in the long run…

      I too was a million miles from where I am now – only two years ago! It’s amazing how resourceful you can become when you give yourself no choice!

      I’m going away now until March, but hope to see you soon maybe at he next Jugular.

  3. Pingback: Debt Free: The Piano Tuner Who Chooses to Be Homeless

  4. Wow, man. What you’re doing is so freaking cool. I would love to be able to live like that, but it seems so extreme. I’m surprised you don’t have more bike stuff – patch kit, pump, tools etc. How long do you plan to carry on like this?

    • Thanks Ed!

      I thought it was too extreme, until I tried it for a while… it’s really quite easy, the outdoors life is broken up by lots of visits to friends, pubs and cosy cafés.

      If you can make your lifestyle this cheap, you can dedicate all your time to your art, no matter how little that earns you.

      I am currently carrying a tiny bike pump and repair kit because I’m in the Argentina outback, but in London I didn’t bother because with puncture resistant tyres I never have a problem.

      These have been the best two years of my life, I have no intention to go back to a more conventional lifestyle.

  5. Hey Richard, your experience is so overwhelming, thank you for sharing.
    I can understand you very well, I’d felt like you when I was doing some tracks by myself in Nepal and when I was living in a car for 3 months in New Zealand. I’m not so extreme like you yet, but I have this kind of feelings, I think the most happier days in my life was in those moments. Xx

    • Meeeh… only as scary as you want it to be, you can decide where to go and how fast.

      Mind you I went into a big tree this morning, now my ankle hurts! Should stick to cycling.

      • The missus came too, weather wasn’t that great. If only she would travel using a bivvy, if only. That’s a tad toooo basic for Nita.
        Still we are back and I’ve got my self a rebuild/refurbish project, 1970′s Holdsworth in need of TLC. London Housesitting at the end of June, cycle North to B in F and Catterick in July-August. Guessing you’ve come back and back at work ?

        • Sounds like some nice touring you’ve got planned! I’ll be in London end of June, will send you an email just in case we can meet up for a beer.

          Yes I haven’t quite worked out the girl+bivvy thing yet, have always resorted to a small tent.

          I’m currently cycling through Wales from Conwy to Pembrokeshire. Am trying to update blog, there’s just so much to cover now…

  6. Please catch up with your blogging, they are so positive for your alternative lifestyle. Making me oh so envious, turn back the clock and I was there!

    • Hi Mike, I’m sorry for the delay there, I have every intention to keep it up, heaps of stuff to write about.

      I’m working on an old baby grand piano in Camden Town today. It would be great to see you if you’re still about, will send you another email.

      • Hi Richard,
        It was great to meet you, I really enjoyed our chat. Anita says hi too.
        You just reinforced my belief in your chosen lifestyle, thank you. You also ignited an interest in lowering our footprint with both Anita and I.
        In order to keep Anita bike travelling, we are going to reduce our daily mileage and have more days off. Though to be fair all of our travels on the bike to date have had specific goals, eg hosts booked, Tour start etc.

        MikeG

  7. Hi Richard,
    Yes I’ve always held the journey to be the most important, though high mile days wasn’t about ego or bragging rights, as I rarely spoke to anyone about my journeys. Rather it was more about filling my day by spending it in the saddle. Hence the swollen prostrate I spoke of.
    With Anita as my companion the distance must come down to suit her needs. I’ve just got to get on with it and fill the days with sight seeing.
    We are indeed enjoying London though .

  8. Hi Richard

    Great cycling with you and Martin on the Exmouth Exodus.

    Really like your blog and the film about your lifestyle, total respect to you I’m very envious!

    Stay safe on the road and hopefully catch up with you again sometime.

    Cheers

    Stuart

  9. Hi Richard,
    All okay with you, been very quiet of late. We are back in London until Wednesday house/ grand kid sitting. Then off to Majorca yeh !

    MikeG

    • Sweet! What a nice way to spend the Winter…

      I might be doing something similar, I bought a train ticket to Marseille for the 2nd January, taking my new bike not thinking of coming back until April.

      My new bike, yes… it’s a perfect fit but still got teething problems… will post pics eventually.

      I’m hiding out in Bucks country for a week. But enjoy London again, and your onward journey!

  10. What teething troubles???
    By the time you catch up on all of your blogs I’ll be on mi zimmer !!!! Enjoy Marseille nice part of the world, not sure of the city though!!!!

    MikeG

    • Thanks!

      Not staying there, Marseille may be a fine city for all I know but it’s just my gateway to the Med, there are much warmer places I’m itching to explore, a lot further south…

      Will update the blog, I will I will!

  11. Monaco to Italy and onto Greece would be good, as would Spain and Morocco. Admit to be slightly envious. Enjoy the warmth whatever you do. Must be warmer than London in winter. Wild camping although illegal is fun!!

    • Not really, well I did bring my new bike here on the plane, but I’m mostly here on a personal quest, something to do with what we were discussing on our walk around Brockwell Park. My research into the origins of Christianity should take me around the country so there will be some nice riding.

      You in Mallorca?

  12. Love your blog and what you are doing. We are so constrained by the ‘norm’ and it refreshing to see someone thinking and living outside the box. Its somewhat more risky for a single woman to do what you are doing though. Half your luck mate.

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