My last blog post was about the first three weeks ‘on the road’ and the inevitable shift of my attention to the basics of survival. Since then I’ve spent quite a bit of my time with friends and activists, which shifted my concentration back up Maslow’s hierarchy to (arguably?) higher level themes like gender, social justice and mental health. Now I’m readjusting to life on the road.
When I asked my friends on Facebook ‘what would you like to see me blog about?’ one person said they’d like to know what clothes and other stuff I have, and another said ‘loneliness’. Since I want to keep my readers – both of them! – happy, this post is going to be about ‘stuff’ and I’ll come to loneliness soon.
Josie Dew once wrote amusingly about the inordinate amount of time cycle tourists spend rustling about in their panniers, unpacking and repacking. I gain inexplicable satisfaction from pulling everything out, looking at it, and putting it all back again. In anticipation of this post I have spent several happy hours cataloguing my stuff in a spreadsheet and photographing it, and in Lisbon I even took great delight in weighing it all. Which of Maslow’s ‘needs’ is satisfied by all this? I’m not sure. I suspect Buddhists would say it’s an example of ‘shenpa’ or attachment/addiction (in this case to material things).
Anyway, here goes.
Bikes are like people; I simply wouldn’t expect to have all my needs met by just one. But for this kind of long-term touring I (sadly) had to leave my pretty, steel Genesis road and mountain bikes behind along with my Brompton, and ride my British, purpose-designed, matt black, steel Thorn Sterling, with Rohloff (German) hub gears (no derailleur), very heavy-duty wheels, and racks to hold three waterproof (Ortlieb, also German) bags on the front and three on the back. It’s amazing how many people ask if I wear a rucksack!
The bike itself weighs 16.5kg, and the bags currently weigh a total of about 25kg. I’ve previously ridden this bike over 5,000km in Southeast Asia in 2008, over 7,000km across Europe in 2011, and on various shorter trips. Since 1 September 2015 I’ve ridden 3,000km. The only technical adjustment I’ve made this year is to add double-sided pedals; I struggle to comprehend how I ever rode those kinds of distances with flat pedals! Riding ‘clipped in’ means I have to have cycling shoes. Though these look like trainers the metal cleats on the bottom mean they’d be treacherous to do anything much else in, so I have a pair of much-ridiculed but eminently practical black Crocs I can do everything in from showering to mountain climbing.
I lived in my terraced house in Hackney for ten years, sleeping for most of those in a large south-facing bedroom with two windows and a queen-size bed. I mention this simply for comparison. Now on the back of my bike goes a large dry-bag I call ‘home’ because it contains my ‘ultralight’ (approx. 2x4m) Terra Nova tent, my Thermarest self-inflating mat, my inherited Deuter down sleeping-bag, my silk inner, an inflatable pillow and the world atlas pillow case I’ve had since I was about 12 (‘Yugoslavia’ is on it!). I keep the last three things together in a cloth bag that doubles as a ‘day pack’ when I’m off the bike.
My ultralight tent pegs went AWOL in Portugal, to be replaced in Catalunya with some heavier but frankly better ones; I drew a picture in the camping shop and the guy fished around in a cupboard and gave me his last seven tent pegs for tuppence ha’penny (‘symbolicos’, he said). When I’m not scared (see previous post) I sleep like a baby log in my little canvas home.
Back in Stoke Newington I didn’t spend a great deal of time in the kitchen, which nevertheless was equipped with a dishwasher, Magimix, bread-maker and spaghetti maker. Now, one of my large rear panniers is marked ‘kitchen’, and contains a Swedish Trangia alcohol-burning stove, a small chopping board, a Leatherman and Spork, a Keep-cup for tea and small plastic beaker for coffee/wine/beer, coffee filters, various Tupperware pots (porridge, coffee, tea, macaroni or cous-cous, salt and smoked paprika), a tube of sweetened condensed milk, dried fruit and nuts, and a washing-up brush. I really enjoy shopping daily for supper ingredients*: so far, often tomatoes, courgettes and some kind of tinned fish, or tinned brown lentils with sausages. I suppose I could cook yellow lentils from dry. Mmm, dhal…
*and, perhaps a little too often, cheap local wine.
The other large rear pannier is marked ‘wardrobe and bathroom’. Back home my friend Craig, who helped me pack up my house, said ‘you have a LOT of t-shirts’. With me on the road I have one pair of jeans, two pairs of shorts, a soft check shirt, three t-shirts, two vests, an itsy-witsy bikini and enough underwear that I don’t run out of clean stuff. Also in that pannier lives a mesh bag for laundry, hand-washing detergent, a universal sink plug, clothes line, mini pegs and my mini sewing kit. And my wash-bag, which contains all the obvious stuff plus spare deodorant (I’ve used the same type – cool blue Mum – for over 20 years!), a spare Mooncup, a Whizaway (plastic funnel for wee-ing standing up or in the porch of my tent), and (always, always) a large pack of baby wipes. I also have a luxury some friends think is silly: perfume, for special occasions. And a travel towel. And an ancient first aid kit + a couple of medicinal things including ibuprofen.
One front pannier is ‘the bike shed’ and contains minimal tools/spares, tight and baggy shorts, long tights and three yellow tops for cycling (no sleeve/short sleeve/long sleeve), an inherited base-layer I hope I won’t need, plus a bag of ‘outerwear’: a frankly useless, yellow so-called waterproof, my fantastically useful Howies soft-shell jacket (with merino lining), a bobble hat and cotton scarf. [Update: My new lightweight down jacket arrived via poste restante for the winter evenings, thank you Alpkit :-) ]. And a heavy-duty D-lock for the bike, which I use occasionally just to immobilise the bike.
I worked in a succession of soul-destroying bureaucracies for one and a half decades. Now my other front pannier is designated ‘the office + play room’. In a dry-bag I have an 11-inch Asus T100 TAF tablet laptop, mouse/mat, and a mesh bag of assorted chargers, adaptors and cables. I’ve also got a tiny Sansa Clip MP3 player that doesn’t have any music on yet, only audiobooks (my new addiction). And a miniature ‘beard trimmer’. And one of those things for doing bank transfers. And various papers such as a template for redoing my will when I eventually get round to it.
At the foot of my bed at home was a large wooden chest, from which I am carrying the bare minimum of, um, essential things.
My hand(lebar) bag contains the things I need to take with me if leaving my bike outside a supermarket or cafe, such as my passport, wallet, camera and (sun)glasses. It also contains a lot of small items that benefit from being kept together in a little tin: tiny gifts from friends, lip balm, earplugs, my compass, head-torch and bike lights, key for the D-lock, nail clippers, pens, a notebook/diary, cards, that sort of thing. Plus an emergency ‘dog dazer’ that emits a high frequency they apparently find unbearable. And a mobile phone my brother kindly sent me for emergencies, which I haven’t got around to setting up yet. I don’t miss having a mobile phone at all, except when I’m lost and wishing I had a map app.
Finally, on the bike itself can be found a cycle computer (speed/distance), two water bottles (to be confused at my peril with a bottle of 90% alcohol), helmet (which I sometimes wear), cap (which I more often wear), and the absolutely amazing LuminAID.com solar-powered tent lamp given to me by my brother. Added together, my bike and I weigh about 100kg.
On my way from London to Lisbon, when not swearing into a headwind or worrying about where I’d sleep that night, I spent a good deal of time fantasising about what I could off-load to my friend Meg-John. M-J kindly brought over a bank-robber style hold-all and – to my surprise – actually seemed to find it quite interesting helping me decide what to off-load. In the end I off-loaded 5.5kg, which made a MASSIVE difference to how the bike feels to ride: another pair of shorts (Emily said ‘I’ve lost count of the number of shorts you’ve got’), another vest, another cycling top, walking shoes and woolly socks, a small mountain biking rucksack (day pack), a powerful front light and its battery pack, a ‘1 European: 4 UK’ extension cable, my scuba diving computer and certification, various paper maps and some books, a kitchen knife and two spare toothbrushes. So there you have it. Any questions?
Update: Thank you for all the questions! They're answered in my next post.