Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Decisions, Decisions or Zen and the Art of Plastic Bag Maintenance


We are now about 24 hours from leaving Perth and having been away for more than two months, a month of which was packing up and unpacking almost on a daily basis, getting ready and packing would to the uninitiated appear to be an easy task; in reality, getting ready is taking much longer than anticipated, including dealing with a few larger questions of where exactly or approximately will we be riding and should I ditch my favourite plastic bag, repair it or use it as is?

Those of you who remember my early advocacy to ban the use of plastic bags, might be horrified to know that I have an ongoing, acute and passionate love affair with plastic bags, especially in the context of bicycle touring. I have a huge collection of favourite plastic bags, which I keep reusing and mending and should I live to the day when they truly become a rarity, or collectible on E-bay, I will set up a foundation for their preservation and exhibition.

First and foremost, notwithstanding a few mishaps, I am a firm believer in packing our bikes in clear, industrial strength plastic bags when we travel buy airplanes, versus a cardboard box, which most cyclists do. Boxes are awkward to carry and require the bikes to be disassembled to a considerable extent, and at the end of a trip, necessitates their disposal and on the return leg, a search for a box to repackage the bike. The plastic bags fit neatly into my front pannier and can travel with us, ready to be used at any time. As well, my hypothesis is that the fragility of the bike is more apparent in a bag, and handlers will be more likely to handle them appropriately, rather than just toss a box around. So far my average is pretty good.

But what prompted me to reflect on this topic is my heavy duty LCBO bag, and those not familiar with it, they were until about two years ago provided by one of Canada’s largest monopolies, with selection and prices to reflect, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, but one good thing about them was that they provided “free” very sturdy plastic bags to carry several bottles. One such bag I have now used for several years to pack my shoes (the cycling shoes when we are walking and the sandals when riding) but they were to my great anxiety gone temporarily AWOL. As well, they were a bit worse for wear and needed considerable TLC.

Then there are four large clear plastic bags, one extremely durable one from a well known shop that sells upmarket china, that hold the twenty or so items of clothing that I carry, as they can easily be scanned for content. Small sandwich sized bags are great for stuff that’s likely to leak, which they inevitably do as they bounce around on our travels. And larger, freezer sized bags carry precious maps, travel info and guide books etc. I also have a couple of larger blue bags given out by a vastly overpriced, yuppie enterprise in Toronto, whose value in my mind stops at the very practical plastic bags with a draw string that I carry to hold larger items, including food we pick up on the road. In all fairness, the store was sporting enough to give three of those bags, free of charge the last time we asked so I should be kinder to them. I also travel with a similar bag in yellow, from a well know retailer, specializing in cycling paraphernalia, perfect to hold extra water bottles on less populated stretches of our travels.

Given that the movement to ban bags has gotten considerable traction, I am acutely aware that some of these bags are irreplaceable and they will have to last a long time’ hence my desire to keep them in good shape and mend them with a variety of tapes, a subject I am sure is well beyond the interest of most people but I am prepared to divulge my secrets if asked nicely.

More importantly, given that the main activity in Perth was visiting family and friends and despite my limited understanding of the local Ozzy lingo, I managed to survive the main local activity: eating and drinking. Although a time consuming pass time, fortunately there was plenty of time (between celebrating our arrival, Friday nights, Saturday nights, Sunday nights, Chrisy, Boxing Day, day after Boxing Day, New Years Eve, Alison’s birthday day and several sorry to see you leave commemorations), for me to reflect on the upcoming journey.

Given that I had the benefit of an extremely slow computer to work with, and some time between the main events described above, I could take full advantage of Parkinson’s Law, which roughly states that a task will expand to fill the amount of time allotted to it. As such, I decided to systematically go through my minimal possessions and also to do more research on our intended destinations in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

On the packing side, I decided to leave my own slow laptop in OZ. Having downloaded our photos I have substantially used up its memory bank and thus its even slower than before. As well, doing research on our route convinced me that internet access will be even more limited than in India, and therefore I will have to post more spontaneous and have a valid explanation for even less crafted thoughts on this blog, and at the same time stop worrying about charging one extra gadget and most importantly, reduce the load carried by about four or so pounds..

Once I reached the topic of weight, I decided to be more systematic, albeit not to the extent of cutting the long handle of a toothbrush, which some ultra-light bicycle tourists do.
In this spirit, I decided to leave behind a pair of dress-pants, a couple of pairs of matching socks, since even I feel some disdain for wearing socks with sandals, and as long as I was dressing down, I felt at ease about leaving a number of other items of clothing in OZ.

I was also cognizant of the need to create space in the panniers to carry some extra food, as the number and variety of eating opportunities in Laos and Cambodia will be few and far between, as such, some roasted nuts and nutritious crackers will be a welcome change or supplement to a diet of sticky rice and noodle soup, if and when available, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Lastly, with all the extra time in between digesting the many meals, I had time to search the internet and discover that, as in India, there are lots of off the beaten path places to explore, even if the paths are not that well beaten down, and are variously described as mud tracks in the rainy season that turn into dust bowls in the summer. As well, I have become more comfortable with the idea of deviating from the planned itinerary given the many places to explore on route. All the extra information, sheets of paper can really add up in bulk and weight, required space in the panniers, and I was once again forced to reconsider all the stuff I am carrying. The anticipation of less traveled roads caused me to also consider buying dust masks and how to carry additional water and food where even local staples may be unavailable.

With all the time to socialize and to ponder the future, the only weight that I can’t shed readily and leave in Oz is the belt around my mid-section; this will have to wait for the roads ahead.

Namaste, peace and love and soon, Sabaidi



Paul said...

Hail and farewell. Namaste. I loved your subtle referencing to the origins of the bags. In Iceland we re-used and re-cycled the local bags and developed a fine collection by trip's end. You will be happy to know that it's getting even colder here, with deeper snow, all the more reason for your 'skipping' the winter season. Love and stay warm. Drink lots of (clean) water.

David in T.O. said...

Always thought if the vendors supplied good quality plastic bags, people would re-use them. Oops. Wrong. In Bangkok, try to visit my favourite hotel lobby at the Atlanta hotel. I love this place. their food is also good.

Laura said...

I've heard that plastic bags are the least of our worries when it comes to recycling given that they are only a small percentage of the things we waste - so go and love them! Maybe you should work with Ziploc to start a brand for biking?