Packing for the future

“Packing for the Future:  Instructions” by Lorna Crozier is one of my favourite poems. This is her reading it.

Tuesday night, I was frantically packing for a bike trip in the Baltics. Starting Sunday, I’m riding unsupported, alone, from Riga (the capital of Latvia) to Tallinn (the capital of Estonia). It’s an 8 day ride. I hired a bike from a bike touring company, who also helped me map a route and book accommodation in “the willages” along the way, which are apparently too busy in the summer to risk arriving at sunset without a place to stay. But otherwise, I’m on my own.

Take the thickest socks.
Wherever you’re going
you’ll have to walk.

I travel solo a lot, and I’ve done a fair bit of riding in Foreign Lands. But this is the first time I’m riding alone, unguided, in a country where English isn’t a strong possibility.  I spent a day learning basic bike mechanics, and I did a bit of research, and bought new panniers and some tools, and I’ve been riding a fair bit, as well as spinning all winter. But once the obvious cycling things go into the bag, I get a bit paralysed.  I’ll be gone for two and a half weeks, about half of it on the bike. But when I’m NOT on the bike, I’ll be in cities — Riga, Tallinn and St. Petersburg — and have to dress in something other than grimy lycra. And I have to carry it all on two wheels.

There may be water.
There may be stones.
There may be high places
you cannot go without
the hope socks bring you,
the way they hold you
to the earth.

Packing is pragmatic, and it’s about hope, and it’s a proxy for anxiety.   I started making lists and tossing things onto the couch in my home office two weeks before I had to put it in the bags. It was all overlaid with a sensation that I was inevitably going to Get it Wrong.  (Along with some anticipatory resentment from the cats, who slept on it for a week).

I used to have a Problem with bags.  I would keep buying bags — purses, work bags, travel bags.  They were never quite right.  I think I believed that somewhere, a magic bag existed that would be the perfect container for me to take exactly what I needed, and nothing more.

Take a leather satchel,
a velvet bag and an old tin box–
a salamander painted on the lid.

This is to carry that small thing
you cannot leave.

harriet (1)

I finally realized that there was no way I was ever going to get it right.  I pack the wrong shoes and end up riding 800 km in keens sandals. I underpack and end up wearing every layer I have.  When I’m not in my bike gear, I want to be comfortable, but I also don’t want to dress like Harriet the Spy ALL the time. That means more than one pair of shoes. And maybe a lipstick.

That yearning for the the perfect bag, the perfect packing — it’s really about yearning for equanimity,  for perfect flow.  About wanting to feel perfectly content, at ease, at peace with what is.

In your bag leave room for sadness,
leave room for another language.

When we’re riding, like most athletic pursuits, we can become completely submerged in getting the gear right. The lightest bike, the most effortless shifters, the perfect saddle, the devices that track and record every metric, the wickingest jerseys, the most balanced electrolytes. I do this as much as anyone.  I tested three different pedals with my new shoes for this trip, bought two new jerseys and a raincoat (about the 13th one I own, but this one is Just Right), lamented that MEC stopped carrying my favourite shorts.

And yet.

And yet.

I’ve written many times about how seeing a place from the saddle of a bike is my favourite way to learn the pace local people move at, smell the coffee blooms and car exhaust, experience what the air feels like on your face.  The space in my bag is for those long hours alone with what’s inside me, the joy and the regrets, the light touching of the yearnings I don’t voice, the effort/not-effort of rolling, the sensation of being in a place I’ve never been before and almost certainly will never be again. To roll through it, simultaneously shaped by what’s happening around me and at ease with whatever unfolds.

Take the dream
you’ve been having since
you were a child, the one
with open fields and the wind

Really, very little that’s in my bag truly matters. If my bike computer stops working, if I lose my phone, if I don’t have warm enough layers, I will either be just fine without them or I will buy new ones.  If I’m lost, I will ask for directions to Ainaži or Tostamaa. People will point.  I will get lost.  I will get somewhere.

feather revised

Mistrust no one who offers you
water from a well, a songbird’s feather,
something that’s been mended twice.
Always travel lighter
than the heart.


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who writes for this blog on the second Friday of every month. When not roaming the world, she lives in Toronto. 

18 thoughts on “Packing for the future

  1. Best wishes on that trip. One thing cycle touring has taught me over the years (we do 99% rides on our own. He invents the routes, etc.), is becoming incredibly efficient about packing for any travel –anywhere even if not for some trips that don’t involve a bike.

  2. enjoy your trip. i just found it so cute that your cats were just lounging on your stuff.. my cat does the same thing..ha ha

  3. I smiled and teared up reading this– it’s the best thing I’ve read in some time! Godspeed…

  4. Thank you for that beautiful perspective.
    I’m in Quebec City hiding in the hotel as I found yesterday that my English only was often responded to with disdain.
    I’m going out to try again, thanks to your motivation.
    Have a lovely trip.

      1. It was definitely good to get out. My daughter and I have found some cool things here.
        I look forward to reading about your trip! You are brave!

  5. So great. Reading this while looking at the pile of stuff I need to shove into my bike box, worrying about check-in tomorrow, about it and me and the shebang of my stuff getting back to Toronto… so this is the perfect time for me to think about the Tao of Packing, what it tells me about me. And thanks for the poem.

    PS: next time we should bike-travel together.

  6. Fantastic post! I am traveling to a distant land soon, and your words (and the words of Crozier) spoke to my heart and inspired my soul. Thanks!

  7. I am constantly seeking the perfect bag, and ten years ago realized, each trip has its own perfect bag. I love Lorna Crozier and that poem is perfect! Safe and happy travels!

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