Full project information here: http://www.hannahscott.com/project/all-this-stuff-is-killing-me-2018
On 25th June 2018, I left the security of my home and my job and shed material possessions to set out on a low carbon-footprint bicycle journey around the UK. The intention is to explore ideas related to climate change, capitalism, consumption, identity, value, loss, psychology, pilgrimage, health and mortality.
To enable a cognitive shift in my relationship to the environment I want to step back and see myself from a distance – to see what defines me now – and to explore how changing this might change me. Collected materials and shared dialogues with selected artists and scientists will be developed as collaborative artworks to raise public awareness and engagement with environmental issues.
The project was introduced at Ugly Duck, London, from 25-27th May 2018, as part of the Lumen exhibition Cosmic Perspectives. This initial installation included a list of everything I own handwritten in ink on brown paper inherited from my father; a bicycle, camping equipment, tools and spare parts, all-weather clothing, notepad, pen, camera, and a net.
How did this come about?
I’ve been thinking about cycling for a long time. As a child I was out on my bicycle at every opportunity but the seed was really sewn on the Pamir Highway in 2009 when I briefly got to know a couple of guys cycling from Norway to China. Since then the idea has niggled in the back of my mind, often leaving me lost in a daydream – alone, liberated, self-sufficient, present, somewhere remote.
Thoughts about making new art, plastic, climate change, mass consumption, loss and especially cycling were omnipresent for several weeks this spring. I fluctuated between elation, fear and laziness until I sat up in bed one morning resolved to combine everything and cycle around the world. Now or never and never is not an option so to seal the deal I ordered a fantastically expensive expedition bike that would make me feel guilty if left unused.
I started to write a list: things to take, places to visit, a route, people to see. I wrote the column headings in Excel and laid the items I thought I’d need to survive in a square on the floor before realising that I had no interest in planning. I just wanted to go. Not planning has become integral to this project. Following recent years of reorganisation and decision making around my stuff and inherited stuff from my parents (which I find utterly overwhelming), I want to allow myself to drift, for things to unfold, trusting myself, my work, the landscape, happenings and findings to draw me in one direction or another, as Debord’s Theory of the Dérive suggests (but more thanks to Steve Bennett for going on about this).
This unfolding journey is the artwork – it is an improvised performance in which I am Velben’s accused Conspicuous Consumer, with the time, money and privilege to do what I want, and I am Chaucer’s pilgrim, with a good heart, a jolly purpose and a pint, resolved to lift myself out of darkness and share a story that touches wider than my route will take me.
The outcome therefore will be a record of this – text, images, artefacts, connections, dialogues and memories. Observations, arguments, self-critiques, contradictions and justifications. Collaborative interventions with artists and scientists will enrich the response as I travel and retrospectively.
My initial objectives on leaving are roughly to:
- Leave all the objects and stuff I own behind for a year. Take only the items I think I need to survive (see list of things I left with below).
- Visit the major Amazon distribution centres in the UK. I’m selecting Amazon DCs not because I want to make a political statement about Amazon in particular but because rightly or wrongly I order from them all the time (they are convenient and efficient) and the warehouses are physically massive. They are cathedrals, albeit invisible and unthought of from the comfort of home – holy sites of consumer worship from where we buy our identities – sites of pilgrimage.
- Order a pilgrims badge from Amazon when I arrive at each Amazon DC.
- Collect plastic artefacts found en route.
- Collect samples to measure concentration of plastic in the air on behalf of Steph at King College London.
- Collect stories, mementos, etc.
- Read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
- Write a modern Canterbury Tale – The Conspicuous Consumer’s Tale / The Amazon Workers Tale…
- Film net experiments performance around the UK. To be a series of film shorts.
- Travel via container ship from the UK to New Zealand – assuming the identity of an object being shipped around the world – revisiting the journey my mother made aged 3 when she first came to the UK by sea – exploring my grandfather’s life at sea in the merchant navy.
- Cycle around New Zealand – considering bereavement – personal loss and environmental loss.
- Cycle more – considering the body and the impact of pollution on the environment and health.
- Overcome pain and fear, feel joy, feel alive.
- Exhibit the outcome.
Rather than buying from a big brand I wanted to support an independent business and searching online discovered Oxford Bike Works near Didcot Parkway.
Having ridden this bike around for the past few weeks I have to say it is truely amazing. Able to carry all my stuff, stable off road and fast on road. It also has a dynamo on the front wheel which keeps my phone charged throughout the day. I love it!
Sincere thanks to Richard for his time and advice and for building me a beautiful, strong expedition bike that will go anywhere…
What I Left Home With
I have everything anyone could ever need and more. Based on this I have tried to not buy anything new with the exception of the bike (stronger than my road bike), bike tool and pump (didn’t have one), tent (lighter and more portable than the one I have), pannier bags (didn’t have any), bungee ropes (didn’t have any), walking shoes (didn’t have any), my notebook and pens (I’m an artist), gas burner (reviews tell me its easier to find gas than meths in Asia – am I going there? Yes, no, maybe), saucepan (mine are heavy and all have handles and this one is lightweight and specifically for camping). All bought online so I didn’t feel like I bought them – there was just the short satisfaction, anticipation and reward of the purchase. Then they arrived, I unwrapped them and put them on a shelf ready to go.
These are the items I have started with… and yes, it is more than I showed in the exhibition in May.
- Ortleib pannier bags x 4
- Puncture repair kit
- Topeak Alien2 bike tool
- Topeak smartphone drybag
- Topeak Road Morph G bike pump with gauge
- Spare inner tube
- Spare spoke
- Spare nuts and bolts
- USB front and rear lights
- Bike lock & cable
- MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping bag liner
- Camping mat
- Foil survival blanket
- Head torch
- Trangia gas stove
- Trangia saucepan & frying pan
- Plastic mug
- Metal spork
- Sharp small kitchen knife
- Lighters x 2
- Dry bags x 4
- Water bottles x 3
- Mountain Equipment waterproof jacket
- Mountain Equipment mid layer jacket
- Haglofs down jacket
- Merino short sleeve cycling jersey
- Polyester long sleeve cycling top
- Icebreaker merino long sleeve thermal top
- Icebreaker merino thermal leggings
- Gore C5 padded cycling shorts
- Gore cycling leg tubes
- Merrell waterproof walking shoes
- Waterproof overshoes
- Flip flops
- Yellow poncho
- Fingerless cycling gloves
- Grey jeans
- Blue long sleeve shirt
- Socks x 5
- Pants x 5
- Bras x 2
- Buff scarf
Toiletries & First Aid
- Travel towel
- Mini shower gel
- Mini hairbrush
- Chamois cream
- Nail clippers
- Adhesive stitches
- Alcohol wipes x 2
- Antiseptic cream
- Bite cream
- Bug spray
- Sun cream
- Eczema cream
- Piriton antihistamine pills
- Pregabalin (neck/shoulder nerve impingement)
- Nikon DSLR camera
- Nikon 50mm lens
- Nikon batteries x 3
- Sandisk SD cards x 6
- Remote shutter release
- Flexi grip tripod
- Green hammock
- The Canterbury Tales
- iPhone, USB cable & plug
- Battery pack & USB
- Black pens x 2
- Promarker felt tip pens x 4
- Pencil & lead
- Hard boiled eggs x 6
- Cooked aubergine x 2
- Tinned tomatoes
- Cooked puy lentils
- Cheddar cheese
- Nectarines x 2
- Tomatoes x 2
- Brasil nuts
- Garlic bulb
- Sel de Guérande
- Vegetable stock cubes
- Zigante truffle paste
First Four Weeks
It dawned on me the other day that I look like an adult touring cyclist. All the serious cyclists wave or nod as they pass me. I’m in the club! I’ve only seen one other couple touring – they were from Taiwan, in their 60s, and on their way to Ireland on a three month trip.
So far I’ve cycled from London to St Davids in Pembrokeshire mostly via the Sustrans National Cycle Route (NCR) 4 with a few diversions to visit friends and places I’ve felt drawn to, in particular: Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain where my Dad is mostly scattered to the winds, past Salisbury where I was born, past Silton where Mum and the other bit of Dad are buried, Mere where I grew up, Shaftesbury to visit friends, Bath where I lived as a teenager and young adult, Bristol to visit friends, Cardiff to have a gander (and very nice it was too) and to join the NCR 8 / Taff Trail to Pontypridd, Merthyr Tydfil and Brecon, and then on via Swansea and Carmarthenshire. En route I’ve also stopped at the first two of my Amazon waypoints, Bristol and Swansea where I collected some bits and bobs for art.
So what’s it like being an adult touring cyclist a month in? Mostly it’s bliss – I’m lost in my head considering: art, is this art, what art am I going to make of this, I need to stop overthinking this and enjoy myself, the meaning of life, sublime landscapes, how tired my legs feel, the environment, mass consumption, overpopulation, collapse, how long I could do this for, when will my shoulder stop hurting, friends, family, emotions, how much water I have left, how much phone battery I have left, where to camp tonight, is it warm enough to wash my clothes, a year will never be enough. Should I detour to see that amazing thing? Oh there’s another massive hill? No. And I’ve had some incredible moments of clarity, which I’ve since forgotten being too lost in the motion and physicality of it all to bring myself to stop and write them down.
It’s bliss when it’s flat, downhill, when it’s barren and dramatic (even uphill) and when there’s an exciting destination. It’s not bliss when the uphill gradients are marked with percentages and follow one after another. Worthy only of a new language of expletive noises, relentless hills and country lanes are losing their appeal and I’m longing for a nice flat canal path. That said I’m now headed for Snowdonia and have been debating getting rid of things to reduce my weight. So far I’ve swapped out my clip-in pedals for flat MTB pedals so now only need one pair of shoes. My spare shoes have been sent home along with the old pedals, a merino base layer and a Tupperware box. My very heavy DSLR camera is still under consideration and it’s a tough call.
The other blissful thing about cycling and being alone is not having to speak to anyone (introvert) but I have met lots of interesting characters including a guy who spat at me after he stepped out into the road in front of me, and a couple from Scunthorpe who were very happily camping with their four rescue cats (one cremated), a TV for the footie and a sewing machine. Thanks to them for offering me water, electricity, bacon butties, doughnuts and for being so wonderfully cheerful and chatty.
What I’ve Bought So Far…
Mostly food… I’m preparing all my own meals but can only carry about a days worth of food. Nothing goes to waste. Essential basics include: eggs (hard boiled), bread, muesli, Brazil nuts, peanut butter, garlic, sel de Guerande, vegetable stock cubes, olive oil, Zigante truffle paste (from Natasa).
A typical shop looks something like: two fresh vegetables (no cooking required), 150g tin of tuna, 250g pre-cooked lentils, one tin of chopped tomatoes, one fresh fruit. I did splash out and bought a pack of streaky bacon the other day but then realised I had to eat it all in one go.
I can’t carry milk so haven’t bothered to make much tea or coffee. I’ve been adding a splash of cold water to my tea to avoid burning my lips. Muesli in the morning is with water (if you leave it long enough it pretty much turns into almond milk anyway).
Trying to avoid plastic but… carrier bags are super useful to contain leaks, it’s a tough call to decide upon peanut butter in a glass jar (weighs a lot), lentils need containing (otherwise unruly).
Other stuff… A sun hat, t-shirt for off the bike, MTB flat pedals to swap out the clip-in pedals (as mentioned I finally decided this was the way to go to reduce to one pair of shoes and less to go wrong), new camping mat (the previous one had an unlocatable puncture).
NCR4 Kennet & Avon Canal Severn Bridge Cardiff Pontypridd Brecon Beacons Machynys Penninsula Newgale Beach St Davids Cathedral
What goes through my mind when I decide which food to buy? For the past couple of years I’ve been trying to reduce my use of plastic. I’m by no means perfect but where I can I try to opt for food with no packaging (and choose natural over synthetic materials when I select clothes, shoes or things). I rarely buy processed or preprepared foods, preferring to cook myself, but with so much food in supermarkets sold wrapped including fruit and vegetables it doesn’t leave a huge amount of choice. Fortunately I love garlic, broccoli, aubergine and tomato.
This is a lot easier to manage when at home!
Other criteria that I take into consideration are additives, manufacturing processes, land use, ethical sourcing, animal welfare, sustainability, is it seasonal, is it local, water and carbon footprint. I don’t live prohibitively but I am conscientious and I’m lucky to be able to afford to make these choices.
My food shopping in particular is restricted to reduce plastic packaging as much as possible. This is a lot easier to manage when at home! I try to only buy loose vegetables and fruit which doesn’t leave much choice in the average supermarket but fortunately I love aubergine and tomato. I have totally failed on the plastic front when it comes to buying grains / pulses etc.
Breakfast… is mostly always Dorset cereals nutty muesli with water, sometimes followed by a tea or coffee. I can only have one at a time as both are in my plastic mug.
Eggs, tomato, cheese, bread, peanut butter, vegetables, fruit
Dinner… 250g Lentils / pulses / grains with a garlic clove, tin of tomatoes and veg… once cooked the saucepan becomes my plate and then the washing up bowl. The frying pan doubles up as a lid for the saucepan to make heating liquid / food more efficient.
Climate Research at Borth Bog
A couple of weeks ago I visited Cors Fochno, a peat bog near to the village of Borth, just north of Aberystwyth. The bog measures up to 7m in depth and dates back approximately 1000 years per metre. Set in close proximity to the sea and barely elevated, it is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and home to many unusual plant species.
Peatlands help to address climate change by storing carbon – in fact they hold more than all other vegetation in the world including forests. However, if damaged (drained / converted for agricultural use / polluted / mined and burned for fuel) they can also release huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
I met Dr Richard Payne, Lecturer in Environmental Geography at the University of York and three of his students, to learn about peat and to help record the output of experiments set up across the bog monitoring the effect of a warming climate on the environment. We spent the day identifying, sampling, and recording varieties of plant species and peat mosses such as Sphagnum pulchrum and the larger Sphagnum papillosum in the hope of finding a species of amoeba previously discovered by Rich. Peat cores also were extracted to measure the water level, pH and conductivity values, and greenhouse gas emissions were measured in sunlight and in darkness.
Thanks to Rich and the team for inviting me to join them for the day and introducing me to an interesting and important area of climate research.
I’ve been cycling for almost three months and am now capable of peddling for hours, day after day, over any terrain. Mostly alone, my mind wanders with thoughts, questions, notes to self and realisations that evaporate as quickly as they materialise. I feel lethargic on days off and aware of how lazy I am by nature but I’m learning what I love and realising that I’m really good at it. Using my body like this is for me physically obsessive – I can’t stop. It’s psychologically and emotionally avoidant – almost free of anxiety. It’s lonely and perhaps dysfunctional but I feel present and happy.
Arriving at a place I’ve longed to visit I find myself planning my next route rather than exploring. None of the destinations really matter although I find myself drawn to cities and towns I’m not particularly inclined to visit their centres, museums, galleries. I’m not interested in their politics, gossip, competition or power. I’m more interested in the act of being here – passing through – getting a sense of a place. Feeling sleepy villages, edgy rundown terraces, buzzing high street clones, sublime landscapes, weather, temperature, gradients, nature. Realising the pointlessness of it all again and again and filling that void.
I had an interesting conversation with my friend Ruth this week who suggested I could cycle to all the Apple Stores in the UK. Thinking in these terms there are so many options. I had originally included food distribution centres in my plan but discounted them in the end to make the number of destinations less overwhelming. But why did I chose Amazon?
I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what to do when this journey ends; balancing off road shale and rocks; descending hills at the highest speed; resisting lorries by centimetres – all without even the slightest anxiety .
I feel I need to explain and justify what I’m doing, if only to myself but thoughts are transient. Reasoning is quickly boring and forgotten; my mind is like an infinite conveyor belt of momentary thoughts and my body is now capable of just keeping on going. I’ve reached a point where I can pedal for hours and hours and power up and hill.