Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fewer Keys = More Freedom

I was thinking back on my life, as one does, and it occured to me that the times when I have had the most personal freedom to travel and do as I pleased were when I had few or no keys in my pocket. Coincidence? Maybe. But I have tried to stay on the opposite end of the spectrum from the building superintendant who has a hundred keys hanging from his belt on a retractable keychain and a vacationless life where people are calling him 24/7 to fix something.

As a contrast, this is my keychain as of today:

I am currently down to one key, the ignition key to my truck. I am working and staying at a ranch house in rural Texas out in the boonies that never gets locked so I only need my truck key. I had two keys until last week when I realized that I never lock the rear canopy door on the truck and took it off the keychain and tossed it into the glovebox along with all my other keys that I never use. Of course I have other keys in my life, but I don’t carry them around with me. I have a key to my house in Nebraska which I haven’t been to in a year. It is sitting on top of the electric meter outside the rear door so anyone who needs to can get in while I’m gone. I don’t lock my house when I’m there so I just leave it there permanently. I will use it to open up the house and mow my lawn when I get back there next month. But I have to get to Oregon so may only spend a few days there this year.

I have motorcycles spread out around the world and leave the ignition keys in the igniton so I can find them. There are currently 3 in Oregon, 2 in Arizona and a Super Sherpa in Uruguay. I need to sell 4 of those motorcycles but haven’t found the time to do so.

When traveling by motorcycle this winter I will go up to 2 keys. One for the ignition and one for the rear locking box where I keep my laptop, sleeping bag, GPS, iPod and tent.

I used to have a mailbox key on my kitchen window sill, but haven’t been to the post office in a year and am currently sending any mail to my sister’s house in Oregon so will likely give my free post office box up in Nebraska. One less key to keep track of.

The last time I had no keys was when I sold everything I owned and traveled around the world for a year with a daypack:

That was an amazing trip. Getting rid of everything I owned was like having a giant weight lifted from my shoulders. No material possessions to worry about except what was on my back. What a freeing feeling!

Having nothing taught me that I like having a few nice things though. Like a place to call home and a truck and tools to work with. And of course some motorcycles. I have struck a balance between too much and too little that works for me now. While I admire the sadhus of India and Nepal who renounce the material world, smear ashes and colored clay on their bodies, let their hair grow out and wear only a loincloth (and have no keys):

Although they look a little strange to westerners, I have met some pretty cool sadhus in India. They have only a few possessions that they carry in a little bag. A chillum, brass bowl to eat out of and for people to drop donation coins when they are sitting in front of a temple, a loincloth and some prayer beads. That’s about it. Being a motorcycling minimalist is a few levels up from the sadhus as far as the renouncing the material world part of their daily practice. I hope to get back to the Himalayas after I have finished exploring South America. It is a magical place. Not to worry though. I’m not going to trade this laptop for a loincloth anytime soon. It’s too much fun posting random stories on the internet. Eventually it will be a non-sequential autobiography no doubt.


  1. by releasing the restraints on life, you experience life to its fullest

    1. Hi Ken,

      That's what I'm talking about. Although you say it in a much more concise, poetic almost haiku-like way.


  2. Sure is great to be reading your posts again John, even though I enjoyed your letters from the pen. Your thoughts above suggest that a keychain could be analogous to an anchor chain; more keys = heavier anchor. I know that leaving all work-related keys behind on retirement day sure lightened my burden, and a light load makes for a happy wanderer!

    1. Hey Clif,
      Your stories of life in Peru and Andean flying escapades that you mailed me in jail were GREAT entertainment. I'm going to go dig through the large pile of mail I carted out of there when they released me and post some of your stories here so a wider audience can read them. You need to write a book amigo.

      Your prison pen pal and literary agent,