Once per month until we depart on our 'round-the-world bike trip, we'll be sharing an update on what we've been doing and the lots we still have to do before we take off. Because this is the first of those updates, it's a tiny bit longer than the rest and covers everything we've taken care of up until now. We hope it'll be a useful little series for someone out there overwhelmed by the logistics of embarking on a long cycling tour, but as always, don't treat it too authoritatively until it's apparent we've actually made it to Botswana in one piece (and without forgetting anything).
Bikes & gear
The only truly essential part of a bike trip, we've been fortunate to have a good headstart on getting together everything we need. Our bikes have been tried and tested around town and on a few (much shorter) bike tours, and the majority of the equipment we'll need (clothes, camping supplies, panniers, etc.) has been collected over the years for one trip or another.
Last month, we picked up most of what we're still missing (like additional first aid supplies), but we still need to get the remainder of our first aid kit (specifically the medicines with a shorter shelf life, which we'll hold off on buying until the spring), a new stove (our canister-based stove won't be versatile enough for this trip, so we'll need a multifuel variety), and a few odds and ends the next time our outdoor gear co-op is having a sale.
As for the bikes: built for touring, Lauren's Salsa Marrakesh is just about ready to go, but my road bike will need some extra work for the harsh conditions the world's sure to throw at us. Over the winter and spring I'll be getting beefy 36-spoke touring rims built, retrofitting the fork with a few braze-ons, slapping on a fresh set of tires, and changing out the cassette and rear derailleur for a little extra range when climbing mountains with lots of water weight.
Visas & paperwork
The second most vital part of cross-country bike travel, some visas require a long lead time and thus early planning is pretty important. We have yet to get a single visa, but after looking into the requirements for the countries we're expecting to pass through during our first six months in eastern Africa, it doesn't seem like we'll have to plan a whole lot. Most of these countries—Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda—provide visas on arrival or don't require a visa at all. We'll probably pick up an Ethiopian visa before we leave DC, as it's good for two years from the date of issue, and we'll definitely have to do a bit more digging on Sudanese visas, as they can be tricky (and expensive). We're certain to run into bigger bureaucratic headaches getting through central and eastern Asia—particularly if our new government starts restricting travel and immigration access to America from certain regions and provokes some in-kind retaliation—but we'll probably figure this all out en route, as it's sure to change anyway and we won't really know where we're going and when we'll actually be arriving until we're already on the road.
We might also need new passports. The US Department of State recently ended their practice of adding twenty-six extra pages to a twenty-six-page passport that's run out of space; instead, Americans who need more stamp room have to get a whole new twenty-six-page or fifty-two-page passport (for over a hundred bucks). This is super-obnoxious because I just got a new passport last year (after having one stolen in Namibia) and totally could have (and should have) chosen the fifty-two-page option when I did. So it goes.
Truthfully, neither of us may actually require more than twenty-six pages on our travels (visas aren't necessarily in pretty much the whole of South America, for instance), but getting a replacement passport from outside your home country is a real hassle, so it's probably better safe than sorry. We're heading to Mexico later this month and will need our passports in hand for that, so we'll probably try to renew them in January or February. We're fortunate to find ourselves living in the District of Columbia, so actually heading over to the State Department is an easy (if still annoying) errand.
Kaiser Permanente, our health insurance provider, has been a bit difficult to talk to this far from our departure date. The travel department, which supplies travel vaccinations, absolutely refuses to even discuss shots with patients until six weeks before departure, and so it's been tough to lock down exactly what we need and whether we can get it under our health plans. Based on a skim of recommended vaccinations for the countries we think we may cycle through from the Center of Disease Control's website, I'm already covered for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, yellow fever, and chicken pox, but I’m still in need of a rabies shot, a meningitis booster, a polio booster, and two doses of the Japanese encephalitis vaccine. Oh, and a flu shot. Lauren is pretty similarly immunized, and so will need about the same.
Nothing is booked just yet. We’ll probably start looking seriously at tickets come January, with six months out providing pretty good fares. Of course, a plane ticket tethers you to a starting point, and though we’re pretty sure we want to begin our journey in Botswana, we’ll have to commit to that fully before picking out our flights.
Making the announcement
We’ve been telling friends and family about our trip for a few months now, though often only if it comes up (say, in someone asking us where we’ll be traveling next, which is a question we get quite a bit). I have yet to officially tell my office that I’ll be leaving, but it’s no secret—again, I’ve mentioned it to colleagues as often as it’s relevant. We’ll probably both continue working until the end of May, so I figure I’ll formally submit my notice sometime in the new year (given the absolute chaos currently engulfing America’s federal government, I don’t imagine I’ll be the only one).
As for telling the rest of the world, it’s been a busy month or two. Lauren and I started building this site in early October, writing content and putting it all online just last week. Since we won’t be bringing a laptop with us and all of our blogging will be by phone (and wireless keyboard), we want to be sure everything works just the way it should long before we leave. Our shiny new @simplycycling.org email addresses got set up this week, as did the ability to get updates about our trip sent straight to your inbox. We’re straight squatting on an Instagram handle (@simplycycling) until we leave, and with the exception of a Facebook page Lauren may or may not create and manage for us, we’re going to try to keep our online lives pretty simple and undemanding while on the road—to leave time for, you know, enjoying being on the road.
Route planning & research
I think we’ve done about all the research we need to do, which is to say not a whole lot. We won’t be following a careful route, nor will we be bringing along a guidebook, so there isn’t exactly much to plan. Before leaving we’ll be sure to download some bike repair videos to our phones and certainly some local literature to our Kindles, but beyond that we’re aiming to just take the road as it comes toward us.
Simply put, we’re saving everything we can. I took out a forbearance on my outrageous student loans in order to pocket those payments for the next seven months, and for complicated reasons that aren’t all that relevant, it’s actually not as terrible an idea as it sounds. I’ve made a note to get my credit card upgraded (to one with no foreign transaction fees) and reissued (to an expiration date in the distant future so it won't stop working mid-trip) come May, and I also learned that my really, really lovely bank, though wonderful in every other way, doesn’t exactly manage long-term travel all that well. That means we’ll need a new bank account for the trip (I found a Charles Schwab one with no foreign ATM fees) that we’ll have to set up this spring.
Lauren rents a room in a group house and has some stuff, and I own a tiny, moveable house with less stuff, and each presents its own challenges. This winter Lauren will need to find a place to store the things she won’t be taking with her, and I’ll need to find a place to store the house I won’t be taking with me. This is really, really stressful, but I think I have a solution that, if it works out, would be really, really wonderful.
We both bike a lot and are in pretty good shape, so we don’t really anticipate "training" much before leaving. But with new gear (like a stove), new racks (on the fork), and new rims and a new gearing system, we definitely want to do some test rides between now and June. We’ll try for a few overnights in the DC area early this spring (and maybe even one this winter to see how we fare in the cold we're sure to encounter).
Oh, and the emotions
Lauren, I think, is feeling a little nervous, and I’m feeling maybe equal parts nervous (mostly about wild animals) and excited (mostly about everything else). The trip is definitely taking shape, and it’s not just something we’re idly chatting amongst ourselves about anymore, and that’s scary and daunting but also really thrilling. There are certainly plenty more butterflies to be had between now and June (and more updates, too).
Any really vital part of planning a long bike trip that we’re absentmindedly forgetting? Let us know!