Planning update: 5 months until departure

2017 was once an abstract notion: that's the year we quit our jobs, that's the year we leave our homes, that's the year we start biking our way around the world. In the comfort of 2016, it was something far-off, a whole calendar away. But now it's 2017, and so now this is the year we quit our jobs, the year we leave our homes, the year we start biking our way around the world. Things are getting close, anxiety is mounting (excitement too!), and planning is getting serious. Here's what we've gotten done this past month (having spent the last few weeks of December enjoying some really lovely time in Mexico, it hasn't been too much), and what we still have to do.

Note: Though the last planning update was posted only a month ago and titled "7 months until departure," I think it was actually closer to 6 months. The plan is still to leave in early-to-mid-June, so we're now—I think—only about five months away.

The end of December was spent relaxing in the warmth of Mexico's Yucatan, far from the burdens of planning for our big bike trip.

The end of December was spent relaxing in the warmth of Mexico's Yucatan, far from the burdens of planning for our big bike trip.

Bikes & Gear

I'll be writing more about this soon [UPDATE: 'A kinda-sorta review of the Salsa Marrakesh we'll be taking on tour'], but the big decision of December has been to leave my beloved Ritchey bike at home for this trip and instead build up a new bike better suited to the rough roads and heavy loads. That bike will be a modified Salsa Marrakesh—same as Lauren's—and will offer better gearing, more frame mounts, wider tire clearance, disc brakes, and an all-around beefier frame than the bicycle I'd toured with in Morocco, Iceland, and home from Pittsburgh. 

That decision strikes some things off the list—a visit to a welder, a visit to a wheelbuilder, some time spent retrofitting chainrings and whatnot—but adds the task of compiling and assembling a new bicycle. I'll probably get started on the bike this month, and hope to get plenty of riding on it done before we take off. Lauren's bike, meanwhile, is just about all ready to go.

Gear-wise, we've been slowly chipping away at our shopping list. I got a tiny, tiny pillow for the many nights of camping, and a few new pieces of clothing to put up with wide temperature ranges and tough conditions (the frigid winter temperatures of Washington, DC are providing a great opportunity to test our warm clothes).

Visas & paperwork

We can't exactly get visas until we get new passports (we're replacing our 28-page, still-pretty-new ones with 52-page, empty ones for the plenty of visas and entry stamps and exit stamps we'll need room for), and we couldn't get new passports while we were using them in Mexico, so now that we're back (with no plans to leave the country in the next three-to-five weeks), we'll be submitting our passport renewal applications this month. After that, we'll spend a little more time determining which visas (if any) it's really worth getting before we leave—probably Sudan and maybe Ethiopia—and start applying for those.

Vaccinations

There won't be anything new on this front until six weeks before we depart, which is the earliest our health insurer is willing to provide the shots. That said, we know what we need, and we're assured we will be able to receive those vaccinations. Just not yet.

Flights

We'll probably book our flights to Botswana in early March, and probably start researching fares in February. For now, there's not much to report (or do).

Making the announcement

The holidays presented plenty of time to tell family and loved ones about our trip, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive. Of course, the warnings have started coming, too—people who have never been to Africa warning how dangerous Africa is, people who have never been bike touring assuring us that we will, indeed, be killed within our first week on the road—and these are a little grating but also borne out of genuine concern and well-intentioned love—so we've done our best just to smile and assuage concerns.

A growing number of folks at my office are aware of the trip; I'll probably formally announce my departure (which is still a good five months away) in the next few weeks.

Internet stuff

The site is up, the mailing list is operational for those looking to receive these updates in their inboxes (you can subscribe right in the sidebar or down in the footer), and there's not a whole lot left to do before leaving. We're experimenting with a way for loved ones to track our location from a passive app that'll sit on my phone—more on that in a future post, probably—but it's maybe a little too exact for us to share publicly.

Finances

Saving continues. This month we'll probably open a Charles Schwab account that offers no international ATM fees, and get a Chase Sapphire Reserve card that'll offer some travel credit, travel points, and no foreign transaction fees.

Everything else

I'm working my way through a series of Kindle sample chapters of books about wilderness survival and first aid and bushcraft and that sort of thing. We'll probably choose one or two to buy and read them from cover to cover a few times before we leave, because the best antidote for anxiety and fear is knowledge and preparation, and we could probably use a little more instruction on what to do if we come across a lion (an actual chapter in one of the books) or get heatstroke or break a finger. (Any reading recommendations on the subject?)

Though we traveled the Yucatan by car this time around, we spotted two separate pairs of loaded bike tourers en route to Chichen Itza from opposite directions (as well as a handful coming in or out of Mérida, the Yucatan's capital city).

Though we traveled the Yucatan by car this time around, we spotted two separate pairs of loaded bike tourers en route to Chichen Itza from opposite directions (as well as a handful coming in or out of Mérida, the Yucatan's capital city).