Last month, the departure date for our big bike trip was just five months away. The plan has been to leave in mid-June, and that's still roughly the plan. But it's more likely we'll take a little time States-side between leaving our jobs and leaving the country, so I suppose we won't really be arriving in Botswana, panniers in hand, until the first few days of July. With that said, here's what we managed over the past six weeks, and the plenty we still have to do.
Bikes & gear
I've been inside a lot of bike shops these first few months of 2017. My original plan—to build a custom Salsa Marrakesh from the frameset up—crashed up against the hard realities of expense (buying individual parts can get costly quickly) and availability (I couldn't find a local Salsa distributor with the frame I wanted in stock), but with a stroke of luck, I was able to locate a sole Marrakesh on clearance in the District of Columbia (from my favorite bike shop, no less). It was a really pretty green and being sold at a great price; however, it was both a flat-bar version (which I did not want) and an extra-small frame (which I could not ride).
Fortunately, the good folks at the shop worked a little magic. They swapped out the flat bar for a drop bar, extending the reach and fitting it just right for someone my size. I picked it up a few weeks ago and it's just lovely (but more about that in a future post).
With a pair of Marrakeshes in hand, we snagged some two-inch (50mm) Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires for a bargain, and began chipping away at our shopping list of gear still to get: fuel bottles, some warm and durable clothing, shoes, and a lovely little basket for the front of my bike. We decided to follow the crowd and settle on a tried-and-tested MSR Whisperlite stove instead of the Primus OmniFuel alternative we were planning on, and over the next month we'll be picking up the rest of what we need: the remaining first aid supplies, a few travel-sized bike tools, spokes and inner tubes and spare nuts and bolts, and a few kilos of dehydrated food to start our journey with.
This month, I've spent about six hours staring at my new bicycle trying to determine how to most efficiently use its existing bottle mounts to carry a large supply of water. I have yet to reach an acceptable solution. More on that next month, I hope.
Visas & paperwork
Last month, we had a president who acted rationally and, with some notable exceptions, remained tolerant of those from other countries. This month, we have a president who chose to kick off his tenure by banning a few hundred million people from entry into America, offending a few hundred million more, and setting off a series of retaliatory measures by the seven governments whose citizens he targeted.
This means a lot of bad things for a lot of good people, but for the purposes of our little bike trip, it means Sudan and Iran (two countries we were planning on cycling through) are wholly unlikely to issue us visas. There are ways east without traveling through Iran, but there really aren't any reasonable ways north without traveling through Sudan. That means our eastern Africa leg may get cut short (no Sudan, no Egypt) if things don't change between now and this autumn. Of course, we wouldn't have been able to get either visa before leaving the States, anyway, so we'll just wait and see what happens after our trip begins.
Of the few things we can do before leaving—namely, getting new passports and getting Ethiopian visas—we're making slow progress. For a little while we thought about saving a few hundred dollars (for now) and just traveling on our current (fairly new, 28-page passports) instead of getting brand new 52-page ones, then stopping at an embassy somewhere along the way (and waiting up to a month for shipping and processing) if our passports started filling up.
But then I counted the number of actual pages in a 28-page passport and realized you don't get anywhere close to 28 pages for visas and stamps. A good third of each passport is filled with information and disclaimers and pages and pages of travel tips and warnings and quotes. We're sure to need more than the twenty pages or so available, so in the passport renewal applications went (along with $220), just last week, for a pair of non-standard 52-page books.
We have not bought flights yet. We will probably buy flights next month. We did, however, reach consensus on approximately when we'll be flying: likely the first few days of July.
Telling people about the trip
Last month, I unofficially submitted my official resignation, which is to say I told the people who kindly employ me that I will be leaving my employment sometime in June, but I don't yet have a date and won't be ready to do the official things—providing a date, signing paperwork, whatever—for another few months. They were encouraging and gracious. Lots of friends have been really excited and enthusiastic about the trip, and that has been plenty appreciated and made me really excited and enthusiastic, too.
Saving continues, fervently. This month we opened a joint checking account that offers no ATM fees worldwide (Charles Schwab High-Yield Checking, if you're curious), and I snagged a Chase Sapphire Reserve card (during the last few days of its 100,000-point sign-up bonus) that provides a few travel perks and no foreign transaction fees.
There's still another four(ish) months of these boring planning posts before the bike- and adventure-filled tales from the road can begin, but for a few bike- and adventure-filled tales from the road in the meantime, I wrote up a little about our journey around Iceland a few weeks back. That's all for now.