We've had almost a year to plan for this trip, and time is finally up. Our flight to South Africa leaves in a week, and we'll be on it, ready or not. Are we ready? No. Are we approaching ready? Maybe. Here's what we've been up to the past month.
Bikes & gear
Our packlist is nearly complete. It's been a month of orders and returns, of tough decisions and hard sacrifices, of debating and deciding just how worth it that extra pair of socks will be three or four months from now. New gear has been tried on and tested. Our bike repair kit has swelled considerably. Daypacks have gotten sorted, new helmets are on the way, and hefty two-inch tires have been squeezed onto all four of our wheels. Oh, and we got a new tent!
The plan has been to travel the world with our trusty Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2. It's a good, lightweight, compact, durable tent, and saw us happily around Iceland and other adventures. It's roomy enough for two averaged-sized people between dusk and dawn. But for a trip this lengthy, it felt a bit spartan. Our tent will be our home almost every night, our shelter from the world. It'll need to keep us dry and comfortable and sane. When storms or snow or high winds roll in, we'll be stuck in it for long hours, perhaps days. Some elbow room would be nice.
Good backpacking tents are expensive, so we held off. But a camping trip last week in a friend's four-person tent got us envying the extra space, and we did a little searching afterwards for a deal on a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL4 (our old tent's bigger and newer cousin). We found a killer bargain (sadly no longer available, as we snagged the only one remaining): a 20% discount and a free footprint with purchase, all tax-free, shipping included. I managed to grab an extra 10% off by subscribing to (and quickly unsubscribing from) the newsletter, and our brand new $740 tent ($650 + a $90 footprint) came out to just $468.
It still wasn't cheap, but oh, the room. Our old tent (the UL2) weighed 1,417g, packed down to 5.5" x 17", and provided 29 square feet of space (90" long, 52" wide, and 42" high), with 18 square feet of coverage in the outdoor vestibules. At 2,551g, our new tent (the HV UL4) is a bit heavier, but packs down to a pretty comparable 5" x 21.5". Pitched, it offers a totally spacious 57 square feet (96" long, 86" wide, 50" high), plus 28 square feet in the vestibules. Having lived in a 145-square-foot house for the past five years, a 57-square-foot tent seems simply palatial.
Meanwhile, our bikes have been in the shop, taking advantage of the free first-year tune-ups that came with their purchase. We'll pick them up this week, cables tightened, chains oiled, and ready for our first bumpy leg through Africa.
Visas & paperwork
June came and went without any real attempt to get those Chinese visas we talked about last month. That leaves us with an uncertain future in crossing Asia, as Lauren's still lacking a usable Indian visa, and both China and India pretty heavily insist their entry paperwork be applied for in one's home country (for us, the States). But it's time to go, so that'll be a problem left for future Lauren and future Jay to sort out.
I quit my job, and Lauren has just a few days left at hers. Travel notifications have been set for our credit and debit cards. Four hundred books have been loaded onto the Kindles. Almost everyone we know now knows about the trip, and we're getting peppered with questions, words of encouragement, and dire warnings on a daily basis.
Oh, and I moved my house! For those unfamiliar about this little place I keep talking about, the short of it is that it's on wheels, needed to move before we left, and a few weeks back, finally got where it needed to be. While we travel, it'll stay in the backyard of some really wonderful friends here in the District of Columbia.
The move wasn't so bad, but setting up in the backyard was a little difficult and involved (I discovered later) quite a bit of contact with poison ivy. After a few weeks of itching, burning, and blistering, my legs are just beginning to heal, and I'm looking forward to flying off to a part of the world where the stuff simply doesn't grow.
Our last week at home is set to be a whirlwind of errands, packing, farewells, and setting the general tense of this little blog from the future to the present. Then it's off to Cape Town, where we've been really kindly invited into a pair of homes through WarmShowers and Couchsurfing. We'll spend five nights reacquainting ourselves with the area, sleeping off some jetlag, putting our bikes back together, and meeting some really wonderful people.
And then, north we go.