We've now been on the road a little longer than a month. As far as months go, it's been a tough one. Since leaving our wonderful hosts in Cape Town, we've been challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally. We've put ourselves through more isolation, desolation, rough roads, hard days, arduous climbs and stubborn headwinds than we'd bargained for. At times we've been bored, frustrated, and hopeless. But here in the small outposts of the Kalahari, we've forged human connections that have warmed us to the bone.
Area where there is nothing. This is what Namibia means in Khoekhoe, the language of the Nama people. It is a large place, Namibia. It is twice the size of California, a twelfth the size of the entire United States. And yet, life here is sparse. California holds some forty million people; Namibia is home to just two million. With fewer than three persons per square kilometer, it's the fifth least densely populated country on Earth.
From July 8 (when we began our trip) until the end of the month, we spent 2,301 ZAR on food, 2,959 ZAR on accommodations, and 120 ZAR on everything else. In total, we spent 5,380 ZAR (399 USD) in 24 days, at an average of 224 ZAR per day (112 ZAR, or 8 USD, per person).
By the time we drag ourselves from our cozy room and into the quiet streets of Loeriesfontein, it's well past noon. We're outside the Spar, the local grocery, filling our already-overstuffed panniers with over five days of food. The bikes sway under the weight of our rations. Accompanying the spaghetti and peanut butter and noodles and chips is water. Lots of it. Over sixteen pounds of water is strapped to my rear rack in a pair of bulging plastic bladders. Twenty-five additional pounds' worth are carried in a collection of eight bottles split between the two of us.
The days northward begin to blend together. The roads and the hills and the rest stops begin weaving into a tapestry of sights and smells, a patchwork of rough and smooth textures. There are challenging climbs and there are thrilling descents. There are tailwinds and many headwinds. There are many honks and waves of encouragement, plenty of quick encounters packing up outside the grocery.
I've said before that Cape Town is a terrible place for a bicycle. We do our best to head north, but our best doesn't get us very far. The oceanside promenade from Sea Point to the Waterfront disintegrates just east of the main tourist drag, and the first moments of our worldwide bike tour are interrupted by a large set of stairs calling it all to a halt.
It's daybreak, wherever we are.
Above the clouds, above the earth, above Africa. Down below lie vast open spaces. They're punctuated by thin meandering lines of tar or dirt or single-track. Up here there are no borders, few landmarks. I look out the window and gaze down at our coming months.
Boats make for good metaphors. Well-worn metaphors. The one here I'm borrowing from somewhere. The high seas, it goes, are a dangerous place. An uncertain place. There are waves and weather and sea monsters real and imagined. The ocean swallows up little boats without a thought. It's best, then, to stay in the harbor. But ships are not meant to idle in the bay.
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.
Coping with the inevitable mishaps of life and travel is largely a matter of mindset. Unpredictability is the defining feature of an adventure. Thus, embracing adventure means welcoming both the good and the bad. Welcoming the good is easy; welcoming the bad can be more challenging. So to make the latter a tad easier, we've created a bleak little game for ourselves called Bike Touring Bingo.
I've spent almost seven years—seven years!—going to the same place at the same time on the same days of the week. Those seven years have been pretty lovely, and I feel so fortunate to have had what was really a pretty great job. But getting too cozy is dangerous. Inertia is a stealthy predator. I quit my job today. I'm terrified. I'm thrilled. Here we go.
It's been plenty of fun talking to folks about our journey. A bunch of the same questions usually come up, so here are some of those questions and some corresponding answers. We'll be updating this page every once in a while with new questions and new (or modified) replies.
Last month, this little trip of ours was still a fanciful notion. It was happening, sure, but we didn't know exactly when and we didn't know exactly where, and we still lacked the requisite paperwork and inoculations to get us across the African continent, let alone the world. This month, things are a bit more real. Here's the latest.
Really, really soon, we'll be waking up somewhere on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, probably in a dew-soaked tent, probably with a pair of really dusty bicycles sprawled on the red dirt by the tent door, probably getting ready for another long day of flat riding through the Botswana bush. That's all approaching at an almost-alarming pace, but we still have a lot to do before we get there.
A few months back, I wrote about some things that might be good to know before bike touring around Iceland. Stuff like what weather to expect, where to camp, and how much to budget (oh, and how to get there and which way to travel). Those tips, I hope, captured the logistics of traveling Iceland by bike, but they didn't necessarily capture the experience of doing so. Iceland offers plenty of ups and downs along the way—things that make biking there a pleasure, and things that make it really, really difficult at times. Here are a few of them to consider.
I have a camera—a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera—that takes really crisp, high-resolution photographs. Camera folks regularly name it camera of the year. It's a pleasure to work with: full-frame, articulating display, quick shutter speed. Paired with my lens of choice, a 28-300mm NIKKOR, it takes some really lovely photographs. But, despite all the really gorgeous places our bike trip around the world is sure to take us, it won't be coming with me. Here's why.
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.
There's this lovely little island in the far north that Lauren and I biked around last summer, that we enjoyed tremendously, and that I was too preoccupied to actually write about while traveling. Nearly six months have elapsed since we returned, and I've sensed those memories beginning to erode. I want to capture what's left of them before they wash out to sea like the bits and pieces of an Icelandic glacier—seemingly frozen, yet shrinking slowly if you know just where to look. Much is already gone, so instead of a full report, consider this a series of disconnected, illustrated vignettes from our time on the road.
Setting off on a multi-year trip can be terribly methodical at times: months of orderly planning and strict budgeting and practical decisions to make. And before we set off, we want to do our best to capture as many of those matters as possible. Beneath the long list of what needs to be decided and what needs to be done, however, there's a whole stew of emotions that are just as important to acknowledge.
A few years ago, I bought a bike. Outfitted with shiny chrome Campagnolo components and strong, lightweight Reynolds steel and a hidden superpower in which, with just a few loosened bolts, the frame actually separates in half and tucks away neatly into a checkable bag, it was a do-it-all bike that I hoped would be my one and only for decades to come. Except, it wasn't. Here's why I'll be switching to the Salsa Marrakesh for our ride: the things I like about it, and the things I really don't.