Detours Ahead

“And then, after Italy, we’ll continue east through Greece and Turkey before heading up into Georgia and making our way across Central Asia to China.” I could see the hotel manager’s imagination was running wild, his eyes widened as they panned across the map of our proposed route. He asked how long it would take to reach Vietnam. I told him about a year, Insha‘Allah. “Unless we get bored and sell the bikes halfway across Uzbekistan,” I thought, updating my oft-used, pre-trip disclaimer about North Dakota. I always completed that attempt at downplaying our plans by adding: “And buy a one-way ticket to Tahiti.” We didn’t anticipate a family emergency.

I wasn’t thinking about Tahiti at the moment, but neither Kristin nor I shared the manager’s excitement. We were spent. And it wasn’t all the time spent on the bike either, but just being on the move. No, the number that wore us down wasn’t the 9,000 miles we had pedaled to reach the Sahara, but the 170 different places we had slept in within a span of 8 months. The topic of taking some time off – measured in weeks or months and not days – became part of our nightly dinner conversation.

The conversations continued, even several days later after returning from an overnight camel trek in the Sahara, only then they were peppered with phrases like “bucket list” and “once-in-a-lifetime.” And it got us thinking about our lifelong travel wish-lists: African safaris, cruising to Antarctica, trekking in the Himalaya, and visiting Easter Island were just a few of the dream excursions that were mentioned.

And few of them fell along that line we drew across the map several years ago.

I forget who first mentioned it, but we were soon agreeing that we had lost track of what made us take this trip. Our goal was never to bicycle around the world, our wish was to take a mid-life timeout and travel, uninhibited, for as long as we had the money to do so. The bikes were merely a means of conveyance; the trip around the world, simply a compass bearing. And, frankly, the bikes were starting to get in the way of that. We developed stock, disarming, answers to all of the myriad questions posed to us over the past few years. From the one about North Dakota and Tahiti to our canned response of “when our money or desire runs out” when asked how long the trip would take. It would seem, with 65% of our budget then still intact, that desire was the first to show fatigue.

We spent the day after Christmas boxing up our gear and bicycles.
Giving new meaning to “Boxing Day”, we spent the day after Christmas boxing up our gear and bicycles.

Before we share our plans for the immediate future, we must first address the elephant in the tent: Kristin’s father has an advanced, rare cancer that’s terminal. He was diagnosed two years ago and was able to curtail its spread until this past autumn when the effectiveness of his treatment options met their end; the cancer has begun growing again, albeit slowly. Whereas I have used campground and hotel Wi-Fi to work on the website, upload photos, and play PC games, Kristin has often used it to put her biotech experience and industry contacts to work in researching clinical trials options for her father. Her father’s condition was always in our minds, leading Kristin to bury her tear-streaked face in my shoulder on the side of the road on more than one occasion. As you can imagine, it was a difficult decision to even start this trip. But, as long as he was feeling well – which he fortunately still is, even now – and we were within a flight’s reach of family, we felt that it didn’t matter if we were back home in Snoqualmie or somewhere abroad. Her family kept their protests to a minimum and respected our ability to do the right thing. The only request came from her father: “Just promise me you won’t be halfway around the world when I’m dying,” he asked. We promised.

We spent the night camped out in a cafe at the Dusseldorf airport, waiting for our connecting flight to Miami.
We spent the night camped out in a cafe at the Dusseldorf airport, waiting for our connecting flight to Miami.

One of the things that helped us get through the occasional bouts of homesickness this past year was remembering that everything would still be there when we returned. If we’re lucky.

It’s time to cut to the chase: our bikes, panniers, and camping gear are currently in storage in Rome. We plan to return in early September, after the crowds disperse, and continue our tour through Italy, Greece and Turkey at that time. And after that? Central Asia. The original plan, continued. Or not. Money and desire…

So where are we?

We are here!
There we are!

By the time you read this, we’ll have surprised Kristin’s parents at their beach house in Florida (after a brief trip to Everglades National Park). We were going to spend a month or two in Florence, Italy, but decided that it made more sense for Kristin to spend that time with her father than it did sitting idle in an Italian apartment. This is also a chance to take advantage of a very unique opportunity we have. So often, as we age, and family turns ill, we become so busy with our own responsibilities and obligations that we can’t just drop everything and spend as much time with our loved ones as we might in a perfect world. Kristin and I are in a unique position right now: willingly unemployed, homeless, and without a schedule. All of the same reasons we used to convince ourselves to undertake this journey, we now use to convince ourselves that this temporary pause is the right thing to do. And the thoughts we used to ward off homesickness now remind us that we’re not going to miss anything. Athens and Istanbul will still be there later this year.

Watching the gator swim under our boardwalk.
Watching the gator swim under our boardwalk at Everglades National Park.

Taking some time off the bikes was something we had discussed several times over the last month, but our discussion of “bucket list” items reminded me of two things that I’ve longed to do for many, many years. I got so used to these ideas being out-of-reach that I completely forgot about them. Back when I was a broke graduate student and Kristin and I were routinely juggling our bills to keep the lights on (not always successfully), I used to sit and page through the Mountain Travel Sobek catalog, daydreaming of visiting far-flung exotic locations. The one destination that always stood out was Bhutan, the Buddhist “Land of the Thunder Dragon” in the Himalaya with some of the tightest tourist limits on the planet. I’m ecstatic to report that we’re (tentatively) booked for an 11-day trekking trip to Bhutan at the end of April.

This heron sat completely motionless for a long while.
This heron sat completely motionless for a long while.

And before that? My favorite travel memory was a six-day trip to Japan I did in 2009, stretching a pair of two-hour business meetings with Platinum Games in Osaka into a memory of a lifetime. Japan was, and remains, my absolute favorite destination. And the more I raved about my time in Japan, the more Kristin regretted not being able to come along (we were hosting a Korean exchange student at the time). I always said that when we finally made it back to Japan, I wanted to go for at least a month and follow the cherry blossoms northward as they painted the islands in pink and white petals. And, family concerns permitting, that’s what we’re going to do. The yen has fallen a lot since I was there six years ago (nearing a ten-year low versus the dollar) so there’s no sense in delaying, especially if we need to be in that corner of the world for our trip to Bhutan. So, in March, we’re going to head home to the Seattle area to spend some time with friends and retrieve some items from storage, then continue on to Japan, without our bikes, and follow the sakura northward across Honshu and Hokaido islands. The shutter button on my camera will get a workout, for sure.

A particularly camera-friendly cormorant.
A particularly camera-friendly cormorant.

So, the blog isn’t going to be about bicycle touring for a few months. Nevertheless, we’ll still be posting every one to two weeks and hope you continue to follow along as we document our travels in words and photos. We’ll be back to posting bike-related content once we return to Italy later this year and throw legs back over our trusty Salsa Fargos.

On our way back to the docks after a spontaneous 3-hour canoe trip in the Everglades.
On our way back to the docks after a spontaneous 3-hour canoe trip in the Everglades.

This was a hard choice to make, as we had to beat back the inevitable feelings of our decision signaling a failure or that we were quitting. It isn’t and we’re not. But I’m particularly sensitive to those feelings, given a small list of key regrets I carry through life. Oddly enough, the decision to box up the bikes and take some time off was even harder than pedaling across another mountain range, despite how much our bodies – and our hearts – knew doing so was the right thing to do. It would seem that we had reached a point where continuing to pedal onward, even though we weren’t enjoying it as much and had family concerns on the mind, had somehow become the easy thing to do. Weird, huh?

Part of that is your fault. So many of you have shown such great dedication in reading and commenting on the blog and on Facebook, and in so generously providing support and hospitality, that we simply didn’t want to let you down. We hope our detour isn’t a disappointment and that you understand our need to temporarily change gears, switch to the fast lane, and jump ahead a few dozen degrees of longitude.

Thanks for reading. We hope you continue to do so.

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Doug Walsh

Writer, Traveler

Doug Walsh is a writer, traveler, cyclist, and gamer who spent two years traveling from Seattle to Singapore, the long way around, by bicycle and sea. He's the author of the upcoming novel "Tailwinds Past Florence."

31 Comments
  1. Doug and Kristin,
    My admiration and respect for you both continues to grow, especially in light of your decision to “detour”. I can not add anything to what your friends and followers have so eloquently stated previously except to say that I know you have made the right choice. Two things I am certain of: Family comes first, and I rarely regret the things that I have done, rather I regret the things I haven’t done. You certainly won’t regret this decision.
    In 2010 Wendy and I did MTS’ Snowman Trek in Bhutan. I’d be happy to share our experience with you at any time of you like. My thoughts and prayers go out to Kristin’s dad.
    Be well!

  2. One of the reasons your trip has been so inspiring for me is because you’ve gone to such amazing lengths to follow your heart’s desire. Glad to see you’re still listening to your heart and following where it leads. Enjoy!

  3. Hey you two, if anything your decision to change gears makes you even more endearing than before. Many things you write – not only in this post – strike a chord with me, especially what you just wrote about continuing to pedal onward in spite of good reasons not to do so. And even after you have made the “right” decision, there is concern about disappointing others. It feels good to read these words, because I have felt the same mix of emotions, and it’s comforting to know someone else also deals with decisions similar to my own.

    In any case, I admire you both not just for your adventurous spirit, your wonderful blog, your beautiful photos and attention-grabbing writing, but also for your values. I’ll be spending the next little while motorcycling through Central and South America, so chances of us meeting are slim. But I genuinely hope that by some stroke of happenstance our paths will cross eventually. Enjoy time with your family and may your adventures never end.

    Greg

    1. Greg,

      Thank you so much for the very kind words. As you said, it’s great to know (thanks to you) that we’re not alone in having these thoughts either. Have a wonderful journey through Central and South America. We’re certainly eyeing that part of the world. Perhaps not in the immediate future, but someday in the not-so-distant future. Have a great trip and thanks for reading!

  4. Doug & Kristin when you called my house and said you were in Florida I was totally surprised! I am so glad you both decided to take a break and spend some time with Kristin’s Dad and Mom. Like you said, you have no real schedule you have to go by and all your favorite places you still want to see will be there when you’re ready to straddle those bikes and start peddling again! I’m so happy Kristin will get to see her family. I’m very proud of you both and I will be so happy to see you, time permitting. You and Kristin have my love and I send my prayers every day for Eric and his family. Hope to see you soon.

  5. Just wow. I am in awe of you both. I’m glad you were in this unique situation and made the choice you did. Must have been hard to be away. Take good care.

  6. I didn’t expect to hear that, but it’s great to hear that both of you are doing everything to follow your hearts and putting family first.

  7. Thank you so much for the wonderful comments everyone! It means so much to us and our family to see such an outpouring of support. We’re so lucky to have so many great, caring friends in our lives. And I can’t tell you how many times these past two days we’d see a new comment posted and start to blush or tear up. You’re all such wonderful people! Thank you all!!!

  8. Love following your journey so far, sad to hear the cause of your detour and wish you and your family well. All the great time you two will be able to spend with Kristin’s dad telling him stories about your travels will bring him joy…no doubt we will see you on the bikes again…

  9. Doug and Kristin

    Even though i have only been around you guys on a few family occasions – I ‘m tremendously proud of all that you have accomplished and the recent decisions you have made – May God bless you and the family and keep everyone strong and secure. The journey in life never ends .

  10. What you’ve accomplished already is amazing and no one can you blame you guys for being true to yourselves. I’m happy for the new opportunities this decision provides you with. I’m definitely looking forward to the next blog!

  11. Awesome decision! After cycling over 9,000 miles and covering the Western World, a break to be with loved ones before covering the Eastern World is certainly not disappointing, it’s admirable! Eric said it best!

    I know that the Seattle Seahawks continued success had nothing to do with the decision, but knowing that Eric is not a football fan, I would love for you to accompany me to any Sports Bar for the NFC and AFC Championship Games this Sunday, if you can make it back to New Jersey! Or, assuming the Seahawks will play in the Super Bowl (and REPEAT), we can get together for that game! I love and miss you both!

  12. There is not a doubt in my mind that your detour is to the most important of all your destinations. I think the time we spend with family (sharing with, celebrating, and supporting each other) is ultimately one of the greatest gifts we can receive. Certainly, it has inspired much of the beauty you have seen, tasted, and heard on your journey abroad. I know you will hold this time precious, as you have treasured your relationships with each other. My prayers are with you all, and my love and friendship come across the miles. I have walked this path as well, and I’m here if you need me.

  13. How lucky you are to be so very wise. Life is a journey not an itinerary! It will continue to be a memorable ride even if you aren’t pedaling. Enjoy.

  14. The good news is, you’ll be back in Seattle in March. I hope I get to see you both. As for your plans – you’re doing what you want to do with your time, which was the goal all along. I’m very sorry about Kristin’s father, but happy for you both that you’ll get to spend as much time with him as possible.

  15. Having lost my mother to cancer I can tell you guys that you are absolutely doing the right thing. If anyone out there following your blog thinks you are quitting or giving up the dream, they could not be more wrong. Like you said, all those places will be there forever but unfortunately Kristin’s father will not. You will both treasure the time you spend with him more than anything else you could be doing at this time. Being with the ones you love during their battle with a disease is so hard but also fulfilling in a way. To be able to let him lean on you if he needs to and have NO REGRETS is paramount. I am very proud of you both. I know that you will remain to have many wonderful adventures together and will pray that you get to have a few with your dad in the near future!

  16. You two special people have made such strides in your desire to bike around the world, and seem so awesome sights. But I know the decision you have made to be with family at this precious time is a good decision. Xx my thoughts and love go with you both. Be happy, be without regret, be with family.

  17. I always love your posts, but I think this one is my favorite. Doug, as far back as I can remember, you have been wise beyond your years – and you continue to live the dream in the most authentic way possible. Kristin, I know nothing of you except what I’ve read on the blog and in the book, but it seems strength of your character and your will are limitless – and I am so glad you have the time and resources to be “home”. I look forward to reading about how your family reacted to the surprise.

  18. It was never about “have to” right? It was about “want to”. Good on you both for recognizing that. Hope to see you when you are back in Seattle.

  19. Nothing wrong with doing what you know is the right thing. You said it yourself, its an enviable position to be in having time and money to be able to be there for loved ones in a time of need. Best wishes to all of you for this next journey with Kristins dad.

  20. Just another part of the adventure and some time to recharge the batteries, I’m sure and to catch up with loved ones. We will still be enjoying your blogs as it is certainly the most up to date travel guide around with wonderful photos…Japan is on our list so will look forward to following you there! There’s no place for regret when you are enjoying life and have the opportunity to fulfil your dreams. Enjoy x

  21. So proud of you guys for doing what you feel is best and for being flexible. It is your adventure – you point the compass. Your plans sound absolutely incredible. Looking forward to seeing you both soon. xoxo

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About Us

We're Doug & Kristin Walsh, a couple of Washingtonians who love to travel, both abroad and in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. We set off to travel the world in 2014, primarily by bicycle. We're back home now, but the travel bug continues to be fed every chance we get.

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