Tag Archives: Pre-Trip
5 January, 2016

Fill a Basket of Travel Dreams

Our touring bikes remain nestled inside the shipping boxes in the garage. We’ve swapped out our merino wool wardrobes; Kristin for an assortment of business attire, me for denim and fleece. We no longer stream pixelated movies on a thirteen-inch laptop, but now chomp our popcorn in front of 65-inches of magic that we first saw at the Sony showroom in Tokyo. I’m sitting at a table that we actually own. Things have indeed changed.

We’ve only been home for three weeks—days spent on what has felt, at times, to be one endless shopping trip—but the calendar once again hangs thick from the hook and begs the question: Where are you going to travel this year?

Map with Question Marks

If you’re like a lot of people, there are plenty of places you want to go and things you’d like to do, but maybe you struggle deciding the where, when, and how of it all. How do you decide?

Thanks to an idea I dreamed up while we were in Bali, we have an answer to that question. But where we’re going in 2016 is irrelevant. It’s how we decided that I want to share with you today!

Step 1: List Your Dreams

One of the lessons we learned early on when planning our bicycle trip was that no matter how many lines you draw across a map, you’ll never see it all. Though we returned home having toured over twenty countries, there are still countless places and activities we’d like to experience. Actually, it’s not countless. The number is 104. I know this because of the Travel Basket.

Dreams of an around-the-world tour is something that, for most people, will always remain a dream. But how about forgetting the world as a whole and just focusing on all of the places you really fancy going? Smaller trips you can customize to fit your own desire, comfort level, financial situation, and vacation allowance?

I’ve always hated the phrase “bucket list” (the term’s usage has largely diminished since the movie, thankfully), but we often hear people use that phrase when describing the things they hope to do and accomplish before dying. But how many people have actually put together such a list?

Why not?

The first step in putting together the Travel Basket is to make a list of all the places you’d like to go. I recommend doing this in a spreadsheet program so that you can easily sort by country. Go ahead and put one column for the continent, one for the country, and another for the specific sites/activities/region you wish to visit. This third column is key because it helps you be specific and offer some guidance in the future.

A sample from our travel wishlist, sorted by country. A fourth unseen column contains specific details and personal notes to be referred back to for planning purposes.

A sample portion from our travel wishlist, sorted by country. Note the multiple entries for different regions in China. A fourth unseen column contains specific details and personal notes to be referred back to for planning purposes.

We created a preliminary list just off the tops of our heads and from panning around Google Maps, but then we fine-tuned it and added plenty of detail by paging through a couple of travel-inspiration books such as “Journeys of a Lifetime” and “100 Countries, 5000 Ideas”. We also queried our Facebook followers for ideas. Large countries like the United States, China, India, and Australia ended up getting multiple entries each. We also combined some countries into a single entry, knowing they could be visited in one trip.

What you put onto this list is purely up to you and could be as specific as you wish. For example, one of our entries is a very specific trek in the Swiss Alps known as the Tour du Mont Blanc (as recommended by a FB follower), but we have other entries that are no more specific than saying “beaches, landmarks, cities.” Though it’s good to get specific in this stage to help you manage larger countries and specific activities, feel free to put “general touring” down for some of the smaller countries. Remember, you’ll have plenty of time to plan later.

Also, it’s important to note that you don’t have to include far-flung destinations and outrageous expeditions. Maybe there’s a museum nearby that you just really haven’t gotten around to visiting, or perhaps you’ve always wanted to just once live it up for a weekend in the city you commute to. This is about your lists of desires and dreams. There are no wrong answers; only a tool to help you start checking off items on your life’s wish list.

Step 2: Get Crafty

The second step is your chance to embrace your artistic talents and go as fancy as you wish… or not. Crayons and construction paper is perfectly acceptable. Anyway, the goal now is to write each of those entries in your spreadsheet down on a separate strip of paper.

We stopped by a Japanese bookstore in Seattle and picked up five sheets of handmade decorative washi and a couple of colored markers. We cut each sheet of paper into two dozen strips of paper long enough to have each country’s name and activity written on them nice and large.

Kristin carefully cutting the paper into long strips.

Kristin carefully cutting the paper into long strips.

We didn’t want the entries to be visible so we folded each one lengthwise twice and then tied the strip in a knot, much like the paper prayers get tied onto tree branches and twine at the temples in Japan. Folding the paper twice not only helps conceal the entry, but also adds enough strength so that you won’t tear it when tying the knot. Nevertheless, be careful when tightening the knot. I generally stopped as soon as the paper started to bind, at which point I just creased the knot and smoothed it out firmly against the table.

Folding each finished travel wish twice lengthwise, then tying them each into small knots.

Folding each finished travel wish twice lengthwise, then tying them each into small knots.

When done you should have a pile of knotted strips of paper, each containing a different item on your travel wish list. As I mentioned earlier, we ended up with 104 entries. I’m sure we could have had dozens more, but it felt right to stop around one hundred. That and we were starting to run out of paper.

Step 3: Fill A Basket

These pieces of paper are now the physical embodiment of your travel dreams and wishes. That’s pretty special stuff. Far too special for a mere bucket. Find yourself a nice vessel to put your travel wishes in, whether it be a basket, a box, or something else entirely. Consider finding something with some room for additional pieces of paper to be added, that’s decorative enough to display in your home and feels worthy of the task it will be given. Think long term.

The couple that owned the house we rented in Bali also owned a bead shop in which the wife sold all of her handmade belts, jewelry boxes, and baskets. We bought a large basket with a matching lid from her specifically to house our travel wishes. It doesn’t matter where your basket comes from, but make sure that it’s something that you won’t mind looking at for years to come, as glancing at the basket and being inspired by the promise it holds is half the fun.

A pile of 104 travel wishes, ready for the Travel Basket.

A pile of 104 travel wishes, ready for the Travel Basket.

Once you have your basket, mix up all of the paper wishes so that there’s no possible way for you to know which one is which and place them into the basket. Go ahead and give it a good shake too, just to be on the safe side.

Step 4: Let Fate Decide

We’ve all heard the stories about people taking a backpack to the airport and getting on the first international flight they can find a seat on. I used to find that idea intoxicating, but I know that’s not really our style. We’ve learned to not over-plan our trips and to not try to cram too much in, but I also like having at least some time to prepare a basic itinerary.

So what if there was a way to combine the two? A way to blend the random spontaneity of going to the airport, bag-in-hand, and the need to have some time to plan? The Travel Basket is the answer.

Kristin reached in and drew the winning destination for 2016.

Kristin reached in and drew the winning destination for 2016.

Before going to bed on New Year’s night, Kristin gave the basket one final shake, took off the lid, turned her head, and drew our 2016 Travel Destination.

When I mentioned to a friend that there were a couple of entries in the basket that we would have had a really hard time pulling off this year—a cruise to Antarctica and a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway being two of the more time-consuming, costly adventures—he suggested we draw two or three and then decide which makes sense. That’s one idea. After all, we all have to face the reality that “life’s dreams” can’t always be accommodated by “present circumstance”. Fortunately, Kristin didn’t draw either of those entries. Else we would have taken a mulligan and I would have drawn an alternate location.

Aside from running out of paper, the other reason that we stopped at 104 was because we were becoming acutely aware that every additional wish reduced the chances of us drawing one of the ones we were most excited about. There was some talk about only including thirty or forty wishes for this reason. After all, if we only draw one per year, and we’re already 40 years old… you get where this is going.

We didn’t stop with just a few dozen wishes though. And the reason is because we know surprises lurk in all corners. Sure, a visit to the Baltic States might not be on par with a canoe trip down the Zambezi River, but we wanted that chance to be pleasantly surprised. And we wanted to stay true to the idea of this being a random draw of (almost) anywhere in the world.

2016 and Beyond

So Kristin reached into that basket of 104 knotted strips of paper and drew “Portugal and the Azore Islands” for our 2016 travel destination. It was a great pick! Portugal was on our original cycling route, but we ended up heading straight across Spain from north to south due to winter’s approach and the threat of snow in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. So here’s our chance to rectify that missed opportunity, albeit likely without the bicycles. Portugal is also a trip we could pull off given the limitations of American vacation allowances. To be honest, I had my fingers crossed in hopes that she’d draw something even closer to home, that we can drive to perhaps, if only just this once. A road trip to Crater Lake, Redwoods National Park, and Lake Tahoe would have been ideal. Oh well, at least it wasn’t Antarctica.

Maybe in 2018.

Portugal Sights: Photo from www.alltravelersjourney.com

That wasn’t a typo. Our hope/plan, subject to change as always, is to do a trip back to Japan every other year and draw from the travel basket on even-numbered years. Maybe in the future, when we’re older and have more time we’ll be in a position to draw from the basket every year or even twice a year, but for now, the basket is going to be in play every other year. And that’s fine for us.

The Azores: Photo from www.portugal.com.

The Azores: Photo from www.portugal.com

We heard so many of you tell us that our cycling trip inspired you to think about doing your own long-term travel. Others said they knew they couldn’t do what we did; that they had to live vicariously through us. It’s our hope that this new adventure—the Travel Basket—not only inspires, but gives everyone who reads this a tool for tackling their life’s wishes. Don’t be paralyzed by the decision: let the random hand of fate decide for you.

PS: Be sure to save the spreadsheet so you can check the contents of the basket whenever a new idea hits you. Stuff the basket with duplicate entries if you wish, but we recommend using the spreadsheet to ensure you don’t inadvertently add the same wish twice.

9 May, 2015

Japan by Train: Skip the JR Pass!

Spend any amount of time researching a trip to Japan and you’re bound to encounter all manner of helpful articles extolling the benefits of the Japan Rail Pass. This pass, a money-saving transit pass available only to foreigners and sold in 7-, 14-, and 21-day durations, allows unlimited travel on the bulk of the Japan Rail Group’s nationwide network of trains (including most shinkansen “bullet trains”) and some buses and ferries.

At first glance, the JR Pass seemed like a no-brainer of a purchase, especially since we’d be visiting without our bicycles and relying heavily on the country’s outstanding railway system to get around. But, the more I looked at it (and the more time I allowed my natural aversion to pre-purchasing to settle in… I blame the videogame industry for this reluctance) the less the JR Pass seemed to make sense for us.

Shinkansen N700 Series by Sui-setz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Shinkansen N700 Series by Sui-setz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For starters, it seems like a hassle. You have to purchase the pass from a licensed sales agent outside of Japan then turn in the voucher at a major JR Station office once inside the country. Okay, that’s relatively pain-free, but back in the USA, before we left, I didn’t know whether or not each of the legs of our journey would be possible using JR lines. In fact, I was pretty sure we’d be taking a lot of local trains, which the pass wouldn’t always cover. I spot-checked the cost of our longest leg — Osaka to Hiroshima — on the invaluable Hyperdia website/app and decided that we’d probably need to do a lot of long-haul trips to make the JR Pass worthwhile. Lastly, the biggest pass was for 21 days and we were going to be there for 6 weeks. Do we buy two passes each? Do we buy one and activate it in the middle of our trip? Ugh. Too many questions. When in doubt, I always take the path of least headache, least restrictions. My recommendation to Kristin: “Let’s skip the passes. Worst comes to worst, we end up spending an extra hundred dollars or so over the course of six weeks. It’ll be worth it to have the extra flexibility.” She agreed.

That was then, back in February. Now it’s May and it’s time to tally up our transit costs and see whether not buying the JR Passes for a longer trip was a smart decision.

Prices for the JR Pass, as of February, 2015.

Prices for the JR Pass as of February, 2015. From www.japanrailpass.net

For comparison’s sake, we were considering buying two 21-day “Ordinary” adult passes per person (all figures from this point on are for two people). This would have been a total of 237,400¥ or, $1,995 USD, based on the average exchange rate we encountered during our stay (119:1). Yes, we can probably put “sticker shock” down as another reason why I decided against the passes. These things aren’t cheap!

I’ve been tracking our expenses, by category, for every day of the trip. This was a little easier when we were bicycling everywhere and we didn’t have large transit costs (aside from a Trans-Atlantic Crossing). To not over-inflate our daily expenses, I broke out our point-to-point transportation costs for Japan into the separate “major expenses” page of our tracking sheets.

We had a total of 14 point-to-point travel days in Japan that ended up costing a total of $1254 USD for the two of us, a very big savings. That included two rides on super express “Nozomi” shinkansen trains that weren’t covered by the JR Pass, so in addition to the monetary savings we also saved some time. We also had a lengthy ride on a highway bus not covered by JR Pass.

The route we took through Japan, in pursuit of the blooming cherry blossoms.

The route we took through Japan, in pursuit of the blooming cherry blossoms.

But, wait, is that all the transit you took? I’m glad you asked! No, it wasn’t. If you add up all of the subways, taxis, ferries, cable-cars and shuttles that we took (almost none of which are covered by the JR Pass), that adds an additional $602 USD to our total transit expenditures.

So, in essence, not only was our total transportation expense of $1856 USD more than a hundred dollars less than the cost of the JR Passes for that 6-week duration, but more than 33% of those costs wouldn’t have been covered by the JR Pass anyway (several of our train tickets were on local lines not covered by JR trains).

What if you only bought a single 21-day pass and optimized it for the most expensive part of your trip? Another great question, thank you for asking!

The most costly 3-week period for our point-to-point travel totaled $825 USD, while two 21-day JR Passes to cover that same duration (one each), expertly timed with prior knowledge we didn’t actually have, would have cost $997 USD. Another example of not getting the JR Pass being the smart decision. And, again, that $825 includes several local trains and shinkansen rides that were not covered by the JR Pass.

I’m not suggesting that buying a JR Pass is always going to be a losing proposition, but it’s certainly not the money-saving silver bullet(train) it’s made out to be in the travel guides. In our experience, and as I think these numbers bear, the JR Pass is going to only make sense if you’re doing a shorter trip that involves more frequent travel days. We tended to stay at least 3 nights in each of our destinations, cutting back on the amount of time spent on transiting from destination to destination.

Final Verdict: The JR Pass should only be considered for whirlwind tours of Japan’s major cities and transit hubs. Those planning on visiting smaller, more remote towns or spending three or more nights in each location will save money by not buying the JR Pass. Happy travels!

5 April, 2014

A Shot in the Arm and Pain in the Wallet

Back in April of last year, after spending hours researching and creating what I thought was a reasonable vaccine plan (see details here), the time had come to see if I was close. I called Bartell Drugs Travel Clinic (friends in Western WA can email us for contact information) and was lucky enough to begin talking with an amazingly helpful and curious pharmacist by the name of Sharon. She has helped us navigate everything from deciding which vaccines we needed depending on where in each country we expect to be traveling, to getting the longest expiration dates on our prescriptions, to fighting with our medical insurance company. She also offered to help us find reputable pharmacies and sources for boosters while on the road. We couldn’t have dreamed for a better situation. The vaccine schedule remained close to the proposal; however, below is how we fit in all of our vaccines over the past several months.

*The prices listed are the retail costs of the shots, pre-insurance.

  • Hepatitis A & B: April, May, October 2013, $130 per shot, series of 3 shots (Doug needed combo)
    • Incurable and transmitted via water and food. Preventable via vaccine.
  • Hepatitis B: April, May, October 2013, $80 per shot, series of 3 shots (Kristin only needed B)
  • Japanese Encephalitis: February and March 2014 (4 weeks apart), $250 per shot, series of 2 shots
    • Incurable and transmitted via mosquitos. Preventable via vaccine.
  • Polio: January 2014, $45 per shot, 1 shot
    • Incurable and transmitted airborne person to person. Preventable via vaccine.
  • Rabies: January (1 & 2), February 2014 (0, 7, 21 days apart), $275 per shot, series of 3 shots
    • Incurable and transmitted via animal bites which we are particularly susceptible to on bicycles and camping. Preventable via vaccine.
  • Typhoid Fever: January 2014 (every other day), $50 total, 4 doses orally
    • Curable, but likely to be exposed to the bacteria in water and food as we leave Western nations.
  • Yellow Fever: March 2014, $120 per shot, 1 shot
    • Required for entry into many of the countries we will visit.

At our first January visit, our pharmacist informed us that our insurance was no longer covering our vaccines. Back in 2013 when we started our vaccine plan, Aetna covered the Hepatitis A and B vaccines and indicated that they would cover the rest at less than $50 per vaccine out of pocket. This was great! However, in 2014 when we actually started the rest of the vaccines, something had changed. The pharmacist processed the claims exactly the same, but they were not covered. Aetna was clueless and couldn’t figure out what the difference was or why the Hepatitis vaccines were covered and the rest weren’t. The only thing they were clear on was that it wasn’t because of the Affordable Care Act. We ended up working with our pharmacist to dispute the original denial of coverage for the 2014 vaccines. This provided some refund, but we spent far more than we were planning.

  • Total billed for all vaccines and prescriptions: $3,825
  • Amount reimbursed by Aetna insurance: $2,063
  • Amount we owed out of pocket: $1,737

As for prescriptions, it is easy to forget that there are doctors and hospitals around the world that can help us. So, we are only bringing a few prescriptions that we’ll reserve for emergencies.

  • Amoxicillin – anaerobic antibiotic for dental abscess emergencies.
  • Ciprofloxacin – aerobic antibiotic for any infections.
  • Vicodin – strong pain killer, mainly for dental emergencies, but can be used for any severe pain when Advil isn’t enough.
  • Chewable aspirin – precautionary for any heart attack symptoms.
  • Syringes with needles (4) – precautionary for a medical clinic where new needles aren’t the norm. Our pharmacist put these sharps in a separate Ziploc bag with a prescription attached so they are not mistaken for drug paraphernalia.

The first aid kit has remained fairly unchanged from our original thoughts, with a few exceptions.

  • Alcohol Swabs – Replaced with Povidone Iodine which kills the same bacteria as alcohol, but also is far more effective in cleaning a bite from a rabid animal.
  • Emergency Blanket – Eliminated. We’re carrying winter clothes, gloves, sleeping liners, and comforters; enough to keep warm in an emergency.
  • Mosquito Net – Delayed purchase. We don’t want to be carrying something that we’re sure we won’t need for over a year.
  • Permethrin (insecticide for clothing) – Delayed purchase. Same reasoning as for the mosquito netting.
  • Super glue/Dermabond – Replaced with QuikClot.

So, overall, we feel that we are prepared for what we are likely to face without weighing ourselves down with too many “just in case” and “what if” items.

24 February, 2014

Life in Two Piles

We have been quite busy since our last post. This past weekend, we started seriously sorting, packing, and stacking everything that we will not be selling at our estate sale. We moved the furniture out of the guest room and converted it into a temporary storage area with two piles; one for everything we will be taking with us and the other for the mementos and clothing we will be piling into a 5’x5′ storage unit. For comparison’s sake, that’s smaller than the walk-in closet in our bedroom.  These two piles will stay in our guest room for the next two weeks and be off limits to the throngs of people we are hoping will walk through the house to purchase everything else.

However, before turning over all remaining items in our house to the estate sale company, we had two more big sales ourselves: our last car and Doug’s second-to-last mountain bike. Last week the woman who bought our Honda Civic brought her friend over to look at our Honda Element. As it turned out, Doug already knew her friend, the owner of the local bike shop, Singletrack Cycles, where Doug bought many of his bikes and parts over the years… it’s a small world, indeed. She loved the Element and bought it with the agreement to delay transfer until after we move out of our house in the middle of March, provided Doug had new brake pads and rotors installed. That couldn’t have worked out better! Then one of my friends saw Doug’s post about his Specialized Stumpjumper 29er being ready for a new home. Her husband was looking for a new bike — they were literally standing in a bike shop when she saw the post on Facebook — and they came by to look at it last night. This was a double win for me in that I got to see an old friend and Doug was able to know his “Stumpy” was going to a good home.

A childhood companion set to be packed away with winter coats and snowboard gear.

A childhood companion set to be packed away with winter coats and snowboard gear.

After just nine days on the market, we sold our house and are working out the last few details from the inspection. Fortunately, Doug wrapped up all obligations associated with his strategy guide writing and finished his first self-published travel novella, One Lousy Pirate, so he had some time to handle the activities for the house sale. He talked regularly with our real estate agent  — Justin donates $500 to the local mountain bike organization for every house he buys/sells — to negotiate and finalize the closing. Between figuring out responses to the buyer, scheduling quotes, and then trying to decide which repairs were necessary, it kept him quite busy over the past few weeks. It was great to have him available to take care of these time-consuming details.

The contents of our 2100 square-foot home has been reduced to these two piles.

The contents of our 2100 square-foot home has been reduced to these two piles.

As Doug mentioned in our last post on February 4th I let Expeditors know of my departure plans just over six weeks from my last day, March 14th. Giving six weeks of notice gave me time to execute on a succession plan while being in a good place financially to survive on the outside chance that I was immediately shown the door. Reality couldn’t have been farther from that latter statement. I talked with a dozen people that day, all managers, directors, and the new CIO, with whom I had done multi-million dollar infrastructure projects. I needed the right people to know for the formalities of succession planning to start. These discussions were emotionally harder than expected, but everyone was very excited for us and made me promise to contact them when I was back in town and ready to rejoin the workforce. Additionally, the CIO, who I attended business school with and who recruited me to Expeditors, told me to promise to bring our company branch list with me. He reminded me that we have over 250 branches all over the world and that if we ever find ourselves in trouble to contact the nearest branch and they will help us. My eyes welled up again at the amazing support that I was receiving given the bad news I was delivering. Fast forward to last week and shockingly, my departure was still known by just a few people until Wednesday. My supervisor decided to announce my mid-March departure for our round the world cycling adventure in a full department meeting (over 80 people). News like that travels fast in a large company and within a few hours, I was bombarded with congratulations and  questions. I finally had the opportunity to talk openly. What a relief… and distraction, but mostly a relief.

The Doug Walsh Collection -- a copy of every strategy guide he wrote.

The Doug Walsh Collection — a copy of every strategy guide he wrote. They used to be so thin!

Lastly, snow, snow, and more snow in the mountains over the last two weeks has all but dashed our hopes of leaving western Washington via the North Cascades highway. The Cascades received over seven feet of snow in the last two weeks and taking highway 2 over Stevens Pass seems all but inevitable. We still have our fingers crossed for a Pineapple Express (or three), but we’ll have to wait and see. Speaking of waiting, the next four weeks before our departure seem so far away, but we’ll fill the time by refining our packing strategy, dragging Doug to spin classes (he’ll go kicking and screaming the whole way) and plenty of lunches, dinners, and laughs with friends.

4 February, 2014

How Soon is Now?

It’s really happening. I’ll admit, there were times when I privately wondered if we’d ever actually achieve the momentum needed to really pull this off but here we are.

The nervous excitement we felt back in September while laying in our tent in Oregon during our dress rehearsal trip failed to compare to the feeling we experienced the morning Kristin left for work, ready to submit her resignation. But it was time. And so, the day before giving an unfortunately-timed leadership presentation, she headed into her supervisor’s office and gave six weeks’ notice. This would have been a lot easier had Kristin still been with her prior employer, but she really enjoyed working at Expeditors, was treated well, and saw a lot of opportunity for growth. Just earlier this week they were talking about supervisory promotions and bonus structures. As she hoped (and I suspected), they made her promise she’d call them the minute she was ready to go back to work.

Home for Sale

We really enjoyed our ten years in Snoqualmie Ridge, but it’s time to hit the road.

I, having wrapped up the last of my strategy guides in mid-January, Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, was already effectively unemployed (dare I say temporarily retired?). It’s tough to walk away from such good careers, but we built this life for ourselves once and we’re confident we can do it again. The lack of any quick projects for me take on proved to be a blessing, for I was certainly not idle these past few weeks. Just as Kristin was having her meeting, our realtor was busy finishing up photographing our house, one I worked diligently to ready for its close-up. Carpet cleaning, paint touch-ups, a new sink, and window washing were just a few of the chores on my to-do list. It hit the market yesterday afternoon.

It’s tough to walk away from such good careers, but we built this life for ourselves once and we’re confident we can do it again.

Everyone asks if we’re busy making last-minute plans, but the truth is less interesting. We’ve been in a state of hurry-up-and-wait for weeks. We hit our savings goal back in November (applause), already sold off one of our cars (among many, many other things), and have had little in the way of gear purchases to make. In fact, the only things we decided to buy was a second bike lock, some stick-on blaze orange reflectors for our panniers, and the Bike Buddy bottle-cage that can accommodate my one-liter fuel bottle. As for our itinerary, the abnormally low levels of snow in the Cascade Mountains means that not only will a North Cascades crossing likely be possible by the end of March, but the unseasonably warm weather has us eyeing a March 23rd departure date instead of the oft-mentioned April 1st date. This, of course, remains TBD. Spring snowstorms and a delayed opening of Highway 20 in north-central Washington would force us to take Highway 2 over Stevens Pass, a route we’re hoping to avoid. Either way, we’ll be on the road by the first of April, barring a blizzard.

And speaking of routs, how about those SEAHAWKS!!!

So now we sit and wait. Wait for the house to sell (hopefully quickly), wait for one final shot of the Japanese Encephalitis vaccination in 28 days, and wait for the estate sale we have scheduled in early March. And speaking of which, Kristin will have an upcoming blog post about our vaccination experience including costs, schedules, and our battles with health insurance. Stay tuned.

Typhoid pills

Rabies, Yellow Fever, Polio, Hepatitis, and Japanese Encephalitis were injected, but we got to swallow our Typhoid vaccines.

Of course, we’re also riding when we can. Our stable of bicycles has dwindled from eight to four and the time for me to part with my two remaining mountain bikes is drawing near. Then it will just be the two Salsa Fargos we’ll be becoming all-too familiar with in the coming weeks and months (and years?!?). They still need names.

Bike Buddy

The fully adjustable Bike Buddy bottle cage can handle our over-sized fuel bottle.

But while we spend the coming weeks boxing up those few items we’re keeping and counting down the days till our departure, we do want to reach out to our friends and family and let everyone know our plan for this blog. Our goal is to update the blog every 1-2 weeks with photo-filled updates from the road along with the occasional gear review or update to the Countries Visited page of this site. In between blog posts, we’ll provide periodic updates to our Facebook page every few days, wifi willing. The one thing we want to be upfront about is that enjoying the moment is far more important to us than worrying about how we post about it.

Kristin bandaid

Kristin was all too happy to be sporting her Hello Kitty bandage after her Japanese Encephalitis shot.

If all goes according to plan, this will be the most boring blog post I ever write.

28 September, 2013

Shaking it Down in Oregon

Shaking it Down in Oregon

We were supposed to be cycling a lap around Iceland. Or touring the Pacific coast  from Vancouver, BC to Tijuana, Mexico. That was the original plan, but somebody had to go and get laid off and start a new job with only two weeks of vacation: not even enough time to make it to San Francisco. So, instead, our dress rehearsal took place entirely in northwestern Oregon.

We loaded up every piece of gear we intend on bringing around the world — even the winter stuff — and pedaled out of Astoria, Oregon on a chilly, rainy, windy late August morning. We were headed south along the coast through the picturesque beach towns of Seaside, Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, and onward to Newport. It took a day for the sun to burn through, but once it did, it was glorious.

Cape Meares bicycle touring.

The Oregon coast is every bit as beautiful as you may have heard. Wide sandy beaches, headlands and offshore sea stacks and arches create a scene quite rare in the USA.

Cape Lookout bicycle camping.

The hiker/biker campsites at the Oregon State Parks are  spacious, cheap, and come with all the hot water you need. Did I mention they’re only $6 per person?

Cape Lookout bicycle touring

Atop Cape Lookout with the previous night’s campground down below. Our biggest climb of the trip so far, on the third morning, but it would pale in comparison to the climbs to come.

We exited the grocery store in Newport after a  long but gorgeous 70 miles in the saddle only to be flagged down by a car full of people. They lived a couple blocks away and wanted to know if we had a place to stay. We were planning on using the campground two miles out of town, but their offer to come join them for dinner and and make use of their spare bedroom was too much to pass up. We’ve heard of these delightful offers of hospitality, but had never experienced them first-hand. It was everything we hoped. The next night, in Corvallis, we were hosted by a wonderful couple who accepted our Warmshowers request despite having friends over for a dinner party. We rolled up that afternoon and promptly traded the wine we picked up at a winery outside of town for a couple of IPAs from their fridge. Showered and settled in, Jeff and Bettina treated us to an amazing meal of Vietnamese and Cambodian food.

As it turns out, there’s a world of difference between cycle touring with a single set of panniers or a trailer and being fully loaded with four panniers and a duffle bag. Though we expect to field a number of questions each day on our longer RTW trip, we didn’t expect it on this one. In hindsight, that was silly. Just because we knew we were only out for 11 days, how could anyone else? Countless people shouted words of encouragement to us or ran up to question us about our trip. One guy, a runner in Corvallis, literally chased after us for several blocks trying to get our attention before we finally stopped and chatted. Another, an old retired Texan, called us modern-day adventurers and said he hopes his son grows up with a desire to see the world. Another applauded our lack of motor vehicle and thanked us for saving the world. That one we didn’t know how to reply to. If you ever want to feel like a rockstar, throw 60 pounds of gear on your bike and head on down the road.

Santiam Pass campsite

We left behind the cities along the coast and headed inland, up Santiam Pass. 60 miles, nearly all of which were gradually uphill, brought us to Lost Lake and a gorgeous campsite.

We sought out the quietest of forest roads through Willamette and Mount Hood National Forests and enjoyed a mountain calm not often found on pavement.

We sought out the quietest of forest roads through Willamette and Mount Hood National Forests and enjoyed a mountain calm not often found on pavement.

After several long days in the mountains, we rolled into Portland.

After several long days in the mountains, we rolled into downtown Portland for a motel and a visit to one of the city’s best brew pubs.

All in all, the trip went as smoothly as it could have. The rain wasn’t exactly a welcome addition to the trip on that first day, and it took a couple of days to get back into a routine, but we returned home with little to fix or modify regarding our gear and packing. There were a couple moments when we’d look at each other and start laughing. “What the hell are we doing?” we’d ask one another. But always in a can’t believe we’re going to be one of those couples we read about kind of way. The truth is, we didn’t want this dress rehearsal tour to end. Eleven days and 573 miles just wasn’t enough. We want more. And that’s how we know we’re ready…

7 April, 2013

Springtime Along the Columbia

It’s snowing in the passes as I type this. And not a small amount. But I look down at my arms, resting on my desk, and I see the deep farmer’s tan I got last weekend and I smile. We are now inside twelve months to liftoff and our early April crossing of the Cascades has us watching the weather and studying highway webcams like never before. What a difference a week makes. And what a colossal waste of time it is to try and extrapolate the weather outside today to what we might experience next spring. Yet we do it anyway.

Kristin and I had a monumental bike overnight last weekend: our first without the trusty Burly Nomad trailer. With Tubus racks installed and Ortlieb panniers attached, we made our way from Wenatchee, Apple Capital of North America, up to the beautiful mountain-ringed Lake Chelan. Saturday brought temps approaching 70F, bright sunshine, and a gentle 35 mile cruise up the western bank of the Columbia River with just 1500 feet of elevation gain. Kristin was carrying a lot more weight than she had in previous trips on account of me no longer towing the trailer, but she made light work of it.

Lunch with a view along the Columbia River.

Lunch with a view along the Columbia River.

It was the perfect ride alongside the mirror-like river, with weather those of us who live in WA can typically only dream of for March. We eventually turned onto seldom-used Route 971 and went up and over some hills to Lake Chelan State Park. The descent into the park was glorious: riding towards snow-capped mountains surrounding a pristine glacial-fed lake with vineyards and orchards all around. One of the most popular summertime parks in Washington, we would have it almost entirely to ourselves on this glorious weekend. That is, if you don’t count the beaver milling around on the rocks by our lakefront tentsite. Going camping on Easter weekend does have its benefits.

Columbia River near Entiat, WA.

Columbia River near Entiat, WA.

With camp chores completed, Kristin and I settled into our chairs, opened some beers, and enjoyed the sunset from our own private dock. Barefoot. It truly doesn’t get much better than this.

Beer, sardines, and our own private dock.

Beer, sardines, and our own private dock on Lake Chelan, just steps from our tent.

Come morning, we rolled ten miles eastward along the lake to the lovely small town of Chelan, where we were ecstatic to find an incredibly inviting coffee, wine & beer cafe open across the street from the church. Living in secular western Washington, you get accustomed to just ignoring religious holidays and assuming everything will be open. This isn’t the case in other parts of the state, as we’d find out.

A few miles later we found ourselves at the base of McNeil Canyon Road, a notorious hill boasting 5 miles of 12% incline, over 2200 feet of gain. The climb was long, and it hurt, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared. We’re each pushing between 65 and 75 pounds of bike & gear, so it was important to me to get a loaded climb under us early this season, just to see how she’d handle it. Kristin conquered it like a champ! As a reward, several miles of rolling, tailwind-aided, desolate asphalt greeted us en route to the village of Waterville.

Kristin mashing those pedals on her way up McNeil Canyon Road.

Google Maps’ street view feature might reveal a grocery store and a restaurant, but it won’t tell you that these  places of business will be closed for Easter. And, as I already alluded to, such a concept has fallen out of the norm where we live. Surprise! Fortunately, that uniquely-Washington staple — the roadside espresso hut — was not only open, but featuring sandwiches! I never tipped a barista so well in my life, but the sandwiches, cola, and icy water bottle refills were just what we needed.

Our original plan had us continuing up and over Badger Mountain, but we were already 50 miles into the day and didn’t have another big climb in us. Especially when the rip-roaring descent down US 2 was the other option. So we left Waterville and cruised on down Highway 2, averaging 35 mph for six effortless miles, until we were all the way back alongside the mighty Columbia. Never before had I hooted and hollered during a descent while on pavement. It was that great.

Diving back off the Waterville Plateau to the river.

Diving back off the Waterville Plateau to the river.

Kristin and I took turns leading the way southward along the eastern bank of the Columbia River, back to the Park & Ride where we left our car in Wenatchee. We capped off a 70-mile day (and 5,000 feet of gain) with some of the best burgers in the PNW at Dusty’s. The drive home was long, the sunburn on our arms forced a fitful night of sleep despite our tiredness, but when we woke, we did so on the T-1 Year Anniversary. And we celebrated.

1 March, 2013

Only 13 More Months to Go!

I don’t care what the groundhog had to say, spring is almost here and with it comes a final twelve month countdown to our launch date. Writing the strategy guides for the new BioShock Infinite and Gears of War: Judgment games had me on the road for seven weeks over the winter so, in order to take advantage of my time at home, we’ve begun doing “trip stuff” a little bit each night. And we’ve made a lot of progress.

But before we get to our trip updates, here’s a video Q&A I recently did with my publisher’s Facebook followers about my work on Gears of War: Judgment.

The Tent: We were still on the fence about the Hilleberg Nallo GT3 we bought this past fall but we’re feeling much better about it after our recent bike overnight to Whidbey Island. We attacked the setup and tear down with rigid discipline and not only was it much easier to pitch, but it stayed taut and comfortable despite incredibly high onshore winds. It’s still really large and cumbersome and way more of a pain in the rump to pitch than our previous tents from Sierra Designs and Mountain Hardwear, but I do love it once it’s up.

Clothing: We’ve now purchased nearly all of our clothing. We’re still unsure if we’re bringing too much or too little, but it does feel pretty minimalistic. Kristin and I decided to go with larger 15L stuff-sacks and pack all of our off-the-bike clothes into one, all of our on-the-bike clothes into another and, along with some mesh ditty sacks for the really dirty laundry, will be fitting them all with our jackets and gloves and such into our two rear panniers. At least that’s the plan for now. Of our new purchases, I have to say that I’m thrilled with the Hincapie Tour LTX vest I bought to wear with my Ibex arm warmers on those chilly days. I also love the ExOfficio Trip’r shirt Kristin got me for Christmas.  Kristin really likes her merino wool Icebreaker Sprite Racerback sports bras and the Road Holland merino jersey I bought her. You can check out the full list of our clothing here.

Free Stuff: If you’re in the United States and planning a big trip, then you owe it to yourself to look into getting the REI credit card. I know this is a sensitive issue and we don’t want to encourage anything that might not be a good match, given everyone’s unique financial situation. But we put nearly all of our purchases last year on the card, making sure to pay it off each month, and are now anxiously awaiting over $500 in REI store credit next month. We’ll be getting Kristin’s Arc’Teryx softshell and our Tubus Tara front racks with the dividend, and will probably still have enough left over for two pairs of heavyweight Smartwool Mountaineer socks.

Wheels: I met with Larry at Perfect Wheels in Seattle two weeks ago to discuss the wheels we’d be using for our RTW tour. I showed up at his shop expecting to plunk down the plastic for a pair of wheels laced around Phil Wood hubs, but Larry subtly steered me towards the good old trusty Shimano XT hubs and nearly $400 savings per wheelset. So we’ll be going with 36-spoke Velocity Cliffhanger rims, double-butted DT Swiss spokes, bronze nipples, and Shimano XT 36-spoke disc hubs. Those Phil Wood hubs sure are nice, but we can’t act like money is no object and, as I mentioned to Larry, of all the years I’ve been biking, I’ve never once had a problem with an XT hub. My Chris King hubs, on the other hand, don’t get me started…

Made for the trails, strong enough for touring.

Made for the trails, strong enough for touring.

Electronics: I can’t begin to mention how thrilled I am that the long struggle and debate over electronics has ended (we hope). We’ve decided to not bring a GPS device and to also not bring an active mobile phone. We’ll bring my current Droid Razr for use purely as a wifi device but given the language barriers and the pain of swapping SIM cards every time we cross a border, taking along an unlocked GSM phone just doesn’t seem to be worth the hassle. Maybe we’ll change our minds and buy one locally, in Europe, but we’ll see. That said, we are going to bring a non-subscription-based personal locator beacon just in case an emergency strikes and one of us is suddenly left with an unresponsive spouse in the middle of nowhere. As for computers, I picked up a Dell XPS 13 ultrabook on sale (essentially a Windows 7 version of the Macbook Air) and Kristin is continuing to play with the various tablets that keep coming out — she’ll make her choice later this year. We’ll have our Kindles with us and will be bringing along a Canon G15 and waterproof Pentax Optio WG-3 for photos. Lastly, I’ve decided to stick with my Garmin Edge 305 non-mapping bike computer. I’ve been using it for 6 years now, love its accuracy for elevation and distance, and can download tracks to it from sites like GPSies for areas containing mazes of forest roads. So, in a way, we will sort of have a GPS with us, but only for very unique situations. I’ll be keeping the Edge and Razr topped off with an Anker Astro 8400 mAh USB battery.

The Great Unburdening: Kristin has turned into a maestro of Craigslist as it seems everyday I’m running over to meet someone at the nearby Starbucks to trade one of our seemingly countless possessions for a wad of cash. Just yesterday I managed to sell off our old Rock Band videogame  equipment and games. Power tools, comforters,  an old tent, and numerous other items also joined the mass exodus. We also met with our realtor the other day to discuss what needs to be done to get the house ready for sale later this fall. The new roof and hot water heater were expected expenses, but we were thrilled to hear houses are now selling fast enough in WA that we don’t need to upgrade the kitchen beyond a new sink and faucet. Hopefully the market continues to heat up, else we might owe a couple thousand to pay off the mortgage after closing costs are taken into account. At least we got to enjoy some of the equity we took out back in 2006, though I sure wish I could remember what we spent it on…