It’s Now or Never
That’s the opening para with the necessary melodrama done, so here comes the clarity of what the hell we’re talking about:
We have come to a point in our life when we are very fortunate and we don’t have to work any more; sure we can work if we want to and sure we can work if we want a more luxurious life in our latter years, but right now we have a choice and we feel that we very privileged to have such a choice. At 54/58 we have our health & energy, we have each other and we have enough in the bank to lead a reasonable life from here forward with a little circumspection. Siubhan then said it best when she asked the question, “If not now, then when?”
It was on a recent recce trip to Spain that we came to this decision; we’d gone to Spain to look at Murcia in March as it looked like that it offered us many of the things that we were looking for: good weather, good food & wine (it’s Spain), a blend of flatlands and mountains for riding and good value for money property. But when we got there it was quite depressing, grey weather didn’t help, but it was the only place in Spain where laughter and friendliness wasn’t the prominent emotion.
The region of Murcia was particularly hard hit by the financial crash and it shows with many empty properties and even a spooky golf course that was abandoned complete with nearly every villa and apartment, only a very hardy few ex-pats were hanging on to a desperate dream. Along the coastline of the Costa Calida our overriding impression was that it was packed with disappointed and jaded ex-pats that were waiting to die.
We bailed down to Marbella, which is one of our happy places, and offers a good blend of Spanish and ex-pats that allows us to float between the two societies as it suits. Although we love being there, Costa del Sol isn’t for us in the near future as the cycling is very limited to West down the coast to Gibraltar or East to Nerja; unless you can climb like Bradley Wiggins, then inland touring is limited and certainly beyond us.
But here’s the crunch, Marbella displays the curse of the middle affluent, middle-aged middle-classes, boredom! We first really experienced it in Dubai, there’s a strata of society that don’t need to work but neither do they have a purpose. One booze-filled day follows another, one round of golf merges into the next and strangers that can string a sentence together are grabbed as “fresh meat” with a palpable sense of desperation. We sat in Marbella looking at an abyss of a slow, comfortable, sunshine-baked bored slide towards a death that would probably be welcomed when it came.
Neither of us are homebirds, we’ve never been nest-makers, but we both need a sense of purpose and, as the Rioja flowed, we discussed the points of when and where we are at our happiest and it really wasn’t very long before we identified that our favourite location is not somewhere geographic, but somewhere called “new”. New places, new people and new experiences. Also new learning.
So, we’re going nomadic for a while and we’re going to travel around the world on our bikes. We stop short of saying that we’re going to ride around the world because that wouldn’t be strictly true; we’re going to travel around the world and photograph it and we plan to travel mainly, but not exclusively, by bike.
Right now we’re in a whirlwind of logistics of selling the house, cars and a load of stuff that probably doesn’t have a place in whatever our future life looks like; that’s stuff from some of the more exotic photo kit, to hi-fi and exercise bikes! It’s got to go or it will cost us £5 per cu ft for the 2-3 year period that we’re planning to be away.
The start date and route are flexible; to the casual observer, it might sound a little “fluffy” at this stage but the departure date will be determined by the sale of the house and route will be determined by the weather.
It seems an odd thing to say but, largely because of the obvious limitation that we will have to pack our lives into 8 panniers, we have had to think quite hard about why we’re going. Paradoxically, the cycling comes third on the list of priorities. The first two are travelling and photography.
That means that the photo kit gets a degree of priority in the packing and must be packed in a way that makes the workflow easy enough so that it’s not inhibited. On our 1000km test run in Thailand we didn’t take anywhere near enough photographs and we regret it. At heart, we’re photographers that cycle not cyclists with a camera.
That doesn’t mean that we will be packing a la Ansel Adams and it has taken a degree of trial and error to get to the minimum viable kit. So far, this is our list for a world tour:
- Canon 5D MkIII
- Canon 24mm TS-E Lens (unsurpassed for landscape)
- Lee Circular Polariser
- Lee grad grey filters
- Lee “Black Glass” – 10 stop ND filter
- Canon 70-200mm f4L (the long lens)
- Canon 50mm f1.4 (the fast lens)
- Fujifilm X100T & X100F (the street cameras)
We also need to carry the peripheral stuff of computers, chargers etc but because we have holiday rental properties, we need to carry most of that anyway.
The Route – “Chasing the 28”
We like the heat, we like the sunshine, but not too much. I’m happy up to about 33-35C but Siubhan prefers it a little cooler and we both like life at 28C. It was another wine-fuelled evening when we came up with the idea that we should cycle around the world planning to be wherever it’s 28C (or thereabouts), broadly following a seasonally varying isotherm. This summer, we’re planning to ride the Rhine with friends from 29 Jul and that means we will be in Rotterdam in mid-August. That works well for us and we will now be mid-summer in Northern Europe, we will probably have about a 2-4 weeks that might allow us to get to Denmark then we really want to be turning South. Berlin, Prague Vienna are on our hitlist but then on to Istanbul before turning back through Greece, where I have never been.
It all gets a bit fuzzy from here as we’d like to get to Odessa at some point, as a child of the Cold War generation, places like Odessa and Tallin hold a degree of fascination for me. But, then, we would love to go to Crete onto Alexandria and back through Egypt and into Israel, but getting from Crete to Alexandria looks problematic.
Coming Home Regularly
We both have parents who are in their 70s and 80s and we want to keep close. The internet is a fantastic resource that shrinks the world, my sister is in Sydney and my mother in Thatcham and the internet has allowed them to drive each other nuts as much as they ever did. But even with web-camming there’s nothing that can replace the face-to-face family interaction; I have a son who is 27 and our quarterly father-son hugs are precious. Siubhan has parents, sisters and we have nephews in Bristol and it would be unthinkable that we would just bugger off and not see them for the duration of our tour.
All of this means that part of the planning is that Siubhan will return home every 6-8 weeks, for a week or so at a time, and I will join her for alternate returns. We will just tie our bikes to a metaphoric lamppost wherever we are, jump on a flight and be back 7-10 days later to continue the tour.
When planning the trip budget, this is an important factor.
Tourers not Expeditioners
We’d love to think that we’re going to be breaking new ground as we venture forth on the bikes, but the reality is that we will be touring in the wheels of many that have gone before us. Self-supported intercontinental cycle touring has become increasingly popular over recent years and the activity on the Internet forums would suggest that we could tuck into a tourers’ peloton through a remote Andes pass! Our experience last year down the Danube would certainly suggest this is true, but a 1000km through Thailand was a much more remote experience.
For us, it will be a balance, personal danger and extreme personal discomfort rule out a lot of the countries at first pass, think Syria and Iraq, but we plan to push our boundaries and go increasingly “foreign”. We’re not brave enough to dive straight into sub-Saharan Africa but by the time we get to that part of the world then maybe we will be better mentally equipped to cope.
The Route – Continued
From here it’s all deliberately vague with not much more of a hitlist of places that we want to go. Israel to Oman, India is a possibility but the familiar turf of South East Asia is a must, maybe Chiang Mai to Ho Chi Minh. New Zealand, Australia, some South Pacific Islands before South Korea onwards to Japan. A little ride from Canada to Mexico down the Pacific coastline is very appealing, as are chunks of South America.
There seems to be an awful lot to do in a very short time now and life is busy with self-defence and first aid courses, eBay listings and trips to the tip. Our life is now dominated by the dots, little coloured dots that we’re sticking to everything to denote “Scrap”, “Sell” or “Store”
Conversely, three years seems like a very short time now for this adventure, I’m not sure there will ever be an end. We’ll see.