By Zac Clayton, 22-Mar-2012 22:05:00
It occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that, with only (!) 6 weeks of shopping left until Christmas, perhaps it was time to pin down exactly where I would spend Christmas and New Year next year. This quickly turned out to be more of a problem that I had anticipated, as it required pinning down considerably more than a couple of dates in December - although the date of May 1st for me leaving has been set in my mind for quite a while, exact dates for border crossings (in Central Asia) and flights (after Beijing) were still quite up in the air. Clearly, I needed to pin these down first, not least because I will shortly need to start buying my various flights.
So, I sat down at my computer and opened up the calendar. I already have a rough idea of locations and distances I want to ride each day, so I put these into the calendar, adding in rest days where needed (both planned, in cities etc that I want to explore, and unplanned - a couple of days at the end of each ‘section’ that I can use when I want). The calendar quickly filled up, and in no time, I found myself in December, staring down the barrel at the prospect of spending Christmas Day somewhere between the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers in New Zealand. Some might jump at the chance but for me, great scenery isn’t one of the things I look for at Christmas - much more important is good company and a ready supply of beer! So the idea of munching through my turkey sandwiches on a remote sheet of ice isn’t quite what I have in mind for my Yuletide celebrations!
To remedy the situation, I cut a few days out of my allocation for China (all rest, something which my legs will no doubt complain bitterly about when crossing the Taklamakan) and a few more from NZ - with the result that I’ll now be spending Christmas in either Wanaka or Queenstown, considerably more lively destinations than a glacier! After Christmas, I’ll cycle for a couple more days down to Bluff, to complete my end-to-end of NZ, before getting a bus back to experience some Kiwi-style New Year celebrations.
The upshot of these tweaks are that I should be finished in NZ 7-10 days early, which is of course extra time to spend in the US. This is pretty pleasing, as my initial plan did feel a bit rushed. With the extra breathing space though, I am going to follow the ACA’s (American Cycling Association’s) Southern Tier route, which will add around 300 miles to my journey, but also remove all need for planning. I just need to stick the coordinates (downloadable for free from their website) into my GPS and focus on the pedaling! Their paper maps are also supposed to be excellent, so although I am not especially fond of carting around a library I may make an exception here - the ACA mark all food, water and accommodation spots along their route, which could come in pretty handy!
A quick note here - although on the face of it I have planned my route down to the mile, in actual fact I have really only tied myself down to a few fixed points in time, when I absolutely have to be in a certain place at a certain time to catch a plane. If I actually manage to follow my day-by-day planning I’ll eat my cycling jersey! What I have essentially done is give myself chunks of time in between flights, based on the distances I know I can comfortably cycle on certain terrains, and adding in a fair sprinkling of rest days to do some exploring. The real essence of cycle touring is in its ability to be completely flexible - to follow the local advice on which route is most scenic, which hidden treasure I should go out of my way to see - and which to avoid! And, at the end of the day, if I do fall a bit behind schedule, I’ve cycled 150 mile days in the past...not especially fun with all my equipment, but doable if absolutely necessary!
Lots of other stuff has been happening apart from the fine-tuning of my route. With only 6 months now to go, things are just starting to pick up pace. I have just bought my insurance (from Insure and Go, if you’re wondering!) so if I break my leg in America, I won’t have to sell a kidney to get it fixed - which is quite a relief. In a couple of weeks I have an appointment to start getting my travel jabs - not especially exciting, but necessary. I’ve also been chatting to Dave at StanTours about my Central Asian visas, and how best to go about getting them. Although I have read that many people have been successful in getting them en-route in places like Tashkent, I think it’s stress I could do without, so am going to try and get them all sorted before I leave! The only one I might have trouble with is China, which has a 3 month expiry date (I get there 4 months after I leave) - but I have a couple of options on the table, so will be OK.
Quite a lot has also been happening with WaterAid - lots of productive chats with their team have helped finalize how I’m going to go about fundraising for them, and I have just started to send out sponsorship letters to various companies that I think might be interested in getting involved. This has probably taken up the biggest chunk of my time over the last couple of months (apart from work!) as the planning for the world cycle is more or less done, and time dedicated to WaterAid is in many ways a lot more important - and certainly an integral part of my trip.
So, it has been a busy couple of months - planning is ticking along nicely, saving is going well (although not perfectly, as I bought a Macbook Air last month to replace my old laptop, which finally gave up the ghost after 4 years of faithful service!), and despite the weather turning colder, wetter and windier here in Snowdonia, I’m still trekking through the mountains to work by bike - which is certainly good preparation! The next couple of months promise to be even busier though, as I start to really get stuck into the business of buying flights, visas and even equipment - I don’t think everything will really hit home until the pile of gear starts to stack up in my garage!
I’ll keep you updated.
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