By Zac Clayton, 22-Mar-2012 21:48:00
With over 8 months still to go until I leave on my world cycle, the prospect of clipping in and pedalling off the ferry onto French soil seems a million years away - and at the end of what must be the world’s biggest to-do list. All my dreams of border crossings, climbs up from Himalayan valleys towards snow-covered peaks, stringing up my hammock in the Aussie outback and waking up to a brilliant sunrise in some of the remotest places on the planet still have a slightly fantastical and unreal tinge to them. This is probably because although I have been planning this for over 2 years already, I still have so much yet to do!
I started off with just a world map, a pencil and an enormous sense of excitement – one of the greatest feelings in the world is staring at a map and dreaming of all the adventures you could have exploring it. I already had some experience of planning a cycle tour, having cycled through France and Italy in the summer of 2009 – a trip in which almost everything which could have gone wrong did go wrong, from getting lost to the bike breaking! I learnt lessons though; such as to be prepared for the unexpected and to roll with the punches – some of my best memories were gained as a result of disaster striking. I also learnt that investing in good quality equipment is well worth the extra money – a bike that is good enough for commuting to work and the odd weekend cycle won’t survive the rigours of an extended tour on rough roads whilst fully loaded with camping gear; a tent that you’d use for festivals won’t last long when being put up and down on a daily basis, especially if you’re in a hurry to get some miles under your belt before the sun starts beating down.
With those lessons in mind, I traced a rough line around the world and set to doing some research on the countries I’d drawn through. What were the must-sees? When should I go? (or perhaps more critically when was monsoon season?!) What was the terrain like? How easy were the countries to get into, and what were the dangers likely to be when I got in? How long would it take me, and how far could I reasonably expect to cycle every day? How many rest days would I need? What equipment would I need to buy? And then the most important question of them all; what would it cost me!? I lost count long ago how many hours and days I’ve spent planning and refining my route, equipment lists and budget; I have more or less finished my planning, consequently I am now able to confirm that I still have an alarmingly enormous amount to do.
On the plus side, you can now check out my finalised route elsewhere on the site (under the ‘The Route’ tab...obviously). It was in the fairly early stages of planning that I realised I would have to cycle over mountains and through deserts at some point, and I couldn’t avoid all the extreme weather in the world - although admittedly I have tried to miss excessively harsh cold, which is just no fun to cycle in. All in all, I think that my route is a nice compromise and is one of the few things I have actually finished - although saying this, I still have to plot my route onto my GPS (not a task I am looking forward to with great anticipation). I will be navigating Europe, Turkey, some of China, Australia, NZ and the USA predominantly using a bike-specific sat-nav – although my experiences with it in the past mean I will take paper maps as a backup as well. Looking at the route, it’s fair to say that I’ll still be cycling through some pretty extreme weather and terrain (think the Taklamakan Desert, Pamir Mountains or the Nullarbor) and so although I already have a lot of cycling gear I still have to get – and test – a LOT more!
And it’s not just the unpredictability of the route I have to plan for; I also have to be prepared for passing the completely predictable bureaucracy of each country’s entry rituals. Although I have planned how to get my visas (the difficult ones being for Iran, Central Asia and China), I can’t apply for them now as most have a 3-month expiry date so I’ll have to organise them en-route. In terms of my flight tickets, I’ll buy them a year in advance – which will mean I have to reach certain places in time to catch planes between continents...no pressure there then. And while I’m still in the U.K, I need to go on a refresher first-aid course and get all my inoculations – ideally I will a picture of good health for 11 months, but if I’m sure of anything at this stage, it’s that my journey will not be void of cuts and bruises. I’ll also need to learn the odd essential phrase in various foreign languages; how to ask my way to Beijing for example! And at some point when I have all my equipment I’ll to do a fully loaded trial run, probably a 300-400 mile trip in the UK; to see how everything feels, find out what doesn’t work, and what I can leave behind.
In addition to tying up all those loose ends on the planning side I’ll now be spending a lot more time on fundraising and increasing the profile of the trip – the first step of which was constructing this website. I am of course doing this not only as an incredible personal challenge but to raise money and awareness for Wateraid; a charity which focuses on providing clean water and sanitation to some of the poorest parts of the world. With most of my planning out of the way, and a good chunk of the money saved to actually do the trip, I can finally start on what will be one of the most fulfilling aspects of the journey; raising money for an excellent cause.
As well as all of that, and as odd as it feels to start thinking about finishing the trip, I have to consider what I’ll do when I get home. I’ll shortly start applying for all the deferred entry grad schemes I’m interested in (of which there are many) which will also eat up a lot of time and effort. Ideally I’ll have a job waiting for me; the insecurity of not having a stable job when I get back is definitely some baggage I’d rather leave at home!
All of this I have to do whilst working an average of over 100 hours a week (although I do get to sleep some of those) looking after adults with severe learning difficulties. I have been doing this for over a year now and I still find it incredibly interesting and rewarding – despite all the inevitable tough and challenging moments - I wouldn’t swap it for a bar job even if they paid me twice as much. I’m also training for the London Marathon in 2012, a long time personal goal of mine (currently involving several runs a week), which I’ll run about a week before I leave on this trip. I’m also cycling to work (around 30 miles a day, in all the wonderful weather that north Wales provides) which is both good prep for the trip and a way to keep travel costs down...while of course doing my bit for the environment.
As you can imagine, I’m going to be kept pretty busy over the coming months, and I’m sure May 2012 will creep up on me. In the meantime, I’ll have to be content with my daydreams of that incredible open-road feeling in the pit of my stomach, and organising making it a reality!
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