With my departure date now a month away, a lot of people have been asking me the same question: "Are you prepared?". A big part of this venture is about taking myself out of my comfort zone. As such, I see it as a good thing that I don’t feel fully prepared, or I’d have to find a way to increase the challenge! I'm under no illusions that this trip will require me to think on my feet, and I’m looking forward to tackling the challenges I’ll be faced with along the way. But it's also nice to have some kind of plan. This post should go some way towards explaining what I've been doing to prepare.
Most of my preparatory work has revolved around having a workable route. It's been through a few refinements, but has stayed pretty close to my original plan. Sadly, I've had to drop Iran, as it has "temporarily" suspended independent travel for British citizens. As a knock-on effect, Turkmenistan has also been axed, as crossing it on a 5-day transit visa (all I would be permitted) would be impossible. Australia still has a big question mark over it, due to the length of my route (The original was 10000km longer than intended). I am also now leaning towards crossing the Americas via the USA instead of South America.
I started getting my vaccinations quite early on; a good idea, as some inoculations require multiple injections, spaced out over certain intervals. Having a route plan in place allowed me to work out which vaccinations would be necessary, which were recommended, and which I could afford. I have one more round of injections and a full general health check-up scheduled. I also have an appointment with the dentist, following a breakage while eating chips. Yes, chips...
My visa acquisition plans also revolve around having the basic route plan in place. I began by reading up on the UK government’s advice on individual countries (which advises against "all but essential travel" to nearly every locale on earth) and wrote a list of the countries which require an entry visa, then ticked off the ones which operate E-visas and Visas on arrival, as both types require very little forethought. This leaves me with: Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Russia, China, Vietnam and the USA. I will have to apply for these on the road, in cities with the relevant consulates, and the processing time for each presents the possibility of delays. Because of this I plan on coinciding them with rest breaks and service stops for the bike.
Despite having left my old job, I have recently been washing dishes for a local restaurant in the evenings, which has kept my funds from being depleted too heavily in the period leading up to my departure, and secured me the occasional free meal (intercepted on its journey towards the bin). It has, however, caused the people at HMRC considerable confusion, so I'm now trying to chase a much-needed tax rebate. Other financial steps I've taken include transferring full control of my bank accounts to my sister, purchasing Dollars and Euros (widely accepted currencies), cashing in my change jar and spending all of my Nectar points.
When it comes to setting up my bike (the lovely Kathryn), Elmy Cycles in Ipswich have been an enormous help. The shop’s owner, Steve, has been really accommodating and the knowledge and expertise from all of the staff there has been gratefully received. The workshop manager (my good friend, Harry King) has slaved away to get everything running well. We just have a last-minute operation to replace a worn wheel rim scheduled and a few tweaks to be made to the overall arrangement of my equipment on the bike (rubbing panniers!), which brings me nicely onto the next topic...
I have now managed to source all of the equipment I will be using, with just a couple of items still in the postal ether, and will be getting the kitchen scales out and updating the ‘gear’ page of my website accordingly. The page is a very useful tool for ensuring a fairly even weight distribution when loading the bike, and will serve as a checklist for when I load up on departure (as well as being of interest to any other cycling nerds). I've done a fully loaded test ride and found the bike to be nicely balanced, with nothing falling off (except for myself), I've also conducted tests of my tent and cooking equipment at around -4C in my back garden. I can set my Vango Banshee 200 up in record time. In the dark, the temperature was just about tolerable in my second-hand sleeping bag, so I think I should survive the tail-end of a European winter and the night time extremes of Mongolia.
As the trip is for charity I've been working to promote my trip: I was interviewed by Jon Wright from BBC Radio Suffolk, who will kindly be following my progress on his show, and the Ipswich Star newspaper will be running pieces both in print and online. A massive shoutout has to go to Stuart Fyfe for sacrificing his Monday nights and, with less than 40 hours (And more than 100 cans of Stella Artois) has taken us from no website at all to the beautiful creation you see before you. The help of Guy Rodwell, and all you guys through social media, has really boosted the traffic through the website, and as a result, donations have crept up to around £800 at the time of writing. I’ll be hoping to post loads more content in the lead up to the big day, so keep it up! Everyone’s support, big or small, has been overwhelming, and I look forward to (hopefully) entertaining you with tales of my escapades!
So, to return to the original question that I posed in the first part of this post: “Are you prepared?” the answer, after all of that, is still very much, “no”. But, if I’d have waited until the right time, when I had all of the very best equipment, when I’d gained some more experience, when I deemed my bank balance absolutely sufficient, when I’d found corporate sponsorship, when the website was more polished, on some arbitrary date far in the future... Would these plans have even reached the drawing board? I think the answer would also have been a resounding “no”.
But as Marilyn Monroe once said, “Fear is stupid, so are regrets”. I know which one I prefer the sound of.