Hello, and welcome to Roughstuff's World Cycle tour page. This page, and the attachments you can click to at various points in the following text, is dedicated to all of the many people, in cyberspace and out, who have given me the courage and the encouragement to go on my 2 year cycling tour starting June 1, 1998. I have a host of people to thank, the number is growing every day; just before I go I'll post a list. I am sure a lot of people will help me along the way too.
In a way this is the first installment of material that I hope to submit to this site about my tour. One of the first things you learn about a tour like this is that it begins long BEFORE your formal departure date. Now, I don't mean just planning and other preparations, although that has been going on big time since last November 1997. I mean anticipation: the looking forward, the wonder and excitement, the fears and reservations; that always precede a trip of this magnitude.
I will soon be adding pictures and GIFs to spice up this text, but for now let me describe the proposed route for those who wish to follow along. I will start June 1st in Anchorage, Alaska, and bike down the rocky mountain spine of Canada and the US to the mexican border. I will spend alot of time wandering around in BC and Alberta, which I know and love so well; alot of side trips in Wyoming/Colorado/Utah/New Mexico as well. This evokes the first principle of this tour, which can be stated as follows:
(1) The purpose of this trip is to see as much scenery and culture along the way as possible, consistent with the overall goal of going round the world.
To this end, I do not plan on setting any land speed records..my time budget calls for 50 miles a day, even though I will often do much more than that. But this gives me plenty of time for side trips, rest days, and unforeseen delays. It gives me time to spend with the people I see along the way: in cafes, parks, campgrounds and other places.
In any case, when I reach the Mexican border, tentatively on September 30, 1998, I cross into the central/South American leg of the tour. I plan on entering Mexico near Texas' Big Bend National Park (whats a world tour without texas??? Isn't texas the world, anyway???). From there thru central America: Hunduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama. A short flight or boat should bring me to Colombia, tentative date of arrival, December 1, 1998. From there I plan to, with great caution and tact, ride thru Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile until I reach Tierra del Fuego, tentatively in mid March; late summer South America time.
A primary concern of cyclists (and tourists in general) in South America is personal security. I have read all kinds of stories--horror stories, happy stories. I will make my final decision about how to handle the security problems of the Narco-states (if I may call them that) as I approach them on the ground. But I will be guided by my second general principle, which is
(2) As a world CYCLING tour, I will strive to cover as much of the trip on the ground, under my own power, on my own initiative, as is consistent with reasonable concern about personal safety and integrity.
What this means, to be very honest with you readers, is I plan to ride into Colombia/Ecuador/Peru and find out firsthand just what the cycling there is like. I am not naive; I am not completely clueless; but my traveling experience has always been that places are not as bad as you hear about. If you went only where the US State Department said was safe, you wouldn't even go to Washington DC to see the US State Department. Also, based upon my personal experiences so far (much more about this later) I think i'll be able to get thru any nasty encounters with my person, ego (VIP!!!!) and perhaps even my property largely intact. In any case I want to tread carefully into these countries and give their people a chance: to do anything else would be an insult. It is a risk I am willing to take which many are not ; which is probably why I am riding, and you are reading.
By the way security is an issue that goes far beyond concerns about specific places and specific incidents. I am going to try and keep this issue under control, in perspective, the same way that I will control most other aspects of this trip: through poise, and preparation.
In any case, from Tierra Del Fuego I will irde back up the east side of South America to either Montevideo or Rio and hop on a plane. The next part of my trip is northwest Africa: Morocco at least, perhaps Mauritania and Senegal if I am able to swing the necssary paperwork. I may have to fly to Spain and double back down, but I will at least do the Atlas mountains and the Rif. I am sorry to say Africa is the continent that gets stiffed on this world tour, as I travel very little of it. But doing a major trip in Africa would add at least a whole year to the tour, time I do not have; with little to show for it. Thus, from Morocco on into Spain, across the Alps, balkans into Turkey.
Still with me?? Well...now the excitement REALLY begins! And you thought the excitement was in Colombia dodging drug dealers? In Peru dodging rabid spitting Llamas? Well...you are wrong. Once I arrive in Turkey the real challenge arises. How do you go get from Asia minor across the mountains to India or Asia proper? Heck, the same problem has plagued everyone from Caesar to Alexander the Great to the Antichrist, if the guy every arrives. (Actually I believe the antichrist will be a female. My nominee is Vanna White). Either I will take the northern route, thru the former Soviet republics and on into China, over the Karakoram highway into Pakistan. Or the southern route,,through the mideast, somehow crossing the Arabian peninsula and over to Pakistan and onwards. This part of the trip is least planned, because it is the most volatile. Heck...just last week (3/1/98) Iran announed they may grant Americans visas!! So I'll fill in the details as I get closer.
From India things settle back down..India, southest Asia to Singapore, fly to Australis for my second winter in a loop around the country, then back by plane to Hong Kong/Macau and into eastern China, up to Manchuria.
My trip will ALMOST be over at this point, and, with thousands of miles behind me, a little bit of luck, and a lot of change of heart on the part of certain officials, I would like my tour to reach a most unique emotional climax. I would like to cross the Yalu River into North Korea and cycle in that mysterious and closed country. This is where this website comes together as one whole: for if you are familiar with my site, you know the other half is a big Korean War archive.
Again, I agree it is highly unlikely I will be able to enter North Korea, let alone ride independently to the Chosin reservoir and down the steep grades from Funchilin pass that the frozen X corps and Marines slogged over 50 years ago. I hope my credibility as a world cyclist, my awesome personal powers of persuasion (I once got my dog to roll over!), and the thawing international atmosphere in Northeast Asia, will come together for me in those distant days of late Spring 2000...still two years away, still 30,000 miles ahead. Through all the joy, fears and wonder of the next 24 months; through all the scenery, friends, fiends, bonding and banditos, will be woven a sad, somber and meaningful thread: the hope that, when I do arrive at that border, I'll be allowed to cross and tread the ground I have read so much about for so many years. Thats why so many people will misunderstand the reason I am going on this trip, and see me off with silly smiles and quaint wishes of joy and godspeed.
No matter what happens, the trip comes to an end when I hope over to Japan and ride to Tokyo, specifically Yokota Air Base, where my current employer may want to rehire me after being foing for a few years! Otherwise I will turn into a full time touring cyclist and burnout.
As I said, it's easier to see the route on a world map, which will be posted on this page shortly; i have to borrow a scanner and all that. The estimated distance is about 30,000 miles, not including flying miles. The estimated cost is between $20,000 and $30,000, including air fares. This cost may be a massive overestimate if I am able to camp as much as I would prefer to. Occasionally I would like to go to a hostel, or may have to go into a city for currency exchange/health matters/visa stuff; but in general I plan on staying in the rural areas, and will aim for mountains wherever they can be found. I do this because I am geologist by background. I am traveling to see the scenery. Festivals, museums, markets, carnivals, etc are all cool as I pass them along the way, but it is nature I want to see: mountains, lakes and streams, forests and savannahs and deserts. So I plan on being on my own most of the time, even if, as is so often the case, I find folks to who want to ride along during part of the trip. But I am adamant about one thing: I will not accept sponsorship from any organization or product, under any circumstances. This is encompassed in my third cycling principle:
(3) My world cycling tour will be a completely independent event. I will finance it on my own; travel under my own power to the fullest extent; and travel solo except where courtesy, security, or friendliness dictate otherwise.
The last thing I want is to have my body covered with whooshes and logos; my website to be covered with GIFs and gifts (pun, eh?? beware of Greeks bearing GIFs...] from manufacturers. I don't want to have to coo and lavish praise upon products ( like--heheheh..VAPOR BARRIER CLOTHING..lets not mention any NAMES here..ok????) that don't work. In short, I don't want to look or feel like these professional auto racers you see in the pits after a big victory, with every conceivable square inch of body space plastered with advertising. This is not due to any hostility to advertising per se; its just a strong desire on my part for this trip to belong to ME..not someone else. During the course of my trip I will talk about specific products/bikes etc and I want to be able to do so with a clear, objective mind.
Ok Ok...enough of the heavy emotional stuff and pledges of principle. What about the brass tacks and nitty gritty of this tour? Well, here are a few..i'll add more later as I think about them.
First, the Bike!! Hard to go on a bike tour without a bike, eh?? Well, I just bought the bike for my tour. It is a Cannondale T-700, sort of a hybrid on road off raod bike. I was a bit reluctant to buy a purely aluminum frame, since they cannot be welded out in the sticks on the spot, but the folks assured me it 'would NEVER break.' We will see soon enough, eh?? It has a cassette rear hub, also something new to me, but I imagine that removing the freewheel is still not that big a deal, its just that i have to do a few crazy things if and when i decide to repack and replace the ball bearings. I also bought Cannondale because they have dealerships in numerous countries where I will be riding, and that bodes well for parts, perhaps; repairs, perhaps; and even replacement, if necessary.
Now, since the first several months of the trip are in Canada and the US, I have plenty of time to work out the bugs with the bike, get familiar with it, and make it an indispensable friend. I always strike the following solemn oath with my bike: "I will carefully maintain, repair and lubricate you; you, in exchange, will not suffer a major breakdown in the middle of knowhere." What is a 'major breakdown'?? Well i suppose the list is endless but to me it means
a broken rear spoke,
a broken axle, or
a problem with the rear sprocket itself.
All three are a royal pain in the ass to deal with. But with the tools you can do ok. In any case, such a breakdown is pretty easy to fix in the USA/Canada, where most shops stock such stuff in quantity. Once in Central and South america though, the issue becomes more dicey. What I plan on doing is having one spare for every critical part: spare rear axle, spare rear sprocket, and of course, spare spokes. Nothing particularly creative there. But i plan on having replacement parts sent to me at certain drop off points, too...just in case i can't get the right replacement parts in Mexico, or Ecuador, or whatever.
Specifically, when I reach Albuquerque, i will make sure i have all good working parts and the spares I need. Waiting for me in San Juan, Costa Rica, should I need it, will be a package that contains, as needed, tires, chain, sprocket, derailleur, and rear axle. I will assemble this package before I leave, and instruct a friend of mine to send it to Costa Rica by courier, if I need the parts. Between albuquerque and CR I am on my own. From Costa Rica, with parts replaced and new spares provided, my next drop off point if probably Quito..at the South American Explorers club! From there, perhaps one more drop off, although people tell me very quality and variety of parts are available in Argentina and Chile. If all of this preparation turns out to be unncessary, GREAT!! I would rather overprepare. I am taking a cue from my military buddies on the other part of my website: the onus of logistics is from the REAR, to anticipate what folks up front need. So...i'll have stuff here in the states ready to send down, if needed.
What about equipment?? This will vary since the climate will change; I'll need cold weather gear until I hit the Southwest; then it'll be pretty warm except for cool nights in the mountains until I need the cold weather stuff again in the Southern Cone. So i won't say much about clothing. But for camping I am gonna carry a small, low rise tent that can be set up off the road and very easily be out of sight. Out of sight..out of mind. I'll find plenty of campgrounds, but wild camping will always be an inexpensive option. This means of course a nice 3 season down bag, and a foam pad. Military supply stores have this stuff at half the price of designer ga-ga chains. In Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, I may stay in small hotels and pensiones for security reasons; i'll play that by ear. One reason I want to wild camp as much as I can in the US and Canada is to save money for when I have to pay for a room night after night. For my panniers I soon will order a nice full set of Ortliebs, which advertise themselves as ABSOLUTELY and INCONTROVERTIBLY water proof. Well, I think that'll be a big enough advantage to be worth paying for.
For cooking gear, i want to carry an all fuel stove. I could kill myself for throwing away my dear olf Optimus 99, which burned anything and had a needle that poked up FROM BELOW to ream out the fuel hole. I decided to get an MSR that will ream out the feul hole when ya shake it. For cooking gear I carry a 2 small sauce pans, a fry pan with the handle sewn off, and a cup; knife, fork, spoon. I have a tradition of spreading peanut butter with a tire iron...somehow that trace of grease and rubber adds a bit to the sandwich. Its easiest to understand what I am taking if ya see pictures from my other tours...click here and have a look at a few pictures.
By the way for meals I tend to have cold milk and raisin bran at breakfast, followed by coffee in a cafe if they are around; sandwiches of some sort bought in a store for lunch; and a stew at dinner from a scrubby piece of meat, potatoes and a carrot which simmers while i write in my journal. Obviously this will vary widely as I travel elsewhere...in Czechoslovakia I had soup/bread and beer for all three meals and loved it! I am sure I will cook in canada and the US; once in Mexico i will cook when needed and munch at cafes/roadside stands since i hear they are pretty cheap.
For racks I used to use Blackburn and swore by them; but people tell me they can't handle the stress of off road riding so I will probably go with a different brand. Similarly I usually carried Kirtland elastic snap-opn panniers. But this time I will go with the Ortliebs for waterproofing and size. My main concern is to have panniers big enough to carry all my stuff inside: its less easy to see and grab. For front racks, by the way, I recommend you not get the 'low riders' so popular in ga-ga magazines for being aerodynamic or whatever. The space on top of the front rack is useful and you lose it with low riders. And if you are concerned about the effect of weight on your front wheel, you are probably carrying too much weight to begin with.
Money! Gee...i guess it shows where my head is that I get to money so late in my discussion of touring, eh?? Again in the US/Canada I'll have no problem. I'll get a tranche of travelers checks when I leave Albuquerque..enough to get me to San Jose, Costa Rica (a major refueling point). I plan to carry Visa debit cards to get cash in the major cities if needed; a 'small" anount of cash on my person, and American Express travelers cheques for the rest. With money of course the security issue is most acute. To be honest there is nothing you can do if, in an encounter, everything you have...bike, equipment, clothing,-- is taken. Short of that, you can stash cash in a variety of places and hope the nasty sons of bitches don't get all of them: soles of your shoes, seatpost and handlebar stems, various moneybelts, in the styrofoam of your helmet, endless possibilities. I am gonna experiment with a small (SMALL!) cloth belt that wraps around my penis...then if they rob me completely, at least I enjoy it. I'll let ya'all know how it works. I plan on making financial arrangements in advance for the event of a complete ripoff...for security reasons, I can' t tell ya those while my trip is in progress. I will say a fellow I knew at a Marine corp base in the Far East, who was a Navy Seal trainer (but not a Seal himself; S.E.R.E. I believe it was called) says loaded his down tube with plastic explosive; and when a few punks rode off with his bike in the Phillipines, click! sent them to an early party with Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos. My solution is not that radical; but his innovative approach was certainly a creative one.
Of course, the question alot of people ask about this tour, is not what...how...when...with who...it is why. Or at least, the kind of people who care about people the most ask this question. Now..I could give stock, butch answers...my nickname IS Roughstuff, after all....or I could give ya the line about why men climb mountains...or talk about how life is just a challenge to be met. But all these answers would be lies. Or at least partly lies...not the whole truth. To understand why I am going on this tour I have to share some of myself with you; make myself as vulnerable in cyberspace as I will be when I ride in those Colombian Andes later this year.
Those who know me well know that my favorite book is T.H. White's The Once and Future King, his rendition of the great legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. One major story in this novel is the guilty love Lancelot, the head knight at the table (no pun intended there, for my numerous Gay readers!) has for Guenever, his King's wife. There is a time when Lancelot returns to Court after being away on a long campaign with the King in France..and of course, his first sight when he comes into the Royal Chamber for a formal dinner is....his leading lady.
What sort of pciture do people have of Sir lancelot looking back from this end of time? Perhaps they only think of him as an ugly young man who was good at games. But he was more than this. He was a knight with a medieval respect for honour.
There is phrase you which you can sometimes come across in country districts even nowadays, which sums up a great deal of what he might have tried to say. Farmers use it in Ireland, as praise or complement, saying , "So and So has a Word. He will do what he promised."
Lancelot tried to have a Word. He considered it, as the ignorant country people still considered it, to be the most valuable of possessions.
But the curious thing was that under the king-post of keeping faith with himself and with others, he had a contradictory nature that was far from Holy. His Word was valuable to him not only because he was good, but also because he was bad. It is the bad people who need principles to restrain them. For one thing, he liked to hurt people. It was for the strange reason that he was cruel, that he never killed a man who asked for mercy, or committed a cruel action that he could have prevented. On reason why he fell in love with Guenever was that the first thing he had done was hurt her. He might never have noticed her as a person, if he had not seen the pain in her eyes.
People have odd reasons for ending up as saints. A man who was not afflicted by ambitions of decency in his mind might simply have run away with his hero's wife; and then perhaps the tragedy of King Arthur might never have happened. An ordinary fellow, who did spend half his life torturing himself by trying to discover what was right so as to conquer his inclination towards what was wrong, might have cut the knot which brought their ruin.
When the King and Lancelot arrived in England after the Roman war, the fleet landed at Sandwich. It was a grey September day, with the blue and copper butterflied flitting in the after-grass, the partridges calling like crickets, the blackberries colouring, and the hazel nuts still nursing their tasteless little kernels in cradles of cotton wood. Queen Guenever was on the beach to meet them, and the first thing that Lancelot knew as she kissed his King, was that she would be able to come between them after all. He made a movement as if his entrails were tying themselves in knots, saluted the Queen, went off to bed in the nearest Inn at once, and lay awake all night. In the morning, he asked leave of absence from the court.
"But you have hardly been at court at all," said Arthur. "Why do you want to go away so soon?"
"I ought to go away"
"Ought to go away?" asked the King? "What do you mean, ought to go away?"
Lancelot clinched his fists until the knuckles stood out, and said. "I want to go on a quest. I want to find an adventure......"
This was the beginning of the famous quests. They were not mad to win him fame, or recreation. They were an attempt to escape from his painful love of Guenever. They were struggles to save his honour...not to establish it.
Well...I am not a knight, and those of you who know me and my website better also know i would never sink so low as to fall in love with a woman, let alone Guenever! But I will say that this trip is, in no small part, an attempt to escape the same kind of anguish that Sir Lancelot felt. It is why I will disdain sponsors, publicity, endorsements, and why I look with jaundiced eyes on those folks who tell me 'what a wonderful thing this trip must be!!!' Well, they are right, but for the wrong reason. It is why the fabric of this trip, for all of its beautiful scenery and sense of accomplishment, will be woven with a recurrent thread of sadness. I do not want these private thoughts and feelings shared (though I have shared SOME of them with you); I do not want my innermost pains trampled in the glare of beautiful people; I want to be alone with the world, even while being completely immersed in it. The only way to do this is to go alone. And so I will.
Returning to trip particulars, I must admit that MOST of my planning so far has been the western hemisphere/south America portion. The trip thru the Asia republics on the silk road will present numerous challenges akin to the South American portion. Yet I have been delinquent in really planning for those, because that part of the trip is so FAR off...so much will change between now and then...that planning really is an exercise in futility. It would be great to get all the visas and paperwrok done in advance, but this is just not feasible. I will have to take some time when I am in Europe to get the required paperwork done; or perhaps in Turkey, where my employer has some connections to get the documents I need. As far as going into North Korea is concerned, that will require substantial political changes and alot of behind the scenes effort on my part. (I may have more to say on this later).
I plan on taking photographs and certainly would like to put some on this site. A few people have offered to manage this site in my absence; I will make my final decision in a the next few weeks. To be honest, I don't plan on submitting all that much: not only do i not want to carry a massive camera with its bulk/weight and likelihood of being ripped off; but also I just want to use my submissions to keep everyone up to date on where I am. I'll probably put alot of trip journals and logs on-line when I get back; rather than burden someone with my longwinded-ness before I go! From time to time i'll end up in cities large enough to have Universities with internet access; even internet cafes; thats probably when I'll add alot of stuff to this site which is text oriented. But i must admit-- when i get on the road, I often just completely vanish into the warm, loving arms of nature--so don't be surprised if you go long, long times without hearing from me. This is not going to sit well with some people but thats the way I am and thats the way it will be. I am not interested in doing this trip 'wired to the world' or proving just how ON-LINE you can be while looking under the foreskin of a tse-tse fly in Lagos, Nigeria while fighting off leprous cannibals. The hour is late and i just got back from listening to a scad of Neil Young songs, and am tempted to wax a bit philiosophical. A recurring theme on my talk so far about my world tour has been the security issue. This is just part of a larger question, which is 'why bother to travel in areas where there is hostility to begin with??' Now, phrased in this larger context, it turns out I already have some experience and insight to share with you, even before I go on my trip.
On my cross country trip, many years ago on the transamerica trail, there always was a lot of bad ink, bad campfire and bad cafe talk about Eastern Kentucky; or the Appalachia region. I saw more of this region than most transAm-ers, since I turned off the trail in Kentucky, went thru Tennessee to North Carolina en route to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a tough country thru whcih to travel...the land seems broken, smashed by the hands of an angry God into steep hills and hollows, cursed with a steamy humidity seven months of the year; the land often raped for coal and oil by private companies and for flood control dams and irrigation projects by the Federal Government. And to be honest, I will not give them any awards for friendliness. I had my share of dogs 'sicced' on me, and got the nasty stares in the country stores given to anyone who wasn't a local. But I have traveled more than most, and in my humble opinion, see more of people and what they are made of than most folks do. I could see beyond the anger, the distrust, the hostility, to the reasons beneath: or at least, I think I could. You must understand that in these regions---and there are many of them throughout the world, not just in appalchia-- the outsider has never come with the intention of doing anything but making a fast buck off the local 'hicks'; and then splitting off to enjoy their wealth, leaving the spoiled remains behind. First it was the oil and coal mining companies, which took billions out of the region: leaving it with acid lakes, choked and black lung adults, piles of slag and mine tailings that leak toxic chemicals to this day. For its part, the federal government was no better: building flood control/hydroelectric dams and selling the power to the industrial cities of the northeast and south at artificially low prices. So locals hate fancy-pants strangers and all they stand for. Yet it can also be said that in this nations wars--especially the two world wars -- the rate of voluntary enlistment from these ravaged states was so great, and the subsequent death toll among the poorly educated infantry so total, that whole counties lost almost an entire generation. Does this seem like mean people to you? They appear uncouth and uncultured to the city folk bred on both coasts; but God bless'em, they don't give a shit, and I for one respect them for it, even if they act out their hostility a bit too often and in too generous a portion from time to time. (I do wish they would kill their man eating chiggers, ticks, mosquitos, and other assorted bugs! ) So I, roughstuff, have a somewhat more generous perspective on the hostility I meet in certain places than many of you, my readers, do. Again, that probably explains why at this moment, you are reading and I am riding.