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Six Months of Touring: Impressions

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

Six months into our first ever bicycle tour! Here are our impressions: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Favorite Things about Bicycle Touring

  1. Watching the landscape change as we cycle into a new region. Seeing the terrain and vegetation change slowly as you pedal along is awesome. Then there’s the drama of crossing a border into a new country on your bike. The language, culture, and people change instantly right before your eyes.
  2. The simple joy of pedaling. Riding along, chatting, singing, enjoying being outdoors and together. Stopping whenever we want to admire the view. Cruising along silently listening to the birds sing and the cows chew their cud. Being so happy we are not on public transportation. Intensifies greatly the day after a bus ride!
  3. All the attention we get from locals when we are on our bicycles away from tourist centers. The smiles, the waves, the conversations. Feeling like you are in a parade as you pass through a small village. Realizing how different most of the country is from the popular tourist destinations.

Least Favorite Things about Bicycle Touring

Sarah: The feeling of being exhausted and run-down along with the pressure of having to ride again the next day. I also hate being overheated and constantly sweating.

James: Those little moments where it suddenly hits me that I’m 27 years old, have no job and no income, and just spent $25,000 in six months.

Biggest Surprises

  1. The disparity in our physical ability and having to figure out how to deal with it. This is something we never talked about before we left, but it turned out to be a big issue because we are confronted by it almost every day.
  2. How routine it can feel some days. Get up, eat, ride, eat some more, sleep. Repeat. I keep telling Sarah we are going to have the following conversation when we get back.

“Wow, that sounds like an amazing trip. You guys must have some amazing stories!”

“Not really, it was pretty mundane.”

Cue the world’s longest uncomfortable silence.

Hardest Parts

  1. Far and away, the hardest part about this trip was making the decision to go. After that, everything was easy. Figure out where you want to go, buy some bikes, point yourselves in the right direction and start pedaling.
  2. The only real hardship we’ve experience on this trip itself is the heat in Southeast Asia. I don’t think either of us could really envision what it would be like to cycle day after day in 40 degree heat with 95% humidity. Putting it simply, it sucks.

Scariest Moments

  1. Almost being attacked by monkeys attack in Prachuap Khiri Khan. I can still hear that low guttural growling that seemed to come in waves from the treetops.
  2. Sarah’s expanding eyeball in Ranong. When I look back, it doesn’t seem like it should have been that scary, but I literally had to sit down for a while to calm down when this happened. I think it was the combination of being new to Thailand and worried about all the bad things that could happen along with the tone of Sarah’s voice as she said “uh-oh” from the bathroom.


  1. The one thing we really wish we had was an altimeter so we’d have a record of what climbing gods we’ve become. On the other hand, we considered not brining a laptop but we’re really glad we did. It’s great for our pictures, working on our site, tracking our finances, and entertaining us with movies and music on those lonely nights on the road. Its one of the things we use almost every day.
  2. As for clothes, we’re still learning what we need and what we don’t. I had to buy some padded mountain-bike shorts in NZ because my new Brooks saddle was too uncomfortable. We are both carrying heavy hiking boots that we never use but we are afraid to get rid of them, “just in case.” Sarah’s two cotton t-shirts don’t dry fast enough, get soaked in sweat, and look dirty quickly, but the capilene Patagonia t-shirts I have are great. Sarah also hates all the pants and shorts she has for hot weather riding – she says they are ugly and uncomfortable.

Best Fights

These are the most memorable fights we have had so far. Don’t worry, we laugh about them now and there have been no threats of divorce.

How Low Can You Go?

He Said: I would rather live simply and really experience a new country than have the comforts of home like expensive cookies on a regular basis. We skipped some things I regret (like a tour of Milford Sound) in New Zealand but blew a lot of money on junk food that we could be sitting on our couch in Seattle eating. Sarah on the other hand refuses to give up her precious TimTams.

She Said: I want to treat myself to luxury items like beer, coffee, and cookies occasionally on this trip. During a physically demanding trip like this food becomes an obsession and after a hard day of climbing it is not a sin to want to buy some cookies or a pint of cold beer. I want to enjoy every single day and sometimes spending a little extra money to go out for a treat enhances the trip – eating gruel and going to bed right afterwards isn’t what I came here to do! This particular fight erupted after I claimed I’d rather eat TimTams every single night and go home early than deny myself of them for even one night. This is a little extreme and not my true opinion, but it was fun to throw in Jamie’s face at the time.

What Inferiority Complex?

He Said: Sometimes I feel like we are not cycling enough on this trip. Usually on a day we only rode for a couple of hours, when we’re sitting in a hotel room with nothing to do I wonder why we just didn’t keep riding. The more we ride, the more we can see, and the more we’ll get out of this trip, right? Not according to Sarah!

She Said: I don’t want to measure myself against other cycle tourists. Each trip and each person has different things they enjoy and thus different goals for their trip. Comparing ourselves to other cycle tourists and then feeling bad about what we’re doing is ridiculous. Instead we should focus on what we want to do and measure ourselves against our own priorities and objectives.

Lose the ‘tude!

He Said: Ask anyone what their response was when we told them about this trip. “Sarah? … Really?!” It was my response too and one of my biggest concerns about this trip was that Sarah wasn’t going to like it. I was afraid she was going to want to quit after two weeks when she realized she didn’t really like cycling that much. Because of that, I’m hypersensitive to the complaining she does when riding. There are two main scenarios when Sarah complains: when it is hot or when we are climbing in the mountains. If you combine those two, there is a 95% chance that she will suggest we think about taking a bus. That never fails to annoy me because that is usually when I am having the most fun!

She Said: One of the surprises for me on this trip is how physically difficult it is for me. I thought that after six months of touring I’d be almost as strong as James during our daily rides. In reality he’s still much stronger than me which means that things that are very difficult for me are typically fairly easy for him. When we ride a really long day, do big climb, or face extreme heat I eventually I have to admit that I’m exhausted, feel crappy, and don’t want to push myself much further. Jamie accuses me of complaining at the first twinge of discomfort and says really infuriating things like “I told you this trip would be difficult for you! I was worried this would happen! You have to keep going even if it is uncomfortable! You are giving up too easily!” I respond by saying that I have been feeling “uncomfortable” for quite some time and I am now approaching my limits. After all this I then get pissed off that he’s not being supportive and saying things like “We only have 20km more to go, you can make it. We can stop and rest every 5km if we need to, but we will make it.” Instead he says things like “You HAVE to make it because there are no other options.” This irritates me to no end. At the end of the fight Jamie is also irritated because he thinks I have a bad attitude and call it quits too soon.

Little Miss Ignorance vs. Mr. Doomsday

He Said: There have been half a dozen occurrences on this trip where Sarah has ignored some aspect of planning or preparation and it has screwed us. I should have taken it as a sign on the first day when we showed up at our flight from LA to New Zealand and the woman at the ticket counter asked us why we didn’t have visas for our stopover in Australia. After about the fourth time, I realized I shouldn’t rely on Sarah much for conscientious planing. In fact, it has proved fruitful to actually do the opposite of what she says! (Much like when she attempts to give directions.)

She Said: First of all, I am not at all ignorant. That was just a catchy fight-title. I am a planner and an organizer. I do not ignore impending tragedy and simply hope things will all work out or go away. Instead I assess a situation, brainstorm the possible actions to solving a problem, and then pick the best possible course of action (with a backup plan if necessary). Once I have determined by course of action, or the research I need to complete to make this decision, I promptly stop worrying about the problem. On the other hand, Jamie likes to lay awake for hours, tossing and turning, all the while dreading the possible horrible outcomes. He gets very upset with me when I don’t join in on the ulcer-inducing fretting and instead fall asleep promptly.

Six Months of Touring: The Hard Facts

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

Today is the six month anniversary of our bicycle tour. We rode out of Auckland on January 1st and since then it has been 181 days overseas, down the road, on this crazy global cycling honeymoon.

Cycling Statistics

Cycling Days 79
Kilometers 5,013
Hours 307:40:11
Kilometers per Cycling Day 63.45
Hours per Cycling Day 3:53:40

I think the biggest surprise about these cycling stats for us is how slowly we are actually traveling. If you do the math, we are only moving at a rate of about 30 kilometers per day. Moving that slowly really is the perfect way to travel, but it also means you need a lot of time to see a country. We spent two months cycling in New Zealand and felt like an adequate amount of time would have been six months. Our big breaks do skew that travel rate a little bit; our longest ones so far have been 22 days between New Zealand and Southeast Asia (planned), 21 days in Bangkok while waiting for visas (unplanned), and now currently 12 days and counting back in Bangkok waiting for Sarah’s arm to heal.


Preparation $9075.55
Airfare $4369.82
United States $2399.52
New Zealand $4012.54
Singapore $610.38
Thailand $2154.02
Cambodia $857.72
Vietnam $771.39
Laos $793.99

Yes, we’ve broken the $25,000 barrier only six months into our trip! After getting over the initial shock of seeing that number staring back at me in Excel, I realized it isn’t that big of a surprise. We pulled the original number of $25,000 out of our ass because it was an easy number for us to stomach. During our travels though, we are averaging about $55 per day or $20,000 for a year on the road, which seems reasonable given what we’ve read about other bicycle tourists doing similar trips. In the end, we don’t expect to be 100% over-budget; Preparation and Airfare still account for over 50% of our total costs. If we keep spending at the current rate, the cost for one year will be $34,000 plus the remaining airfare.

I’ve updated the Finances page with this information along with more details. If you’re the rare individual who has read this far and is actually interested in this stuff, tell us what you want to know. Many people have told us they are interested in the financial aspect of doing a trip like this, but we’ve been struggling to decide what we should publish and what is useless trivia. Leave a comment or send us an email at jamesandsarah at erck dot org.

Gear Failures

Flat Tires 9
Failed Tires 3
Earliest Tire Death (km) 30
Time Wasted Cursing Tires 4:12:47

Other than those pathetic Panaracer tires that we swapped for Schwalbe Marathons, our Gear has been pretty good. Other items that broke are the following:

Giro Atmos Helmet: The thin piece of the plastic support system broke on the plane ride to New Zealand.

SKS Front Fender: Also on the first plane ride, my front fender cracked where it attaches to the fork. This was annoying at first and then got dangerous when tar-covered rocks would get lodged between the tire and fender and stop me immediately. I eventually removed the fenders completely and am now ridin’ dirty.

Topeak Modula XL Bottle Cage: The rubber strap on this bottle cage broke in half after about 1000 kilometers. We replaced it with one of Sarah’s discarded toe-clip straps which works great.

Cat-Eye Mity 8 Computer: In Cambodia, my cycle computer started to randomly stop recording while I was riding. Strangely, it started working again as soon as we crossed into Vietnam but then fell of my bike shortly afterwards. An unsolved mystery.

Other Maintenance: My front brake cable started sticking at 3250 kilometers and we swapped it out for a new one. Sarah’s rear cable then started sticking at 5000 kilometers and was replaced too. Must have something to do with the tropical conditions of Southeast Asia!

Bad Stuff

Crashes 8
Bouts of Severe Diarrhea 4
Dog Attacks 0
Monkey Attacks 0.5

Sarah continues to lead in the walking (pedaling?) disaster category, capturing an impressive 5 crashes, 3 bouts of severe diarrhea, and almost managing to provoke a large scale monkey attack. Here’s a list of the crashes:

  1. In New Zealand a wild goat jumped out of the forest and startled Sarah. She didn’t fall off immediately but continued to ride along gawking at the goat until she actually rode right off the road. She couldn’t get her feet out of the toe clips in time and fell down. I am not making this up.
  2. Sarah was attempting to eat a banana while riding in Thailand. She veered off the road onto the sandy shoulder and lost control of her bike. I remember hearing her feeble, wavering cry, “Jamie!” as she began to panic that I didn’t know she fell and was going to ride off and leave her lying there tangled up with her bike in the dirt.
  3. Sarah was drafting behind me in Laos, clipped my rear tire with her front, and went down. Probably the least eventful of her crashes.
  4. While climbing a steep road in Vietnam I looked back to see where Sarah was. As I turned my head I also turned my bike and ended up executing a 90 degree right hand turn and riding slow motion off the road and directly into the ditch. Luckily there were no steep cliffs around and I wasn’t hurt.
  5. The infamous Laos crash that brought us back to Bangkok. While descending on a wet mountain road, Sarah locked up her brakes and hit the tarmac, cracking her radius in the process. I was right behind her and flipped over the top of her, cracking my helmet in the process.
  6. Same day in Laos, Sarah locked up her tires and went down again on the slippery roads. I heard her fall, tried to stop suddenly, and locked up my brakes and hit the deck too!

Stayed tuned tomorrow for our impressions of the first six months!

Gear Page

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

I added some content to the Gear page.

Sage Advice

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

We had a wonderful dinner with Karen Anderson and Dave Henderson tonight. Karen and Dave are experienced bicycle tourists who did a trip similar to ours in 2000. We got in touch with them through Will Knight. (Thanks Will!) They gave us a lot of great advice about our upcoming trip during dinner, including the folllowing eight zumers.

  1. Bring a mesh diver’s bag. It packs up extremely small & light, but is also very strong. You can put all your panniers in it and check it as one bag on a flight.
  2. Bring mirrors that mount on your helmet. These are extremely useful for keeping an eye on traffic and each other. As Dave said, “At least you’ll realize you are about to die when you see that truck bearing down on you from behind.”
  3. Bring bowls and cups to eat out of & a teapot for clean water. I don’t know how we forgot about this. :)
  4. Fly into and out of smaller airports if possible. This makes it much easier to ride your bike right out of the airport and onto the road.
  5. Bring a tupperware container big enough to store a loaf of bread.
  6. Put covers on your panniers during the day when riding. This way the covers get dirty and you can bring your clean panniers into the tent with you at night.
  7. Bring a down jacket with you for warmth and also to be used as a pillow at night.
  8. Bring a shortwave transistor radio, so you can listen to the BBC and keep in touch with the world when you are out on the road.

Thanks Karen and Dave for having dinner with us and sharing all of your experience and advice!

Next step, fully loading our bikes and going for a test ride…

Getting Ready…

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

We’re getting closer & closer to being ready for the trip! Last night we went to REI to pick up the final important items. A few odds & ends are all we need now. Here’s a picture of our dining room. Looks like something exploded. We don’t really try to walk through here anymore, we take the long way around to reach the kitchen.

We also went on our first bad(ish) weather bike ride yesterday. 40 degrees and really high winds. I guess it doesn’t sound that bad, but it wasn’t particularly pleasant. Jamie almost got blown off his bike in an especially windy corridor downtown – it was his first ride with the rear panniers and they seem to catch the wind quite nicely! The best part is that the panniers were really lightly loaded. This is going to be hilarious once we’re truly fully loaded.

Total time: 1 hour.
Mileage: I dont even want to post it.

Here’s a picture of us with our bikes in Myrtle Edwards Park – we are not going to be sexy at all on this trip – this is merely a tame preview

Keep on Truckin’

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

I got my Surly Long Haul Trucker this week! Adam and Peter at Counterbalance Bicycles built it up for me and did a great job. The bike is a 60cm, steel frame and fork made of 100% Surly 4130 cro-moly steel. I gave some general guidelines to Adam and he built the bike up to be as simple and reliable as possible for our trip. The wheels are hand-built with Mavic’s heavy duty A719 rims and Shimano Deore XT hubs. The tires are Panaracer T-Servs, which are a little different than the Panaracer Pasela TGs that Sarah has on her bike. We’ve heard varying opinions from the touring community on tires. Some people swear by the Schwalbe Marathons or the Continental Top Touring tires. Those tires seem to be preferred by people who value puncture resistance over comfort. The Panaracers are supposed to be very comfortable tires that also have decent puncture resistance. We are going to ride them for a while before we had overseas to see if they are going to suit our needs. The drivetrain is XT in the rear with Sugino cranks up front and I got a silver Chris King headset for some sex appeal. Adam also put on the Surly Nice Rack on the rear for me. I was originally going to get a Tubus rack, but the Surly rack is amazingly overbuilt and the silver looks cool on my bike. I put on the Brooks Flyer Saddle (Ouch!), SKS Fenders, ESGE kickstand, Jandd Handlebar & Frame Bags, and Ortlieb Bike-Packer Plus rear panniers that we got as wedding gifts (Thanks everyone!), so after I get the front rack and panniers I will be ready to go! I am going to start commuting on the bike to get used to it and make any needed adjustments before we leave. Right now, I’ve got a decent drop between my saddle and my bars and I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to raise my bars up. The total cost for the bike so far is $1764.96 which brings the total for the trip up to a whopping $6602.94.

Bling, Bling!

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Sarah's New Rivendell AtlantisSarah got her fancy new bike today! She is going to ride a 61cm Rivendell Atlantis on our trip. Sarah wanted the Atlantis because she has long legs and a short torso and the short top tube geometry of the Atlantis means it will be comfortable for her and allow her to sit upright. Bill Davidson of Elliott Bay Bicycles built the bike up for her with a mixture of components. The wheels are handbuilt with Shimano Deore XT 36-hole hubs and DT Swiss TK 7.1 rims. The headset and front derailleur are Shimano Ultegra and she got Dura-Ace 9-speed bar end shifters. Sarah was originally thinking she wanted moustache bars, but after trying them out at the store she thought they were awkward and went with a standard Nitto Dream drop bar instead. The drivetrain is a Deore XT derailleur with a Deore LX crankset. We went with an 11-32t cassete so we can (try to) climb hills while carrying all our gear. The brakes are Camagnolo Veloce Linear Pull Cantilevers. Sarah is still afraid of clipless pedals, so she just got toe clips for now while she gets used to the bike. Last but not least Sarah will spend the next year sitting on a Terry Butterfly saddle which we heard is one of the most comfortable saddles for a woman. We are going to start doing short rides and making adjustments to the bike. Eventually, we’ll put racks, panniers, and everything else on it. Now that Sarah has the bike, our trip definitely seems more real. The total cost was $2244.11 which brings our running total for the trip up to $2843.17.