Two Years From Today...

*This post was written to provide early material for a new site devoted to our pending trip. That site is still heavily under construction and will not go live until sometime next year. In the meantime, here's a short update concerning where we're at in our RTW preparations...

It's April 2nd, 2012 and if all things go according to hopes and plans, two years from today we'll be heading northward past the town of Darrington, WA on our way to the junction with the North Cascades Highway and the Northern Tier bicycle route. I must say that despite the lengthy amount of time before we depart, the excitement is already building. I suspect it's this way for anyone planning such a monumental uprooting. Which brings me to why I'm writing this post. I want to make sure and seed our site with posts that point to the steps we took to prepare for the trip and, as with everything that will ultimately appear on, to provide another data point of reference for those who will one day be where we are now: scouring the internet like mad for all the tips, advice, and information you can find. So, in that regard, here's where we currently stand on a few things.

There's nothing more important during the long waiting period than saving and so far so good. We're past the halfway mark for our goal and several months ahead of schedule due to some good investments and are now socking away $700/month towards the trip. We continue to increase the monthly savings amount by $50 every six months.

Kristin and I are lucky in this regard that we haven't had to make any sacrifices in order to save for the trip (very lucky considering Kristin was laid off in December, 2010). We combine for a relatively comfortable "household income" and don't have very expensive tastes, except perhaps in bicycles. But going hand-in-hand with saving for the trip has been a full-frontal assault on all of our outstanding bills. Our mountain of credit card debt has been whittled to a molehill, the cars have been paid off for a couple years now, and we are soon to be debt-free outside of the mortgage for our house in WA, a minuscule mortgage on land we own in NC, and a lingering student loan. The latter two will be paid off this time next year.

Gearing Up
I built up our Salsa Fargos last winter and though I do intend to swap out the butterfly "trekking" handlebar for a standard mountain bike flat-bar to give us a wider grip for rocky/technical tracks (not to mention more cockpit space for accessories), they are otherwise tour-ready. We enjoyed every moment of these bikes during our 10 day tour around the Olympic Peninsula last summer and anxiously await our next short trip. Hell, I actually look forward to my quick jaunts to the grocery store. Anything to sneak a ride in on it.

Though we are two years away and are trying our best to not dwell on the trip too much, we have begun researching and buying gear in earnest. We've so far stuck to products that we either know will not change between now and 2014 and those we love and fear may be discontinued. Part of our reasoning for this was to also make strategic use out of our annual REI Dividend and the gift cards we've been receiving from family for holidays and birthdays. The pile of inspiration in the spare bedroom has been growing of late.

So far we've purchased Ortlieb front and rear panniers for each bike along with our sleeping systems of choice (an unorthodox combination that I'll explain in a separate post). We have a lot of gear already from our past trips, but I've also begun adding some clothing as I see things go on sale. Merino wool for the win!

We've created a spreadsheet that is already taking the form of a packing list, though it's really a way for us to track the things we've bought, what we still need, and what our top choices are for certain topics (detailed gear lists will be provided on this site). We read a lot of bike touring blogs and have studied more than a few people's gear lists over the past few years and have finally begun tracking the products that we want to get. This way we can purchase it gradually over time. This nets us two benefits: 1) We don't suddenly have to dip into our trip savings just as we stop working, and 2) We're not running around trying to research/acquire gear while also trying to sell our house and all of its contents.

Hair Removal
Kristin is in the process of writing a separate post about this, but she'll be going in for her third of six scheduled sessions for laser hair removal this week. This was a costly expense, but one I was not about to say no to. I know some women would rather let their leg and armpit hair grow out and that some guys don't mind their wives or girlfriends going a few days or weeks without shaving. Not us. Actually, Kristin was probably going to eventually do this anyway. I guess the trip just provided the necessary motivation. For those considering this, do note that it cost more than the total cost of my Fargo including racks and panniers. And it's extremely painful.

Snow Route
Earlier I mentioned that we hope to be crossing WA via the Northern Tier in early April. For those who aren't familiar with Washington State geography and highway closures, the North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20) closes every November due to avalanche and re-opens sometime that following spring. There are essentially four major routes through the Cascade Mountains in WA and Hwy 20 is not only the most scenic, but the one we prefer by a wide margin not only for its beauty but it also passes the town of Winthrop in the Methow Valley, one of my all-time favorite places in the Pacific Northwest. The highway didn't open until May 25th last year, its second-latest opening ever. This year it is expected to open the first week of May. As of late March, it still had snowdrifts 50 to 60 feet deep in some of the avalanche zones and the road surface at Washington Pass was under 9 feet of snow.

SR 20 Cutthroat Ridge
Photo from WA DOT of Highway 20 near Cutthroat Ridge during 2012 snow-clearing.
See their impressive collection of photos here.

If our hoping to ride this route in early April sounds like wishful thinking, it is! But it's not without precedent. Here's just a few of the highway opening dates I'm hanging my cycling helmet on: April 16th, 2010; March 10th, 2005; April 8th, 2004; April 14th, 2003; March 22nd, 2001; and March 30th, 2000 (source). Oh, and the road never closed during the winter of 1976-77 so we can always hope for a repeat. The two words we don't want to hear are "La" and "Nina" as the La Nina winters (like 2011 and 2012) are responsible for the immense snowfalls.

It's worth noting that Hwy 20 is only closed to cars. As long as you stay clear of the road crews while they are removing the snow, you are otherwise allowed to be up there on foot, bike, or ski (avalanche risk notwithstanding). So there's always the possibility that we time our crossing with the last remaining days of the snow-removal process and make it down the east side before the road opens to cars. More than likely though, we'll either luck into an early opening or have to take the route over Stevens Pass (Hwy 2), Snoqualmie Pass (I-90), or cross much further south, perhaps in Oregon or on Highway 12 through Washington.

The one thing we don't want to do is wait around until late May to start. We're waiting long enough as it is..


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