Saturday, 24 January 2009

She Says - Month 7 of Preparation

We decided to hold off on making blog updates for a while, in order to get the website up and running – we don’t want people to get confronted with 100 posts the first time they look! However, a lot has happened in the last 5 months and the website is getting closer to launching, so I figured it’s time to make notes again.

Things have been ticking along slowly but surely. Xander has been trying to work out the best way to get hard panniers on the tank so that we have extra luggage room. We currently have soft bags, which are great, but not secure or waterproof. We usually carry things like hot drink foodstuffs, mugs, first aid kit and waterproofs in there – accessible but dispensable. However, it’s best to carry luggage up-front and low-down (better centre of gravity etc), so he’s working on metal boxes that sit near the bottom of the bike. In fact, Xander has just walked in with a prototype plastic tank pannier that’s looking pretty good and might get used instead of aluminium! Luggage space is one of our big concerns. We were pretty tight for space on our Romania trip last year, and we have lots of extra things to take this time. While the new main panniers are bigger, having extra luggage up-front will make a big difference. Unfortunately for us, we fill the tank box with our camera backpacks, so that takes up a lot of room that most people would use for storage! It works well for us though, as we always remove the packs when we leave the bike, which means helmets and other gear are locked away. In other bike news, it had a major electrical fault that saw it off the road for a month till Xmas for rewiring. Xander has also been painting the new bigger tank, which is now ready to get the looks-like-the-original stickers put on before the final many coats of glossy clearcoat.

Xander has spent loads of time trying to get the website working the way he wants it. He changed from Microsoft FrontPage to Multimedia Dreamweaver – hasn’t solved all the problems but at least things have improved. Almost all the text and pictures are on the site, but there’s still a bit of tweaking to do. But we’re almost there! The graphic designer we contacted via a friend has come up with some great designs that we are really pleased with. He even understood our crazy idea of making us look like otters to fit with Dr Otterboro! He’s now working on a final design, and very nicely doing it for free to help him kick-start his new graphic design business. Huge thanks to Kris!!! (as soon as he has contact details, we’ll be posting them on the website if anyone else is interested). I’m really looking forward to getting tour t-shirts and stickers printed with our very own logo. It’s the little things….

Speaking of media, I’m getting myself some experience. I’ve already been learning loads about press releases as part of my job. Yesterday, I gave a live radio interview (my third ever) for a tree-planting event I’m helping run tomorrow with my wonderful Friends of Muckley Corner Common ( - the best Friends group ever!). Then late yesterday, a journalism student asked if he could film the whole day’s event and interview us! I hate camera interviews. I did media training in an old job and kind of lost it in the camera interview part. I’ll take live radio over that any time!!! Hopefully the practice will help with any promotional work we do as part of the trip, whether for ourselves or the groups we work with.

Other time has been spent on general preparation. Lots of work was put off until the Xmas break, as we had 2 weeks off. Unfortunately, we were hit by a really awful dose of the flu and spent nearly a week just dying on the sofa bed in front of the telly! We’re starting to catch up now. I haven’t contributed in as obvious a way as Xander, what with all the practical stuff he is doing. I just tick away in the background working on planning and preparation, and making the occasional comment on the website. I’ve been reading posts on the Horizons Unlimited forum, seeing how other people do big trips, what kind of budgeting and saving they do, and lately starting to look into more detail on Africa. I’ve been creating lists (what I do best!) for packing, what to buy, what to sell and how to do it (e.g. finding every free ad website I can!). The Xmas sales got us some camping and travel gear we needed, and we’ve started big purchases like GPS and new crash bars. Unfortunately, the British economy has taken a nosedive and the pound is almost equal to the euro, so there are few savings in buying stuff from Europe! (unlike just 6 months ago). I think this also means that our £20 a day budget really needs to be £30. Our savings are going incredibly well, I’ve been pretty strict on getting good prices at the supermarket, and it’s always nice on our separate paydays to put away the remains of the monthly budget, add up the total savings and give a bit of a cheer! Total amount is going to depend on everything we have to buy and what we hope to sell and how much it goes for. It looks like we can definitely travel for 18 months – big difference to the original ‘can we squeeze 6 months out of our savings?’!!! This doesn’t mean we aren’t enjoying ourselves – we still pop out for meals with friends or treat ourselves to junk food (though cheaper when bought direct from the supermarket!), and while we aren’t getting out and about much, that’s as much to do with winter and limitations on certain places being open as it is our desire to be out (not to mention health!!). But we are living more simply, and I hope it’s something we can maintain when we eventually return to Oz, as no doubt we’ll be itching to get back on the road again….(one of the many things that scare me about returning home!)

We’re working on route planning, and have decided travelling down Africa and up South America is the best way. That way we get to overland through Europe, get used to travelling, and check everything is working OK. Our first stop in Africa will be Morocco, which is well used to motorbike travellers and tourists in general, so it should be a relatively easy introduction. We’ll work our way down the west coast and then…well that’s as far as we’ve got! We’re basically looking at spending 9 months in Africa, and another 9 months in South and Central America. We considered flying to Canada or USA, working our way down California and onwards south, as this gave us the possibility of heading up Africa and possibly overlanding to Oz. However, there’s no way we have the time or money to do that. So we’re reading guide books at the moment – got the Rough Guide’s West Africa last weekend, as we know little about Africa and practically nothing about West Africa and really needed some guidance. Once we’ve worked out our Africa route, we’ll download the Lonely Planet’s PDFs for the countries we need – it was going to cost about 3 times as much for all the Africa PDFs compared to the book! PDFs are definitely the way to go when travelling - less weight and space. We’ve already downloaded the South America and Central America guides while they had a Xmas sale. Xander’s also re-reading Chris Scott’s Adventure Motorcycling Handbook – my turn next!

This week I announced at work that I’m leaving – to the ‘big boss’, as my own supervisor has known for a little while, as I only felt it was fair that she know what we have to deal with this year in preparation for my departure (too much!!). That was weird, and I felt sad and strange afterwards while writing my official resignation letter. It made it all so much more real, even though I’ve been talking about it with various people for so long. I’m very lucky that I love my job, it’s exactly what I’ve been working towards, and I work with great people both in my office and elsewhere in the council, as well as outside on my various projects. I’ve met some good people here, and been involved in some great and interesting projects that are making a real conservation change on the ground. I’ve spent time building networks and projects, and it will be sad to leave and not see how it all turns out. Luckily, I have the Muckley Friends website to keep track of things, but it won’t be the same as being there and seeing what was a fairly appalling site turn into an amazing community resource.

Life is full of beginnings and endings, meetings and departures, friends gained and lost, and dreams of ‘what if?’ I’m about to embark on my fifth major upheaval to my everyday life – I’ve had two half-year trips (round world backpacking and a sub-Antarctic volunteer research post) and have made a major shift in location twice (Tasmania to Victoria, Victoria to UK). I guess that makes me a bit out-of-the-ordinary. I blame my dad, I think he’s always had a bit of ‘wanderlust’! I just take it further…Upheaval is beginning to feel like the norm. I could never turn down the possibility of travel, the chance to see amazing animals, habitats, scenery and cultures, but it doesn’t make the reality of leaving any easier. These last 5 months at work are going to be tough - it’s going to be busy but it already is anyway! Getting my work in order for the new person to take over, making sure things are running (relatively!) smoothly on their own, and putting everything in order to leave behind. Home will be busy too as we start the final preparations, sell all our stuff and ship home the remainder. So while sadness is ahead, a new beginning, a new departure, new friends to find, and a dream to live are all waiting around the corner. I have no doubt that before long I’m going to be sick of it all and raring to get on the road!!!