The lead up and preparation for this trip has been very long and equally as stressful. It was a day that I really could never imagine actually coming. It was as if in my head it was too great and too daunting of a task to be real.
Not only was I planning to cycle 6,000km across a continent, but I was also quitting my job, leaving my life in Tokyo, a city that I lived in for 8 life-changing years, and I am planning a new adventure in Hong Kong.
At times the stress got the better of me. Like my new bike costing me double what I previously expected and taking five weeks to build. Also, a prior issue with my knees that I thought had been resolved, reoccurred during my training, making me wonder, even now, if I can accomplish this task. The last two weeks was the hardest. So many loose ends to take care of -- moving, where to store my stuff, cutting off all utilities, banking, booking hotels and flights, organizing social media, unexpected MRI's and doctor visits for my knees, and many many other things.
However, through all of the stress, I was able to, and still do appreciate how lucky I am to be able to take such an adventure. I always told myself, this is a "good stress." It's a luxury that so many around the world can not afford. And I have been lucky to live in a place where I have access to proper medical care when health concerns arise. I have also been very lucky to have very loving and supportive network of friends and family. Even through the toughest days, I constantly reminded myself that all the problems I was having were all "first-world problem."
So let me go back a ways and explain how this whole crazy biking adventure came to be.
Ever since I was a kid, I've always had a bicycle but would never have considered myself a cyclist per se. It was typically just a cheap alternative to a car in the big city. However, in 2009 I bought me first road bike, a used entry-level Specialized road bike on craiglist. Very quickly my friends and I really got into it and started cycling more and more on the weekends and holidays. It then snowballed from just riding around town to riding to the mountains about 100km outside Tokyo. Next we started multi-day camping trips on the bike. All of this, of course, included drinking afterwards!
It was in the spring of 2010 that I did my first long road trip from Tokyo to Kyoto. It took 5 days and nearly 600km. I stayed in cheap business hotels along the way so I didn't require too many belongings or bags -- good thing too, because I was stupidly riding on 21mm racing tires. Needless to say I had many flats.
A couple years later, I decided to step it up a notch and road 850km from Hiroshima to Kagoshima at the southernmost tip of Japan's Kyushu island. This one involved both hotels as well as camping, so I needed to add some storage for camping gear, sleeping bag and a gas cooker. There were MANY hiccups along the way (which you can read in detail in past blogs) but this trip was absolutely amazing and allowed me to explore a part of Japan I never thought I would. If anyone is interested in cycling Japan, I strongly suggest Kyushu. This trip also gave me a taste of what can go wrong -- weather, mechanical issues, health, etc. Every blog I've read has assured me that you will have those kind of days where EVERYTHING goes wrong. But for every one of those days, you will have countless good ones. Character building, I say.
After this, naturally the next step was to cross a country, right? Like most people a cross-country road trip has always been something that has interested me. It's an idea that has been romanticized in movies for decades. It conjures up feelings of total freedom and riding into the unknown, and it typically ends with you learning something about yourself. So the idea of slowly crossing the US, hitting all the roadside attractions and national parks was always a dream.
So I started reading trans-America cycling blogs like crazy. Every morning I would read with excitement blogs written by those who have done it. I read so many stories of amazing hospitality and camaraderie with fellow riders. If you're interested, Ryan Anderson's blog was by far my favorite (www.cycleacrossamerica.co.uk).
It wasn't until a lunchtime conversation with my previous boss that my plan to cross America turned eastward to Europe. He is Australian and said if he where to ride across a continent, he wouldn't go across Australia. Certainly not for any negative reasons, but rather that a continent other than your own would offer a completely different experience than what you're used to. This was something I had considered before but had thought the cultural and language barriers, unknown terrain, combined, of course, with massive amounts of cycling was simply too much to overcome.
My mind quickly changed following a wonderful week holiday in Belgium last year and I decided to go for it. What would an adventure be if it didn't take you completely out of your comfort zone. I do still dream about riding across America. I have still not seen much of the country, especially out west, so it will have to be done one day.
So Europe it was. I started to devise a plan. I still loved the idea of "crossing" a giant landmass, so the route was pretty easy to come up. I chose countries that I had never been to before but always been curious about. So in all, we will cross Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece and finally end in Turkey! Google maps claims it is 5,100km and change but I reckon it will be closer to 6,000 in the end. It's a feat that is more than 7 times my longest ride. Rather than riding to Istanbul, we will focus on riding to the next big city -- Lisbon to Madrid, Madrid to Barcelona, then Marseille to Pisa, and so on.
So all of this was in the works when my very good friend from high school, Joe Whitney, was in Tokyo on a business trip in October of 2012. On his first night we went out for dinner and drinks, and as with everyone else I came into contact with, I couldn't shut up about this ride. By the way, sorry to everyone for that, and thanks for putting up with me. So, at the end of dinner, Joe said, "I'm in!" I didn't believe him. Sure, everyone says they WANT to do it, but no one generally follows through, and usually for very valid reasons like job, money, family, etc.
Well, he WAS in, and we immediately started making arrangements to make it happen. And there were LOTS of arrangements and changes to be made. The planning is half the fun and it was great to feed off each other's excitement. We had many chats over Skype to say the least.
Joe and I have known each other since high school and have become better friends since. Along with my brother, the three of us drove from Chicago to New York with a van full of my belongings more than ten years ago. We have both done a fair bit of traveling and have both lived abroad. And his family has always been great and treated me as if I'm part of it. So I couldn't have asked for a better riding partner. No doubt we will have many chats about life and the future over beers during the next three months.
One thing that I have realized since my first time on an airplane several years ago, is that the travel bug bites hard and it never leaves the bloodstream. I'm writing this 35,000ft in the air between Dubai and Lisbon and I can't help but think that the world doesn't seem nearly as inaccessible as it did when I was a kid. I will nearly double the number of countries I've visited with this trip and it will all be on a continent rich with beautiful culture, architecture and history. I couldn't be more excited for what's ahead.