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Beth had the idea for a cycle trip between Alaska and Argentina almost a year before we set off. It took some time for the idea to become anything of a reality and longer for Jeremy to be in a position to commit himself. The hardest part for Jeremy being the need to leave his work.
The first issue was to decide on the length of time that the trip should take. This was relatively easily decided based on the way in which Beth's work contracts operate on 6 monthly periods. The options were therefore 6, 12 or 18 months. A twelve month trip was decided upon although Jeremy pursued the option of a couple of shorter periods away from his employment as a compromise with his firm. In the end it was clear that a full year would be best for all. Although the initial idea was to cycle from the northernmost point to the southernmost point of the Americas, it became clear that such a trip is constrained by the seasons at the most northerly and southerly extents of the Americas. A twelve month period is insufficient to avoid the extremes of winter at the very north and the very south and seemed to be too far in terms of distance to comfortably complete within a year whilst still allowing sufficient time to enjoy the countries we intended to cycle through.
We sought to estimate how far we might practically cycle in a year so that this could be equated to a geographical start and finish. Initially we were unsure how far we would be able to cycle each month. We tried asking a number of cyclists about distances and generally got the impression that 50 miles a day would be achievable. We therefore estimated 250 miles per week taking an average of two days per week off for sightseeing and resting. This equates to roughly 12,500 miles in a year. We calculated that this might just equate to the distance from Fairbanks to Buenos Aires and on this basis we looked into flights for these destinations (see Our Route). The actual total mileage ended up being approximately 13,500 miles due mainly to our change of route through northern Columbia which added some 750 miles to the trip. The remainder of the discrepancy we presume was just through lack of precise distances on which to calculate the journey at the outset. All in all we were not too far off but we did have to push ourselves a little harder than we would have ideally toward the end of the trip.
Part of the decision involved deciding whether to travel north or south. One of our considerations was that it might be better to become familiar with cycle touring and camping in the relatively more developed areas of North America as opposed to launching into cycling in Argentina. Another thought was that our bicycles specifications could be upgraded if necessary with relative ease whilst in Canada or the USA although in reality they lasted well for the first half of the trip and parts needed upgrading once we arrived in Central and South America where it is least easy to find new parts.
At the time we were considering the trip neither of us owned bicycles and therefore the purchase of these was a priority - just in case we hated cycling! Unfortunately we had little time to research the different bikes available and few friends who had bike touring experience. Our research involved reading other peoples advice on the internet and speaking to cycle shop staff. In London we found it hard to find people in the cycle shops who new much about touring although plenty of people could advise on mountain biking. We planned a first cycle trip for Easter 2003 which set the deadline for acquiring the bikes. We had difficulty finding a bike of sufficient quality and specification which was small enough for Beth and this issue ended up dictating the exact bikes we chose (see Our Bicycles).
Beth acquired numerous guide books for both North and South America and started to read up about the various highlights of each country. We purchased maps of the two continents to start working out a more precise route and trying to calculate road distances. The difficulty we found was the lack of available map information at an affordable price. We happened upon the US Military Air Maps which cover large areas of the Americas showing both roads and indicating topography. We bought a set of these and examined the topography and practicality of the possible routes.
Deciding upon the appropriate kit as well as the alterations to the bicycles and the purchase of the necessary items takes considerable time. We were fortunate to have both a Christmas and both our birthdays prior to leaving and were able to receive or give as presents to each other many of the items we needed. Much of the general kit we already owned from previous camping or climbing trips and therefore we were able to focus on acquiring mainly cycling specific equipment (see Our Kit).
Much of the planning related to how our personal affairs in England might be taken care of whilst out of the Country. This together with arranging the necessary finances proved time consuming and frustrating. Fortunately we both have family who have been able to keep an eye on post and general affairs in our absence.
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