Following is a detailed overview of my upcoming journey; each country's entry follow by a map or picture for clarification and visual context (unless it's a country everybody's already familiar with.)
To begin, I will:
...depart from Raleigh/Durham International Airport on 2 February 2008, and arrive in Sydney, Australia on 4 February 2008. Layovers will be in Denver, Los Angeles, and a full day in Fiji... which is actually one of the most exciting parts of the trip, and it was entirely unplanned. I've always wanted to go to Fiji, and it just happens to be a stop along the way. You can't get much better than that.
The fun begins once I reach Sydney. My bicycle will have been sent as luggage… almost entirely disassembled and packed tightly into a box. (My backpack will be my carry-on.) Once I get off the plane I’ll have to find the thing, drag it out of the airport (it’s probably gonna be heavy) and reassemble it so I can get started. Pitching my tent in the middle of Australia’s largest city probably won’t quite work, so I’ll likely stay in a cheap hotel the first night, get my bearings, and fully prepare for the hotel-less days ahead. February 5 is the last date of which I am certain; that’s the day I’ll begin the cycling portion of my journey. The entirety of timing thereafter is rather ambiguous; when I get there, I get there.
I’ll roll out of Sydney, headed for Melbourne (I’d like to hop over to Tasmania, but I’m not sure if it’s all that practical.) Once I reach the west side of Melbourne I’ll finally be done with the city and headed into open farming country, the ocean a mile to the south of my route. Two hundred miles later I’ll reach Adelaide, then ride for Port Augusta, at which point I’ll bid civilization a farewell. From there it’s thousands of miles across a barren desert outback, via the Stuart Highway. I’ll ride North, traveling in the late evenings and at night by light of the moon to stay cool (February is the equivalent of August in the states, and the summer heat is blistering.) Up through Alice Springs and beyond, to Tennant Creek, finally swinging eastward and finishing the ride by arriving near Cairns, on the northwestern coast of the continent.
Nearby is Hinchinbrook Island, the biggest island in the Great Barrier Reef. Entirely uninhabited, it looks like something out of LOST; towering mountains, lonely beaches, dense jungle, tumbling waterfalls, and roughly-hewn trails. And crocodiles. Giant freakin crocs. In other words it’s a haven of complete awesomeness. I’ll take a boat over with as much rations as I can manage to carry on my back and subsist there for as long as I can manage, spending my time exploring the island, mapping it, climbing the mountains, taking pictures… enjoying the solitude and the immensity of the beauty.
When I was a kid I spent a lot of time just staring at maps. The world atlas was my best friend. (I was a very strange child.) For some reason I decided New Guinea was the most awesome place in the world and I became obsessed with it. While I’m no longer obsessed with it, it still looks wicked cool, and Port Moresby is very close to Australia. It’s also of great historical interest in the context of the early stages of the Second World War, so as a history geek I’m pretty psyched to be visiting.
Speaking of significance in historical warfare, Guadalcanal is smack in the middle of the Solomon Islands, and the capital – Honeraiu – is my next destination. If I take a plane, I’ll be landing on the very airfield that thousands of U.S. Marines defended against midnight Japanese onslaughts in 1943. A mile’s walk south into the jungle will place me directly in the middle of a graveyard of rusted out tanks, shell casing, and aircraft long-ago shot out of the sky. I plan to take as many of these walks as possible.
Rabaul is both the site of one of the largest Pacific bases of the Imperial Japanese Navy during WWI and one of the top snorkeling locations in the world. I don’t know too much about historical military installments in the region, but I’m gonna find them. I don’t know how to snorkel but I’m gonna learn.
The Philippines are a pretty good jump from the Solomons, so it’ll probably require and actual flight (much of the transit between south pacific islands can be easily managed through boating.) My destination is the largest island in the chain, Luzon. I’ll land in Manila, the capital… here again my interest is fueled primarily by historical interest in the region. I intend to track the route of the infamous Bataan Death March from 1941-1942, eventually trekking northward to Cabanatuan and the site of the now-famous clandestine prison camp breakout near the end of the war, in winter 1945.
Here again lies historical interest (can you spot the trend here?) And while anyone knowledgeable at all about the second world war would recognize Okinawa as the site of the infamous 1945 battle the marked the last Japanese stronghold to fall, I am interested in it for other reasons. While martial arts have existed for thousands of years, it was in the Ryukyu Islands that karate as we know it today was cultivated; under Japanese control, Okinawan farmers were stripped of all weapons and were forced to find other methods of defense, implementing both empty-handed techniques and simply farming tools instead of bladed weapons.Many martial arts systems of today can trace their roots directly back to original development by long-deceased practitioners in Shuri and Naha, two of Okinawa’s largest cities. As a martial artist in my twelfth year of training, this is of particular interest to me, and the though of practicing kata on a rocky, desolate beach in the Ryukyus is immensely appealing.
From this point my traveling speed will greatly accelerate; by this point in my journey funds will be significantly reduced, and the areas through which I’ll travel will be significantly more expensive; thus, there will be less leisurely-paced meandering as prevalent earlier on.Japan is a perfect example. I’ll drop in just long enough to check it out, say I’ve been there, and leave. My main ability to save costs rests upon providing my own lodging, and a tent in Tokyo would be weird if it were even possible at all. I also plan to buy a sword and ship it home while I’m in Japan, because who wants a sword made in Taiwan and ordered from a catalogue? This will make me a legitimate samurai.
China is another quickie. Tokyo to Beijing, just long enough to check out the Great Wall of China. One thing I plan to do is hack up a loogie and let ‘er rip. Men may understand this better than our better-looking counterparts. What guy wouldn’t wanna spit standing on something famous? (Watch out, Parisians, if I visit the Eiffel Tower.)
The best thing about Mongolia is its city names. Every single city is named either Genghis or Khan or Genghis Khan, or Ulaanbaatar (which is infinitely less cool.) There’s also camels and a ton of sand. All this will be witnessed by my eyes from a passenger train taken across the country. I actually have no idea what’s cool to do in Mongolia so if anybody knows, I’m open to suggestions. Finding a Genghis Khan statue to send home as a souvenir shouldn’t prove too difficult.
Very little of Russia will be seen outside of a train. I’ll be starting at the Mongolian border and riding partially through Siberia, headed westward, across the plains and eventually into Moscow, through Moscow, and out the other side. My Russian is terrible, so I’ll have to try to get by with English and German… Я не говорю русского.
Here again it depends on my available funding at the time. I’d like to take Russia and Europe as slowly as possible to take in the sights and really enjoy it, but if funds demand hurried travel, I’ll just have to zip through and save the rest for later.
I know nothing about this country other than that I’m traveling through it.
I’m using Visa as my payment and cash withdrawal method for my travels, because it’s so widely accepted… every single city I’m traveling through accepts it at an ATM. Poland is the exception. Hopefully Belarus is famous for good food, because I’m going to buy a little stock of it to eat on the train to Germany.
Ahhh, my homeland. …well not quite. But with a name like Blattenberger there’s clearly some tie to the Deutsches Republik, no? My genealogy is actually traceable back to the 16th Century and the first recorded existence of the Plattenbergers. (When Johann Plattenberger moved to the Buffalo, NY area in the 18th century, his named was Americanized – or at least the attempt was made. B or P, it’s still as German as you can get.)
Family history aside, I’m really looking forward to this portion of the trip, and I’ll spend as much time in Germany as possible. I speak the language (or try to) so it’ll be fun to converse with the local population. The beer culture? I could care less. I hate beer. Bier ist sehr schlecht. If I want to drink, I’ll hit up some vodka while I’m in Russia.
My main interest in France is the Normandy region, particularly the beaches where the D-Day invasion took place. I’ve always wanted to visit. If my funds permit, I’ll swing by Paris first and drop a spitwad from atop the Eiffel Tower. Because I am epic.
When I began looking at ticket prices, I searched for prices from LeHavre airport in France to the United States for the return trip. I couldn’t find anything below $1300. Then on a whim I searched for the same destination, but with London as the departure point.
Bit of a difference, no? I’d originally planned to leave straight from France, but it’d be cheaper to just cross the English Channel (Normandy borders it anyway) to London, visit for a day or so, and schedule a flight home from there. A thousand bucks cheaper and more to see? No complaints here.
Expect me when you see me.