For years I’ve kept a notebook of places I want to visit. Sometimes just pen marked map scraps, sometimes drafts of speculative weekly itineraries, sometimes ideas from geography and history, or that have something to do with my academic work. These lead to the library, the internet, fooling with Google Earth. Mostly I’m interested in photographic or narrative images of a place that invite me to envision being there. In the end, maybe what I’m unable to imagine is more important than what I can. That somewhere will present patterns or rituals that I can’t now know is a significant part of why I go.
I spend little time with logistical details. The main work is in figuring out where to start, roughly where to pass through, where to end. If there are few roads or tracks, then I know I’m going to be on those. If there are many that lead to the same place, I know that once I’m there I can follow my curiosity and pace to seek out paths that it would be too difficult to get intel on in advance. I conservatively assume 75k per day, though I know I can ride 250+ if I must. Weather makes a difference to gear, so I’ll research that; the notebook is divided according to travel season. I prefer not to bring tent/sleeping bag/pad/stove/cookware, and never will “just in case.” They come along only if I’m absolutely certain that I’ll have to wild camp. I’ll arrange in advance lodging in the arrival city. Visas and border crossings are worth looking into.
I used to take the bike that would be at home in the most demanding terrain I was going to encounter, but I now think that’s silly. For those consumed by a fealty to rationality, it’s probably more rational to take the bike that’s best suited to what one will encounter the most, rather than planning for the extremes. But more importantly, the best times are when the bicycle disappears, and all of them do that after enough pedaling. So I bring whatever bicycle, given a foolish unnecessary luxury of having many, fits an abstract mood I want to travel in: fast/light/mobile, slow and deliberate, with a wandering attitude, or structured by a firm schedule. I often do some racing when I’m on a tour, so that’s a consideration. Equipment reliability and robustness are merely a background field against which these hopes are projected.
Figuring out whether a place is safe is steering a narrow course between naivete and the firm conviction that people are mostly good. I aim to stay educated every day on world events, but I try not to confuse news stories with the on-the-ground reality of a place. Yes, fear comes, breathe, let it run its course, breathe, count, don’t expunge it forcefully, it disappears, too.
There have been times when I’ve craved the vistas of big wilderness, but — coming off of memories of magical Alaska — not these days. Right now I want cultural density. Even if the spaces in between villages and cities are in this sense empty, ultimately I want to be with people and in communities.