(written by Dave)
Nancy has convinced me that we should stay one more day here in Dubrovnik. We have lots of chores to catch up on and this way we can sit and stare at the washing machine if we want to as well. Life on the road means lots of clothes washing in sinks or in the shower. When we find a machine like we have here, with unlimited use, there is a temptation to wash everything. Nancy has been through her bags a couple times, giving everything the sniff test – wash, don’t wash – the wash pile keeps growing.
Aside from 18 loads of laundry, we are cleaning the bikes, planning some of the route ahead and ordering spare parts for re-supply in Sweden. We’ll get more of a look around old-town Dubrovnik tomorrow and report back.
So, with nothing exciting to write about today, I decided that it might be fun to post a review of changes that we’ve seen in bicycle touring through the years. Our first tour was back in 1989 when we “credit card” toured the Oregon coast in the US (credit card tour means, minimal gear, eat at restaurants and sleep in hotels). On the Oregon trip we crossed paths with a group of east to west cross country riders just as they reached the Pacific Ocean after 90 days of peddling across America. We were both in complete awe that anyone could ride that far. We dared not say it out loud but both of us also thought, “hey, we could do that.” In 1992 we got married and for our honeymoon we fulfilled those secret wishes by riding our tandem across the US.
Just about every year since 1989 we’ve managed some form of bicycle trip. Through the years we’ve seen a lot of changes to what we carry and the gear we use. I thought it would be fun to note some of the changes in today’s post. The list below is not intended to be comprehensive and it is of course filled with our opinion – your mileage may vary.
Journals – We started out keeping daily notes in a paper notepad. This made lots of sense as in 1989, the only “portable” computer on the market was the Osborn and it weighed about 25 pounds. Hand writing journals created two problems. The first being time to type up the notes after the trip, generally not a priority as we headed back to our jobs and catch up. The second being Nancy was the note taker and she often wrote as she got into bed, meaning that she was sleeping as she wrote. Often it was impossible to read what she’d written. Today, we type all of our notes into files named by date and location. Spelling is checked by MS Word and LWOP’s senior editor – though some errors slip past, the quality and readability of our notes is greatly improved.
Sharing trip notes – In the old days, the notes were only seen by us. If we typed them up, our mothers would read them because mothers are always polite and read things their children write. Old time notes were filled with what time we got up, what we ate and how far we’ve ridden – pretty boring stuff really. Today, we post on the web daily (most of the time) and our blog is read almost real-time by about 100 people every day – some days more, some days less. In 1989, there was no Internet, so a “post” from the Balkans could only be made using the good old fashioned post office. It would take weeks to reach anywhere distant – not the seconds it does today. This means we put a bit more pressure on ourselves to get something written and posted when sometimes one of us (not saying who) would rather be reading or more likely sleeping.
Countries – in 1989 the Iron Curtain meant that travel was limited in the Balkans. From 1990 to 1995, the Balkan wars made travel here completely off limits. All of this time, the Middle East was a great place to travel. Today, the Balkans are full of tourists and much of the Middle East is a bit more iffy (though certainly cyclists are still passing through Iran and the Stans on their way to Asia). In 20 years time, who knows where we’ll be able to go and not go.
Cameras – In the 1990s, I carried a Nikon SLR with normal and 80-200 zoom lenses. Of course this was a film camera. We started our 1992 honeymoon trip with a dozen rolls of film (slides as that is what big boys did) and we rationed our photos as we traveled. I would never have take two pictures of something just in case the exposure was not right. We had to purchase more film crossing the US and getting my favourite “Kodacrome” was often difficult – most shops only sold only Kodak Gold. Slide photographs produce high quality photos but today ours fill boxes stored somewhere (I can’t remember where) and we only occasionally dug them out for the ubiquitous travel slideshows to torture our friends and family.
Today we have a 14mega pixel Nikon point and shoot camera. I take 2, 3 and more pictures of everything. I review them using Picasa software from Google. I delete the bad ones, save the good ones and post the best ones daily on our blog. I’d like to have a fancy digital SLR as there are times when I know I could take a “better” picture but the weight and bulk make the point and shoot ideal. This is one area where technology has actually made our life simpler, except for the camera re-charging part.
Batteries and power – In 1992 we had a sum total of three set of batteries with us:
- SLR camera
- Bicycle computer
- Flashlight – two batteries
We did not worry about charging anything as the camera and bike computer would last the full two months and we had a spare set of batteries for the flashlight. Today we have:
- Our digital camera
- Bicycle computers – one in each
- Batteries in two laptops
- Batteries in two cordless mouse – two batteries each
- Two head lamps – three batteries each
- Mini camp lantern – four batteries
- Our SteriPen water purifier – four batteries
- Nancy’s Kindle
- iPod touch
- Small transistor radio – two batteries
- 4 LED flashing bike safety lights – one battery each
Totals not counting spares – 1992 4 batteries / 2012 32 batteries. With all these batteries, re-charging becomes an issue. We never worried about power hook ups when we travelled in 1992. Today, we figure that we can go two days max without power before we start having to turn things off. The computers and iPhone are the most critical. Today we also carry a AA/AAA battery charger and spare batteries, how else would you keep all the stuff above running? And let’s not forget the power adapters. If you travel internationally, you need a stack of power adapters. We’ve intentionally only purchased electronics that run off 220/110 – so at least we don’t have to worry about converters AND adapters.
Computers – In the 1990s we carried nothing. Today we have two netbooks, a backup hard drive, a small external speaker, headphone/mic for Skype, external DVD, two cordless mouse, chargers and adapters for all of the above, 10 pen drives (I’m not sure why) and a box of cables. Here, it is highly debatable if our travels are better through technology. Sometimes we long for the simple electronic-leash free days.
Books –Nancy is a book reader. She can power through a book a day, no worries. In 1992 this meant carrying several at a time and hunting out the book exchanges when we could. Today, she carries close to 500 books on her Kindle e-reader. It needs to be re-charged every month or so and it is a fantastic travel innovation for us. She sometimes still pinches a book from the hostel book shares, but she always finishes them before we depart.
Maps –There is nothing like detailed maps when cycle touring. In 1992 we used the Adventure Cycling maps – they are great and still available today. They are only available for specific routes in the US and Canada so you need a regional or state map as well. We’ve found that detailed maps are often easier to find when you arrive in a country. We have been able to pick up country maps before we arrive and easily find local maps on arrival – mostly at the servos but sometimes at the tourist offices as well.
Maps are only as good as the details that fit in the scale that they cover. Here the iPhone has been a fantastic tool bag addition. We use the iPhone and google maps almost every day. When we reach an intersection and don’t know which way to turn, or our hard copy map lacks details, we whip out the iPhone and zoom google maps to current location. We have been lost so little in 17,000k that I struggle to remember a time we were actually lost (I’m sure that the senior editor will remember some instances as she tends to remember being lost more than I do) [editor’s note – yes, I do remember but I will be nice and not list them all].
Translation – We’ve always carried some form of phrase book when we travel to new counties. On this trip we started with this same approach but have almost completely abandoned the idea. Phrase books are great if they have what you are trying to say and you can find it quickly. Trouble is, this rarely happens. Our new way handling translation is the iPhone and google translate – best we can tell, we’ve never insulted anyone and most of what we are asking for has worked out.
Coffee –When we started bicycle touring coffee came in a can or was instant. The instant kind was reserved to “hunting trips with Dad.” Starbucks had one store in Portland and a dozen in Seattle. We didn’t drink coffee on ride days because it dehydrates you – ok, we were a little pedantic. Today, we’d hardly consider riding without a coffee. We carry our own mini espresso maker and will even settle for instant if we can’t light up the camp stove or find a stovetop. While still considering ourselves “finely tuned athletic machines”, we’ve realized that one cup of coffee is not going to ruin our ride[editor’s note – in fact, not having a cup of coffee may ruin our ride].
Tents, sleeping bags and camp gear – Not much has changed here. We have a lighter, bigger tent. Our sleeping bags are about the same. Our sleeping pads are smaller and lighter, much to the senior editor’s chagrin. We have upgraded our stove to one that burns just about any flammable liquid known to man – as you never know what you’ll find internationally. We keep saying that we are going to use all this camping kit more but have also been enjoying having beds. It may very well be the thinness of our sleeping pads that is causing a problem. Either that or we are getting soft in our old age.
Phones and Internet – I can’t remember but in 1992 I don’t think that Al Gore had officially invented the Internet. If he had, connections were 1200 baud dial-up – remember that? Once connected, you could look at your email but only your nerdy friends had email anyway so there wasn’t much to it. Today, the internet is available everywhere and pretty much every known fact to mankind can be found with ease. As noted, we use the internet for maps and translation. We also use it to look up everything from hotel information to the history of some obscure battle to the exchange rate from Albanian lek to Macedonian denar. There is a guy out there somewhere trying to live without the internet for a year – I say good on him, we’d struggle doing it for a single day [editor’s note – not sure if that is a good thing…].
As for phones, in the early 1990s mobile phones where the big shoe sized things that you used for, well, phone calls. Batteries lasted about an hour, you could make and receive calls – no messaging as that required a pager (remember them?). Today, the smart phone puts the internet at your fingertips. We use our iPhone everyday, many times a day. It is the single most useful addition to our touring kit.
There are issues. The phone companies still can’t work together internationally so we have to get a local SIM whenever we enter a new country. There is no technical reason for multiple SIMS but we’d get killed on international roaming charges if we used one SIM. This means we have to get a new phone number in every country and makes it hard for people to call us. And battery life is still limited to about two days at best. But these issues are being addressed and the smart phone will only become more useful. We have paid no more than one dollar per day for phone coverage, sometimes much less. Competition is driving this down as well.
Bikes– Last but not least, our trusty bikes. To be honest, not much has changed here. We have 27 speeds now, probably only had 12 speeds back when we started. Regardless, the one constant is that you still have to peddle up the hills and you can coast on the downhills. We are older now and perhaps not as fast but I’m blaming any performance drop on the caffeine anyway. Or it could be because we are now carrying so much more stuff, it is hard to say.
I’ll stop there, it’s time to do some of the chores I mentioned above [editor’s note – and play with some of the 6 cats (including two kittens) that live at the owner’s house…]. And we still have 16 loads of laundry to compete before we leave in two days time. At least we will smell nice for a couple of days anyway.