Friday, July 29, 2011

We're Doing What?

Over the past few days, both Re and I have had moments of questioning our sanity and decision making abilities. For me, I was packing up some boxes when I had a moment of realization of what we are about to embark upon and what we are giving up to do so. Re's was while riding back from the bank after cashing her last paycheck. Why are we giving up our lives and careers to go ride around the world on underbones? These moments passed pretty quickly, but they did make us pause and reflect on the outcome of our choices. We are giving up the security of what we know in exchange for adventure and the chance to experience things most people only dream of. So as we lay in our sleeping bags in our otherwise empty apartment, we are excited (and a little nervous) about what tomorrow will bring.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hurry up and wait

Hurry up and wait is our current operating mode with less than a week until our departure.  Everything we could pack ahead of time is already packed.  All that's left are the few things we need to use until we leave, with the exception of the kitchen.  I've been cooking up a bit of a storm to tide me over until the next time I have unrestricted access to a well-equipped and stocked kitchen, since it's one thing I love to do.  Now my focus will shift to simple on-the-road foods that don't require refrigeration or a drawer full of spices and can be cooked in one or two small pans (my head keeps returning to SPAM, SPAM, eggs, and SPAM, for some reason...). 
I also finished my latest knitting project last week (see picture to the left), just in time to leave, and I may actually get to wear it for a half hour before it gets packed in a box!  Sadly, our gym membership ended yesterday, so we can't even spend our spare time this week working on our physiques.  That's another thing we need to figure out - how to maintain our super-buffness whilst on the road.  If anyone has realistic exercise suggestions that can be done in a campground, please send them on!

Our schedule for the rest of the week includes final packing on Wednesday, moving everything into storage on Thursday, and cleaning and packing the bikes on Friday to be ready to go, go, GO! on Saturday. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Two Weeks And Counting...

We have been invited to BBQ with some of our friends in John Day, Oregon so our start date has moved up.  July 30 is now the day we start turning wheels, and I do believe we really are ready to go.  This past week, we finally sorted the last three big items on our many and various "To Do" lists.

Just remove the front seat and you can fit a full-sized sofa!
First, we sold our last car.  Our beloved Scion xB now has a new owner (thanks, once again, to Craigslist) and we have more trip money.  We bought the xB in 2005, and it has been a trusty accomplice in many of our other stupid adventures.  She's made two cross-country trips, camped in Yellowstone and Moab, swallowed a full-sized sofa from Ikea, and through it all, "Foxy" provided 118K miles of dependable service.  This is the first time in more than 25 years that neither Re nor I have owned some sort of four-wheeled vehicle.  I'm glad that we have our Symbas and live in a city with excellent public transportation, but not having a car does limit our mobility.  It's kind of an odd feeling but also a little freeing, I think it will give us a better understanding of how most of the developing world lives.

Second, we finally completed all of the steps necessary to get our Carnet de Passage issued.  I wrote about Carnet a few posts ago, and overall, it has been an easy process.  The only real difficulty has been the transfer of funds from our credit union to the bank used by the Carnet issuer.  Between vacations, holidays, a strike by the Canadian postal service, and having to do an international wire transfer by mail and fax, it has been a more time consuming process than I expected.  But it's all done, and we shall have our Carnet documents in our grubby little paws on Thursday the 21st.  Yay!

The elusive Symba cush drive damper
Third, we finally have spare parts for the Symbas on the way.  Getting parts has been a bit of an issue since there is a new SYM importer as of earlier this year.  Alliance Powersports (they keep promising that their website will be online soon) took over for the previous importer after they had one too many suspicious warehouse fires.  Because the Carter Brothers warehouse was a total loss, Alliance did not receive any parts from them when they took over the distributorship.  Parts and bikes have now started trickling into the US, but the parts I want to carry for spares aren't necessarily the common replacement ones.  I am concerned about the wear that our trip will place on items like bearings and cush drive dampers and so want to carry at least one spare of each.  I figure that if we have a failure of any of these high wear parts, we will have a replacement with us and can try to source another locally.  (One advantage to the Symbas is that there is a SYM importer on every continent we will be visiting, another is that many of the running parts are interchangeable with the those from Honda Cubs)  I contacted Alliance a couple of weeks ago to order the parts that I need, and they unfortunately did not have many of them in stock.  Michael (in the parts department) checked into ordering them from Taiwan by airfreight but realized that they would not arrive in time to get them to us before we hit the road.  Boo!  Because of this, Michael got permission to remove the parts that we need from the last new Symba that they had in stock.  Yay!!  They are on the UPS truck and will be here on Tuesday.  Thanks to Michael, Mike and Gene at Alliance Powersports.

We are jealous of the bamboo setup!
This week we also did a final trial packing of all our gear in the topcases and duffels.  As I feared, it weighs more than our target of 50 pounds each.  Re will be carrying the heavier gear (as she is much lighter than I am) in an attempt to balance out the total weight each bike will be carrying.  Re's load totals 62 pounds and mine totals 47 pounds, not including our 5L of water and 1.25 gallon gas can each.  Ugh. (Now you see why I want extra wheel bearings and cush drive dampers)  But we know that these little bikes can carry huge loads.  On our last trip through SE Asia we saw them carrying all kinds of farm animals, huge loads of bottled beer and water, families of five, and even giant flat screen TVs!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

More power, more weight

The massive carb of the Symba!
One drawback to the mighty Symba is that it only makes about 7hp.  Around town they have been great, we can keep up with the flow of traffic on 45mph roads.  But they do run a little lean, the EPA mandated carburetor settings just don't allow enough fuel to flow.  One solution that we tried was to enrich the overall fuel mixture by adjusting the air/fuel screw out about 1/2 a turn.  This involved removing the epoxy that should prevent this adjustment with a gel paint remover and some careful scraping.  This made the bikes feel peppier overall but there was still a hesitation at small throttle openings.  Justin and Pedro at Classic Scooter and Cycle recommended changing the slow jet in the carb to one that they have had success with.  They ordered us a couple of replacements and I installed them over the weekend.  What a difference!  The bikes now pull so much more powerfully (it's all relative!) when the stoplights change and accelerate up hills much better.  I think we are now ready for the Rocky Mountains!!  If you have a Symba I would highly recommend this mod. The jet is cheap and you can install it with hand tools (without removing the carb) in under 30 minutes or have your mechanic do it for you. 

442 Stove and MSR Cookset
The other development over the past week is that we bought more stuff to carry with us.  Ugh.  More weight equals less speed, lower fuel mileage and more stress on the bikes, so we have been trying to minimize when at all possible.  We weighed our loaded topcases and duffel bags a few weeks ago and each of us will be carrying about 40 pounds of luggage on our bikes.  So it was only after researching the lack of availability of prepared food in many parts of Africa that we will be traveling that we decided to carry a camp stove and cooking gear.  We bought a Coleman Exponent Feather 442 stove because it is relatively small and light and can run on unleaded gas, but it still adds over 2 pounds when fueled and the MSR Quick 2 Cookset adds another 1.5 pounds. 

We also decided to carry a GPS unit with us.  More reading about Africa made it seem wise to carry one, especially to find fuel stations.  We will only have 2 gallons each and it appears that fuel stations can be few and far between in the more remote areas of Namibia and Botswana.  Further, many other overland travelers will give the GPS coordinates of campgrounds and other sites that they recommend.  The Garmin 60CSx was the most highly recommended unit on ADVRider and so we just picked one up at REI.  I haven't a clue how to use it, but I have a manual and a couple of weeks to figure it out!  Hopefully we have everything we need now.

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's official!

This is NOT how we will be flying
It is now official- we bought our tickets to Cape Town.  We will leave from Toronto in mid-September on Etihad, and I am very excited!  Yeah yeah yeah, I'm excited about the trip, but also about flying on a different international carrier and adding three more airports to my list of stops (it's a dorky holdover from my years of working in the airline industry)!  We get to fly in Coral Economy class, which sounds exotic and looks quite stylish in the photos on their website.  Maybe someday we'll get to try out the Diamond First class suites, but first we need to buy the winning Powerball ticket.

Friday was my last day at Mid-Columbia Medical Center (again) and they held the biannual "Farewell Rebekah" potluck.  I worked there full-time prior to our last adventure in southeast Asia, and when we returned last summer, they hired me again.  There aren't enough excuses for communal meals, and I am happy to oblige by giving people a reason to cook something yummy to share.  The next one is already marked on the 2013 calendar!

It's closing in on me!
We have less than four weeks to go until our departure from Portland, so we began packing (again) to put stuff in storage (again).  Right now, I feel like we are living in a PacMan maze what with the boxes of stuff we have to meander around to get to the kitchen.  It's making me feel really on edge (I hate clutter and prefer to toss it in the trash or at least hide it in a closet), but I have to keep in mind that it is only temporary.  It must be done now in order to purge more junk and get it to Goodwill before we sell our last remaining car in a week, since I don't believe that 45-gallon Hefty bags full of clothes would balance well on the backs of our Symbas.

One thing we still need to get for our trip is a travel-sized cribbage board.  My friend Ruth and her husband Matt taught us to play last weekend over a couple of microbrews, and I think it'll be a great way to pass the time on rainy days or while waiting to cross borders!