Well, as I write this post, I’m about 30 days from my departure date. There is still much to do, but I’ve made a tremendous amount of progress across a number of areas. So, let’s see about getting everyone caught up on my progress, and I’ll also share the work that remains.
The big, important items
Thinking about traveling to a foreign country, there are three primary tasks that must be completed, or you won’t be able to travel. First, you need to obtain a Visa for any country that requires it. You’ll also need to be sure that you’ve taken care of getting all of your vaccinations, and finally, you need to make sure that you’ve taken care of the logistics of travel. This includes things like airline and shipping reservations, and of course, making sure that the bike is in working order, and is ready for the trip.
Vaccinations and Medical preparation
3 weeks ago, I visited a travel clinic, and received a few shots that take care of any new diseases that I might contract on the trip, as well as securing an anti-malarial drub, and also some Cipro, to take care of the kind of pain that comes from ingesting a parasite, or some other organism that will cause diarrhea. I’m happy to say that my vaccination file is fully updated with the latest information, all the shots have been received, and I’ve got the prophylactic medicines that I mentioned earlier.
Visa and other travel documents
Of the 21 countries that I’ll be visiting, only two of them require a visa. Those two countries are Russia and China. The closest consulate for these two countries is in Washington, DC, but the idea of traveling to DC in order to secure the visa is not appealing, and not efficient. So, I chose to use a Visa Processing Company to help me with my visas.
The way it works for Russia and China is a little bit different, but mostly the same. For both countries, you fill out a visa application form for the country in question, and then, along with an acceptable photo, all of the paperwork gets sent by FEDEX to the processing company, where the documents are reviewed, and if completed correctly, the processing begins.
The Russian visa requires one additional step for processing. It seems that I need to visit the website for Russian Visa Applications, submit all of the information on line, obtain my visa application ID, and make note of this number when I submit the regular paperwork, and put it in the FEDEX envelope.
As of today, I’ve completed all of those steps, and CIBT is now working to get a Russian and Chinese visa added to my passport. Processing time for China is only 5 days, but processing time for Russia can be as long as 15 business days, or 3 weeks. In either case, I should have sufficient time to get all of this paperwork completed, and be ready to depart.
Logistics, travel, and The Bike
I’m someone that is always tinkering with just about everything that I own. While this big BMW that I own is a technical marvel, that does not stop me from continuously modifying the bike, to make it more suited to the trip. Over the past 5 weeks, I’ve made several modifications to the bike, in order to improve it’s capabilities. Let’s take a look at the changes.
New USB Port
My bike comes with a “Power Port” which looks like a cigarette lighter, but the size of the hole is smaller. The power port is waterproof, but if I need to charge one of my gadgets, the wiring between the power-port and the gadget would be kind of unruly, and would only support attaching a single USB gadget. So, I visited Touratech’s website, and purchased a plug-compatible replacement for the Power-port, which offers 2, waterproof USB ports, which are close enough to my tank bag so that I’ll be able to charge any device, while connected to the USB, and while safe inside the tank bag.
Expansion chambers for luggage containers (Panniers)
The two BMW panniers are roughly 38 and 45 liters. These panniers are pretty big, but for a trip like this, they simply may not be big enough. One solution would be to strap a waterproof bag to the top of the panniers, carrying anything that did not fit inside, or to enlarge the size of the Panniers themselves..
I chose to enlarge the panniers. Once again, Touratech makes a pannier extender, which adds 15 liters to each of the panniers, adding almost 50% more capacity overall. The extenders sit on top of the panniers, and so the additional 15 liters will appear as an extension to the sides of the panniers, which is about 4-5″ tall. In order to take advantage of this newly found space, I’ve installed a stretch, mesh fabric into the lid of the pannier, so that I can keep some soft, light objects out of the way, yet easily accessible. I plan on using the area inside the lid to carry rain gear, cold weather gear, extra gloves, and things of this type.
Purchased tie-down straps and soft attach straps
I’ll need to secure the bike to a pallet when I arrive in Toronto, and drop off the bike at the Freight terminal for shipping. Since the air freight company does not provide anything but the pallet, I’m expected to come with the equipment needed to fasten the bike, to the pallet.
This means that I’ll need 3 tie-downs, and at least two “soft-attach” straps. These straps will wrap around the handlebars, and offer a loop of nylon rope that won’t damage the bike, but will be a great point to attach the tie-down strap.
Purchased and installed reflective tape on wheels
I’m of the mind that just about every person that drives a car, is trying to kill me, every time they come upon me. And while I know that this kind of thinking is flawed, and not everyone is trying to kill me, there is some truth to the statement. And so, in order to become as visible as possible, making it as hard as possible for someone to fail to see me and the bike, I’ve covered the bike, my helmet, and my riding gear with reflective material.
The bike has a good amount of Red/White checkered reflective tape that makes it stand out, but I thought that I could improve on the current level of visibility, so I purchased reflective wheel decals, which I installed on the Front and Back rims.
Now, the bike is very easily seen from any angle. Starting with the 20,000 lumens of lighting on the front, LED brake lights, and an emergency LED light bar on the back of the bike, coupled with reflective tape, and reflective decals, I’ve done all that I can to make this thing stand out, especially at night.
The smaller, yet important items
I’ve downloaded and installed maps for all 20 countries that I’ll be visiting. After testing the process for installing them, and also doing research on which metadata to change, and why, I’m now confident that these maps will allow me to route anywhere, in any of these 20 countries.
I’ve also organized all of the route, hotel, and tourist information across a number of folders, and lists. I’ll bet I’ve spent the better part of 100 hours organizing the data, making sure that I can take care of virtually any eventuality. For example, the maps are now current, and very detailed. So, if I come upon a road that is blocked, I’ll be able to have the GPS automatically route around the obstruction, with little fanfare or delay. If I need fuel, I’ll be able to quickly search for fuel stations, and I’ve also created special way-points at every border crossing, which will alert me with an audible signal when I’m 3 miles from an International border.
I’ve previously noted that I’ll need to get some regular maintenance done to my bike over the course of the trip. Some of this maintenance is easy, and can be done with readily available parts, such as engine oil, but other maintenace procedures require specialized parts and fluids. So, I’ve put together a list of spare parts that I’ll carry with me, and another list that I’ll give to Edelweiss, the tour operator, so that they can procure the parts for me. For example, I’ve asked them to secure an extra set of tires for me, along with the specialized fluid that fills the chamber that houses the drive shaft.
Working with my local BMW dealer, Motorcycles of Charlotte, I’ve identified the BMW part numbers for everything in question, and have sent my list of spares to Edelweiss, so that they can make the purchase for me.
Maintenance and repairs on the road
I’m a high-tech guy, and while much of the kind of thinking that I did as I solved technology problems is transferable to repairing motorcycles, I’m still lacking a lot of knowledge about the bike, and how to perform maintenance. In fact, you’ll recall that it was after I replaced the clutch lever, without properly adjusting the clutch, that I burned out the clutch,which cost me about $1000.
Once again, it’s my local BMW dealer to the rescue. I’ve arranged that I’ll visit them in 2 weeks, and during a Q&A session, one of the mechanics will sit me down, and take me through all manner of maintenance procedure, showing me what to do, and what not to do in order to keep the bike in ship shape.
So, what have I missed?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about every eventuality. In fact, the Tour Director has found it necessary to “talk me down” at least twice so far. When he saw the number of questions I was asking, and the level of detail of those questions, he thought it would be best to remind me that this trip will see things go wrong, which are out of my control, so I need to be prepared to be in the hands of the gods at one or more than one point during the tour.
I understand his point, and I agree, but I’m still spending my time thinking about how best to prepare. And, in all of my years as an exec in High-Tech, I found that the best way to discover the things that you don’t know, is to talk to an expert. I would often sit down with member of my teams, and grill them on a proposal they’ve submitted to me. Usually, after a 30 minute discussion, i learned how much more these folks knew about the topic than I did, thus exposing my weakness’. This approach can be humbling, but if you can handle it, you’ll find that you’re always getting smarter, and smarter.
And so, with this in mind, I’m going to attend the BMW MOA rally in Lebanon, TN in about a week. I’ll be presenting a seminar on how to take advantage of the most advanced features of the GPS, and how to manage and handle maps from around the world. But that seminar will take up only 1 hour, which will leave me 3 1/2 days to explore other presentations, and talk to people. So, I’ve gone through the list of available seminars, and selected the 15 that are most appropriate to my journey. In addition, I’ll sit down with the folks at Michelin to discuss tire technology, and I’ll visit the BMW demo booth, so that I can test ride a few of their new bikes.
I’ll also spend some time meeting a Russian Tour Operator that I’ve met, whose name is Alex. I’m anxious to meet Alex in person, and to listen to his stories about touring across Russia, as well as trying to arrange a guided tour of St. Petersburg, or Moscow.
I’ll also spend some time talking with the representative from Edelweiss, who will no doubt have some great stories about the tour from Tallinn to Bangkok, as well as their programs for other tours around the globe.
So, that’s about it for now. Within the two weeks, I’ll finalize the template for video editing, complete loading music and playlists onto the GPS, test more dual-camera editing, and attend the rally, and attend the BMW maintenance training.
And so, until next time…