Thinking big and small
I’ve always found that when I’m working on something that requires a great deal of detail, but yet exists inside a much greater context, I alternate my thinking patterns between the Big, and the Small. For example, if you were going to build a house, you need to have enough detail about the house to know about how big it will be, so that you can choose a plot of land that is big enough, and is a suitable location for the house. In order to know the size of the house, you need to plan for your family, having a good idea of the number of children, guests, etc. You also need to know whether you want to be in an urban, sub-urban or rural location. So, you’ve got to do quite a bit of broad planning, in order to choose the exact lot, on which you’ll build your house. And so goes the art of thinking big and small.
And so this is how I’m approaching this trip, and the route planning.
Breaking it down into smaller sections
For a trip like this one, done primarily on a motorcycle, you want to be sure that while on the bike, you’re traveling to destinations that are well suited for motorbike travel, but at the same time, for a trip of nearly 100 days, there might be portions of the trip where you’d like to visit friends, and perhaps see the local city, or neighboring area.
In addition, there are portions of the trip where sightseeing and exploring is secondary to simply getting me and the bike to the next destination. For example, if I’m going to ship the bike from Toronto to London, so it’s pretty obvious that I’ll need to get the bike to Toronto, and load it onto the plane. I could spend any number of days to get from South Carolina to Toronto, but since this will be the first leg of the trip, I’m more inclined to want to simply get the bike to the airport, and get it on a plane. So, the first leg of the trip might be all about efficiency, while the tour of Vietnam and Cambodia might be all about relaxing, and seeing the sights.
The Big Picture (from where, to where)
Thinking about the overall trip, it’s going to be about 90-100 days in duration, and it’s going to start at my home in South Carolina. From there, I’ll ride to Toronto, which should take 2-3 days, and then the bike and I will fly to London/Heathrow. From Heathrow, I’ll get the bike from Customs, and ride to Harwich, UK, where I’ll board a ferry for Hook, Holland. I’ll likely spend one or two nights in Amsterdam, and then head to Berlin, where I’ll spend a few days with a friend, and will likely visit the BMW Motorcycle plant.
From Berlin, I’ll head to the German port city of Travelmunde, where I’ll board a ferry for Helsinki, Finland. The Ferry journey could take a couple of days, so I’ll sleep on the ferry, enjoying the feeling of being on the water, and seeing the Baltic sea. After spending time in Helsinki, I’ll take another ferry across the Baltic sea to Tallinn, Estonia, where my tour actually begins.
I’ll leave Tallinn, traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia, and then travel SE to Moscow. I’ll continue across Russia, and after a couple of weeks, I’ll make my way into Kazakhstan, through Kyrgyzstan, and into China. I’ll spend a number of weeks in China, and then enter Laos, and then into Thailand for the final days of the tour.
After arriving in Bangkok, the official tour will end, and I’ll spend another 10 days seeing the sights in Thailand, before entering Cambodia and Vietnam.
I expect the total number of miles ridden will be somewhere between 17,000 and 20,000 miles.
The smaller picture(s)
South Carolina to Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The trip starts in Indian Land, South Carolina, where I’ll ride the bike for a couple of days, arriving in Toronto, Canada after 2-3 days of travel. At that point, I’ll get the bike loaded onto an Air Canada Cargo jet, and likely spend one night in Toronto.
In all likelihood, the bike will have the side cases (Panniers) attached, along with my tool box, and emergency water and gas cans. The two cans will be empty, as required when shipping Dangerous Cargo, so I’ll need to pack a separate, and smaller bag, which will contain enough stuff to last for 3 days of travel.
Toronto to London, England
I’ll likely board a flight from Toronto to London where I can expect about 6-8 hours of flying time. My bike and I will almost certainly arrive at different times, so once I arrive in London, I’ll need to travel to the Air Canada freight office, pick up the bike, clear customs, and be on my way.
Depending on when I arrive, I might spend the day near Heathrow, or I might travel to Harwich to prepare for the next leg of the journey.
I need to get to mainland Europe, and there are two basic routes or approaches. I could take the Chunnell to Calais, France, or I can travel to the coast of England, at Harwich, and take the ferry to Hook, Amsterdam.
Many years ago (Maybe 30 years ago) I was on a business trip to England, and I spent 2 days in Amsterdam before the meetings in London. When I needed to travel from Amsterdam to London, I took the ferry across the North Sea. This ferry left from Hook, Holland, and traveled across the North Sea to the UK, where I picked up a train, and made my way to London.
Hook, Holland to Travelmunde, Germany
After spending an undetermined amount of time in Berlin, and surrounding areas, I’ll make my way back to the coast of the Baltic Sea, and prepare to board a ferry for Helsinki, Finland. While my actual destination is Tallinn, Estonia, there are no ferries that travel that route, so I’m capitalizing on this little inefficiency, and as a result, I’ll spend a couple of days in Helsinki, Finland.
I have not yet done much planning about what to do in Finland for a couple of days, but I’ve got a few friends who are Finish, so I’ll consult them before the trip. That said, what could possibly go wrong.
Helsinki Finland, to Tallin, Estonia
About 2 days prior to the start of the tour, I’ll need to be in Tallinn, Estonia. As you can see from the map, Tallinn is directly across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki. So, I’ll take a ferry across, which should take a couple of hours, and voilla, I’ll be in Estonia.
All of the maps that I’ve provided so far are done at a medium to high magnification. This portion of my trip, the actual tour portion does not have much detail yet. In fact, I’ve had to make a series of educated guesses about the actual route for this portion of the trip.
You see, there are two problems that are causing me to not have enough detail. First of all, I have not received the official documentation from the Tour provider yet. This documentation will list the day-by-day itinerary, along with GPX files, which I’ll load into my GPS. But, without all of this information, I’ve had to read over the marketing materials, and make educated guesses about the route, timing, and exact places that we’ll pass through.
The second problem is that my GPS doesn’t yet have a detailed map of Europe and Asia, and the map that I’m using is a very high-level map, which Garmin calls “The Global Map”.
GPS maps (mind numbing details)
In order to plan a trip like this, you need a GPS that you can use while on the bike, and you need some mapping s/w that you can install and operate on your PC. The Garmin BMW Navigator VI GPS comes with free updates for the map or region of the country that you live in. And so for me, that means I’ll always have an up-to-date map for the US, but if I want a map of any other portion of the world, Garmin expects me to buy a map from them, for about $70/map.
Garmin’s maps are usually country-centric, or region-centric, covering small portions of my overall route. So, it looks like I’d need to buy as many as 5 more maps, for a total outlay of as much as $350. These maps are very details, and routable. A Routable map is a special kind of map that is not only a picture, that understands Longitude and L attitude, but it also understands that Routes follow roads, and therefore the route between any two way-points will follow a series of roads, rather than being the straightest path between two points.
So, if you look at the map of the tour, you’ll see that the lines between waypoints are straight lines, and do not follow the underlying roads and highways. I’ll need to buy or find maps that cover these regions of the world, and also are routable.
As it turns out, there is an organization called Open Street Maps foundation (https://www.openstreetmap.org) . You can visit this site, and select a map of the area that you’ll be traveling through, and then download a version of the map to install on your PC and another version to install in your GPS. The process is tricky, and somewhat technical, but you’ll need to load these maps, unless you want to spend hundreds of dollars to load the maps from Garmin.
So, to address the second problem, I’ll need to specify, download and install more detailed maps. I’ll do this over the next couple of weeks, and show you exactly what the procedure looks like.
Tallin, Estonia to Bangkok, Thailand (The big picture)
The route shown below will total more than 10,200 miles. But, as you can see, I don’t have much detail about the more detailed route. Once I’ve received my tour packet, I’ll load the GPS files, load the maps, and rebuild this portion of the trip with much better detail.
The final leg of my journey will be another 10 day boondoggle through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. I love history, and there is a great deal of history from the Vietnam war, which I think I’d enjoy seeing in more detail.
As you look at the map above, you’ll immediately notice that it is not very detailed, and I mentioned a few lines ago, I’m not “routing” along highways, and instead, this map simply represents a route, as the crow flies.
You’ll also see that, to the W of Bangkok, there seems to be a single point, which is shown as an out-and-back trip. This little trip is from Bangkok, to the location where the Bridge over the River Kwai is located. Now, I realize that, in the movie the blew up the bridge, but there is a new bridge in this spot, and it might be fascinating to see exactly what the British prisoners were facing when they tried to build their bridge.
At the end of all of this, I’ll need to make my way to a port city in Thailand, where I’ll ship the motorcycle back home. I’ll then return to Bangkok, where I’ll fly home, through Hong Kong and LAX, finally arriving about an entire day after I start my journey.
I can’t wait for it all to begin, but to be honest, I’m already having a ball, and I hope that some of what I’ve written can cause some of you to think about creating your own adventure. Don’t just sit there and read this blog, go out there and make your own plan, and have your own special reward.