The Puppet Master

The freewheeling traveling of the past 50 days has been wonderful and certainly made for some memorable times and photos. But to get to this place in our lives has been a lot of work, sacrifice, and always living well within our means (including no car ownership for most of our lives..big money saver.).

Cruising down the Loire is the payoff

In addition, the daily planing behind the scenes has been non-stop (as Cheryl has noted). So much in fact, that my contribution to the blog to date has been minimal. Endless hours on Booking, Trainline, Google Maps, Komoot, and Translate, as well as local and regional tourist sites and even some paper maps for broader planning …first making sure things are manageable, but keeping enough flexibility to see how the day unfolds first…is there a headwind, tailwind or lots of climbing? (the wind is sometimes a bigger deal than hills with 50+ lb and wide panniers!). Food, bakeries, supermarkets, water? Any contingencies with Trains? Did I build in enough time for Cheryl’s cat photo stops?!!

Trains and bikes…mostly a great solution!

The usual pattern is to book a room around lunch time, so we have a good understanding of where we can get….but never trying for ridiculous miles, or really long days, as we always like to have some energy left for exploring the place we stay…we prefer slow-ish bike touring for sure….and always appreciate the luxury and privilege we had to travel this way. (Time, health, and resources, free movement…).

But I’m not looking for sympathy, as I LOVE to travel and route plan almost as much as I love to travel, and the endless unfolding of geography and new stimuli everyday is invigorating. (My Civil Engineering and Anthropology degrees merged perfectly-:). You are often asked, “if there was anything in the world you could today, what would it be?” My answer is exactly what we’ve been doing! (and with Cheryl of course).

An artisan cheese automat down the road in Boëge…in case of a after hours Fromaergency!

We have covered almost 2000km by bike and passed through hundreds and hundreds of villages and cities, including staying in 40 places! Sounds crazy, but it really was slow travel. Off the bikes, our movement will be less, and we are looking forward to that, but there is not much more joy to me than heading out in the cool morning on a loaded bike, waiting to discover where the dirt, cobbled, and paved travel ways will take you that day.

What’s over this hill?

We are now happily transitioning our travels from cycling to onward adventures in the beautiful early autumn of the Vallée Verte, combining some nesting, with relaxing hikes and walks in the surrounding lower alps. Despite our “home-free” status, it has been a joy to return to a familiar place for awhile and we are forever thankful to our friends for allowing us to use their beautiful historic home.

Enjoying lunch, local style.

Cheryl also gets to apply her expertise building daily fires in both the kitchen/dining area and the upstairs parlor, which is providing our core heat for now, as the main pellet central system is waiting for a winter delivery next week. She loves it and she notes her life here parallels the downstairs lives of the servants of Downton Abbey! (Except she dines with the lord of the manor -;)

Typical Vallée Verte cheese source

We have also been sorting and swapping our gear from our master cadre that we brought from San Francisco…again trying to guess what we might need for the next few months away, which includes big city exploring, fall/winter hiking, and likely travels to Morocco prior to seeing family and friends over the holidays in the UK. Most of the bike gear will be resting as we wait for spring in Europe, but we do plan on renting bikes and certainly using bike share in the cities. Ideally gear should be multi-purpose. For example, a rain jacket that is good for hiking and ok for cycling, including some reflective treatments or bright coloring. Waterproofness from head to toe will be key for fall/winter hiking in the UK, but to wear my pavement colored jacket cycling in the dark is not a good solution. We’ll be sure to share some of our favorite travel amd packing hacks as we move into our foot and train mode over the next few months.

Camera ready draft horse on today’s 5-mile hike to the Col de Cou

Our last 7 weeks on the bike have made us reaffirm our mantra for light travels…only bringing what we really need, as well as picking up a few winter items in the UK. You can never have everything with you and you’ll never have the perfect clothes for every activity when traveling light, so you need to accept this, and make tough choices. Fashion usually suffers as well…but a few key purchases or swap outs can make you feel like you haven’t been wearing the same clothes for months. We specifically did NOT buy many new things for our travels, knowing that we may want or need to leave some things behind as we change continents, cultures, and climates. In our last global trip, we bought cold weather gear in Poland as fall approached and then left many of these items to (hopefully) those who needed them in Northern India, as we didn’t want to carry a thick sweater, heavy jacket, or scarf to Southeast Asia. If you do want to keep something that you really love but don’t want to carry, then mailing things back “home” has also worked well for us.

Airing the laundry

The great thing about continuous (“home-free”) travel is that you have the opportunity to continually reinvent yourself and when you get tired or a certain mode or place, switching can reset your mind, focus, and enthusiasm for new experiences. Luckily our minds are opening as the world slowly does too, and we are excited to explore further afield in the coming year! Peace.

Lunch time on Mont Forchant

We continued to relax and recoup in the beautiful Vallée Verte by setting out and exploring by foot from our home base, soaking in the endless connected footpaths, trails, and rural roads of France. Our goal yesterday was Mont Forchant, a 1500m peak at the head of the valley known for steep approaches and rewarding views.

Headed up valley

We could have driven to a trailhead and and made an easy two hour peak bag, but what fun is that? So we walked about 10 miles up into the wooded paths with over 2,000 feet of climbing! By walking, we got to stroll through two small villages and lots of rural pleasantness.

Roads plenty quiet to walk
The final push to the summit

So we were hopeful of promised views on Mont Blanc in the distance, but alas, the clouds were still thick on this typical summer day. But it at least cleared enough to see down the valley, and the the clouds made for cooler hiking.

Gazpacho and sándwiches on Mont Forchant

And this being France in August, there was plenty of company at the summit, all enjoying their leisurely picnic lunches. We relished the background buzz of French around us, as it seems this was a locals only place today, along with two very happy Americans.

Breaking it Down to the Wire!

So the last week had been intense, with so many goodbyes and experiences in our great little neighborhood of Broderick Street in the heart of San Francisco. But the primary focus on has been getting our final items to storage, clearing out every last thing out of the flat…and oh yeah, packing for a (hopefully) long international adventure!

The staging room – ready to pack!
Magic – it all fit!

The last day had one more trip to storage, a trip to drop our luggage at friends in Redwood City, and finally putting the last items out on the curb and closing our door to our beloved flat for the last time 🥲.

So empty
Goodbye Ladybugs

But then off to Redwood City by bike and train 😀 it felt so appropriate for our lives in SF

Feeling Free riding out of SF!
Former Caltrain Board member ready to roll
Celebratory Beers on Caltrain tasted SO good!!

So it’s all hard to believe that all the prep of the past 18 months finally starting to pay off and we are actually on our way to Europe! We’re at SFO now and ready to board our flights to Geneva via Lisbon! The haze of the pandemic still doesn’t make this feel real. Will Europe still be there? Can we enjoy the high points of travel during a pandemic? This has not been easy my friends, but we are doing it: and we’re glad that we can share it all with our great friends….some even in person.

Next Time – the logistics – getting by with a lot of help from our friends!

No Plans, Only Scenarios!

So one of the first questions everyone asks us about embarking on on vagabond life is “So what’s your plan?” Well, if the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that making “plans” is a fools errand in the ongoing pandemic world. So we don’t really have plans, but we’ve done a lot of research on places we’d like to go, but know that most of them are not possible right now, or may not be possible in two weeks….or tomorrow!

So we’ve taken a playbook from the Architects and have a “kit of parts” or travel widgets if you will. Individual ideas that can be implemented based on COVID, floods, fires, locusts, or whatever our unstable planet throws at us. And of course, one scenario is certainly coming back to USA as needed, anytime.

Scenario? The Basque Coast and Camino Del Norte

For example, one scenario is to walk the Camino Del Norte in Northern Spain. I had done some pretty detailed planning for this from pre-COVID “plans”, but now is not the time to go to Spain (hot weather + COVID)…so maybe in October or November…or maybe this waits until Spring 2022.

But we do want to get out there and start supporting the businesses that depend on travel and tourism now, so we are determined to move forward with a viable scenario. Currently, a strong scenario for the start of our travels is to cycle tour from our base in eastern France across Switzerland via one of the many national and local bike routes..maybe continuing to Germany, Czech republic, and Austria. (Currently low COVID) And yes, Switzerland has an amazing national and local bike network with interactive maps . (By the way, you may have already figured out that I LOVE MAPS, especially interactive maps 😊)

National Route 1 – A very pleasant starting scenario

Another driver of our scenarios are the fact that our Schengen “Visa” allows us to be in the 26 country Schengen zone only 90 days out of any 180 day period, so we need to get out of dodge for awhile as the late fall approaches….possible scenarios…..Morocco/Tunisia, UK/Ireland, Balkans, Romania/Bulgaria, Turkey, and hopefully in 2022, more places in Asia and Africa will be safe enough for responsible travel. For now, we have to watch people suffer through Delta prior to widespread vaccine availability in much of the world, and hope that great organizations that we support such as Medecins Sans Frontieres can help reduce the suffering.

Mumbai in 2006 – Northern India was unforgettable, but the South India scenario awaits

So go forth all into the world with your passion and travel scenarios ready! Just don’t make any plans.