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"About Us" Part 1:  Why & How We Became Cyclotourists


The "Why" Of Becoming Cyclotourists

Challenging Old Beliefs

"Why become cyclotourists?" The sassy, predictable answer was "Why not?" But it was that "Why not?" that we felt compelled to answer seriously once the notion was raised. And ultimately, we didn't find a good answer as to why we shouldn't become full time cyclotourists, so we did.

Becoming travelers, becoming cyclotourists, was not a long term goal.  Becoming full time, international, cyclotourists instead came out of an odd collision of stray thoughts, out of happenstance--very unlikely for straight-arrow, nose-to-the-grindstone, methodical people like us.

One such stray thought was a bedtime discussion as to the different housing options we could choose from beyond being homeowners like we were. The playful brainstorming of alternatives like a loft apartment, a downtown condo,  or a houseboat ended with a bold blurting out of "Maybe we don't need to have a home at all." That was an outrageous jest that unexpectedly opened the door to a world in which we'd never imagined ourselves.

This consideration of not having a home coincided with recently being introduced to cycling and cyclotouring. Both cycling and cyclotouring as hobbies had just tumbled-out from following the lead of fellow recreational runners in the Hood-to-Coast-Relay--runners that were also doing the week-long Cycle Oregon event. Having teammates cross-training with cycling combined with the growing support of cyclists in Portland lead to Bill  to buy a bike and I soon followed. Then it was a week-long road trip by car on the southern Oregon coast that had us talking with cyclotourists and discovering that the Oregon coast was a world-class cycle route.  Cyclotouring looked like fun, so we vowed to give it a try.

We were in our early 40's when we we were getting into cycling and coincidentally starting thinking about not having a home. At the same time we started to understand that the mantra we each grew up with that had spurred our professional successes: "Go to school, get a job, work hard" had a shortcoming, which was the unspoken ending "and then you die."

My father had died before his time in his late 60's from a disease that I likely inherited; a couple of friends had recently died prematurely in their 40's; and Bill had already had 2 flirts with potentially devastating, obscure diseases that we attributed to the effects of stress on his immune system from working up to 120 hours a week.  These accumulating events spurred used to seriously reconsider the family model. Once we started questioning what we were doing, it was easy to see that it was time make a radical change.


Taking Stock

Recognizing the need for redirecting our lives immediately added a new layer of discussions to the more mundane conversations with our new financial planner. She shocked us by readily confirming that we had done what our parents had only dreamed of, we'd almost achieved financial independence in our middle years.

We had accumulated wealth early, we'd invested well early, and we were on track to get that "time value of money" edge that we'd learned about together in our economics class. Now, if we could break out of the family habit of hard work, we could retire early. But just to be sure, Bill built his own long-term financial model to confirm our financial planner's assessment with even more conservative parameters and he somewhat uncomfortably came to the same conclusion.

Coincidental with all of these musings, we were investing in ourselves in a new way, which was by receiving counseling. Like with our financial planner, here too we floated our new fantasy of retiring early and making a lifestyle change. Surprisingly, it took several years of therapy to reprogram our "noses to the grindstone" mentality and to accept that we could live radically new lives--we had both the time and the ability to take a second crack at life.

As the collision of these new thoughts hit critical mass, we gradually began toning-down our delayed gratification instinct and replacing it with an 'enjoy life while you can' ethic. We didn't increase our spending but changed our thinking.  There were demons deep inside that had perpetuated unhealthy beliefs that had contributed to our financial success but it was time to thank them for their accomplishments and send them on their way.

The thought of radically veering off of what looked to be a life-long path of endless work had caused some trauma that also had to be dealt with. A big lifestyle change would bring with it many losses of identity--the very way we described ourselves to others would completely change. There were the professional identities but also a string of more subtle ones, like car ownership, homeownership, links with possessions, community connections, and being participants in annual events. Whoosh, it would all be gone when we broke out of our decades-old orbit.

One of the few pieces of textbook financial planning we hadn't followed was to have a goal. We instead had the non-specific work-hard ethic, but with no vision of "some day we'll...." The previously unknown notion of cyclotouring just happened along when other events conspired to challenge our old model and since we'd been delighted by our first 4-day cyclotour close to home, cyclotouring suddenly became the handy vehicle to enable us to speed away from our old beliefs and habits. It was a simple as those odd circumstances combining with our new desire to broaden the space between the family model of "work hard" and "die" and suddenly we were domestic cyclotourists with an eye on becoming international ones.


The single most potent reason for not becoming cyclotourists wasn't the loss of career, the loss of income, the loss of identity, or the loss of social ties, it was our attachment to our dog. When the idea of cyclotouring abroad popped up on the screen it took little consideration to realize that our one-and-only-ever-for-either-of-us pooch would have to live out her life before we could go. None of the options on the short list of alternatives could be considered, so we would have to wait.

 Our Nikki was a vizsla, a medium sized hunting dog originally from Hungary, with an average life expectancy of 11 to 12 years. She was about 10 when the idea of traveling struck so waiting didn't seem so bad. But our well-cared-for little darling almost saw her 15th birthday. It was a lot of years to postpone our travels but it was only 6 months after her passing until we were on the road.

The other strong pull not to go traveling came from my mother as she was horrified with our plans. But by the time one is counting their own gray hairs they better be making their own decisions. I regretted disappointing her but her longevity proved us right--we couldn't count on our own good health out lasting hers. At some point we had to cut and run while we still had the health and physical capacity for the lifestyle so against her protests, we headed out.

There were others who didn't think it proper that we were ditching our careers and those who thought it socially irresponsible to be so self-indulgent to do what we were about to do. And then there were those who couldn't get beyond their own terror at the thought of themselves taking such a journey into the unknown. Instead of those and other negative choruses, I choose to remember the person who said "You have to do it for the rest of us--the ones who can't or won't go."

We were always the cautious ones, the sensible ones, and now it was our turn to be bold. We had the health, we had the necessary financial security, we could trim back our obligations--all we needed was the courage to break-out of our routines. We could see that it was in our grasp to have 2 lives: our professional, Type A lives and our nomadic, Type B lives, if only we would take the risk.


The "How" of Becoming Full-Time Cyclotourists

The Plan

The Plan” as it was originally conceived, was to slowly circumnavigate the planet on bicycles in 1 to 2 years. We'd start in bike-friendly Europe, rather than our homeland, where we'd made a number of 2-week tours testing our gear. In Europe the distances between communities was shorter and unlike the US, we'd be welcome as cyclists. We hoped too that by being in a part of the world where cyclotourists were concentrated that we would slowly build a community of fellow travelers, some of whom we might share some journeys (that, unfortunately, hasn't happened).

We assumed that after we'd become more skilled and experienced as international cyclotourists in Europe that we'd proceed east into more foreign lands. Our itinerary would evolve as we pressed on and it would be shaped to avoid outbreaks of disease and violence that we'd track on the internet.

That was The Plan as we touched down in Frankfurt in May of 2001. We were still settling into our new lifestyle when we and the rest of the world were shaken to our cores on September 11th. My mother pleaded with us to rush home but as Americans we felt far safer on the river bike paths of northern Europe than in the air or on American soil. We cautiously headed out the door on September 12th hoping our anonymity would keep us safe as we and the rest of the world waited to see if another shoe would drop.

We still hoped to broaden our horizons beyond Europe after things normalized but Bush's wars made Americans increasingly unsafe and unwelcome abroad. We contented ourselves with being fascinated by Europe, including eastern Europe, for 8 years. As the years went by, we also became clear that we didn't want too much adventure--that we weren't strident adventure tourists that would happily go weeks without bathing or with too little water to drink or ride in any traffic conditions.

Instead we came to understand that cyclotouring was our new life--not just a brief "hold your breathe 'til you get through it" outing. We wanted to tend to our nutrition, our health, and our intellectual stimulation as we had always done and we needed a certain level of predictability in our environment to meet those goals. We were also clear that we didn't have to prove anything to anyone or to ourselves and so taking foolish risks made no sense at all. This was to be a journey of self discovery but it was to be a fun journey.


Tending to Business Matters


It took us several years to dismantle our lives so that we could become full time travelers. The first challenge was graciously withdrawing from professional lives. That process required giving about 2 year's notice for Bill to exit his positions of responsibility for a smooth transition in his organization. I'd already detuned my work life so the advance notice I gave was more a matter of courtesy than necessity for those from whom I was separating professionally.
Change of Address
    Our plan had been to have a storage unit and a PO box but we quickly learned that that design was a non-starter for several reasons.  Institutions that mattered to us, like the folks issuing passports and insurance agents, required that one have a physical street address. We were shocked that being financially self-sufficient wasn't enough, but that one must have a "place." In addition, at that time we could only insure contents in a storage unit for $5,000 which didn't come close to covering the items we decided to keep, like an additional pair of bikes, kitchenware, sewing machines, and clothes.

So, we resorted to renting a tiny studio apartment in a just-good-enough-neighborhood for $300/month in 2001. We swung a deal with the owner for a discount since we wouldn't be there much and we'd pay a year in advance. Our main regret was that we weren't able to locate a suitable apartment with a resident manager, which would have given us a little more sense of security and more options for onsite help.
    We did get the PO box for security for our mail. We hired the husband of a longtime friend to visit our apartment and to pick-up our mail a few times a month. He opens all of our mail and sorts it. Most of the mail is tossed except for items needed for tax and business matters and the occasional piece of personal correspondence.

Before heading out we stripped down our mail as much as possible. More than a year before departing we began dropping magazine subscriptions and stopped making charitable contributions to curb the mail and junk mail. I called catalog companies and other sources requesting to be dropped from their mailing lists. Every year when we are at home we make a few more phone calls to trim the mail even more.


Bill signed us up for auto-payment on every bill that could possibly be handled electronically. That was a huge job that in those days, a job that  required about a week's worth of effort but is it ever wonderful now.

We opened a joint checking account with the man  looking after our affairs and gave him a list of bills that would need to be paid by check. He emails us if there is anything requiring special attention. If he needs more funds during the year, Bill makes an electronic transfer. And if we need something special, like election ballots expressed to us, he is the person we contact. It's nice to be paying someone for the service instead of imposing on the good will of friends or relatives. His reliability is pivotal to the success of our lifestyle change.

Health Insurance

We hadn't even settled the matter of how long we'd be out of the country at a time when the question on our health insurance form decided the matter for us: less than a year. It was that "You aren't out of the country for more than a year, are you?" question that clarified our annual rhythm. Returning annually did simplify other matters too, like paying taxes, and receiving  regular medical and dental care. So we settled upon returning home each winter in time to file our taxes.

The first few years we traveled through the holiday season but family protests won out and we switched to usually being home for Christmas. That however turns out to be a highly unproductive time for taking care of our medical, dental, and business affairs as so many professionals are on holiday themselves.



Planning Horizon

Still short on new long-term goals, the first critical decision after deciding to postpone our traveling life until our dog passed on was guessing how long we'd travel. In preparing for the new life, a year and a half seemed to be the break-even point. If we were going to travel less than a year and half, we should keep the house, the 2 cars, and most of our stuff. If it was going to be longer than that, we should severely downsize and either sell the house or enlist the help of a property management firm.

After some discussion that was based on little concrete data, we gambled on the more-than-18-months scenario and partially liquidated. We didn't know how long we'd travel but keeping a car on blocks and renting out our home ourselves for 2 or more years looked like a loser.

We designed a long term plan for being on the road--a plan that would save us money as we'd only be paying for 1 lifestyle instead of 2. Most travelers are still paying for utilities, property insurance, and auto insurance back home while they are traveling and also paying for lodging and transportation. We instead were able to whittle down our fixed expenses to mostly our health and liability insurance and a tiny studio apartment we needed to maintain the all-important street address.,

Doing the Downsizing

Downsizing for us was as it is for almost everyone: a hideous chore. "Start early and be methodical" is our advice.  We started in what turned out to  be a year in advance on some specialty items. "Good stewardship" was our guiding principle. Of course we wanted to get a good price for as much of our stuff as we could but we also wanted our belongings to be well used by their next owners, which meant selecting specialty outlets for some items.

My yoga teaching props would look like junk to many, so some of those items were given to fellow teachers. Our many years of experimenting with equipment had resulted in an accumulation of cycling gear that needed to be liquidated. Some of it was taken to an annual bike swap meet; the rest we posted for sale on bike shop bulletin boards. And a favorite plant was "loaned" to a friend--I view it as hers, she views it as a loan.

More expensive items were dealt with individually. Some better furnishings were put on consignment at a friend's favorite resale shop; our folding bikes were advertised online for a bigger audience; and the piano and leather couch were offered separately in the classified ads.

And then there was the garage sale. I had limited success in getting other neighbors to have a street-wide garage sale to attract bigger crowds but learned that the seasoned shoppers could spot a downsize-sale from a clean-out-the-junk-sale just by the ad. Our garage sale was a huge success: we re-cooped a small portion of the value of our goods and also put the items in hands that appreciated them. It was especially satisfying to see the delight in the eyes of the family who bought our washer and dryer. And we will always remember the young woman who happily took home an indoor fig tree we'd nurtured for years and years.

After the exhausting garage sale came the more tedious stage of itemizing the remaining goods before donating them to charities. The itemization was for deducting the donations on our taxes.

"Passing on" our treasures to friends as well as strangers was a difficult process. Part of the pep talk was the "good stewardship" notion--that things should pass through us and it was important to move them on before they lost their utility. But it was painful too to confront the "woulda', coulda', shoulda'" or those things that represent missed opportunities or poor decisions at the time. It was a process of confronting both the good and the bad of our collective and personal pasts and making decisions about what would be kept (and why) and what was going to be moved on.

One aid in letting go of sentimental items was to take photos of them. We both had things we'd kept out of guilt or shame that we really didn't want, and keeping a photo was an easy compromise. Photos were also a good substitute for keeping those dozens of souvenir running T-shirts. We lined them up so they looked like a big quilt and snapped a photo of the grand display, which was a more powerful remembering tool than having them piled up in drawers.

We did keep our bedroom furniture and our bookshelves but the piano, couch, dining set and most of the other furniture went out the door. We also kept most of our dishes and cooking items as they wouldn't deteriorate in storage and would be very expensive to replace. It wasn't that our dishes or any single item were all that expensive--it was that there were a lot of items. We kept our sewing machines that we use every year when we return home and a sampling of our tool collection. Many books, a lot of clothes, and most of what one has to keep a house in order were liquidated.


Selecting Our Gear

We cyclotoured in the western US for several years before heading overseas and each 2-week outing included serious field testing of bikes, panniers, tents, sleeping bags, and smaller items. We commuted to local appointments in fierce winter weather to further analyze new gloves, jackets, and brakes. We experimented with recipes, cookware, sunscreens and everything we could think of. Every item we would carry was careful considered, carefully evaluated.

We had hoped to ride with Bike Friday folding bikes but decided that they weren't quite up to the task. The gearing on them just wasn't positive enough and we wanted a bike with very standard components to facilitate finding replacement parts overseas. Of course one or twice a year we dearly wish we had the convenience of having folding bikes, but we are clear that we made the right choice for our circumstances.

We were asked repeatedly when we were packing up "Are you taking a phone/GPS/computer?" The answer was always "No." We headed out in 2001 with a pair of PDA's as our only electronics items. In 2002 we added a laptop and digital camera. In 2007 a pair of cell phones for hiking safety in the Dolomites of northern Italy were added and finally in 2008 GPS was added to the list. 2009 will see us caving in to the need for computer redundancy by adding a second though very small, laptop. It will be switching to digital versions of guide books that creates the final, compelling need for a back-up computer--that and experiencing catastrophic computer failures an average of every other year.


Style of Travel

A cyclotourist's style of travel is something that gets settled before leaving home, whether it's a conscious process or not. It's a decision from the get-go, primarily driven by cost and influences gear selection as well (free campers want inconspicuous tents and gear; regular campers don't care).  It's basically balancing one's comfort and safety against cost and trip length. One's choice of style of travel impacts the experiences you'll have, the people you'll meet, the things you'll do, the comfort you'll experience, and the nature of the adventure.

Here's my take on the general style of travel options available to cyclotourists:

Mendicant Monks: These are the minimalists, usually solo young men with a bit of crazed look in their eyes. They settle for little comfort and are rewarded with a very inexpensive lifestyle and high adventure. They tend to ride hard and have very long days on the road. The sparest of them carry little gear in terms of food, clothing, camping equipment, or emergency supplies. They rely heavily on their good weather and the goodwill and generosity of others to help them out.  I also imagine a bit of filtching is a part of the lifestyle, if only fruit off an orchard tree.

Free Campers: Free Campers can be a world apart from the minimalists as they may have great bikes and great gear but choose to extend their cash reserves by eliminating lodging costs. Each night they are on the prowl for a free place to pitch their tent. They may ask farmers or property owners for permission to camp for the night and in doing so may get some hospitality which further defrays their food expenses.

On other nights, they will be scouting for a place to camp undisturbed in a field, a forest, or other place relatively hidden from the road. Infrequent showers, uncertain safety, and just-enough water are their daily challenges. But they have stories to tell and usually seem very satisfied with the trade-off of being able to swap comfort and safety for a longer trip.

Campground Campers:  Cyclists paying for a campsite increase their personal safety over free camping and have more predictable comforts for the night, which can include regular hot showers. Finding campgrounds however can be as hard as finding a suitable free-camping situation. The social opportunities for campground campers are different from those of free campers. Free campers may be invited into a home or may have absolute solitude whereas campground'ers will always have some contact with other people.

Comfort Class or Indoor Sleepers: Still independent in that they are carrying all of their own gear, these cyclotourists opt for substantially more comfort and more safety with the added expense of paying for a room indoors, whether it be a bed in a hostel dormitory or a room in a 5-star hotel.

Not camping at all means carrying substantially less gear. Not only do you eliminate the considerable weight and bulk of sleeping bags, sleeping mats, a tent, and cooking equipment, you also need less clothing. When camping, one is subjected to the dual hazards of being exposed to colder temperatures: you need more clothing to stay warm and because your laundry doesn't dry as quickly.

Sleeping indoors also becomes a bigger advantage if you carry electronics items like cameras, phones, and laptops that need recharging. It does become tedious to stand around in the campground washrooms guarding your gadgets while they are feeding. Campground campers usually have more social opportunities than indoor-sleepers that tend to be more socially isolated.

Guided Tour Option: Joining a guided biking tour usually pops the price per person from the several hundred dollar per week range for Comfort Class to several thousand dollars. And of course, benefits follow. Comfortable prearranged lodging, good food, guaranteed companionship, a preselected route, and perhaps even bikes come with the package. You are also have the weight of your luggage lifted off of your bike and deposited into a van. One is also guaranteed mechanical help with your bike and usually a lift if you get tired or injured or the weather turns foul. For those who only have time for a short trip, who lack time to do the detailed planning in advance needed for a short trip, and who have the money, this is a great option though one we haven't experienced.

The downside is the same as any tour--loss of control. Your experience is confined to that described in the brochure and your experience of the culture you are in is diminished--which isn't always a bad thing.

Our Style: Our travel style began as a blend of campground-campers and indoor-sleepers. The first couple of years we carried our camping gear all year but generally could only use it some nights in a 2-3 month period.  Campgrounds were difficult to find in some countries and tended to be open only for a short summer season--many closed on the last day in August.

After several years of touring, we finally abandoned camping and became exclusively indoor sleepers. We gave up the cost savings, some social connection opportunities, and the fun of sleeping outdoors. What we gained was the opportunity to carry less weight and bulk, which increasingly became an issue as we increasingly felt the effects of aging.

Adding more and more electronics to our gear also made being indoors every night more compelling, as did developing this webpage which we didn't have at the outset. And when our travels drifted from being 1 to 2 years to being indefinite, we felt a need to improve our quality of life from that offered by camping.

Our situation as retiree-long term cyclotourists is extremely unusual.  All of the retired cyclotourists we've met only tour for a few weeks at at time and the long distance cyclotourists we meet are a much younger crowd and taking a break from their careers. These younger travelers often are spending all of their savings on this traveling interlude and economizing means extending the journey before they return to work.


Level of Adventure

The level of adventure that one wants and can tolerate as a cyclotourist also gets factored in to one's style of travel. Some travelers crave excitement and uncertainty and consider it the reason for traveling. Taking uncertain roads, pressing on after dark, and free camping are ready ways to add some extra excitement to an otherwise tame outing.

Others travel to meet quieter objectives, like seeing particular sights, tasting the cuisine, or meeting people and want the journey to be predictable and congenial. Where you choose to go and how you get there on your bike will shape the sense of adventure experienced. Back roads or main roads; wilderness or cities; 1st world or 3rd world; are all variables that impact the sense of adventure.

How much risk one takes with their personal safety is another element that can be manipulated for adventure and we've always opted for staying safe. We've always felt quite vulnerable as a twosome on heavy bikes as if a couple of intimidating people approached us and said "We want those bikes and everything on them" we'd be in no position to argue. So we visit poorer countries without our bikes and stay off the road at night.

The Last 8 Years & Stopping

We are still cyclotouring as of the beginning of 2009--our 9th touring season. In the first few years Bill was reluctant and would say "OK, 1 more year." Gradually he confronted his fears and conflicts about our circumstance and at about year 5 he began saying "We still have a lot more to see."

In contrast, I've loved the lifestyle from the beginning and can't imagine stopping. I loath routines and love being in a new place almost every night. I enjoy the challenge of making myself comfortable in each new abode though we strive to have good starting material. I love almost always having a new route to the grocery store and usually only shopping at a given store a time or 2. I delight in learning languages from road signs and history from museum exhibits. And I love having the scenery in my outdoor gym change daily.

Every year we accumulate more hours discussing how much longer we will travel and what we'll do when we stop. It's not knowing what to do when we stop that keeps us signing up for another year. Stopping means making very serious decisions, like where to live. The easy solution would be to return to the Portland/Vancouver area but there is that matter of the nasty weather. Friends and family create a countering pull to that push of the weather. Do we buy a house or a condo or do we rent? What about a car? Or 2 cars again? No car? Of course we'll need furniture. Oh it's so much easier just to replace 4 bike tires, buy new rain gear, and head out for another year of biking, so that's what we are doing.


Want to Know More?

Now you've heard the story of why and how we became cyclotourists. Many more details about us as cyclotourists can be found in other files. Click on the "What, How, Why" for a selection of files covering the minutiae of our traveling life, including the spec's on our bikes and detailed packing lists for our summer and winter clothes, among other things. You'll find the travel journals for all but our first 2 years by returning to the Homepage.

How we managed to accumulate sufficient assets to retire early and become cyclotourists is covered in 2 separate files:  "About Us" Parts 2 & 3. Part 2 is an overview of what factors contributed to us being able to accumulate enough money to retire early. Part 3 was written in response to a friend's question to us about investing and is a nuts-and-bolts discussion of how we navigated the world of investing to supplement our salaries and build our nest-egg.

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