In our minds, we have divided up the entire route into sections. None of them match in length, but they're legs in which we can think about logistics in isolation.
Leg 1: Glasgow to Helsinki
Leg 2: Tallinn to Istanbul
Leg 3: Istanbul to the start of China
Leg 4: China
Leg 5: South east Asia
Leg 6: Australia and New Zealand
Leg 7: America and Canada
Leg 8: Lisbon to Glasgow
Leg 1 is in familiar territory. We don’t mean familiar as in "been there, done that" but in countries which feel like immediate neighbours; ones which have recognisable brands and languages (except Finland - Finnish is a whole other ball game and props to my bestie, Meg, for learning it). It's been a valuable training ground for us and included easy countries to travel through whilst getting used to all other aspects of our new lives.
We've written about each country we've been through so far in the smaller blogs up until this point, so we thought that we'd evaluate the kit we've brought with us. How has it held up after a month of use?
We used our Vaude Invenio tent a fair bit before leaving, so we had already patched one or two tiny holes already. Other than having to seam seal it, which was a fairly inexpensive thing to have to do, it's been perfect. It's so quick to put up and bring down, and very light weight for its size (the three man version). It's so light that if it ever gets wet you can pick it up, turn it upside down and shake excess water off. In the same vein, it's very easy to maneuver all because of the external poles. The inner and outer are joined so you can't pitch inner by itself, for example on a hot night. But if we want to just have a mesh over us, we've got a mosquito net for that. And it's green so, so far, it has been super stealthy when wild camping. We really do adore this tent and hope it'll continue to serve us well. The only criticism we have is that you have to purchase the ground sheet separately and for that extra tent pegs.
We learnt a valuable lesson with our Snugpak sleeping bags in the course of trying to be too clever. We launched an ambitious scheme, "Project Cosy", to keep warm when sleeping in an open eved attic. Project Cosy involves sleeping inside a silk liner, underneath a cheap Ikea blanket, inside the sleeping bag, inside a bivvy. Initially it worked very well but we became lazy. Instead of dismantling our cocoons, we just packed them all into the sleeping bag stuff sack at once. Eventually this compressed insulation so much that, even with all the layers, we were still cold at night. We took some advice from the always helpful Tom's Bike Trip website on keeping warm whilst camping and face palmed at our stupidity. The next morning, we separated the bivvy from the sleeping bag and the following camping evening, we were toasty warm again. The sleeping bags needed a fluff to get the warm back inside, but we were back to normal service again. They’ve served us well on nights where we’ve woken with ice on the tent and we’re very pleased with them when we’re not being lazy.
We bought sleeping mats very early on in the planning stage, and I'm so glad we did because we ended up changing them for our current Exped Synmat 7UL medium. They're 7cm thick, super lightweight (but that does mean thin and vulnerable) and stupidly comfortable. We've covered them in a home made layer of ripstop fabric to add extra protection (thanks to Emma for her mad skillz with the sewing machine here). We invested in the Schnozzle too. This is just a dry bag with a valve on one end to attach to the input valve for the mat. You just fill the dry bag with air by wafting, close it up, attach the valve and compress the dry bag to push the air into the mat. It's very simple, saves me needing to inflate two mats at the end of the day with my tired lungs, BUT it is quite expensive for what it is. It's worth the money, but I question whether it needs to be that expensive.
The Vaude Aqua panniers are OK. They're capacious, more so than the standard Orlieb rolltops, which is why we bought them. They're also certainly waterproof and despite a few falls and lying the bikes down, there are no scuffs or signs of real wear. Lastly, they are secure on the bikes once the quick release hooks are tight and the "shark tooth hook" is in the right position. That said, there are a couple of issues. The most important being that the quick release hooks are prone to failing (but not disastrously). The quick release hooks are sprung so that to mount the pannier the hooks are open and then placed over the pannier rack rail. You then just push the pannier into the rack and it clicks securely into place. But we found there was one flaw: the hinges. The hinge on the hook comprises a rivet and a spring. On all of our back panniers the rivet head had not been properly splayed. This meant that over time the rivet/hinge would work itself loose, and in the case of one of Mike's panniers, the spring mechanism opened and failed. So we had to make some ad hoc repairs in Helsinki (after one month of daily usage). We did find a solution beyond Mike having to replace two of the rivets with nuts and bolts; the rivet head can be easily splayed and secured using, for example, a small Philips head screwdriver. If you are using the same panniers, we would recommend you do the same before setting out. The other minor issue where Ortlieb's panniers are better is that there is nowhere externally to secure the shoulder strap. This means that it has to be rolled up inside the pannier so that to use it you need to open the pannier, remove the strap and close the pannier again. It's just a bit inelegant.
We have two RavPower Xtreme 27000 mAh power banks. Stupidly good. They are excellent. They hold a huge amount of charge and they charge from a standard 5V micro USB so no need to carry an extra charging socket. It's just unnecessary. They've got three USB outputs so can charge multiple devices and seem to hold their charge for a long time. Because of their huge capacity, they do take a long time to charge from empty. There's nothing you can do about that, so it's not a criticism, just something to be aware of. This may become a problem for us later in the trip in more remote places, but for now they're fantastic.
Stove and pots and pans
We have been using a Primus Omnifuel stove (so far though we've only used two fuel types) and it's everything we hoped it would be. It sounds like a jet plane taking off but it boils water extremely quickly. It burns all common liquid fuels - the clue's in the name - and also standard gas canisters. We'll review more once we use more types of fuels. Zero complaints so far.
There's not much to say about the MSR two person kit except that everything is a good size and seems very robust. The only thing it would benefit from is a second handle in case you're using both pots at the same time. The inside of the pots are very easy to clean, however the outsides are impossible to dry with a towel because the texture makes the inside of our faces itch and our eyelids curl.
Mike chose a Mora Light My Fire knife to bring on the trip. It's extremely sharp and has stayed extremely sharp. It's stainless steel and the handle hides a flint fire striker… thing…. We don't carry a lighter because the knife can be used to light the stove every time and Mike even used it to light a fire using just the flint striker and kindling, like a proper outdoorsman. Phwoar.
Overall, we don't regret our choices since all the problems we've had have been easily fixable and everything still endures after the first month. It all works just as it should. Months of research has paid off!
Mike will do, at some point, a full review of the bikes. That promises to be a long and nerdy read. I'll do clothes next week!
Posts by either Mike or Helen. Individual authors will be named.