Why We Are Biking Across Asia

April 21st, 2014 by David

Lindsey and I just turned 35. We’re at the point in our lives when we’re supposed to start a family or plunge fully into our careers. Some of our friends are buying houses, others are waiting for their second child, and a few are negotiating for tenure track professorships. In contrast, Lindsey and I just left our jobs—hers with the state of California helping communities adapt to sea level rise, mine with a private foundation researching global environmental challenges.

Next Thursday we will pack our bikes into cardboard boxes, take them to the San Francisco airport, and get on a plane to Istanbul. And then, over the next eight to twelve months, we will pedal more than 8,000 miles from Turkey to Bangladesh.

(Note about this map: we may have to skip large parts of the route in China due to challenges with visas.)

People have asked if this is our honeymoon (we got married last November), and to some degree it is, although we started planning this journey well before we got engaged. The real reason we’re doing this ride is the same reason we chose careers focused on global environmental issues: We’re fascinated by our planet, and we want to explore it in order to better understand it and meet the people with whom we share it. And, in our opinion, the best way to experience a large swath of the Earth is to bike at 10 miles per hour for months on end, riding at the mercy of the elements and learning about the lives of people we meet along the way.

Eight and a half years ago I departed on a similar journey, leaving a research job at Stanford to bike to the southern tip of South America. As I traveled, I used my background in climate science to draw attention to the effects of climate change. My goal was to broadcast a message: Climate change is serious, and we need to act. While I reached many people with this message, through both classroom presentations and media appearances, what struck me the most was how my own views changed, and how much I learned.

While I set out to talk about climate change, I witnessed firsthand many other global challenges, such as poverty and violent conflict. Climate change is just one of many pressing problems that humanity faces, and these problems are all interconnected—we’ll have to reduce emissions while also increasing energy for people around the globe who currently use almost none. The trip also deeply personalized the threat of climate change; sharing meals with subsistence farmers who suffer due to storms and droughts, and visiting unique ecosystems that may be destroyed by rising temperatures, showed me just what is at risk.

I have captured this trip – the adventure, and what I learned – in my recent book, The Bicycle Diaries: My 21,000-Mile Ride for the Climate. On this next journey through Asia, Lindsey and I will continue the effort to put a face on climate change and to expand our own understanding of the issue. We’ll be writing here, and on our website, about our trip and about what climate change means for the places we visit.

It’s an enormous privilege to take time to explore the world, and we know that long bicycle trips documenting areas at risk won’t solve climate change (the carbon emissions from our flight to Asia will actually make it worse). But we do believe that if we’re to build public will to address this challenge, we need to do a better job understanding how our emissions affect both our backyard and the far ends of the earth. Our goal is to increase people’s understanding and encourage action through sharing what we learn – we’ll be giving presentations during our trip and when we return to the U.S.

The countries we plan to bike through face serious challenges: In Turkey and the surrounding Mediterranean region, drought is expected to increase dramatically. Water shortages may have even played a role in the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria. The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, once one of the world’s largest lakes, has shrunk from overuse to less than one-tenth its original size. Though not caused by climate change, this environmental disaster highlights the extent of our dependence on natural resources, many of which are threatened by rising temperatures. Further south—in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh—people in some of the most densely populated river basins in the world live under the threat of flooding every year, and rising sea levels put tens of millions of people at risk.

Or at least, that’s what we’ve read. Next week, we’re going to get on our bikes and see for ourselves. Follow us here, or on rideforclimate.com, and we’ll share with you what we learn.


 

10 Tips Passes 15,000 Views…

April 19th, 2014 by David

The video Lindsey and I made about our bike trip in Eastern Europe in 2012 just passed 15,000 views.

The video, “10 Tips for Biking Eastern Europe,” has nothing to do with climate change, but it has a lot to do with the joy of bike touring. Watch it below:


 

An alternate method for posting photos

April 8th, 2014 by David

We’re still figuring out the best way to share photos from our upcoming Ride for Climate Asia journey. In the last post, you’ll see I embedded a Flickr set. Another option is using Exposure, but then you need to leave the blog posting to see it. Click on the image below.

What do you think? How should we share pictures on our trip?


 

Photos from Book Tour in Oregon and Washington

April 6th, 2014 by David

It was a busy week! Eight events in just over a week, with talks in Eugene, Portland, Corvallis, Seattle, Olympia, and Lake Forest Park (North Seattle).

I’ve heard that the “happiest authors are those with low expectations,” but my expectations were greatly exceeded — almost every venue was full with standing room only.

As I expected, most people came to the events because they were cyclists or interested in adventure.

Tsunami Books in EugeneTsunami Books in EugeneTsunami Books in EugeneTsunami Books in EugeneTsunami Books in EugeneTsunami Books in EugeneArriving by Bike, a store in EugeneArriving by Bike, a store in EugeneDinner with Friends in PortlandPortlandVeloCultVeloCultVeloCultVeloCultVeloCultVeloCultEnvironmental Studies Students at Oregon StateOregon State, CorvallisTalk in CorvallisTalk in CorvallisTalk in CorvallisMy Dad's Books!A Climate ScientistBreakfast in CorvallisWashington BikesWashington BikesWashington BikesWide World Travel and Books in SeattleWide World Travel and Books in SeattleWide World Travel and Books in SeattleWide World Travel and Books in SeattleWide World Travel and Books in SeattleTraditions Cafe in OlympiaTraditions Cafe in OlympiaTraditions Cafe in OlympiaTraditions Cafe in OlympiaTraditions Cafe in OlympiaTraditions Cafe in OlympiaTraditions Cafe in OlympiaTraditions Cafe in OlympiaTraditions Cafe in OlympiaAll Books Sold!Seattle from I-5Third Place BooksThird Place BooksThird Place BooksThird Place BooksThird Place BooksThird Place BooksThird Place BooksThird Place BooksThird Place BooksThird Place BooksThird Place BooksTravel BooksThird Place BooksYoung ReaderDinner

 

Book Launch and Tour

March 3rd, 2014 by David

After 2 years of biking and 5+ years of writing and editing, I’m excited to officially launch The Bicycle Diaries: My 21,000-Mile Ride for the Climate.

The official book launch party will be on March 24th, at SPUR’s offices in downtown San Francisco — 654 Mission Street. All book sales from this celebration will support the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Refreshments at 6:30pm, followed by a slideshow at 7pm. You can RSVP via the Eventbrite page.

I’m hoping to have some prizes to give away. Also, I will of course give a slideshow of the best pictures from a bicycle tour across 16 countries. I’ll also discuss the impacts of climate change on the places I visited, and will preview our upcoming bicycle tour across Asia.

After this event, I’m going on a short trip through the northwest, and I have events planned for the following dates:


 

Interactive Map of The Bicycle Diaries Route

January 6th, 2014 by David

As the book about my trip is about to be released, I decided to make an interactive map of the trip. Below are some points of interest along my two year bicycle journey — click on the markers and read about parts of the journey.


 

Advice on Bike Touring

January 5th, 2014 by David

The following is from an Appendix in my book, The Bicycle Diaries: My 21,000-Mile Ride for the Climate. For the next week, you can pre-order a copy on Kickstarter here.

—-

APPENDIX II: General Recommendations on Bike Touring

I can’t tell you how you should bike tour, because there is no right way—there are advantages to each approach. Some people tow trailers, some have panniers. Some people travel so light they saw off their toothbrushes; others would strap a guitar to their rear pannier and carry a dog in a trailer. Some like to stay at hotels, some like to camp. Some trips are planned to the day; others ride as it comes. But gear and planning count less than attitude. As one cycle tourist I met said, “all that matters is if you have a smile on your face.” (Incidentally, he rose at sunrise, biked until 3 PM, then spent a few hours at the neighborhood bar.) In short, take any bike-tour advice you receive with a grain of salt. The only way to figure out what works for you is to try it out.

Since my first bike tour in 1999, I’ve logged just shy of 30,000 miles of “loaded” bike touring—touring where I’ve carried my camping gear. That includes the 21,000 miles of this trip plus a week-long trip in Alaska, a trip down the Pacific Coast, a month-long ride in Eastern Europe, and a trip across the U.S. with my dad after graduating from my master’s program—not to mention numerous weekend excursions. With all this pedaling, I’ve learned what details make for the perfect bike trip—for me.

THE BIKE
On longer, international trips, durability is more important than speed, since the bike breaking down in a remote area could set your journey back a week or more. On longer trips I prefer a steel touring bike. Though steel is heavy, it is less prone to damage and can be fixed via welding. I like twenty-six-inch mountain bike wheels, as they are more commonly found throughout the world than the slightly larger road bike wheels—which is important when you need a spare tire. For the same reason I make sure the bike’s rims can take the more common Shrader valves. (If your bike is set up for Presta valves, you can have a bike shop enlarge the hole.)

On shorter trips closer to home, you can get away with a lighter bike. But on any touring bike it is very important to have a strong rear wheel, preferably with thirty-six spokes. If you have panniers, this is where most of your weight will be. Note that replacing a broken spoke on the rear wheel is an enormous pain. (Always carry extra spokes!)

It is extremely important that the bike have low-enough gearing—you’ll want all the help you can get when climbing up a steep hill with weight. My smallest chain ring in the front has twenty-two teeth, and the largest in the rear has thirty-four, which is about the lowest gearing you can get.

I also recommend a high-quality pannier rack, preferably made of steel. I’ve seen many cheap aluminum racks break.

The most important feature of a bike, though, is comfort—nothing matters more. Nearly every cyclist I know has a different preference for a saddle, although the most popular among long-distance cyclists are expensive leather saddles, such as those made by Brooks. I used a nose-less saddle (a Hobson Easyseat), which was easier on my rear but put more weight on my hands. To compensate, I prefer to ride as upright as possible, as such is easier on the neck and hands.

PANNIERS VERSUS TRAILER
When traveling light, the best system is one or two panniers—or, better yet, a SINGLE stuff sack on a rear rack, which is lighter and more aerodynamic. When carrying larger loads, you can use either four panniers or a trailer. At first consideration one might think the trailer would add more weight, but sometimes it’s only slightly heavier—given the weight of the racks and panniers, and the fact that the bike needs to be stronger to carry more weight. And while a trailer does add some rolling resistance, air resistance is usually more important, and one-wheeled trailers are generally more aerodynamic than four panniers. On my trip, though, I chose to use four panniers because it made the bike easier to carry upstairs and bring into hotel rooms or stores. Also, it fit more easily into pickup trucks, boats, and planes.

GEAR IN GENERAL
The heavier the gear you carry, the heavier your bike has to be. If you want to carry fifty pounds of gear, you will need a bike with extra-strong wheels and a strong rear rack—which means that the bike will have to be stronger and thus heavier to support this weight. Also, the heavier your bike is, the beefier your tires have to be, and the more rolling resistance you will have. Less is more.

STOVE
I usually use an alcohol-burning stove, which I made from two aluminum soda cans. (An Internet search for “alcohol can stove” will generate plenty of guidelines.) It weighs almost nothing. Also, having alcohol on hand is great for killing germs and disinfecting cuts. The only challenge is finding the right alcohol: make sure it is more than 90 percent pure, preferably more than 95 percent. I had the most luck at hardware stores and pharmacies, especially in Latin America—less so in Eastern Europe. Note that these stoves don’t always work in cold weather or at higher altitudes, so they wouldn’t be the best choice for some trips.

SLEEPING BAG & PAD
A high-quality down sleeping bag can compress to almost nothing. Do take care to not get the bag wet, though this is usually only a challenge in exceptionally wet climates. I like using a thin three-quarter length inflatable pad underneath. Be sure to bring a patch kit if you opt for something inflatable.

TENT
Choosing your tent wisely can save a lot of weight. I strongly recommend Tarptents (www.tarptent.com), as they are single-walled and well-ventilated. My two-pound Tarptent Rainbow had enough room for me and all of my gear, was sufficiently ventilated for hot nights in the tropics, and kept out heavy rainstorms. I did have to reseal the seams halfway through my journey, but I probably would have had to do that with any tent.

WATER BLADDER
I carry a six- to ten-liter water bladder (I prefer MSR Dromedary bags). I like the independence of not needing to rely on a faucet or stream near my campsite, so a ten-liter bladder is one of my most useful camping items, as it can provide water for dinner and breakfast. I generally fill it around 20 to 30 minutes before looking for a campsite.

EXPANDABLE STUFF SACK
I like to carry an extra waterproof stuff sack; this comes in very handy if I need to ride for a few days without resupplying. I reserve the space atop my rear rack for those occasional extra items.

TOOLS
I generally carry the basic set of tools: Allen wrenches, small crescent wrench, chain tool, extra chain links, patch kit, spoke wrench, and three extra spokes. I also always carry zip ties, duct tape, and extra bolts, just in case. But note: the tools are less important than the mechanic. The best advice is to get lots of experience fixing bikes. Inevitably, though, something will break that you won’t be able to fix; at those times you’ll have to either rig up something or hitchhike. Be prepared for either scenario.

CLOTHES
In addition to one or two sets of street clothes, I usually carry two pairs of biking shorts and two jerseys. My arm and leg warmers are incredibly useful, and take up little space. I often travel with rain jackets and rain pants that are merely water-resistant rather than waterproof, mostly because these pack down smaller than their GORE-TEX equivalents do. But also, when it rains my goal is not to stay dry, but to stay warm. In that vein, synthetics are much better than cotton—they dry more quickly and keep you warmer when wet.

SHOES
If you use clip-in pedals, make sure you can walk comfortably in them. I prefer to use bike sandals (Shimano makes sandals that can take cleats), so I don’t have to wash socks as frequently. (I wear socks and rain covers over my feet in colder or rainier climates.) For much of Latin America I traveled with Chaco sandals and flat pedals; it was great having a single pair of shoes.

PANNIERS
I much prefer waterproof panniers over non-waterproof, as I dislike having to put on a rain cover every time clouds threaten rain. On my trip, though, I had two waterproof panniers and two non-waterproof ones. One advantage to the non-waterproof pannier is it has better air circulation; this was great for storing wet items like my still-damp cooking pot. In addition to the panniers, I also like a handlebar bag, which is a handy stash for a camera and snacks.

FOOD
One of the hardest things to learn is how to eat enough food. Many people don’t eat enough on their first tours and spend hours grumpy and frustrated, unaware they’re suffering from low blood sugar. So, my advice: eat early and often. Essentially, eat before you’re hungry, and don’t go for more than two hours without eating something. Each person, of course, is different, and you’ll have to find your own eating strategy. Just be sure to consider it a strategy—you burn a lot of calories while riding.

CAMPING
Obviously, learn what the rules are about “free” camping in the places you travel (although, to be honest, I’ve often not done this). I try to make sure no one sees me when I leave the road to camp, and then I pitch the tent where it is unlikely to be found. Also, be smart. While you might be less safe camping as an individual than with group, you’re also less likely to be found.

If you’re traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language, at least learn how to say “tent, one night” in that region’s tongue. That phrase, plus some sign language, are usually all I need to easily find an overnight spot. And, when asking to camp behind someone’s house, be sure you have all the food and water you need—it’s best not to ask for anything more than a spot for the night.

Of course, many people will invite you into their homes.

STAYING AT PEOPLE’S HOMES
People are often extremely generous in opening their home to a stranger, perhaps because they’re both envious of your adventure and sympathetic to your exhaustion. For the most part don’t be shy about accepting what you’re offered—few hosts grant their hospitality reluctantly, and in some situations or cultures a refusal might be seen as rude. So, be ready to share stories of your travels in return. And be a good houseguest. This means always being self-sufficient, supplying your own food and water. Also, don’t overstay your welcome. I always try to leave on a high note—while my host is still enjoying the visit. I am especially careful if I have to stay anywhere longer than two nights. And be sure to get the person’s address to send a thank-you note at trip’s end.

FIRE STATIONS
Throughout Latin America, many fire stations MAY offer an empty bunk for the night. I imagine that someday liability concerns will put an end to this generosity—the reason this plan doesn’t often work in the U.S. Of course, offer your hosting fire station the same courtesy you would when staying at someone’s home.

***

When Bill Bradlee was deciding whether or not to join me biking across the U.S., someone told him: “If you want to hate this country, read the newspaper every day. If you want to love this country, ride a bicycle across it.” Nothing could be truer. The news depicts the world as a scary place—filled with crime, disasters, and other perils. The world you experience from a bike, though, the “real world,” is very different, and it is absolutely amazing—full of smiling, generous people who care about the place they call home.

So, take the time to travel. Get on a bike, get out there, and explore the world at ten miles an hour. You will love it more, and it will give you hope.


 

Kickstarter Campaign is Live!

December 12th, 2013 by David

After years of work, you will finally be able to get a copy of The Bicycle Diaries early next year.

You can get an early copy of the book through the kickstarter campaign!


 

Ride for Climate Asia

June 14th, 2013 by David

Starting in April of this year, Lindsey and I will begin a trip that I’ve been thinking about ever since I finished my journey through Latin America: crossing Asia. We will start in Istanbul, and ride east, ending somewhere in Southeast Asia six to nine months later. Our route is not yet set, but below are some possibilities. Note that we don’t yet know how we are getting from northwest China to Nepal.

The goals of this trip are two-fold. First, we look forward to exploring a part of the world that we know relatively little about. Secondly, we plan to use our backgrounds in climate and water issues to better understand the environmental challenges facing these regions–and how these challenges compare to the other challenges faced by people in the region. We will, of course, share what we learn on this blog. Stay tuned!


 

Thoughts from a First Bike Tour

March 30th, 2013 by Lindsey

As soon as we escaped the Krakow city limits, I found myself marveling at the fact that I’d ever traveled any other way. Pedaling deeper into the Polish countryside, I could hear snippets of unintelligible conversation mixed with cows mooing, smell grain ripening in the fields that lined the roads, and literally feel the terrain change as we headed towards the border with Slovakia. It was almost alarming how natural it all felt.

David had been easing me into bicycle touring (gently or not so gently – you be the judge) for the past year. One of our first dates was a 40-mile ride through wine country in Sonoma. That went well enough – even on the suboptimal bike I was riding at the time – and we took several overnight trips around the Bay Area over the subsequent months, with the longest being a 2-day, 140-mile trip from Davis to Berkeley.

With those journeys together under our belt, we began “planning” a 3-week bike tour through Eastern Europe. I use quotes because in retrospect, the planning was pretty loose: We would arrive in Krakow on July 5 and fly out of Dubrovnik on July 29, and we had a place to stay in Budapest around the 15th. That was pretty much it. We thought it would be about 800 miles of pedaling, and in addition to Budapest, we intended to visit the Tatras mountains, Sarajevo, and the beaches of Croatia (well, I intended to spend some time on the beach; David, as I discovered later, didn’t share that goal). We had ordered some maps and had conversations along the lines of “We could go this way around the mountains,” “Well, this road looks amazing,” and “There are land mines in Bosnia, so we’ll have to be careful about camping.” I don’t know if it was my faith in David’s experience with bike touring, or the fact that much of my travel has involved looking at a map or a guidebook, showing up at a bus station, andand heading into the unknown, but this all felt pretty normal. Later David revealed that he’d been nervous about our minimal level of planning, but he didn’t let it show.

As I discovered, bike touring is in a class of its own, with a unique mix of independence and reliance on strangers different from anything I’d experienced before. Our independence stemmed from our self-propelled mode of travel and the fact that we carried a tent and small stove. This meant that we could, in theory, spend the night anywhere. However, this degree of flexibility also meant we could end up just before sunset in a small town where we’d need help finding water, or, with no obvious public land, we’d need permission to camp in somebody’s yard. Sometimes we just needed help in the form of information about safety, especially in Bosnia where we worried about landmines.

This was hard for me at first. I’ve stayed in plenty of homestays – both formal and informal – and done research projects where I wandered around Mexican towns and the Jamaican countryside interviewing anybody who would take the time to talk to me. But without speaking the language, and being in these countries simply for our own enjoyment, I felt shy about approaching people. The first night, I stayed up on the road while David walked down to speak to a man outside of his house. He pointed at our water bladder and said “voda?” to which the man nodded and gestured towards a spigot outside his house. David then looked around and innocently said “tent, one night?” (our just-learned, and sole, Polish phrase), as if he was asking if there were any place nearby where we could camp. It had the desired effect: within seconds the man and his neighbor were competing with each other to have us camp in their yards. I was impressed with how well this worked and was emboldened to try myself.

The next time we needed water before setting up camp (it was a rare night when we actually had a destination, in a park several miles down the road), we found ourselves in a town where the only grocery store was closed. I approached a woman in the street and said “voda?” while holding up the water bladder, then pointing sadly at the closed shop. She gestured for me to follow her and led me down the street to her house where I filled the bladder at the sink. From then on, I was much less shy about asking for help, although David was still much better at initiating conversations and accepting help (and food!) from people we met along the way.

This style of travel also differed from my previous experiences in how all-consuming it was. Normally, I travel by myself and I’m either working on a project or taking a break from it. I always carry a journal and end up with a lot of quiet time to reflect and write. This time, not only did I have a travel companion (and had left my journal alone to cut precious ounces), but there was never a moment when I had (a) time to myself and (b) energy to write. About half of the time, we stayed with hosts we found through warm showers or couch surfing, and we spent our evenings with them, eating, drinking, and sharing stories of bike touring or learning about growing up under communism. On nights when we camped, despite a fairly efficient routine, as soon as sunset approached we were busy: finding a store to buy dinner and breakfast food, obtaining water, locating a site where we wouldn’t be seen or asking to camp in somebody’s yard, setting up the tent, and fixing and eating dinner. Sometimes we’d read for an hour or two, but given our usual aspirational departure time of 5 or 6, and what I later identified as fairly constant exhaustion, we usually turned in early.

Perhaps the main “down time” was on the bike itself. We’d pedal for hours, often side by side on the quiet roads that David found or that our hosts pointed out, and try to make sense of what we’d seen or read or heard from people we met. On the plane, we started reading Bloodlands, an excellent book about the land between Stalin and Hitler and what its people suffered at their hands, and at the beginning of our trip we visited Auschwitz. As we rode through modern Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, we tried to wrap our minds around a continent so rich with histories that were still playing out – how the Polish people managed to exist as a unique culture while their territory was torn apart and absorbed into Germany, the USSR, and other neighboring countries. How Poland was “relatively tolerant” of Jews, but how that ultimately meant the mass destruction of a large and thriving Jewish community when Germany invaded during WWII.

We entered Slovakia in the mountains, and as we descended from them the landscape around us looked like any generic, bucolic European countryside. Then we went through a series of downtrodden industrial towns, with crumbling factories and grim, Soviet-style block apartments. In the rural areas in between, we were puzzled to see darker-skinned children walking down the street or popping in and out of rundown houses. Later, we learned that Slovakia has one of the largest gypsy populations in Europe ; the Slovaks we met weren’t too happy about this, and it was interesting to see our otherwise kind and open-minded Slovak hosts squirm as they explained their distaste for gypsies. David was fascinated and sought out a group of gypsy children in the town we stayed in – they were very friendly and taught me how to count to 10, which turned out to be quite useful later on. Our socializing was cut short, though, when some neighbors arrived home and yelled at the kids, scattering them. Perhaps the most interesting and unsettling part of our trip was Bosnia and Herzegovina. David has some interesting posts on that here and here. As we rode through new landscapes and cultures, trying to absorb the past and reconcile it with the present, we bounced reactions and ideas off of each other, and I found myself not really needing to write in order to process (of course now, months removed from the trip, I wish I’d brought my journal, forced myself to stay up a little later, and written it all down).

When we weren’t talking, I found myself slipping into an almost zen-like state. Sometimes when I’m traveling, I’ll daydream, especially on long, uncomfortable bus rides. I do this most when I’m homesick (I remember reconstructing in my mind my favorite meal at my parents’ house in painstaking detail and imagining eating each dish). When I’m engaged in a tough physical activity like running or riding, I often find myself doing calculations – how many miles have I gone, how many are left, what is my pace, how will I reward myself when I hit mile X. On this trip, David had the GPS and I didn’t wear a watch, and the miles just slipped by, largely without any real marking or observation. There were a few long days when, at the end, I’d start counting down the miles left to go (if we even had a destination) in terms of my daily commute to work (“Just ride to work and back 3 times and we’re done!”), but mostly I just spaced out – or, if I want to be generous with myself, I meditated. I fell into the rhythm of my legs rising and falling, of the added effort when we were climbing, the ease of a descent, the colors flying by, the temperature of the air.

I might say this is my favorite part of bike touring – turning myself into a physical entity, a machine with no purpose other than pedaling, pushing my wheels across miles of pavement (or dirt, or gravel, as the case may be), covering ground, being in the world, on the move, eyes open, taking it all in. But saying that is my favorite part would ignore all of the other elements I loved: the simultaneous ease and challenge of building our trip as we went along – selecting destinations and figuring out routes, finding hosts and making new friends, seeking out hidden corners of countryside to pitch our tent, spending the night in a town (Fil’okovo) where a man we encountered in the street, upon discovering we werere from the US, asked, incredulous, “Fil’okovo? Fil’okovo? But – why?!” It would fail to acknowledge the awesomeness of our descent into the Bay of Kotor down abandoned, car-free switchbacks, the spooky emptiness of the road through destroyed villages in Bosnia, the unexpected connection with the family roasting a goat on the side of the road who pushed shots of brandy on us in the middle of the day, the joy of getting to know your partner better by discovering something new together. Fortunately, though, I don’t have to pick a favorite part – instead, I’m picking a destination for our next trip.