There are two schools of thought around doing a trip like this: You can jump on your bike, cross your fingers, and ride (ain’t got no spare; ain’t got no jack; don’t care; ain’t never goin’ back)–which can be adventurous (romantic outlook) or stupid (pragmatic outlook), take your pick–or you can plan and prepare for life on the road prior to leaving.
In truth, the approach you take comes down to your attitude toward risk. If you are risk-accepting, you may be comfortable with the former approach, leaving yourself and your bike in the hands of destiny. If, on the other hand, you are risk-averse, you may be more inclined toward the latter. I’m somwhere in between — looking for the adventure that comes with casting care to the wind but creating a cushion in case I get blown down.
In preparing for this trip, I started with a vision to ride to Alaska. With that vision in mind, I rolled up my sleeves and asked what it would take to turn that vision into reality. I would need to plan a route, for example. Now, “planning a route” is a pretty broad statement; and I needed to break that down into smaller bits such as identifying high-level route, reading up on places I might like to visit along the way, and thinking about potential rest stops. This process is known as decomposition (breaking something big down into smaller components–get it?); and generates a checklist of sorts on which other preparation can be based. The result looks like this (Click on the image and then enlarge it to see the detail):
Once I had an idea of everything I needed to do, I made a guess at how long each item would take. Then, I looked at which items were dependent on one another. I couldn’t adequately map out a route, for example, until I had purchased the necessary maps.
So, now I knew what planning activities I’d need to do; I had an idea how long they’d take; and I knew what order they would need to happen in. With this information, I got hold of a calendar; and, starting from my planned launch date, worked backward to put dates to all items. To help keep my sanity, I wrote in “milestones” at the end of each major planning activity to mark (and celebrate) its completion. These became my timeline.
Once I knew what the planning activities were, how long they would take, and when they needed to happen, I could have, in theory, figured out the true cost of this trip — that is, the cost of my time (which could have otherwise been invested in more time with my family, for example), in addition to the costs of materials and lost wages due to the time I would be away from my job without pay, because I had a pretty good idea of how much of my time I would need to put into planning. I didn’t take things quite this far as this was more of a labor of love. Still, tracking how much time I put into preparations would have been good as a reference for future trips.
All of the above–activities, timing and cost–gave me a pretty good picture of what this trip would require. Yes, I could have just jumped on my bike with a pristine credit card and hit the road; but that’s not how I roll; I like to have at least some semblance of a plan.