On a sunny March day in Snoqualmie, Doug and Kristin Walsh had no problem daydreaming about going on a long bike ride. That daydream may have gotten a little fuzzy now that they’re actually on that ride, fighting Montana winds on a blustery day in April, or cycling through snowdrifts in Minnesota in May, but the couple never seems to struggle with a loss of focus for long.
On the surface, their goal is to ride their bicycles basically around the world, to discover amazing cultures, sample exotic foods, and see places they’ve only read about, in a trip they estimate will take about three years. There’s more, though; this trip, started March 23, represents living life in the right order, something the career driven 30-somethings have long aspired to.
“It’s like a home equity loan on your house, regarding retirement,” says Kristin. “You take that time now, and you spend it when you know that you have your health, and you know you can do what you want to do. We may or may not end up working longer because we took a break in our careers, but that’s OK. We’re going to do what we want now.”
A project manager with an IT company, Kristin loved her job, but always wanted more interaction with people. Doug had to “sell” her on the trip at first, she said, but now “I’m excited about the new people to meet, the new cultures to see,” and the food. “I am excited to eat everything!”
“She was eating the insects they sell on the street corners in Korea. She’ll eat anything, just for the sake of it,” Doug announced.
For his part, Doug also loved his job as a contract writer for video game strategy guides, but says he needed a break from the whole industry. He didn’t know what that break would look like, but he started doing some serious soul-searching when his mother developed cancer.
“You start thinking ….wow, you’re always waiting and waiting and waiting until retirement hits… so we just decided we didn’t want to wait that long to do the one that that we really wanted to do in this life.”
So six years ago, they started initial planning for the trip, researching long-distance cycling trips and building online friendships with people who do them — “it’s a lot more common than your average person would think,” Kristin said — and slowly paying off their debts. They also agreed, in a difficult decision, that they wouldn’t get any more pets after their two Siberian Huskies had lived out their lives.
Doug started building their bikes in 2011, using identical components on each bike, for if and when they need to make repairs on the road.
“I wanted to be that guy,” he said. “I wanted to know I could get our bikes to the next town, I could MacGyver something together…”
It was only in the past year that they really began selling everything off, including their Snoqualmie house, and reducing their belongings. Project manager that she was, Kristin created eight-foot task boards for each of them, updated every month with the tasks they still had to complete to leave everything behind. First, Kristin said, they decided what they absolutely wanted to keep, limited to what they could pack into a five-foot storage container, and what they would need on the trip, limited to what they could carry on the bikes, without hauling a trailer. They wanted to be as low-profile as two bicyclists on a mountain pass or remote highway could be, Doug explained, so they agreed on no obvious cycling clothing, and no trailers.
Everything else went into their estate sale, Kristin said, and what they didn’t sell, they gave away. Then, the trip gear — clothes, tents, sleeping bags, and other essentials were divided into two piles.
“We had piles for on the bike, and off the bike,” she said. On the bike was everything they would need and wear while pedaling. Off the bike was, naturally, a lot bigger pile, which included two emergency repair kits, first aid kits and computer tablets, one for each of them, plus a tent with a large enough vestibule to store the bikes in, sleeping gear, a collapsible tub for doing dishes or laundry — “we’ll have to do weekly chores every day,” Doug said, and enough clothing to cover them in all four seasons and all kinds of conditions.
They’ve planned part of the trip to the last detail, but always expecting things to go awry.
“Nothing’s going to happen the way we plan it,” he said.
Even the route is flexible, with few definite requirements. They left from West Seattle the morning of March 23, with a plan to head west across Stevens Pass, toward Glacier National Park. They’d arranged to camp some nights, and to stay with families other nights, through warmshowers.org, a hospitality community offering cycling tourists a place to stay for a night. From Montana, they planned to head north, stopping at Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, then into Canada, looping back down into the U.S. on the East Coast where they will stay with their families for a while.
They’ll also pick up some specialized clothing necessary for the next leg of their trip, a trans-Atlantic cruise on the Queen Mary.
With their Goodwill-purchased “formalwear,” Doug and Kristin hope they’ll meet the ship’s dinner dress-code adequately. After the voyage, they plan to donate the clothes to someone who will have more use for them than they will, as they set out across Europe. Their plans are not as concrete on that side of the ocean, but they are hoping to visit Morocco, Turkey, and bike along the Old Silk Road, before turning south to New Zealand and Australia.
Their future ocean-going accommodations are likely to be cargo ships they can buy passage on, even for the Pacific crossing. They hope to traverse the Panama Canal, then tour South America as far as Tierra del Fuego, before striking out toward home again.
Home though, could end up being any of their stops along the way, they say. With only a storage container’s worth of possessions in Washington and their transferrable skills, they could decide to end their trip early and start new lives in another part of the world — or scrap the trip entirely and go to Fiji for a year, Doug points out.
“We feel so free, we can do whatever the heck we want,” he said.
Well, almost whatever. They are still under strict requirements to report back to their families in New Jersey, on occasion. For this trip, that will mean pay phone calls, or Skype, since they’re not even bringing cell phones.
“We will send postcards, too,” says Kristin.
To follow their adventure, visit their blog at www.twofargone.com. They post occasional updates on the blog, which includes a map of where they’ve been, photos, and “non-vital statistics.”
On a Montana highway in April, Doug Walsh repairs a flat tire. It happened just short of 900 miles into the planned bicycle trip around the world, despite the “flat proof” casing on the tire.
Kristin Walsh approaches the top of Stevens Pass on March 25.
Spotting bighorn sheep in Washington, pictured, and bison in Yellowstone Park were some of the wildlife highlights of Doug and Kristin Walsh’s cycling trip. The Snoqualmie couple left Washington March 23 for a planned trip around the world — or until they find a spot they like even better than the Puget Sound Area to settle in.
Doug copies the pose of a bear carving, at a whimsical stop on their journey.
Doug gets stuck in a snowdrift on the Heartland Trail in Minnesota in May. On his blog, he explains " Riding through snowdrifts like this is A LOT easier on a mountain bike than on a 108 pound touring bike. But I had to try…."
Kristin shows off "14 cubic-yards of mean cycling power" at another stop.
When they didn't stay with host families arranged through warmshowers.org, Doug and Kristin set up camp. Sometimes, they improvised campsites in picnic shelters or giant culvert sections not yet installed, but most of the time, camp looked like this site on the Spanish River.