Bike Tracks

bicycle around the world

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July 1st, 2000 · No Comments

Many readers are interested in the logistics of making a trip around the world with 247 riders. Since I am merely a customer, I can only relate what I see. Much has gone on with the organizing of this trip, years before we ever started. Let me tell you what I see and how it works.

We are supported by a crew of 20 volunteers, give or take a few. We started out with many more than we have now half way through the trip. The volunteers have various jobs and sometimes rotate what they do. There are drivers that work the road, taking care of cyclists. Unlike, club trips I have attended, these drivers do not pace back and forth on the road. Most of the time they just go forward at spaced intervals. At mid-day and end of day, a driver or two if necessary will go back to look for people and pick them up. This doesn’t always happen as quickly as it should (from my perspective). The drivers carry water, tubes and tires for emergencies.

We have locker trucks, two locker trucks have carried our gear, most of the time. TK&A actually has 4 locker trucks that rotate being shipped between continents. The exception was no locker truck in the U.S. (why, who knows?) and there will be none in Asia. These trucks are large and need drivers with special truck driving class licenses. In some countries, they have had to hire native drivers for the trucks. It changes with each country. When we don’t have locker trucks, we load our gear into the back of a big box type rental truck. We all hate this, it hurts our possessions, and steals our freedom. The locker trucks enable us to go “off route” without taking 60 pounds of gear and a bike.

There are two particular ladies who are in charge of keeping track of us. Who’s “on route” and who’s “off route”. There is one at mid-day checkpoint and one at end of day. Usually the same person does the beginning and the very end, sometimes making it an extremely long day. They keep onerous lists, Pat even has stamps that read “off route” and “sick/sag”. She keeps very neat and tidy records. We all love her.

There are a group of people “behind the scenes” that we seldom see. They are in charge of putting up the showers and packing tons of crap that gets carried . When it rains there is a big “mash-like” tent that is put up, so we have a dry place. Sometimes it is for storing the bags thrown off the gear truck, other times it is the massage parlor.

Yes, we have masseuses, five of them. As riders we are supposed to get a “free” (?) massage every other week. We all love the massages, but sometimes aren’t able to take advantage of them, because the schedule is always changing. I for one have never been able to keep track. Even though it is supposed to be every other week, they change the system constantly, goofing me up. I have had about 5 massages in 6 months. The masseuses do other work, as called upon. They too work long and hard hours doing whatever it takes to keep us going forward. (UPDATE: One Masseuses, Randy quit in Dublin, objecting to the inconsistent treatment received by directors, long hours and no time off was one complaint. We are now down to 4 masseuses).

When we started the trip, TK&A debited our credit cards for an extra $500 per person to take care of incidental expenses. Since cash in each country would be hard to keep track of not to mention varying exchange rates, they use a receipt system each time we buy a tube or have mechanic work done on the bike.

Mechanical work was done at first by two mechanics. It was so overwhelming, within a short time it was obvious more were needed, but we didn’t see a relief mechanic until Washington, D.C. 5 months into the trip. We now have 3 mechanics with a fourth still waiting to get his passport and join us. This situation has been a major bone of contention with many riders. Considering we were forced to use the same bike, for the reason of simple maintenance, many have been annoyed because we couldn’t get basic parts like brakes for months. Our bikes have faulty headsets and many of the shifters are now going out. Raleigh warranted them for a year. So far we have all received new headsets, some are now getting shifters.

Many of the riders are replacing rims with a better quality. I was lucky, because before the trip I had a professional mechanic evaluate and work on my bike. He hated the rims it came with, but worked on them and so far I have not located any cracks.

We get charged inflated prices for items bought from TK&A. My chain replacement cost $30. I should have purchased a chain and put it on myself, just like I did with my new tires. Why should I pay double for services provided?

One of the jobs the staff must perform is inventory. We make 17 major crossings by some mode of transportation. Each time we do so, staff must take inventory. I don’t know how they can keep track of stuff. Many times they lose things, for instance when we arrived in Paris, the keys to two of the rental vans got lost. The vans have been sitting on the street in Paris for a couple weeks now. Guess they don’t have locksmiths in France! (?)

There are many items that are organized in a very poor fashion. No much thought, if any has been given to the lack of recovery time after each leg of the trip. We were told we would have days off, only to discover the day off was spent traveling. This is cruel and unusual punishment as anyone who has ever traveled knows.

We wait in endless lines. When we arrive at a hotel it takes sometimes an hour or two just to get a room assignment. They know we are coming, we don’t have to fill out paperwork, why does it take so long? Many times there is so much to do, with so little human resources, they (TK&A) don’t think beyond today.

We have had riders arrive at campgrounds that were unaware we were coming! Oops! So far we have always been fed, maybe not what or in amounts we would like, but TK&A always manages to find food. We all wait for the day when it doesn’t work. Their last minute “slam it together” system is as scary as it is amazing.

Each day we receive a Daily Route Guide, it usually comes out a 6:30, otherwise the “early birds” would be on the road sooner. The DRG has directions to the next campsite, line by line it guides us through the day. Sometimes it is correct, sometimes not. When we change campgrounds we must remember to think about leaving from the previous campground. More often then we like to admit, we get lost. It doesn’t always pay to follow someone, even the staff vehicles! It is important to pay attention to the DRG all the way. It is difficult sometimes, we have had as many as eight pages to follow.

The DRG has an area map on the back. It is most difficult to read, but gives one a general idea of the direction we are headed. It is helpful to show to locals when asking for assistance.

When we follow the DRG, we usually have midday checkpoint about half way. If we don’t check in there, they either wait for us or go looking for us.

Many times I have decided to take the most direct route to the camp, rather than follow the meandering DRG directions. When I do that, I must be sure to either sign off route or make it to checkpoint before going off on my own. It’s not fair to the staff to have them thinking you are lost.

We also have contact telephone numbers on the DRG. Larry and I have found them to be ineffective. We have never been able to get anyone to answer them. When we have gone off route and need information, we send an email to someone in the group to find out where they are. Too bad TK&A doesn’t do this. It would save them a lot of unnecessary time answering the telephone. Digital communications are a great customer service.

When we arrive at a camp location where we strain the resources, showers, sinks and toilets. TK&A puts up the portable showers. They are two separate tents, one for women and the other for men, naturally. Inside each tent are 4 stalls with shower heads. The water is heated with propane, the temperature is the same in each one, hot! I love the showers, they are consistent and reliable, unlike the weird showers you find at camp grounds and hotels all over the world. Give me the TK&A showers any day! We also have portable sinks that are put up in the open air. They have hot and cold running water. They are also great for getting cleaned up and doing laundry (in your own bucket). Porta potties are sometimes brought in. It is amazing how fast 247 people can totally trash a toilet system. Of course many systems are trashed before we get there. We are not known to camp in top rate places all the time.

When we signed up for the trip, the brochure said we would be camping 60% of the time and 40% would be in beds. So far we have camped much more than we have been in beds. The reason being, when the trip goes to Southeast Asia, we are scheduled to sleep in beds most of the time. So right now the ratios are a little lopsided.

We stay in places that TK&A calls campgrounds, but really are not. In Chile we stayed near but not “on” soccer fields. I’m sure they were very cheap if not free to TK&A. In Europe we stayed in rather nice camp grounds, since camping is very popular there. In the British Isles we have been using fields near recreation facilities. Many are places where folks park their “trailer homes”. It looks to me like a trailer home is a second home the UK folks place near the ocean for use in “getting away from it all”. These locations are not really suited for 247 people, but we make due, sometimes using the TK&A showers to augment what is already there.

When we stay in hotels, single persons must double and triple up to make full use of the room. Couples sometimes have had private rooms, but not always. For example, in Paris we had a triple person room. There was a double bed, then going crossways right over the top a single bed in bunk bed fashion. Larry and I had a single guy sleeping above us. This was not a comfortable situation, but when you are dead tired it doesn’t seem to matter much.

Some hotels have so many people packed into the room, it is hard to move. Considering the amount of luggage we all tote the space factor becomes critical. There are many singles who have so little space they must place there luggage on the bed while they sleep. There is no room on the floor to get to the bathroom.

The locker trucks are closed 15 minutes after breakfast is over. I believe breakfast is usually 6:30 until 8. If you are a late sleeper, you will be in big trouble if you tent is not down and put away before the trucks close. This is why we all have to get up early. Most people on the ride are early risers, some are earlier than others. It is not unusual to hear the “zipper symphony” start at 5 a.m. Most mornings there is a line waiting for the DRG to be put out. That’s one line I won’t be in!

At night we are mostly in bed (tent) before 9. Some folks go to bed very early, so they can get up and get in line for the DRG’s I guess! It is easy to go to sleep when it gets dark. Currently we are in the northern countries and the sun is still up at 11 p.m. I use blind folds to sleep in, it drives me crazy to go to sleep with the sun up so late.

Tags: Odyssey-Preparation