Route planning

- particularly for long-term journeys by bicycle -

I think everybody realizes that 'classic' route planning is not quite appropriate for long-term bicycle travels. It's simply not possible to have a fixed route planned for month or years ahead. So instead of doin' all the planning before do you do your planning (ahead) while on tour.
The planning of long-term journeys by bicycle often consists of several stages; which in a latter stage of course includes map study and pinpointing prospective routes.
Whereby these different stages are not completed one after another but are constant and parallel considerations.

Regarding this, everybody will develop its own style with time. In my personal case the whole looks as follows:

- The 'idea'.
... Is somewhat located in the background and has usually not much to do with my real journey. It is rather a conception about a possible or anticipated course the journey will follow. I usually build up this conception far far in advance.
'The idea' at the beginning of the North America journey '96 for example was "heading west as far as I can". As I approached the Pacific did I have to make the big decision: "to South America" or "to the arctic ocean".
If one plans a voyage round the world 'the idea' should however not only be "once around the globe" but contain at least a rough outline of the route (as for instance Europe - Egypt - South Africa - South America - Canada... including major cities). These intermediate way points help you to master mental brake-downs if they accur - and they will - and don't let you quit your journey because for some little small reason.
- The 'main direction'
Talking a 'main direction' I mean the generel direction I will follow for the next two, three weeks.
It's like the famous string of pearls - only that in this case it is formed of national parks, towns or scenic roads I would like to see or take. It can however be greatly influenced by the weather too!
Remaining with the example of the North America journey: Was it California I assumed I'd hit the Pacific did constant side and head winds make me correct my route further and further south - where I eventually hit the Pacific in Los Mochis (Mexico)!
In the end is the 'main direction' nothing else then an already roughly determined route. It is also the 'main direction' that I use to
- Pinpoint a route
Based on the 'main direction' I mark a route (by drawing lines on the map) which I intuitively [without having detailled information about it] consider beautiful / interesting.
This is not just sitting in a Café and drawing lines onto the map, though, but a longer process! Normally a couple of hundred kilometers in advance do I sit over the maps and try to weigh different routes against each other. "Could go this way... or take that one." "Why not follow this even different route?" I'm usually not satisfied with the outcome and do it all over again soon after.
Eventually what I call the 'optimal route' springs to mind. Then it's really time to sit in a Café, or do a nightshift, or or or. Intuition is everything and can hardly be replaced!!     [.. o.k., at least in my opinion .. :-))]
- Finally: the route taken.
To a large extend to I actually stick to the chosen and marked down route. Most of the time do I follow it exactly, the rest of the time am I usually not too far off.
One restriction that should apply naturally: Be open for modifications at any time. Because only these let your travels really become interesting. [and give you a reason to work on your 'main direction' again..]

As you probably can pick from the text do I belong to those travellers following a "loose itinerary". Every now and then, this leads to the interesting situation to change the route radically.
Let me give you a last example: In '95, right in the middle of Australia I decided not to go straight to Darwin but to take a "detour" via Cape York. This "detour" took a couple of month and changed my tour completely. (Invitation; went to Russia after- wards instead of to Indonesia!)

Would like to add something which I think is necessary:

I don't like route guides. And I don't use them. They spoon-feed certain pre-done routes, frequently with the result that people lose sight of the many alternative routes.

In the end they do produce nothing else than that the natives along the routes become used to the touring cyclists, get accustomed to them. Or even adapt to them.

Like a hand full other bicycle traveller I do use maps, my head and imagination instead to create completely an own route.
One may miss some classic "sights", but surely will experience the country more genuinely than on the published routes.
And if you get to hit one of those published routes you will immediately be confronted with - comparatively - huge amounts of other touring cyclists. (true experience!!)

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© 1999-2005 Thomas Schleicher