The Ocean Crossings
Hitching a ride on the back of the
We live on a watery planet. This fact poses all sorts of challenges to someone wishing to see large areas of that planet while on a bicycle. Many long-distance bicycle tourists who do similar grand tours say that they are bicycling "Around the World", but that is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, if one wanted to truly bicycle around the world, following the equator the entire way, there would only be 8,700 km of land surface to ride on, just 22% of the total circumference of the Earth. Most of the other possible routes are not much better. For that reason I prefer to think of the Tour of Gondwana as a "Global Bicycle Tour." Instead of trying just to go around the planet, I chose my routes so as to bring me to most of the places that I most wanted to visit. Nevertheless, no matter what I call it, there are still four cases where I must find a way to cross the salty, deep waters of the great oceans. In my usual way, I have ended up adding a new, perhaps complicating, twist to the tour as a whole.
In one respect these crossings will be beneficial to the trip in general. The time needed to cross the seas will give me a bit of forced rest and time to recuperate, which will, undoubtedly, be invaluable as the tour progresses. I will also use those occasions to give the bike a thorough overhaul so, hopefully, both it and I will be ready to go full speed ahead at the start of each new stage. Finally, I will have the chance to download and retouch all the photographs that I will have taken during each stage, prepare my slideshows, update this site, and take care of any other personal or logistical details that may have arisen. In spite of those benefits, transporting a bike across an ocean is never a simple affair.
The Standard Option
The normal mode of transport to distant continents these days is, of course, commercial air travel on a large jet. However, this is not a normal trip and, I must admit, I am not a normal person Throughout my adult life I have taken many long flights on commercial jets, either by choice, as for some of my earlier tours, or by necessity. As time has passed, I have found that I enjoy the experience less and less, and the longer the flight the worse it is. This is partly due to the fact that I am a rather tall fellow, and have never slept for more than a second while jammed into the ubiquitous coach-class seat Add to that the increasingly harrowing process of passing though a major airport in recent years, and the costly, frustrating, time-consuming, and risky chore of disassembling and packing the bike for transport, and I would be more than happy to never set foot on an airplane again.
However, there is a broader issue that I could not ignore when planning the tour. Listed in the sidebar are estimates for the total amount of carbon dioxide that is directly accountable to my personal activities throughout my adult life. As one can see, I am responsible for torching the equivalent of a small forest, and sizeable portion of which was due to my jet-setting ways. As a scientist, it is clear to me that the time for debate is past, our excessive consumption of stored hydrocarbon energy will likely tip the balance of our climate in unpredictable, and probably unpleasant, ways. There is not really anything that can be done to stop this process at this stage, but it is my personal goal to not make the situation any worse. So I will do everything that I can to minimize my emissions for the rest of my life. In reality, that is probably also a meaningless gesture as the momentum behind the upcoming change is liable to be unstoppable. However, at least I will know that I have done the "right" thing, and that, as I have come to understand, is one of the few things that is actually worthwhile in one's life.
So, it became a major focus of my tour planning to make the trip be "CO2-neutral." In this context, that means that my total emissions during the tour should be equal to, or preferably less than, what they would have been were I to remain at home and continue on in my normal, albeit rather Spartan, lifestyle. The best way to do that is to avoid air travel, at least for the major ocean crossings. This will remove about 6,100 kg of CO2 from my carbon budget, which is a significant amount. Some may say that those planes will still be flying whether I am on them or not, but that is a rather poor argument. If the planes are empty they will not fly, and though I am only one potential passenger, it is the cumulative effects of all potential passengers who chose not to fly that will reduce the number of takeoffs, and the corresponding emissions. My apologies to any readers who earn a living in the airline industry, but with global climate change looming, as well as the accelerating depletion of remaining fossil hydrocarbon stores, the time has come to begin considering a future without commercial aviation. While we're at it let's throw out the automobile as well. What a pleasant world for bicycle touring we'll have then!
Unfortunately, due to geography and politics, there will be several occasions when I will need to take shorter regional air flights. As it stands now, these will cause me to emit about 2,100 kg of CO2. However, this will be offset by the reduction in emissions due to my preferred mode of accommodations. While on tour I almost always camp or stay in very basic rooms, and therefore use little or no stored energy. Were I to remain at home, my minimal use of electricity and hot water would result in an emission of 2,900 kg of CO2 over the same time period, an amount that can be subtracted from my carbon budget for the tour. Where food is concerned, though I do eat quite a bit more while on tour, I will assume that the food that I will consume in most places along the route will be less energy intensive than what is available in the United States. So, I will consider that an even trade. Therefore, if I can pull off the plan that I will describe below, I will succeed in doing the tour without increasing my CO2 emissions. Though not a perfect result, it's one that I can live with.
The Alternate Solution
If not by air, then there is only one other choice available, travel across the briny waves themselves. Oh, if only there were still elegant Clipper ships plying the Seven Seas, what a fantastic mode of travel that would be! Though those graceful ships have disappeared, for the time being at least, and what liners remain in service go nowhere of use to me, there is still one option available for passage to far away places. That is, of course, taking a cabin on a large containerized cargo vessel. This is an increasingly popular mode of travel, especially for the retired segment of the populace, and it would seem to be an attractive choice for global bicycle tourists as well. After all, you can simply roll your bike up the gangplank and lean it against the wall in you cabin. What more could one ask for?
Given my little sermon in the previous section, some may point out that huge freighters consume quite a bit of petroleum, and emit a large amount of CO2 in the process. This is certainly true, but while the "those planes will fly without me" argument is invalid for air travel, a similar statement is actually appropriate for freighter travel. If the airplanes have no passengers, they will not fly. However, if the boats have no passengers they will still sail, because their purpose is to carry cargo, not people. Those ships that take passengers do so only as an afterthought, mainly to break up the monotony for the crew and give them new friends to talk to during their long journeys. In fairness, the emissions from the ships should not count towards my carbon budget, therefore. To stop the huge fleet of ships from sailing, which is not an unreasonable goal, the proper course of action would not be to avoid their passenger service, but rather for all of us to refrain from basing our society on inexpensive products brought from the world over to line the shelves of the local BigBox retailer. So, I will attempt to take advantage of this situation and book passage on cargo ships, taking an emissions-free ride on the great beast of Globalization itself. Quite ironic, it seems to me.
Trying to arrange freighter passage for a complex tour like this one is no easy task and, in reality, I may not be able to pull it off. Though there are probably hundreds of ships sailing at any given time, only a small fraction accept passengers. Ports of call for these ships are limited, and a scheduled port may even be skipped if there is no cargo to be loaded there. Schedules are often only suggestions, and weather, port congestion, or other factors may conspire to delay the ships arrival at a given port. None of this would really bother me very much, except for the fact that I would definitely like to keep to my main plan and visit each continent during its good-weather season. So, if the schedule gets delayed too much, I may have to fall back onto air travel and abandon my noble effort. In terms of cost, travel in this manner is about equivalent to typical costs for corresponding flights, when one takes into account that lodging and food are included for 10-30 days per sailing.
Sailing schedules are not set very far in advance and can change from year to year, depending on exactly what goods are desired by the GloMart Economy at any given time. So, it may not be possible for me to book all of the segments that I will need before the tour starts. This will undoubtedly lead to some frantic planning along the way, but there is not much that I can do about that. As of today, some of the choices that I know about are shown below:
~ Transport to Stage One.
Oakland, Ca to Melbourne, Aus.
This segment is booked. I will sail on the Direct Kestrel
, departing from Oakland on May 1, 02005 (or from Long Beach on May 4, depending on the final schedule) and scheduled to arrive in Melbourne 23 days later. Ports of call along the way are tentatively Ensenada, Mexico, Los Angeles, Ca, and Tauranga, NZ. That means I will get a chance to take a quick ride in New Zealand, and visit yet another piece of Gondwanaland, if only for a few hours, after all!
~ Transport to Stage Two.
Perth, Aus. (Fremantle) to Singapore
This segment was not looking good until late March of 02005, when a new ship, the Theodor Storm
, became available on a circuit from Singapore, around Australia, and back. It fits in failry well with my anticipated plans, so I have booked passage on this ship.
~ Transport to Stage Three.
Colombo, SL (alternate Chennai, In) to Mombasa, Kenya (alternate Durban)
Right now, this segment is a bit of a problem. There are few boats that carry passengers between Asia and Africa. The only one that I have founde so far is the M.V. Buxlagoon
. However, it sails between Singapore and Durban, so I would need to find a way to get back to Singapore, and also from Durban to Mombassa. The only other possibility would be trying to take one boat from Colombo to some intermediate point, and then transfering to a second boat heading to Mombasa. However, I can't imagine that the odds of that working out are very high. Of course, at the time of writing this, it is much too soon to know with any certainly what ships may be available on the routes for the latter Stages, not to mention their sailing schedules. I will need to work these segments out along the way.
~ Transport to Stage Four.
Cape Town, SA (alternate Durban) to Buenos Aires (alternate Rio/Santos)
One Possibility is the MV Conti Malaga
. Howver this ship sails from Durban, so I would need to find my way there from Cape Town, or else modidfy the route.
~ Transport to Stage Five.
Guayaquil, Ec. to Panama City, Pa.
This is not one of the major crossings as it only avoids Colombia and the Darrian Gap. I will probably wait to book this on the spot, possibly on a tramp.
The Direct Kestrel, photo courtesy: CP Ships
A final note. Since these plans are sketchy at best, I would like to ask any of my readers who may happen to be global shipping tychoons if they wouldn't mind opening up some more cabin space between the ports I've listed above. Thanks.
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