Friday, March 31, 2006

Packing List.

Because everybody has one. Mine, however, comes with running commentary, so hopefully that will make it a little bit more interesting.

  • Specialized no frills 21-speed men's mountain bike. A generic, simple, basic quick release tires bike with no shock absorbers or any of that fancy shmanzy stuff. It is a $200 dollar bike, bought 6 years ago. You've seen those pictures of Mt. Everest expedition teams on TV, right? How the westerners are all clad in fancy The Northface brand equipment, really expensive stuff, and the Sherpas are all attired mostly in wool and yak hide? Now, you tell me: who climbs Everest most often? There you go. Same thing here with the bike. If it is good enough for 1004 kms in Italy, it is good enough for this trip too. The mountain-width tires have been replaced with a 1.50 in, I think, that is, hybrid/touring width, so as to reduce as much weight and drag as possible.

  • Left and right Arkel T-42 rear panniers. Fits all clothes and tools comfortably. Use same ones from Italy bike trip, too. They're still in excellent condition.

  • Bike rear rack. For attaching panniers and carrying backpack.

  • Backpack. For carying electronics, docs, toiletries, immediate use tools and other easy access stuff. Useful mostly while on airports. Too big to carry around cities, though. While sight-seeing, best to travel as light as possible.

  • Bike U-lock and bike lock chain. Ties quick release tires and detachable bike seat.

  • Tire pump. Generic hand pump attaches to bike crossbar, of course.

  • Puncture tube repair kit. Patches and sticky gum.

  • Two inner tube spares. 26 inch. Fits 1.50-1.95 width tires.

  • Two sets of brake pads. 'Cause the current front ones are on its last legs.

  • Set of front (white) and back (red) LED bike lights. Front light doubles as headlight/flashlight, practical gift from a dear friend.

  • Sigma BC 506 bike computer and spare. Just a fancy name for odometer/spedometer module and sensor. The spare is because these things get easily lost and stolen, and besides it is kinda cool knowing you're at the moment hitting 44 km/hr on the downhills, and knowing exact trip distance is essential for claiming honorable bragging rights!

  • Pedal wrench. Doubles as deterrent in case a boy gets fresh (just kiddin' ;)).

  • Euro-Atlas: Spain and Portugal. Scale 1:300,000. Nice road atlas from favorite map company. My only complaint is that elevation is not always very clearly indicated. Will need to guess steepness by the pretty colors and how curvy the road appears on map. Anyway, atlases for subsequent countries either buy en-route (esp. for France, Germany) or have friend in U.S. send previously internet-bought ones to Poste Restante as I go (i.e. Bulgaria map. The one I've got, by the way, is published in Hungary so it is all in either Cyrillic or Hungarian which might as well be the same thing for me, ha ha).

  • Big map of Europe. So as to not lose track of the big picture. ;)

  • Tools
  • Set of allen keys/wrenches in inches and metric. Because I was a bit too lazy to figure out whether my bike was metric or not. I think it is in inches, since made in the U.S. Still, you never know, so good to cary metric set.

  • Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers, compact size. Leverage extended by threading allen wrench through slot on handle. Cool huh? :)

  • Adjustable wrench.

  • Pliers.

  • Eyeglass repair kit. These are always useful, and since unobtrusive practically free to carry. You never know when they can come in handy, even if they are too small for bike repairs.

  • Set of 3 tire levers. For inner tube replacement.

  • The Alien: multipurpose bike tool gift of a good friend. Has all sorts of nifty stuff including chain tool and truing tool and all sorts of tools whose use and name I don't even know.

  • Basic Swiss Army Knife. Gift from a visit to ABB in Switzerland long, long ago. Knives are always useful. Make sure to put in checked baggage, though.

  • Rob Van Der Paals' Bycicle Repair Step by Step. Because of bike repair, I don't know diddlysquat. But....I can read. Therefore, I know everything.

  • Clothes
  • 3 prs shorts: 1 pr padded biking shorts, 1 pr Billabong beach shorts, 1 pr short sports shorts (because the first two are long to the knee, and if you're going to spend so much time and sweat and effort in the summer heat on beach roads and mountains and stuff, you might as well get a decent tan while you're at it--bikeshort tanlines look funny, you know).

  • 2 prs pants. 1 jeans, 1 black street pants (casual, but nice cut).

  • 6 T-shirts/polo shirts, assorted and various colors. For easy mix and match.

  • Evening skirt, blouse, and strappy heels. No, my friends, this isn't woman's vanity, it is the paragon of practicality. Because you can't show up to the Berlin Philharmonic on your bike shorts and sneakers.

  • Day skirt and blouse. Because pretending to be a damsel in distress in order to pick up handsome blond and blue-eyed gentlemen is so much simpler in a flirty summer skirt. ;P

  • 7 prs underwear/3 prs top underwear.

  • 7 prs socks

  • Pajamas. Blech, pajamas are for weenies. Real women run around the youth hostel hallways in their underwear. Ha ha. Nah, just kidding. But see sport shorts above. They double up as pajamas with a T-shirt. Saves up a bit of space.

  • Sneakers. Got me a pair of these super cool blue suede Puma Sabercats. They remind me a bit of my rock climbing shoes, with their thin soles and a snug fit that hugs your foot all over(but these are much more comfortable!). Besides, I think they look very "European". To blend in with the locals. Hah. :)

  • City shoes. For wearing both with skirts and pants. They are these beautiful black ballerina slipper style shoes. Very light and easy to pack. The sole is rather thin, though, so probably not very good for too long with walking...

  • Reasonably waterproof windbreaker. The one I've got is phosphorescent yellow with grey reflecting lines, very visible. Ugly for the city, but ideal for biking in rain.

  • Fleece sweatshirt/sweater. Originally I wanted to take my woolen one, to put under windbreaker during rainy high elevation days, but it folded up rather bulkily, so this will have to do.

  • Bathing suit. Bikini, of course. ;P

  • Towel. Best advice Arthur Dent ever got.

  • Misc small towel (bright red) and clean rags. For emergencies, wiping grease off fingers, etc.

  • Biking gloves. Biking gloves, too, are for weenies. I never found the use for them. They're uncomfortable, make your hands sweat, and still can't understand what the point of them is supposed to be. So not taking those. Listed only so that the list looks cool, as that is the only reason I can think of people wear them anyway.

  • Entertainment
  • Let's Go Guide to Spain and Portugal. Subsequent tour guides get mailed from aforementioned friend. Let's Go guides are really good for people on a budget, but they're not so hot in terms of recommending what sights to see unless they're bars or nightclubs. Their sense of humor is also a bit annoying in the history and culture sections. Oh well. Can live with it/ignore.

  • Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Entertainment, you say? Well, yes, you see, I'm currently in the middle of Book IV, Chapter V: Of Bounties, and it would really, really suck to set the book aside for six months at this point, considering the three months of previously accumulated momentum. Besides, it is a good book, he tells you all sorts of interesting things, like why tariffs on imports are always bad.......except when they aren't. Heh.

  • Living Language Complete French Course and Living Language French Beyond the Basics set of books, dictionary, and audio CDs. I picked up enough French to get by just from hearing it during the two weeks I was in Morocco last October (Pardon, sil vous plait, ou est la garre routière? is not exactly rocket science, you know), which suggests that achieving conversational levels shouldn't be too hard over the span of a month or so while traipsing through Spain, just in time for some Pyrinees crossing.

  • Other/Misc
  • Toiletries. The usual. Use your imagination.

  • Handy wipes and hand sanitizer. 'Cause hands get really dirty on the road and after changing spares or handling the bike chain.

  • Keys. What? Keys, you say? I no longer have an apartment or car! Well, bike lock, silly. :)
  • Sony DSC-T9 6MP digital camera and spare battery.

  • Collapsable camera tripod. See comments pedal wrench above.

  • Sagem AM/FM/TV/Weather compact radio. Because music is culture.

  • Memory cards: 256 MB and 2 GB.

  • 20-in-1 USB card reader. For uploading pics/movies to web from internet cafe.

  • Cheapo CD player.

  • Cell phone and SIM card. Buy when get to Lisbon.

  • I think that's about it. Surprised it all fits? Yup, and with plenty of space to spare. Cool, huh?

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006


    This is it. No turning back. The ratchet's been released, and the wheel, with unstoppable vertiginous inertia like a heavy stone rolling down a hill, starts turning.

    Plane tickets: check.

    Notice to vacate apartment delivered to landlord: Check check.

    Furniture announced for sale on craigslist: check check check.

    Quit job: {hesitates}

    Quit job: {hesitates some more}

    Quit job: Done. It was hard, took a week of procastinating, but the ides of March are always suitable for these kinds of things.


    Saturday, March 11, 2006

    The Danes.

    There are others. Contemporary to me, apart from Patrick, there are two Danes who are cycling the world. I seem to lately run into these folks everywhere in cyberspace, each of them crazier than the last, in terms of project ambitiousness. That's what's so cool about guys. They're so gung-ho about everything. Another one, Dave, British, I think, cycling Spain to Montenegro along the E4, and rumors of a young woman also solo cycling along France in June. And these are only the ones I know about.

    The cool thing is, that knowing about these people lights up a little moving blinking dot on a map inside my head, a bit like in the movies, where you track the hero with a GPS system from headquarters, or the villains, or they that you want to find (rebels, always, legends or personages that make the movie interesting), and the dots blink and meander along the map, and maybe, who knows, two of the dots intersect at some point, do a little jump up and down, surprised, maybe a dialog bubble pops out from the dots, and it reads " ! " with a Nintendo-like sound effect of "bweep!", and the two dots recognize each other, and they have coffee together, and swap stories for a bit, exchange tips and tricks, and then continue merrily on their way.

    And I laugh a bit at the image, because then that tells me one of two things that dispells all haze of doubt and fear and hesistation, and it is this:

    1. That maybe, ditching your job and your life for a while to run around by bike for fun and wisdom is maybe not such a silly idea after all, or

    2. If it is a silly, crazy idea, well then, at least I'm not the only nutcase in the neighborhood.

    And the Earth then, this little lonely blue planet is then suddenly not really all that lonely after all, for what, with 6 billion people, you're bound to run into someone sometime, inevitably, and lo and behold, all of the sudden, then, everything changes, and the world feels like my living room.


    Monday, March 06, 2006


    On Saturday, it was my birthday. Picnic, rare sunny winter day in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. There were a handful of friends there, a rather diverse group; some, known since my very first MIT days, others, known only for a few months, but all, invariably, in some way or another, having "pinged" me.

    Heisenberg's uncertainty principle states that you cannot both know the position and momentum of a quantum particle at once, because, in performing the measurement to observe such properties, the tools with which you measure (for instance, a photon), are on the same "size" scale as the thing you want to measure, so you disturb the things you try to observe, and change them with the measurement. In quantum computing, the qubits, represented by means of a quantum particle (an electron, say, or a photon, etc) are always in an undefined, amorphous state, which paradoxically contains in itself all possible states, so long as the qubit is not "pinged", and observed, because when looking, querying, "pinging", in other words, you measure, and disturb, and coagulate the fuzzy state into something concrete, and what's more, if you had measured at a different time, or under a different circumstance, the defined state you end up observing is something different.

    Such too are the good friends. They ping you and change you without your very much being able to do something about it. And that's a good thing. :)

    The conversation, unpredictably, turns to my adventure plans: I had told some of my friends a few weeks prior, and it clearly weighed heavily on their minds, for the questions and speculations follow, even though I sit a bit apart, and intentionally try to avoid the discourse. Some of them, I already know, I will not see again before I depart, and there are others there, you see, that I don't want to tell, not now and not like this, at any rate, because then the knowledge of the goodbye lingers onerously, and ruins the moment, and it is always better, isn't it, to not know for sure this is the last meeting, and have the hope of another one, and at any rate, it is also more poetic, you see, when you know you're leaving, but the other person doesn't, especially if that person has "pinged" you more than most.

    And then the betting pool begins. I cannot now avoid telling my unknowing friends, for I am unable to contain the information now in the open (imprudently, by now I had created too many witnesses), that spreads quickly and uncontrollably among the people there like wildfire, and amidst them that have known me for over 10 years, the conflict starts: some of them sure I will go, others sure I will change my mind before I even buy an airplane ticket, some of the recent acquaintances, whom you just now stupidly realize *you* have pinged more than most, object and try once again to convince you to move to San Francisco instead, that it is a very lively city just full of excitement, that will cure the boredom that your adventure promises to do, another, encouraging, charming, and optimistic, entreats you to send a postcard upon arrival in Istanbul, yet doesn't give you his home mail address, doubt carefully concealed in his eyes, behind the perhaps just a touch too enthusiastic face of faith and conviction, another, asking if I've already signed for a book deal, yet another, am I raising money for charity, and are you really never coming back to the US, me, just wanting to disappear, or stop the fire, thinking the departure should've been quiet, and unknown, irresponsible to any expectations of either success or failure of anyone's but my own, but most importantly, quiet to avoid the goodbyes, those dreaded goodbyes.

    Two days later, I sit alone at a restaurant reading the Spain and Portugal guidebook I just purchased at the corner bookstore, and the contrast between now and Saturday is immense, the loneliness overwhelming you like a layered woolen blanket that barely lets you breathe, and the heart thumps faster while the lungs refuse to expand, and I can't help thinking: "Oh, God, Elisa, this is the stupidest idea you've had in a very, very long time! What the hell were you thinking? Maybe you really are falling off your rocker, you know."

    Luckily, two hours later, the feeling is gone. I go home and finish packing a boxfull of old novels, and that night dream of cycling through the mountains.