All the gears and some ideas
The last few weeks before our departure have been hectic! After finishing our respective jobs it was time to complete all the necessary preparations. This included moving out of our apartment, choosing and testing all the gear, saying goodbye to family and friends as well as continuing to plan and set out our routes. Training would have to fit in there somewhere too.
For the land part of our journey we would be using bicycles fitted with panniers. I had already used a steel framed mountain bike with a flat handle bar for previous trips, but after much though we set our sights on getting ourselves a couple of gravel bikes. A gravel bike is where road meets mountain. It has a streamlined body fitted with drops for speed, but a wider fork that can accommodate beefier tyres and disk brakes for wet conditions. It is also sturdier than its road counterpart and can be used on varied terrain. After packing and unpacking all our kit we decided to go for front and back panniers. For the front we would use the ultra-light Vaude bags. This would give us enough volume to comfortably pack everything and add extras if needed. We finally decided to purchase the Fuji Jari 1.5 model upon recommendation by the kind people at Distri Cycle. I had doubts about only having done two chainrings, but after doing the maths was convinced. And maybe the name would be auspicious for our first destination?
Other items that we needed to consider was photographic equipment and electronics. For the former I decided to go with my solid Pentax k-50 which is weather sealed. Taking into account the humid weather in much of Asia, this would be important. Choosing which lenses to take for such a long trip was much harder. The whole point of a reflex camera is to be able to choose the right lens for each situation, but with weight being an issue a trade-off needed to be found. I ended going with the DA 18-135 mm. The zoom is slightly less than I would have liked, but it is also weather sealed, which makes it so much more practical. It’s motor is very silent and first tests seem good. To complete this set-up I’m also taking a 50 mm prime exclusively for portraits and with an aperture of 1.8, low light conditions. For recording I picked up the new GoPro 7. You can’t get around them for filming on the water and rain, even if I’m not a great fan of the distorted view and sometimes jerky footage. This being said, the new stabilisation is incredible and I am very pleased with the first results. Time will tell on the road. To keep everything charged the sun will be our friend. Light weight solar panels made by Lumtrack had shown their worth in Kyrgyzstan, we decided to use them again. They would also allow us to charge our new headlamps, made by Stoots, a local family-based brand. Their innovative lamps are extremely powerful (1000 lumens!), made of aluminium to dissipate the heat and perfect for night riding in the countryside. We can’t wait to test them on our trip!
Sandie completed her Yoga instruction last year and has been teaching ever since. She has also worked with the Canadian brand Löle who specialise in clothing for yoga and have a sustainable approach. As Sandie will be keeping up her exercises on the road (and I will be stretching a bit), their apparel are perfectly suited for the moments we will get out of our cycling jerseys.
With the clock ticking, it was time to go out and test our bikes. Our first rides where the confirmation we had made the right choice. They behave perfectly on both asphalt and in the mud, giving the speed of a road-bike and the fun of an all-terrain machine. The gearing worked fine, even on relatively severe climbs. During one of our first rides we were caught in a violent summer storm, maybe an omen of Japan’s typhoons?
Practice makes packrafting perfect
We had also decided to concentrate on some packrafting training to get up to speed before our expedition in Laos. I had been able to spend three weeks risking hypothermia in Iceland with Greg (Going Norse expedition), but Sandie hadn’t any experience on white water. As we awaited our second boat, we made some trips to the white water training centre at Ile de la Serre, on the Rhone river. It is an artificial circuit made by diverting some of the river’s flow and contains multiple small drops and rapids. It is a safe environment to start training and we spent a couple of days taking turns to navigate the different obstacles. We also tried swimming them and a couple of rope throws.
With only a couple of weeks left we received our second raft.We had opted for the Kokopelli Rogue which I had tested in Iceland and found to be just that bit lighter than my Nirvana. Taking into account that we would need to carry it for still to be determined distances, it fitted the bill. We decided to celebrate my birthday during our last week of chores by dropping everything for the evening and driving up to one of the lakes above Grenoble for a calm paddle. It was magical, slowly slicing the sheen of the water, relaxing on the mirror-like surface.
Finally the date arrived and we finally finished moving out. We no longer had a fixed home! First of all, thanks to the helping hands (Steph, Jorge, Marie Laure, Joris) that got our stuff up and down so many sets of stairs. All our stuff had been packed up into cardboard boxes or sold. We were free! With only one week left before flying out, we had decided to cram a week of packrafting in too. The French Alpine Packrafting meet-up was organised in the Hautes Alpes and was an occasion we couldn’t miss. Not only was it the chance to discover some new rivers but the safety training courses meant we would be able to learn as much as possible from the best.
It was a lovely experience. Arriving on the second day we set up our tent while everyone was out on one of the rivers. This gave us time to unwind and start taking in the beautiful landscape. We were first to meet Max, the organiser, who had put so much effort into making it a perfect week We are very grateful for his initiative! He then introduced to the other members, who hailed from all over the world. Having been a multiple-times exchange student, it gave me the same vibe I’d first sensed when arriving in a new country. There was a great atmosphere created when people from different walks of life are thrown together. As we went around we soon realised that many of the packrafters had already met at previous meet-ups and it was a tight-knit, family-like community.
For the next few days we we paddled several river sections, including the Durance and the Haute Guil. Sandie quickly got more confident and was soon paddling away on the rapids. We also participated in the one day safety training course. It was a Rescue3 certified White water Foundation course given by Seon from Packraft Europe. It was extremely interesting and eye-opening. Looking back at some of our Icelandic escapades was rather sobering, taking into account our scarce preparation and equipment! I found it particularly interesting to learn about the different water features and safety positions to be adopted when swimming, and look forward to delving deeper into more complex techniques. Together with the advice given to us out during our paddle trips, especially by Tony, we learned a lot on and in the water.
We left the Durance with great memories, really hope to see all the crew again at future meet-ups and wish to thank everyone for their warm welcome, tips, guidance and help as well as interesting conversations.
And finally it was time to say a last goodbye to our families. During our meal with Sandie’s dad we were treated to a Hmong Khi Tes ceremony, where friends and family tie a simple white bracelet around the wrist, wishing good luck and blessing. It can be done for multiple life events, including in this case well-wishing for an important trip. With the cotton bands firmly in place, it was time to set forth.
One last thank you too all that have helped along the way, partnering brands and of course family!