After almost 22 years of service, in June 2019 I will leave the military. Career transitions such as this seemingly always invite stress, worry, and anxiety over what the next steps will be or should be. The US military does a good job to give us the tools to help with this preparation, which can begin more than 1 year before retirement but what comes after is a very personal choice. Many veterans chose to follow a track aimed at moving into a similar career field which they worked in during their military service, which is where I fall into.
Before starting my new career it’s possible (and preferable for me) to take a short sabbatical. The counselors in the military call this the “sit on the porch” plan possibly in an effort to dissuade us on the idea. I tend to agree for the most part; I don’t think it’s healthy for humans not to have a daily routine which brings a feeling of accomplishment. Now some vets will decide after retirement or separation to switch roles with their spouse and become the homemaker, taking care of children, house, etc. and I’m certainly not discounting that as a bad idea. Whatever you decide to do, whether it be at home or for a new company, your work should be rewarding and I think studies have shown that working keeps us healthy as long as it’s toward something we enjoy.
But a sabbatical? The idea looked great on paper, but my thoughts inevitably shifted back to what my contemporaries were doing….was this really the right decision? Shouldn’t I be scrambling to get a new job lined up to start on the following Monday after leaving the military? After all, I’m in my 40’s, not 60’s. Not really retirement age yet. I won’t delve too deep into the philosophies of working to live or living to work…but I’m afraid that in America we are largely aligned with the latter, whether we admit it or not.
Without question, my biggest supporter of the sabbatical plan has been my wife. For countless nights at the dinner table she has become the unwitting sounding board for some of my elaborate ideas. When Elon Mush announced in 2017 that people would soon be able to buy a ticket to Mars for the cost of a typical American house, I brought up the idea over a spaghetti dinner…and she was not impressed! I think that this is because women inherently have an innate security gland which us men do not. She helps keep me grounded and realistic about our life plans while still entertaining (almost) all possibilities. As humans we are probably programmed this way…a healthy marriage needs the optimist and the pessimist. Without the pessimist, the boat would sink…but without the optimist, the boat would never leave the dock.
I have heard similar ideas voiced by friends over the years, detailing plans to do something big…take an around-the-world vacation, hike the Appalachian Trail, dive the Great Barrier Reef…but for some reason they had not acted on it. Perhaps because of fear, because of societal or financial pressures, for whatever reason, they had not been carried out. I thought of my boyhood and times spent wandering those forests looking for those tadpoles. Would I ever again have the chance to do something like this? Our own mortality never dawns upon us when we are young, but it is painfully clear to me how fast our lives go by. I have lost friends to cancer, car accidents, and many other ways all before they were out of their 30’s. What decision will I regret when I’m an old man? The answer was obvious.
The 3,400 km problem
Ride to the USA. Simple right? Living in Western Europe on-and-off for the better part of 20 years, I have become accustomed to efficient and readily-available transportation options. Here in Germany and The Netherlands, whether it’s trains, boats, bike paths or buses…no matter where you want to go, there’s a way to get there. Riding a recumbent bike does bring its fair share of logistical difficulties, although I’ve successfully traveled with my old trike onboard Deutsche Bahn trains numerous times. Moving a velomobile is a different animal, and when anyone thinks of a cycle trip from Europe to the USA, the most difficult barrier is also the most obvious. How would I cross the Atlantic?
Each time I asked the question on blogs or online forums I would get bombarded with ridiculous suggestions like “bring some oars”. This was obviously a waste of time. What do we already know? I can cycle up through Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark to the Danish port of Hirtshals. This will account for between 950 and 1300 km of relatively flat riding depending on my route. A ferry runs twice per week from Hirtshals to the Faroe Islands and then on to the Icelandic port of Seyðisfjörður on the east side of Iceland. The ferry takes 48 hours and allows bikes, cars and motorcycles.
Once on Iceland, I would be treated to a glorious 670 km cycling trip along the incredible southern coast of Iceland. This could easily be the greatest scenery of any bike trip I have ever taken as well as undoubtedly the most difficult physically. Over the 670 km (416 mi) of riding, I will have to contend with over 4,650 meters (15,308 feet) of climbing. Most of this climbing will be in the first few days as I climb out of the Seyðisfjörður fjord and cross the Axarvegur road to the south. An equally steep section sits west of the town of Vík í Mýrdal, and finally, a large climb of over 300 meters spread over 25km awaits before I’ll begin to come into Rejkjavik. A mechanical breakdown with the velomobile in Iceland will be a big problem because of the vast distances and lack of any repair capability. This subject deserves a thorough discussion, so mechanical preparation and maintenance while underway will be discussed later.
Once across to the western side of Iceland, I will reach a dead-end in Reykjavik. There are no ferries with service between Iceland and North America and the distance between these bodies is over 3,400 km (2,100 mi). What about the airlines? Checking the velo as oversized luggage shouldn’t be impossible. Then I remembered that the Quest is 2.85 meters or over 9 feet long! I e-mailed Icelandic Airlines. While they seemed intrigued by my choice of transportation, they were not much help. Stuffing a large velomobile into their cargo hold during the busy summer tourist season just wasn’t an option for them.
How about cruise lines? I checked with Cunard Lines, the operator of the QE2, but they were having none of it. Some suggested traveling on a cargo freighter, which seems possible if not very complicated, slow and not very cheap. The initial idea was to remain on the surface for the entire trip and not “cheat” with an aircraft…but compromises might have to be made. I finally found a freight forwarder in Rejkjavik (Jonar Transport) who offered the means to pack and ship the bike via air to Halifax, Nova Scotia, but it also was not cheap. This shipment would eat up almost 30% of the budget for the entire trip. I’ll continue to research other shippers, but I do need to start a realistic look at the budget.
Once the bike is on its way to Nova Scotia, I will fly to Halifax and pick up the bike. Hopefully the Canadians there are as friendly as their reputation precedes. From there it is a 350 km ride to the port of Yarmouth in the south with about 1,800 meters of climbing. I plan to split this up over 5 or 6 days for an easy 60-70 km per day. From Yarmouth it is one more long-ish high-speed ferry to Portland, Maine…and finally back in the continental USA.
It could really work.
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