Developing a project like this requires a lot of energy and has involved some sleepless nights.
This venture, which appears crazy, involves my wife, my children, and others close to me, accepting the idea. Although my children are adult and relatively independent financially, the primary social contract I have to respect is the exceptional relationship I have with my wife, who has shared my life every day for 25 years.
We are used to a comfortable life together so how can I forego an income and leave my wife almost alone for nearly two years?
Also I really don’t have the means to allow me to take this kind of decision. Along with lots of monthly bills, we also still have a mortgage with a “Swiss” bank and cars we are still paying for. Even so, the longing to carry on with this venture gets stronger and stronger. As if my life depended on it. Have I become completely irresponsible?
1. Means at my disposition: The purpose of this trip is largely a personal encounter with myself and a sort of enlightening and lifting myself up, along with being human, to meet Humanity. I am not trying to create a technical, sporting or media feat. The decision to depart with little money and to “follow my star” and to depend on strangers in order to eat and sometimes give me shelter has become legitimate economically as I cannot depend on my wife or my family to support me for 18 months.
When I set out I will have the equipment I need to cope with the route and different seasons and enough sustenance for five days. After this, I do not know what I will come across and will have to face the “void”. Only time will tell. I am only going to take my passport, my vaccination records, travel and repatriation insurance …and a credit card for taxes relating to visas, border controls, buying or repairing equipment, etc. Just in case!...;-)
2. The Itinerary: The choice of route in order to accomplish this project is of vital importance .Questions arise concerning the actual difficulty of the walk, the terrain, the geology and wildlife, safety, well-being and health, the level of hospitality accorded by the authorities to strangers and which may be very different from that of the inhabitants, plus the cultural and religious norms of the countries to cross.
In the beginning I dreamt about travelling through Turkey, Iran Pakistan, India and then Nepal. This solution would allow me to travel at a more southerly latitude, which is preferable due to the weather but also because I am sincerely attracted to the thousands of years of sophisticated cultures of the Ottomans, Persians and Hindus. Unfortunately, due to the crisis in Syria, the situation in the region has greatly deteriorated and, apparently, travel in Pakistan in particular will be very difficult, alone and on foot. The authorities there can, at any given moment, insist on escorts for hundreds, or even thousands, of kilometres, citing the security risk of certain fundamentalist religious groups and the proximity of groups close to Al-Quaeda.
I still have several months to decide, but the best solution seems to be to take a more northerly route. That means travelling through, among others, Ukraine, the south of Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. From there - Samarkand or Tashkent - I will have had the time to assess the risks of entering China via Kirghizstan and then attempting to enter Nepal via the Chinese province of Tibet. This will involve the risk of obtaining certain visas from the Chinese. If all else fails, I will fly from Tashkent or Samarkand to New Delhi, from where I can walk to Nepal. A major concern with this route is the extreme cold, but we shall see…
3. Equipment: One of the worries facing my project is the type of equipment I should take with me, as I shall be carrying all the weight with me for most of the journey (except if I manage to hitchhike). I will have to be careful about the amount of equipment I can take together with foodstuff in order to achieve the most comfortable way to live day to day. Unfortunately, when choosing the lightest equipment it also needs to be the most hard-wearing and of high quality, which greatly affects the price. Poor quality equipment may deteriorate or need repair which could cause problems and affect the progress of the walk or my safety and well-being. The most important items are robust but lightweight walking boots. Some makes of boots offer double the kilometres and are more comfortable. A high quality backpack will offer comfort and help avoid any concerns with problems that may put the trip in peril. Not carrying equipment in good condition could abort the mission. A hard-wearing, light tent may cost more but having confidence in your equipment and knowing you will always have somewhere safe and dry is a way of maintaining high motivation. Being able to get some rest at the end of a long day’s walk means taking a good mattress, plus an excellent sleeping bag, especially at my age. Choosing a feather and down duvet sleeping bag or a synthetic one is important too. The feather and down ones are lighter and generally more comfortable, are more breathable and better for different climates, but if they get wet they are of little use, in contrast with synthetic sleeping bags. They are also more expensive. If one uses them only in a tent away from rain or humidity and encloses it with a waterproof cover it should be fine. The same applies to the quality of clothing. Choosing synthetic or natural fibres such as wool or silk affects comfort, smell, weight, drying time and obviously the price. Sometimes this more than triples the cost.
It is essential to have access to regular meals and hot drinks, hopefully every day and especially when it is cold. A very good light, hard-wearing, highly efficient portable stove is essential. The availability of fuel in different regions needs to be taken into account so the most easily available will need to be taken on my journey. Safety is also a very important consideration –an unguarded flame can set everything alight and put one’s life in danger.
It is very important to trust where the equipment has come from, so any damage or loss can be swiftly rectified. I need to have a good relationship with my suppliers. I still do not know whether to stick with one make, in order to negotiate better conditions of sale such as discounts or to buy the best possible equipment at a local store, where discounts are unlikely.
Ferrino, a shop in northern Italy was extremely helpful with a range of products that they offered with very good discounts. However, the equipment is heavier and clothes are mainly synthetic.
In Switzerland we are spoilt for choice regarding mountaineering, trekking or expedition equipment. However they come at a price, and are usually more expensive than their Scandinavian, American or European competitors. EXPED or MAMUT offer excellent quality but lack certain important items for my needs. TRANSA and Le Nomade are heavens of supplies and offer good advice but with the prices that go with choice and expertise.
I now need to compare the prices, quality and weight of different equipment in order to decide which and where to buy.