Day-4: The Great Marshaling of Gear - The Hills are Alive (with the sound of wheezing) - CycleBlaze

Day-4: The Great Marshaling of Gear

Along with some potentially tedious ruminations on smartphones

Well, things have settled down a bit at home (if not on the international Coronavirus front). No further flooding, the weather has returned to something approaching normal (so no >35C days or tropical rain storms), and our house has ceased to smell like soggy dog. Fixing what might have been an insurance-invoking flood for less than £150 (and not having to throw away any of the carpet) feels like something of a win. There's been no recurrence, even following some quite heavy rain, so it really does feel like a freak event.

On the travel front, the only major update is that - of all places - Austria has been added to the UK quarantine list. This seems highly surprising, and I can only assume it has something to do with the proximity of Croatia (which is also on the list) - but, ironically, considering it's my main destination, this affects me not a jot. Because the Netherlands was already on the list (and I can't avoid transiting through on my way to and from the ferries) I'll need to quarantine on my return anyway. I'm resigned to this, and it doesn't affect Caroline. The UK remains on the safe list for Austria (Vereinigtes Konigreich in the now worryingly familiar-to-me Annex A1) as does Germany and the Netherlands, so we're all good there.

So I've spent this week acquiring the rather small amount of kit I need based on my revised plan, and shoring up some of the arrangements. I've booked places to stay near the Austrian border and in Rotterdam, on my way back (and have checked they can store my bike overnight - it's only in the big city where I specifically care about this, since as civilized a place as Rotterdam is, I suspect bike theft - or at least pinching a Brooks saddle - is not unheard of!).

My major acquisition - and this still feels very weird to me - has been to quickly get hold of a smartphone and a sim card for cheap data access in Europe. Despite my worklife being pretty rooted in technology and being a generally technical guy, I'm a long-term smartphone Luddite. Without getting too tedious about this, there are a number of reasons I've refrained from getting one: their expense, terrible battery life, poor performance compared to dedicated devices (can you imagine reading a novel on a phone screen compared to the original Kindle?), their needless inflexibility compared to real computers, and the positively detrimental effect they seem to have on devotees' quality of life - like I need to spend more time being distracted by staring at a screen! My (playful) answer to those who ask me why I don't have a smartphone has often been: why would I pay for a device that actively makes my life worse?

But the prime reason is that frankly, I believe their practicality is seriously overrated. On all my travels - and certainly in day-to-day life - the number of times I really have really unequivocally needed mobile internet access have been negligible. I've nearly always been able to get the information I need some other way, by talking to people, exploring, or just using my senses or smarts - and had a better time doing it, even when it goes "wrong". 

But I think this is a situation where the scales of practicality really have tipped the other way. There have been many occasions where I've been more than happy to just rock up in a place out of season in the early evening and find somewhere to stay. But I get a sense that Covid, the brief window of viable summer travel, and the skittishness in opening campsites might make this harder this time. In a fancy resort I'm certain I'd find somewhere to put a roof over my head, but the only obvious places might want to charge me €200 a night. With my twenty words of German vocab phoning around just isn't practical. This time, the technology's the right tool for the job.

So a quick search and I bought a phone outright. More by luck than judgement, I seem to have acquired a really good fit for my purposes - no frills, giant battery, Android and "no bloatware". On the good side: the tariffs and providers have come a long way (no contract, £10 and I have more data than I'll ever need all over the EU for a month). So am I a convert? Sadly not! I've (disappointingly - I really did want to like it!) been confirmed in just about all my prejudices. Every app wants to know everything about me. They keyboard wants to phone home and is storing hundreds of megabytes! The "assistant" is constantly listening to me! An app for transferring photos from my camera pointlessly needs to know my location, or refuses to work! No, there is no way to disable email starting up by default. At every point I'm bombarded to log into Google and let them harvest my data. Using it feels a bit like being trapped in a heavy-handed satire on the invasiveness, voraciousness and venality of the tech industry.

So I've had a fun few days taking a metaphorical hacksaw to the software, and have succeeded (without the nuclear option of "rooting" the phone, for the techies out there) in stripping out just about everything Google related and installing bare-bones simple replacements to browse the web, block adverts, take photos, and check the weather. I removed the ability of pretty much any app to bother me with notifications. I've added a few navigational apps using Tom Allen's list - if you're not aware of this guy, check him out, he was also the inspiration for my Disc Trucker build. An interesting chap with a great pragmatic philosophy. But (as with the camera) I will not be using these live while I ride. Paper maps are still very much preferred, with a fallback to the dedicated Garmin GPS which has performed excellently on a few AA batteries on my previous tours.  Many of the mapping apps are a bit patchy - though I am impressed with Komoot, which actually seems to derive routes from real recommendation (and has reassuringly picked some of the same routes that I've planned on paper). I don't want to have to worry about battery life - or, heaven forbid, actually change my plans in order to serve the phone's power needs - so it'll stay off most of the time. 

A Smart phone for a simple man
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Mike AylingG'day Jon, the Nokias are good gear and you can get some good prices on them. Our eldest son has used Nokias for years. My flip phone was on a 2G network and not capable of upgrading to 3G when they closed the 2G here. I got a a Samsung mini size about 40% of the now standard screen size. Although the battery was replaceable when it karked I decided to upgrade to a full sized screen so I too got a Nokia mainly so that I could more easily on the larger keyboard reply to text messages people send me despite me continuously telling them that I prefer email. That pesky "assistant" drove me crazy for the first few days until I had an idea and said "uninstall yourself" and there was a clunk and all went quiet but I think that she has snuck back again.
The only "app" that I have permitted to record my whereabouts is RidewithGPS for obvious reasons. Anyway well done on ripping Google out, I am tempted to do likewise. Very recently the battery died on Mary's flip phone and we got her a Nokia on sale at Aldi.
Anyway I look forward to reading about your tour when you return.

Mike
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4 months ago
Jon AylingTo Mike AylingCheers Mike! Yeah, I always have an affection for the Nokias, and it seems to be serving me well so far. Decent battery life too! It can be a battle fighting all the pre-installed stuff - but it's much more agreeable when it's gone.
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4 months ago

A corollary of this is I don't plan to make detailed posts on this journal as I tour (sorry guys!). I do like the idea of being able to do this on a long tour, preferably with a real (e.g. roll-up) keyboard. So I might put up a few words and a photo or two - but will fill out the journal properly only on my return. For me, at least, I think it's better that way anyway - the memories have had some time to bed in, and I think it becomes clearer to see a narrative in the journey.

With all that out the way - we can get onto the proper business of gathering up what's needed for actual bike touring. Fortunately, aside from the substitution of my new, compact tent, nearly everything is ready to go. After a little casting around the house - how had I lost two out of four merino wool jerseys? - I pieced together pretty much everything from last time, even down to the insect repellent and (this now seems mainstream) hand wash. 

Gathering together all my touring gear. There is, gratifyingly, rather less than last year. New additions on the left include mask and smartphone.
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The only item I couldn't find - and I'm pretty sure they were going out of date anyway - were my water purification tablets, which I had actually used on a couple of occasions (most notably when drinking from the river in Pforzheim). We'll pick this up, as well as some (limited - I'm not going to outer Mongolia) food, over the next few days. 

The bike itself needed the most minor of additions - a new bottle cage, after the last one finally broke off - and I bought a new bottle too, since the old ones really have seen better days.

Now I just need to wash all my clothes and get it in panniers for departure on Wednesday afternoon!

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