When debating where to head for the third leg of our journey, we stumbled on a few issues. Well, OK… quite a few.
Our original ambition and goal had been to continue to head south from San Francisco into Central America, following the coast down towards Panama, from where we would fly home. Neither of us have ever seen Central America, and we were curious to explore the different climate and culture by way of comparison to the USA. Admittedly we did have a few slight reservations arising from the reputation of the area with regards to tourists and the potential risk to our safety when passing through some areas in particular, but felt that with careful planning and through taking the advice of those more experienced than ourselves, we could cross through the region reasonably safely. There are several sights that appealed to us; from the Cloud Forest park around Panama, the volcanic Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the ancient Mayan ruins in El Salvador and some incredible beaches. The city of Panama in particular is reputed as truly beautiful, with spectacular coastline and beaches.
However, as we begun to research further, we realised one major flaw in our plans- the seasons.
This isn’t the first time that concerns over climate, temperature and the weather have caused us concern. When booking our original outbound flights to Calgary in January, it must be confessed that we acted impulsively on finding a good price for the flights, without fully understanding the enormity of what we were entering into- or considering the impact the time of year we were choosing to fly could have upon our route decisions. We have since made modifications and adjustments to the first leg of our journey as a result, in order to try and avoid the worst of the tailend of winter around the Rockies in Canada- but can not avoid heading south as the weather begins to warm up. By our conservative estimations, we were aiming to reach San Francisco in early July- and if we were to then head further south as we originally hoped, we would be reaching Central America during the hottest and most humid time of year. This would be a cause for concern for any normal backpacker seeking to explore the region; for us as a cycling family, with a toddler in tow, it was decidedly unrealistic. Temperatures average from the mid 20s to 35 degrees c or higher; add high levels of precipitation, humidity and an increase in wet days around September, and the conditions would have been far from ideal. The prospect of such discomfort and difficulty, of trying to keep Theo cool and ourselves hydrated, and trying to cycle in such conditions simply filled us with dread. We toyed with many different possible solutions- from getting a train along the vast majority of the west coast in order to reach Central America sooner, to cycling during the very early hours of the day or later in the evening to avoid the worst of the heat- but found no single resolution to our dilemma.No matter which way we looked at it, we would be continually chasing the seasons- and losing the race.
The other blip for us was that time wasn’t actually on our side. We can remain travelling within the USA for 90 days without applying for a visa- and anticipated that 1.5-2months would be spent going down the west coast. We needed to head into Central America or Canada before the end of those 90 days- but from San Francisco, this was no easy feat, unfortunately.
After much debate and contemplation, we have concluded that the best thing for us to do will be to take a domestic flight within the USA to the east coast, and then head back north into Canada. Temperature-wise, this is far more reasonable and will be a great deal more comfortable for us- and whilst we may miss the sights of central America as originally hoped, we do then get to explore the likes of Boston, Maine and then pass through Montreal, Ottawa and see such sights as Niagra Falls once we head towards Toronto, from where we are flying home. We keep within our 90 day limit; we escape the heat; but in flying back towards the end of September, we also avoid the worst of the winter weather. As far as compromises go, it hardly seems a huge sacrifice!
Our trip plans have now come together at last- from our original musings about perhaps 2, 3 weeks in Canada they grew to a 6 week exploration heading down the west coast, then stretched to potentially 3 to 4 months, and finally after handing in our notices and debating our route, we have settled at just shy of 5 months for our trip total. Our mini-style route is shaping up as follows:
When looked at on a map of this size, our route does seem rather conservative- but the total mileage is far from small. Perhaps as we become fitter and our bodies adjust to the task we’ll be able to conquer more miles per day and adjust our route accordingly; for this reason, we have held off booking our domestic flight across the USA until we have a clearer idea of the time it will actually take for us to reach San Fran- and if we decide to stay there a while longer or cycle slightly further before we fly across. Time and experience will be best to tell us before we tie ourselves to certain dates. As it is, we have an outbound and a return flight- what we do and where we go within those 2 dates is really up to us, and as flexible as visas allow!
The final countdown has begun- 15 days to go.