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An idea - ACA Northern Tier - Four Year Tour?

Old 10-16-13, 04:56 AM
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An idea - ACA Northern Tier - Four Year Tour?

After reading mdilthey's post on riding the Northern Tier in winter (I have no notions of riding this in winter) and Bunks-TJ's request for the best touring photos, I got to thinking of the old dream I had about riding across the country. The pictures and ideas that came up were incredible and the idea started to grow inside again.

I first became interested in crossing the country in the mid-70's when Bikecentennial was becoming popular. I completed a number of multi-day tours in various parts of the country, hiked in southern Calaifornia and Arizona for 3 months one winter, travelled via sail boat many weeks at a time (Florida and Bahamas), ridden my motorcycle from Florida to Newfoundland and back (not straight back either) - all as part of my adventuring - but never crossed the country by bike. This was probably my first real big dream, but never fullfilled.

Now that I'm a full-time worker pretty close to retiring (at a yound age) I am contemplating this trip again, but before I retire. This idea I have is to complete the trip over a four year period - two weeks each year. If I wait until I retire to do the whole trip it may not happen for various reasons and at that time I will have other adventures that I'd like to tackle (maybe a Continental Divide trip on the MTB).

Have any of you done this or know someone who has? I'm looking for information on logistics (bike shipping, flying in and out, etc.), general feelings about completing it in sections vs. all at once, etc. I have a good idea of equipment needs etc.

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Old 10-16-13, 05:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Ridefreemc View Post
Have any of you done this or know someone who has? I'm looking for information on logistics (bike shipping, flying in and out, etc.), general feelings about completing it in sections vs. all at once, etc. I have a good idea of equipment needs etc.
Doing a long tour in sections over a number of years isn't something that would appeal to me. I couldn't be sure I'd maintain the interest (in the route) over such a long period.

If it's a sense of achievement you're after then doing something in stages rather than in one go would degrade that sense for me.
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Old 10-16-13, 06:09 AM
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People do that sort of thing all the time. Having done the entire NT once and the segment o Glacier NP a second time, I think your biggest logistical hurdle would probably be transportation. Unless you could start at end each segment at a city with a large enough commercial airport you might have to include other forms of transportation, like Amtrak and/or a rental car.

Starting in the west would be easy. Simply start in Seattle. It's a relatively easy 2 or so day ride to get on the official route, depending on how you go. In two weeks or so you could probably make Whitefish, MT and fly out of Flathead County Airport. That's the airport that serves Glacier N.P. Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish is an awesome shop. We have shipped bikes to and from there. For segment 2 you could fly to FCA and continue east to somewhere like Fargo or Bismarck, ND.
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Old 10-16-13, 06:21 AM
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BTW...Eight weeks would be fast, at least if you were to do the full route. We took 90 days not including the 3 days we spent riding from Seattle to just east of the start in Anacortes. We did the option to Waterton Village in Alberta (which I highly recommend) and the long route in MN. Believe it or not, with rest days in Lake Itasca and Minneapolis we actually spent two weeks riding in MN. While we weren't setting an records, I still believe 56 days would be pushing it.
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Old 10-16-13, 06:27 AM
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A huge advantage of the NT route for your idea is Amtrak. I rode it last summer (fantastic route, I thought--good choice) and rail was a constant companion, it seemed.

Many cyclists ride in sections for many reasons. Enjoy your adventure, however it comes to you.
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Old 10-16-13, 07:38 AM
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A guy just got to the coast, walking across the country , and did it in short sections.. over a few years.
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Old 10-16-13, 08:23 AM
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FWIW, some friends of mine did the Northern Tier in 6 weeks. They did go through Canada instead of down through Ohio, but I don't know that it shortened the distance all that much if at all.

They did say they were pushing pretty hard because one of the group had a time commitment/deadline, and would have liked to take it slower. But it can be done.
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Old 10-16-13, 08:54 AM
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Staged crossings were my preferred way. Done it twice, southern and northern. Not so long away from home, lots of time to anticipate and plan the next stage. The only downer is the repetitive logistics which are kinda expensive and a PITA. But also interesting in their own way.

Try to schedule each stage for Fall. By far the best time to tour.
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Old 10-16-13, 09:19 AM
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Yes. It can be done. But the full route is now just shy of 4,300 miles. At 56 days, that's about 77 miles/day, or nearly 1,100 miles during a two week span with no rest days. That's a good bit lot of riding, especially in the western segment where yout hit the Cascades early and then have 3 more consecutive days with passes to climb. If the OP's two weeks includes travel time, the daily mileage increases. Also, lodging and such are not always evenly spaced according to one's planned schedule, especially out west, forcing you to do a relatively short day one day and then abnormally hard day the next in roder to maintain the average.

I would at least budget a day off somewhre in Glacier N.P. and in Waterton Village. Those are two places you don't want to just blow through.
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Old 10-16-13, 09:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Caretaker View Post
Doing a long tour in sections over a number of years isn't something that would appeal to me. I couldn't be sure I'd maintain the interest (in the route) over such a long period.

If it's a sense of achievement you're after then doing something in stages rather than in one go would degrade that sense for me.
I would go with the flow of how I feel towards completing year-to-year once I started. I no longer have the drive to complete things "from beginning to end" (or just because I committed to something) any longer. When I was a bit younger I used to finish things just to say I did - and they were very linear in nature. For example, if I were to hike the AP I would have done the whole thing just to say I've done it, but after getting a feel for that kind of hike I find that would not be satisfying. Not sure if this makes sense (to me or you), but I guess what I mean is, yes I might loose interest or find sommething more pressing and would not have too much trouble delaying or abandoning. Life is too short to finish things that no longer have meaning (just for the sake of finishing).

That being said, I think the split up of the trip might actually keep me more interested from year to year.
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Old 10-16-13, 09:33 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
People do that sort of thing all the time. Having done the entire NT once and the segment o Glacier NP a second time, I think your biggest logistical hurdle would probably be transportation. Unless you could start at end each segment at a city with a large enough commercial airport you might have to include other forms of transportation, like Amtrak and/or a rental car.

Starting in the west would be easy. Simply start in Seattle. It's a relatively easy 2 or so day ride to get on the official route, depending on how you go. In two weeks or so you could probably make Whitefish, MT and fly out of Flathead County Airport. That's the airport that serves Glacier N.P. Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish is an awesome shop. We have shipped bikes to and from there. For segment 2 you could fly to FCA and continue east to somewhere like Fargo or Bismarck, ND.
That is good information and helpful. I guess I'd have to add some miles (or car trips) to get from the route to the airport/bike shops).

Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
BTW...Eight weeks would be fast, at least if you were to do the full route. We took 90 days not including the 3 days we spent riding from Seattle to just east of the start in Anacortes. We did the option to Waterton Village in Alberta (which I highly recommend) and the long route in MN. Believe it or not, with rest days in Lake Itasca and Minneapolis we actually spent two weeks riding in MN. While we weren't setting an records, I still believe 56 days would be pushing it.
I'll need to do a spreadsheet to see how many days I have in the 8 weeks and how many miles that would require. I don't want to ride everyday that I'm out there either. I would expect to ride without day long breaks in the middle and save a few days on either end for travel and recovery. So, with 16 days for the two weeks total, and about 10-12 days of riding in each. Hmmmm....better get my pencil sharpened!
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Old 10-16-13, 09:42 AM
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Originally Posted by andrewclaus View Post
Enjoy your adventure, however it comes to you.
That is a great way to put it and I'll keep that in mind. I really like being open and flexible and this as a "saying" is a keeper!

Originally Posted by jbphilly View Post
FWIW, some friends of mine did the Northern Tier in 6 weeks. They did go through Canada instead of down through Ohio, but I don't know that it shortened the distance all that much if at all.

They did say they were pushing pretty hard because one of the group had a time commitment/deadline, and would have liked to take it slower. But it can be done.
I would vary the route some, like considering taking a ferry across Lake Michigan to Ludington - or doing the Canada (above Lake Superior) part instead of south of the Great Lakes.

Originally Posted by Cyclebum View Post
Staged crossings were my preferred way. Done it twice, southern and northern. Not so long away from home, lots of time to anticipate and plan the next stage. The only downer is the repetitive logistics which are kinda expensive and a PITA. But also interesting in their own way.

Try to schedule each stage for Fall. By far the best time to tour.
Thanks for the advice on timing. Right now my time off is late August and early September, but that could change as the years go on.

Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
Yes. It can be done. But the full route is now just shy of 4,300 miles. At 56 days, that's about 77 miles/day, or nearly 1,100 miles during a two week span with no rest days. That's a good bit lot of riding, especially in the western segment where yout hit the Cascades early and then have 3 more consecutive days with passes to climb. If the OP's two weeks includes travel time, the daily mileage increases. Also, lodging and such are not always evenly spaced according to one's planned schedule, especially out west, forcing you to do a relatively short day one day and then abnormally hard day the next in roder to maintain the average.

I would at least budget a day off somewhre in Glacier N.P. and in Waterton Village. Those are two places you don't want to just blow through.
Yes, I wouldn't really want to blow through anything if I can help it (except of course the tedious sections). As I stated earlier, I don't want to start something just so that I can say that I did it (or finished it). I'd like to take this trip so that I can experience my country at a different pace - the perfect pace of a bicycle
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Old 10-16-13, 11:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Ridefreemc View Post
Yes, I wouldn't really want to blow through anything if I can help it (except of course the tedious sections). As I stated earlier, I don't want to start something just so that I can say that I did it (or finished it). I'd like to take this trip so that I can experience my country at a different pace - the perfect pace of a bicycle
If you were to fly to Seattle, ship your bike to Anacortes and take the bus there from Seattle (I believe there is service), here is one possible itinerary slightly modified from what I did both times:

Rockport, WA
Colonial Creek Camprgound in the North Cascades N.P. (short riding day)
Winthrop, WA
Tonasket, WA
Republic, WA
Colville, WA
Usk, WA
Sandpoint, ID
Libby, MT
Rexford or Eureka, MT
Whitesifh, MT

At that point you could do a couple of things. You could catch at cab to FCA (it's close to Whitefish) and fly home, shipping your bike home from Glacier Cyclery. If you have more time you could ride to Glacier and climb up the west side of Going to the Sun Road, which is stunning, and then ride back to Whitefish. That would add at least 3 days. Doing that would assure that you had the experience of riding GTS in the event you never make it back. or yould save it for the folliwng year by flying back to FCA and starting there.

In case you haven't seen the maps of the route, the portion through WA has some mountains. East of Colonial Creek Campground is where the climb over the North Cascades Highway starts in earnest. After you reach Rainy Pass, you descend about 1.5 miles and then climb another 3.5 to Washington Pass. The total distance to the second pass is nearly 30 miles. Aside from a U.S.F.S. campground on the descent down the east side, there is literally nothing in the way of services until Mazama. It's a hard day. That's why I always recommend a short day before and a day off in Winthrop. There is a KOA on the edge of town and places to eat and drink in town, including a brew pub. After Withrop you have 3 more mountain passes on three consecutive days--Loup Loup, Waucondo and Sherman. It would be extremely difficult to do two of those in one day, particularly since there is a large distance between the bottom of Loup Loup and the start of Wauconda. You might possibly choose to try Wauconda and Sherman in one day, but I wouldn't. IIRC, Sherman, which starts outside of Republic, is about 12 miles with an average grade of between 5 and 5.5%. From there to Whitefish there are not mountains, but it ain't exactly flat much of the time.

IMO, the western portion to Cut Bank, MT is a good section to focus on. It's the most scenic.
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Old 10-16-13, 12:44 PM
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I think it is a great way to go. The big advatage is that it gets the tour started now rather than some nebulous time in the future when "the time is right" The time is seldom ever right! If you like what you are doing you lengthen the legs and do it in three or less segments.

My wife and I did the Pacific Coast Route from Lund, BC to Mexico in 4 segments. We had planned on doing it in one shot, but a family emergency forced us to bail out early. In subsequent years we had work committments that limited our touring time to a maximum of about 4-5 consecutive weeks for a couple of years. We had also planned a 3-month tour in Europe that we sqeezed in before finishing the San Francisco to Mexico leg a year ago. The four years it took us to finish the coast were not even consecutive years. Sure we would have liked to finish it in one effort but not becasuse breaking the route into multiple segments made the tour any less enjoyable. We just like to tour, and we had other tours planned that were higher priority,and were not sure when we would be able to finish it.

It took us 77 days (including 3 rest days), averaging 50 miles a day to do our version of the Northern Tier/Trans Am--from Newport. OR to Boston, MA. My point is: your daily mileage estimate might be a little high. Having said that, I once ( a long long time ago) did a 1,100 mile loaded tour in 11 days, but I didn't stop to smell any darn roses! It is possible, it was satisfying,but not fun in the usual meaning of the word.

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Old 10-16-13, 04:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Doug64 View Post
I think it is a great way to go.
I hear what you are saying in your whole post - and like what I'm hearing as noted.

I may have ( I did!) underestimated the width of the country in the north, I never understood (or have researched yet) the total of 4300 miles. I know from Jacksonville FLA to San Diego CAL is less than 2400 (was going to ride it on my motorcycle in less than 50 hours) so I was thinking maybe 3300 in the north.

I may need to go fives years on the outside, or factor in a couple of 3 week years. I go to MI and NY frequently so I could do a week extra each year. I like averaging 60 miles per day so that would require 72 days total. I can do more per day (physically), but feel that becomes more of a trip to cover the miles and less about where you are. Less than 60 feels like I'm dallying.

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Old 10-16-13, 05:13 PM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
If you were to fly to Seattle, ship your bike to Anacortes and take the bus there from Seattle (I believe there is service), here is one possible itinerary slightly modified from what I did both times:

Rockport, WA
Colonial Creek Camprgound in the North Cascades N.P. (short riding day)
Winthrop, WA
Tonasket, WA
Republic, WA
Colville, WA
Usk, WA
Sandpoint, ID
Libby, MT
Rexford or Eureka, MT
Whitesifh, MT

At that point you could do a couple of things. You could catch at cab to FCA (it's close to Whitefish) and fly home, shipping your bike home from Glacier Cyclery. If you have more time you could ride to Glacier and climb up the west side of Going to the Sun Road, which is stunning, and then ride back to Whitefish. That would add at least 3 days. Doing that would assure that you had the experience of riding GTS in the event you never make it back. or yould save it for the folliwng year by flying back to FCA and starting there.

In case you haven't seen the maps of the route, the portion through WA has some mountains. East of Colonial Creek Campground is where the climb over the North Cascades Highway starts in earnest. After you reach Rainy Pass, you descend about 1.5 miles and then climb another 3.5 to Washington Pass. The total distance to the second pass is nearly 30 miles. Aside from a U.S.F.S. campground on the descent down the east side, there is literally nothing in the way of services until Mazama. It's a hard day. That's why I always recommend a short day before and a day off in Winthrop. There is a KOA on the edge of town and places to eat and drink in town, including a brew pub. After Withrop you have 3 more mountain passes on three consecutive days--Loup Loup, Waucondo and Sherman. It would be extremely difficult to do two of those in one day, particularly since there is a large distance between the bottom of Loup Loup and the start of Wauconda. You might possibly choose to try Wauconda and Sherman in one day, but I wouldn't. IIRC, Sherman, which starts outside of Republic, is about 12 miles with an average grade of between 5 and 5.5%. From there to Whitefish there are not mountains, but it ain't exactly flat much of the time.

IMO, the western portion to Cut Bank, MT is a good section to focus on. It's the most scenic.
Thanks for the experience relay. Sounds like an injection of realism!
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Old 10-17-13, 06:51 AM
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I knew some gals who were crossing the country in thirds - a third each year for three successive years. Whatever you can do.
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Old 10-17-13, 02:29 PM
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I have not done the NT, but have done the TA and most of the ST. I met lots of folks on the Trans America who were doing it in two years. I never met anyone who was doing it in in two week sections. For me it wouldn't be worth doing that way. Better to pick great two week trips or negotiate a longer vacation and do it in fewer sections. Just one opinion though, no reason you can't do it in 4 years if you really want to.
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Old 10-17-13, 06:22 PM
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Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
I have not done the NT, but have done the TA and most of the ST. I met lots of folks on the Trans America who were doing it in two years. I never met anyone who was doing it in in two week sections. For me it wouldn't be worth doing that way. Better to pick great two week trips or negotiate a longer vacation and do it in fewer sections. Just one opinion though, no reason you can't do it in 4 years if you really want to.
The logistics might be an issue, especially the cost. However, I normally do something big two weeks out of a year so this would just be more deliberate. I can see your point though about trying to get more time. I used to go 3 weeks a year, but now that I'm more valuable (ha ha to that) it's harder to get that, Bummer that even two weeks is often frowned upon (I literally have 20 bosses). Too bad that we spend most of our waking hours at work.

Thanks for your input and insights.
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Old 10-17-13, 06:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Ridefreemc View Post
Have any of you done this or know someone who has? I'm looking for information on logistics (bike shipping, flying in and out, etc.), general feelings about completing it in sections vs. all at once, etc. I have a good idea of equipment needs etc.
For me this is the only option. If I don't take a tour break it up into 10 - 20 day segments, then I'll never get to do it. As others have mentioned, transportation is can be a logistical challenge, but it's not impossible.

There are some advantages to breaking the trip into segments, too. One is that you don't have to do the segments in order. I'm doing the Pacific Coast Route, and for various reasons I did the middle (Eugene to San Francisco) first. In the spring I'll fly down to San Fran and bike down to San Diego, and in September I'll do Vancouver to Eugene.

Another possible advantage is that it's harder to get burned out on touring if you're not forcing yourself to plug away for months on end.

I would have loved to take 5 weeks off work and do the Pacific Coast Route all in one shot, but my job simply doesn't allow me to.
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Old 10-17-13, 07:36 PM
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Originally Posted by cvskates View Post

Another possible advantage is that it's harder to get burned out on touring if you're not forcing yourself to plug away for months on end.
I think you hit a nail on the head for me.
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Old 10-17-13, 08:07 PM
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Do most people go from west to east on N.T. I was thinking of trying a trip from Ohio to Kalispell Mt. Not sure if the head winds would be to bad.
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Old 10-18-13, 05:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Ridefreemc View Post
I used to go 3 weeks a year, but now that I'm more valuable (ha ha to that) it's harder to get that
How valuable are you to your employer? Value can equate to leverage. I went to my long time employer and told them I was doing the TA later that year and would be away for 8-12 weeks. I asked if I would have a job when I got back. I was surprised to find that it helped rather than hurt my career. It may not work for everyone, but it did for me.
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Old 10-18-13, 05:24 AM
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Originally Posted by cvskates View Post
There are some advantages to breaking the trip into segments, too. One is that you don't have to do the segments in order. I'm doing the Pacific Coast Route, and for various reasons I did the middle (Eugene to San Francisco) first. In the spring I'll fly down to San Fran and bike down to San Diego, and in September I'll do Vancouver to Eugene.
Having done both, I think odds of that working well for the Pacific Coast are much greater than for a cross country trip. On the coast there are no really long and less interesting sections, there is better transportation to multiple points along the way, and there is less motivation to do it in order and all in one go. I am not saying that it can't be done for a cross country trip, but that there are more downsides to it.

On a trip like the NT, TA, or ST riding across the country is a big part of the trip. Doing it in sections would greatly devalue that for me. Doing it out of order would completely obliterate the notion of riding across the country, which for me was the point in the first place. Everyone is different though.

Originally Posted by cvskates View Post
Another possible advantage is that it's harder to get burned out on touring if you're not forcing yourself to plug away for months on end.
That may work for you, but for me it is much easier to commit to doing it in one go. I would likely lose interest in the 50 weeks between sections especially when it got to the point of trying to get to some of the less accessible and or less appealing sections.
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Old 10-18-13, 06:22 AM
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Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
...I was surprised to find that it helped rather than hurt my career. It may not work for everyone, but it did for me.
Me, too. I actually got a promotion (into a leadership position) a month or two after I returned from my first multi-month trip. My employer noticed "something" had changed. I was much calmer at work, for one thing.

I, too, feel a greater motivation to make a long trip in one attempt and would have difficulties going back to a trip year after year in sections. But I enjoy enjoy long trips. Others feel the opposite, that a long trip is a grind. Homesickness and missing loved ones are very real for many.

I'll also point out that there are cost and time advantages to one trip. My NT trip took less than eight weeks and cost about $1500. Breaking that into sections might have added that much in transportation costs and added a week in logistics time, making connections in the more remote places. Some can afford that. I didn't want to.
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