|Carry only what you need; need only what you can carry. Admittedly a little corny but worth remembering when you're living out of a backpack. For the last six months we've been regularly sending home 'expired' items and souvenirs to keep light, but as travellers, we require information—the price of which is paid in the weight of guidebooks. Lugging all the Lonely Planets (LPs) to places we expected to be going would have obviously been ludicrous—our plans would invariably change, nevermind the weight. Where we've been able to, we've purchased second-hand copies, and in one case a friend we were meeting brought us a fresh LP release. But mostly, we have relied on my sister back home to send us en route books and other supplies.
Travelling overland was always our intention and up to Turkey, completely feasible to follow through. Our post-Turkey passage would, as we knew, be a big unknown, depending mostly on whether we could get visas for Iran. Iranian officials aren't too keen on independent American travellers roaming freely about their country (especially ones with videocameras and websites).
We did have a dress rehearsal visit to the Iranian consulate in Jordan —I was properly robed in a long dress and hejab, and let Gregg, "the man", do all the talking. We didn't get very far except that we did acquire a few tips on what might increase our chances, including a Pakistani visa (to prove we had made ongoing arrangements) and a shared deep affection for 15th century Seljuk architecture.
Our best shot was to try the Iranian consulate in Erzurum, Eastern Turkey—near the border with Iran. We left the consulate that day hopeful, yet unsurprised when we called back a week later and were told by the consular that "The result is not positive"—a gentle way of saying we'd been rejected. We might have tried consulates in other Turkish cities, but each attempt would entail up to 10 days of waiting in limbo. Our time was better spent actually seeing Turkey, not to mention making other arrangements like the box to be sent from home and what would need to go in it.
Plan B was still attractive in that masochistic sort of way. We would head northeast through Georgia, Azerbaijian, Turkmensistan, Uzbekistan, Krygyzstan and finally arrive in Xinjiang, China. As far as we'd heard, travel in the Caucasus and Central Asian states was uncomfortable, frustrating, and expensive (this was well before the eight parliamentary members—including the Prime Minister—in Armenia were gunned down). But the pay off was to be able to travel the Karakoram Highway, the spectacular mountainous pass linking China and Pakistan. From there we would enter India from the north. The hitch? Getting five visas and reaching China by mid-November before the border pass closed for the season. That was a month away; scrap that option.