Tour 2011 Reflections – Just how unexpected?

Written by robert on September 11th, 2011

It’s been a couple of weeks since I returned from tour but frankly I don’t really feel like I have much of a grasp on this experience. I billed this as an “unexpected tour” and I have to say that’s not entirely accurate.  I don’t want to get too much into the whole exiting of employment but basically there was a certain amount of time where I kind of knew it was a possibility.  I was actively involved in moving and due to this uncertainty had not secured a new place.  My plan at this point was to put everything in storage and set off on tour, perhaps even a more epic long term tour.  There was a problem though, my parents were coming up for a visit that had been planned before all of this. So I arranged to stay with my friend in Olympia for a few days and then with my parents while they were here. At the same time I was trying to work out a future living situation. A lot basically was going on.

So I did end up being laid off and I had a bunch of stuff to deal with from the lay-off (severance, insurance, retirement – all that sort of stuff) which made setting off on an epic tour difficult, especially at such short notice.  So I managed to find a place to live in Seattle but couldn’t move in until September 1st, which means I now had nearly three weeks to kill before this new phase in my life.  So a tour was definitely in order.  I planned this one in about three days, deciding on my final route only the day before I left (I originally was thinking of riding to Mount Rainier and then down to Crater Lake, which I’d still like to do).

Strangely enough the first seed of bicycle touring was planted in my mind from reading a book on through-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  I was in my early teens (maybe 13/14) and was with my parents visiting some friends of theirs for a weekend up in Canada. I didn’t really know these friends, they were older and I was pretty much on my own.  I ended up reading most of this book, which was a sort of day by day description of the entire hike. This sounded like something I really wanted to do (and frankly I still do) and as a pretty avid cyclist at the time I wondered if you could do something like this on a bicycle. Flash forward twenty years later, several tours later still thinking about the PCT and I discover this book:

The Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail

Which I immediately buy a used copy of.  This book from 1990 is of course woefully out of date, but this actually is of great appeal to me.  Using old books is an interesting experience in that landmarks disappear, once major attractions become hidden curios, routes change or sometimes are completely gone.  I began thinking about doing this as a forthcoming tour and almost did it last year instead of the tour I did do up into Canada. But I wanted to do it right and it needed more time than I had that year.  A bit later I find out that the Adventure Cycling Association (of whom I’ve been a member for 8 years) had used this same book as the basis for a new route: The Sierra Cascades Route.

Now having time, though with the constraint of needing to be back before the end of the month, and a desire to return to Mount Rainier which I haven’t been to since I was 12 I decide to do a chunk of this route. As I said above I was originally thinking of riding to Rainier, spending a couple of days there and then riding the route to Crater Lake.  I wasn’t sure how much time that’d take so I ordered the first two sections of the Sierra-Cascades route maps which run from the Canadian Border to Mount Rainier and Mount Rainier to Crater Lake.  I began to have second thoughts though; Eastern Oregon can be quite hot in August and I like to ride loops when I can – getting back from Crater Lake would either take too much time or involve the train.  Being newly unemployed I was trying to keep expenses down and a pure riding tour would help with that.  So at nearly the last moment I change my mind and decide to ride the route from Sedro Wooley to Mount Rainier.

This would necessitate getting to an intersection with the route in the small town of Sedro Wooley which had two advantages as I saw it. First off I would complete a section that I ended up not doing on my Olympic Peninsula tour due to miscalculating the amount of days that trip would take. The other is that after that bit I’d be in Port Townsend/Whidby Island/Fidalgo Island/Mount Vernon which is the part of Washington State I grew up in, know very well and absolutely love. I’ve ridden in these parts on most of my tours and never get tired of it. These areas also have bicycle shops, stores and other things that at about day 2-4 in a tour you often find you need. I find it is a good thing to not be in the wilderness on day 2.  So the route settled, I worked out the sections I had no maps for and packed up.  I had put all my touring gear in my car when I had put my stuff in storage and was good to go.

 

I haven’t really changed my touring gear in years now and for this tour I only changed one, the Trangia Cookset. The bicycle on the other hand I recently changed the following: the brakes, the brake levers, the shifters and after all of that had rewrapped and shellacked my handlebars. As I outlined in my day 1 report this did lead to my one bit of mechanical failure but it was luckily discovered and fixed on day 1. It is however a testament I think to my touring setup and experience that I can just set off on a tour with nearly no planning.  No planning, not all that much riding this year with few longer rides, no home to return to, no job, no certainty.  This was the essence of this tour and would color all aspects of it.

 

6 Comments so far ↓

  1. Apertome says:

    Way to make the best possible use of your available time, and other resources! It is wonderful, as you say, that you are able to set off on a trip like this with little preparation. Ihope to do a tour someday, but, lacking experience, I’d need to do a lot of planning. And I never seem to sit down and plan one. I gotta change that.

  2. robert says:

    I planned out my first tour (in particular) to a pretty extensive degree and it really just does take doing a couple of them to work out the kinks. I did a lot of my planning at work, which was always nice, in fact I enjoyed planning them out quite a bit! It is great to be able to just up and go and once you work out the basics you pretty much have that option.

    But anyway you should definitely get out there and do it. What I’d do is pick a destination and work out a route to it, with low mileage days (<50 miles) and finding the camping that fits. I read a lot of journals (crazyguyonabike.com is a great resource for this) to figure out routes, do sanity checks on gear and the like. Make the first tour not too long, but also not too short. A week is good, two better. If you can do a two week tour you more or less can do a tour of any length. Too short of a tour you might not figure out shortcomings in ones gear. I also find that after a week your body adjusts and it seems you could just keep on doing this day after day.

    Of course one may find that touring is not ones thing, or that one would prefer group touring, or supported touring or credit card touring or whatever. But that is worth knowing too!

  3. adventure! says:

    Hey, I know that this is a little late, but hey. It sounds like you dug the Trangia. What about it did you think was better than your old Brasslite setup? I ask this because I’ve used a Trangia over the last year and like it, but from the little that I’ve read on Brasslite it’s supposed to be an improvement on Trangia’s design.

  4. robert says:

    It’s the integrated windscreen that really makes the Trangia work better I think. I used the Brasslite (for years on four or five tours) and I’d use a homemade windscreens that I’d made out of tinfoil. This worked but I definitely used much less fuel with the Brasslite and a pot of water boiled considerably faster.

    The Brasslite though I’d say is better for simmering, especially if you wanted to start with max flame and reduce it mid cooking session. Not too say that was super convenient on the Brasslite but much more so than the Trangia.

    The whole integrated setup with the Trangia really is a nice setup in my mind and since boiling water was a big factor in what I was doing it’s increased efficiency in that regard really impressed me. The brasslite is so small though that I have considered taking it along with the Trangia for some two burner cooking, if I ever got so ambitious…

  5. adventure! says:

    Yeah, Trangias are not the greatest for simmering. The lid is supposed to allow for some flame control, but I don’t think many people use it. I’ve seen an Esbit version that is pretty much the same as the Trangia, except there is a long handle on the simmer lid so I theorize it’s a bit easier to adjust the flame. Thankfully I don’t worry too much about simmering.

    I use a Clickstand along with a foldable windscreen and it seems to work fine. Clickstand makes a windscreen that’s supposed to work with their stand, but it’s too small for my larger MSR frying pan (which makes some pretty fine pancakes, we’ve figured out.)

    I’m thinking about getting another Trangia, the backpacker setup they are currently selling at Ye Olde REI. (For some reason, REI seems apprehensive about Trangia, as it’s been in and out of stock. MEC seems to have it always in stock.) I like the integrated pot/pan/stand setup for when I want to do a solo expedition (most of my touring over the past few years has been with my girlfriend April), but also as a second burner with the both of us. It’s nice when say we’re making pancakes for breakfast to have one stove for that and another for water for coffee. Thankfully Trangias are so small, and with two of us it’s not much extra.

    I’ve also got an Esbit solid fuel stove. That might be something to consider for a second small stove/backup stove. They work okay and are pretty damn cheap. But fuel tablets are not always readily available.

    • robert says:

      I thought it was okay for simmering when I wanted to start off at low flame (heating pasta sauce say). But going from a full on flame to simmer was problematic. With the Brasslite you can hold down the stove via the put on it and poke those little “fins” on the bottom which will then restrict the airflow and simmer. Of course you have to deal with your windscreen to do that with which a windscreen like the Trangia would make it just as difficult pretty much.

      Those Esbit Stove do sound like a pretty decent backup stove; I’d looked at them on Rivendell’s website but was always concerned about the fuel issues. But if one did just use it for secondary use probably would’t be an issue.

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