Today was the first day back on my bicycle after the tour. I knew I’d need a couple of days off after so much riding, but the knee was still giving me a bit of trouble so I extended it another two days. Well the knee is still a bit tender but it felt good to be back on the bicycle. Additionally the patched rear tire continued to hold, which is nice and means that whatever caused those punctures must have shaken out. So I felt I was due to post some impressions, lessons learned and thoughts from the tour.
First off I should explain about the posting’s I did here during the tour. Normally what I do on tour is I get into where I’m staying, generally a campsite, setup, make dinner then do some sightseeing until dark. At this point I’d get into the tent and write out the days events for an hour or so and then read till I wanted to sleep. Well I decided this tour that instead of keeping a paper journal I’d post directly to the blog using the iPhone. So those posts are pretty unfiltered and are meant to have details that I’d want to draw upon when I do a real journal. I keep my journals at Crazy Guy on a Bike but I make an attempt to make those more like a travelogue with a sense of narrative. You can read my last journal, to see how that differs from these posts. I did edit all of these posts upon my return to fix typos, misspellings and to add some links but no content was changed.
So why has it been three years since my last fully loaded, self supported tour? Well I had another tour planned at one point, but scrapped it on the day I was supposed to set out. I just wasn’t feeling it. I ended up spending 5 days at the Washington coast and I did a series of day trips. In fact I cycled almost everyday on that trip but it wasn’t what I consider a “tour”. You can see pictures (with comments) from that trip over on my cycle trips page. Apart from that I went to New York city two falls in a row for a music festival and I went to Ireland last summer in a non-cycling vacation. My job only offers me so much vacation time and it was hard to dedicate a big chunk of it to a tour. Luckily that has changed and I now have twice as much vacation time. I should be able to do a two week tour almost every year, and up to a month long tour if I find I want to spend all my time on a more epic event.
On to this tour in specific, thinking about training, planning, routes and so on. First off I decided to do it pretty late, not much more then a month before I set off. I had been reserving time off for two potential music related events that ended up not occurring. So I put in for five days off around the Labor Day weekend giving me ten days of riding time. I tried to pick up my riding during this time, but I never really did any “training”. Also I bought a bunch of new equipment as I intended to do this one a little differently then the last time. Most of this equipment arrived the day before I left and several key pieces did not arrive in time. Whenever I do a trip anywhere I compile a document of restaurants, places to stay, things to see, routes, references and so on. A bit of that can be seen in my Tour 2007- References post. For this tour, once I established the route I was going to take (I almost did a loop around the Cascade Mountains but was uncertain if I was physically up to that much climbing) I really didn’t expend much effort on mapping out exactly where to stay, what to do and so on. I had the Kirkendale and Spring book so I knew I could fall back on that if I had to. But mainly I just wanted to be out there and to make my way as it came.
So about that equipment I mentioned above, what was I doing differently? Well I decided that instead of using the four Arkel panniers I used last time I’d use a large saddlebag and front panniers. Why you ask, well mainly in that I wanted to carry less. This tour was much easier for me even though I arguably was in much worse physical shape. I’ve put on pounds since that last tour and as I said I did much less training. I do of course have three more years of cycling in my legs, but still I feel I was much less ready. So carrying less would be beneficial I thought and also force more interaction with the places I was going. The things I changed in order to carry less was I used a smaller tent, I carried less food and less clothing. I figured I’d eat out more, pick up dinner on a daily basis before camping and wash my clothes more often. This all worked out very well barring to the two nights I pretty much had no food for dinner.
How did things go with the various bits of kit you ask? Swimmingly for the most part. The Eureka Spitfire tent worked very well, much smaller then the REI Half Dome Plus 2 I used last time, but still big enough to sit up in and to feel comfortable in. Its not a free standing tent which was fine but I bent its lightweight stakes pretty much immediately. When you are using the rocks and sticks at hand to pound these in it’s hard to keep them in good shape. A minor complaint though. The Paladin Saddlebag I got from Rivendell was up to their usual standards of quality – tough, spacious and handsome in appearance. My Arkel GT-30 panniers again proved their worth, they are the best production panniers out there. I used the same cooking equipment as before, a Brasslight Turbo II alcohol stove and a Snow Peak Trek 900 titanium cook set and they performed the same as last time – excellently. My sleeping bag was again the Kelty Light Year CD 25 which did its job admirably and the Therm-A-Rest® Backpacker ¾ Length again helped preserve my body from the hard ground. For the gear that was reused on this tour, my comments I wrote about them before are still vaild.
The major change for this year was the bicycle, instead of my Novara Safari I used a Rivendell Atlantis. While it may seem like I had quite a few bicycle issues, these were almost all related to the poorly built rear wheel. The bicycle itself performed flawlessly and I have to say I was in much better condition the whole ride. Barring the knee issue, which was caused by hiking, not cycling, I pretty much felt fine even with day after day of riding. Sure my calves would be sore after a long ride and my ass was pretty tender most of the time but that’s pretty normal for me. On my 2004 tour by about day 3 I could barely swing my leg over the top tube. Not having this kind of pain I attribute directly to the improved fit of the bicycle. When I’ve gone back to the Safari when the Atlantis is in the shop I experience this immediately. Its a fine bicycle but mine just doesn’t really fit. 50 miles on the Safari feels like about 80 on the Atlantis, it is that dramatic. Another new feature was my Schmidt Hub which proved to be very useful on this tour. The ability to have a real light, one you can use to see unfamiliar roads proved to be of use on several occasions.
My other main bit of tech was cameras – I used my larger Canon S2 as the replacement for my shattered a70 had not arrived in time (ended up taking nearly 4 weeks). This camera is great if a bit bulky for out of the saddle shooting. I made do and we shall see how those came out. I’ve got 2GB worth to transfer over and need to free up some space first! I did take some pictures with the iPhone which I was able to email to Flickr during the tour. It certainly would have been possible to just use the iPhone camera, but I like to be able to zoom and such. I’ll put a few pictures up here when I start going through them, but keep an eye on my Tour 2007 set over at Flickr for the real goods.
Finally a few words on the overall experience. I find touring to be wonderful thing, seeing a slice of country at a sedate pace. It puts a lot of things into perspective stripping yourself down to the bare minimum like that. Ones focus completely changes, even with the increased connectivity I had on this tour. I love the Pacific Northwest and reveal in its beauties on pretty much a daily basis. But on a tour like this that becomes such a focus, the land you are moving through. Some of that is frightening or depressing but so much of it is glorious and revelatory. You learn a lot about a land and yourself when you are one tour and these are lessons I hope to keep with me. I thought about a lot of things on this tour and perhaps a few of them will make their way into these pages.