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Journey to the East – Kit Considerations

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Tour 2012 day 96 - Atlantis in front of the White MountainsFully Loaded Atlantis in front of the White Mountains in Vermont

My touring kit had been pretty static the last few years, with often just one or two bits changed as I’d set out on tour.  This year, for my cross country tour, I changed quite a few things and thus set out with a decent amount of previously untested kit.  I went over in meticulous detail my experiences with the charging system that I used in the previous post and in this one I’d like to cover the rest of my equipment.

The Bicycle

Once again I set out on my only bicycle, my trusty 2005 Rivendell Atlantis. I kept the same configuration of racks, handlebars, gearing, pedals and the like as I’ve done for the last few years. As has been the case the bicycle performed flawlessly with few problems and certainly none with the major components.  So here is a rundown of the entiriety of the mechanical issues I had with the bicycle:

Tires
On the second day of the tour I awoke to find my rear tire flat.  As I’d only ever had two (2) flats total with the Schawlbe Marathon Plus in over 5000 miles of riding (including two loaded tours) I was a little disappointed.  However on pulling the tube I found that Free Range Cycles had replaced my old tube with a Kenda tube when they had rebuilt my rear wheel. Long time readers of this blog will recall my problem with Kenda tubes on my 2009 West Coast tour – the valves seems to not hold under a full load.  After I replaced this tube with one from my stash I never had another flat. 5000+ miles on a wide variety of terrain, including the worst roads I’ve ever been on, with my rear tire becoming increasingly bald (I replaced it in Fort Wayne) not a single flat.  The Marathon Pluses are the best.

Wheels
My rear wheel became increasingly wobbly as I rode through Minnesota and Wisconsin. On taking it to REI to get it trued I was informed that it was severely cracked. At this point it had nearly 3000 miles on it but I’d say it’d been wobbling for the last 500 or so. Thus this new wheel that I’d gotten built up right before the tour cracked in many, many places in less then 2500 miles (and who knows when the first cracks appeared).  This was the second Velocity Synergy wheel I’ve had crack prematurely – this new one replaced the same wheel that was less then two years old.  No spokes broken in this time. I wonder if the double butted spokes don’t brake when maybe they should leading to more stress on the rim? This wheel was replaced in Minnesota with a x rim which lasted without issue for the rest of the tour and until this point. It was a bit wider which required adjustment of my brakes and also painted black instead of the chrome of my other wheel. This latter point doesn’t bug me too much as the inside of my wheels are usually pretty dirty anyway and lets face I’ve never been much of a bag matcher.

While I had no further issues with my rear rim I did have two broken spokes over the next few thousand miles.  The first of these occurred July 19th – almost two weeks to the day of my wheel replacement. I had it fixed the next day in Defiance Ohio at the excellent “R” Bike Shop. The second spoke (presumably a different one) broke on my last day (August 1st) in New York State  as I was descending out of the Adirondack Mountains.  This one I had fixed the next day in Middlebury VT at The Bike Center – yet another great shop with really great staff. There I was informed that while the wheel had been expertly built, the wrench had used single butted spokes which explains their propensity to break. However as I wondered above, did this help keep the rim from cracking? Or is it just a better rim in that regard? It ended up with about as many fully loaded miles on it as when the previous rim began cracking. Anyway this was my last broken spoke of the tour (which admittedly only had another week or so at this point).

Cables
Both of my shifter cables broke in the course of the tour, but I had anticipated this and packed along a spare. I replace my shifter cables every year (around 3-4000 miles typically)  and at 5000+ miles for the tour I’d figured that they wouldn’t last the whole way.  They both failed the same way – they became increasingly hard to shift, frayed at the shifter and then eventually broke.  I’d only bought one spare cable (assuming they both wouldn’t fail at the same time) and when I had my spoke fixed in Defiance Ohio I picked up another one. The rear cable, which lets face it gets a lot more use snapped on July 17th; the front cable almost made the entire tour snapping on August 6th – the day before I arrived in Bar Harbor. I had also carried a spare brake cable, but there wasn’t any issues there.

So that was it for mechanicals: one cracked rim, two broken spokes, to broken cables and a bad tube. Not bad for 3+ months of riding in crazy amount of road and weather conditions with a plenty loaded down bicycle.

 


Good view of my Arkel Panniers, Hobo Bag and Berthoud saddlebag

Bags

I had no problem with my bags, but I think a few words are in order.  I was running the classic six bag setup: Arkel GT-54‘s on the rear rack, Arkel GT-18‘s on the front rack, a Berthoud Micro Seat bag (which doesn’t seem to be available any more) and a Baggins Hobo bag on the front (which alas definitely isn’t available any more). Back when I first started buying touring gear the big players in touring bags were Arkel and Ortlieb. Yes there were other manufactures but they were generally either of lesser quality (say Jandd) or didn’t really seem to be their primary focus (say Berthoud and Carradice; both of which I’d say are more saddlebags than panniers).  Now of course there is a seemingly endless list of boutique bag makers plus a few more larger players that take the segment a bit more seriously.  I chose Arkel over Ortlieb as I I prefer the organizational aspect over the focus on waterproofness.  Now of course you can get Orliebs with more pockets and Arkel’s with the same kind of waterproofing so I wonder if the holy wars have died down now.  I’d probably go boutique myself if I was buying new bags now.

I’d only done one tour before this one with the six bag setup (my first) preferring a lighter setup with a saddlebag in the rear and the two GT-18s on the front. And of course the Hobo bag – that never comes off.  In the main I still prefer that setup – the bicycle really handles amazing in that configuration.  Also with a lot less weight on the rear wheel I think one is less prone to the rim and spoke issues I had on this tour. However for this tour I was starting early and would be spending a lot of time at high elevations in the spring requiring warmer, bulkier clothing. Plus I wanted to be able to carry more food with me which was always an issue with the more minimal setup.

The Arkel bags are pretty heavy on their own, but comparing them with the closest Ortlieb they seem pretty close (6.6 vs. 5.9  pounds but with nearly 900cc more space on the Arkels). The tube for the tent poles and my sleeping pad I think is one of the truly great innovations. I used the rain covers on these and I rode in a lot of rain and some serious thunderstorms (not to mention riding in some flooded bits of road that was well above the bottom of the panniers) without issue. These pannier use the older Arkel mounting system which while very secure is rather a pain to remove. So I never much liked taking them off. Many of my fellow tourons would take off their panniers on entering camp but I only reluctantly removed them.  Arkel’s “new” (its been standard for maybe 6 years now) mounting system is much easier from what I understand.

The other bas performed as required – the Berthoud which just had tools, tubes and parts in it, I have no complaints. The front Baggins Bag, which is the best handlebar bag I’ve ever used (especially for my preferred mustache bars) continued to serve me well. It’s one downside is that while the waxed cotton is water resistant, the zipper is not. After the original plastic zipper had broken I’d had it replaced with a metal one, which let even more water in. There was a number of occasions when I would unload the damp items in it to find water sloshing in the bottom. I took to keeping a plastic bag in it to cover things. I should try some beeswax on the zipper to see if that helps, but next tour I’m going to keep a small drybag in it.

Touring Kit - Brand V Grabsack

Rivendell Brand V Grabsack

I’ve found that carrying a bag that one can use off bicycle is of great value. In the past I’ve used a small light musette bag that I can stuff anywhere but for this tour I wanted something a bit more substantial. A Rivendell Brand V Grabsack seemed like just the ticket. I could easily keep my iPad, Camera, journal and book in it, with space for a bit of food or water or random items. I began buying pins first for national parks and than state parks as well on my 2009 tour. By the end of the tour it was pretty loaded down with them (I’ve also added the pins from Mount Rainier and the Redwoods that I acquired on other tours since returning).

Tour 2012 day 66 - Campsitein Afton State Park, MN

Eureka Spitfire at my Campsite in Afton State Park, MN

Camping

Sleeping
I used the same tent (Eureka Spitfire), sleeping Bag (Kelty Light Year CD 25), and pad (Therm-A-Rest Backpacker ¾ Length) that I’ve used since my very first tour. No complaints with any of these, though it seemed that the zipper to the tent was beginning to wear (and my sleeping bag desperately need to be washed which I did when I got home). I did my research when I bought this gear and I have to say it’s served me well. One amusing anecdote related to the tent was when I was staying at Hughes Marina and Campground in upstate NY a lady came by and was quite friendly and talkative. She it turned out worked for Eureka and when she realized my tent was made by them, completely freaked out. She talked about how much they appreciate user testimonials and when I indicated that the tent had served me incredibly well I was certain she was going to interview me then and there for marketing.

Tour 2012 Day 6- Kettle

Trangia cookset and kettle

Cooking
This was my second tour utilizing a Trangia Cookset to which I added a Trangia Kettle for this tour. I really think the Trangia is a fantastic set and while I loved my previous alcohol stove (a Brasslight) it’s integration with the cook set and its windscreen is really top drawer. The kettle was new for this tour and I have to say absolutely worth it. It fit inside the cookset and thus took up no more space. But it was so much more efficient at boiling water that I definitely used a lot less fuel.   I was much more ambitious on this tour with my cooking and I have to say this cookset really rose to the occasion.

I also brought a Titanium Spork, a Victorinox Knife and Backpackers cutting board. The spork as been around since tour one, but the knife and cutting board were new. Previously I just used my Leatherman for a knife and I have to say having a dedicated knife was worth it. The Victorinox is very good for cutting and not bad for spreading so a very good choice. I kept it in s sheath so as not to cut other things or damage the blade.

Touring Kit - An Efficient use of space

Tea infuser, coffee filter, measuring cup and titanium cup

Additionally I carried my usual titanium mug and coffee filter to which I added a measuring cup and tea infuser. These all nicely fit inside of each other, so again an efficient use of space. To facilitate cooking on this tour I had a small backpackers spice rack, and little bottles which I’d fill with olive oil, hot oil and soy sauce at co-ops. This all really helped for a more diverse and better cooking experience than I have done on other tours, which I felt was vital for 3+ months on the road. The extra weight and bulk was well worth it: I ate better and the food tasted better.

Misc
I carried two other bits of camping gear that I haven’t used before: a Katadyn Mini water filter and a collapsible Sea-to-Summit Kitchen Sink.  The water filter was absolutely worth it – there was I think about 6 times I was in campgrounds without a potable water source but which had streams or lakes. It was definitely worth it to not be trying to boil the water (which isn’t entirely effective) or use purification tablets (likewise). The mini Katadyn works well but it is pretty slow and tedious.  But most days I wasn’t pressed for time and could just embrace the activity.  The collapsible kitchen sink was not as necessary. I had thought that perhaps I’d use it to do laundry in (and that certainly is possible) but I never did do that. I did use it a couple of times when filtering water, as it was easy to scoop up a large amount in. But it was just as easy to fill up my collapsable bladder and filter into my water bottles which I did almost every time. I may take it along (it’s pretty small and light) on future tours that are more in the woods and away from places to wash clothes but it is definitely not essential.

Clothing

My thoughts on clothing date back to my earliest tours: I prefer to dress so that if I enter say a coffee shop I don’t look like an alien.  This pretty much discounts the typical cycling jerseys and lycra shorts.  Which is okay as I don’t care much for those clothes anyway. All of this doesn’t mean I don’t buy cycling specific clothes – there is a lot to be said for having shorts without seams in uncomfortable places. But isn’t always necessary. Apart from the aforementioned shorts, much of my riding clothes aren’t cycling specific though they may be made or sold by Rivendell.

 

Tour 2012 day 24 - Yrs Trly at the summit of Wauconda Pass

Typical clothing for the ride up Wauconda Pass
(Wool cap, MUSA Seersucker & shorts, Smartwool socks, Summer Gloves)

Daily Wear
I kept to my typical clothing that I’ve settled into on this tours: MUSA Shorts and seersucker shirts for riding, convertible pants and flannel shirts when not and of course a Cycling Cap. I also had a tweed cardigan, wool undershirt, wool tights, hats and wool Leg Warmers that I used in the initial cold stages of the tour (as low as the upper 20s (F) the night I spent near Wauconda Pass). I had a very light weight pair of cotton shorts and a long sleeve cotton shirt that I’d use to sleep in/do laundry in.  The two MUSA seersucker shirts disintegrated on the tour (I’d had them for years though) and I replaced them with a cowboy shirt I bought at an outfitters in Minneapolis and a Land’s End seersuck my parents got for me and brought me in Fort Wayne. I also had several pairs of wool socks. I started off with three pairs of gloves: long fingered wool gloves, fingerless wool gloves and a pair of  Summer Gloves. The second of these pair of gloves came along by accident, but they proved useful. I pretty much wore these two gloves until it became hot and then it was just the summer gloves. Those gloves had completely deteriorated by Fort Wayne where I got a new pair as part of the package I bought from Rivendell that my parents delivered.

Tour 2012 day 35 - In which I take a Red Bus Tour

Off bicycle clothes plus my rain jacket
(Wool cap, Showers Pass Touring Jacket, Convertible Pants, Smartwool socks, Ecco Sandals)

Foul Weather Gear
I had completely new rain gear for this tour: Showers Pass Touring Jacket and J&G Rain Paint. My old REI rain jacket had lost all pretense at waterproofness at this point as had my Rainlegs. I had meant to get another pair of Rainlegs but never did.I have to say that Rainlegs are the best for riding in drizzle and any point where you wouldn’t bother to put on rain pants but would like something. I will probably get them for the next tour. The Shower’s Pass jacket lived up to its reputation but was (also as per its reputation) way too big. I’d bought the large figuring that even with the rumored size discreptancy I’d want that for all the layers underneath but it still turned out to be huge with especially long arms. And yet the neck was pretty much right on. So I don’t know if I should try to swap it for a medium sometime. With velcro at the wrists I tend to just put it on and not worry much about it. The J&G rain pants also worked fine but I’m not much of a fan of wearing rainpants. I put them on in all day rain and on the cold descents from mountain passes. Otherwise I’d tend to just weather it – would rather have rain legs for these moments.

I also used two odd Rivendell products that I’ve come to be a huge fan of: the MUSA Splats and Windshield. The Spats are “rain hats for your feet” and I’d long since been converted to their use. I’d found that I could year my preferred sandals and wool socks all winter long if I added these on cold days. They block the wind and with fenders your feet will stay dry in the rain. Impressed by these I bought the windshield but found that it didn’t stay on me nice and tight (it has a plastic barrel adjustor). So I ignored it for a while. But when I moved into the U-District in Seattle I was riding a lot more and found that I with the hills in the city that my cardigan was ideal clothing. But its buttons let in the air on descents and I thought I’d try the windshield again. Foregoing the adjustable straps I just tied them and it work fine and I became completely converted. With Rainlegs, Splats and the Windshield you can ride in typical Seattle drizzle without overheating and without getting more than damp.

Tour Tech: iPad in Case, New TrentTour Tech: iPad in Griffin Survior Case being charged by New Trent

Tech Stuff

I took a third generation Apple iPad which I had gotten only a couple of months before the tour. I kept it safe in an Griffin Survivor Case. The iPad made it all the way across country through storms, drought, snow and damp without a scratch. The case wasn’t without it’s downsides though. First and foremost for my needs was that the slot for the power connector on the bottom of the case wasn’t wide enough to accommodate the Camera Connection Kit which I used to transfer photos from my camera. I had originally intended to take all my pics with my P&S camera, transfer them to the iPad and upload from there. But since I had to take the iPad out of the case to transfer the photos I’d only do this when I was in doors – so every few weeks.  So I began taking pics with the iPad which its small lens and lack of zoom aside is pretty good. Plus on the huge screen you can really see how the pics will look. This revealed another shortcoming to the Griffin Survivor: it has rubber flaps to cover things like the ports and the camera lens. These would never stay affixed in the open position and would flap close at the most inopportune time. After months of constant use these flaps began to deteriorate. It also had a little plastic “kickstand” which allowed me to prop it up without holding it. This too didn’t last, the henge holding the leg in place breaking after a couple of months on the road. But in it’s primary purpose – keeping the iPad dry and protected it performed flawlessly.

The iPad, which has 64GBs of storage was really a useful item to have along. Being able to transfer the photos to it was a huge bonus – I didn’t have to carry a lot of SD cards or risk them getting lost or damaged. I also had bought the iPhoto app which let me edit photos and upload them easily to Flickr (my preferred photo sharing site). With it’s screen resolution of 2048-by-1536 you could really see what your photos were going to look like on the web. It was also much, much easier to blog with then my old iPhone. The on screen keyboard isn’t ideal but at that size it really isn’t that bad. I used this as my only computing device for the three+ months and had no issues. It is a bit large and that big bright screen sucks down the battery life (see the previous post for more on that). The new iPad Mini might be just the device for touring in that it should have most of these advantages but be smaller, lighter and (perhaps) less power hungary. I used Verizon for my wireless connectivity and I have to say I’d often have internet access when my phone (which was using AT&T) would have no signal.

I took pictures with the iPad for ease of my daily blog posts (plus I was only transferring photos when I was indoors due to having to take the iPad out of the case to do so) Canon PowerShot A580 with two 2GB memory cards. I’d gotten this used as is my wont – I find my on bicycle point & shoot cameras have about a two year lifespan. No complaint with this camera – the photos are nice and sharp, it has reasonable optical zoom and it is powered by AA batteries so I could easily charge and replace them.

In Libby Montana I bought a windup radio: an Etón American Red Cross ARCFR160R Microlink Self-Powered AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio with Flashlight, Solar Power and Cell Phone Charger to be precise. I really liked having this, so I could listen to NPR (when I could) and get weather reports. It also worked as flashlight (which I never needed but it did work) and it claimed you could charge your cell phone with it (at something like 3 minutes of talk time for 45 minutes of cranking). This really worked well until my last few days in Bar Harbor when the crank broke off at the base. It had a plastic connector to the base which is clearly a planned obsolescence move – if it was metal I’d be using it today. I’ll definitely take another one of these with me, though I’d like to find a tougher one. I probably could just get a small battery operated one and keep it charged with my charging system, but I like the independence of the hand crank.

Any other tech I had beyond lights and such is well covered in the charging systems article.

Conclusions

That was my basic experience with my gear and I have to say that in the main I didn’t really have any issues. As I said at the outset I was primarily using gear that I was familiar with and had used for tour after tour. Researching the new gear especially in the contexts of others tours meant that I had little problems with the new gear.  I didn’t mail home much of anything due to lack of use – just sent back warm clothes after it warmed up and books I’d finished reading. I’ve pretty much almost never had gear issues on tour; my initial research paid off well for me in the long run. There was of course plenty of other things I’m not noting here so for completeness sake I’ll include the packing list that I developed prior to the tour. It’s not complete either but it’s pretty close. I also put a few notes inside square brackets like so: [note].

Also worth noting is I’ve added a Tour Gear set on Flickr for which I’ll continue to add relevant pictures as I find/take them.

[note: I moved the packing list to it’s own post]

 

Autumn Bicycle Camping Day 3

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Autumn Bicycle Camping Day 3 - a line in the sand

We meet only to part
coming and going like white clouds,
leaving traces so faint
hardly a soul notices.
 
-Ryōkan

 
October 11th: Ocean
While it never did clear up as expected the cloudy weather made for a much warmer and comfortable nights sleep. The night prior I slept in a stocking cap and socks, on this night none of that was necessary.  After arising I did my usual morning routine of coffee, oatmeal and reading the news on my iPad. After cleaning up the dishes as well as completing my own ablutions I was ready for the days activities. I spent this day in contemplation, both in camp and at the ocean. I rode to the nearby gas station for some lunch supplies, but this was less then 1/2  a mile away. Otherwise I was at the ocean or my campsite the rest of the day. Thus there is not much of a narrative for the day so I’m going to focus on photographs and a few words to try to capture the feeling of this day.

 

Autumn Bicycle Camping Day 3 - solo gull
 

the seagull stands still
as water swirls about its feet

 
Autumn Bicycle Camping Day 3 - still life
 

gazing at the sea
grey upon grey –
shells, rocks, seaweed

 
Autumn Bicycle Camping Day 3 - flight
 

flying above the waves –
three black birds

 
Autumn Bicycle Camping Day 3 - shell
 

all alone at the ocean
on this grey autumn day

 
Autumn Bicycle Camping Day 3 - feet
 

footprints in the sand –
boots, paws, birds
and small bare feet

 
Autumn Bicycle Camping Day 3 - grey upon gray
 

sitting
on the beach
forgetting myself

 

More pictures from this trip can be found in my Autumn Bicycle Camping photoset on Flickr

Tour 2011 Reflections – Put your travel behind

Monday, September 12th, 2011

At various points in a day of riding songs run through ones mind.  I mostly listen to instrumental music these days so the songs that come unbidden into my mind are often from my teen or college years.  A number of songs ran through my mind on this tour – the Talking Heads Heaven was one that frequently played. But numerous songs from R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction became the real soundtrack to this tour, with Good Advices perhaps being the song that would play over the closing credits.

When you greet a stranger look at his shoes
Keep your money in your shoes put your trouble behind
When you greet a stranger look at her hands
Keep your money in your hands put your travel behind
Who are you going to call for, what do you have to say
Keep your hat on your head home is a long way away
At the end of the day, I’ll forget your name
I’d like it here if I could leave and see you from a long way away

What really appeals to me about cyclotouring is that for certain periods time I become completely in the moment.  Keeping an eye on the road ahead, the road behind, the surface of the road, one’s own self while at the same time allowing the scenery all around you to flow through you in such a way that you experience it but don’t dwell on the continuous beauty.  This is the absolute best part of touring for me. Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy most of the other aspects: the small towns,  a cold beer after a long days ride, talking to strangers about bicycle touring, reading in the tent, mountains, streams, wildlife and all the countless other things you see. But those moments when you aren’t thinking but are perfectly aware of all around you and fully experiencing all aspects of ones surroundings are just without compare.

 

And yet on this tour, I found that state hard to achieve.  Perhaps all those issues I went over in the previous post are to blame, but it was harder than normal to be in the moment. There were plenty of times where I did slip into that state, but I felt distracted, thinking too much about what was to come.  I felt a certain impatience with aspects of the routine as well – dealing with things like food and camping and all of that was somewhat of a trial at times. This was primarily around the issues of being in camp, which in Eastern WA I was reaching early as I was riding as much as I could in the cooler morning.  Frankly at most of these campsites there just wasn’t much there.  Fishing seemed to be the primary activity going on and the campgrounds were just a place you’d sleep and cook. Being around rivers and streams was of course excellent and I enjoyed exploring them but usually that was all there was.

When you greet a stranger, look at her shoes
Keep your memories in your shoes, put your travel behind
Who are you going to call for, what do you have to say
Keep your hat on your head
Home is a long way away
At the end of the day, when there are no friends
When there are no lovers, who are you going to call for
What do you have to change

 

That being said I shouldn’t oversell these points. The route was really stunning and found me riding in places and situations I hadn’t experienced much of.  Four mountains passes (five if you count crossing Rainier which was as much climbing as all but the highest of the passes), the transition from the Puget Sound to Mountains to the high scrubland of Eastern Washington. Countless lakes, rivers, streams, creeks and waterfalls, forests, desert and all in-between.  I saw a bear, I got as close to deer as I’ve ever been, I saw elk crossing the road in the fog and an owl ghosting through the trees. I took many hikes – one of my tricks is to walk on getting to camp; it seems to prevent cramping and other leg pain that I find happens if you come to camp and just sit around. Plus I love to hike anyway and usually at campgrounds hiking around is the thing to do. The days I spent at the Mount Rainier National Forest was an excellent conclusion to a highly varied tour.

So like everything else in life the tour had it’s highs and lows. I’ve mentioned the route at several points and it really was stunning.  But I feel that I need to say a bit more about Old Blewit Pass. This was hands down my favorite bit of riding on the tour and a section that I think Adventure Cycling should make the official route.  When you get your route maps from ACA they also send you a list of errata with current updates, changes and the like. On the Blewett Pass section there was a number of addenda most of which were designed to get you off the highway. The Old Blewett Pass was described as an option to get off the highway but was poor surface and winding.  But man it was great – zero traffic, roads that the flora and fauna was encroaching upon, more shaded against the hot sun and of course endlessly scenic.

A couple of words on the Adventure Cycling Maps. I have to say that while I’ve been a member of the ACA for 8 years this was the first time I’ve used their maps.  I tend to like to use books, especially out of date books like I mentioned in the previous post, or make my own routes from Google Maps and randonneuring routes. I’ve always felt that with the ACA routes you are sort of riding someone else’s tour.  But having actually got their maps I have to say they are pretty great.  The maps are divided into sections that are usually 30 to 40 miles each and simply list all the services on or near the route.  So you can ride as much or as little as you want each day, picking where you want to stay. They try to stay off the main roads and will always route you onto side roads even if they are hillier or less direct (which they invariably are).

All this being said, I still think making ones own routes, if one can, is the way to go.  With only a couple of exceptions the only time I really saw other tourons was when I was on their more major routes.  I overlapped with the Northern Tier for a couple of days and it was there I saw the most other tourons, including the only pair that I’d classify among the tour rats I saw in California on my 2009 tour. On two instances in this tour I shared campsites with other tourons, on the first day and in the Mount Rainier National Park.  Both of these experiences were good and I enjoyed talking with my fellow tourons.  But in the main I avoid other cyclotourists like the plague. Not unfriendly like but I just feel like one always falls into the same routines if you spend your time with other tourons. For the same reason I always avoid expat bars or backpacker destinations when I travel internationally – expats and backpackers all talk about the same thing, travel, and always seem removed from their immediate environs. Again I enjoyed my time I spent with the other tourons, Tim especially had some amazing stories to tell.  But of course touring is all we really talked about.

 

There really was no major issues beyond that initial brake failure, not even a flat tire (second tour in a row with no flats) – cheers to my Marathon Plus tires. I really do have a touring setup that works well for me and I have to say that the one new addition, the Trangia cook set was fantastic. It was far more efficient than my previous cooking setup (which had served me super well and is a lighter and smaller way to go) and thus my use of fuel was a lot better. In previous tours I would often have periods without fuel where on this one I kept myself stocked better and used less overall. I also did a bit more ambitious cooking, though not quite as ambitious as I’d initially thought I’d do. The one downside to my touring setup is that I don’t have much space for food.  So its hard to grab food for the night, especially when the nearest store was many miles before the campsite.  I’ve been working out a system where I’d have basically a foldable bit of netting on my rack below my rear saddlebag, where you could stick groceries that you’d use that night. That would solve pretty much the one constraint of my current current setup.  Spending more time in camp cooking would I think also be a good evening activity as well.

 

All tours are a learning experience and this one was no exception.  There are several things I’d do differently from this one I think.  First of all this is going to be the last tour that I blog as I go.  I felt I was a total slave to my iPhone, constantly trying to keep it charged, spending time sitting around while it did so, always trying to find WiFi and better signals.  I keep a pen and paper journal as I go as well though my journaling is always a mix of the blog, the physical journal and notes on the iPhone, but for my next tour its going to be the paper journal only.  In fact I think having the internet readily available on the phone is also somewhat of a downside, not allowing one to fully sink into where one is.  In a way that has been useful – it has kept me from feeling totally isolated, but I think now that it isn’t worth it. I was out of service areas quite a bit on this tour (AT&T seems to suck outside of cities) and I usually found that completely fine.  I’ll probably take a cheap cell phone with me for emergencies but I’m of the mind that the technology is too distancing. Plus journalling on the iPhone kills ones fingers and other solutions just seem to be upping the technologies with all the worries that causes.  Tim, the Portland touron who camped with me in Rainier told me that he has come to even forgo bringing a camera (which I also recently heard the great travel writer Paul Theroux say he has also done) which perhaps I’m not quite ready for, but I can understand the reasoning. Perhaps taking a film camera and limited amounts of film is an option worth considering.

As I said in the beginning of the last post, this tour is still something I’m chewing over.  I sort of think that taking it during this time of transition was perhaps not the best idea.  I was already thinking a lot about my new life in the city and sort of wanted to get on with it. It certainly was a good use of the time I had but mentally perhaps not the best. I mean I wasn’t cut completely free which I think would be the ideal touring circumstance and yet I also didn’t have a home to return to which frees a lot from ones mind.  Too much to think about outside of my current activities. This is sort of hard to explain so I hope this makes some sort of sense. But really this discontent was almost always just for a small period of each day, usually in camp.  Most of the day, whenever I was riding or exploring the areas I was riding through it was a wonderful rewarding experience.  So I’m glad I did it and will certainly be back touring again.

A familiar face a foreign place I forget your name
I’d like it here if I could leave and see you from a long way away
Who are you going to call for, what do you have to say
Keep your hat on your head
Home is a long way away

Tour 2011 Reflections – Just how unexpected?

Sunday, 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.

Tour 2009: Reflections

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Since returning from the tour I’ve spent a decent amount of time thinking about it, especially when I’ve been out riding.  This tour was the longest one I’ve done to date in both time and miles and in many ways I considered it a sort of benchmark for future touring related activities.  When I did my first tour up in the San Juan and Gulf Islands around day 11 I recall becoming pretty despondent with the solo touring experience.  I enjoyed my days but when I’d get to camp at night I’d wish I wasn’t on my own.  On that tour, done in the spring, I’d rarely encounter anyone at the campsites and it was a quite solitary experience.  At the time I felt that if I’d done it for perhaps another week I’d break through that sense of loneliness.  This tour would test that, but also my endurance over that length of time.

It turned out that the further south I went the more people I encountered also doing some or all of the Pacific Coast tour. You’d get in sync with people and see them every evening at the campsites.  Some campsites had 12 or more other touring cyclists in them and the hiker/biker areas would be pretty crowded.  As with any group of people, some you were happy to see each evening, others not so much.  So I never did get that sense of loneliness I did in the Gulf Islands, but I also wasn’t really getting the solitude that I did crave.  I’d say since the Island Tour in 2004 that I actually have come to crave that solitude more and that by changing my touring style so that I was spending more time in cafes, pubs and restaurants had probably solved desires for company.  What did happen on this tour was that I became rather impatient with certain types of bicycle tourists.  Running into other tourons on my previous tours had been such a rarity, such a novelty that I tended to welcome it. On this tour, especially going from the hiker/biker sites it was a constant and some of these people certainly didn’t tour for the same reasons I do. I won’t speculate on their motivations but I’ve made a stab at why I tour, one that I’ve quoted a number of times:

People engage in Cycle tourism for a variety of reasons, from an excuse to ride all day every day, to sightseeing, to meeting new people, to a love of travel at a reasonable pace. For me, while all those reasons are a component, the primary interest is contemplation. Keeping to a reasonable pace it is easy to allow ones thoughts the freedom to roam further then even a bicycle can take you. With so much time all aspects of your life can be examined and meditated upon. There is a kind of alienation to the solo trip, but a unique kind of insight as well. Traveling through communities one is the perennial stranger, but at bicycle speed you see things that even the most hardened local will not be aware of. It is easy to feel more and more separated from the rest of humanity as your pace and goals become so different. People in general surround themselves with distractions; be they work, family or entertainment. As you cycle every day your distractions become very narrow: the world around you, your routines of camp, the few books you have with you. Car culture and its inherent impatience seem more and more insane and the destruction of the nature that you spend so much time in more and more horrific. One’s priorities shift and it can be difficult to remember that you yourself are on vacation from the traditional lifestyle and will be returning to it in some capacity. The true value of the tour will be in how these lessons and observations change the life you return to.
(originally written here)

The riding each day kept this quality and I was always enjoying it – the scenery was fantastic pretty much everywhere, the riding satisfying and rarely a slog, there was lots of neat things to see from historical places to quaint little towns. But I began to somewhat not look forward to arriving in camp. I can pinpoint exactly when this feeling began, it was right after the Avenue of the Giants in Northern California.  This was the first campsite was was rather limited in space and quite packed with tourons.  From here on out this would be the standard experience, even when riding further to other campsites that weren’t the specified destination in the guidebook.  I like to have space and to be able to get away a little bit at camp and I think that it was simply the crowded conditions that made me not really look forward to the camping part of the day. I began to try to get to camp fairly early to try to stake out a good spot which meant I wasn’t always lingering as much as I should. I don’t want to belabor this, as for the most part as soon as I’d leave camp I was right back in my normal mode, but this was an aspect that I can’t deny.  The very last campsite, Bodega Dunes, it somewhat came to a head as there were many tourons there, many in the “tour rat” vein that I mentioned before and I pretty much decided to not camp the next day and pushed through to SF. I appreciated the extra day in the city so this was fine for the most part, but I was really sick of camping at that point.

So what does that bode for future, possibly longer trips?  Well I’m not entirely sure.  I’ve always intended to do a cross country tour at some point which would be three to four times as long (75-100 days seems about typical) so could I do it? I think I learned a lot from this trip about what I’d have to do different in order to do such a trip. I took a rest day every week, in general riding 6 days and taking one off. In a cross country trip I think one would want to preserve that, but I think stay in a hotel on that rest day.  Also the taking an occasional two day “weekend” rest would probably be smart.  This would break up the camping a bit more, get one out of the “pack” you are with and allow for a different kind of rest.  I’m also not entirely sure if there had been a lot less people if I’d have burnt out on the camping experience.  On a cross country trek I kind of suspect you’d see a lot less people. Especially since there really is only one route down the Pacific Coast but many ways across the US and people tend to go both ways ( on the PCT North to South is the preferred direction I met maybe a half dozen people total doing South to North).  Running into people less frequently would I think make meeting them a pleasure, at least that’s how I experienced it before.  Let me again stress here that most of my fellow tourons were great people and there was a number of them that I was happy to see each night. It was more the crowding I think, if I hadn’t done the hiker/biker sites it probably also wouldn’t be an issue. Of course most campsites were full by the time I arrived so it was really the only option.  This of course is another option I  think:  wild camping on some nights, staying in normal campsites on others. WA/OR/CA are pretty much the only places with the H/B sites so this point might be moot anyway.

The other thing was that I have a lot of interests: music, art, reading, film, etc., and most of these were rather neglected on tour.  Having the iPhone helped a lot, I kept up with certain other interests as I went along and never felt completely disconnected from the communities I was part of (I should stress that I was as connected as I wanted to be, which was at a pretty low level. I don’t need to escape from everything on these trips, but I want to escape a lot). I also would check out art galleries as I’d go and I caught a few movies too. I did get a lot of reading done, that certainly is not an interest one has to forgo on a bicycle tour. Music of course is a major passion of mine and that definitely was neglected the most. I had a lot of albums on my iPhone, though I infrequently dipped into them, it is more seeing live music and playing music that fall by the wayside.  I think on a longer tour I’d bring some sort of instrument with me, though that could certainly be unneighborly.  Seeing live music, especially the more abstract things that I like is just not going to be a common occurrence on these sorts of trips.  In the main I think this is survivable though, I’ve been known to go months between shows in dry seasons at home.  Ultimately I think its being part of an active community that I began to miss: the art openings, the concerts, meeting up with people at events, etc.  The traveler is never truly a part of anything, always a stranger, always just an observer, never a committed participant. Even those who throw themselves into the places they are in, they are never really a part of it. For after the festival, or fair, or even just day at the park/beach/what have you, everyone else stays and lives the day to day while you just move on. Everything is a mystery to the traveler, which is part of the appeal of course, but there is also a pleasure of knowing what things are and being a part of them.

If you read through all my blog entries on this tour I tended to focus on the riding, the incredible sights and the good camaraderie that I did have.  In the main this was my experience and I post the above to outline some of the other things I felt, experienced and thought about.  I think about this as touring is an activity I love but it is not without its trials: nothing is constantly a good time, in fact if it isn’t somewhat mixed as an experience I’d wager it pretty much isn’t a good time.  As should be obvious I think about this in context of further touring, which clearly I intend to keep up.  I also focused on the mental issues in this post, as all things considered I had very little issues with gear, the route, the bicycle and such.  Every tour though I try new things and see how established things work in different circumstances, so I’ll cover that aspect in a future post.

RSVP and Back Again – final thoughts

Sunday, September 14th, 2008
My Atlantis in Victoria
My Atlantis in Victoria

I had a great time on this trip both on the group ride and even more so on my solo return home.  I said in the past that the reason I do Chilly Hilly every year is to remind myself why I don’t do large group rides.  I missed Chilly Hilly this year but RSVP filled that role.  I’d wanted to do RSVP for a while as I’d wanted to experience the group ride but without the total insanity of STP.  I’m a self-supported cyclotourist at heart and the vast amount of hand holding and the rigidity of these rides just doesn’t appeal.  As I mentioned at the beginning of these reports, it is just a totally different type of rider that can drive to a ride, do the ride as if they were a racer with noting on their bicycle but a single water bottle and then get shuttled back home. Again I think its this whole racer/cycling as a sport mentality.  Which though I may seem to sneer at it, really is fine,  I’m glad people are out riding.  For me though, its about independence, fending for oneself, seeing new sights, finding new routes and most importantly being able to slow down and think.. That just doesn’t happen if you are going too fast or riding too far.  Ones focus is totally different. So I tried to treat RSVP like a tour, not worrying about rushing through, seeing the sights and so on. But I still was in the saddle nearly all the time and I wouldn’t do those spur of the moment sight seeing or talking with locals and so on that occur on tour.  My pace is always much faster then normal on group rides and this was no exception.  Day 1 was the fastest century I’ve ever done, if still slow by roadie standards.  I think in general I prefer the one day rides, if I’m going to dedicate more then a day for a club ride I’d rather tour or do an S24O where I can get some thinking done. One thing I should say is that Cascade does a great job running these rides and much thanks to all the staff and volunteers that work so hard for these events.

Once I hit the solo portion of this trip it was just like I was one a tour.  I can’t really describe how different I felt, but all the things I mention above immediately kicked in. I took my time, I’d stop for whatever, I didn’t worry too much about pace. I did have a bit of schedule to make so that kept me motivated but in general I was riding at the pace of a one who is able to contemplate his surroundings. What this really brought home to me was that I wish I’d done a full on tour this year. Yes my other vacations (including Japan which starts tomorrow!) are all fantastic experiences, but I love touring more then about anything and I’ll miss getting more then this taste this year.

A final word on equipment for this trip. I was basically on a credit card tour so I was going pretty minimal with just my Paladin Saddlebag. That worked great for this purpose and it held four days worth of clothes, supplies, toiletries and so one perfectly.  Could easily do a week long credit card tour with just his bag I think.. My Atlantis kicked ass as always even though I had a bit of troubles on the first day. I should have replaced my chain before I set out, I’d actually thought about it but chose not to. A mistake. Otherwise it performed great, I really can’t get over how comfortable I am on this bicycle.  The only new kit I had was the Jack Brown tires which I can say I love. They handle so great and are just a tad rougher then my 37mm Panaracer Pasalas I’m used to. So far they are holding up so I hope I can use these as my primary non touring tires from now on.

So that’s it, another nice trip with only its shortness as my one regret. I’m off to Japan tomorrow and when I come back it’ll be into autumn here. The first half of October is often very nice so hopefully a bit more rec riding is in my future. And then it’ll just be winter commuting and the rare ride in the cold.  Next year though I’m definitely going to do a real tour, hopefully the longest one yet.

Thinking of touring

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Touring is my favorite cycling activity but in all honesty one I rarely get to do.  It requires a pretty serious block of time and in this era of “increased productivity” time is in short supply.  Time must also be divided between one’s interests and while cycling and touring are a great love it is not my only love. Touring in many ways is a mindset and I work to cultivate that mindset in my non-touring rides.  Day trips can feel like a day of touring where you get to stay in your home at the end. Or adding a series of day rides into another trip can be a great experience that significantly widens ones perspective on an area. This can be like touring and always returning to the same place. S24O-ers can give you that feel of exploration, self-sufficiency and pared down living.  These are all valuable, rewarding experiences that can capture some of the magic of touring and fit into 21st century life in America. But it is for this very reason that nothing quite compares to actual multi-day touring.

It takes a few days on the road to get into the swing of things. You need to get used to the difference in your bicycles handling, the effort require to start from a dead stop, to get used to riding many hours day after day and to let your mind slow down to the pace of the tour.  Once you are there then the real magic of touring opens up. It isn’t the bicycle, or sight seeing, or even the people that is the real magic; it is the change in pace, the slowing down of ones actions, a sort of detached focus.  Touring is a routine combined with novelty; every day you get up, make breakfast, break down camp, load the bicycle, ride, eat lunch, ride, find a campsite, setup camp, cook dinner, explore the campsite, journal, read, sleep.  A routine that once you fall into feels natural and mindless, you can just do the same things day in and day out. But every day you ride through new territory, the terrain slowly changing as you pedal through the miles. The campsites are all different, the sights to see change, the weather is a constant puzzle. The routine is just a familiar activity that propels you through the constant change.

For me it is all about this changing of perception and attitude of letting go of things.  I slow down a lot on tour. I don’t worry about how much time an individual activity takes, I don’t try to optimize things, I let things take the time that they need. For instance if I stop to take a picture, or refill my water bottles or whatever I don’t push it to get to that activity. I don’t mind spending the time to lock up my bicycle, to remove my gloves and helmet maybe even put on or take off other clothing. There is no rush, you are moving through the day and that is your only obligation.

The pace of the bicycle, especially loaded for touring, opens up the land you are cycling through, but it’s still only in a narrow strip along your route.  Stopping often, taking interesting looking side roads, wandering around the little towns you ride through opens it up a lot more.  The impulse to explore is strong in me and I never can pass up a bicycle path, an interesting looking trail, a scenic road or a novel route. On tour these are constant and if you take the time to explore you widen the ribbon of your route and the opportunities to learn the region and for adventure expand dramatically. Of course there are always limits, the amount of time one has for the tour being the most constricting one. Working within limits can be very revealing and rewarding in its own right. Loose daily goals that can be changed, updated or altered as the situation develops allows for the flexibility demanded for these experiences but also keeps you within your limits. You can’t see it all and knowing when to let go is just as important as taking a chance, exploring and knowing when to change your plans.

Sometimes I think there is an overemphasis in the touring world to focus on epic undertakings.  Perspective is important and with the right perspective anywhere you tour is open to endlessly rewarding experiences.  Obviously there is nothing wrong with touring around the world, across the Tibetan plateau or to the north pole – whatever constitutes an adventure to you.  But with a touring mindset a tour around the county you live in can bring you just as much. There can be a tendency to equate “adventure” with pushing yourself to the limit, or with an epic undertaking. Even more limiting is the notion that anything less isn’t “really touring”.  These sorts of calculations push touring further away – how often can one do epic journeys? how far do you have to push yourself to top each adventure? At what point do you lose sight of what touring is really about in pursuit of some ephemeral notion of adventure?

There is pretty much unlimited information available to all with a computer and an internet connection these days.  This presents a double edged sword for the tourer. Yes is is very easy to plan a trip, to find the best routes, attractions, places to stay, things not to miss. At the same time you run the risk of over planing, of leaving less up to chance, of eliminating too many variables. And then there’s the sense that it’s all been done before, that you are just doing a typical tour that everyone has done. Or that it’s insignificant that your little tour around your state is nothing next to some guys tour across central Asia.  You can become bogged down in the minutia of equipment, gear ratios, frame material, waterproofing and so on. In the end you have to get out there, make your own trip and learn. Learning is always an adventure and experience the only real way to learn on a topic like touring.

In between tours you can document your past experiences, read about others experiences, plan the next tour.  These are all fun, rewarding activities and something I’ve spent plenty of time on.  Over the years, as I’ve toured some and read a lot more, I’ve gradually changed my perspective toward between tour activities. I’ve reached a point where I’m set with the basic gear and have the experience of what to expect on the road that I don’t need to spend much time when I’m not touring  thinking about those aspects of it. If the opportunity presents itself I can just up and go with a pretty short amount of preparation. Physically I may not be fully ready, but there’s nothing quite like touring to get you into shape. I think about how to use my time off, what works in those time frames and the logistics involved.  But I’ve let goof a lot of the obsessing over details, I’ve got gear that works, I’ll try out new things if they seem useful but I don’t spend much time seeking them out. What I’m really interested in cultivating now is what I began this piece with: that sense of touring in everyday riding. And then get out there and do that riding.

Tour 2007 – Denouement

Friday, September 14th, 2007

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.

I also brought a reduced set of electronics on this trip. Last time I had my camera, a cell phone and my Handspring Visor. This time it was my camera and the iPhone. I also brought a solar charging kit that I didn’t get to really fully test. In general the iPhone performed beautifully, the always available internet is such a boon. This really helped in my less planned tour where I could enter a city and do a search for bicycle shops, motels, routes and so on. I figured out my last days route completely using the the phone. Several times I was unable to get much by way of service, but I was way out in the sticks. Its ability to use both WiFi and the AT&T network was really handy. There are plenty, and I mean plenty of spots where there is no WiFi out in places like this. A WiFi only device would have been useless. Now of course some spots I couldn’t get Edge either, but usually I was able to each day. The only other issues I had with it was related to its 1.0 nature. It’s javascript is lacking so I wasn’t able to do much with my blog editor – no access to any of the HTML editing so I couldn’t put in pictures. Copy and Paste would really have helped as I could have written my posts in the notepad then pasted them into the blog and so on. I expect these issues to improve with software updates.

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.

Just one bicycle?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
The Safari on the way to work
My Novara Safari on the way to work this morning.

On the bicycle related mailing lists that I frequent the issue of owning “just one bicycle” comes up now and again. Amongst these enthusiasts it often is a hypothetical – “I currently own 15 bicycles and if I could only have one bicycle it would be x“. Not too much exaggeration in that example, there are plenty of people who collect bicycles. Of course there are also those who ask the question in a pragmatic Thoreau-esque desire to “simplify, simplify, simplify”. The answer usually comes up as something like a Bridgestone X0-1 or similar “all-rounder” type cycles. My perspective on this issue is pretty much in line with the practical folks and in my case is fairly genuine. I’ve bought both of my bicycles that I’ve owned in my adult life with them being all purpose as my primary goal.

Let me digress with a bit of personal history.  Laying aside my pre-adult rides for the time being, I’ve ridden three bicycles in the last 15 years; a Specialized Rockhopper, the Novara Safari and a Rivendell Atlantis. When I went to college my parents and brother moved to Arizona and I was able to get my brothers old Rockhopper off of him. I used it very infrequently for a few years as a bum around campus bicycle. Eventually I moved off campus but had a job in the campus housing department that included a number of hard core commuters. I eventually got into commuting myself and was using that old late 80s Rockhopper for this. Fast forward a few years later I was on the Eastside of Seattle commuting up the Sammamish River Trail to work. I also wanted to get into touring and was looking for a new, better fitting cycle. Being used to a mountain bike at that point, especially the ability to jump onto trails whenever I wanted made me seek out something that would handle both surfaces with equal ease. The Safari, REI‘s “adventure touring” bicycle was the perfect choice for me at this time. The Trekking handlebars gave me a lot more hand positions then the flat bars I’d been using but didn’t have the limitations that annoyed me about drop bars. This bicycle could go anywhere and carry anything and I used it hard and well. From touring, to commuting, road, fire trails even a bit of single track it was a great bicycle for bumming around. It never was a great fit though and while I raised the bars and put on a nice Brooks b.67 I always felt either a bit cramped in the upright position or stretched out to far in the areo position. So I then bought a Rivendell Atlantis and haven’t looked back. It can handle anything the Safari can but fits me like a glove. And I prefer its styling as well 🙂

So just one bicycle? My Atlantis could be the bicycle – it fits perfectly, it can handle any terrain but perhaps the most technical (that is beyond my skills and physical condition anyway. And age :), it can carry anything, can ride in any weather thanks to the fenders and any time thanks to integrated lighting. I truly need no other bicycle. Except when it’s in the shop. Or I find a flat tire as I’m swinging my leg over it while already later for my commute to work. In these cases it’s nice to have a backup bicycle. So my old Safari is my backup bicycle and yes it is another “all-rounder” and yes I only ride it in exceptional circumstance. Right now I’ve been having drive train issues with my Atlantis and found a few teeth on my middle chain ring seem to be worn down or broken even. No idea how that happened, but it’s rendered it pretty hard to ride. Its due for a major tuine-up and some repair, beyond what I care to do myself. So I pulled out the Safari for the first time in over a year to find the chain rusted and two flat tires. A new chain, some air and other adjustments here and there and I’m back on my old friend. Doesn’t feel near as good as the Atlantis, but its still a fun ride. And it can go anywhere.

So I think that for the practical minded two bicycles is the necessary amount. If one kept enough parts, tools and had the time and inclination to do repairs I think I could live with just the Atlantis. But it’s nice to be able to just grab the spare and go. With this in mind I am going to keep the Safari in better working order this time around. It also seems like it wouldn’t be bad to specialize the bicycles a bit. Perhaps an extra-cycle on the Safari and it could be used for moving larger items. I have wanted to set it up as a true off-road tourer and still may do that. Or I could see getting something like a Rivendell Bleriot setup as a Brevet bicycle and turn the Atlantis into the utility bike. It would be nice for the backup bicycle to ride as well as the primary.