I'm Back!

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Touring by bicycle is awesome.  I'm sold. I need to do more.  

Bear with me, I'll get to the stories here shortly. I've got all weekend since I bailed on heading to the Ojibwe Forest Rally.

In the meantime, here's a bit of a gear review. This is mostly for my benefit, but I know I would have read through something like this when I was prepping for the trip.  

The Bike
My Kona Jake is one hell of a bike. This trip was just further proof of what a great "do it all" bike this is.  A couple key features really proved their worth these past few weeks. For starters, aluminum frames are the way to go for touring. Me and all my gear are probably pushing 300lbs at least, so a nice stout frame is a necessity.  One shortfall of the Jake is there's no room for a traditional kickstand, so I'm constantly leaning the bike against stuff and laying it down in the dirt.  No worries about paint damage and rust like on a steel bike though, battle scars just give this bike more character. 

The 32 spoke wheels are heavy mothers, but they held up for the whole trip. About part way through I noticed all the drive side spoke holes on the rear rim were cracked, but it held fine for 400 miles and didn't seem to get any worse.  I'll gladly take warnings like this over a sudden catastrophic failure any day of the week.  Still, a proper 36 spoke touring wheel is probably in the cards sometime soon.  

I know it's horribly, horribly uncool, but low end shimano 8 speed drivetrain components are all I need for touring.   Never missed a beat the whole trip, and although it has a voracious appetite for chain lube, it never needed any adjustment.   I'm running a standard road triple and probably a 12-27 cassette in the rear- it got the job done no problem, but I think a MTB style cassette would be a good upgrade, especially if I ever ride in real mountains.

In touring mode, I'm running 35c Panaracer Passellas. Awesome, awesome tires.  I'm upgrading to the fancy folding bead "Tour Guard" model on the next go round.    

On the rear, I'm using an axiom rack with my old malamute's dog pack as panniers. This worked surprisingly well. As long as I stick with panniers, I see no reason to change this setup. 

On the front, I'm using some axiom low rider racks and axiom "Seymour Transit" bags.  This worked well, but slightly less so than the back. The stout steel tubing on the Jake's front fork made it easier to mount the racks backwards and at a little bit of an angle. It seemed to work, so I ran with it. On this trip though, I found out just how much of a beating front panniers can take. The slightly awkward mounting position subjected the rear of the bag to even more abuse. 

Given that I've got a couple of different bikes I want to use for touring, I'm giving the trailer idea some more thought. I've seen trailers that are nothing more than a third wheel that follows behind the bike with bags strapped to it.  It looks appealing for a number of reasons in that I can hook it to different bikes and if it has 132.5 axle spacing, I could put a spare rear wheel in there for my inevitable wheel issues.

My Eureka Timberline 2 is one heck of a fucking  trooper.  That tent has been through a hell of a lot in the 10 years or so I've owned it.  But when I take a look at places to cut my touring load, it's tops on my list. It's the heaviest and bulkiest thing I carry.   I had been sort of checking out lightweight one man tents prior to this trip, but a friend recently turned me on to hammocks- apparently they've come a long way from the thing you set up in the backyard and try to avoid falling out of after too many beers.  They now come with integrated bug nets, rain flys, down cocoons, and are probably still really hard to stay in after too many beers. 

Another reason to check out this hammock thing is that, well- I must be getting old or something.  The old 1/4" foam sleeping pad just doesn't do the trick anymore.  At the very least, I'm going to need to get one of those fancy thermarests or something. 

And I can't help but get a plug in for my trusty synthetic north face sleeping bag. It's probably 20 years old now- old enough that it was actually made in the USA.  Still truckin' along. And it actually got cold enough a couple of nights to need it. 

I like coffee in the morning.  This sets in motion a cascade of events that ends up in a whole lot of baggage I'm not really sure I need to carry. 

Nonetheless, let me point out that my new MSR pocket rocket makes my list of damn cool gear.  A long time ago, when I first got into backpacking with my dad, he brought home this butane stove for us to use. How. Un. Cool.  Some expedition model that could burn 47 fuels, including yak fur was the way to go as far as I was concerned.  Well, after messing with several models of stoves that could do that sort of thing, give me a goddam butane stove. I just want some coffee, dammit- no stove lighting drama.  

But hey, now that I'm making coffee, might as well make some oatmeal at breakfast...

..and why not pack some stuff for handling dinner as well?

..and now I've got a solid panniers worth of stuff to deal with something that any of the 47 million diners I passed could have done for me. 

I like the reassurance of having a solid handle on what I'm going to eat for breakfast and dinner, but I'm not sure it's worth carrying all that crap.   Next weekend I may try a quick trip without it and see how well I survive.

When I left, it was ninety something degrees and very humid, so in a panic, I grabbed my camelbak in addition to the three waterbottles I carried.  I usually don't ride on the road much with a camelbak, but it worked out pretty well- it's a nice place to stash my wallet and other valuables as I don't typically wear anything with pockets while riding. After the first night of backcountry camping, I usually ran with most of the water bottles empty.  A camelbak full of water was usually enough to get me through most of a day.  

If I'm going to contine to backcountry camp, I should probably look into carrying a water purifier and some kind of large water bladder to haul water back to camp.  Cooking usually rips through a fair amount.  Although, if I go light and ditch all that cooking stuff....    

I carried a bike multitool, a leatherman, duct tape, 8 and 10mm wrenches, chain lube, spare presta valves, presta/schrader adapter, 2 spare tubes, 1 spare tire, and a couple spare chain links. I used them all, even if all some things like the spare tire and second tube did was provide some emotional reassurance that I was prepared.  I'm not messing with this setup.

One thing that I might invest in is a better pump. I had a cheap frame mounted hand pump. It did the job, but man- when adjusting air pressures and dealing with flats day to day, you live and die by your bike pump. I'm not going cheap on this any more. I'm buying the fancy one with an actual hose on it, a pressure guage, a nice comfy grip.  It's gotta look cool too. Annodized titanium? Sign me up for that as well. This is one place it's not worth going "value oriented". 

This is an area that will always be subject to some tweaks depending on the weather, but I found the "one to wear, one to wash" philosophy worked well.  It  was also handy to have a set of non-bicycling clothes to wear when doing non bicycling related things in public.  

I do need to figure out a better sock strategy- I find traditional bicycling socks a little thin for touring. Cotton is comfy, but has its well known downfalls.  Might have to look into wool or other hiking style socks.

Like I said, I was using a map from the Adventure Cycling Association for most of my trip. Very, very well done route with a very nice map. Camping, grocery store, hotel info is all in there, great road choices, easy to navigate. Any time I tour by bicycle, I'll stick with their routes if at all possible. The only possible shortcoming to their maps is they lack a lot of detail if you venture off route at all.  

I kept my trusty Garmin eTrex Legend strapped to my handlebars for the trip. The ACA publishes GPS waypoints for all the turns on that map, so I'd just keep an eye on the GPS and any time I got near a waypoint, I'd pull out the map and see what I was supposed to do.  Worked pretty well, and now I've got a pile of GPS data for the trip I'll probably geek out on in a future post.  

In the future, I might consider a more advanced GPS that can hold more detailed maps for when I go offroute.  But I hate carrying expensive electronics, and I really love paper maps for some reason.  Don't really know what I'm going to do in the future here. 

Other Crap
Fenders- always a good idea, doubly so in the dairy state.  

AM/FM Radio-  I found this cool little radio at my favorite outfitter- "St. Vincent de Paul's"  (I think he was a famous mountain climber or something). I figured I could use it to get some weather info, maybe listen to some tunes if I got bored. Never got bored, worked great the first night I tried to get weather info- first station I tuned to had a weather report in the first minute.  The next time I tried it- I must have listened to every damn Aerosmith song there was and still no weather.  I'd rather ride through a tornado than try to fall asleep listening to "Love In An Elevator" again. 

Blinkie Lights- they seemed to do the job when I was riding down us-45 in the rain, but man- if I get a helmet mirror, please stage an intervention, OK?   I'm likely just one step away from duct taping a radio to my handlebars and spending my days picking up cans alongside the highway.

Money- all in, including extravagant hotels, partying with the family for a few days, and ferry tickets, the whole trip was about $655.  That covered almost two weeks on the road.  Considering I can rip through $500 in two weeks of my usual day to day existence, that's a damn good deal. 


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