When that day comes

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As Jeremy would say, “you’ll take the bike you’re riding the day before you leave”.  A friend from our time in New Mexico, Jeremy has gained the wisdom of an old man from years in railcars, on the road, and on a bicycle.  He’s barely thirty years old, but he’s right.

This spring, I’ve enjoyed a greater period of bike building and planning than ever before.  My Raleigh XXIX was purchased used in Santa Fe less than a week before leaving for Amsterdam last summer.  My Surly Pugsley was fit with a variety of wheel, tire, and handlebar combinations in the days leading to my departure from Anchorage in 2012. In 2011, I developed my first Carradice-based rack-lite touring system for my Schwinn High Sierra in the final week before departure from Annapolis, MD.  In late 2009, I built our first dynamo wheels and lighting systems the week before leaving Tacoma, WA to ride south to Mexico for the winter.  Back in 2008, I had built my dream bike from a vintage Miyata One Thousand frame.  The frame broke with a few weeks to go and I swapped parts to a mid-nineties Trek 520.  I remember the first ride with empty Ortlieb panniers attached to touring-grade Jandd racks.  It was awkward and exciting.  I now think that riding a bike with racks and panniers is awkward, but not exciting. All of these bikes are documented on my webpage entitled “Touring Bikes”.  

When the day comes, we’ll leave on whichever bikes we are riding.

Over the past month, I’ve experimented with wheels and tires on the Salsa Mukluk.  A suspension fork and a trail-oriented parts ensemble including 45mm Velocity Dually rims graced my red fatbike, before opting for a purpose built machine.  Enter the Surly Krampus, which makes all the improvements I was searching for last summer, without compromise.  I really enjoyed the Raleigh last year, but often asked for a few more things, including greater tire clearance and longer fork travel.  While the 29.1mm Stan’s FlowEX rims served me well, I also thought a slightly wider rim would be more appropriate for the 2.3-2.4″ tires I prefer.  To do all of this without adding significant heft to the machine is the trick.  Over the years, the goal has been to create a more capable bike, without gaining weight.  Oh, and the rims must be genuinely tubeless ready.    

Why not the Mukluk?  Well, it works fine, but considering the amount of pedaling I expect to do before I need a fabike again, a standard width bottom bracket will be nice for my knees.  I’d not had any issues riding a Pugsley for over a year in the past, but this winter, I gained a few creaks in my knees which I was unable to explain.  In retrospect, I attribute my discomfort to excessive riding and challenging conditions (snow).  Some more stretching may have helped.  Mostly, my legs felt great once the snow melted, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.  

In all, the Krampus and the Mukluk are more alike than they are different.  The frame dimensions and angles are nearly identical, although on paper the Krampus features a slightly longer top tube.  Thus, I moved into the Krampus frame knowing that it was almost exactly what I wanted.  If you own a newer Mukluk, know that it also makes a capable 29er mountain bike.

As the day nears, these are the bikes we will ride, mostly.  Lael seriously considered buying a full-suspension bike, as a nod towards our trail oriented aspirations.  Instead– convincing herself she didn’t need that, not yet– we’ve made some improvements to her bike.  Come late July, I will be leaving town on a completely new bike for the first time, ever.  

Oh yeah, we’ve got plane tickets to Vienna on July 22nd.  Vienna, like Amsterdam, seems like a fantastic place to begin a bikepacking trip.  We hope to be gone for close to a year.   

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Surly Krampus

Fox Talas 32 factory fork (120mm-90mm adjustable travel)

Race Face Sixc 780mm carbon handlebar/ Specialized 75mm stem/ Cane Creek 40 headset/ Ergon GP-1 grips

Salsa Regulator titanium seatpost/ Brooks B17 saddle/ Surly seatpost clamp

Shimano Deore 38/26 cranks/ Shimano XTR 9sp GS-cage rear derailleur/ Shimano Alivio 11-34T cassette/ SRAM PC-951 chain/ SRAM X5 double front derailleur/ Problem Solvers FD clamp/ Redline Monster pedals

Paul Thumbies shifter mounts/ Shimano 9sp bar-end shifters

Avid BB7 brakes and rotors/ Avid FR-5 brake levers

SP 15mm thru-axle dynamo hub/ Light Bicycle 35mm tubeless carbon rim/ DT butted spokes and brass nipples/ Maxxis Ardent 29×2.4″ skinwall tires/ Stan’s tape and sealant

SRAM X7 rear hub/ Stan’s FlowEX rim/ DT butted spokes and brass nipples/ Maxxis Ardent 29×2.4″ skinwall tires/ Stan’s tape and sealant

Wanderlust Beargrass top tube bag/ Randi Jo Bartender bag/ Revelate Viscacha seatpack

Notes: A 35mm wide carbon Derby rim has arrived, which will be laced to a Hope hub in the rear.  Tires, pedals, and luggage may change.  Lighting and charging devices, yet to be determined.

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35mm Light Bicycle rims, light and strong.  Tubeless set-up is a breeze.  Pop, pop– the sound of a tight fitting bead.

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29×2.4″ tires, the heart of the system.  In place of Maxxis EXO casings, which are unavailable from most distributors at the moment, I’ve chosen the skinwall Ardents.  They’re not quite as tough, but are a little lighter.  And, they’re gorgeous.

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Carbon AM/DH bars, Ergon grips, mechanical disc brakes, and thumb shifters are not the usual mix of parts.

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The Brooks B17 rides high, after more than 40,000mi.  The Salsa Ti post isn’t as plush as expected, but the build quality is very good.  And, it is gorgeous.

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Tire clearance is good all around.

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Room for mud, and when the time is right, 29×3.0″ tires.  Dirt Wizards?

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Finally, this fork is a dream.  It feels great.  I can adjust the travel from 120mm to 90mm on the fly.  The C-T-D compression settings are useful when alternating between climbing and descending, and for a controlled trail setting.  The fork technically clears a 29×3.0″ Knard, barely.  

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Raleigh XXIX

RockShox Reba SL, recently converted from 80mm to 120mm

Answer 20/20 720mm carbon handlebar (20mm rise/20deg sweep)/ Specialized 50mm stem/ Velo Orange headset/ Ergon GP-1 grips/ King Cage top-cap bottle cage mount/ Specialized bottle cage

Syntace P6 Hi-Flex carbon seatpost (not pictured)/ Cannondale Hooligan saddle/ Salsa seatpost clamp

Race Face Ride 32/22 cranks with bash guard/ XT 8sp GS-cage rear derailleur/ 11-32T cassette/ Shimano XT front derailleur/ SRAM PC-830 chain/ VP-001 pedals

Suntour XC Pro shifters

Avid BB-7 brakes/ Avid FR-5 brake levers

Hope Pro 2 Evo hub/ Light Bicycle 35mm carbon rim, DT butted spokes and alloy nipples/ Specilaized S-Works 29×2.3″ Renegade tires/ Stan’s tape and sealant

SRAM X7 rear hub/ Stan’s FlowEX rim/ DT butted spokes and brass nipples/ Specialized S-Works 29×2.3″ Renegade tires/ Stan’s tape and sealant

Revelate Viscacha seatpack/ Revelate framebag

Notes:  Tires, worn drivetrain parts, and broken saddle will change.  Luggage yet to be determined.  Rides good; she won a race the other day.  Not bad for a touring bike.

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Kokopelli’s Trail: Fruita, CO to Moab, UT

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When routeplanning from afar– via internet and memory from Ukraine– riding Kokopelli’s Trail across the state line from Colorado to Utah stood out as a good starting point.  In such wide open country with so many roads, routes and trails, a signed and mapped route such as this is a blessing.  It builds confidence in the kind of riding found in the area to be able to follow a popular route for a bit.  It reminds us how to carry four days of food and as much as 8 liters of water apiece.  We’re a long way from Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Czech, Germany, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands– it has been a good summer.  For me, autumn in the cool dry air of the mountainous west is the capstone to a third consecutive summer.  Sleeping under starry skies under a frosty tent amongst juniper and sage and aspen is starting to feel like home.    

Kokopelli’s Trail, officially arranged by the BLM as a bicycling route from Fruita, CO to Moab, UT measures about 142mi in length.  Several distinct sections exist: a dozen miles of singletrack trails leave Fruita, miles of high desert dirt roads with brief interruption of rougher jeep tracks fit in the middle, and a push up and over the LaSal mountains to Moab finishes the route in the E-W direction.  The final section contains most of the climbing of the entire route, with several-thousand foot ascents and descents, along the canyons and ridges of the LaSal range.  The middle portion, on the high desert plains, is subject to becoming quite sticky following precipitation, due to a high content of clay in the soil.  Otherwise, it is fast and fun Divide-style riding  The first miles out of Fruita are sublime, especially when consider as part of a longer-distance touring route.  

For experienced mountain bikers, the concept of carrying supplies over several days may be a challenge, with great reward.  For the experienced cycletourist accustomed to ‘roads’, the riding will likely be the challenge, a step up from the open roads of the Divide, for example.  The scenery, for all, is unbeatable.  For us, it is a happy welcome back to the country.

Our ride begins at nightfall.  Within several miles, rain showers and precipitous cliffs send us dashing into our tent, illegally camping along the local singletrack circuit.  At dawn, we quickly pack up to begin riding some of the most beautiful singletrack we’ve encountered.  These trails are, let us not forget, central to the sport of mountain biking in the US.  Nearby is Horsethief Bench, for instance.     

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Above the Colorado River.

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Lael makes use of the backpack purchased in Ukraine.  It has never been our intention to ride with a pack, but our hurried start left us with three full-sized bike magazines, part of a 12 oz. bottle of Stan’s sealant, about 16L of water, and four days of food.  At the time, it was easier to load the pack with lightweight flotsam than to bother with framebag or saddlebag wizardry.  We hate to admit, but a proper backpack could be a viable solution for someone looking to expand their capacity.  It is much easier to accept a monkey on the back on a cold rainy day, than on a sweaty afternoon.  There is something comforting about the extra layer on a cold morning.  I still don’t think I could do it mid-summer.

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With rain threatening, we keep an eye on our escape routes.  We are aware of the tacky potential of western roads and trails.

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However, the Fruita trail system is well designed and drained, mostly composed of rock and sand.

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Except when we stray off route onto a jeep track, and push through clay until our bikes no longer roll.  After a few minutes, we cover enough distance to make it apparent on my GPS that we have lost the route.  I know exactly where we strayed.  

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A thick layer of mud coats our shoes.

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Back on track, we enjoy a singletrack descent to clear our tires of clay.  

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Eventually, reaching a tributary of the Colorado River, we descend and cross a set of train tracks.  With an eye on nearby 1-70, we consider the option of routing around potentially tacky roads ahead.  

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We break for lunch to reassess.  Not much changes in this time– rain to the north, less menacing white clouds to the south.  We continue.

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Climbing away from the river, pushing as much as riding on some rocky trails, we reach open desert plains adjacent to I-70.

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The roads we encounter are composed of sand and gravel, mostly, and make for fast riding.  A tailwind reminds me that I also enjoy long days on open dirt roads– such as on the Divide.  Chunky sections of trail have me dreaming of a Surly Krampus, but these roads lead my thoughts to a drop-bar Velo Orange Camargue

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I’ve been looking for a good piece of steel wire to repair my pot stand for my stove.  Not much barbed wire in Ukraine, but plenty of extra in the US.  This scrap will do nicely to repair my cook system.

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All is well, until a change in elevation, through changing geology.

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Dead in our tracks, no sooner than ten feet into this stuff!  Unfortunately, once the bike doesn’t roll, it has become no easier to carry thanks to pounds and pounds of mud.

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Looking forward to a 300ft ascent on sticky slippery clay, we heft our bikes into a nearby meadow for the night.

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By morning, no rain has fallen.  Clearer skies and some sun allow us to roll our bikes up the grade.  At the top, we ride our bikes back and forth on dry, sandy dirt roads to release as much clay as possible.  We clean and lube everything as best as possible, and ride on.

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Lael has a new pair of tires.  The rear, a 2.25″ On-One Smorgasbord looks like a cross between my Schwalbe Hans Dampf and the Nobby Nic she used this summer.  The front, a 2.4″ Chunky Monkey is exactly as it sounds– chunky.  Only sixty dollars for the pair–less than the price of one EXO Maxxis Ardent tire or a tubeless ready Schwalbe– this is an unbeatable price in a tire this size. The tires are constructed of thick rubber, making them suitable for use in rough country without fear of flimsy sidewalls.  They set up tubeless without any troubles.  I hope and expect that at $30 apiece, they are composed of an inexpensive, durable rubber.  Funny how this works, but cheaper mountain bike tires often use longer-wearing rubber.

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While Kokopelli is well signed, rock-cairns are user-maintained to help along the way.  If nothing else, they add an element of discovery to the process.

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A brief portion of pavement leads back down to the Colorado River.  

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We detour towards the Westwater Ranger Station in hope of finding fresh water.  The river could be a water source, although it is a bit silty.  However, the ranger station serves filtered water through an outdoor spigot.  It is operational mid-October, even despite the government shutdown.  

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These facilities are mostly aimed at floaters and paddlers on the river.  Campsites, pit toilets and fresh water are available.

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Riding away across more open plains is a joy, even packed with as much water as we can carry.  Almost all official resources state that there is “no water along the route”.  This proved to be untrue more than a half-dozen times, although Westwater provided the only source that did not require treatment.  A short 1.5 mi detour is nearly on the route, I say.

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Loping near, but not next to the Colorado River, we encounter changing scenery and conditions.

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Until at last, we are next to the river itself.  One perfect campsite beckons, about it is an hour earlier than we have planned to camp.  

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A quick swim will suffice.

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We encounter several curious fatbike tracks.  Incidentally, some internet stalking had lead to these details an hour before starting our trip in Fruita.  From Twitter:

Back from WA and running shuttle for the Kokopelli Trail with Dave and Jonny!

 

I met Zachary by chance in Kremmling, CO last summer while riding the Divide Route, soon after he had bought his white Pugsley. I lent some Divide maps to him, and borrowed some local maps from him. Now I was following his tracks, as well as the tracks of two other fatbikers.

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Crossing the pavement.  I guarantee that our byway is more scenic than this paved byway.

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Just before camping for the night, we slither along slickrock until the trail become difficult to follow by natural light.

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This is my favorite place to be this time of year.

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Rounding the first corner in the morning puts our sights on a new goal– the LaSal Mountains.  Moab is over and around those snowy peaks.

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Sandy slickrock trails are made possible by Jeeps and other motorized users.  

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Here signage for bicycles and motorized vehicles coexist, not that you couldn’t piece together routes from all of these resources.  

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Back down to the Colorado, across highway 128 again.  We could be in Moab this afternoon on the pavement, but that wouldn’t be as much fun. 

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Another swim, and another clean and lube at lunch before heading into the mountains.  It is warm in the sun, and cool in the shade– just how I like it.  Lael still talks about going to Mexico daily.

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We expect a big climb to the top, and then a big descent into Moab.  As we are mostly following trail signage and a GPS track on my tiny eTrex, we lose some of the perspective gained by a large-scale paper map.  I overlook several thousand-foot descents and ascents while relaying upcoming trail info to Lael.  Anymore, she doesn’t believe anything I say.

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Another water source.  Clear, with only a bit of grit and grime.

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Up…

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…and back down.

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The erosional patterns in such a climate, though sedimentary rock, form deep canyons and ridges.  Thus, the route climbs up and down several times before ascending over the mountains to Moab.

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Recent rains leave more than just water in the streams.

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From pavement, to roads that aren’t roads, Kokopelli is diverse.  This looks more like a rockfall, included as part of the route, although Jeep tracks were founds all down the length.  Needless to say, we carried our bikes.  A proper mountain bike is a good choice.

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Another night in the tent, which we are mostly using to stay warm.  We love sleeping out under the stars in dry climates, although the tent retains 10-15 extra degrees.  Our bags also stay dry and lofted throughout the night inside the tent.

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Quickly, sun fades the memory of a cold night.  This time of year, we are prepared with fleece gloves, long wool socks, and sleeping bag liners

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Frozen fields at five or six thousand feet.

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We encounter yet another water source listed on our GPS track near a remote campground.  The water smells of sulfur, but looks clear.  We picked up a USB-rechargeable Steripen Freedom in Denver.  For now, we are putting faith into this little blue light.  For reliable water treatment in the desert, I might still consider a physical filter, especially with an effective pre-filter for sediment.

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Up toward the peaks, past six, seven, and eight thousand feet.

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From here, we look back on the first few miles of riding this morning.  A long circuitous route is often necessary in canyon country.

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Nearing the top of the route, we enter aspen ablaze for the season, and some remnant snow from an early-season storm.

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From the top of the route, we look forward to a big descent into Moab.

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Around the corner, dirt turns to pavement.  Surely, we didn’t climb all this way to descent into town on pavement?

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Two thousand feet below, the routes turns up again, still on pavement.  It climbs back to 8500ft, before turning onto dirt for the last time.  Never underestimate the features in canyon country.

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Turning onto a popular trail system outside of Moab is a treat.  Now, we ascend to town, where pizza and beer, or some such delicacy, saves us from dining on the last of our peanut butter and pepper jack cheese for the night.

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Moab is densely used by many.  “Share the trail” is nearly as strongly encouraged as “Stay on the trail”.  The desert is a fragile place.

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Down into town by sunset.

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Nearly, by sunset.  Descending past BLM campgrounds into town, we ask about the possibility of finding a place to camp for the night.  Wild camping is a challenge this close to town, and all the campsites are full due to the government shutdown and a popular Jeep Jamboree.  A friendly government employee from Montana offers a place for the night in his campsite.  It seems being let off from work for a few weeks has some perks.

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For further information about the Kokopelli Trail, including a GPS file of the route, the Bikepacking.net website is an invaluable resource for numerous bikepacking routes.  Thanks to Scott Morris, curator of the fine Bikepacking.net and Trackleaders.com websites as well as Topofusion mapping software, for helping with some last minute learning curves associated with Garmin software and my new eTrex 20 device.  The GPS has become an essential tool for me, despite some initial frustrations.  Check out Scott’s personal ride diary for a healthy dose of backcountry riding.  His ride reports date back to 2003!     

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Headed south, looking forward to places like Lockhart Basin, Bridger Jack, Cottonwood Canyon, Needles, Beef Basin, Elephant Hill, and Arizona!

Threadbare and a shoestring budget

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For me, things wear out more than they break.  Below, a record of things that have broken, worn out, or required attention in the last few months.  Above, the last laundromat we found was in Selestat, France, over a month ago.  Even in France, public laundries are uncommon.  East of Germany, they are nonexistent.  After discovering that we would not find a laundromat for the rest of the summer– except possibly at a hotel or hostel, or in a major city– we selected the old fashioned method of washing clothes by hand.  A one dollar bar of laundry soap, a 64 oz. Kleen Kanteen for ‘agitate’ cycles, and a cold stream get the job done.  Concerned for the health of the stream, we dispose of soapy water in the bushes, although the final rinse happens in the stream.  Surface water quality is Fair in Czech, Slovakia, and Poland, except in the mountains where water is still cold and clear.  The result of our hand washing?– clothes that smell like soap, look a lot less dirty, and feel crisp after drying in the sun.  Every time we go to a grocery store, Lael still wonders if she is the one that smells like ripe meat.  Usually, it is the old man next to us.  Welcome to eastern Europe.   

Laundry

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We used sil-nylon dry bags to soak the clothes, a 64 oz. Kleen Kanteen to agitate heavily soiled items, and time.  Total procedure from dirty to dry: about 2 1/2 hours. 

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Alcohol stove

Since 2009, I have used a homemade alcohol stove, based upon a design called the Penny Stove.  I have a few qualms about the design– notably, the exposed lip of aluminum is susceptible to damage– although the stove performs well, and it is easy to make along the trail with a pocket knife.  The first stove was made in Tacoma, WA in 2009 with Heineken keg-shaped cans (now discontinued) and specialized tools, including a fresh razor blade and a drill.  The second stove was made exclusively with my Swiss Army knife in Steamboat Springs, CO, out of Ska Brewing Co. cans.  I made this stove last week in Korbielow, Poland from Harnas beer cans.  This time, I used Lael’s new Opinel knife, which is still as sharp as the day we bought it.  With some experience, I can make a functioning stove on the first try.  Total build time: about 15 minutes.

The old stove, shown below, which recently endured the weight of a human exiting the tent to go pee at night.  Names will not be named.

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The carnage of stove-making includes three beer cans.  In Poland, denatured alcohol (90%+ ethanol) is colored blue or purple and is called denaturat.  The purple, or aubergine, Opinel knife is extremely sharp.

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New stove, old penny.  Works great.  Negligible weight.

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Homemade pot stand for our alcohol stove needed some repair.  Baling wire, purchased in an exact length (1/3 meter, for free), holds the supports together, which are made of stainless steel bicycle spokes.

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Tires

A pair of wire-bead WTB Exiwolf tires came on my used Raleigh XXIX+G.  I put one on my rear wheel, and the other on Lael’s.  We replaced hers with a Schwalbe Nobby Nic tire in France.  I made it to Ostrave, CZ before replacing it with a 29×2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf that I bought in Germany.  The Hans Dampf only comes in a 2.35″ width for 26″, 650b, and 29″ wheels; it only comes with tubeless ready technology including durable Snakeskin sidewalls (a heavier Super Gravity version is also available).  Mounted in the rear, at appropriate trail pressures, the Hans Dampf sticks like a gecko– it is amazing.  This is one of the biggest tires available without applying for a fatbike permit (have you seen the new Surly ECR!).  

No flats for either of us all summer.  No problems of any kind.  Tubeless touring is the way to go.  Even if I am carrying spare tubes, I’d rather pack them away than tote the weight in the wheels.  I’d also rather not patch tubes.

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Hans Dampf is big, and bites in any direction– uphill, downhill, and sidehill.  I would like to see more tires like this in 29×3.0″.  A 2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf or a 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent on a Velocity Blunt 35 or a Sun MTX33 makes for a voluminous combination, yet will fit in many traditional frames for 29″ wheels.   

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Luggage

Revelate Gas Tank top tube bag, with damaged zipper.  I frequently stuff, and overstuff, my bags.  This is what happens.  Sent home from France for future repair.  We both have more luggage capacity than we need on our bikes so this is no problem.

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Lael uses a Revelate Viscacha seatpack, and attaches her sleeping pad to the four loops on top of the bag.  Abrasion has worn through one of the loops, while the others show signs of wear.  Some repurposed shoelace makes a solid repair.  Handy to have needle and thread for such projects.  Below, worn loops in front, broken loop in back.  Newer Revelate bags uses a different attachment with more durable plastic hardware and nylon webbing.  Also, Eric has a cool new waterproof seatbag in the works, called the Terrapin, which appears to be modular.

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I sleeved the nylon shoelace over the existing material, and sewed it into place,

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Carradice bags are well made, although I have repaired the stitching on many of the leather straps over time.  Needle and thread save the day again.  A simple fix, although a bit tedious to mend leather and canvas with a standard gauge needle.  

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The same shoestring used to repair the Revelate seatbag also serves to replace the broken retention cord on the skirt of the Carradice Camper.

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Early in the summer, I was dissatisfied with the way my front load obscured my headlight.  A spare tube strapped under the stem shims the front load out of the way– an easy fix, and another good use for nylon gear straps.

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Brake pads

Brake pads wear out.  We replaced Lael’s rear pads and my front pads recently.  A wet, muddy day on the trail can lead to rapid pad wear.  I always carry spare pads on a longer tour– they are tiny, and light.

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Bottom bracket

This one is unusual.  When I purchased the bike secondhand from Tim in Santa Fe, he mentioned something like, “the bottom bracket cups are a little damaged, but they tighten into the frame just fine”.  I took his word and rode away.  Several months later, after hearing the occasional creak from the bike’s nether regions, the drive-side cup was loose, stripped entirely of threads.  I diagnosed the problem, removed the crank, wrapped the damaged threads in duct tape to reduce damage to the BB shell, and reinstalled the crank.  I rode it for another day or two,  When I found the opportunity to replace it, I discovered that the steel BB threads were undamaged, although the BB cups were stripped entirely, made of aluminum.  This is another (unexpected) reason to ride steel bikes.  

Hard to see, but the BB shows a gap between the cup and the shell.

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Aluminum threads on the BB cup are toast.

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Steel BB threads look fine, despite grinding for several days in the mountains.  Steel is harder than aluminum.

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As both cups were loose, I removed them by hand and installed the new SRAM GXP cups by hand.  I rolled the bike into the shop to borrow the driver to tighten them.  The crank is easily reinstalled with my multitool.  I imprint the shape of the tool into my hand trying to tighten it appropriately.  Loose crank bolts can be fatal to a crank.

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All better.

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All work done outside a sporting goods store with a well-stocked bike department.  Total cost, 31€.

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Lael also rides a lot.  Her bottom bracket had developed significant ‘play’, as the bearings have worn over the past year.  We replaced it in Germany for an inexpensive Shimano model.  RaceFace cranks use the Shimano BB standard.  Also riding a Raleigh XXIX, her frame is mostly like mine, although it has an eccentric bottom bracket as it was designed as a singlespeed model.

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Shoes

After weeks of mud and rain on the GR5, preceded by several months of work in New Mexico, these Merrel boots are toast.  They were holding together pretty well, and had a little rubber left on the sole, but they were no good for foot hygiene.  With sunny skies in the forecast, it was a good time to invest in a new pair of shoes.  I found my favorites– Salomon XA Pro 3D Mid GTX– on sale for a good price.  Salomon originates from Annecy, France, although the company has been bought and sold a few times in recent decades, and is now part of a conglomerate including Mavic.  I don’t use clipless systems, but it seems the two companies should collaborate to make a genuine touring shoe for those that do. 

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This Salomon mid-height boot is lightweight and layered with Gore-Tex.  Built like a running shoe for comfort, the outsole is designed like a good mountain bike tire for traction in the rough.  The Velo Orange Sabot pedal features a generous platform, sealed cartridge bearings, an array of replaceable pins, and a slight concavity to hold the foot in place without the need for clips or straps.  The broad platform distributes pedaling forces evenly across the foot, eliminating the hot spots experienced on quill-style pedals.  It is an excellent touring and bikepacking pedal.

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Cork extraction

Without a way to remove a cork, properly, I utilize the hobo method all through France.  Credit to Chris Harne for describing this to me one winter in Florida a long time ago.

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I bought a gold-plated wing corkscrew for Lael in Switzerland at a junk sale.  Andi tests the acquisition.

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Eyewear

Lael now carries two shades of glasses.  Her primary glasses are Ray-Ban knock-offs for sunny weather.  But in the evening when the bugs come out, she frequently gets gnats and no-see-ums in her eyes.  These bright lenses cost 5€, and keep the bugs out.  They make everything look really bright.

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Brake lever

Lael broke a brake lever several months ago, shown below with pink tape.  We replaced it with a new Avid lever gifted by Ricky and Andi in Germany.  I made the swap while waiting for a train in Munich.

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Tents and zippers

We have used a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent since 2008, exclusively.  At one point, we lost part of the tent in a windstorm.  Later, I tore the rainfly in a midnight zipper mishap, and eventually both zipper sliders on the mesh tent body began to fail.  As a result, I now have some refurbished tent parts in NY, replaced by some new parts from Big Agnes.  However, the current tent (composed of newer parts) has seen heavy use this summer and is also having some zipper issues.  Sliders– the parts that engage the teeth with one another– are known to wear out, and can be replaced several times in the life of the zipper, much like bicycle chains and cassettes.  I tried to repair one slider by compressing the channels together, but it broke.  The other slider now works better.   

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Tent stakes get lost, or are broken, especially when hammering them with rocks into tough soil.  On a stormy night, I tied the tent to a tree on the windward side– you ain’t goin nowhere.

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Reflective vest

For years, Lael and I have shared one reflective vest which we received for free in France, mostly reserved for tense situations on the road.  It fits me like a loose shirt, while it hangs off her frame.  We finally found a vest to fit Lael, intended for 3-6 years olds.  Now we have two brightly colored reflective vests for busy roads and riding at night.  We bought her a juice box in celebration.   

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Sometimes it is too hot to wear a shirt underneath.

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Personal hygiene

People look at me like I am homeless in Poland, which is true, although I am happy to avoid the attention.  At least in this part of the country, only bums wear beards.  Time to shave, in a stream.

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Lael’s Google Nexus 7 tablet makes a great mirror.

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Derailleur hanger

Oh shit!  A log snags my derailleur, cleanly breaking the aluminum derailleur hanger.  A spare hanger makes an easy fix.  Unfortunately, no more spare hanger.

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Threadbare and a shoestring budget

Mostly, everything works just fine, although leaving on a trip with used equipment requires more care and maintenance.  By the end of our travels this summer, additional equipment will require attention or replacement.  Even though such equipment can seem expensive when purchased all at once, with some care, it enables many months and thousands of miles on the road.  Life on the road is inexpensive.  Time on the road is irreplaceable. 

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Many thanks to Ricky and Andi for the new brake lever; Big Agnes for timely tent repairs and replacement over the years; Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket for durable goods; Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs for similarly durable goods, and great designs;  Priscilla at Carradice, who stitched my bag (really, the tag has her handwritten signature); and my parents, for constantly shipping and recieving things for us.

General thanks and appreciation to whomever is responsible for the existence of the 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires, Brooks B17 saddles, Ergon GP1 grips, steel bicycles, reflective materials, sealed cartridge bearings, Gore-Tex, cotton duck canvas, VX-series textiles, dynamo lighting, wide comfortable handlebars, and bicycles.  Seriously.

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Karpaty

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A plan is made to meet Przemek– or Dusza, as he is often called amongst friends and Polish bike forums.  He and Marcin arrive in Zwardon by train at exactly sometime after seven, and we arrive exactly 15 minutes late for our multi-day tour without a single morsel of food in our packs.  Pzemek and Marcin have been here before– this, the second annual meeting of old university friends to push and ride bikes in the mountains.  It is hardly an excuse for our lateness or lack of preparation, but we awoke in the Czech Republic with both Czech and Polish currency in our pockets.  We crossed into Slovakia in the morning, where the Euro is used as currency, and did not return to Poland until the final few kilometers of the day.  Not wanting to invest in a third currency for a brief day trip, we ate the last crumbs out of our bags and shot for the Polish border.  Luckily, Polish stores are open late.  Arriving in Zwardon, a tiny railroad town in the south, we quickly purchase kolbasa, ser, piwo, and kapusta, staple foods of the Polish bikepacker.  We are joining Przemek on his trip, unaware that this moment begins a two-month long tour, unaware of where we are going exactly.

Crossing into Poland on an unfinished superhighway, exactly fifteen minutes late.  Projects like this will change a place.  The existing road is small and serpentine.  The new road will allow Polish tourists to speed into Slovakia to go skiing.  The Polish love to drive fast.

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We camp for the evening, finding new routines and old routines together.  Morning is the time to pack and repack, tune bicycles and bodies.  Lael’s bike works just fine, so she opts for some yoga.  I forget, now I remember, that it is a real pain in the ass to adjust the rear brake on a Surly Pugsley.  Departing, we ride, hike, and scramble up to 1200m and more.  These jeeps tracks are decidedly unrideable.  Optimistically, as is easy on the first day of a trip, we continue.

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Conditions improve, but ‘up’ is the direction of choice today.

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Reaching one of many mountain huts in the area, we break for the afternoon to avoid the heat, and to enjoy cold piwo, baked pyrohy, and shade.  A cold shower is available for a small fee.  In the winter, a sauna invites guests.

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A happy Alaskan finds wild blueberries to add to bike grease.  These hands tell stories of summer.

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Back out for an early evening ride, we encounter incredible singledoubletrack along the ridge– down, and back up.  Ridge trails are notoriously undulating.

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The red route signifies a long-distance hiking route, while other colors indicate approach routes– the shortest route to a ridge or a peak.  Locally, a papal route is signed by green blazes (dedicated to the Pope, so it must be easy).

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The four of use ride vastly different bicycles, all capable of rough stuff and changing conditions.  Surprisingly, we don’t discuss bicycles much, although the stregths of each are apparent as the trail changes.  Marcin’s full-suspension rig descends like a rocket.  Przemek’s bike does exactly what a Pugsley does– everything.

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Looking towards Slovakia, our eyes graze the High Tatras.  There are a lot of riding possibilities in this region.  The Carpathian Mountains form a broad crescent, stretching from the eastern edge of the Czech Republic, through Slovakia and Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia.  The bulk of the range exists in Romania (about 50%), although each country offers enough riding and hiking for years of exploration.

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As evening falls, we approach another much smaller mountain hut, this one a bit more like a hostel.  For about $3 we get a shower and a place to pitch a tent.  The canteen sells cold Zywiec beer and prepared foods, as well as some packaged goods for the trail.  Superlight travel would be easy around here, especially in the summer.  One could plan multi-day tours in the mountains without cooking or sleeping equipment.  On clear nights, a simple bivy would suffice to save a few zloty and to enjoy star-filled skies.  After our first real day of riding, we rest tired feet and legs.  Some legs are more tired than others.  Lael never gets tired.  She ends the day with a run in the mountains, minutes before dark.

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With separate agendas, we part ways in the morning.  Before descending to town, we visit a small hut where smoked sheep’s cheese is prepared, either called oscypek or gołka, from sheep or cow’s milk, respectively.  The structure is saturated with smoke.  The cheese is formed in a  wooden mold and smoked for days, although the texture within is much like cheese curd.  It contains little moisture and squeaks between the teeth when bitten.

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We enjoyed riding with Przemek and Marcin, and value seeing old friends reconnect on the trail.  We hope to ride with Przemek again in a few days!  For more Polish Pugsley adventures and rainy Welsh bikepacking trips, visit Prezemek’s blog In Between Spokes.

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Hunting the GR5

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The GR5– locally called the LAW-5, Deltapad, or the E2– is an elusive dream.  Once on the trail, as a hunting dog on the scent of something good, we keep our eyes peeled and our noses to the ground.  If we can keep our tires and eyes pointed toward the next red and white blaze, the rewards are great.  When we lose the trail, which has happened thus far with some frequency, we simply follow the next logical signed cycling route, bike path or walking path.  Perhaps the best part about following the GR5 is that we never ride with traffic.  And when we lose the trail, we still aren’t really riding in traffic.  Some routes follow dedicated cycling lanes alongside a street, but even this is hardly ‘in’ or ‘with’ traffic in this country– drivers and cyclists are equally respectful of space and life and the dance between the two never raises an eyebrow.

But our focus is on the GR5, a long distance walking route from the North Sea in the Netherlands, to the Mediterranean at Nice, France.  Between these two points are Belgium and Luxembourg, and a whole lot of time in France; the route includes the Ardennes, the Jura, and the Alps; and the entire trail is signed with red and white blazes, as are other GR trails, while guidebooks and maps are also available.  It has only been a few days, but so far the diverse riding has done nothing but put smiles to our faces.

We left Hoek van Holland along this signed GR route, although it seemed to be going another direction.  We abandoned in favor of cycle paths and a place to stay in Rotterdam.  We would return to Maaslius to reconnect with the route.

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At Maasluis, a ferry crosses the Maas river.  As we disembark, we spot red and white blazes and spend the first km along neighborhood singletrack.  Much of the riding reminds me of riding as a kid.

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The GR5 follows paved and unpaved cyclepaths, as well as established walking routes (like unpaved walkways near the city), and sometimes very small lanes.

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Camping opportunities abound, especially along the waterfront.  This waterway was in use by many recreational canal boats.

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The trail is locally called the ‘Deltapad’, or delta path, named for the delta region of several rivers that drain continental Europe into the sea.  The trail follows a lot of grassy doubletrack along dikes and dams.

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No reason to buy a map in the Netherlands.  Signs, numbered routes and point-to-point routes makes navigation easy.  I have a basic map of the country for reference.  Mostly, we travel without a map, which is liberating.  Public map displays serve to keep us traveling in a uniform direction.  Still, while chasing red and white blazes we have made at least a few circles.

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Mountainbikeroute (aka VTT, BTT, or MTB) is an exciting word.  Some Dutch singletrack along the GR5, near the Voornes Duins.

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To a coastal overlook, like California or elsewhere we have been.

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Where to sleep?  This looks good.

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Butter, salt, shallots, tortellini, and herring in tomatensaus.

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The next morning, we wind through dunes and coastal forests, making a full loop back to this point.  Retracing our steps, we find exactly where we went wrong.  Retracing our steps was a little muddy.

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And sandy.

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Finally on our way, the trail leads to the beach, which was partly rideable in the intertidal zone.  Thinking of the Pugsley, or even those bold 29+ wheels I built for Cass’ Krampus.  Just a little more rubber would have helped.

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Within a few moments, we are back in town.  Historic canals and churches one minute, sandy forested singletrack the next– nothing to complain about.

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It has been a wet week along these coastal islands.  Still, more dry than wet is the realization that time is better spent outside, than staring at the weather channel.

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Our camp last night atop a sandy hill, tall pines breaking wind from the Nordzee.

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We’ve lost the GR5 for a moment, realizing that we had followed another walking trail.  We will rejoin the route in Bergen op Zoom, headed towards Maastricht, NL through Belgium.  Three and four dollar bottles of organic wine end every day.  Coffee and stroopwafels begin the day.

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Recent mods

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Since landing in Europe, I’ve tended to a few loose ends.  The bikes were fully operable upon landing (and reassembling).  With a few small improvements, they are even better.

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Lael has a new 36t Vuelta chainring to replace a 32t ring.  She hopes the bigger gear will allow her a little more speed along paved paths, without compromising her ability to ride in the larger ring most of the time with an 11-32t cassette.  The 22t inner ring is still perfect for mountainous exploits.  The bashguard is just barely undersized for a 36t ring.

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Looking for a suitable mounting point for my Supernova E3 Pro headlight, I finally revisited my first idea and drilled the fork crown.  The hole was perfectly sized so that the M6 bolt tapped the hole.  With so much thread engagement, the bolt did not require a nut on the backside.  I considered mounting from the brake bridge, but there is scarcely enough material there to feel confident about drilling a hole.  I also attempted to mount a top cap on the underside of the steerer tube (I drove a star nut inside), but the light arm would have been damaged by the brake bridge under full suspension compression.  I removed the air from the fork to test.  This was the best option, but limited space below the handlebars.  I switched to an XS 6L Sea-to-Summit compression drybag.

Also pictured, a buttery smooth Velo Orange Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing headset– as a friend recently said, “because I like to know the history of my bearings”.  It is one less thing to think about.  I install cartridge bearings with as much grease as possible, to further resist contamination and corrosion.

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I inquired about USB charging from a dynamo hub in Amsterdam’s De Vakantiefietser bicycle shop.  The Busch and Muller USB-Werk AC seemed to be the best option for my needs, acting as a bridge directly to a USB out.  The system does not have a battery, and is only suitable for charging during active cycling.  So far, it seems to charge best with the lights turned off.  Without a battery, the system is very lightweight, excluding the existing hardware (hub, lights, wiring).  With a battery, I could capture all of the power coming out of the hub at all times as light, by directly charging a device, or by storing it in a battery for later.  I paid €99 for the device.

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Before leaving town I swapped the SRAM indexed trigger shifters, which performed crisply, for some top-mount thumb shifters.  I am accustomed to thumb shifters on my bikes, and index shifting in general.  Mostly, this decision was made for better cable routing with a drybag strapped to the handlebars.  I found a nice Shimano Deore LX rear derailleur in the parts bin at Two Wheel Drive, although it was missing two pulleys and a back cage plate.  I sourced these parts from a used Deore long cage derailleur missing a fixing bolt.  With some further modification and grease, I had a like new rear derailleur.

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Within a day of cycling, I noticed a broken barrel adjustor on my right shifter, most likely from spending time in a box on the airplane.  I have used these thumb shifter mounts on the Pugsley for nearly a year, without fail.  However, the aluminum adjusting bolt is a weak point.  A host in Rotterdam found a steel replacement in a parts bin.

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Repaired.  The replacement steel bolt should be no problem.

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Before leaving the country, I picked up a pair of GP1 BioKork Ergon grips at REI in Denver.

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A section of old inner tube and some zip ties make a durable chainstay protector.  The rubber also dampens the sound of a slapping chain.

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Finally, with the smell of cooking fuel permeating from my framebag, I couldn’t wait to attach some bottle cages to the fork.  In search of hose clamps, I encountered this solution.  John, our host in Rotterdam suggested I attach a standard bottle cage with a durable adhesive tape such as electrical or duct tape.  The solution is simple, lightweight, and presumably durable.  He claims to have done this on a Santa Cruz Nomad, eventually breaking the bottle before the tape ever failed.  The result is also more attractive than hose clamps.  Perhaps more aerodynamic as well?  Cleaning alcohol in high concentration is commonly available in the Netherlands as Spiritus for about €1 per liter..  Without the label and with the addition of a Porcelain Rocket decal, I now refer to it as ‘rocket fuel’.  Now, to tame those wires…

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A bit rainy and blustery along the Maas river near Rotterdam.  We might take some short days this week to wait out the rain.  Out looking for the GR5, and dodging rainshowers.

Rivet Nutting

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Identify hole location, mark with sharp tool.  Hammer and punch to create impression.  Drill holes with small bit, patience and cutting oil.  Drill hole to size with larger bit.  Install threaded rivet nut with the “Brute” Rivet Nutter tool.

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I selected to install three rivets in such a manner that allows a standard water bottle cage,  a Salsa Anything Cage, or a Topeak Modula XL cage.  Specifically, the Salsa Anything Cage must be located above the chainrings.  The 64 oz. Klean Kanteen that I hope to use is too wide to clear the chainrings, but is narrower than the crank arms.

The standard H2O cage uses the lower two holes.

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The Salsa Anything cages uses all three holes.

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The Topeak Modula XL cage uses the upper two holes.

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At the rear, I drilled into each seatstay to install a butchered Nitto mini-rack to be used as a Carradice saddlebag support.

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The seatstay bridge had a small drain hole, which I enlarged and tapped for an M5 bolt.

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I have a habit of drilling holes in new bikes.  I installed water bottle mounts to my Surly Pugsley last spring.  And, I drilled the seatstay bridge on my VO Campeur to accept a VO Pass Hunter rack..

XXIX+G

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I rode the Cannnondale Holligan to the Railrunner station in downtown ABQ, and rode the train north to Santa Fe.  I sold the Hooligan to Cass and purchased this large-framed Raleigh XXIX+G from an acquaintance, who had at once ridden the bike with both drop bars and suspension fork.  I was back on the train within the hour.  The new bike rides real good.

Framebag coming soon, thanks to Scott of Porcelain Rocket.  Many changes to come in the next two weeks.

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Scott has made an informative video on how to make a pattern for a custom frame bag.

The Salida Circuit

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Salida makes the list of exceptional small towns with happy people and healthy economies.  A loose association of places that I may someday like to live, these towns all claim something special aside from jobs and homes.  Salida claims world-class singletrack and one of the most popular paddling spots in the US, the Upper Arkansas River.  What it doesn’t have, is a thriving ski industry.  That’s why it looks and feels like a real place.  Marquette, MI has Lake Superior, rail-trails and nearby forests.  Ithaca, NY is Gorges, if a little less happy.  State College, PA has access to amazing local forests and trails, but an overwhelming college culture.  San Luis Obisco, CA is great, but about 12 miles too far from the beach.  I hear Ashville, NC is nice.  And Flagstaff, AZ.  Leadville is a dream, although living at 10,200ft has both costs and benefits.  The more I travel, the more selective I become.  I may never settle down.

Salida warrants a week.  We found a ride to Interbike with a local shop owner, so we had a week to spare.  We waited out some weather, commuted to town every day on singletrack, and went for an epic overnight trip.  For a week, we were residents of Salida, doing all the normal things that people do, except working.

The greatest warmshowers host has a home in Salida, but lives in Texas.  Imagine the luxury of a house on a hill out of town after three months in a tent.  Of course, the outdoor hot tub overlooks the valley and several 14,000ft peaks.  Every morning, Lael practiced yoga as I wrote and drank coffee.  In the afternoon we would commute to town on singletrack– North Backbone to Lil Rattler, and then the Front Side Trail to downtown Salida.  We finished the day making conversation at one of three local bike shops– all amazing– before stopping at the grocery store and riding home at dusk.  Every evening, we prepared a feast.

Waiting out some weather, and snow in the mountains.

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Commuting to town is fun, until someone gets hurt.

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Riding home.

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Enraptured in the routine of city life, another commute to town.

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Crying makes it better.

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Front Side descends right into town, right onto Main Street.

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Route planning in town.

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Salida, 7083ft.  West on County Rte 140, cross Highway 50 to 220, a dirt road.  Then a few miles up towards Monarch Pass on Hwy 50 to Fooses Creek.  Back on dirt, connect to the Colorado Trail and climb another 3000ft to the Monarch Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.  Push the last 1000ft up to 11,920ft.  Finally, almost 5000ft above Salida.  Rest.

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Five miles along the Monarch Crest Trail at almost 12,000ft towards Marshall Pass.  As you ride over passes, they are the highest topographic point.  When riding ridges, the passes are the lowest.  Four more miles to Silver Creek, the last drainage that will route us back to town.  Further, the Colorado Trail leads over the Continental Divide towards Sargents Mesa.  For now, we want to return to the east side of the Divide, to Salida.

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Beyond Marshall Pass, toward the SIlver Creek drainage.

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Silver Creek, as the sun falls.

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…until someone gets hurt, and a crank is bent.  Could be worse.  At least it clears the chain stay.  Fading light, pedal on.

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Final light.

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Finishing up by headlight.  As soon as the sun falls, my dynamo lighting becomes visible in the thick wooded singletrack.  At the junction of FS 201, the road to Bonanza, and the Rainbow Trail, we select the Rainbow Trail.  We were here a year ago and have already ridden down the FS road.  Time for something new, in the dark.

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The final descent to Hwy 285.  High fives and a fast paved downhill to town.

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Love. Salida.

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Many thanks to Anton from Salida Bike Company for the ride to Interbike in Las Vegas.  And many more thanks for the escape from hundred degree heat and slot machines.  For now, we’re back in Colorado.

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