The Art of Bikepacking: July 16, 2014 in Anchorage, AK

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Join us for an evening event celebrating bikepacking, photography, and travel.  Ride your bike to The Bicycle Shop on Dimond Blvd. on Wednesday July 16, 2014 at 7PM.  Pack the bike as if you were going on a big trip or a little trip, or a trek across town.  We’ll have things to talk about.  This is the week after the Fireweed 400 and the week before Singlespeed World Championships, so leave a little room in your schedule and invite out of town visitors.  

The evening will commence with food and drinks and conversation.  The program includes a diverse range of presentations including visual displays, stories, and expertise on routes, packing, planning, and photography.  Our personal bikes will be on display, packed for adventure.  As well, we’ll have an array of Salsa, Specialized, and Surly bikes packed for touring, commuting, and lightweight bikepacking.  Free food, beer, and gifts.  

Eric Parsons will share a personal history of Revelate Designs, including experiences from the trail, and from his years designing gear that works for himself and the rest of us.  Eric’s business has grown from a one-man custom operation to a rapidly expanding Anchorage-based company which supports adventurous and accomplished riders across the globe.  

Dan Bailey will share his expertise as an Alaskan adventurer and professional photographer.  His images inspire readers in magazines and commercial media, including recent credits in the Patagonia catalog and advertisements for the new Fujifilm X-T1 camera. 

Lael and I have prepared stories and a series of printed images from our exploratory summer of bikepacking in Europe.  This event happens less than a week before our return to find new routes (and food) in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe.  Come say hi, and goodbye.

Thanks to our event sponsors, we will be giving away a load of awesome gear from Surly, Salsa, Adventure Cycling, Revelate Designs, Velo Orange, and Bunyan Velo.  So far, there are steel touring racks, a winter wool cycling cap, lightweight luggage, water bottles and cages and socks and t-shirts and hats and stickers, and a complete Great Divide map set to give away.  I will also throw in some maps for the new Idaho Hot Springs Bikepacking Route from Adventure Cycling.  Ride your bike to the event for a chance to win!  

Finn says, get riding over to The Bicycle Shop, Dimond on July 16! 

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Photo: Eric Parsons

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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Return to Resurrection Pass, Alaska

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All week, I told everyone I know that the riding on Resurrection Pass is perfect.  “Right now, you gotta go now!”  Lael listened to it over and over, and as she scanned photos, she asked questions about the cabins and the trail.  By Friday, it seemed that I was destined to return with her.  A few piles of equipment come together on the floor in preparation for our early departure on Sunday morning.

We promptly depart mid-afternoon.

On the trail only a few hours before sunset, we roll upstream without a plan.  Clear skies, exactly like our trip last week, are an assuring sign.

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By now, the sun passes over the valley onto the far hillside.  Temperatures are cool, but nothing a little uphill pedaling can’t erase.  A fresh inch of snow over last week’s ice is both a blessing and a curse.  Fresh snow improves traction in some situations; elsewhere, it conceals hazards.

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Fresh ice pours from the hillside in a few places.  Lael has about 250 Grip Studs in her tires.  A few early-season bruises convinced her that studs are a good thing.

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Only a few tracks are found on the trail, including one tire track and several boot tracks.

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Crossing Resurrection Creek at sunset, seven miles from the trailhead, we start thinking about shelter.  There are three cabins along this section of trail: Caribou Creek, Fox Creek, and East Creek.  Cabins are available for rental throughout the Chugach National Forest.  Without a plan, and with the option to bivy outside, we continue on the trail for another hour.

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At dusk, we poke our heads into the Fox Creek Cabin.  No one is here.  We start a fire and unlace our shoes.

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Nearing the equinox and 12 hours of sunlight, officially, we already count more than 12 hours of usable light.  Twilight lasts forever, and grows longer by the day.  Later this week, our days will be longer than yours (unless you live in Fairbanks!)

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Dinner is mostly taken from the depths of the refrigerator and freezer at home.  A couple of hot dogs roasted on a stick are gourmet fare when away from a kitchen.  Toasted corn tortillas, melted cheese, and avocados round out the meal.  A sip of whiskey and water to wash it down.

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I am excited to sleep outside, but a fire is a nice feature.  The cabin is warm through the night, as outside temperatures remain in the 20s.  Past midnight, a woman’s voice breaks my sleep.  Two dogs come rushing into the cabin, and the energy of a late night hike is quickly part of the cabin.  Two boys enter.  We exchange names as an official gesture, I forget them immediately, and Lael and I rearrange ourselves to make room.  The boys are quick to retreat to the top bunk, and to sleep.  The dogs are restless for a time, and Carolyn is ready to share stories of the trail.  She has been hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing this trail in winter for nearly twenty years.  Partway through the story of another year’s adventure, I fall back asleep.

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By morning, Lael and I fetch water from the stream for coffee and pack our things.  Cabins are nice, for a time.

Overnight, clouds have rolled in.  Snow falls.  Wind overhead teeters treetops.  Today is a whole different world.

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Lael is excited to explore.  This doesn’t look like the honeymoon ride I shared with the guys last week.  She couldn’t be happier.

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I’m always curious to find what she hides in her bags.  She fills her new Wanderlust top tube bag with a shaker of sea salt, formerly a plastic container of decorative cinnamon cake toppings.  A 5-Hour Energy signals a return to her old touring habits of caffeine-loading at gas stations.  The three yogurt-covered peanut clusters I’ve offered her as sustenance in the last hour have disappeared into her bag.  I also spot an espresso flavored energy gel, also caffeinated.  I promise, her framebag is filled with real food.  Apples are on Lael’s menu all day, every day.

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We ride up into clouds, snow, and sun, barely.

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In contrast to our ride last week, this is a whole other world.

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Cresting mounds of glacial gravel, rising above treeline, the wind presents itself in full.

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Nate and Bud and Lou have been fossilized in the mud from last week.  The ground is rock solid and windblown.

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Riding uphill and upwind, we stop at each major gust.  At twenty, thirty miles an hour, it challenges us to remain upright on the bikes.  At forty, fifty miles an hour, we stop and bow our heads.

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A good time to be wearing a snowboarding helmet, I think.  This was my little sister’s helmet 15 years ago.  Somehow it has made its way from NY.

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After pushing and riding for a few miles, we decide to turn around just short of the pass.  We consider running up and over the next small hill to see it, but the triviality becomes apparent as the wind gusts once again.  Lael is still smiling.  Not much will erase that.

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Of course, unrideable uphill trail is blazing fast in reverse, both downhill and downwind.  Gusts propel us through drifts.  We pass two hikers on the way down.  They watched us push into the wind a few minutes ago.  “It is a little easier in this direction”, I offer.

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This section of trail, with a healthy tailwind, ranks high.

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Lower, the trees provide shelter.

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We stop into the East Creek cabin to look around, and to warm our fingers.  As blood returns to our digits, the world begins to defrost as well.

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After lunch and a nap a few miles further down the trail at the Fox Creek Cabin, the two hikers arrive just as we are leaving.  We pass the warm cabin to them.

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A fresh layer of snow makes any landscape more beautiful.

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Back down to the bridge, we look forward to a quick ride out to the trailhead.

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This week, I’ve revised my luggage.  We only have one well-worn seatpack between the two of us, so I attached a drybag to the underside of my saddle.  I’m thinking I’ll stitch some straps to the bag to make a permanent seatpack out of it.  For just more than the price of the bag (13L Big River Dry Bag, about $30), it presents a cheap solution to lightweight packing, especially in conjunction with my preferred Sea-to-Summit compression drybag (size S/10L) up front.

Same as last week, I also packed a Porcelain Rocket framebag, Revelate Gas Tank and Williwaw pogies, and Randi Jo bartender bag.

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Lael uses a Revelate framebag, Viscacha seatpack and Williwaw pogies; Randi Jo bartender bag, and a Sea-to-Summit compression drybag (size XS/6L) up front.  She loves her Salsa Mukluk.

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She is also using her new Beargrass top tube bag from Wanderlust Gear out of Missoula, MT.  The design features a single zipper down the center, and is almost the exact same size as my Revelate Gas Tank.  Always creative with her words, she’s calling it the Beargrasstank.  The Bunyan Velo “Get Rad” patch is sold out for now, but new patches have arrived.

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The snow accumulates, and the riding changes.  Ice is no longer a hazard, and steering is a little less precise in fresh snow.  For now, only a few inches pile up and the riding is great.

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A few hazards are hidden under the snow, but the landing is softened.

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The snow becomes very wet further down, and waterproof layers come out.

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Across Resurrection Creek one last time.

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Overnight.

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A few days away, finally.  Three, now only two days out of town.  Overnight– on a very familiar bike.  Since last time, the Pugsley has a new chain and cassette, tubeless tires, and a full luggage system from Revelate Designs.  I use a large Carradice Camper saddlebag for longer tours as it offers twice the capacity of the Revelate Viscacha seat bag, and also fits my MacBook Air.  But this seat bag rides nicely, and is lighter.  Up front, I typically us a compression dry bag for my sleeping gear, but I opted to try this large handlebar stuff sack called the Sweet Roll, paired with my Revelate Pocket accessory bag.  The Pocket makes a great mini-messenger bag when not attached to the bike.  The included shoulder strap is always attached, and provides daily use over the shoulder.  I bought all of these bags last May directly from Eric in Anchorage expecting that Lael would use them over the summer, but she didn’t have enough gear to necessitate so much space.  Mostly, she used the seat bag and Gas Tank top tube bag on her Hooligan.  Without a computer, I could easily pack for long distance excursions with these bags alone– another nail in the coffin of racks and panniers.

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Charlie at Two Wheel Drive is an invaluable resource for local route planning.  Over that past decades he has ridden everything in this part of New Mexico, and beyond.  Over the past few weeks, TWD has become the fatbike shop in NM.  Coming soon, monthly fatbike rides– arroyos, snow, forested trails, and the moon!

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A couple of Hooligans

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This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I ordered a pair of 20×2.20″ Maxxis Holy Rollers for Lael’s Hooligan.  She insisted that she wear out the current tires, 1.5″ Kenda Kwest slicks, but once the tires arrived I couldn’t resist.  I admire her resolve to wear through tires, but these Lil’ Rollers are tons of fun.  They add to the diverse absurdity of the Hooligan.  The current build incorporates comfortable stylish parts from Velo Orange, some lightweight Revelate Designs bags for daily commute-packing, and these little Maxxis beefcakes.  Anymore, Lael loves Maxxis tires.  She likes upright handlebars, lightweight camping loads, and chunky rubber.

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Some fun LED lights light up the night.  Thanks to Linda and Lanny for these fun holiday gifts.

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Velo Orange Tourist handlebars offer a classic look in a practical dimension.  For a round town bike, the rise and sweep on these bars is perfect.  Also, VO cork grips.

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The tire rolls well, although it is marketed as a BMX/Dirt Jump/Urban Assualt tire.  For Lael, it’s a versatile commuting tire that can hit the trails in a pinch.

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Some comfortable Clarks and large platform pedals make for happy feet.  These new Velo Orange Sabot pedals are buttery smooth as they use a series of sealed cartridge bearings.  Rounded pins improve traction.

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Neo-retro– a Velo Orange Model 3 saddle and a Revelate Viscacha seatbag.

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Of course, every practical bike must have a bell.  This is my favorite way to mount one.

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Some cheap Bell sunglasses and a Giro Reverb helmet round out the Lael’s specialized commuting kit.

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A couple of Hooligans.

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Jetsam and flotsam

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The list of items that populate my bags and my bike is exhausting.  My Kit List accounts from this past month are almost completely inclusive.  However, if I was to upturn my bicycle and shake all the contents from the bags, a few items would fall to the ground to my surprise.  Some are useful, just in case; some are useless, mostly; and at least one item is an unexpected stowaway.  Item origins are indicated in parentheses, when known.  Less than half of these things are even remotely essential.  If you are looking for a way to trim down your touring load, start with the small stuff.

nail clippers, the worst I have ever used, $1.99 CDN in a small gas station (northern B.C.)

insulated electrical housing, 3 inches (came with Supernova headlight, Alaska)

extra Surly rimstrip for Marge Lite rim, black (Bozeman, MT)

1ft. yellow ribbon with reflective strip (Alaska)

3 spokes, length unknown but hopefully useful somewhere on the bike (Alaska and Montana)

tube of Nivea SPF lip product (Ontario, since June 2011)

spare tube, 26×2.3″ with unthreaded Presta valve  (from REI, Bozeman, MT)

tent stakes, began with 13 in AK, 9 remaining

homemade postcards, a dwindling supply of 100 (Ft. Collins, CO)

wallet

assorted business cards and grocery rewards cards

lens filters for camera (Fort Collins, CO)

6 links SRAM 9sp chain (Fort Collins, CO)

Origin-8 plastic chain retention, did not fit Lael’s drivetrain properly (Fort Collins, CO)

small Ziploc bag of 50 ibuprofen, dwindling (Anchorage, Alaska)

4 standard matchbooks with logo (Fort Collins, CO)

1 page from Dirt Rag magazine, Surly Krampus advertisement, to protect MacBook screen from keyboard when packed (Bozeman, MT)

postage stamps (Antonito, CO)

embroidered patch on Carradice Camper saddlebag, Great Allegheny Passage (March 2011)

3 plastic zip-ties (Alaska and Colorado)

1 small rubber band marked “Organic Broccoli” (origin unknown)

On our recent travels near Santa Fe, Joe Cruz exhumed a similarly well-used orange tube of the exact same Nivea SPF lip product from his bag.  His was purchased in South America, mine in Ontario, Canada.  There must be something about men with fatbikes and soft lips.

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Kit List: Luggage

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Bike bags:

Carradice Camper, leather attachment straps replaced with REI gear straps

Revelate framebag; medium, misfit to older Pugsley frame

Revelate Pocket, front handlebar bag

Revelate Gas Tank, top tube bag

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Drybags and gear sacks:

Sea-to-Summit e-Vent compression sack: contains sleeping bag, down jacket and VBL attached with REI gear straps

Sea-to-Summit, durable welded drybag: contains tent, excluding poles and stakes

Outdoor Research, silnylon stuffsack; contains clothing, stored in saddlebag

Outdoor Research, silnylon drybag; contains camera

assorted silnylon and uncoated nylon bags for organization and moisture resistance

Big Agnes silnylon gear bags, assorted; for tent poles and stakes

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Assorted bags:

Ziploc style bags for dry foods, electronic chargers, passports and papers

plastic bread bags for external hard drive and MacBook charger, books, postcards, etc.

small clutch (hand purse) for tools

Straps:

REI nylon gear straps (preferred)

Sea-to-Summit straps

generic reflective Velcro straps to attach raingear to D-loops on saddlebag

Velco strap to contain tightly rolled sleeping pad, stored in drybag

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The Revelate equipment utilizes lightweight, abrasion resistant Dimension Polyant VX-series fabrics and water-resistant zippers.  The VX sailcloth fabric, also called X-Pac, is extremely durable and is technically waterproof although it is common to find moisture inside the bags as with waterproof panniers, like Ortliebs.  Even a waterproof bag is susceptible to atmospheric moisture.  The stitching and construction of the Revelate bags is superb and the large zipper on the framebag has been trouble-free, despite much hard use.  Handmade in Anchorage, AK.

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The Carradice Camper saddlebag is made from a durable waxed cotton fabric, with leather straps.  A wooden dowel is screwed to the bag as a stiffener.  The bags are handmade in Nelson, England.

I have repaired several leather straps as the stitching has pulled away from hard use.  I also broke the original wooden dowel.  My replacement is of a larger diameter and is assembled with a nut and bolt, through a hole drilled into the dowel.  Eventually, the straps that attach to the saddle loops wear due to abrasion, whether leather or nylon.  The main cause is that a thin steel stock is used to make the loops.  I carry spare nylon straps and hope to make a rubber shim to prevent abrasion in the future.  Occasionally, I apply a fresh coat of wax to the bag, either Filson’s, Martinex, or Sno-Seal.  In place of flimsy saddlebag supports, I prefer a more rugged mini-rack such as the the VO Pass Hunter, which mounts to the cantilever posts and only weighs 250g.  A Nitto M-18 is more adaptable, and fits nicely on the Pugsley.  Carradice bags are as waterproof as any other bag I have used, including welded plastic panniers.  A breathable fabric, even as simple as cotton duck canvas, begins to breathe as soon as the rain lets up.

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The longflap is invaluable for carrying large, unexpected loads.  Mine has swallowed a bear resistant canister in Denali National Park, cakes and pies, or a twelve pack of beer.  There are no guarantees that a cake will remain unharmed, however.

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It has worn some from use, but “This item handcrafted in Nelson, England by: Priscilla”.

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The 11″ MacBook Air fits perfectly in the vertical position at the back of the bag.  It is padded by a soft case and half of a state gazetteer.  The side pockets are huge on the Camper.

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Maintenance.  A fresh waterproofing coat.

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Repairs.  I love these inexpensive straps from REI, if I haven’t said it already.  They never break and the sliders don’t slip.

Joe Cruz calls my luggage system, and my entire bike, “hobo chic”.  It works, and that’s what matters.

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Schofield Pass: Marble to Crested Butte

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From Carbondale, there are several ways to reach Crested Butte– none of them are paved the entire way.  Several routes from Aspen to CB are enticing, including the famed Pearl Pass route, but snow above 10,700 ft excludes them this time of year.  Pearl Pass is over 12,700 ft, and Star and Taylor passes are nearly as high, and include some singletrack.  McClure Pass is paved, but connecting Kebler Pass to Crested Butte is technically unpaved, although improved and in great condition.  The paved road from Carbondale to Marble connects to a dirt route through the town of Crystal and over Schofield Pass.  At 10,705 ft, Schofield was clear of snow.  On the other side of the pass awaits the famous Trailriders 401 trail down to the town of Gothic.  The ride over Schofield is the most direct, and holds the allure of the “401″.

The road from Marble begins with Daniel’s Climb, a lung-busting grade to Crystal.  Thereafter, the aspen are electric, and the road turns to a rough 4×4 track which is unrideable at times.  The Devil’s Punchbowl is a steep, narrow feature that is largely unrideable, but is a fun challenge on fat tires.  The Pugsley is a stellar slow speed rock crawler, but even a momentary loss of momentum is enough unseat me.  Cresting Schofield Pass, pockets of snow lurk in the shadows.

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The mill in Crystal is one of the most photographed sites in Colorado, drawing leaf-peepers from all over.

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Downtown Crystal.

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Turn left to complete the Lead King Loop back to Marble; stay right to Crested Butte.

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The road turns up, and degrades to a narrow 4×4 track.  Unimaginable, this was once a wagon route.  The other riders are friends of Joe Cruz.  In fact, Joe was Anna’s professor and they share a love of cycling.  She is now entrenched in a 6-year philosophy program, but has found time for some winter endurance racing including the Susitna 100 and the White Mountains 100.  That’s 100 miles, in the snow.  I’m working hard towards a PhD in bicycle touring.  Push.

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Wet feet.

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Rocky road.

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Finally.  Another world awaits on the other side.  From the top of the pass, turn up onto the 401 Trail to climb above 11,000 ft.  An epic descent awaits.

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The 401.  With a light cover of wet snow, the Pugsley has come full circle.  From snow to snow, this bike has been everywhere between an Anchorage winter and high mountain passes in Colorado.  The tread on my Larry tires is worn, and doesn’t hold well in soft terrain.  I’m dreaming of the Nate tire at times.  Lael’s Maxxis Ardent holds the trail well.

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Before cresting the ridge, an alpine park has views in all directions.  In the distance, the backside of the Maroon Bells.

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Going down.  Bundle up.  The soil on the other side is rich with organic matter, making for a lot of mud.  A gorgeous, but not so epic descent.

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Walking, to reduce our impact on this heavily trafficked trail.  A fine coagulation of cow shit and mud temporarily clogs our wheels.  Cass would be in heaven.  Raised on English mud, he loves this stuff.  Grateful to have a fender, I came out looking a lot like a human, rather than the mud-encrusted primates seen in cyclocross and gravel races.  Platform pedals always do their job, even clogged in mud.

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Rideable.  Coated in mud, the chains operate smoothly and silently.  Deore: +1.

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As promised (finally), a rideable descent and some memorable trail at the end of the day.

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No need to filter this water.  It comes directly from the heavens.  At least, it comes from a cow-free wilderness above.

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Camp.  Awake to clear skies, the frozen morning rapidly thaws into a t-shirt day.  The spoils of a frozen night are ideal lighting and a heavy layer of frost.  If only Lael had a camera, she could document me running around the frosty meadow in my long underwear with my camera.

Breaking the seal of our small frosty tent, I’m always excited to see how the world has changed.

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One of the nicest campsites of the entire summer.  Heat some water for tea, and ride into town.  Crested Butte is one historic home of mountain biking, and claims the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Gothic, seemingly named for the gothic arches encased in the mountainside.

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And a bike path into town.  Mt. Crested Butte looms overhead.

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Homegrown bike bags

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Updated 11/13/2013.

Oveja Negra Threadworks; Lane Condell and Monty Wilson (Leadville, CO)

Bedrock Bags and Packs: Andrew Wracher (Durango, CO)

Bolder Bikepacking Gear; Greg Wheelwright (Boulder, CO)

Wanderlust Gear; Paul Hansberger (Missoula, MT)

Randi Jo Fabrications; Randi Jo and Eric (Cottage Grove, OR)

Revelate Designs; Eric Parsons (Anchorage, AK)

Porcelain Rocket; Scott Felter (Victoria, B.C., Canada)

Hamilton Threadworks; Sarah Hamilton (Victor, Idaho)

Cleaveland Mountaineering; Jeremy Cleaveland (Grand Junction, CO)

Apidura; (UK)

WIldcat Gear; Beth Barrington (Brecon, Wales, UK)

Crater Packs; Rich Shoup (Telluride, CO)

Phantom Pack Systems: Tim O’Brien (Canada)

J Paks; Joe Tonsager (Denver, CO)

Becker Sewing and Design; (Fairbanks, AK)

Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks; (El Paso, TX)

Barking Bear Bagworks; (Michigan)

Lone Mountain Innovations; Torin Browning, (Rathdrum, ID)

Bike-BAG; (UK)

Bike Bag Dude; (AU)

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The list of lightweight bag makers is growing.  Inspired by their own lightweight bicycle travels and the growing bikepacking and endurance racing scene, these craftsman are making ultralight bags for rack-lite or rackless touring.  Lael recently picked up an Oveja Negra front accessory bag called the “Lunch Box” at SubCulture Cyclery in Salida, CO.  The bag is made locally in Leadville by a promising upstart comprised of a seamstress with a riding habit and a rider with a sewing itch. Constructed of the now standard Dimension-Polyant VX-series sailcloth, the bag holds a paperback Gogol novel as well as a windbreaker and small personal items for easy access during the day.  Made in Durango, the Bedrock “Chinle compression panel” pictured below was spotted on the Colorado Trail.  As every town should have a brewer and baker, a framebuilder and a bag maker would also populate my ideal town.

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There are several other supposed bag makers, but they have been excluded if their websites indicate inactivity.  Carousel Design Works is a notable exception.  Please share any additional leads so that I may update the list.

Good Morning Great Divide

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Bed by campfirelight, awake by sunlight. Smoke fingers linger over my down bag in the early morning; I always take time to admire how lofty my bag has become by sunrise. I played games with REI for years returning bags, and finally bought a better bag at a local shop in Missoula last summer. I’m fully content with it, and a vapor barrier extends the range at the end of the season. Toss the coals about, lay a log on top and heat some water– coffee and cream of wheat will get me where I’m going. This is my last night in the woods for a while, as I’m into the great wide Wyoming open for a week of sage and sunshine. I can count the campfires I’ve had over the past four years on one hand, and this seemed like an occasion to burn a little bit of the woods. The campsite was littered with rusty cans of Texas ranch-style beans and shotgun shells– it wasn’t dirty by USFS standards, but well used. I took the opportunity to use it some more. If i’d had a big gun, I woulda shot it.

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Two days ago I climbed away from Idaho on the Reclamation Road between Yellowstone and Teton National Parks into a thick August swarm of tourists. Yesterday I climbed away from Teton tourists to the not-so-secret handicap accessible swimming hole at the top of Togwotee Pass. Descend twenty miles, then climb back to Union Pass and ride until dark. From my camp at 9000 ft, today is all downhill, nearly, and the final miles into Pinedale are paved. Ice cream and wifi aren’t too far off, despite fifty miles of riding. I rest my forearms on the bars and find my aero position– I’m there by noon.

The Great Divide narratives underscore the pretense of long stretches without water, the presence of bears and to be off the trail by “mid-October at the latest”; mostly I count long stretches without a half-gallon of ice cream for $4.44, and the fact that I’m “in bear country” is nothing new. The riding is occasionally challenging, but the route is a logistical walk in the park with the help of the ACA maps. It’s dangerous to visit supermarkets with big eyes and an empty stomach as 4 for $7 promotions of Keebler cookies and day old donuts are tempting– a hungry sucker, I had to find a way to pack a dozen day old donuts and a half-gallon of soymilk. The soymilk fills the Kleen Kanteen, but doesn’t last long. The donuts are now a ball of smashed donuts, and that’s just fine. This is the first “super”-market I’ve visited since Butte, and the experience is overwhelming– they have everything.

Leaving Idaho behind, squeezing between the two national parks…

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Not interested in an $8 campsite– the campground attendant was incredulous at that, and rude– I rode the final hour of sunlight to the Teton Nation Forest boundary. This is public land and I figure my tax dollars are hard at work helping the trees grow so that I can sleep amongst them. Actually, the USFS is a road builder above all else. They build a lot of roads, and a gated logging road provides perfect camping. I awake to climb up Togwotee Pass, to a 46 mph descent down the other side, and a climb back up to Union Pass. At 15 mph the Surly Larry tires hum, at 25 they sing, and at 45 they scream.

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Making camp by campfirelight, I awake to descend two-thousand feet to Pinedale over fifty miles– let the fat tires roll.

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