Training rides?

Lazing around for two weeks can take a lot out of you.  That is, it can take the gut and gusto out of a previously robust body.  I have been on my bike an average of every other day, for lack of destination or reason to ride.  I can’t think of the last time I didn’t get on a bike at all during a day.  Perhaps sometime last summer?…even that is unlikely.  Maybe sometime during the blustery February on the Brittany coast, due to daily hailstorms.

This time has been a nice opportunity to do all the additional planning I don’t need to do.  I always figure that I’m ready to leave town at a moment’s notice, but now I understand how people spend years planning for trips.  The internet offers an unlimited resource for time wasting and money spending, as do local outfitters and equipment suppliers.  I have largely avoided spending any money on myself, but have opted to refit my brother’s bicycle with some new gear to prepare it for the gritty streets of Philadelphia, where he will be attending school next year.  Fenders, lights, a giant Wald basket, some North Road bars and new tires (w/reflective sidewalls!…I love it) are approximately what I think a good Philly bike should be.  The bike is a Bianchi San Jose equipped with a Nexus 8 gear hub, which should make all-season riding less of a chore, especially for someone who doesn’t enjoy fiddling with bikes.  Philly is mostly flat, urban riding with distinct seasons and pot-holed roads.  The new tires are 700c x 38, and should offer a forgiving ride.

Rather than spend money on myself, I have managed to improve my bicycle by overhauling my rear hub, repairing my dynohub/USB power adapter, and cleaning all drivetrain components, including the installation of new derailleur pulleys.  I had a pair of pulleys along with a few other spare parts, but noticed they were 11t, instead of the 10t pulleys on my derailleur.  They installed without any trouble and work quite nicely.  They should wear a little better than 10t pulleys and technically, would reduce chain frictiion by enlarging the the diameter of the chain wrap.  Details.  Though, they do feel quite nice.  A cheap breath of life for an old derailleur.

I have enjoyed riding out to my sister’s place in Sackett’s Harbor, about 12 miles from Watertown, and today will ride up to Wellesley Island (of the Thousand Islands) to help my parents wax a boat that has been dutifully neglected for nearly a decade.  My Droid mini-computer (I don’t use it as a phone) is sufficiently loud to play music while I ride, and offers basic cycle-computer functions thanks to the internal GPS, all the while keeping a charge from my Shimano hub dynamo.

I plan to leave this weekend once my brothers bike is completed.  My first day back will include either a series of suspension bridges to Canada, or a series of ferries and some island riding to Kingston, Ontario.  Either makes for a fun day back in the saddle.

I’ve had my eye on a film entitled “Heartworn Highways” for some time now, featuring a collection of some of the neo-traditional songwriters of the mid-1970’s, the literate outlaws –many from Texas– who fit in with the tradition of the early songwriters rather than the modern country sound of the day.  Here is a young (19 yrs.) Steve Earle singing “Mercenary Song” at Guy and Susanna Clark’s house, Christmas 1975.  I can’t stop listening to this one.

I can do whatever I want

forwarded from a friend, found at adelaidecyclist.wordpress, and others

This has become the operative philosophy over the past few years. Take a big walking or biking trip and see what I mean.

ACA maps arrived in the mail. For someone who appreciates the simple road map, these are going to be great fun.  Water and tear resistant paper, elevation profiles, turn-by-turn directions (w/distance), access to towns and services including food and water, campgrounds, history and background.  With the amount of paper that would be required to carry proper map detail for the entire Great Divide, these maps are a great value.  And thanks to the ACA, the work of route selection through rural and federal lands is done.  From experience, USFS roads can be disastrously confusing at times, akin to a woodland maze.

Traveling with a computer

Computers are an indispensable part of modern life, and efforts at living simpler without phones, computers, and electronic maps are meritorious, but perhaps neglect the necessary progress of the day.  That is, where would one be without the ability to receive text messages?…probably missing a lot of social engagements.  Without the ability to access a computer and the skills to use it?…not getting a lot of jobs I can think of.  An obvious analogue– what if we were still stuck upon those whimsical dandy horses, those mechanical steeds of yesteryear?  Yes, the bicycle.  Wouldn’t our world be small and uncomfortable?

So I may not be the most passionate proponent of progress, but to choose from a sampling of old and new technologies should afford us more choices than ever before, thus better solutions.  Ignoring the craze of smartphones in the past several years, I was surprised to learn last fall that the newest generation of the iPod Touch would replace my netbook in nearly every way, which I had assumed two years before was the greatest thing that could come of micro-computing technology.  I was quite wrong.  Large computer screens and keyboards are the two most voluminous features of a computer, in addition to some of the weight.  Dispense with those, and you can manage a tidy package, especially in the absence of other features such as disk drives, and input/output connections.  Thus, the tablet and the smartphone are born.  In the case of the iPod touch, it is just a little computer, not a phone– the benefit is that no phone plan or data plan is required, especially useful when traveling out of the country.  I loaded nearly 30GB of music onto the iPod, used it to communicate via e-mail and Skype, secured warmshowers hosts during LA’s near-Biblical flooding this past Christmas, applied for a job (successfully); also, to plan routes via Google Maps, check weather, find stores, and browse the internet.  WiFi is your leash, but it is most often free, and free is always the right price.

Presently, I am considering handheld GPS units, not so much for the ability to locate myself (I have always managed this in the past), but to have access  to preloaded maps with road and topographic detail for an entire continent.  For someone who travels the distance of many states, but also requires high-detail maps in some areas (BLM or USFS lands, cities, lazily winding country roads, everywhere), preloaded maps can be a huge savings in paper, cost, and time.

Another option is to navigate via one’s computer or smartphone.  Computers and the iPod touch can load sections of maps from mapping programs such as Google maps or MotionX-GPS which can be referenced while en route.  The same can be done on smartphones via 3G or 4G networks as well as with true GPS on some phones.  Alec Burney (of VO fame; also recently completing the Shenandoah 1200k) has wired his iPhone to his VO switchable dynamo hub and navigates via maps downloaded from MotionX-GPS.  The device locates him in most instances, but even in the event of poor connectivity to satellites or cell towers, the maps are preloaded for the desired area and can thus be used in the traditional manner.  I supposed I am obliged to recommend that paper maps be carried in case of equipment failure, but in many situations, the next gas station will provide an opportunity to purchase a map and locate oneself.  If in the backcountry, paper maps are more highly recommended, and the ability to locate yourself via GPS is much more valuable, as road signage often becomes sparse.

For now, my solution is something like my duct tape fix to my tent, which has also received a dose of Nikwax Tx-Direct wash-in waterproofing.  My sister is offering her used Droid X phone, which will offer similar functionality to the iPod Touch with the option of making it my primary phone device in the future.  For now, I will likely avoid the mandatory $30/month data plan–in addition to the basic phone service- and use the Droid like a little computer for offline computing and when WiFi is available, and continue using my basic four-year old phone.

Technology is not really changing our lives, it simply changes how we do our lives– how we connect with others and information.  Asking locals about remote roads or paper maps from a local USFS office can still be the best way to plan ahead, but in some instances, connecting to crazyguyonabike has allowed me to research routes ahead from a cyclist’s perspective (never to be underestimated).  Google maps now includes rail-trails and bike lanes into their software; Motion-X GPS is $2.99 from the app store; the iPod Touch can handle basic word processing, internet browsing and lots of music; and DeLorme offers the handheld Earthmate PN-60W with preloaded maps (N. America) and the ability to communicate custom text messages to a SPOT (via Bluetooth), which then connects via satellite.  I await the unit that manages to integrate all of these utilities: phone, WiFi/3G, GPS mapping, and satellite text communication. I once feared that electronics would take the thrill out of the adventure– that micro-managing navigation would never allow me to get “lost”.  Short of purchasing DeLorme state gazetteers –which are great, just bulky and $20 apiece– I have nearly exhausted the possibility of paper-only navigation.  Then again, if you know from whence you came, you are never lost.  Maybe next time ’round I’ll use the map as toilet paper and have a real adventure.

Thanks to Alec Burney for electronic expertise and the USB charger now growing off my right fork blade, powered by the dynamo.

Gearstuff, sometimes we overthink it

Despite how much time I spend optimizing gear selection and packing my bike, I’d like not to make absolute recommendations for bike or outdoor equipment considering the varying needs that others have.  Brooks saddles for example, have been good to me, although I am always hesitant to recommend them because the experience of spending time upon a saddle is so personal, much like boxers v. briefs, or leather shoes v. modern synthetic shoes, or synthetic v. down sleeping bags; in these cases, users have strong allegiances to both camps, and in many cases, have had success with either or both in various conditions.  The point– we live in the future, and shit works, all of it.  Go use it, go ride it; “an unridden bike has no soul”.  For a more clever and verbose expression, consider what the folks at Surly have to say in a recent, memorable blog post:

Yes, you can tour on your bike – whatever it is.

Yes, you can race on your bike – whatever it is.

Yes, you can commute on your bike – whatever it is.

And a personal favorite:

Which is better, riding long miles, or hanging out under a bridge doing tricks? Yes.

Despite the anti-consumerism sentiments, a few pieces of gear march on after many days and nights outdoors and receive hearty approval.  My Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent, purchased three years ago, has been a solid performer doing what a tent does in two inches of rain (just behind King’s Peak, Lost Coast, CA); 50+ mph winds staked down to a sandy beach (Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola, FL); in addition to many freezing nights (everywhere).  I estimate over 300 nights in this tent, in addition to being packed and unpacked for many months of travel.  In this time, the main tent body and tent poles blew away while drying outdoors along the banks of the Nenana River near Denali NP, and were efficiently replaced by Big Agnes at discounted pricing.  While planning solo bike trips, and even some solo thru-hiking, in respect to the cost of a new tent and the minimal weight savings, the Seedhouse SL2 prevailed.  I could have saved a few ounces on the 1 person model, but then you can only sleep one with less room for gear, in addition to the expense of a new tent (if you intend only ever to be one, the SL1 is an excellent choice, but for a little more material a lot of gear space and comfort can be had).  You can invest in the Big Agnes Fly Creek models to save some weight, but the construction is, well, more lightweight, not the absolute goal in long-term bicycle touring equipment.  The Seedhouse/Seedhouse SL models, with their freestanding netting are perfect for buggy summer nights, or damp fall nights with just the rainfly in use for maximum ventilation when bugs aren’t an issue.  I can even lay down on the footprint and go to sleep under the stars,  to raise the rainfly without exiting my sleeping bag if drops begin to fall.  Complete, the tent does what a three-season tent should do, all in a tidy little package.  My favorite feature– it’s a simple, outdoor green.  This thing is ultimately versatile; simple, lightweight, and appropriately minimal considering all the features a tent provides.  And in spite of it’s light weight, the construction of the tent has held through repeated staking, winds and general use and abuse.   To benefit from a significantly lighter system, you wouldn’t be sleeping under a tent any longer.  Despite trying to spend money on several occasions, assuming there were better, lighter, simpler tents out there, I failed.  Once again, with a torn rainfly from a mid-night mishap, I can find nothing better than a duct tape fix (high dpm ratio) and many more nights.

Then again, if you have a tent that does what tents do, that’s pretty rad too.

Seedhouse SL2- netting

Seedhouse SL2- fly only


With a kind $40 donation, I have been received into the Adventure Cycling Association’s (ACA) elite membership.  That’s actually what it costs to become a member, although the benefits include discounted maps and guides as well as a subscription to their magazine, Adventure CyclistI have avoided giving them money for a long time, only because I never needed their maps and rarely encountered their routes.  With the exception of Pacific Coast travels (which barely require any navigational aides), I have only spent a few hundred miles along the ACA’s Southern Tier route along Florida’s panhandle, and most of the distance from Phoenix to San Diego; as well, US route 1A along Florida’s Atlantic Coast comprises part of the Atlantic Coast route (but the route, in Florida, barely requires maps).  A magical thing happens on ACA routes–  you see other bike travelers.  My first trip, down the east coast, not a single traditional cycle tourist was encountered from Maine to Key West.  Exiting Key West, and north through the state of Florida this remained true.  The morning we turned onto Route 90 east of Tallahassee, the Southern Tier route, we saw three cycle tourists within the first hour and we continued to see people on occasion.  The same was true between Phoenix and San Diego.  As for the Pacific Coast, in season, hordes of cyclists are encountered.  Elsewhere in America, the roads may be perfect and the scenery spectacular, but it is unlikely to encounter another person riding a bike and sleeping on the ground

I purchased the first section of the Great Divide maps beginning from the Canada border into Montana, in addition to a map containing the 213mi Canadian connector from Banff National Park down to the border.  With $40 membership and $11.75 apiece for the maps, I am tied financially to my plans to bike west, then south along the Great Divide.  It seems I have bet myself $63.50 that I won’t make it as far as Polaris, MT.  I am determined to come out ahead on this one.  I put off purchase of the other maps as I expect I can pick them up when I visit ACA headquarters in Missoula, MT, along with my obligatory photograph and ice cream.

I am, for some reason, averse to membership.  I didn’t apply for REI membership until long after I had spent enough money to make it worthwhile, and I have avoided ACA membership because…I guess it just feels like spending money on nothing.  Now maps, that is something I can spend money on.

A few extra days allows me to get everything dialed in; alternatively, I may just be spending money.  A new merino wool shirt and replacements for items lost on a forgetful trip from Annapolis to Watertown: a small pack-towel, knife, and sunglasses.  All ready to roll: not priceless.

I’m grateful for northern New York summers; they beat the heck out of the sauna that exists south of the Mason-Dixon line.  These are the summers of my youth; with a healthy dose of freshwater swimming and a trail ride yesterday on my first adult bike– a cromoly,  USA-made rigid Trek 820 Mountain Track– the air is thick with history, not humidity.


Blink of an eye, Part II: Foreclosures on memory lane

I have signed up for another big day.  This time, the lure of a bed at my parents house has obscured better judgment.

Leaving Ithaca this morning leaves me thinking.  My friend Josh experienced a near-fatal automobile accident almost a year ago, and has only been back at home for six months.  He is doing well, and is continuing physical and speech therapy.  Good news, morale seems high.

What am I doing in life?…what can anyone do?  I think I am doing the right thing.

Headed towards Cortland, my hometown, always gets my heart pumping: who might I run across? what/where should I visit? what will have changed?  Sadly, I didn’t see much of anybody, I didn’t find anywhere to go, and not much has changed, except for a new Wal-mart Supercenter on the next large open space at the outskirts of town (this replaces a regular Wal-Mart next door).  Sadly, this is not much of a hometown homecoming.  Most friends have found lives and careers in other places, some have recently married, and I assume still others are having children.  My old house?…haven’t seen it for years.  Cortland memories have become less and less tangible.  It might be time to transition Cortland, NY from live hardcover text in the mental library, to microfiche, or digital facsimile.  Tuck it away somewhere in a box, and let it collect dust.  Maybe the discard pile is a better place.

Left Ithaca about noon, caught a tailwind in Dryden, blew through Cortland, Tully, Syracuse, and now on to Watertown, hopefully by dark.  Two days of 130 mi each means I broke some of my own rules.  Rest time.

America, in the blink of an eye

The day started out at a snails pace, warming cool toes and fingers deep in the Pine Creek Gorge.  I hadn’t realized until later, but I was packed and on the bike by 6:30.  Not bad for not trying.

I am now blazing along, passing towns and crossroads with a rapidity that forms more a blanket experience for the area, than any particular memory.  Mid-day, I had traveled over fifty miles, and I realized that Ithaca was within range, so I left a message with Josh to see if it would be worth my time arriving in town tonight.  Under the influence of yogurt-covered pretzels, I decided it was time to for a big day.  One day to allow all those ice-cream filled forty-miles, and swim breaks, and afternoon naps.

The Pine Creek Trail was truly spectacular, but offered no natural comparison to the Grand Canyon (they say, the GC of PA).  The trail, like the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) was perfectly graded, crushed limestone and allowed quick passage, that is, with the exception of the black bear lumbering along in the middle of the trail.  I waited.

I passed wooded campsites and canoe launches, kids pulling bike trailers with fishing gear, and elderly couples cycling the midweek away.  And then, a older man with a dislocated shoulder.  All I could do was quickly cycle ahead, for no cell reception was to be had in the gorge, and thus time was regained from my stand-off with the bear.

Turtles, groundhogs galore, chipmunks, an eagle, a deer collides with a truck; and of course, the lone, lumbering black bear.

All in a day.  All in America.

Thanks to the kind man who bought me a large hoagie and coffee at 7:30 in the morning, it made the day possible.  Best of luck in Mexico.

The promise of the wild

Admittedly, I have spent very little time alone in the woods.  The perception of cycle-touring is often of wooded campsites and rolling meadows; kitschy diners, roadside fruit stands, and friendly folks.  With luck, some of this will come true, but beware of truckstops, overpriced state park facilities (30 amp power, what for?), raging motorists, bugs, heat, cold, rain, and wind.  No, it’s a good life, really.

South-central PA has been a dream.  Rolling farmland separated by linear, parallel east coast “mountains”, the Appalachian.  Rural state highways around here offer shoulders (route 26 from MD state line to State College, PA), or low traffic volumes, or both.  PA maintains almost a dozen signed cross-state cycling routes, which I have intersected at several points along the way.  While I have not been explicitly following any until now, they always reassure my route selection.  I just caught up with PA Route G, which will guide me the next 20 miles to intersect 65 traffic-free miles along the Pine Creek Rail Trail.

Just a few miles out of State College, past Tussey Mt Ski area is Rothrock State Forest, and as I’m told, over 350mi of dirt road and trails, most of which is open to biking.  This, along with a culturally rich, rural town, makes State College a haven, not unlike Ithaca, NY.  I wound up and around about ¾ mi of graded gravel road to find a fern-covered flat to lay my tent.  And that was it.  That’s the way everyone envisions it.  Beautiful forested country road; legal, free camping; deer in the moonlight (not a black bear, my headlight exposed), and a light rain by morning.  Camp broken, and packed up, a ¾ mile gravel descent is a quick cure for bleary eyes.  Good morning PA.  Good morning bike trip.  This is gonna be a good day.

Pine Creek Trail tonight: great camping, great scenery, and a swim.  Just as you imagine it.

Dollars per mile (dpm)

With no Whole Foods in sight, and a quick thousand feet up and over before State College, PA, a quick snack was in order.  I had some peanuts on hand, and uncooked lentils and rice, but it seemed the local ice cream/deli/convenience store was calling my name.  I was barely off the bike before I spotted a sign advertising two hot dogs for $1.50.  Add a gang of condiments and a quart of chocolate milk, and I had both quick energy (sugar: lactose, dextrose, fructose, and more fructose), and something for a few miles down the road (fat and protein).  The best part, the bill was $3.00 even.

Of course I can eat healthier, and I can certainly eat cheaper, but considering time and enjoyment alongside health and expense, it wasn’t a decision that was going to break the bank or body, and I made it to State College just fine.  The quart of milk, alone, provided 32g fat, 32g protein, with a full daily dose of calcium and vitamin D.  Milk has become one of my favorite snack time choices, as I often want something sweet and refreshing, but really don’t need to buy any sugared, colored water (Gatorade, soda, “juice”), and could benefit from the additional food-energy in milk or even soymilk.  In rural Pennsylvania, the most local items in a convenience store are often pretzels, old-fashioned potato chips, and milk.  Finally, some small-town groceries have paltry food choices.  The best I could do in a Sheetz convenience store the other day were a few bananas, salted peanuts, and milk.

Dollars per mile is fun.  Beans win the food category, but dried beans are complicated on a bike trip.  Lentils and rice (easier to cook) are close as are all grains; oats, peanuts, raisins, eggs, turkey dogs, and yogurt are next.  Fresh foods are harder, but bananas are cheap, despite coming from Central America.  Apples in season are a dime a dozen as are potatoes, onions, cabbage, and other hardy greens.  Fruits and vegetables in season can be affordable, and delicious.  Tires: Schwalbe Marathons compete with Marathon Plus…the Plus costs almost 30% more, so does it last that much longer?  It might.  Brake pads:  Kool Stop smooth post cantilever pads in salmon color might outlast most tires.  However, replaceable cartridge pads might win because they are cheaper per refill.  Lights: If you ride more than a little bit, dynamo lighting will quickly become cheaper than batteries, not to mention more reliable.  Shoes: I get an average of six months from a pair of Adidas Samba shoes.  My last pair cost $30.  Clothing: I’m not wearing underwear.  Is that weird?…or cost-saving?

Any good dpm suggestions?

Currently sitting outside Freeze-Thaw Cycles in State College, PA.  One of the better bike shops in the country.  Go out of your way to see it next time you are in central PA.

Frogs and fireflies

Half-a day in an air-conditioned McDonalds isn’t any usual sort of therapy, but bottomless 40oz. Kleen Kanteens of soda and free WiFi are just what the doctor ordered yesterday afternoon.  Dodging a dripping wet heat that eventually gave way to thunderstorms, I computed for several hours, familiarizing myself with the WordPress interface and searching for my “voice” (still looking).  I’m going to test-ride this blogging thing for a bit.  I’ve got something to say for sure, I’m just not sure if any of it needs to be said aloud.  We’ll see.

At dusk, I set off into much cooler air.  The trail, recently soaked and now dark, took the effect of a video game in which fireflies were quickly approaching stars and galaxies   The trail became a tunnel of obstacles as potholes pooled water and fallen limbs begged rear derailleurs to tangle; my powerful, narrow beam of light pierced the soupy rain-soaked air to uncover obstructions in just enough time to be safely averted.  Twice, fallen trees required dismounting.

I interrupted half a dozen post-rain frog gatherings.  Frogs seem not to know which way to go when approached, nor do deer or squirrels.  I’m not sure I would either.  I suppose the only thing that gets you dead in that situation is indecision.  Decision, of any kind is better than indecision.  Campfires along the banks of the Potomac completed this small-town Saturday night. The evening drew me into Ray Bradbury’s Green Town, IL, full of dandelions and fireflies, fresh cut grass and thick summer air.  Men were fishing the river at dark just above the dam.  Riding the trail at dark was like staying out late past bedtime; to come home sweaty with grass-stained knees and muddy shoes, a childhood prize.  I might be eight years old.

Heading north today from Hancock, MD into PA.  State College and the Pine Creek trail (the Grand Canyon of PA) are on the horizon.