Bunyan Velo, Issue No. 2

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Bunyan Velo, the celebrated grassroots e-magazine by and for real cyclists has returned with a second issue.  This free publication features compositions of words and images from Cass Gilbert, Casey Greene, Joe Cruz, Alex Dunn, Daniel Malloy, Glenn Charles, and Erik Jensen, among others.  This is the healthiest scoop of adventure cycling in any one place, ever!

Lucas Winzenburg, the editor-in-chief and creator of Bunyan Velo has worked hard to compile the efforts of over a dozen riders and writers.  Individually, they each lead busy lives as professors, engineers, velojournalists, fishermen, and cartographers, while Lucas is a full-time student.  This issue includes no more than three advertisements, each as visually stunning as the features, and only from companies with a sense of adventure.  Consider a donation to Bunyan Velo to ensure a healthy and ad-lite future, or purchase a digital copy to enjoy offline.  I just donated $10 towards Issue #3.  Tell your friends! 

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Top image: Cass Gilbert; Bottom: Glenn Charles

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Electric eastern forests

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The conjunction of New Mexico sunshine with a temperate northern climate equal late-spring electricity in Northern New York forests.  Local residents, and flora, are equally excited at the passing of Memorial Day, which is referred to as the unofficial start of summer around here.  These images are imperfect on their own, yet in series they speak to the dramatic range of a short walk in the woods with my mom.  Some have been edited, other have not.

I purchased my first camera exactly a year ago– an Olympus E-PM1— and have learned greatly from the experience of shooting every day in diverse situations.  My skills do not yet exceed the capacity of the camera, although there are times where I wish the camera or the lens could do things a little differently.  I am looking to multiply my camera collection to give Lael a dedicated system, rather than to borrow mine.  I am mesmerized by the Olympus OM-D, and some modern Panasonic and Olympus prime lenses.  However, less expensive camera bodies are also exciting, leaving a lot more money to experiment with lenses.  I am coming to realize that there are a range of fully-manual legacy lenses that can be adapted to fit M4/3 camera bodies– great glass at a great price, or even decent glass for really cheap.  These days, I operate aperture and shutter speed manually, and use the auto-focus function on the camera with the manual focus engaged.  This allows me full imaging control, with the convenience to shoot one-handed while on the bike, or in other compromising positions, while focusing manually when both hands are free.  I use the zoom to compose images so that I almost never crop images in Lightroom, although much of the time I don’t touch the zoom at all.  Finally, I want something that performs better in low light.  My surroundings are constantly changing.

For anyone looking for an excellent camera and an inexpensive entrance into the popular Micro Four-Thirds format, the Olympus E-PM1 is now sold for under $300 with the 14-42mm kit lens.  For the price, it is a solid workhorse for an aspiring photographer.

Our walk encircled the Tug Hill State Forest along popular winter XC-skiing trails, and traced the rim of Inman Gulf before returning through the forest to the trailhead.  Deep riverine gulfs are common around here as streams downcut into the fractured sedimentary rock of the Tug Hill Plateau following the last Ice Age.  The plateau rises nearly 1000ft from the lowlands surrounding Lake Ontario, capturing over three hundred inches of snow annually.  Native hardwoods dominate these forests, and my memory, including sugar maple, American beech, black cherry, red oak, and hophornbeam.  Streams splash into the depths of Inman Gulf from all sides.

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City to country: Bianchi San Jose

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My first adult bike a was a late nineties Trek 820, a USA-made rigid cromoly steel mountain bike.  It was paid for in part by lawnmowing money.  I was thirteen years old.  Several bikes followed, including a new Gary Fisher Tassajara and a used Cannondale touring bike, as well as several cheap singlspeed and three-speed cruisers purchased at garage sales after the two previous bikes were stolen.  This Bianchi San Jose marks my reintroduction to bicycles in 2006, following a brief hiatus where I commuted everywhere by longboard.  This bike was paid for by the entirety of my first paycheck as a dockhand at a marina.

Originally, the Bianchi San Jose came as a tough singlespeed cross-bike, built more for commuting than racing.  With versatile 32mm tires and a 42-16 gearing, I rode everywhere, especially between work and home.  The first day riding home from work, I was thwarted by a steep uphill grade.  The second day, by the same route, I bit hard and muscled up the hill.  I count singlespeeding and fixed gear riding as significant developmental periods in my time as a cyclist.  At the time, I was an aspiring mechanic that would sometimes make things worse, rather than better, by attempting repairs.  A singlespeed bike was the perfect place to practice my skills. 

The bike gained a pair of eggplant purple deep-V Velocity rims, a Brooks Professional saddle and narrow road tires, along with an absence of brakes.  It was a your average urban fixie, although I thought it above average.  I chopped a pair of old drop bars into a homemade bullhorn bar, eventually turning them backward for a narrow upright position.  It is this permutation that I liked best.  It is like this that I rode to Seattle for the first time, from Tacoma, and decided that a cross-country tour was possible, and eventual.  I still have not ridden cross-country, but that autumn I left on my first bike tour.  

The bike now lives in uptsate NY.  It was a gift to my brother for his high-school graduation, at which time it gained an 8-speed Nexus internal gear hub, practical urban tires, full-coverage fenders, swept-back handlebars, a rear rack with a basket, and a bell.  It has become my daily rider when visiting home.  

The details of the build include: Shimano Nexus 8sp IGH, CST Selecta 700x38mm tiresSKS P45 Longboard fenders, Velo Orange Tourist handlebar, Delta rear rack, Wald basket, and Velo Orange brass bell.

The Rocket Ring is drilled for both 110mm and 130mm 5-bolt BCD.

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Full-coverage fenders, IGH, puncture-resistant tires, and reflective sidewalls– not far from the average Dutch bicycle.

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Shimano internal gear hubs boast incredibly light shifting, even under moderate load.

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The front mudflap nearly reaches the pavement, keeping feet dry even through puddles.

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The basket is zip tied to the rack, as recommended by Rivendell and others.  It is best to wrap the zip ties several times before locking them tight.  Here, they are wound around the rack only once.

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Cantilever brakes provide excellent stopping power when properly adjusted.  Brick-colored Velo Orange brake pads offer excellent stopping power, and are a less expensive upgrade than Kool-Stop pads.  They work very well in wet weather.

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The basket is huge, and conveniently carries a salad for six, dressing, a rain jacket and my Porcelain Rocket purse/camera bag.  Actually, the Porcelain Rocket bag is designed as a front bag, to be used in front of the handlebar roll or drybag.  With a shoulder strap, it works well around town. 

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It has been great fun to explore new and old ideas.  I may seriously consider an IGH in the future on a personal bike, and my next pavement touring bike might just have a couple of baskets.  

 

 

 

Everything I know

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The smell of wild scallions by the roadside in Belgium reminds my nose of dill and parsley drying in the attic.  Nettles and raspberry brambles claw at my ankles and remind me of exploring the depths of the garden as a child, somewhere between butternut squash and the fence.  The dewy emerald rewards of a climate rich in sun and rain feel like home, no matter where in the world I find them.

Maslo— Ukrainian for butter– with every meal, “makes you strong”.  Desserts, and beets, are similarly good for bodily constitution.  Hard work is the only way, and most things require some hard work.  God, country, and family are somewhere on the list, either before or after maslo and varenyky and beets.  These are the feelings that constitute home.  This is an elegy for my dying Ukrainian grandmother.

Now, my grandmother is 94 years old.  She no longer has an attic full of parsley, she does not clear slugs and brambles from her garden, and she has largely cleared her table of worldly affairs.  She has lived longer than my grandfather and many others that travelled to the United States during the same period.  She outlived the second war, emigration to a foreign country as a young widow with a young child, and survived a state-wide artificial famine in Ukraine in her childhood.  She traveled to the United States in search of freedom, something I’ll never understand the way she does as I’ve never lived without it.  Yet, I benefit greatly from everything she has done and, necessarily, everything that has happened in her life.  She has always provided food, shelter and love for her family.

The world is a rapidly changing place which has passed her by in many ways, as it often does to people nearing one hundred years.  She never drove a car, used a computer, or threw anything away that could be used again, and again, and again.  When she moved out of her house several years ago, we found hundreds of small plastic yogurt containers.  As a child. I remember enjoying the lemon yogurt that originally came in them, and then using them to drink water, milk, or homemade raspberry chai.  She never threw them away, and must have found a hundred other uses for them around the house and in the garden.

At the dinner table, each of my grandparents would use and re-use a thin paper napkin as many times as possible before finally disposing of it, usually a handful of meals per napkin.  The hand soap in the bathroom was vinegar, as a I recall.  For entertainment, we would pick raspberries or peel potatoes, perhaps even take a walk to the park.  Several years ago, I took her to the supermarket for the first time in nearly a year– she exclaimed, “how many kinds of cheese do you need?”.  I still don’t know for sure, as I love cheese, but the answer might be only one.  Because of her, I know the difference between need and want.  More than nostalgia, these memories serve to inform my adult life.  I am consistently astounded by how nearly my own philosophies mirror that of my grandparents, and finally, that I now love beets.  I used to think that everything I knew I learned from traveling by bike, and caring for my needs.  I now realize that I learned everything first from my grandparents.  Live simply, and live well.

To eulogize the living is the best way to celebrate life.  Before this is no longer possible, I am going home.  Europe can wait.  I have reached Bruxelles by way of the GR12 and by now, I am on a plane to upstate New York.  I will remain there for several weeks and will return to Europe when the time is right.

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Running away with the circus

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Jo Emmers ran away with the circus fourteen years ago.  He has been at it ever since.  He is a performer of all kinds– a comedian, acrobat, puppeteer, vocalist, and a dramatist.  He, like others in the circus, are responsible for all aspects of the operation, both on stage and off.  Circus Ronaldo has been in existence for over forty years, with a familial history even more storied, which now includes current members that count six generations of circus performance.  The circus travels from city to city, in a caravan consisting of everything needed for their performances.

Jo caught us filling our water bottles in the park.  He wandered over to have a chat about traveling by bike, as he says he also enjoys riding and traveling by bike.  Shortly, he invites us to stay for the show.  And for a simple meal after the show. And for the night, in the back of the circus’ box truck.  Jo rides a nearly original Raleigh three-speed bicycle with a pair of modern canvas panniers.  The bike features an original sidewall dynamo and lighting (which works!), and a small leather tool bag attached to the saddle that suggests many useful years.  I parted with an official pin from the Society of Three Speeds, and suggested that he may be interested in membership.  Jo is one of the nicest people we have ever met, willing to offer anything to make our day better.  There aren’t words for the kindness that Jo exudes, but he inspires us to keep smiling and to remember to be kind– simple, but profound.  Thanks Jo!

Out of the woods and into the city of Lier.  Each city offers new sights, a different history and new opportunities.

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While filling water bottles in the park, Jo invites us to the circus.  The show is sold out, but he offers to sneak us in the back.  First, he shows us around.

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The tent is divided in half– one half serves as an entrance and a bar, with standing room.

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The other half presents an ornate, and portable stage.

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We break for dinner before the show.  After a week of rain, skies finally clear.

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Dressed as an Italian bartender, Jo serves drinks and hustles some extra business from behind the bar.  Below, he is dancing atop the bar and singing in Italian.

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Amaretto liqueur, per favore.

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Most people ride bikes to the show.  Belgium is not quite like the Netherlands, although it is still home to millions of bicycles and daily riders.

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Above all, the show is a comedy, while acrobatics, marionettes and drama are involved.

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As the show ends, we embark upon an evening ride to explore the city.

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We sleep in the circus’ box truck for the night which keeps us dry without the hassle of a tent.

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In the morning, croissant et café au lait.

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We say goodbye in the morning.  Just across the street, we are back on the route, currently riding GR12 towards Bruxelles.  The GR12 connects Amsterdam, Bruxelles, and Paris.

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Within a few minutes, we are out of the city once again.

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Bikepacking Europe

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Thus far– less than a week, really– bikepacking the GR5 route has been a rich experience.  I use the term bikepacking loosely, for at times we are amidst city bicycle traffic, overdressed for the occasion.  At times, we encircle local forests along dirt doubletrack– roads to rural homes or geometrically organized forest service roads.  And sometimes, we are riding singletrack– walking, horseback riding, or sometime even mountainbiking trails.  The promise of the GR and official European walking routes is a diverse overland experience, easing from city to country several times daily, from pavement to dirt at will.  These are not wilderness trails, exclusively.  They are not exclusively singletrack.  They are always different.  For Europeans that dream of famed bikepacking routes across the globe, such as the Colorado Trail or the Great Divide Route, do not overlook the opportunities out your front door.  Coloradans and Californians should be jealous of the routes that exist here, for several reasons.

An expansive network of local and long distance routes: With the North Sea behind us, signage now points towards Nice, over 2000km away.  This location near Bergen op Zoom is the intersection of the GR5/E2, GR11, GR12, and GR17.

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Signage, guidebooks and maps are copious.  Lael and I are following red and white blazes marking trees, signposts, electrical boxes, buildings, and fences.  Most of the time this is all we need,  Occasionally, signage is faded or damaged and we are sent looking for the route.  With the right approach, even these wild goose chases are part of the fun.  We consider it like a treasure hunt for grown-ups.  Guidebooks are available.  Local maps and guides are always available at libraries and tourist offices.  Wandelnetwerk (walking trails) on the left, fietslus (bike trails) on the right.

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While we are simply following a red and white breadcrumb trail, major junctions also have public maps.  Most often, these maps show major cycling routes or local walking trails.  Even without the GR5 route listed, we can identify nearby towns and roads should we need to navigate locally.  This map actually shows the GR routes that pass through Bergen op Zoom.

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Wet weather has cordoned the camera to a dry corner of my framebag, but the riding is great!  Well-drained singletrack and doubletrack through lush forests is countered with visits to small towns with libraries, markets and bakeries.  We awoke this morning to sandy riding along these inland dunes; this afternoon, we go searching for the Westmalle Abbey, one of only seven genuine Trappist breweries in the world.  During the day, we visit two libraries to dry off and write home.

While backpacking Europe has become expensive, as the price of hostels, lodging and rail passes have increased, bicycling or bikepacking Europe presents an affordable way to travel.  Following rural routes, we find plentiful campsites in picturesque settings.  Our major daily costs are food and wine.  As we enter Belgium we add beer and chocolate to the list.  The variety of cheese, wine, and cured meats expands as we near France, and the prices decrease.  We eat better here than anywhere else, and it doesn’t cost any more.

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And unless you like the look of pit toilets, stock tanks, and barbed wire, European bikepacking offers more exciting architecture than the popular routes in the States.  We asked directions through this area and were told to turn left at the “great white house”.  Turn left here.

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There are 11 major walking trails in Europe, designated E#.  For example, we are following the E2 route, which coincides with the GR5.

Additional resources on European routes in this Wikipedia article.  France has the greatest network of trails, with over 64,000km of walking trails.  Major routes listed here.

We have also followed some of the North Sea Cycle Route, a mostly paved route which encircles the North Sea through the UK, Scandinavia, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.  Finally, the EuroVelo association has developed some excellent long-distance cycle routes across Europe, mostly paved or graded surfaces.  Lael and I have ridden some of the popular EuroVelo6 in the past, and found it to be well-signed, selecting interesting routes with low-traffic volumes.  The opportunities are endless.

Dutch life

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Our life in Holland.  Other people’s lives.  Sometimes, the crossroads of our lives and theirs.

At or below sea level, water plays an important role in much of the country.  Shipping, agriculture, and land reclamation are essential to Dutch life.  So is rain.

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Dijks separate water,

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from land.

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What can’t be grown outside, is grown inside.  Naturally, a bike path bisects fields of greenhouses.

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In Amsterdam, a canal bisects the city and a sea of bicycles.  There are hundreds of bicycles parked within view.  There are hundreds of canals in the city.

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Rails run down the center, buses and small cars use the lanes, bicycles fill the brick-colored bike lanes, and parked cars separate pedestrians from it all.  This is prudent and humane city planning.  People and things are transported efficiently.

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Real people walk and rides bikes.  Most people walk and ride bikes.

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This small rural street is one lane wide, with two bicycle lanes, one on either side for each direction of travel.  More bicycles than cars use this route.

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A teenager riding with a euphonium is completely normal.  His mother congratulated his performance, kissed him on the cheek, and sent him cycling towards home.  Parents attended the outdoor concert by bike, despite 30kph headwinds/tailwinds.  Aerobars on upright bikes are not uncommon.

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Wind, weather and age are not excuses to stay home, or to drive.

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This food-truck festival was widely attended, mostly by cyclists and pedestrians.

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Other industries are present along the county’s waterways.

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A rich history is everpresent.

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Alongside modern life.

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Best of all, natural settings are not lost amidst centuries of civilization.  Open spaces exist in Europe, and we’re still clambering along the shores of the North Sea– hills and forests lie ahead.

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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.