The Road to Missoula; Baja Divide presentation at Free Cycles, July 14

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We’re in Missoula for Adventure Cycling Association’s Montana Bicycle Celebration which coincides with their 40th Anniversary.  Lael and I will be presenting about the Baja Divide route at Free Cycles on Thursday, July 14 at 7PM.  Here, Lael crosses the Manhattan Bridge.

From the end of the Trans Am Bike Race in Yorktown, Virginia to New York City, seaside Connecticut, a tour through Nutmeg Country and the Berkshires of Massachusetts to a corner of Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains of New York to the St. Lawrence River, a plane from Ottawa to Bozeman and a quick six day tour to Missoula via the Trans America Trail.  That’s less than a month, 5 trains, two short distance car rides, one plane, and about 600 miles of casual (mostly) paved old-fashioned bike touring.

In the days following Lael’s finish on the Trans Am Bike Race we awaited several other finishers including Steffen, Evan, and Kai. 

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Race organizer Nathan Jones was in town for the day, before beginning a return car trip to Portland, OR.  Driving the route in reverse, he encountered most of the racers still out on the course.  Here, Steffen, Nathan, and Lael at the finish.

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Lael enjoys her first sit-down meal in 18 days, and is most excited to be able to order breakfast at 5PM.

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Kai Edel, of Germany, arrives a day and a half later.  I peeled Lael out of bed at 6AM to ride back to the Yorktown Victory Monument to meet Kai.

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We brought coffee, strawberries, muffins, Gatorade, and beer.  As you’d expect of any German bike-messenger cross-county bike racer, Kai is more than happy to crack a brew at 7AM.  Let the record show that Kai is the first finisher to enjoy a beer at the finish line.  Nathan, any chance there can be points or colored jerseys next year for riding a 17 year old carbon fiber bike, or finishing a beer at the finish line at 7AM?  

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Saying goodbye to the Yorktown monument for the last time, Lael, Kai, and I board an Amtrak train north to New York City. 

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We arrive at Penn Station at 2 AM, reassemble our bikes, and part ways.  Kai is a regular in NYC and plans to ride for a few weeks as a messenger, to pay all his debts from eating gas station food across America

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Lael and I navigate pubic transportation to reach Brooklyn that night where her brother is living.

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We enjoy a short visit and a long walk around town.  Asian pastries for breakfast, tacos for lunch, a haircut for Lael at a Mexican salon.  Brooklyn is rad.

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We roll over to Manhattan to connect with an MTA train to Connecticut where my brother is living.

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After a brief visit in Stamford, we board another train to meet a mysterious man further up the coast of Connecticut.  The train slows as it enters a region known as Nutmeg Country.  

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There, a shirtless bearded man greets us and leads us into a small cave full of collectible and very well-used Shimano equipment, Made in the USA curios, and an assortment of odd Asian imports.

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We recognize the print on his denim jersey, a sketch celebrating his bike gang, the Hot Bod Rando Boyz.  The sketch was done by our mutual friend Yuval from Jerusalem.  

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The bearded man lures us to an old commercial pier with a lone lobster roll eatery.  There, a group of bicyclists await.

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The group rides through an expansive television set made to look like a quaint New England town, c. 1998.

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The group converges at the crossroads between several manicured dirt roads, all rideable on Lael’s 28mm tires.

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The least machismo arrangement of shirtless men ever assembled gather to talk about the way they dress their bicycles, while the women drink beer and talk about nothing important.

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Roads grow rougher, until finally the group dives into the pizza portal.  Our fearless leader promises the most exquisite margherita on the other side, which is convincing enough to send Lael down a rooty singletrack trail on carbon fiber aero wheels.

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The promise of margherita pizza comes true. We empty our framebags of all the pesos and shekels we can find and ride away into the night. 

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In the morning, our sage host grinds a roasted bean from a distant continent and brews a potent black elixir.

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At our request, as I long to visit my family in the distant land of New York, far up north near Canada, we are led to one of the few portals out of Nutmeg Country.  To pass, we bath in the algal stream below this bridge and ride as a causal pace through a tunnel of trees.

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Out the other side, we find ourselves in a place called Massachusetts, where railroad tracks are converted to bike trails.  The East Coast is pretty great.

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Crossing through a small corner of Vermont, we meet The Professor on his home turf.  We’ve crashed his honeymoon in Prague, forced him to almost miss an important dinner in Santa Fe, and shivered through a wet night on the frozen Yenta river together this March.  Meet Joe Cruz, who turns everything into an adventure.

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Entering into my home state of New York always feels familiar, even though I’d never visited this part of the state.  Something about New York, as soon as we cross from Massachusettes, briefly through Vermont… something feels different.

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Running short on time, my parents agree to pick us up so that we can spend the holiday weekend with them up on the St. Lawrence River.  We spend time on the water and pack our bikes to fly from Ottawa to Montana the following day.

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We arrive in Bozeman, an hour after our friend Christina arrives from Anchorage.  Christina has joined us for segments of our travels in Israel, Baja California, and now Montana.  She is an ever-ready adventure partner in Alaska as well.

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Leaving Bozeman, we camp at Norris Hot Spring on the first night before connecting with the Trans America Bicycle Trail in Ennis, en route to Missoula, MT.  Our aim is to to reach Missoula for Adventure Cycling Association’s Montana Bicycle Celebration from July 14-17.  Lael has been invited to speak at the event on Saturday night and we will be hosting a presentation about the Baja Divide route project at Free Cycles in Missoula on Thursday, July 14 at 7PM.  

Free Cycles is the most high-functioning bike co-op or community bike shop I have seen anywhere.  Bob Giordano founded Free Cycles 20 years ago and the organization has had a profound impact on the community of Missoula.  They have just funded the down payment to purchase the expansive compound which they have been renting for many years.  Learn more about FreeCycles and donate to support the future of their mission.  Several years ago, after less than a few hours in the shop, Bob offered me a key to the building and allowed to sleep at Free Cycles for several nights.  We shared several engaging conversations about bicycles as vehicles of change, about urban planning, and travel.  Bob has also founded Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transport (MIST) which is a “citizen based nonprofit organization” which aims to support “active walking and cycling cultures”.

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The Trans America Trail is a well-travelled route from Virginia to Oregon.  Small towns have embraced the cyclists who pass, and cyclists develop a camaraderie along the route, often sharing campsites and stories.  

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In Twin Bridges, we arrive at the Bill White Bike Camp at the public park along the Beaverhead River.  Five other Trans Am cyclists are staying in Twin Bridges for the night.

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The donation based bike camp offers shelter, power, hot showers, and toilets, as well as tent sites adjacent to the structure.

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White boards inside the shelter show signs of many inspired rides along the Trans Am.

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Traveling toward the Continental Divide, each pass leaves us a little higher in elevation.

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We rejoin several riders from England that we first met in Twin Bridges.  Just up the road, we meet two riders from Texas who are section-riding the Great Divide Route.  This is one of several places where the Trans Am and the Great Divide routes meet, and the two actually share several miles of pavement just south of Polaris, MT.

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At that junction, with the help of a few text messages in areas with little phone service, we manage to cross paths with our friends Thomas and Mary from Anchorage, AK.  I first met Thomas about three years ago when I sold him an older Salsa Fargo which we had on sale at The Bicycle Shop.  He used the money he saved on the bike to build a dynamo wheel along with a lighting and charging system.  Last summer, after Lael’s two Tour Divide rides, Mary purchased her well-travelled Specialized Stumpjumper, but not before I replaced the broken frame!

It is a point on the route about 50 miles south of here where Lael got stuck in severe mud and wore a hole through the carbon frame in a matter of hours. 

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Lael’s old Tour Divide bike is now Mary’s Great Divide touring bike.  Lael is enjoying her Specialized Ruby once again.  For a minute, she was about ready to throw it into the Atlantic Ocean.  Now that she’s rested, none of us can keep up with her.  I’ll say it out load, Lael is faster than me.  That has almost never been true before, but 6,000 miles of road riding seems to have helped.  Now that she is fast on a bike— and we know she can sit on that thing for a long time— imagine what she can do.

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Weathering a wind storm with Thomas and Mary that night, we encounter cold wet rain the following day and make a short ride to Jackson.  The following morning we awake to snow, but clearing skies allow us to proceed.  Not what I was expecting on July 11.  Maybe shorts and Birkenstock sandals were not the best idea.

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As the weather clears the following day, we meet this cycling family from Hamilton, ON on the south side of Chief Joseph Pass.  It is so cool to meet people like this riding bikes.  There are always a few cold shoulders on routes like this, but the majority of the people we meet are awesome.

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The snow level the day before was somewhere around 7000ft.  We bundle up for the 3000ft descent to the Bitterroot Valley.

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 A friend meets us to camp at Lake Como on our final night before Missoula. 

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The last day of riding is mostly along the new Bitterroot Bike Trail from Hamilton to Missoula.  State paving crews are putting the finishing touches on the trail prior to the ribbon cutting event this weekend.

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Of course, our first stop is Adventure Cycling Association.  We’ll give you a full tour after the weekend.  If you aren’t already a member of ACA, join now.  They do good stuff.  Come visit us at Free Cycles on Thursday night if you are in town!

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Correspondence: My old Surly Pugsley, in a new home

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A few weeks ago, I added a page to the site titled “Contact me!“.  Already, I’ve enjoyed correspondence with several people, including an acquaintance and host from the San Luis Obispo Bike Kitchen, and the current owner of the purple Surly Pugsley that I rode for a year and a half, including a six month tour from Alaska to New Mexico.  

I purchased the Raleigh XXIX that I am currently riding less than a week before leaving New Mexico this spring.  As such, I was unable to sell the Pugsley in that time via Craigslist, and left it with Two Wheel Drive bike shop, where I worked part time.  I never knew what kind of home the bike found, until last week.  The following are excepts from email conversations with Eric.  

Nov. 10, 2013

Greetings from Boston, MA!  My name is Eric and I am the proud owner of your old Pugsley.  I bought it from a man who came from New Mexico and sold it to upgrade to a Ti fatbike.  I had known about your blog for a bit but had no idea that responding to a pictureless craigslist post would present me with such a find!  I have just completed my first (of hopefully many) bikepacking overnighters.  During my trip, I found problems using a rack and having the weight throw me off in turns.  I am now interested in buying the Revelate/Surly framebag to keep the weight lower, and wondered how it fit.  You said in one of your posts that the bag did not fit perfect.  What were your notes on the bag for the Pugsley? I wondered if it was a problem while traveling or would you advise towards a different bag.  Please let me know and thank you for being a great resource and inspiration in bikepacking.


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What great fortune to hear about the old Pugs!  I left the bike at Two Wheel Drive bike shop the week before I departed for Europe this past summer.  I worked at TWD part-time and Charlie offered to sell the bike for me if I didn’t get rid of it before leaving town.  Thus, I never knew where the bike went, although I hoped it would find a good home.  I know it is a well used machine, but I guarantee it is much, much more functional than when I first bought it in Seattle in the winter of 2011.  I picked it up for $1250 on a week-long layover in Seattle/Tacoma before flying to Alaska for the first time.  I eventually discovered rusty and maladjusted bearings, handlebars too narrow for my preference, and the ‘spare’ tire that wouldn’t seat to the rim due to damage (most likely from an overzealous tire lever operator).  By the time I was done with it a year later, nearly the only original part from my purchase was the frame! (some changes made for personal preference).    I will be flying back to AK this December, and hope to be riding another fatbike before the new year.  I am hoping to do things a little differently this time.

When I purchased the framebag directly from Eric (Revelate) in Anchorage, he was short on stock, and I selected to use a size Medium framebag on the older Medium frame.  As you may have learned, the Pugsley frame design changed a few years ago, when the new triangulated section near the seat tube was added, lessening the space within the main triangle.  As such, the current offering of framebags does not fit the older frames exactly, however, a Large size Revelate framebag should readily fit your Medium Pugsley.  Actually, the older frames offer more framebag space than newer frames– just buy ‘up’ a size on stock Revelate bags for an older Pugs.  The Large bag should fit nicely, and will help stabilize the ride compared to what you describe.  If you’re going for a completely rack-less setup– or even a rock-lite system– don’t hesitate trying out various dry bags and straps before putting down money for all the proper bikepacking kit available.  The ‘real’ stuff is top notch, although it is not always completely necessary.  I’ve wandered through a slew of home-brew bikepacking methods before landing on something that works for me.  At present, I have a lot more capacity than most bikepacking systems (for the computer, and luxuries of food and water).  Still, the bike rides nicely, maintains a narrow profile, and comes in lighter than the average rack and pannier system.

Do you have any photos of your overnight trip?  I’d be happy to share a few photos on the blog, along with some of our correspondence.  I think lots of readers will find it interesting to follow the infamous purple Pugs.  I find that conversations like these can be enlightening to others.

What do you do in Boston?

I hope you continue to enjoy the bike!


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Hello Nicholas,

Thanks for the quick response.  I will most certainly go with the large bag then!  I’m excited.  I have my next overnighter scheduled in two weeks where a fellow mechanic and I will ride fatbikes down the North South trail in Rhode Island.  It doesn’t seem like there is are as many long distance trails here in New England, but again I am new to searching for them.  Hopefully they will make themselves more apparent as time goes by.  I have had the bike for just about 2 months now and it still maintains about the same set-up that you left it with, but soon overhauls will need to be done.

I am originally from North Carolina and moved here to Boston about 4 years ago on a whim to escape the clutches of suburban desk jobs.  I ended up finding a home in a non-profit named Bikes Not Bombs, which provided a cycling community and taught me the skills to work on bicycles.  I am now a full-time mechanic.

For the first overnight, I started from home, cut across to Borderland State Park in Easton, MA and down to Dighton, MA through the power lines for the night.  On my first night, I found out my gear is not nearly as warm as I had expected :).  The next morning I headed down towards Bristol, RI and rode up the East Bay Bike Path and continued up the Blackstone River Path back into MA.  Not as much off-road riding as I would like but I am looking forward to more great rides!  Long distance on the roads is tough with the Pugs but off-road it is like butter!  I covered about 110 miles on my overnight.  Please let me know if you know of any good rides in this area.  I am itching for more continuous dirt roads.

I will take good care of her and feel free to drop by and take her for a spin if you are in town.


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Boston-area bikepacking routes:

Does anyone have any suggestions for mixed-terrain or off-pavement routes near Boston, MA, or within range of the city via public transit?  Note, fat tires don’t play well with bicycle racks on many buses, but something like the Amtrak Downeaster works.  Help an urbanite out of the city!