Category Archives: tour

Bike Packing: The gear I use to travel light and fast

Post 2 about my bike packing trip from Seattle to Minneapolis. My first post was mostly stories and photos from the 15-day, 2064-mile bike trip; today I want to share about the gear I used.

I’ve now logged over 12,000 miles of bike touring since 2001 and each trip is different in some way. I’ve used road bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes; ridden off-road, on-road, in other countries; I’ve camped with a tent, without a tent, etc. But for every trip there are constants: you need to sleep, you need to eat, you need to be protected from the elements and you need to somehow carry your gear on your bike. I call these ‘systems’.  For example, riding SF to LA in 3 days I decided against carrying a cooking system and relied on snacks and burritos along the way. But for longer trips I want the option of cooking my own meals and making my own coffee when I wake up. Now what I’ve learned is you can have these comforts without carrying 40 pounds of gear. Below are the details for what I carried for a 15-day, 2000-mile trip.

Sleeping System

In bike touring and in real life, we spend about 1/3 of our time sleeping so doing so comfortably is extremely important.  When it’s dark and cold and you’ve a few more hours to ride it’s surprisingly helpful to know that you’ve a warm bag and soft pad to curl up with! 

From left to right

Mountain Hardware 35 degree synthetic bag- This Spring bag weighs in at 2lb 4oz. Synthetic, has a hood, zips tight and is affordable.

Titanium Goat Ptarmigan bivy sac- A bivy sac is like a glorified sleeping bag; it’ll protect you from the elements with as little material as possible. This super simple one weighs in at 7oz and is as minimal as it gets. It won’t protect you from a rain storm, but helps with wind and light rain. I have the bug net hood option which makes it more breathable.  My ‘normal’ bivy is an Outdoor Research Alpine that is super heavy-duty, but weighs 2 pounds.

Thermarest 3/4 sleeping pad- A pad is not only a soft surface to sleep on, it keeps you off the ground and much, much warmer. I made the mistake of not knowing this on my first big bike trip! This one is 8 years old and has been patched once. They make lighter, better ones now!

Tarp- keeps your stuff off the ground and helps it to last a bit longer. Worth its weight! This one is 11 yrs old, from my first bike trip, which I have cut down from tent size to bivy size.

Cooking System

Trangia West Wind stove- $30! Weighs about 3oz without the ‘windscreen’ which is really just a holder and not much of a screen. Runs on alcohol, which is cheap and easy to find. You just pour in and light! Unlike the DIY stoves you can store leftover fuel right in the stove. I carried additional fuel in a old 20-ounce soda bottle.

Wind screen from my MSR Dragonfly stove, cut down.

Snow Peak titanium spork- I carry this everywhere

Snowpeak 1L pot with pan/lid

Measuring cup- for coffee and when I had to separate foods

DIY pot holder- folded pieces of aluminum

lighter, waterproof matches, aluminum piece to put stove on, can opener

Gear

I rode in my Swarm! kit and had sleeves, knee warmers and a vest for cold weather.

Mountain Hardware goretex rain jacket. I prefer the non-cycling rain jackets as long as they have armpit zips. Also works as a regular, warm jacket!  A good rain jacket is worth the initial expense and not a place to skimp. I’ve gone through enough cheap crappy ones that this investment is worth it. I didn’t bring rain pants. I figured if I’m riding and it’s raining I’ll stay warm enough.

Change of clothes for chillin in small towns. I bring a button-up shirt to make up for the poor hygiene. Patagonia zip-off pants and light weight minimal running shoes.  Outside of my riding gear, rain jacket and one extra pair of socks this was my only clothing for 15 days.

Bag System

Rack-less bags are all the rage. Without racks you have fewer things to fail and much less weight. My original Jandd rack weighs more than all of these bags together! Jill Homer wrote a great article about the benefits of a rack-less system (warning: PDF!)  and the Adventure Cycling Association has started to carry these bags in their online store.

Two very small companies are leading the way in the progression to rack-less bags, Revelate and Carousel Design Works. The seat bag below is from Carousel Designs and the handlebar bag (along with the pocket and dry bag) are from Revelate.  Both are brilliantly designed and built to last. Though, as much as I hate to diss small companies, I have to say I had a very, very hard time getting either of these bags. Weeks to return emails, promised deadlines not reached, unanswered calls…super frustrating. If you are going to order from either of them make sure you have an unlimited amount of patience and time before you need your gear. Maybe they are improving, but from the sound of things on the Bike Packing forums they are not (maybe time to check out the DIY bag forum?).  My other two bags, the ones attached to the top tube were one-offs made by my good friend Chris. The top one was used to store snacks and the one that sits in the triangle stores tools, fuel, lights, etc. My friend Errin Vasquez has been making his own bags too.

 

 

 

From years and years of carrying a messenger bag, I don’t mind wearing a bag on my back. They key is to carry bulky- but light- items in it, like your sleeping pad and shoes. I like this Deuter Bag because it has a light internal frame and space which keeps it off your back- and therefore less sweaty. I rarely carried water in it, but it was nice for those few 100 degree days I had.  I’d link to it but mine is super old and it looks much different now…

Other- tools, med kit, hygiene, lights

I carry the same stuff as I do on a day ride: multi-tool, pump, tire levers, patch kit; and for touring I include a few ‘just in case’ bits like a tire patch, spare chain links and a few spare bolts. You medical kit and hygiene needs are more individual and items that are figured out as you go on more and longer trips. Mine are pretty basic- I do cut my toothbrush and brush my teeth with Dr. Bronner’s, which also doubles as a cleaning agent when your pot needs it.

For lights I used my commuter blinkies and the Princeton EOS bike light which can be mounted on your helmet or handlebar and be used as a headlamp.

New on this trip, I carried a lock. It’s not much, but this lightweight Knog lock could be the difference between someone riding off with your bike or not.

 

Handlebar bag and pocket, recently filled with vegan chocolates.

Breakfast time. Often I’d sleep one place and then roll to somewhere with a table to make breakfast. I usually only carried one day of food at a time. If you are traveling lighter you can go faster and get to stores more often.

   Another view of my fully-loaded bike.

Bike

My bike is a custom steel frame from Seven with close to 50,000 miles on it. I’ve a mix of Dura Ace and Ultegra along with Ksyrium SL wheels- weighs in at about 18 pounds. What if I broke a spoke? Well, that would have been bad. Faith in Vagueness!

I didn’t actually weigh everything, but my guess is that my gear comes in under 15 pounds. It’s traveling light, but still comfortable without spending an insane amount of money.  You could easily go lighter, if that’s your goal. But for me this trip was about having fun and traveling light in order for it to be easier. When you go too light it starts to get hard again. And to me bike touring is all about fun!

I hope this list is helpful and if you are thinking about a bike trip in 2012, you should do it! Nothing beats bike touring.

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Bike Packing: Seattle to Minneapolis, 2064 miles, 15 days

[I’m breaking this trip into 3 different posts: 1) the story, 2) my bike packing gear, 3) nutrition for bike packing]

Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, Montana- I made it to the top before the road is closed to cyclists. All down hill from here!

 

I had arrived at the campground late- probably close to 1am. I had taken a few hours off earlier in the day to hangout at a farmers market and it was now super dark. I wasn’t even positive that I was in the hiker/biker camp. But it was still somewhat familiar.  I was in Glacier National Park and had just ridden 151 miles on the 6th day of my Seattle to Minneapolis bike tour on the Adventure Cycling Association Northern Tier Bike Route.  The Lake McDonald campground is the same one I had stayed at 5 years earlier, the night before Steevo and I started the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route at the Canadian border. Five years already? Earlier in the day, in Whitefish, Montana, I took my time eating snacks, drinking coffee, people watching… I knew it’d get me to camp late, but I didn’t care. That’s the wonder of bike touring. Sure, I missed the beauty of approaching the park in the daylight, but riding along the nearly empty road, under the trees, with a chilling wind coming off the lake has its own merit.  The only issue? The next day was the only morning on my entire trip where I had to wake up early. In Glacier National Park they limit the times you can ride Going to the Sun Road and I had to be over Logan Pass in the morning if I was going to get in 125+ miles.

But I was too elated to be bike touring to care. When I rode from California to Pennsylvania in 2001 it triggered something in me about self-reliance, exploration and physical effort that has greatly impacted my path in life. All of these double centuries, brevets, 24-hour mountain bike races, probably wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for bike touring. And here I was years after my last big tour, crossing Montana again, this time East-West, instead of North-South. I’m positive that I fell asleep smiling that night.

 

 

This trip materialized after some changes in my personal life freed up a few weeks of my summer.  I had  ‘rack-free’ touring bags from my attempt at the Arizona Trail Race that fit my road bike, so why not? I had friends in both the Northwest and Midwest I was dying to see and there are still a few states I have never ridden in that I could hit by riding between the two regions: North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota.

First I had to link up to the Northern Tier Route from Seattle so I contacted the Seattle Randonneurs who were insanely helpful. A few days later and I had a turn-by-turn 137-mile route to Newhaven, Washington, which sits on the route at the base of the Northern Cascades.  Here I’d have my first night of camping. Finding tofu and veggies at the tiny store in Marblemount only added to the excitement. Bike touring again, finally! There’s something special about riding all day, watching the light change as the sun sets behind you and topping it off with a quiet dinner in the woods. Really, is there anything better in the world?

 

Looking east from Logan Pass- all downhill from here.

 

I knew from the elevation on the maps I had that there was going to be some serious climbing over the next few days. I was extra stoked to have my race bike and to be traveling super light- my bags and gear were down to about 15 pounds. This includes stuff for cooking, sleeping and even rain gear. What I wasn’t expecting was the heat! It was nearly 100 degrees and super sunny on Rainy Pass!  Even though I averaged 138 miles a day, I wasn’t pushing super hard or riding all night, but I did have to limit my breaks and keep a healthy pace. This was tough through the mountains but became increasingly easier as I headed East.

By the time I hit Montana the weather was less hot, all but one of the big climbs was behind me and my legs were getting used to my daily effort. I was in a routine and had gotten my re-supplies timed so that I only had to carry, at most, one full day of meals. Often I’d time a store so I could pick up food for dinner and breakfast just a few hours before dinner time. And did you know that tiny towns all over NW Washington and Montana have co-ops? I scored seriously great vegan food almost every day.

In Montana I crossed Logan Pass and then cut through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to cut out the Northern Tier section through Canada. From here: flat and open plains. Tiny, dirt-road towns situated around train stops, not the highway. One could see the next town from 20 miles away. I’d count the number of cars on the trains to pass the time. So few vehicles would pass me on the road that when they did, I’d be startled. It was joyous. And the people of Montana! I took a half day in Shelby to do email/internet and grab my box at the Post Office and it took way longer than expected because so many friendly folks wanted to chat. Love it.

 

Northern Cascades in Washington State

 

In North Dakota apparently I missed a re-route because I was, for the first time, on a busy highway with trucks and no shoulder. In Minot I picked up another package, hung out at a friendly bike shop and enjoyed the big city. I pushed on to Fargo, camping in small town parks along the way, where I sat down to eat a meal out that wasn’t just breakfast potatoes. Fargo felt like Los Angeles compared to where I had been for the past week!

Fargo is also where I veered off of the Northern Tier for the sole reason of riding through a new state- South Dakota. And let me tell you, having great maps to read with a plethora of information really is comforting when you are traveling in unfamiliar territory, alone. Once I was off those maps I was reliant on my notes and getting reception on my phone. I think it was just getting dark when a county road I was assured was paved turned to gravel…I needed to detour. That made for a long day toward the end of a long-ish trip where I was getting tired. Funny what expectations will do- as I neared the end I wanted to be at the end. My limits of traveling or just something that happens when you reach the near end of any endeavor? My guess is the latter…

 

One of the huge passes in the Cascades.

 

But South Dakota came and went and before long I was in the final state of the trip- Minnesota. Still ‘off-route’ I was guessing my way across and searching for a 60-mile rail-to-trail a bike mechanic back in Minot had told me about. A bike shop (yet again!) set me on the right path, despite their apprehension due to its perceived banality.  I was excited t not have to navigate for 60 miles! That path came and went and before too long it was dark and I had to accept the fact that Minneapolis would have to wait till morning.  I camped behind some trees on a farmer’s driveway and thought, ‘it’s late, no one will come down here’ and for the second night in a row I was caught sleeping somewhere I wasn’t suppose to be! The night before someone had called the police on me, which is a first, as I was setting up camp next to a barn on what I thought was public property (the police kindly directed me to a park ‘with picnic tables and a better place to sleep’).

 

I slept under this half pipe one night- some things never change. Somewhere in Eastern Washington.

 

And the next morning, I woke up just like the previous 14 mornings, packed up my stuff, made some coffee and breakfast and pedaled toward my next destination. But this day would be the last of my trip and would end very special- with vegan pizza! I rolled into Minneapolis in the late morning and quickly found the bar with the great vegan food I had heard so much about. I ordered, changed out of my kit and suddenly I was just another guy with a bike eating an entire large pizza. I did like most people would do- I posted to twitter and sat back and thought about the previous 15 days. How quickly they passed! I already missed them. Sure bike touring can be physically difficult and things can go wrong, but there’s something so peaceful about it. You wake up, you eat, you ride, you look around and you think. It’s easy, in a lot of ways.  I’ve come to so many life conclusions while bike touring. I’ve come to peace with many internal conflicts. I’ve ridden myself to tears even! And I love it so.

This story is very late and my photos are out of order, but I hope you get a feeling for what it is like to travel by bike for a few weeks over a couple thousand miles. When I look back on my life over the previous ten years I often smile biggest when I think about the times I’ve spent on one of these trips.  But don’t take it from me, start planning your next bike tour whether it is your first, or your hundredth!

Lastly, too many people to thank! You know who you are. And I can’t thank you enough.  Especially the local bike shops. Remember next time you want to order online to save some money- Amazon won’t give you directions when you’re lost on a bike tour.

More photos below, enjoy!

 

Control panel

 

River at campground in northwest Montana. This photo does no justice....

 

Glacier National Park

 

This was my view for a number of days in Eastern Montana

 

 

The Baker Massacre. Props to Montana for educating people about history and not trying to hide this.

 

Eastern Montana clouds

 

It's a privilege to be outside for the sunset every night.

 

Minot North Dakota road out from flooding! Had to find a new way out of town.

 

North Dakota lake

 

I cut the tiniest route through South Dakota ever- and at night. Still counts, right?

 

60 mile rail to trail in Minnesota

 

End point. The last city sign sprint of the trip!

 

 

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‘Tortillas and Me, Grocery Store in North Dakota at Dusk’

Going through trip photos and I love this one. Solo bike touring puts you very much in your head. You adapt to your new life as a transient so quickly and a giant mirror in a grocery store gives you a rare glimpse of yourself from the outside.
This is 11 or 12 days in. My kit is filthy. I had been looking for tortillas obsessively in every store I stopped in for two days and finally found them. When you’ve stripped your life down to the basics something as simple as finding them is like winning the lottery. I smiled for hours. In my mind this photo captures these feelings.
I already miss being on the road.

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Looking East from Logan Pass. Going-To-The-Sun Rd, Montana

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Bike + gear = 32 pounds. Then lots of food!

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What makes a race a race? – The Arizona Trail 750

You can follow my progress for the Arizona Trail 750 at http://trackleaders.com/azt -I’ll be wearing a SPOT tracking device so you can see exactly where I am on the trail at all times. The forum on bikepacking.net will also have information throughout the race.  My good friend Mike Szerszunowicz has been my partner in planning all of this madness and is racing the 300 mile version, so look out for him too!

 

It’s 2am and I’m still not packed to leave for the race tomorrow, but I’m not too tired yet and am itching to get some of my thoughts about this race on paper. Er, on the internets. There’s so much to this race that I can barely keep track of it myself, so attempting to explain it may be futile, but I’m gonna give it a go.

As I alluded to in my first post about this race, is it is self-supported. What does that mean exactly? I have to carry all of my own stuff. I can get water, food and even bike parts, if needed, along the route. I just cannot have any outside help, ie someone meeting me and handing me clif bars. Why? To level the playing the field. It’s a stark contrast to something like the BC Stage Race where you pay thousands of dollars for support along the course and food and a place to sleep when you are done with each day. Even the famous Leadville 100, which is no doubt a hard race, has support from race staff and personal crews to give you food and water and anything you might need. All you have to do is pedal your bike. In self-supported racing you have to find your own food and your own place to sleep.  It’s only you! If you have a mechanical that is unfixable you have to find your way back to civilization to get it taken care of.

750 miles and almost as many concerns

The Arizona Trail Race differs from other self-supported mountain bike races in a few ways. One is it has way more single-track, which is actually mountain biking. This is more fun, no doubt, but almost always slower. And because it is a multi-use trail there is a lot of hike-a-bike, sections that are unridable. I’ve heard stories of racers bringing extra shoes for the long hiking sections…
Speaking of hiking, the 750 version includes traversing the Grand Canyon on foot. While carrying your bike on your back. 23 miles. Why? National Parks do not allow bikes to be ridden off-road. And the giant hole that is the Grand Canyon is too big to ride around reasonably. Since the official Arizona Trail goes down and up, so does the race. I just got back from Chris’ house where he sewed up a waist band contraption to hold the bike up and against my hydration pack.

GPS- I’ve never used one. I’m nervous about following a red line for a week. I’ve some maps and a general idea of where I’ll be, but the GPS is the key.

Tubeless tires- I’ve some new tubeless tires which are nearly impervious to punctures, as long as they don’t fail. Awesome, right? But if they fail, that’s it. Outside of a bike shop you have to then resort to tubes. And in Arizona that means slime tubes. So, even though I’m running light tubeless tires, I’ve got to carry a pair of slime tubes.

Water!- The most important nutrient. There are waypoints on the gps files with water sources, but I’m still nervous about having enough and getting it when I need it. Having never been out there is a huge disadvantage.

Rack-less bag system- Racks are so 00’s.  Lighter and faster are bags that attach to your seatpost, handlebars and just about anywhere else on your bike you can strap some stuff down.

My set up

I’m riding a steel 29er hard tail with 2.2 tires. The biggest tires I’ve ever ridden! I’ve H-bars and a dynamo hub, and the SuperNova E3 Triple light. With the GPS mounted to the stem the front of my bike looks more like a space ship than a race bike.

Weight- Every extra thing you need to carry adds up. The winners of races like this go insanely light- all gear, tools, etc under 12 pounds or so. Bike touring folks probably have 30 pounds. I’m toward the light end, but not doing anything silly/ultra light.

Food- I’m bringing a tiny Trangia stove and hope to cook to 2 quick meals a day- oatmeal in the morning and ramen noodles with peanut butter for dinner. My cooking setup probably comes in at under a pound- but is still a luxury many racers go without. I will get food at towns on the few occasions I pass through them, but veganism definitely gives me more limitations than other racers.

And here I’m going to have to cut this post short! I’m running out of time and have a few other things to do- like file for an extension for my taxes and find my sunglasses in the explosion that is my room. But I have to address one thing, albeit inadequately: the why. Why do this? Here’s the simple answer: Being out in the world, moving forward, on your own is one of the most pure experiences one could have. Without getting too hippy or John Zarzan on you, it really shows you what being human is about. Emotionally and physically. And why race? Not just go out and ride? The pressure/eustress of a race lights a fire in me that pushes me more than I would otherwise. I love it! Which also explains only sleeping 2.5 hours two nights out. Owell!

I’ll try to post a photo of my bike set-up before I roll out. And updates to my twitter the few time I’m in cell reception, and I’ll ask my crew here who is receiving my SPOT updates to post to the Swarm! twitter, but that is not guaranteed. You can always follow the race in real-time at http://trackleaders.com/azt. And lastly, thank you to all of my GREAT friends who have come through and helped me in some way. HUGE efforts with my bike, my gear and well, me. It’s so appreciated and I’ll be thinking about each and everyone of you while I’m riding over the next 7-10 days!

 

 

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By The Time I Get to Arizona- again.

You can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamn contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you’ll see something, maybe. -Edward Abbey

 

Here I sit, the day before I leave for a huge adventure, as I have many times, thinking, preparing and balancing stokedness and nervousness. One past trip in particular stands out, and with reason. Ten years ago this month I left for my first bike tour- 3300 miles from Huntington Beach, California to Easton, Pennsylvania. I had finished college in December and spent some time living in Central America with my then girlfriend who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize. I brought my bike and did a weekend out-and-back across Belize, went to Chiapas for the first time and was even arrested in Cancun at the IMF/World Bank protests (spending a night in jail is good training for bike touring – and vice versa).

Arizona played a significant role in that cross country trip.  After flying back to Texas and taking the GRE’s I took a bus to Tucson to see my close friend Boaz and get ready for my ride. We caught a ride from the bus station with a pedicab- the dude was stoked to be hauling a boxed bike. I also bought my first spandex and jersey (which I still have!) at a huge bike swap. For training I’d ride out of town to the biggest pass as fast I could- then cruise back to Boaz’ house. I had to rent a car to get to California but was broke so I had to work two days as a day laborer to pay for the rental.  I spent over a week in Tucson and it was the last friendly comforts I’d have before hitting the California coast, loading up my bike and heading east.

After leaving the pacific ocean and riding the width of California, Arizona would play a role again, but in a less positive way. One day I was leaving Sedona after lunch climbing toward Flagstaff and it started to snow, in mid-April! I was nervous because there was no shoulder and the snow was decreasing visibility. I had lights and the drivers were being cautious so I pushed on toward Flagstaff, just 5 miles away. I had a phone number for a friend of a friend so was thinking about being able to sleep inside that night- which would be the first time of the trip.  That’s when I looked up in time to see an oncoming car sideways, crossing the double yellow. I had enough time to think, ‘Wow, I’m dead’, but not enough to do anything about it. I blacked out on impact, but regained consciousness when I hit the ground, in time to see the car roll off the road.  Amazingly I only had a broken wrist and black and blue thighs. Not bad considering the police estimated the car’s speed at 55 mph.

I spent the next 10 days recovering in Flagstaff with the brother of a woman who stopped after I was hit.  Insurance paid for the ‘replacement value’ of my $100 bike, which was more than 10x what I had paid, so I’d leave Flagstaff with a much more appropriate bike.  I made it all the way to Pennsylvania without another major incident. It gave me confidence like nothing else had. After all of that time alone (with the exception of 800 or so miles my close friend Christian joined me for), depending on only myself to find food, water and shelter I was more prepared for the world. I understood myself better. I had a blissful clarity that people could sense.

It’s an interesting coincidence that almost exactly 10 years later I’m returning to Arizona for a similar, yet different adventure. My life is different-I’ve ten years of experience I didn’t have last time-but also very similar-I’ve still an incredible desire to be out in the world for extended periods of time.  The bike is merely my medium to do it. The Arizona Trail Race 750 is much more challenging than riding cross-country, but it’s probably pushing my ability about as much as riding across the US did 10 years ago. Or at least that is what I’m telling myself as I make my final preparations. Risk is real, I’ve said before.

If time allows, I hope to get one more post up with some of the details for the race. I’ve been getting questions on how I’ll eat and my plans for riding, sleeping, etc. I want to get a good night sleep tonight since Thursday night will definitely be crazy- I’ve got to be at the border by 630am on Friday- but I’ll do my best to get it posted.  Thanks for reading!

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