Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: Lessons learned on the road this time

Previously, I wrote about the 10 things that worked well on
I was always in good spirits!
this summer's Connect the Dots tour. Now here are the things that didn’t work out, I didn't need,  or I should have brought.  Some of these I realized right away, other after thinking about it at home.

No Mini Pump. This one is easy, and I should have known it. A mini pump makes it easy to be lazy, and I had a second flat just a few miles down the when I didn’t get the pressure I needed for a loaded touring bike. The solution will be a frame mounted mini=floor pump (Like the Bontrager Mini Charger I have on our tandem) or a traditional, full size frame pump. (And I have 3 of those from Silca and Blackburn).

The Wrong USB Charger. I had a pair of backup batteries for my iPhone, but I only had a one-port USB charger, and it was the low-powered iPhone model, which could not fully charge the batteries. At the very least, my next tour will have a two-port, dual output charger. My ideal solution? A backup battery/charger with two USB out ports, that could charge a phone and the backup battery at the same time. I will let you know if I find that product.

Leave the sling chair home.
Only used it since the picnic table was soaking wet.
I have a light-weight (2 pounds), REI Flex Lite chair. I love this chair on my sagged tours; but it was two pounds I didn’t need on this trip; I only used it one night.

Too many miles per day. Though I was bound by the lodging availability restraints on the Katy Trail, my overly optimistic mileage planning didn’t allow enough slack for wrong turns and bad weather. My next trip will be based on shorter days, with longer days just an option.   I loved the time I was riding; it just seemed I never had any down time during daylight.

A real headlight. I had a small strobe/safety light, but when things wrong, it was inadequate for safely finishing a late ride into camp, or even riding around a dark campground (when the showers and restaurant were each over a ½ mile from my tent site). I am also going to continue to ride with a running light when on highways. My Light in Motion Urban 650 will make the next trip, and probably one of their Vis180 tail lights. And that adds one more USB item to charge.

Bring some PDF Road Maps. Even though I was relying on the iPhone for navigation, road maps can still be handy. They will be stored on the iPad for my “plan B” for navigation.

Did I need the Big Ring? When a loaded touring bike keeps you under 20mph, and you have 8, 9, 10 or 11 cogs going down to 12 or 11 teeth, I am not so sure about triples and big rings. On my very first touring bike, I used a 47-42 combination. But this really gets into bike design as well, so I will leave this discussion, along with 650B (27.5”) wheels for another post.
Small rings good in "flat" Illinois.

So there you have it, my post-tour review.  I thought I would come up with 10 items, but I guess my prior experience paid off. And the last two were really more conceptual, than anything I did wrong on this trip.  I have a few more days to wrap up, and then I will tie these all together in a summary, as I start planning my trips for 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014: The Rule of Threes

My Connect the Dots Tour - Day 2, Hermann, MO to ???.  August 2014

The ride into Hermann took me through the old downtown along SR19, and a few blocks south to a 10 acre city park. A tree lined creek separated the park and its campground from the highway, with campsites along the creek, and a building with showers and restrooms nearby. There were only two other RVs parked among the dozen or so sites, so after checking that I wasn’t under a floodlight, I grabbed a site close to the showers.
Crossing the Missouri River - Evening

I started unloading my bike and set up my tent, and then I went right to work on dinner. The JetBoil quickly boiled two cups of water from my CamelBak, and I finished unpacking while dinner “cooked” in it’s foil pouch.

Along with unpacking, I started charging my my iPhone.  Later that evening I charged one of my backup batteries, since I thinking I would have a better chance at a charging as I traveled east. It would be 24 hours before I paid for that mistake. (I also learned I had brought the wrong charger for both, but that is another story.)

The sun was down by the time I finished eating, put things up for the night, and headed for a shower. I crawled into my tent, called Linda, then read for a bit before dozing off about 10:30.  I had very good nights sleep, with just enough quiet noise from the creek and tree muffled highway.

A church on the bluff above the river in Hermann, MO
I woke about 6:00 am, and prepared a freeze dried meal of scrambled eggs, letting it “cook” while I continued to break camp. It was a very dry morning, so I had little trouble packing the tent, and was ready to roll out a little after 7. My first destination a quick shop, where I loaded up two bottle with GatorAde, and topped off my CamelBak with ice.

It was heading toward downtown, exiting the park on a short steep hill, when felt a bump, followed by a thud, and my bike was dragged to stop. The seat stay supports on my rack had pulled loose, and the rack pivoted backwards to hit the pavement. The Arkel Camlocks worked perfectly though, keeping the panniers on the rack. I pulled the rack up, and moved the bike to the curb and out of the thankfully sleepy street.

I quickly unloaded the rack, and found all the missing rack hardware in the street. The worst looking damage was to my rear taillight. The lens and batteries were also in the street, and the rack’s tail light mount had been bent back; it had taken the full blow. Once I had the rack supports back in place, I straightened the mount, installed the batteries and lens, expecting the light to be toast. But the light came on, and aside from one deep gouge in the lense, functioned fine. I reloaded my bags, mounted and rolled on, glad for the lack of damage, and feeling sheepish for missing the stay bolts on my pre-trip bike check. (I have since added some pin to the stay to prevent that from happening again.

Downtown Hermann, MO
I crossed over the Missouri River heading north back to the Katy, remembering a similar crossing at the same time of day, in 1982, while on the tandem with Linda (our tour from Poplar Bluff to Moberly).  Just before the trail, I stopped at the Loutre Market for apples and bananas for the day; a very good move, it turned out, with this being the only reliable store within site of the trail between Columbia and Washington, almost 100 miles. I turned off of SR19 and back on to Katy, now on m first stretch of “new” territory of the trip.  I rode through McKittrick, and it was now 14 miles Trealoar, the next town. It was the start of a long day, with the goal of Pere Marquette State Park in Illinois, just shy of 100 miles.

It was a hazy gray morning, mildly humid as I rolled along at my steady 12 to 13 mph hour, to the steady “grunch” of a pair of bike tires on crushed limestone. I was hoping to make a good solid hour without a stop, but was still finding views of bluffs or the river that deserved a photo stop. At about halfway to Treloar, the trail had some bad erosion, and I while I did get front wheel around a 6” gully, the rear slid and hit the edge hard with a bang, followed by that mushy ride feeling of a flat tire.

I unloaded the rear panniers and top of rack load into a neat little pile (the second time for the day). I was expecting to find a blown out side wall, but the tire was intact. The tube had classic snake bite, so I must have hit a smooth rock or firm edge just right to cause that. In any case, my first (of two) spare tubes went in, and I exhausted my arm with my mini pump and remounted the wheel. My gear was all loaded and I was rolling in under 15 minutes.

Tube replaced, with the load about to go back on.
Less than 5 miles down the road and still looking for that first town, I crossed a gravel side road, and entered another section of washboarded trail. Just as I noticed an inner tube on the side of the trail, the rear wheel again hit hard, and I rolled onto another flat tire, less than 5 miles since the first one, all before I had finished my first hour of riding.

After going through the ritual of inspecting the tire, which was again intact, I found another pair snake bites in the tube. I pulled out my second and final spare tube and changed the tire. Only this time I made sure the tire was pumped hard as a rock; using both arms until they were exhausted. (I also vowed not to tour again with a mini-pump.)

Both my spare tubes were gone, and as I repacked my gear, I realized my glueless patches were still in my rack trunk, back in Columbia. This was turning into not so great a day. I got back on my bike, and gingerly headed down the trail, trying to do my best imitation of a rider 40 pounds lighter. I still had at least 80 miles to go, but at least I was past the rule of threes for the day, at least with mechanicals.

Friday, September 26, 2014

2014: Don't go to the White

I see a lot of riders who think they are riding safely when they are able to ride down the center of the white line on the edge of the road. For a number or reasons, this is a fallacy, and a white line fixation is a potentially risky riding technique and road position.

First and foremost, bikes do not travel in a straight lines. The act of balancing a bike is a constant input of steering adjustments to bring the bike back under the rider. These adjustments can be imperceptible, but they are always going on. Your mind and body does it constantly, without thinking about it; in fact, thinking about it makes more difficult.

When you change pace, change handlebar positions, or even turn your head in conversation, you make even more of these subtle steering adjustments, so a straight line becomes a band that is actually 3-6” wide. The need for these micro-adjustments and subtle steering inputs is why I always encourage a rider to be relaxed; the tense rider with locked arms is going to make more handling mistakes.

Another reason that riding the white line is an error is that it becomes your focus point, and your bike will alway follow your eyes. Looking at the white line, and focusing on it and the edge of the road, increases, rather than decreases your chances of riding off the road. If the pavement on the edge of the road and white line begins to break up, inexperienced riders tend to focus on that the broken edge of the pavement, rather than looking at where the wheel should be going.

Riders focused on the white line or road edge are typically looking a much shorter distance ahead, and do not spot road hazards soon enough to smoothly avoid them with small adjustments; rather they are forced to make quick adjustments, and then over-correct, and then over-correct again.

This is compounded when road hazards come up to the left of the white line, because now the riders avoidance options are halved; they may only have the option of hugging the side of road even tighter or riding off the edge.

Finally, a riding position on the extreme edge of the road will actually encourage cars to pass you. This is why safety instructors and advocates have spoken for years about riding the right hand tire track of the traffic lane, to “claim” the lane, and force overtaking cars accept you in the flow of traffic.

Even if you are not comfortable in the right hand track, you should ride in a physical space that gives you adequate maneuvering room on either side of your wheel, at least 12” to 16” from the edge of the road. A good way learn this space is to look down your right arm, and your right hand and brake lever should be inside white line, rather than over it.

By riding farther away from the white line or road edge, you can:
  • ride more relaxed and confident, knowing you have good surface on both sides of your wheel.
  • look further down the road, and make more gradual adjustments for road hazards.
  • claim more of the lane to be a part of traffic.

One further note; it is extremely hazardous when a rider with a white line fixation is in the middle of a pace line. Along with hazards mentioned above, this greatly increases the chance of overlapping wheels, and erratic breaks in the pace. All riders in a paceline should be in the same line, and that line should be well clear of the edge of the road.

Friday, September 12, 2014

2014: 1,000 feet per minute

My Connect the Dots Tour - Day 1, Columbia, Mo. to Hermann, MO.  August 2014

After all the planning and preparation, it was finally time to hit the road.
Ready to Roll - DALMAC Jersey
My bike was in my mother-in-law’s garage, loaded with my final selection of clothing and gear. The three of us shared a breakfast, and I made sure all my non-touring luggage was packed for Linda, who would be driving home at the end of the week. I said my goodbye’s to Mrs. Brown, who was still worried I was taking on too much of a challenge. Then after a few pictures,  Linda and I got on our bikes and rode out of the driveway, starting on a very warm, sunny morning.

It was a short 3 miles to the MKT Spur trail head in downtown Columbia. We were able to take bike paths and bike lanes all the way there, as Columbia is working very hard to be a Bike Friendly city. The first mile of the trail was paved, and then it became crushed limestone. Linda rode a few more miles with me, and then we paused, said our goodbye’s and I was on my own.

The spur leaving Columbia actually heads south
Linda escorts me thru a cut on the Columbia Spur
and west, crossing a number of small creeks, and passing through some minor rock cuttings, each just a few dozen feet above the trail. Many of the crossings were on old iron rail road bridges, and in a few places tubes take the trail under the busier roads. The grade is very mild, with just a few levee crossings as you pass through farm fields.

Occasionally I had to watch for long horizontal cracks in the limestone trail, where is it sliding off the original raised railbed, and there were a few soft spots where a thin layer of fine crushed limestone was loose. But for the most part it was smooth riding at a steady 11-13 miles per hour.

Trail Hazard 
I finally hit the trail head at McBaine, and I had my first surprise; the first warning sign that the trail was closed. At the same time, I realized Linda had been trying to call me. I checked in with her, and she had met a pair of riders from Europe, headed back into Columbia, who had found the same barrier while riding west to east, and decided ride back toward Columbia to find a way to around the closure.

This reaffirmed one thing I had known in advance about the Katy; current information is very difficult to find. Oddly enough, Missouri State Parks does not consider it necessary to post detours for significant closures. The lack of detour information is unfortunate for the couple from Europe, who did not realize the cross road at the closure was Route K, the first leg of a faded, hand-written detour description a “local” had posted on the barrier.

Another challenge to navigating the Katy is the private “Katy Trail” website ( is at least 5 years out of date; yet if you Google “Katy Trail”, it is one of the first sites listed. Even the Missouri Parks information site is at least a year or two out of date with regards facilities on or near the trail. (Too it’s credit, does have a handy interactive map feature for determing distances between points along the trail.)

Why is no detour posted?
Don’t get me wrong, the Katy Trail is a great riding experience for day trippers driving to trailheads from cities and major towns like Columbia, Booneville or Jefferson City. But if you are trying to use the Katy Trail for point-to-point travel, the reality is you might as well be on the Appalachian Trail. The small river and railroad towns along the way have all faded with time, offering few open businesses, and those will have erratic open days and hours. Many of the official trail heads do not even offer a source of water. My decision to start the day with over a gallon water and GatorAde on board had been a good call.

When I hit that closure, it was pretty obvious I had at least an hour of detour time to move 4-5 miles up the trail. And the handwritten note also mentioned that much of the detour was poor condition gravel road. If that was the case, I might as well skip the Katy and head overland to my alternate North route. So I flipped a mental coin, and about 20 minutes later, I was east of the trail closure. During that 4 miles, I didn’t see a workman, no bridge was out, and there was no interruption in the trail. The word pointless came to mind as I moved along.

First sight of the river, near Cooper's Landing
Compared to pavement, riding on crushed limestone is noisy, and it slows your pace. As the morning went on, I was averaging between 11 and 13 miles per hour. Doing some math in my head, it came to roughly 1,000 feet per minute, or 2 bike lengths a second. Every 4 to 5 minutes or so, I would count down another mile marker, and the surroundings would change almost at random.

You would be riding along a corn or bean field for a few minutes, and then a bluff would be on your left, and river would would come within feet of the trail. Or you could be in a tunnel of trees, with a hint of water to your right, and peeks at rock walls through a tangle of vines and branches. And then over the next few minutes, the river would push away from the trail, sometimes with a dry or soggy slough, or into another corn field reaching far to the south, where the bluffs and rolling hills on the south bank of the river were lost in haze.

The old bank in Tebbetts, Jesse James hid nearby.
A town sign would come into view, sometimes followed by a line of buildings and an abandoned cement elevator, all along a street a paralleling the old rail bed. But sometimes all that came after the town sign would be a gravel road crossing the trail, the only indication you had been through the town was the back of an east facing town sign on the north side of the trail, passed a minute or two later, after another 1,000 feet or so. Easley, Cooper’s Landing, Wilton, Hartsburg, Claysville, all rolled past at 1,000 feet per minute.

Just before Wilton, I found another bridge closure, but this one had a short marked detour on a paved road. It came at the price of a steep 1/8th of mile climb over the bluff that guided a creek into Wilton. I was up and over that, then back on the trail after less than a mile on pavement. Passing through Wilton I met a couple on bikes, pulling a kid trailer with no kid, but filled with camping gear, also headed east. They had left Boonville early in the morning, and had also encountered the McBaine closure. They had taken the handwritten detour, the husband talking the wife out of riding around the barricades, so I may have started a family argument. We chuckled, wished each other luck, and I rode on.

As I continued east the trail was now miles north and west of the river, and the Missouri state capitol, Jefferson City slowly climbed out of a hazy cornfield. The trail crosses under highway 63 a few miles north of Jefferson City (Jeff City to anyone from Missouri), and again, there was no sign of any open business within miles of the trail head. Fortunately, there was a working restroom with running water, and I was able to top off my Camelbak.

Wainwright and Tebbetts were the next two near ghost towns, In Tebbetts, the one stone building on the main street was an old bank building that looked old enough to be from the Civil War. Robbed by Jesse James, I thought to myself in jest. And there at the historic summary under the trailhead canopy was a bit of trivia about the the polite young stranger who wintered in Tebbetts after the Civil War, sang in the church choir, and was rumored to have been Mr. Howard.

It was finally at Mokane, after 57 miles, that I found the first open store within site of the trail. Outside were a half dozen dusty bikes, and inside were the half dozen, dusty, 20-something guys riding them, all working their way though snacks and Gatorade. I bought myself two quarts of Gatorade, and then split a bag of ice with them after filling my CamelBak. They shared a gallon of water they had purchased.

Bluff near Rhineland, MO
I learned they had first ridden the Katy together as college freshmen, and this was their 4th annual gathering. They were on a mix of road and mountain bikes, and carrying clothing, but not camping. They were headed toward McKittrick and a bed and breakfast overnight, but were running late due to a number of flat tires earlier in the day. We left Mokane together and chatted for a few miles, but we soon separated, as they fell into very different paces and would stop to regroup.

Steedman was the next town up, with no store but an active tavern. It was late in the afternoon, and I kept heading east, grazing through the remainder of the grapes, apples and Clif bars I had started out with. That, along with 3 quarts of Gatorade, would be my meal for the day. I was already falling into my old bachelor habit of lunch-less touring.

Portland came up next, and this was a bit of history for Linda and I. In 1980, on a short 3-day tour out of Columbia, Linda and I had "jungle camped" here on the river bank, years before there was a Katy. Portland is now is now trail access point, and the trees we had tented between had survived the floods of 1993, but it was otherwise unchanged. I rolled on for another hour through Bluffton, and Rhineland, and finally passed under Route 19, the road to Hermann, and went on a quarter mile to McKittrick, the next town on the trail.

Sun setting from the Hermann bridge.
McKittrick had no open store, and there was no campground (again) despite the camping icon. I had about 45 minutes of daylight left, so I rolled back to Route 19, and rode the 3 miles into Hermann, crossing the Missouri River in the process. After a stop on the bridge for a sunset picture, Dan Henry’s guided me directly to the city park and campground, and after 88 miles for my first day, I began to setup camp.

I was a bike tourist again.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

2014: 10 things that worked great on my latest tour

I am still going over my tour notes, but I wanted to cover 10 things that worked great for me on my most recent bicycle tour from Missouri to Indiana. Some were new, some were old, and one was borrowed, and they all contributed to a great experience and relatively problem free tour.

1) Continental Gatorskin Tires (700x28)
Most of the first 160 miles of this ride were on crushed limestone of the Katy Trail, so I had given a lot of thought to what tires to use. I had looked at the Continental Tour Rides, but they just seemed too heavy, at twice the weight of the Gatorskin.  I also had to consider that over 300 miles of the ride was going to be on pavement. So I went with the wire bead Gatorskin, and did not regret it. I had two pinch flats on the second day, first after I hit a rut hard, and the second, less than 5 miles later was because I didn’t inflate the tire enough with my mini-pump.  Lesson learned, and more about that later.

Handling and traction were not an issue on crushed limestone, even in the soft spots, and once past the Katy, the Gatorskins really shined on pavement. I was a little gunshy over bumps after the flats, but was then able to borrow a floor pump every couple of days over the rest of trip. (Surprisingly, it was the state of Illinois secondary roads that had me considering a more substantial adventure bike tire and wheel combo.)

2) Showers Pass Elite Jacket
I've had my Elite Jacket for a couple of seasons now, and specifically bought this heavier, technical jacket for touring. It met every expectation, as I encountered much cooler and wetter weather than I expected on mid-August ride. You can wear it in a campground in confidence, and the venting worked great while riding in damp, overcast, 65-70 degree mornings and late afternoons.
Breakfast near Effingham, Illinois. 

3) Arkel CamLocks (update to my Eclipse Panniers)
Our 1980’s Eclipse panniers started as the original “slide” mounts, but in the late ‘80’s, I changed them to a DIY copy of the hook & strap-secured system used by Bruce Gordon’s Needleworks bags. Though very secure, that choice later proved to be troublesome in moving the bags to different racks. So I picked up two sets of Arkel’s CamLocks, and breathed a few mores seasons of life into these classic bags. And after the first two days of rain, two of frozen pocket zippers were even sliding.

4) CamelBak Hydration - Rouge pack and Podium Big Chill Bottles
The CamelBak was great for cold water on demand and hands free drinking on busier roads and soft sections of trail. And 70 oz of water, plus two 25 oz bottles was very handy on the long vacant stretches of the Katy and rural Illinois. I have to rave again about the ability of these bottles to keep Gatorade drinkable after a couple hours. I was grazing through 4-6 bottles a day, (along with a 70 oz CamelBak). The combination made it easy to stay hydrated, and the pack was also a convenient source of water for camp meals.

Camped behind a phone substation in Brussels, Illinois.

5) REI Passage II tent
My Passage II tent was on its first extended test, and it passed in flying colors. Yes, it is supposed to be two person, but it gave me a good mix of elbow room and gear in reach all night. The double doors and vestibules were great for all my soaked gear that couldn’t come inside. Set-up and take-down were fast, and I stayed dry through a night of thunderstorms. Looking forward to many more nights on the road with this tent.

6) REI AirRail 1.5” Self Inflating Pad
I used to save weight with ¾ length pad, but I have been spoiled by the full length pad used on my recent supported tours. The AirRail was comfortable, easy to inflate and packed quickly. Just need to find a pillow that is as nice.

7) JetBoil stove.
I borrowed a JetBoil canister stove at the last minute, and now I want my own. The speed and convenience were amazing. I had been skeptical of backpacking meals for bike camping before this trip, and glad I thought outside box to bring this stove, and the meals along.

This was a Google maps BICYCLE choice in eastern Illinois.

8) Google Maps for iPhone
Once I kept my iPhone charged, the Google Maps app, and bicycle option worked great. Out of the 300 miles I was dependent on it, there were only two minor miscues, and there was a enough detail in the surrounding maps to correct for those. (Sorry Apple, but you need a bike option.) My only complaint was the confusing interface when you want step back from navigation to overview; there was not an easy way to do this in the current version.

9) Handbuilt wheels
In 1988, I built up my self a set of touring wheels around some Phil Wood hubs, using DT 2mm stainless steel spokes, laced 3-cross, into 36-hole, Trek Matrix Box rims. These wheels have at least 10,000 miles on them already. They were still true at the end of this trip. Maybe that is sign of overkill in design, but I can live with that!

Done with Illinois near Dana, Indiana

10) Assenmacher Touring Bike (1980). 
 I have written about the origins of my custom built touring bike before. This was the most challenging ride I have had chance to use it on, and I still love this bike. The first couple of days of this trip, I thought the handling was off, but when I made some adjustments to how I was loading the rear rack, the handling tightened up wonderfully, even in a standing climb. Thanks, Matt!

(I hope you will like The Ride So Far on Facebook.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

2014 - Connect the Dots Tour - Missouri to Indiana - Planning and Packing

Ready To Roll - Day 1
My Connect the Dots Tour plan is simple, and has two goals.  First, connect the lifetime ride maps of the 4 major areas I have lived and biked - my childhood home is southeastern Michigan,  central Indiana, central Missouri and Iowa, and eventually, Washington state.  Longer term, it is riding coast-to-coast on the installment plan, while riding in as many states as possible.  Missouri to Indiana is just the first installment.

• • •

It all come together pretty quickly. Linda and I had planned on a northern Michigan vacation trip in early July, and followed by a Missouri family visit (Linda’s mom and brothers) in mid-September. But when we were offered a week’s lodging in northern Michigan in September, we turned our summer upside down. We would travel to Missouri in August, and then do our Michigan trip.

Linda enjoys spending a week with her Mom, but usually travels there by herself for an extended visit.  I had been thinking about bicycle touring solo to join her in Missouri for a couple of years, and I now had enough vacation time to make it a reality. When Linda’s brothers agreed they could all be in Columbia the first weekend Linda was visiting, the first part of the plan was set in motion. Rather than ride out, I would drive out with Linda, and bicycle back to our home.

I had two route options to consider for my 6 days on the road. Columbia is on a 10-mile spur off of the Katy Trail.   Over the prior 14 years, we had ridden many sections of the Katy in various day trips, is segments between Booneville (the west) and Jefferson City (to the east). If I included the Katy Trail in a ride back to Indiana, I would have cover about 470 miles. Otherwise, the northern route, going straight east out of Columbia, was about 410 miles. (Our drive there is about 380 miles.) Since I was expecting to have prevailing tail winds riding west to east, and would start fresh in Columbia on the crushed limestone Katy Trail, I decided to ride the Katy Trail route.  (All my route research was done online with Google Maps, and other online resources to find state parks, my preferred campgrounds.)

The other decision was was where and how to cross the Mississippi River. We had spent a weekend in Grafton, Illinois, and I knew there were some car ferry’s running north of Alton Illinois. Again working with Google Maps, I found I could take the Katy east to St. Charles, Missouri, then ride north to cross the Mississippi and then the Illinois River by car ferry, and end up 4 miles from an Illinois state park. That was two long days of riding, and I would then have 4 days to cross Illinois and Indiana. The trip was a 75 mile per day average, but all doable, on paper. And I would have tailwinds.

Gear planning in the family room.
My final gear selection and preparation started in mid-June. Over the last couple of years, I have been updating my camping gear in anticipation of solo trips, so I was set for a tent, sleeping bag and pad. I needed to update the mounting system on my early `80’s Eclipse panniers, so those parts were ordered from Arkel and installed by mid-July. With two weeks to go, I put the the Bruce Gordon “low-rider” front rack on my Assenmacher touring bike, and started doing a few fully-loaded test rides. In the final week, I mounted a new pair of 700x28 Continental Gatorskins on my Phil Wood Hub, Trek Matrix Box rim wheels, a set that I had hand-built myself in the late 80’s. My bike was set to go.

I arranged my load with with my sleeping pad and sleeping bag each in a front pannier. My front panniers had a main compartment and a large external pocket. I would also have a few odds and ends that I wanted easy access too in the front. One rear pannier’s main compartment was for clothing, the other for my pantry. For clothing, I had 3 sets of Jersey’s shorts and socks (1 set worn.) For post ride, I lightweight camp pants (shorts with zip-off/zipp-on legs) a tech fabric T-shirt and long-sleeve shirts. I have some pro SPD cycling shoes, Bontrager RXLs, and I have a lightweight pair of Nike running flats for off-the bike (my feet are size 11/12, so spare shoes are a challenge). I also carried a set of arm and leg warmers, and a Showers Pass Elite Jacket. A bandana, a helmet liner, and a pair of cycling gloves rounded out my clothing.

Now about the pantry: I started my solo touring in the `70s with a brass Svea 123 white gas stove. Built like a tank, it is basically a blow torch with less control. We have probably used it for over a hundred camp meals, some of them quite remarkable, over the years. But I really didn’t want to go through all the required rituals of fueling, lighting, cooking and storing required for each use. Fortunately, a friend who is a camping gear nut lent me a JetBoil, an iso-butane canister fuel stove, and I picked up a number of modern freeze dried meals for my simplified pantry. I was going to be very glad I made that choice. I also had a setting of plastic tableware, a cup and plate.

There was other stuff “scattered” in the external pockets of my panniers, sunscreen, bug repellant, a headlamp (for camping). A folding spare tire, and two inner tubes (I forgot a patch kit), a fully-loaded Park Multi tool, a small kit of essential nuts and bolts, and some para-cord for a clothesline. I even picked up a new Swiss Army knife (the Tinker model), since I had misplaced my 30-year-old Explorer some time this spring, and it just didn’t feel right to tour without one.

I was traveling with an iPhone 5 and an iPad Mini, and had a couple of back up batteries for re-charging everything when possible during the day. I also had my Canon 3 IS PowerShot, my camera for the last 7 years. The camera and phone lived in my Eclipse Pro handlebar. I didn’t start with any paper maps, and would rely on the iPhone for navigation.

Since I had to pack to start from a remote location, I pretty much had to be 90% right when we drove out to Missouri. I finished packing the Friday night before, and loaded our bikes, my panniers and some extra stuff for the final packing decision. By 8 am the next morning, we were on the road to Columbia.
On the Katy, Day 1

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2010: Why do we do the crazy rides, for no sane reason?

My training is complete, I have my base, and after 35 years of this, I know how to ride back-to-back centuries.  If I can ride 70 miles, I can ride 100, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up and do it again.  And yet here I am on a cold, wet, windy day, knocking off another century, to be sure I was ready.

Storm clouds ahead - how bad can it be?
There were so many reasons not to do this ride today.  And they were all reasonable.  I would be riding alone.  Dopler was showing a sea of green to the west.  (What did we do before Dopler?  We were crazier because de didn't know? Or was ignorance bliss?).  I could knock out a fast 30 miles, return home to work at my desk, and grab more miles during the week.  There was no reason to be out riding in the rain.

But I had said on Facebook I was riding a century on the last Sunday of April.  I had completed this ride 5 years in a row.  It was somewhere between habit and tradition; my door-to-door century, rolling out of the garage, and rolling back in 100 miles later.  I had started it alone, the next year brought along my oldest son Tyler, then inviting friends along for the next 3 years, as the “Tour De Mulberry” was born. Now, with the first rain-out, it was full circle; riding alone, working to get 50 miles out so it would be 50 mile home.

Mulberry - 52 wet miles from the end of my driveway.
Alone I rolled out into the rain.  At 20 miles out, I turn around and start to head back, but the rain actually eases, and after just a half mile, I resume my my ride to the 50-mile turn around point.  Of course, the weather got worse after half way.  Yet it was never a hard rain, never a full headwind, never too cold.  I was dressed on the edge of hypothermia, not able to stop too long. The constant pedaling was balancing my body temp on a knife-edge, against wind and rain that found a new way under my jacket with every turn.

When I finally step off my bike, at 105 miles, almost 8 hours after leaving home, the act of stopping and stripping off wet clothing is enough to start a bout of violent shivering that didn't stop until I had been under HOT water for 5 minutes.

It was a totally insane day to ride.  It will hopefully be my worst ride of the year. It was another personal challenge given and met. And it was a perfect.

(Since 2004, the last Sunday in April has been my final "training ride" for TOSRV, the Tour of the Scioto River Valley, a 2 day, 210 mile ride in Columbus, OH held Mother's Day weekend. As of 2014, I have ridden TOSRV 14 times since 1979.  And I have made the ride to Mulberry 4 mores times as well.  A version of this blog was originally published in April of 2010.)