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

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