Friday, February 29, 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Rest stop on the trail.

For those of you that ride the trinity trail from downtown towards the East, it looks like you've just received a new rest stop.

It's nice to see them finally put something out in the no mans land part where it crosses under I35.

Looks like it will have running water too.

Surly why must you torment me so???

Since I first saw the pictures of the Big Dummy from interbike 2 years ago (yes 2 years) I've been waiting on this bike.

We're now down to the wire and they still haven't made it down here yet.

So what does Surly do to placate me?

They do a news story!

Yes, they tease me.

It just makes me want it that much more. Especially since some people have already gotten one.

How do I keep missing the boat on this?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Almost forgot one review...

While going through my pictures, I realized that I didn't go over the final item I utilized the most on my trip. The one item that, without it, would not have been a bike tour.

Yes, my Surly Cross Check.

The Surly Cross Check is primarily designed as a Cyclocross racing bike (something that appears to be constantly up for debate on most internet bike forums) and a bulletproof commuter bike (not even close to being up for debate on those very same forums). However, everyone seems to pretty much agree on one thing. It's not made for touring, with the exception of credit card touring (where you don't carry much, if any, equipment with you and stay in a hotel every night).

Well I've been riding the Cross Check for a little over two years now and felt pretty comfortable with the idea of setting it up for a real tour. This bike is a workhorse. I'm constantly amazed at the types of loads it can carry without getting squirrelly. So putting more racks and some panniers on it didn't seem that far fetched to me.

First off, I'll give you an idea of how it was set up:

For my drivetrain, I have a Campagnolo Veloce triple up front. The chainrings are 52/42/30. I was able to keep my Ultegra front dérailleur on the bike, which works perfectly. Which is odd considering that it is a double and made by Shimano. Ponder that one for a while.




On the rear wheel, I have a Shimano XT Mountain bike cassette 11-34 with a Shimano XT Rear Dérailleur. This was the best way to give me the range I needed for loaded touring. Believe me, I used it too. I was never so glad to have a 34 tooth cog on the rear while we were fighting the hills and headwind on that first day.


I was able to get away with this unholy mix of components by using Shimano Dura Ace Bar End shifters. With the friction actuation up front, it allowed me to ignore the spacing of the Campy triple and set it up how I wanted to. I understand why they are the end all, be all for touring shifters. Pretty much bulletproof, allow for both index and friction shifting, cheap, and they flat out work. Friction shifting was very nice up front. I basically had infinite trim to adjust my front shifting patterns. Nice when I was going up a hill and trying to shift under a full load. Triples sometimes have a bad habit of not wanting to shift in those instances.

For my pump, I chose to bring my Topeak Road Morph pump. It's small, works great, has a pressure gauge, and fit nicely under my downtube without getting in the way. Which was good, because when I got done I didn't have much space left for anything else.


It's really an awesome pump. I don't carry it with me nearly as much as I should. I generally carry my full size frame pumps with me. While bigger, they are sleek and fit under my top tube nicely. However, it is nice to be able to take a compact pump and use it like a floor pump. The foot peg and T-handle make up for the short stroke. I'm glad I brought it, I'll probably start using it more often. It was especially useful for me, as I like to try and check my tire pressure pretty regularly. The inline gauge really made that easy.

Of course you'll also notice my yellow fenders. I like to be noticed and yellow really seems to get peoples attention. Not only in low light conditions, but during the day as well.

The wheels I used for this bike were my Velocity Deep V's laced to a set of Shimano 105 hubs. 32 spokes in the front, 36 in the rear. A bulletproof, handbuilt wheel from Bernie at Panther City Bicycles. I can't even tell you how many miles I've put on these wheels, but if it has not been ten thousand, then it's scaring the heck out of that number, and they still roll as true now as the day they were built almost 3 years ago. I'm a big believer in the Deep V's, I don't mind a heavier wheel as I'm a heavier guy. The added strength that these wheels give me is a great peace of mind. Especially since other wheels I've had in the past have given me problems.

My tires are Maxxis Overdrives in 700x38. In reality, when I measured them with a pair of calipers they are actually 40mm wide. I was a little concerned about using a tire this big on tour. It's a big heavy tire that isn't really fast and I generally prefer a narrower, faster tire (700x28 is the perfect commuter tire IMO). Once we got under way though, I'm really glad I had this tire. Under load, it rolled smoothly, soaked up the bumps, and handled very well. Even on some pretty fast descents.

The Kevlar belt makes a difference too. It the picture, I've probably got about 60 goathead thorns in that tire. Still no flat a week later.

When it got to the racks, I wasn't sure what to do. I have a set of Sackaroo front panniers (made by Arkel- a stealth deal if I ever saw one) and I wanted to utilize these. When I use them for daily commuting, I just throw them on my rear rack and go. However, I knew I'd need more space so I had to find a way to mount them on the front.

I was going to buy a nice Tubus front rack, or even an Old Man Mountain, but it was hard to justify spending $100.00 on a rack that I'd probably only use once as the next bike I get won't need a front rack (hurry up and get here Big Dummy!). So I searched around online and found one available at Performance Bike for $14.99. While I generally prefer to shop local if I can, this was a good enough deal to drag me over there. Money well spent. Fairly easy to install and get centered. It did the job and held my panniers nicely.

The smaller silver rack you see above it is my old Nitto Campee rack. Not very easy to find, but if you want a small front rack... this is the one to get. Designed more for supporting a large handlebar bag like those crazy Europeans use, or for smaller higher mounted bags. They don't call them the Campee anymore, but I think you can still get them from Rivendell bike if they ever have them in stock.

I mounted it to hold my tent and help support my handlebar bag. It was the perfect size for my tent. I'm very glad I thought of it. It's a bit heavy, considering the small size of the rack... but it did the job nicely. Also, if you're the type of person using dyno powered lights, it has mounting tabs on the front and bottom side for your lights.(notice the Bar End Shifters mentioned earlier)


The rear rack is just an old Topeak rack that was designed for their trunk bag system. I've had it longer than most other bike stuff I own. I have more than gotten my money's worth out of this system. Coupled with my old MTX trunk bag, I have a secure platform that is easy to install or remove. It also has small panniers. A definite plus for me on this bike. Those smaller panniers kept me from killing myself on this tour. The Cross Check has shorter chain stays than a "real" touring bike, so using full size panniers on the back would probably mean that I'd hit the heel of my foot on the bag with just about every pedal stroke. This could either be a mild irritant, or incredibly dangerous, depending on the amount of strike.

Even with the smaller rear pannier space, I really didn't feel like I was short of space. Sure I was crammed to the gills, but I didn't leave anything behind due to lack of available space.

In hindsight I should have!


Completely loaded, my Surly Cross Check was able to carry me and about 70-75 pounds of gear. That's a bunch of stuff. It was heavy, but steered well. At lower speeds I could feel a little wobble in the fork. However, Bernie was riding a Long Haul Trucker and his fork felt about the same. After my first day in the saddle, I had acclimated myself to the new ride characteristics imparted by the heavy load. It didn't feel quirky or overly sluggish with the steering.

I will say this though, riding a loaded touring bike is not like anything else. I noticed my position in the saddle changed. It didn't change very much, but it did change enough to give me a few new tender spots that were never a problem before. Also, I couldn't really get up out of the saddle to stretch. Pedaling while out of the saddle is out of the question, unless you want to fall over. There were a few times that I was able to stretch briefly, but only on downhills. I never really "coasted", so I had to take advantage of stretch opportunities when I could.

Another thing I noticed was mounting and dismounting wasn't as easy. Part of it was all the equipment piled up on back, part was the weight, and part was just being tired. A sloping top tube would probably me a little easier to deal with in this respect.

Overall, I'd say if you have a Cross Check and want to tour... go for it. While you might think there are limitations, take a little time to think over those challenges and you'll do just fine. For a cross country tour, you might think about some extra storage in the back, but I had mine set up for 7 days with no real deficit. I'm sure an experienced tourer could probably help you address those issues. Mine did great, handled the loads well, and was as comfortable as it has always been. About all you can ask for in a loaded touring bike.

Ali G Approved as well.

----------------
Now playing: Harald Johnson, Jarle Vespestad & Tord Gustavsen - Curtains Aside
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Review number 3- The Press-Bot and Mora Knife

Alright, we're getting towards the end of the unique products. This one is actually pretty cool. A very innovative product called the Press-Bot. Another simple one. I like simple.

Don't feel like carrying around that extra bulk of a dedicated French Press? You can just add the Press-Bot to a wide mouth Nalgene bottle and Viola! you now have a multi-tasking water bottle.

It's an easy system to use. Just measure out your coffee, put it in the bottle, put the Press-Bot in place (remember this part- do it before you add the water. Makes a mess if you add the water before the screen), add water... and you're set.

5 minutes later, slowly press down... and you have freshly brewed coffee.

This system worked well. The only thing I had a problem with was really my own fault. When I was pouring in water, I tilted the handle off to the side. This allowed some of the grounds to rise over the top of the screen.

For storing the Press-Bot, I just left it in the Nalgene bottle after a good cleaning. Didn't affect the taste of the water, as far as I could tell. Most tap water taste pretty terrible, so if anything a little coffee flavored water can only help.

The other item I wanted to mention is the Mora knife. These little knives are incredible. Inexpensive and well made, this knife is held in very high regard as a serious bush knife. Many survival schools actually recommend this knife if you attend their schools.

I've had one tucked away in my flight suit for almost 4 years now. I decided to bring it along with me on my trip.


This is a laminated carbon steel knife that holds an edge well, is lightweight, and like I said... is cheap (plus the carbon steel will strike a flint, unlike most stainless knives you see on the market today). These knives run about $10.00 each, including shipping.

While I prefer to buy most things locally, this is one of those items that you will probably have to order online. Go into most shops (even specialty knife shops) and you'll be met with a blank stare when you ask for a Mora knife. I was even told by one salesman that there was no such thing.

I got mine from Ragweed Forge. It's listed in their catalog as #510 and sells for $9.00. If you're looking for a decent survival/camping/bush knife, this one is well worth checking out.

Stove and Pot Cozy Review

This is a two for one deal.  I'm reviewing my alcohol stove and pot cozy together.  Pretty simple combo.The inspiration for my alcohol stove came from Zen Stoves.  If you're a do it yourself kind of guy (like I am) then this is a great website.  My stove is known as a pressurized jet stove.  A really simple build, just take 3 aluminum cans and follow their template.  About 15 cans later I had my first working model.

I have since made two more models.  Experimenting with different numbers of holes on the top regulate burn time and the heat output.  The most difficult part is finding
 the compromise between the two that works for you.  For me it seems to be 20, however my next one will have 22 holes.

Here's the stove:  

The next thing to do was add my potstand and windscreen.  The grand total for that bit was around $7.00.

The nice thing about this stove is that it all rolls up into my pot.  Makes for a compact package.


My realistic burn time on this, about 15 minutes with 2 oz of denatured alcohol.  More than enough to boil a quart of water.  I was also able to fry some sausage, simmer dirty rice, and fry up some bread.  Plus I didn't have to carry extra canisters for fuel.  Denatured alcohol can be found at most hardware stores or some paint supply stores.  I'm told you can use Isopropyl Alcohol, but it doesn't burn as well due to a higher water content.


A great stove, with a great price.  Plus I have the satisfaction of knowing I made it myself.  It also goes along great with my pot cozy.


Pot Cozy

I know what you're thinking, what the *&^% is a pot cozy?
This is a pot cozy:
This is something so incredibly simple about this that you'll kick yourself because you didn't think of it on your own.

Basically, it is a piece of reflective insulation with a top and a bottom.  It doesn't have to be tight fitting, but make sure there are no gaps around it.  I basically formed mine around an older tupperware container.  For the insulation I used a cheap reflective windshield protector that was left in my barn by the people that owned our house before us.  The insulation looks like bubblewrap with a foil backing on both sides.  I then wrapped it with aluminum foil tape.


The purpose of this item is to save on fuel.  After you get your water to a boil, place it in your baggie.  Then seal this up in your cozy for about 10 minutes.  In addition to saving fuel, it allows you to either cook something else at the same time or focus on another task without the worry of leaving a flame unattended.

Also, if you're cooking something that takes a bit longer (in my case it was steel cut oats) you can boil your water the night before and enjoy it in the morning.  It worked out very well for me.  Or if you are cooking something like barley, boil up your water in the morning and enjoy it in the evening.

If you're going to do any freezer bag cooking, a cozy is a nice way to make this easier.  Not only is the cozy lightweight, but takes up a surprisingly small about of space.






Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Packing List

I've had a few people that are getting ready to do their own tour ask me to assemble a list of what I took, what worked, and what didn't.  While my tour wasn't all that long I got a good idea of the things I liked and the things that I didn't.  This will also help to serve as a packing list for next time.


Touring Pack list:

Front Left Pannier (Kitchen):

Inside main- Freezer Bag Meals (quart Sized bags) x5
Steel Cut Oats- 3 Cups
Pink Salmon Foil Packs X2
Chicken Breast Foil Packs X5
Ramen Noodles X7
Cous Cous
Dirty Rice Mix
Mora Knife
Hot Chocolate
Granola Bars
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Dried Dates
Dried Apricots
Dried Blueberries
Fresh Pecans (shelled)
Jerky (about 1/2 pound)
Scotch Flask (300 ml about the equivalent of 2 5th bottles)
Dry mix to make Navajo Fry Bread


External Pocket: Salt/Pepper
Onion Soup Mix
Olive Oil (8 oz squirt Bottle)
Chipotle Hot Sauce (3 oz Squirt)
Denatured Alcohol (4 oz Squirt)
Titanium Fork and Spoon
8 oz bottle Honey
Heed Packets X4
Tea Bags X6
Magnesium Fire Starter
P38 Can opener (also doubled as striker tool)
Lightweight Plastic spatula (even lighter after I broke it in half- cheap dollar store version).

Thoughts about this Pannier. I brought too much food. I could have cut the Oatmeal amount by 2/3's, reduced the amount of foil packaged chicken breast to only 2, left the hot chocolate at home, brought about 2 or 3 of the Ramen noodles, and done just fine. The dried fruit and jerky was great. I either snacked on it or added it to my breakfast. Since I didn't know what to expect I tried to prepare as much as possible. I was still in the backpacker frame of mind where I thought I needed to carry all my food and water with me. I could have gotten most items on the go, every day we passed through at least one town that had a grocery store that I could have picked up supplies at. I think just keeping enough food for 24 hours would be sufficient.

Also, while making my own bread on the trail was nice... I brought too much of it as well. I thought we would eat more of it, and we did eat quite a bit. It was nice and filling, but it took up too much space in my pannier. I could have reduced it by about 50% as well.

My Freezer bag meals came from www.freezerbagcooking.com .  There are some really good recipes on this website.  It's easy to get carried away with some of the recipes (trust me).  I was lucky enough to have about 90% of the ingredients in my kitchen.  The only thing I really had to buy was the foil pouch chicken breast.

Things I'm really glad I brought in this pack... The honey helped sweeten things up and was an easy source of energy. The Chipotle sauce made a few questionable meals fantastic! The Spatula helped with quite a few things. I brought sausage for the first night and it was very helpful cooking that. Also indispensable in cooking the fry bread. Bringing a good quality Olive Oil was also nice. I actually used more of it than I thought I would. Magnesium fire started and P38 can opener are nice, like a match that always lights. Plus I don't have to worry about them getting wet or finding something to strike them against. Just scrape and go.

The final weight on this bag was almost 15 pounds. I could have reduced it to less than 10 pounds pretty easily by just getting rid of all that excess.

Front Right Pannier (Clothes Closet):



Inside Main- Two T-Shirts
5 Pair Socks (4 cycling and 1 cotton)
Scrub Pants x1
Extra Jersey and Base layer
Thermal Tights (no chamois)

External Pocket- Sunglasses
Extra Gloves
Bike tools
Nightrider light
Extra baggies- both gallon and quart sizes

This pannier was actually packed pretty well. I originally started off with a dry bag for my clothes, but it really strained the dimensions of the bag. However I needed to keep them dry as we figured we'd have at least one day of rain. Then Bernie reminded of that I could use Gallon Ziploc baggies. This worked even better. I was able to match my clothes up (yes I'm weird that way, but I happen to like order), pack them pretty flat, and not have to completely empty the bag every time I needed something. While I could have gotten by with just one T-shirt, I don't mind having a spare in this case. The scrub pants were great, I picked them up at Old Navy on clearance for about 8 bucks. They tie at the waist and the ankles, so if I was riding with then I could make impromptu Manpris out of them and not get tangled up in my chain. Plus they take up about the about the same amount of space as a pair of lightweight shorts. Pants would have been much bulkier.

An unintended bonus, I was able to put the dirty clothes in the empty Ziploc and keep the rest of my clothes fresh.


Left Rear Pannier (medical and extras):

First Aid Kit
32 oz Bottle Denatured Alcohol
Candle Lantern with Reflector shield
Small Pelican Flashlight
Toiletry Kit
Baby wipes

This Pannier is part of the MTX Trunk rack system. While it's not a huge pannier, when coupled with the Trunk bag itself I held more than I could have expected. It sat up a bit higher than true touring panniers, but I don't feel that it effected the handling of the bike adversely.

My toiletry kit had the regular things, toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm with sunscreen, 4 oz campsuds, personal meds, and a microfiber towel. Very lightweight and compact. The baby wipes are a nice way to wash up without wasting water.

I probably could have had a bit more room in this pannier, but I have a pretty well stocked first aid kit. Since I'm a Paramedic I probably put different things in a kit like this than most other people would. However, I wanted to be prepared in the event that something bad did happen... especially since I would have the ability to do something about it in most situations. Most others could probably get by with a standard prepackaged first aid kit that would take up much less space and weight.

However, I would recommend a few of the things I had in my kit:
Triple Antibiotic Cream
Hydro-cortisone Cream
Benadryl
Tylenol
Band-Aids
Large Multi Trauma dressing
4x4 gauze (or 3x3, whichever is cheaper)
Tegaderm dressing (can help with blisters)
Kling
Saline Eye Wash

Right Rear Pannier:

Extra cycling bib
cycling shorts x1
extra base-layer x3
Extra Cycling Jersey X3


Again, I packed all my clothes in Ziploc bags.

MTX Trunk Bag (Electronics and other goodies):

Cook-set (pot, windscreen, pot stand, bowl)
Stove
Two Extra Bandannas
Pot Cozy
Sleeping Bag (20 degree)
Thermarest pad
Gorillapod Tripod
GPS
Shortwave Radio
Sudoku book
Inflatable pillow
large dry bag
Simple Cable Lock

Hindsight being what it is, I could have left the GPS and shortwave at home. I thought I would use them more, but my smartphone really did a great job picking up their slack. If I did it over again, I'd still bring the shortwave. It's small, light, and a great source of news when on the road. Everything else was very useful to me.

My alcohol cookset fit into the pot along with my bowl. This is probably one of the better things I brought with me. It was cheap to make, small, and it worked. I even had the ability to buy more fuel for it along the way. Denatured alcohol can be bought at most hardware stores.

I'm also glad I brought the pillow. I just can't sleep without one very well.

The Thermarest pad and sleeping bag fit nicely on the back of my bag with bungee cords and tie down straps. The first two days I kept my pad and bag in the dry bag. I didn't want them to get wet. It was a bit troublesome at first to get it situated, but once I got it the way I wanted to I didn't have any trouble with it.

Front Rack/handlebar Bag:

Topeak Bikamper EXP Tent
Cell Phone
Camera
snacks/gels
Map/ Mapcase
Compass
Wallet
Sunglasses
15 feet Paracord

This rack worked well too. Everything in it was placed about right. Took a bit of fiddling to get it situated exactly right, but when it was in place it was perfect.

Overall, this system worked for me. Keeping things in a consistent spot helps. I knew exactly what pocket to open to get whatever I needed. Helped me to minimize any confusion when we stopped too. Of course, this was only 4 days for me. However, I think that even for a longer tour this would have worked out just fine. With a few of the changes I mentioned above it would be great.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Solio Solar Charger -Product Review 2

The second item I'll be reviewing from my trip is the Solio Classic.

The Solio is a really unique device.  It is a Hybrid Charger, meaning I can either store power in it while plugged in or open it up and use the solar cells to charge it up.  What can I do with this power?  Well I can charge just about anything that I took on my trip with me.  The provided tips work with several popular mobile phones, however the only two tips I needed were the universal female USB tip, and the male mini USB tip (able to charge my phone, camera, and iPod with these two tips) .  The retail price for this item is around $90.00, however it was money well spent in my opinion.  As I'll be using it extensively for the next few years.


Yes, with the supplied tips I was able to charge anything I brought on my trip.  Of course for me that was mainly my phone.  It worked out perfectly, just plugged it in and left it alone.  It was this item that allowed me to blog while we were out on the road.


When I wasn't using it, the Solio folded up nicely and the weight was negligible.  It's incredible that technology has progressed to the point where I was able to carry a device like this with a weight penalty that was about the same as my smartphone.  When folded out, it fit nicely on my rear bag.  As you can see in the picture, I ran a cord through the center hole.  This allowed me to loop it securely.  On the rainy days I was prepared to put it in a gallon sized ziploc, but I didn't need to.  It actually held more than enough power so this wasn't necessary.


Charging the Solio was simple and is done two different ways.  By plugging it into the wall with the supplied cord, it achieved a full charge in about 4 hours.  If you wanted to use the sun, just open it up and let it charge.  Leaving it out all day provided enough power to charge me up when it was needed.  However, the provided literature stated that it could take up to 2 days to fully charge the device with solar power.  Available sunlight, cloudcover, direct exposure, can all be variables.

On a full charge I was able to power up my phone twice.  However, on the second charge I wasn't able to top it off completely.  The phone would initially show a full charge, but would quickly drop to 75%.  Still, it worked as advertised.

As a side note...  probably the most useful non-essential items on my trip were this Solio, and my Smart Phone (T-Mobile dash).  They worked out extremely well.  Not only was I able to blog while we were on the trip, but I was doing weather checks so we could stay ahead of the storms, and I had stored phone numbers for the Chamber of Commerce for small cities we were going through- which was a lifesaver more than once.  When we fell behind schedule I was able to use those numbers to find alternate camping locations for us while on the road.  Plus I had loaded USGS Topo maps into my phone for the areas we covered.  While we didn't get to use these maps, it was nice to know that I had them.  If you want these maps and you have a phone capable of viewing pdf files, download them here...   http://tinyurl.com/4qol6

Here are the Tech Specs for the Solio:

Solio Classic
Rated Output: 4 -12V, 0 - 1 Amp (max)

Solar panel output: 155mA @ 6V

Weight: 5.6 ounces

Internal Battery: Rechargeable 3.6 volts, 1600mAh lithium-ion

Wall charger: 6v / 420 mAh Global travel adapter with US/UK/EU/AU/NZ adapters

Dimensions (LxHxW): 4.7 x 1.3 x 2.5 in.

Temperature Range: -20°C to 55°C ( -22F to 131 )


Monday, February 18, 2008

First Product Review- Topeak Bikamper

Yes, these tents do actually exist.  The only thing rarer in this world is the elusive Surly Big Dummy (which may, or may not, ever show up).  When I was researching for the trip, this was a tent I was interested in but couldn't find any information on.

It has both good and bad points.  We'll start off with the tent itself.

This tent is incredibly light.  My packed weight was right at 2 pounds.  Incredibly compact as well.  It fit perfectly on the small Nitto Campee front rack that I had on my Cross Check (it's the silver rack above the front fender on the other pics- the tent is the grey bag).

Inside that grey compression bag is a silver bag that contains the tent, stakes, and poles.

Topeak actually did a really nice job on the storage bag.  Separate pocket for stakes and the two diminutive tent poles.  While there is a larger mesh lined pocket for the tent itself.


The tent actually lays out quickly and easily.  I can get it completely set up in about 5 minutes.  There are really only 4 parts.  The tent, the stakes, the poles, and the odd tire shaped parts.


The tire shaped parts are tubes covered in mesh and support fabric.  The smaller one is a 16 inch tube, while the larger is a 26 inch (or 700c) tube.  Both tubes were included with the tent, an unexpected surprise.  As a side note, this also helps with your overall weight as one of your spare tubes can be this one.  Since they only hold about 15 psi, even if you shred one of your spares it will probably hold up well enough to support this tent after you patch it.

A pretty ingenious design really.  Helps reduce the number of poles needed to set up the tent.  This not only saves on weight, but the space needed to pack the tent down.
The tent stakes out very easily.  With vents located on each end.  Airflow is not a problem with this tent.

Bryan referred to these tents as space coffins.  Fairly close to the truth.  However, it does have the nice option of a hood scoop.  It really helps with the air flow.
Also, you'll notice on the side of the tent is this odd tie down (On the right side of the pic).  At first I just assumed it was for ventilation only.  However I did learn another perk to this design.  Bernie, if you read this before you get back... it also helps shed water and adds support in the middle.  Something it would have been nice to know about in Hamilton.









Entry is from the side.  In addition to the side, there is a nice mesh.  There is more than enough ventilation, however I felt just fine when the temps were in the low 30's.  Just orient it appropriately with the wind.

Here is the view from the inside.  It is more than long enough to get comfy in, there is also more head room than I expected.


The high points of this tent:

1. Incredibly light- a 2 pound shelter is nothing to sneeze at.

2. Packs down very small- It is about the size of a football, perhaps a bit smaller.

3. Quick and Easy to set up.  Takes me about 5 minutes, or a bit more.  

4. Carries an extra tube for your bike.

5. If you have do any stealth camping, this tent offers an incredibly small silhouette that would be incredibly easy to conceal with just a little bit of work.  Especially if the foliage in your area happens to be yellow and silver.

6. There is no fly for this tent.  A great plus if you're trying to throw up a tent quickly to beat a rainstorm or the like.

The low points of this tent:

1. It is basically a beefed up Bivy shelter.  If you are claustrophobic, then this is not the tent for you.

2. It can be a bit cramped, when you put in your Thermarest pad, and a nice thick sleeping bag you will feel pretty close to the roof.  However I think my summerweight bag would be just fine in this tent.

3. There is no vestibule.  Your equipment will either have to sit out in the open, or you will need to bring a small tarp to cover it up.

4. Not much room to change clothes.  Changing clothes in this tent is probably pretty much akin to throwing on some clothes under the bed and preparing your escape while an enraged husband is looking in the closet for you.  Merely speculation on my part, but both situations seem pretty uncomfortable.

5. If you want a footprint for this tent, you'll have to come up with something on your own.  I haven't seen anything on the market yet, but I'm sure you could find something.

6. While this probably isn't much of a problem it is worth mentioning, the included tubes have schrader valves.  If you don't have a compatible pump, it can be blown up manually with provided adapter/cap.

7. There is no fly for this tent.  In this instance, the single wall construction can be a bad thing.  When I was sleeping in my tent through the rainstorm, I fared pretty well.  However, my shoes were touching the sides of the tent and they got a little wet.  I think it was mainly condensation, but a double wall tent or a tent with a fly probably would have prevented with this.

Overall, I like the Topeak Bikamper EXP.  While it doesn't offer me the same room as the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 (the other ultralight tent I was considering), or a Hennessy Hammock (which seems to be wasted money in most parts of Texas)... I think it will serve me well.

If you're  looking for an ultralight touring tent for cycling, that is fairly easy to set up and offers simple shelter on the road, then this could very well be the tent for you.


The Touring Rigs Loaded up

In Granbury, I took a pic of all the bikes on this tour (yes all 3).  While we all chose bikes made by Surly, they are all very different.  However, they all fared very well even though Bernie's bike is the only one listed as a Touring bike.

My bike is a Surly Cross Check.  Touted as a Cyclocross bike/Commuter/Urban bike it has shorter chain stays than a true touring bike.  Also, the front fork isn't really designed for supporting front racks.  That said, it worked great.  Yes there was a bit of shimmy with the steel, but probably not that much different than the other bikes.  It handled the adventure quite well.  Loaded with Sackaroo front Pannier bags, and the Topeak MTX trunk bag on the rear.  More than enough space for what I needed.  Especially since I only had a few pounds less than Bernie's bike.



Bryan is riding the Karate Monkey, the 29er Mountain Bike in the Surly line up.  As you can see, his was loaded with only a rear rack.  Loaded with the great Ortlieb bags.  It held everything he needed.

Next up is Bernie on his Long Haul Trucker.  This is the quintessential touring vehicle.  Plenty of places for bottles, bags, racks, and just about everything else you needed.  This thing is designed for heavy loads.  It had the heaviest load, but did just fine.


Pics of the Trip

Here are some pics of the trip I took with the better camera.  I didn't take as many pictures as I anticipated, as I spent most of my time just surviving.  If I had it to do over again, I would have taken more pictures.  There were several times where I wanted to take a pic or two, but I was falling a bit behind or it was halfway up a nasty hill so I opted not too.  I was also trying to save as much of the battery as I could for Fredericksburg.  Tip here:  Just go ahead and take the pics as they come.
These are the initial pictures of the first day:
Trinity Trail, if you look closely you might even see the Turkeys that ran off into the brush:

Our first stop before the wind really went crazy:




377 is a terrible place to try and travel.  Fortunately Bernie did a good job of routing us around it as much as possible.  He found a few great backcountry roads like this for us:




Finally we hit Granbury and took a well deserved break in front of the courthouse:



Unfortunately I didn't take more pics of day one.  Other than our bikes.  That'll be the next post.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Now this is a Dinner

When I first started reading about touring by bike, the thing I read most often was about how much Touring Cyclist eat. As someone who does most distance cycling in a quasi-competetive setting, the idea seemed a little strange... and a bit overblown.

Now that I've done it, I completely understand. You spend most of your time fighting a negative deficit. Lugging around a hundred pounds of bike over hill and dale really sucks the energy out of you. Even constantly snacking and drinking while you ride doesn't change it much. I know I'm a big guy, but I don't eat quite as much as most people might think. However, wow... I have found myself eating almost constantly on this trip and I still think I have burned much much more than I've taken in.

This bounty of food is from Underwoods BBQ in Brownwood. My final stop. I've met up with my Dad and Brother and we are headed to their house now. While I'm a little sad that my tour didn't go quite the way I expected it to, we were able to make the best of a few bad situations, go with the flow, and have a lot of fun.

I have learned more about touring by bike the last 4 days by actually doing it, than I did just reading about it. Some things I expected to be difficult went really well, while some of the easy things were harder than I ever expected them to be.

Just because the tour is over, don't quit reading if you've been following this. After I mull things over a bit I will do a more concise write up on a real computer with a real keyboard. I also plan on doing product reviews on the things I used the most. That was actually one of the most difficult things to research, as there isn't all that much out there on many of the items I was using. While other reviews were just glossed over press releases.

Also, if I hear from the Tailwind Boys... I'll post the update here.

Thanks to all the support and comments from new readers. It really did make a difference for us.

And a special thanks to Dave Hill for calling and seeing if we needed any help, even though he didn't bring us any whiskey.

Chris

Hello West Texas, welcome back headwinds

Things went well as I left Hamilton, gentle rolling hills and trees. Then as I got close to the county line... BAM West Texas. The transition was so sudden I just had to stop on the side of the road for a minute and soak it all in.

I'm a West Texas boy at heart. It's where I was raised and home to the landscape I love.

Of course having the headwinds hit me so hard and so suddenly like I was suckerpunched had something to do with it too.

The boys should be making great time, if they haven't made Meridian already. They should at least have a kickin' tailwind.

Have a safe trip boys and we'll talk soon. Right now it's about time for lunch.

Saying goodbye to friends...


Today is the day my friends and I part ways. My journey continues on to Brownwood, which I should make by nightfall. Bryan and Bernie are headed back to civilization, by way of Meridian (and a few other stops).

I'll post more on this later, however it has been a great time. I've really enjoyed my first touring experience and I'm glad I was able to do it with these guys. We've learned so much and had a really great time. I can't wait to do it again.

Hopefully my next post will be around dinnertime.

Be good and safe out there.

Boys, I'll see you in a couple of weeks!

Chris

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Finally, a real computer!

We stopped by the Hamilton Library to hop on their free internet for a few minutes while we could. I thought I would update a couple of things for those of you that are following us.

There are some great pics of the beginning of our journey (before we became "Road Hardened". Go to www.westandclear.com

Hopefully Bernie will be able to blog soon as well. I just can't type fast enough on that cell phone, however I am trying to keep the updates coming. Since we're blowing over a storm today we might have some good hijinks to post (not too sure about that one though, as this is a dry county and we hit the Scotch pretty hard last night).

Thanks to those that have been following. We really appreciate the comments.

Home away from home

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Finally enough light to show a pic of our campsite.

Bernie and I are in the space coffins, while Brian has the luxury of a real tent.

6 am coffee never tasted so good

This message was not sent from an Apple iPhone.While I managed to stay warm all night, I just couldn't sleep anymore past 0530. While the Bivy is nice, it is pretty small. That and it rained so hard last night that the top portion of my tent pooled water prety badly. Enough so that I was able to feel the weight of it on top of me.

Still, not a bad little tent. While not completely waterproof, there was condensation on the insides of my tent, it did the job. I stayed safe and dry.

The pic you see is my little Dr Pepper can stove. I have really enjoyed that stove on this trip. It is light, cheap, and it works great.

Now I'm going to go enjoy my coffee and wait for the boys to wake up.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hamilton Texas

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It is now 2115 hrs. It is about 28 Degrees outside and misting. We have opted to retire to our Bivy shelters. While I might not look too comfy, I'm actually quite warm. Listening to my iPod and getting ready to go to sleep.

Tonight we decided to go try Mexican food. Not too bad, and nice and cheap. We mainly just wanted to sit somewhere warm for a while. This place happened to be across the street.

As far as tomorrow goes... we're just going to have to see what happens. Some pretty severe weather is supposed to move in during the night. While I welcome the idea of the predicted 70 mph tailwinds, I don't exactly look forward to the large hail and lightning that will accompany it.

We will probably spend an extra day here in Hamilton. What does this mean for our tour? Well, we probably won't see Enchanted Rock anytime in the near future. We aren't quite covering the distances we anticipated per day and that is a huge factor since we only had on buffer day and we are so far behind already.

Things we have learned...

1. Headwinds suck

2. The Hill Country of Texas is a fickle mistress

3. 80 miles per day is an unrealistic goal for us while riding bikes with a curb weight of about 100 pounds each (sans rider)... 60 is more realistic, this time of year you run out of daylight quickly.

4. There are some good people out there. The kindness shown to us by total strangers has been incredible, and a loaded touring bike is a great ice-breaker. Tonight we are staying in an RV park right off the town square. The owner even left a storage building open for us in case we needed better shelter.

5. Every ounce you pack really does add up, I now understand why some guys cut the handles off toothbrushes.

6. Headwinds still suck.

Sorry this post isn't more interesting. It's been a pretty dreary day, but we still feel pretty great and spirits are high. The miles even felt good today.

p.s. For the much venerated Truman, we are getting around 60 miles per day. We could probably push further each day, but it is pretty tiring and the daylight is a huge factor.

Peace Out!

Lunch!

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