Month: June 2014

Gear

I never included a post like this before my last trip, but I think it could be useful to those reading who find themselves drawn to life on the road yet overwhelmed with the logistics. I want to preface this list by saying that, in many cases, I went above and beyond what I really “needed,” mainly because I could. I often opted for high quality, both when it was necessary (tent), and when it most likely wasn’t (polished  stainless steel Schmidt dynamo front light). That said, I consider most of my expenses justified, as, over a long enough time frame, their exorbitance diminishes as their reliability (hopefully) comes to the fore.

BIKE

Surly 58 cm Long Haul Trucker, Olive Green

Surly-1

This is the same bike that I left St. John’s with over a year ago, though with several changes. I have been tinkering with the bike since I arrived in Victoria last year, and here is a run down of the most significant changes since then (along with pertinent information about its initial – that is, X-Canada 2013 – configuration that may not have been apparent from my photos).

Front wheel (and lights)

Surly-6

I had to rebuilt my front wheel. At some point on my previous trip, the front hub bearings were contaminated (probably from that two foot puddle I rode through when leaving Quebec). I used this as an opportunity to install a dynamo front hub, as well as a front and rear light that that worked in conjunction with it. When it comes to “unnecessary” expenses, this one probably tops the list. I can count on one hand the amount of times I rode at night coming across Canada, and, considering that I will be heading towards the arctic with its nearly perpetual daylight, their presence isn’t exactly essential. The hub, however, is extremely versatile. With the right adapter, I can use it to charge nearly all of my electronics (excluding my laptop). I won’t be doing so on this trip, but who’s to say what the future holds?

Handlebar

Surly-5

I have swapped out the original drop handlebars in favour of trekking bars. The saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and some of you might be wondering why, after 4 months and 8500km of generally fuss-free ergonomics, I would opt for a change. First and foremost, I am a bit of a tinkerer, and sometimes I can’t leave well-enough alone. Secondly, I found that I almost never used the drop position on my original bars, and so I wanted a bar that afforded multiple hand positions while still maintaining an upright riding stance. My only complaint regarding this new arrangement is that there is no straight-forward way to mount a mirror without sacrificing grip real estate. That is a compromise I am willing to live with, however, as the bar is far more comfortable and (I think) more attractive. It also has room to mount yet another water bottle holder.

Fenders – SKS Longboard P55

I swapped my old generic fenders for SKS brand ones that offer more coverage over the circumference of the wheel, especially on the front wheel.. They are also lined with aluminum, giving them an added degree of sturdiness.

Tires – Schwalbe Marathon Mondails 2.0″

These are Schwalbe’s top of the line expedition touring tire. I was running the slightly narrower (1.75″) Marathon Tour Plus tires on the last trip with no complains – not a single flat – but I wanted something a little meatier, especially for the unpaved Dempster Highway, and when a sale came up on chainreactioncycles, I snagged a pair at a substantial discount.

Kickstand – Pletscher twin-legged centre kickstand

Surly-2

Easily the most justified upgrade, this kickstand mounts to a plate I had welded on the chain stays just behind the bottom bracket. Surly is opposed to providing their bike with a kickstand mount, and so the folks down at Fairfield Bicycles were more than happy to braze on a plate that offered far more stability than Pletscher’s generic mounting bracket. I have the legs cut down so that the rear wheel is elevated only slightly (<1cm). This guarantees that it will work on pavement, and their added length will give them some purchase on softer ground.

Racks – Tubus Logo (rear) and Tara (front) racks

Another probably unnecessary change, but I was interested in more efficient and lighter racks, and these Tubus options fit the bill. The Surly racks were more than adequate, but I especially disliked the way the front rack was in almost constant interference with the brake calliper. Surely Surly can design products with better integration in the future? I suppose this is the trade-off for having products that can work in nearly any situation. Additionally, I now have matching (black) front and rear racks, and I think they’re pretty sexy. The rear rack also places the panniers lower, allowing for a rack bag to be mounted flush with both the rack surface and the panniers.

Seat – Brooks B-17 Titanium

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Unchanged from the last trip, this titanium-railed copper-studded leather Brooks B-17 remains my saddle of choice, providing a bit of elegance and a ton of comfort. I had some numbness issues early in my previous trip, but I worked those out through a combination of seat angle/height adjustments and more self-aware butt positioning. I still find that I have to be very diligent with my posture while riding. If I purchased another Brooks, I might opt with their more male-friendly Imperial model, but I’m not about to change something so ergonomically crucial at this point. I’m also bringing along their leather treatment goop, Proofide.

Seat bag – Lezyne Caddy Saddle bag

I wanted a bag in which I could store the minimal bike repair components that I will be carrying with me. Before, I had them stuffed in a pannier in a plastic bag, but this option from Lezyne is far more convenient.

GEAR MOUNTED DIRECTLY ON THE BIKE

Panniers – Ortlieb Front-Roller and Back-Roller Plus (red)

I swapped out the Bike-Packer Plus rear panniers in favour of the Back-Rollers simply because their size adjusted to suit how much they were filled. These were the optimal fit for the Tubus Logo rear rack. Probably an unnecessary change, but, as I said, I tinker.

Handlebar Bag – Ortlieb Ultimate 6 L Plus (black)

Now in black, this is a warrantied replacement of the bag I had previously. The backing of the bag is soft, and the plastic bracket that attaches to the handlebar mount has two protruding ridges on it that, when the bag is fully loaded, press into the waterproof material. This eventually wore a ridge through the waterproof material. I warrantied the bag with no problems, but after riding for a few months with the new bag, I noticed the same problem starting to occur. I’m not about to invest in a completely different bag, so I filed down the ridges as best I could. I really don’t know how this design problem passed through Ortlieb’s QA, but I’m hoping they address it before their next iteration of this bag comes about.

Rack Bag – Seal Line 30L Dry Bag (black)

A simple roll-top waterproof bag that sits comfortably on top of the rear rack and panniers. It easily holds all the necessary camping gear. I really like the idea of keeping the “mobile home” portion of my gear separate from everything else, and this is the most convenient and straight-forward way of doing so.

Pump – Topeak Road Morph G

No complaints regarding this pump, though if I knew about the Turbo Morph G, I may have opted for that instead, as it has a far larger air chamber, requiring less pumps to fully inflate the tire.

Water bottles – Camelbak Podium 24oz

CAMPING EQUIPMENT

Tent – Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 (with matching ground sheet)

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This tent has proven itself through some pretty sever thunderstorms, and I have no doubt that it will continue to do so in the following months. Being an extra-light tent, it is not as completely waterproof as heavier tents with a higher hydrostatic pressure head rating, but its compactness and size are ideal, the mesh construction providing much needed airflow during breezy hot evenings.

Sleeping Bag – MEC Merlin (-10C)

The big debate: to down or not to down. I decided to go with a down bag last year, and its compressibility and lightness have been valuable assets. I have to be more careful about it getting wet, but so far, that hasn’t been an issue.

Sleeping Pad – Thermarest NeoAir X-Lite

This sleeping pad rolls up to the size of a Nalgene water bottle and provides exceptional comfort and insulation. Sleeping pads are in my opinion essential for camping, and this option from Thermarest does not disappoint. If it were self-inflating, it would be even better, but that is a minor complaint, and definitely not a deal breaker.

Pillow – Thermarest

Camping pillows are always a bit of a compromise. If they compress, they’re often uncomfortable, but if they’re comfortable, they’re often huge. I haven’t found a reason to replace this pillow yet, mainly because I like its size, and, if I find it particularly uncomfortable during the evening, I can augment it with my clothes.

Sleeping Bag Liner – Sea to Summit 100% Silk Mummy

This is the most luxurious-feeling item in my mobile home. I was gifted a cotton sleeping bag liner in Montreal by a warmshowers host, and I liked the idea of a liner so much that I decided to invest in a silk one for this trip. They act as an insert for the sleeping bag, and add about 5C is temperature protection. They are far easier to wash than down sleeping bags, and, on especially warm nights, they can replace a sleeping bag entirely.

Stove – MSR Dragonfly

No complaints about this stove. Its power can be attenuated, it folds up quite compactly, and it accepts several types of fuel. More weight conscious tourers might consider its little brother, the Whisper-Lite.

Pots – MSR Stainless Steel

This set comes with two pots and a lid that can double as a frying pan. Their thermal properties are great: they heat up and cool down remarkably quick, making them easy to handle while cooking (and greatly reducing the time between food preparation and food obliteration). Plus, they can be cleaned with wet sand without risk of damage.

Bear Spray/Bear Bangers/Bear Whistle

I carried bear spray with me all across Canada. The number of people who warned me of animal encounters bordered on ridiculous. The fact is, I rarely came across wild animals. Even in the Rocky Mountains, I never so much as saw a Grizzly, and the only black bears I saw were surrounded by about 30 tourists on the side of the road. I finished the trip wondering just how much of my paranoia was warranted, though it did cause me to be extra cautious with food storage.

Heading north, I’m not going to kid myself. Wild animal encounters are expected, especially as I head into the tundra. I have to accept that, should a bear decide to engage me, there’s not much I could do to placate it. I’m hoping that what countermeasures I do bring with me will dissuade even the most curious creatures from getting too close, but I’m also hoping that it won’t come to that. Well, maybe curious enough for a photo or two.

ELECTRONICS

Phone – iPhone 5, charger

Computer – MacBook Air 13″, charger

For another others considering taking a computer along on their tour, a solid state hard-drive is a must. It’s impervious to the pumps of the road. That said, I still will enclose mine in a case with soft clothing surrounding it to dampen the harsher vibrations. If I were to purchase a computer solely with touring in mind, I would buy one chargeable via USB. The MacBook Air (and all other MacBook products) is only chargeable with a wall outlet, and since I am a fan of completely contained touring, a computer capable of being charged by USB (and by extension, by a cache battery and dynamo hub) would be preferable. There are some offerings from ASUS that meet this requirement.

Camera – Canon Rebel t3i, 40mm/2.8 pancake lens and 18-55mm/3.5-5.6 kit lens, circular polarizer, lens hood, charger

The pancake lens (a steal, at between $130 and $150, depending on what sale you take advantage of) will stay on the camera the majority of the time. Its small form-factor means it takes up far less space in the handlebar bag. I will take the kit lens along for shots I feel require a wider angle. I’m also taking along a cheap (read: huge) tripod strapped to the back. I’m hoping to get at least a few shots with me in them.

Video Camera – GoPro Hero 1 (and a few spare batteries, SD cards)

I have a mount on the handlebar as well as one on my helmet. I like the idea of giving an occasional narrative as well as some footage of the more spectacular vistas I travel through. These cameras have a wide angle and are straightforward to operate. I am a little leery in how my handlebar mount basically screams “steal me!” but it’s easy to unmount, and it’s not like I’m going to be riding through vast metropolises. I’d consider a more stealthy placement (or none altogether) in higher-risk countries. Maybe I’ll be eating my words in a few months…

CLOTHING

Several pairs of merino wool socks

MEC merino wool t-shirt

True North Merino Wool long sleeve shirt

Outdoor Research button up t-shirt (for a bit of class)

Patagonia fleece

MEC wind breaker

Sprayway waterproof jacket

Prana convertible pants

Gore Bike Wear waterproof pants

Icebreaker merino wool long johns

Sugoi bicycle shorts (x2)

Kombi waterproof mitts

Giro padded fingerless bicycle gloves

Giro SPD shoes

Keens Newport H2 sandals

Wool scarf/toque – homemade and courtesy of a lady I worked with in a choir in Newfoundland.

A word about merino wool: in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge fan of this material. It is breathable when on the move, and insulating when stationary. It’s naturally antibacterial, so I can ride for days before developing a severe stink, and it dries very quickly. Typically clothing made from this material are more expensive, but there are exceptions, like the very cheap True North long sleeve shirt ($20).

A word about waterproofing: on my last trip, I ultimately stopped wearing waterproof clothing, even when it rained. The weather became warm enough that it was simply preferable to get by rainwater rather than by sweat. This time, however, there’s a good chance I’ll be riding into some colder weather, where if I were to get soaked through, my core temperature would significantly drop. So, back in the bags goes the waterproof gear. The Sprayway is far more practical than the Gore Bike Wear jacket I had previously, and it lends itself far more conveniently to layering.

MISCELLANEOUS

Journal

A journal should be an essential travel companion, yet, curiously, some people don’t care to document their trips. I am amazed by how much I have forgotten from last year’s ride, and I am so glad that I have a journal (and blog) to aid in my recollection. Additionally, I find the writing process to be therapeutic.

Toiletries

This comes down so much to personal preferences that I won’t bother specifying what I will bring.

Mobile “guest-book”

This was a book that grew out of the loneliness I initially felt once I parted ways with my riding partner in Nova Scotia last year. It turned out to be an excellent idea, and a constant reminder of those who in some way emotionally invested themselves in helping me on my way. Nothing brings a smile to my face quicker than a quick flip-through of this book. Of course it comes along.

Books

I’m not sure what I’m going to bring yet. Suggestions?

NOTABLY ABSENT

GPS/bike computer

Once my GPS died in Northern Ontario, along with my bike computer just out out of Winnipeg, I discovered that I was able to focus a lot more on my immediate surroundings rather than where I would be after X number of km. Metrics really distracted from the experience, throwing me into almost instinctive calculative fits trying to sort out where I was, how far I was going, etc. For a more extended trip (>10,000km), I would probably through on a bike computer, but, if I did, I would make the screen difficult to see while riding.

Amazon Kindle (not notable because of being essential, but notable because it was with me on the last trip)

For some reason, a Kindle with nearly a thousand e-books on it holds far less appeal than a single, bound, well-worn paperback. This past year, I have barely touched my Kindle, while still reading fairly regularly. I like to think that books in their use take on some of the character of their reader. I’m not planning on breaking any reading records while on the road, so a few regular books should suffice.

Cock (Sriracha) Sauce

Considering that bears have been known to go after bug repellant simply for the smell, I think it would be smart to forego strapping such a blatant temptation onto my frame.


There are surely things which I’ve left out, either because I won’t think of bringing them until the last minute, or because they are too personal or inconsequential to warrant mention. I’ve noticed that, as with last time, I’ve become extremely neurotic with gear planning as the departure date approaches, sometimes obsessing over the “ideal” equipment to bring and whatnot. I imagine I’m not alone in this respect.  Yet all preconceived notions of the “ideal” shatter once the road streamlines one’s preoccupations and obsessions. Invariably, I will make due with what I have, and, by the end of the journey, it will feel like the “right” amount to bring. Then the trip will finish, and I will start to tinker…rinse and repeat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Olympian Warm Up

One question that I have been asked repeatedly is how one can prepare for endless days of constant cycling. If one were to use my last trip as the standard by which they measure adequate preparation, they would probably conclude that such a trip can be undertaken with little prior training, as I had never cycled more than 50km in one go prior to the first day of the trip. While that may be true, knowing what I know now about how my body responds to long rides, I decided that, this time, I would at least go on a few preparatory rides, and what better way to warm up than via a 28 km nearly uninterrupted climb into the Olympic Mountains?

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The Olympic Peninsula lies about 25km south of Victoria, and is easily accessible by a ferry that departs from the Victoria Inner Harbour. On a clear day, the range easily visible from even a slight elevation in the Greater Victoria Area. It is a majestic and inspiring range and a ubiquitous feature of Vancouver Island tourist paraphernalia.

I had been discussing this trip with some friends of mine from Cobble Hill for a couple of months now, and so after just a little preliminary organization, we were on our way, planning to arrive early in the evening, take in a motel, and head up to the summit the following morning.

Unbelievably, I forgot my passport, and while this wasn’t a trip-ending problem, it could have delayed crossing by about 4 hours while I cycled home and picked it up. Fortunately, US customs took pity on me and allowed me through with my driver’s license. Despite my luck, I’m sure that this rarely happens. Never forget your passport when trying to enter into a new country! I’m glad I got this egregious oversight out of the way before the bigger ride, where a mistake of this kind might result in drastic route alterations/limitations.

Olympic National Park-1

The town of Port Angeles almost doesn’t deserve a mention, as it is a pretty undesirable destination in its own right. However, the motel was pleasant, if a little cozy, and the staff were very friendly. Given its geographical location, I can’t help but wonder why the town appears so dilapidated. It reminded me of Thunder Bay, another port town seemingly teeming with potential, only smaller. Perhaps its proximity to Victoria is in fact a hindrance to its tourism industry, as no cruise ship would bother stopping at both locations. That said, it is a gateway to many other popular spots in the Olympic Peninsula: Twilight-famous Forks, La Push, and, of course, the Olympic National Park.

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Olympic National Park-2

After an uninspiring breakfast at the local coffee shop, we headed towards the park’s main gate, a 9km uphill which, according to the locals, was the most difficult portion of the ascent. This was, as usual, completely wrong. $5 poorer and feeling good, we continued on. Briefly, the grade slackened, and it seemed that we were through the worst of it. Soon, however, the road picked up its previous grade, and I realized that I had not brought enough snacks to sustain to me to the summit. Lying on the side of the road waiting for my friends to catch up, I was approached by a German who was on his way (driving) down the mountain. He generously gave me some of his food, the likes of which indicated that he was also on a long journey: his trunk was full of neatly packed bags of food, homemade granola to mixed nuts for example. As well, he was carrying a ton of camera equipment. It turns out he’s a nature photographer, and he was on his way to Alaska to photograph the myriad of wildlife in Western Canada and Alaska. Check out his website here.

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Olympic National Park-5

Refueled and energized from the free snacks and great (albeit brief) conversation, I joined my friends who were now abreast of me and continued on. The summit was only 10km or so away now, and the weather was noticeably cooler. Fog meandered in and out of the valley and soon snow appeared at the side of the road. Yet the spectacular views remained elusive due to cloud cover. Finally, around the last bend, the fog briefly lifted and the mountains revealed themselves in all their glory. Whether it was due to some weird trick of perspective or the actual elevation of the road compared to the surrounding peaks I’m not sure, but as we looked across the vast valley it appeared that we were directly level with the mountaintops. The ranges continued into the horizon, and for a brief time, it felt like we were on top of the world. Unfortunately the fog never lifted completely and so at least some of the view was always obscured.

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Olympic National Park-8

After high fives and some pasta – a good chance to test my cooking gear – we rushed down the mountain hoping to make the last ferry back to Victoria. What took 5-6 hours to ascend was over in about 40 minutes as we sped down the smooth and sweeping road. Unfortunately, because we were rushed, I did not take the time to get a decent photo of all of us at the top. I’m certainly going to have to brush up on my trip photography if I’m to successfully document my next ride.

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Olympic National Park-9

The legs were feeling good the next day. Perhaps a certain degree of long-distance cycling fitness never goes away? My riding partners, who, by the way, nearly double me in age, also felt great, if a bit worked. With gear preparation nearly complete (stay tuned for a gear post), I’m ready to head off again. There are only a couple of weeks now until I head north, and the feeling of anticipation is becoming almost unbearable.

Heading North

Greetings to all of my followers. There’s a new bike trip in the works, and I decided that, rather than starting a new blog, I would re-start this one.

This trip, like my last one, is a cross-Canada trek, albeit with a twist (a 90 degree one, in fact). Whereas my previous trip was east to west, this traverse will be south to north, starting in Victoria, BC and terminating in Inuvik, NT. This journey spans roughly 20 degrees latitude and covers between 3500 and 4500 km, depending on how much I meander.

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What this journey lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality; Northern Canada offers up an enticing variety of landscapes, from lush, mountainous landscapes to desolate stretches of tundra. There’s no denying that, along with its unique environments, this trip will offer an array of circumstances not found on my previous tour. For example, I will have to become far better at resource management, as scarcity of services becomes a real issue once I am north of Dawson City.

A blessing and a curse, the route I have chosen is one among surprisingly few options. I plan on cycling to Port Hardy at the northern end of Vancouver Island before taking a ferry through the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert. From there, I will most likely spend a day or two on Haida Gwaii before heading inland on the Yellowhead/Dease Lake Highway until it connects with the Alaska Highway (#1) just after crossing into the Yukon Territories. This highway will take me through Whitehorse and, should I not choose to take the Klondike Highway (#2) exit, eastern Alaska. Whichever route I decide to take will ultimately bring me to Dawson City, where I will continue on the Dempster Highway towards Inuvik.

That final stretch of road is considered to be a “rite of passage” of sorts by many touring cyclists. It is a roughly 700 km elevated gravel road that diverges from the Klondike Highway (#2) just east of Dawson City and continues on towards Inuvik, where it terminates. It is not uncommon to come across Grizzly Bears, and as accommodations will be almost exclusively wild-camping, it’s hard to ignore the very real danger that such an endeavour brings with it. Yet, despite these realities, many men and women have successfully navigated this route, an indication that I’m not about to embark on a fool’s errand.

An extension of the highway is currently being constructed to connect Inuvik with Tuktoyaktuk, but that it not scheduled for completion until 2017. As such, my trip, which takes me as far north as one can via road, will bring me just out of reach of the Arctic Ocean. However, as I will be spending a good deal of time within the Arctic Circle, I’m not too disappointed. The polar bear swim will have to wait.

This trip will present some significant challenges, some that, over the last few months, have kept me awake at night in anticipation. I will have to be far more conscious with how I store prepare and store my food, especially as I go further north. A dirty pot could mean an unwelcome visitor or two. There will be far longer stretches of isolation that there ever were on my last ride, and I suspect that I’ll be doing a good bit more wild-camping. Whereas for some these might be reasons to plan a trip elsewhere, I welcome these challenges. Northern Canada remains relatively uninhabited, and I can’t help but feel that I will be travelling into lands yet to be wholly scoured for resources or attenuated for public consumption. There is an unfettered and vibrant world beyond the trappings of contemporary civilization, and I relish the opportunity to be a part of it, if only temporarily.

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” 

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Stay tuned for a gear breakdown!