Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mistakes and Lessons Learned on Bike Tour

Just like with anything else, starting long distance touring can have a steep learning curve.  It is even steeper if you've never really camped before and don't have the right gear.  Earlier this week I bumped into a fellow biker named Christopher who is just getting started and he said my story was inspirational.  Well him being inspired got me thinking back through some of the things I've learned from my experiences touring, and I was inspired to share. Here are some tips that I learned (sometimes the hard way) when I was just starting out, and some that I've learned recently, even after years of experience.

1. Don't settle for crappy gear.

Yeah, we know that you're not going to have any gear, you're just starting out.  Don't make things harder for yourself and try to spend $3000+ dollars on new gear or DIY everything (that you're not even sure how to use yet) and have it break on you, just ask a friend. We all have at least one active friend that has all kinds of gear, and they aren't camping year round, so just ask them to borrow stuff.  Each tour you'll get a nice hand-me-down sleeping bag because someone bought a new one, or a tent at a super cheap price from, or you lucked out by going to a thrift store; and soon enough, you'll be the friend with a bunch of cool gear.

This is my outdoorsy friend Matt.  He was the Cross-fittiest, adventure racering, bike/mountain/hikey guy I knew when I was building my gear.  He loaned me many a gear for many a trip. 
Because you can't build up to this overnight 

It may not look like much, but these are all the basics, the idea is to travel light, right? (Que #2)

2. Don't carry too much (or too little).

Carrying too much is actually inevitable, so accept it, BUT while you're riding, evaluate what works for you and what doesn't.  Don't get caught up in being too light either, especially being new to the game. It's okay to start off heavy because the remedy is easy : ship everything you don't need back to yourself or friends. If you are starting in cold country, and going to hot country, swap out gear at a "pick up" spot which can be a friend's house or a postal service pick up. For small things (under 1 lb), use US Postal Service, and for larger items, use FedEx.  For shipping bikes, you can use for less than $60.

Just please don't carry as much as this guy.

Eventually, you may even look like this guy.  This is Cjell Mone, and he rides the Great Divide Race, and many of the adventure tourers pack ultra light like this because they're riding 200+ miles per day on aggressive terrain. Amazing! Cjell actually yo-yos, where he does the entire 2768 miles, and then turns around and does it again...taking around 2 weeks each way.  Someday...
3. Research your area.

Adventure Cycling maps make it pretty easy for you, but make sure you know your route, alternate routes, where the nearest greyhound is, water sources, food sources, etc. There are so many things that can happen, you want to leave your options open. It's especially important if you're remote or off-road, where you definitely need an accurate odometer.

I collect maps from on the road.  This is one from a local firefighter, and he is giving me advice on route options.  Firefighters are your friends, especially when you are very remote.  They may be the only humans you come into contact with for a few days, and they obviously love wilderness, so they're great companions when you bump into them. They also watch out for us whether you know it or not. Someone out in the back country noticed me biking, and called the man to which the fingers above belong. He followed my bike with  trailer tracks to make sure everything was okay and that I had enough supplies.  I love these people!
If you've never seen an Adventure Cycling Map, here is part of one above, though this portion doesn't give it justice.  This is a section that shows elevation changes.  The maps are geared toward bike friendly long distance touring routes, and include campsites, places to get water, streams, places to get food, local bike shops, hotels, etc. They even have a list of phone numbers to the bike shops, hotels, campsites, local emergency areas for each town that you go through.  Most maps cover around 300-400 miles, and really anyone who lives should have these maps.
4. Become part of a Bike Network.

I recommend using to find a place to stay at the start of your tour.  This site is made up of a cycling network that offers other cyclists hospitality, but the people involved also are a great source of local knowledge and can lead you in the right direction (literally) for starting out. Consider that most times you will start out from a big city, because you will fly/train/bus to a larger hub, and the locals will know the safest way to pick up the ACA routes, and anything weird within a 100 mile radius or more.

This is my good friend Chris.  He hosted us last minute when we were first riding the GDT. We've stayed in contact because our personalities were very similar.  Warmshowers opens up a door to extending your family, and meeting lifelong friends like my buddy Chris and his wife Mary. 
5. Know your body.

We may not all be nutritionists, but you want to listen to what your body needs while you ride. This is an endurance sport, so it's necessary to maintain a diet that will sustain long days. For emergencies, always carry a quick source of sodium like pickle juice, mustard packets, or salty smoked fish.  There is also a powdered food called soylent that has come out which contains all of the nutrients that you need in a day. Also consider the climate that you're in.  For instance, in very hot climates, I eat lots of raw fruits and vegetables as a way to carry extra water, and forwent anything dehydrated (like raisins or granola).

6. Know your tools, and use them regularly.

Multitool, pump, extra spokes, etc. Make sure you have some basic tools and replacement parts for anything that could prevent you from biking, but can be fixed well enough to get you to a bike shop. Tighten all of your bolts, panniers, etc., check your tire pressure, and do a quick look-over your bike daily, once before you head out, and once when you get to where you need to be. Carry extra bolts. Carry zip ties, duct tape, and velcro straps of various sizes in case everything above turns into a worst case scenario.

Be like Neva, this is her looking my bike over before we leave.
7. Always carry sunscreen.

I use Super Salve, which is handmade by Denise in Silver City, NM.  It's all natural, and uses titanium dioxide as a natural barrier for protection.  Also, it smells awesome, isn't greasy, and doesn't leave you bright white and looking like a ghost.

Because you will get sun, and lots of it. Thanks to Super Salve, I don't get burned though!

8. Trailers and accessories

I've only been stranded once out of my 7+ years of touring and it was last year. I was given a trailer to test, and I had tested it about 100+ miles off-road locally in Texas, but not on any 4x4 trails.  The trailer busts a spoke the moment we get to a semi aggressive portion of the GDT. It was because I did not go over the trailer with the same eye that I go over my bike. The wheel had only 16 spokes, while my bike wheels have 40 spokes, and I wouldn't ride with much less.

If you're going to carry a trailer, make sure you consider everything that you would on a bike that would make it tour-ready. Can it handle the bumps (wheels, tires, hitch articulation, etc.) over bumpy surfaces. Can it carry the weight required for your purposes and still maintain its integrity. This type of scrutiny should also be done on bags and racks, and always, always pretest your gear before you go.

Here's us walking after a trailer failure.  Eventually, I just biked to the closest town while these two watched our stuff and fended off mountain lions. 
Summary of resources :
Cheap gear :
Cheap way to ship bikes :
Maps : Adventure Cycling Association
Bike Network :
Soylent : (I use) 100% food
Sunscreen : Super Salve
Place to buy quality bike gear : Bike Shop Hub

I hope this list is helpful to all you potential tourers out there!  Let us know if there any lessons you've learned from bike touring that I missed.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Weehoo 4th of July

I hope everyone had a great Independence day weekend!  We sure did! Family time, new friends, and some fresh air and we were happy campers.

Neva couldn't wait to get back in the Weehoo, and I was happy to oblige.  The hitch system is easy to use, and gives my wheel plenty of clearance.

The trailer comes with 6 different sized shims to fit a variety of seat tubes, and the hitch pivots around really nicely, not hindering turns or movement. The trailer arm (left) slides over top of the hitch piece and locks into place with the pin. 

As many of you may have seen in the news, the Dallas/Fort Worth area (we are in Denton, TX) has been having lots of flooding with all of the rains over the past couple months, meaning that all of the trails are currently underwater or super muddy. So, with all of the construction around, and it being a holiday (ie. no one is working) we decided to explore where the new portions of the neighborhoods will go.

First we made sure that Neva was properly buckled in, and her feet were inserted into her cages.  The seat slides forward and back along the central bar to adjust to a growing child, and the cages have bungees on the back to secure the foot in place. 

Yup, that's the signal that it's go time!

The back of our cul de sac backs a wooded area, we have to climb over a big birm, but then have some dirt trails to explore.  While we are re-situating, Neva tells me about how big the bike tube was at the bike shop that she saw when we dropped off the tandem the other day that was for a 29er fat bike. We continue on our way, and find a nice cement path.  Unfortunately, it was for a golf course, so we quickly biked our way to the nearest road. There's a road extension that we use to get to our neighborhood grocery, so we decided to explore that instead. 

Here's the start of the path to get to the grocery store, but we will continue forward instead of turning, to see where it goes. Apparently, Neva says this is her "biking" face...hmmm, do I do that?

And neither one of my children could resist sitting in the big crane. 

Near the end of the construction work, we bumped into a lake with some trails around it within the trees. Yes, shade was a welcome friend, as 11am was approaching, and temperatures were rising here in north Texas. Here's a picture of Neva among the newfound foliage. I'm not sure exactly where we were, but at least there was a sign...

So was the end of our trail, so we pedaled our way back towards home.  Neva wanted me to take a picture of these because she said they looked like large Lego blocks.  Indeed Neva, indeed. 

We managed to find a firework show nearby, near Lewisville Lake, so we went there for an evening of fireworks.  Neva made a few friends and ran around with glowsticks and bubble guns for an hour after the show ended. Tip to parents : glowsticks are a great way to see your child in the dark. Flashlights, glow in the dark shirts, whatever, just tape them to your child and let them run!

Though this picture doesn't do it justice, this was one of the better shows I've seen. The fireworks were huge and practically overhead, giving a 3-D look to them. There were sparkly ones, and golden ones (Neva's favorite color), smiley faces, and ones that were shaped like Saturn or looked like nebulas.  Neva squealed the whole time, so I was happy. 

Sunday morning, and Neva was rearing to go again! She biked with me 2 miles of my 4 mile run, and when I got back, sweaty and looking for water, she said she wanted to give me a surprise.  The surprise was that we were going to run from our house, back behind the cul de sac, around some of the trail/construction area we had been.  Here she is in the lead, wearing one of her new exercise shirts. That's my girl!

After her shower, Neva wanted a haircut, so the whole family (except Christian) got their ears lowered. Neva picked out this haircut out of some pictures online. Even our dog Sammie got a trim. 

And so ended our holiday weekend, with biking, running, and haircuts.  I guess the weekend kind of went like an "If you give a Neva a bike ride, she's going to want a run to go along with it" story. Oh, and I can't forget, the ever so popular face painting!

Happy Independence day everyone!