Posts tagged ‘preparation’

Here we go

June 19th, 2010 2:34 am.

There may come a day when I’m finally too frail to do adventures, too feeble to go wandering.

Or worse, a day when my mind is so withered and cowardly that I dare not venture out, or my soul so addicted to comfort and luxury that I loathe any change.



Today (or technically yesterday) I shaved with an electric razor for the last time . I used a hairdryer for the last time. I used a big bottle of shampoo – actually, a big bottle of anything – for the last time. I will share a bed (however briefly) with Merrianne for the last time. This is probably the last time I’ll see a city of over 100,000. For the next six weeks, I mean. I will take off my normal street shoes, and not wear ordinary shoes until August.

As usual, packing took up until the last minute. Our flight leaves at 6:20 am, so we should get there 2 hours in advance. I expect we’ll be quite tired in Fargo, but will have a whirlwind of activity getting set up.

Talk to you soon.

The Backpacker’s Mentality


There seem to be some common threads in the mindsets of those who must carry everything on their back:

  • That flexibility, ingenuity, and humor more important than technology;
  • That comfort is often more of an inconvenience than a necessity;
  • That gratitude for little things is the best entertainment (think Survivorman eating a toasted Witchetty grub);
  • To tread lightly – not only is it less work, it preserves treasures for later;
  • And finally, to travel light – size and weight dominate thinking.

Seriously, I’m debating not bringing a comb to save weight and space. But I woke up in the tent on our shakeout ride and my hair was all wild. This was bad, but not real bad. My hair is short, and I can brush it into shape with my hand (sort of). It’s going under my helmet, anyway. And my appearance is not crucial operationally. There are some women I know whose hair is an asset – to the extent they probably get freebies and better treatment because of it. That doesn’t apply to me. Merrianne wants me to take a comb. What do you think?

It’s less than 3 days until we fly to Fargo. Most of our stuff is staged, but not packed. Before disassembling the bikes, I weighed everything. I weigh 149 pounds. With the fully loaded bike in my hands, the bathroom scale reads 204. I took off all the packs, sleeping bag, tent, and water bottles, and weighed again. 173.5 . That means my bike is 24.5 pounds, including everything that is bolted to it. The rest of the gear – handlebar bag, rear panniers, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, tent, cooking gear, 3 pints of water in the bottles, and all the rest of my stuff – is 30.5 pounds. I was 15 pounds lighter on the previous tour 20 years ago. That’s like a pound a year!

Elliot has less weight, both on himself, and his bike.

The Charger Issue

22 years ago, on the TransAmerica bike tour, do you know how many rechargeable batteries I took? None.

But today, whether on a bike, car, or plane, there always seems to be a shopping bag full of electronics to lug along.

I decided that the following battery-powered devices were important enough to bring on this trip:

  • Camera
  • LED flashlights (2)
  • Cell phones (2)
  • iPod touch
  • Netbook
  • Cyclometer

The cyclometers use button cells that are not rechargeable, and merit no further discussion. The camera and LED flashlights both use AA NiMH batteries, so we must bring a AA charger. The iPod touch has a unique Apple connector. We have two cell phones, each with a unique charger. The netbook has its own power brick. This is the largest of the chargers, when the line cord is taken into consideration.


Clockwise from top left: iPod charger, netbook charger, standard cord for netbook charger, AA/AAA battery charger, Motorola cell phone charger, Tracfone charger

And here is what I’ll be taking:


Clockwise from top left: (3) USB wall plugs, iPod cable, netbook charger, shortened cord for netbook charger, AA/AAA battery charger, short Motorola cell phone cable, homemade Tracfone cable

I was able to find very short cables for the iPod and one of the cell phones on the internet. I couldn’t find a short charging cable for the tracfone, so I got a regular data cable, and shortened it These three USB cables plug into the wall adapters at the top left. If we had infinite time, we might get away with two or even just one adapter. However, having three will let us charge all our devices at the same time, and also, if one breaks, we won’t be dead, just slowed down.

The Panasonic battery charger I got at a flea market for one dollar. It works great, and has the feature of fold-in power prongs, so it packs nicely.

Nothing could be done about the netbook charger, which is already smallish for a laptop charger. However, I was able to pick up a spare cord for a dollar at a flea market (I get a lot of things for a dollar), and shorten that to about a foot long.

The final set of chargers is smaller, lighter, and has the added bonus of not having long cords to tangle.


In my relentless quest for size and weight reduction, I’m considering what to take as a towel. In the past, I tried drying myself with T-shirts, but found that it didn’t work very well. I need a dedicated towel. What could I use that’s small and light?


At the local flea market, they were selling Shamwows at 3/$5, or $2 each. I got one, and plan to use it as my towel. Actually, I cut it in half, to make a towel 14″ x 20″. “Made in Germany” is stamped right on the towel. And you know the Germans make good stuff.


Regular towel on left, hand towel in middle, Shamwow on right

My friend Ahmad advised me never to try something for the first time on a major trip. Respecting that wisdom, I’ve been using this half-Shamwow as my bath towel for the past few days. It seems to be enough. My trick after a shower is to ruffle my hair to get most of the water out, then squeegee as much water as I can off my skin using my hands. That leaves only a little bit of moisture for the Shamwow to pick up.


There are only two drawbacks that I can think of for now:

  1. It’s too small, too thin, and too stiff to use as a wrap for warmth; and
  2. It’s too small to wrap around myself to walk around after a shower, unless I want to give someone an unexpected thrill (or unexpected laugh).

Shakeout Ride to New Brighton

On Saturday and Sunday (Memorial Day weekend), Elliot and I did our shakeout ride to New Brighton Beach. We took the route that I knew – up and over Highway 9. Although I had hoped to leave at 9 am, we ended up leaving at about 11. I wanted to pack as realistically as possible, packing all kinds of things I knew we would never use on this ride, but would use on the real trip.


Ready to go

The climb up Highway 9 was uneventful, although it took 92 minutes. I considered that good, because it was only 12 minutes slower than our time with no load at all. Like last time, we stopped at the top for lunch. Elliot ate 3 hot dogs. I had only one, knowing that the next 15 miles were basically gentle downhill, and sprinkled with towns.

We stopped at Johnnie’s Market in Boulder Creek to get some dinner supplies and snacks. We stopped again at a gas station in Ben Lomond to get 50 cents worth of unleaded for the camp stove. I called Merrianne (my wife) on the cell. She remarked that we were just about to go up “the big hill.” What big hill?!? I thought our climbing was done for the day! I found out that they call it Graham Hill Road for a reason. It might have been one, two miles tops, and there was little traffic, but I had no idea when it was going to end. I was in the granny gear all the way up.

My sister-in-law Janet and her family lived near the top of Graham Hill, but I didn’t even want to bike even the extra 100 yards of hill to find out if they were home. We instead went over and down the other side, stopping at Graham Hill Center at the bottom. I called from there. They weren’t home. From the store, I got possibly the best Popsicle I’ve had in my life – one of those coco delicias.


The best Popsicle in my life

Travel through Santa Cruz and Capitola was a breeze. Motorists were very friendly. We pulled into New Brighton Beach State Park at a little after 6 pm. The sign said “campground full,” but that didn’t apply to the shared hiker-biker area. It was $5 for each of us.


The campground was only full for cars

There were 5 other cyclists at the campground – Jan and Anna (Jan was a man, they were like Dutch or something), Brian, Jerry, and Ian. I chatted with them for a while as I was cooking dinner.

The campground had showers – 2 minutes for 25 cents. That’s pretty cheap if you think about it. Elliot didn’t want to dry out his skin with a shower, but I decided to take one. I had two quarters, and the whole thing planned out. I got completely naked first, and planned to jump right in, even if the water wasn’t hot, yet. I put in the first quarter and rushed in. The water was already warm. I rinsed my hair vigorously, and sprayed my face and head. Then I moved on to the rest of my body. My goal was to get all the salt and sweat off. All this time, I was counting 1, 2, 3, 4, … When I reached 50, I realized that I was all done with the basics, so the rest was just enjoyment. My whole shower, 25 cents.

It got dark, and there was basically very little else to do but go into the tent and go to sleep. Cyclists don’t carry lanterns with them, generally.

When I was half asleep, Elliot said, “Dad! A raccoon knocked over our pots outside.” I passed him a flashlight, but we couldn’t see it through the window of the tent. I went outside to look. The coon had been into Elliot’s open handlebar bag, taken out the ziploc bag of cookies, gnawed a hole in it, and eaten every one. He was surgical about it. The cell phone and other items were left undisturbed. He didn’t even really knock over the (clean) pot, he just moved it to the side a little. There was no more food out, but I zipped up Elliot’s bag, anyway.

About 15 minutes later, I heard a scratching sound up the pine tree. Through the window of the tent, I watched a 20-pound raccoon climb up. I went outside to take a picture of him, but he ran away.


A bandit ate all of Elliot’s cookies

In the morning, Ian told me that there was a quicker and easier way back than Highway 9 – over Soquel-San Jose Road, and Old Santa Cruz Highway. I liked the idea of an easier climb and 10 miles less.

Elliot felt eggs and sausage. Since we had already proven the stove and cooking the previous night, I saw no need to make our own breakfast. I had hoped to find a McDonald’s, to get breakfast and blog over wi-fi at the same time. We first stopped at Gayle’s in Soquel, but they only had pastries. We got back on the road, and just around the corner was the Cookhouse Restaurant – just the thing. At the restaurant, we got to hear the banter of the locals, and joined in to the conversation a bit. I think we should adopt this rule on our real trip: if it’s a choice between meeting the locals and the internet, we should always choose the locals.

2 Eggs Meat Toast Drink Price (w/o drink)
Elliot scram sau white grapefruit $7.90
Roderick oe bac rye coffee $7.90

Elliot ate every bit, and I mean every bit

It was 4 miles of rolling terrain, then 7 miles of climb up Soquel-San Jose to Summit Road. Up at the top, there was Summit Market, a premium market like Whole Foods, but in the middle of nowhere. It had a plaza with shaded tables, and all kinds of interesting food, including made-to-order sandwiches, a salad bar, and a hot food bar. They had free wi-fi, but I decided to relax rather than get on the internet.


Sandwich at Summit Market

I took notes on this ride. Here were the main discoveries:

  • Plastic bag holding camp stove is disintegrating
  • Zyrtec helps. Elliot took one before leaving.
  • A hat might help with warmth at night
  • Elliot must bring sweat pants
  • I need to get bigger sweat pants
  • Careful opening sodas acquired on the road – they get shaken by the ride
  • Put food away – raccoons
  • Get real ear buds – Elliot’s retractable ones were clumsy
  • Elliot’s handlebar end is loose
  • Elliot rear derailleur cannot shift into lowest rear gear with granny
  • iPod’s battery is dead after listening to it for the whole ride


if you see this

…then my texting experiment worked. I’m just learning how to use T9. 😆


I posted the above via text message. Having just activated my cell phone a couple days ago, I’m an utter tyro at texting. I know there are abbreviations I could use to get more message for my characters, but somehow, a title of “F U C ths” just didn’t seem right.

I’m starting to worry about internet access on the trip. On my tour in the 80’s, being disconnected from my normal world was a refreshing break. But today, like a Borg on Star Trek, I find it hard to unplug from the collective. I want my blog access!

One of my friends (read about her adventure here) told me not to worry about finding internet access. But she traveled on Interstates and stayed in motels every night. Elliot and I will be riding on secondary roads, camping more often than not, and on some days might not see any towns with a populations of more than a few hundred.

So here is my strategy. We will take pictures, sketch, or write notes in paper journals along the way. At night, if there is enough power, I will upload pictures to the netbook we’re bringing. I can compose blog posts offline on the netbook using Zoundry Raven. Then,


  • If there is a LAN port for internet access (I doubt it), we’ll use it. My friend Clay told me that at one place he stayed, they had “free high speed internet,” but no wi-fi. If you didn’t have a LAN cable, you had to buy one for $9.95. I made a special foot long cable to take with us, just in case. With high speed internet, I can sync the posts to the blog. But if there isn’t a LAN port,
  • If there is wi-fi, that’s almost as good. That still suggests that we’re in a motel, a high-class campground, or a city. But if there isn’t wi-fi,


  • If there is a phone with free local calls, we can dial up to Yahoo as an ISP. I’m planning to print out all the local access numbers for the states which we will visit. The netbook has no modem, but I have a nifty USB modem. I’m still mulling over whether I can justify the weight. According to Clay, there were times when dial-up was his only option on the road. That was a few years ago – maybe things have changed. But if there isn’t dial-up access,
  • There is one last resort for blogging. I can blog by text message, if there is cell phone service. So if you see a very short post with lots of abbreviations, that’s why. I really have only about 125 characters for such a message, but quite a bit can be said with that. Think of it as the postcard of the digital age. I’ll enhance the post when we connect to the internet again. [Before I forget, I should thank this guy for the information on how to send an email with a Subject by text on a TracFone. I think his name is Mike Yates. Hopefully the trackback will reach him.] But if there isn’t cell service,
  • We will call our family by land line if we’re out of touch for more than a couple days. But if family doesn’t hear from us for several days,
  • Call the Forensic Squad!

I still hope to send out some physical postcards. Leave me your address if you’d like one!

Up Highway 9

DSCI3781s.jpgElliot and I went up the Saratoga side of Highway 9 today. Not too much distance, but I’d estimate that it was the same amount of work that we would typically put in on a touring day. We will see no such hills on our actual trip – at least, I don’t think so. I used to ride this road just about every weekend when I was in my twenties. It’s 7 miles to the top, and an average 6% grade. When I was young, my best time was a little under 40 minutes. We took double that this time. I don’t feel bad about it. Slow and steady.


There’s a hot dog stand at Saratoga Gap (the top). This stand has been there for over 25 years. I remember it from my earlier days. The same guy is still selling hot dogs. Before him, there was an actual truck that parked in the lot, run by two hot girls. I don’t know what ever happened to them.


The hot dogs weren’t ready yet when we got there, so we waited 15 minutes for them to boil. Elliot had two hot dogs and two drinks I had one hot link and one drink. Total for everything was just $10

It was a fast descent, and then another 5 or 6 miles home. My allergies were bothering me a little, but it wasn’t too bad. My legs were tired when I got home. Elliot did not seem tired at all.

Bifurcation Number One

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”

– from “The Road Less Traveled” by Robert Frost

We haven’t even started on the tour, and already, we face our first route choice. Like which person to ask to the Prom, our choice will set us on a path that can’t be reversed without great anguish. And similarly, it’s not a choice between good and bad, but between good and good.


The Adventure Cycling Northern Tier Route follows the upper blue line. However, there’s also an alternate route in red. Much like life, both paths end up in the same place. Which do we choose?

Frost would probably have taken the road less traveled, in other words, the Alternate route. But what he doesn’t talk about in his classic poem is why the road is less traveled. Could it be that the road surface is crappy and full of potholes? Could it be that there are no shoulders, and huge trucks run you off the road? Could it be that there are no services? Could it be because it’s a boring highway with nothing to see? Maybe in real life, roads are less traveled because they SUCK!!

Google Maps helped me draw the picture above. And while I was there, I slid the Little Man along the lines to see what the actual place looked like in Street View. I took a random view about 1/4 way into each route, a view of a major town in the middle, and a random view at the 3/4 point.

Here is the Standard Route:

And, the Little Falls Alternate:

No help there, looks about the same to me. Both routes pass a lot of lakes, but oddly, these don’t show up in the street views. My guess is that Minnesotans are smart about not building roads on the waterfront, where they could flood or sink. The standard route is supposed to hit more wilderness, but again, you could have fooled me from that street view.

We could save 117 miles by taking the alternate route. That’s about 2 full days on bikes, days that could be used later in the trip. I’m also thinking that the standard route must have been plotted that way for a reason – they wouldn’t chart such a roundabout path unless there was something important to see along the way. Maybe it’s Lake Itasca, source of the Mississippi River?

What do you think?

Stuff I Gotta Do


This is just for my use. Move along, nothing to see here.

  • Passports – Roderick, Elliot
  • Go over maps, total up mileage
  • Flight arrangements
  • First Night’s lodging
  • Front rack cap nuts
  • Clean bikes
  • Get bikes checked
  • Sync Zoundry to netbook one last time
  • List of people to notify of blog: Clay, Julie, Gary, Huy, Mel, Work team, Platform team, home group, hostel group, Carol, Marilyn, Haruka, Bill, Ellen, Robert, solar friends pp314, Lois, Janet, Cindy, Susan & Marcus, Paul & Stephanie, Hawaii friends group, Jana & Phil Weaver, Kelly, Andrea, Reuben and Mitchell, Ralm, Wendy, Jethro, Elliot and Kendra’s friends, Huong, Terry Monaco, Mona, Vicky, Marja
  • Don’t forget, packing took all night last time
  • Laminate Adventure Cycling card
  • Make 5/16″ wrench
  • Brake cable on alpha bike
  • Load software onto netbook: activkey, gimp, modem driver, raven, trip documents folder
  • Find paper journal.
  • Collect Yahoo Dial numbers into a file.
  • Print out directions from Mackinaw City to Gaylord to Rose City to Bay City
  • Make calling cards.
  • Make your own carryon video.
  • Possibly make T-shirts.
  • Adjust Elliot’s rear derailleur
  • Fit mirrors on helmets.
  • Kung Fu shoes
  • Get or make bike boxes
  • Contact a church in Fargo
  • Flea Market – single AA LED flashlight
  • Get Laridian NIV bible for iPod
  • To order – brake hoods,4 sets brakes,handlebar wrap, Mr. Tuffy,chains,brake cable end
  • Put rear tire on Elliot’s bike
  • eBay G harmonica
  • Clean handlebars
  • Calibrate cyclometer
  • Test text-to-email interface
  • Tape handlebars
  • Look for water bottles.
  • Try fluid theme for wordpress
  • Activate and test TracFone
  • List of food and supplies to pick up on arrival – gas, coffee, oranges, deviled ham, bread, cookies, viennas, pop top vegetables, hot chocolate, money, shampoo.
  • Register blog on Adventure Cycling page
  • Link to blog on Angelfire page
  • Look at Google Maps for choices where route splits
  • Get credit union ATM locator for iPod
  • Scan instructions for tent assembly
  • Flea market – toothpaste

Tierra Bella – Apr 17, 2010

Yesterday (Saturday) was the Tierra Bella, an organized ride near Gilroy. We registered far in advance, for the easiest route (60 km), thinking we should go with an safe warmup for the season. 3 weeks ago, when Elliot and I rode 75 km to Santa Cruz, I realized that the short route of the Tierra Bella might be a little too easy. It was…


Ample toilets at every stop

The Tierra Bella 60k turned out to be a be a beautiful route, following the flat grade of the Uvas reservoir for much of the way. There were toilets at every rest stop, and an assortment of good foods, including bagels, roll-up sandwiches, gorp, bananas, oranges, grapes, pineapple, energy bars, cup-o-noodles, hot and cold drinks, and home-baked breads.


Rest stop food every 10 miles or so

Elliot and Merrianne at lunch

We finished at about 1:00 pm, enjoying a delicious lunch of all-you-can-eat jambalaya on red beans and rice. They even had live music.

Live Music

By the way, I’m timing myself on this blog entry. I want to get an idea of how long the laptop will be on per night on the real trip, and thus, how long the battery will last. Everything, from turn on, downloading pictures, reworking things with GIMP, and synchronizing to WordPress took 38 minutes. That includes 4 minutes of figuring out to the Cupertino public library network, and 3 1/2 minutes to actually upload everything. Afterwards, I moved to McDonald’s and tried the connection there. Only 30 seconds to upload the same thing. This could work!!