Shopping for My Bike Tour

I am in pretty good shape in terms of gear for my bike tour. I don’t plan on cooking so I don’t have to bring a stove or a pot and that sort of stuff. There are a few things I know I need and one that I might experiment with.

  • Panniers: I have been using Ortlieb roll top panniers for over ten years. I have big ones for the rear and small ones for the front. They are fantastic. Basically they are a big waterproof bag. I am on my second set of rear panniers and they are starting to leak. I think I bought them less than 5 years ago and am trying to get them replaced under warranty. Not many people use the same panniers day in day out for 200+ days a year like I do. So we’ll see if I can get them for free regardless. Otherwise, I need to buy new ones.

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  • Sleeping pad: I bought a 3/4ths length Thermarest self inflating sleeping pad about 12 years ago. It might be useful for a ten year old but I have never been able to sleep on it. This caused a bit of a problem when you’ve just ridden a tank for 90 miles and you’re body needs rest. My friend Michelle recently did some backpacking in Shenandoah National Park and raved about her REI sleeping pad so I bought one.  It’s more than twice as thick as the Thermarest and it’s 6 feet long. It is a little narrow. I am optimistic. Thanks, Michelle.

  • Mirror: I use a mirror on my recumbent. I really like it. In fact, for a while, I used two but this makes my wingspan a bit too wide for riding on trails as I do around home. The mirror on my recumbent attaches to the end of the handlebar. I can’t do that on The Mule, my touring bike, because it has bar end shifters. So I either have to use a mirror attached to my helmet or some other type. I don’t much like either but the Adventure Cycling Association sells a couple that I might give a tryout to this summer.
  • Tires: I might buy new tires. I usually use Schwalbe Marathons because they are very puncture resistant. They also last a really long time. The front one on The Mule is a Marathon Plus which is more resistant. It probably has 3,000 miles on it. Just to be safe., I will take a folding spare along just in case. (I had a tour ruined by a tire failure.)

Key West Bike Tour Planning

  • My Atlantic Coast Route maps have arrived from the Adventure Cycling Association. I spent an hour plotting a tour from DC to Key West.
  • There are many maps covering about 30 miles per map. Each one has tons of detail indicating camping, food and lodging locations along the way. Mostly this means that you have to curtail a day here and there to find a place to rest your head. It also means that getting past Miami will likely involve riding a century. This will not be a whole lot of fun.
  • Each of the maps has a narrative. Sections of the Florida Atlantic coast sound very unfun. There are long sections of the route with no bicycle repair facilities. Derp.
  • I addition to riding the main route straight to Key West, there are four optional side trips to choose from.
    • I can ride the outer banks of North Carolina. This adds 80 miles and about 2 days to the trip. It might also add a whole lot of wind. And sand. I’ll probably take the inner route since I have already driven the outer banks.
    • A spur route goes to Charleston. This would be fun. Another 2 days.
    • A second spur route goes to Savannah. Another 2 days.
    • There is an alternate route through the Okefenokee Swamp. This only adds 15 miles and I’ll almost certainly do it just for the bragging rights.
  • I tried to plot a course that averaged 60 miles per day. It’s not really doable, because of camping/lodging issues. I’ll probably end up averaging 70 miles per day which is okay since I don’t expect to be dealing with a lot of hills once I get to North Carolina. I am more concerned about wind and thunderstorms and meth addled rednecks and alligators. Oh my.
  • A possible alternate route would take me diagonally through Florida from Jacksonville to Orlando and on to Fort Myers on the southwest coast of the penninsula where I would take a ferry to Key West then ride back to Miami. The instructions for riding in Fort Myers are pretty scary. (Ride on sidewalk. Take the lane. Call your momma.) Also, this diagonal route might cause me to bypass Saint Augustine which might be the coolest thing ever.
  • I am still debating with myself whether to do this as a straight unsupported tour or to do Jacksonville to Key West as part of a supported charity ride. The charity ride has lots of logistical advantages. Basically I’d flip the tour on its head. I’d have the bike transported to Jacksonville at the start, ride back to Key West, then get a lift in the support support van, back to Jacksonville, and ride home). The charity ride adds the burden of raising $2,000 by October. Over the last weeke or two, I have watched a friend drive herself to distraction raising money for a charity (for a different ride) in the last couple of weeks. Being a world class introvert, I honestly don’t need the stress nor do I feature hitting people up for money. Worst case scenario: I raise only a couple hunder bucks and I’m on the hook for the shortfall.
  • I can think of a thousand reasons not to do this trip at all. So the thought of just getting on the damned bike and riding until I run out of road has a very strong appeal. I can figure out the return logistics once I get to the Keys. There are three options: fly back, take a train, or rent a van and drive my ass home. What I don’t want to do is schedule the return too far in advance. Then I would stress out about meeting a flight or train for the last week or two. The best option is to fly Southwest back (using points) and ship the bike home via bikeflights.com.
  • I know of 3 or 4 people who live directly on route (depending on my specific route). I am not above mooching a layover at their places.
  • Finally, there is the unanswered question: what size bike pump would I need to fend off meth-addled rednecks and alligators?

 

Working on Plan B

Because of inept planning and some unanticipated scheduling conflicts, my bike tour of Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin is in serious doubt. I bought the Adventure Cycling North Lake route maps and thought I could cover the distance in about 2 weeks. I’d need an additional 2 days to drive to and from the starting point at my in-laws house in north central Indiana.

Then I studied the maps. It looks like the route would be about 200 miles longer than I thought. The route goes from my in-laws’ house to Mackinac Island. Then I would ride west through the upper peninsula of Michigan. I’d enter Wisconsin and ride to Manitowoc where I’d pick up a ferry across the lake to Ludington, Michigan. What I failed to take into account was the mileage from Ludington back to my in-laws’. That’s an additional 230 miles pushing the tour over 1,200 miles. A comfortable touring pace would be 70 miles so 1,200 miles would be at least 19 days. Not gonna happen.

So here are some alternate plans:

  • Find somewhere near the ferry in Ludington to park my car. This would eliminate the 460 to and from my in-laws’ place. Now we’re down around 800 miles and 11 or 12 days. Add two days of driving (12 hours each way) and no complications (including wasting a day waiting for the ferry) and the tour is doable. I am investigating parking options.
  • Dump the entire Lake Michigan thing. Drive to upstate New York and park my car at my sister’s place just north of Albany. Do the Adventure Cycling Adirondack Park Loop which is 394 miles. I could even add about 60 miles riding to Burlington Vermont and back for the heck of it. That’s 460 miles or so. A bit hillier than the North Lakes route so I figure 7 – 8 days. Plus two days of driving. Doable.
  • Drive to Albany as above. Do the Adventure Cycling Green Mountain Loop. The loop is 376 miles. Albany to the southernmost point of the loop in Ticonderoga NY adds about 100 miles each way for a total tour distance of 576 miles. This would take about 9 – 10  days allowing for hills. Total days including driving is 11 – 12.

I had thought about doing the latter two loop tours in one go, but that would be around 1,000 miles. Hilly miles. Not gonna happen.

I need to pull the trigger on one of these alternatives in a few days to allow for shipment of the maps from Adventure Cycling.

Tough call….

Some Ride/Hike Ideas for 2016

About a year ago I was admonished by a friend for sounding wishy washy regarding my 2015 vacation plans. “Stop planning. All we have is today” was her way of saying don’t plan, DO!  Irony alert: in January 2014 she told me of her plans to obtain certification to teach in DC schools and to open a business. She followed through on none of it, eventually leaving town. Even so, she had a point.

I suck at advance planning. Somehow I managed to do a bike tour, a non-bike trip around the world, nearly a dozen day hikes, half a dozen bicycling events, and take in a bunch of Nationals games. So with that in mind I began thinking about things to do in 2016.

I anticipate one non-biking vacation (to Sweden and thereabouts) to visit my daughter.  (A return to Thailand in the dry season would be nice but I can’t face the 18 hours of flying right now. Maybe 2017.) That will leave plenty of vacation time. So here are some ideas I am tossing around in my head.

Hiking: there are still many, many hikes to do in the Shenandoah National Park. Also, I have barely scratched the surface of hiking in nearby Maryland and Pennsylvania along the Appalachian Trail. One possibility is to gear up and do some overnights. I have never done this and it would be an interesting extension of my day hikes (not to mention save on driving home after a day’s worth of hiking).

Biking Events: WABA swears that it’s going to offer a century ride this year.  If it works into my schedule, I’ll definitely do it. Then there are the usual events: Vasa, Cider, 50 States, Backroads, and Great Pumpkin. I’ve done all of these several times, but the Backroads course was moved to West Virginia this year. I was in Australia and missed it. I can’t wait to do the new version. Two more that I keep threatening to do are RAGBRAI and the Five Boro Ride in New York City. Both of them are cattle drives. Both offer logistical challenges. Some of what follows are a lot easier to do.

Bike Trails: There are all kinds of cool trails around here that I haven’t ridden. Here’s a list of Virginia trails:

  • The Virginia Capital Trail goes between Williamsburg and Richmond. This could be a fun 2-day deal or a long single day ride.
  • High Bridge State Park down near Farmville and Appomattox looks really cool with a long, high bridge.
  • The Virginia Creeper Trail is a bit of a drive from DC. It’s only 34 miles but could be a beast of an out and back ride.
  • The New River Trail is a 57-mile trail that looks really promising with 30 trestles and bridges and two tunnels. This is a two-day ride with camping I think.

In Pennsylvania the Pine Creek Rail Trail runs 63 miles through the Grand Canyon of the East. Looks like a good overnight camping round trip to me.

Bike Tours: Right now I have eight possibilities on my list. All in the Eastern U.S.

  • Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway: This is a monster tour, 578 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina. How the hell I’d get back is anybody’s guess. It’s also super hilly so I figure I’d be lucky to average 45 miles per day, 13  days of riding. This could be beyond my physical abilities. (Never stopped me before.)
  • The Natchez Trace: This 444 mile road is truck free. Tack on another 90 miles or so and the route would go from Nashville to New Orleans. Logistics on this one is a bit pricey (two bike flights). Bike Friday to the rescue?
  • Figure 8 in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York: Adventure Cycling has two routes that form a figure 8. One loops around Lake Champlain, the other does a lap of the Adirondack Park. This one would be logistically pretty easy as I have family in the Albany area where the Adirondack route begins. The total distance exceeds 700 miles. The riding in Vermont and upstate New York is incredibly nice. Also weather up yonder is pretty much perfect for cycling in June – August.
  • La Route Verte: There are over 5,000 kilometers of marked bike routes in Quebec. The possibilities are endless. Then there is the interesting prospect of conversing in my horrid, mostly forgotten high school French. The idea of cycling to Quebec City, which I have never seen, or around Montreal is pretty intriguing. Getting there is a bit of a haul, but c’est la vie.
  • A New Kind of Rail Trail – North: Amtrak now has roll on bike service on the East Coast. Theoretically (relying on Amtrak is always an iffy proposition) I could take my bike on a trail and ride to Brunswick Maine, then ride up to Acadia National Park and ride all or part way home.
  • A New Kind of Rail Trail – South: Alternatively, I could take the train to Florida, ride to Key West, ferry to Tampa and ride across the state to Amtrak in Miami. Or just ride home.
  • Around Lake Michigan: This one starts in Monroeville, Indiana, one of the most bike touring friendly small towns in the US. It heads north through lower Michigan into the Upper Peninsula. Then across to Wisconsin and returns by crossing Lake Michigan on a ferry.  It’s 1,100 miles. Logistics would be simplified by using my in-laws house in north central IN as an alternative starting point.

In the increasingly likely (yet still somewhat improbable) possibility that I retire there is this:

  • The Trans Am/Western Express/Northern Tier Cross Country Ride: There remains a faint possibility that I might retire this year. If so, adios, amigos! I don’t know which route I’d take but the possibilities are numerous. The Trans Am is the classic route from Yorktown to the Oregon coast through Yellowstone. The Western Express shortens the Trans Am by taking a b-line across Utah and Nevada for California. The Northern Tier goes close to the US-Canada border.

Once I find out when the WABA Century and the Sweden trip will happen, I’ll pick two of the tours and as many events and hikes as my aging bones can handle.