Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Did I Take the Right Gear?

I guess I need to put some closure on this blog now that the tour is over. So, upon reflection, did I take the right gear? What different things might I have taken if I knew then what I know now?
  • I definitely made the right choice to take mostly wool clothing and minimal synthetic clothing, contrary to what is currently popular in the cycling world. All the wool shirts were perfect--cooler in the heat, warm even if wet, quick to dry, and basically unstinkable. Wool socks are warmer in the cold/wet and cooler in the heat. The wool arm warmers and leg warmers did the trick, and seemed far more effective than the synthetic ones other riders used. I had never used "warmers" before this trip. I like them! They make it easy to change clothing by the side of the road without getting naked, and they are less bulky to carry on the bike.
  • Taking three pairs of cycling shorts, instead of the recommended two pair, was a good idea. Surprisingly, having a pair of cycling shorts made of wool didn't seem to matter very much; the synthetic ones were fine. I think if we had had more hot weather, the more breathable wool shorts would have been more important.
  • For non-cycling clothes, I took lightweight, quick-drying shorts, pants, and a long-sleeve shirt--all good decisions. On most days, I could hand wash clothes (even the wool stuff) when I pulled into camp, and have those clothes dry in the sun/wind before I crawled into bed at night. I also had a line strung inside my tent--for a little finish-up drying. One trick I learned from a fellow rider: If your bike shorts are a little damp, sleep with them, and they will be dry by morning!
  • I don't think I have the right rain gear yet. I only wore my full rain outfit (jacket, hood, and pants) while cycling on one really rainy day. Otherwise, I made do with my windbreaker because it is lighter weight and dries quickly. My rain jacket is too warm when I'm cycling, even with the underarm vents all the way open. My rain pants are too bulky, and they get too warm as well. Not sure what I would substitute in their place. I have done a bunch of research, but I'm not yet sold on a different solution.
  • I ended up shipping the solar charger home because it became clear that I was not going to use it. I was able to keep enough charge in my phone and backup battery to take pictures and post a blog entry every day, and to use GPS and a position-tracking phone app every day while riding. The backup battery was key because we did stay in a few spots that had limited or no power outlets for charging. Once I rode more than 65 or 70 miles, I had to use the backup battery to add charge to my phone. I should have taken two adapter plugs, though; I only took one, and it meant I could only charge one thing at a time--either the phone or the backup battery--even when I could have been charging both at the same time. (I think it helped that my phone, battery, and chargers were all new; other riders had a lot of difficulty with slow-charging equipment.) Also, the Lifeproof waterproof case I had on my phone meant I could safely use the phone in all conditions and not worry about it drowning.
  • My tent (a Big Agnes UL2 that has since undergone a design change) was perfect. It packed small, was really quick to set up (I could keep it dry even when setting it up in the rain), and kept me dry even when enough water fell from the sky to create a lake around my tent. I used a set of titanium tent stakes that I purchased years ago and they made setup easy; these stakes never bend, and I can put them in any ground just by stepping on them.
  • The ground cloth/footprint (that my son made out of Typar to fit my tent) worked perfectly. It packs a little more bulky than a fabric footprint, but it is far more effective at protecting the tent floor from moisture and abrasion. I used a space blanket as a ground cloth inside the tent; even when the floor of the tent became moist, my gear never did. Space blankets are strong, have multiple uses, and pack up tiny. I'll take more of them with me in the future.
  • I brought a number of things I never used but would bring again, just in case--swim suit, first aid kit, knee brace, bike tools and spare parts, spare glasses, etc. There were some things I only used once but would bring again--rain covers for shoes, waterproof full-finger gloves, etc.
  • I was very lucky on this trip--I did not have even one flat tire. (Others had many!) I had spare tubes with me but, at the last minute when packing, I left my spare tire at home. I should have found a way to bring it with me. I was very lucky that I didn't end up needing it. Look at what another rider's tire looked like before he took it off and put on his spare:
  • I love the sleeping bag I took on this trip! It is a Mountain Hardwear Phantasia 15-Degree Down Women's sleeping bag. My son told me that down sleeping bags had changed a lot since I last experienced them (in the 70s), and he was right. The down in this bag has been treated so it resists absorbing moisture. It packs light and compact, and fluffs up great. Even if it felt slightly damp when I packed it up in the morning, it dried out quickly and never took on a funky smell. I didn't even feel like I had to wash the bag when I got home. I suppose it helped that I used a silk sleeping bag liner the entire trip as well. You might think this bag would be too warm; I mostly used it over me like a blanket, but I was grateful for all that warmth in the below freezing weather we had on the trip. (If you want to buy one of these, look around for a sale; although the MSRP is $500, I bought mine for $350.)
  • I had a great sleeping pad. The pad is a Therm-a-Rest Neo Trekker, which I cannot find anywhere. I think they have since changed their designs slightly. It most closely resembles the one below. The pad is a full 27" x 86", which means my sleeping bag, liner, pillow, and I did not ever touch the tent floor while sleeping. This is well worth the few extra puffs of air it takes to fill the thing; it's more comfortable, warmer, and drier than trying to balance on a skimpy pad--especially for a thrash-around sleeper like me. 
  • I had two pillows with me, and they were well worth it. (At home, I use three pillows, so going with only two was a sacrifice. :-) The first and most important pillow was the Therm-a-Rest compressible pillow. I made a small pillowcase for it so I could feel a cool sheet against my face when sleeping--very important. I washed the pillowcase whenever I did laundry, and I never felt the need to wash the pillow.
  • The second pillow was actually a staff sack (the Therm-a-Rest Stuff Sack Pillow)--nylon on one side, soft fuzzy fabric on the other. Each night, I turned the fuzzy side out, stuffed my fleece jacket in it, and used it as a pillow I could throw a leg over.
  • The ear plugs got a lot of use! They helped me sleep through trains, snoring, thunderstorms, etc.
  • I like my metal enamelware cup and pots and my titanium spork, but I had to work at keeping them from clanging together when I didn't want to wake people up.
  • The poncho I brought as a bike cover worked great--right up until it tore. It packed up really small and was lightweight, and covered the whole bike. What did it in was the ice. The morning we woke up to everything covered with ice (at least the poncho was ice-covered and not my bike!), the poncho tore when I moved it. Thankfully, it was still usable, but I'm looking to replace it with something else that packs as light and small and is made of stronger material.
  • I wore this small waist pack the entire trip. I searched high and low for a waist pack this small (9" x 5" x 3") and sturdy. It carried my phone, IDs, money, credit cards, charger cord and adapter, nail scissors, tweezers, glasses-cleaner cloth, Advil, dental floss, pen and paper, ear buds, etc.--everything I wanted secure and close at hand. This pack worked great. In fact, I'm still using it now that I'm home. So far, I have resisted the temptation to use a top-tube bag on my bike instead of the waist pack to carry these things; I think it's more important to have these vital things secured to my body, where they won't ever be separated from me.

  • I wore a hydration pack as I rode every one of those 1,822 miles. I so appreciated having easy access to water while I was riding that I kept reaffirming to myself that I wanted to carry some water on my back. (I no longer trust myself to use a water bottle while riding without risking injury and/or accident.) Since arriving home, I have ordered a frame pack for my bike and a hydration bottle that I hope will fit in the frame pack. My aim is to end up with the same drinking ease without having to carry anything on my back while I ride.
  • The bike shoes I purchased for the trip were a good choice. Yes, I had problems with "hot foot" and numb toes, but I think those things were a function of the number of miles I was riding every day rather than a problem with the shoes. (I have been using them to ride since I have been home and, for shorter distances especially, they feel fine.) The shoes have good walking soles on them but also enough stiffness to provide the extra support feet need on the pedals. They are well vented, and dry quickly when wet. They held up well to the regular soaking they got on the trip as well.

  • One new purchase since I've been home that will accompany me on rides in the future: Da Brim. I think the added wind resistance is well worth it (after all, I am never going to win any speed records!) to get the added protection from the sun. I was hoping the brim might help keep raindrops off my glasses, but my ride to the polls yesterday to vote (in on-again, off-again rain) dashed those hopes.

  • Overall, I think I took the right amount of gear. I had the two smallest, lightest-weight bags of all the riders on my trip. (That's because I took the gear guidelines seriously.) I had enough to be comfortable over a long tour, without carrying around a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Given the amount of packing, unpacking, lifting, moving, setting up, breaking down...I would not want to bring any more stuff. One thing I would change: I would use slightly larger bags with the exact same amount of gear. That way, there would be more wiggle room in the bags. As it was, I had to pack everything precisely and then wrestle with the zippers to get the bags closed every morning. Gear seems to expand over time. A little wiggle room would just make the endless packing-up process more pleasant.


  1. Awesome trip--I enjoyed every minute of it. What next?

  2. Space blanket game for cats: Loosely wrap space blanket around feet on cool evening. Wait until cat is irresistibly drawn to shiny. Twitch feet. Pry kitty's claws from ceiling and repeat until they lose interest or refuse to come out from under furniture on the far side of the room.

  3. Too funny! I will have to try this. I even have a space blanket out at the moment (--used when I was camping earlier this week). Thank you for that; gave me such a good laugh. ... I guess I should write my last post to this blog; I've been allowing myself to get caught up in all kinds of other things instead.