Let's Bike A Long Way!

Hey there, thanks for joining me on my bike tour! It's all over now, so you missed the fun part. But I can tell you about how it went.

It went well.


Now that that part's over, I can tell you about how I did it. Specifically, I want to talk about my gear and routines so that you can know for your next bike tour, and so that other bike tourists (really? that's the word?) will maybe give me advice on how to do it better. First of all, here's a list of my gear, lifted directly from a recent Instagram post. 


Bike tour gear:
- 15F sleeping bag and bivy sack
- 1 foam sleeping pad

- 1 pair @salomonrunning Sense Ultra
- 1 pair bike shoes
- 1 @protectourwinters shammy (butt pad shorts)
- 5 Salomon 1/2 liter soft bottles
- 1 soft side 2 liter water bottle
- 1 sweet glow in the dark nalgene
- 1 bag full of @clifbar goodies and daily food
- 1 pair Salomon softshell pants
- 1 pair Salomon hybrid shell pants
- 3 pairs @drymaxsocks (2 normal, 1 cold weather)
- 1 pair underwear
- 2 pairs gloves (1 fleece, 1 shell)
- 1 Salomon wool T shirt
- 1 Salomon wool long sleeve
- 1 pair long undies
- 1 windbreaker jacket
- 1 sweater
- 1 light puffy jacket
- 1 ski shell jacket
- 1 ziploc with journal and paper map
- 1 ziploc with book (The Big Sky by AB Guthrie Jr.)
- 1 ziploc with hardware including headlamp, bike tools, spare tubes and parts, bike lights, charging cords, knife, etc.
- 1 ziploc with passport, camera and batteries, pens
- 1 ziploc with toothbrush and paste, sunscreen, inhaler, wet wipes, spare ziplocs, and first aid kit
- 1 Salomon Peak 20 bag
- 1 random bag I found (~25 liters)
- 1 homemade frame bag
- sunglasses

Random commentary:

  • Sleeping Bag: I will be ditching the bivy sack in favor of a tarp system or lightweight tent as soon as possible. The bivy sack, which is essentially a waterproof sleeve for my sleeping bag, has the opposite effect as advertised. Because it doesn't breathe, my body's moisture at night gets trapped between it and the sleeping bag, making me wetter than if I had no cover. This effect is amplified the colder it gets.
  • Sleeping Pad: I take a big-ass foam sleeping pad instead of a tiny inflatable pad because I love the simplicity and durability. I don't want to roll around all night on a crinkly piece of plastic, and I don't want to constantly worry about deflating the damn thing. I love just putting my pad down and laying on top of it. I do, however, cut the pad so that it's about 3/4 length, so that it's just long enough to reach from the top of my head to below my butt. On cold nights I'll put my pack under my feet.
  • Footwear: I use these sweet Pearl Izumi shoes that look like normal shoes but have a recessed clipless attachment beneath the toes. These allow me to be clipped in while riding, but also to be able to walk around like a normal person when I need to. I also took a pair of running shoes so that I could run at times, and also just to have softer, more comfy shoes for around camp and on rest days. (There was one rest day on this trip.)
  • Butt Pad: I took a shammy to protect my butt on the long days of riding, but in the end I hardly wore it. After three days of riding, the shammy was so manky with sweat (gross, sorry) that it chafed the outside of my legs around where the shammy is sewn in. I soon took off the shammy, and found that I had never needed it at all. With the classic Brooks saddle, which is essentially just a piece of leather stretched over a metal frame, there is no need at all for padding. I rode in thin pants the rest of the trip and had no problems at all. Softer seats with always hurt and chafe you, but the Brooks saddle is broad and supportive. I don't really get it, but it's a great seat and everyone should have one. They have vegan versions too if you don't like leather. I should get one of those.
  • Agua: I generally kept my nalgene bottle filled but strapped onto the rack and mostly inaccessible, as a backup. For daily water I used my 5 Salomon soft bottles, which together amounted to 2.5 liters. I would put two in the straps of my pack, and strap three others onto the outside of my rack pack. You can't really put those inside a pack when filled, because a light touch of the nozzle will discharge water, but squishing them underneath the straps on the pack looked silly but worked fine. I also carried another 2-liter soft container for really long sections.
  • Food: For food I relied on several means. Each morning I usually had instant oatmeal cold in a "bowl" made out of a Pringles can. I would supplement that with fruit or granola or anything left over that looked good. Around mid-day I usually tried to find a cafe or coffee shop to rest, charge my phone, and eat a good meal. In the afternoon I would eat snacks like chips and Clif Bars and occasionally something more substantial from a grocery store. For dinners I tried to eat real food. I found these organic Amy's frozen burritos at most stores and would buy five at a time and then eat them the next day after they had thawed. I also would buy instant rice and cans of beans, then empty them together into a gallon-size ziploc. Occasionally I would add raw veggies. I also made burritos with refried beans and raw veggies. I wanted to focus on eating as much real food as possible, because even when riding 10-12 hours per day, you can only have so many candy bars before hating yourself. I tried to avoid gas station food almost entirely.
  • Clothing: For clothes I took enough to weather some pretty cold temps, but ultimately the cold in northern Arizona and southern Utah was simply so unpleasant in general that I chose to go much farther south than I originally intended. Even in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts the nights were chilly and the wind brisk, except at mid-day. But the clothes outlined above were good enough for everything; my decision to seek warmer weather was more based on the dark moods I felt in the cold, grey weather. My only discomfort was in my toes. I wished many times that I had some of those foot-covers that I see cyclists wearing a lot. The wind would go right through my shoes on even mildly chilly days and numb my toes. Honestly, it was a minor discomfort. I think my clothing was well chosen, mostly.
  • Entertainment: I took some items that weren't strictly essential, like a journal, a book, and a paper map. These are hugely beneficial to my state of mind. Biking all day long through big empty spaces, all by myself, with many days of the same ahead of me, I was constantly managing loneliness and low-level despair. I missed my friends and family, and I was nervous about whether I could get to the end in time, and many other things besides. By giving me an outlet to express my thoughts, my journal helped me make sense of what I felt. And by giving me a story to escape to, my book allowed me to appreciate other people's experiences. I also listened to some audiobooks when eating and resting. I didn't listen to anything while riding. The map was fun to have because it gave me clear and tangible evidence that I was making progress. Each night I would draw in the route I had taken that day, and mark each campsite. It was nice to be able to get a sense of the land on a larger perspective than my phone's map.
  • Hardware: My "hardware" bag contained many things. The bike tools I took included bike pump, tire irons, 2 patch kits, 2 spare tubes (unless recently used), a terrific multi-tool, a spare chain link, chain lube, and a few other things I can't remember. I also had spare spokes taped to the right chainstay. Also in the bag were extra zip ties, some electrical tape, a knife, and a bag with spoon and tiny can-opener.
  • Toothbrush: For hygiene I took a wet-nap bath every evening after finishing riding, which was better than nothing but not nearly as satisfying as a real shower. I took to wearing my long underwear at night so my sweaty skin wouldn't stick to the sleeping bag. That's gross. I wore lots of sunscreen on my face and neck each day, but nowhere else because I couldn't clean it off at night. Instead, I wore long pants and long sleeves most of the time. I brushed my teeth often because I had too much sugar in my diet. I also had a small first-aid kit with lots of stuff to clean road rash in case I went down and also the makings of minimal splints.
  • Bags: On my back I carried the Salomon Peak 20 bag, which is great because it has front pockets like a race vest, where I carried water, some food, my wallet, and a camera. In the back I carried my journal, because it's non-replaceable, and most of my clothes, because they are bulky but lightweight. On the handlebars I strapped my sleeping bag/bivy sack combo. On the rear rack I strapped a bag containing my sleeping pad, nalgene, running shoes, and food bag. In the frame bag (which I made!) I kept heavier stuff, like my book, my hardware and hygiene bags, and some extra food. 
  • Frame Bag: The frame bag was a great thing to have, but there are ways to make it better. I didn't hide enough zipper behind fabric, so a few times the zipper pull actually came off the zipper when I was pulling the zipper apart to get stuff inside. And I should have put the zipper on the right side because most of my campsites were just patches of dirt. With the zipper on the left, it was facing down when I laid the bike down with the drive side up. Fortunately, I arranged the zipper so that the pull was forward when closed, so that it didn't interfere with pedaling. And i didn't need to have straps extending nearly the whole length of my frame tubes. Those straps are strong.
  • Frame Bag 2: I built the frame bag based off of directions from www.bikepacker.com. http://www.bikepacking.com/gear/how-to-make-a-bikepacking-framebag-krampus/
  • Camping: For the first half of the trip I camped in the dirt a little out of sight of the road. I was in huge empty places and nobody was around, so it was easy to camp. Arizona is good that way. Once I reached the California coast, there were way more people and roads and homes, making wild camping much harder. Fortunately, there are dozens of campgrounds up and down the coast, every one of which I found to be either full or closed. But nearly every campground has "hiker/biker" sites that are a little smaller and reserved for non-motorized travel. These are usually $5-10 and perfect for my needs. Sometimes they even had shower facilities.
  • Numbers: My shortest day was a rest day. My shortest day of riding was 32 miles, but also included a 13-mile run in Canyon de Chelly. My longest day of riding was 120 miles, from outside Bluff, UT to near Chinle, AZ. My total riding distance in 13 days was about 1,119 miles. My average daily distance was about 86 miles. 
  • Wind: The wind was a challenge. Prevailing winds in the US are from west to east, and these are amplified with springtime temperature changes. I suffered from wind so much that I eventually just took a bus 223 miles from Blythe, CA to Los Angeles. Then I battled more winds going north to San Francisco. Wind is always a part of bike touring, but in the future I will adhere more to prevailing winds and the insightful suggestions of friends to not fight the elements so much. 
  • Navigation: In Arizona I traveled by following my paper map and occasional specific navigation by phone. Once I got to the coast I followed the magnificent Bicycle Route Navigator app put out by www.adventurecycling.org . I paid $12 for two sections of turn-by-turn directions from that stretched from San Diego to San Francisco, and for a bit more I could have bought maps stretching all the way to Vancouver. They have dozens of routes like this all around the country, and Adventure Cyclist is constantly advocating for better routes and more acceptance for bike tourists in the country. I love what they do and recommend them highly.

There's probably more stuff I missed, but that's the meat of it. What do you think of all this? How do you do things differently? Thanks!