Tag Archives: Gear
13 November, 2014

DIY: Eliminating the Need for Ortlieb Rack Spacer Clips

The Problem: There’s a lot of information and recommendations available to the beginner bicycle tourist, but some things have to be learned through experience. One of those things that nobody tells you is that saddle sores get really itchy after you take some time off the bikes. Another is that there is a major defect in the mounting system for the ever-popular Ortlieb panniers. Oh, the bags themselves are great. But, when paired with the equally popular Tubus racks, Ortlieb’s quick-release system (QL2) on the panniers requires the use of flimsy, poorly-constructed, spacer clips to accommodate the narrow diameter of the Tubus racks. The clips work well for a while, but take those bags on and off the racks every day for months at a time and you’ll soon be dealing with all sorts of problems. The clips’ little prongs bend, snap off, and jam up the quick-release system. That’s when they don’t just fall off completely and disappear. Ortlieb appears to have replaced this mounting system on newer bags, as of 2011, but our bags were bought in 2012 and still had the older system.

Four of the sixteen bent, broken, and missing clips needed to secure our Ortlieb panniers to our Tubus racks.

Four of the sixteen bent, broken, and missing clips needed to secure our Ortlieb panniers to our Tubus racks.

An Idea: After seven months of dealing with this increasing annoyance, I finally decided to put my time off in Tangier, Morocco to good use and have come up with a remedy. By no means is this a sophisticated, clever, or sexy solution. It’s actually rather obvious. The point of this post is to show that common materials can be easily obtained and put to use in keeping your tour going smoothly, even when language and culture seem alien. After briefly considering ordering replacement clips, at tremendous shipping expense, and wondering if they’d even arrive while we were here, I decided to eliminate the need for the clips entirely by making the rails thicker.

The clips make it possible to accommodate various size rack diameters, but can't hold up to the rigors of long-term touring.

The clips make it possible to accommodate various size rack diameters, but can’t hold up to the rigors of long-term touring.

A Solution: I went off into the medina in search of hardware shops and, well, they’re not quite what we’re used to. For starters, most of the shops in the medina are merely a counter. The merchant might have hundreds of items in stock, but you need to ask for the specifics; there’s no browsing here. Fortunately, I found a shop with spools of clear, flexible tubing on the counter. I ordered two meters of 10mm diameter tubing, nearly exhausting my knowledge of French in the process, figuring the plastic tubing would be easy to cut and work around the rail. I then switched to charades in hopes of securing a number of zip ties. Fortunately, the words “zip ties” are better understood than my pantomiming and he quickly pulled out an assortment of zip ties in various colors and sizes. Two meters of 10mm plastic tubing and 20 large zip ties cost 21 Dirham ($2.37 USD). I’d have to return for more tubing, but more about that later.

Because it’s the Internet and someone will undoubtedly reprimand me for “needing zip ties,” let it be clear that I carry a number of zip-ties in my repair kit, but didn’t want to use up my supply if I could buy more cheaply while I was at the shop. The same goes for the tape.

Basic hardware materials like zip ties, tubing, and tape can be purchased anywhere. Even thousands of miles from the nearest Home Depot.

Basic hardware materials like zip ties, tubing, and tape can be purchased anywhere. Even thousands of miles from the nearest Home Depot.

Materials/Tools Needed

  • 10mm clear plastic tubing (2 meters per bike)
  • Zip Ties (8 per bike)
  • Heavy-duty tape
  • Utility Knife
  • Snips

Step #1: Cut the Tubing
Grab your panniers to know exactly where your mounting clips grab the rack and eye up a length of tubing wide enough to cover that portion of the rail. I decided to effectively cover the entire width of the rail so that I didn’t have to deal with any shifting tubes or edges catching. I then carefully sliced the tube lengthwise and wrapped it around the rail.

Step #2: Check the Fit
If using the Tubus Logo Evo rack, like we are, you’ll need to use two pieces of tubing, stacked on top of each other to build up the rail to the appropriate thickness. Remove the spacer clips from your pannier and give it a try. Ideally I would have had a second diameter of tubing, 12mm would likely have worked really well, but I doubled-up the 10mm with satisfactory results. Install your bag to make sure the bag will lock on nice and snug without the spacers.

Two pieces of tubing, zip-tied onto the rack (or taped on a shorter segment) will eliminate the need for the spacer clips.

Two pieces of tubing, zip-tied onto the rack (or taped on a shorter segment) will eliminate the need for the spacer clips.

Step #3: Secure the Tubing
I used two zip ties for each rail, on pieces that were more than an inch long. Make sure to place the zip ties as close to the ends of the tubing as you can, without being in the way of where the bag will mount onto the rail. The pannier’s mounting system is completely adjustable and you could choose to slide the clips to a new position. I didn’t do this for two reasons: 1) I’m notoriously lazy, and 2) I find the bags to be more secure on the racks if the mounting clips are as wide apart as possible.

Our rear bags (and Kristin’s front bags) mount further back on the racks and a second section of tubing was needed to fit the short extension of the back beyond the vertical rails on the rack. For this, rather than use up more zip ties and risk them being in the way of the bag’s clips, I just wrapped heavy-duty tape around the tubing to hold it in place. Snip the ends off the zip ties, mount your bags, and toss those bent, disfigured spacer clips in the trash!

Bonus Fix! Planet Bike Cascadia Fender Supports
The very first thing to break on our bike, just a few weeks into the tour, was the metal L-shaped clips that support the rear fender on each of our bikes. We’re using the Planet Bike Cascadia 29er fenders and, all things considered, they work as intended. But the metal frame that holds the fender in place beyond the wheel is affixed using a very thin piece of metal that snapped on 3 of 4 posts in the rear (between the two bikes). We used a number of rubber-bands over the past 7 months to pinch the rails together to hold the fender in place, but rubber bands always dry out and rot within a few weeks. While I had the tape out for the other project, I decided to replace the rubber bands with a lengthy piece of tape. The fenders aren’t under a lot of stress and if rubber bands intended for produce were able to work for a few weeks, the tape should hold for months at a time.

The metal extension that holds the fender in place snapped off at the clip within a couple of weeks. Make a tape sandwich to keep it working!

The metal extension that holds the fender in place snapped off at the clip within a couple of weeks. Make a tape sandwich to keep it working!

13 October, 2014

5 Cheap, Light, and Useful Items Under $5

The dozen bags strapped to our bikes are stuffed with all manner of gear, clothing, electronics, and other pieces of kit that many would consider essential or, at the very least, obviously useful for long distance bicycle touring. But those panniers and duffels have also come to contain a handful of very small items whose usefulness far exceeds their heft and cost, both of which are nearly non-existent.

Behold, our five favorite lightweight items that each cost under $5 USD (or close to it), weighs very little, and makes our lives on the road a lot more comfortable!

1: Simple Kitchen Sponge

IMG_8047_SpongeThere’s nothing worse than putting away a wet tent, except maybe unzipping the door and having a night’s worth of dew and moisture rain down upon your freshly woken head. That’s where the kitchen sponge comes in! Every morning, after slipping out of the inner tent, I take a minute to sponge the interior of the vestibule before disturbing the tent doors. Not only does this keep the inside of the vestibule dry, but it helps to dry the tent. Then, while water for coffee is boiling, one of us sponges the entire exterior of the tent, often ringing at least a liter of water out of the sponge in the process. This really accelerates the drying of the tent (pray for a breeze) and helps to reduce the weight of the tent when put away wet. It also tends to wipe away any bug guts or bird crap in the process. Bonus!

2: Makeup Removal Wipes

IMG_8049_WipesKristin hardly wore makeup in normal everyday life, else we may have discovered this trick sooner. We now keep a small pack of disposable makeup remover wipes in the pack so I can clean bike grease off my hands after doing any maintenance on the road. It’s uncanny how well these little guys cut the oil and grease and clean up my hands after wrestling with a disgusting, grimy, oil-coated chain. They can be picked up at most grocery stores or, even better, at the various “dollar stores” we’ve seen throughout North America and Europe. Sometimes we even find these make-up remover wipes in hotel bathrooms with other toiletries, but usually only when we’re cashing in my Hilton Honors points for a free stay someplace nice.

3: Mini Broom

IMG_8048_BroomOur miniature broom came with a dustpan we jettisoned back at home in WA, along with a handle that broke off under questionable circumstances, but this little four-inch broom does just fine on its own. It’s perfect for  periodically sweeping out the vestibule of dirt and leaves — we try to keep a clean house — and is also great for sweeping picnic tables clean of nature’s detritus. For our European readers, picnic tables are large tables with bench seating that, in North America, accompany each campsite and make it unnecessary to cook on the ground (yes, I am grinning sardonically as I type this). We keep the miniature broom and sponge along with bug spray and a clothesline in a ditty bag in the duffel.

4: Scented Votive Candle

IMG_8050_CandleBring on the jeers, I can take it! Kristin got me this poppy-scented votive candle for my birthday while we were in Paris — it’s artisanale parfumie — because I’m always complaining about the smell of our hotel room after we unpack the panniers. A fact of life on the road, living out of waterproof baggage, is that everything develops a musty smell after a while. Another fact of life on the road, when cycling 100 kilometers a day, is that our clothes get pretty sweaty. And even a wardrobe of merino wool will start to smell before long. The candle helps to make our hotel rooms smell a bit cleaner and also helps to add a bit of warmth and coziness to our confines that helps us feel more at home. We both love travelling, but we also enjoy the comforts of home. A small thing like a scented candle, especially this time of year, makes a difference. Particularly on those nights when we’re sitting at the computers blogging and editing photos.

5: Mild Perfume

IMG_8051_PerfumeThis was all Kristin’s doing, and I fully support her in it. While out and about in Paris one day she picked up a small vial of cotton-scented perfume from the Sephora store. Now, Sephora is known to be pretty expensive, but this small vial was only about 5 Euros. She wore the scent with our “Paris clothes” when we went out for dinner and to the concert, which I appreciated (she readily admits to wanting to do something to feel a little more “girly” out on the road) but the mild, comforting scent also makes for a nice air freshener in the tent. This was particularly true after slipping into the tent that first time after two weeks of sleeping indoors. Naturally, this isn’t something for the single male traveler. And maybe even the single female traveler won’t care what she, or her tent, smells like. But, for us as a couple, an occasional spritz of perfume can make the whole thing a bit more enjoyable. It’s also known to increase the chance to make sexy-time.

1 September, 2014

To GPS or Not to GPS

That is no longer the question.

After making our way across North America without the use of GPS (and sometimes without a map or directions) I have turned the stress of navigation over to Google and Garmin. You see, worrying about what we were missing wasn’t the only burden of route-planning that was proving too heavy to bear. It was also the challenge of plotting–and following–an enjoyable route. The UK, as I was quick to realize, was not like the USA or Canada. The shear number of roads, paths, trails, and carriageways that don’t appear on even the largest scale national maps was surprising. And even if I did buy a new county map every other day, the miles of roads that appear to go unnamed and unsigned would still slow our progress to a crawl. The day would be spent stopping at every crossroads to check the map and compass, oftentimes unsure where it was we actually were. With the exception of signed B-roads in Scotland, we were often just following the compass and hoping for the best.

When I said I quickly plotted a course out of Edinburgh to the Lake District, I actually did so using Google Maps and sent the track–a breadcrumb trail of GPS data–to my non-mapping Garmin Edge 305, the very same bike computer that I’d been using since 2007*. The resulting ride was so superior to any route I had tried to plan, that I was instantly convinced this was the way to go. As an experiment, I handed Google my complete trust. We pedaled our way from our airport hotel into the city along a beautiful canal, through Edinburgh University, and then south out of town across Midlothian and into the Borders. We rode on narrow one-lane roads that seldom saw any traffic. We followed the digital grayscale line on my outdated piece of technology as it bent left and right and directed us onto faint singletrack trails, paved bike paths, and straight to the campground that I had right-click-directions-to’d. For three days we enjoyed a glorious, stress-free ride on quiet roads as we made our way to the Yorkshire Dales. Then, from the house of our WarmShowers’ hosts, I plotted a route along the canals skirting the periphery of Manchester, Birmingham, and other  cities I sought to avoid. And I continued using it right into the heart of Stratford-Upon-Avon where we parked our bikes beside Shakespeare’s birthplace and decided then and there that this is how we will navigate through Europe. To abuse the Bard’s language a second time in a single post is indefensible, but here goes: We knew where we were, but cared not how we got there. What? You thought I was going to quote Yorick?

We'd spend the bulk of three days riding alongside a series of canals as we head south.

We’d spend the bulk of three days riding alongside a series of canals as we headed south. Canal Paths I likely wouldn’t have ever known about if just using the map.

I didn’t have to stop at every intersection and consult the map and compass. I didn’t have to curse the lack of street signs or stop and ask for directions, or buy a new extra-large scale map every day. I could just ride. I could just enjoy the view, note the scenery, and let my mind wander.

Of course, using the outdated Garmin Edge 305 does have its limitations. For starters, there is no basemap. I have merely the shape of a line to follow. And sometimes that line can be particularly confusing. More than once we stood on the side of the road and wondered where it was actually pointing to, only to realize over there, in the corner behind that garage, lies the entrance to a bike path. Only a local would have known. And though it serves as a wonderful navigator through the UK’s myriad roundabouts, it’s inability to properly warm me of an upcoming turn occasionally has us slamming the brakes on a descent, only to head back up the hill and turn onto a low-angle road or path I didn’t first see.

Not on the map. No sign at the intersection. But a joy to ride thanks to Google's bike directions.

Not on the map. No sign at the intersection. But a joy to ride thanks to Google’s bike directions.

The Garmin is only half the solution. The other half is Google Maps. And I must admit that I have been incredibly impressed with its ability to plot a bike-friendly route for us when asked. No, it’s not perfect. It doesn’t distinguish between on-road and off-road, and it has been known to lead us onto some very muddy bridle trails, but if given the choice between sticking to high-traffic roads that appear on national maps and faint muddy trails, I’ll take the latter every single time.  After all, going off-road is the reason I built up the Fargos. And though I know many will suggest all manner of other websites from RideWithGPS to BikeRouteToaster to MapMyRide to Strava, my workflow already has me using Google for researching camping locations, attractions, shops, and all manner of other things. After all, this isn’t about going for a bike ride as much as it is about living a life in constant motion. So, for those who are really curious, I send the URL for my Google directions to this page at GPS Visualizer which converts it to a GPX file. I then import it to GPSies, save it in my profile for later reference, and export it as a Garmin Course TCX file straight to my device. It was easier when Google allowed you to export directions as a KML file from Google Maps, but GPS Visualizer’s conversion is quick and painless.

Okay, so this isn't perfect...

Okay, so this isn’t perfect…

I suspect when we finally reach Central Asia (or southern Morocco for that matter) and the number of roads and trails diminishes to just a handful of choices (like riding across Montana or Ontario) then we’ll be able to rely entirely on maps. But for now this is how I’ll be handling navigation. It’s been two weeks since the switch to this method and life on the foreign road has gotten much, much more enjoyable.

*Not exactly. The one I had since 2007 fell off a table three times in a span of ten minutes in Ely, MN, effectively killing the mode button and freezing it on the data screen that was last visible. I can hear parts rattling around inside when I shake it. I bought a used replacement from somebody in China on Ebay during our month off in July and though its battery seems to drain faster than mine did, it is working well. I’ll finally upgrade to one of the newer models if/when this one should perish.

Special Thanks: Tremendous thanks to our WarmShowers hosts Sylvie and Ben (aka “Frogs on Bents“) for welcoming us into their house for two nights in Warwick, for sharing their tickets to Warwick Castle with us, and for allowing us to eat and play and relax with them and their children. We were also extremely fortunate to spend three nights south of London with a couple we met on the QM2. Carolyn and Kevin opened their home to us, stuffed us with food, and made it oh-so-easy for us to use their house as a home base for exploring London. Carolyn’s mother Liz, who we also met on the QM2 and lives next door, was also keen to shower us in generosity. We’ll be leaving the UK with new friends, including Emily Chappell (who also generously hosted us for a fun night in London), great memories, and an even greater sense of what it means to be generous and kind.

Kevin and Carolyn made us feel at home for three nights. We can't wait to return the favor when we're back in Washington.

Kevin and Carolyn made us feel at home in their house for three nights and treated us like longtime friends. We can’t wait to return the favor when we’re back in Washington.

8 July, 2014

Cycling Into New Jersey in July

We rolled up the driveway of Kristin’s parents’ house in Far Hills, New Jersey on Saturday, June 28th, following a trail of red and yellow balloons through the last couple turns of our 4,885 mile journey. Sisters, parents, and our niece and nephew maintained a constant watch for our arrival, ready to provide just the reception we may have imagined if we ever stopped to ponder just how far we’ve come.

Crossing back into our home state.

Crossing back into the state of our youth.

With the obligatory trip to the Atlantic completed, we spent the next nine days riding southwest through the mountains of New England, averaging 63 miles and 3,200 feet of elevation gain per day. Make no mistake, our most physically demanding days took place in the hills of western Maine and New Hampshire, with back-to-back rides over 70 miles in length and containing over 4,000 thigh-burning feet of climbing per day. The lofty mountains of the west bide their time and unleash a single, occasional, haymaker. Absorb that lone, predictable blow and live to fight another day. Those worn down, ancient Appalachians beat you into submission with a flurry of jabs that never ends. It’s death by a thousand tiny hills. And more than a few kicked up to a 19% gradient.

Our WS host in New Hampshire said nobody ever got the bikes up the hill. I pedaled it clean (challenge accepted) and Kristin only had to push the second half.

Our WS host in New Hampshire said nobody ever brought their bikes up the  half mile hill to her house. Doug pedaled it clean (PNW mountain bikers, represent!) and Kristin only had to push the second half. Challenge accepted!

Those nine days of steady riding back through New England landed us at the doorstep of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, where we spent our final rest day touring the museum and walking the steamy streets of this quaint lakeside town. I always knew I’d make it there before a Mariner player.

Continuing south across Sussex County, NJ and through Allamuchy State Park.

The day off the bikes in Cooperstown was bittersweet as we knew three days later, we’d be off them for a month. We made the most of those final miles in New Jersey, slashing a southerly route through the northwest corner of the Garden State on a collection of backroads most would never associate with the state. With neither an exit number nor refinery nor skyline to see for a hundred miles, we turned the bikes onto gravel paths, dirt trails, and even some singletrack. We spent much of our final day on dirt, choosing to enter this most densely populated of states the way I know best: through the woods. Rolling through Stokes State Forest I recalled the hunting trips I took with my father as a young boy; passing Allamuchy State Park reminded me of my brother’s many stories about his mountain bike racing. Crossing the upper branches of the Delaware River reminded me of childhood canoeing trips. No, I’ll probably never end up living in New Jersey again, but I’m sure glad I grew up here and wouldn’t change my memories for anything. It’s great to be back.

Kristin rolling some singletrack in Sussex County, NJ.

New Jersey through the back door, with all due apologies to Rick Steves.

Our nephew Anthony was outside waiting for us when we finally rolled up the driveway.

Our favorite little man was outside waiting for us when we finally rolled into town.

We’ll be spending a full month visiting family and friends in New Jersey, my longest summer visit since I was a teen. Trips to the city, the shore, and Great Adventure are, of course, planned (i.e. New York City, the beach, and Six Flags for those not from NJ). Of course, we have a wealth of chores to tackle before we leave on the Queen Mary 2, bound for the UK, on July 28th. Here are a few tasks you might find of interest.

TwoFarGone Website Updates

I spent the past few mornings working on some updates for the site including a new video slideshow, an update to our Countries Visited page complete with route map and expense data for our North America segment. I also made a few updates to the gear lists. Here’s the new North America video.


Best viewed at 720p (click the gear icon) in full-screen. May not be playable on mobile devices.

Our route across North America.

Matters of Gear

The vast majority of our gear worked out as we had hoped (or better) but a few items did break, some was lost, and one or two items were eventually deemed unnecessary and won’t be continuing with us to Europe. A couple of lowlights:

  • Going TarplessWe’ll be leaving the tarp behind. We only used it once thanks to the immense vestibule of our tent and the Kelty Noah 12 is just too big, heavy, and cumbersome to bother carrying any longer. It’d probably be a good tarp for car camping though I wasn’t very fond of the shape.
  • Odor Proof Food BagsWe bought several very large odor-proof ALokSaks and never ended up using them. In bear country, I just hung the entire pannier. And we never had enough left over to worry about significant odors, as “wet” foods were always eaten the same day they were purchased and carried outside the panniers, under the cargo net.
  • Bike Pump: The biggest disappointment of all was the Crank Brothers Power Pump. I had to use it twice and both times, no matter how careful we were to brace the wheel, to prop the base of the pump, and to be as gentle as possible, the action of the pump caused a slice in the valve stem as it sawed back and forth against the rim. I cut a total of four valve stems while repairing two flat tires. I ordered the Topeak Mini Morph which not only has a foot peg, but a hose connector so we won’t be stressing the valve stem ever again. Considering I once went through three pairs of Crank Brothers “Candy” pedals in one season, I’m forever done with this company’s products.
  • Rain PantsKristin’s Novara rain pants (bought in 2010) started to wear out in the seat after just a few uses. I have the same pair and they’re holding up just fine so we think this may have been a freak occurrence. We already exchanged them at a nearby REI in New Jersey for the new and improved model.
  • ALokSak Troubles: Though we never did use the large odor-proof ALokSak bags, we did use smaller ALokSak multi-pack bags for our toiletries. That is, until both bags split below the ziploc seal, essentially allowing everything to fall out inside our larger toiletry packing cubes. We’ll be replacing these “premium” resealable storage bags with EagleCreek’s spillproof zippered bags that have proved very effective for containing our electronics and bike parts. Stay clear of these bags, as they are completely unreliable.

Other incidentals that need tending to include the broken metal braces on our Planet Bike Cascadia 29er fenders (fixed en-route with a rubber band); one broken spoke on my rear wheel (presumably from the last day of riding); both drivetrains need to be replaced and parts are en-route; Kristin’s front blinky went missing and needed replacing; my rear blinky met an untimely death somewhere in Ontario and also needed replacing. We also lost one of the Ortlieb rack-spacer adapters from Kristin’s front bag and the snaps on our Ortlieb handlebar bags are all being replaced with Velcro, as the snaps proved to stick, hang, and just generally annoy us on a daily basis. Lastly, I’ll be sanding and repainting the Tubus racks and wrapping the mounting rails and rub-spots with thick automotive tape to prevent corrosion and wear as the bags jostle and rub against the racks.

Press and Promotion

We did an interview a reporter from the Courier News the other day so those in central NJ should look for an article about us to appear in the Courier News and their sister-paper the Home News Tribune sometime in the next few days/weeks. We’ll be sure to link to it when it goes live. To that extent, the Snoqualmie Valley Record in Washington ran a story about us in June.

While in New Jersey, we’ll also be giving a presentation to the residents of the retirement community where Kristin’s mother works. We’re going to try and record it and post portions of it to the site.

7 April, 2013

DIY: Tubus Tara-Mounted Headlight

The Problem: Handlebar bags block the light from handle-bar mounted headlights, so where do you put it? Special-ordering a headtube/fork-mounted mount is one solution. They do exist. But strapping something like the NOB to the left-side of a fork with disc brake cabling can be problematic.

Well this is not going to work.

Well this is not going to work.

An Idea: What about the front of the Tubus Tara rack? This, I thought, would be a great location to mount the headlight, especially one that is attached via a quick-mount and that will only be on when in use (theft prevention). But those tubes on the Tara are far too narrow for an adapter meant for the handlebar. Hmmmm….

You can see the problem here

You can see the problem here.

A Solution: It came to me during dinner. Kristin had made a tasty chicken and quinoa dish and was pouring herself a glass of chardonnay when I noticed the bottle — Yellow Tail — came with a rubber cork. I promptly poured the rest of the bottle down my throat and ran out to the garage with the cork.

Materials/Tools Needed

  • rubber wine cork
  • electrical tape
  • black marker
  • drill with 1/4″ and 3/8″ bits
  • box cutter knife

Step #1: Drill the Center
I dragged my folding workbench out of the corner and clamped the rubber cork into the table and grabbed for my drill. I then drilled a 1/4″ hole right through the center of the cork. The rubber effectively closed around the hole as I suspected it might, so I then drilled again with a 3/8″ bit.

Drill, baby drill!

Drill, baby drill!

Step #2: Cut Out a Wedge
With the center effectively compromised, I turned the cork sideways in the clamp and reached for my trusty box cutter. I then carefully — very carefully — cut away a wedge of the rubber cork, giving it a Pac-Man like shape. This allowed me to really expand the cork and stretch it over the Tara’s tube. You can probably see where this is headed…

Wakka-wakka

Wakka, wakka, wakka, wakka, wakka…

Step #3: Tape it On
Now it was time for the roll of black electrical tape to make a special appearance. I can’t remember actually using this stuff for wiring purposes, but it really does come in handy when you’d rather not use duct-tape. I wrapped a lengthy piece of electrical tape around the cork and tube, basically tripling the diameter of the tube while adding very little weight. This would have been easier had I have taken the wheel off, but I can be kind of lazy. I made do.

Wrap that suck on good and tight!

Wrap that sucker on good and tight!

Step #4: Color the Sides
Mount the light, stand back, and admire your handiwork. Those who like things to match whenever convenient can do as I did and grab a black marker and color in the sides of the rubber cork.

Let there be light!

Let there be light!

I’m a beer guy with a strong distaste for Chardonnay. But fortunately Yellow Tail also comes in other varieties — all of them with the kangaroo, err, I mean a rubber cork. After all, I still had to do this for my bike as well.

Bottom’s up!

1 March, 2013

Only 13 More Months to Go!

I don’t care what the groundhog had to say, spring is almost here and with it comes a final twelve month countdown to our launch date. Writing the strategy guides for the new BioShock Infinite and Gears of War: Judgment games had me on the road for seven weeks over the winter so, in order to take advantage of my time at home, we’ve begun doing “trip stuff” a little bit each night. And we’ve made a lot of progress.

But before we get to our trip updates, here’s a video Q&A I recently did with my publisher’s Facebook followers about my work on Gears of War: Judgment.

The Tent: We were still on the fence about the Hilleberg Nallo GT3 we bought this past fall but we’re feeling much better about it after our recent bike overnight to Whidbey Island. We attacked the setup and tear down with rigid discipline and not only was it much easier to pitch, but it stayed taut and comfortable despite incredibly high onshore winds. It’s still really large and cumbersome and way more of a pain in the rump to pitch than our previous tents from Sierra Designs and Mountain Hardwear, but I do love it once it’s up.

Clothing: We’ve now purchased nearly all of our clothing. We’re still unsure if we’re bringing too much or too little, but it does feel pretty minimalistic. Kristin and I decided to go with larger 15L stuff-sacks and pack all of our off-the-bike clothes into one, all of our on-the-bike clothes into another and, along with some mesh ditty sacks for the really dirty laundry, will be fitting them all with our jackets and gloves and such into our two rear panniers. At least that’s the plan for now. Of our new purchases, I have to say that I’m thrilled with the Hincapie Tour LTX vest I bought to wear with my Ibex arm warmers on those chilly days. I also love the ExOfficio Trip’r shirt Kristin got me for Christmas.  Kristin really likes her merino wool Icebreaker Sprite Racerback sports bras and the Road Holland merino jersey I bought her. You can check out the full list of our clothing here.

Free Stuff: If you’re in the United States and planning a big trip, then you owe it to yourself to look into getting the REI credit card. I know this is a sensitive issue and we don’t want to encourage anything that might not be a good match, given everyone’s unique financial situation. But we put nearly all of our purchases last year on the card, making sure to pay it off each month, and are now anxiously awaiting over $500 in REI store credit next month. We’ll be getting Kristin’s Arc’Teryx softshell and our Tubus Tara front racks with the dividend, and will probably still have enough left over for two pairs of heavyweight Smartwool Mountaineer socks.

Wheels: I met with Larry at Perfect Wheels in Seattle two weeks ago to discuss the wheels we’d be using for our RTW tour. I showed up at his shop expecting to plunk down the plastic for a pair of wheels laced around Phil Wood hubs, but Larry subtly steered me towards the good old trusty Shimano XT hubs and nearly $400 savings per wheelset. So we’ll be going with 36-spoke Velocity Cliffhanger rims, double-butted DT Swiss spokes, bronze nipples, and Shimano XT 36-spoke disc hubs. Those Phil Wood hubs sure are nice, but we can’t act like money is no object and, as I mentioned to Larry, of all the years I’ve been biking, I’ve never once had a problem with an XT hub. My Chris King hubs, on the other hand, don’t get me started…

Made for the trails, strong enough for touring.

Made for the trails, strong enough for touring.

Electronics: I can’t begin to mention how thrilled I am that the long struggle and debate over electronics has ended (we hope). We’ve decided to not bring a GPS device and to also not bring an active mobile phone. We’ll bring my current Droid Razr for use purely as a wifi device but given the language barriers and the pain of swapping SIM cards every time we cross a border, taking along an unlocked GSM phone just doesn’t seem to be worth the hassle. Maybe we’ll change our minds and buy one locally, in Europe, but we’ll see. That said, we are going to bring a non-subscription-based personal locator beacon just in case an emergency strikes and one of us is suddenly left with an unresponsive spouse in the middle of nowhere. As for computers, I picked up a Dell XPS 13 ultrabook on sale (essentially a Windows 7 version of the Macbook Air) and Kristin is continuing to play with the various tablets that keep coming out — she’ll make her choice later this year. We’ll have our Kindles with us and will be bringing along a Canon G15 and waterproof Pentax Optio WG-3 for photos. Lastly, I’ve decided to stick with my Garmin Edge 305 non-mapping bike computer. I’ve been using it for 6 years now, love its accuracy for elevation and distance, and can download tracks to it from sites like GPSies for areas containing mazes of forest roads. So, in a way, we will sort of have a GPS with us, but only for very unique situations. I’ll be keeping the Edge and Razr topped off with an Anker Astro 8400 mAh USB battery.

The Great Unburdening: Kristin has turned into a maestro of Craigslist as it seems everyday I’m running over to meet someone at the nearby Starbucks to trade one of our seemingly countless possessions for a wad of cash. Just yesterday I managed to sell off our old Rock Band videogame  equipment and games. Power tools, comforters,  an old tent, and numerous other items also joined the mass exodus. We also met with our realtor the other day to discuss what needs to be done to get the house ready for sale later this fall. The new roof and hot water heater were expected expenses, but we were thrilled to hear houses are now selling fast enough in WA that we don’t need to upgrade the kitchen beyond a new sink and faucet. Hopefully the market continues to heat up, else we might owe a couple thousand to pay off the mortgage after closing costs are taken into account. At least we got to enjoy some of the equity we took out back in 2006, though I sure wish I could remember what we spent it on…

12 October, 2012

18 Months Till Liftoff

Roughly two months had passed since I had written the Two Years From Today post when it had suddenly hit us: what first seemed like an eternity of waiting was going by a lot faster than we realized. And, more importantly, we finally started to realize just how large that mountain of tasks we were about to climb really was.  We immediately decided to spend Tuesday and Thursday nights doing “trip stuff” as we like to call it and, despite my spending some forty-odd days in Texas for work this summer, we’ve gotten a lot done.

Birth of a Schedule
For equal parts inspiration and organization, we called on Kristin’s expertise — project management — to rough out a schedule of tasks  for an impromptu crafts night party with a bottle of wine. We grouped them into four separate categories: Gear & Logistics, Digital & Communications, Legal & Money, and House & Property. Armed with eight feet of poster-board, black pinstriping ribbon, stacks of large Post-It notes, and some markers, we set about creating the artwork that now adorns one of our upstairs walls. Blue for my tasks, pink for hers, and yellow for those we would need to tag-team.

This 8-foot long calendar is both inspiring and scary.

It was interesting to see the split between the pink and blue tasks. I’m primarily doing most of the prep for the actual trip whereas Kristin will be heading up many of the tasks necessary to wind down our current lifestyle. As of this moment, our current task is going through and scanning all of our photo albums. Since we’re trying to minimize the amount of things we store while we’re gone, we realized we can save a lot of room/weight by storing our dozen-plus photo albums digitally. Thankfully, I wasn’t late to the digital party, else this could have been a lot worse.

Tent & Gear

I’ll go into more detail in their respective gear sections elsewhere on this site, but we’ve made several important gear purchases since the last update. We bought our tent, the Hilleberg Nallo GT 3 after much hemming and hawing over its cost. Fortunately, we had not an ounce of buyer’s remorse after setting it up. We’ve had tents from Sierra Designs and Mountain Hardwear and loved them both for what they offered, but I was truly impressed by the Nallo GT 3. Never before had I owned a piece of gear with so many wonderful, subtle features as this. Though we’ve only set it up in the yard, it’s clear the folks at Hilleberg think long and hard over every detail.

Kristin posing with our new Hilleberg Nallo GT3 in the backyard.

We also were able to test-drive our unorthodox sleeping system (Exped Synmat 7, Thermarest Alpine Down Blanket, and Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme Thermolite liner), our Trangia 25-8 UL/HA cookstove, and our two Alite Monarch folding camping chairs over a 3-day tour through the Walla Walla Valley. The Trangia 27-8 UL/HA stove proved to be a touch too small for us over that trip so we’ve since upgraded to the larger 25-8 UL/HA. The sleeping system was incredibly comfortable — I hate mummy bags — but it didn’t get very cold so we’ll need to see how it goes in colder weather. I’m hoping for a brief overnight trip into the mountains this November to test it. As for the chairs, sure they’re a bit of a luxury and a little heavy (21 ounces) but being able to kick back in camp with my Kindle and a beer is one of my favorite bike-touring activities. Not having my butt on the soggy ground goes a long way.

I also managed to snag a substantial amount of the clothing I plan to bring on the trip (and have squirreled it away in a spare bedroom so that I don’t wear it out mountain biking in the meantime — momma always said I was rough on my clothes). Of these items, I was super stoked to happen upon the softshell jacket I’ve been eyeing  — the Arcteryx Gamma MX — marked down about 35% at REI. It’s a bright, bright blue color that I would have never have chosen but the savings were too good to pass up. And I’m sure a little color will be nice after so many earth tones. Thanks to a recommendation from Russ Roca from Path Less Pedaled, I surprised Kristin with a beautiful merino wool jersey from Road Holland. More about clothes in our gear section.

The Not-So-Fun Stuff
Kristin has been busy prepping some detailed blog posts about the health and immunization plan she came up with, her laser hair removal, and also the budget-tracking spreadsheet she made to help us keep on budget while we’re on the road. We’ll be linking to editable versions of these docs eventually. Similarly, I’ll be posting a sample of the for-planning-purposes-only “itinerary” I created. We fully intend to drift wherever the wind and whimsy take us once on the road, but I very much wanted something to refer to  for cost and mileage estimates and just to see where we might expect to be at any given month. This also helps arrange for potential visits from family while we’re overseas.

Saving for the trip continues to be the best thing that has ever happened to us financially. Though we’re spending a fairly significant sum of money on gear, clothing, and bikes, we’ve also managed to pay off nearly all of our debt aside from the mortgage on our house and a small balance on my student loans. We’re currently stashing away thousands each month to amass as much as we can for both on-trip and post-trip expenses.

Lastly, and very sadly, it does indeed seem as though our wonderful, loving dog, Annana, will be leaving us in the coming weeks. At 13.5 years old, she’s lived a good, full life but old age is finally closing in on her and our ability to keep her comfortable and happy is almost to an end. This trip was always something we knew we couldn’t do as long as our dogs, Kimo and Annana, were with us. Though some have done similar trips with their dogs in tow, taking two 60-pound Siberian Huskies cycle-touring was never an option for us. We’ve had dogs for all but one of our 15+ years of marriage. Kimo left this world back in the summer of 2010 at the age of 12. As much as we look forward to our bicycle adventure, we’ve always hoped to postpone it for years to come if it meant that Annana, the sweetest dog we’ve ever known, would still be here asking for walks and licking our faces. We’re going to miss her dearly.

Kimo and Annana will forever be in our hearts.

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. 

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.  There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. 

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. 

The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. 

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. 

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. 

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…. 

– Author unknown – 

 

2 April, 2012

Two Years From Today…

It’s April 2nd, 2012 and if all things go according to hopes and plans, two years from today we’ll be heading northward past the town of  Darrington, WA on our way to the junction with the North Cascades Highway and the Northern Tier bicycle route. I must say that despite the lengthy amount of time before we depart, the excitement is already building. I suspect it’s this way for anyone planning such a monumental uprooting. Which brings me to why I’m writing this post. I want to make sure and seed our site with posts that point to the steps we took to prepare for the trip and, as with everything that will ultimately appear on TwoFarGone.com, to provide another data point of reference for those who will one day be where we are now: scouring the internet like mad for all the tips, advice, and information you can find. So, in that regard, here’s where we currently stand on a few things.

Savings
There’s nothing more important during the long waiting period than saving and so far so good. We’re past the halfway mark for our goal and several months ahead of schedule due to some good investments and are now socking away $700/month towards the trip. We continue to increase the monthly savings amount by $50 every six months.

Kristin and I are lucky in this regard that we haven’t had to make any sacrifices in order to save for the trip (very lucky considering Kristin was laid off in December, 2010). We combine for a relatively comfortable “household income” and don’t have very expensive tastes, except perhaps in bicycles. But going hand-in-hand with saving for the trip has been a full-frontal assault on all of our outstanding bills. Our mountain of credit card debt has been whittled to a molehill, the cars have been paid off for a couple years now, and we are soon to be debt-free outside of the mortgage for our house in WA, a minuscule mortgage on land we own in NC, and a lingering student loan. The latter two will be paid off this time next year.

Gearing Up
I built up our Salsa Fargos last winter and  though I do intend to swap out the butterfly “trekking” handlebar for a standard mountain bike flat-bar to give us a wider grip for rocky/technical tracks, they are otherwise tour-ready.  We enjoyed every moment of these bikes during our 10 day tour around the Olympic Peninsula last summer and anxiously await our next short trip.

Though we are two years away and are trying our best to not dwell on the trip too much, we have begun researching and buying gear in earnest. We’ve so far stuck to products that we either know will not change between now and 2014 and those we love and fear may be discontinued. Part of our reasoning for this was also to use our annual REI Dividend and the gift cards we’ve been receiving from family for holidays and birthdays. The pile of inspiration in the spare bedroom has been growing of late.

So far we’ve purchased Ortlieb front and rear panniers for each bike along with our sleeping systems (an unorthodox combination that I’ll explain in a separate post). We have a lot of gear already from our past trips, but I’ve also begun adding some clothing as I see things go on sale.

We’ve created a spreadsheet that is already taking the form of a packing list, though it’s really a way for us to track the things we’ve bought, what we still need, and the recommendations and what our top choices are for certain topics (detailed gear lists will be updated on this site). We read a lot of bike touring blogs and have studied more than a few people’s gear lists over the past couple years and have finally begun tracking the products that we want to get. This way we can purchase it gradually over time. This nets us two benefits: 1) We don’t suddenly have to dip into our trip savings just as we stop working, and 2) We’re not running around trying to research/acquire gear while also trying to sell our house and all of its contents.

Hair Removal
Kristin is in the process of writing a separate post about this, but she’ll be going in for her third of six scheduled sessions for laser hair removal this week. This was a costly expense, but one I was not about to say no to. I know some women would rather let their leg hair grow out and that some guys don’t mind their wives or girlfriends going a few days or weeks without shaving. Not us. Actually, Kristin was probably going to eventually do this anyway. I guess the trip just provided the necessary motivation. For those considering this, do note that it cost more than the total cost of my Fargo including racks and panniers.

Snow Route
Earlier I mentioned that we hope to be crossing WA via the Northern Tier in early April. For those who aren’t familiar with Washington State geography and highway closures, the North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20) closes every November due to avalanche and re-opens sometime that following spring. There are essentially four major routes through the Cascade Mountains in WA and Hwy 20 is not only the most scenic, but the one we prefer by a wide margin not only for its beauty but it also passes the town of Winthrop in the Methow Valley, one of my all-time favorite places in the Pacific Northwest. The highway didn’t open until May 25th last year, its second-latest opening ever. This year it is expected to open the first week of May. As of late March, it still had snowdrifts 50 to 60 feet deep in some of the avalanche zones and the road surface at Washington Pass was under 9 feet of snow.

Heading west from Early Winters

If our hoping to ride this route in early April sounds like wishful thinking, it is! But it’s not without precedent. Here’s just a few of the highway opening dates I’m hanging my cycling helmet on: April 16th, 2010; March 10th, 2005; April 8th, 2004; April 14th, 2003; March 22nd, 2001; and March 30th, 2000 (source). Oh, and the road never closed during the winter of 1976-77 so we can always hope for a repeat. The two words we don’t want to hear are “La Nina” as the La Nina winters (like 2011 and 2012) are responsible for the immense snowfalls.

It’s worth noting that Hwy 20 is only closed to cars. As long as you stay clear of the road crews while they are removing the snow, you are otherwise allowed to be up there on foot, bike, or ski. So there’s always the possibility that we time our crossing with the last remaining days of the snow-removal process and make it down the east side before the road opens to cars. More than likely though, we’ll either luck into an early opening or have to take the route over Stevens Pass (Hwy 2), Snoqualmie Pass (I-90), or cross much further south, perhaps in Oregon or on Highway 12 through Washington.

The one thing we don’t want to do is wait around until late May to start. We’re waiting long enough as it is..