Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tour De Diligence: Post'em Scriptum

"rollin', rollin', rollin'...keep those dogies rollin'...Rawhide!"  Photo by Gnat.

First of all, let me share some links to others blogs that were on the trip.

Errin, the GPS master. 

Andrew the Pilgrim newbie.

Jason the camera master.

Ben's Blog (yet to post about the trip)

Photo courtesy of Gnat.  The burrito refueling stop, Fish Canyon.

Now that we have shared all that, a few thoughts after the fact.  I am more stoked about bikepacking then ever.  It had always caught my attention and fired my imagination and I have been acquiring gear over a couple of years...refining, sampling.  Good gear is costly.  Light, warm, small, durable, cheap.  Pick four.  Guess which four?

Photo courtesy of Errin.  Andrew's bivy.
But over time I lost some interest as I never could get anyone else I ride with to go.  Sure, there were lots of good intentions but that was all.  Solo is OK and all, but....  So I just put it aside, but not out of mind.  Well, it is back squarely in my cerebral cortex...I think that is part of my brain, yes?...and I am making new plans.  And I have made some new friends and I expect that to play out to more group adventures.

This is not for everyone.  Heck it is hardly for anyone.  Ride your bike all day and then crawl into a bag/bivy/tent for the night, get up and do it again, repeat without much rinsing.  But it is for me. 

I learned a few things this trip, watching others who were more experienced than I.  First was smart packing techniques.  Less weight on the back is better.  Water can be carried in all kinds of ways.  Cages strapped to fork legs, little Platypus 1L+ water bags that can be stuffed all over the place....refine, test, refine, test, etc.

2 liter
1 liter and smaller.

My pop can stove is a winner and I made a new pot stand that is more stable AND smaller from three bike spokes.  I need to refine my sleeping kit a bit more.  The REI bivy sack is good and so is the Exped pad.  After trying two other large hydration packs, I cannot see using anything but an Ospey Talon 22, so far the most comfy and lightest of them all.  If it does not fit in there, you are carrying too much.  But I need a better quilt option, something that packs light/small and is warm, but not full 4 season.  I may even look for a very small and simple tarp to use as a head/shoulders shield along with the bivy in case of high winds or showers.  I can use the front wheel as a tarp support.  I have the full tarp shelter for cold or ugly days.

My new sleep system?

Another option I am considering. 

So I have some tweaking to do and a list of things to look at a bit better.  Part of the joy to me is the planning and gear selection anyway.

First on the list is a new bike for the cause. I will end up with two bikepacking bikes.  The Salsa Spearfish is certainly good, but that is not mine, just a long term test bike for  But I still have the Lenzsport Leviathan 3.0 and it is a functioning bike or would be with a bit of work.  But a lot of the time bikepacking does not really call for an FS.  So I am pointing my builders tool chest and box-o-parts at a hard tail scoot.  You get a few great things there...the pedaling efficiency of a hard tail, the 'one less thing to go wrong' idea without a rear shock and pivots, etc, and maybe best of all, that huuuge main triangle that allows a equally huuuge frame bag.  On-bike storage is a coveted and highly prized thing and no FS I have seen will give you that main triangle space like a hard tail does.

So if I were to choose a perfect hard tail bike for this purpose, what would it be?  Well, first off, steel would be a great choice.  Cheap-ish, strong, durable, easy to repair if you are in upper Zanzibar and need to weld the frame with jumper cables and a car battery.  Or, really, titanium is the i-ching of materials for this purpose.  The finish of the bike is unperturbable.  Is that a word?  It does not get perturbed.  Nothing much bugs it short of a nuclear bla....well, maybe not even that.  So strapping on bags and such will not wear the paint out.  Plus, dropping it, bashing it, etc.  Shrug it off.  The ride would be nice too, although steel is already very good there.

I would also want the ability to run it SS if you sheared off the rear der hanger or pranged the rear der completely.  So sliders or swingers or an EBB would be worthwhile.  Any decent geometry would do.  29" wheels of course.  Duuh!  Generous room at the CS/BB area would be good too.

It would not be bad if it was slightly beefy to deal with the extra weight of the bags, etc.  Not a big deal, but why not?  Tapered steerer, OS TT, etc.

It would not need all carbon everything although that could be OK.  That would be nice if you were using it as a plain old bike, not a pack mule.  Even 9spd makes sense here and likely a triple crank to get a wide spread of gears and a true big ring for long paved runs.

So where would one find that bike?  Heck, right in my dining room.  Most of the rest is in boxes in the garage.  So look for a bend in the road for the next project bike from my fevered brain.  I think SS is out and gears are in for the Lynskey.

Meanwhile I am searching for the perfect quilt.  Lots to look at...trying to decide that temp rating vs. cost vs. packability vs. insulation type vs. whatever.  Right now I have a 50* at best bag and a 20* bag (both soon to be full on quilts...snip, snip, sew, sew).  More on that later.  I have wrenches to turn.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tour De Diligence: Day Three. Shattered Shields

Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of Men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand! Men of the West!  - Aragorn, Lord of the Rings - Return of the King

Day three dawned clear and windy and we broke camp after watching a brilliant sunrise.  We had a few miles to make up that would put us even-steven and on track to complete the loop in a timely manner.  I thought we had 10 miles to get to refuel, but instead we had 20.  Oh, really?  OK.
The next morning at camp.

Andrew greets the sunrise in high tech worship.

Looking at the water supply, we were all pretty low.  I had maybe 1.5 bottles left and about the same for the rest, but one rider had a decent surplus.  It came to me then that I should have pressed that extra 70oz bladder into use yesterday.

Still, we were in good spirits but a bit weary.  My posterior was letting me know that I needed to relieve some chafing by a new pair of shorts.  The Ibex woolies I had been in are not up to the task of long, long repeat days.  The chamois just is not that good.  Pity.  I slathered on a bunch of Chamois Butter, changed into my Specialized RBX bib shorts, and winced into the saddle. Pedaling out into the hard pan of the ever present desert wash, we were off.

"Eat me, please and stop the misery"

Now I do not know why I had thought this, but I was thinking we were going down canyon.  Stupid, cuz anyone with any time in the desert wash system would have known better and I have quite enough time in that type of environment.  Dunno?  In any case I could see that the canyon was narrowing and climbing.  This made it ever harder to find a hard path to ride and it was so sloooow.

At some point we hit this.  Sandy jeep road with cactus and unrideable borders made for walking.  And walking.

Friendly plants out here.  Desert ferns, perhaps?

Now keep in mind that our bikes all weighed between 45 and 50 pounds, maybe less today as we were low on water, but they were hardly easy to push through the sand.  At some point I realized that my right outside ankle was irritated.  Walking was becoming very painful.  Oddly enough riding was OK, but we could not ride.  Sucks to be me.  We were moving at around 2 miles an hour and we were functionally out of water.  I mean to say that we had some swallows left between us, but not enough to make up for what we were losing in the effort.

Most of the calorie and electrolyte replacement I had along required water to mix with it and that option was not on the table.  Or under the table, which is where I would have crawled if I had had a table with me.  We were reduced to walking/pushing/slogging in sand that spilled over or rims and tires and shoes as we plodded along from shade bush to large shade bush.  It was not a hot day, thank God, or we would have really been in for it.

It was too bad really, because it was a beautiful place in that desert kind of way.  The Ocotillo was green and vibrant and the sky was blue.  I passed a spot where a double mortero was alongside the road and that was right when the road was beginning to look like we could ride part of it.  Good thing, because my ankle was really on fire.  Each step was pain.

grindstone or spooky skull of death?

But there was more sand.  The sight of Jason B. pushing along the sand in his wool socks was remarkable.  I actually changed into flip flops to try and help the ankle, but the hike a bike began in earnest and it was time to get real shoes back on.  This was now a recreational jeep trail, the kind that jeepers use to challenge themselves a bit and break axles on, etc.  We were having to lift and portage our bikes up one granite face after another, then down, down more hike-a-bike.  It seemed like it would never end.

Yeah, we hiked down that, but up others that were nearly as steep.

I was beginning to feel the leg cramps, mostly in the hamstrings from all the sand slogging.  Thank goodness for Elete Tablytes and a few swallows of water I had left.  I stopped taking the camera out about now and was getting concerned for our safety.  If someone got hurt or seized up, we would have been in a pickle.  I figured this old guy would be at the center of a dinner plate for the vultures.

Errin's leg mojo.

Finally we were in sight of a town of sorts and that meant water.  I really wanted water.  You have to not have had it and really needed it to appreciate that feeling.  The jeep road turned downhill but was still deep, deep sand.  I was able to ride most of it, but it took a ton of energy and skill to do it.  I skied past the others with only Jason B out in front and finally hit pavement, only to see him coming back my way with a gallon of water.  Yes, please.

He went and rescued the others who were a bit behind and similarly crushed.  Man, that was hard.  Soul breaking hard.  It had taken us 7 hrs to go 21 miles and we were now about 60 miles behind schedule.  When I walked into the little RV camp's store, I realized how fried I was.  I could hardly string a good sentence together and I was wobbling all over the place, shivering cold.  A bunch of water, a chocolate milk, and a Dr Pepper went down in short order.  As the others filtered in, I had the best microwave burrito with green sauce and chicken that ever existed on this or any other planet.  Oh man.

When two of the others came in, two of the guys with tubes, they must have strayed off the main track somewhere at the edge of the highway as they had enough goat head thorns in each tire to actually hear them rolling up to the stop.   ****

Mile 111 and the end.  Home of the best microwave burrito in the known universe.

It was past 3:00 PM and the wind was up hard.  We were crushed pretty good, but recovering and we discussed our options.  This was not even a one dog town, much less a horse, so no bike supplies here.  We thought about finding a paved way to San Diego but the tubes thing was a problem.  No way could we patch all those tubes and we were down to three tubes between all of us.  My ankle was pretty screwed up and I was limping badly with each step.  Since I did not know for sure what I did to it, I could not predict how it would take to another day of hike-a-bike, if that was required.  I did not want to so injure myself that I would cause a chronic issue.  Between the beat down, the schedule in tatters, and the possible mechanical drama, we were looking for a plug to pull.


111 miles.  Not 375.  We came to ride 375, not 111.  But sometimes discretion over valor.  So we found a kind heart who got a couple of us back to Idyllwild to retrieve vehicles.  I sat with Errin in a pizza joint and ate a medium pizza all by myself without even breathing once in between slices while the others set up back at the RV park with hot showers and a cabin for the night.  Errin took back a six pack and a large pizza with everything to the waiting group of warriors.

I guess that was that.  The Tour De Diligence was officially over.  It felt odd to be driving a car again but 2.5 hours later I was home and eating a double bacon cheeseburger I picked up along the way.  Man, I was hungry for two days after that and my ankle still is irritated as I write this now.  Still not sure about that one.

It was quite an experience and obviously our timing and expectations for that route were a bit off.  In the spring that would have been hard packed sand and mostly rideable.  It would have been a much more doable deal.  But we survived to ride another day and I found myself looking forward to another adventure with the Salsa crew and interested parties.  We had a good time despite the hard day and the camaraderie was a high point as was the time rolling on our bikes through the So Cal backcountry.

A bad day on a bike is still a pretty good day.

Sign me up for the next one, guys.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tour De Diligence: Day 2. The Bullrushes

We woke up at the camp area around Bailey's Cabin, set a few miles into Coyote Cyn.  We were at just over the 30 mile mark and that bit of riding into the previous evening had given us a good jump into the trip and rewarded us with a stellar night under the stars.

I had chosen to keep the shelter at home and go bivy and bag only.  I picked up an REI Minimalist bivy last year and had used it with a tarp in bad weather, but I had never used it all alone out in the open.  It worked very well, keeping the wind out of my bag, adding some warmth, and letting me keep some clothing inside for the next day.  We never even saw a hint of precipitation, so that was no concern.  Inside was my very lightweight Deuter Dreamlight 500 (as in grams) and a silk liner as back-up (never needed it).

I was on top of the recently purchased Exped Synmat sleeping pad.  I am a side sleeper by nature so the mini-thin pads do not work well for me.  This one actually is lighter and packs smaller than my old 3/4 Thermarest and is much more plush.

Everyone else was pretty much in a bivy or bivy/enclosure hybrid.

Breakfast all done with my DIY pop can alcohol stove...Gary's Panforte' Clif Bar and hot tea, yum...we broke camp and headed out into the wash.  We really were in a big wash.  Dry for the most part, Coyote Cyn is broken up into an upper section and a lower section that are both open to vehicles.  The middle section is closed to motorized use.

If we rode where vehicles had been, it was too sandy to make it most of the time.  But, if we rode off the tracks, what looked like a hard crust waiting to swallow us up was instead a hardpan conglomerate of clay and sand and rocks that was as hard as concrete and completely rideable.  It was slow going though but little did we know how slow is was about to get.

This is where the motos stop.
The hardest mud in the world.

Obviously it was not always so hard baked.  There were so many kinds of tracks it was like WIld Kingdom time.

Does that look like it can be ridden upon?  It can, but slowly.

Jason B. AKA the Minn. Hammer

It was about there that the idea of having Fat Bikes for this trip seemed to be a good idea.  That thought would continue for the next couple of days.  Meanwhile, the other fellas were having a bit of a bumpy day on those full rigid, drop bar Salsa bikes.  I was in hog heaven with the Salsa Spearfish and the 100mm/80mm of F/R travel.  Oh yes, how sweet it is.  I also did not get any flats, but we had one or two more on this morning.

So after a bit of time bumping along the more open wash, the walls began to close in and the canyon narrowed as the trail diminished.  Eventually we were following flags on Willow branches and our GPS tracks to stay on course.  It turned into a bit of a bash fest through the willows and Mulefat, typical So Cal stream bed flora, but soon it turned to this....

Yep...there is a rider about 10 feet in front of me.  Where's Waldo in itchy plants.

Still on track aboard the African Queen.
It also meant we were getting our feet wet as the springs were abundant here.  Very fun actually.  I dig this kind of stuff.

After another flat tire, we ran down a few miles of sand wash that was pretty rideable, even in the main track.  Speeds were coming up a bit till we hit the rocky section here, but that was very near the exit of the canyon and I could see the edge of Borrego Springs in the distance.  FOOD and cold water coming up!

Perfect terrain for a rigid fork and drop bars.  Took some skittles to ride that so equipped.
Ben exits with grace.
Giant burritos to eat here.  And to go.

Vagrancy is not a crime.

 We were properly fueled up and having a pretty good time by around Noon or 1:00-ish and we headed out into a pretty warm and windy day on a paved highway.  If we would have known, we would have figured out a way to carry more water in our socks or something as that would prove to be an issue the next day.

Our goal was to get to mile 111 today where the refuel would happen.  But in the way of that plan was this.

Tell me, do they ride bikes here or just walk along side them?
Sand.  Lots of sand.  Energy sapping sand and no 'hardpan to the side' option.  At one point though, we had enough slope/gravity/tailwind at our disposal to actually get up in a big gear and play 'Dakar Rally' on our bikes.  It was kinda scary at first cause you were always trying not to swap ends, but after a mile or so it just was normal and I got really good at the whole sand dance thing.  Pretty tiring though.  At the end, we just collapsed under a bush right next to the highway like some road kill.

Road Kill.

In the desert, beauty happens where you find it.

Soon enough we were back on the highway and I could see small buildings and motor homes.  I figured this would be water time, but was some odd Snowbirder encampment that had no store I could see.  Someone remarked that it was where motorhomes came to die.  Appropriate.  Man, I wanted a biiig drink of cool water.  Funny how that motivates you and steals your spirit when it does not happen.

We hit the entrance to Fish Canyon wash a few hours before sundown and pedaled in, once again dancing back and forth looking for the hard spots to ride upon.  The Midwest boys had never seen anything like this, all those canyon walls and such.  It was beautiful.  it looked like a scene from Star Wars only lacking the Sand People and the little hooded junk collector guys.

GPS, how I love thee.
Burrito refueling stop.

We rode on till dark, realizing we would not likely make our goal of the 111 mile refuel which was at the end of this canyon.  We were somewhere near the 90 mile mark and I was in favor of pushing on through the night, but that would have been unrealistic.  I did not know that, so i am glad I agreed to camp where we did.  We got up out of the wash a bit for safety and found a great spot to set up.  It was quiet and clear.  Starry, starry night.

I was still low on calories so I fixed a backpacking meal of beef lasagna and spent the last hours of the evening talking to Errin about his Tour Divide experience.

The next day would be a monster.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tour De Diligence: Let's roll.

I met up with the other 4 who were part of this mad hatter's scheme.  Our rendezvous point was The Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild, Ca.  Owned by the duo of Brendan and Mary, both accomplished endurance cyclists, the Stagecoach 400 route was their brainchild and we would be following that route this week.  We had aggressive mileage goals each day so I watched as Jason, Ben, Errin, and Andrew assembled their bikes and gear as two of them had flown in from out of state.

All the bikes they rode were Salsa Fargos.  Three were 2013 Ti versions, one a custom steel with S&S couplers.  One had a sus fork, but the rest were rigid and all were running drop bars.  Wow. Really?  Through the desert?

Several hours later we were ready to go packing some sandwiches from a local grub shop.  "Yes, we would like 10 turkey and avocado sandwiches to go, please".  That took a while.  It was around 4:00 pm by the time we were on the way out of a mist shrouded mountain town.  We had a lot of elevation to drop first though as our goal was to camp in the Coyote Cyn area of the Anza Borrego desert some 33 miles away.

DIY bike kits.

Errin, past Tour Divide racer.

Everyone looked fitter and more experienced than I.  Ben was young enough to be my son.  Sigh.  I dreaded being the anchor.  Still, I had to wonder about the choice in bikes.  That would turn out to be a bit of a reality over the next few days.

artsy-fartsy pics while I waited around

playing with in-camera filters.

On trail we climbed for a bit then dropped toward a highway that would lead us out of town and out of the mountains.  Errin and I had the GPS units so we were the truth-keepers of justice as far as making sense of the route sheets.   I was glad to be dropping out of the high elevations as I sure was not packed for that kind of sleeping temps.

Errin the GPS master.  I was his Padowan.
Jason B.  AKA The Diesel

There was a fair amount of pavement riding to connect the dots but traffic was almost nil.
 We dropped down a loose doubletrack that was just like old home week for me on the FS Spearfish, but it was giving pause to the drop bar guys/rigid fork crowd.  I don't know how they did it, really.  It would have freaked me out.

We bottomed out on the desert floor just as dusk fell and we swapped to lights.  We figured to ride a couple of hours into the dark to make or camp goal, but we also got the first flat tire.  It turned out that some of the riders had tubes in there, not being aware of the folly of tubes in the So Cal desert.  That was to be part of our undoing, but we did not know that yet.

Soon we dropped into Coyote Cyn and lots of descending in rocky, loose jeep road.  It seemed like we would never find our camp, but we did, and Bailey's Cabin was home for a night.

Breakfast the next morning.

Fargo at rest.

Bivys keep it simple.

Fluid Performance do I love thee?
Jason taking a pic of his stove, proud papa.

Well, I can do that too.  My homemade pop can stove, bike spoke pot stand, and $1.00 windscreen worked flawlessly.
Next was a long day out to Fish Canyon through the rest of Coyote Canyon (which would be a real adventure) and lunch at Borrego Springs.