Field trip results

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I came back yesterday at noon from the first test with all the equipment. As expected, the weather was a bit crappy, but quite ok (cloudy, no chance of meatballs, little rain). I’m still sick, probably due to the mounting stress, but I survived 🙂 I didn’t go very far though, but I’m happy to have maintained an average speed above 19km/h, or 12m/h. That was unexpected.

Adding the trailer, with almost all of the equipment (missing a couple kilos only) was the main test. The trailer itself is already 6 kilos, and the equipment about 12, by the last count. That’s a lot of weight to drag on the road ! I was quite apprehensive of the result in this area. The first couple hours were tiring for sure, and I could definitely feel I had to put in more power to progress. But I was able to make it through the few slopes I encountered, by changing gear often enough. Then, after this initial period, it was much easier. On the second day, I was accustomed to the trailer and its weight, and the increased effort it was requiring at all times. However, I’m not ashamed to say I will walk up the bigger slopes ! 🙂

Another point on the trailer is, as I’ve read everywhere, you forget about it while biking. It doesn’t affect the bike handling, the air resistance, or the balance. These were the main points that made me go against the panniers. It also doesn’t change the width of the bike, and you can go through the same places.

I had already tested the bike a bit the previous day, but this time I logged 120kms / 80 miles in a couple of days, and I went through all kinds of roads, including a forrest path and a busy, albeit large, road. I have a few quirks to correct by going back to the shop, especially on the gears switch, but it’s going quite comfortably. The butterfly handlebar also needs some getting used to, as it’s much lower than the handle on my previous bike. I sold said bike yesterday afternoon, and using it again was feeling like riding a wooden horse toy ! This new bike is definitely higher quality.

A point I didn’t expect to encounter is that the U-lock is almost useless outside of a city. I need to have the bike close to a thin post to use it. Trees don’t fit that description. So, I guess I’ll have to carry the older chain I have on top of the lock. Maybe I’ll get a newer one in the states.

Another point I tested was of course camping ! I have done no camping in the last 25 years, and boy did it evolve ! Here I am setting up the tent :

As far as I can remember, setting up a tent in the 80s was a pain, it was complex, and very long. Now you can do it, very quietly, in less than 10 minutes, without even thinking about it. Well I still have to progress though, as I’ve put the tarp cover upside down, and probably didn’t fasten it correctly. Still, the tent was up, and I was able to sleep in it 🙂

Putting everything back in the trailer is a bit longer, of course. It took me about one hour to roll everything back into place, in no hurry. It can probably be reduced to half an hour, maybe.

But mostly, I was happy to ride in this field test, as I was finally going from point A to point B – even if the next day I was coming back to point A ! It was more interesting to push forward, even getting lost along the way, rather than going around in a circle 🙂

Field test with final bike & trailer !

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This is it ! I got the final bike, a Vision trekking bike lent by Gitane through the Vélo&Oxygen shop at Porte Maillot, in the west of Paris. I have a very short week to get used to it now 🙂 It’s got a butterfly handlebar, which looks sexy but that I never used before, and a 30-speed shifter. And it’s produced in France, which was part of the sponsorship deal I was looking for 🙂 I also searched for a similar deal with Air France, but they have “very limited funds”, poor they :p

I got it yesterday morning, and of course, two minutes later, I almost got bumped over by a taxi who absolutely wanted to pass although the street was clearly not wide enough :p But taxis are the masters of the road and they are always right ! And they will tell you so very politely !

I bought the remaining stuff while going back home : a Bob Yak trailer, which is one of the biggest costs of the trip, but comes with a huge bag that should handle all of the stuff (hopefully), a handlebar bag for important material that I will always carry around, bottle holders, a top-of-the-line U lock (with its 15/15 security level clearly underlined by its massive weight !), a rearview mirror (I broke the one on the previous bike, but it’s clearly a life changer), a pump (thought the Vision was provided with one…). I also bought a waterproofer can for my shoes – they were supposed to be waterproof (Gore tex treatment), but they clearly are NOT ! Next time I’ll try pouring a bucket of water on the shoes inside the shop.

I transferred some items to the new bike too : the cyclocomp of course with its sensors, the safety flag. It should be complete now, with all required items. Oh yes, and I have to place some stickers too 🙂

So I got all of this ready yesterday, and today is perfect for a field trip : I’m kinda sick, tired, and the weather is crappy 🙂 I’m going to move away from Paris about 60kms, stop at a camping, try out all of the camping equipment (I tried setting up the tent beforehand though) under a rainy weather, and come back tomorrow.

I tried buying the plane ticket for the trip this morning, which is the only remaining item along with the insurance, but I maxed out my card with the stuff I bought yesterday – I’ll have to try again tomorrow. Unless the ticket price bumps again too high, I’ll be leaving next saturday ! Then I’ll be ready to depart San Francisco a few days later, after coming back from the jet lag, and setting up a few things like local bank account and mobile deal. Last time I was in SF was ten years ago.

Now that the apartment is empty, and that I cleaned it thoroughly, it really feels like the departure is looming ! I would be glad to sleep a bit too, but the pressure is becoming intense 🙂

My life in a box

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I’m trying to insert a gif today, see how it goes 🙂 I moved all of my stuff into the storage unit I rented a couple weeks ago. Took me the whole day, but everything went fine – now all of my stuff is stored for at least six months, and probably more.

It’s a strange sensation in the appartment now. It’s almost empty – I’m keeping the bare minimum to cook and dress for one last week, plus of course the material I’ll be flying with. But it doesn’t really feel empty, probably because all of the furniture is still there. But each and every closet is empty now, and when you open them, you feel like being in a demo apartment, to be visited before getting your version built somewhere else. On the other hand, all of the stuff was in boxes for one or two weeks already, so it also feels like I’ve been doing some cleaning (which I still have to do, by the way).

Filling a small truck, and then a storage unit with boxes like that, for a geek like me, is a lot like Tetris and some great fun 🙂 You have to take many parameters into account. Not piling up too much stuff (although the resellers say you have enough space to make pile of 7 or 8 boxes, but it sounds way too unsteady), keeping fragile wares on top, piling in order of weight in general, making piles of the same boxes so that they support each other, putting piles close to each other for the same reason… And prior to that, making boxes of a regular weight, labelling them…

After all this work, I’m content to have passed an important step towards my plan, even if only a practical one. Maybe it’s also the feeling that all of this stuff will be safe for the coming months, and that I can count on that. With that done, I have removed a few more post-its from my todo list. Tomorrow morning, I should finally get my hands on the final bike, and then buy the trailer, both of them to be tested extensively in the remaining days !

 

Coming back to the previous post, I did make all the calls I wanted to make. I phoned 70 guys with the exact same name as my father, throughout France. I got almost all of them on the phone (ten of them didn’t answer), or their wife, or their widow. But I had no luck in finding the guy I was looking for – I wasn’t too hopeful anyway. A vast majority of people were friendly, some just cold, and a few downright paranoid (“why do you call”, “what do you want”, “what is your name” ??? – these are ready for NSA surveillance). I had a few who were teachers, like my father, but not in the correct region. Strangely, many of these people are in La Réunion, an island off Africa, close to Mauritius. I suppose it’s a great spot for retirees.

So, no luck with the phone calls. I sent a letter to the academy rector, who manages all the teacher in the region, asking to waive confidentiality or at least point me somewhere. They should have records and an adress. Don’t know if that will bring anything. Last resort when I come back, is finding a detective, but I don’t see what he would that I haven’t done yet.

Papaoutai

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I’m back on a bike ! I got my bike repaired three days ago now, and have been logging miles as fast as possible while being reasonable on physical capacities. So, I did 40, 75, and today 90 kms. I’ll try keeping 80-90 a day for most remaining days, apart from a few days reserved for moving out and such. I should get the final bike this friday, when I’ll also buy a trailer and everything that is still missing.

I’m making trips in the east of Paris, which is the shortest from home to reach some real countryside environments. There are really nice places and small villages around, and nice forests too. Yesterday I saw an aerial dogfight between a hawk and a crow (a real one, not a crow from game of thrones :p). The crow was apparently pushing the hawk out of his territory by falling on him repeatedly.

After coming back to Paris today, I went to a bike repair workshop, which can be aptly called a bike community – not really a hippie one, but pretty close. It’s a place I’ve been passing by for years when I was living in Paris – but maybe they got the place only recently. Anyway, I went there for some maintenance lessons, like changing a tire. Everything was going well until I put the tire back in place : I actually pierced the inner tube when pretending to fix it ! So I had to start all over again, fix it for real and hope for the best. But now I’m torn : should I have the tube replaced, even if I get another bike in four days ? I want to go further than before in these four coming days, make overnight trips, and not the usual “go there and come back”. But I don’t want to be stranded far away either, if the tire goes flat.

While I ponder the upcoming days, there is one task I’ve been stalling for far too long already : finding my father. Hence the title of the post, from Stromae’s song : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiKj0Z_Xnjc&feature=kp

Divorcing, quitting my job, selling my home and going on a six-months trip are probably not enough on my plate 😉 I also want to find a lead on my father before leaving. And as I’m leaving in two weeks, I have to get going now.

How come I don’t know my father ? Well I thought my mother and him were together until I was three. Except I learned just a few years ago that it was not the case at all ! They never lived together, and split a long time before my birth. I was shocked when I understood I had no idea where I was coming from.

So, since that time, I asked a lot of questions to my mother, and received scarce answers at best. And the few answers she gave me produced more questions, of course. But she never helped me understand what happened and why it happened so. She doesn’t understand that it’s important to me (or she doesn’t care).

A few weeks ago, I started searching through the official channels, as he was a teacher, but got no information. Last year I initiated an official administrative search, but the whole procedure was not allowed anymore – it had been suppressed just a month before.

So, what’s left is phoning everyone in France with that name, with no guarantee of success. He could be long dead, not be on the phone records, or not answering. I wanted to do these calls yesterday, but I was stalling again. Got to do it now ! 🙂

Map route

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US_Route   Ok this is one pretty big image – 20k x 5k pixels ! It’s the precise route I’ll be following in the US, or as precise I could do, setting one small bit after another in google map. Then cutting all parts and putting them together in one big image. That should do nicely along with the street view video from the other day. Not sure how the image will download and open up though 🙂 It’s 14mo large ! Now that I have the course plotted, along with possible stops, motels, hosts, etc, that’s one big chunck of the preparation done.

I should also get my old bike back tomorrow. It took Decathlon a full couple of weeks to repair it, not really a record. So I’ll be back on the road very soon now. But I had a lot of things to do in these two weeks anyway, that would have had to be done in any case. Most of my stuff is now packed and ready to be stored. I’ll be coming along at 10 large boxes of clothes / kitchenware, 3 large ones of DVDs, 10 small ones of books, and almost 25 average ones of comics. Plus a few assorted boxes for papers, bills, stuff like that. I’m not keeping any furniture, still that’s a lot of stuff accumulated over the years. And I’ve thrown away, sold or given perhaps the equivalent of all that already over the last few weeks. I guess my next home will try to be more zen 🙂

Among these two weeks, the last two days have been intense 🙂 I signed my departure from Ubisoft yesterday. That’s the final, official step when leaving a job. I paid a visit to former colleagues, collected all papers and was off. With this step behind me, I thought it would be a good idea to officially announce my travel project on facebook, and so this post will be the first one to be published there 🙂

And today, after a visit to the bank to plan things ahead, I signed in the first step to selling my flat. I’ve found buyers a week ago, and now we started the administrative process of the sale itself. That’s one of the three big changes I wanted to complete before leaving, along with quitting my job and concluding the divorce. So all will be done before the end of the month, and that’s a great relief. I will be completely set on the journey itself from early may. I still have a few quirks to iron out, but that’s completely secondary to these three points. I’ll come back on these subjects during the trip, of course. That’s the “spiritual” part of the journey itself, among with other subjects.

What do I still have left to do in the two and a half weeks left ? Getting the final bike in a week max, buying a trailer and trying all of this on the road, including a few trips of a couple of days. Getting some bike maintenance lessons. I have to get plane tickets, an insurance, settling a few administrative details, and then moving all of my stuff. I had a lot of postits on the wall but now it’s mostly done ! And a good thing as time is running out ! Just as in life : you start with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of skill, and the goal is to fill your bag of skill before you run out of luck 🙂

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Google road map

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Well I’m still without a bike, and so I used the time to complete the screenshots of the route I’ll take. It was a very repetitive task 🙂 3300 screenshots, 4x this number clicking on the map to move 2kms by 2 kms… Perhaps it can be seen as a good preparation for cycling thousands of time.

I followed the Adventure Cycling association roads as well as possible. Not all roads are mapped by Google, and I used the closest route when necessary. They avoid large cities as much as possible – on the east coast, it’s probably too much. Reaching New York or Philadelphia means going well around the city and then going straight into it. That’s also probably due to simplifying the maps and avoiding too many paths.

Sadly, there is no route from California to the Grand canyon. I will have to improvise going through Las Vegas.

The result is very interesting and a very good help for such a trip. I can prepare the places I will go through, where I could stop – and most notably, the deserted areas where nothing can be found ! Apart from Nevada and Utah, such areas are frequent in Kansas and Colorado. In California and on the east coast, on the other hand, there are always towns and services around.

I learned a lot about Google street view as well. They update theirs pics quite a lot, and the latest versions are very impressive HD photos. The comparison with older versions is clear. You can also see easily where they make the updates, and which areas are, well, secondary to say the least.

What else ? Utah seems very difficult, very desertic, few towns, lots of climbs… But it’s, by far, the most beautiful state there is. It’s worth the trip by itself. I thought maybe I would cut from the Grand canyon to Colorado, but I’ll go through this part even if I have to walk the climbs on foot.

As expected, Kansas is very, very flat. I’ll probably go this state pretty quickly. The Appalachians seem pretty difficult too, with steep climbs and narrow roads. And the east coast is a long line of cities – even if the maps avoid them as long as they can.

I used the time I had to plot the chain of Motel 6 on the maps themselves, as well as the Warm Showers hosts. Motel 6 has a discount for the Adv Cycling members. But… there are close to none on the route apart from California and the east coast. Those in the middle west are in larger cities and too far to be useful. Warm Shower hosts will be a very good fallback, even if they are scarce in the Rockies and the middle west as well. I only hope I’ll be able to take a shower every now and then 🙂

Packing roundup

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It’s been almost a week now since my accident, and that’s one week without any cycling at all :p That will hurt my weekly average a lot 🙂 I’m supposed to get my repaired bike end of this week, or early next week. I’m also waiting for the final bike, which will come very late… But more on that one later.

So, no biking as of late. In the meantime, I’m checking my packing list. Almost everything is accounted for at this time, apart from the bike, the trailer or panniers, spare parts, security stuff, food & cleanliness items, & payment methods.

All of the rest is already quite a lot of stuff !

stuff_roundupHere I have all the camping equipment on the right, clothes in front, electronics & maps on the lower right, and tools & first aid kit on top right. In terms of volume it’s already quite a lot. And it ends up just a bit below 12 kilos. That’s including the clothes I’ll be wearing, which I did not count in the previous post on the subject, but also missing some critical elements, notably a few liters of water.

So, at this stage, three weeks before departure, I’m still not completely decided about going with trailers or panniers. I’m edging towards a trailer. Once I get my bike back, I’ll go back to the shops who carry one and decide there. That’s a major weight on top of the current one. But to me the pros of the trailer outweigh the pros of the panniers.

Spare parts, I’ll decide once I take a couple classes on bike maintenance. But I need a bike for that 🙂 There are a few classes around here, once or twice a week.

Security stuff will also be a huge weight. I’ve found very nice & strong (and expensive) U locks, but they’re above a kilo each.

Food & soap and all, I’ll buy when I start. It should also be a huge weight with at least 3 liters of water.

Payments methods (a credit card and a bit of cash) should be very light on the other hand 🙂 But that requires a trip to the bank, planned right after mid april, when I’ll have my departure from work signed.

So what am I doing these few days ? Resting from the crash first, I have very nice bruises on both legs, on top of the small brush on the knee. The back of my right calf is almost green :p I’m also gathering boxes for moving my stuff out, and have started packing my comics. Half of them done, 15 boxes already. On top of that, I’m selling some leftover items, like a dvd player, wicker chairs, my old PC that I refurbished from scratch (and was still working flawlessly after three years in the basement – so long, old friend ! 😉 ), a lot of cables, etc. Finally, I’m almost done on “google map route”, where I take screenshots along the road I’ll be following. It’ll make a very nice movie, that I should post during the week end.

It’s impressive how much you got to do when you’re not working 🙂