Halfway there

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Now that France and Germany qualified (with a lot of sweat) for the quarter finals, I can get back to my trip 🙂 I’m in Pueblo, Colorado, and that is halfway through my trip.

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I’m at 3.600 kms, or 2,300 miles. That’s already a lot, and I have to cover the same distance to reach New York 🙂 But I think I have done the most difficult part : Utah, the Nevada desert, San Bernardino mountains, Colorado and the continental divide…

What lies ahead ? The next thousand kms / 600 miles, Kansas, should be easy : flat (more or less), little towns around, hopefully temperatures and wind should be okay. There are still difficulties to the east coast though : the Ozark moutains, loose dogs in Kentucky, the Appalachians at Vesuvius especially… Much less than what I’ve done already 🙂

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Looking at the map, I’m not halfway through the continent. A direct line from San Francisco to New York is 2,600 miles, meaning halfway is in the middle of Kansas. I’ll be there in around ten days. I’m not there yet as I did a lot of twists and turns to see places : mostly Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon ! And also going down the pacific coast.

In terms of figures, I started 57 days ago. I’ll be at two months for the Fourth of July 🙂 I took 11 days of rest among these, including the unplanned one at Kingman. I’ve been 200 hours on the bike, and for riding days, I do a bit less than 50 miles / 80 kms on average, with a speed of 12mi/19kms/h.

Crossing the middle west will take some time, I suppose I’ll be close to the Appalachians in about a month 🙂

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Kingman

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Today’s ride was tense. My bike was quickly turning into the raft of the Medusa, and I had to get back to civilization fast ! Fortunately I did more than half the way to Kingman yesterday and got there without any other issue – or so I thought.

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Still, I was watching the distance left more often than usual, counting down into 30 miles, 40 kilometers, etc, then into the 20s, 10s, until I was in Kingman. The road itself was not especially impressive : I was in a big plain surrounded by far away moutains, and was aiming the whole time for a pass between them, on an almost perfectly straight road.

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I stopped a few times along the way, as the tension was being transferred on my back, and then on my bum. At one of these stops, a car stopped behind me, and a lady named Melanie engaged conversation, and offered a tshirt of her making 🙂

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Getting closer to the city, the road swerved left and got into a moutain range, up then down, and that was it. Kingman looked pretty dull, and mostly empty, as it was almost noon. But I got farther, into the newer part of the city.

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At this point I noticed that the bent axle was getting loose ! I don’t imagine it *could* get away while I was riding, but I don’t want to find out and lose a wheel because of a bump on a fast downhill. And when I stopped for the day, what else did I find ? The trailer wheel was flat again ! Twice in a row ! Three flat wheels in five days. And the culprit was either a very thin nail, or another bit of staple. It’s apparently useless to avoid the larger items on the road.

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There are two bike shops around here, however closed on Sundays. I’m going to have everything fixed, have the anti-puncture band that goes between the wheel and the tube added and do a full check before moving further. I never thought I would have so many technical issues in the entire trip, what with a brand new bike and trailer. And I did only a quarter of the total – hey still, it’s another achievement, 1000 miles 🙂

While I was trying to sleep I got thinking into this bent axle, and I’m a bit suspicious on the link between a flat wheel and such a problem. It could have worsened it for sure, but I remember having some difficulties setting up and removing the trailer for some time. It could be due to the bumpy road before Baker, some misuse on my part, or my bike balance. It’s totally unstable, with the front fork turning left or right on its own for any reason. If left against a wall, it will crash to the floor. It did so quite a few times with the trailer attached, which could have put some pressure on the axle. I’ll check with Bob, the company that makes this trailer, what could be the reason.

I’m grateful that these are only technical matters though. Apart from minor scratches and a few sunburns, I’m in good shape. I also got a morale boost buying some Jack Vance books on the Kindle – and remembered he died a year ago today. This evening I’m gonna drown in chocolate, Lyonesse, and no GoT episode :p We won’t see the guy win or lose against the other guy. Another week to wait and then planning a stop in a motel with hbo ! Probably in Page then, end of the Arizona leg.

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Jack Vance, my favorite fantasy writer

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 🙂

Fate ?

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Well I just had a bike accident, albeit a small one, but it could have been a lot worse.

What happened was, very simply, the handle broke off ! I was on the champs élysées at the time, a very busy place at all times, and especially early evening, when it decided it was a good time to play a prank on me.

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The first strange part of the story is that I was getting ready for that to happen. The handle was getting a bit loose for the last hour, and I was mockingly wondering if I would have the time to brake when the handle would come off. The screw holding it in place was not loose though, and I had no tool to fix it anyway. In any case, I was getting ready exactly for that to happen. And no, I had no time to brake :p

I was really lucky. It happened when I was starting to move from a red light, on the right side of the road, on the lower, flat part of the street, with no moving traffic around me. Five minutes earlier, I was moving full speed down the champs elysées, on the very bumpy pavement, with cars all around. I could have gone under a car, a bus, or simply make a ten feet jump and land much harder, and get something broken or worse. The guy who helped get my stuff off the street told me a cousin of his got into a similar accident but got scarred for life.

For a split second, I even thought I would land on my feet. That’s what happened a month or so ago, when I got a bit reckless, lost control of the bike, and while it went down, I was able to land upright. Not this time though. The bike parts got me entangled, and I understood I was going down all the way. I landed on the left knee and got a small scratch. As my friend the ground always says : “when you fall down, I’ll be there.” 🙂

Another reason I’m calling this post “Fate”, is that I made a few offenses just before this accident. I was going leisurely around Paris, and went through a park, Montsouris, which is the most beautiful in the city, before realizing it was forbidden for bikes. Sometime later, I went through a street on the wrong way, in order to gain a few minutes. I ran into a couple of policemen on bikes, who only told me to get off the bike and let me go.

But the main reason is this : fifteen minutes before the accident, I was in a bike shop near Maillot, on the eastern side of Paris, ordering a new bike for the US journey. I finally managed to get a meeting with the man who was ready to give me one, in order to receive it next week. So, I guess my old bike felt his time was drawing short, and perhaps it decided to take me with him ? 🙂

Or maybe it was only because I got there very fast in time for the meeting, crossing most of Paris in thirty minutes, and that put too much of a strain on the handle, and the screw that was holding it was cut in half. Anyway, I’ll get this bike repaired and do a few more miles 🙂

Parks to the west of Paris – video

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This is another video test from a few days ago. I was travelling west through the many parks and woods leading from Paris to Versailles.

It’s telling that large parts of these parks simply cannot be accessed because they’re private. On the east of Paris, you can’t access for the lack of useable paths, on the other hand. It’s a shame as all of these parks of forrests are very well tended to, and when you can find a path through them, it’s a great experience.

Another thing I realized again is that we French love perspective. Very long, straight paths leading up to the horizon, from the Champs-Elysées to the gardens of Versailles, are the common marks of french architecture. We love geometry, and we love Nazca-type plans. That might also have been an effect of the state of french towns, which do not, in general, have long straight streets as in the US. People in power maybe wanted to experiment, just like they did when they redesigned Paris.

 

This time I’ve put the camera on top of my helmet. A bit more difficult to focus at the start, but it keeps my ears from being torn apart by the headset. Disadvantage though, the camera is moving a bit and that creates a lot of noise. I need to glue it somehow to the helmet.

Also, no more acceleration, rather some impressionist bits and pieces to recreate the atmosphere of the place. It’s pretty hard to select which part though and reduce it down to a few minutes only. Also, filming while moving remains a challenge : I crossed the path of a small dear at some point, but it doesn’t even show up on screen. I searched for it picture by picture but it was just a bit too far.

All in all, I think I’m getting somewhere. It still needs a lot of editing for every shot, but the result is better.

Weighing my options

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I’m working on a particular piece of preparation : weight. Not especially my own, no, although it would help in said subject. I’m weighing all of the stuff I’m planning to carrying around on the bike.

When thinking about that point a month ago, my rule of thumb was that I shouldn’t be carrying around more than the weight of the bike, so about 15 kgs (or 33 lbs). That seemed to be already quite a lot.

Then a couple days ago I started writing down the weight of the stuff I already had, and the stuff I’m planning to get. And figures started building up *very* quickly.

Camping equipment, only the tent / sleeping bag / mattress was already closing in on 5 kgs.

After putting all clothes on the scale it was showing 4,5 kgs.

I have a good kilo of electronics :p

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The bike equipment (cleaning, maintenance, spares…) I estimate at 3kgs.

I was astonished to see that front & rear panniers, plus handlebar alone were about 5kgs.

Food-wise I’m counting 2 liters and another kilo of snacks / canned food.

All of the health equipment is a bit less than 2kgs.

Finally all of the 13 maps and business cards is a bit more than half a kilo.

So, all in all I’m clocking more than 23kgs !! Way more than what was already too much. And in this count I’ve already struck down many items in my initial list : sketching book, chair, headlamp, walking shoes, hand sanitizer, cooking equipment, …

 

I’ve searched around and found some amazing stuff like this guy : http://ultralightcycling.blogspot.fr/ who goes around all over the planet on a TOTAL, bike included, of 15kgs.

Other resources on the subject :

http://www.adventurecycling.org/adventure-cyclist/online-features/ultralight-touring/

http://www.worldbiking.info/wordpress/bicycle-touring-gear-list-world-biking/

http://www.bikepacking.net/

 

A second look on the drawing board and I’ve reduced the total of the gear to 18kgs, down 5kgs :

– I’ll be looking for lighter panniers, a smaller tent, lighter / fewer tools

– I removed from the list the clothes & stuff I’m wearing – kind of a cheat, but I’m used to its weight already

– Also fewer change items (the guy doing the ultra light only has a spare set of socks !)

Well that’s about it for now, I still have a long way to go to reduce it all another 3 or 4 kgs.

The count by family would then be : camping 4, clothes 2, electronics 1, bike tools 2.3, panniers 3.5, food 3, health 1.7, maps/cards 0.5

 

A good rule of thumbs I’ve read is to use panniers to carry more than three times their own weight – in other words, panniers / containers should be less than a quarter of the total weight. So with a 15kgs objective, panniers should be around or less than 3,5kgs.