Any Road Tour: Lessons Learned

Well, I’m back in good old muggy DC. Time to reflect on two months of bicycle touring. What worked? What did I find useful? What did I bring and didn’t use? What did I not bring and wish I had?

Things that worked

  • Before I left, I had my bike tuned up. By two bike shops. Special thanks to Taylor at the Spokes Etc. Belle View location for doing the final look over. As part of this process, I had a new chain, cassette, and big chainring installed.
  • Even though my old tires looked fine, I replaced them with new Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires (700×35). I had no flats over 4,300 miles.
  • I cleaned and lubed my chain every four days or so. (I use wax lube so this is not unusual for me.) I had only a handful of bad shifts, mostly due to me rushing to get to a much smaller gear.
  • I bought a slightly used Brooks Flyer saddle before leaving. I needed the ability to tighten the leather and the adjusting bolt on my old Flyer had run out of space. I had zero saddle sores, but still had some perineum problems, particularly in the first half of the tour. I dug out the adjusting wrench and tightened the saddle up. Then I made sure to get my butt off the saddle at least once an hour. Problem solved.
  • I had only two mechanical issues. My pedals started to fail and my hub of my rear wheel came loose. Missoula Bicycle Works replaced the pedals and tightened the hub. No big deal.
  • My 15-year old tent started to leak. I sealed it with silicone sealant. I have no idea if it will still leak because it didn’t rain when I was camping afterwards.
  • For sleeping I had a yoke-shaped travel pillow. It was exactly what I needed. I propped up a big pannier then put the pillow against it. Great for reading and sleeping in the tent.
  • I used a silk sleeping bag liner. On colder days I supplemented it with an REI sleep sack, a lightweight sleeping bag. I was cold only once. I put on my rain jacket and went back to sleep.
  • The REI full length sleeping pad was indispensable. I simply can’t sleep in a tent without one.
  • Warmshowers.com worked well, if imperfectly. I had success in Morehead MN, Republic WA, and outside Winthrop WA. I also stayed in two places listed on the Adventure Cycling Maps. They were both also on Warmshowres. Alice’s Attic in Royalton MN and the Honey Pot in Gackle ND.  Another five of these experiences were excellent. My experience in Lewistown, MT was not a good one. The host’s yard was a mess and he and his neighbors had several barking dogs. I didn’t stay. I went to an overpriced dumpy motel instead.
  • Adventure Cycling Maps also worked well. As the tour progressed I deviated from the maps’ routes. Places where the maps need work are in eastern Ohio (I missed a turn even though I was paying very close attention) and in Stillwater MN. There was a detour to get across the LaCroix River that was poorly described in the ACA material. I wasted an hour or more trying to navigate the mess. It’s super important to read the addenda to the maps. I didn’t and ended up paying for hotels a couple of times.
  • Google maps saved me numerous times when I made wrong turns or deliberately strayed from the ACA routes.
  • Sun sleeves. I wore them everyday for the last month or so of the tour. No more bugs sticking to my arms.
  • Compression sleeve. When my left calf became swollen, I started wearing a compression sleeve. The swelling went down and stayed down.

Things that didn’t work

  • I used chamois cream religiously on previous long rides and tours. I forgot to put it on one day in the middle of the tour and never used it again. Maybe it’s useful for humid conditions like we have here in DC, but I never missed it.
  • Weather.com was laughingly inaccurate. Time and again it forecasted storms when none came and missed storms that I could see with my eyes.
  • My Ortleib panniers leaked. Again. I put my stuff in plastic bags before loading them into my panniers. Also, my Ortleib handlebar bag is annoyingly hard to open and close. The map case tore in the first couple of weeks. The hook at the bottom of my front panniers came loose multiple times.
  • The lenses in my sunglasses are for distance only. I really need a pair with progressive lenses so I can read my maps.
  • My crappy rim brakes were useless on downhills in the rain. I highly recommend disc brakes for touring.
  • Years ago I downsized the chainrings on The Mule using Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator. Only I couple of times was my granny (easiest) gear not quite up to the task.
  • Google Maps occasionally went haywire. Sending me in circles or, in Shelton WA, to a single track thtough the woods and along a cliff.

What did I bring and didn’t use

  • Most of my repair kit. My spare tire. My spare tubes. (I’d still bring them for obvious reasons on my next tour.)
  • My bear bag and rope. I used the bag once in Pennsylvania. I didn’t camp in the woods and didn’t need it.
  • Chamois cream
  • Trail mix. I carried a bag from Illinois to Portland. It was buried deep in a pannier and it got so old I decided not to eat it unless absolutely necessary.

What did I not bring and wish I had

  • My fiber fix spoke. I found one in Ohiopyle PA.
  • My passport. I was really close to Canada when I was in Washington state. More importantly, if I had to deal with road closures, I could have ridden north into British Columbia.
  • My headsweat. I brought it and left it in a hotel. So I sprayed sunscreen on my head everyday. (The bottle ran out on my last day.)
  • A belt for my off road shorts. I bought one in Pittsburgh.

I may add to this if I think of things. If you have questions about gear, gear choices, feel free to ask away in the comments section.

Next up: the best and worst parts of the tour

11 thoughts on “Any Road Tour: Lessons Learned

  1. Welcome home! i assume The Mule made it home safely too or we would have heard about it. Did it feel weird not to be riding zillions of miles a day on your first day off the bike at the end of your trip?

  2. Those Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres really are the business! Only the sharpest shard of a broken bottle washed into a gutter has pierced mine to cause a flat…

  3. Great trip. I could see everything as if I was actually there. What was your favorite section of the trip?

    1. Can’t possibly pick one. Badlands, descents from the passes in Washington, GAP trail in PA, seeing my first mountain pass sign (Rogers), meeting so many great people, Iowa farmland, Square Butte, and in on and on and on

  4. Congrats on getting back home to the “other” Washington (grin) thanks again for sharing your tour with us. I followed you more closely than that thing in France.

  5. You should get the Dark Sky app. It’s $5 but SO WORTH IT. Weather within the hour is usually accurate down to the minute (light rain for 15 minutes, starting again in 45 minutes).

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