I have been ramping up my preparations for my bike tour this summer. I’ve finished all the work around the house that I can tolerate. (The to-do list is never-ending.) Here’s a short list of stuff I’ve been doing.
Bike and Body
Over the winter I had the good folks at Bikes at Vienna work on The Mule. They replaced the crummy front brake, both tires, the chain, and cassette. Ready to rumble.
I had horrible pain in my left hip and knee during my 2019 tour. It became much worse when I started climbing across Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. Only cortisone injections would calm the pain. So it was discouraging that my left hip started back up when I took The Mule out for test rides over the past two weeks.
I took out a tape measure and compared all the distances between saddle, bottom bracket, and handlebars to those on the Cross Check which does not cause the hip and knee issues. Then I did my best to configure the saddle height and fore/after position to mimic the Cross Check. Within a day, my hip pain went away. I want to experiment a bit more with a slightly higher handlebar but I’m confident that I have hit the sweet spot.
Since I have switched to riding in shorts, my riding has become much more efficient and comfortable, which is not to say that I am fast. Far from it. Over the last two years I dialed back working out to spare my body, sore from spinal stenosis, the stress. I seemed to have emerged rather more pear-shaped. My waist is much bigger and my shoulders and upper back muscles seem to have vanished. Despite this distressing development, I seem to be able to climb hills on my bike with less effort. Maybe lowering my center of gravity was fortuitous outcome of pandemic sloth.
Tents and Gear
I am a bit behind with my packing. I spent several days comparing the two tents we have at home. My daughter has a two-person Kelty Escape tent that she has used at two Bonnaroo music festivals. I tried it out in the backyard. It’s ROOMY! I love it. Alas, it’s heavy as an anvil.
During my 2019 tour my REI tent finally died after 16 years of service. It was roomy and comfy and even had a nifty inside rainfall feature. No amount of seam sealer applications could solve this so I bought a Big Agnes Ultralight Fly Creek tent to replace it. Unlike the other two tents this one is not free standing, meaning it doesn’t work properly without being staked into the ground. I only used it about four times during the tour and could not for the life of me figure out how to set it up to my satisfaction. The single spine pole that supported the top of the tent would always flop to one side. The interior side walls of the tent would sag. It felt like sleeping in a coffin.
A couple of nights ago I watched several YouTube videos on how to set up the tent. It turns out there are a few tricks. First. stake out the four corners of the tent. Then use the poles to establish the tent structure. No flop at the top! Next put on the rain fly reusing the stakes on the corners. There are clips and straps on the underside of the rainfly that attach to the sides and top of the tent. Connect all these and tie them down with stakes on either side of the tent. The guy-wires of the tent all have these odd little plastic tensioners on them. The videos solved the puzzle on how to use them to adjust things. Damned if they didn’t work well.
Some other tricks I learned. The stakes should be placed at a 45-degree angle to the ground with the tops pointing away from the tent. The stakes should be set on opposite sides in sequence. Do one corner, then the opposite corner; one side then the opposite side. This creates harmony in the tent universe. Finally, use the tent backwards. In other words, sleep with your head next to the door at the end of the tent. This is where the tent is tallest.
After a few tries I got the hang of it and the tent is pretty darned nice. It also weighs a good four pounds less than the Kelty. Weight will matter a lot in the mountains so this is a good thing.
I have received another epidural injection for back pain a few days ago. It doesn’t seem like it did much. My physiatrist is recommending that I talk to a back surgeon. This will wait until I get back from the ride. There’s no point in discussing it now. Unless my condition improves, I’ll be looking at surgery next December and recovery over the cold winter months.
My pain doctor gave me a prescription for gabapentin. This gives me mild relief by extending the amount of time I can spend on my feet without pain, perhaps by 20 – 30 minutes. The only way to get rid of the pain is to do physical therapy (basically gentle yoga on the floor) or simply sit down for a few minutes. Riding my bike doesn’t bother my back at all.
The Packing List
I don’t have a packing list written down but I do know what to bring. One thing I am not bringing is my metal mesh bag. I’ve been carrying this around for all my recent tours to keep critters out of my food and have only used it once. I’ll bring string and hoist a pannier instead. (And use bear boxes when necessary.)
I need to get a bigger back-up battery for my electronics. I have a small one but can buy one with four times the juice for $40. I also need a new Swiss army knife because my 45 year old knife was lost after I used it in the garden opening mulch bags.
I am bringing some Adventure Cycling Association maps for routes near my planned trip route and for Oregon. They may be useful.
Sometime in the next couple of nights I am taking a flashlight and searching for holes in my panniers. I have ten bags, four small and six large, to choose from. They are all Ortlieb roll top models but have been beaten up pretty bad by decades of commuting, errand running, and touring. Once I find the two small ones and two big ones with the fewest holes, I’ll break out some duct tape and repair them. I’ll also use kitchen plastic bags as a back up.
I applied for an Irish EU passport in January. It was supposed to be completed in early April but there is apparent no efficiency quite like Irish bureaucracy. Today I learned that my passport has been mailed. My application included my US passport and my Certificate of Foreign Birth (my Irish citizenship) and I will be relieved when they are returned in the coming days.
Filling the Bare Spot
A couple of years ago we lost our last pine tree. It was part of a stand of two pines and five cypress trees. The cypress trees all succumbed to snow loads over the course of a ten year period. Then a blight of some sort took out the pines. After two years of looking a big bare spot where the pines once stood, I finally decided to dig out the vines and roots and other junk and plant something where the pines once stood. Two azaleas and a dogwood are now planted amid a whole mess of pine bark mulch. This took at least five hours over two days to accomplish.