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Impromptu Three Day Bike Trip: A Packing List

July 9th, 2013

I’m a big fan of bicycle touring pack lists.  In the morning I leave for just three days, to volunteer for a DNR project planting native plugs by Lake Volney in Le Center, MN.  So on a whim, I threw together this pack list.  Everything is listed as it’s unpacked.

This winter I got my Trek 850 all fixed up for proper touring.  I made panniers, got a front rack and switched over to butterfly handlebars.  It’s a big leap from last year’s setup where everything was piled on top of the rear rack.  The bike was hard to mount and dismount and I couldn’t stand up to pedal uphill.  Now I can even ride no-handed and it feels like a normal bike even with 40 pounds of gear hanging on it.

Here’s a photo of my winter test pack. The configuration I’m using is pretty similar:
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This trip came together just in the last 24 hours, since I found out they were looking for volunteers for this project.  It’s only 3 days, so my list is not quite typical.

So, here’s a list of what I’m taking with me:

On the bike:

  • Two water bottles
  • Fuel canister for cooking
  • Tire pump

(I use HEET automotive gas line something-or-other as my cooking fuel, and I think it’s hilarious to go to the gas station and fill up a little tank that’s strapped to my bike — actually just an aluminum water bottle — with HEET.)

Strapped on top of the rear rack:

  • Tent poles
  • Tarp
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Gym bag containing extra water, plastic bags, all my food and some gardening tools.

Rear Pannier #1:

  • Toiletry kit with bug balm, sunscreen, Dr. Bronner’s soap, deoderant, toilet paper, first aid kit, hand lotion, pills, vaseline, a marker, alcohol wipes, toothpaste, toothbrush, nail clippers, razor handle and blades, and a comb.
  • Swim kit with sandals, swimsuit and a camp towel in a cloth drawstring backpack (which is useful for hikes as well).
  • Waterproof bag containing a blank notebook, a book on Environmental Literacy I’m reading, a bird fieldguide and a wildflower fieldguide.
  • Self-inflating Therm-a-rest mattress.
  • Flask of “nightcap.”

Rear Pannier #2:

  • Ziploc of several bandanas, socks and underwear, as well as a hat.
  • 2 spare bike tubes (one for each valve type)
  • My tent.

Front Pannier #1:

  • Rain Pants
  • Long khaki hiking pants
  • My DIY nested cook kit with an enameled steel mug, pot support, windscreen made out of duct pipe, stove made out of a beer can and a travel size french press.  There’s also a small scotchbrite pad for cleaning.
  • In one small pocket I have a ziploc containing 6 firestarters made out of cotton balls and petroleum jelly.  In the other small pocket I have a travel can opener.

Front pannier #2:

  • rain jacket
  • Fleece vest
  • Chain oil and a rag together in one ziploc
  • And one large ziploc I call the “coffee can:” miscellaneous tools and hardware–spare bolts, tire levers, a presta valve converter, batteries, matches, patch kit, caribiners, etc.
  • In the small pocket, i keep a bicycle multi-tool.

Handelbar bag:

  • Sunglasses (or glasses — whichever I’m not wearing) in a case.
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Chargers
  • Pens
  • Lighters
  • Headlamp
  • My Minnesota Master Naturalist pin
  • Spare bike key and a small folding knife on a lanyard
  • Then I have something I got from Target on clearance called a “travel wallet.”  It’s a 5×7″ zippered pouch that fits my bank card, cash, YWCA card, ID, etc.  as well as my 7″ tablet computer, which I’m using to view PDF’s of my route maps, check the weather, and read an essay by Timothy Morton called “Ecologocentrism: Unworking Animals.”

In my food collection I have the following things:

  • Coffee
  • Dehydrated pea soup with bacos and red pepper flakes. (the bacos soften up when cooked and have a ham-like flavor and texture — and they’re vegan.)
  • Apple Fritter bread for breakfast.
  • Baguettes (bought fresh when I can)
  • Baby bel cheese
  • Wheat thins
  • Nutella
  • Olives
  • Instant potatoes
  • Fruit
  • I also have my silverware in here rather than with the cookset since most of the time I won’t be cooking.

Bike Upgrades for Touring

January 26th, 2013

Trek 850 Touring Bike

I went on my first bike tour in august with a minimal amount of upgrades to my 1983 Trek 850. It was awkward, but I did pretty well with what I had. Now, I’m taking the winter as an opportunity to get ready, piece by piece, for the next trip. I chose the fun part first: new handlebars.

Trek 850 Touring Bike

I got a set of trekking handlebars from Nashbar.com for $15 and wrapped them myself. I was able to reuse the gear shifters and brake levels without changing the cables or anything, so it was a really easy upgrade. And they feel much better than the flat bars. I don’t know why trekking bars aren’t more popular in the U.S.

The rest of my setup includes a new Axiom Journey rear rack, a new Banjo Brothers quick release handlebar bag (with built-in map holder), a frame-mounted Blackburn pump, and a handmedown kickstand I found lying around.

I’m also using Wald fold-out baskets attached to the rear rack. They’re supposed to be permanently installed, but I’m experimenting with using them as removable panniers. I taped and zip-tied pegboard hooks to the top and attached a bungee along the bottom to secure it to the rack but still allow it to be easily removed. For touring, I’ll be getting regular panniers. You may also notice the knobby tires. Those are my studded winter tires. For now, I’m using this bike as my winter commuter. Next year I’ll have a utility bike and I’ll be able to save the Trek from all this disrespect.

Technically, this is a mountain bike, but only technically (in my opinion.) It was the first mountain bike Trek built. In those days, that pretty much meant a tough road bike with low gears and wide tires. Since then, mountain bikes have gotten smaller frames, suspension forks and other features which make them poor touring-conversion candidates. This bike has way more in common with modern touring bikes than it does with modern mountain bikes. It has a long wheelbase, steel frame, rack braze-ons, room for any tire width, triple chain rings, 26″ wheels (more of a world standard than 700c) and mounts for two bottle cages.

Trek 850 Touring Bike

The other planned upgrades for the winter:

  • Front rack
  • Fenders
  • 26×1.75 touring tires
  • Front and rear panniers
  • Bike computer
  • Compass
  • Rearview mirror

And where am I going? I’m hoping to volunteer for the State Parks working on prairie restoration for a short trip in the spring, and then in the late summer, pick a route according to one of Adventure Cycling’s maps.


Three River Mini Bicycle Tour

July 23rd, 2012

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Rather than continuing to post my incessant ramblings about how I can’t get my shit together, I’ve been trying to get my shit together. A few moments of inspiration around recording, philosophy or self-education have fed this blog, but other than that I’ve had a heap of things on the backburner. Every once in a while something comes forward. Better work, a more solid place in the world, peace of mind and a more active social life are all actually pieces of the same thing – happiness. Overall and forgiving of the pitfalls, I get a little happier everyday. There are as many reasons for this as there are things I’m juggling.

Knowing all of this, I was all too aware as the early spring hit Minnesota that I was due for a trip – I hadn’t been out of town since my western tour-on-the-cheap in 2009. I need nature, miles of pavement, inspiring boredom and the loss of ego that comes with the unfamiliar. This need is three years backed up. While the rest of the obstacles of life are close at hand and visible, this one just grows like a slow cumulonimbus – a sure sign of a bad storm.

I made a heavy commitment to biking this year, for a lot of reasons. Mental health, fun, economy, exercise, ecology. All signs pointed to letting my shitty 1994 Ford station wagon sit on the street if it wasn’t playing nice. Instead of going through the usual hoops of mechanics, maintenance and asking dad for loans, I asked a friend to tune up my 1983 Trek 850 mountain bike. I bought a nice custom-refurbished single-speed from Two Wheels. I got a membership at the YWCA and toned up my legs. I bought rain gear. In comparison the only investment I made in my car was a new battery and two or three tanks of gas. After buying a map of the city trails, I learned how long I could stay out biking – about five hours with a lunch break.

I was shopping around for a second bike when I learned about bicycle touring – taking a 10 mile an hour road trip on two wheels. My Trek, although not a dedicated touring bike, seems suited just fine for light touring. With a little bit of work, it could go across the country for weeks on end. I made the bare minimum of upgrades: a new chain, new cassette, a rear rack with fold-out baskets, new grips, a light set, and I replaced the rusty shifter cables. I’ve been racking my brain all spring and summer budgeting out what I needed, and what I could get away with not buying, for a short camping trip. I’m able to fit my big ass Target tent. I have a list of foods I can eat that don’t require cooking. Instead of a sleeping bag and air mattress, I can suffer with just a woven mat and a blanket as long as it’s less than a week. In 2009 I was sleeping in the backseat of my 1991 Honda Accord though 10 states. Instead of waterproof panniers I have garbage bags to line my backpack and gym bag with. Instead of a handlebar bag I’ll use a drawstring backpack and a Sea to Summit Dry Sack to carry my wallet, phone, journal and maps. Not the most ideal or elegant touring configuration, but it’ll do to get me out of the city and into the landscape.

Originally, my plan was to bike up to William O’Brien State Park, just north of Stillwater on the St. Croix River, and stay for three nights. I made my reservations about a week ago, and went on a binge of plan-changing. I added an extra day, an extra state, two stops and 140 miles to my trip. I will be camping in three different parks on three different rivers. In order to camp in dependable places I needed to make my itinerary a little rigid. To compensate I made my trips as short as possible so I have lots of time to check out the landscape, get lost or wait out the weather if I need to. Since I can’t carry a lot of supplies with me, I’m making sure to be within about an hours drive from the city at all times in case something happens and I need to call for help. I’ll be passing through cities in between parks so I can shop for groceries.

I spent over $1000 in 2009 to be on the road for two weeks and got to camp for free in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico, check out off-the-interstate ghost towns in Texas and deal with torrential rains in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. I woke up in a van to ridiculously humid air in Houston. I took a wrong turn into East St. Louis after dark (which should speak for itself if you’ve ever been there) but I’ve never been just outside of Hudson to stand in a waterfall, I’ve never taken note of the native Midwestern prairie grasses, and I’ve never gone across a state line without letting almost everything besides rest stops and chain restaurants speed past me at seventy miles an hour. You don’t need a car to get to work, see your friends, go to shows or go grocery shopping. In a little over a week I’ll show myself that you don’t need one to take a road trip either.

So here’s the itinerary for my five-day three-river mini bicycle tour:

  • August 1st
    42 mile ride to William O’Brien State Park near Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota. I’ll be taking the very long Gateway trail through the northeastern metro area.
  • August 2nd
    23 mile ride to Willow River State Park in St. Joseph Wisconsin. I’ll be crossing the state line into Wisconsin in Stillwater, shopping for food if necessary. I’ve got all day to make this very manageable distance, so I may stop to swim in the river or have a long picnic or just get to camp early and hang out. I hear the waterfalls at this park are spectacular and I hope it’s not raining.
  • August 3rd
    49 mile ride to Frontenac State Park just downriver from Red Wing, Minnesota. This is the furthest out of town I will be.
  • August 4th
    Rest and hang around camp. With all the riding and camping, I want to make sure I’m good to get back home.
  • August 5th
    70 mile ride back to Minneapolis. This will be a feat, but since I’m biking into the city, I figure I can stop and eat or get on a bus if I’ve had enough, and I don’t need to worry about setting up camp at the end of the ride since I’ll be home, which could be as late as midnight!

2009 Tour: Part Five

September 17th, 2009

I’m in St. Louis, in a Motel.  Everything I needed to get out of this trip, that I could get out of this trip, I already got out of this trip, and now I’m on my way home.  There’s little more than the potential for stress left over.  I’m running out of money, and being unable to set up any more shows during my downtime, I don’t see the point of staying on the road for another week to play my solo act to two nearly empty rooms.  I cancelled Peoria and Milwaukee.

Everybody dropped out on me except for Hotel Hotel, who were awesome.  It’s been competely impossible to find bands to share bills with and venues to set things up at.  People don’t respond to emails.  People confirm plans and then back out of them at the last minute.  I’m supposed to have the punk-rock “show must go on” attitude, but fuck it.  I give up.


2009 Tour: Part Four

September 15th, 2009

I’m at the Main Street Cafe in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  I was trying to make it into Little Rock to do my blogging, but it’s not happening.  I’m plugging away a handful of miles at a time, on very little sleep, in the pouring rain, with a stomachache, my windshield wipers slipping off the edge every time, and continually asking myself, “why am I out here?”  No actual show dates have panned out until I play East Peoria, IL on 9/20.  It’s too humid to get any real sleeping done.  I’ve been stopping on the side of the road to wait out the torrential downpours, and the last time I did so, I must’ve left something on because the battery died and I had to call AAA.

I enjoyed Austin.  I don’t feel bad about not checking out the whole city.  I stuck around Guadalupe near UT in my explorations.  I ate at the Spider House twice.  Thank you everyone I met/hung out with for being so cool.  I got to see the bats wake up underneath the Congress Bridge and take flight over the river.

I want to get the hell out of rain.  If I’m not playing shows I at least would like to camp and write some songs.

Pictures on Facebook


2009 Tour: Part Three

September 12th, 2009

Bothered by the culture of the Interstate and wanting a straight shot into Austin, I left I-40 in Amarillo, TX for the US Highway System.  US-287 to Childress, US-83 to Abilene, US-84 to Brownwood, and then US-183 into Austin.  I stopped in lots of small towns in various states of disrepair.  Maybe if these places were on the Interstate, they could throw up a Love’s and a McDonalds, a Shell Station, perhaps an outlet mall, and stabilize their local economy.  They could knock down all the windowless old buildings and become another echo of suburbia that every business traveller or tourist family could feel comfortable and confident stopping in for a meal, a fill-up and a coffee.  There’s something beautiful and real about these broken old towns, and I understand that this leftover beauty may be the flipside of the poverty coin.  These towns  are vacant.  The streets are wide and sparsely populated with bodies.  In the case of Anson, TX, cut through by US Highway 287, the “town square” is ghost of more prosperous times.  You can feel what it might have been like, walking past the line outside the Palace Theatre or running an errand to city hall.  I felt a little strange running around like a crazed tourist, a foreigner photographing the ruins of these places as the locals looked on.

Are the residents of tourist traps and truckstop towns “better off” than those of the towns a little off the map?  Maybe so financially, but in general, I tend to think not.  Something is lost by superimposing the hard capitalist idealism of American culture onto a unique place.  Along the Interstate, you are led into the fantasy that there is one culture that represents America.  You might get Dunkin Donuts in the east and Waffle Houses in the west, but generally you can expect a hegemonic experience, without surprises or randomness.  One of my favorite experiences of being on the road so far was stopping in Claude, TX to stretch my legs and walk around.  On my way to the car, I stopped inside Mighty’s for a fresh-squeezed lemonade (their specialty.)  There was nothing scary or weird about it.  There were no billboards telling me what to expect in Claude.  But it was really good lemonade served to me by a friendly local.  It’s the kind of thing that 7-11 doesn’t want you to believe in, and it’s a double-edged sword that 7-11 doesn’t necessarily need to set up business across the street from Mighty’s.  (There’s a really cool broken-down service station right across the street that looks like it hasn’t been touched since the 70s.)

I’m in Austin now, wandering around the University of Texas area in the rain.  I played a show in Houston at Notsuoh (read that a few times to get the cleverness of the venue’s name) last night with Hotel Hotel.  It was good to get on a stage.  I’ve been getting into work mode again, trying to set up some dates in cities on the way home.  Maybe something will pull through.  I have plenty of time until Milwaukee.

The guys from Hotel Hotel have been really cool.  Pablo is excellent at vegan baking so I’ve had good food to snack on hanging out at their house, especially with my recent experimentation with vegetarianism.  We’re going to see Salesman tonight, then I gotta figure out what the hell I’m doing with the rest of my trip.  I just crunched my numbers and I’m a little over-budget, not because I’m overspending, but because I think I started out with less money than I planned on.

Pictures on Facebook


2009 Tour: Part Two

September 10th, 2009

As I start writing this, I’m waiting for my laundry to dry at a truck stop outside of Amarillo, TX. There’s a charge to use the wifi, so I’m just typing it out offline. I’m on my way to Austin to meet up with the guys from Hotel Hotel.

In Santa Fe I did my laundry, talking on the phone and grocery shopping and then went camping up in the Jemez mountains. The whole time and up until now I’ve been battling my stomachache–all the leftover anxiety from my past that sits in the lower right corner of my gut, and comes back to taunt me any time I run my body down. Certainly broken sleep in a Honda backseat is a trigger. Finding a spot to lay flat on my back and stare at the sky is the only medicine, although temporary. I did just that on a bench outside the Santa Fe laundromat, and on a big boulder outside the Historical Museum in Tucmcari, NM. Sitting at the Travel Bug Cafe and drinking iced tea helped a little (where I wrote my last blog,) but then the stimuli of the interwebs would bring it back. It’s a weird animal, my guts.

But I still have two weeks or so on the road, and I don’t want to spend the whole time complaining to myself. My Jemez outing was sort of an R+R retreat. No other campers were present. I stuck around the site, grilled black bean burgers, worked on songs, wrote postcards, and drank Black Label. A lot like home except I was up on a mountain. When it stormed, I sat in the tent and programmed the drum machine. When it stopped, I peaked out to see a handful of free range cows grazing outside my tent.

I went for a flask-and-headphones walk at dusk where I listened to Andrew Bird and Sigur Ros and checked out the humbling environment. Massive red cliffs cut by a tiny stream lined the gravel road to my site. I thought about the smallness of life, the permanence of natural beauty and the temporality of an individual’s appreciation of it, punctuated by death. I thought about love, and magic. I thought about how happy I am right now, and in my small life, that means so much because it keeps me awake inside to appreciate everything outside of myself. I was drinking Jameson.

I also realized that I was dangerously close to not making it to Austin in time, so in the morning I packed up, with stabbing in my stomach, and headed east. I didn’t get very far. I made plenty of stops. Dump my garbage here, fill my tires there, get water, look for ginger ale (no ginger ale in NM convenience stores, btw. WTF.)

I stopped in Tucumcari NM in the late afternoon, probably the least traveler-oriented of my interstate stops. It’s run down with wide streets and ruins of houses and old buildings, cats everywhere and a desolate quietude much like the mountains. You feel as though something very slow is going on all around you. One day a crack in the stucko grows an inch. The next, a storm weathers the sign of a-gas station that closed it’s doors years ago. I get a good vibe from the Southwest, but I don’t quite understand it. I appreciate it with a restlessness. I’m too aware of it.

A man on a bike tried to sell me weed. I declined. A car full of people yelled “Hey Baby!” at me. I knew I was out of place.

It wasn’t until well after dark that I pulled out of Tucumcari, trying to get to Amarillo before trying to sleep. It didn’t work. I got halfway before trying to find a spot on one of the many gravel county roads that service the wind turbines. I was quickly greeted by the Texas police as soon as I pulled over. Sure it was an inconvenience, but I do really enjoy a run-in with the authorities knowing that I’m doing nothing wrong. It would have made his day if I was drunk, or high, or had a weapon on me or whatever. Instead he gave me my ID back and pointed me to the next rest stop.

Pictures on Facebook



2009 Tour: Part One

September 7th, 2009

I left for the open road on the afternoon of Friday, September 4th.  I had meant to leave in the morning after my 8am oil change appointment, but what with staying up too late after the previous night’s Hexagon show, and spending a lot of time saying goodbye to the new love in my life, I didn’t get on the road until after 12.  Hauling ass to Colorado Springs for Saturday’s gig was stressful, to say the least.  I took naps to make up for the lack of sleep, converting my backseat into a makeshift bed of blankets and pillows.  Slept at a rest stop in Iowa, on a street in Omaha, and outside a restaurant in Nebraska (where I had to get a jump because I left the lights on.)  I avoided Denver on my route to Colorado Springs, instead taking less-travelled State Road 71 and US-24.  I made it just in time and I pulled myself together enough to give a top-notch performance to rival any solo gig I’ve ever done.  Too bad there were only five people in the room, and that they were all trying to read.

I had a rough plan to camp in the forests just up the mountain, but it proved futile.  Slept in the parking lot of an Italian restaurant and then drove as far as I could to the south as soon as could orient myself enough to know which way that was.

The next place I slept was alongside a gravel intersection south of Pueblo, where I awoke to a beautiful sunrise setting fire to the stretch of clouds, mountains and mist outside my rear windshield on Sunday morning.  I enjoyed the remainder of my chocolate bar and got back on the road, playing the entire Velvet Underground album catalog for my drive into New Mexico, which appropriately and unintentionally began with the song, “Sunday Morning”

My beat up 91 Honda is amazing me by pulling through these hard mountain roads, and so as not to jinx it, I repeat in my head that at any moment, things could go horribly awry.  I’m taking it slow, checking my oil and giving it lots of downtime.

As for my own health, I’m done making “good time.”  I don’t have to be in Austin until the 10th.  Last night I set up camp 7 miles outside of Taos, NM.  I did some grilling and drank some beer and slept with some breathing room.  Tonight, more of the same, somewhere near Santa Fe, where I am right now.  I’ll be doing some writing, recording and making drum machine beats as I stroll into Texas.

Pictures on Facebook.