Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Eastern Townships 2013: What worked, what didn't?

It's been four months now since we completed our tour, giving me enough distance to evaluate what worked and what didn't on the trip. This trip was our longest so far, both in terms of time and distance.

What worked

REI Half Dome Plus, keeping us dry and protected from skunks...
  • The route: Both the parts of the ride on the Route Verte and on regular highways was great. Yes, we were often cursing the Route Verte planners for the gratuitous hills, but it was nice to have a mostly car-free route through beautiful scenery. And once we left the Route Verte the highways were empty and the few cars we encountered polite. I can recall only one short stretch near an autoroute interchange where we felt uncomfortable.
  • Penny stove: My ultralight DIY penny stove performed well initially. Unfortunately, I lost my special penny early on. It's special because the alloy pennies are made from has changed over the years and to regulate the stoves air flow the penny has to be from a certain era. For the rest of the trip I ran the stove with a more recent, lighter penny and that resulted in a larger and less efficient flame. Note to self: bring spare special pennies.
  • Distance and speed: We started out with a rough plan and made adjustments along the way. As a result, we usually rode between 80 and 100 kilometers a day. This was neither easy-peasy nor overly brutal for either of us. Sometimes the lack of appropriate accommodations forced us to go further than we would've liked, but we compensated for that by taking it easy the day after. Me carrying most of our stuff helped equalize things between the two of us.
  • Gear: Except for the things mentioned below we seemed to be carrying the perfect amount of stuff. We used everything we brought at least once and we also weren't missing anything except for a can opener.

What mostly worked

Wolfgang, the Cross-Check, fully loaded
  • Sleeping bag: I brought my 900g summer sleeping bag instead of the heavier three-season one. I knew that this was a bit of a gamble, as I sleep very cold and at the end of August there's a good chance of chilly nights. On the first night, which also turned out to be the coldest, we left one door of the fly open, resulting in me getting pretty cold, despite wearing all the clothes I brought. So for future tours with the chance of temperatures below, say +5°C I should bring the warmer sleeping bag.
  • Our bikes: Both my Cross-Check and the Biketopus's Fuji performed almost flawlessly. No flat tires, no mechanical problems other than having to adjust the angle of the Fuji's shifters to make them easier to shift and adjusting the Cross-Check's rear derailer once. On the Cross-Check, however, I frequently had to deal with shimmy. During previous tours I was able to fix it by shifting the front-back weight balance or adjusting the headset, but this time that didn't help. Fortunately, the shimmy was of the tame kind: it started at relatively low speeds but then stayed constant, meaning that the bike never felt out of control. Interestingly, the rougher the road the less shimmy I encountered—probably the random vibrations from a rough road damp the oscillation pattern.
  • Gearing: If you've read the tour report you'll have noticed that steep hills were a recurring issue throughout much of the ride. I had kind of forgotten that I was running only a 1:1 gear as my lowest option and this was definitely borderline. I only had to dismount once but it would've been nice to have a cassette with a cog larger than a 26t... On the other end of the spectrum, I only used the large chain ring once! Because of my heavy load every little downhill lead to rapid acceleration, making it unnecessary to pedal. So having an ultra-compact double crank in combination with a wide-range cassette—maybe 46/30 with 12–34—would have been perfect.
  • Riding for seven days: This was our longest tour so far and we both like it. It takes a few days to get into the rhythm of touring and on a shorter tour by that point you're already almost done. Because of the sleeping problems mentioned below I must admit that by day six I was ready to be back home in my own bed, though. So seven days seems like a good length.
  • Warmshowers: In the end, we only stayed with one Warmshowers host—and had a great experience! In general had a good response rate this time. We felt a bit bad for canceling on two people relatively late, as we realized their homes would be either too far or too close to make for a day's ride.

What didn't work

  • Both of us didn't sleep all that well in general. I had problems getting comfortable on my Thermarest Prolite. It kept losing air over night at a slow rate and so by morning my back was lying on whatever was beneath our tent. Both the Biketopus and I also suffered from the quality of our pillows. The Biketopus had sewn nice little pillowcases which we then stuffed with spare clothes. This worked better than just stuffing the clothes right under our heads, as we had done on previous trips, but still it wasn't that great. For the next trip we're going to try some proper camping pillows.

1 comment:

  1. Finally reading some past blogs I saved for later...

    I love Warmshowers. I've stayed with people 7 times now, and hosted one myself. At worst, it's a free sleeping spot indoors, and at best it's a night full of talking about cycling, cities, politics, etc. while eating a real dinner. Some have been just a couch, while others I had a private basement apartment. It may be unusual to stay in someone's house like this, but it's always worked out great for me. There are a few biker inns on Airbnb/Flipkey these days too.

    900g for a summer sleeping bag sounds like a lot. I used this 830g one for everything other than camping in snow http://www.montbell.us/products/disp.php?cat_id=3213&p_id=2321171. I since got a GoLite quilt, with the same temp rating but even lighter (specific model doesn't exist anymore unfortunately). Many down bags are overly expensive, but if you find one with few bells and whistles, that still uses 650/700 fill, it can be relatively cheap and very light. Unfortunately most brands now sell 800-900 fill which makes the bag cost almost twice as much. :(

    I've been using the VO compact crankset (30/46t) with 11-28t in back and found that fits my full range including off-road adventures. Anything requiring a lower gear, I may as well just walk. 46x11 is still more than plenty unless I want to keep spinning >35mph. More recently I've found that I barely keep pedaling over 28mph, which has me almost considering a single crank, though I worry it may not be great in the mountains.

    I've never used the fluffy pillows, but do carry a "flocked" inflatable pillow. Un-flocked is just an airbag and your head will roll off. I can pile some clothes on top if I need more height. I'm still open to trying new things here though because it's not perfect yet.

    Hope you have more tours coming up!