Thursday, December 12, 2019

Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.

I'm no Jedi.  I'm just a person that signed up for a challenge, and I'm hoping this adventure includes lots of excitement.  See what I did there?

In fact, I signed up for the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial before I fully understood what I was getting myself into. 

It was basically me just talking to myself.  A lot like this...

"Wanna ride a bike across Florida?"

Things haves changed just a bit though since I first posted about doing this "adventure."  Originally, the route was around 250 miles and included a ferry ride across the Saint Johns River.  I was really looking forward to that part, since I've spent time on the river up around there but have never been on the ferry.  Anyway, some hurricane damage from a few years ago still hasn't been completed, so now the route is 300 miles.

Map pic

So, instead of cross the river on a little barge, I get to take a detour up to Palatka and ride across on a big bridge (meant for cars.)  Other than that though, the detour looks pretty fun.  And besides, what's a few more miles?

Who gives a shit.

You can have a perfect bike, be super fit, but something could come along... weather, wildlife, mechanical issues, or some shit that could derail any semblance of a plan you had.  That's where things like this test a person's will and mental state.  That's the main reason I'm doing this.  I wanted to accomplish something incredible (for me).

I hit the road for Florida later today.  I will spend tomorrow getting my vehicle over to the finish on the west coast.  Saturday at sunrise, I roll out of New Smyrna Beach and head west towards the Gulf of Mexico.

You can follow along here:

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

It's The Final Countdown

Over the weekend I wanted to take one final shakedown ride to make sure everything is ready to go for the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial.  Although I'm pretty confident that my gear is ready, I wanted to make sure my mind and body were ready too.  I planned a short-ish route of about 45 miles that would make me at least feel like I did something.  That's not much mileage compared to what I am trying to do this weekend, but it would have to do.  Besides, it's not like I can get into any better shape at this point.

When planning my route, I found out that I've started to get bored with my usual treks from the house.  So this time I did something completely different from my normal stuff.  I headed north towards the Lake Norman area, specifically to my favorite bike shop, The Cycle Path.  The goal was to get there in time to watch the annual Christmas parade (as it is tradition now) but also to get in a fair amount of singletrack to make sure shit doesn't fall off of my bike while I'm riding on the rough stuff.  And to make extra sure of that, I wanted to get as much off-road riding as possible.

I planned my route without a ton of certainty, hoping that the cut-throughs I saw on the satellite view were ride-able.  I was rewarded more often than not.

As usual, I had to ride on a few roads, but I tried my best to keep that to a minimum.  Cutting through neighborhoods happened quite a bit, but in one instance it led me directly into one of our local trails.

The trail was fun.  I hadn't been to that one in quite some time, so even though it was once very familiar to me it felt like a new trail that day.  Once I made my way through the singletrack to the exit, I realized that I did a pretty damn fine job with the whole weight distribution thing.  Handling was great, even with me carrying a ton of extra shit attached to my bike.  I patted myself on the back and kept rolling.

I reached the bike shop (after stopping to grab some foodz) and sat for a while, enjoying the parade and talking to my friends that were there.  It was nice sharing with them my plans for Florida (hey, they asked first) and also just to spend time with good people.  Eventually I had to roll out because I had non-bike plans later, so I hit the road.  I didn't plan the return route at all though, instead deciding to just "wing it."  I found a new (to me) greenway and and enjoyed the shit out of it.

Even though I never bothered to check a map to see where this thing would put me out, I didn't care because I was having fun,  It was pretty back there and I had the place mostly to myself.

The greenway eventually ended and I popped out into familiar surroundings.  From there I just retraced my steps home and rolled in feeling pretty confident that I am ready for the big adventure. 

My dog Carl though, was full of judgement for some reason.

I think he was pissed that I was gone all day.  Wait until he figures out that I'll be gone for ten days.

Yup, I'm as ready as I can be for CFITT.  Equipment, fitness, and attitude.  I'm going down there to have fun, see some backcountry Florida, and push myself beyond my norm.  There's no turning back now. 

I head south tomorrow.  It's indeed the final countdown. 

I should be back here one more time before I hit the road.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

I'd Forgotten A Few Things

Just as I was starting to feel good about the amount and style of riding I'd been doing over the last few months to get ready for the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial, I got a touch of anxiety again when I realized that I had a little equipment maintenance to do.  You see, after taking a break from riding so much a few years ago I didn't have to do much of that for quite some time.  But since May I've been putting in quite a few miles and my bike (and other stuff) was starting to show signs of wear.

Two out of three of my mountain bikes are single speeds, which means of course that I don't have to worry about adjusting stupid gears and all that.  However, my geared bike is the one I selected for bikepacking (mostly because it was not really being utilized) and after riding it so much the past few months I needed to give it a little TLC. 

Adjusting the shifting used to be a pretty simple thing for me, but I'm sorta rusty and it took me a while to get everything just right.  I mean, I guess it's right.  Even though that bike has gears, I still ride it like a single speeder.  That usually means that don't shift until I remember that I actually have the means to do so on that particular bike.  It's a habit that I've been trying to break, and it will probably help tremendously on that long ride next weekend.  You know, to keep me from killing myself from pushing too hard.

The whole reason I even own that bike is because I was racing my single speed against geared riders and it became a disadvantage as the season went on.  It wasn't always that way, but on some of the flatter courses I had trouble keeping up because I couldn't spin fast enough.  So when I got on with Niner and the opportunity came to get a different bike just for racing, I took it.  It helped for sure, and probably does for this bikepacking stuff as well.  Anyway, since I started wandering the earth on that bike I'd wanted to change the tire configuration.  It was setup all racey, which meant (for me) that I had two different sized tires.  On the front I had a Maxxis Ikon 2.35 and the rear was the same tire but in the 2.0 size.  I kept saying I would replace the rear tire when it wore out but I never remembered to do it. 

Well, that's when the panic set in last night, because I went way past worn out...

That thing was pretty much bald and was quite possibly a safety hazard.  Luckily, I still have plenty of new tires in the shop here.

With three different mountain bikes and fewer rides (until I started on this adventure anyway) it had been a long time since I'd changed tires and set them up tubeless.  I did all the soapy water Stan's stuff and fought to get them seated, and finally got some new meats on my wheels.

29X2.35  all around now

I wanted to wait until I was closer to my Florida trip to do this, but even for me this was too close to last minute.  At least I will have time to get in a few rides before I head down there to make sure everything is good.  It's not like installing new tires in rocket surgery or anything, but it had been a while.  Panic for nothing I suppose.

Another item of neglect I found really has no excuse.  While I have several bicycles and rotate through them on rides (usually), I typically only use one pair of shoes.  And as a crankbrothers pedal guy (and still somehow supported by them), those soft brass cleats wear down pretty bad if you don't pay attention.  I knew they needed to be replaced, but I didn't realize that it was that bad.

Changing cleats on shoes is usually pretty damned easy.  In this case though it was a major pain in the ass.  I fought for more time than I'd like to admit getting those damned things off of my shoes but I finally did.  And, I managed to get the new ones on in precisely the same spot on my shoes.

That was pretty much it.  I realized bike maintenance is pretty boring (and even more boring having to read about someone else doing it), but it's necessary.  If you take only one thing away from all of this, remember that if you use those particular cleats then make sure you stay on top of them to make sure they aren't too worn out.  I realize a lot of you use other brands, but who gives a shit.

With my bike in proper working order I started to focus on my bikepacking gear.  For months now, I've been carrying a ton of shit on my bike.  This stuff was most likely crammed into a bag, never to be seen again even though I knew it was there.  Obviously I'd dig into these bags every once in a while (especially when I got my new tent) but for the most part I wasn't really sure if I had exactly what I needed.  In the back of my mind I was afraid to unpack most of it because I'd spent so much time trying to figure out where the good spots were for space and weight distribution. 

I decided to tackle that beast and unpack everything to see what kind of shit I'd been carrying around all this time.  Aside from actually removing the bags from the bike (that would be dumb) I laid everything out on the floor of the shop.

It wasn't as bad as I thought, but at least now I had a chance to go through my gear and make any last minute corrections.  I guess this is a good time to talk about what I have there, how I plan to use it, and where it goes on the bike. So, working from the top left of the photo moving across row by row (kinda), here goes...

Helmet and shoes.  Pretty important for a bike ride.  These items go on my head and feet, respectively.  Try to keep up here.

Wet weather gear, consisting of a rain jacket and pants.  If it rains (which happens a lot during Florida "Winters"), I'll be prepared.  If the forecast doesn't call for rain I'm bringing this stuff anyway.  It will still probably be cold down there, and since this gear is also windproof is can be used for extra warmth.  It's lightweight so I don't really notice it on the bike anyway.  I keep it on top of the seat bag, secured with the built-in bungee straps.

Tent.  If you've been following along, you know that I ditched the hammock in favor of a tent for several reasons.  I'm still happy with it, and it is stored in the seat bag.

Sleeping bag.  It might not look like a sleeping bag, but that's because I have it stored in a dry bag so, you know, it doesn't get wet.  It attaches to the handlebar roll/bag.

CamelBak.  I keep debating if I want to use this.  Over the last few years I'd weaned myself off of having a bag hanging on my back for most rides.  The exception was when I headed up to the hills, where hours in the saddle meant that I needed extra water.  I'm pretty sure this Florida adventure will require extra water, but for some reason I'm struggling with the idea of wearing a backpack.  I haven't used it for any of my bikepacking rides so far, but I'll test it out this weekend and decide from there.

Back on the left side...

Safety triangle.  So I'm more visible.  I'd like to not be dead so maybe this will help.  Safety first, bitch.  It attaches to the back of the seat bag.

Emergency sleepy bag/bivy.  In case it gets extra cold at night and my lightweight sleeping bag doesn't keep me warm enough, I can bust this out for extra insulation.  It's basically one of those emergency space blanket thingys, but in sleeping bag form (and a little thicker.)  It resides in the seat bag.

Inflatable camp pillow.  Um, it's a pillow.  For my head.  While I sleep.  It also resides in the seat bag.

Two water bottles.  For water.  Duh.  Since my frame bag takes up the space where the bottle cages go, these are in bottle bag things on the handlebars. 

Change of clothes.  I plan to ride for multiple days, so I'd like to not be in the same nasty shit the whole time.  There is a jersey, baggy shorts with liner, and a pair of bib shorts.  And of course a nice, warm pair of DeFeet socks.

Windproof gloves.  These are good for really cold weather, but also work well for any temps not above 70.  I have other gloves if it ends up being warmer than that, in which case these will go in my jersey pocket.

Assorted tools and stuff.  Chamois butter to keep my bum happy.  Battery packs to charge my phone.  Crankbrothers pump (attaches to frame and it's the shiznit), multi-tool, small roll of Gorilla Tape, two chain quick links, spare derailliuer hanger, zip ties, bottle of chain lube, spare shifter cable, tube patch kit, and of course, spare tube with tire levers and CO2.  There is another tube attached to the bike frame.

Garming eTrex20X.  This is my main source of navigation.  It has the course map and all the cues loaded on it.  I also have my Garmin 800 (not pictured) attached to the bike for backup. 

SPOT Tracker.  This is so you folks at home can follow along.  It will report my position so you can see my little dot cross the state along with everyone else.  Link will be shared soon.

Small first aid kit.  Just in case.  I don't have a spot on the bike for this, but I really want to bring it.  If I decide to rock the CamelBak, it will go in there.  I hope I don't need it, but it's probably a good idea to have.  It's not loaded like my trauma bag, but it will be good enough. 

And, other than a few assorted snacks, that's it.  It seems like a lot of shit, but once I put it out there in front of me I realized that it's not that bad.  I've gotten used to the weight over the last few months, so I shouldn't have any issues.  I definitely feel better now that I've taken an inventory.  It's all back on the bike now, ready for this weekend's adventure/final shakedown ride.

I'll be back next week of course.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Nothing Left To Do But Keep Pedaling

Next Thursday will be here before I know it.  That's when I leave for the Sunshine State, and two days after that I embark on what will be the biggest challenge I've even done on a bicycle.  Back in May when (out of the blue) I decided I was doing the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial I didn't realize how much effort I would have to put in just to get ready.  I mean, not only was I planning to ride more than twice as far as my longest distance ever, I also didn't know shit about bikepacking.  In the past six months though, I've sorta figured the bikepacking part out and I'm really enjoying it.  The distance part?  I guess we'll see.  I've done some pretty long rides with a fully loaded bike and all that, so I'm hoping a positive attitude can get me through my adventure.

Lately though, I've been a wreck.  As the day gets closer, I seem to suffer from more and more anxiety.  Although this is a "race" with many other people participating, it's really a personal challenge that I have to complete all by myself.  Each day I feel the anxiety growing, but I know as soon as I dip my rear wheel in the Atlantic Ocean and roll off the beach towards the west coast of Florida I'll settle in and be just fine. 

In addition to this event being the longest and most difficult bicycling adventure I've ever decided to do, it's also the most selfish.  Once I made my decision I had the full support of my friends and family but it has come at a price.  Over the last few months I've spent time alone on the bike to prepare, which has led to me missing time with those same friends and family.  This is MY race and I'm solely responsible for getting ready and being able to drag my ass across the state, but I sorta miss being social.   

That being said, I decided to do this for a few reasons...

First, I miss Florida.  The REAL Florida.  And what better way to see that part of the state than by bicycle, riding off the beaten path far away from most people and all the tourist-y shit that place is known for.  I plan to enjoy the scenery while I'm suffering, and seeing the Florida backcountry for three (or more) days should keep me motivated.

Second, I needed a challenge.  I was sort of bored with plain old mountain biking.  Riding alone with a fully loaded bike for a couple hundred miles and camping along the way seemed like a good way to switch it up.  It's been working so far.  I like being alone, and I've definitely been doing that a lot.

Third, who gives a shit.  Yeah, this will be a difficult challenge for me, but not everyone will see it that way.  My hardcore bike friends have done things way harder than this so it's probably not a big deal to them.  My non-bike friends?  They think the whole thing is crazy.  Maybe it is, but who gives a shit.  While I appreciate the support I've been given (and will hopefully continue to get), I don't have time for any negativity.

Did I miss anything?  Probably.  There are probably other reasons, but the simplest one is just that I want to see if I can do it (and of course have some fun along the way.) 

Anyway, I'm not sure where I was going with all that.  As the day approaches though, I'm still getting ready.  After turkey was consumed last Thursday, I planned a ride for the next day.  It was Black Friday, but that doesn't mean a damn thing to me.  While a lot of people were out shopping, I was outside all by myself.

It was sort of eerie.  Even the local greenways were pretty much empty.

I did one of my usual routes, but I added some extra adventure here and there.  I tried to take cut-throughs that weren't there and ended up spending a lot of time backtracking. 

Although I had a modest mileage goal of around fifty, the main objective was to spend at least 6 hours in the saddle.  It's too late to add any fitness at this point, but it's definitely not too late to keep my mental game sharp.

Riding on varied terrain helped a ton.

Like most of my local rides, I spend much of the time on greenways too.  Two in particular I rode to and from both ends.

About six hours in, I was only about ten miles from home.  I figured I would come close to my secondary goal (mileage-wise) but I felt like I could stand some more time in the saddle.  But then I felt like I should be social for some reason.  I don't know why that thought entered my head at that particular time, but I obeyed it and took a detour away from my house and headed towards The Spoke Easy to break up my "training."

It was worth it.

What's unique about this is that it's the first time since I started bikepacking that I've stopped for a beer.  In the past I would always wait until I got back home to reward myself.  Even the overnight trips I did were without beer.  I know, that's odd for me.  Who gives a shit.  I had a second beer, shot the shit with some friends I hadn't seen in forever, then hopped back on the bike towards home.

The beer stop was much needed.  On the way back home I was in a better place mentally (and not just because of the alcohol.)  I started to remember why I am riding bikes in the first place... for fun.  Damn all the stress, I'm here to have a good time.

When I got home I ended up with a little over seven hours of riding time (and yes that's minus the beer stop.)  I just stood in my garage thinking about what comes next and a sense of calm came over me...

Then I started looking at all the shit I still needed to do to get my equipment ready.  More on that tomorrow.

Yeah, I said tomorrow.  Two days of blogging in one week?  You betcha.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Another Shakedown

Time is almost up.  Two weeks from tomorrow I'll be heading down to Florida for my big bike ride across the state.  And honestly, I'm starting to become filled with anxiety.  Seriously.  Can I actually ride that far?  Being off the bike while being sick didn't help, that's for sure.  I'm trying to look on the bright side so that little bit of down time was a blessing in disguise though, like I mentioned last week.  I had a chance to make some changes to my gear, and I had make sure I could pack everything up and ride with my new stuff. 

Of course I had plans to ride on Saturday, but I still wasn't one hundred percent healthy.  When I woke up, it was cold (45 degrees) and rainy.  I really didn't fell like being out in that shit but I knew I had to get some saddle time in.  Plus, there's no guarantee that the Sunshine State will live up to its name next month.  In fact, there is a high probability that the weather will be less than pleasant for my little jaunt.  Anyway, after spending the first half of the day making excuses for why I didn't want to ride I told myself to embrace the suck and get rolling.  I suited up in some warm cycling clothes, donned my rain jacket and rolled out of the house to see where it would take me.  No real plan other than to just get the hell out of my comfortable living room.

I cut through a few neighborhoods and ended up on a little bike path that I keep forgetting is nearby.

With only a rain jacket (I don't own rain pants... yet), I was at least dry from the waist up.  Surprisingly I wasn't too cold though, sporting only shorts and DeFeet knee warmers and socks.  I was out of the house at least, but I was questioning why TF I was out there in the rain.

I still didn't feel well.  Who gives a shit.

Still with no plan, I just kept rolling.  I took cut-throughs and grassy easements whenever I could, making sure to push myself to stay warm.  I ended up riding some spots I'd never ridden before.

I was out of the house.  That was the hardest part.  I'd adjusted to the weather though and started to feel pretty good.  I decided to hit up some more off the beaten path stuff and keep heading away from my house.  It made for a tough ride, but I was actually having fun.

There are some good spots off of that railroad area.  I've done part of this route before when I first started this bikepacking thing.  Instead of pristine, groomed mountain bike trails, I rode pretty much every other kind of surface.  It's all part of the adventure.

The plan wasn't to go out for a long time, rather just for a good time.  The key results I wanted to see were a) if I could stand riding a fully loaded bike in shitty weather and b) If I would notice a difference with the new gear I'd packed up.  This was technically a shakedown ride and it was exactly what I needed.  I now have confidence that I can stand riding that heavy bike in all kinds of weather, and swapping out the hammock setup for a tent was the right call, at least as far as carrying that shit around.  Am I still worried though?

You betcha.

Being sick kinda knocked my fitness down, and it's really too late to build it back up.  All I can do is make sure I'm mentally prepared (the real challenge anyway) and get a few more decent rides in over the next two weeks.  Maybe in the 40-50 mile range.  You know, nothing too crazy.  Like 300 miles.

Tomorrow is Turkey Day, so like most everyone else I'll be eating tons of food.  Friday and Saturday though?

I haz other plans.

See y'all next week.  Try not to eat too much, you fat bastard.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Let's Get Ready To Get Ready

Blogging is not as constant as it was once upon a time, but riding has been at least.  Except for very recently anyway.  Since I wrote about my awesome camping trip, I haven't been on a bike at all.  Not even once.  I contracted some sort of death virus/cold thingy and felt like complete doo doo all last weekend.  Usually I'll try to power through such things but this time I actually took it easy.  I figured that if I fought it I would drag out the sickness, which would certainly put on damper on my "training" for Florida.  So, I pretty much slept and drank whiskey.

Pretty much what the doctor would order, right?

Anyway, during my convalescence I had some time to think about things other than riding, such as my choice of gear for my upcoming adventure.  After many rides and some overnight tests, I sorta felt like I had everything dialed in.  Through trial and error I'd figured out exactly where to pack everything (for weight distribution and all that), and I felt like I had enough gear but not too much.  Things were going well and according to plan, but then I had to piss in the wind...

"What if I tried something else?" I asked myself.

"Who gives a shit", I immediately replied.

You see, the main piece of advice I received when I started this bikepacking stuff was to just start with what you have and go from there.  Of course, I didn't have any bike bags and had to purchase them, but as far as camping stuff I figured I was fine.  I'd just use that hammock I've had for a while and I'd have a place to sleep.  Simple.  Easy.  Cheap (since I already owned it.)  But then I realized that Florida "Winter" can be unpredictable and is usually rainy, so I had to buy a rain fly for it.  No worries.  Oh, and the cord for the hammock wasn't particularly long and that meant that my choices for hanging it would be limited.  I bought some straps.  Problem solved.  Then after my first overnight I realized that a compact sleeping bag would be a good idea (instead of my plan to use an emergency blanket which was a shitty plan.)  All of a sudden, my camping shit turned into a big pile of nonsense.

Still, everything worked well and most importantly it fit on the bike just fine.  A couple of overnight trips had me feeling confident that I had good shelter and I'd be capable of comfortable sleep.  Honestly though, it was a pain in the ass to setup and take down (and pack.)    I didn't always feel that way, but I realized it when I saw one of the pictures of me doing so on my Veterans Day Weekend camping trip:

Photo cred:  Sergeant Major Todd

Here's what I recall from that day.  This was a "real" campground with a huge pad for tents, campers, etc. and each site was surrounded by trees.  A couple of folks had little campers and one had a tent.  So I was the dumbass wandering around the perimeter looking for two suitable tress from which to hang my sleeping quarters.  Sure, the hammock straps gave me a little more leeway, but it was still a pain.  I obviously found what I needed, but even then it wasn't ideal.  It worked out well, but the next day I was talking to Bill The Fire Bender about his setup.  He had a backpacking tent that was just roomy enough for him and a little gear.  I asked him if it packed down pretty small and he said it did.  I was intrigued, but I figured it was probably still too big to carry on my bike.

As we were packing up to leave the campsite, I kept an eye on him tearing down his tent while I struggled to gather up all my crap and nonsense to place in various bags.  In fact, he was completely packed up before I even had the rain fly packed away.  I looked at the little bag that contained his shelter and realized that it was a little smaller than my rain fly, hammock, and straps put together.  And as a bonus it even weighed less.  And of course my favorite part was that it seemed like way less of a pain in the ass to tear down, unlike my mishmash of parts and pieces.

Well shit.

At that point I was ready to give up on the hammock.  When I got back home I started shopping everywhere for a similar tent, or one that was even smaller.  I was shocked at how much these things cost though, considering I already owned a pretty nice tent that fits ten people that I didn't even spend a hundred bucks on.  I guess it's like technology; the smaller it is the more you pay.  Still, I was determined to ditch the hammock for something easier.  Eventually I found something I liked that wouldn't rape my bank account.  I found it on The Internets though, which meant that I couldn't be certain that the measurements were correct.  I'm 6'4", so compact and me don't usually get along but in this case the measurements did give me some hope.  At 88 inches long, I'd have a foot of clearance (so I could really stretch out.)  The width was 35 inches, which meant that I would have to snuggle up to my clothes at night (which would be good to keep them warm anyway.)  And 42 inches tall meant that I could at least sit up first instead of just diving outside onto the ground.  Were these measurements accurate though?  Only one way to find out...

A few days later my new compact tent arrived.  The bag was small (plus) and the weight was less than my current gear (big plus.)  So far so good but I needed to see if it was big enough inside.  I hauled it out to the garage where Lunchbox was waiting (probably to watch me fail.)  Although it came with stakes, it was supposed to be freestanding.  I figured I would just try to set it up right then and there.  There was one problem though...

No instructions included.

I mentioned to Lunchbox that I should probably look on the manufacturer's website for instructions, but I am stubborn so I wasn't going to do that.  I'll just wing it.  He said that sounded like a solid plan.  I pulled everything out of the bag and after a quick study of the parts and pieces, I had it put together in under five minutes.

I was impressed.  Not only was it ridiculously easy to erect (I just had to use that word at least once because I am a juvenile), it looked pretty damn roomy for a "compact" tent.  Lunchbox was also impressed.  I said, "Well, I guess I should get in."  I was able to get into it without any hassle and quickly noticed that I had plenty of room.  In fact, much more than I expected.  My only regret is that I didn't have him take a photo of me while I was on the floor of my garage um, "camping."

Overall, this seemed like a pretty good decision.  Although I must admit, I'm feeling a little guilt about not using my hammock for my upcoming adventure.  Something about riding three hundred miles and camping in a hammock along the way sounded pretty badass, but I'll also tell you that when it comes time to sleep during that ride and I happen to be near a hotel, I won't hesitate to take that option.  I may be dumb for trying to ride my bicycle across Florida, but I'm not an idiot.

Anyway, after I stopped patting myself on the back for buying a tent and setting it up in the garage I realized that I still had more to do.  I had to get the tent broken down, packed back in that tiny bag, and cram that shit on my bike somewhere, preferably in the same space where my hammock and stuff resided previously.  Just like any tent, it was a little tricky getting it folded back up and into the bag but I had it all done in under ten minutes.  Not bad.  Then I packed it on the bike, along with everything else I have been riding with for the past few months.

I haz happiness now.  I'm sure I'll change something else in the next couple of weeks, but at least I'm sorta prepared.  There will be a test ride this weekend with some expert analysis to follow.  Or more nonsensical crap.  Who gives a shit.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Getaway Part Deux

So, leaving off from yesterday, we had left our new doggo friend and made plans to hit the rest of the trails at FATS.  Instead of riding over there (it's a shitty stretch of busy, paved road) we all agreed to meet at the other parking lot.  So I did something I never, ever do...

I got into my vehicle fully dressed for riding.

Let me explain.  I usually avoid that at all costs.  Sometimes I will have my cycling shorts on to save time, but I never drive with a jersey and cycling shoes on.  It just seems dumb, and not to mention nasty.  When I finish riding, I always change out of my sweaty cycling clothes into something much less gross.  But since it was a short drive, I didn't want to waste time with wardrobe changes.  It made sense, at least this one time.

Anyway, we gathered up quickly to hit the trail.  This loop was my least favorite and I usually avoid it like the plague whenever I'm down there.  But this time, it was fun.  I'm sure it was because of the company I had with me.

Photo credit:  Bill the Fire Bender

We climbed, we descended, we had fun.  I was enjoying my time in the woods for sure, even if it hurt like hell on a rigid single speed (riding gears for my bikepacking adventures has made me a little soft.)  That section of trail was much better than I remembered, but I chalk that up to riding with some good people.

L to R:  Me, Chief Brian. Sergeant Major Todd, A-A Ron, and Bill the Fire Bender

While I'll admit that part had more climbing than I prefer, the payoff came up soon enough.  We hit some fun downhill near the very end.  We were flying, until I heard A-A Ron yell out in frustration.

Another random samurai attack had left him with a flat tire... again.  With only a half mile to go, he was not pleased at all.  Especially since instead of riding the last part of the trail, he had to walk out on the gravel road...

Carrying his bike:

Eventually Bill the Fire Bender rolled up in his truck and saved him from walking too far.  Despite the frustration of two flat tires (two days in a row), I still think he a had a good time.  We all did.  Once we gathered in the parking lot (and I changed because we were done riding for the day), plans were made for the rest of the evening:  food, fire, and hanging around the campsite until it was time for bed.

With temps in the 40s that night (instead of the 30s like before), I actually slept pretty well in my hammock, toasty and warm.  And the next day I was again treated to some nice scenery from Mother Nature:

I didn't want that weekend to end.  It was nice hanging out with other people riding bikes, and the ones with whom I was fortunate enough to share the campsite made it extra special.  A few folks decided to ride again that day, and some people went home.  As for me, I decided to celebrate Veterans Day properly by visiting a place right down the road where I'd spent some time while I was in the Army...

Fort Gordon, Georgia.  I was there in late 1990 and again in 1992.  A lot has changed since then, but I still managed to find some old relics (like me) hanging around.

It was the most awesome of weekends, and it needs to happen again really soon.  But for now, it's back to the bikepacking stuff.

I'm less than a month away from the big dance.  I still don't think I'm ready. 

Who gives a shit.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Veterans Day Getaway

So last weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to go on a "boys weekend" at the Forks Area Trail System (FATS) down near Augusta, GA with some fellow veterans and staff from the North Carolina Interscholastic Cycling League.  Initially I'd decided against it, thinking that I needed to spend every bit of free time "practicing" my bikepacking skills.  But shortly after I made that decision, I reconsidered.  There were several reasons why.  First, I needed to ride with some other people.  Just about every ride I've been on since May has been by myself, and I can turn into one cranky bastard when no one is around to reel me in.  Also, the group was a pretty great bunch of folks, so I knew I would have a fun time.  And since I still need to train for bikepacking stuff, I would have the opportunity to doing some camping with my hammock in not so warm weather.  Seemed like a win-win so I was down for it.

The trip started with most people arriving on Friday to set up camp.  I was arriving on Saturday so all I asked was for them to leave me a couple of good trees so I could hang my hammock.  Of course that wasn't a problem, so I grabbed the camping stuff that has been living on my bike full time lately, along with some other camping essentials that I normally take on other trips.  After spending most of Saturday with my dogs (I didn't want to leave them), I packed up and headed south by southwest.  I knew the two and a half hour trip would be easy, but traffic in the middle of South Carolina changed that to shitty.  Eventually I made it to Columbia, where I stopped for some weekend provisions.  Back on the road, I made it to the campsite at a decent time. 

I noticed that I might be in for more fun than I had anticipated when I saw this sign...

I looked around for some new friends but I was disappoint.  It was too chilly outside for them to be active.  Meh.

When I rolled up to our site, everyone was there.  They had already ridden for the day, but I was just happy to be out in the woods with friends. 

I setup my home for the weekend and made plans to relax.

This is my usual setup, at least since I started bikepacking anyway.  The only problem is, I hadn't really tested it in cold weather.  My other trips had some cooler temperatures at night, but the low for this night would be around 30 degrees so I was a little worried.  I stopped thinking about it, because... Who gives a shit.  We cooked some food, had some adult beverages, and sat around by the fire for a while, just enjoying it all.

I drifted off to sleep but kept waking up.  I thought maybe it was because I usually sleep on my stomach and a hammock doesn't work like that, but I didn't know for sure.  I was plenty warm, but sometimes I just don't sleep so well (even in my own bed.)  I never looked at the time while I was tossing and turning, but at some point I had to get up to get rid of all that beer.  And then I was cold.

I let it out and hurried back into my hammock.  Big problem though, the sleeping bag became cold instantly once I vacated it.  I crawled back in, and once I finally stopped shivering I dozed off.  This time until morning.  Win.

I had my head covered up in the sleeping bag to stay warm, but when I peeked out I saw that the sun had come up.  It was too cold for me to get up (so I thought), but at least I woke up to an amazing view.  I grabbed my phone, and took this picture while I was still in my hammock:

Eventually I crawled out and put some more clothes on to warm up.  I took another picture so I could remember that even though it was cold outside, it was still beautiful.

I made some breakfast and we all started talking about ride plans for the day.  If you've ever been to FATS, then you know there's a fun, flowy side, and a totally different side.  Good side, bad side if you will.  Not really bad, but totally different than the smooth, roller coaster type trails that place is known for.  I found out that the crew rode the "good" side the day before, so we would be riding the other stuff.  Well, with the exception of one of the trails on that side that they missed due to a tire issue. 

Short version, it seems that A-A Ron had a problem with is valve stem that caused it to pop out like a samurai sword and chop down the forest and any rider in his way.  He had to go to a local bike shop to get it fixed, but he was ready to ride again.

So we took off...

The campsite was only about fifteen minutes away, so we rolled out of the campsite to get our fun on.  When we got to the trailhead, I was still pretty cold.  I had plenty of warm stuff on though, so once we got moving I would be good.  We hit up Great Wall first, which was the perfect choice for my full rigid single speed.

I suddenly forgot that I was cold.  We were flying down the hill and making short work of the small climbs on that loop.  I could hear everyone laughing and screaming with joy as we hit the little jumps and berms.  We were having a great time.  Once that loop was finished, we stopped for a snack and headed back out to ride the other stuff.  A few miles in, we saw a little doggo running up the trail with no owner in sight.  It was odd.  She was friendly, and latched onto us while we rode.  We would pass people here and there (hikers and walkers) but that dog stayed with us.  She was a good trail dog though, navigating the singletrack like she'd been there before.  While it was pretty cool to have the company, we all started getting concerned that she was lost. 


We stopped for a small break and I tried to give her some water.  She didn't want it, even though she'd been running for miles and looked thirsty.  We checked to see if she had tags so we could find the owner..

Photo Credit:  Sergeant Major Todd

There was only a rabies tag on the collar, and I noticed it was from North Carolina.  That made us all feel uneasy.  Was she really lost?  Did someone leave her out there and return to North Carolina?  Who TF doesn't keep an eye on their dog in a place like that?  It was unsettling, so the plan going forward to to ride back to the trailhead and see if we could find anyone to claim her, or call the authorities to help.

I'm not gonna lie though, I was having thoughts about bringing her home with me if we didn't find the owner.  I'm pretty sure that A-A Ron was too.

Anyway, we kept riding.  The last part of that loop had quite a few climbs, so we stopped frequently to regroup (for us and the dog.)  We'd passed a trail runner just before we stopped, but he never said anything to indicate that was his dog.  Once he passed us (while we were stopped) she followed him down the trail.  We eventually got back to the trailhead and there was no sign of the trail runner or our new doggo friend.  Maybe that was his dog and she does that all the time, but he's kind of a dick if he lets that happen.  But, that's just like, my opinion, man.

We were still concerned about her, but she was nowhere to be found so there really wasn't anything we could do.  We made plans to hit the final loop out there and finish our day in the saddle.

And I just noticed that I'm getting really wordy today, so I'll pick it back up tomorrow with the conclusion.

Stay tuned... 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Big Test Part Two - Electric Boogaloo

Well, I woke up from a night of sleep.  Not good sleep, just sleep.  My camp neighbors were pretty loud and it was all I could not to go over there and piss on their fire.  Instead, I yelled, "SHUT TF UP" from the comfort of my hammock.  It worked, but then the thoughts in my head wouldn't shut TF up.

I was tired, no doubt.  Sleepy?  Not so much.  I drifted in and out of consciousness throughout the night because I was full of anxiety.  Why?  Because I had just ridden a bicycle far, far away and had no idea if I could make it back home.  At least I was comfortable.  The new, compact sleeping bag?  Perfect.  I felt like I had the hammock camping thing worked out to my liking.

I didn't set the alarm on my phone, instead relying on the rays of the sun to wake my up.  As daylight slowly creeped up on my campsite, I was out of the hammock and packing up.  I ate a little food and drank some coffee stuff I'd bought at that "restaurant" the day before to get me going.  And if that wasn't enough, I had my son there to cheer me on.

Well, Lunchbox isn't one for the cheering.  He supports me though.  

Anyway, with everything packed up just like I had it on the way out there, I hit the gravel road in the early morning hours while it was still cool.  I really enjoyed the solitude, even though my legs were a protesting.  Oh look, more climbing!

The sun was starting to warm everything up and my legs were slowly coming to life.  I knew I had a long ride ahead and the goal was just to pace myself and take it easy.  I did that by enjoying my surroundings.

Once I left the campsite, my route home was quite a bit different.  Basically I think I was trying to ride every gravel road between there and Charlotte.  Gravel grinding is for roadies, but this was bikepacking so it's okay.

Besides, dirt roadies don't want to mess up their Strava times by stopping for pictures and shit.

I felt pretty okay.  My legs were a little tired, but the main issue was that my ass was pretty sore from siting on the saddle for so long the day before.  I just kind of ignored the pain and made sure to enjoy myself while I was out there.  At one particular point I remember looking over my shoulder and seeing a neat view..

Small mountains so you don't usually get views like that out there.  I really dig it though.

I did less planning for the return trip and I'm not sure why.  Did I think I would be on autopilot the whole time?  Did I think I wouldn't make it back?  Am I stupid?


I was definitely moving slower during the first part of the day, but as the miles ticked off I felt better and better.  About 25 miles into my day I started to get hungry.  I mean really hungry.  Luckily I spotted a shopping center with a Subway in it, so I rolled up and ordered one of everything.  Not really, but pretty damn close.  I sat for a bit, trying to get my body to understand that I wasn't giving up and I would be riding my bike all the way back home.  Once we had that understanding, I connected to the wifi there and let everyone know that I was on the way back and doing just fine.

And most of all I was having fun...

It's really big, right?  You know you wanna touch it.

Just like the day before, I was looking for little victories.  There weren't really any to be found though, other than not dying.  The heat was getting to me and I had no idea if I would run out of food/water before I had a chance to fill up again.  I just kept rolling though, because that's all I could do.  And then, a small victory...

I was closer to home for sure.  After I took that photo I texted my cousin (who is a Purple Heart recipient by the way) for some motivation and he did not disappoint.  Back in the saddle and I started heading towards a place for food.  Any place.

I ended up at another convenience store of course, and I had a pretty decent meal.  I put down some sugary cola, a couple of chicken and cheese quesadilla thingys, and some chips.  I topped off my water bottles and prepared myself for the last 25 miles home.  I was so tired, but I was starting to feel like I might actually complete my journey.

Once I started rolling again, it didn't take long before I hit a long downhill that cut back into the greenway.  At that point I knew I had only about 20 miles to get home.  I'd consider that another victory.

The greenway is mostly flat and more importantly, well shaded.  While I normally love hot weather, it was draining me that day.  The shaded path was a nice respite from the sun's glaring rays.  Once I reached the end, I zig zagged across powerline cuts, parking lots, and back roads.  I was almost out of gas and wondering if I had it in me to finish.  Like someone flipping a switch, I was suddenly so full of doubt that it scared me.  I was struggling, both physically and mentally.  I'm not sure what happened, because only moments earlier I was feeling great and full of motivation.

I guess that's how it is sometimes.  I dunno.  I tried not to let it get me down, but I was seriously considering calling anyone for a ride even though I knew I was close to home.  And just when I needed it most, I got one more victory..

I know this place well, since I pass by it on most of my rides these days.  And I knew it was only about three miles from my house and that three miles ain't shit. I got this.  And wouldn't you know it,  two pretty shitty climbs later I was rolling into my driveway.  I couldn't believe it.  I really had no idea if I could do this, but like most things I tried it anyway.  I was pretty worn out, my ass hurt, and I was an emotional wreck.


I didn't know if I was proud of myself, or upset that I would even try such a thing.

Maybe not a big deal to you, but a huge deal to me.  I'd accomplished a goal that was set only a few months prior, and this should lead to a bigger goal.

Am I ready to ride across Florida?

Who gives a shit.  I'm doing it anyway.