A Lifestyle Emerges

Sometimes an experience forever alters our future trajectories. For me, that experience occurred in the summer of 2012. I worked a lot then. I lived an ordinary life and I did not yet think it was normal to wash my underwear in the sink. My life lacked adventure and ice cream did not disappear by the quart. Bike touring created all sorts of weird new habits.

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Bath time!

The Great Allegheny Passage is a car free pathway that, together with the C&O Canal Towpath, connects Pittsburgh, Pa to Washington D.C. My plan was to ride 150 miles to Cumberland, My (the end of the GAP), turn around, and ride home. Simple, in a week I would be back at work climbing trees. Life would return to normal.

I knew next to nothing about bike touring at the time. I did however, have plenty of backpacking experience and all the camping gear required. What I needed was a way to carry it. A backpack was out. Riding long distances with weight on your back did not fit my idea of comfort. My bike frame was carbon fiber so racks and panniers were also out. That left a trailer. I lucked out and my favorite local bike shop, Biketek, happened to have one in-stock: The Topeak Journey. I spent the evening learning how to pack it and I practiced balancing this fully loaded rig on the street in front of my house. I spent the night dreaming of adventure.

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My rig atop the Eastern Continental Divide.

In the morning I loaded everything up, filled the cooler with ice – yes I carried a cooler behind a carbon fiber frame on this trip and yes it was a mistake – and I road out the front door towards the trail. I was carrying too much weight and my ass was not used to all that riding. By the end of the second day, I could barely sit on the saddle. I spent much time standing to pedal and I took frequent breaks. By the third day, I was used to the time in the saddle. I rode enough before hand that my butt wasn’t totally green, thankfully, and the ride actually became pleasant and even enjoyable further enhanced by certain company.

The sound of rushing water calmed me. The sway of the hammock rocked me to sleep. I awoke to threats of arrest. It was dark and I was exhausted from the long days pedal. I tried pushing up the hill but gave up in favor of riding the roads to the Ohiopyle campground. That too failed. I gave in and hung my hammock in the park above the waterfall. Rafting guides preparing for the day ahead tried to warn me, “The ranger comes at nine. I wouldn’t be here.” Modern plumbing took precident and I did not take their advice. “If you don’t produce ID I am going to arrest you, take you to the station, and find out who you are.” He was in my face nose to nose. He asked if I had drugs and faked a call for a k-9 unit. I say “faked” because they never showed up. He searched me then wrote a ticket for $160. My crime? Hanging a hammock in a state park.

The next night, I pushed my bike up the freakin hill. Frostburg’s Campground sits atop a steep hill. To get up there is a wooden ramp that switchbacks up the hill. Wearing road spd with an exposed cleat, traction was impossible but I managed to push/pull my rig up to the campground. I did not accomplish my goal of reaching Cumberland, My. In the morning I decided to not ride the 32 round trip miles. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. If I had gone on to Cumberland, I would not have met the unique individuals that altered my future trajectory. I would not have met Sarah.

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The ramp leading up to the campsite.

Sarah was on a rather long trip. She toured the Northeastern U.S. with her brother, then hitched solo from Maine to Baltimore, Md. There she met a friend and the pair were on their way to Detroit, Mi for a conference. Her odometer read over a thousand miles. I was awestruck that a person could do such a thing. I mean, who ever heard of riding a bicycle across states! Making her trip even more fascinating was how much money she had spent. Less than $10. Weeks on the road for less than the cost of a burger and fries at a local bar. Unbelievable.

She taught me her secret. In Homestead we passed a local bakery. We raided the garbage and found a cookie bigger than my head. It was broken in half, most likely the reason for its being in the trash. It was the most delicious cookie I have ever eaten. Later that day we raided the trash again. This time a large supermarket dumpster. In it we found food for the next few days. Actually, we found enough food to feed an army of touring cyclists for a week and that says a lot. You know how much a touring cyclist can eat! We snatched what would could carry: Two bags full of bagels, some donuts, a whole watermelon, some meat and cheese, and much more. One bag of bagels was given away in a small riverfront park. We told of where they came from of course.

In all, I rode with Sarah and her friend for four days. Our time came to an end 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh, camped in a strangers backyard, with a fabulous dinner eaten on the man’s picnic table who insisted we camp in his yard instead of the yard of the couple we originally asked. We would be much safer, you see, as he was a retired police officer. I found this level of kindness astounding.

Bike touring changed my life. From the daily routines such as washing my underwear in the sink, no longer wearing deodorant, less frequent showers, and eating obscene amounts food. To major lifestyle changes such as selling my car and commuting by bike, finding the cheapest housing available with rent at only $60, to quiting my job to ride to Bar Harbor, Maine for a lobster. And now, a year off work to ride south along the coast of the Americas. My life no longer lacks adventure.

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So comfortable…
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One of the many converted railroad bridges on the Gap.
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Beware of rattlesnakes.
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I have no idea what this insect is but, it is huge!
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The train station at Frostburg, My. You an ride it up and/or down the continental divide to Cumberland, My.
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Packlist: Canada-Panama Packlist

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The Bike and Panniers:

Surly Long Haul Trucker of my own build. On a whim, I decided to ride to Maine and needed a bike to carry me there. I had little money so I purchased the frame-set and built it up from my road and mountain bikes.  Since that trip, the bike is mostly it’s own now, but still bears the mark of a franken bike.

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  • Drop bars
  • Downtube shifters (bar ends are to expensive. I paid $10 for the set of downtubes)
  • Brooks saddle (it used to be green)
  • Surly rear rack
  • Salsa down under front rack (with attached minimalist top rack)
  • Shimano XT rear dérailleur (from my mountain bike)
  • Schwalbe Marathon Mondials 700x40c
    • I would prefer 26″ but I already owned 700c wheels and needed to build it as cheap as possible.
    • I continue using it because I have it.
  • SPD pedal
  • Topeak Road Morph pump
  • Ortlieb Front and Rear Roller Classics
  • Ortlieb Ultimate 5 handlebar bag
  • Fenders
  • Bontragger Bike Computer

Sleeping system:

Campsites like this are worth any effort. Almost.

  • Tent – Tarptent Moment DW (I began with the REI Quarter Dome T2)
  • Sleeping pad – Therm-a-rest z-lite
  • Sleeping Bag – REI Majove 15
  • Bag Liner – Sea To Summit Thermolite Reactor
  • Pillow – clothes in stuff sack
  • Old tent footprint (beach blanket, afternoon naps, ground liner for tent on questionable ground)

Cooking System

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  • Trangia 25-7 UL/HA
    • (The following is stored inside cook-set)
    • 4oz bottle hot sauce
    • 4oz bottle fuel
    • spatula
    • pot gripper
    • flint (how I light my stove)
    • Spirit Burner
    • Salt/pepper shaker
    • Military can opener
    • Cutting board (DIY – cut to fit under lid)
    • Small micro fibre towel (dish rag)
    • Bandanna (drying towel)
  • 1 liter plastic bottle for fuel stored in rear pannier
  • Sea to Summit aluminum spork
  • Extra spices (currently poultry seasoning and garlic powder)
  • Coughlands roll tube filled with butter
  • Zip-lock bags
  • Small locking Tupperware container
  • Ontario Rat-3 knife
  • One-cup Coffee Maker
  • Blue enamel mug

Clothing and Accessories:

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Worn Riding:

  • Under Armour long sleeve synthetic shirt
  • Serfas Mountain Bike Shorts
  • Exofficio underwear
  • Buff (as sweat band)
  • Bandanna around neck (sun protection)
  • Smart wool socks
  • Fingerless riding gloves
  • Helmet
  • Native Sunglasses
  • Fake Wallet
  • Compass
  • Lip Balm
  • Pepper spray (defense against dogs)
  • Shimano MO88 Mountain bike shoes
  • Bike Peddler Take-a-look mirror (BEST THING EVER)
    • I like it so much I carry a spare

Carried:

  • Tee shirts 2x (won one during world cup final in Portland!)
  • Wool Sweater
  • Marmot Zeus Down Jacket (Such a luxury! Found in REI garage brand new for cheap. My pillow every night.)
  • Old rain jacket
  • Smart wool socks (3x total)
  • Exofficio underwear (2x total. No longer wear padded shorts)
  • Bandanna (3x total)
  • Zip-off synthetic long pants
  • Cycling tights
  • Long fingered riding gloves
  • Skull cap
  • Minimalist running shoes

Electronics:

Reading and riding

  • Camera – Fuji x100
    • charger
    • polarizing filter
    • UV filter (For the rare moments it’s too dark for the polarizer)
    • extra battery
    • Gorilla Pod
    • Extra memory card
  • Computer – Acer Aspire V5 (cheapest, smallest, lightest laptop I could find used)
    • Charger
    • Neoprene case
    • USB flash drives 2x
    • External SD card reader
  • Smart Phone – Samsung Galaxy S4
    • Charger
    • Rubber case
    • Serves as a GPS and simple communucation
  • MP3 player – old Sansa Fuze (slowly dying but still works)
    • Charger (Too much weight in chargers!!)
    • Headphones
  • External Battery – 10,000 mAh Anker
  • E-reader – Nook

Misc:

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  • Journal and pen
  • Passport
  • Real Wallet
  • Headlamp
  • Extra Headlamp
    • Extra batteries
  • Lighter
  • Spanish – English Dictionary
  • Spanish textbook (soon to be gone, copper canyon calls)
  • Sunscreen
  • 6L MSR Dromedary Bag
  • REI Flash 18 Backpack
  • Folding Bucket
  • Small knife sharpener
  • Cable and lock
  • Extra cycling mirror
  • Mosquito head net
  • Extra pen
  • 20ft 3mm cord
  • Mosquito repellent

Bike Tools:

Me fixing my first flat tire. It required four patches! God I love Schwalbe Marathon tires!
Me fixing my first flat tire. It required four patches! God I love Schwalbe Marathon tires!
  • Topeak multitool with chainbreaker
  • Leatherman Skeletool
  • Patch kits
  • Extra tubes
  • Extra tire (Only carried outside US)
  • Extra Spoke
  • Extra Bolts
  • Extra brakes
  • Extra cables
  • Fiber fix kevlar spokes -2x
  • Brooks saddle tool
  • Crescent wrench – small
  • Lube
  • Lok-tight
  • Tire lever -1x
  • Tire Boots -3x

Toiletry Bag:

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste (sometimes!)
  • Dr Bronners peppermint soap in 4oz bottle
  • Dental Floss
  • Sm. bottle contact solution
  • Extra contacts
  • Cotton swabs
  • TP
  • Nail clippers
  • Scissors (beard trimming)

First Aid Kit:

  • Duct tape (around tent pole repair sleeve)
  • Super glue
  • Sterile gauze
  • Neosporn
  • Iodine tabs (Emergency water treatment)
  • Acetominophen
  • Ibuprophin
  • “Real” Painkillers
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Tweezers
  • Safety pins
  • Zip ties
  • Tick Twister (I’m from the northeast. It’s a habit)
  • Silicone seam sealer (for tent)