Sidebar: Tools of the trade

I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about my equipment yet, other then all my electronics, so here’s a brief overview.

First my bike. Now, most avid road cyclists will shake their heads when they see what I ride. This ain’t no composite carbon fibre featherlight Porche on 2 wheels. My bike is built for endurance and touring. Some might call it a contraption. I call it home. At least for the 6 weeks I’m on tour.

Let me walk you through it:

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  1. Handlebar bag – this is where I keep everything I need to quickly access, sometimes even while I’m riding. Things like snacks, camera, voice recorder, lip balm, sun glasses, power gels, bear spray (not in the prairies of course)
  2. Aerobars – not the chocolate variety, these grips make it easy to get into a tuck position reducing drag. Not only that, they allow for a different hand position, which have saved my palms from going numb, always a big problem in the past. But not only that, leaning forward more to grip the ends of the bars seems to give me slightly more power to climb hills. But not only that, they make you change your seat position, and you can imagine how that helps. But not only that, they make julian fries, uh no, they don’t make julian fries (all the “kids” are scratching their heads right now). Seriously though, they’re awesome but they take some getting use to, like about 1000kms of getting use to.
  3. Saddle – yes you need a saddle, it would be really painful otherwise, but this isn’t just any sadde. I bought this French made Ideale leather saddle nearly 30 years ago and I swear by it. Most people think a cushy seat is better, it’s actually not. The leather forms to your butt and I’ve found it to be the most comfortable seat I’ve ever used. Still, most people look at it and think it must be uncomfortable. Let them be fooled. The only hassle is you can’t let it get wet so I carry a stylish shower cap to secure over the seat when it rains.
  4. Camel pack – it was a last minute decision to bring this but I’m glad I did. I use it to carry up to 1.5l of extra water and as well it serves as a backpack when walking around town. It also came in handy when I climbed Prairie Mountain. But to be clear, I don’t wear it while I’m riding.
  5. Tent, trap and sleeping mat in a dry sack – this is essentially my mobile shelter. I have a lightweight tent that I can set up in 5 minutes and a very comfortable and compact Thermorest sleeping mat. I brought the tarp for raining days but I haven’t had to use it and in retrospect it’s probably unnecessary. One gentleman I met from France brought nothing but a tarp and a hammock to sleep it. There may be something in that, so long as you can find trees to hang everything from.
  6. Sleeping bag in a dry sack – I have a very light weight down-filled sleeping bag that’s good to about -5C. The only problem with down is it can’t get wet, hence the importance of the dry sack, but you can’t beat down for light weight. I find it helps to let it lay out in the sun to let it puff up every now and then.
  7. Rear panniers – panniers are like saddle bags for horses. You never, ever carry a backpack when you ride: the centre of gravity is too high making it very dangerous and in any case it’s very uncomfortable. These panniers were made by Cannondale before Cannondale even made bikes. These ones have lots and lots of pockets to keep things organized. Good panniers will last you a very long time. They’re not water proof but I have MEC covers for the rain which seem to work pretty well. They need to mount on a very sturdy bicycle rack.
  8. Water bottles, pump and clip-less pedals – I carry two 640ml bottles, usually on with water and one with Gatorade. I drink a huge amount of liquids while I’m on the road. You have too. The Gatorade is important to replace the salt you lose while you sweat. The pump is obvious but it needs to be a good one able to inflate your tires to 70 to 100lbs of pressure. If find the term clipless pedals confusing. Cycling shoes are usually paired with a compatible pedal to hold your feet securely on the bicycle. The so-called “clipless” shoe-pedal combination offers unmatched control with a minimum amount of your pedaling energy lost before it reaches the rear wheel. Yes, they do take getting use to, but they are essential.
  9. Fenders – they make your bike look klutzy but when it rains you’ll be so happy you have them.
  10. Front panniers – I was hoping I wouldn’t need front panniers but in the end I just had too much stuff to bring. I really like them and they’re not completely filled but I can find stuff really fast. In one I keep all my camping accessories and the other cooking gear and food.

Well, that’s it, all 50lbs worth. You can certainly go with a lot less stuff if you stay in hotels every night, or if you don’t cook. But I’m going through some parts of the country where the towns are few and far between. With this gear I can literally set up camp anywhere: on the side of a road, on someone’s front lawn, in a park, and even sometimes at a camp site. It’s truly my home on wheels.

Lee Valley, where Vicki works, and which I consider to be one of the best companies in the world, actually makes a lot of stuff you can bring camping/cycling with you. I thought quickly mention some of the things I brought with me:

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  1. LED illuminating bracelets – slap them around your pant leg when you’re riding and they light up too. Great in the tent for low lighting as well.
  2. Bungy cords – I’m not sure if this is the right name for these but they’re a godsend. I use this little puppy to strap down my GPS to my handle bar.
  3. Squishy bowls – they serve as drinking cups, bowls, measuring and mixing cups, they fit in my thermal mug and they’re very light weight.
  4. Tie downs for tarps – These guys clamp down on anything. I actually use these for multiple purposes: clothes lines in hotels, securing a wet towel or bathing suit to the back panniers to dry out, etc.
  5. Mosquito netting – need I say more? So far I haven’t needed this but the time is coming soon, very soon.
  6. Buglit LED micro flashlight – With it’s cute little flexible steel wire legs it secures on to my bike helmet, my wrist watch, or I just hang it from my tent for some quick illumination in the middle of the night. Very useful.

Once again, I’ve run out of time. I’ve got to hit the road. In a future post I’ll talk about camping gear, clothes and first aid.

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Sidebar: my blogging gear

In an earlier post I half jokingly wrote about all the electronics I was bringing with me. Let me explain what I brought and why.

Apple iPad
The iPad is essentially a mobile computer. I write my blog posts using WordPress’s mobile app and I import photos and videos from my Sony camera where I can edit them later. Since Internet connectivity is spotty at best, I can create my posts offline and upload them later. I’ve given Vicki access so that she can edit my posts (she’s not doing that yet so I’m the only one to blame for the crappy spelling and grammar at the moment).

The iPad is also my main entertainment unit. I have lots of music and videos, I can watch Netflix when I’m staying at a hotel, I have dozens of books to read, and of course, I can keep in touch with Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook. I can do my research on where I’m headed using the browser.

Another handy app is Instapaper. With this app you can save pages for viewing offline later. I’ve referred back to my captured Instapaper pages many times over the course of my travels. There are other apps that do this but I like this one and I have a lot of respect for the developer who wrote the app.

If anyone does not yet own an iPad you should get one now. They’re more revolutionary then the personal computer. Just don’t let your kids play with it or you’ll never see it again.

RIM Blackberry
This is my main device for keeping in touch with Vicki when I can’t get WiFi. Oh, and it’s a phone too. Rogers coverage has been poor so far but I expect it to improve. My next iPad (or iPhone) will have GSM and a data plan, and then I can skip this device (sorry RIM).

Sony HD Video and 5M pixel camera
This is a very small handheld device and it takes excellent photos and videos. I have a 16G SD card that I can pull out and import photos on to my iPad. Because this unit is small I can carry it in my handlebar bag (the iPad is a little too big for that). Again, a better choice in the future might be an iPhone.

Handheld Phillips voice recorder
This device has turned out to be a Godsend. It’s small and light, takes excellent recordings, suppressing a lot of background noise, and the battery seems to last for ever. I use it to record thoughts and observations along the route. I’ve tried a notepad before but I never want to stop to write something down. On the other hand, I can use this unit while I’m riding (I have a hands free mic).

When I arrive at my destination I play back my recordings to help me remember things. There’s something fascinating about hearing your own voice (out of breath because I just climbed a hill), or the sounds of water of birds in the background. I hope I can save these recordings for my kids or grand kids to listen to one day. Thanks go to Rosemary for suggesting this.

Garmin eTrex GPS
No one should be without this little puppy while cycle touring or hiking. I’ve purchased topographical maps for my entire route. A Canadian company, DMTI, makes the maps. This means I can plan detailed routing. It keeps track of my trip log: distance traveled, distance to destination, average speed, time to destination, elevation and a bunch of other things. I can also search for accommodation, nearby attractions, even moon phases and even when the best fishing is. Its also waterproof. It’s an amazing unit. The PC software is crap but that’s for another post.

One unit to rule them all?
You could probably do all of these things on an iPhone, but not as well as the individual units. I pay a price for all the separate units: weight. If you’re trying to reduce weight it’s not a bad option. The one issue might be water proofing. For me, the screen is too small and I couldn’t possibly imagine writing these posts on that tiny screen.

Ok, but why?
This is a once in a lifetime journey. I want to create a lasting record of this trip and blogging helps me to organize and collect my thoughts. Besides that, 6 weeks is a long time to be away and I need to keep in touch and sometimes I need a diversion like episodes of Stargate Universe and Rick Mercer Report. And yes, I am a geek, so that probably has something to do with it.

My route

Here’s the plan (with many stops in between):

  • Vancouver airport to Edward’s house in Langley
  • Langley to Hope via Highway 7 on the North shore of the Frasier Valley
  • Hope to Salmon Arm via the Trans Canada Highway
  • Salmon Arm through Lake Louise to Canmore via the Trans Canada
  • Canmore to Dave’s house in Calgary via HWY 1A
  • Calgary to Eric’s place in Saskatoon via Hwy 7
  • Saskatoon to Winnipeg via Hwy 5 – Yellowhead Hwy</li
  • Winnipeg to Thunder Bay via the Trans Canada Hwy 1 and 17
  • Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie via Hwy 17
  • Sault Ste. Marie to Espanola via Hwy 17
  • Espanola to Manitoulin Island to and then ferry to Tober Morey
  • Tober Morey to Toronto via various highways

Here’s the actual route I followed. I ended up going through Minnesotta from Warroad to International Falls which was a much quiter highway and very scenic. Distance wise it’s about the same as staying on 17 and going through Kenora.

Flying Bicycles

Flying a bike is easy. You box it up, tag it, pay an extra $20, and bring it to the oversize baggage handling area.

Let’s break that down.

Boxing it up
The very, very nice people at WestJet (my favorite airline) explained that I need to deflate the tires, remove the pedals, turn the handle bars sideways, and place it in a bicycle box. The friendly staff at Fresh Air Experience were very happy to give me an empty bicycle box.

Two days before the flight my son Andrew and I set about cramming my bike into the box. Naturally, it didn’t fit. Not even close. Never fear, the box contained a bicycle before and surely it’s capable of containing a bicycle again. It’s simply a puzzle. And we like puzzles.

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Ninety minutes later we had a box sealed up with a bicycle and quite a bit more. All we needed was an allen key set (Park Tools are awesome), a small wrench, and a philips screw driver to remove the bike racks. Here’s how you do it:

  • Remove the pedals
  • Remove the seat and seat post
  • Remove the handle bars and stem
  • Remove the front wheel
  • Deflate the tires
  • Remove the bicycle racks front and back
  • Remove the front fender
  • Remove the aerobars
  • Remove the handle bar bag bracket

After all that it still didn’t fit. It was a good two inches too long. That is, until we figured out that with the handlebars removed we could turn the front fork 180 degrees. Now it fit, tightly, but it fit.

The next step is to “stuff” in all the left over parts in any space you can find. That’s another puzzle to solve, but after a little trial and error we managed to find room for everything. A bit of bubble wrap helps to keep things from bouncing around in transit. This is also a great opportunity to add in water bottles, pump, bike lock, bungy cords and what ever small knick-knacks that normally attach to your bike. Finally, it’s a two-man job to get the box closed and securely taped up.

Here’s what it looks like when your done (that’s Andrew standing beside the box). Its pretty amazing really. The bike box has handles so it’s really easy to carry.

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Tag it and pay the extra-bag fee
The WestJet website said it would cost $50 to transport a bicycle. It only cost me $20. I simply paid the extra baggage charge. Perhaps if your bike isn’t boxed up you incur an extra fee. Anyway, $20 to send a bicycle across the country is quite a steal.

I should mention that I was able to pack the rest of my gear except for carry-on into a second box. That was also an adventure but well worth the trouble. Besides avoiding a second extra bag fee it’s just nice not having a lot of bags to keep track of.

My carry-on consisted of the two front panniers and the dry sack containing my sleeping bag. Make sure you remove any liquids and knives and such (my multi-tool has a knife).

Make sure each box is under $50lbs or what ever the weight limit is for the airline. If they’re not, your bring too much stuff.

Here’s me with everything I will own for the next 6 weeks.

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Special baggage area
At check-in and they will tag your boxes. They won’t take your bike box and the second box at the normal check in area so you bring it over to the special handling area. They may ask you to open up your boxes to check what’s inside (there goes that beautiful taping job). Fortunately, I didnt have to. Make sure you don’t bring any CO2 cartridges (i.e for tire inflation) or camp fuel.

Finally, place virtually everything you will own for the next 6 weeks on to the over-size luggage ramp is wave your stuff goodbye (with fingers crossed and tear in eye).

No bike box? Good luck.
For Vicki and my cycling trip in Germany we used a thick plastic bicycle bag and that seemed to work ok. A box is obviously better though.

On my cycling trip to Halifax we had to fly our bikes back. We expected they would have bike boxes or bags at the airport. No such luck. So we removed the pedals, deflated the tires, turned the handle bars sideways, and brought our bikes to the special handing area. Then we prayed, and I mean prayed.

Upon arrival in Toronto, as I watched the Air Canada baggage handlers remove the luggage from the aircraft, I watched my front wheel roll down the ramp. The baggage handlers had a good laugh. I didn’t.

When I retrieved my bike at the baggage claim I found out that my left break lever hand been literally torn off. I applied for compensation from Air Canada but it never appeared. It wasn’t worth the trouble following up.

I do know that they have bike boxes at the airport – sometimes at least – I’ve slept on one before. But that’s a subject for another story. In any case, not using a bike box is clearly a risk.

I’m very happy that, God willing, I won’t need to pack my bike up for the return flight since I’ll be riding it home.

How do you train for a cross-Canada cycling trip?

How do you train for a cross-Canada cycling trip? You ride and ride. My plan was to add at least 20kms to my average ride per week. That way, by the end of the month I’d be up to 100kms. it’s simply about building up your capacity for distance. You’ll be amazed how fast you can increase your endurance and get into shape.

In the end, I did get up to 85kms and planned a 100km ride on the last weekend in April but Vicki, very smartly, convinced me to get packed instead. As it turned out that was the right thing to do.

People that know me know I do a lot of traveling on the job. That interrupted my training quite a bit. To counteract that problem I did a lot of power walking and stair climbing. It didn’t seem to hurt.

I also wanted to lose weight. After all, my legs will power every pound on the bike. On the day I left for Vancouver I had lost 8lbs (I figure I was 20lbs over weight when I started). However, I did not sacrifice nutrition; in fact I’m eating and feeling better then I have in a long time. I’m eating carbs at the right times (pre and post workout), consuming tons of fruit and vegetables, eating often, and making sure I’m getting protein at every meal.

I’ve done a lot of research in this and I’d be happy to share those findings with you. I especially rely on a program called Precision Nutrition. Also, the book Time Crunched Cyclist has great information on meeting your bodies needs during heavy training. Believe me, there’s a lot to learn and experience is key.

Not feeding your body enough of the right nutrients at the right time can lead to all sorts of problems. Once Neil Park and I were riding to Mosport on a very hot day. At one point my legs literally gave up on me; I could go no further. It was like they didn’t work anymore. Neil, being the smart guy that he is, had me down a bottle of Gatorade. 15-20 mins later I was ready to go. But later that night my legs burned like hell (lactate acid).

Nowadays there are power bars, gels and all sorts of things to avoid “bonking”. I’ve packed a supply for emergencies but I really plan on taking my time to eat healthy food and often.

It’s not just about building muscle

There are many aches and pains that reveal themselves after a long time in the saddle: your butt and neck gets sore, your hands get numb, and if you overdo it (like my first weekend of training) your knees start to hurt.

Knee pain

First, let me start by saying that my understanding is that cycling is one of the best exercises for people who have, or want to avoid, knee pain. It’s far better than running for example.

The most important way to avoid knee pain is to properly adjust your seat height (thanks Ray for reminding me about that). I’m not going to explain how to do that adjustment here but you can look it up or get professional help. I will tell you that 99% of people I see riding their bikes have their seat far too low.

There are two kinds of knee injuries to watch out for; the first is simply from overuse and apparently it’s not bad for you and you’ll recover with rest. I can tell you from experience that after a day of rest I’ve recovered 100%.

The second type of knee pain is much more serious. It results from a loss of fluid underneath your kneecap (sorry if I sound like a total dork here but I don’t have my trusty cycling book with me to properly describe this). This kind of injury requires surgery. If you have this condition, apparently your knee makes a crackly sound when you bend it, like Rice Krispies. By the sounds of it (pun intended) you’ll know if you have this condition.

Sore butt
The best thing here is to get a good saddle. Contrary to what you might think a soft and cushy saddle is the wrong thing to get. I have a Ideale leather saddle that they probably don’t sell anymore. It’s far better then any other saddle I’ve ever used but then I haven’t tried the high end saddles.

Other than a good saddle, to avoid soreness it’s simply a matter of getting off of your bike every hour or so and stretching.

You can also acquire saddle rash after a few days on the saddle, especially if it’s hot and or wet. There’s a commonly available cream for that problem that you can get at a good bike shop. Apply liberally and think prevention (awkward moment #1).

Hands and neck
Padded cycling gloves are a must otherwise you’ll experience numbness in your hands and forearms (actually, you will anyway). Get good ones. I’ve installed an aerobar as well and that helps with changing hand positions.

Your neck will get pretty sore because when you’re on a bike your head is held up for hours at a time. One thing I noticed is that I often tense my shoulders when I’m riding and I’m trying to prevent that. I find that stretching your arms behind your back while your riding helps.getting off your bike every hour or so and stretching helps a lot too. Through training long distances you’ll strengthen your neck and it will be less of a problem.

One other thing
There is also one other thing to be concerned about when your in the saddle for long stretches, but I won’t get into it right now. Let’s just say that it’s a hard thing to worry about and if you’re a guy you’ll catch my drift. Ok, that was awkward moment #2.

Disclaimer
For heavens sake, don’t rely on my advice only. Research these things yourself and consult a medical professional if your concerned.

I only mention this because I’m sharing with you some of the things that keep me awake at night, and what I do to alleviate those concerns. I’m very pleased to say that I’ve ridden up to 85kms at a stretch with virtually no pain whatsoever. But I also know these ailments can sneak up on you really fast.

Necessary items for a bike ride across Canada

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a “geek”. So my packing gear includes:

1 x iPad loaded with lots of movies, songs, books, magazines, the WordPress blogging app, cover, an SD card reader and charging cable

1 x Garmin eTrex GPS with West, East and Central Topo maps (more on my Garmin experiences later)

1 x Sony 5M pixel camera and HD video recorder with associated charging cable

1 x Phillips hands-free portable voice recorder with an external mic

1 x Blackberry Bold cell phone with charging cable

1 x USB charger

6 x AA rechargeable batteries and charger

1 x 4 AA Duracell batteries for when I can’t find power

I think that’s the equivalent of 6 CPUs. That’s probably more processing power that the Department of National Defense in the ’60’s (and maybe even the ’70’s).

Hey, I never said this trip was “unplugged” did I?

It’s 5:30am on Tuesday morning April 10th

It’s 5:30am on Tuesday morning April 10th. I’ve already being awake for an hour because I can’t sleep. I check the weather. It’s 4 degrees and they predict rain and snow later this morning. The temperature must be dropping I guess.

I’m loading up on carbs for my ride. I hope to get 50kms in before the start of my day. This is the only time I’ll be able to work out today because I’ll be working to 6pm, and it gets dark by 8pm, and I still don’t have a light for my bike.

Damn, someone finished off all the bananas. I have to find some other quick carbs to take with me. The last thing I want is to run out of energy. But then I spot the Easter Chocolates from the weekend. I’m saved!

I check the weather one more time. Still says rain and snow. I check the radar: it’s just rain – no snow. Oh, now I feel so much better. Rain and 4 degrees.

Why am I doing this again? Oh yeah, it’s my life long dream to cycle across Canada. And I have less then a month to train. I’ll be cycling 120kms per day. Today I’m doing 50km and I’m already complaining.

Ok Chris, get off your butt and get out there. Here goes…