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A Noob’s Tale – First Bicycle Tour (56k warning)

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A Noob’s Tale – First Bicycle Tour (56k warning)

Old 06-06-11, 01:50 PM
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bautieri
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A Noob’s Tale – First Bicycle Tour (56k warning)

The author would like to state that he is in no way affiliated with the Pine Creek Rail Trail, Petticoat Junction Campground, the surrounding communities, nor any of their affiliations. His opinions are strictly his own. He is long winded and his grammar sucks for the most part. Deal with it.

I never thought it would happen to me, but like most things bicycle related, it follows a progression. First you become interested in taking up cycling, I did mainly due to my aversion to running. I hate running, still do. Then you work up the guts to walk into a bicycle shop after researching the crap out of the subject on the internet (probably after trashing a bike from K-Mart). I bet you had a question on how to fix it, unleashed your Google-Fu, and the first few results were archived bikeforums threads from 2004, weren’t they? That’s how you found yourself here. Next you buy a bike. Within three months you decide the bike you wanted at first wasn’t the best bike for you. You buy a road bike or a hybrid. Then you buy lycra. If possible, you start riding to work now and then. Then you set your sights on a 50k…50k turns into 100k…100k turns into 100 miles…100 miles turns into 200k. If you’re CliftonGK1, 200k turns into some astronomical number that makes my head hurt just thinking about it. Then…well, it gets interesting at this point. For me, I started to grow weary of the charity rides and grinding what seemed like endless miles for no particular reason other than making the machine at the doctor’s office beep because your resting heart rate is so low. That happens in the low 40s, btw. It beeps to inquire if the cuff is on correctly. So, what do you do at this point?

For me, I set my sights on what remained as the great unknown. Bike touring. I never thought I would say that I am blessed to live in PA, but geographically speaking, within a 2-3 hour drive I can be at either the Pine Creek rail trail, the Great Allegheny Passage, or somewhere along the C&O. Not exactly local, but not far off either. I started pestering my long time riding partner, vXhanz, about going on a tour. This took exactly one PM to get a “Hell Yes” response. Three weeks from the initial email, we were at the trail head.

Needless to say, a lot of planning is involved in plotting a bike tour, even one as simple as a weekend overnighter. We read other posts on the forums, including the most invaluable ones from The Historian/Neil_B…but from this point on I am just going to refer to him as Neil because that is what everyone knows him best as. The first thing that has to be ironed out is where you are going to go. The GAP had some logistical issues to be worked out first, same as the C&O. This left Pine Creek…but which end to start at? Based on Neil’s reports, Neil started near Wellsboro and headed south…so having to be different, we started at Jersey Shore and went north. Fortunately a Snookie-Monster was never encountered. Jersey Shore itself is a nice little community, the facilities at the parking lot (the one with all the lights) was well groomed at had a very clean bathroom with running water. I guess overnight parking is permitted, my truck had no parking tickets, no vandalism, and all four tires were intact after a weekend being parked in the same spot. Oh, top up your bottles because water is somewhat scarce unless you bring water purification tablets. In that case the creek will provide all the water you can stomach.

Gear wise, I was using the following:

Basic 3 person dome tent – I have no idea how they figure three people are going to sleep in this. If you weren’t related before you went in the night…you will be come morning.
Light summer 3lb sleeping bag
Shimano SPD mountain bike shoes
Sneakers
Flip flops
Travel size toiletries
Nesting back packers cook set
Food (oat meal, brown sugar, Lipton pasta side dishes, tuna fish in pouches, and those healthy choice steam fresh microwave pasta dishes in a handy thick plastic bowl, and more cliff bars than any rational person would eat in a two day period.)
Extra socks
Mighty tighty whities
Gym shorts
t-shirt
cycling shorts (1)
cycling jersey (1)
Bic lighter
Towel (don’t leave home without one)

Altogether, this is what my bike looked like prior to departure:



My bike, a 2009 Specialized Tricross Sport, can best be described as the bastard love child of a Surly LHT and a Specialized Allez. Complete with long chain stays (only a ½’’ shorter than the LHT, front and rear rack eyelets (on a carbon fork of all things), and fender eyelets. All in all, an odd bike that is comfortable to ride but not the swiftest thing on two wheels. Classified as a cyclocross bike, I think Sport Touring would be more appropriate if there were such a class of bikes. For the tour, she (I call her Ms. Evil) was sporting 700x32 WTB Cross Wolf cyclocross tires and 36 spoke cross wheelset. I chose these over her regular road wheel set and tires (28 gator skins) because they are much larger, lower PSI, and generally a bit more plush to ride on plus the wheel set is considerably more beefy. Oh, that is a B-17 atop a carbon fiber seat post. Slightly dorked up, but that’s how I roll. For non-believers, I did this entire tour in regular gym shorts and regular underwear. More on that later…ok, maybe not because that tid-bit pretty much described everything there is to say about that. Suffice to say: total comfort, no chaffing, no problems, and a pair of bike shorts in the panniers that were just along for the ride. My companion had a similar set up on his LHT, but instead of a rack and pannier set up, he utilized his child bike trailer. His pack list was similar, with variations in the food brought, a first aid kit, multi-fuel camp stove, beer, and a hatchet. We planned on doing a comparison to determine which was better to tour with, a trailer or panniers. Also, it’s what we each respectively had so…rock what you brought.

We met at my residence at 7:30am. Loaded my truck up, and set off for Jersey Shore. 2 hours later, and after a big breakfast, we were in the parking lot. The skies were slightly cloudy, but the weatherman was only calling for a 20% chance of a slight afternoon rain shower and a clear upper 70s day on Sunday. It was cool, about 68 degrees if you were to believe the slightly optimistic thermometer in my bike computer, over cast, calm wind…couldn’t ask for better riding weather. We set off onto the trail. It’s surface was crushed gravel and well groomed. The first few miles meandered around the outskirts of Jersey Shore and generally snaked along Pine Creek. Then you entered the valley. Scenery wise, you were treated to a sheer cliff on one side, a lengthy drop and the river on the other side. Gorgeous.












And so it went on. There were a few too many gate crossings for my taste, but you take what you get. We saw plenty of wildlife including deer (7 grand total), a bald eagle, chipmunks galore, toads, and many turtles who were busy laying their eggs along the sides of the trail. Pardon us ladies, just passing through.

So who paid attention to the pack list? Anyone notice what was missing?

Roughly 18 miles into the ride, and 14 miles before the campground were our reservations were made (Petticoat Junction), the temperature dropped about 15 degrees and the sky’s opened up. First a gentle rain, then it picked up, then the thunder and lighting rolled in. Better wait this one out. We took cover under a tree until we were both shivering and soaked anyways. So we moved on once the thunder and lighting moved a sufficient distance west based on the highly unscientific measure of counting the time between the flash and the clap. The lighting may have passed, but the rain sure hadn’t. We rolled about 3 miles in the downpour before we pulled into a state campground to seek shelter of any sort. We found a restroom, which was little more than a giant porta-pot with a roof…but the smell was enough to gag a maggot, so we stood outside under it’s eves. A few minutes later another couple who were cycling had the same idea we did. We met up and had a nice conversation. All of us were soaked to the bone, but that didn’t really hamper their enthusiasm to be out sighting for eagles. They had stopped by earlier today at this very camp ground to check out a bald eagle nest, they showed us were it was at, and then they set off after telling us our campground was only “5 miles or so” up the trail.

“5 miles or so”, as translated from Eastern European Immigrant to English = 11.7 miles.

If it weren’t for the broken water pump in this campground, we would have made camp here. But we needed water for cooking and didn’t really want to camp without a state issued permit. Plus a hot shower at that point in time sounded better than a Siren’s call. We decided to move on. It poured for 6 more miles, then as soon as it started…it stopped. The sun peaked out and we were treated to humidity. We made our way to the campground, Petticoat Junction, and set up. I have to admit, I have never stayed at a place named after obscure women’s undergarments before, then again…I’d never been on a bike tour either, so why not? The campground itself was actually quite nice. The tent camp sites were a bit close together for my taste, but they were clean, included a fire ring and a picnic table. What more could you ask for? The bathroom facilities were clean, as were the showers. We bought a deck of cards, and a barrel of firewood. We set up camp and worked on some lunch.








If you’re asking yourself if it is worth it or not to lug around a 12 pack of Yuengling Black and Tan…totally worth it. After a long day of cycling through adverse conditions, the beer tasted amazing. Also, it is a valuable currency with other tent campers and can be traded for items like hamburgers and firewood.

Lunch consisted of tuna fish, pasta dishes, and warm beer (Rodeo Cool, to be precise). It’s a good thing that dark beer tastes pretty good when it’s warm. At least it doesn’t hurt. The wood we purchased was green as could be…seriously, pitch would boil out of it as it burned. This made fire a pain in the butt. Thankfully we were able to utilize the hatchet to cut it down into kindling and smaller pieces that actually had a chance of catching on fire. It was during this activity that vXhanz had an accident and probably would have severed his finger had that hatchet been a hair in the other direction. Luckily he only gave himself a nasty cut that bleed pretty good. His first aid kit came in handy, we were able to sterilize and dress the wound in short order. I learned that day that straight iodine in a wound burns like a mother******. With a full belly, and my partner’s wound dressed, I decided to press on up the trail to try and find a cell phone signal. Turns out that verizon wireless gets a sliver of service roughly 8 miles north of the campground. That is if you are standing atop a rock with it on speaker phone held out at arm’s reach. I was able to call my wife and let her know everything was ok. On my way back, I stopped by a place called Rattlesnake Rock.

It was down a short, bumpy side trail and worth the effort.





It was getting dark so I headed back to camp. Ate dinner, and was getting ready to turn in for the night. Then I noticed something was missing. My wedding ring. Quicker than you can say: “Where the heck are you going, Ben” I was back on my bike and in a dead sprint for 4 miles to Rattle Snake Rock. I made it there just as the sun was going over the mountain side. With my flashlight, I desperately searched for my ring until something large moving in the not too distant brush spooked me enough to get the heck out of the area. I shouted at it assuming it was a black bear, generally they are easily scared off, but this one didn’t get that memo, apparently. On the way in I did see several large piles of bear scat…time to get my rear in gear. Gear 27 to be precise (9 speed triple). Let me tell you, once the sun goes down, that place is pitch dark. The beam of my inadequate headlight pierced the darkness enough to navigate back to my tent. I told vXhanz and we decided to go back the next morning to search again.

I didn’t sleep well that night, mainly because I was so upset I lost my ring, and partly because the people camping next to me wouldn’t shut the hell up until 2am. I don’t wear my ring while riding because it falls off when my hand is sweating. Instead, I place it in my stash bag behind my stem with my cell phone. When I was sized for it, I weighed 40lbs more than I currently do. I can now place the ring on any finger, but I just can bring myself to get a ring that fits. Partly because of the achievement of the weight loss, and mostly because Tungsten Carbide rings cannot be resized, you turn your old one in and get a new one. Well, the new ring isn’t MY ring so I don’t want it. I know that is a bit of an irrational attachment to an object…but it is what it is. The next morning we broke camp and headed back to Rattlesnake Rock. Against all odds, vXhanz found the ring. What had happened was I laid my bike on it’s side in the weeds to go check out the rock formation. When I took my phone out of the stem bag to take some pictures, the ring toppled out. With the ring located and safely zipped into a zipper pocket, we set off towards the truck. My mood had improved roughly 10,000% once the ring was relocated.

The ride back was just as gorgeous as the ride in. Except this time it was sunny and in the mid eighties. It got pretty hot on that trail as the sun boiled the remaining rain water back out of the ground making for pretty humid conditions. It was slightly downhill, which helped a good bit with the tired legs. Here is a few more shots:




There is a good 15-20 foot drop from the edge of that rock to the water. Do be careful now.





All in all, I can’t wait to do this again. We did learn a few lessons:

1: Pack rain gear no matter what the meteorologist says.
2: Be really careful with that hatchet
3: Secure valuables in a zipper pouch when you have the opportunity
4: Sunscreen is only effective if you remember to put it on (ouch)
5: Bautieri and vXhanz are incapable of riding together without some form of misadventure.
6: It gets really cold in that valley at night, pack long pants next time
7: 100% Deet is super effective at keeping bugs and ticks off you, but stings like heck when applied to a sun burnt area…it also tastes terrible. Don’t taste it if you can avoid it.
8: Your water consumption will double while lugging your gear.
9: Your overall speed will reduce by roughly 30%.
10: Touring is addictive, you should do it.
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Old 06-06-11, 02:06 PM
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Old 06-06-11, 02:18 PM
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Excellent write-up. And to think, just this morning I was looking for a new way to get really cold, really wet, really sore, really tired and then to top it off almost lose a finger...now I know what to do.
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Old 06-06-11, 02:26 PM
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Nice...good stuff, Bau
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Old 06-06-11, 02:40 PM
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Originally Posted by engstrom View Post
Excellent write-up. And to think, just this morning I was looking for a new way to get really cold, really wet, really sore, really tired and then to top it off almost lose a finger...now I know what to do.
Glad we could help. Don't forget to hone that hatchet the night before so it is extra sharp!
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Old 06-06-11, 02:47 PM
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Inspirational! Thanks for sharing. I'd love to tour someday, unfortunately I just started so I'm a ways away from that still.
.
.
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Old 06-06-11, 02:55 PM
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Good stuff! How did your bike feel over the non-paved stuff? Given your experience, anything you would have done different to the bike?
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Old 06-06-11, 03:31 PM
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So how fur a piece did y'all go? Did you go from your truck to point X and then double back? Do a big loop? Or wut?

Gary
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Old 06-06-11, 03:36 PM
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Originally Posted by engstrom View Post
Excellent write-up. And to think, just this morning I was looking for a new way to get really cold, really wet, really sore, really tired and then to top it off almost lose a finger...now I know what to do.
Yes, now you know what to do! My father gave me that hatchet... which is the very hatchet he cut his friends finger off with when he was in high school. Needless to say I have an emotional (and now physical) attachment to it. As Bau mentioned already, I sharpened that thing the night before and had fun cutting pieces of paper and fabric labels off my equipment.

The camping gear list is pretty near identical to what we both used, minus the branding, etc. The stove is the "Coleman Exponent Feather 442 Duel Fuel stove", will run on their camp fuel as well as unleaded gas in a pinch. We had enough fuel for our evening of making meals, as well as our breakfasts at different times and I estimate there is still at least half a container of fuel left in the unit.

The cook pots Bau picked up were VERY handy, and fit the stove well. I forget the model, though they are made by Coleman and were found at Wal-Mart. There is also a pretty cheap enamelware set at Wal-Mart made by Coleman that is $20 (in store, NOT online price) and has service for 4 people. I just snuck a few pieces out from the family set and brought that along with us.

I have some more pictures, and can post those if I get them transfered to my email account from the phone

V
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Old 06-06-11, 03:40 PM
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Originally Posted by BrazAd View Post
So how fur a piece did y'all go? Did you go from your truck to point X and then double back? Do a big loop? Or wut?

Gary

We put in 32 miles the first day to camp. Bau put in more miles with his cell service search, and his ring misadventure. The second day with the search for the ring we put in 39 miles. We had intended more, but the weather on Saturday really wore us down and we were very cold. We also underestimated the amount of extra work necessary to pull/carry a load on the bikes.

V
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Old 06-06-11, 04:58 PM
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I really enjoyed your adventure. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 06-06-11, 06:10 PM
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Nice photos. Enjoyed the tail. Maybe someday I will have myself in shape and a bike to tour with.
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Old 06-06-11, 06:29 PM
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Originally Posted by BrazAd View Post
So how fur a piece did y'all go? Did you go from your truck to point X and then double back? Do a big loop? Or wut?

Gary
I clocked a hair over 92 miles for the weekend. It was an out and back trip.
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Old 06-06-11, 06:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Indyv8a View Post
Nice photos. Enjoyed the tail. Maybe someday I will have myself in shape and a bike to tour with.
Nothing is wrong with your current bike if it is functional. Hop on craigslist and pick up a used kiddy trailer for 50 bucks, toss your stuff in and go. The bike is almost irrelevant providing you are comfortable
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Old 06-06-11, 06:54 PM
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Great write up! Thanks for sharing.
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Old 06-06-11, 07:38 PM
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Awesome ride report, thanks for sharing.
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Old 06-06-11, 08:45 PM
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In the Army, we always had a dummy cord for our sensitive items. I would just connect a line from the bag to your ring, maybe a clip.
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Old 06-06-11, 11:21 PM
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Thanks for the entertaining account, Bau. Since I was mentioned a couple of times, I'm going to butt into your adventure a little bit. I don't mean to steal your thunder, I just want to whet your excitement for another trip.

I've pedaled the whole thing aside from the few miles into Jersey Shore and a short stretch between Cedar Run and Slate Run. In 2009 I rode the middle section and upper. In 2010 I just did a stretch in the canyon itself.

No offense to Jersey Shore, but the reason I've started at the north end is that Wellsboro is a bigger and neater town (the main street is light by gas lamps), Pag-Omar Farmer's Market at the trail's end has great food, the grade from the north end is a slight downhill, and because if you have a car or Mr. Beanz's legs you can ride up to the west rim of the canyon. (The road up to the west rim is a mile west on Rt. 6 from the trail.) Also, I admit I have a prejudice towards Jersey Shore, since I voted it "Most Boring Town in PA" when I lived in nearby Lock Haven. But that was 20 years ago.....

You guys liked Pettecote Junction Campground better than I did. I thought it was a little grubby. And the boaters do keep late nights. But it's on the trail, and the store in Cedar Run has great ice cream.

The free hiker/biker/boaters sites along the trail are nice, but the composting toilets leave a lot to be desired. The trail campsites are run by the State Forest department, and you should get a permit beforehand.

Downtown Jersey Shore:





One of the trail bridges near Waterville. The trail crosses Pine Creek four times on these railroad bridges:





PA Bike Route G, running north to south, uses the Pine Creek Rail Trail from Wellsboro Junction to Waterville. At Waterville the bike route switches to PA Rt 44. In 2009 I continued with the trail south, but then switched to the road on the way back to my car. The road has a limited shoulder and some rollers, but it gives a change of scenery and one spectacular view. I know; a year after I grabbed this shot a better photographer visited the same location and his work was on the cover of Pennsylvania Magazine.





Cell phone service is spotty in the gorge. You got a signal at Rattlesnake Rock (named because of the, well, fondness rattlers have for it), I got one at the bridge just past it. And just past that bridge is the entrance to the canyon - the 17 mile stretch between Blackwell and Ansonia. Gillespie Point, the "Matterhorn of Pennsylvania" stands at Blackwell as guard to the canyon entrance.

 
Old 06-06-11, 11:35 PM
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The trail is much the same as it goes through the bottom of the canyon. You really should see it from the rim at some point.

West Rim:



Old Grade Trail, between Slate and Naval Run:



Sunrise, West Rim. Notice the fog rolling in?



East Rim, from the big observation platforms. You can either drive 15 miles from the trail head at Ansonia to this spot, or ride on the trail, park your bikes, and hike up one mile to the platforms in Leonard Harrison State Park:



6:00 AM, East Rim.

 
Old 06-07-11, 06:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Erwin8r View Post
Good stuff! How did your bike feel over the non-paved stuff? Given your experience, anything you would have done different to the bike?
While the surface was not paved, it was still very smooth. The surface is like stone ground into a fine powder. It makes for a nice surface, BUT, it gets everywhere. Even with full fenders. A loaded bike like that handles quite differently. First, all the weight is over the rear end making your front want to wheelie with only slight effort. Your handling is effected quite a bit, cutting sharp corners isn't going to happen. Your front tire is also prone to understeer in loose gravel. Once again, this is because all the weight is in back.

Going at it again, for this specific trail I would choose larger diameter slicks rather than cyclocross tires. The cross tires preformed well, but kicked up a ton of dust/general crap. Something like a set of Big Apples might keep dust down and provide a bit more sidewall suspension than the cross wolfs. I also think I would opt for a trailer, or pick up a front rack and bags for extra storage.
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Old 06-07-11, 06:40 AM
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God Bless Black and Tan.
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Old 06-07-11, 07:38 AM
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Nice account; I felt like I was there. Especially regarding the wedding ring travails. I got my ring at 285, and when I got to about 220 it fell off my finger once in the front hallway while putting on a coat. So, like the intelligent human I am, I put it back on. Cut to one day at about 210 when I realize while unloading groceries in the kitchen that the ring is again missing. No sign of it anywhere in the kitchen, the laundry room, the garage, the car. I retrace my steps in my mind, trying to remember all the places I hit while running errands that morning and my heart is just in my throat. Our rings were custom designed and made for us by a jewelry artist in Oakland, and are basically irreplaceable. While they're gold, which could normally be resized easily enough, the design of the rings will make that very difficult. I finally found it in the bottom of a plastic grocery bag, not from my run to the store, but the one in my briefcase that I haul my lunch in. And I only found it because I was emptying out my briefcase on the kitchen counter so I could search every nook and cranny in it, and the plastic bag that I flung on the counter hit with a loud thunk that a plastic bag shouldn't normally do. Now it's put away safely until we can figure out what to do to make it fit.

There's little in life that engenders the kind of panic you get when you lose your wedding ring, or the sense of relief when you find it.

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Old 06-07-11, 07:41 AM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by bautieri View Post
While the surface was not paved, it was still very smooth. The surface is like stone ground into a fine powder. It makes for a nice surface, BUT, it gets everywhere. Even with full fenders. A loaded bike like that handles quite differently. First, all the weight is over the rear end making your front want to wheelie with only slight effort. Your handling is effected quite a bit, cutting sharp corners isn't going to happen. Your front tire is also prone to understeer in loose gravel. Once again, this is because all the weight is in back.

Going at it again, for this specific trail I would choose larger diameter slicks rather than cyclocross tires. The cross tires preformed well, but kicked up a ton of dust/general crap. Something like a set of Big Apples might keep dust down and provide a bit more sidewall suspension than the cross wolfs. I also think I would opt for a trailer, or pick up a front rack and bags for extra storage.
There are plus and minus for a trailer. Plus is that you don't have the weight on the bike and you can drop the trailer if you need to - say at the campsite if you want to ride into town. Minus is that it encourages overpacking and it limits 'mixed' trips - you can take your bike on commuter trains, but not a trailer.

BTW, the C & O and certain other rough trails will be very hard on a two wheeled trailer. Better is a single wheeled trailer like mine, that tracks behind the bike's rear wheel.

Front racks will improve your bike's handling. The usual ratio I've read is 40 per cent of the weight on the front, 60 per cent on the back.
 
Old 06-07-11, 09:07 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by Neil_B View Post
There are plus and minus for a trailer. Plus is that you don't have the weight on the bike and you can drop the trailer if you need to - say at the campsite if you want to ride into town. Minus is that it encourages overpacking and it limits 'mixed' trips - you can take your bike on commuter trains, but not a trailer.

BTW, the C & O and certain other rough trails will be very hard on a two wheeled trailer. Better is a single wheeled trailer like mine, that tracks behind the bike's rear wheel.

Front racks will improve your bike's handling. The usual ratio I've read is 40 per cent of the weight on the front, 60 per cent on the back.
That is pretty much the conclusion that we came to when trying to decide if it was better to use a trailer or a set of panniers. I don't think that one is really better than the other. They each have their advantages and drawbacks. Panniers force you to pack smart and question whether or not something is really needed, the major draw back is it limits your capacity and places all the weight directly over your rear tire which may influence spoke breakage and pinch flats. You really need to analyze everything cost to benefit ratio, with the cost being the space it takes up. Food, for one, needs to be evaluated based on the caloric yield for the space it takes up as well as the preparation method. That is unless you want to live off of peanut butter. A trailer offers more flexibility in what all you can take along, especially odd shaped objects, but has the draw back that you will most likely over pack it and the transportation issues you brought up. The consideration with the trailer isn't so much the space that an object takes up, so much as the weight of the item. Thus I feel that one isn't necessarily better than the other, but I am no expert on the subject matter.

A single wheeled trailer like your Big Tow or a Bob Yak would definatly be better on the C&O because you won't have to drag one wheel through the rough in the middle of the trail. For a trail as well groomed as this one, the child's trailer did quite well. I suspect an on-road tour would have similar results though it is an extra wheel to care for, as well as drag and overall width.
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Old 06-07-11, 09:07 AM
  #25  
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Great thread. Enjoyed reading every last word and the pictures told a 1000 tales.
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