Category Archives: gear

Posts about gear – what gear to bring, what not to bring, and why.

What to bring: Sleeping gear for camping

This is the first in a series of posts about specific gear that we plan to bring on our trip.

tent with meditators

A comfortable position for meditation, but a sad looking tent!

We’ll be camping many nights on our upcoming trip. For that reason, it is important to be comfortable while in our tent – whether the conditions are cold or hot, wet or dry. Once you’re on the road long enough, you will hit all conditions, including those most unpleasant. Let’s take a look at the gear we’ll bring.

Tent – Having a good quality tent is a must for comfort. It must have low, waterproof fly for those days when it is pouring rain. The fly can be removed to provide more circulation in hot weather. Also, it is best to have enough space to relax in the tent. When you are caught in a bad rain, it is nice to pass the time playing cards. Finally, we like to have enough space under the fly but outside the tent to store bags and dirty shoes. We got our tent from REI (Quarter Dome T2 Plus).

snow and wet tent

A night where we needed both warmth and waterproofing.

Sleeping bags – We’ll be hitting some cool nights in Alaska – likely down near freezing. Warm sleeping bags are a must for a good night’s sleep! We considered buying silk liners for extra warmth, but decided we wouldn’t need it. We have 20°F (-7°C) bags, and will switch to 40°F (4°C)  when we get to warmer climates. We got our warm bags from GoLite.

Sleeping pads – The big choice here is whether to go with foam or inflatable pads. (We did not consider for a second to not have a pad!) Foam pads are great because they can’t pop/deflate, but inflatable pads are great because they pack up into a smaller space. Both get you off the cold ground which is helpful. We’re planning to use our self-inflating open-cell foam pads (from Therm-a-Rest). We’ll probably pack a patch kit in case we puncture them. I have read about some folks taking both types of pads… maybe that is excessive?

Pillows – Are not necessary for short trips, but they are essential for long-term comfort. After weeks and months of sleeping in your tent, you don’t want to develop a neck or back ache from not having a pillow! I think pillows are are very personal, and a good fit will depend on your preferences. We decided to go with small inflatable ones, which have two different fabrics on the two sides – one better for hot conditions, and one for cold.

sleeping bag and pads

Sleeping bags and pads in their stuff sacks. Kindles, cards, and headlamps are often used in our tent, too!

Stuff sacks – Preferably waterproof, you’ll need bags to store each of these items in. Usually they come with each item you buy. Don’t lose them! Without the bags, your supplies will never pack down into small places. Compression bags are also great for clothing, but we’ll get into that in another post.

And last, but not least…

Bear spray – This isn’t necessary for physical comfort, but in bear-prone areas, think of it as your cuddle buddy for sweet, unworried dreams. This is best used when touring solo!

Blogging on a Chromebook

That black spot on the futon is Eva, the service dog we are training.

The black dog on the futon is Eva, the service dog we are training!

I was looking for a light, durable, inexpensive computer to take on bicycle tour. Chromebooks, netbooks, “regular” laptops, and tablets were all on my list of possibilities. I decided on a Chromebook (Acer C720, $199).

Lightweight – less than 3 lbs
8.5 hrs battery life – or more, with the wifi off
Small for a laptop (but not as small as a tablet)
Solid-state drive – no moving parts means it is more durable and harder to break
Boots up in just a few seconds – because it only runs Chrome and its Apps
Inexpensive – only $199 on sale

Only 16 GB hard drive – but it comes with 100 GB cloud storage
Can’t run Word or other programs – but Google docs works offline and syncs automatically
Larger than a tablet – but is compact for a device that has a full keyboard
No offline WordPress App – will have to use Google Docs offline, and then copy text into posts

After my first two weeks, I’m quite happy with my Chromebook. I’ll only need the Chrome web browser to be able to blog and check email while on tour, so having limited program functionality is not an issue. The cloud storage will compensate for the small local storage, and will have the added bonus of backing up all of our photos along the way.

When on tour, we’ll be camping a lot without electricity. The long battery life will be key – I didn’t come across any other tablets or computers that compared (without being much heavier). I’ll write posts using Google Drive offline, and can copy the text into WordPress to make posts when we have an internet connection. This computer will certainly be a great upgrade over writing emails on a ipod touch or using public computers at libraries.

Our Bikes: Surly LHTs

surly LHT

Our bikes currently live inside, but soon they will be outdoors 24/7!

This post is solely about our bicycles and their components. Read on to find out some gritty details.

Long Haul Truckers are a touring standard.

LHTs are a touring standard.

Frame: We chose to get Surly Long Haul Trucker (LHT) frames. Daisy has a 46 cm, and I have a 60 cm. Needless to say, we don’t fit very well if we try to ride each others’ bikes! LHTs are known in the touring community as very reliable. We wanted to go a little above and beyond the basic model to upgrade some components. Daisy likes to have things, as she says, “bomb-proof.” This will be useful so we don’t have to worry about maintenance mishaps in remote areas. The combination of various upgrades meant it would actually be easier to just custom-build the bikes starting from the LHT frame. Our local bike shop, Freeze Thaw Cycles was very happy to oblige.

Wheels: We wanted sealed bearings, a dynamo hub, and extra sturdy wheels. Justin (from Freeze Thaw) made a custom build – with 36 spokes per wheel. We chose 26″ wheels because that is the standard size for bikes in Central and South America, which will allow us to get new parts as needed. Sealed bearing hubs allow for less maintenance.

Front wheel with Schmidt dynamo to light the LEDs

Front wheel with Schmidt dynamo to light the LEDs

Tires: We are big fans of Schwalbe Marathon tires. This line of tires lasts a loooong time, and they don’t flat easily. In the summer of 2012 we rode about 2500 miles without flats – border-to-border from Mexico to Canada on ACA’s Sierra Cascades route. Also, once we get out of the US and Canada, we expect all sorts of flat-inducing road hazards. I hear cactus needles are bad in Mexico…

Lights: We each got a Schmidt dynamo hub for electricity generation and LED front and rear lights. The rear Seculight plus light is on all the time to increase visibility (for safety). The front Planet Bike light has 3 settings: off, on, and blink. The LHT frame has a nicely positioned eyelet on the front fork so you can mount the front light easily. We’re excited about the lights because you never know when may be caught in the dark. In fact, they sure came in handy when we were cycle-touring the outer banks in late November!

tiny chainringGears: We like it low for those steep hills while fully loaded for touring. Our smallest-largest chainring combo is 22-34, giving a ratio of 0.65. That means three pedal rotations are only 2 wheel rotations. Add that to the fact that the 26″ wheels are smaller than 700C wheels. What you have is a gear that is so low there is no question that walking is faster!

Racks: We went with something very sturdy – Tubus front and rear racks. The outer diameter of tubes on these racks is about 3/8″, and the front rack has a tube that is over 1/2″. That seems pretty sturdy to me. Plus, since they are made of steel, we can get a weld job south of the border, if for some reason they do break. (Note: Aluminum racks are not so easy to weld.)

Bags: Ortleib is the touring standard for waterproof cycling bags. We each have 2 front, 2 rear, a rack pack, and a handlebar bag. When you’ll be on the road for a long time, you end up carrying a lot of stuff. We also wanted space to store 2 or three bear canisters worth of extra food, cooking supplies, and other smellables for when we’ll be several days between towns in remote bear country in Alaska and Canada. We bought our bags from, which was relatively inexpensive, and chatting with Wayne to place your order is a riot. Of course we’ll have some bungee cords to strap on other items, as necessary.

Fully loaded bike, with a tent instead of a read rack pack.

Jason’s fully loaded bike, with a tent instead of a rear rack pack.

Honeymoon Recap (Outer Banks Tour)

Loop through the Outer Banks of NC; 6 days of riding; 285 mi (460 km)

6-day Bicycle route through the Outer Banks of NC

Bicycle route through the Outer Banks of NC

The trip was a resounding success! We had a great time, our bikes worked well, and we had enough warm gear to keep us going. We saw some awesome sights, including lighthouses and the Wright Brothers National Memorial. And we had quite a few adventures, like getting picked up by the Currituck Sheriff on the beach highway, the Sisyphean sand plows, and the (almost) never-ending muddy wildlife refuge road.

We knew we needed to head south from PA if we were going to have a pleasant bicycle tour in late November, but we were a little surprised by how cold the weather actually was in the outer banks!


Daily temperatures on our trip - colder than average!

Daily temperatures on our trip – colder than average!

On half of the days, the daily high was actually close to or below the average low. Brrr. But this ended up being useful, in the fact that we could test our cold-weather gear. We wanted to do this anyway, since we are planning to start in Alaska in May, and depending on the year it is chilly. We learned that we have enough warm things for our cores, but could definitely use a few items…


#1: Thin wool gloves – Our hands were warm inside the bar mitts, but wool gloves would have been better for wet conditions

#2: Neoprene booties – Our rain covers for our shoes did not hold up, and once our socks got wet our feet got cold. Good booties could remedy this problem by keeping out the cold and wind.

#3: Warm waterproof hiking boots – Our SPD-style riding shoes are actually summer shoes with a lot of mesh for breatheability and contain vents in the bottoms. These vents were great at letting in water! So, for those days that are both quite cold and really wet having some hiking boots would be great to keep our feet both dry and warm. Also, it would give us an extra pair of shoes when one is wet, and for hiking in general.

#4: Flat pedal attachments – We’ll need some pedal attachments to allow use of “normal” shoes if we wear our hiking boots when riding.

In other lessons learned… we definitely will be more careful with our use of Google Maps! There are a lot of roads on map services (and in GPSs) that are not very driveable – or rideable). This makes more of a difference when the road turns muddy, and the winter days are short. Speaking of which, this was our first winter-season tour, and we were caught off guard by how early it got dark! If we weren’t set up to camp by 4:30 or so we were in for a cold dinner — at around 5 PM it got dark.

The final lesson was that we need to get used to our new bicycles and the riding postures. I (Jason) started having knee pain part way through the trip, and it got so bad I couldn’t finish the ride back to Virginia Beach on the last day. We think it was brought on by a change in riding posture – our new bikes are set up to focus on the hamstring muscle group and pulling, as opposed to the quads and pushing – in combination with a lot of hard mashing into the wind. My knee is doing much better now, though, and this is good, since I commute via bicycle to work every day.

Drying the tent and rain fly.

Drying the tent and rain fly after returning home.