Cycling: Long Haul Trucking

Recently, my wife got a job off the island. This means that both of us need to commute and unfortunately our places of employment are 40 minutes apart by motorized vehicle on the highway. Our options for commuting were: using our one vehicle to transport us to both, buying a second vehicle or for me to buy a bike. I’ve been wanting to buy a bike for quite a while and this was my opportunity.

I did a bunch of online investigating and talking to friends who bike. I was looking for a good commuting bike, but also one that I could take bike camping in the summer and possibly some longer touring in the future. I narrowed it down to a few options: VeloORANGE Campeur, Jamis Auroroa, Kona Sutra, Novara Rondonee, Surly Long Haul Trucker or Surly Cross-Check. I went to Craigslist and Ebay looking for a used bike, but didn’t find much and I was unsure what size frame to get. I wanted to talk to someone about the options and get properly fitted, and only Surly had a dealer in Portland.

So, I went into Gorham Bike and Ski to talk about buying a Long Haul Trucker or a Cross-Check. They were really knowledgeable and reiterated a lot of the information I had found online about comparing the two bikes. You can’t go wrong with either of them. The Cross-Check is lighter and quicker. The Long Haul Trucker rides smooth even with a heavy load. The Long Haul Trucker has more braze-ons for fenders, racks and panniers. This year’s Cross-Check model comes in orange! After visiting I was still unsure which bike I wanted, but I walked away with what I really needed: a rough price including the accessories I wanted.

I thought about it overnight (as well as prowling more cycling forums), and returned to Gorham Bike and Ski the next day to make my purchase. What it came down to was that I wanted a bike with which I could tour and the Long Haul Trucker was better set up for that. Yes, the Cross-Check may have been the better choice for a commuter bike, but trust me, I wasn’t worried about getting to work quickly. It also helped that I saw many comments stating that if they could only own one bike it would be a Long Haul Trucker.

Bike leaning against fence

My new ride: Surly Long Haul Trucker (from Instagram)

The folks at Gorham Bike and Ski fitted me (56cm frame) and we moved on to the purchase and accessories. I had some choices to make, I went with:

  • Cakipants color over Blacktacular as it was more appealing to me
  • Long Haul Trucker over Disc Trucker to save some money on the frame
  • 700c tires over 26″ for less fatigue and better performance over potholes, even though 26″ are more common and sturdier
  • Default saddle, but I will probably upgrade in the future
  • Default drop-bars even though many do not like the bar-end shifters, having not cycled in a very long time I had no preference and didn’t think I’d mind the shifters even though I would occasionally hit them
  • Added fenders for rainy days as I was planning on commuting every day I could regardless of weather
  • Started with just a back rack and one pannier bag, a Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Tote as it was waterproof
  • Some mid-line blinking LED lights, I didn’t go with the best choice as I was not planning on cycling at night
  • RaceRocket pump
  • Mid-line Specialized bike helmet which was better ventilated than the low-end helmet
  • Bike lock
  • Basic platform pedals
  • A couple of basic water bottles and cages
  • A spare 700c tube

A week later my wife called me at work to let me know that my bike was ready. I left work early to swing by the bike shop once more and pick up my bike. After some small adjustments and purchasing a protection plan the bike was mine. I parked my car and spun around the parking lot a few times to get used to my bike and then walked it down to the boat. I was far too unfamiliar with the bike and unsure of traffic to ride through Portland. Thus began my weekend-long trepidation for my first day of commuting. But, after spending the weekend route planning, researching bicycle safety and signaling and reading my state laws I felt much more confident hitting the street.

I must say that I love my Long Haul Trucker and don’t suffer any buyer’s remorse. I have done some calculations and assuming an average price of $3.00 per gallon of gasoline, I will pay off my bike in 288 commutes (or roughly a year) based on the car mileage saved. Assuming I would have have purchased a used Toyota Tacoma from a local dealership I trust and assuming the same $3.00 gas price, it would have taken 2750 commutes (or 10.5 years) for it to pay itself off, not considering registration, parking, and maintenance.

I was very happy with my choice to go to Gorham Bike and Ski (no affiliation). They were knowledgeable and not a bit intimidating (I walked in a total cycling noob). They also offered 10% off all accessories when purchasing a new bike and a free 30-day checkup (where accessories are once again 10% off).

I look forward expanding my wandering possibilities by leveraging my Long Haul Trucker and sharing those experience on this blog. I have already dreamed up plans to bike down The Eastern Trail, bike camp in the White Mountains, bike to Burlington, VT, and a Portland to Portland cross-country trip (in ascending ridiculousness order).

References:
Gorham Bike & Ski.” gorhambike.com. Gorham Bike & Ski. Web. 11 April 2015.
Long Haul Trucker.” surlybikes.com. Surly. Web. 11 April 2015.
RaceRocket.” topeak.com. Topeak, Inc. Web. 11 April 2015.
Specialized Bicycled Helmets.” specialized.com. Specialized Bicycle Company. 11 April 2015.
Surly Long Haul Trucker or Cross-Check.” google.com. Google, Inc. Web. 11 April 2015.
Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Tote.” thule.com. Thule Group. Web. 11 April 2015.
Top 100 Touring Bicycles.” bicycletouringpro.com. Bicycle Touring Pro. Web. 11 April 2015.

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Backyard Adventure: Do You Want to Build a Quinzee?

Since last winter I’ve tried to build an igloo in my backyard so I could experience sleeping encapsulated in snow. Though Maine has been pounded with snow in the last couple of weeks it hasn’t passed the snow ball test (is the snow sticky enough to hold a snow ball shape?), which is required in order to form the blocks for the igloo. Fortunately, the AMC’s blog recently posted an article on building a quinzee, and I tried it out.

I started by shoveling as much snow as I could manage into a pile in my backyard. This took about 2 hours and I ended up with a pile of snow that was roughly 7 feet high, 12 feet long and 6 feet wide. Next I climbed on top of the pile in order to pack it down as much as possible. When I was done the pile was about 5 feet high.

Quinzee pile

Quinzee pile

At that point I went inside to make lunch and let the pile refreeze. When the snow was piled up, the snow flakes’ arms broke which caused some melting at the point of the break. By waiting at least an hour this allowed the snowflakes to refreeze, making the snow pile more stable.

After Lunch I returned to the pile with a short-handled spade shovel and metal mixing bowl. I started carving into the pile about a half a foot above ground level. I would have preferred to start a foot above ground (as you should have at least a foot of packed snow to insulate you from the frozen ground), but I wanted to make sure I had enough head room to sit up inside and have walls at least a foot thick for stability.

Tools used to dig Quinzee

Tools used to dig Quinzee

Shortly after starting with the spade shovel I could no longer reach or get the right angle with the shovel and I started climbing into the hole and scraping the walls and ceiling with the mixing bowl. It worked wonders. I continued carving into the the pile as well as toward the ceiling and walls. Once I had a substantial amount of snow dug out I crawled out of the quinzee and drew the snow out behind me with the snow shovel.

I measured into the snow pile with the snow shovel to make sure I didn’t shovel too far in any direction. The AMC article suggested sticking foot-long sticks into the quinzee so that you knew when you were getting close to the walls, but I could tell as the walls would lighten from sunlight if I dug them too thin.

I repeated the digging/drawing snow out of the quinzee process until I was content with the shape and size of the interior. I sat cross-legged in the middle to make sure the ceiling was tall enough, and laid down on the floor to make sure I had enough leg room to sleep within.

From within, enough room to stretch

From within, enough room to stretch

I had plans to sleep inside the quinzee, so I got my air pad and fleece sleeping bag liner and placed them inside. I also placed the plastic container that I used to make igloo blocks inside as a table for my battery operated lantern. Just to decrease any concerns I had of the quinzee collapsing I climbed on top and bounced around on my knees (I’m sure I was quite the sight). My quinzee was complete and ready to become a winter shelter.

Completed Quinzee

Completed Quinzee, with beer holder

Unfortunately, the forecast for that night was temperatures around 0 degrees and it did not warm much above 10 degrees for the following couple of weeks. Since it was built the quinzee partially collapsed (I’m guessing due to a few warm and sunny days) and the ceiling which was over 3 feet tall is now less than 2 feet tall. I did not get to sleep in it, but it was a fun experience. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I’ll be able to build another quinzee or an igloo and actually get to sleep in it.

References:
The Blizzard is Here! Don’t Just Shovel it-Build a Quinzee!equipped.outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 2 February 2015.

Backyard Adventure: First Adventure of 2014

Backyard Adventures are small adventures that I set upon to soothe my wanderlust when I cannot afford (with time or money) to take on larger adventures. Some will be done with my sons (under the guise of “just playing with the boys”), and some will just be flat out crazy to the normal (read sheltered) human and I’ll have no real excuse for my behavior except that I wanted to see what it was like. This was one of the latter. 

It’s the dead of winter and you don’t have the gear for camping overnight, what do you do? Me, I camp out overnight anyway.

I have a L.L. Bean Microlight FS tent, an EMS Mountain Light 20° sleeping bag and a Big Agnes Air Core sleeping pad. Great, 3-season, light gear. But, I have dreams of hiking my first winter 4000 footer. Unfortunately, since I live on an island off the coast of Portland, Maine, it requires an overnight camp to have enough daylight to hike a 4000 footer. My goal this winter is to find the perfect weekend where it’s not snowing on a Friday or Saturday night so I can drive up to the White Mountains, where the temperature doesn’t drop below 20°F at night (okay, I could take low teens) and the weather on the following day is below freezing but sunny and with as little wind as possible.

I know, impossible, right?

In order to prepare for the camping-overnight-bit of my dream weekend, I decided to try camping out overnight on the island in the middle of January.  I didn’t want to find myself out in the middle of the White Mountains in some of the “worst weather in the world” without knowing my gear’s capabilities. When a weekend came around where I wasn’t doing anything and the weather was looking optimal for my test scenario (low wind, temperature in the 20s) I decided to take my gear for a test run.

Yes, my wife told me I was nuts as well.

bya-first-2014-tent

Settled down for a cozy night

I packed up my gear and headed out into the forest near my house. I brought my headlamp with me but found it wonderous to wander the forest by moonlight. It transformed the woods that I grew up exploring into an unknown landscape. I made my way generally toward the middle of the woods, hoping to find a location that was far enough from houses and streets as to not hear any cars or see any lights.

I found a spot sheltered by a small copse of pine trees but with a clear view of the stars overhead. I stamped out a flat area with my snowshoes and set up my tent. I realized I didn’t know how to stake out my tent in snow, which I needed to do in order to properly utilize the fly, so I hoped that the wind wouldn’t pick up overnight. I fired up my new Jetboil Flash, cooked some dinner and cracked open a Maine Beer Co. Lunch. I spent a little while enjoying some hot food, great beer and staring at the stars, but it was time to get to business. The reason I was here was to test out my gear, so I hit the sack.

bya-first-2014-temp

I later discovered that the temperature dropped a lot lower than forecasted

I spent the night trying to keep warm. The weak point in my protection from the cold was my air pad. Any part of my body touching the pad slowly had the heat sapped out of it. After a while I would wake up and need to turn over to warm that side of my body. My feet were also cold, but not cold enough to interrupt my sleep. Several times I considered packing up and snowshoeing back home, but I did not relish crawling out of my warm(ish) sleeping bag into the frigid winter night.

After enough time had passed that I deemed it not insane to get up (4:30am), I quickly made my way out of my sleeping bag and into my clothes. My boots were ice-cold and my toes were soon numb. I fired up my Jetboil to make some coffee. I was lucky that I had the Jetboil running because my tent poles turned my fingers instantly into ice and I was able to warm them over the flame. I found that many of the tent pole sections were frozen together and I had hold them between my fingers until my body heat thawed them. Shortly I had my camp broken down and I enjoyed my coffee by the flame of the Jetboil.

I headed home in the early morning darkness, following the same meandering route I took into the forest. By the time I made it home the eastern sky had begun to lighten, so I dropped my pack and made my way to the south shore of the island. I ended my backyard adventure snapping some shots of ice and sunrise.

bya-first-2014-sunrise

Sunrise and icicles

My takeaway from this experience was that I didn’t have the gear for single digit temperatures, but I think I could have made it through a night in the high teens and twenties. I’m pretty sure that wind would make even the twenties hard to bear as there was space between the ground and the bottom of the fly. Possibly I could have figured out how to stake out or tie down my fly and then pile up snow around it to prevent wind from entering the tent.

Sounds like something to test out on another cold and windy night this winter.

A few tips and realizations I’ve discovered since that night:

  • I have a fleece sleeping bag liner
  • I could try placing my old foam pad under my air pad for added insulation
  • I can heat water and put it in water bottles. Placing these bottles in the bottom of my sleeping bag and in my boots keep them from freezing over night and I would have water that wasn’t frozen in the morning as a bonus
  • I should have a towel ready for when I open my sleeping bag. Body heat escaping will thaw the frost built up on the inside of the tent, wiping it off will prevent the tent from getting wet

A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.
—Marilyn Monroe

References:
Big Agnes Air Core Sleeping Pad.” backcountry.com. Backcountry.com. Web. 23 February 2014.
White, Carol Stone. Peak Experiences: Danger, Death, and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast. UPNE, 2012. Print.
EMS Mountain Light 15° Sleeping Bag, Long.” ems.com. Eastern Mountain Sports, inc. Web. 23 February 2014.
It’s Official—Australia has the Worst Weather in the World.” theaposition.com. The A Position. Web. 17 March 2014.
Jetboil Flash Cooking System.” rei.com. Recreational Equipment, Inc. Web. 16 March 2014.
Lunch.” mainebeercompany.com. Maine Beer Company. Web. 16 March 2014.
Microlight FS 1-Person Tent.” llbean.com. L.L. Bean, inc. Web. 23 February 2014.

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