Archive for the ‘ultralight bicycle touring’ Category

Coastal Camping

August 20, 2013 9 comments

Bodie Island Camp

Camping on the Outer Banks of North Carolina can be a challenge.  A dispiriting wind blows here like no other place, picking up sand and blasting everything in its path with equal disdain.  In this treeless environment the wind plows through unchecked for miles searching out its next victim and cyclists are easy prey.  Imagine battling a horrendous headwind for forty miles, arriving at a coastal campground mentally and physically exhausted, then trying to pitch a tent while being pelted by sand.

Here are a few tips for pitching a tent in windy conditions. 

First, site location.  Try to pick a spot with some type of wind break.  This last trip out my wife and I were lucky enough to find tent sites just behind small sand dunes.  If you can’t find a naturally occurring wind break you may be able to make one by up-ending a picnic table on its side.

Tent selection is another consideration.  If you have the choice, go with a smaller tent.  When tents are strung taut with tent poles they become kites and smaller kites are easier to control.  We were using a Big Agnes Seed House 2; a small free-standing tent with a low aerodynamic profile.  It was a good choice, easy to pitch in the wind and never gave us any concern of blowing down in the middle of the night.

Tent positioning is as important as site location.  Obviously position the door away from the prevailing wind direction.  We witnessed several poorly positioned tents inflate and blow apart.  Don’t be shy about asking for help, or offering to help your tenting neighbor. 

Be careful with loose stuff sacks.  Loose everything for that matter; socks, underwear, maps are all fair game to rogue winds.

Lastly, anchor well.  If your tent comes with those skinny bent rod type stakes, consider changing them out for bladed stakes.  Rod stakes will never hold in the sand.  Bring extra line to tie the tent to a solid object, like a picnic table.  You can also make anchors by filling plastic shopping bags with sand and tying off to those.

Do you have any pointers for tenting in high winds?  Leave a comment.

Thanks for reading The Velo Hobo!


Winter Bike Project: Surly Pacer

December 29, 2012 7 comments

I’ve lost an old friend.  Racing down the mountain, flying along behind Andy, hit a hole.  Things like this happen in my fast paced, caution to the wind, cycling lifestyle.  Uh? Oh no, Andy’s fine.  It’s my beloved Specialized Sequoia that has ‘bitten the dust’.  I must have been doing many miles per hour when I smacked that hole.  My headlight flew off in one direction, taillight in another, rear wheel went wobbly, rear derailleur went wonky.  She hobbled back with one gear as if to say “I’m okay Jack.  See?”  But my fear is that there is some unseen crack in the carbon seat stays or forks that will reveal itself as I’m bounding down the steep side of some Parkway peak.  So I’m putting the old girl down. Sniffle.  Truth is she was pretty worn out anyway.  I’ve ridden her across the state of North Carolina and on countless shorter tours, centuries, metrics and casual day rides.  She’ll be replaced by Surly’s most overlooked bike, the Pacer.

Sticker will fall off in a few weeks.

Many bikes nowadays are made of carbon fiber, wind tunnel technology and pixie dust.  This ain’t one of ‘em.  If you’re in the market for a new road bike and your local bike shop is steering you towards “the same model Lance rides”, ask yourself this:  How many races have you been in lately?  If your answer is zero, then your options for choosing a new bike have just increased tremendously, and the Pacer, or something like it, may just be the bike for you.

Surly decal, while it lasts.

I’m choosing the Pacer for a few reasons.  My dedicated touring bike is a Surly Travelers Check and it has proven itself to be rock solid.  Pretty?  No.  But a tough bike and comfortable despite having a tighter geometry than a true touring bike.  Price is another important factor.  I’m not sure where Surly’s frames are built; they may be welded together by little Indonesian children.  But whatever, they’re strong and inexpensive.   So I’m sold on Surly.

I’ve learned my carbon/aluminum lesson; I’m going with genuine unadulterated Chinese or wherever steel.  Also I like the company’s no nonsense approach to building bikes.  The Pacer will be my daily ‘knock around with friends’ bike and I’ll keep the TC set up with racks and fenders for carrying a bit more weight.  The Pacer will also pull double duty as an Ultralight tourer for quick minimalist S24Os.

My wife tells me the Pacer is the ugliest shade of blue she has ever seen.  “Sparkle Boogie Blue” is what Surly is calling it.  Coincidently my eyes are also “Sparkle Boogie Blue” so I’m a bit offended by my wife’s comment.  I’ve tried explaining to her that Surly goes to great lengths, hiring a team of colorists and spending billions of dollars on surveys and focus groups to choose the ugliest colors available.  This makes it seem as if little or no thought went into choosing colors. This is why Surly is one of the most unpretentious bike companies out there.  They put a lot of effort into being unpretentious.  You gotta pay a little extra for that, but it’s worth it.

We don't need no stinking headbadges!

Follow along here as I build one of these swanky rides with a collection of new and salvaged parts.  Thanks to Andy at Bryson City Bicycles for helping me get my greasy paws on this great frame!

And as always, thanks for reading, Jack

Destination: Wright Brothers National Memorial. Kill Devil Hills, NC

December 3, 2012 55 comments


About thirty miles south of Corolla was our next destination, the Wright Brothers Memorial.  The bicycle Gods took pity on us and aimed their winds at our backsides.  Still cold and wet, but at least the wind gave us a fast downhill run back to Kill Devil Hills.  It’s still unclear what provoked these two accomplished bicycle mechanics to abandon a lucrative career wrenching bikes and pursue the silliness of flight, but what they did on this sandy field in 1903 changed humankind forever.  There is no telling what wonderful innovations in bicyclery were lost due to the misguided path these two chose.  As it happened aviation took off like a, well rocket and bicycles remain almost frozen in time.  How many of you are still riding steel A-framed bikes?  You know we should all be on hover-bikes by now, right?  Oh well.  Before bailing out on biking, these two invented the self-oiling hub and a crank arm that the pedal screws on backwards (if you’ve ever gotten pissed off trying to take a pedal off a crank, blame Orville).

Danger Close with Wright Flyer
I find the whole thing a bit unbelievable.  We went hundreds of thousands of years walking or riding on the backs of animals; then about sixty years after the first flight we land on the moon.  Does anyone else suspect the tinkering of aliens or is it just me?

There’s plenty to see here and it’s one of my favorite places to visit on the coast. Walk the actual field where their first four flights were made, see replicas of the Wright Flyer and glider, climb Kill Devil Hill and look over the many exhibits.  My favorite is the life-size bronze recreation of the first flight.

Arriving on a loaded touring bike, especially one with a retro look will garner appreciative glances from the Park Rangers.  Getting there is a breeze if you follow well marked bike paths.  Before heading out to tour the northern Outer Banks stop at the visitor’s center and ask for the Dare County bicycle map.  This will keep you off the deadly 158 (a mistake we made) and on well-maintained bike routes.

End Note: Flexibility and “Roll with the Punches”ness is important when bike touring hurricane ravaged coastlines.  Our route south of Kill Devil Hills was washed away so we lingered in Kitty Hawk and enjoyed the hospitality of our Warm Showers hosts.  We finished our tour back on Roanoke Island in miserable weather.  Still a wonderful short tour and we can’t wait to come back to the coast.

Thanks for reading, Jack

Destination: Top of the Lighthouse at Corolla NC

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Ride as far as the pavement will allow on Route 12 and you’ll find (at risk of not sounding as manly and macho as I obviously am, I’m going to use the adjective ‘charming’) charming Corolla.  Marking the northern tip of the Outer Banks is a tall brick stanchion rising far above other buildings in town.  This beacon is the most beautiful, in my opinion, of all the North   Carolina coastal lighthouses.  All others are plastered and uniquely painted.  In contrast, this one was left bare and weathered showing the thousands upon thousands of bricks laid back in the days of rickety scaffolding, before hard hats, safety harnesses and OSHA regulations.  Still in great shape after 137 years of tolerating the harshest of weather, the true craftsmanship of her construction is obvious.

The top of the Currituck Beach Light Station makes a great touring destination.  Climb the 214 steps of the ornate iron spiral staircase up this 162 foot tower for an awe inspiring view.  To the north you’ll see the undeveloped and protected estuary.  Look directly down and view Historic Corolla.  Winds were gusting to 40 miles per hour on our visit, so we clung close together as we took a wind reading for the keeper.  This and all the other lighthouses on the Outer Banks are not just historical artifacts; they still work to ‘fill the dark spaces’ and warn sailors navigating the hazardous Carolina coast.

Once back on ground level, after your knees have stopped shaking, visit the Currituck Banks North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve (part of the larger North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve).  You’ll find a long boardwalk trail twisting through a maritime forest.  The Boston Globe describes this as one of the ‘most beautiful nature preserves’.  If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the wild ponies that live here on the Currituck Banks.  Like the dingo of the Australian outback, these vicious animals have been known to carry away small children.  Okay, that’s not true, but this trip report was getting a bit boring.

(To be continued.  Next stop the WrightBrothersMuseum!!!!)

Outer Banks NC: Manteo to Corolla

November 24, 2012 5 comments

Standing guard over the mainland of coastal North Carolina is a thin chain of ever shifting barrier islands known as the Outer Banks.  This sandy vanguard has been hammered by countless hurricanes and lesser storms and is in constant flux.  The Outer Banks of today is not the Outer Banks of a century ago and years from now they will have morphed into another version.  As testament to the ferociousness of the weather the surrounding waters are littered with shipwrecks, some dating back to pre-colonial days. Both pilgrims and pirates have peopled these shores. History buffs have plenty to explore in the Outer Banks

As much as I love the mountains of the Smokies, I am equally drawn to the wind swept dunes on the opposite end of the state. Every year my wife and I head out to reconnoiter another corner of the North Carolina coast.  This year’s tour held some challenges as our visit followed hurricane Sandy’s.  But despite the mountain of sand dumped on the road to Corolla and the destruction of our planned route south of Kitty Hawk, we pieced together a pretty decent excursion.

We began and ended on Roanoke Island, site of the “Lost Colony”.  Swept away by the hellacious wind, eaten by animals, carried away by the indigenous people or teleported into space; no one knows. From Roanoke we crossed the sound to Nags Head and from there we meandered north avoiding the buried sections of route 12 and made our way to Duck; buried neck deep in sand from hurricane Sandy.

With plenty of good places to eat and a cool greenway known as the Duck Trail, Duck is a neat little town.  It marks the ‘about half way’ point between Nags Head and Corolla.  We lunched and Guinnessed ourselves to stave off the cold before leaving Duck and plowed into the headwind towards Corolla.  I have lots of respect for coastal riders in these parts.  Although lacking the long steep climbs, the wind here blows with a hateful vengeance. We fought a wet and frigid headwind the whole ride from our first turn north in Nags Head all the way up the coast to Corolla.  But after a long hard day in the saddle we reward ourselves with luxury accommodations at The Inn at Corolla Light.

We awoke the next day to more of the same, cold and wet, and headed out to poke around in the old lighthouse.  (To Be Continued…)


Featured Riders: Eelco and Joppie (aka: Jake)

November 4, 2012 2 comments

Dutch Ultralight bike tourist and sports medicine professional Eelco dropped by to do a few days of hiking in the Great  Smoky Mountains National Park and (of course) to visit yours truly.  Eelco is an avid ultra-distance and Ultralight cyclist in The Netherlands.  He came to America last week for a business meeting in Atlanta and decided to extend his trip for a short bike tour to the Smokies.  He rented a Trek 2.1 in Roswell (just outside of Atlanta) and cycled his way up through the pretend mountains of North Georgia and into the ‘oh so real’ mountains of North Carolina.  In true Ultralight fashion, he is carrying his kit in a small backpack.  Eelco is an ultra-distance cyclist in The Netherlands and is quite accustomed to pushing the envelope of riding extreme distances with the barest of essentials.  After a few days of hiking in the park with my wife Raquel, Eelco headed back to Atlanta to catch a flight home.

Traveling with Eelco was Joppie, or as he has become known in America, Jake.  Jake is a refugee from class 6c of primary school De Leerlingst Haelen (The Netherlands).  Jake and Eelco decided to split up here in the Smokies citing “artistic differences”.  The tension between the two was so thick you could cut it with a knife.  Jake pulled me aside the first night he was here and asked if he could stay for a week then travel with us on our Outer Banks tour.  He said the whole trouble started before leaving Europe.  Jake had decided the two should cross the Atlantic by stowing away on a cargo ship, but Eelco insisted on flying.  Once in Atlanta, Eelco insisted the two would cut costs by renting only one bike.  Quite naturally, Jake was very insistent he have his own bike.  Eelco would have nothing of it and Jake finally relented.  Riding double on a single seated bike caused Jake more embarrassment than he could handle.

By early Saturday morning the two were no longer on speaking terms and neither made eye contact.  But oddly enough as Eelco turned the corner of our driveway and disappeared from sight Jake broke down.  He was inconsolable.  Tears and snot poured from Jake as he began telling us of all the good times he and Eelco had enjoyed; the sunsets, the camp fires, the long conversations about philosophy, religion and women.  “You never really know what you have till it’s gone”, cried Jake.  He spent the next day crying, eating ice-cream and listening to country and western love ballads.  We will try to get him back on the open road as soon as possible to break this miserable funk.

Pre-Hanging a Hammock ~ Danger is my Middle Name

September 23, 2012 12 comments

One feature of my Hennessy that I really like is that it’s pre-hung.  What I mean by that is that each end is fixed to a specific length of line.  This automatically creates a ridgeline for the fly without all the fuss and muss of hanging an additional line and makes setting up the hammock a lot quicker and simpler. I recently purchased a Grand Trunk Ultralight hammock.  Not that there is anything wrong with the Hennessy.  After ten plus years of use it’s still in great shape and my favorite piece of camping equipment. But in my ever present obsession to trim weight from my kit, I’ve decided to put together an even lighter hammock system than my pound and a half Hennessy.

My new setup has three ingredients.  The Grand Trunk (10.5 oz.), 550 paracord (approx. 2 oz.), Kelty Trip Tease line (well under 1 oz.) and my Equinox UL poncho (6 oz.). I trimmed some weight off the hammock by removing the steel S-hooks from each end.  I’d say this off-sets the weight of the paracord, so my estimate is that this system comes in at a pound or just under.  I’m saving half a pound, but sacrificing bug netting and the ultra-cool bottom entry of the Hennessy.

I’ve pre-hung the hammock on a single strand of paracord using Prusik knots at either end.  The hanging straps are 550 parcord with a series of knots every few inches for adjusting the tension.  Additional Prusiks for the rainfly/poncho finish off the assembly. At a complete disregard for safety, I’m using sticks I pick up off the ground to keep the hammock line from slipping out of the hanging straps instead of using the steel hooks. Danger is my middle name.

I already owned the poncho, so I’ve spent about 30 dollars putting the system together. I may buy a rain fly from Hennessy later; we’ll see how the poncho works out.  I believe I paid about forty buck for the poncho years ago and used it hiking as a shelter/poncho many times. If you like to build small fires in your hammock the poncho’s hood acts like a chimney to vent the smoke.  Kelty Trip Tease is used to guy out the poncho’s corners.

I still intend to use my Hennessy; I think I can get another decade of service out of this well-built hammock.  I’ll use my new setup when I’m camping at higher altitudes and spending the day climbing and when I’m touring with my wife or a friend who wants to borrow a hammock.

A note about hanging straps: I understand the hammock industry need to over build hammock equipment for liability reasons.  But if you’re making your own stuff, ask yourself if you really need to use one inch webbing strong enough to do a cargo drop out of the back of a moving airplane.  I weigh less than 170 pounds so I think the 550 paracord is over-kill, but then again, Danger is my middle name.

Here’s a video tour of the hammock: (sorry for the wonky “smart” phone video. The next one will be much better, ’cause it can’t get much worse.)

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