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  • Thunder Lake Cycle Tour with EBTC

    Posted on August 8th, 2017 admin No comments

    On August 5-6 I went on the Thunder Lake trip with Edmonton Bicycle & Touring Club.  Earlier this year, Ed Weymouth had come out to the Millet Circuit Cycle & Sports bike Meetup some time ago to talk about touring, and he met us at the start and finish in Onoway.

    Concerns About the EBTC

    Before the trip, I had several concerns

    • I’d heard that the group rode very quickly, and I was concerned about keeping up
    • Perhaps they were all younger riders and I’d feel out of place
    • It had been suggested to me that it was a tight clique of riders who’d didn’t warm to strangers

    I’ll address those concerns as I describe the trip.

    Day 1:  Cycling From Onoway to Thunder Lake

    We assembled in Onoway at 09:00, a group of people around my age, so I fit in well that way.  Introductions and a bit of chat took care of another concern; people in the group obviously knew each other well, but they were friendly and  I felt welcome.  After packing gear onto the SAG van, we left around 09:30 and rode off.   The day was cool, and we rode through some spooky, damp fog patches.  We stopped about 25 km to the Esso station at Hwy 43 for ice cream.  This was actually the wrong place — we were supposed to have taken our break a km or so back at a Domo station.

    Through the fog.

    Through the fog.  Photo by Greg

    The next leg took us at a crisp pace.  I pumped hard to keep up with another rider, who told me we were travelling at 24 km/h.  This is a bit faster than I’m used to, my first concern, but with effort I was able to keep up.  The only result was that I worked a bit harder than usual, and was a little more tired.

    Tom working hard but being passed by Barbara and John

    Tom working hard but being passed by Barbara and John

    We zoomed into Cherhill,where we stopped for lunch at the local ball diamond.   Lunch was do-it-yourself sandwiches: fresh crusty rolls, tomatoes, lettuce, three kinds of sliced cheese, three kinds of sliced meat (ham, chicken, beef), dill pickles, apple juice, cookies, bananas, oranges….   It was at this point that I realized the truth of something one of the group had said, “We are an eating group with a mild cycling disorder”.

    Lunch at Cherhill -- making sandwiches and spraying for mosquitoes.

    Lunch at Cherhill, making sandwiches and spraying for mosquitoes.

    A short leg, 18 km, took us north on Twp Rd 764 to a rest stop at Meadowview Community School.  I was getting pretty tired, some 68 km into the trip, so the break was welcome.  We finished off some fruit and granola bars and cookies left over from lunch before setting off on the final 20 km section.  We rolled into the provincial park at 15:37.   I had really wanted to take a photo of some cyclists in front of the park sign, but I couldn’t catch up to them in time.  Guess I could have waited for a couple to catch up, but by this time I really wanted to get off my bike and set up camp!

    20170805_152247

    We grabbed another ice cream break at the camp store, where we sheltered under cover during a brief rain.  Then we set off up a winding gravel road to the overflow area, another couple of kilometers away.   Yay, 89 km over and done.  I think this was my longest ride to date.

    Camping at Thunder Lake Provincial Park

    There were signs of recent heavy rains — a soggy parking lot and wet grass.   We set up our tents around the perimeter of the area and settled in.  The overflow area was beside a creek draining the lake, with a nice bridge (though the trail on the other side was overgrown) over a waterfall.

    Irene poses by the waterfall.  Photo by Greg

    Irene poses by the waterfall. Photo by Greg

    The lake was beautiful in the evening.  This shot was taken from just behind my tent.

    Thunder Lake that evening.  Photo by Greg.

    Thunder Lake that evening. Photo by Greg.

    I was beat, so after I got set up I took a nap.  Didn’t really sleep, just dozed, and woke up when I heard Debbie, the trip organizer, call for supper.

    My tent in the misty morning

    My little orange tent in the misty morning

    Ah, supper.  Ribs barbequed over the open fire, cole slaw, corn-on-the-cob, boiled baby spuds, baked beans, with red wine courtesy of John and Barbara; for dessert, meringues with Greek yogurt and fresh blueberries and raspberries.

    The group at supper, checkered tablecloths and all.

    The group at supper, checkered tablecloths and all.

    After cleanup, the group sat around the campfire with a desultory discussion about immigration; although it was interesting, I think most people were tired enough not to get into it.  Certainly I was beat.  I wanted to go to bed at 21:30 but the group persuaded me to stay up a bit longer.  Nonetheless, at 21:50 I excused myself and hit the tent.  The rest followed shortly.

    Irene, who claimed to be the oldest rider in the group, showing off her tattoo.

    Irene, who claimed to be the oldest rider in the group, showing off her tattoo.

    Day 2:  Return via Barrhead

    We were up around 7:30 for “First breakfast” of coffee, juice, fruit, croissants with jam.   People packed up with great efficiency — they have obviously done this many times — and to my surprise I was one of the last to load up.

    Getting packed to leave Sunday morning

    Getting packed to leave Sunday morning

    The day’s first leg was a nice stretch into Barrhead, where we stopped at the A&W for “Second breakfast”.  Hadn’t thought I’d need anything, but croissants don’t stay with you, so  I had a pancake, bacon, hashbrowns, coffee.  As always when I’ve been pedalling, whatever I eat tastes delicious.

    Lunch at Meadowview School on Day 2

    Lunch at Rich Valley Agriplex on Day 2

    Oooh, a long stretch of 32 km along Hwy 333 to Rich Valley, where we enjoyed watermelon and whatever was leftover.  A few cookies, a piece of orange, a Clif bar that I had in my bag.  Filled my water bottle with Biosteel then left it behind…. good thing I had a second full bottle.

    This is a good time to mention bikes.   I was happy that the gearing on my new bike made the hillsf a lot easier, but not happy with the pedals, seat, or bars.  More work needed on fitting.  Most of the bikes people rode were top-end, a lot of Specialized, a couple of Italian bikes, a couple of carbon frames; the members have been riding for 20 or 30 years or more and seem to be continually upgrading equipment.  Interesting and educational for me.

    Another 12 km took us to the junction with Hwy 43, where I took another brief rest with two other cyclists, then one final 12 km push (which wasn’t bad) back to Onoway, where I recovered my water bottle and said goodbye to everyone.

    The traditional end-of-ride group shot in front of the van.

    The traditional end-of-ride group shot in front of the van.

    Was it a bit of a challenge?  Yes, because the ride was a bit faster than I’d have done on my own.  Was it fun?  Overall, it was an enjoyable ride.  Was i glad i went, definitely.  Would I go again?   For sure.

  • Ready for the Rain

    Posted on August 1st, 2017 admin No comments

     

    After getting soaked on my four-day tour,  I acquired some new gear.

    • New (used) bike (actually, I got the bike the day before I left on the tour).
    • New (used) rear panniers (ditto).
    • New front panniers with rain covers.
    • New rain pants.
    • New green waterproof cover for tent.
    In this photo, I haven't attached the front handlebar bag.

    In this photo, I haven’t attached the front handlebar bag.

    New Gear Needs to be Tested

    It’s my opinion that new gear should be tested before use.   It always amazes me to find someone in a campground struggling to put up a new tent for the first time, often under stressful circumstances such as rain, high wind, or interference from helpful but hyperactive kids.  “Did you try it out at home?”  Nope.

    I just can’t understand that.   When I was selecting a tent for bike touring, I tested each choice a few times before making a selection to take on tour.  We also have an older large 8-man dome tent that we might use for an upcoming truck camping trip; I set that up in the back yard to refresh my memory on setup, ensure that all the parts were still there, and to make sure it hadn’t suffered from years of storage (found one large hole that needs patched).    Confession:  my “solar” phone charger arrived shortly before my tour, so I was forced to take it with me untested.  And it bit me in the end: the solar charging didn’t work and my phone died.  Caveat emptor.

    World Tour 20L Pannier Indigo/Cobalt

    My front panniers are new MEC 12L World Tour that were $20 off for a pair. Yes, the photo shows 20L, but otherwise they’re identical.

    Anyway.  Today I stuffed some random gear into the panniers, put the rain covers on the front, then rode for 30 minutes (about 10 km) in the rain to see if everything — including me — would stay dry. For the most part, it did.

    The Panniers Perform

    I had some concerns about the front panniers.  The bottom hooks didn’t engage the rack, which meant that the bags could swing out.  It was also the first time I had ridden with full front panniers, and I’ve read that they could affect steering and maneuvering.   Turned out neither was an issue.  The panniers stayed where they were, and I rode some zig-zags, tight circles, and figure-eights, with no problems at all.

    The front pannier covers worked beautifully.  They fit well and shed the rain.   Although some water splashed up on the back of each pannier when I went through puddles, the plastic backing kept the water out.  I suspect that after a day of rain, the bottoms of these panniers would be wet and the contents damp.

    I got the rear panniers with the bike and front racks.  The folks I bought them from  had used them for front panniers on a trip to South America.  However, they seem to be in good condition and the waterproof lining has not worn through anywhere that I could see.

    One of the rear panniers let in a little water, but it may have been that I didn’t have it fastened down properly.  They’re an older MEC model, no longer available — waterproof bags with an inner drawstring closure, compression straps, a few extra inner and outer pockets.

    The MEC 20L panniers on the back.

    The MEC 20L panniers on the back.

    The drawstring closure sack at the top is not waterproof, and I think I had one overstuffed (with my old mummy bag) and not compressed enough.  A part of that sleeping bag got wet.

    Keeping Myself Dry

    As for the cyclist — my Gore-Tex rain jacket did a good enough job, and the new rain pants kept my bottom half dry.  I used poor-man booties, which consist of a plastic garbage sack slipped over each foot before putting on my runners.  This is an old trick: the running shoes get wet, but the feet stay dry and warm.  After my half-hour shower, I was dry.  Sort of.  Both my jacket and my rain pants are supposedly “breathable”, but neither has vents.  After 30 minutes at a moderate pace,  sweat had started to accumulate, and I was riding with the jacket and my under-layer unzipped.  By the end of an hour in the rain, I might have been pretty damp in my “dry” clothes.

    Ready for my Next Bike Tour

    So, several hundred dollars later, I’ve got gear that I think will work well for the light touring I plan to do.  Apparently, with four panniers and the front bag, I have enough storage to tour for months (after all, I did four days on two smaller rear panniers).

  • Sylvan Lake Bike Tour

    Posted on July 25th, 2017 admin No comments

    My interest piqued by an overnight bike tour to a friend’s acreage with the Circuit Cycle & Sport Meetup, I recently did a 250+ km solo bike tour:  Leduc > Wizard Lake > Falun > Crestomere > Sylvan Lake > Red Deer > Lacombe > Blackfalds > Ponoka > Wetaskiwin > Home.  The idea was just to try it, to see if I could do it, to test my equipment, to learn.

    Tried it, did it, learned a lot.

    Day 1:  Leduc to Falun

    First day, 61 km to a friend’s farm south of Falun.  It was a lovely day, and although it was hazy due to  smoke from BC forest fires, I had no problem.  Setting out at 08:30, I took my time, enjoyed the scenery.  Stopped for lunch at beautiful Jubilee Park on Wizard Lake south of Calmar, and rode around the campground and nature trail.  All the time I’ve lived in this area, and it’s the first time I’d visited!

    Lunch at Jubilee Park, Wizard Lake, Alberta

    Lunch at Jubilee Park, Wizard Lake, Alberta

    Wind blew the flame from my little Trangia spirit stove around and wasted fuel; I had to move to a more sheltered spot to cook my noodles with fresh snow peas.  Learned:  I need a wind screen for the stove!

    The roar of traffic passing me was a bother, and one motorbike that ripped by actually hurt my ears.  I’m already losing hearing in my left ear.   Learned:  I stuck an earplug in that side.  It helped, and I used it on every highway after that.

    Taking a break in the atrium at Pigeon Lake Regional High, west of Falun

    Taking a break in the atrium at Pigeon Lake Regional High, west of Falun

    Rain in the forecast for late afternoon, but I made it to the farm in good time, about 16:30, long before the threatened rain.  During a wonderful evening, my hostess fed me supper and home-brewed kombucha (strange stuff, but tasty) and excellent conversation, let me play with her grandchildren and gave me a bed for the night.  Just as well, given the torrential downpour — but I wondered how I’d have fared in the little tent.

    Day 2:  Falun to Sylvan Lake

    I was a bit excited and didn’t sleep all that well.  Woke up early and since my hostess had gone to work at 5:00 and the rest of the household was still asleep, I quietly slipped out and headed off just after 07:00.  Today would be a long haul, 85 km with lots of elevation, and I was glad of the early start.

    Rather than backtrack north and east to the highway, I had decided to go 4 miles south on Rge Rd 275, then cut west to Sec Hwy 292, which I thought was paved.  It wasn’t.  So I slogged through 9 km or more of freshly maintained, rain-soaked gravel.  It was tough going, mostly uphill; this stretch wore me down and slowed me down, a bad way to start the morning.  I was glad to reach pavement, to stop for a breakfast of coffee and a bagel with peanut butter.  May not seem like much, but it was delicious and filling after only an energy gel for the first leg.  Sure getting some use out of the Trangia stove.

    And what's after that hill?  Oh, goody, another hill.

    And what’s after that hill? Oh, goody, another hill.

    Shortly after I reached the paved portion of the highway, around 09:00, a light rain started, driven by a northwest wind (sort of at my back).  I pulled in at Crestomere store for a break.  The rain showed no sign of stopping, so I decided to add another layer under my raincoat and press on.   I could have continued south on Hwy 292, passing east of Gull lake.  Instead, I chose to go west on Hwy 53, then south on Hwy 771/20, west of Gull lake; it seemed the more direct route.  Perhaps that was a mistake.

    The rain worsened, and the wind strengthened more from the west.  Highway 53 west was hill after hill, so I was driving into the wind, into the rain, and uphill.  A real grind.  I was so glad to turn south again to get the wind and rain at my back.

    By 13:00, I was soaked below the waist, and had started shivering.  Even cranking hard, I wasn’t warm. Realizing that I might be in serious trouble soon, I pulled off at a house for sale.  Unoccupied, it had a large covered front veranda where I could get out of the rain.  Even sheltered, I shivered, so I stripped off my wet socks and shorts, unpacked my mattress and sleeping bag, and snuggled in.  I set my stove up in a corner sheltered from the wind, boiled water for freeze-dried rice and chicken, then burrowed deeper into the bag while it rehydrated.  It was only while I was eating this hot meal that I started to warm up again. Learned:  If I’m going to ride in the rain, I need rain pants!

    By 14:00, the rain had slacked off, so I put on dry socks and wet shorts, packed up, and got back on the road.   Eventually, things dried out as I rode.  I made it to my destination, another person’s house in Sylvan Lake, around 18:30.  Had I waited in Crestomere for the rain to stop, I’d have been hours later.  Even so, it took me over 11 hours to travel some 85 km.

    I set up camp in the back yard, put my panniers in the tent, changed clothes, and rode on  a marvelously light bike to A&W for a delicious burger, onion rings, and two big mugs of root beer!  Let’s hear it for greasy fast food!  Back to the house where I threw all my wet and muddy gear into the washer, and went to bed at 21:30.

    Day 3:  Sylvan Lake to Ponoka

    Slept until 08:30 the next morning.  Eleven hours.  Guess I was tired or something. But nothing hurt.  Moved my tent into the sun to dry (heavy dew). Threw the wet stuff into the drier.  Helped myself to cereal, washed dishes, folded clothes, packed up.  By the time the tent was dry and I was ready to go, it was 11:00.  I rode around Sylvan Lake for a while, checked out the beach, then set out east on Hwy  11A to Red Deer.

    This day was a gorgeous contrast to yesterday.  Blue sky, sunny, light wind from the northwest to speed me along.  Kind of wished I’d decided to stay on the beach!   But like the day, this leg was a wonderful contrast to yesterday.  Good road, wide shoulders, light traffic, gentle hills and mostly downhill.  Almost as if I’d planned it that way.  :)

    Almost before I knew it I was at Red Deer, where I  joined the Trans Canada Trail north.  This was a familiar route, and it was surprising how quickly I found myself in Blackfalds.  Lunch by the Abbey Centre was a little tin of ravioli and some beef jerky from a nearby convenience store.  Sure, it’s junky, but it tasted good.

    Day 3 en route to Red Deer.

    Day 3 en route to Red Deer.

    Following the TCT took me through Lacombe, then on the Bluebird Trail east along Milton Road and north on gravel past the J. J. Collett Nature Centre.  I would have stopped and explored the trails, but I was unsure of the timing of this leg, and unhappy to be on gravel again, so I continued on into Morningside then north on 2A (leaving the Bluebird).

    The last stretch into Ponoka was not bad.  This northern leg was also largely downhill on a good road.  In Ponoka my plan was to stay at the Frank Mickey RV Park and Campground.  This was hard to find — no signs that I saw — and I had to talk to a few people (most of them had never heard of it) and wander around before I found it.  And rode up to a sign that said “NO TENTS”.  The lady in the office was quite firm.  Tenters are messy, they party, they wreck stuff.  Nearest campground, she told me, was Wolf Lake, 8 km back towards Morningside.  Fooey on adding 16 km to my trip.  I rode on.

    At Range Road 440, I found a riparian conservation project bordering the Battle River, with a wonderful camping spot right by the river and although I had to travel further to camp there, I was not sorry that Frank Mickey campground had cast me out.  I set up camp around 19:30, waded in the river, and explored the road across the river.  Went to bed around 21:30, fell asleep watching the sunset through the open doors of the tent, and slept until 08:30.

    My camp by the Battle River

    My camp by the Battle River.  Off the road in case a 4 x 4 roars by in the night.

    The Battle River just meters from my camp

    The Battle River just meters from my camp

    I had covered 81.5 km from Sylvan Lake, a leg almost as long as yesterday, but far more pleasant.

    Day 4: Ponoka to Wetaskiwin

    Woke to a bright day and slugs all over the tent.  Not inside, fortunately.  Shook them all off and moved the tent to a sunny spot to dry out.   Was almost out of water so boiled some river water for coffee (hmm, what consequences to that?) .  Breakfast was pita bread and canned flakes of ham.  No matter what I eat on this trip, it tastes delicious.

    Another easy downhill to Wetaskiwin.  Stopped at McD’s for coffee and to charge my phone.  Had bought a solar-powered charger but it didn’t work despite all day yesterday in the sun.  A miscommunication with my wife had me thinking she’d pick me up to go berry-picking with some friends after she got out of church.  So I rode to By-the-Lake Park, another pleasant spot, to finish off the ham flakes with more pita for lunch.

    I could easily have gone the remaining 35 km to Leduc.  However, when my ride arrived, I learned that the choice had been for her to go pick berries or come pick me up.  We didn’t go picking berries. Instead, we went home.  Where I had the runs.  Thank you, Battle River.  Learned:  even if you think you’ll always be near a store, bring water purification tabs.

    So Was it Worth It?

    This was the question my wife asked.  The answer is an unqualified yes.  I learned a lot about touring and about myself.  Day two was tough, but I survived, and adversity gives you a measure of your strength.  After three and a half days and over 250 km, I wasn’t particularly sore or stiff.

    Yes, overall, I enjoyed it.  I’ll improve my equipment, and I’ll be ready to go again.  And I lost three pounds.

    Related Reading

     

     

  • Naturehike Tents: Silent Wing vs Ultralight Cycling

    Posted on July 5th, 2017 admin No comments

    I wound up with two light-weight single-person tents:

    Both tents were supposedly available for under $100, though I ended up having to order the Silent Wing from another warehouse and paid about $110.

    Rather than list the specifications side by side, I’ll just give a quick comparison.

    Naturehike NH18A095-D without storm skirt

    Naturehike NH18A095-D without storm skirt

    Size

    The cycling tent is a little larger.  Its rectangular floorplan gives a little more room inside for a wider camper or a bit more gear.  The Silent Wing’s tapered footprint skimps on floor space but cuts down on weight.  Both tents have roughly equal height from floor to peak, but the crossed poles of the Silent Wing seem to give more headroom.  The cycling tent has an A-frame and when I sit up, the sides of the peak seem pretty close to my head.  Doesn’t really bother me, but the Wing definitely feels roomier up top.

    Silent Wing 1 by Korean manufacturer Naturehike

    Silent Wing 1 by Korean manufacturer Naturehike

    Gear Storage

    Both tents have a little (barely adequate) storage pocket; for the SW it’s in the roof, for the Cycling tent it’s by the door.  Both were handy to keep my glasses safe and out of the way.

    The narrow tapered design of the SW means there’s room in the tent for a sleeper and not much else.  I’m short and not too broad, so was able to stow a little gear at the head or foot and a little in the vestibule (boots and bar bag) but the panniers had to go outside under a little tarp.

    The rectangular orange cycling tent is far more roomy.  In the one heavy rain this tent was in, I was able to get all my gear under cover in the tent or under the vestibule without feeling crowded.  A taller, broader camper might not find it so roomy.

    Weatherproofing

    The two tents are similar in density, and waterproofing, with the SW being just a bit lighter fabric.

    I initially had a concern that rain would come in when the vestibule was open.  With the tents  oriented so the vestibule was 45 degrees to the prevailing wind, this turned out not to be a serious issue.  Sure, a little rain got in whenever I went in or out.  It wasn’t much.  Before my entry/exit I pushed the sleeping bag back so rain wouldn’t hit it.   Then I mopped up the moisture with my towel.  Let’s face it, by the time that storm was over, almost everything was a bit damp.

    There was a minor issue of water getting under the fly on the SW during one of two heavy extended rainstorms, but I fixed that by adjusting the fly.  Not the fault of the tent.  I think if I were to use this tent more I’d add another strap to peg the foot end of the fly further out from the tent.

    On the other hand, the storm flaps on the Cycling tent work really well at keeping out rain.  Combined with the A-frame structure, they’d also keep out snow, making this a possible three-season tent. Unfortunately, they also keep out air circulation, and the little triangular vent (similar in both tents) is not sufficient to keep moisture from building up inside the tent.  Condensation on the inside of the fly is common in all tents, but in the SW there is enough air circulation to cut down on condensation a bit.    Both tents were fine with one side of the vestibule left open.

    I used some glue-on Velcro dots to hold the storm flaps up when I want them up.  I can just detach them if I want them down. We’ll see if that vents a bit better.

    Conclusions

    I like them both.  The Silent Wing is a bit more technically advanced, is has less floor space but more headroom, and less room for gear storage.  It definitely makes some minor sacrifices to be light and compact.  The Cycling tent is roomier on the floor but has less headroom when I sit up.  The storm flaps may offer some weatherproofing but reduce ventilation.

    Since I will be doing more cycling than backpacking, I’m keeping the orange and will sell the blue.

  • Weekend Bike Tour Review

    Posted on June 18th, 2017 admin No comments

    Earlier, I posted a gear list for an upcoming overnight bike tour. The tour’s over and it was a good experience.

    Setting Out

    On day 1 we had sunshine but brisk NW winds, I think 30 kph.  This was a fine tailwind for the first leg of my run, 20 km from Leduc to Millet, to join the Circuit Cycle club for this Meetup.  From there, we — hosts and trip organizers/leaders Brian and Teresa, with riders Roger, Melissa, Tanya, I — set out about 10:30 and the first leg was south, so we had the wind at our back then.  On turning west, however, we started a long tough slog.  Tanya has medical issues so part-way along arranged for a ride to the campsite.  The rest of us ploughed on into the wind, followed by a few kilometers of gravel.

    On a 27 km test run on Friday, just after a brief but heavy rainstorm.

    On a 27 km test run on the Friday before the tour, taken just after a brief but heavy rainstorm.

    The wind had delayed us considerably, so some of us stopped on the side of the road for lunch.  The rest of the group caught up to us too soon, so I packed up hastily and we moved on into the wind.  Total distance from Millet to camp was 29 km.

    At the Camp

    Once at our destination, we set up our tents.  One interesting observation:  All the others faced the door of their tents towards the center of the clearing where the firepit was.  Without thinking, I angled my tent with the vent downwind and the door facing away from the campfire.  A bit odd, because the surrounding forest mostly protected us from the wind.

    We played Frisbee (using my cloth disc, which the others dubbed “the flying underwear”, and a couple of others), sat around the fire and schmoozed, played “What’s that Song” on Brian’s phone, and consumed a number of coolers and weiners which our hosts had thoughtfully stowed at the site in coolers the day before.

    A few people woke up cold at 5 am and started the fire for an early breakfast. I noticed that Melissa and I slept the latest, I’m guessing because we had the most experience with our gear.  But that’s just conjecture.  More about gear in a bit.

    Camped in the clearing.  My orange tent at left.

    Camped in the clearing. My orange tent at left.

    Heading Home

    Partly because of the possibility of storms in the afternoon, but I think also because several people were tired and wanted to get home, we changed our departure time from after lunch to ASAP.  The 5am risers were pretty much packed, so the rest of us decamped and we took off at  9:00 am.  The weather was cool and cloudy but the wind was light.   We took a different and much easier route home, 24 km to Millet.  Roger took a short cut to his home (his knee was hurting).

    Four of us returned to Circuit Cycle, then went to a local restaurant for a tasty Chinese buffet.   From there, I returned to Leduc, a trip which has previously taken 45 minutes.  I met a freshening headwind that dragged that 20 km trip out to 75 minutes (toting 15 kg of gear didn’t help, you bet!).   By the time I got home, I was one tired old dawg!

    Gear Analysis

    On the whole, I think I packed well, even though I appeared to be carrying more gear than the others.

    What I was glad I took

    • My crushable hat (I was the only one with a hat. Guess I’m weird.)
    • The “flying underwear”
    • the tent, sleeping bag and mat that I had purchased and pre-tested
    • a 710 mL sports drink that I bought in Millet, extended my water supply.

    What I will take for next trip

    • A moist microfiber facecloth in a ziplock bag to make for easier hand/face wash

    What I may not take on the next trip

    •  Deck of cards (heavy and maybe not needed?)
    • The cute little Light My Fire lunch set
    • So many spare clothes — could easily have aired and worn things again

    What I took and didn’t use

    • Binoculars
    • Tent footprint
    • Nylon tarp
    • Rope and parachute cords
    • Sleeping Bag Liner
    • Hydration pak — forgot to even fill it up, but would have needed more water if Brian & Teresa hadn’t brought coolers
    • Disposable razor

    Looking at that list, I think the first five are useful.  I could have left the footprint because I knew we’d be in a grassed area.  I’d have used the tarp and ropes for gear storage and to cover the tent entrance if rain had threatened.  In warmer or cooler weather, I’d want the liner. I’d have used the binocs had I been on my own, but pressure to keep up with the group made some stops shorter than I’d have liked.  And different destinations might make them good to have.

    What Worked and What Didn’t

    Being familiar with my gear, having tested it out in my back yard and at our acreage, was a big help

    The tent, pad, and sleeping bag all worked well.   I was snug and warm and comfortable all night (except 4:00 am when my prostate insisted I needed to get up  and go).   There was condensation in the tent but it was not too much problem as I left one vestibule door open, only waking up to close it halfway during a brief rain shower (love the rain on a tent!  Went right back to sleep).  I will make some mods to the tent to improve ventilation.  My gear under the vestible and inside the tent stayed dry.

    Organizing things in stuff sacks worked well.  Things didn’t shift around or get jumbled.  I knew where to look for things for the most part. The sacks do add a few grams of weight but I think it was worth it.

    Stowing snacks was okay if I stuck to side pockets and the handlebar bag. Putting my food in a big plastic shopping bag didn’t.  I’ll need a better system for stowing food.

    The little Trangia spirit stove worked well.  Water on, then go pack up.  Make coffee, make oatmeal, put bacon on to cook.  Finish oatmeal, eat bacon, use remaining warm water to clean up with toilet paper that then goes into the firepit (it would go into a bag to pack home otherwise).

    I was underhydrated on the way home, even though I drank two glasses of water at the cafe with lunch.

    In Review

    All in all, it was a good learning trip.  A big thank you to the organizers and to my fellow cyclists for fun and fellowship (and even if I’m quiet, I am still enjoying!)

    I’m all set to go on another self-supported tour.

    Further Reading

     

     

  • Google Adsense and My Blog

    Posted on June 16th, 2017 admin No comments

    This is in the LOL category.

    I have ads on my blog, arranged by Google Adsense.  When people visit my blog and click on one of the ads,  I make a little money.

    Google pays me when my ad income reaches $100 USD.

    The ads on my blog bring in roughly $2 a month.

    It will take 50 months, or over four years, to reach that total.  Whee!

    There is hope.  My best month, May 2012, hit $8.32.   On the other hand, there are many months with $0.02 or $0.04 to bring the average down. Fortunately, there are more months  with $1 or more than there are months less than $1, making the average $2.14/month.

    So maybe I’ll hit a payout by 2022!

     

  • Naturehike Silent Wing One-Person Tent

    Posted on June 14th, 2017 admin No comments

    I wanted a tent for short-distance bike touring and maybe some overnight backpacking. I didn’t need expensive top-end gear for occasional and casual use.  I researched NatureHike and found their products well-reviewed, and in the end wound up with two of their tents for under $200 combined.

    Specs and First Impressions

    This tent, the Naturehike Silent Wing 1,  is promoted on GearBest.com for $69.73 CAD plus $8.74 S/H.   Unfortunately, it’s out of stock at that price.  When I got it, it cost me C$105.12 with shipping.  There was no extra duty or tax.  I thought that even this was a reasonable price for the tent.

    It’s a bit more technical than the Naturehike Cycling tent I previously reviewed (a comparison is elsewhere).  Here are the specs, according to GearBest and Naturehike:

    • GearBest product number 487874
    • Tent inside material: 150D oxford cloth; waterproof index: more than 3000mm
    • Tent outside material: 210T plaid; waterproof index: more than 3000mm
    • Tent pole material: 7001 high strength aluminum pole
    • Footprint material (Wind Wing 1): 150D polyester oxford cloth
    • Rainproof, waterproof and windproof, three seasons design
    • 1 person tent size : 225 x 95 x 110cm / 88.58 x 37.4 x 43.31 inches
    • Product weight: 1.705 kg
    • Package weight: 1.730 kg
    • Package Size(L x W x H): 45.00 x 15.00 x 15.00 cm / 17.72 x 5.91 x 5.91 inches

    Silent Wing Close

    Package Contents

    The tent came from GearBest with the following:

    • 1 x Tent
    • 1 x Fly Sheet
    • 1 x Cinch strap
    • 8 x Aluminum Y-profile Pegs with storage sack
    • 4 x Guy lines
    • 1 x Set of Aluminum poles with storage sack
    • 1 x Storage Bag for all of the above
    • 1 x Wind Wing 1 footprint (fits the Silent Wing) with storage bag

    The tent itself, with bag, poles, pegs, guys, and fly, weighed 1554 grams; the footprint and bag were 162 g; total mass 1716 grams or 1.716 kg, very close to the stated mass (this is not always the case).

    Wind-Wing 1 by Korean manufacturer Naturehike

    Wind-Wing 1 / Silent Wing 1 by Korean manufacturer Naturehike

     

    Silent Wing vs Wind Wing

    Wind Wing Mat

    Silent Wing 1 tent with Wind Wing 1 mat (footprint)

    The Silent Wing is not even listed on the Naturehike web site.  The current model is the Wind Wing, which based on the specs at Naturehike is more waterproof (4000 mm vs 3000 mm), with reduced weight (1360 g).  In terms of layout and design, the two tents appear to be highly similar, to the point where a Wind Wing mat was included with the Silent Wing tent.

    Impressions:  The Good

    There are some technical features I like that remind me of higher-level tents such as those by MSR; I find these atrractive in a product at this price point.

    •  The crossed-pole design gives lots of headroom and a feeling of spaciousness inside.
    • It has a tapered floor, wide at the head end and narrowing to the foot.  This cuts down on mass, but also reduces floor space.  Don’t plan to take much gear inside, especially if you’re tall or broad.
    • There is a well-fitted, full-cover fly without a storm skirt.  Some people fear that this design can allow wind and rain to blow into the tent, although with other tents of similar design I have not found this to be an issue.
    • All guys and tethers are 1 mm cord, with lightweight plastic locks on the guys.
    • There are reflective strips on the fly clips — they show up quite brightly in a flashlight beam so you don’t trip on them in the dark
    • The stuff sack is roomy and I have never had trouble packing up the tent, even wet.
    • The aluminum pegs are y-beam, similar to MSR (Mountain Safety Research) Mini-Groundhog stakes.
    • The tent ground attachments are  strap-and-cord, a few grams lighter than plain straps, but still with grommets for the poles.  Compare the MSR method which puts the pole into a small tab attached to the cord and shaves off a few more grams per attachment.
    Red poles to the gold grommet (top), grey poles to the silver grommet (bottom)

    Strap-and-string.  Red poles to the gold grommet (top), grey poles to the silver grommet (bottom), peg thru the string

    Impressions:  The Bad

    I do have some reservations about the design.

    • Better quality tents generally have a ridge-pole across the top that extends the fly over the door.  This little roof peak provides additional headroom and helps keep rain out of the tent when the vestibule is open.
    • The vestibule is quite small.  There’s not a lot of room for gear storage there.

    The Silent Wing appears to be an earlier version of the Wind Wing, and I expect the latter to have some changes/improvements to reduce the mass even further.  Perhaps the grommets are red, for better color matching with the poles.

    Tapered footprint cuts down weight, but reduces floor space

    Tapered footprint cuts down weight, but reduces floor space

    Impressions:  The Ugly

    It’s not something I’d considered before, because my previous tent had a front entry.   The Silent Wing is a left-handed tent.  When you are inside, looking out the door, you are laying on your right side.  Your left hand is free, so that is the easiest one to use to unzip the door.  I’m right-handed, so this is just a bit awkward.    I can push myself up with my left hand and open the door with my right.  Not impossible, just awkward.

    My sleeping bag has a left-hand zipper.  When I am lying on my back, the zipper is on my left side.  It’s never bothered me before. I turn that way and undo the zipper with my right hand.  But in this tent, the zipper is on the side away from the door; unzipping the bag puts me with my back to the door so I have to undo the bag further and roll over to access the door.  Not impossible, just awkward.  A sleeping bag with a right-hand zipper would make this easier…but am I prepared to buy another sleeping bag just to make the tent easier?

    Conclusion

    My first impression is favorable.  This light-weight Naturehike Silent Wing tent appears to be well-made and quite suitable for bicycle touring and backpacking or to toss under the back seat of the pickup for emergency use.  I expect that it would wear well and last several seasons of occasional, casual use. The greatest drawbacks are the small vestibule and a fly designed to let rain in when you enter or exit the tent. And the awkwardness of the left/right thing.   We’ll see if actual use confirms the first impression.

    Read More

  • Cycling Red Deer to Lacombe and Back

    Posted on May 29th, 2017 admin No comments

    One Saturday, as part of a Meetup bike trip, I rode the Trans Canada Trail from Red Deer to Lacombe and back, roughly 55-60 km.  The trip was a training ride for the Leduc-Camrose MSBike, one of many such events to raise money for MS research.

    It was the longest ride I’ve done so far — and I survived!

    We Meet Near Cronquist House

    We — Susan, Mesut, and me — started at historical Cronquist House beside Bower Ponds in the Red Deer River valley.

    From https://www.ehcanadatravel.com/gallery/index/category/1891-bower_ponds_park

    Cronquist House:  From https://www.ehcanadatravel.com/gallery/index/category/1891-bower_ponds_park

     

    The ponds themselves are a delightful park, and I had come half an hour early to bike around the ponds and to wait for the others in the group.  Bower Ponds Map

    We took off on time at 10:00 am, and stopped briefly for photos at the Trans Canada Trail Pavillion, which is just a bit south and east around the first pond.CTC Pavillion

    CTC Pavillion Close

    Mesut and Susan

    After our photo stop, we rode out for the long uphill that is Taylor Drive.  The ride through the city is not bad, a wide paved route though residential, green, and industrial areas.  There was a 20 kph headwind to cope with, but it mostly just kept us cool.

    At the northern end of Red Deer, the trail moves onto the old CE Trail.  We biked around a bit before reconfirming that our route was straight across the highway.  The Calgary-Edmonton Trail is a paved but shoulderless rural road that  I enjoyed thoroughly.  This scenic route passes through fields and forests, past ponds and acreages; there was little traffic, flat travel, and open vistas.

    Blindman River Bridge

    We had one little blip at the end of the CE Trail, when a traffic sign read “No Exit, Subdivisions Only”.  There really should have been a TCT sign on that post!  Fortunately, both the TCT app on my phone and my travelling companions (who had done the route before) said that was the way to go.  Sure enough, there was a little footbridge at the end to get us across the Blindman River.   Fran, the fourth member of the group, met us there.

    Photo by Mesut

    Fran, Tom, Susan.  Photo by Mesut, obviously.

     

    Blackfalds and Abbey Centre

    The four of us set out for Blackfalds, where the trail took us through some residential areas and eventually to the Abbey Centre, a 41,000 sq. ft. recreation complex.  The Trans-Canada Trail runs right through the building.  I think we entered at the treed area in the upper left as shown in the photo below, rode a ways, then came down a flight of stairs to emerge in the parking lot, lower left.

    Photo by Town of Blackfalds

    Photo by Town of Blackfalds

    We didn’t take much time to explore the fitness centre, but did pause to have our photo taken by the big trail sign:

    Photo by Fran M.

    Susan, Tom, Mesut, Fran.  Photo by Fran M, courtesy of a passerby.

    A brief pitstop at the centre’s washrooms, followed by a quick (and slightly confused) circumnavigation of the Centre saw us en route for Lacombe.   This stretch of trail, the County of Lacombe Trail, was another wonderful and scenic stretch that meandered through fields and forests and took us past the Lacombe Agricultural Research Station into the city.

    Tom on a stretch of the Lacombe County Trail.  Photo by Fran

    Tom on a stretch of the Lacombe County Trail. Photo by Fran.  Shows you what wonderful weather we had.

    Lunch at Ugly’s Pub & Grill

    Fran led us downtown, to Ugly’s Pub and Grill for lunch, at about 12:20 (a little later than estimated.  Oh, well).

    Ugly's Pub & Grill

    Here we are, all filled up with beverages and pub grub:

    Lunch at Ugly's

     

    And Back to Red Deer

    After that, there was nothing to do but go home.   The trip back always seems shorter, and this time we had the wind mostly at our back.  Even so, some of the little hills just south of Lacombe seemed pretty nasty to tired legs, and at least one cyclist walked a bit (not saying, but not me).

    We stopped at a picnic area just northwest of the Blindman bridge for a rest break and to say ‘bye to Fran.  Then back along the CE Trail, as pretty coming as it was going.   Finally, we finished with the long downhill on Taylor Drive, varied with a little hop across the road on a pedestrian bridge and straight down into Bower Ponds, a more direct route than we took on the way out.

    Who, Me, Tired?

    I had had a big beer and a big glass of water at lunch, and still by the time I reached the Lions Campground, some 6 km downstream, I had sucked my water bottle dry.  I guess that where the group did roughly 55 km, I must have added another 12+,  which is almost the distance I have to ride for MS Bike from Leduc to Camrose next month.    A little nap after supper, followed by two rum-and-Cokes and a lot of peanuts and potato chips (must have been short of salt!  Next time I’ll remember to have a sports drink) and I was fine.

    So what did I do the next day?  After my meetings at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre, I went for another hour and a half bike ride.  But that’s another story.

     

  • Americans Scientific Illiterates?

    Posted on May 23rd, 2017 admin No comments

    “Though the discourse of science is metric,” writes Elizabeth Kolbert in a note to her book, The Sixth Extinction, “most Americans think in terms of miles, acres, and degrees Fahrenheit.  All the figures in this book are given in Englisn [Imperial] units…”

    This unfortunate observation implies several things:

    America is Scientifically Illiterate

    First, the average American is scientifically illiterate.  A scientific paper that mentions centimetres, or joules, or kilograms is incomprehensible.  A hectare  is meaningless.  Symbols like  kPa or kWh might as well be hieroglyphics.   Even my spell-checker, set to American English, marks “centimetres”  — the official Système International spelling — as incorrect; it expects “centimeters”.  Americans don’t even spell like the rest of the world, let alone speak the language of international science.

    America Gets the Kindergarten Version

    Second, reporting or explaining scientific terms or achievements or research to Americans thus requires an additional layer of translation or simplification.  To Americans, even more than to citizens of other countries, science is a foreign language, as incomprehensible as French or German (as when they write Voilà! as Wallah! or zaftig as softig).   This puts them at a distinct disadvantage in trying to comprehend the modern world: they can only grasp the kindergarten version, the watered-down summary, the oversimplification.

    How Many Pounds in 328.7 Kilograms?

    Third, it leaves average America open to errors of conversion, mistakes in translation.  Many examples of conversion error disasters exist; some of them are no doubt apocryphal, others are apparently well-documented.  Such famous errors have cost the US millions, perhaps billions of dollars, as well as lost time and international embarrassment.

    • 1998, a joint NASA/ ESA project, the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) lost all communication with Earth.  A conversion algorithm from English to metric units had been omitted from some of the control files.
    • 1999, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices reported a case where a patient received 0.5 g (grams) of the sedative Phenobarbital; the prescription was for 0.5 gr (grains; a gram is about 15 grains). Medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure approximately 1.3 million people annually in the United States, says the FDA.  How many of those errors are due to misreading of units?
    • 1999, NASA lost the Mars Climate Orbiter ($125 M) after a 286-day trip to Mars.  Miscalculations due to the use of English units instead of metric sent the craft slowly off course.
    • 2004, Tokyo Disneyland — The Space Mountain ride was derailed due to a broken axle.  The axle was the wrong size, due to a conversion from English to metric units
    • Probably hundreds of minor errors go unreported each year.

    Doesn't Use the Metric System

    You Have to Wonder Why

    One has to wonder why America ties itself so firmly to a version of the Imperial system.  After all, they fought a revolution to be free from England.  Why cling so tightly to the past?

    As early as 1866, metric measures were legal in the USA, with various acts and agreements passed during the succeeding century and a half (see 150 Years of Legal Metric Usage in the USA for the sorry history) yet today even Britain is more thoroughly metric than  America, according to that article.  The USA is woefully behind the times and most other countries, choosing alchemy over science, the past over the present, the antique over the modern.

    Okay, it’s not quite that bad, and America has managed to become a world leader in science and technology despite their handicaps.  Their trade deficit, on the other hand…

     

  • Naturehike Ultralight Cycling Tent: Specifications and Impressions

    Posted on May 15th, 2017 admin No comments

    Naturehike Cycling Silicone Ultralight One Man Tent

    Purpose of Purchase

    I bought this tent for entry-level bike touring and maybe a little weekend backpacking. I figured that I didn’t need expensive top-end gear for occasional and casual use. It’s hard to tell from photos, and ordering online can be a bit of a risk.  However, I researched NatureHike and found their products well-reviewed.   I’ve also had good results generally from the place where I bought it, Banggood.com.

    The tent and footprint before first opening

    The tent and footprint before first opening

    Specifications of the NH Silicone Ultralight

    • Banggood Product ID: 1020476
      Color: Orange
      Brand: Naturehike https://www.naturehike.com/cycling-ultralight-silicone-one-man-tent/
      Model: NH18A095-D Cycling Silicone Ultralight One Man Tent with skirt
      Capacity: Single person
      Color: orange
      Package size: 400x150x150mm
      Size: 2050x1550x1100mm (exclusive of storm flaps)
      Weight: 1300g (excluding pegs and guy lines)
      Flysheet Material: 20D 380T rip-stop nylon, waterproof to PU1000, UPF30+
      Inner tent material: 210T ripstop polyester fabric* + B3 high density breathable mesh
      Floor material: 150D ripstop plaid oxford*
      Poles: 7001 aviation aluminum

    Package Contents

    This Banggood product came with the following:

    • 1 x Tent
    • 1 x Fly Sheet with optional storm skirt
    • 1 x Cinch strap
    • 8 x Pegs with storage sack
    • 2 x Guy lines
    • 1 x Set of Aluminum poles with storage sack
    • 1 x Storage Bag
    • 1 x Footprint with storage bag

    Good First Impression

    The tent arrived surprisingly quickly from a Canadian warehouse (ordered April 21, 2017; arrived May 10, 2017; only 19 days!).

    The whole package struck me as being compact, light, well-made, and well-presented. It also came with the footprint in a separate bag. On opening, I found all parts present and in good packaging. By this I mean that the tent bag has handles and snap-straps to cinch it up; the aluminum pegs and guy lines were in a plastic ziplock bag inside a cloth sack; likewise the aluminum poles. The tent itself was bound with a little cinch strap. Eventually, I’ll probably be getting rid of some of this to cut down the weight by a few grams. But it does make a good first impression.

    Set up in my back yard for first impressions

    Set up in my back yard for first impressions

    Initial Conclusions

    This looks like a well-made light-weight tent for backpacking and bicycle touring.  I expect that it would wear well and last at least one season for occasional, casual use.  However, this is only a first impression.  The tent has yet to be tested in actual use.

    *Note:  Physical examination and measurement with calipers suggests that the fly and inner tent are made from the same material.  They look and feel the same, and a double fold of each measures 0.004 millimeters.  The floor material is heavier (thicker): a double fold measures 0.006 mm.

    Read More

     

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