Tourist tech talk

Some touring info:

Wool jersey and wool sweater have saved my ass repeatedly. Yeah, they don’t smell all that great after 27 days but I’d rather be warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot than odor-free. Wool socks? Don’t leave home without ’em, they will be your best friend at night.

Long-handled wool underwear. I slept the first month in my long pants. Then the evenings and mornings started getting cold. In Bellingham I bought long merino wool underwear, top and bottom. Light, warm af, snug underneath whatever else you have on. If anything.

Carbon frames work fine for touring and carrying heavy loads as long as you don’t ride like an idiot. I ran into two kids on full-blown lightweight racing frames lugging 50+ lbs. apiece. They had zero problems.

When you tour you average 10 mph. That’s because you stop a lot and because your bike is heavy and you are slow. Some days you go slower. Touring isn’t fast. So?

Front bag. I use this waterproof, hipster af Linus bag with hipster leather straps for all mission critical items, i.e. $ and Oreos. Don’t weigh your front end down with anything else unless you are Bryan Kevan about to cross Kazakhstan. You don’t need more stuff, you do need more handling and control. They are mutually exclusive with regard to the front end of your bike.

Disc brakes. Okay, I hatelovehatelove them. If they break or drag or need work done you are fucked with a broomstick. But when you are about to lose control skidding down a deep gravel path into Jeff’s front yard, about to launch over the hedge onto the street 30 feet below, you will be glad you had them. And sad that you are an idiot who needs them.

Fat tires with solid tread are awesome. I started with Panaracer Gravel King 32’s. Two flats in over 1,600 miles, riding over some horrible shoulders strewn with glass, nails, bolts, lounge chairs, transmission parts. I put a new, heavier tire on the rear in Bellingham in it flatted in a day. To be fair, it was a carpenter’s staple.

Rule of stairs: I got this from touring master Bryan Kevan. “If you can’t carry your fully loaded bike up the stairs, it’s too heavy.”

Ortlieb panniers are waterproof, bulletproof, and most importantly, idiot proof. Save money elsewhere.

Big Agnes bikepacker tent has been superlative. Easy to put up and take down, tiny, light, and perfect for mild conditions. Can’t imagine it in 30 feet of snow or in a monsoon, but I can’t imagine myself in one, either.

Cook your food. The most intense pleasure of touring is Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. After that it’s the food you cook. Sure, carry a few “add hot water” items, but make cooking part of your tour. It’s stupid simple, takes hardly any time, and is more fulfilling than any food you can buy. And it’s cheap.

Key food items to bring and shop for: Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, black pepper, onion, mushroom, garlic, bell pepper, green onion. Any combination of these items makes whatever you’re eating better than most of what you’ll eat at home.

Expect misery. My friend Deb Banks said it best: “One night hell, the next night heaven.” That’s the way it should be. If you’re not miserable, you’re not going to enjoy the sunshine, the beautiful camp site, the perfect dinner. Or as frame builder and rando badass Corey Thompson put it, “If you never had a terrible ride, how are you going to know you had a great one?”

Expect paradise. There will be moments where natural beauty, physical and mental synchronicity, and the motion of the bicycle will put you in a place you’ve never been before.

One chain ring is enough. Really.

Flat pedals are superior to cleats of any kind. You have a wider platform, it’s easier to manage the clumsy weight of the big touring bike, and once you get off your bike you can … walk.

Shoes. I went with my commuter shoes but they are too stiff to walk far in. Next time I’ll bring a light sneaker, although.

I lost the most treasured tool of my trip, a small wooden spoon. This really is a do-anything item. Get one. You’ll see.

Lose the Garmin/computer. They are so silly. If you have to know the mileage, use Google maps. If you have to have the data from your trip to make it satisfying or meaningful, go back to the drawing board.

Speaking of maps, use paper ones if you can. You’ll stop more and see more things. You’ll get lost more and see more things. You’ll hone your wayfinding and see more things. Also, the paper map’s batteries will never die at a crucial moment or lose coverage. Plus you don’t have to ask for the login.

Take a brilliant headlight. Darell Dickey and Drew Carlson saved my life when I tried to get them to take my headlight because it was “too heavy” and I “hadn’t used it at all.” A few nights later my life depended on having that light.

Tights can save your ass. After Day Four my undercarriage was getting raw. The coastal weather started to get really cool so I put on tights, which immediately stopped my chamois from rubbing. Over the next few days my underside callused up like old shoe leather; a separate layer between your shorts and saddle makes a huge difference.

Rotate your tires. I did after about a thousand miles as the rear tire wears a lot faster than the front.

Touring is measured in hours, not miles. From the moment you wake up, your battery begins to drain. Start early and focus on getting in a certain number of hours rather than on miles.

Finish early and sit. The best thing you can do is nothing. Get off the bike as soon as you can, pitch your tent and sit or lay down. Every hour you spend doing nothing will pay you back the next day with power, endurance, and most crucially, enthusiasm.

Drink milk. It’s the original super food. It has protein, fat, and sugar. It burns slowly. The calcium does wonders for your bones and teeth. It tastes fucking awesome. It’s cheap. Everyone sells it. Best of all? You can get it in a form called “chocolate milk.” Yeah, that.

Wear your shoes a size too big. Your feet swell and the extra room is extra comfy.

Drinking cup. I brought a Yeti. Too big, too heavy, so overkill I almost gave it away. Then it earned its spot in the pantheon. Scalding hot coffee every morning in quantities you almost can’t drink.

Victorinox knife and brain surgery tool. The blade sharpens nicely and holds its edge. The extra little thingies come in handy, for example, the pliers, without which I’d have never been able to unscrew my yanked valve stem after over-tightening my hand pump. Also perfect, no kidding, for pounding in tent stakes.

Sleeping mat. This deserves, and will receive, its own separate post because, sleep. At $136, the insulated Sea to Summit Air Stream for Wimps and Old Fux is way overpriced and a total ripoff. Until you use it.

Pants. You are gonna need pants. I brought my Betabrand commuter pants made of magic fabric that is a little stretchy but warm and water repellent and with the expansive ballroom of any fine hotel. You can stride around the camp site smelling like old dung but looking fresh and snappy and hipster af.

Waterproof stuff sack. I got one of these for my sleeping bag because this lets me put it on the rack, saving space in the panniers for mission critical items (Oreos), without worrying about the downpour that will nuke your down sleeping bag.

Sleeping bag. Go light. Go warm. Go down.

Sun position measuring device. You don’t need a Garmin/iWatch other piece of bullcrap. You do need a sun position measuring device. They work wonders, allow you calculate (with the help of 3rd Grade arithmetic) speed, never break, and look Oldskoolretrohipsterbadasseddymerckxrogerdevlaeminck af.

Electrical gizmo crap. Don’t be an idiot and bring a laptop like I did. Really. It’s as dumb as a Garmin, heavier, and brands you as #notreallyvacationing. Do bring a spare phone battery. Vlad tried to give me one but I declined, stupidly. Tom Duong gave me one which has saved my ass and the crack to boot.

Adventure Cycling Association touring maps. This deserves its own post, and may get one. Basically, they are for newbie idiots, so perfect for me. They are designed like hiking trails at the state park: Enough for the average schmo not to strain his lateral femoral stomachus muscle, but enough for him to feel like he got in enough of a “hike” to deserve a double cheeseburger and the entire family pack of Oreos. With whole milk.

Ride difficulty/fitness. The riding isn’t hard. But when you are on your bike anywhere from four to twelve hours, you get really tired. But that’s not where the exhaustion comes in. The exhaustion comes from finding a place, setting up camp, eating, cleaning up, securing wife or cellular coverage, , charging your stuff, making/returning phone calls, and finally, listening to all of the alcoholers discover the magic of the alcohols. For example, oohing and aahing at all the trees that grew up around the alcohols, the fire that was kindled around the alcohols, or sometimes just the simple simplicity of all the alcohols hanging out with the other alcohols. This is what exhausts you beyond any words. The leg and lung fitness will come. The other stuff? It depends on how well you can organize, compartmentalize, and avoid the alcohols. 300 miles a week touring is not 300 miles “training.” The good part is that ANYONE can do it, unlike KOMs/QOMs and winning a profamateur bicycle race and falling-off event.

However much stuff you have, it’s too much. Touring should be a process of getting rid of stuff. If at the end of the trip you still have bulky things attached to your handlebars or giant panniers on your front forks, or worse, even one single thing that you didn’t use to save your ass, you overpacked. So even though you get an “F,” you actually get an “A” because the penalty is a do-over. Yay!

Remember that it’s supposed to be fun, even though it often fucking sucks. As Corey Thompson put it, “How would you know it was good if it you never had it bad?”


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10 thoughts on “Tourist tech talk”

  1. Planning to do some cycle touring in the next couple of years and I’m bookmarking this page. The advice is simply too good not to save!

    Thanks Seth! This is great stuff. (And who doesn’t want to look hipster AF walking around camp?)

    1. +1 to what Drew said. You can do it on any bike, but a bike that’s built for touring will serve you much better. Looking forward to hearing about Washington Pass and Mazama.

  2. You’ve learned a lot, Seth. My only variance from your suggestion is that a bike built for touring, with racks mounted low on rear AND front, and bags properly loaded is much, much easier to handle. Yes, touring can be done on ANY bike, as you clearly show. It’s so much fun reading this blog, and I’m glad you’re experiencing the highs and lows that is bike touring.

  3. There are all kinds of porn that appeal to me:
    Bike Gear Porn
    Camping Gear Porn
    Bread Porn
    Camera Porn – large, medium, full frame digital
    And maybe some real Porn
    Childhood Porn in the form of the porn laden Sears Roebuck Porn Catalog

    So, this was a great post for a gear porn junkie like me. It’s mostly camping shit porn, with a side helping of bike porn

    And here I thought you were simply sleeping on the fold-up pad all this time, when in fact you had a sea-2-summit inflatable super duper porn comfy mattress. That does deserve its own post. I hope you sprang for the sea-2-summit pillow, cause that is a game changer.

  4. Really enjoying reading this. I was a little disappointed when you were getting closer to CA as I assumed the touring posts would be over but was excited to see you are working your way back….and taking the Sierra Cascades route.
    I did my first tour (7 days, 600+ miles loop around the Olympic Peninsula) two years ago and that experience completely transformed how I enjoyed and thought about cycling, training, & travel. While I still enjoy making 140 90-degree turns in a SoCal office park once in awhile, nothing beats the experience and feeling you’re capturing here.

  5. I can confirm that Seth does indeed look snappy and hipster AF in his skinny jeans. You’d barely know that he rides a bike! Even when he’s riding a bike.

    I love me some good gear reviews! And yeah… so glad you hung onto that light! I’ve had to change too many punctures, and find too many other things in the dark… not to mention the actual RIDING in the dark part…. to skip a light.

    (re. the tent… I actually tried to research what those little extra tabs on the corners were for, and I still haven’t figure it out. Of course I only tried for like 20 seconds, but still I tried!)

  6. Also, we discovered the energy that Milk could give you. As I remember it, we used to walk in and but a half gallon each in the morning, to eat cereal with, and then finish off as breakfast, and then more often then not, an early afternoon half gallon as well. I have told the story as a gallon each a day for so long that I believe that is what it was, but I can’t even look at a half gallon today and think “Really? I drank two of those a day each at a sitting? And then rode my bike for hours on end?” I only weighed 170 lbs at the time and my metabolism was sky high, and I didn’t gain an ounce the whole summer. I didn’t lose anything either, so I am guessing the long alcohols breaks in Boulder, Des Moines, Anderson, and Pittsburgh helped a lot with that. I think I already told the 33 pieces of French Toast story. If that is real, then a Gallon of milk a day is easy peasy.

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