Tuesday, November 25, 2014

No More Panniers! The New Setup

A frame bag for food, a lightweight backpack for sleeping gear and clothes, and a small top tube bag for extras.  Tent on the handlebars.

When you carry heavy belongings every day, it's hard not to question their worth.  Here is what my bike setup used to look like:

It's hard to tell from this picture, but my stuff fit into two rear panniers, a backpack on top of the panniers, a handlebar bag (the "brain" of my backpack), and a top tube bag (the black bag behind the handlebars).  The waterproof panniers provided ample room for my bear canister and cold weather gear, and the heavy-duty backpack carried loads admirably through thick brush in Alaska.  But there was a price for such durability and space: the bags weighed almost ten pounds by themselves!  For the warmer parts of the world we're heading to now, Tam and I don't carry enough to justify being so weighed down, nor do we need the space.  Here are a few specific changes we made and the rationale behind them:

1) No More Panniers. Weight Savings: ~3lbs 3oz
Making The Frame Bag

We sold our Ortlieb Backroller Panniers (4lbs 3oz) in favor of a homemade frame bag (<1lb) that sits in the center triangle of our bikes.  We won't be able to carry nearly as much gear, but, with the weight centered rather than behind the saddle, the bike's handling and aerodynamics will be much improved. 

2) Lightweight Backpack. Weight Savings: 3lbs 5oz
My full-framed Osprey Aether 70 is incredibly tough and handles heavy loads with ease.  But, at 5lbs 3oz, and with its big, rigid frame, it doesn't fit well on a bike.  Enter the GoLite Jam 50, 1lb 14oz.  It lacks a frame, meaning it can be rolled up to fit on top of my bike's rear rack.  I can't use it to carry a lot of weight, but I don't have much stuff anyway.  Tam is keeping her full-framed Osprey Aura 50; it weighs a bit more than the Jam, but it works.  And she will certainly be more comfortable when we go backpacking!

3) Bye Bye, Bike Shoes. Weight Savings: 1lb 7oz
Power Grips

A few months into our trip, we mailed home our "clipless" shoes and pedals, the standard for competitive cyclists and many tourers, and acquired normal platform pedals with Power Grips, simple straps to improve the pedaling efficiency of normal shoes.  We carry hiking shoes anyway for backpacking (Merrell Moabs are my favorite), and riding in those rather than their being in our bags has many advantages.  We are lighter, better equipped for short forays into stores or down steep riverbanks to get water, and not cluttered mentally and physically by a superfluous pair of shoes.  If our pedaling is less efficient because of our feet no longer being in rigid shoes attached to the pedals, we haven't noticed it.

4) Less Stuff!  Weight Savings: ~5lbs
As we slowly approach the equator, cold weather will become a thing of the past.  No longer necessary will be our fleece layers, warm gloves, shoe covers, or beanies.  And, since we'll be leaving bears behind as well, we won't have to carry those clunky bear canisters (2lbs 9oz) anymore!
Goodbye, Bear Can.  We Won't Miss You.

Total Weight Savings: ~13lbs

This isn't all the weight we're cutting, and there are also a few things (like extra bike repair stuff) that we are adding.  So 13 pounds is probably a good estimate.  13 pounds!  I'm excited to get on the road again and not feel that weight.  We'll be able to ride faster and with less effort, especially into the wind.  Less weight also means less wear on our bikes, especially on the tires and chains.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Our Current Address

If you'd like to send us a letter, we would love to hear from you!
We'll be at this address for the next few weeks:
High Trails
4650 Jenks Lake Road East
Angelus Oaks, CA 92305
Thanks. :-)

Friday, November 7, 2014

High Trails!

We biked over Onyx Summit today and made it to High Trails, our former environmental education workplace in the forest!  We'll spend a few weeks here working, resting, and planning the next segment of the trip.

5 Months: The Numbers

Miles biked: 6,013
Miles my mom biked with us: 540
Highest elevation my mom biked: 8,445 feet, Onyx Summit
Flat tires: 11
Highest elevation biked: 9,945 feet, Tioga Pass, Yosemite
Highest elevation hiked: 11,493 feet, Vogelsang Peak, Yosemite
All-you-can-eat buffets attended: 9
Steepest grade biked: 18%
Record number of pancakes eaten at one time: 45

Thursday, November 6, 2014

San Bernardino Mountains and Big Bear

With the time change, we've been getting up these last few days before six and out by 7. Today was different. The phone/alarm clock ran out of battery in the middle of the night, so we didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn. We had a wonderful breakfast -- oatmeal and peanut better is a tasty way to start the day. Thank you, Bill, for hosting us last night. We enjoyed meeting Katy and appreciate all that you did.

It turns out that we weren't leaving that quickly. Danny discovered a flat tire, a problem he'll be having less often once he and Tam get new tires. Getting out of Bill's neighborhood was a lot easier than yesterday's climb to reach his house. (I admit it -- I walked up a few of those monster hills, cleats and all.)

Today we started at 4500 feet and spent most of the day climbing. By the end of the day we reached 6800 feet. I could hardly believe the number of switchbacks! Every time there was a switchback I kept hoping that the road would flatten out. No such luck. The road just kept going up, up, up. I felt like we would reach the sky. We had a few downhills but they were few and far between.

The higher we rode into the mountains, the more spectacular the scenery.  The clear day made it possible for us to see sprawling LA and the entire countryside around it. As we headed east we rode along the Rim of the World Highway in the San Bernardino Mountains and feasted our eyes on the incredible San Gabriel Mountains. No wind today. A definite plus.

Riding around Big Bear Lake in the city of Big Bear was beautiful and a favorite spot of Danny and Tam's. Lots of ducks -- coots, widgeons and buffalo heads -- think  so too. Danny and Tam were easily able to identify them.

Today was a total of 50 miles with thirty of them spent climbing. We arrived at friends of Tam's and Danny's and enjoyed the tortillas and salsa that Tam whipped up plus pizza that we ordered in. Right now they're playing Pandemic, a board game, and I'm contemplating bed.

- Leslie

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Into the Mountains

Our elevation profile for today:

We woke up early in our desert campsite.  It was light by 6, and we left shortly after. The road took us up into the hills switchback after switchback, until we could see the desert far below.  Tam and I were unbelievably excited to be back in the mountains.  Up we climbed, up and up and up some more.  The sagebrush and creosote shrubs turned to pine and oak forest, and we enjoyed watching the vegetation change without traffic to worry about.
Mom climbing the mountain

My mom did a great job with the climbing.  There aren't any hills like this in Georgia!  We topped out around 7,000 feet at the Angeles Crest, having ascended almost 4,000 feet.

We stopped around noon to eat lunch in the little town of Wrightwood, then set off again.  Now we would descend all the way back down to the desert, almost 10 continuous, amazing miles of downhill.  Back where we started, on the desert floor, we picked up highway 138.  It was heavily trafficked for a few miles, but after we crossed highway 15, a wide gray ribbon of belching trucks, we had the road mostly to ourselves.  Back up we went.  If anything, this riding was more difficult than the morning.  The hills were short but very steep, and the cars, driving way too fast for the twisty road, didn't give us much space.  But we continued, as always, then reached the top and headed back down.  A long, straight downhill brought us to Silverwood Lake, a bright blue jewel in the desert, and as we passed it, we picked up a tailwind for the first time in days.  It felt sooo good to be able to get some speed on flat ground, and we took full advantage by riding fast.

It was almost 3:00 at this point and would be getting dark around 5.  Only 10 miles to go to our destination.  No problem, right?  The first few miles were what I call good uphill, with only a moderate declivity, but soon it got steep.  Really steep, with the steepest sections being between 12% and 18%, and the not-so-steep sections being pretty fearsome, too.  This awfulness was sustained for probably about four miles, and we were quite happy when we saw the grade lessen.  
Our home forest!

The hard part was over, and we were confident at this point that we would make it to Crestline before dark.  Unfortunately, we had been warned that the last part up to our warmshowers host Bill's house was all uphill.  It wasn't as steep as before, but I worked up a good sweat in the cool air.  As we were ascending one of the last hills, Bill drove up in his truck and took my mom the rest of the way up.  He knows just how bad the hill can be, and it was so nice of him to come down to see if we wanted a ride.  Tam and I biked.
The view from the top was beautiful, and powering ourselves up on our own power made it worth that much more.

Our evening at Bill's house could not have been better: great food and conversation, and an early bedtime!  Many thanks to Bill and Katie for having us!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wind and Traffic

We woke up super early at our hotel and took full advantage of the complimentary breakfast: omelettes, pancakes, hash browns, fruit, yogurt, waffles, and more!  When we left around 7, the sun was already high in the sky.  We rode through the suburban tangle of Santa Clarita, finding bike paths here and there until reaching the outskirts.  We picked up Soledad Canyon Road, which took us through a narrow canyon with steep walls and interesting rock formations.  There wasn't much traffic; in fact, it was a great road for biking.  Unfortunately, from the moment we left in the morning, the east wind was blasting: a constant headwind. We battled against the wind for hours, going slowly uphill.  It was physically and mentally challenging riding.

Finally we reached the small town of Acton, which isn't significant except that we decided to stop for lunch.  It was cool in the shade, and we enjoyed our hummus, cheese, cucumber, and avocado tortillas before warming up in the sun.  Back on the road, headwind still  roaring, we pushed uphill.  The riding was tough, but we kept at it.  Then, all of a sudden, the shoulder disappeared.  We were on the Sierra Highway at this point, a busy road with a lot of truck traffic.  Not a good road to bike, let alone without a shoulder.  We were turning off in a mile anyway, so we walked our bikes in the gravel shoulder until reaching our turn.  The California Aqueduct, a shimmering blue ribbon in this parched landscape, greeted us at our new road.

Finally we were on a smaller road.  The wind had let up somewhat, and we left the traffic behind, making for better evening riding.  We rode a little ways on some back roads then camped off the road among the desert creosote and sagebrush.  Because of daylight savings time, darkness fell around 5:30, and we ate dinner under an incredible sunset.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Delicious Fruit and a Surprise Hotel!

We wake up and enjoy a lovely breakfast with Karis and her mom June then say our goodbyes. It has been so wonderful to spend the last few days here with Karis, Bayard, and June. Thank you guys for everything!
First we ride out of Ventura, crusing down the Main Street packed with small businesses. It's still early enough that things are quiet; places are just getting ready to open for the day. Out of town we ride on Telegraph Road, passing through orchards of lemons and avocados. When this road ends we merge onto 126, the road we'll be on for the rest of the day. This is a big road, but we have a huge shoulder with a rumble strip so it's not bad riding. We stop at a small roadside stand to purchase three small baskets of strawberries. They're so sweet they taste like candy!

For lunch we stop in a park in the small town of Fillmore. There are no picnic tables, but there's a really cool playground so we sit under one of the towers in the shade. It's like a mini pavilion!
For the rest of the afternoon we try to ignore the noise of the traffic as we fight against an annoying headwind. Luckily there is some beautiful scenery; we pass many more orchards and farms, and desert mountains are all around us. We stop at one of the fruit stands we see to purchase fresh oranges, a mini avocado, a pomegranate, and some guavas. Everything just looks so good!
As we near the end of our ride we hit a construction zone, which means that the shoulder on our side of the road closes. We have to cross and ride on the other side for a bit, then cross back. It makes for an exciting, slightly stressful end to the day.
Tonight we are staying at the Embassy Suites hotel, a wonderful surprise gift from a family friend, Karen, who lives in the area. Deciding that we should have better accommodations than her backyard, she made us a reservation at this beautiful hotel. We've already enjoyed the hot tub and large quantities of the complimentary snacks! Thank you so much, Karen!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

At the Taylors

June at the farmer's market

Making the frame bag

We spent yesterday and today with our good friend Karis and her family in Ventura.  Most of our time went to making frame bags for our bikes, but we still found some time to play music and watch movies.  It has been a restful few days, and we cannot thank Bayard, June, and Karis enough for allowing us to make a huge mess of their living room, winding bobbins and triple-stitching seams, dressing up, recommending melodious bluegrass tunes, cooking delicious food, and generally being supremely wonderful people!

The newly handmade frame bags:

These, for now, are additions to the rear panniers and backpacks we carry.  Our setup will change more in the next few weeks... Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


We got an early start, rode a bit in the much-needed rain, passed through eclectic downtown Santa Barbara, then stopped at a small farmer's market.  Tasty almonds and hummus (27 kinds to choose from) provided a delicious supplement to our lunch.  Then, back on the road, we followed a newly constructed bike path paralleling the highway and the ocean all the way to Ventura!  
Last night we were lucky enough to hang out with our good friend Karis and her family.  Passing out candy to trick-or-treaters, watching The Princess Bride, playing music, eating homemade pizza, and falling asleep to the sound of rain drumming on the roof... Life is good in Ventura!
A fantastic picture of Karis