Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Closer to Fine

From A Trip to Evergreen

Douglas Coulter, the mad troubadour of the touring list, whose madness is one of the saner responses I've seen to these mad times, once wrote that all his tours are failures. If my goal is ultimate simplicity, I similarly fail on each journey, for my monkey mind gathers far too many shiny things and carries these burdens too far for too long. But, perhaps, a goal is only that which gets me rolling down the road, where my burdens resolve either into the strength needed to carry them further or the certainty needed to leave them behind. With thoughts such as these for companions, I pedal southward, into the wind. My gear today is too much, something I'll know for certain when I return home with unworn t-shirts and a laptop that I've lugged for miles and never used but in the words of the Indigo Girls, my kit is getting "closer to fine."

My gear today is minimal but more than sufficient. Using Colin Fletcher's metaphor of a house, my baggage consists of three main rooms. The bedroom sits on the bike's rear rack. A single waterproof compression stuff-sack contains my sleeping bag, bivy sack, Therm-a-Rest pad, tarp-poncho, ground-cloth, 4 tent stakes and my cozy camp jacket/vest. The jacket/vest, which is too warm to wear while riding, extends the comfort range of my 18 ounce sleeping bag down to the freezing point. The total weight of the bedroom is under 5 lbs.

Up front, a small handlebar bag contains the pantry and workshop. The main compartment holds whatever I feel like snacking on at the moment, today it contains Payday and Clif bars, while the smaller compartment contains a spare tube, patch kit, tire levers and chain lube. I have two water bottles in the main triangle of the bike and a Topeak Morph pump strapped behind the seat tube. Battery powered Planet Bike head and tail lights are sufficient to get me through the longest, darkest nights. For security, I carry an OnGuard Mini U-Lock on my rear rack. A bungie cargo net secures the load to the rear rack.

My closet is an Osprey Daylite backpack holding not only my spare clothes (a couple of t-shirts, a long sleeve wool t-shirt, a pair of wool socks and a second pair of shorts) but also way more technology than what any wanderer actually needs. In addition to my camera and cell phone, I'm packing my Eee PC in case I'm overcome with overwhelming web-withdrawal and my Peek Pronto connects me to all the email obligations I carry with me.

From A Trip to Evergreen

There's a school of thought that says I should be letting the bike carry all the weight and not use a backpack, but packs have proven to be handy to me over the years. The valuable bits stay with me when I lock up the bike and go into a coffee shop or wander around and keeping some weight on my back keeps me honest. The pack weight gets questioned every trip. In addition to the above mentioned items, the pack holds my toothbrush and razor, whatever book I'm reading, chargers for the gadgets, local maps and other bits that build up until I say "enough" and pare things down again. It's always a learning process.

The backpack expands and contracts as I layer clothes on and off depending on conditions. I wear a cotton cycling cap under my helmet and in cold conditions I wear a warm cap over the cotton one to cover my ears. Both my outer jacket and pants are convertible, with parts that zip off and dry quickly. It took me years to figure out that the key to wet weather comfort was not to battle to stay totally dry, but to have clothes that are comfortable when damp and dry quickly. My Marmot DriClime Windshirt is the best single garment I own and it is pretty much always on my person or in my pack. I carry the gets-damp-but-dries-quick theme down to my feet and found that the looks-dorky-but-really-works Pacific Northwest fashion of wool socks plus sandals.

From A Trip to Evergreen

On each trip I learn something. I've learned that by traveling light, I can travel far. With minimal gear, I need a minimum of gears, and touring on a fixed gear or single speed bicycle is not only possible, it's fun and instructive. In wind, rain, sun or whatever I can roll and think and learn something from every day, night, road and trail I roll down. The distance I have to cover is not far and I have sufficient time to hasten slowly. One of the wisest things I've ever read was written by the great sage Sheldon who asked "If you are in a hurry, why are you on a bicycle?" Since I am traveling at least as much to travel as to arrive, I have time to think and pause and photograph that which is odd or common or interesting. Each tour is not a failure, each trip gets me closer to fine.

From A Trip to Evergreen

Keep 'em rolling,



Davey said...

Love the gear list and gadget posts. Question on the bivy, what keeps the rain off your face?

Kent Peterson said...


Rain is the main reason for the tarp plus bivy solution. I've slept in rain in just the bivy and the tarp plus bivy is much better. The bivy adds warmth to the sleeping bag and keeps critters out, the tarp is what does the major work of keeping things dry.

Jim G said...

Hey Kent, what is this black bike you're riding these days? An old Stumpjumper/Rockhopper it looks like?

Dan O said...

Cool post about the equipment you use.

I know what you mean about using a backpack - I ride so often with my messenger bag - almost feels weird riding without it.

Then again - on rides without it - feel like I lost 20 pounds.

Richard said...


Thanks for detailing your travel gear and providing the links for us.

Jim Laudolff said...

We are witness to the Great Slug Migration of 2009. You'd think with their numbers and all the vegetation they eat, Western Washington would be bare. Be careful out there!

Anonymous said...

Great post on your gear. But what do you do when it's wet - don't your feet get wet & cold?

Goon said...

Thanks for turning me on to Douglas Coulter.

Kent Peterson said...

JimG -- Yep, it's an old Stumpjumper.

Anon -- With the wool-sock and sandals combo my feet do get wet, but not cold. Damp wool is still warm and with the sandals things dry quickly.

The Bruce said...

Are you riding that SS or is it an internal hub? What flat pedals do you ride on?

I'll second an open shoe/sandal for touring. Clipless pedals seem overkill unless one has a good SPD combination.

Kent Peterson said...

Special Ed is sporting a 46 * 20 fixed gear drivetrain. The pedals are DiamondBack BMX pedals. The little pins on the surface of the pins grip real well, even in wet weather.


Will said...

I am not seeing a front fender. Isn't that the more important one for staying comfortable on wet roads?

chatty cathy said...

what happened to the powergrips kent. isnt riding fixed without toeclips dangrous. what happens if yer feet come off in a mad spin.

chatty cathy said...

one more q please. what happened to the rear break. i thought u ran 2 breaks on fixed. do u run a lock ring.

Kent Peterson said...


The front fender's main role is played by a strip of coroplast running the length of the downtube as a splash guard. Some of my other bikes have front coroplast fenders in the conventional style and those do cover better but this one has a few advantages especially for a bike that sees a lot of backcountry trail riding: it doesn't jam up with twigs or mud. It's not an issue for me, but one woman down at Evergreen opted for this style front fender because she would often remove the front wheel from her bike, turn the handlebars and carry the bike in the rear seat of her car. A full fender wouldn't let her do this.


Kent Peterson said...

chatty cathy,

I set up my first bike sans Power Grips a couple of years ago for a snow bike that I'd ride with bigger boots. I didn't notice any big drops in my commute times and since then all my bikes have become Grip-free.

As for the spin-off the pedals thing, yeah I thought that would happen, so the fixie was the last bike I converted. But here's the thing, it doesn't "get away on a mad spin." When pedal A is spinning downward, pedal B is spinning upward. What holds my foot on pedal A is the bit of drag I exert on pedal B with my other foot. The "dead" spot at the top/bottom of the stroke is the spot where the pedals could get away from you and the pinned-BMX pedals lock onto my shoes fine for that.

As for the brake, I rode my first year of fixed brevets on a PX-10 with a single front brake, but after I smoked that brake out on a big descent on the Rocky Mountain 1200, I added a rear brake so I could trade off between the two and rest my hand. But Special Ed had a rear U-brake, which was pretty crappy, so I ditched it. But I'm also running a lower gear on Ed, which makes control of the rear wheel speed easier via legs alone. I'm too cheap to go through tires doing the skidding thing but with a fixed wheel and a single front brake, Ed stops better than any coastie bike I've got.

Ed's rear cog is LockTited onto a redished wheel. Because I never know what a person's skill-level and habits are, I always strongly recommend a lock-ring and dual brake set-up for folks riding fixed, but I don't always practice what I preach!


fatbob29r said...

Kent, thanks ever so much for sharing your adventures, and wisdom. You inspire me to try to do more by bike. May I ask what book you're currently keeping in your pack? Thanks, keep the posts and adventures up.

Kent Peterson said...


The book I'm lugging around often has little to do with cycling. For the trip to Evergreen, it happened to be Roger Zelazny's SciFi novel "Lord of Light". When I roll out the door today the book in my pack is Joe Bageant's non-fiction "Deer Hunting with Jesus."


Lawrence Fieman said...

Hi Kent, I'm curious about the tarp-poncho. Do you ride in it, as well as sleep under it? Have you replaced the Rainshield jacket with a tarp-poncho.
As always, thanks for the inspiration and diversion.

Kent Peterson said...

Hi Larry,

I just use the tarp/poncho as a tarp. It turned out to be the lightest/smallest tarp I could find and on the bike it's kind of floppy. In rainy conditions, it's the first part of my camp to get pitched and the last part taken down and when it's pouring I find I want to have a shelter and a jacket, so some form of raingear other than the poncho travels with me. The rainshield still is the best for the weight and $ rain jacket I've found.