28 February, 2015

Not Enough

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I didn’t make it. My goal to do an overnight each month in 2015 is already, as the Germans say, kaput. Let me tell you you why.

Firstly, I waited until the last minute. February has only 28 days to begin with, so there’s a little less time to work with. School’s been keeping me busy, the weather’s been crap, yadda yadda yadda, so I kept postponing it until I just figured I’d knock it out on the last weekend. Which brings us to present time. Last Friday, I threw everything together I’d need, testing out a new setup without a rack + panniers, a la your traditional bikepacking setup, more or less.

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You’ll notice I don’t have a frame bag, and that’s because they’re too expensive to not get them custom fit to your frame, and I’d rather do that myself… someday… when I have a sewing machine. Besides, for one night, a frame bag isn’t really necessary. The “fuel tank” bag is actually an under-the-saddle wedge that is very obviously zip-tied in place. The seat pack is just a compression sack from the local camping store, and the sleeping bag/bivy sack is wrapped in a military surplus sleeping bag carrier and bungeed to the handlebars. You’re looking at low-budget here, people.

I had stuff for sleeping, stuff for eating, and stuff for making coffee in the morning. So, I set off in search of a place to spend the night.

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Since I was just using a bivy and a sleeping bag, which is essentially just a sleeping bag, I figured I could plop down anywhere and hunker down for the night. I got a new inflatable sleeping pad that was insulated, so I should be plenty warm. I meandered through the woods, down dirt farming roads and through some sporadic single track, mostly to see how the load affected the handling of the bike.

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The sky was clear, and the sun was setting, so the temperature started to drop substantially. I began to think maybe I’d just ride around for as long as possible before setting up camp and going to sleep. That way, I’d at least stay warm. So, I did. I rode down trails and through some rather muddy forest paths, trying to get deeper into the woods. But, because this is the Netherlands, I ended up coming out the other side onto a paved, well-lit bicycle path.

So I rode on that, too.

That lead me to a bar that sits alongside the path, and I figured, why not go inside and warm up for awhile? (You can begin to see a theme of not being warm enough.)

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Inside, it was empty. There was the lady tending the bar and myself. I ordered a beer and sat down, trying to think of things I could say in German. I asked her how long she had worked there. “35 years” was her answer. She asked me what I do, I told her I was a student. That was as far as we were gonna get with that conversation. Thankfully, there was a TV in the corner, so I ordered another beer and watched MasterChef Canada for a while.

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Coming back outside, it was pretty dark. Thankfully, the cycle paths here are illuminated better than most airports. So, I kept riding, unsure of where to go next. Then I remembered there was a campsite a few kilometers down the road, so I decided that’s where I’m going to stay.

I arrived at the site, unrolled my bivy/sleeping bag/sleeping mat combo (much like the edible variety), and climbed inside to get warm. This is the second mistake I made in preparing for this overnight. I had never used a bivy sack before, I just assumed it was like a little tent just big enough for your sleeping bag. Well, when I inflated the sleeping mat inside of it, and got inside myself, the space diminished very quickly. As you may already know, it’s that space that the heat gets trapped in to keep you warm, so I effectively was losing all my heat through the Gore-Tex fabric that was pressed against my sleeping bag. Not to mention, I brought my intermediate sleeping bag instead of my zero-degree bag, which probably made a big difference, considering it was zero degrees outside.

I ate my small meal, zipped up the bag, and tried to find a position that would be comfortable enough, but everywhere I moved, another cold spot emerged. At one point I had even put the insulated mat on top of me, which was actually really warm, but impossible for sleeping. I checked my phone for the time, hoping that maybe it was midnight and I could count this as an overnight on a technicality, but it was only 10pm. There was no way I’d be sleeping.

So, I bit the bullet, climbed out of my bag, rolled everything up, and pedaled homeward. Upon arriving, the defeat I felt was quickly overcome by the pleasant warmth of being indoors. The next morning, I awoke to find the ground outside had a thick layer of frost covering it, and I was kind of glad I wasn’t laying out in it.

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Although I didn’t finish the overnight, I did learn quite a few things for next time. Unfortunately, the nights are still too cold to get away with a minimal load, so a heavier sleeping bag and a tent are probably needed. I did the hammock thing before and in colder temps, but I would need  a pannier or two to carry everything, at least until I have a frame bag. Either way, just because I didn’t get February checked off, doesn’t mean I can’t still shoot for all the other months of the year.

- Bicyclist Abroad

 

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02 February, 2015

Trans-Netherlands

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The Mrs. and I, along with our dog Ardie, set off on Saturday for a journey across the great cycling paradise of the Netherlands. I had wanted to make the trek for some time, and in keeping with goal of a S24O* each month, this was the last weekend in January to accomplish one. Now, if you’re familiar with the idea of a S24O, you’ll know that the point is to go out and come back the next day; we could manage this by crossing the Netherlands at its most narrow point in the province of Limburg, which conveniently, is also the closest portion to where we live. Since most campsites here are closed this time of year, we booked a dog-friendly room at an inn near our destination, packed an overnight bag, and were on our way.

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Having Ardie in tow behind my single-speed bike was a bit of a challenge, but thankfully the Netherlands is a relatively flat country. The most formidable portion of the ride was just outside the city of Echt, where the bike path loops up and over a canal. I thought I might have to dismount and do some walking, but to my surprise, I managed to do alright.

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The other side of the bridge was a straight descent, dipping down below the waterline of the canal. This entire portion of Limburg is surrounded by water— the winding Maas river forms the western border and there are lakes on either side.

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After Echt, the route is fairly rural, with a few houses and farms. Along the way, we passed the Hasselholt Castle, which was built in the 16th century. We wanted to check it out, but apparently it is the residence of a Baron and not open to visitation, anyway.

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When there aren’t segregated bike paths, you’ll often see roads like the one above. There are bicycle lanes on either side of the road, and the cars drive on what is effectively a single lane. When another car is approaching from the opposite direction, they have to cut into the bike lane to safely pass. It’s an odd system, but it keeps traffic speeds down, which is good.

At the end of the road in the town of Ohe en Laak was our inn, the Hotel Lakerhof. We checked in, made reservations for dinner, and then continued on sans canine.

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Literally a few meters down the street from the inn is a bike path that leads to the banks of the Maas river, where a bicycle ferry will bring you across to Belgium and back. It’s free if you’re a resident, 1 Euro otherwise. Because there are no bridges for many kilometers in either direction, this is your best bet for crossing into Belgium on a bike.

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Unfortunately for us, it is closed during the winter season. We could only look across at future travels in warmer weather.

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Instead we rode north, up to the town of Stevensweert, a historic site in the Eighty Years’ War. The weather had at this point cooled considerably, and so we decided to turn back towards the warmth of our evening’s accommodations. 

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We had an excellent dinner, watched some Dutch television (which is 50% American programming), and called it a night.

The next morning we awoke to rain and snow, but thankfully it cleared up after breakfast, and the sun even came out as we pedaled homewards. We were actually really lucky with the weather, because not long after we got home it started to rain again and continued on for the rest of the day.

So, the Mrs. and I got our first bike overnight for the year, and can say we rode all the way across the Netherlands in the process, even if it was the smallest portion. When the weather warms up and the ferry starts running, we will do it again and explore the Belgian side of the river. Until then, it’s time to plan the next S24O.

- Bicyclist Abroad

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* S24O refers to a “sub-24 hour overnight” and while typically is reserved for bike camping, can be applied towards any miniature bike tour accomplished in the same timeframe.

20 January, 2015

A Retro-Future in Rust

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In the 70s, Japanese bicycle company Bridgestone marketed their youth bicycles as vehicles of the Space Age. Advertisements depicted lasers, robots, and the wondrous marvels of beyond. Of course, certain limitations existed when it came to incorporating aerospace components into terrestrial two-wheelers, but with a little imagination one could surely take these bikes into orbit. 

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While pop-up headlights, throttle-style shifting, and on-board “computers” were largely superfluous to the operation of the bicycle, they added a bit of sci-fi magic to the ordinary bike ride to school. Additionally, there were other design choices that were made to increase the overall futuristic-ness of these bikes: disc brakes, turn signals, and an oval (or elliptical) chain ring.

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When the Mrs. and I lived in Japan, we would frequently visit the local second-hand stores to look for records, collectibles, and other things. One day, I noticed behind one of the stores were a rusted heap of bikes in various states of disrepair. I asked the owner if I could peruse the bikes and he said it was fine. Carefully walking amongst the twisted wheels and entangled frames, I spotted a Bridgestone Astro G, one of such bicycles from the 70s. A brief struggle to retrieve it from the pile and 5,000 Yen later, it was mine.

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Unfortunately, it was in no condition to ride. The tires were rotted, the pedals were rusted to the crank, and any trace of lubrication or grease had long since vanished. It was going to be quite an undertaking to restore it, but I figured it would give me something to work on in my spare time.

That spare time has come and gone. I disassembled as much as I could, labeled the components in Ziploc bags, and in that state it has remained ever since. The more I dived into it, the more I realized this thing needed attention beyond what I could give. The rust spots would be easy to deal with if it were just a matter of steel wool and WD-40, but that would destroy the original decals that are still intact. The handlebars have a faux-chrome coating that has all but peeled away, but the grips are immovable, so they won’t separate from the stem. I was able to free one of the stuck pedals but the other won’t budge. I gave it the ol’ college try, but just couldn’t get to a point where it’s in any better condition than the way I found it.

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So what am I going to do with it? I don’t know. If anyone is handier about these sorts of things, I’d be willing to let it go for the 5,000 Yen ($50 USD) I paid for it. While attempting to haggle down the price, the previous owner said that was a good deal, because it would be worth much more in the hands of someone that can restore it. He’s probably right, but that person wasn’t me.

- Bicyclist Abroad

 

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