Monday, July 21, 2008

Logistics of a Biking and Camping Trip

If you've been following previous posts, you'll know that we bought new touring bikes and panniers for our two-year anniversary. (I think normal people go on a cruise or celebrate in Mexico. We buy bicycles and gear to haul around. Yeah, we might be a little nuts.) Anyway, we coordinated the celebratory trip the weekend before: I picked the trail and Florin made campsite reservations at Cliffview. The working week passed by and Friday night was upon us. There was suddenly much to do! There was camping gear to find, food and clothing to be selected and packed, and gear preparation that was sorely behind schedule.

Truth is, I was a little concerned because I was afraid that our Jalco rims wouldn't be able to support the large 700x38 tires and tubes I had purchased specifically for this trip on crushed cinder. (Turns out that I had nothing to worry about. The larger tires were a very good idea, fit fine into the deep-V rims, and worked amazingly well. What a relief!) I was even able to show Florin a few tips and tricks for making tire-changing easier and faster. (Yes, Florin did his and I did mine.) We then cannibalized our existing camping and backpacking gear to meet our needs. I grabbed my compression straps off of my hiking backpack, pulled out my down sleeping bag, and rolled up our Thermarest pads. Check, check, and check. Florin found his down bag, his backpacker's tent, and his white gas backpacking stove (which is awesome, for the record). Check, check, and check. Now, to fill the panniers.

If food is tricky for backpacking, in my opinion, it's even tricker for cycling. Yes, we have panniers, but we want to pack relatively light but also nutritionally dense. Cycling takes a lot more energy than hiking. In past cycling events I've participated in, I've recorded up to 1,000 calories burned in an hour. I figure we wouldn't burn calories at quite that high of a rate, but it would ultimately depend on terrain, temperature, and effort. We opted for Cliff bars, GORP (trail mix), Gala apples, Clementine oranges, and beef jerky for the snack 'ums. For dinner, we packed both the MSR "Mac and Cheese and Chili" and the MountainHouse "Oriental Dish" RTEs. (For the record, MountainHouse meals are FAR superior in taste, texture, and amount.) Breakfast was going to be leftover fruit, hot cocoa, bagel chips, and cashew nut butter. For me, that food plan was plenty sufficient. For Florin, there's no doubt he needs REAL food a lot more often. I suspect it has something to do with the difference in our "natural reserves." :)

I thought the GORP would be the constant hit of the two-day party, but surprisingly it was the Clementine oranges and the hot chocolate that were in constant and high demand. (My God, those were sooooo good.) Of course, I really didn't pack enough of either of those. We got by all right. We also each rode with 3 bottles of water, but refilled at every chance we could (which was at Cliffview and again at Draper). It wasn't particularly hot, but if it had been, we would've been hurtin'. I'm thinking about packing potable water tablets or bringing along a backpacker's filter, just in case. Probably not a bad idea. (Would make a good Xmas gift -- Hint, Hint!)

I'd probably also change what I wore. I'd definitely keep the Keen cycling sandals. (Those are possibly the single best clothing purchase I've ever made.) I would've opted out of my normal spandex shorts for something more "civilian friendly." Normally, I don't care about what I'm wearing as long as it works. It's fine when I'm straddling the bike and it's obvious that Spandex is for a reason. When you reach the campsite, however, you're walking around without your bicycle. Weaving through 5 campsites full of Boy Scouts, I felt a little awkward in my all-Spandex getup. I have two fantastic pairs of SkirtSports' Compression Fit BikeGirl cycling skorts and I didn't think to wear them on this trip. Next time, I most definitely will. It's either that, or I'm going to bring one of those ever-useful Terry wraparound skirts.

Stuff I would bring next time that we didn't have this time:

  • Flint & tinder
  • Potable water tablets or water filtration system
  • More fruit (apples & oranges)
  • Silk sack/liner for my sleeping bag (ideally the Cocoon Ripstop Silk Mummy liner, found at REI for ~$65, Item #735819)
  • My GSI Backpacking Cook System
  • My GSI 11-Piece Kitchen Set

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Which part did you ride?" "Uh, ALL of it."

I get that a lot. I should say, we get that kind of question a lot of the time, and we often give that kind of an answer. To us, it's funny in a way; 40 to 50 miles by bicycle is a decently moderate ride. We don't shy away from that kind of a distance, we actively seek it out. When you seek, you shall find. And what a find we made with the New River Trail in Southwest Virginia!

It technically starts in Galax, VA and rides 57 miles north, following the New River, up to Pulaski, VA. Being from Blacksburg ourselves, we decided to start on the north end, ride south, camp overnight, and ride back over the course of a weekend. My original plan was to ride down into Galax and stay in a lovely (and comfortable) Bed and Breakfast Inn. Florin, being the backpacker/camper type, talked me into a night of camping instead. While I was not initially thrilled at the idea of all-day exercise toting our own camping gear on our bikes followed by sleeping on the hard ground, I promised I'd at least give it a try before making any rash judgments. For the record, it wasn't bad; it was actually quite enjoyable. Go figure! Here's how it went down and the slideshow below reveals much of our two-day trip.

We started at the 2-mile mark, at the Pulaski/Xaloy gravel lot entrance to the State Park. With our bikes loaded up with all of our gear, we were ready to ride! There was no fanfare, but we were off! Immediately, I noted that riding with loaded panniers on gravel is a bit of a freaky experience. It's nothing like a road bike. My bike, Juniper, was sluggish and felt as if she had a mind and direction of her own. It took many miles before I learned that a light touch on the handlebars would prove easier. (Not only was it easier on my back, shoulders, arms, and hands, but on the general handling of the bike as well.)

I have to admit, I spent a lot of the first part of the ride staring in fear at the loose grit of the trail in front of me. Something I did notice was that it only took about 10 or so miles before I loosened up. Once that happened, the ride was fantastic. I cannot believe how well maintained, stocked, and fantastic the amenities and facilities were throughout the entire trail. And it was an absolute delight to see entire families riding shorter parts of the overall trail.

One last thing: cycling makes you hungry. If you're me, you can survive a two-day trip on GORP and crackers and water, but if you're Florin you'll be needing a lot more sustenance. That hamburger you see below was an out-of-the way ride-like-hell 6 miles roundtrip to the closest local store and "food grill" during the afternoon of the second day. It wasn't the best burger in the world, but it was a burger and Florin was satisfied. Not only that, but we found another gem of a camping spot on the way to Fries. Next trip, we're going to book into there.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Innaugural use of our new egg cups and egg scalper

So today we had our first opportunity to test out the new egg cups and egg scalper my folks sent us a few months ago. We had whole-wheat waffles made from scratch, fresh orange juice and of course soft-boiled eggs (which weren't all that soft because I prepared them). Needless to say Amber was very excited to try the new egg scalping tool and tested it on her finger first.

Here's the outcome of that experiment.
Next is a play-by-play on the process of removing the top of an egg:

First one needs to examine one's enemy.
Then one positions the tool over the egg...
...squeezes the handle and twists...

...and voila! The top is off.

And there's the top of the egg.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Florin at the office

Today Mohammad got a new camera and was showing it off around the lab. He took some pictures of all of us. Here are the pictures of me.

Apparently the camera made Mohammad realize how ugly his lab mates are and he decided to return it. Needless to say, I can't take credit for these pictures.

Me at my desk

Calen at his desk

Manish working hard

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Panniers are awesome!

As Amber and I are getting ready to celebrate our second anniversary, two huge packages appeared at our doorstep; packages resembling bike boxes. Of course, Amber was surprised. About now you're probably thinking how sweet I am for buying new bicycles for the two of us for our anniversary. WRONG! This is a good time to remind everyone that I am a poor college student while Amber is a successful career woman in addition to being a college student. That makes me the luckiest guy on the planet, because she is my sugar momma. She bought us touring bicycles for our anniversary. The reason Amber was surprised is because she was not expecting the bikes so early and she was going to surprise me by having them put together and waiting for me when I would return from the lab the following day. Despite her plan backfiring, it was a nice surprise and we spent an evening putting bikes together. We've even commuted to work on our bikes and just a few days ago, I retaliated by purchasing some nice panniers for the bikes. We are trying to get into the business of bike touring, and we have an overnight trip planned for next weekend. Well, today we got the panniers and I spent some time installing them. Check out the final result!

Here are our bikes, one naked and one fully dressed.

Can't wait to try these bad boys out on the road.

Friday, July 4, 2008

July 4 in Tennessee

So this past weekend we had our first adventure documented on this blog: a trip to my host family in Tennessee. It was a good-old-fashioned country blowout with 3 grills going, copious amounts of delicious food, beer, stray dogs, cattle, and of course a 30 minute fire works display.

Before we made it there, we ran into car trouble. The Grand Am of Doom apparently had a few clogged vacuum hoses that prevented the engine from breathing properly. This in turn caused the internal pressure to rise in the engine which caused the cam shaft seal to blow out and ridiculous amounts of oil to leak out. Now for those who don't know the Grand Am of Doom, it has always had a bit of an oil leak, maybe a quart of oil per 3-4000 miles, but in this trip alone we had to add about 4 quarts (in 400 miles) to make it to our destination. The GPS Amber bought me for my birthday came in handy when we had to find a Walmart in the middle of the night to buy more oil.

After spending a significant amount of time this weekend with my host dad trying to fix the car, Sunday came around and we still hadn't fixed it. Needless to say, we couldn't drive the car back in the shape it was in, so dad talked me into taking his farm car and leaving the Grand Am of Doom in his capable hands. His farm car is a 1997 Ford Thunderbird, light blue with hints of yellow (bondo) and british racing green (a replacement door), which he uses to haul 500lbs of feed in on a regular basis because it gets better gas mileage than the truck. To quote him "I can almost get 10 bags in the trunk. But it has a big back seat, so I can put what won't fit in the truck there." Amber is so proud...all I need is a wife-beater and I'll fit the picture perfectly. For your viewing pleasure, I have added a few pictures of the "Thunder Chicken of Doom" below.

Notice the British Racing Green door. It's what makes this car so fast!

First post

So this is the initial post for this blog. I plan on updating it on a regular basis (yeah, yeah, promises promises. I know...)

I will try to summarize what's going on in Amber and Florin's life with pictures, descriptions of adventures etc. and hopefully keep the rest of our world up to date on what's going on in our life.

Hope you enjoy it. Feel free to leave comments.