Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Glacier National Park and Logan Pass

We were initially thinking about tackling the Going to the Sun Highway, which leads to Logan Pass.  Even though we probably are going to abandon this idea, due to time constraints, I thought I would post this.  I didn't find any information about cutting right to the Going to the Sun Highway from the GDMBR, so here is what I gleaned from a Glacier NP ranger.
GDMBR to Polebridge to Going to the Sun Highway
It is possible to continue down North Fork Road from the GDMBR.  The park service refers to this as the Outside North Fork Road, not to be confused with the Inside North Fork Road. The inside and outside refer to being inside or outside the park boundary.  This takes you into the town of Polebridge. When I asked him if it would be better to remain on the Outside or switch to the Inside, he concluded it would be better to stay on the Outside road, because it is much wider.  Both are dirt, the Outside taking more traffic. The disclaimer is that this ranger doesn't ride.  He noted that you might want a dust mask.
This route would probably take a day off route, as opposed to going all the way to Whitefish and then back into the park.
Anyone wanting to try this might consider calling the ranger station again for a second opinion on Outside versus Inside.  Either way, you end up at the south end of McDonald Lake, the start of the Going to the Sun.  The two campgrounds closest to the pass are Sprague Creek and Avalanche Creek, but I think he said the last place for food was at the Apgar Visitor center.  From one of the campgrounds, you could go up to the pass and back down. The distance from the breakoff to Polebridge, to Apgar visitor center and the top of Logan Pass, then backtracking and moving on to Whitefish is about 118 miles.  The straight GDMBR from the same breakoff directly to Whitefish is 49 miles and of course Logan Pass is all up, but not steep. If I interpret this document correctly, the grade does not exceed 6%.

Such excellent questions lately...

A couple of people have approached me lately asking about bicycles or bicycle travel.  This made me think about how to approach the answers and what resources are out there for people interested in starting out in cycling.

Question: I am interested in touring.  What kind of bike do I need?
Answer: This depends on what you can afford and are willing to put up with.  I know several people who rode really old (but originally high quality) bikes across the US.  The disadvantage is that anything with 27" wheels and a 5 cog rear hub will be more difficult to buy parts for.  In addition, the parts it has will probably be older and more worn, and more prone to breakdown.  Also, someone younger or with really sound knees might not care about the gearing, but those of us who are older generally need to be gentler on our knees, so the gearing becomes more important.  Get the best bike you can afford.  Apart from a dry tent, it is the single most important piece of equipment you will need.
Racing bike
ScottSpeedster, CC Flickr user Zacke82

Question: Should I buy a bike online or from a bike shop?
Answer: If you know a great deal about bikes, their components and what you want, you can probably get what you want online.  But if you are reading this post, I would think you are more my type: I want to ride a bike that will last and be comfortable.  I have bought both of my new bikes (as well as my very first used touring bikes) from bike shops. Don't bother with a chain store, if you can avoid it.  A local bike shop should try to sell you the bike you need, not something more. A local bike shop will rely on you being happy and coming back for accessories and tune ups.  Make sure you can answer some basic questions before you walk in.  A friend asked me what she should get and this is the list of questions I posed her:

  • What will it be used for?  Commuting? Recreation? Going really, really fast? (this will help determine how heavy a bike you can accept- the material it is made up of...)
  • Do you only ride in sunny, warm weather? (no need to worry about fenders if the bike won't be out in the rain- fenders require a frame that is wide enough to accept them, i.e. not racing bikes)
  • Will you carry things on it?  Just a repair kit or water bottles or a rack/bags? (This will help determine if the frame needs attachment points for those things)
  • How far do you expect to go on the bike?  Just a few miles or 30 miles in one instance? (this helps determine whether you will want to be more upright or more stretched out)
  • touring bike
    Surly LongHaulTrucker Touring Bike,
    CC Wikimedia Commons by insidestory
  • How tough is your butt?  Do bumps annoy you? (this will determine if wide or skinny tires  and suspension/springs are appropriate)
There are 3 main categories of bikes: racing, touring, mountain.
Racing bikes are light, with skinny tires and are not meant to carry things
Touring bikes have beefier tires and you can attach fenders, racks and other stuff
Mountain bikes lessen the bumps with wide tires, sit you more straight up and can often carry stuff
mountain bike
Cale, CC Flickr user k.streudel

*all generalizations are false (quote courtesy of my daughter)

Hybrid bikes are a mix of touring and mountain.  They sit you up higher, but tend to not have all the shock absolution of a mountain bike.

Generally bike shops are licensed to carry only a few brands.  Most likely there will be something in one of those brand's lineups that will make you happy.  If you are dead set on a specific brand, find a bike shop which carries that brand.  I preferred to answer the above questions and then take the answers to the bike shop.  I told them what I needed, gave them my max spending limit and let them dwell on it.  They go to shows and flip through catalogs all the time.  They know the components.

Oh.  One more thing.  Support your local bike shops.  You want them there when you need them, right? The price difference is usually less than 2%.  And there is a big difference between a Walmart inner tube and one from a bike shop.  Walmart tubes are only good for one thing, getting you to a real bike shop.  Well, maybe not even that.  Depends how far it is.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Test of posting.

This is test of the android blogger app. The app worked well.  Not a lot of flash in the pan, but it allowed me the rudiments of blogging, including pulling in images from the photo gallery.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Shake Down Efforts

After loading up my bike and taking it out in a city park near my home, I decided that I rattled so much, there would be no need for a bear bell. To remedy this, I put vinyl tubing on the rear rack and wrapped the front rack with electrical tape and inner-tube at the point of contact with the panniers to take up the extra space in the pannier hooks. I also created a mounting bracket to bolt to the top of the front rack for a headlight. Fenders may elude me, for I can find no acceptable way to mount one to my suspension fork.  The rear tire needs one less, for the rear rack will take most spray. I have also been combing the stores to find foods which might be procured while on the GDMBR, to see how they might be seasoned, how much they make per cup of dried, whether reducing the required water has much impact, whether not draining noodle dishes is possible and whether dehydrated vegetables and mushrooms were practical. More on this in the Vermont Report.
I ventured to Vermont for 5 days to meet up with a friend and try out our gear for the GDMBR.  It was colder in Vermont than Buffalo, so my plan to spend the first night near Killington in Gifford State Park, in the Northern portion of Green Mountain National Forest, was unsuccessful.  There was still quite a lot of snow on the ground and temperatures were expected to drop to 18 degrees.  Instead I slept in a church parking lot on the West side of the park at a much lower elevation. It still dropped to about 27 degrees, but the car served as a bit of a buffer.  Note that I was still cold in my 15 degree bag on my original Thermarest, sleeping on a board suspended between the rear seat and a milk crate; ie, there was just air beneath the board. Inside the bag, I kept my Foxwear tights and Patagonia R1 fleece on, with a hat, gloves and heavy wool socks.
The next morning I tried to cycle around Chittenden Reservoir, but snowmobiles had packed the snow on the trail such that 95% had to be walked. I turned around after about 1/2 mile.
My next excursion was to return to Rutland, where volunteers have worked on the Pine Hill Park to make it a mountain bike haven.  I only spent about 1 hour there, but was quite thrilled to have such a beautiful asset available.  Pine Hill could occupy almost a full day of mountain biking. For me.
When I met up with my friend, Jamie, she began by taking me out to kill me on frozen roads.  Unfortunately whenever I see a new opportunity for taxing my rather poor mountain biking skills, I always accept fate and charge ahead. Twice I went down due to getting caught in frozen ruts.  The nice thing about crashing on ice is the total lack of road rash. You can come away with some fabulous bruises, but the ice tends to be kinder to both rider and bike.  Two things I took away from those crashes: the Patagonia down sweater did tear or show any signs of abuse, even after I decided to roll over and lie on my back as I was sliding down the hill, using it as a sled, and the extra long skewer used with Old Man Mountain rear panniers, should be cut off so it does not protrude beyond its knob.  When I got home and tried to first bend the 3/4 inch extension back and then use a hack saw to remove the bent portion, failed catestrophically. The skewer is so bent that the outside plastic of the skewer's knob broke away from the metal nut inside.  When I used vise-grips to get the nut off, the skewer was still so bent, it can not be pulled through the axle.  I will have to cut off the skewer further, thereby totally ruining the skewer. A new one is $18. Sigh.
One of the foods we tried at Jamie's house were quinoa, into which we mixed dehydrated vegetables and dried mushrooms I had powdered.  The 2 tablespoons of mushroom powder were un-noticeable, and the vegetables would required us to carry large quantities, since the chance of resupply would be slim. Next we tried a vegetarian chili mix, into which we mixed a can of beans and tomatos. Canned goods are good if you don't have to carry them far, but 2 cans for one meal gave us too much food for one sitting.  Maybe a can of beans and a tiny can of tomato sauce.  We put the resulting chili on tortillas and ate it as burritos.  The vote: forget anything we need to carry in its entirety from the beginning (dried veg), tortillas are fabulous (already knew that) and spices/hot sauce would be valuable.
We picked up Jamie's new Surly Ogre and waited while a great mechanic at Onion River Sports configured the bike and attached various parts, including a rear rack.  Fully equipped, we headed back for Green Mountain National Park.  A ranger had done a little research for me to find winter camping opportunities and trails open to bikes, but not to snowmobiles. Silver Lake CG is accessible from a trail head near Branbury State Park.  A one mile closed road takes you up to the CG, closed to motorized vehicles. There were a couple of icy patches, which were difficult to get over/around, but less than 10%  of the road was in that state. More of the road had soft, previously frozen slushy old snow.
We got up to the CG, scoped it out a bit, then pitched our tents in the host site. Dinner was two of those Lipton noodles and sauce meals.  It was nice to have a hot meal, since the temperature was dropping quickly. We cut the liquid requirement of the Lipton meal by half and it was still great.  We also boiled it and then turned it off, covered.  Still fine.
At around 7pm, we jumped into our tents, because the temperature was dropping so precipitously. At about 10pm, I told Jamie that if SHE wanted to go back to the car, we could do so at any time.  Needless to say, I was voicing my own worries.  Even with all the clothing I brought (minus my rain pants) I was cold in my 15 degree bag.  I don't know exactly how cold it got, but might guess 27 degrees, since that was what was forecasted.  On several occasions in the night, I woke up and had to rock myself to produce heat to keep warm.  When sleeping, I was warm enough.  Jamie apparently had similar problems; we were in two tents and climbing into one would have been our next resort.  We agreed that one major problem (believe it or not) was that when we slept in all our clothes, we had nothing to use as a pillow and this caused us enough discomfort to keep us awake at times.  Maybe if we had been pedaling all day, we would have been tired enough to just collapse without a pillow.
We did make it through the night, but jumped out of the tents as soon as it started to get light and went for a warming walk.  We had to break through ice at the edge of the lake that the evening before had been open water.  The walk down was now treacherous, because all of the slushy snow had frozen and unrideable. Not only was it unrideable, but it was slick and for many parts we had to bushwack through the woods with fully loaded bikes to get around sheer ice.  Only a mile. Only a mile. Only a mile.
We spent the rest of the day at Pine Hill in Rutland; dry, warm, fun.  While Silver Lake gave us a chance to test out the camping side, Pine Hill gave us a chance to try out our bike setups (without panniers). I got many chances to fall off and Jamie and I swapped bikes to see how the other half was living.  Her Ogre has 29" wheels and no suspension.  My Troll has 26" wheels, a thudbuster seat post and shock fork.  Some observations: the 29" wheels make the front suspension less necessary (but I would still want it) and probably negate the need for the Thudbuster seat post. You sit higher up on the Ogre (further for me to fall- can you believe she let me ride her brand new bike, given my history?). She has flat bars and I have butterfly bars- I didn't see any advantage either way. She has a very small tolerance between her front derailleur and tire- not sure it will ever matter.  I bought my bike thinking 26" tires are more common worldwide, but 29" are gaining ground.  In 3rd world countries, it might still matter...  Final thought- two excellent bikes.
Lastly, I will broach front lights.  I had made the mount for my light, but the guy at Onion convinced me to get a headlamp.  I have often thought of this, but didn't want to carry 2 lights, one for the bike and one for my head.  He presented a slight alternative.  Tiny LED front and back lights, which are amazingly bright and would be adequate for letting people see you.  They are light and require very little battery power. AND a headlamp for reading or doing night tasks.  Forgot them for Silver Lake, so I haven't tried them out, but I have faith...