My wife, Dang, suggested that it may be the perfect time to leave and ride. I decided to quit my job and bought a ticket to Fairbanks. I started on July 2014, two months after my dad passed. I rode alone for two months while Dang finished Accounting Management school. That was important for me as it helped me process my grief during the long days in the saddle in Alaska and Northern British Columbia. She eventually joined me in Jasper, Alberta and we rode south together.
Advice on what to carry?What you bring is mainly personal owing to budget constraints and preferred luxuries. The important thing is to reevaluate and keep culling. I make notes on what worked and not every two weeks. If you’ve never touched that extra pair of socks after several weeks, you probably don’t need it.
If you’re travelling in the US, take advantage of the USPS General Delivery service. It’s efficient and cheap. When we decided that it was already too late to ride the Divide because we were still in Montana in November, we rode along the Pacific Coast but sent our sleeping bags and winter clothes ahead to L.A. We met a couple of bike tourists heading south too that were lugging their winter sleeping bags that they’ll use in the Andes. Up to now, we still do find some stuff to mail back home.
It’s easy to say “keep it simple.” Even with the camping, climbing and backpacking experience we have dating back to our university days, we still overpacked when we started – probably from our haphazard departure. We started with a pair of rear panniers for each of us on top of the Revelate Viscachas, framebags and handlebar bags. We eventually sent those 4 panniers home while in Mexico. I used to have a coffee press but switched to tea now. I’m not saying you go that far but at least compromise if you want to carry less. Mailing back the coffee press does not mean I won’t be drinking coffee ever, just less often and more shitty.
I can’t blame people for bringing too much stuff with them when they start traveling by bike. Not everyone starts riding with several years of outdoor experience before hand. Some are total novice to camping. It’s a big jump to carry less and go super light. It’s just normal to bring some luxuries with to keep sane while on tour. The lighter your load the more fun you’ll have whether you ride paved or dirt.
I always thought traveling by bike was the antithesis to living and accumulating things, pulling the plug and enjoying the simple pleasure of riding. Leaving your past life to find another. So it puzzles me why cyclists we met that have been traveling longer still hoard stuff as they go along, still ringing their past life with them as they travel.
Advice on what to eat?Be ready to experiment and adapt. When we crossed south to Mexico, we were just trying and testing food that we liked and packed it as needed. Adapting is very important as foods that are easily available in Mexico won’t automatically be in Guatemala. Tuna is omnipresent in Central America until you reach Costa Rica, where it costs an eye-popping $4 a can.
Since we don’t race, we buy what’s readily available in town. I’m not saying fueling is not important if you’re just traveling by bike versus racing, but at least you have a bit of a lee way. Either way, we make sure dinner is quite heavy to replenish all the lost calories during the day.
We consume lots of fruits when available because we seldom pack them when we ride out of town. They tend to get squashed and mushy when riding on dirt roads ending up in waste.
Right now we switch between pasta and sausage with powdered sauce and lentils-rice combo with curry powder for dinner, tuna and bread for lunch, porridge with chocolate for breakfast. You can find it in the smallest mercado in Colombia.
Size, specs and species of your ride?I ride a size small Surly ECR with Jones 710 Loop H-Bar. I run Knards in front and Dirt Wizards out back, ghetto tubeless. Loops are Velocity Dually.
Dang is riding a small Surly Troll with the same handlebar but with the narrower 660 version. She rides it with a pair of 26 Dirt Wizards on Dually loops both set-up ghetto tubeless too.
Fixing flats is a pain, not to mention if you’re loaded. Also, the Rohloff nuts tend to get stripped if you keep removing it often. So going tubeless is important especially because we don’t have the protection of the built-to-last Schwalbe Marathons.
We both started with Shimano Deore XT derailleurs set-up but the time spent maintaining the drivetrain eventually convinced us that we have to switch to Rohloffs in San Francisco.
Avid BB7s mechanical brakes were gimmes because of our rim choice. Plus I wouldn’t use v-brakes either way. The BB7 is reliable and lasts as long, or even longer, than those v-brakes that classic touring bikes normally are equipped with. The only downside is the brake pads are not as common as you might think here in Colombia. Shimano brake pads are much more common I’ve heard throughout South America.
Thoughts on essential bike equipment?It may be different in the U.S. as you can order anything online and get it delivered easy. We had trouble finding a seat-collar in Mexico for Dang’s Surly Troll. We shoe-horned a bigger one with a shim. It worked temporarily but annoying as hell to readjust often. It never occurred that I’ll need that but here am I carrying a spare one.
Another is a tire valve adaptor to reseat a tire. You can still live without it but it’s so light why not just carry one?
A reliable tire pump goes a long way. I love my Lezyne Micro Floor drive pump. Make sure to oil the rubber gasket inside because it dries up and gets brittle over time.
Water purification method?We still have our Platypus Gravityworks filter. Works great but thinking twice of mailing it back home and switching to chlorine tabs. It’s bulky but still considerably light for two people.
Stove/fuel strategy?The fuel pump in my old MSR Dragonfly broke twice so I decided to buy a Primus Omnifuel for the trip. After a while it keeped getting clogged and annoying as hell to clean due to the lack of shaker jet and fuel line cable.
We mailed it home and experimented with an alcohol stove in Central America. It worked well but ended up carrying more fuel because it was a challenge to find high-grade alcohol consistently. Some may swear by the alcohol stove but boy those lentils will take a long time to cook and consume way more alcohol than you think.
We’re currently using the MSR Whisperlite International with a small 300ml bottle. That’ll last about 2-3 days. More than that and we buy a bottle of Coke and fill that depending on how much gas we needed. Gas stations are ubiquitous even in small towns so never worry about running dry.
Thoughts on essential gear for staying alive?The less you carry the less risk you’ll be taking. Essential gear is nothing more than what you have and knowing how to fix them. I can’t emphasize how your wits can save you time and again. Also, leave your pride at home. Pride can get you in trouble in the wilderness. Upping the ante and things like that will get you in trouble. If you’re not comfortable walk back and reassess. You’ll be better off next time.
Favorite trail/bikepacking recommendations?Any route that you have not done before is what I recommend. The most exciting part of riding and traveling is the planning and anticipation of how the ride will be. Not knowing what to expect, anxiously waiting what’s in the next bend. At the end of the ride, you realized it was not a good route but you still get a kick out of it because it made you excited even for nothing.
A gun to my head, I’d recommend the route we took from Agua Prieta that eventually connects to a road down south going to Barranca Del Cobre. It’s narcotraficantes-infested so it’s mostly deserted save for, well the narcos, and some rancheros. But great desert country.
Follow dean on instagram at @pedalling_slow