SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, Social Distancing, and the Outdoors

I’m sitting at home right now, roughly a week after statewide restrictions began in North Carolina. I’ve been substitute teaching lately, and Governor Cooper closed all schools until March 30th. The school where I’ve been working has spring break after that until April 12th, so I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands.

I took advantage of some of that time to get out and ride, and last weekend, DuPont State Forest was pretty empty.

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As restrictions have mounted, the trails have become even more busy. Social media pages/groups are awash with accounts of many trailheads being busier than they’ve ever been. I know it might seem like going into the woods is a great idea, but this is just stupid. Asheville, NC isn’t exactly a big city, and reports are that a great deal of the vehicles at the trailheads have out-of-state license plates.

This is not the time to make big road trips. Stay the f*ck home. Mountain towns don’t have the facilities to handle the local COVID-19 cases, local emergencies that aren’t stopping because of a global pandemic, AND your idiocy. The residents of tourist towns don’t need you bringing more cases of COVID-19 than they already have. Teton Gravity posted their own PSA about this issue.

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee have closed all public access areas, including the Fire Mountain Trails.

In fact, the first case of COVID-19 in Buncombe County was actually a visitor from New York, who most likely spread the disease around before developing symptoms and self quarantining. The first case in a resident was announced today.

I have reached the conclusion that attempting to ride my mountain bike on the trails like usual is selfish and irresponsible given the global pandemic. I have been using the extra time at home to get some work done around the house. I got my deck power washed, for example. Getting ready to paint it. I’ve had a live stream guitar lesson via Zoom with an old college friend. The house is cleaner than it’s been in a long time. I have plenty more to do.

Sure, I am still riding my bike. Given the crowding on local trails, though, I am riding at home. I’m doing skills drills in the neighborhood. I might even build a little trail in my yard once I get my yard work done.

Before you berate me for my decisions, remember that I’m a cancer survivor. I’m still somewhat immunocompromised. Other cancer survivors are being hit hard by this virus (1). I also happen to have an A group blood type, which has been linked to poorer outcomes from COVID-19 infection. I may be relatively young, but I am high risk. I am one of those people who doesn’t want to catch this virus if he can avoid it.

If you think your risk of catching the disease is low, so you’ve decided to ignore most of the precautions, I will reiterate that this is about spreading the disease to OTHER people, less so about yourself.

Another thing about being a cancer survivor trained me well for this. When I was going through cancer treatment, I was socially isolated for about 9 months. I wasn’t entirely locked away the whole time, but I did have to take notable precautions when I did go out. Far stricter than what we’re all being asked to do right now, except for maybe folks in Italy and other countries that have gone on full lockdown in an attempt to contain this pathogen.

I have a feeling that this is going to hit the United States hard…more akin to Italy than to South Korea or even Singapore. And a large part of it has to do with people treating this like spring break (1)(2)(3)(4). Just don’t. Exercise some restraint. Definitely go outside, but avoid crowds. I know that might be difficult, but a walk around the neighborhood works just as well.

Rebuilding a Vintage Silca Pista Pump

I wanted a little summer project that wouldn’t take me all that long, or cost all that much money. I decided I’d track down an older Silca Pista pump and bring some new life back to it. I tracked one down on ebay that was as complete as I could find, at least with the more important brass bits, without spending over $100 on the thing. Found one with a broken handle that I could work with.

Some of them apparently have manufacture dates stamped onto them, but none of the listings I could find listed the date of manufacture, or showed a picture of the date stamp. I figured I’d buy one, then have to wait and see once I got my hands on it.

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The one I got apparently has no such stamp. It’s definitely got some age on it, but I can’t be certain. I figure it has to be at least mid-1980’s or a little older. Mine looks a decent bit newer than the 1979 pump I linked above. Either way, the modern iteration of Silca still sells a bunch of the parts to maintain these old pumps so I didn’t think it would be any trouble to maintain it.

After lubricating the old leather washer and inspecting the pump, I came up with a parts list that I’d need. I opted not to purchase one of Silca’s rebuild kits since the gauge appeared functional. I also decided to purchase some 3/16″ rubber hose from McMaster Carr instead of the replacement hose Silca sells, because I wanted a slightly longer hose.

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The existing leather washer was actually in functional shape. I decided to replace it, anyway, because I just wanted to freshen the whole thing up. The rubber seal in the chuck was completely done, though. And the plastic threaded bit above the leather washer you see in the pic above, apparently has a tendency to crack, so I decided to replace it with stainless hardware now and stay ahead of it. I also wanted a bit more flexibility with chucks, so I got a threaded schraeder chuck to go on the end of the hose. I’ve had a Silca disc wheel presta chuck for quite some time that I could just thread onto it.

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First step was the plunger parts swap. I had to condition the new leather washer with the lube. It’s similar in texture to Phil Wood Tenacious Oil, but a touch lighter, for reference.

Removing the old parts required a 17mm socket or wrench. The hardware kit Silca sells includes washers for both sizes of leather washers (and pump barrels), so use the appropriate washer for your pump. You’ll note that I’m using the 731 leather washer, and therefore used the thick washer.

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To remove the barrel from the base and the gauge/valve assembly, you’ll need a 5mm hex key to remove these two bolts from the underside of the base.

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There’s a tiny little o-ring between the barrel and the valve assembly. It’ll probably be stuck to one of the parts, but be careful not to lose this little thing. You should probably inspect it to make sure it’s still pliable and will seal. Silca doesn’t sell this part, but you can probably find a replacement at a hardware store. I gave these parts all good cleanings while I had them disassembled.

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While you’ve got everything apart, you might as well clean/inspect the check valve. It’s inside the brass housing here (what I’m calling the valve assembly), and is accessed by removing the brass nut at the end. This requires a 12mm wrench. I actually did this step last, because once I reassembled my pump and tested it on a tire, the pressure in the tire would cause the pump handle to rise. Something was preventing the check valve from closing properly. Inspecting and cleaning the check valve now will give you the chance to order a new one if this turns out to be necessary.

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Once you’ve got the valve out, clean and inspect the spring, the end of the valve, and the rubber o-ring near the tip. You should be able to just pull it out of the cap, but there will be a little resistance, especially if there’s crud buildup. It might also be useful to use the blow gun attachment of your air compressor to clear any debris out of the housing. Using a flashlight to look inside can help you figure out if there’s any debris you missed. When finished, reassemble.

My pump had the reversible chuck, so I needed the 323 elastomer seal for replacement. At this point, I pried the old, crusty one out with a small screwdriver and fit the new one, even though I’m not reinstalling this chuck.

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I didn’t take pics of this step, but I had to cut the old, stiff hose off with a utility knife, since it wouldn’t pull off of the barbs. The hose clamps I have just require pliers, and I decided to reuse them on the new hose. I pressed the hose onto the pump valve assembly fitting, as well as pressed the threaded schraeder chuck onto the free end. I refit the hose clamps and installed my disc wheel chuck, aka, “crackpipe.”

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I still have the old, broken handle on it since I haven’t figured out what I’m going to use as a replacement yet. I’ll probably make a wooden handle. Silca also doesn’t have replacement handles for sale, though I did find an exact replacement handle for sale on ebay. I just think $26 for the handle plus $3 shipping is steep for a lump of old plastic. My broken handle works fine for now until I work something out.

You’ll also notice in the picture above that the chuck is sticking to the pump barrel. I’m using a small rare earth magnet that I had sitting in my toolbox. The magnet won’t stick to the base (apparently cast aluminum), the threaded schraeder chuck (stainless steel), or to the presta chuck (aluminum), so all I’ve got is the hose clamp. But it’s enough magnetic steel to work.

This old Silca Pista pump works well now. It’s going to wind up being one of the pumps that I travel with. I have 3 floor pumps right now. One lives in the garage full time. Another lives in my camper. I’ll probably put one in my car, too. I think this old Silca will wind up being my camper pump, simply because the base allows it to store more easily/compactly. The one that has been in my camper will probably be moved to my car, since it’s a pretty cheap pump that I don’t care much about.

For what it’s worth, I can’t really tell how accurate the gauge on this pump is. It seems fine. But the outer gradations on the gauge use bars, and the inner uses psi. Since I primarily use psi for my pressures, and since I’m also dealing with very low pressures on most of my bikes (below 20psi on all of the mtb’s, and below 10psi on my fatbike), it’s hard to tell exactly what the gauge is telling me. I use 30psi Meiser accu-gages to give pressure readings, anyway.

Guerrilla Gravity Pedälhead

I hinted at this awhile back, but ever since last year, I’ve been sloooooowly working on building a Guerrilla Gravity Pedälhead.

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The Salsa Bucksaw I’ve been riding is a great, fun bike…but leaves a bit to be desired in Pisgah most of the time. The particular characteristic that can be problematic is its handling in high speed downhills. What happens is essentially that the suspension isn’t able to completely deal with the undamped rebound from the tires AND deal with high speed, chattery downhills full of roots and small rocks. Maybe part of it is a limitation with the Wren fork I have, but it can’t be entirely that. Either way, last summer I started shopping around for a new bike a bit more appropriate for more WNC conditions.

I decided early on that ideally, two bikes would probably suit the area well. One, a sturdy trail hardtail, and the other a full suspension in the 150mm-ish travel category. So I started out demoing whatever I could get my hands on. The full suspension bikes I tried last summer were great bikes, but they didn’t really “wow” me for what they were. I had an opportunity to demo a
Pedälhead and was instantly impressed with how fun and capable the bike was. At that point, I decided I’d start with the trail hardtail, to be especially suitable for spots like DuPont, Bent Creek, Tsali, and some of the less rowdy Pisgah stuff.

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I spent MONTHS acquiring parts, and even more simply, deciding how to build it. I decided that budget wasn’t much of an object for this bike, and that I’d build it how I wanted. The only role cost would play would be how long it took to finish it. Ha. Along the way, I decided to use a heavy US-manufactured focus, because why not?

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Here’s the build list:

FrameGuerrilla Gravity
Pedälhead (2017) Med
ForkMRP Ribbon Air 29er (140mm)
HeadsetCane Creek 110
HubsIndustry Nine Hydra, Boost, Centerlock, Microspline
RimsDT Swiss XM481 (29er, 30mm inner width)
Valvese13 Tubeless Valves
Rim TapeStans 25mm
SealantOrange Seal
Tires (F/R)WTB Vigilante Light/High Grip 29×2.6″, WTB Trail Boss Light/Fast 29×2.6″
Tire Insert (R)Huck Norris
SpokesDT Swiss Competition 2.0/1.8
BrakesHayes Dominion A4
Rotors (F/R)Hayes D-7 203mm, Hayes D-7 180mm
Rotor Adapters ASHIMA Centerlock Adaptor Centra-XL AC03
CrankRace Face Turbine CINCH 170mm (136mm spindle)
ChainringWolfTooth 30t for CINCH and 12spd Hyperglide+
Bottom BracketRWC BSA30 440c stainless bearings
ShifterShimano XTR M9100
Rear DerailleurShimano XTR M9100 GS
CassetteShimano XTR M9100 10-45 (12spd)
ChainShimano XTR M9100
Dropper SeatpostOneup Components 150mm (v1) shortened to 143mm drop
Dropper LeverWolfTooth ReMote Light Action
HandlebarSpank Oozy Trail Vibrocore 780mm 31.8 clamp
StemSpank Spoon 31.8 clamp 40mm
GripsErgon GA2 Fat
PedalsDMR Vault
SaddleWTB Volt Pro
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In general, I absolutely love this bike and how it rides. I’ve had a few minor component issues, some of which I’m still trying to work out. First, the issues.

  • Brakes: I was getting howling from the brakes, particularly the rear. It was occurring under moderately hard braking scenarios, and I could modulate it away with lighter pressure on the rear brake. This was under totally dry conditions, too. The front was always quiet for me. I got rid of the noise (so far) by switching from the pre-installed semi-metallic pads to the (included) metallic pads.
  • Valves: This has been the biggest issue I’ve had with the bike. I bought the fancy e13 valves instead of using something more basic because I wanted valves that didn’t wobble on the rim, and I am tired of the little nut loosening up all the time. The front valve has been fine. I’ve been having continuous problems with the rear, though, and I’m not sure why. Something has been tearing up the rubber seal on the valve cores. I have less than 100mi on this bike, and I’m already on my 3rd valve core. The most recent time I replaced the core, I pulled the valve out and inspected it in detail. There was gunk accumulated inside it, presumably from the sealant. I blew it out with my compressor before reinstalling, so we’ll see if the seal remains intact. But any more trouble with it and I’m installing an old Stans valve I’ve got lying around.
  • Rim tape: With all the trouble I’ve had keeping air in the tires (which I at first attributed to using a cheap Tyvek tape), I’ve pulled the rear tire off several times, and had to retape the rim every time I’ve done so. The tape I’ve used (25mm Stan’s tape, and 1″ Tyvek tape) hasn’t been quite wide enough to completely cover the bead seat, and hasn’t been narrow enough to totally fit inside the channel. Consequently, the tape peels up every time I remove the tire. Considering how tight these WTB tires are, I think I’ll probably wind up using narrower tape so it doesn’t creep up onto the bead seat area of the rim at all, and is only just wide enough to cover the holes.
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Otherwise, everything has been great on this bike. The fork is easily the best fork I’ve ever used. I’m still fiddling with the settings to get it exactly where I like it, but I think I’m close. I think going with 140mm was a good choice based on the terrain I’ll be using it on.

The brakes are absolutely phenomenal. They’re easily better than any brake I’ve ever used, too. Installation was a breeze. Modulation is excellent. Power is definitely where I want it. My goal with using big, heavy 4-piston brakes on this bike was to reduce hand fatigue on long descents. I haven’t pushed that threshold yet, but I will soon. I liked the feel of the semi-metallic pads, but the noisy rear was just too much. The metallics are great, too. Probably a better choice for when I’m pushing longer descents (generating more heat) and also for the more varied conditions I tend to deal with (wet to dry and back to wet again), though.

I haven’t mentioned it in this post so far, but I built the wheels for this bike myself, as my very first wheel build. I took a wheelbuilding class with Jenny at Appalachian Bicycle Institute and I’m so far thrilled with the outcome. It was a bit of a trying experience, though. For one, I learned that I’m a slow wheel builder. Not a problem if I’m working at home without any sort of time restrictions. But the class was 8hrs and you were supposed to be done. Well, I wasn’t even close. Part of that was my fault for forgetting parts (I forgot to put the PHR washers in my parts bag the night before and had to run home to grab them). But that alone didn’t account for all the extra time that the wheel build took me.

Thank goodness I’m local. I was able to come back on another day to work for a couple more hours and at least got the front wheel finished and the rear wheel closer. It was at this point that we noticed some kind of issue. I used 6mm of spacers according to Guerrilla Gravity’s instructions for setting the 3mm offset in the wheel build. And even though it was aligned correctly in the stand, it wasn’t aligning correctly in the frame. The stand was checked and it was appropriately centered, so the best we could figure was that the adapters we used weren’t precise enough. At any rate, we started having significant scheduling challenges for me to come back again and finish, so I just asked Jenny to finish the last bit for me. I really appreciate her patience in dealing with me. The wheels have been excellent.

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Which brings up my impressions on the Hydra hubs. I decided early that I was going to use I9 hubs in my bike build, partly to fulfill my “US Manufactured” goals, but even better because they’re closer to where I live than any other bike component manufacturer. I was going to get Torch hubs, as there’s already 1 set of those in the household (wife’s older bike), but right as I was ready to buy, I9 started hinting at something new. So I waited to see what they had up their sleeve. I got my hands on some the day of the official announcement at a local shop and decided I liked them enough to give them a go.

You can find plenty of more detailed reviews of them all over the internet, but I can say that they’re as advertised. There is less drag. They’re marginally quieter (with a slightly different tone). And the engagement is so quick it might as well be instant. I can’t say that I really notice the whole processional engagement as you put down more torque, but I trust that it’s doing its job. The biggest reason I chose to go with these were the claims of improved durability vs. Torch, and only time will tell how that plays out.

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XTR M9100 is pretty fantastic, too. I’m usually not the guy who jumps in on a bunch of brand new stuff just because. I waffled quite a bit on this component decision for awhile. What it came down to for me, though, was that I saw the writing on the wall with regards to a changing freehub body standard. I see Microspline as trickling down at minimum through SLX and XT in a few years. Which means that the old school HG freehub body will wind up being relegated to fairly low end stuff, similar to how SRAM does its cassettes and freehub body interface. xD is used on its better stuff (GX and up). Old school Shimano HG on everything from NX and below. I was already spending a good bit on everything else, and figured why not – it’s only money, right? It just meant that the build would take me longer to finish.

Shift quality is outstanding. It really does shift well under power. Hyperglide+ isn’t a joke. That said, the shifter is pretty firm at its indexing points. Especially on the upshift. Cable pull is very low effort on the downshift, but those upshift index points are pretty firm. I expect them to soften up some as they break in, but if you need a really soft shifter, wait for electronic, or use SRAM.

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The overall ride quality of the bike is excellent. I’ve ridden it on trails in all of the places in WNC I built it to excel and it’s perfect for them. Tsali is probably the least rowdy of all of those spots, and certainly lighter tires would make for a faster xc ride in places like that, but it’s more than capable to step it up by riding rowdy lines when I encounter them. Much of the time, it’s not even glaringly obvious that I’m riding a hardtail. I’m sure a lot of that is due to the 29×2.6″ tire size I selected, but I’m sure the steel frame is a factor, too. The one time it becomes obvious to me that I’m on a hardtail is when I hit drops. It’s not harsh per se, but it’s definitely solid when I land. Just means I need to stay loose and absorb a bit more with my legs than I’m used to.

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And while I don’t think you’re going to catch anyone saying that these burly WTB tires are fast tires, they are faster than I expected them to be. I’m sure part of it is that I’m coming off of a fatbike, but I’m liking the tire combo so far. Long gravel climbs have been just a little easier for me on this bike. That doesn’t make my wife very happy, but considering how much gravel climbing you have to do around here to find the fun downhills, I appreciate it. And I’ve got plenty of traction, too. So far, this is the chunkiest spot I’ve ridden on this bike, and I was comfortable enough on it, that I’ll be increasing the “chunk” factor on future rides.

I haven’t played too much with lots of handling skills, but initial impressions from the few times I’ve just “played” with the bike are that it’s much easier to get the front end up over things than my Bucksaw. The first time I attempted a mini-manual, I was a little surprised at how much higher I got the front wheel than I expected. This is good, as I’ve been wanting to work on manuals and bunny hops a bit this summer. I got gunshy with manuals on my Bucksaw after a couple hard loop-outs, and then getting the front wheel up got a good bit tougher when I installed a fork (Wren) that weighed 1lb more than the Bluto it replaced.

I’m going to be spending a lot of time enjoying the Pedälhead this year. I don’t have any delusions about how it’s going to handle on bigger, rowdier stuff. The bigger and rowdier the trails get, the more deliberate I’m going to have to be, and I’ll have to be careful about how I choose to ride things. This bike is going to handle that stuff quite a bit differently, even, than my Bucksaw does. But that’s perfectly okay. I’m having a great time with it, and that’s what matters. I’m happy to have finished the build when I did, because I can now say congratulations to myself for 10yrs of remission from AML. Cancer can suck it.

Oops!

I apologize if you’ve tried accessing my website within the past month, only to be greeted by annoying messages from the server. I was changing servers (consolidating a few things) and because I’m an idiot, there were a few steps that took some time to get straightened out (partly due to the holidays), after multiple phone calls to my hosting service’s tech support line.

Thankfully, it’s all straightened out, now!

What’s Coming in 2019

2018 was a rough year for my riding. Winter weather kept me off the bike last year. Less so because it was “bad” weather, and more because I simply didn’t have the right clothes for the conditions. By the time springtime rolled around, I was doing pretty well. Feeling stronger and fitter because my ride frequency was pretty good. Then summer hit – ugh. I started a physically demanding job and I was just too tired to ride very often. So my riding fitness suffered. It didn’t help that 2018 was a brutally wet year in Western NC. May, especially. 20-40″ of rain for the month, depending on exactly where you measured. I picked up frequency again in the fall, but my annual mileage was unrecoverably down by this point.

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I also broke some stuff this year.

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In the year plus that I’ve lived here, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Salsa Bucksaw isn’t an ideal all-situations bike for this area. It’s great when speeds are low and the trail is chunky. I did my first bikepacking on it early in 2018, and it was a great platform for that. However, for day-to-day riding around here, it has its limitations. The biggest being that I simply haven’t been able to get the tires and suspension to play nice on fast, chunky downhills. The extra bounce from the big tires just overwhelms the suspension. So, I’ve decided that I need a long-term bike plan for riding here.

It took a lot of demo rides for me to decide where I wanted to start. But one ride in particular stood out.

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I’m taking my sweet time with this build. I bought the frame back in September and I’ve been slowly adding bits and pieces. I’ll be building the wheels myself this time around, and have signed up for a wheelbuilding class at the Appalachian Bicycle Institute. Right now, the parts I’m buying are to set me up for the class. I’ve been having conversations with the instructor regarding parts selection and I’ve got a plan in place for that right now. One more tool to be delivered, and I’ll be able to measure the ERD of the rims.

Aside from the picture above, I’m not sharing the parts I’ve bought, or plan to buy. I’m going to leave you with a touch of suspense. You’ll have to wait for the rest. I’ll probably have a whole post dedicated to the wheel build (and the course) later on, but before the bike is complete.

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One reason I’ve decided to start with a hardtail is that aside from being a fun bike, it’s good to have one to grab for its simplicity and how different it feels compared to a full suspension. It’ll be a great bike for smoother trails, for sure. But I’m also building it up to be perfectly capable on the rowdy stuff, too. And I will definitely be grabbing it to ride just about everywhere, at least at first. Where I go from there is going to depend on how I like riding it on the burlier trails. I’ll also play around with bikepacking on it. Because why not?

My Expensive Fatbike Tire is Damaged!

I can’t believe I made it almost 3yrs before experiencing significant tire damage to the fatbike tires that I run tubeless on my Bucksaw. Of course, they’re not “designed” as tubeless tires, but they work just fine.

Out on a ride a couple of weeks ago, a stick nearly the size of my thumb punctured my tire. Yowza!

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I was less than a mile of easy gravel from the trailhead, so I wasn’t concerned. A quick look confirmed that the hole was too big for Stan’s to deal with. Which also confirmed that for as close as I was to the trailhead, it wasn’t worth pulling off the tire, temporarily booting it, installing a tube, and riding back. So I just walked. It was a nice day and I was in no hurry to get anywhere.

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I had another set of tires at home, too, so I just threw on an older Husker Du to get me by for the time being. You see, good fatbike tires aren’t cheap. A 120 tpi kevlar bead Surly Nate tire goes for about $120 MSRP. Needless to say, I didn’t want to be buying a new tire since I’m in the process of a new build (you’ll have to wait to find out what – I have the frame, but haven’t decided on the full build yet).

So I hit teh Googles to see what people are doing to repair such tires. I’ve read about sewing up the hole so it won’t stretch, and letting the sealant do its job. Yeah, I dunno if you noticed on that hole, but my tire was missing rubber. Sewing wasn’t going to work unless I wanted a (not so)awesome hop to my tire. So that method was out. I read some reports about people using car tire patches to fix mtb tires. So I started looking for the materials needed, and car tire patch supplies are typically available in massive quantities. Sure, I’d spend maybe half the cost of a new tire, and I’d also wind up with enough adhesive and whatnot to repair tires for my day job (meaning, I wouldn’t, and a lot of that stuff would either go bad or wind up being tossed out). Fortunately for me, a company that makes lots of car tire repair supplies just so happens to make a little kit for bicycle tires.

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For what it’s worth Rema Tip-Top’s product pic is a little different from what actually comes in the package.

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It’s similar to the old school kits for patching tubes, but it’s critically different. The patches themselves are a much thicker rubber, more suitable for repairing the tire. The cement is also different. I found my kit at BlueSkyCycling for $8.49 plus shipping, so I spent a WHOLE LOT LESS on it than I would have for massive quantities of auto tire repair supplies.

The method is essentially the same, though. I had to clean off the old sealant film, but that was just a matter of scrubbing with a rag. I touched the area up with some alcohol to address any residual sealant goo or mold release, and then roughed the area up with the included emery paper. Apply cement and wait 5min for it to get tacky. It’s worth noting that it was fairly cool in my garage when I did this, and I don’t think 5min was quite enough. Still, I applied the patch, and clamped it between wood blocks to ensure the patch stuck well. I left it like that overnight to be certain. I finished up by applying a thin layer of silicone RTV sealant over the top, just to make sure that any loose edges of the patch were stuck down, and that any gaps would be filled. This wasn’t in the instructions, but I wanted to be extra sure it worked.

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Everything appeared to work after doing a dry install (no sealant), so I installed sealant and inflated to 20psi. The patch held overnight no problem at that pressure. So I deflated to ride pressure (about 9psi for a rear tire) this morning for a chilly spin with an old friend in town for the weekend.

This is an exterior shot of the patched location, showing the missing bits of rubber and the divot left behind. I took this picture after my ride this morning, and everything held up swimmingly. I noticed no appreciable balance wobbles on the trail, which is something that concerned me with car tire patches (I never could get a good feel for the sizes of those things online, in order to choose an appropriate size).

With fatbike tires (or any good mtb tire for that matter) being as expensive as they are, I really recommend keeping one of these tire repair kits around in case you damage one like I did. I’m not sure I’d be confident in a repair like this on a sidewall cut. There’s probably a reason why car tire shops always say that they won’t work on tires with sidewall damage. A cut sidewall may well be an excellent location to sew the tire back together (and THEN try patching with this method).

Installing a Propane Bottle Rack (10/11 lb) on a Teardrop Camper

Chalk this one up to an initial oversight on ordering. I could have had one added onto my trailer when it was built, but to save a few bucks, I opted not to. I should have had one installed when it was built. But I had in my mind that since I had a couple of extra 20lb propane bottles already, I’d find a holder to put one on my trailer tongue. That didn’t work out how I’d hoped. I couldn’t find one that I could just buy and bolt on. Anything would have required custom welding for proper support, and I just didn’t feel like doing that.

I finally just accepted that an 11lb bottle was better, anyway, and it was just a matter of time before I bought a bottle rack and installed it. Again, I didn’t really have a good spot on the tongue that could hold a full bottle securely. The front of the toolbox on my tongue just isn’t sturdy enough to support the weight. So rear passenger side of the trailer is where the bottle holder was slated to go. I found a nice, sturdy aluminum one on Amazon made by PowerTank. It’s got rubber trim on it to hold the tank securely without rattling or rubbing, and it’s also lockable.

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This is the spot I decided to mount the holder. Only thing to watch for is that there’s a shelf inside, so I had to do plenty of measuring to ensure that I had space for the big fender washers on the inside.

Here’s my parts list:
8x 3/4-16 1 1/2″ long stainless bolts
8x 3/4″ stainless washers
16x 3/4″ 1 1/2″ dia stainless fender washers
8x 3/4″ stainless nylock nuts
Clear RTV sealant
sheet of paper
pencil
tape
tape measure
punch
drill with 13/32″ bit
3 foot level
9/16″ socket
9/16″ wrench

This pic shows several steps all at once.

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First, I cleaned the exterior of the trailer. The Hiker Trailer is clad in aluminum, so I just used a general multipurpose cleaner, since it gets road grime off a little better than plain isopropyl alcohol or similar. Then, I set the bottle rack on the paper and drew the bolt pattern on the paper. The little marks on the bottom left are from measuring the necessary clearance for the shelf inside the trailer, with 3/4″ of room for the fender washers. I used the level to ensure the trailer itself was level, and then that the bolt holes for the bottle holder were also level before I taped the pattern to the trailer.

I then tried to start the first hole, and then I realized that the drill bit wanted to wander a little. I needed the holes to be almost exactly correct, so the bolts would be flush and hold securely. So I stopped drilling and grabbed and old screwdriver that’s been turned into a punch to make dimples in the side of the trailer, to prevent the bit from wandering.

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Of course, the paper tears a bit when drilling, but the holes drilled out nice and clean.

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Next step was a quick dry fit to make sure that everything was aligned correctly. All the bolts slide into the holes well. I might have been able to use a slightly smaller drill bit, but I think 13/32″ worked fine.

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Next, I removed the bottle holder, and taped the bolt heads down so I could put it face down and put some RTV sealant down. I used fender washers between the rack and the trailer so the little rubber bumpers would have some space back there.

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The tape on the bolt heads also made it a little easier to slide all 8 bolts into all 8 holes at the same time.

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Put the remaining fender washers on the inside, followed by the nylock nuts and tighten everything down. If you have an eye for detail, you’ll notice 2 of the fender washers on the inside are a little smaller than the others. Yeah, that’s because I thought I’d bought 16, and didn’t realize until I got to the end of everything that I only had 14. So I had to make a run to Home Depot, and they only had 1 1/4″ diameter 3/4″ fender washers. I bought the bigger 1 1/2″ washers at Ace, but they were closed by now.

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All done.

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It’s worth noting that the strap on this bottle rack won’t fasten unless there’s a propane bottle in the rack. I couldn’t find 11lb propane cylinders anywhere within a reasonable drive locally, so I bought a Worthington 11lb propane bottle from Home Depot’s website.

The propane bottle finally arrived, so I got it filled at the local Ace Hardware and mounted it up.

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Initial impressions, however, are that this rack is STURDY. I can put a whole lot of force on it and rock the trailer around on its suspension, and the bottle holder doesn’t move relative to the trailer at all. The 11lb propane tank weighs 13.1lbs dry, so it’ll weigh less than 25lbs when full. Even with the bottle attached, it’s super sturdy. The bottle doesn’t rattle in the mount at all.

It’ll be nice having a refillable propane tank on the trailer. I won’t make as much trash from the “disposable” green 1lb cylinders, for cooking, for one. I’ll also have a bit more propane on board for other things. I have my eye on a Propex furnace, as well. The Hiker insulates pretty well, but without air movement, condensation becomes a problem when it’s cold overnight. In order to open the windows and ventilate the condensation, plenty of heat is necessary. A furnace that pushes warm, dry air into the camper will make a huge difference there.

On the flip side, I’ve found that the Maxx Fan on my Hiker is so good that I haven’t needed any sort of air conditioner.

My long term goal here is to enable fairly comfortable off-grid camping, so I wake up more rested, and ready to get out and do stuff like hike, mountain bike, or paddle.

 

Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race (PMBAR) 2018

Before you go any farther, realize that this isn’t your typical PMBAR race recap post. No way I’m fit enough for that event. I did volunteer to run the Sassafras Gap checkpoint for the race, however. The checkpoint was far enough “out there” that I needed to camp at least on Saturday night, and then pack out on Sunday morning. I opted to camp Friday night, also, since I’m not so much of a morning person, and I wouldn’t have to get going at 4am to be at my checkpoint by race start time.


Open this map full screen.

Considering the location, I had 2 main access options. Shortest would have been to hike down from the Blue Ridge Parkway (bikes are not permitted on trails in Parkway land). I could have hiked my bike through, but it would have meant dealing with some of the steepest and chunkiest terrain in that area, with a loaded bike. Meh, no interest in that. Hiking that route was the better option. The more bikeable option was to park at the bottom of the Laurel Mtn Trail on Yellow Gap Rd. and ride up. It’s over 5mi of fairly consistent climbing from Yellow Gap Rd., but the grades are much more reasonable, and the terrain is far less chunky. That was the option I went with, since I’ve been itching to bikepack in the area since I moved down here last summer, and this was a good excuse.

Unfortunately, all I’ve got from my ride out is my GPS track. My phone is on the outs, and I’ve been putting off buying a new one until higher priorities are addressed. So of course, my phone deleted all of my photos from Friday. Yay.

Sassafras Gap makes for a pretty nice campsite, fwiw. The site was marked well with orange flagging tape with the promoter’s logo on it, as well as a Marmot tent, check-in gear, and a first aid kit in the event that racers need some help. Sassafras Gap is pretty level with open forest, and a really nice, soft soil. It’s a great spot for ground camping, since there aren’t many rocks to poke you in the back. There’s a fire ring built there already, though I never bothered to use it.

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This was my first bikepacking trip, honestly. I learned a few things. For one, I think the Salsa Bucksaw works pretty darn well as a bikepacking bike. I didn’t want to fiddle with my suspension air pressures for this relatively short trip, so I totally locked out the rear suspension, and cranked down the compression damping on my fork. This kept the tires from rubbing on the bags (especially the Revelate handlebar harness) as the suspension compressed. Having fat tires for this was truly a godsend. Laurel Mtn Trail isn’t super chunky, but it does have quite a bit of smaller chunk, and the fat tires worked especially well for it.

The Bucksaw handled well with bags on it. My dropper post was off to Thomson for service (after 2.5yrs of flogging, it finally needed some TLC), so my only option was to run a rigid post. It’s honestly the best way with a bag that straps around the post, to avoid rubbing/scratching of the stanchion. I felt a little topheavy so my handling wasn’t perfect, but that is more due to the heavier-than-I-wanted pack I carried. A few reasons for the heavy backpack. First, I rode without a frame bag. I’ll probably get one eventually, but that’s a fairly high cost item relative to the amount of storage space it would actually give me on my medium FS frame. I had the Revelate Viscacha seat bag already, but I had to buy a handlebar harness for this trip as it was. Second, since I was going to be camped atop a ridge above 4,000ft all weekend, and I wasn’t sure how far away the nearest water source would be, I chose to pack 6L of water out for the whole weekend. And finally, I needed more storage space in order to fit the race organizer’s gear on the way out.

I slept in my ENO Doublenest hammock with Warbonnet bugnet and Guide Gear 12×12 tarp. At this point, it’s my strongly preferred lightweight sleep setup. The forecast did call for some storms Saturday afternoon/evening/overnight, so the big tarp was definitely part of my plans. Even though it’s bulky and has some weight to it, it’s really worth it when the weather is rowdy.

On race day (Saturday), it was mostly overcast, though the sun did peek out a few times early on. The first racers didn’t show up until just before 1pm, so I had several hours of mostly downtime beforehand. One guy hiked up the social spur trail nearby (racers weren’t permitted to use that one) looking confused. Turned out, he was meeting a buddy to hang out at a different checkpoint and he made a couple wrong turns and wound up at Sassafras Gap. Lots of extra climbing for him, unfortunately. I sent him back down the way he came in order to catch the key turn he missed.

Also saw a group of several backpackers heading down from Turkey Springs along the Parkway. This is the second group of backpackers I’ve seen carrying WAY TOO MUCH weight. This group looked like mostly teens, with the leader possibly younger college-aged. They were mostly carrying pretty large packs on their back, and a few even had pretty large daypacks hung over their chests, I suppose in part to balance the heavy packs on their backs. But holy smokes, I just couldn’t be comfortable with that. I think my first backpacking trip, I carried maybe 45lbs, and that was too much. I’ve since pared down to what I suspect is a sub-30lb total weight.

Speaking of which, I cut some weight on this trip with some adjustments to my water treatment. Ever since this ride, I’ve been wanting to add a light gravity filtration setup.

My MSR Miniworks EX works well when I have to pump from tiny sources, but it’s heavy and pumping sucks. When water is plentiful, I wanted a lighter, faster method. I never got to test the filtration part of it. I filled the new Platypus Hoser bladder (which will be my “dirty” bladder) with fresh water for my extra 3L for this trip.

At around 9am or so, when I was making my breakfast and coffee, I heard quite a commotion in the brush behind me some distance. I turned around and stood on a log for a better vantage, and looked for a few minutes to try to identify the source. Turns out, a smallish black bear was the source of that crashing. First I only caught a glimpse of black behind some trees, but it eventually came out into a more open area where I got a clear view for a fraction of a second. It was absolutely hauling ass. I like to think it caught a whiff of my BO and ran for the hills. No time even for a picture attempt. It’s the first bear I’ve seen in the area since moving here (but it’s definitely not the first black bear I’ve seen in the woods).

That sighting kept me on my toes regarding food security for the rest of the weekend. I brought my ursack with OP saks, and it turns out, that may have been unnecessary. When the racers started showing up later in the day, I noticed that they were dropping a lot of trail mix and whatnot while they fueled up for the next leg of their race. At that point, I really felt like my own attempts to keep my food secure were kinda moot. I don’t think I had any other visits from large wildlife over the weekend.

Aside from those few events, I got pretty bored while I waited for the racers to show up. I had grand plans of bringing a small solar-powered radio along, so I’d have some tunes. But during my gear checks before leaving, I learned that the solar panel was dead. The hand crank worked to give the radio a charge, but I wasn’t going to spend all day cranking so I could enjoy some music. And I didn’t want to bring my ipod and portable bluetooth speaker, since I was pretty sure I’d drain the batteries before the day was over, and I didn’t really have a good way to keep them charged long enough. A small, portable solar panel would be useful in situations like this…but how often would I be using it? Infrequently enough that I have a hard time justifying the purchase.

So, I wound up taking quite a few pictures of wildflowers and insects and such. Of course, my phone deleted a bunch of it (including some recordings of bird songs I wanted to revisit for identification when I got home). So only a few made it.

Bloodroot

Black cohosh

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The first several racers into the checkpoint were pretty serious bidness. Check in, quick bite, and back on the course. As the day rolled on, racers lingered a bit, and I started seeing some gaps between teammates, as one rider was stronger than the other. Those teams definitely lingered longer, so that they could recover a bit before getting back on the course. Later teams also spent a bit more time strategizing about their approach to their next checkpoint(s). Maps came out, conversations ensued. Some teams made questionable decisions with race-brain. You can read a pretty entertaining account of one team’s race here. I get an honorable mention near the end of Part 1 of their race recap.

Most of the riders hit the Sassafras Gap checkpoint between probably 1:30pm and 2:30pm, with teams coming in at a trickle after that. The last team rolled in right as I was boiling water for dinner at 5:30pm. Makes me curious how they finished.

Right after the last team left and I got my food rehydrated, the rain started. It was kinda light and steady at first, but then became spotty for awhile. It got a touch cool out, so I climbed into my hammock early, mostly to get out of the rain. I browsed my bird field guide (iBird Pro Android app) trying to identify some bird calls for awhile before I got sleepy enough to nod off. I was awakened sometime in the middle of the night by occasional thunder and some heavier rain. I stayed pretty cozy in my hammock, but it took me awhile to fall back asleep.

It was pretty brisk when I woke up in the morning, but it was clear and sunny and the birds were pretty active. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning. None of my pics can do it justice.

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After breakfast and coffee, I started packing up camp. It took me awhile, because I had some extra gear to deal with. I found a millipede “friend” while collecting my things.

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I had to organize things a little bit differently this time. Instead of 6L of water, I was down to about 1.5L-2L. Most of my food was also eaten, so all I had from that was some fairly light (but somewhat bulky) trash. But instead of those things, I had a surprisingly bulky tent, extra first aid kit (I ride with one of my own), clipboard, and timing chip scanner. The organizer’s tent didn’t fit very well in my back, so I wound up packing that in my handlebar harness along with my sleeping pad. My down quilt (which was on the harness on the way up) ended up going into my pack with the clipboard and trash. Hammock kit went into the seat bag, same as before. The extra couple pounds on the handlebar harness seemed to make the bike handle a little more balanced.

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Being largely downhill, the riding was pretty easy. I still had to walk some of the weird rocky seep sections because I was topheavy, but no big. It was a super relaxing morning ride. It was incredibly beautiful out there that morning.

The overnight rain, if anything, improved trail conditions. They were pretty dusty on Friday on my ride up, and the racers continually mentioned that the dustiness made the trails a touch sketchy on Saturday. The rain made the trail surface just a bit tacky. Spots that were muddy (around seeps) on Friday were still muddy, and the rain didn’t make anything muddy that was dry on Friday. Just a perfect amount of rain, IMO.

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Again, the bike handled great when loaded. Being a little more familiar with the handling, I rode quite a few more technical spots that I walked on my climb up Laurel. Log-overs were super easy. It was just a great ride. There was a couple about to climb up Laurel when I reached my car at Yellow Gap. I let them know the condition of the trail, and informed them that I cleared all the spiders off going all the way to Sassafras Gap. I think they were appreciative.

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Overall, I had a great time volunteering for the event. The racers all had great attitudes throughout the day. I brought a little bit of food for handups, and the racers were pretty appreciative. It was just about enough, and in light of that, I’m glad I was running an optional checkpoint instead of a mandatory one. If I was mandatory, I’d have probably needed twice as much food, I think. If I do this again, though, I think I’ll put some more effort into finding friends to hang out in camp with me, rather than sitting around solo all day Saturday.

Hiker Trailer Teardrop Camper

This post is several months in development. I’ve been tossing around getting a teardrop camper for several years now. Don’t get me wrong, I love backpacking and bikepacking, but I actually do more car camping. And I’m just not that comfortable sleeping on the ground anymore. Especially now that I’ve found hammocks. For car camping, I often want a bit more, especially for sleeping.

20161006_084429That’s where teardrops come in. They’re a bit more weather-sound as compared to a tent, and you get to have a real bed, most importantly. You can also get them set up with power capability and other options to increase comfort. I found that getting too much (especially something with water tanks and sink and whatnot) added more weight than I really wanted to deal with, since both vehicles in my garage are small.

I had begun researching them, and it seemed the most popular ones, Little Guy, were in the $20,000 vicinity for what I wanted. I began to look at doing a DIY build, and while that looked like a fun project, I realized I was going to wind up spending a LOT more just on tools to be able to do it. Plus, since I’d be learning along the way, it would take even more time. I also did not want to build one onto one of the cheapo bolt-together Harbor Freight trailers that most tend to use. My wife, in particular, didn’t want something that looked or felt cheap. Last summer, a friend of mine wrote a Covet article for Outside Magazine on Hiker Trailer, and their price points really got my attention.

Hiker Trailer 5x10 2016 Brown County EpicA little later, I learned that they had a shop in Indiana, and that they offered rentals to potential customers (and if you bought one, they’d apply the cost of the rental to your purchase). My wife and I liked that idea, so investigated more. Turns out, their Indiana shop was only about 20min from our house. We ended up booking a rental for the weekend of the 2016 Brown County Epic mtb festival.

October 2016 Hiker Trailer Rental

We ended up loving the trailer. Cool nights were so much warmer. We slept infinitely better on the mattress. We didn’t quite have optimal car camping gear, but it was so much more comfy than tenting it.

We ended up deciding before our weeklong rental was finished that we were going to buy one. It took us a little bit of time to decide what we wanted, though. My wife, in particular, liked the extra length on the 5×10 we rented. In addition to the queen-sized mattress, it offered us a little extra cabin storage with a shelf at the foot of the bed that worked well for storing clean clothes as well as extra cubbies above and below.

What was difficult was deciding on everything else. Since each Hiker Trailer is made to order, you get to choose EVERYTHING. Even ideas you might have that are not necessarily available on the order list are possibly available as custom touches.

This is the build list we decided on:

  • 5×10 Deluxe trailer (provides some core options we wanted)
  • Two side doors (one on each side)
  • Large tongue box
  • Fox Wing awning
  • Large side swing rear door (required with Fox Wing)
    Electric brakes (didn’t research the car side of this one enough before including the option – it’s going to take a little time to get the brake controller part figured out, because the Crosstrek is not exactly an easy car to install a brake controller on)
  • Electrical package 1 (12v AGM battery, 40 watt solar panel, interior lighting, and associated controllers and fuses and whatnot)
  • Diamond plate trim (pretty much purely for appearance)
  • Maxx Fan
  • Undermount spare tire
  • Vents for a portable A/C if I want to add one later

The front window on the rental is an option we decided we didn’t want. All it does is add light, but it also means if you want privacy, you need another curtain. Plus, being on the front of the trailer seems to me that it’s more prone to rock chips. Just not things I wanted to mess with, considering the marginal benefit of more sunlight from the front. The two side windows offer plenty for me. I also specifically requested no side access panels to the galley. The ones on the rental were not lockable, and the large side swing door option I got meant I didn’t really need extra openings to access that space.

We placed our order a few weeks after we got home with the rental, and had to wait a few months for it. We had an opportunity to attend the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival (in Sedona, AZ) the weekend of March 4th, so we checked on our trailer build progress before registering. Wes, the builder, was pretty confident he’d have our trailer finished by then, but said if he didn’t, he had a rental we could use. That was enough for us. We booked our spots in the festival and counted on the trip being our inaugural trip in our new camper.

We were fortunate to pick up our 5×10 Deluxe Hiker just under a week before departure. That gave us enough time to get it ready and loaded. I couldn’t have been more pleased by how it turned out.

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For now, the primary tow vehicle is a Subaru XV Crosstrek. The 5×10 Hiker weighs about 960lbs dry, so I wouldn’t want to pull anything bigger with this Subie and its 1500lb towing capacity. In case you didn’t catch it, the tube on the roof rack is the Foxwing awning (note, the Foxwing has been replaced with the Batwing, which is the same idea, but with some nice functional updates). It’s seriously cool, but is sensitive to high winds, since it’s so big. I haven’t deployed mine yet, since it’s been so windy.

I like the look of the white trailer with silver diamond trim. It looks super sharp. The tongue box was a great add, too. It houses the battery and some of the electrical equipment, but there’s also room in there for basic towing/trailering needs like locks to secure the trailer (both while towing and while parked) as well as chocks, leveling blocks, a toolbox with a few potentially useful tools in it, an extension cord for shore power pedestals, outlet tester, and whatnot. I’m able to keep those things separate from camping supplies I keep in the galley.

I ended up getting a few upgrades and custom tidbits I didn’t ask for. Partly because of availability and partly because Wes, the builder, wanted to try something new out on me. I think they’re all good ones. Structurally to the trailer, I got an A-frame trailer tongue instead of the straight one that was on the rental. The builder had found the straight one could get a little iffy on the 5×10, so he decided to start building all 5×10 trailers with the stronger tongue. I won’t complain about that. He also had a supply issue with 2000lb trailer axles, so he installed a 3500lb axle on mine. Again, definitely not complaining. He also added a light (attached to the 12v system) to the interior of my galley, which I really appreciate.

After a few days of prepping the trailer, we were ready to for our drive to Sedona.

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You can see here that I added roof trays for carrying our mountain bikes. They are 1UP USA roof trays and their fatbike kit allows me to put my Salsa Bucksaw up there. They’re outstanding racks and incredibly easy to use. Compared to the Thule Sidearm trays I had years ago, these are SO MUCH easier to load/unload. A small step stool does help with that, so I’ll be buying one that I can just keep in the trailer all the time.

You can see I’m also bringing my Kuat hitch rack along for the ride. Obviously, there’s not enough room to carry the bikes on it, but there’s really not quite enough room to carry the rack itself. I made it work by being careful, but my turning radius is affected, and so is my ability to enter/exit steep transitions like driveways.

20170226_160446The Kuat extends straight out quite a lot from the receiver, so there’s very little space between the coupler and the bottom of the rack. That sucks. Also, I had to remove the stock tongue jack (which was centered on the tongue just behind the coupler) in order to fit the rack. On the picture above, you can see I had to replace it with a clamp-on type that folded up to keep it out of the way. I plan for this to be a temporary solution. I needed the Kuat on this trip to ferry bikes to trailheads distant from camp. The workstand was nice, too.

Our other problem was related to the electrical hookup to the car. I didn’t research enough before taking the trailer home to realize I was going to need a 7 pin connector on the car AND a brake controller. The only place I could get the car in for the wiring was a local Uhaul, and the installer there was not comfortable installing the 7 pin wiring and brake controller on the car. I think it mostly came down to the fact that it would need to be hard wired in, and he had no easy harness to do so, so it would take him more time. So I bought an adapter that would let me plug my existing 4 flat in, and just wouldn’t give me more than emergency use of the trailer’s brakes. I needed SOMETHING just so I could get the trailer home. The adapter allowed me to do that, but by the time it was time to leave for Sedona, the adapter was dead. I tried all the troubleshooting I could to no avail. I just didn’t have what I needed on hand to pull it off.

Buying local in this case paid off HUGE dividends. I called Wes at Hiker Trailer, hoping he would help me troubleshoot over the phone and give me some direction. After a couple quick checks, he said screw it, and loaded up a toolbox and an employee and DROVE TO MY HOUSE to get me rolling. He ended up wiring in an additional hookup so I could directly plug in my 4 flat connector. Voila, it worked. So now my trailer has both for flexibility.

The trailer tows great. Super stable. Great balance. Had one sketchy incident headed out of St. Louis where we were watching some severe weather that was flirting with the interstate. It was around dusk and severe thunderstorms were just south and west of us, headed close. We kept watching the radar and paying attention to the wind and rain, trying to decide if it would be necessary to pull off and wait things out. There were tornadoes and hail reported as being associated with the storm. Everything looked to be going okay when we were suddenly hammered by a strong crosswind. It sent the trailer swerving behind the car, and I let off the gas and pulled into the shoulder immediately and slowed to a stop. It appeared to be a solitary gust, but to be on the safe side, I pulled off at the exit half a mile down the road and stopped at a gas station to let the storm pass by. Nothing else nasty hit, so I continued.

We spent our first night in our own trailer at a KOA in Joplin, MO. Our delays of the first day meant we didn’t get to the KOA until late. Some jerk was parked in the site we had reserved and paid for. Grrr. We grabbed our late arrival paperwork (at least he didn’t swipe that, too), and the paperwork for a different empty site, and then set up to sleep. The next morning, we were able to let the attendant know about the jerk, and he gave the guy an earful about it. Some more rough storms rolled through during the overnight. There was some pretty heavy rain, and the winds had the camper rocking around a bit. But yay for a warm and dry place to sleep. So far, all we have for supplemental heat is an electric blanket we use at home. So since we don’t have a power inverter on the camper, we can only use it when we’re plugged in to shore power. I intend to add a small 12v heater for boondocking in the cold. Heating the air should also help with condensation when it’s cold out. Running the fan high enough to vent all the condensation makes it pretty chilly in the camper, so it’s a balancing act to find the right spot to be reasonably warm without too much condensation.

Our 2nd day of driving was the longest of the outbound leg of the trip, and had us stopping at some silly and classic Route 66 stops, since our drive followed or paralleled the historic highway. The first of the day was the Blue Whale in Catoosa, OK.

 

20170301_100410That’s a silly Route 66 sight if ever there was one. You used to be able to dive off of it into the pond or use the slides, but the current owners don’t want any of those shenanigans. Can’t blame them. The thing looks like a tetanus trap nowadays. But it is incredibly silly, and that’s the whole reason we stopped to visit it. At least visitors are still allowed to climb up to the 2nd level in its head, where you can peek out of its nostrils. Ha!

20170301_101256I will say this…Interstate 44 from Joplin, MO to Oklahoma City sucks. It’s perfectly scenic, especially north and east of Tulsa. What sucks is how backwards Oklahoma is with toll collections. It’s a bizarre system. The first toll plaza is a few exits into the state. To use any of those early exits, you pay your toll to get off. If you pass them, you pay a larger toll…but then, if you use one of the next few exits, you then get a refund. WTF is that business? There are a few other plazas along the way, but I also noticed that OK’s tolls are MUCH higher than elsewhere I’ve been with toll roads. Granted, I expected higher tolls because of the extra axle on the trailer. But I didn’t expect nearly $20 in tolls for the relatively short distance we were on the road (tolls are NOT collected in the OKC or Tulsa metro areas, either, so the distance we paid tolls for was even shorter). To cap it off, they don’t take plastic. Again, accepting credit cards seems to be pretty standard in most places I’ve been. The new I-65 bridge over the Ohio River between IN and KY even takes a photo of your license plate and mails you your toll. If I ever have need to pass through Oklahoma again, I’m going to take a different toll-free route. Screw Oklahoma.

Our next Route 66 site was the Cadillac Ranch just outside Amarillo, TX. That was pretty fun. It’s hilarious reading online reviews for the place on sites like Tripadvisor and Yelp. Some people think it’s obscene that everything is painted. They don’t get that allowing people to paint it all as they please is the whole point of this public art installation.20170301_180257

I had to add to it all in honor of our mountain bike trip.IMG_20170301_181802_103

Just past Cadillac Ranch, you can see a couple of feedlots right along the interstate. Yeah, seeing (and smelling) places like that really gets you bothered by factory animal husbandry. They make me really glad that I’ve got places like Tyner Pond Farm very close to where I live, where I am welcome to visit and see how the animals I eat are raised, and Smoking Goose, which creates wonderful sausages from farms like Tyner Pond. This is a Google Maps satellite image screenshot of a place tagged as “Quality Beef Producers“. I have serious doubts that any quality beef comes from here, or other places like it.

Unfortunately, because of the long day, it was pretty much dark by the time we got to New Mexico, and we still had a lot of driving to do. A quick stop for food and we had to move on to our overnight spot in Holbrook, AZ. It was dark all the way through NM, so we didn’t get to see much.

We stayed at another KOA in Holbrook. This one was a touch nicer than the one in Joplin, but only a touch. This time, nobody stole the campsite we had reserved, at least. We could afford to sleep in a little bit more this time, because it was a fairly short day from Holbrook to Cottonwood (we had campsite reservations at Dead Horse Ranch State Park). This meant we were up and at it when other visitors were up, so I got to field quite a few questions from other people about our little camper.

20170302_07572020170302_113245We had a couple more fun stops planned for this day. Our first was to Standin’ on a Corner Park in Winslow, AZ. We just HAD to make this stop when we realized we’d be passing so close.

It’s just too much fun for anyone who even remotely enjoys the Eagles. It may not be one of the classic Route 66 sights, but I think it’s an essential stop for a modern Route 66 trip.

Sortof in the same category is Meteor Crater (or, Barringer Crater). It wasn’t REALLY developed into a major tourist stop until relatively recently, but for me being the science nerd that I am, it’s one of those bucket list types of visits because it’s such a well-preserved impact crater. There are plenty of other impact craters on the planet, but none of them look like they could have been pulled from the moon or Mars, and none of them are so easy to visit. If the Blue Whale was my wife’s “must see” stop on this trip, Meteor Crater was mine. I’m thrilled to have seen it, and it absolutely blew my wife’s mind, so I think she’s pretty glad, too.

20170302_122903_001_001One thing that never fails to impress me is the scale of stuff out west. This picture is taken from the top viewing platform above the visitor center/museum on the rim of the crater. In the bottom right, you can see the lower viewing platform cantilevered out over the edge. What you can’t see well in this picture is that at the bottom of the crater in the middle, there’s a chain link fence with remnants of research equipment inside from when the owners were figuring out what caused this crater in the ground. The lower viewing platform has some telescopes fixed on specific objects (like, say, a house-sized boulder on the opposite rim), and one of those is a 6ft tall silhouette of a person against the fence (which looks about 4ft tall). You simply cannot see that silhouette at all without optical assistance. To commemorate the stop, I bought my wife some earrings made from fragments of the nickle-iron meteorite ejected during the impact and found miles from the crater, as well as pieces of turquoise.

20170302_131254The snowcapped mountain in the distance is Humphreys Peak just outside of Flagstaff, where we’re headed, before turning south for Sedona and Cottonwood, where we finish our drive.

The only place I really felt the trailer pushing me downhill was when driving down US 89A into Oak Creek Canyon. That road was steep with some pretty tight switchbacks. Not to mention in pretty poor condition with the potholes. Super scenic, though, and worth the drive down. But I would have liked to have the trailer brakes for that segment of the trip. Stuff like that is the reason I got the optional electric brakes on the trailer, even though the Uhaul place thought I was an idiot for wanting a brake controller on a 4 cylinder car. Of course there’s nowhere in Indiana that such a thing is really worth it for a trailer within the Subie’s towing capabilities. But I’m not driving it exclusively in Indiana, as you can see here.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is a pretty nice place. It’s clean and well-maintained. We had a site directly across the road from the bathrooms, which was super nice. Warm showers after lots of mountain biking are great. Campsites weren’t packed together quite like at the KOA campgrounds where we stopped. Unfortunately, we spent very little time in camp because of the mountain biking around Sedona we did. We never bothered opening up the Foxwing awning, either. Partly because it was either super early in the morning, or it was after dark when we were in camp. There were also some fairly high winds at times, so it just wasn’t worth it to mess with the awning on this trip.20170303_071347

I will cover the actual mountain biking in another post, as there’s enough to cover for another one. I do wish we had more time on this trip, though, because there was so much we didn’t have time to ride, including the trails right by camp at Dead Horse Ranch.

There’s a few things I still need to work on to get the camper set up to camp efficiently. First, I need a new cooler. The one we have is a good volume, but the wrong dimensions. It’s just simply too tall to fit inside the camper’s galley. For storage, I made use of various bins and such I already had, with milk crates on the bottom. I also added some empty containers down there to prevent stuff from sliding around. Space on the middle shelf also wasn’t used terribly efficiently. I’ll be rigging some straps to hold stuff down and seeking out clear bins with lids that fit better to get everything loaded in the back better.
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I also need a better setup for cleaning up after meals. I think I might be setting up a simple side table with a cutout for a rubbermaid tub, such as like this one. Maybe with two tubs – a wash tub and a rinse tub. Something like this is simple enough to add, though. It doesn’t necessarily even have to attach to the trailer.

I also need to set up a little cover for the electrical controls above the head of the bed. You can see here that there’s a red LED display that shows battery voltage. On either side are little rubber covers for the cigarette adapter (left side) and 2x USB ports (right side). There are blue lights on the USB ports showing that they’re powered, and when you’ve got something plugged in to charge there, all those lights is a bit distracting at night. I’ll probably just make a little fabric mini-curtain to cover it, because I need to make curtains for the side windows, too. In part, those windows need curtains for nighttime privacy, 20170302_214629but also to shade sunlight in the mornings. It’s not too bad in March, but by midsummer it’s going to be getting light SUPER early, and my wife and I are totally not morning people. We don’t want to be getting up at 5am all the time because the sun is shining in.
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I also want to figure out a better way to organize clean clothes inside the trailer. Maybe some plastic drawers will do it. I could use something better than just throwing gym bags onto the shelf. And definitely something that doesn’t block the pass-through to the galley.

Structurally, there are a couple things I’m thinking about. First relates to bringing the hitch rack on long drives, where we’ll need to drive the bikes to trailheads after parking the trailer to camp. I used the adapter because I thought the tongue would be longer and I’d have more space between the tow vehicle and the camper. I also didn’t want to block the galley door with the rack. Kuat does specifically say NOT to use the rack on the back of an RV (I have no plans to carry it loaded behind the trailer, but unloaded should be fine). I just want to be able to get to the cooler and other food while on a long trip. I did just that on this one. Between the vehicles is just a bit too sketchy, though. I think I’m going to be having a receiver added to the rear of the trailer, anyway. I’ll try to measure things up and get it spaced in such a way that I can fold the rack out of the way and still open the door.
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The drive home, we squeezed into 2 looooong days (one night on the road) instead of 2.5d and 2n. It was rough. We left early enough on the first day that we squeezed in a few hours at Petrified Forest National Park, which is just east of Holbrook, AZ. We did the driving tour through the park and saw most of the “big” sights. We did a couple short hikes, and then stopped at most of the overlooks.

This was another place that blew my wife’s mind. She loved this stuff, and I’m glad she agreed to make this stop, too. I wasn’t sure we’d have time to swing it. It did make for a really painful day of driving, though. The scenery in this park is incredible. Painted Desert is no joke. It’s unfortunate that cameras don’t capture the colors all that well. Sunrise/sunset lighting probably does a better job.
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If the winds were high earlier in our trip, they got truly gnarly on this segment. We began to fear for our hats and eventually took them off every time we got out of the car. There’s just simply nothing to block the winds here. The terrain you see in this park is eroded down into a pretty flat plain, so the wind absolutely howls. Apparently, the night before, they were having sustained 60mph winds. These winds I could feel on the car/trailer, but everything handled admirably. I think with them being pretty sustained and not so gusty helped quite a bit to keep everything pointed where I wanted.
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Inside the park, there’s a small memorial to the OLD Route 66 alignment which passed through the park (since replaced by a stretch of Interstate 40). If you look really hard, you can see the old road grade in the brush, but the old car and the pulloff are the best indicators.
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I love the little plaques and historical markers along what remains of Route 66. It’s a bit of a shame that the interstate outright replaced it and that more of the old US highway isn’t left behind. In this other picture, you can see the trucks on the interstate in the distance…so you get an idea of how close the interstate is to the old highway. In places, like near Cadillac Ranch, Route 66 is essentially a frontage road to the interstate. In some (like near the Blue Whale), the old route is still there, though it might be called something else. In so many like this one, the original route has just been obliterated.

The most scenic parts of Petrified Forest National Park are north of the interstate. Most of the actual Petrified Forest is south of it, but the area north is the “Painted Desert” portion and is definitely more picturesque. I took quite a few video panoramas along the way.

20170306_132627There are definitely fewer road miles north of the interstate, though. And the main visitor’s center/gift shop is there. And the food is quite good, too. We ate lunch here, and stopped at the gift shop for souvenirs. Of course, we’d been collecting stickers for our trailer along the route, so we had to add one from this park, too. A friend of ours also texted us when we were at Meteor Crater, asking for a space rock. We obliged, and also picked up some petrified wood for her as a surprise from here, too. And since I like buying my wife earrings at different places we visit (I’ve been doing this for years), I picked out some Zuni-made silver and semiprecious stone butterfly earrings. My friend still doesn’t know about the petrified wood. Ha!
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This stop was really our only fun on the drive home. After this, it was down to business. We had miles to make up. Our plan was to make it roughly to the halfway point, which would put us in western OK for the night. By the time we got to Amarillo, I was seeing warnings about smoke impacting visibility on the interstate to the east. Wonderful. There was nothing about any closures, so I hoped we wouldn’t have too much trouble. I’m not entirely sure where the fires were that generated all the smoke. I suspect they were quite a distance away. The smoke wasn’t terribly thick, but it covered quite an area. It was unpleasant to breathe in the car and I was beginning to wonder if it would be irksome while we tried to sleep whenever we did stop. By the time we got into Oklahoma, it was dissipating. We ended up boondocking at a truckstop for the night. When we got up, there was a thin haze and a definite smoky smell to the air, so the wind must have shifted a touch overnight. Thankfully it wasn’t bad enough to have messed up our sleep.

On this day, we had absolutely zero fun stops. All business to get home. Of course, on the drive home, we lost 2hrs due to crossing time zones, so that sucked. At least it was 1hr each day of driving, so we spread it out. We got home somewhere around 1am. Late, but not horribly so. My wife had enough time to sleep before her night shift the next day, and that’s the important part.

I learned a few more things on the drive itself. I wasn’t able to calculate fuel economy for the drive TO Arizona. I forgot to reset the trip meter, for one. Two gas stations also wouldn’t print receipts, and I just didn’t feel like going in and getting them from the cashier. So I had to satisfy myself with calculating fuel economy for the drive home. We drove a little over 1600mi on the way home (probably about 3500 total for the trip, counting driving between Cottonwood and Sedona every day, and all of our side trips). Our fuel economy for the drive home ended up being a touch over 18mpg. I hoped for better, as our car usually gets 29+mpg highway. I’m sure part of that was due to the bikes on the roof and the extra wind resistance from that.

I think for long drives in the future, I’m going to try carrying the bikes on fork mounts inside the trailer. I got a mattress that folds so I can get it out of the way in case I want to haul cargo inside. I have fork mounts I usually use in my Honda Fit, so I will probably try them out on a longer drive with the trailer to test changes in fuel economy. The Subie definitely wants to push hard going uphill, even though on flat ground, it cruises pretty well with low engine rpms. That sort of engine revving definitely sucks more gas. I found myself using cruise control on the flats, but disengaging it as soon as the road tilted up, so I could let the car slow a bit and keep engine rpms down. Then on the downhill, I’d let the car pick up a bit more speed to help for the next climb (if there was one). I think fuel economy could have been much worse.

On short trips in-state, it probably isn’t worth it to put the bikes inside the trailer. Just toss ’em on the roof and go.  I have been wanting a smaller pickup truck again. I had one for awhile before I ever started this website and I really liked it. I got rid of it due to reliability issues, and I’ve missed it. Now that Chevy is offering a small diesel option for the 2017 Colorado, I find myself REALLY wanting it. A truck like that would be great for long road trips like we just did here. It gets 30mpg highway and has a much higher towing capacity. Which means for this little trailer, the hit to fuel economy will be MUCH smaller. Probably at least 25mpg. The bikes could go in the bed of the truck, which would cut out a lot of complaints I have and improve fuel economy and handling in crosswinds even more. Plus it’d offer a slightly roomier ride for the drive itself. I just have to figure out how to pay for it. Ha! I may wind up with a slightly older used pickup that I can actually afford, though.

Overall, I’m thrilled with the trailer. We have some friends back home in Indy who also enjoy camping and riding and we’re already working on plans for some close-to-home trips together. We will probably also work in a weekend of boondocking and riding on the Sheltowee Trace in Kentucky and possibly a Pisgah trip this year to use the camper. We will also definitely be at the 2017 Brown County Epic with it, and trying to organize a corner of the camping area for teardrops, other small campers, and vans.

Hope Pro II EVO Fatsno Hub Bearing Replacement

Today seemed like a great day to hide in my basement and work on bikes. In doing a drivetrain swap a couple months ago, I discovered that my hub bearings were gritty. I’m probably a little gun shy over reports of freehub bearings on the Hope fatbike hubs imploding, so maybe I replaced them earlier than absolutely necessary. The new ones are definitely smoother, though. My post isn’t meant to be a step-by-step tutorial on the process. There are plenty of excellent resources available for that. Speaking of which, I found this video to be top notch.

One major reason I’m writing this post, however, is to document some issues I came across and to post my solutions.

First: the Hope tools. They’re not all that easy to get in the US. I work at a shop. You’d think that would simplify things. But no, none of the distributors my shop works with carry Hope’s tools. Sure, I can get most of their components, but for some reason, they don’t carry Hope’s full line.

The only places I found Hope’s hub tools was at European online dealers, and the only one that had all of the tools I needed for my Pro 2 EVO Fatsno hubs (well, except the big hub support tool with the plastic end shown in the video – I didn’t buy that one) was bike24, one of the German dealers. You see, the EVO rear hub uses bigger bearings than the non-EVO Pro 2 rear hub, so the EVO-specific tools come in a different kit from the rest. So I needed two bags of parts.

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If you haven’t ordered from a German dealer from the US before, it’s not exactly the easiest online ordering process. Bike24 first e-mailed me after my order was submitted telling me that they needed to verify my credit card, so they were going to put a small deposit into my account and I would have to verify it. That process took about a week. And then the shipping took another few weeks. Pretty sure that the parts were sitting in customs for most of that time.

The bearings took me a few days to get. But oh! It’s surprisingly hard to find the sizes you need without first disassembling your hubs. And the sources I found online were not correct. So here is what I actually needed for the Pro 2 EVO Fatsno hubs. Thankfully, a run to my local shop was fruitful to pick up the bearings I still needed.

Front:
2x 6903

Rear Hub Shell:
2x 6903

Shimano Freehub Body:
2x 6803
1x 17287

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From reading other websites, I was 2x 6903 and 1x 6803 bearings short and I bought 2x 6804 bearings that I don’t need. I didn’t buy Hope’s bearing kit because I wanted a bit of an upgrade. So I went with Enduro bearings this time around. Some folks recommend SKF bearings and I checked them out, but they are a very large margin more expensive than the Enduro bearings, which cost more than the Hope bearing kits.

Hope’s tools do make it easier to ensure you’re getting everything done right. You could use a generic bearing drift set, but it seems that a big advantage of the Hope specific tools is the height or depth of them to fit down inside the hub shell, or to fit the length of the axle on the drive side. Since I didn’t use the hub support tool, I was basically using the edge of the work bench, so I had parts dropping on the floor when I hammered them out. It’s a bit of a minor irritation in the grand scheme of things, but it did mean I had to fish underneath my workbench for parts. Next time I need to do this, I’ll probably add the hub support tool, too.

Another note. The rubber mallet shown in my first picture was pretty much useless. In the video, a harder plastic mallet is shown, but I don’t have one. I had to make do with a framing hammer, and be extra careful I wasn’t destroying the aluminum I was hitting with it.

So apparently while I was having fun working on my bike, some stuff happened. Maybe I ought to check my social media feed. Or, on second thought, maybe not.