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Packing list & touring tips

Old 09-10-15, 07:17 PM
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Packing list & touring tips

As I was posting my recent bike tour, I had a few folks ask for my packing list. It looks like there are a bunch of Clydes – and maybe a few ‘Theenas, too – who are thinking about going for that first tour.

I’ll get around to sharing my packing list, but before I do, I need to emphasize that *my* list (for a 400 mile unsupported tour in New England at the end of summer) won’t be, shouldn’t be, the same as your list. A lot depends on where you’re going, and how you’re riding.

I knew I’d be camping some (add to list: tent, sleeping bag, etc), but I had also learned through experience that I’d much rather buy a sandwich at a convenience store at 3pm and have it for dinner at 6:00 than try to cook at a campfire or a camp stove. (So, no camp stove, no fuel.) I was going to go through more hills than usual, so weight mattered to me more than it did on a rails-to-trails ride a few years ago. (So, no front panniers loaded with extra stuff.) I toured on motorcycles before I ever toured on a bicycle, and I picked up on “pack half the stuff you think you’ll need, and budget twice the money” as a Good Planning Idea.

With that as background, you need to think about a few big questions first.
  • Where do you want to go? Do you have a specific destination in mind (“start at the Cards Against Humanity island, wind up at the ice cream party”) or is it something more general (“a flat, scenic ride not far from home” or “I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest”)
  • Solo, with some friends, or as part of a group? I started off with solo rides because I was afraid that, being a new rider, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a group. My early plan for how to handle bad weather was to take a rest day if it was raining too hard – would I be able to do that with a group? I have since found out that some group rides, like the Bon Ton Roulet, are set up with varying distances on a single day; others are hub-and-spoke tours, letting you camp in the same place every day. You don’t always need to ride your bike to get to the next destination in a group tour.
  • How far can you ride in a day? How far do you WANT to ride in a day? The answers to these two questions probably aren’t the same. Especially on your first tour, leave some time and energy in your schedule to see the places you’re riding through. Spending hours riding through a green tunnel of trees along a verdant bike path can be fun for a day or two, but it can start to get old if that’s all you do. Include time to meet people, or go to a national park, or have an ice cream cone, or rent a kayak and give your legs a break. (This is something I neglected on my most recent tour, and I was far grumpier more of the time than I’m used to being on a bike ride.)
  • How many days do you want to spend? For me, “about a week” is about right. If it’s your first tour, you might want to start out with a long weekend first.
  • Camping, hotels, staying with friends, or WarmShowers/couchsurfing? You’ll need more stuff if you’re going to be camping. You’ll need more money if you’re staying in hotels. These questions can apply to an organized group tour as well. On the Bon Ton Roulet, for example, I brought my own tent and set it up every night; some folks contracted with a service that set up the tent and lovely thick air mattress for them; and others booked hotels.

OK. Those questions give you the basic framework.

The answers to all those questions will help you figure out where you’re headed and what kind of terrain you’ll be going into. With that info, you can start training if you need to, working on mileage, hill-climbing, and/or off-road skills. When you’re in training, think about your steady partner in all of this, too: does the bike need anything? If you’re going to be on your own for a cross-continent tour, you probably need a way to carry a lot of stuff: do you have front and rear pannier, racks to put them on, a good lighting system, etc? Is your saddle comfortable enough to use every day? If you’re going to be tackling more hills or more cargo than you do at home, do you need to change your gearing?

THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU NEED A NEW BIKE. When I started riding in 2009, I got a left-over Cannondale Adventure 400 that was discounted at my LBS. These days, we’d describe it as an “urban” or a “hybrid” bike: aluminum frame, front suspension with lockouts, puffy gel saddle. I put a rear rack on it right away to carry books, etc, when I ran errands. By the time I did my first metric century, I had a front bag that could clip to the handlebars: big enough for a toolkit and lunch, with a way to attach a cue sheet. I also had bar ends by then, giving me some extra hand positions. When I went on my first tour (300 miles from Pennsylvania to DC along the GAP and C&O canal paths) I added a front rack, too. People asked me how I could do a ride that long with “just” a hybrid. Frankly, I’m still glad I had a hybrid with 38mm tires on that ride instead of a road bike with 23mm tires – the C&O part of the trail is not paved. If you’re comfortable for a long day, you’ll probably be comfortable for a tour.

We’re almost to the packing list, I promise!

Of course, the first things you need to bring with you are invisible and intangible. You need to bring your know-how and your plans. Do you know how to fix a flat? When was the last time you practiced? Can you lube your chain yourself? What will you do if a spoke breaks, or links in your chain get stuck? I had one really weird mishap while on a fundraising ride for the MS Society – the bolt that held my saddle to my stem broke. There was a support truck not 10 yards away when that happened, and they had me back on the road in 10 minutes. Does that mean from then on, I’ve carried a spare bolt with me? No. Do you need to carry a spare bolt? No. But plan in your mind what you can do if you’re in between towns on your ride and something goes wrong. Part of my answer is bicycle roadside assistance (think AAA for cars) from Better World Club -- but even they won't take care of everything. There came a day in my most recent tour when I had miles to go, I was running out of daylight, and my legs were letting me know there would be no more uphill: one of my big accomplishments for that ride was that I was able to ask a stranger for help.

And now for the tangibles. This is my packing list for a 400 mile tour, 18000+ feet of elevation gain, one week ride from Augusta, Maine to New Lebanon, NY, with some camping and some hotels along the way.
  • The bike: Bilenky Titanium Tourlight. Tubus Logo Evo rear rack. Triple gearing in the front, 26-40-50; 8 speeds in the back, 11-34. Brooks 68 saddle. SKS longboard fenders.
  • On the bike: ABUS Bordo folding lock (a mistake in retrospect); Ortlieb bike packer rear panniers; Ortlieb handlebar bag with clear plastic thing for cue sheet; front and rear lights on the bike; front and rear lights on my helmet; sunglasses; Leatherman Juice multi-tool; bike-specific multitool with Allen keys, chain tools, etc; spare spokes tucked into the seat tube; zip ties (I used these!); wallet; sunscreen; lip balm; bug repellent; cell phone; water bottles; shower cap (to protect leather saddle in the rain); Relevate “mountain feedbag” on handlebars to give my plush mascot a place to sit (ok, you probably won’t need this); Road Morph G bike pump with built-in pressure gauge; Garmin 60Csx GPS (from back in the day) with area maps loaded. Cue sheets and paper maps as back-up.
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, liquid camp soap, razor, all in a ziplock baggie. Plus a high-absorbency towel.
  • Tent/Shelter: Big Agnes Fly Creek 1 person tent; stakes; footprint. Inflatable pillow. Singlis air mattress (about 2.5 inches thick). Fleece blanket. This was the area I swapped out the most weight – my original pillow was a more comfortable foam thing that was 300 grams heavier and the size of two Pringles cans; I used to use a Clip Flashlight 3 tent, but that weighed a pound and a half more; I used to use a piece of foam under the air mattress, but I was travelling in the summer and I decided I wouldn’t need the extra insulation; campgrounds would have picnic tables, so I didn’t need to pack a chair. I ditched the sleeping bag when I checked the weather report -- decided the blanket would be enough.
  • Warmth: fire starter/matches (chunky matches with lots of extra wax and stuff that will burn for 7 minutes or so). Mylar emergency blanket.
  • Food: granola bars; a plastic plate; a clear plastic cup. My multitool (under tools) has a can opener. A spork. I wound up buying some of those little individually waxed cheeses on the way; they actually do stay fresh for a week in 80* weather without refrigeration
  • Clothes: 2 pairs of bike shorts; a short sleeved cycling jersey; a short sleeved tech t-shirt to wear riding; two “nice” t-shirts; a windbreaker; rain jacket and rain pants; helmet cover; sweat pants (lounging in camp, plus sleeping); nylon travel pants (something nice to wear off the bike that packs smaller and lighter than jeans); Keen bike sandals; Teva sandals (can be used as shower shoes, too); two pairs bike socks; my helmet and gloves; my Road ID; two bras; a pair of quick-dry nylon shorts; a swimsuit (had to be able to go to hot tub in hotel!); Ex Officio quick-drying nylon mesh undies. (The “mesh” is a key word there – without the mesh, the nylon would just hold the heat and cause fungus. Yuck, fungus.)
  • First Aid/medical: bandaids, leaning to larger sizes; single-use packets of Neosporin and cortisone; alcohol pads; tape; aspirins; antihistamine; emergency tooth filling kit. (I had a filling fall out once, and never want to have that happen again without supplies handy!)
  • Gear repair: patch kit; cotton ball (lets you find the debris sticking into the tire); spare spokes; spare tube; tire levers; Presta-to-Schraeder converter; “tenacious tape”
  • Comfort: ear plugs; eye cover; a small deck of playing cards; my diary
  • Tech: 10,000 mAh battery to recharge cell phone, etc, if I can’t find a place to charge; mini- and micro- USB cords (mini for headlight, micro for cell phone); one-ear ear phone; AC-to-multiple-USB outlets (to charge everything at once when I do have access to AC); AAA batteries (for rear lights); AA batteries (for Garmin)
  • Plus a lot of gallon-sized ziplock bags to keep things organized in the panniers.
----------

Hope this helps. Feel free to ask questions; and remember, there’s a touring forum a few keystrokes from here with some pretty friendly people.
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Old 09-10-15, 08:07 PM
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Jeneralist that is a nice complete list. You are one tough lady that can fill her own tooth. I would rely on whiskey and I don't drink liquor. I like the idea of the keen bike sandals just wish they weren't so damn expensive.

I agree with you about the camping stove. I usually eat a big/late lunch then something light for dinner.

What are bike socks? Are these the anklet socks or a nylon sock?

Last question: What kind of motorcycle do your ride?
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Old 09-10-15, 08:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Solare View Post
You are one tough lady that can fill her own tooth. I would rely on whiskey and I don't drink liquor. I like the idea of the keen bike sandals just wish they weren't so damn expensive.

I agree with you about the camping stove. I usually eat a big/late lunch then something light for dinner.

What are bike socks? Are these the anklet socks or a nylon sock?

Last question: What kind of motorcycle do your ride?
Ah, temporary tooth filling kit, under $3 at fine pharmacies everywhere!

For me, bike socks (at least in summer) are little anklet socks made out of wool and nylon.

And oh! to be reminded of motorcycles. I sold my BMW K75RT last week! It had been sitting in the garage far too long, getting more and more envious of the bicycles. It used to be that my "summer bike ride" was on a motorcycle, but my last tour like that was in 2009. On that ride, I saw these two guys getting off a ferry before all the motorcycles, said "they're having more fun than I am" to myself, and things haven't been the same since.




Since I started riding my bicycle (more or less September 2009), whenever the weather's been good for "riding", the BMW stayed in the garage. I only rode the motorcycle once or twice a season, more out of guilt than anything else. So last week I finally got the nerve to sell it. It deserves someone who will ride it. It's too good a bike to get dusty in a garage.
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Old 09-11-15, 05:40 AM
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I actually love preparing a meal after a day on the bike. Even something simple like pasta with olive oil, white beans, garlic and fresh sage. I made this last year crossing PA. There was no food source near the state park campground so I bought a few things at the start of the day to take with me.




But I normally enjoy more elaborate meals, like this pasta, chicken, onion and asparagus preparation, which I made the second day of the trip:



When I am riding daily I need a high carb based diet to feel good. For logistical reasons I didn't take cooking gear for my June tour in the Black Hills and regretted it some days. Normally, my camp kitchens includes olive oil, fresh garlic, salt, pepper and (sometimes) cayenne. Another advantage of having a stove is the ability to make coffee in the morning. Good coffee, not the kind where you can see the bottom of the cup. I can even toast a bagel in one of my cooking pots.
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Old 09-11-15, 09:49 AM
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Thanks so much for the list...and the inspiration. Here are my "big picture" thoughts.
1) Where do you want to go?
I'm originally from Western PA and have a sister in DC so you sucked me in with the GAP/C&O trip report. That's definitely my ultimate goal. But to get started a more practical answer for my first tour is probably the Katy Trail in Missouri. About 250+/- miles and just a few hours away by car. Relatively flat rail trails with no cars really appeal to me as I'm just getting started.

2) Solo, with some friends, or as part of a group?
Solo lets me go sooner, plus I don't have to worry about matching paces or timing. Must admit having a friend or 2 to share things with also appeals.

3) How far can you ride in a day? How far do you WANT to ride in a day?

Current long ride is about 40 miles, but that's squeezing it in to just a few hours early Sunday morning before church. My monthly mileage is between 300 - 400 over flat to rolling hills, but must admit I just started biking in June. Considering I'd have all day, will likely go much slower than usual (due both to trail and extra weight), and desire to do a bit of sightseeing along the way, I'd say 50 miles+/- daily is both conservative and doable.

4) How many days do you want to spend?
Between a long weekend and a full week. Again, what I'm thinking about would require about 5 days plus going/returning from the trail itself.

5) Camping, hotels, staying with friends, or WarmShowers/couchsurfing?
Torn on this one. Camping is more long term affordable but requires a bit more organization and outlay upfront. B&B/hostel/hotel costs more long term but is easier/quicker to start with.

I'm good with my bike, Trek 7.2 fx, but will need to tweak it a bit. Rack, panniers, fenders and bar ends make a lot of sense. Plus I need to upgrade my front lighting and brush up on changing a flat.

Before I dive into specifics I'd appreciate any observations or suggestions.

Most of all I'd really like to have any obvious/likely flaws in my thinking or approach pointed out. I'd rather look like a fool here in the forum than quietly prove it out on the trail. Thanks.

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Old 09-11-15, 06:31 PM
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Originally Posted by MidLife50 View Post
Thanks so much for the list...and the inspiration. Here are my "big picture" thoughts.
1) Where do you want to go?
I'm originally from Western PA and have a sister in DC so you sucked me in with the GAP/C&O trip report. That's definitely my ultimate goal. But to get started a more practical answer for my first tour is probably the Katy Trail in Missouri. About 250+/- miles and just a few hours away by car. Relatively flat rail trails with no cars really appeal to me as I'm just getting started.
If you're planning on the Katy Trail, you may want to use a shuttle service to get you back to your starting point. Some info at Katy Trail Trip Planner
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Old 09-11-15, 07:00 PM
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Yea, that's definitely a solution but I think I'm leaning toward 2 others.
1) Wait "til next year, sign up in March for the MO State Parks supported ride in June 2016. They have an optional bus that carries you to the other end; or,
2) Sneak in there right away, drive to Saint Louis, park and ride Amtrak (with my bike on board) to the western end of the trail and bike back to my car. Adds some extra biking as the rail stations are not at the end, but not too much.
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Old 09-12-15, 04:56 PM
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If you want to do a supported ride on the Katy, I recommend this one:
https://mostateparks.com/2015-katy-trail-ride

I've done it the last 4 years. It sells out quick (last year in one day) so be ready to register on March 1, 2016 at 8 AM.

In 2016 it starts in St. Charles MO which is near St. Louis.
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Old 09-14-15, 05:43 AM
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When to go is another important question that is best answered after you decide where you want to go. Even a difference of two weeks (or fewer) can mean a big difference in weather, crowds and availability of services. For example: What to ride in the Black Hills? Don't go during the Sturgis Rally.
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Old 09-20-15, 05:27 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
When to go is another important question that is best answered after you decide where you want to go. Even a difference of two weeks (or fewer) can mean a big difference in weather, crowds and availability of services. For example: What to ride in the Black Hills? Don't go during the Sturgis Rally.
So much this! My partner and I like to do our touring in September after the crowds have thinned, but this can bite you in the rear in some locales as some of the stores/shops/restaurants are already closed for the season or have very limited hours.

Great thread! Always glad to see your contributions in the forums jeneralist!
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Old 09-24-15, 08:46 PM
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I've been kicking around doing some multiple day tours for a while now. Your post just adds fuel to the fire.
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Old 09-25-15, 05:59 AM
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I suspect quite a few of us harbor the thought of doing a tour. That's what makes the OP's perspective so valuable. She has actually done it...multiple times. I know I'm trying to build up the nerve to make that commitment myself and every bit of encouragement and info helps.
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Old 09-25-15, 08:03 AM
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Thanks for taking the time to share your experiential knowledge with it. It is very appreciated.

I've been on two supported tours this year so far and I'm interested to try a self-supported one at some point. Not sure if I want to go alone or try and find a partner for the first one though.

What about laundry? How do you keep from being stinky?
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Old 09-25-15, 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Jarrett2 View Post
What about laundry? How do you keep from being stinky?
A couple of different ways to deal with that: stink-resistant clothes, avoiding stink-prone packing, and actually washing clothes from time to time.

I'll start with the last one first: doing wash. If you look back at the list, you may have seen a few mentions of nylon pants, nylon shorts, etc. Certain fabrics (nylon) dry quickly; others (thick cotton) don't. So I try to pick and pack clothes that I can wash and rinse at night, throw over a clothesline (or the shower curtain rod in a hotel), and have them be dry in the morning. If your trip is long enough for rest days, those are the days to go to the laundromat.

Some clothes are stink-resistant. A lot of synthetic fiber cycling jerseys tend to start smelling funky after a while, no matter how many times you wash them. Wool has a reputation for being low-stink. The trade-off here is, wool can take longer to dry. For my trip, my "dress" t-shirts were thin wool from Ibex. One pair of cycling shorts was MTB style, with a mesh/chamois liner and a nylon over-layer; I wore those when rain was in the forecast, figuring that they'd dry once the rain stopped. My other pair was SmartWool.

And then there's packing. As near as I can tell, whatever you do to keep your stuff dry in the rain also makes it stink faster in the heat. I use Ortlieb panniers; they're very waterproof, but they also trap moisture (incl day-old sweat) inside. (For this reason, there are plenty of other folks who prefer fabric bags that allow some ventilation, and they just use a pannier cover in the rain.) Anything that was a little bit "off" at the beginning of the day came out of the bag really, really rancid at the end of the day. My trick here was to segregate the stink: I packed clothes in ziplock-style plastic bags, two or three items in a bag, so that if one thing went bad it wouldn't get to everything else in the pannier.
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Old 09-26-15, 12:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Jarrett2 View Post
What about laundry? How do you keep from being stinky?
In the right climate, you can rinse out your clothes in something like a camp sink and hang them to dry. When I get done for the day and it's warm enough out, I wash my riding clothes when I shower and then hang them up. As for off-bike clothes, unless I am seating in camp I can go for days without them getting smelly. Remember that you are not wearing them all day. Even if they do develop a smell, so what? Finally, many small towns have commercial laundries because often there are enough residents who don't have their own washers and driers. During my SD tour I spent two nights in Edgemont, which has a population of about 600 people. There was a large laundry mat in town. Truck stops and many campgrounds may also have laundry facilities. With two sets of riding clothes I can't remember the last time I was forced to ride in unwashed clothes.
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