All The Junk We Pull Around (USA Day 83)

Our day was charmed and yawny, with a lazy cycle into gorgeous, liberal, welcoming Missoula accompanied by Craig and Sherri, to see the markets, peruse the record shops, sample some choice beers at a couple of choice breweries and do all the dull re-stocking and replacing that a pair of touring cyclists will need to do when they reach their first big town since Rawlins, and you all remember Rawlins.

Really, there’s little to say about today. Rest-day blues threatened to hit us hard multiple times, but we staved it off with plenty of sunlight, a well-checked to-do list and delicious macaroni cheese back at the house to polish off a very satisfying day.

Instead, I thought I’d spend this blog talking about our equipment and luggage. I’ve had a few requests now for equipment lists, but I honestly don’t think the majority of that is relevant. You don’t need to know how many pairs of underpants I’ve brought. (Four. Happy now?) I have no idea whether our choice of sleeping bag is better than any other because I haven’t tried any other. I can tell you what we chose to have, or chose not to have, and whether it’s lasted the first half of the trip. So let’s do a bit of that, and I’m happy to field more questions below. Also, we’re going out of service for a couple of days so don’t expect another blog until at least Tuesday morning.

Camping: We chose a MSR Hubba Hubba 2-man tent because it was cheap, free-standing and most importantly red. It’s been excellent, quite frankly. We’ve loved having a free-standing tent because in the towns that aren’t on the TAT, pitching on the lawns of city parks isn’t an option. We’ve camped in fire station parking lots, outside Walmarts, under bandstands and on gravel tracks. Our Jokel inflatable mats have been major let-downs, though. They’ve all sprung slow leaks that can’t be patched because they can’t be identified. We’ve held them underwater, fully inflated, in a swimming pool, and searched for bubbles. We’ve held them to our ears and put wet lips to the seals. Nothing. We can only surmise that the material degrades or the seams weaken after a while. Someone else’s tip (too late for us) was to pitch your tent on top of a sheet of wall insulation sheeting like Tyvek. But if you have space on your panniers, go for the Thermarest mats you can unfold and lay out. Then you’ll never have to worry about getting a puncture on anything but your inner tubes. We also carry inflatable pillows. Semi-inflated, these really feel like pillows.

Cooking: We chose not to bring cooking equipment including pots, pans, plates, stoves or a kettle. Four thousand miles in, and we honestly haven’t missed it. Most gas stations in America have hot water on tap. Just bring two mugs, a bit of plastic cutlery and improvise the rest. When camping we usually eat cured meat such as jerky, with bread, some bottled sauce and an absolute ton of fresh raw veg. Honestly, vegetables are easily bought in most grocery stores but rarely served in cafes or restaurants, so we relish our camping meals as opportunities to catch up with our 5-a-day.

Bikes: We got a pair of Surly Disc Truckers, and they’ve been brilliant. With 41mm tyres, they handle any road surface including gravel, mud and rock. We’ve not had to try them in the snow, thank goodness. The steel frame feels sturdy, the bar end shifters are low-tech and responsive, but Amy’s are a bit ‘clangy’ and tend to slip if you don’t tighten the shifter up every few days. Mechanical disc brakes are excellent for feathering descents. They squeak terribly in the wet, but we make the most of those moments by playing a range of four-toned tunes. I’d advise disc brakes for tours anyway. If you hit a rock and your wheel becomes untrued, your brakes will still work until you find a bike shop. With rim brakes, you’ll barely be able to ride. Amy needed a shorter, diagonal handlebar stem on hers, because even though she’s the same height as me, Surlys are made for long-torso’d gentlemen. She also opted for a Pletscher A-framed kickstand (imagine two kickstands – one on each side) which gives her the option to flick up and take a photo without three weeks’ planning. It’s been useful every day. The only change I’ve made is to switch up my rear tyre for a Schwalbe Marathon Plus, because my backside carries some serious junk, if you catch my drift, and I was getting sick of punctures.

Clothing: Here’s a place where opinions part: some people bring a single set of clothes, but we brought two pairs of cycling kit and two pairs of civilian clothes, so we’d last a good week without laundry. It’s worked fine. You’ll want clothes you can tumble-dry, ones that fold up super-small and ones you can layer. Also, something waterproof. Good lord, you’ll need that. If I did this again I’d only bring high-vis colours on my bike kit. It’s just not worth wearing dark clothes on the road. We both have MTB-style inset cleated shoes, where the metal clip is within the sole. This way, you can clip in, clip out, go for a hike, walk into town, all without clicking and waddling like a tin penguin. The only other footwear we have is a pair of $2 flip-flops.

Baggage: The best decision we ever made was not bringing backpacks. We have Ortlieb classic front and back rollers on generic pannier racks. They hold masses, they’re utterly waterproof and stand huge amounts of wear and tear. One of the screws came out of mine, but I cannibalised a screw from a less essential part of the bag and now it’s fine. Our tent and sleeping mats sit on the pannier rack between the rear bags, strapped on with bungees.

Electronics: People have quite literally laughed in my face for this decision, but I’ve brought my Acer Predator laptop so that I can write, edit podcasts and video (gee, how’s that going, Ivan?) and so that Amy can edit photos. Obviously the large screen is also nice for Netflix, all our admin, and route planning too. Yes, it’s extra weight. But after three months, I’d much rather have it than not. Call it my luxury. We also have a couple of lightweight tablets/e-readers and our smartphones. These lock onto our handlebars with Tigra frame mounts, so we can navigate with solely these.

Navigation: We plan our routes on the Strava route planner (another luxury of having a laptop – you can’t map routes on the app), then share them via email and follow these as we go. You can do loads of this without the ACA paper maps, although there may be local details and background you might miss.

Bears: Just yesterday, we sold our bear cannister. It was expensive, bulky, heavy, and never held all our smelly stuff anyway. In grizzly country, there’s pretty much always a bear box. Out of it, we’ve been hauling a pannier full of food and toiletries up a tree with a long climbing rope, which won’t exactly stop a bear but it’ll give it a workout. We’ve occasionally left our bags in a nearby toilet cubicle too, but we get nervous about theft.

Security: Our route takes us through quite a few large cities, so we aren’t risking anything. We each have a Kryptonite gold-standard D lock and a cable to secure the other wheel. If a thief can get through all of that without alerting us, they probably deserve the bike.

We’ve met folks with much sleeker setups than us, but if we’re able to carry all this at 12mph across America, I’m pretty sure you can too. Don’t be scared to ask questions below.