TrackPacking: Next Level “Fun”

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Bikepacking Rig

Ok, we have all heard of Bikepacking by now (it’s the “buzz” outdoor activity right now), and for the tens of you whom read this here “bike blog,” you are probably familiar with the term “Dirtbagging.” These are offshoots of normal rack-and-pannier bike touring (or backpacking if you’re into walking places), and generally involve packing all of your stuff into frame bags and other rackless packs, then hitting the dusty trail to camp out in the woods or some other remote area. Sounds like a whole lotta fun for everyone, right?  Yeah, almost TOO much fun.

Enter the newest bad idea: Trackpacking.  

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Trackpacking Rig

Trackpacking is closely related to Backpacking, more so than Bikepacking, in that you actually put all of your stuff on your back.  All you need is a track bike, or some other such fixed gear bike (no brakes! Trackpacking requires no brakes, them’s the rules), your camping gear, and a messenger bag or back pack.  You can get some pretty severe “messenger back packs” these days, so you almost wouldn’t need to leave anything behind. It’s that simple. Load up your messenger-type bag, hop on your fixie, and head somewhere to camp. This is really ideally suited for Sub-24 hour trips, unless you are particularly fond of long distance, multiple day fixie travel.  I used to be in that realm, but gears kind of soiled my chamois for said torture travel.

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Dirtbagging Rig

Pointless Back Story: I was pondering the entertainment value of the known realms of bike touring/camping, and what could be the next step for camping-kind.  The brainstorm took into consideration equipment on hand, I don’t need to buy any more “packing” gear in this lifetime, how much I love having fun by not having fun at all, and routes/roads to travel here in central Iowa.  I also wanted to use a bike that I had on hand, pretty easily achievable goal, but I wanted to use something that wasn’t common or run-of-the-mill, perhaps a little played out, even.  Enter the Track Bike.

I’ve done one Track bike tour (track bike, messenger bag, 90 miles) years ago, it did not end well as the weather took a sharp nose dive and I was not prepared for the adverse conditions.  I had a new leg tattoo, rain and road grit splashed up into it for a couple hours.  It got infected and I had a fever for a few days.  Yeah, that sucked. I should probably do that again.

So, that is the plan.  I’m putting together a route for a camping trip that involves some fairly level terrain (first three days of Ragbrai come to mind), and I’m getting out there to bust some knees and party on, Garth.

Sam

CNB

 

 

Star Spangled Bagger

Oof. Yesterday was tough, tougher than it should have been.  I set off on a Dirtbagging journey after a few days of delay.  It was in the mid 80’s already, but it was HUMID as all get out.  I could feel my body rejecting the heat after the first few miles. There was some decent cloud cover now and again, and riding through the Clive Greenbelt trail out to Waukee (and the start of the gravel road I was taking north) is nearly all shade.  Originally I had planned on loading my bike into the Sprinter and driving out to the RRVT trail head, then jumping on the Gravel from there. I was headed north towards Brushy Creek State Park, near the Fort Dodge area, then south and west towards Collins, then hop the trail back west toward Slater, then Madrid, then back south on the gravel to the Sprinter. It was a great plan, had I been able to leave on Saturday, and I was looking forward to getting some fresh air, three or four days of camping, and seeing some areas of gravel I haven’t ridden.

IMG_6508Monday morning it was decided that I would just ride from my house instead of starting with fresh legs on the gravel.  No problem, I planned on cutting day 1 short and camping at Ledges State Park, then rolling North for Tuesday night, then heading back towards home Wednesday morning.  Plan was cut short, but I also had things to do on Thursday.  I started off with some delays, then headed to Horizon Line Coffee, a new shop in the Western Gateway area that has all Vegan pastries.  I met one of the founders, Brad, and encouraged him to give me whatever he wanted me to have, which was IMG_6515an Oat Milk Cappuccino, and a day-old Vegan Chili-Lime doughnut. Both were damn fine, and I ran into a friend and chatted for a while. I am really digging the vibe there, and plan on making it a frequent stop.  Thanks, Brad and the Horizon Line folks for providing a new coffee experience in town that has Vegans in mind. It’s much appreciated.

I pointed the rig towards Ingersoll Ave, and my restaurant Krunkwich Ramen House.  I figured I should stop in and check on the crew, and annoy them with my constant bad stories and dad jokes (I’m a grandpa now, it’s my job.).  At this point I realized I had forgotten my flipper, which I always carry, at home.  I also remembered leaving my fourth water bottle (that should be in my frame bag) on the table by the basement door. Sweet. All good, I would stop by Walgreens in Waukee and pick up a cheap pocket knife and a big bottle of water for the road. No problem.  I left the shop and proceeded to climb Ingersoll, not a huge climb, but it’s pretty indicative of the hills I would meet headed north from the RRVT.  The sun seemed a lot hotter than the listed temp, and I felt the first of many weird cold shiver in my neck and arms that would happen through the day.

The hill was crested, and I coasted down to the trail head, hung a right, and started towards the Greenbelt.  It was surprisingly sparsely populated for a Monday morning, which was nice as I was piloting a fairly wide vehicle through the twists and turns.  Once I crossed under the Hickman bridge, the sun really came into play.  There is a long shallow climb into Waukee, and with the fully loaded fatbike it was a slow slog. I felt like I was pedaling in an Uneasy Bake oven.  A few miles up the road I turned north on what I thought was the correct road, but OF COURSE IT WASN’T.  I ended up in a new development construction, but I’m like “hey, I’m on a fat bike. I can ride wherever I want” and proceeded to ride through the soft soil of some new construction plots, then down a sketchy embankment towards the woods, and hopefully to find a place to pop out on the correct road (V Ave). I found a ravine that I was not at all prepared to try crossing, and ended up retracing my path back to the main road, then jig jagged around for a while until I found V.

IMG_6513The gravel has now begun.  I was around 20 miles into my day and finally reached the gravel. It was close to 1pm at this point, and the heat was on.  Big time. The once-distant storm clouds were passing overhead too quickly to provide any real relief from the sun, and I finally got into my first set of rollers. Now, I’m riding this loaded setup for the very first time, and this is my first time Dirtbagging with a Rohloff drivetrain. It’s a challenge finding the right gear at times, and to be honest, I’m not sure I like the twist shift operation. I DID appreciate it during the winter months when my hands resided inside pogies, and I was thankful for this sturdy drivetrain during the crappy weather, but on dry gravel in the heat, it isn’t as necessary.  I started thinking about how I should have stopped for a bean burrito and some cold water before headed north, and having some hardcore anxiety over dogs (I had just read a few article on all the dog attacks on the Trans Am Race, and also I haven’t ridden this road for a long time and don’t remember if there are any bad spots), and the weird cold shivers started happening again. I was already running out of leg, and I was only a few miles into the actual ride.  I stopped and drank water, had some Scratch Labs stuff, rested for a few minutes, but I just felt drained. The Mukluk was too much of a pig for me to push in this state.  I then remembered that I had been off the bike for about 7 weeks due to my tailbone injury  Yeah, that’s a problem. I should have/could have/would have packed all this stuff on my Fargo and at least I would be able to cover more distance in less time, but I HAD TO BE A HERO AND SEE HOW FAR I COULD RIDE THE MUKLUK IN ONE DAY.

The answer to that question of mileage: 25 miles. It was at mile 25 that the realization struck: It was still 10 miles or more to either Woodward or Madrid, where I was going to grab lunch, I was 5 miles north of civilization, and was averaging about 6 mph at this point. It would take me an hour to get back to Waukee, or nearly two hours to get to either town north. Then what? How was I going to make it to Ledges if I couldn’t even pedal to Madrid? I spied a pickup on the horizon, and went in to full on bagger mode. I flagged this gentleman down and he was so kind as to allow me to throw my bike in the back and sag away.  We discussed where I live, and what my minimum sag goal was. He did not want to go into Des Moines, and honestly I thought I would just stop for some food and water then head back north on the Mukluk. He says “you want me to drop you off at Mickey’s?” Brilliant Idea. We headed south.

IMG_6512I felt like a total schmuck for bailing and taking a sag backwards, for “failing” at TWENTY FIVE GODDAMN MILES. Sometimes you win, sometimes you just don’t win as much. Yesterday was that day.  We arrived in the Mickey’s parking lot, I unloaded the pig, said our goodbyes, and mounted up to ride over to the bike rack. I felt unsteady and weak. It’s really bizarre. Entering a post-lunch-rush, mostly-empty bar is kind of eerie, and in my state it was borderline surreal.  There were two guys at a front booth speaking in muted tones, and nobody else. I found a seat at the bar. The bartender emerged after a few minutes, I whined a little whine and ordered water and a Lagunitas IPA.  This is getting really long, isn’t it? They have a Hummus Trio on the menu as a special, so of course I got that. after a few bites of their spicy hummus the body started feeling a little more human again. We had drinks, shot flies with a Salt Gun, and was turned on to Tequila and Soda. Great Drink, I highly recommend it.  I started doing the run down of what the plan to get home entailed, or maybe I would head back north for another shot at getting to at least the Whistlin Donkey in Woodward. It was then my friend and past bail out hero Sandy from Rasmussen Bike Shop rolled in from a ride with her friend Tom. Sandy has the same Ti Mukluk and mentioned that it would fit on her car rack. DING. New option for the ultimate bail. They had lunch, then Sandy, Tom, and I worked to get my Bougie Hobo Bike on her car and back to the East Village.

We rolled in to my hood around 5:30pm, just in time to see the first wave of the thousands of neighborhood invaders that would arrive for Yankee Doodle Pops, which is held at the State Capitol Building aka one block south of my house.  Thank you so much, Sandy, for saving my sorry butt again. I wouldn’t have made it home. It would have been a coast into Clive, then a stop at every bar on the way home (in true bagging style), then bridge beers, three or four more bars, and me spending the entire day completely wrecked on the 4th.  I am thankful for waking up healthy, albeit sore, and motivated to get a bunch of things done at home (like re-skinning my drum kit and getting set up to record) before going out for a regular ole bike ride today. I didn’t make my intended ride, but I now know that I have a ways to go before I can just start plugging away at what I used to to on the reg. Guess I should go ride a bike…

Sam

CNB

WTB Byway: First Impression By Way Of A Long Ass Story

One of the catalysts to starting the new Project Pink build was a conversation about bike stuff with Riding Gravel partner and Trans Iowa mastermind Guitar Ted.  As we rode down the rocky roads of the Gent’s Race, he filled me in on WTB’s “Road Plus” movement (650b rims, 47mm Tires which are supposed to be “better” than running regular skinnies), and his test of their Horizon tire. We also chatted about their upcoming yet-to-be-officially announced more-gravel-friendly tire, which is now known as the Byway, and how it was superior in stability or something on gravel (you can read GT’s words on the Byway HERE) Then he looks over and says “But you don’t have a 650b bike, do you?”  I swear he flashed an evil grin as he spat those challenging words my dusty direction. Dammit. Accepted.

A few weeks passed, and Trans Iowa 13 happened.  WTB was kind enough to be a sponsor again this year, and they sent over tires for everyone who finished.  It was a really bad year for finishing, but a good year for building an entire new bike around a new-to-me wheel size, and I was offered up a set of Byways of my own. Thank you, GT, you are the best (If you know him, you know this already. If you have done TI, you may have a slightly different opinion of him. He’s also one of the best at punishing bike courses).

So I secured a frame for the project, and it happened to be the same frame that GT was running his 650b’s on, the Twin Six Standard Rando.  I’m definitely stoked on doing my own test on the same bike that he did his testing on.  I bargain basement shopped for the parts I didn’t have around, and started a wheel build order with my favorite local builder, Ed at Beaverdale Bikes.  He was also a catalyst for Project Pink, as he had procured some very special 650b rims last year, and it took about two seconds to decide on using those.  More on the wheel build later…

“You have a package on the way to you” sprung up on my phone screen.  The tires were on the way! There were the last piece of the pink puzzle, other than waiting on the wheels to be finished.  They arrived. I was so goddamn stoked. I’ve been on a tire search after my favorites, the Clement MSO 40’s, had finally showed me they just weren’t up to the task of hauling my oversized ass around the countryside.  New Tire Day is a thing of celebration around the CNB HQ.

My First Impression: The Byway tires fit neatly in the box in which they were shipped. Upon opening said box, I saw the gorgeous tan walls (TAN WALLS TIL SNOW FALLS), along with the smooth center that graduates to file-tread, then some outer blocks for stability when hitting the sandy corners out there. I decided to leave them in the box on my bench. I mean, I don’t have wheels to mount them on so why get them out yet?

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YES, that is my actual first impression. It’s literal. It’s concise. If you made it through the entire story of how they came to me, thank you.  If you didn’t, how did you end up just reading this paragraph?  My plans are to set these up tubeless on the new wheels, which will be my first tubeless setup on an “Adventure Bike.” I’ve been running tubeless on my single speed 29ers and my fat bikes (FATBIKE!) for a while now, and it’s been great, I’m looking forward to seeing how the Byway stands up.  I’m just really pumped to get this bike all built up and rolling. I am thinking of all the times I rode long road rides on my..uh..road bike…and how many gravel sidetracks I didn’t get to take because of my puny 28mm tires.  NO MORE! I truly hope that the Byway will bridge the gap between the dirt/pavement realm for me, giving a good fast paved roll and the ability to go off-route and tear shit up on the gravel.

Sam

CNB

Bikepacking Rant Pt. 1

How in the crap did Gravel Grinding and Bike Packing become such mainstream phenomena, and why?  Is it that cyclists enjoy the more welcoming atmosphere and different challenge that comes with the dirtier disciplines, or is it the major manufacturers like Specialized, Topeak, Blackburn, etc, who have seen the backroads as an inroads to increasing waning profits and are hard selling this “lifestyle” to casual consumers, or a mix of these and other factors?  Has Gravel Grinding become fun? Is Bike Packing the new Bike Touring?

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South Central Iowa’s Dirt Bagging Gateway, Adams Road

I prefer using a term coined by Bob at the Cumming Tap: Dirt Bagging. 

Dirt Bagging is the truly proper term for Bike packing. Bike Packing is “back packing on a bike,” which I suppose is ok IF YOU WANT TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE SUPER COOL SPORT OF WALKING.  Folks, if you are under the age of retirement and are of physical prowess enough to pedal a bike, walking is not cool. Walking is for malls* and death row inmates.

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It’s no shocker that I find walking a complete bore

DIRT BAGGING is truly bicycle touring on dirt. Are you a wanna be walker, or are you on a mission from the Cycling Gods to ride dirt and then do some camping.  It’s being a “Dirty Bagger” (the loving term used for touring cyclists) on the actual dirt. It’s cycling, not a substitute for back packing.  But of course these big companies that are pushing the “Bike Packing” with their ready made bike rigs (taking the fun out of building your own, but also making it easier for people to get in on the entry level), and their chunky, seemingly awkward attempts at frame bags and the like, don’t know what it really is (and what is it, really?) other than a new market to push their version of actual proper gear.  We have J-Paks, Andrew The Maker, Bike Bag Dude, Apidura, Porcelain Rocket, Apidura, and many others who are killing it with excellent bags along with Revelate, who is loosely considered the original innovator of the reckless-based bag system.  Maybe this all goes the way of Topeak’s attempt at cloning the BOB trailer (also excellent for Dirt Bagging), and this stuff will all be on the clearance racks or in rubbermaid storage tubs in the next year.

I’m actually going out to do some dirt bagging right now, so we will discuss this further in the near future. 

Sam

CNB, Dirt Bagger

The Good Intentions Tour

The Good Intentions Tour

Every year during Memorial Day weekend I have vowed to go ride my bike as far as I can, for as long as I can. This is a tour to push my spring limits, something to gauge what needs to be focused on for summer so that the fall gravel races are a little easier on the body than the early spring excursions.  It could be fully bagged out, it could be a dirt bagging trip, it could be a “credit card” tour with support and hotel rooms.  It could be anything, really, as long as there is a goal of at least 300 miles over the course of the four day weekend.

This is why it has earned the title of “The Good Intentions Tour”

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The fully loaded Ti Vaya, a formidable touring rig but not something to ride 100 miles a day in heavy rain storms. I will not be using this rig for 2017’s GIT

The Good Intentions Tour is just that. It’s a set of intentions (outlined in P1) that are more like a limit than an intention.  Last year I had decided that I was going to take an fifth day and ride a total of 400 miles.  What actually happened was I chose to take my loaded touring bike, I started a day late and rode into intermittent rain storms, at fried chicken, got stuck in a shelter at a city park waiting out a storm, made it to the Night Hawk in Slater, IA drinking with a team of woo girls that were woo-ing their minds out inside a sheet metal shed which houses the back bar at the establishment.  I rode north from Slater to Ames, IA, where I ended up in a hotel room as there were some very serious looking storm systems coming my way, then rode from Ames to middle-of-nowhere Collins, IA where I ran into BikeIowa.com founder Scott Sumpter randomly at a tiny bar, then rode to Cleverley Farms for the last historical Garlicpalooza.  At Larry’s farm we had a blast, but the next morning it was blazingly hot and humid and I made it to a convenience store in Bondurant, IA where I ended up calling a sag for my last 12 miles as I could not get my body to act right.  I don’t blame it, it had a reason to be hostile towards me.  Three Days, 99.4 miles. I couldn’t even bring myself to ride around the steamy block to get to an even 100. I was done.

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The fully loaded Ti Colossal, a killer self contained road-packing rig. I will be losing most of the bags and using this bad boy for GIT. At least I intend to. haha.

That is how it goes every year, first make a long list of good intentions, then say “fuck it” and just do whatever.  This year I will have a partner in Intentions crime, who has vowed to ride one of the four days with me (sounds like a proper good intention), and will then pilot Kira as my support in my quest to ride at least 300 miles.  I haven’t picked the bike yet, but I can tell you that it will not be my Vaya.  Day 1 or 2 will be on the Java, and since there is support involved this year I will probably just pack a very stripped down Colossal for the solo miles.  I can see this turning into a one day loop then a “tailwind tour” to wherever the time limit takes me.

No matter what happens, I am making my list of good intentions for this coming Memorial Day weekend.  I’m looking at routes, plotting miles, and looking at where I can stick a tandem loop in the middle of all of this, in addition to working in some #vanlife with Kira, and also putting together a bail plan for when I give up on my intentions and just want to go home to my lovely vegan kitchen to eat something other than road food.  That’s going to be the biggest challenge this year, spending 3-4 days on the road while still sticking to clean Vegan eating.  We shall see how that goes, or if anything goes at all.

Sam

CNB