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

A Few Of My Faves

CNB Bike Related Favorites Listing:

  1. Sarah Cooper – “Coop” is a local central Iowa endurance cycling beast. She has been on the “podium” of many of the midwest’s nastiest endurance races, and last year she flat out won Race Across The West, which qualified her for even more punishment in this year’s RAAM.  She won the Women’s Solo category in RAAM last month riding 3,070.28 miles in 11 days, 18 hours and 56 minutes, which also put her in 10th overall among these elite racers.  I will hopefully get to talk with her about her experience sometime soon and transcribe that here. Click on her name up there and read about it all from her own words.  Also, she put on a little thing called the Spotted Horse Ultra, a punishing 150 or 200 mile gravel race in central Iowa. (Sarah if you are reading this, I’m sorry I missed the party, work got a little crazy.)
  2. RidingGravel.com – It’s got the goods, and they know their stuff. Click the link and learn a few things.
  3. BikePacking.com – Have you ever had a question about Bikepacking (DirtBagging)? These folks probably have the answer. A wealth of knowledge for all you who like your touring dirty, or all of those who aspire, it’s worth a click.
  4. Compass Snoqualmie Pass Tires – These 700cx44mm tan-wall beauties are the big sibling in the “pass” line. Mine are in the ulra supple “extra light casing” model, and ride so nice I’d like to put these on pretty much any of my bikes that would fit them. Highly recommended.
  5. J-Paks GravelPak – It’s the “Baby Bear’s Porridge” of seat packs.  This Pak is the ultimate seat pack for long day rides, packing wet weather gear on your commuter, or keeping your “ride kit*” handy in an easily transferrable package. This thing has lived on many of my bikes over the last 10 months.
  6. Pink (the color) – I’m way into pink right now. There’s Project Pink, and it was reaaaaaally difficult to avoid trying to put pink ano everything on this beauty. If you have pink ano parts for sale, let me know. I’m starting to horde them for a rebuild of one of my current bikes.
  7. TAN WALLS TIL SNOW FALLS – That’s my new mantra.  The Compass line of tires has nothing but tan wall goodness, and the WTB Byway set waiting to go on Pink are a lovely tan wall. Maxxis, Panaracer, and many more can provide you with those lovely walls of tan. Tan is the new Black.
  8. Speed Metal Cycling Podcast – This is the only way I like to experience the thrills and chills of professional road racing, through the hilarious insight of Dan Skullcrusher, Klaus, Natalia, and Mike.  It’s amazing how a few huge doping scandals soiled this sport for me for life.  I remember getting the Tour De France special editions of the bike magazines when I was a kid, seeing these heroic young (and some old) men just destroy themselves in the name of winning “just a bike race.” Decades later we all find out they were also destroying themselves with performance enhancing drugs.  It’s a shame that road racing was just a sham the whole time. I’m totally in to not watching the Tour, but listening to these lovely creatures discuss the tour is awe inspiring. They also have a Name That Colombian page that coaches you on how to properly pronounce the names of Colombian racers. Very helpful.
  9. Dirt Bagging > Bike Packing – Tomato/Potato situation.
  10. Trans Iowa 14 – NO, this hasn’t been announced, and I half expect that TIV13 may have been the last year, but I’m sure GT will be reading this and I want him to know at least ONE person is thinking about what to do with his fall/spring “free time.”

Sam

CNB

*tools, tubes, air, rain gear, lock, burrito, whatever you take with you on the reg.

Sitting In The Waiting Room

Do you ever have one of those moments where you are dead set on doing something, like maybe some dirt bagging, but everything seems to be working against you, especially your own mind?  One of those moments where obsessing about how you under-beaned your Chemex is more important that achieving your goal (in this case on my end, Dirt Bagging)?  You have thought out where you want to ride, and what you might do when you get there, even searched out some local food spots to check out while on said trip, but actually getting your bike and/or gear ready has taken a back seat to whatever “squirrel” crosses you path?

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so distracting…

I am truly having one of those moments.  I know where I want to ride, I know what I want to bring.  I want to do some camping/dirt bagging up north.  BUT IT’S A HOLIDAY WEEKEND, so and the deadly trifecta of Explosives/Alcohol/Camping will be on the minds of every amateur out there.  So public camping is probably out. Maybe take the hammock for an overnighter.  It’s been a while, I may have forgotten what knot to use with the damn thing. blah blah blah

pileofbikesAll of my bikes are in disarray.  Well, all the bikes I WANT to ride are in disarray.  Save for the Warbird, but that’s not really my favorite flavor of dirt bagging sled.  The Fargo has a flat (easily fixable) and no Dyno system (crucial for 1. night riding 2. keeping electronics charged 3. Being Bougie), The Colossal is hanging up with no wheels (which are on the Warbird*), the Vaya wheel set is on Project Pink at the shop for them to use while fitting the brakes (same model/size/spacing hubs/rotors are being used on Pink’s wheels), I’m not in the mood for riding level gravel on the Lynskey SS or the San Jose, The Cargo Bike just seems absurd to dirt bag on (although comfy and plenty of cargo room), SSBB is currently sharing its front dyno wheel with the San Jose, The Tandem will be sans stoker for the week, the Fixie Chili seems like a bad idea, and the rest of the stable…I just don’t feel like riding. Pretty lame. Strike two. THEN I decided to sit down and write a goddamn blog post about how I was distracted from making this whole dirt bagging thing happen today. Strike three…

Does this happen to you?  Whatever happened to just getting on your bike and riding?  Why does everything seem so complicated today?  What’s with all the questions?  I’m picking a bike and just going for it. I’m sure you’ll hear about it here later.

 

Sam

 

CNB

 

*Quick Footnote Review of the DT Swiss DT350/Spline Wheelset: The stock wheels on the Carbon Warbird are just garbage. Trash. If you get a ‘Bird with the DT Swiss wheels rather than the HED Belgiums, just buy new wheels and save the stock ones for making holiday wreaths or something. I put my Son28/White Industries/Wiskey 7 set on the bird, and damn if it didn’t make the thing into a completely different bike. In a good way.

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. 2

Unlike most times I have written a “part 2” to anything, I resisted the urge to name it “Electric Boogaloo” or something else closely resembling the subtitle to the sequel to the classic movie “Breakin.”  Breakin was an inspirational movie for me, watching it at a young age on HBO, I decided I wanted to be a DJ.  That dream was never realized, and with that I give you part two of my disjointed rant on the Closely-Related-To-Walking sport of Bikepacking.

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I couldn’t resist. Obviously. I tried. 

So when we left off last, I was getting ready to kick off on a Dirt Bagging expedition which turned into a Tandem Bagging run to test out our collective camping gear at the Whistlin Donkey camp grounds in Woodward, IA.  There was no dirt, but there WAS an actual donkey (although, when pressed to produce a whistle it failed miserably), some really drunk people, and a live band who’s singer was hung up on his gout affliction. It was quite an adventure, in its own special sort of way.  Consider this past paragraph my ride report on that. Oh, and if it’s going to get down to 45 degrees, make sure you bring enough sleeping bags for everyone, or remember your emergency bivy. Lesson learned. Check the weather, dummy hahaha.

Dirt Bagging is the new Bikepacking.  You can spend a lifetime making up names for the same exact thing, but once Bob uttered the term Dirt Bagging, Bikepacking was officially OVER. No more naming, no more pretending that it’s a thing. I mean, we will still talk about it like it’s still alive, but in reality it is over.  We are cyclists, not walkers/back packers. Already covered, right.

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Read it and weep, corporate adventure sellers.

Honestly, I don’t know where this is going.  You probably don’t either. It’s late, this post is over. I’ll try again tomorrow.

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

Project Pink Pt. 2: No Fluid, No Shoes, No Service.

I feel pretty damn accomplished right now. Frame Saver has been applied. The King headset and PF30 BB have been pressed in, the Rival 1 crankset has been installed (after a panic search through the parts bin for the drive-side spacer), and the Rear (and only) Derailleur has been installed.  AND for the first time ever, I cut my own steer tube, chamfered it, installed the Star Nut, and assembled the front end. That was a big accomplishment for me, and I am stoked to cut down a few of my other steerers that could use some shortening.  I installed the Salsa Cowchippers, and the Rival 1 levers.

518732_862bThen I ran into a problem. The Rival 1 Hydro group, which was procured at a nominal fee, was accompanied by various hydraulic cables, two mismatched hydro calipers, one missing the pads, and the whole system was, of course, dry.  No fluid, no shoes, no service.  Shit.  I mean, I COULD just go NOBR AKES, but it just seems like this might be a ride that would benefit from a little stopping power. Maybe.

I have contacted my go-to hydraulic brake/bike build human about the problem.  I was hell bent on completing this project without dragging the unfinished carcass to a shop, and I definitely didn’t want to have to do this during the 30 days before the Brai.  I’m waiting on my wheels, they may be a week or two, so there is time.  Maybe I’ll watch a few YouTube videos on how to put this whole brake system together.  How hard can it be? I await a return message from my problem solver…

I really can’t wait to ride this thing.

Sam

CNB