August 2, 2011

Bike Camping - Summer 2011

For another angle on the story, visit Noah's KC-Bike Commuting blog.  It's usually far more photo-rich than mine, so check it out!  I'm still working on a good camera solution for rides... just need a better phone, probably.
These are always a great time - and so as soon as there was a date and a rough plan from Noah, I was all in.  Small challenges leading up to the event had me on/off with the overnight part, but I'm glad it worked out.  Bike Camping.  If you haven't done it, get on "the list" - which is to say, follow this blog, Noah's blog, join the DSR list.  There is nothing particularly special required to do these.  You don't have to be a rando guy or a commuter or a camper or anything.  Just be prepared to talk about gadgets, bike stuff, fishing, eating, life, nature, bikes, beer.  If you have a bike and a backpack, you're in.  If you've got a bike and a helpful spouse to drive your stuff to the campsite... you're kinda cheating, but you're probably in.  This isn't a "club".
We start our tale along an Olathe road where JDMitch, long-time reader, first time bike-camper, met up with me after a coffee-stop.  First notice, the Bike Friday with the Sturmey-Archer 3-speed internally-geared fixxie folding bike - complete with rear Wald basket and cooler, and front panniers.  20" wheels, beefy tires, and probably one of the more interesting bikes I've seen in years.  A technical marvel... and the rear hub alone gives me dreams of possibility for this year's "winter bike", OH yes.   That hub is what the ole' Redline Monocog needed!   We exchanged greetings and proceeded along towards about 159th and Lackman for the jaunt to the Overland Park Arboretum on 179th street.  There, we'd meet up with everyone else and begin the weekend.

We rolled up to see Randy Rasa's LHT (proprietor of TheDirtBum and Kansas Cyclist) near a park bench... in fact, he'd just arrived:  I think I spotted him along 179th street on the way in, panniers giving it away in the distance.  There were other cyclist about - I get the impression the Arboretum gets a lot of bicycle traffic along this popular stretch of road.  A thin, lean racer-guy on his Trek Madone, followed by a couple gents - one on a Cannondale - was enough of a timeslice to indicate how much restroom traffic and water-fountain use this place probably gets on a warm day.  

Did I say warm?  Hahaha.... uh, no.  "Hot".  
The Kansas City area, along with a large hunk of the midwest, is under the heavy thumb of a pretty decent heat wave.  I've lost track of actual numbers, but I'm sure records are falling and I know it's been reaching and exceeding 100ºF here in town.  I saw the "magic" 40ºC on a bank signboard just today... and I know those things are not THE most accurate around, but that's plenty warm.  My home thermometer is about the same, running a few degrees above what the "airport" temperature really is, but I like the shock-factor of those numbers after getting home from a commute.  Today my home thermometer might stretch to 45ºC, where-upon I will collapse in a heap of sweaty mess.  The only thing the cops will find is a cassette tape cued up with Midnight Oil's "Beds are Burning", steam rising off of it.  Personal hottest commute record may indeed fall today.

Noah and Richard showed up a touch later, Noah in typical style sporting a GIANT solar panel on his rear rack, charging this and that in the panniers below.
If ever there was a guy to follow out of town when the zombies come, it's this guy.  The next book I write will have a character based on him.  No really.  This, though, was the third bike-camp expedition - and per his admission, the lightest he'd ever packed.  

Richard was also a first-time bike camper, riding a rent-a-bike from his place of employment... a local company with a global presence that knows a heckuvalot more about bike culture than, say, the company I work for.  Packing lightest of the group with only a backpack on him, he was ready to roll out in style.  How he was going to survive would be interesting to see, considering just about everyone else in attendance had at least two full-sized panniers jammed with gear and rations.  No drama here -- not only did he survive, I learned quite a bit from his minimalist rig.  He's one of those guys where you can tell just from the first few sentences of conversation that he knows a thing or two.

The only two missing were Gene and Stephanie, and after a couple texts from Noah it was learned that a rash of flats was the culprit.  We rolled out ahead, knowing that they'd probably catch up to us.  The pace today was slow-to-slower.  Fully casual... I was looking forward to taking as much time as we cared to on the way out.  It wasn't as hot as it had been thanks to some morning thundershower activity, but the humidity was enough to hang your hat on.  Drink, drink, drink!  

We all rolled out and up 179th street's long grade to Metcalf, and then southbound towards Wea, Louisburg, Rutlader, and our final destination at Middle Creek State Fishing Lake, where Metcalf mysteriously slips into oblivion.  
Songs in head:  (and sometimes out of mouth...)
Elbow - Bones of You, & Mirrorball  
Bob Marley - Small Axe,Three Little Birds
Nature check:
Horses, a Donkey, and an Owl at 3am near the campsite.
Add in the usual squirrels, rabbits, and a wide array of birds like prairie warblers in yellow and some small blue birds, and it was a nature-rich trip, as well.
Gene's flat-fest woes continued later on during the ride, which, after hitting the BP station along Metcalf for resupply we adjourned to the local Sonic, and sat in the shade for a couple hours while we arranged to get Gene and daughter transportation to us for a final fix of the rear tire rim strip problems.  Some electrical tape was procured, and many tater-tots and cold shakes were consumed.  It was NICE.  We even got a visit from a guy on a nice Harley-Davidson who was paying particular interest to us, as he'd passed Gene on the road earlier and offered help.  Turns out I'd ridden with the guy before on a couple Monday Nite rides -- small world!  This particular Sonic will be part of my Border Patrol permanent-route return-leg routine from now on, guaranteed!
Flat fixed, on to Camp Swamp-heat...

Stephanie knows how to climb.  Wow.  She's part of the KSU cycling team, and it was a pleasure to ride alongside her.  I felt some of that competitive charge fire up on a couple hills south of Louisburg where, no doubt about it, it is quite hilly in places.  Mostly, however, it was to get enough of a gap from the group for a much-needed roadside nature break.  Two restroom trips at Sonic, and a third on the road, meant I was drinking plenty.  Feeling good, fresh, strong, once again - even with the laden bike.

Tents were pitched, and I watched in amazement as Noah's shelter came into form, as well as Richard's, who came with the lightest rig of the group - a single backpack - but was no less comfortable or well fed than any of us.  Less is more...

From then on in, it was relaxing time:  some dinner, some conversation, pondering a fire -- but the heat, well, it simply didn't happen.  Probably better, honestly, though it would have completed the image.  Noah's water purification rig was brilliant:  a Sawyer filter and bottle, a hand-actuated air-pump, the kind you'd use to pump up an exercise ball or small air mattress, and the nasty lake water was rendered clear and clean.  Tasted good... remarkably, like "water".  That Sawyer filter is on my shopping list, for sure. 

Later, to the lake where Randy and Gene, Noah and Stephanie, all cast in lines with decent results.  I may need to put fish back on my menu, and pick up one of those collapsible fishing rods while I'm out next.  Handy.  I was entertained enough just hanging out and watching the fishing, and the clouds... undergoing some moderate lifting that would eventually turn into a camping spectacle I hadn't expected.
An awesome sunset yielded a growing line of storms, rain in the distance.  We'd stay largely dry, but the rain eventually did come in for a bit.  Not until after we all gathered, silently, at the camp picnic table - stadium style seating if you like - watching and listening intently to the intense lightning and thunder show happening maybe only 2-3 miles to our north, passing west to east.  Amazing... surreal... dream-state.  Gentle rain began to fall, and we adjourned to our tents for the night.

I'm a light sleeper, apparently.  I got maybe 30-45 minutes total sleep - the kind that only comes when pure exhaustion finally makes it too difficult to lift your eyelids... only to have them snap open again by the next odd noise.  I'm not nervous about night-time or the outdoors... things like bugs singing, the occasional snap of a twig aren't reason for concern.  I'm talking about the "idiot factor".  There's one for every campsite, not matter how remote - and at approximately 2:30am, someone decided it was good time to cut down a tree.  THWACK, THWACK, THWACK... mumble, mumble, grumble... laughter...  THWACK, THWACK, THWACK!   Good lord.  Five or ten minutes later, I watched the pair emerge from the treeline with their "kill"... dragging it along the road back to camp for what I can only imagine was a monster bonfire.  It got me out of my tent long enough for another nature break, and a long stare into the now-clear skies above, the Milky Way, and the Big Dipper in full display.  Magic!   Tired.... Of the two "lumberjokes" the next morning Gene observed the next morning that "it's often hard to sleep during a campout... so, apparently some people don't even TRY."  Frustrating... but, part of the "public park" risk, I suppose.  Being too sleepy to fight it, I crawled back into my tent and fell asleep to the distant sounds of passing trains and a hooting owl somewhere in the nearby trees.  Not a bad soundtrack.  

The next morning, I was up like a shot at 5:15 with the call of the first morning birds.  Stretch, nature break (still hydrated, even overnight), and breakfast in bed. Pack, and hang out until departure time.  A nice morning!

On the return trip, the heat was coming on quicker than the previous day.  We stopped at the BP station again, refueled, and followed Randy's lead on a good gravel route north to "home".  Following Randy:  the best advice I can give anyone.  Just do it.  It never disappoints.
We jogged a bit out of Louisburg and ended up on Spring Valley road around 271st street.  Randy said "go slow on the downhill, there's a cool bridge that you'll fly right past if you don't."  At first, I was thinking of the term "hill" relatively... and we passed over a tiny trickle of water on a deck bridge which was kinda cool, but I hadn't expected a mile later the GIANT downhill, maybe 18% or better decline, with the old truss bridge at the bottom.  On full brakes, it was nuts... my road caliper brakes simply do not cut it with 30# of camping gear on the back, and they were merely "speed modulators" at best.  I overshot the bridge, where thankfully those that went down first had navigated to opposite roadsides.  I came to a stop about 30 yards or more too far, and had to back up.  Another personal case for a proper touring bike that can not only hold more, but takes stronger linear-pull or cantilever brakes!  The hill was so dramatic, so choppy, so fast, that JDMitch on the 3-speed fixxie, 20"-wheeled Bike Friday had one of his pannier bounce off the rack rails... and it was lucky that was as far as it went, as he came down the grade on full rear lockup.  Now, someday when it's drier... I want to climb that thing.   Whooof.  Nice hill!

We rolled on past cool thing after cool thing, Randy as guide... scenery unmatched along the old Metcalf highway route.  A cool wagon-wheel fence, and farm tractor mailbox holder.  Horses, cows, birds - past Chiles, past Bucyrus and the old high school building.. all smiles.
We all ended up back together at 187th and Pflumm, however, as - crazily enough after the rim strip redeux at Sonic the day before - Gene's rear tire refused to hold air anymore, again.  We even fixed it again, this time employing duct-tape - but it lost air again before Gene could even finish reloading the rear rack.  Gads... it was hot enough that the adhesive from the electrical tape had softened up, and slipped out of the way - exposing the spoke holes again, and causing the fourth or fifth flat on the "wrong side" of the inner tube.  It was a hard call, but why fight it... close enough to home base, I volunteered the SAGgin' Waggin' (a.k.a. da' VAN (said with attitude)), time trialed it home, and came back to lift him the final left homeward.

Gene, Stephanie, Noah, Josh, Richard, Randy... high-fives all-around:  awesome hanging out with you all!

All in all, like I said before, these trips never disappoint...  I had a great time, and I can't wait for the fall edition for a good camp-fire, cooler temps, and good Oktoberfest beer in the pannier.   YES.   

My advice for the week:  go riding, go camping, go gravel.... you won't regret it!

Thanks for reading!


Apertome said...

What a great trip! You can be that if I lived in the area, I'd be there. I enjoyed reading both Noah's account and yours, to get the different perspectives. That gravel road Randy led you on sounds amazing!

If you want any camera-carrying ideas, let me know. I sure wouldn't recommend using a phone, but not everyone wants to carry a separate camera around, I guess.

My thing is, my phone stays tucked safely in a bag while my camera hangs from my stem or in a handlebar bag, always immediately accessible. I got an extended warranty on my camera that covers accidental damages, so if (or when) anything happens to it, it'll be covered.

Noah said...

For what it's worth, this was actually the second-heaviest I've ever packed, with the first ever trip being the only one heavier. Before adding the solar panel and 8 pounds of Valve Regulated Lead Acid Gel Cell to my bike, it would have been the lightest I've ever packed.

Noah said...

I was "cheating" - All of my on-road "photos" are screen grabs from video I took with the Kodak PlaySport I had mounted on my handlebars using a FlashPoint Action Mount.