July 6, 2013

So, what do you carry?

   As I button up preparations for next week's Iowa Randonneur's 600km brevet, updating the seat-bag contents post seems timely, and partially prompted by a recent social media exchange.  The seat-bag list, something I'd posted on here a long while back, needed updating anyhow.  Even some of the items listed on that old post weren't included from my original "master" list from the first couple years of randonneuring, which includes now-deleted items like spare Lumotec halogen bulbs, an emergency rain poncho, and spare AAA batteries.  Those items are possibly still valid for a lot of folks, but it's amazing how my thinking and technology have changed over time.  LEDs have rendered light bulbs (for bikes) obsolete, and the rain poncho kinda makes me chuckle at myself... oh, how so afraid of rain I used to be.  The spare AAA batteries come from a time before I'd discovered the joys of generator-powered tail-lights, though I technically still carry 2 spare AAA batteries inside my fender-mounted backup tail-light.

Probably the best thing I carry along is a fortune cookie slip from many years back, which came to me after dinner, a few weeks after DNF'ing the 400k in 2002.  It's yellowed and crunchy, but I finally laminated it with shipping tape, and it remains a permanent fixture inside my seat-bag repair kit.
Good advice, lest I forget it out on the road somewhere.
The main lesson to myself, and echoed by the phrase I still utter when preparing for a longer-than-normal ride from the Warbird concerning the inability to pack a spare bicycle, is that resourcefulness weighs nothing and takes up zero space.  I don't need to carry a spare cassette, for example... that's silly to say, but, it's something I indeed packed along for the 2005 600km brevet... a brevet I never started, because I talked myself out of it in the garage after not being able to pack enough stuff.  (No, really.)  I had suffered quite badly from packing-paralysis after a couple personally remarkable DNF's in my early rando years, and for a while I got into the bad habit of buying ever-larger bags to carry an ever-increasing (and unnecessary) list of spares, parts, and tools.  A back-up rain jacket?  A spare chain?  You'd have thought I'd been preparing for an unsupported solo tour of southern Asia... not a (in retrospect) fairly benign local ride with reasonable distances between c-stores.  This, however, is how we learn... we can't discover "up", until we "fall down."

Cheers... as the waitress pours another round of bottomless coffee... it's 3am...

So, here we are - coming on 12 years since those first nervous discussions about riding a "bruh-vay", I still know that I have much to learn.  The list will change again, surely as I discover new frontiers... the 1,000km.... the 1,200km.... an over-seas 1,200km.... many frontiers left to discover!

For now, here's the latest iteration of the seat-bag list for ME, the 'Dude, and - specifically - not "you."
I say that for a lot of reasons that might not warrant mentioning, but, like saddles, shorts, gloves, and riding preferences, it's personal.  YOUR list should match your gear, your experiences, your knowledge and your ability to think in the field.  It's mind over matter - but the matter still matters, and how a problem looks and feels at mile 30 compared to mile 300 will help you realize that some problems can be overcome with ingenuity... others require a very specific item or tool.  Above all else, if you can't see the solution to a problem it immediately becomes difficult to visualize the finish of the ride itself... breathe... relax... think... know that you CAN... and execute.  There are reasons to quit, and there are excuses to quit... remember why you started... and know that you can overcome and finish.  The rest is just noise.

Ok, enough "fine-print".... 

Spares / Fix-its:
»  Three 700x28c tubes; unboxed, individually wrapped in zip-top sandwich
         bags, & secured with elec tape
»  Presta to Schrader valve adapter
»  Presta valve extender
»  9-speed SRAM® Power-link©
»  Four (4) small zip ties
»  FiberFix® emergency spoke
»  standard spoke nipple, brass
»  small safety pin
»  two Park® Super-Patch kits
»  three Park® Tire Boots
»  Spare shifter cable
»  one SPD cleat bolt
»  one 5mm allen bolt (rack or fender)
»  spare frame pump washer/cartridge insert
»  two post cards (for infor controls)
»  ballpoint pen
»  $10.00 emergency cash; combination of bills and coins for vending machines
»  2 spare ziptop sandwich baggies

»  Crank Bros® micro chain tool
»  5mm Allen wrench
»  4mm Allen wrench
»  Quik-Stik® tire lever, cut to shorter length

»  Single serving Clif Shot™ energy gel pack
»  single-serve Hammer "Fizz" electrolyte tablet

Medical / Comfort:
»  tin of Lantiseptic©  30 x 7, 5mm size
»  one anti-diarrheal tablet
»  four benadryl
»  two antibiotic ointment packs
»  extra sunscreen
»  Chapstick
»  Emergency space blanket
»  one strike-anywhere waterproof match

»  MP3 player & single-earbud from 
»  three small "lucky rocks" that kids & I picked up on bike trail once, and a Japanese coin from the Warbird
» the aforementioned Chinese fortune cookie slip

Clothing (specific for rides extending past dark, or known weather changes):
[Specifically for this 600k, mainly for rain and overnight chills] - 

» spare reflective ankle bands  (losing one is not a good reason to DNF or get DQ'd)
» Craft thin head-cover
» full-finger thin wool gloves
» Walz wool cap 

Nearly everything on the lists above has a story behind it.  
Three tubes?  Because once, in 2002, two wasn't enough.  Two patch kits?  Same reason.  A frame pump instead of CO2 inflators?  You can run out.  It happens.  Sure, someone MAY come along with a pump... but that's not a guarantee one can hang their hat on.  No matter what, you have to approach preparedness as if you will be the last person on the route.  

I have a lot of "that-one-time" parts, also:

SPD cleat bolt?  It didn't happen to me... but it really would have helped that guy I was riding with that one time.  Spare 5mm Allen bolt?  Same deal... didn't happen to me, but it would have fixed Greg & Karen's rear rack on that one 300k.  Who knows... the parts you carry may not be for you, but someday they might be.  There is something satisfying about fixing someone else's problem, too... we're all in this together.
Greg and Karen's issue was ultimately fixed with a couple zip-ties... but the SPD cleat issue was something that involves enough force and pressure, only the "real thing" would truly fix it.  In his case, though not ideal, he simply just "flat pedaled" it the remaining distance.  It's an example, however, of something one never thinks about completely changing the tone and feel of a ride.  

Spare frame pump washer and insert?  That did happen to me... upon loosening the cap to flip the cartridge from presta to schrader operation, a premature cycling of the pump piston shot the innards off into the grass beyond the ditch we'd been standing in to fix the flat.  Amazingly, I was able to find it... but one little mistake rendered the frame pump useless.  I'm extra careful now, should the switch from presta to schrader (rare) ever be needed again... but, I'm covered.  Further still, if the rubber washer suddenly decides to crap-out, I've got a fresh spare.

The strike-anywhere waterproof match and space blanket are an homage to that one "worst day on the bike" in 2002.  If I ever get caught in the rain on a cold night alone, I know that I can probably build a shelter and get a fire going.  Probably never need to, but it's a good skillset to have:  whenever I start a fire in our fireplace, or go camping, it's a great opportunity to practice pulling dry tinder out of a soaking-wet landscape, and getting a fire going when you've only got one shot at it.  Further, and keeping with the above, one also never knows when you'll come upon someone that's having a far worse day than you are.  You can quickly become someone's hero while you wait for the "bus" to arrive.  On REALLY long rides in the future, I plan to add an "airplane" size bottle of whiskey and a chocolate bar to my kit... master-guide style.

The mental stuff goes a long way, too.  It's not superstition.  Coming across a small trinket, a note to yourself, a small heirloom ... any of these things can snap you out of panic, worry, and anxiety, and get you focused back on the here-and-now, and a solution to a problem.  Anything that reminds you of why you are there, what you're going, how you've had it worse in the past, and maybe bring a grin to your face.
Music, I have come to appreciate it's power over me.  It's not automatic; sometimes it stays in the bag... but, if things start to become less-than-fun, music goes a long way... and consequently, I end up going farther, too.

Safety pin... what if something on your clothing is bugging you?  What if something rips?  Never know.

The SRAM power-link combined with the Crank Brother's micro chain tool will fix any broken chain.  If the resulting chain is too short to thread thru the rear derailluer, simply convert to a single speed, right there, and disable the rear shifting by undoing the cable and securing with a zip tie.  If you can ride a 600k at all, you can ride the remaining distance with one gear, whether you've done it before or not, and whether or not you have to walk the steeper hills.  You'll finish, you'll have fun, and you'll find out a lot about yourself in the process.

More on that Crank Brother's micro chain tool:  it's not available as an individual item.  I bought a complete Crank Brother's seat-bag tool, and took it apart to get JUST the chain tool I wanted.  The rest of the tool is sort of awkward and compromised, so I use real Allen wrenches in my kit instead.  The chain tool, however, was designed to fold flat against the 5-piece pocket tool it came with, so - by itself - it's practically flat and easy to pack.  The chain pin breaking leverage once provided by the attached pocket tool body is gone, however, so I use my separate 5mm Allen wrench for that function.  If you can't find the tool you want on the shelf at the local bike store, fashion your own... which is sorta what this involved.

Valve extender.  While I run Mavic Open Pro rims and can use the shortest presta valve tubes without any issues (and that's what I pack), the person that is riding with you may be running 60mm deep-dish rims, and starts getting flats.  You can't donate a tube to his cause if he can't get it inflated.

Spare cash.  Though I learned on the last ride that one can't always count on vending machines, sometimes one can't count on reaching a control before it closes for the night.  On the recent April 300k, we pulled up to the last control quite literally as they were counting down the cash and sweeping the floor.  We got lucky.  Still, with a little meandering one can sometimes find a vending machine in front of a store... and that may be the only chance you get at a refill on your bottles, or some calories.  On long, remote rides, cash is king.  Make sure your bills are crisp, vending-machine friendly bills.  Carry coins, too... sometimes those small towns don't have the "fancy" vending machines that take dollar bills.  In a pinch, a dollar bill makes a great tire boot.  A quarter can double as a flat-blade screwdriver for Look pedal cleats.

Always be ready to improvise.  Remember, most c-stores have basic tools, duct tape and some lubricants.  Even motor oil is better than a dry chain after a rainstorm.  Donate the left-over to the store staff:  they all have cars, and someone will need it.  Apply with a "Q-tip", slowly, one roller at a time - don't pour!  

Zip ties & electrical tape... they can fix almost everything.

I am deeply humbled by the fact that many people have mentioned to me that I have inspired them to ride, and have given them good advice along the way... but, I've got my inspirations, too:

MY litmus tests:  
Spencer Klaassen, local rando-hero and finisher of many 1,200kms and beyond:  on two separate occasions his bicycle frame broke during an event - once on a local 200k perm, and once in Australia on a 1,400km brevet.  On both occasions, he finished.  Roadside sticks, a frame-pump used as a frame-tube splint, electrical tape and pump straps, bits of Coke can used as shims and bracing.  The ONLY thing that I've ever known to get Spencer to make a phone call involved his bottom bracket completely disintegrating during a ride... and, honestly, you can't fix that in a ditch.  Even then, he started walking toward the finish before realizing he wouldn't make the cut-off time.  Spencer is an extreme case... quite literally, the guy doesn't know how to spell "quit."  

It doesn't always have to be extreme, though:

Ort of Texas, barely 60 miles from the finish of a particularly difficult, rainy 600k, suffered one of the nastiest flat tires I've ever read about.  The thing literally started falling apart and tearing, bead-to-bead.  Unwavering, he patiently fashioned the ugliest, gnarliest duct-tape & electrical tape tire boot fix, and rode it to the finish.  Far from perfect, but WAY better than a DNF or a long walk.  It may appear impossible... but remember... breathe... relax... think.... is it REALLY that bad?  Try stuff.  Finish.  

Also, remember.... even though you are riding a complete bicycle, you are really riding a collection of spare parts and fasteners... never forget that you can use parts from somewhere else on your bike to fix something broken.  Noah fixed someone else's threadless stem that'd started slipping during a Dark Side Ride once by donating one of his four stem faceplate bolts.  Technically, you only need two... and his technically oriented mind knew this.  If the guy you're riding with suddenly loses rear derailleur function due to a stripped cable pinch bolt, replace it with one from a fender stay, and secure the fender with zip ties. It doesn't always work out, but remember that your spare parts don't stop just because it's not in your seat-bag.  And --- note to SELF --- don't be timid about unbuttoning parts from your own, pristine and well-maintained machine.  Someone else's finish is worth it, and you can make things right again when you finish.  For the OCD guy in me, that's difficult to remember sometimes!  For me, I try to think of all of these things before REALLY raising a sweat about a roadside break-down.  ANYTHING is possible... however weird and improbable it may seem.  Finish.  

Spokes are a booger.  They are long, and you usually have to carry at least three to cover all the varied lengths between front and rear wheels.  Two FiberFix spokes will fix ANY of them - even someone else's - and don't require cassette removal if something lets-go on the drive side of the rear wheel.  They are infinitely reusable.  Mine paid for itself immediately in Texas on a rough-road 200k, where a Mavic Ksyrium spoke let go.  Usually a proprietary nightmare, the FiberFix worked perfectly on the "boutique" wheel, held it perfectly true, and allowed me to finish the last half of that 200k.  GOLD.  Absolute GOLD.   Get one.  

The best way to prevent 99% of roadside issues is to routinely maintain your ride, check things out, tighten, true, clean, inspect, replace before it's needed.  Cables should be at least "season-new."  The chain should be new enough that you won't exceed its service life during your event.  Chainrings and cassette should be inspected every spring, and replaced as-needed.  Tires should be the same rule as the chain:  make life easy, and run fresh rubber whenever you are able.  Make sure your patch kit isn't dried out.  

Of course, none of this means anything if you can't take it along with you in a practical fashion.
As lengthy as the list above is, it all, literally, fits into a standard cycling cap.  If I remove the spare tubes, the post cards and the space blanket -- the bulkiest of the items -- everything, literally, fits in the palm of one hand  (prove it?  okay.).  I can probably add the tubes and such in one hand if I balance it carefully.  The clothing additions, of course, are not shown... because they aren't always needed.  Below is the "no-matter-what", any-distance kit.

The complete kit will fit into a medium seat bag without any issues.  I ultimately put everything into a larger Jandd "Tire Bag", which has enough leftover space for three baggies of "mix" powder, and my wallet and brevet card.  Finally, recently, I've upgraded to a Carradice bag, which carries the same kit, but had room for more food and extra clothing without having to resort to toe-straps and rear rack lashings.  
From 50km to 600km, the kit doesn't change:  I just might carry a little extra food, and a change of clothes for weather changes.

(I like that particular photo of the smaller Carradice bag, as it really gives you an idea on size with the saddle for reference.  It's not THAT large, honestly - it's the smallest Carradice makes.  It handles everything nicely with just a smidge of headroom, and doesn't tempt me to try and take things I don't really need.  In 2007, I used something much larger from Carradice, the Super C saddlebag) and almost stuffed it to capacity.  My, how far I've come.)

You don't have to carry everything... you don't even have to carry everything *I* do, as some TRUE minimalists would still consider my kit to be excessive.  But, for me, it's really trim, compact, and purposeful.  I could get everything in my back jersey pockets, and carry no baggage at all.. and really, that in itself might be a good test:  if you can't fit it in your jersey pockets, you probably don't need it. 

Your mileage may vary.  

Preparedness shouldn't be paralyzing... remember to have fun.  Being prepared is a large component of KEEPING it fun when the going gets tougher.  No matter what you carry, or how far you go, remember:  

You are carrying far more with you than you realize.

and... above all else...

...you can finish.

Have fun out there!

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