Saturday, June 26, 2010

8 days left, and someone is worried... (by Shira)

One more biker/blogger joining Eric and Rachael on this page. I'll be using this font to differentiate my posts.

Eric is worried that no one is worried (see previous post), so I am writing this to allay his fears (after all, if there's anything my people know how to do well, it's worry). I have two main worries: (1) my bike isn't fast enough, and (2) a Southern dog will eat me alive because my bike isn't fast enough.

In order to ease my anxiety, I've decided to spend the weekend making my bike faster instead of making myself faster by doing more biking. I already have a new set of skinny tires on my bike, so there's only one way left (that I know of) to add some speed to my bike: add more flames. So far I have spray-painted my bike black (thanks Rob!), and placed (one rhinestone at a time) one flame on it. I'm going to touch up some of the paint (while trying not to remove excess canal mud) and bling it out with a few more rhinestone-flames, so it will be in good shape to cross the country.

The next step is to shop for the ultimate dog deterrent. It's looking like mace is the winner so far (while my dad's suggestion of a water bottle with some ammonia in it was a close second, I think it is likely to ultimately do more harm to thirsty humans), but if anyone has experience with bike-chasing-killer-dogs, I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

11 Days Left and no one is worried...

The counter on this page tells me there are 11 days left until the bike trip. As I mentioned earlier, I'm not really all that worried about the trip, having done all this before (and the England trip makes a nice distraction). But it seems that none of the other bikers are worried either, and that worries me.

And to be more accurate, the trip doesn't really worry me, but the implicit "leader" position does. When Jason and I went, neither of us really knew what we were doing, and spent a lot of time shrugging at each other and making arbitrary decisions based on limited information. So I am concerned that the other folks will look to me to make good decisions rather than poorly-informed guesses.

At the very least, I am quite good at reading the Adventure Cycling maps, so at least there's that.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Naming Conventions

So I have a problem, and I need help.

When Jason and I biked across the country in 2007, we referred to the trip as the "Big Bike Trip". That name stuck and I commonly find myself begin long-winded stories with "On the Big Bike Trip...". But now we have a second "Big Bike Trip". What should I call it? "Big Bike Trip 2" (Or "II")? "The Underground Railroad"? "The One With Rachael, Shira, and Michael"?

But now there is another big bike trip, and I feel like a historian in the middle of World War II wondering what to call it. They had already had the "Great War", but now there was another pretty good war. The "Greater War" (note that this still leaves room for the "Greatest War")? Also, why didn't they just go with "Great War II" rather than go back and re-name the previous war?


What is the best way to prepare for a cross-country bike trip?

Answer: Little biking, busy with work, and 24 hrs (or less if possible) to pack. Or, at least, this appears to be a 2-data-point trend.

Before the last big bike trip, you may recall that I was working on a project which was due a mere 24 hours before our flight, leaving me with no time to bike or even think about the trip. Furthermore, you may also recall that I more-or-less had to quit my job. (Or, more accurately: I insisted upon going on the bike trip, which was neither approved nor rejected up to a few days ahead of time, which led to them half-calling my bluff by threatening to fire me if I was gone for more than 2 weeks. Of course, skilled diplomat that I am, I had already negotiated a job with a former office as an escape plan for just such an occasion.) This time things are more amenable with work (I love being a grad student), though I am heading out on Thursday to give a presentation at a conference in Cambridge (the one in England, not Massachusetts). When I get back, I have one day to pack my stuff up into the car and head to DC for The Traverse, and our train departs from DC half a day after that event ends. Thus it appears that in a similar way as last time, this bike trip is going to spring upon me without warning and that feels ok to me.

So we haven't been doing a lot of biking recently, though the DC to Pittsburgh trip must count for something. But I'm not too worried about this. They say (and I agree) that on a big bike trip, you tend to get in shape throughout the trip. Furthermore, we plan to start of relatively easy and work our way up to feats of strength.

Also, the packing for such trips is just too easy for me now. On any given day, I could probably be ready for a 6 month bike trip in an hour or two. So while we are organizing contacts and places to stay along the way and considering the number of rechargeable AA batteries to bring, that is really all gravy.

So while I am focused more on my Cambridge presentation, I am not really worried about the bike trip planning or packing. If the first big bike trip has taught me one thing, it is that problems are meant to be solved on the road.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Getting Ready (by Rachael)

This post is being written by Rachael (aka Rae). I will be writing future blog posts here as well. I've changed the font a bit so that my 'voice' and Eric's can be visually differentiated pretty quickly.

We'll be leaving for New Orleans in a hot minute. We are gathering gear, maintaining our bikes, and ordering the last minute things we think we'll need. After changing our bike chains (which reinforced the stereotype that girl spatial reasoning is crap concept that practice improves spatial reasoning performance) and break pads this Sunday, we did a wee bit of hill riding followed by a simulated post bike ride meal.

As Head Chefs, Shira & I prepared to cook on the stove we'll be using for most dinners on the road. Our goal with this meal was to determine if we have sufficiently large pots for preparing meals for four (we determined that we can rather easily prepare enough food using two pots). To make the experience as authentic as possible we shopped at Right Aid to purchase the food to be prepared.

Dinner consisted of macaroni & cheese made with two pounds of elbow pasta and the only cheese accessible -american cheese singles. This might sound gross but it ended up working a lot like Velveeta. Okay, it still sounds gross. We added a can of tomatoes and had a gourmet experience worthy of the road. The can of green beans intended for the mix was consumed cold while we were boiling the water for pasta. My family might disown me for saying this- but those canned green beans were really good! I'm feeling a lot more confident about preparing vegetarian meals that are palatable and nutritious.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bike Trip Details

Well, I realize that I haven't put any real details about the trip up yet. So here is the plan:

It looks like we have four riders: Me, Rachael, Michael, and Shira. Four is a good number, and I am now not being overwhelmed by girls.

We leave from DC to New Orleans on the train on July 4 evening (maybe we can catch some fireworks from the observation car?). The train was chosen because it provides a relatively cheap way of transporting bikes and gear. For $400 total, I can transport Rachael and I and three checked bags each (the bike counts as a checked bag) from DC to New Orleans. Included in the price is our own little 2-person room where the chairs fold into beds, and all of our meals. Compare this with the airlines, who only wanted $100 per person to take us to New Orleans, but wanted $200 per bike plus surcharges for the other checked bags. The train takes 24 hours to go from Dc to New Orleans, but we should be pretty comfortable with a room, the ability to walk around, and a laptop computer. Shira is taking a slightly different transport scheme and is getting a ride with Kelly, who just happens to be driving through the area at about the same time.

We will probably spend a few days around New Orleans doing the tourist thing, then we will set off for the Underground Railroad Route's official starting point of Mobile, AL. We will follow the official route the whole way up into Owen Sound (see map). As on the last bike trip, we will carry our food and camp essentially the whole time.

The only difference is that this time we plan on going a little slower. When Jason and I went across, we kept feeling the pressure of Time=Money and went quite fast (I recall biking through a Shaker village in New York, but merely slowed down enough to grab a quick picture). The whole trip should thus take us about a month if everything goes well, putting us in Owen Sound around 10 August. Of course, lots of things can change on a big bike trip like this, so don't expect the schedule to be clockwork-perfect.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bike Trip Technology Roadmap

So let's talk bike trip technology.

You may recall that on the other Big Bike Trip, Jason and I had a decent amount of technology: camera, camcorder, cell phones, even a solar battery charger. During that bike trip, we also theorized about bike touring "ultra-luxury" items, my favorite of which was a laptop computer. This would have enabled us to post on the blog, download photos, and communicate by email - a real convenience.

So this time, we are bringing a laptop. There are lots of good reasons for taking the laptop, but the primary one is to store data. This time around, we have several cameras plus an HD camcorder that records to SD cards (8GB per hour). I can easily imagine the photos/video from the trip being 100GB total, and SD cards are too expensive to buy 100GB worth (note that the video requires at least a Class 4 SD card due to high data rates).

But, once we have a laptop (and an external hard drive to backup the laptop, since these are pretty cheap and small), suddenly lots of options open up. Firstly, I can use my GPS to take tracks while we ride, then use the laptop to sync the photos and tracks to easily geo-tag all of the pictures as I download them (this sounds complicated, but is not). So we will have geo-tagged pictures.

Secondly, we can of course use the laptop to connect to the internet through Wi-Fi hotspots or through Rob's phone (which will work as a USB Internet bridge). Now things really get spicy. We can use the internet to put up blog posts and to upload the geo-tagged pictures. The Picasa tools for geo-tagged pictures allow people to not only see our photos, but to keep track of our progress on google maps, since we can display our pictures on a map rather than in an album if we want.

And, since my laptop already has Sony Vegas video editing software installed, plus all the videos and pictures stored, we can edit short videos right on the laptop and upload them to vimeo (and then link them to the blog). Also, Twitter messages can be posted by text message (from cell phones), so we will be able to do frequent short updates.

To make it easier for the viewing audience, I have centralized everything on the blog. The Twitter feed now gets ported directly to a sidebar on the right side (you should be able to see it now). The Picasa album posts the 9 most recent pictures to the top of the blog (right now there are some placeholder pictures). Also, for the lazy Facebook crowd, I have set blog posts (but nothing else) to upload directly to Facebook (If you are reading this on Facebook, know that the full bike trip info-blast is only available on the blog).

Saturday, June 5, 2010

DC to Pittsburgh Bike Trip Finished

The annual DC to Pittsburgh Bike Trip is now safely ended. 19 people biked the C and O Canal portion and 9 biked the entire trip. We had perfect weather and a good crowd with no slowpokes at all. We did, however, have significant bike issues including: a magically and suddenly warped wheel, one example of extremely dubious rack/bag mounting, another wheel which could not be convinced to stop throwing spokes, and a tire that was so frayed on the sidewall that the inner tube was literally poking out of it. Problems were dealt with as they came up (note to self: buy more kevlar spokes) and we kept right on schedule.
Because we had so many people, we tried out a new concept: a command system. We had four teams with four team leaders (Rob, Scotty, Ed, and Jason). People had to be on one of them, but could switch as desired. Each team could then decide their own schedule/breaks/pace. This seems to have worked out quite well, and even fostered some inter-team competition.
I'm not going to do a movie this year (though I hear a rumor that R might), but I will post a link here to our pictures (a mix of R's and mine). They are geotagged, though some of the locations are a bit off due to us not being in the same location at all times. Also, I will post links to other folks' pictures too, since we had such a big group and mainly did not take pictures of the same things.