The Things I Carried (with apologies to Tim O’Brien)

Probably the thing that takes the most amount of thought before I leave for any bike trip is what I’m going to bring with me and how I’m going to pack it all. And as I was biking through Utah, it was the question that people most often asked me: what do you have in all those bags?

So in case you, too, are curious, I spent part of a rest day in Moab taking pictures of all the material possessions I had with me–everything I needed for three and a half weeks on a bike, though I’m confident it would have served me for as long as I wanted. The difference between three weeks and twenty is not so much, so long as you keep washing your clothes and buying more food:)


Before I get into the details, this is what my bike entirely loaded looked like (picture courtesy of a super awesome woman I ran into at the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks):

touring setup

So that’s how it looked with everything packed up. It came down to this: two panniers, one extra bag strapped on top of my rack, a little saddlebag with my tools, a frame pack, and my handlebar bag. It weighed sort of a lot, but once I was biking the weight didn’t really matter, since as long as it was even remotely well-balanced, all it did was make me slower going uphill.

Now as for what was inside all those bags.

pannier 1(Pannier 1: clothes and food)

So this pannier was the heaviest one. The grey stuff sack was filled with food: dehydrated dinners (bought in bulk at People’s Co-op in Portland), oatmeal, nuts, dried fruits, energy or granola bars, veggies, whatever I happened to have on hand. The weight and bulk of that varied according to how much food I had at any given time, but other than water, food was probably my heaviest thing.

Aside from food, I stuffed most of my clothes in this bag. From the top left, I have one short-sleeve shirt (I’m wearing the other one), booties, long underwear, one sports bra, three pair wool socks, one pair normal pants, two pair underwear, two pair biking bottoms (one shorts, one 3/4 length), and my water-resistant layer. Plus, to take this picture, I was wearing (aside from the short-sleeve shirt I mentioned), a sweatshirt, another pair of socks, some shorts, and long underarmor. I did have some other clothes-type stuff too, but I put that in different places.

pannier 2(Pannier 2: randoms:)

This pannier was much more scattered. My sleeping bag took up most of the room, but stuffed in around it I had most of my pragmatic things as well as my entertainment things. From the left, I had my puffy down jacket (so glad to have had that on this trip!) as well as a quick-dry towel. The rolled-up blue thing by my puffy is my water filter. I didn’t use that too much, so I was glad I brought this super small and sort of annoying one instead of my usual MSR pump filter. In a plastic bag, I have a spare tube, a pink rag, and lube for my bike. Underneath that, my headlamp. Next to that, and this is a weight extravagance for sure: my maps, my journal, and two whole books.

Above my literary stockpile is my Jetboil, which is how I made anything warm to eat or drink (the fuel cannister for that fits into the Jetboil itself). Then I have a bunch of little things. A stuff sack with my camera and cell-phone chargers, plus four extra rechargeable AAA batteries. An orange stuff sack into which I put all my toiletries: biodegradable Dr Bronner’s soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, rudimentary first aid (consisting mostly of neosporin and bandaids), chamois cream, toilet paper and baby wipes. The black square thing next to my sleeping bag is actually some leg warmers that I’d cram around everything else if it wasn’t cold enough to wear them.

rack bag(rack-top bag, held in place by three bungee cords)

This was a fun one. The green bag is just some cheap Eagle Creek bag I bought at REI–it was convertible between a duffel bag and a backpack, but since I wasn’t going to be using the duffel function, I just cut off the straps for that. But why I liked it is because I could take it off my bike and use it as a backpack for dayhikes, but when it was on my bike, I could zip the straps into a compartment and get them out of the way. It was also the bag I used as a carry-on when I flew to Grand Junction (I checked my panniers in a giant duffel bag).

Anyway, this bag carried another random assortment. The blue stuff sack is my tent; the long bag underneath it is the poles and stakes. I liked having those in this bag because then my shelter was super readily accessible when I stopped to set up camp, without having to dig through all the stuff in my panniers.

The other stuff sack is my sleeping pad, a NeoAir that I splurged on before I left because it packs up so darn small and light. Then I’ve got two collapsible liters of water storage–I’d fill those if it would be a long time between watering holes and leave them empty if I didn’t need them. I put layers that I thought I’d want super accessible on top–my beanie, gloves, arm warmers, and some baggy shorts I’d pull over my bike shorts when I stopped in towns where I thought spandex might not be appreciated. My hiking shoes (really just old, dead running shoes) fit right on top of the bag but strapped under the bungee cords for super easy access.

Finally, I had my three relatively little on-bike bags:

bike bags(A Novara saddle bag, a Jannd frame pack, and some random velcro-attachable handlebar bag. Plus two water bottles in cages and a bike lock I kept coiled around my toptube)

bike bag contents(close-up of what’s in those three bags)

My saddle bag was just for tools: another spare tube, electrical tape, patch kit, tire levers, multitool, and spoke wrench.

The frame pack held two more liters of water (I always kept that one full–yknow, until I drank it) and, annoyingly, a shoulder strap for one of my panniers that I hadn’t meant to bring with me but forgot to take out of my pack. I also kept any trash I had in there, easy access for throwing it away whenever I came to somewhere with a garbage can.

My handlebar bag was for snacks and other things I wanted super easy access to: sunscreen, pocket knife, lighter, watch (the band broke, so I just kept it in my bag instead of on my wrist:), hair ties, sunglasses, lip balm, cell phone, and money.

And that was everything I had!

I probably had more clothes than I needed. The underarmor, for example, was sort of redundant with the leg warmers, and I probably could have done with two pairs of socks–but clean socks is such a luxury for me when I travel that I made room for them:) And my tent, which is a two-person tent, is bigger than I really need. But mostly, I had exactly what I wanted and exactly enough–a great feeling.

My MVPs? (Most valuable possessions, that is;) There were three and a half:

  1. My lip balm. Between the super cold days, the super sunny ones, and the super desiccating wind, I don’t think there was a single day that I didn’t use this, a lot.
  2. (and 2.5) My beanie and gloves. Gosh, it was cold sometimes. My ears and fingers were very happy to have these along
  3. My sunglasses. I actually really hate sunglasses, but I was quite glad to have some. It’s pretty darn bright out there with the sun reflecting off all those rocks and sand

After a few days, I figured out my packing scheme so that I always had everything in the same place–that not only made it easy to find things when I wanted them but also kept me from leaving anything behind, because it would be super obvious to me if I was forgetting anything.

So that worked really well for me. If you asked anyone else, they’d of course have their own packing scheme entirely different from mine. So if you’re anyone else and have any ideas, feel free to chime in:) The Jannd pack, for example, was an idea from Urban Adventure League, and I was super happy to have gotten that little tidbit before I left. So I’d super love to hear other ideas for improving the rig for next time:)

Southern Utah by bike: an exercise in containing my constant need to explode with happiness

Wow. Just wow. Southern Utah is no joke. For 25 days, I have been biking and hiking through one of the most amazing places ever.

This, for example:

notom-bullfrog scenic backway(the Notom-Bullfrog Scenic Backway)

Do you even see that road? Can you believe that shit?? Every single day, something like this but spanning the whole spectrum of landscape would reduce me to a puddle of happiness, so crazy amazed that this exists in the world and that I was lucky enough to be biking through it. Gosh. I spent a lot of time feeling like there was no way I would be able to keep myself from exploding with joy.

 river road(River Road–aka Hwy 128, which eventually follows the Colorado River into Moab, UT)

Canyonland Needles District(The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park)

Goosenecks State Park(The San Juan River as seen from Goosenecks State Park)

Island in the Sky overlook(Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, La Sal Mountains in the background)

I’ve been composing various blog posts and stories and anecdotes in my head for about 3 weeks now, so I’m sure I’ll have more details to come, but in the meantime some stats:

  • Number of biking miles: somewhere in the vicinity of 1300-1400 for the whole loop, including side trips (see my map, below. It doesn’t have all the detours, but it’s a good overview)
  • Number of hiking miles: I have no idea, but I went for some pretty epic hikes:)
  • Number of days with snow: 3
  • Number of days with crazy wind: oh my gosh. Almost every day
  • Highest point: 9600 ft above sea level on Highway 12
  • Number of times someone offered me a ride: 4
  • Number of times I accepted a ride: 2–one because I literally couldn’t bike into the 50mph, sand-everywhere wind to get back to Moab; the other because I’d just dropped off my bike to be shipped back to Portland and the shop mechanic gave me a ride to the airport (super sweet!:)
  • Most ridiculous campsite: inside a vault toilet on the way to Island in the Sky. More on that later;)
  • Worst road to bike on: Highway 191. No shoulder and lots of trucks! Even the few miles I spent on Interstate 70 were better, since at least there was a giant shoulder on that one
  • Best road to bike on: basically any other roads in Utah:) But maybe the White Rim Road (see picture below)
  • Bike issues: Only one flat tire. Super good luck!

I started in Grand Junction, Colorado, since it’s the closest somewhat largeish airport to where I wanted to be, but most of my time was spent in Utah:

And now here I am back in Portland. I really didn’t want to leave Utah, but now that I’m back everything is so lush and green and exploding with spring, James is here, I’ve been riding my super-light, unloaded racey bike, and I remember all over again how much I love it here, too.

I’ll be working on getting pictures up and, yknow, remembering what “normal” life is supposed to be like (what? showers??;), so stay tuned for more epic craziness:)

mountain biking stasia(heck yeah–on a mountain bike I rented in Moab:)

White Rim Road(the rented mountain bike, White Rim Road. Seriously, this was almost way too much. I’m a lucky, lucky chica :)

EDIT: Pictures are up! Find them here! :)

Guest Post: The Relativity of Flat

Hey, wait a minute–isn’t Stasia on vacation sans technology? Well yes, yes I am. But as I’m biking through Utah, the magic of the internet is bringing you this guest post from Dieter Loibner about his recent bike adventures in Hamburg, Germany. Read it and get psyched for international travel! :)

Ah, Hamburg. Germany’s second largest city, 60 miles from the ocean, on the banks of a huge river. A bit like good olde Stumptown. But that’s where the similarities end. For one, they don’t have volcanoes in their back yards here and the topography is rather flat. On first blush at least. Beer and coffee? Well, you’d have to come and see for yourself.

This city of 1.8 million also is Europe’s second largest container port. It has a long seafaring tradition and it got wealthy from the cargo trade, i.e. coffee and spices. It used to be a sailor’s town with the (still) notorious Reeperbahn red-light district. Here the mates, starved for amusement by months at sea, drowned their sorrows in booze. Here they paid louche ladies for sexual relief. And here they got the sh*t kicked out of them if they couldn’t pay their tab. Alas, the romance is gone on ships that are now turned around in a matter of hours and on the Reeperbahn that morphed into a cheesy tourist trap.

But Hamburg has much more going for it, including hundreds of miles  dedicated bike paths and routes, which makes it a prime place to ride the Drahtesel. That’s why I bring my strawberry-red Dahon (aka ze Falter), with a fat ECO sticker to boot all the way from Portland. Hamburg has city bikes, of course, but I stay a little bit outside of the center where they are scarce. With my own wheels I can sidestep public trans and still enjoy my daily commute to the magazine where I work, which is a 20 mile round trip.

Dieter Loibner(ze Falter, plus consumerism. © Dieter Loibner)

Every time I get here I notice that probably 8 out of 10 riders don’t wear a nut case, a helmet or even a bucket. They ride casually; they wear office attire and obviously are more worried about hairstyle than brain injury. Commuters mostly wear black – you gotta be hip – and many ride 3-gear Holland bikes. The video is for illustration only. It was shot in Utrecht, the Netherlands, but you’ll catch the drift. The upright position is very comfortable and surprisingly fast. Until you hit headwind or – gulp – a bitty hill.

Dieter Loibner(Helmets? Spandex? Are you kidding? © Dieter Loibner

 The weather in spring loosely compares to Portland, although Hamburg is much farther north. The latitude here is about that of Edmonton, Alberta, while PDX is about eye level with Venice, Italy. The breeze can be fierce, especially when howling from the western quadrant. In that case the morning commute is “downhill” (riding east into the city), but after work it’s 10 miles into the teeth of a gale. Makes you earn dinner.

Next time you grouse about traffic on the Eastside, you may want to think about this: Germany with 230.71 people per square kilometer is seven times more densely populated than the US of A with 32.22 inhabitants per square kilometer. From that follows that no matter where you ride, traffic is likely to be quite a bit denser, plus people in Audis, Daimlers, Porsches and Beemers simply love to drive fast. Because they must. On the other hand, many vehicles are puny, not quite the global warmers like you’d see in front of US schools, waiting to haul a gaggle of kids to football practice “safely” so they can happily bash heads with one another.

But there are oddities here, too: By anecdotal evidence I noticed a fairly high obedience rate for traffic signs and lights. In my own twisted analysis that’s because Germans have good memory. Especially for the operative word of their upbringing: VERBOTEN. Speeding bikes on rural back roads in Hamburg’s hinterland are kept in check with the creative use of cow grates. Kids though, riding to and from school are fiends. Riding sans lights, often without helmets, but not so rarely texting while pedaling. Cocky little bastards.

Dieter Loibner(Cow grates on some back roads rattle bikes, riders and teeth fillings. © Dieter Loibner)

A safe bet is riding along the Elbe River, this mighty waterway that’s full of oceangoing ships, barges, tugs, ferries et cetera. For some good cardio, try racing ships when they are sailing with the tide and the current. There’s a lovely bike path that runs along the northern shore. Just peachy. But fools never let good enough alone, so I tried one of those innocent looking cross streets in Blankenese, a posh burb on a bluff overlooking the river and the Airbus plane factory on the far shore.

After a harmless start, I passed a sign that portended trouble: 15%, 800 Meters. Holy crap! Even though it really was only 600 m, it promised a taste of the RondePDX. I also learned that the bus here is called ”Mountain Goat.” I found out why. Nothing beats empirical knowledge.

Dieter Loibner(yikes. © Dieter Loibner)

You think Amisigger sucks? Or College? Or Old German Town reversed? Well, try riding up to the Bismarckstein (the name says it all, doesn’t it?) from the river following the Falkentaler Weg. It kicks ass. But I’m proud to report that ze Falter with all of its seven gears and I prevailed. No stopping, walking or pushing. Just huffing and puffing and cranking.

Yeah, Hamburg is worth a trip. Bring a bike or rent one. But be aware that “flat”, really, is quite relative.

Dieter Loibner(flat. Relatively. © Dieter Loibner)

Adventure, and, ode to the partner left behind

There’s an old, handwritten quote on my refrigerator. I put it there years ago, and there it still sits–as pertinent today as ever:

“Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the slavery of Home, man feels once more happy.”

-Sir Richard Burton, Zanzibar

He continues:

“Excitement lends unwonted vigour to the muscles, and the sudden sense of freedom adds a cubit to the mental stature. Afresh dawns the morn of life; again the bright world is beautiful to the eye, and the glorious face of nature gladdens the soul.”

I think of this quote every time I scheme adventure, every time I yearn for adventure, every time I actually set forth. With tomorrow’s super-early departure looming large,  I definitely feel that sense of freedom, the fresh dawn of life, the expansion of the soul. With every loose end that I tie up, I feel one more trapping of habit slipping away–at least for the next three weeks, when I will replace it with the habits of travel.

And yet, home is not a Slavery. I do escape from it often–I’m sure James and many of you think way too often–but it’s not a Slavery.

These little adventures of mine are how I make life so sparkly. These forays into spontaneity, into nature, into exploration, into the unknown, give everything a lasting glow. The light from the bright world of adventure dazzles everything about life; home is precious because I have the choice, and I choose to come back.

I am so, so thankful to have people in my life who put up with my particular kind of crazy, who realize that this constant need to leave and return makes me who I am, that the fact that I can adventure is what truly makes my soul happy.

The last few days, I’ve been so giddy. So happy, in fact, that I almost wonder why I’m leaving. But it’s exactly because I’m leaving that I’ve been so excited. It’s because I’m about to embark into the unknown that I’ve been so happy with what I have here. And three weeks from now, having tasted deeply of adventure, I will come back to my home, my love, my rock–full.

I may be crazy. But I don’t know how else to be.

And I’m so fricken psyched about life right now.

So I’m off. I won’t have internet access and I don’t much plan to use my phone, but enjoy the Portland spring for me and I’ll catch you all in a few weeks:)