Sunday, August 30, 2015

Recumbent Retreat 2015

2 trikes, gear and 3 cases of wine!
Once again, I had a great time at the Recumbent Retreat this year. I was joined on the 2 day tour to the coast by my friend Barbara. This is my 11th retreat and I always look forward to this ride. We had a generous offer from another cycling friend, Kathi, who picked us up in her minivan to bring us over the southwest hills of Portland. I sat in Myrtle to make room for all our gear, trikes and 3 cases of wine. Kathi decided the safest place for us to start would be the Banks/Vernonia Linear trail head. That saved us 20 miles and over a 1,000 feet of climbing. Nice - thanks Kathi!!

The Banks/Vernonia trail is a fantastic 20 mile paved path through forest and farmland. Being an old train line the inclines are very gradual with no more than 2% grade but there is 1,000 feet of climbing to the highest point. We stopped along the way to pick blackberries for our morning oatmeal. The bushes were over flowing with berries. This summer in Portland has been brutally hot and we were very lucky to get temperatures in the low 80's with a light breeze. 

At the Banks/Vernonia trail head

We pulled over to let the horses pass
The trail also allows horses and we pulled over to let them pass without incident. One short section of this path has hairpin turns where a trestle bridge used to be. The path is very steep going down and then back up.

I often meet trikers somewhere along this trail during my yearly pilgrimage and expect they are also on their way to the retreat. It always surprises me when the trikers have never heard of the recumbent retreat. Today we met a couple with Terra trikes in their truck bed driving to Stub Stewart State Park. Maybe they'll go to the retreat next year.

Barbara and I made it to downtown Vernonia in the mid afternoon stopping for a delicious lunch at the Mediterranean inspired Blue House cafe. We bought a few baklava to-go for later. Then we went to the market to pick up supplies for dinner and lunch for day 2 of our tour. We found a loaf of Dave's Killer Bread and added avocado, cucumber and onion to make sandwiches for dinner. Banana, almond butter and honey sandwiches with fruit would keep us fueled for our ride over the coastal range. Yum!!

Big Eddy hiker/biker site
Leaving Vernonia, we rode back to the trail for the last few miles around Lake Vernonia and then out to Big Eddy County Park on Hwy 47. The hosts at this campground are always very nice. The hiker/biker area is $7 per tent and there are picnic tables but no water or electricity. The hosts let us use outlets from the closest RV site to charge up our phones, batteries and other electronics. The water used to have a strong pungent smell of iron but that has been cleared up. The water was always safe but the smell used to make me nauseous. 

This area is big logging country but every year there is less and less truck traffic to deal with. The sound of logging trucks loudly rumbling passed the campground used to be a constant companion. The heavily loaded trucks would start rolling by at 3 am and make sleeping difficult even with ear plugs. This year the roaring trucks were more occasional than constant.

I also got to try out my new camping gear. I was excited to have a new 2 person tent, sleeping bag and pad this year. The bigger tent felt so luxurious and the wider pad made a huge difference to my comfort. The new bag has more room in the feet than my old bag and was so thick with down I felt very cozy. All my new gear provided a noticeable improvement and I actually slept well. Until now, I didn't think that was possible. After this night's sleep I feel much better about tent camping.

The only hiccup was I bought the wrong fuel for my alcohol stove. I mistakenly picked up 90% Isopropyl alcohol instead of denatured alcohol cooking fuel. I didn't understand the difference and there is a big difference! Isopropyl alcohol burns very dirty and sooty and it took a long time to boil water for after dinner tea. The flame was wide and orange instead of blue. My pot was coated in grimy black soot and the handles even melted a bit. I really didn't want to use that fuel again so I knocked on some RV camper doors to see if I could find better alcohol. All anyone had was more isopropyl. Oh my, what would we do without coffee in the morning?! Luckily, the campground hosts came through offering to boil water in the morning for our coffee. Phew - crisis averted! Riding 63 miles over the coastal range without coffee is almost unthinkable.

Banks/Vernonia Linear Trail
We gratefully stopped at the host's RV in the morning for glorious boiled water for coffee. Then we got our trikes loaded and pushed off down the road around 9 am. There used to be a bar in Birkenfeld to stop at 15 miles into this ride. They had fabulous berry shakes and I would usually get food to go for later. Now the bar is only open on weekends and the area seems to have fallen on hard times. We did stop to use the facilities at a modern Mist fire station. The firemen didn't hesitate to let us in.

Video of my ride with Barbara to the Retreat

Kathi surprised us by pulling over on her way to the retreat just as we arrived at the Jewell Elk Preserve. We were almost to the start of the climb over the coastal range when she took all our gear substantially lightening our load. Wow! Sagged at the most difficult part of the trip. Great timing!

Using the facilities at the fire house in Mist
The ride over the coastal range isn't especially hard. It's 6.5 miles ascending at a constant 6% grade. We had overcast skies which kept temperatures lower. There have been years where the heat made the ride very difficult. Some years a huge elk herd is visible in the meadow but none were out today. Once over the top we had sweeping downhills on smooth pavement with canopied forested roads. It was fantastic. The next stop was at the fish hatchery at the bottom of the hill. They have rest rooms right at the perfect time. The last 20 miles is along the Young's River and there is a surprising amount of short steep climbs. Little by little the road gets busier until the intersection with Hwy 101. Usually we take the Lewis and Clark bridge over the Lewis and Clark River but it was closed for repairs. We spent some time to see if there was a way around the construction equipment but we had to turn around. Instead of taking the traffic laden and narrow Young's Bay bridge we called friends and got a ride the last few miles. Thanks for a fun ride Barbara!

The Recumbent Retreat was fantastic, the best yet. Even though the retreat officially starts on Friday, almost everyone had arrived on Thursday by the time we got there. The retreat is run by OHPV (Oregon Human Vehicle Association) and they did an outstanding job. Every year, they reserve 2 loops at Ft. Stevens State Park the same weekend in August. Over 100 riders attend. This year's retreat was so much more relaxed than any in the past. There were lots of new faces and everyone had a great time.

Raffle prizes call out has a captive audience
Ft Stevens is a terrific campground.

Peter Iredale shipwreck in the sand at sunset
On friday night, Lonnie, The Capt, led 20 riders on a wonderful twilight route through the park to the beach. The deep orange sunset added drama to the Peter Iredale shipwreck remains in the sand and pounding surf. This was the first year Lonnie led this ride but I think it has become an instant classic.  We returned to the park to join everyone else for smores around the campfire. There had been light rain throughout the day but the night cleared up nicely. The next day is crowded with events starting with a breakfast ride to various restaurants. Then there's the photo shoot followed by more rides through the park or out to the Young's River waterfall. The potluck dinner had a huge amount of fabulous food.

Twilight ride
I brought some local wine that is made using a recumbent trike to crush the grapes. Kathi found room in the van for 3 cases of Recumbent Red and Recumbent Riesling that was sold to raise money for OHPV. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of it and the wine was good too.

Local Oregon wine made using a recumbent trike to crush the grapes.
The highlight of the retreat is the lighted bike parade. This year so many people went all out with lights. Jeff, the champion cat herder, expertly led us, at a relaxed pace, through all the loops in the campground. The parade is hilarious! The lighted bike parade is such a well known event that lots of campers return every year to watch. Some campers even light up their sites to join in the fun.

Getting lit up for the parade

Video of the Recumbent Retreat event

Everyone really went all out with the lights this year.

The retreat is the highlight of summer but at the end of the weekend I also feel like summer is coming to a close. Since my next tour is going to start in another 2 weeks I didn't feel like I wanted to take the time to pedal home and Lonnie gave me a ride back to Portland. Thanks Lonnie!!

Thanks to everyone for making this another fantastic Recumbent Retreat. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Touring Gear Upgrades.

Trailer with 75 lbs of gear I carted through Mexico in 2007
Although I've done 2 tours in the US, most of my previous tours have been in foreign countries. I camped a lot on my first tour in 2007 riding down the Pacific Coast but since then, not so much. My imagination always got the best of me and I never slept well. I've been analyzing why camping has been so uncomfortable.

Even though I haven't often camped over the last few years, I always carry camping gear. I need to be prepared for areas where camping might be the only option at the end of the day.  And I have used my camping gear surprisingly often - just not usually in campgrounds.  Sometimes, especially in Asia, hotel beds can be nothing more than a very thin mattress on a thick concrete slab. This is where an air mattress is indispensable.  In every country, I've found myself in poorer villages where hotel rooms were sketchy. Sometimes the beds are downright creepy. Often, I use my sleeping bag when I don't have the courage to get into the sheets. Having a sleeping bag on tour is important for a good night's sleep. Even in SE Asia, where the weather was too hot for a sleeping bag, I often used a bag liner for peace of mind. 

On my upcoming tour, I've decided to stay in the US where I'll be riding through Oregon, Idaho and Utah on my way to the Southern Tier. There are beautiful national parks throughout the route with great camping opportunities. For this tour, I'll be camping much more often. With this in mind, I looked over my gear to see if upgrades could make camping more comfortable. I ended up doing a complete overhaul.  

For the last 5 years, I've been using a Big Agnes Copper Spur 1 person tent. It's a great, ultralight tent and super easy to set up but too small to keep all my gear inside while I sleep. I spent some time going over gear lists from long distance cyclists and noticed using a 2 person tent is popular. REI had a sale at the beginning of summer and I picked up a Copper Spur 2 person at a good price.  At first, I bought the Mountain Glow version which comes with LED lights built into the tent but I ended up returning that for the standard 2 person tent. 

2 person Mountain Glow (left)  next to 1 person Copper Spur

My air mattress also had comfort issues. Even though it is a full size Exped 20"x72", it isn't wide enough to lay with my arms at my side. I typically sleep on my back and my arms are always laying on the tent floor. Not so comfortable. While I was at REI, I found an Thermarest Xtherm Neo Air pad that is 25" wide. The R-rating is 5.7 which may be the warmest pad on the market.  I did a short video showing the difference between the 2 pads:

I also really like to cook. During my summers in Portland I rarely eat in restaurants. I'm not a fancy chef but I enjoy eating good, simple, healthy and tasty food. Over the years, I've discovered my body is more comfortable eating a diet rich in plant foods with only a little meat. I don't eat meat every day. Last summer I learned that eliminating nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, all peppers, artichokes ...) cured chronic low back pain and stiffness. It was impressive that diet had such a huge impact on my health. 
 The way my eating has changed is far from the usual American diet. I want to cook more on tour to eat healthier meals than what I would find in diners.  The challenge is also appealing.

In the past, I've carried a canister stove with a pot mostly to boil water for coffee and make oatmeal in the morning.  My canister stove is a Snow Peak and doesn't work with canisters offered in Europe, Morocco or Turkey. Since I was only boiling water it made sense to switch to a simpler alcohol stove on those tours. The biggest difference in performance between the stoves is canister stoves offer flame control and simmering is possible. Alcohol stoves don't have flame adjustment.

For my next tour, I'll expand the kitchen to include both canister and alcohol stoves with a lightweight (7 oz) 8" MSR frying pan. This way I can cook pasta, rice or boil potatoes in the pot while frying up or steaming veggies. Not only will I be carrying more cooking gear but I'll also be packing more condiments such as olive oil, vinegar, honey and tamari with various spices.  In a previous post, I showed how to make hummus on the road and look forward to trying out that recipe while camping too.

New kitchen

I have always carried a can opener with cutlery, a tupperware container for leftovers and my Planetary Designs french press cup. This french press makes such a good cup of coffee I use it even when I'm not touring. 

Planetary Designs french press mug

Western Mountaineering Alpinlite bag
I'm happy with these changes but my biggest upgrade is to my sleeping bag. For the last 8 years I've used a Feathered Friends 30 degree bag. It was a very nice bag but I made a big mistake by keeping it stored in the stuff sack too long.  After so many years of being compressed for months at a time, the down got clumped up to the point it wouldn't fluff up anymore. Lesson learned. I splurged for a really nice and plush 20 degree Western Mountaineering Alpinlite bag. I went with the 5' 6" woman's bag which fit me perfectly. This sleeping bag is very expensive but I expect to get my money's worth especially after having the last bag for 8 years while not knowing how to care for it. 

My kitchen equipment has added about 1.5 lbs of weight. The extra food for cooking will add much more weight.  My camping gear upgrades have added 2 lbs to what I previously carried. My new Olympus OMD M5 Mark ii camera with 12-40mm lens,  Arkel handlebar bag and tripod has added 4 lbs from the little Panasonic Lumix p&s I used for my last few tours. The last upgrade I made is to replace my stolen MacAir with a MacBook pro. This has added an additional .5 lb. 

Over the last few tours, I had gradually whittled my gear weight down to around 35 lbs. On my last flight I strapped the panniers together and they weighed in at 23 lbs. This is a long way from the 75 lbs I trailered through Mexico on my first tour in 2007.  Even still, I think I'll be approaching 50 lbs for this upcoming tour. It's a lot of weight but not unusual for fully loaded touring. (I also have to add that I've lost about 75 lbs off my body since that 1st tour. I've still got another 15 to go and that will more than make up for the weight I've added to my bags.)

Tour with Barbara
Last weekend I had a chance to put my new gear to the test. With my friend Barbara, we did a 2 day ride to the annual Recumbent Retreat. This was my 11th year attending and I've always ridden there. We camped out at Big Eddy county park outside Vernonia over night on the way to the Oregon coast.  Then we camped at Ft. Stevens for the weekend with over a hundred other recumbent riders. 

It was so nice having a bigger tent. The tent has 2 doors which made getting the gear in and out a lot easier.  Even with all the bags in the tent, I still had extra room and didn't feel cramped. The new sleeping bag was very plush and it has more room in the feet. Meow! The new pad was the biggest improvement. Having a wider pad made all the difference. The Thermarest pad is the most comfortable pad I've used so far. I was concerned that the mylar insulation would be too crinkly but it was fine. For the first time while camping, I slept really well. What a relief! 

Camping at Big Eddy on the way to the Recumbent Retreat.

After this weekend's successful camping, I'm ready and looking forward to my next tour.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Terracycle Side Seat Mount and Arkel Handlebar Bag

Arkel handlebar bag with shoulder strap
I've added a new Arkel handlebar bag using the Terracycle Side Seat mount to this year's touring kit that I'm excited about. Recently, I upgraded my camera to an Olympus OMD M5 mark ii mirrorless with a 12-40mm lens. This camera is much bigger than the compact Panasonic Lumix p&s I've been using on my last few tours. I love taking pictures while riding my trike and needed a way to keep this new camera protected and handy. 

Pat Franz, of TerraCycle, has 3 bags offered with his newly designed side seat mount. The Arkel bag is the most expensive ($139) and my camera fit in it the best. The bag is waterproof and the zippered side pocket will keep my phone, wallet, keys and lip stuff close at hand and organized.  The real benefit of this bag is how easily I can take all my valuables off the trike whenever I stop. I've left the shoulder strap attached for comfortable carrying.

Contents of bag
In the main section of the bag I keep my Olympus camera, a lightweight weatherproof jacket, snacks, Sony helmet camera and wrist monitor. There are 2 net side pockets. On one side I keep a small packable cloth grocery bag and the other side I keep sun screen.

The Terracycle side seat mount has lots of placement flexibility to get the bag exactly where you want it. Pat has also designed mounts for most of the major trike brands. The main bar attaches on the back of the Euro mesh seat with 2 clamps. The mount also has a longer bar set up to use 2 bags, one bag on each side of the seat. I'm using the shorter bar for one bag. 

Attachment clamps and shorter bar for use with one side bag looking down from the top and back of the seat.

The Arkel bag is designed to use on upright handlebars. The supplied attachment clamps are a good 2 inches long which puts the bag farther away from the seat. Pat designed and machined new clamps for trikes that put the bag right next to the mount. These will be especially useful for anyone using 2 bags. Very nice! 

This picture shows the difference between the long clamps Arkel supplies and the new Terracycle shorter clamps

After getting the mount set up, I had trouble getting the bag to go on and off the clamps easily. Pat spent lots of time fixing the bag. First he took the clamp attachments on the back of the bag and smoothed out the edges. This helped but the bag still didn't come off the clamps as easily as I wanted.  Then he looked closer and noticed the clamp attachments and the back of the bag were bowed. He replaced the clamp attachments from a new bag and then machined a new metal stiffener. Pat also added a solid piece to the bottom of the bag and foam around the edges. Now my camera is well protected and the bag goes on and off smoothly, like butta. The amount of time Pat put in to make this bag right is impressive - it's not even his product! 

The bag is close to the seat and within the width of the front wheels.

At first, I had the bag on the right side of the seat. I ended up moving it to the left side because I make sharper turns to the right than the left.  Occasionally, the bag would brush up against objects when I turned tightly.  Putting the bag on the left has solved that issue.

I have short arms and the handlebars need to be farther back. Just enough clearance with the bag!

I think this bag will be a wonderful addition to my touring gear kit and I'm very interested to see how it handles the elements over time.

Myrtle with the new Arkel side bag

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Making Hummus on the Road

I love hummus and eat it almost every day. In the past, I've used store bought hummus but recently discovered I have a sensitivity to nightshade foods. Most store brands of hummus contain paprika and cayenne which are also nightshades. Trying to avoid nightshades, I've started making my own hummus. Thinking of my next tour, I wondered if anyone had a technique for making hummus on the road especially while camping. I started a discussion on the Facebook vegan bicycle touring group and within a few minutes we came up with a method I thought would work and was excited to try out.

Hummus is traditionally made with garbanzo beans but can be made with many different types of beans. I decided to use white cannellini beans for this recipe. I bought 2 cans. One can was opened, the water drained and the beans poured into a large ziploc baggy. Then I added fresh lemon and crushed garlic, curry powder, tahini, olive oil and salt. I closed up the bag and used the second can to mash the beans and mix the ingredients. I squeezed the lemon into the top of the bag and the seeds were easy to remove. There are many wonderful recipes for hummus and you can add whatever ingredients you prefer. After the desired consistency and taste is achieved, the hummus can be stored and saved in the same baggy.  On the road, I will probably double bag to avoid surprises. 

Use a full can to mash beans and mix ingredients

The only extra implements needed are a fork to crush the garlic, a knife to cut the lemon and a can opener.  These are things I always carry on tour. 

Delicious hummus.

This really is a quick, easy and no mess technique for making hummus with ingredients that can be found anywhere.