August 21, 2011 by cynick | Posted in bike-jaunts , gear

’Twas a fine day for a bike ride.

We took an early morning jaunt from South Minneapolis to Jerabek’s New Bohemian, via West River Road, Ft. Snelling, Mendota, Lilydale, and last but not least, my favorite street in St. Paul, Ohio Street. The goal of that trip was to minimize our exposure to traffic and noise, and, except for the Mendota Bridge, we succeeded admirably.

A proposed alternate route up the bluff, through the switchback that traverses the Lilydale Brickyards, ended in early frustration due to the massive rainfall that had turned the trail into a veritable riverbed overnight! It wasn’t a path fit for Bromptons, or, any other type of bike for that matter.

The true highlight of the trip, though, was on the return leg: my odometer hit 10000! It happened just after the site of Cliff Jct., near the I-35E bridge. I had been watching it like a hawk for most of 9999 – trying not to crash – and thus, I actually saw it turn over.

Given all that it’s been through, it doesn’t seem to be too worse for wear, aside from normal wear and tear. I’ve been through roughly ten tires, maybe 15 tubes, three sets of brakes, one chainring, two cogs, five chains, two non-folding pedals, one folding pedal, two rear wheels, two sets of rack bungees, one fold-clamp, three rear lights, two pumps, one mud flap, and many light bulbs.

It has been transported on steam trains, LRT trains, buses, in car trunks and back seats, on a couple of boats, and of course, countless shopping carts. It hasn’t done any air travel, yet, but I hope to correct that soon.

I rummaged around for an early photo of it; the best I found was a shot from mid-Sept. 2007, about three weeks after I’d gotten the bike. I took that photo over to where it was shot, and used it to construct an “after” photo.

Of the visible differences, the most prominent is the upgrade from the 44-tooth chainring to the 54-tooth chainring. That change haunted my legs for some time, but now I’m well used to it.


Of late, I’ve been having some crazy notions about biking out to Montana on that thing, and even crazier notions about biking clear across the country – so I’m thinking that it won’t be another four years before I get to twenty thousand.

Time will tell.

First Attempt At Stealth Camping

July 15, 2010 by cynick | Posted in gear , stealth-camping

After incurring some delays related to my slacking off and agreeing to do some actual work for money, I finally made my first stealth camping attempt last night.

I figured it would be best to try it in a place that was a) close to home and b) familiar and c) relatively free of hoboes.

Answer: St. Paul’s Mounds Park.

At just about sundown, I headed out on my bike.

Typical to such endeavors, I was given some reminder that I was about to do something that probably isn’t 100% legal: on the way to the park I ran across a security guard guarding the Union Depot parking tunnel from felonious shortcut takers such as myself, and a police officer down on the path along the river.

I cruised over to Hoffman, and biked up and around to the top of the Bluff. My idea was to bike out to the edge of the park that faces the railroad yards, follow a path from there that goes on a steep decline down the bluff, and set up camp somewhere off the trail.

It’s odd. I used to run up and down that trail when I was a kid, but I don’t remember it being so utterly choked with mansized weeds. I wondered if the kids these days are just too busy twittering and such to bother traipsing around in the woods. Or, more likely, yet another invasive species had made a foothold here.

Eventually I settled on a spot about halfway down the Bluff, that, appropriately, was about 80 yards up from the site of the Burlington Hotel, wherein weary railroaders would rest before heading out on their next trip.

I suppose more practice will help this, but I always seem to settle on a pair of trees that are too close together, but I don’t notice that fact until I’ve tied up one side of the hammock, and then I end up swinging it around to some other tree which may be even less favorable.

The same thing happened this time, but even worse, once I finally had it hung, I realized that it was facing the wrong way. I wanted to be looking down the bluff, not up. So, I tore it down and did it all over again.

By 9:30pm, I was finally situated. Hot and sweaty and tired, but situated.

I sat back and listened to all of the sounds around me. Some were natural, but most were industrial: lots of train traffic on the mainlines, with wheels screeching around the banked curve at East Hoffman, plus the CP house switcher going up and back shoving cars around, with bell ringing constantly, plus the occassional distant boom of a freight car slamming into another car down in the hump yard.

A light plane kept circling above me; it was probably doing touch-and-goes at the airport. A helicopter blasted directly overhead. Cars and trucks – and the occasional pair of glasspack-bearing, riced-out street racers – flew by on Warner Road. I could also hear tow boats manuevering barges out on the river.

If you are thinking that this is hardly the environment in which to get some proper shut-eye, you are right! I was constantly being awoken by some jarring noise or other. But I have no complaints. I knew that would be the case going in.

The fact is that these noises provided me with some good fodder to practice some of the techniques that I was taught at the meditation retreat I attended last weekend.

At 1am, I woke up to a splash of water on my face. A couple of raindrops. Looking up, I could see that the clouds had rolled in, and it was getting rather windy. I got up immediately, put my shoes on, and went outside.

I thought about folding the con, but then I thought, no, I’ll stick it out, and try to get the rain fly up. The situation reminded me of a bit toward the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where, just as they are about to ambush some bandits that had ambushed them, Butch tells Sundance he’s never shot anyone before.

“One hell of a time to tell me!”

Yeah. One hell of a time to try to figure out how to tie on the rain fly, the source of many complaints of Hennessy Hammock owners, and whose installation instructions can only be described as cryptic, and for which there seem to be no good instructions available from other users, since nobody else can figure it out (or, in truth, everyone else is an experienced camper that knows what in the hell they are doing, and such instruction isn’t necessary!): under complete darkness, in thick underbrush, with a heavy wind, and impending rain.

Well, let’s just say that this endeavor was a bit frustrating. I did eventually get it on, but just as I was about to declare victory, I heard something that sounded distinctly like one of my stakes being ripped from the ground, due to there being too much tension on it from the hammock bungee stabilizer, and flying off to points unknown. (Another lesson: carry spare stakes!)


But, during my brief, fruitless hunt for my escaped stake, I saw that my hammock was swinging just above a giant vine, probably the same piece of vegetation that had been poking me in the ass all night long. I tied the hammock and rainfly to that, and all was well.

I got situated again. Hot and sweaty and tired, but situated.

Of course, it shouldn’t be too hard to predict what DIDN’T happen next: The wind kept up, but nary a drop of rain was to be had for the rest of the night.

After the adrenaline rush, I didn’t get back to sleep until at least 2:30. From then on, the trains and trucks and airplanes and boats went quiet, and I slept right up until the birds started singing.. at 4:30!

By 5:30, I decided it was time to head for home.

With the approaching dawn, I thought it best to take a photo to mark the occasion: first camp

I tore everything down, and tried to figure out which way out was best: back up the bluff, or down to the road. Since the trail was highly soft due to all of the rain we’ve been getting, I chose the latter.

Thirty minutes later, after crashing through and snagging on and getting whipped by grove after grove of those damned invasive weeds, I popped out of the woods into the field near Fish Hatchery Lane.

Hot and sweaty and tired, and covered head to toe with cockleburs, grassburs, sandburs and otherburs, but this time I was ready to bike home.

New Gear: Trangia 28-T

June 23, 2010 by cynick | Posted in gear

Well, the bake-off (har, har!) of camp cook sets boiled down to (har, har!) (that’s the last time) a choice between the JetBoil and one of the Trangia kits. Being something of a novice at all of this, I stuck with the facts:

  • I would only be cooking for myself

  • It needed to be as light as possible

  • I don’t really care about performance

The JetBoils are extremely light, to be sure, and anyone trying to use one to cook for multiple people is crazy (they really are made more for the solo hiker), but a large black mark in my book is their (claimed) need for JetBoil’s proprietary fuel mix. This reminds me of the old days back at the Radio Shack when the annoying, slovenly nerds behind the counter would insist that their crappy electronic gizmos would run best with Tandy batteries. In the _very _old days, customers of Radio Shack were probably smart enough to know that 1.5 volts is 1.5 volts.. but I digress. No, somehow – and I admit this is probably slightly irrational – I just don’t like the idea of carrying pressurized gas around, or even white gas. Another black mark is the high cost: $99 everywhere (does Steve Jobs handle their price controls?), plus more if you want accessories like coffee presses and such.

On the other hand, the Trangia kits are designed around an alcohol burner whose design goes back to 1925. Sure, denatured alcohol has fewer BTUs than the other fuels, which means cooking takes longer, but in my case, this isn’t a factor, not to mention that suitable alcohol can be obtained almost anywhere.

And indeed, as the title of this post implies, I bought a Trangia kit that is also known as the “Mini Trangia”: it is simply the burner, a pot, and a non-stick pan. Only for $35. Since the burner is sealable, I can fill it with fuel before a trip, and get multiple burns from it before having to use any of the extra fuel I’ll carry in a small plastic bottle.

My tests on a perfectly frictionless surface (okay, my stovetop) show that this thing can boil water in ten minutes. Hey, I don’t think boiling water in the kettle on my stove is any faster! Of course, out in, shall we say.. imperfect conditions, performance might be quite worse. I’m going to try a real test very soon.

Here is what it looks like in the throes of making oatmeal:

New Gear: Hennessy Hammock

June 8, 2010 by cynick | Posted in gear

Some of my bike rides this summer will very likely take longer than a day. It always bothers me to stay in hotels when all I really need is a roof for a few hours (it’s a pity the capsule hotel hasn’t taken off in this country), so, with that, and the fact that I don’t have any income at the moment, I’ve been investigating stealth camping.

The general idea is to bike until it gets dark, and then find a place in the woods some distance off the trail, set up a shelter, sleep, and tear it all down and leave as soon as possible the next morning before anyone notices you are there. The finer points of such camping (eg., avoiding high traffic paths that will teem with deer, rabbits, drunk teenagers, and other creatures all night long) are readily found via a few google searches; for me, though, I had to decide what kind of shelter I wanted to get.

The search boiled down to either a Hennessy Hammock or a Sierra Designs Light Year 1 tent.

I eventually settled on a Hennessy Expedition A-Sym.

Some of the benefits of the hammock over a tent:

  • The whole thing – hammock and rain fly – easily rolls up into my Brompton bag, and it only weighs 2.75 pounds.

  • If handled properly, it will never even touch the ground, so there are no worries about finding dry, level, rock-free ground.

  • No damage is done to the environment, which is line with the photographer mantra, “Take only photos, leave only footprints”

As it turns out, my colleague (and Scout  Master) Ry4an has had one of these things for many years, and has used it extensively, in both fair and foul weather. So, I think I chose wisely!

I’ve been practicing setting it up in various tracts of woods around Saint Paul. I immediately found some of Ry4an’s advice to be true: it is best to set it up, sit in it to stretch out the cords, and then completely retie it.

Yesterday afternoon, while hanging out in the thing in Mounds Park, just watching the clouds roll by, it occurred to me that it is really a kind of portable screened-in porch! I’ve never before been able to simply sit in woods and enjoy their sounds and sights without constantly worrying about ants, mosquitoes, spiders, and other (perhaps) imagined interlopers – until now.

Since the thing is so easy to set up, I don’t see anything wrong with making it a regular part of my gear, and setting it up for short periods of time just to take a nap or read a book whenever I feel like it.

I plan on having a test overnight adventure soon; then we shall see in fact how bug-proof it really is. First, though, I have to do some homework on lightweight cooking gear.