Friday, September 27, 2013


Jen and I have been hanging out in the cultural center of the universe for the past couple days with one of my old Snohomish friends and I've had a little time to catch up on some interweb work that I have been meaning to get to for a while.  I get good feedback on this blog and one of the most frequent questions I get from readers is;

What are you guys carrying for this bike tour across the country?

To start with, I think it may be helpful to state that Jen and I are on a completely self-contained tour and camping 99% of the time while we are on the road.  We have stayed at a motel exactly once on this trip in Eureka and it was the biggest waste of $70 we have made thus far.  We are preparing at least 95% of our own meals as well which impacts the amount of cooking gear and food we are carrying.  Those touring with credit cards and staying exclusively in hotels/motels will have a much lighter kit.

The Bikes

I am riding a 2009 Surly Long Tucker retrofit with a newer LHT disk fork and an Avid BB7 mechanical disk break.  I am huge fan of mechanical disk breaks on touring bikes for both stopping power in wet conditions and ease of maintenance.

Jen is riding a 2006 Trek 520 with a similar retrofit front fork and BB7 brakes.  A 1-inch fork for the 520 was a little harder to find and required some welding for mid-fork braze ons to allow attachment of a Tubus Low-Rider front rack, but was well worth the effort to get a front disk brake on the 520.

Both bikes are rolling a Sugino XD 600 Triple 46-36-26 crankset with a SRAM 9-speed 11-34 rear cassette.  This is basically a mountain bike drive train that performs really well for a heavy loaded touring rig.  

Both bikes have the exact same wheel set-up as well.  The rear wheels are built on Shimano Deore LX Mountain hubs and Mavic A719 36 hole rims.  The front wheels are built on Shimano 36 hole DH-3D72 Dynamo generator hubs which power Schmidt Edelux front headlights.

I had both bikes built up at Second Ascent with very similar component sets intentionally for a couple of reasons.  First, having the same parts on each bike minimizes the tools and spare parts that you have to carry.  Secondly, I am a pretty hack bicycle mechanic and only having to learn how to fix minimal gear just made sense to me.

While both of us started from Seattle with just front and rear panniers, I had my Dad send my BOB Trailer to me in South Lake Tahoe.  The primary reason for this was the additional water carrying capacity for riding through more remote portions of the southwest desert.  I can also carry more food, beer and whiskey; which nobody seems to complain about at the end of a hard day.

Group Camping Kit
MSR Hubba Hubba Tent
Feathered Friends Penguin Nano 20 Double Sleeping Bag
Two Exped SynMat UL 7 inflatable sleeping pads
MSR Whisperlight International Gas Stove
30 oz MSR Fuel Bottle
20 oz MSR Fuel Bottle
Evernew Titanium pot set (1 liter, and 1.5 liter)
Kitchen bag (spices, olive oil, salt & pepper, absconded packets of catsup)
Aero Press coffee maker
Two tin coffee mugs
Wine bottle opener

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch
Canon Elph 100 HS Powershot digital camera
iphone 5
Two ipod Nanos
Kindle Paperwhite electronic reader
GoalZero Nomad 7 Solar Charger
Camera battery charger

Matt's Cloths
2 x Ibex wool cycling chamois
OR Nobo Shorts
Patagonia Nylon Shorts
2 cotton t-shirts
Ibex Woolies long-sleeved shirt
Patagonia R1 Hoodie
Patagonia Puff Pullover
Long sleeve cowboy shirt
REI Short sleeve collared shirt
Rab schoeller pants
Altra Wasatch running shoe
Chaco Sandles
Ibex ool socks
Ultimax knee high socks
Ultimax ankle socks
OR Stormtracker gloves
Fingerless cycling gloves
OR Radar Pocket Cap
Second Ascent Truckers Cap
OR lightweight rain shell
1 pair of cotton underwear
1 pair Ex Officia Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs
Pearl Izumi knee warmers
Old school Patagonia prototype red leopard print fleece hat hand-me-down ;-)

Jen's cloths
One Ibex Wool cycling chamois
One synthetic Sugoi chamois
One Title Nine wool skirt
One REI lightweight knit skirt
Lucy Pink Sundress -Jen is super cute in this ;-)
Marmot Lightweight zip-off pants
Two tank tops
One Ibex Wool T-Shirt
One Ibex long-sleeved Woolies shirt
Patagonia R-.5 Hoodie
Patagonia Micro Puff Hoodie Jacket
Two sports bras
2 pairs cotton underwear
2 pairs synthetic underwear
1 pair of Smartwool tall socks
1 pair of Smartwool crew socks
1 pair synthetic ankle socks
OR lightweight rain shell
Ibex wool arm warmers
Ibex wool knee warmers
Chaco Sandles
Merrell trail running shoes
Wool beanie cap
Short billed hat

Jen's Personal Kit
Contacts and solution
Color pencils
Eye glasses
Girl stuff
Grapefruit extract
2 handkerchiefs
16 oz insulated Clean Canteen
Pepper spray
Reflective riding vest
Golight 15 liter frameless pack

Matt's Personal Kit
One paperback book (down from three when we started)
50 feet of parachute cord
Gerber multitool
Small bottle of bleach (water purifier)
Two plastic water bottles
16 oz Insulated Clean Canteen
Pepper spray
Extra batteries
Shave kit
Hair cutting Scissor
Nail clippers
Mini foam roller
Reflective riding vest
Mont-Bell Zero Point 20 liter frameless pack

Joint gear
First aid kit
Bike repair kit
Hooha! chamios cream
Toprocin anti-inflamatory cream
Dental floss
Baby wipes
Backcountry poop kit (TP, lighter and hand sanitize)
Travel Scrabble
Deck of Cards
Kryponite bike lock and cable (several keys!)

I am sure that I omitted a couple of things, but this is basically our kit for the tour from Seattle south to Southern California and east across the Souther Tier of the USA.  I intend this post to serve a platform for periodic gear reviews in addition to regular trip reports.  Please email me at malford777(at)gmail(dot)com if you have specific questions about gear our the route that Jen and have travelled on our bikes.

Kloshe konaway
Kloshe nanitch


You know you are in Nevada when the roadside brothels are on the MAP!

I can't even make up stuff that is this good. 

 The ride between Pahrump, NV and Vegas on trash littered Highway 160 into a 30 mph headwind was not very fun.  Jenny made sandwiches in the morning, and boy did it ever taste good today!

 Guardrail picnic: 50 miles of fenced off desert riding into Vegas left few options for lunch.  

 Never a shortage of climbing on this trip.

High winds and dust storms in Red Rocks Canyon.

 A Oasis in strip mall hell.  I went searching for post cards and found this wonderful independent bakery in South Vegas.  If you are ever in town and need a cake made for a special occasion or a good cup of coffee and a fine croissant, the Sugar Bee  Bakery is the place to call on!

 Sunset and sprawl.  Exploration Park, Enterprise NV.  
Local Knuckleheads and weird folks who ride their bikes.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Death Valley

The look on his face quickly turned from excitement to one of disgust as I explained our intended route east through Death Valley.

Oh you don't want to do that!   What a terrible idea.  In fact you should turn back and pedal the 25 miles back to Big Pine and climb over the White Mountains at Westgard Pass!  Death Valley is ugly, has terrible cross winds, dust storms, is hot as hell and is a complete roller coaster of a ride.  DON'T GO THERE!

I responded politely,

I appreciate your concern sir, but I think we have it handled.  I have done my homework and we have a pretty good plan to get us across the desert in a reasonably safe manner.      

He became visibly frustrated, turned to walk away shaking his head, stopped short and scuffled back to have another go.  

Now listen to me, I was once one of the best bike riders in this country, I have toured all over Europe and the United States....blah, blah, blah blah...

I tuned out and continued to smile as he babbled on about his extensive cycling resume, 

...and Death Valley is the last place on earth that I would ride my bike.  You would be smart to listen to me and go back the way you came.  

I politely thanked the man again for his insight and said nothing more.  He stood for a moment in the uncomfortable silence, seemingly waiting for us to heed the wisdom he had just bestowed upon us, turn  our bikes north and start pedaling back the direction that we had just come from.  

We'll then good luck, you're likely going to need it. 

He said as he walked away and loaded into his SUV, still shaking his head in disbelief. 

For a good portion of my life I have a difficult time letting anybody tell me what I was and wasn't capable of accomplishing.  The decisions that have had strongest detractors,  highest stakes and most challenge have often been those which delivered me on formative paths in my life.  There is also something strong about others' doubt that fuels the fire of ones' desire to succeed.   

I am not a cavalier about the challenges I take on, and fully realize that it is completely unacceptable to be reckless with the welfare of others (most importantly that of my wife).  However, I am no stranger to the wilderness, nor afraid to haul gallons of water and glutinous rations of food through one of the most inhospitable places on earth.    

There may have been many easier ways for Jen and I to get where we are going on this trip, but I doubt that they would be have been half as beautiful, nearly as rewarding or quite as fun as touring across the great Death Valley on our bikes.

Kloshe konaway
Kloshe nanitch


Jenny pedaling away from Lone Pine and the steep Sierra Mountains.

Dust storms caused by 40-50 mph winds were visible 10 miles off and provided for some challenging riding conditions.  I was actually thankful for a heavy load to anchor me to the road as we descended several thousand feet into the Panamint Valley.  

The riding ended for the day....

 ...conveniently located near the Panamint Springs Bar.  

With the sun goes the wind.  A pretty ok sunset on the Cottonwood Mountains.  

Successful desert riding involves avoiding as much of the sun as possible.  Jen and I hit the road at least and hour before first light to avoid the hottest part of the day.   

Death Valley National Park is divided by a the Cottonwood Mountains.  With over 3000 feet of climbing in less than 10 miles, Towne Pass adds a little extra challenge to the Death Valley tour.  

Now we're taking! 

The  18 mile, 5000 foot descent from Towne Pass to Stovepipe Wells is one of best that I can remember!  Expansive views with roller corners and almost no traffic early in the morning!

Stop you car here and take a photo.

 Jen and I are a resourceful pair.  Texas Creek RV hook-up shower and laundry.  

Rest day.  5$ gets you a pool pass and a shower at the Furnace Creek Ranch.   Jen ate ice cream and I drank tall-boy IPA's.   Living the dream.

A bit hot for the Redhead.  

Sunrise is the best time of day in the desert. 

Death Valley is home to at least nine different species of bats.  This poor little little guy met his fate against the windshield of a passing car.  

Judged by the speed at which I move across the desert, I could easily be mistaken for one of these.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

South 395

The realization that nearly a month of cruising around South Lake Tahoe and rock climbing might have had a negative impact on my cycling fitness came quickly as Jen and I creeped sluggishly up the South Upper Truckee Road into the mid-day sun.

My tire has to be flat! 

I exclaimed as I threw my leg over and dismounted my trusty little stead.  In reality I just needed the chance to catch my breath and the excuse to check tire pressure allowed me to protect my fragile little ego as I let the lactate drain from from my burning legs.  A swig of water and a minute of respite from the saddle gave me the boost I needed and Jen and I soon crested Luther Pass for the second time on our tour and descending into the beautiful Carson Valley beyond.  A quick twenty mile spin into Markleeville found Jenny and I soaking in Grover Hot Springs and sipping cold beers in an empty campsite.

The Eastern Sierra is a heaven for the touring cyclist who enjoys long climbs on low traffic roads under huge skies.  Those with the resolve to put their head down and spin the frequent climbs to 8000 feet are rewarded with expansive mountain views and screaming descents into deep valleys that leave a smile on the face until the climbing begins again.  The cooling September temperatures, changing colors of the Aspen trees and ample opportunity of free camping have made this portion of our journey most memorable and a personal favorite thus far.  A couple days on these steeps roads restored strength to our soft legs and the rhythm of bike touring snapped us from our domesticated lives of hot showers and soft beds.

South of Mono Lake the climbing begins to cease as highway 395 opens up into the desert landscape of Owen's River Valley.  Temperatures begin to climb and the tall Ponderosa Pine are replaced with dry hills of rolling sage, steep granite peaks of the Sierra towering to the west and dotted oases of Aspens indicating outposts of civilization around water.  As Jenny and I were climbing towards Crowley Lake several nights ago, a truck pulled over near the crest of the hill and a man waited smiling at the shoulder of the road.  After a short conversation, Jeff invited us to his home and we were treated to a warm shower, an exquisite meal with he and his wife Lesley and a restful night in a soft bed.  The kindness of strangers still never ceases to amaze me.

In the morning Jeff made us lattes before work and Leslie sent us out the door with boxes of bars, maps and homemade brownies.  Jen and I pedaled south for an hour on Old 395 and met the first group of touring cyclist's we had seen since leaving San Francisco.  We shared stories from the road with three men near my parent's age and before we departed, one handed me $60 and insisted on buying Jen and I dinner.  I don't even know the man's name, but will remember that he only asked that I pay the generosity forward some day.  This I will do.

Lesley caught up to us on her road bike and escorted us to her friend's Kari and David's in Round Valley outside of Bishop.  Despite the fact they just returned from driving across the country, they welcomed us with open arms and Jenny and I again find ourselves showered and sharing strong margaritas with neighbors over the good-natured banter of instant friends.  I feel like the Eastern Sierra has cast a spell of magic embrace upon us and we drag our heels out of Bishop late in the afternoon the next day and and are pushed south ten miles to Keough Hot Springs for the night.

A long hot day on the wide shoulder of Highway 395 into the wind brings us to Lone Pine and a fork in the road.  Tomorrow we will finally start heading east across the the desert of Death Valley and Sin City beyond.  The temperatures are said to be 'cooling' to the low 100's so I anticipate some early morning and late evening rides.

Without a doubt the last week has been a highlight of the trip and I look forward with anticipation to what the next leg of our journey will bring.

Kloshe konaway
Kloshe nanitch


Jenny insisted on a curling iron, a blow dryer, high heels, a case of wine, and sequin dress for Vegas so I had big Jim send down a little extra hauling capacity.

 Jen descending old highway 89 from Luther Pass

Markleeville, the Seat of California's least populated county.  

If you are me the answer to this question is most likely yes. 

Grover Hot Springs.  Nothing quite like a hot soak after a day in the saddle.   

My Father's Son.

Walker River bivy at sunset.   

I know this girl who kind of likes ice cream. 

Jenny loves pushing her bike up steep gravel roads.

 Bike push payoff.  Mono Lake from high above Conway Pass.  

Nothing quite as tasty as processed American cheese. 

Pacific Northwest Love! 

June Lake Jazz Hands. 

Road meal: Taco Bowl.  Instant beans, cheese, avocado, salsa and beer.  

This large Red Tailed Hawk was unable to fly with, and unwilling to part with the rabbit under her talons.  

Not a road meal.  Jeff and Lesley cooked homemade pizza and brownies for dessert. 

 The best in thing going on in Crowley Lake.  Jeff and Lesley Byberg took Jenny and I in and were the most gracious hosts.  

The Three Amigo's and a handful of Jackson's.  A brief encounter and big generosity! 

Bike crank water fountain.  Installed specifically for passing cyclists to fill their bottles.   

Kari Castle and David Bradford hosted Jen and I in Bishop and rode with us out of town.  Awesome folks!  

Sierra Harvest Moon. 

 If you needed another reason to stay as far away as you can from the 7th Day Adventist Church.

Macklemore or Springsteen on the iPod?  Your guess.  

 Diaz Lake, Lone Pine, CA.

Jenny was even impressed with my poached eggs.   

 Road meal:  Chicken Caesar.  Bag of salad, avocado, local cherry tomatoes, canned chicken, poached egg dressing.  Beer. 

Mini mullet; just getting warmed-up. 

Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States is left of center in the above photo.