Sunday, September 2, 2018

Inexpensive top box installation

Up to now I've exclusively used soft luggage (Wolfman bags) on my WR250R. Soft luggage is more forgiving of crashes and more accommodating of being stuffed with irregular-shaped objects than hard luggage, is lighter, and is generally easier to add/remove depending on what my trip plans consist of. 

For our Continental Divide ride this summer, Jeff had mounted a simple top-box on his DR650 that proved to be very ergonomic and practical. Being much easier to access than a zippered soft-bag or even our backpacks, it became our riding trio's go-to spot for paper maps, sunscreen, and other frequently-accessed items. Jeff had also wired a USB port into the case, making it an excellent spot to securely recharge phones, Sena headsets, and other items that were awkward or not practical to charge another way. Also, the addition of a nifty Grid-it panel inside the lid had me totally sold on replicating the set-up. Jeff attached his panel by first clamping it to a board with mirror clips, then using 3M double-sided tape between the panel and lid. I'll probably do something similar.  

Jeff's box was an inexpensive impact-resistant tool box from Princess Auto: 

The model shown here is larger than the one Jeff and I bought (for some reason, Princess doesn't list ours on the web site), so it's best to check in-store, as there was a good selection of sizes. Mine cost around $60, but don't be fooled by the low price: it's truly a sturdy case that is moulded and assembled well, closes securely, and appears to seal well.

Since I already have a rack I made made from 6mm aluminum plate on my bike, it was just a matter of drilling and threading four holes to accept some mounting bolts inserted from inside the case. As I'd done for a RotoPax mount, I drilled holes to accept M6 HeliCoil inserts which provide more mechanical strength than tapping the aluminum directly for M6. 

If you adopt a similar mounting method and box, be sure to check if there's a gap between the plastic and the rack, and fill it with a washer if there is. Also, be sure to use some beefy washers inside the case, and use thread-lock on the bolts. 

Next, I'll be wiring in a USB port, probably moving the one from my handlebar which I rarely use anyway. I plan to incorporate a quick-connect plug for the power to the box, so that removing the box is easy and leaves a useable power point somewhere easily accessible on my bike.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Continental Divide ride 2018 - Part 1

As advertised, and together with Peter and Jeff--two guys I met on ADVRider--I completed a 7500km ADV ride along the Continental Divide, starting in Calgary and heading south almost to the Four Corners before looping back north via Utah and Idaho. It was a fantastic, month-long epic journey--one of those bucket-list trips I'd been dreaming of for years. Over the next several posts, I'll share my impressions of the trip, as well as tips on riding the route and opinions of the gear we took along. Short version? It was totally awesome, and I ignited a deeper passion for ADV riding than I expected.

The actual route
Although we'd spent months debating different route options and plotting them out in Basecamp, we were uncertain throughout the trip whether we could actually complete the route we'd
settled on in the available time. The original plan was to do a massive loop from Ottawa down the MABDR to the TAT, head north up the Continental Divide via the COBDR, and loop back via the Black Hills and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. That amounted to some 13,000km of riding--clearly not feasible given our budget of 4 weeks plus a few grace days at the end. So we chopped it down and decided to ship our bikes from Montreal to Calgary via, which added $1200 to our individual budgets but chopped weeks off the itinerary as well as the added costs of maintenance and travel. It was a great solution, and I recommend it to others looking to focus a trip like ours on the "best parts".

In the end, our actual track (above), which went clockwise, closely matched our planned GPS track. However, on the return trip, we decided to bail off the Idaho BDR after a couple of days riding (more about that later). As you can see, we cut back across country to regain our original track back to Canada. Despite a few days of grind on the highway, this proved to be a good decision. More on that later, too!

The bikes
I took my WR250R, Pete was on a CRF250L, and Jeff had a pimped-out DR650 that sounded awesome compared to our little toys. Each bike had its merits and weaknesses--as we were to discover. For my part, I'd say the WRR was about 80% of what I wanted for the trip. For both Pete and me, the limitation was power and top-end for highway riding in mountainous terrain. I could barely sustain 95km/hr, and high elevation (we rode up to 13,000', where there's about 30% less air) sapped a third of the already limited power on tap. With 55lbs of gear and fuel, the little 250's were most comfortable at around the 50-80km/r zone on most of the terrain.

However, our 250's were light and perfectly at home on the roughest sections--where bigger bikes would be a liability.

Bottom line is there's no one perfect bike. For this route, I wouldn't take anything bigger than a 700; it would be too heavy and hard to maneuver on the rough sections, especially if it got muddy.

Shipping the bikes to Calgary
We loaded our three bikes with all our travel gear except for our Kriega backpacks (saved as carry-on for the flight), then drove the bikes to Montreal in a U-Haul.

The crew at mytripmybike helped strap the bikes securely onto special pallets that could be forklifted into a tractor-trailer. A week later, our bikes arrived safely in Calgary. As we stepped out of the airport, the sight of a bro-dozer confirmed we had indeed arrived in the west.

Our bikes awaited at a warehouse conveniently located just a 5-minute Uber ride from the airport.

After unloading, faffing with bags, and changing into our riding gear, we were off to a Cabelos also located conveniently nearby, where we bought bear-spray as a necessary precaution for the extensive bear country we would be traveling through. Then we headed south to Kananaskis Country under perfect skies, the mountains forming a spectacular backdrop as we left the prairie.

Whose bike would fail first?
Turns out it would be mine. Everything was going swimmingly well, until my bike started to randomly die when I started it or gave it gas. This was an unfamiliar and unexpected failure--an inauspicious start to day 1 of our trip. After checking the side stand switch and shop manual which I had saved as a PDF on my phone, we decided to try resetting the ECU, which required removing the fuel pump as part of the procedure. You've got to be kidding! Everything had to come off the bike, then strip the seat, side panels, tank, etc. All while roasting in the sun and wishing we could ride on, not knowing if this would be a serious problem.

Resetting the ECU seemed to fix the problem (whatever it was), and I didn't have any further issues for the remainder of the trip. The only thing I can think it might've been was some sort of fuel mapping reaction to the elevation. The problem had started as we climbed into Kananaskis Country, which was around 2000m and relatively high since the last time I'd ridden the bike for any length of time--which was at home, and more or less at sea level.

After getting the bike back together, it was getting late in the day so we decided to find a spot to camp. A gorgeous meadow next to an icy clear stream offered a chance to rinse the dust and sweat off our clothes and bodies.

This was the first test of all my camp gear. As it's been years since I've camped with any regularity, I was unaccustomed to sleeping on the ground, and I struggled to get into deep sleep. Plus, we were all somewhat nervous about having a bear encounter despite keeping a clean camp and slinging all our food and other tempting items far up in a tree. Happily, my one-person tent (MSR Hubba NX) and bag proved accommodating and cozy. I was initially a little jealous of Pete and Jeff's two-person tents, but I found the Hubba to be plenty practical, and all my other gear got tarped under my bike each night, which kept everything dry from the dew.

The inflatable pillow I'd brought proved too low, so I ended up not using it. A much better solution was my usual one of rolling all my clothes into a hard stuff-sack, which raised my head comfortably in relation to my shoulder when lying on my side.

The next day, we aimed for the US border under perfect skies again, ripping along gravel forest service roads and leaving billowing clouds of dust behind. A quick stop for breakfast and welcome coffee in Coleman.

The origins of "gpsKevin" as a swear-word 
Our planned route had us taking a forest road south before Fernie. We had intended to spend our first night stealth camping on this road, until yesterday's delay with my bike had us stop earlier. Now, as we followed the forest road, we discovered it wasn't passable. The road paralleled a pipeline and eventually petered out into a dual-track where it was also torn up for work on the pipe. Although that section was rideable, we soon hit "the wall": a near 30-degree hill that there was no way we could ride on our loaded bikes. Closer inspection of our GPSes suggested a route around, but it required a stream crossing over microwave oven-sized boulders that none of us felt comfortable attempting.

This was our first of many issues we would discover with the gpsKevin route we were following. Although a worker on the pipeline later told us that the Continental Divide bicycle route indeed followed the stream crossing in years past, it probably hadn't been used this season and was likely in terrible shape. We couldn't imagine a large ADV bike taking this route--it was technical trail riding. And if it had been raining, it would've been hard-enduro level.

Rerouting through Fernie led to a great lunch at a bagel shop on the main street.

A flowy gravel road took us out of town. Along the way we saw many cyclists riding the Continental Divide route. Clearly, they were avoiding the dead-end route we'd recently bailed on too.

As 2018 was the 20th anniversary of the Continental Divide bicycle route, it was heavily travelled by cyclists and we were continually amazed at how many of them we saw over the next few weeks--far more than motorcyclists. In fact, we didn't see any other motorcyclists on the route proper--just a few ADV riders when passing through towns. And certainly no other riders on 250's!

Our route took us through historic mining country, with evidence of mines and mining communities (some now ghost towns) everywhere. Great place to geek out on mining!

The town of Sparwood had this absolute unit of a truck on display. 3300HP! It was used in the coal mine which still operates today on the mountain overlooking the town.

Here's the kind of stuff they were digging out: hard coal (and other rock).

    Getting across the US border was not too much of a problem, although Pete (who's a British citizen), had to get fingerprinted and ensure a proper grilling, and I got an earful from the gruff border guard who told me my LED conspicuity lights were not legal and needed to be removed. They only run at 5% unless I turn on my high beams, and yes, because of their colour they may seem bright when viewed in the dark shadow of the border building. But they aren't too bright. Anyway, nothing a little duct tape over the lenses couldn't fix, and we were off.

This is just after passing the border. If you look closely, you can see a line of clearcut through the trees on the mountain in the background: that's the Canada-US border.

Before long, we were well on our way into Montana, where the terrain had again changed subtly from the forests near Fernie, becoming more arid and scrubby with shorter pines and loamy soil.

It was also noticeably hotter and drier, and for the first time I switched into my Klim Mojave mesh pants, bundling my Klim Carlsbad suit into my bags. While each suit had its benefits, I soon found that the separate elbow pads I'd chosen were a nuisance to use and frequently slid down. Also, using a backpack quickly became fatiguing and got in the way of quick clothing changes and ventilation. More on that later. 

Off to find a camp site! 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Adventure-bound: Rockies and desert! (plus comments on GPS mapping tools)

Hard to believe, but in a mere two days I'll be landing in Calgary with two friends to ride down the Continental Divide to Colorado (almost to the New Mexico Border), through the Utah desert, and then back up to Calgary via Idaho. It's a 7500km ADV ride that's taken the better part of 10 months to plan, with much of the effort going into figuring out a route that's in the realm of feasible within our 5-week travel budget.

[Photo by Kent Goins]

After much GPSing in BaseCamp and Google Maps, a route has emerged that combines various established backcountry routes, including the gpsKevin Continental Divide Route, the Colorado BDR, the Trans-America Trail, and the Idaho BDR. Much of the Colorado route is between 10,000-13,000 feet, including the spectacular California Pass shown below. It'll be a physical challenge to ride the whole thing with its varied terrain, weather, and wildlife, while camping much of the way. Many pictures and a detailed ride report to follow.

As I've been working through the detailed GPS planning, I can't help but comment on some of the challenges with using Garmin's "free" mapping tools, namely BaseCamp and its related utilities. Given there's increasingly stiff competition from free alternatives, it's fair to note some growing discrepancies between what Garmin offers for a price, versus what you can now get for free (specifically, Google Maps).

First, I'd like to point out that I purchased the City Navigator Lower US States map from Garmin because the Montana 610 I bought comes with an absolutely useless base map. However, the downloadable map I bought (for almost C$100) cannot be updated or transferred to more than one device. This is a serious limitation if you want to have both a main and back-up GPS pre-loaded with your adventure.

In any case, I found that compared to Google Maps, Garmin's map content is overpriced, under-detailed, and too hampered by DRM to be easily manageable in BaseCamp and on GPS devices. For example, below is a map produced in BaseCamp with TopoCanada base content displayed. Having a printed map of this, that corresponds to your track, is important backup in case your device fails. However, Basecamp prevents you from printing this map with the level of detail shown: the labels disappear, leaving no useful context for all the squiggles. So the only way to print this level of detail is to screen-capture it. Even then, you need to choose between topo or road maps, each with its limitations and costs.

Now compare the above map with the following map made in Google Earth using the same GPX data:

The level of detail is superior to that in the maps from Garmin and is more adjustable. Of course, Google Maps is also free, allows you to overlay satellite imagery for additional detail, and allows you to download maps for offline use on mobile devices for up to 30 days. Even if Garmin provided this level of map detail, it would be too costly to purchase because of how Garmin has chopped up the content over the coverage region I'm interested in. I would need to spend almost $1000 for inferior data with the same coverage. Indeed, I ended up scrapping my purchased Garmin maps because I found that the free maps from Google and free topo maps from GPS File Depot are vastly superior and free (in case you missed that bit). The Google maps print beautifully, and the topos from GPS File Depot load easily into the Garmin. It's a significant problem when customers who purchase a solution receive a worse user experience than non-paying customers.

The second issue (and I've ranted about this before) is that Garmin's GPS devices (e.g. my Montana 610) still use hopelessly outdated hardware. Limitations of the technology prevent you from having more than 2GB of data on the built-in storage, and even though you can put some content on the accessory SD card, there are puzzling restrictions on how you can access and use this additional storage and data. Getting large GPX files and maps on my device reminded me of the days of trying to save games on 5-1/4" floppies, where storage space was a premium. I would love to see Garmin build a next-gen Montana or ruggedized tablet-style device with a modern, efficient, and speedy OS, and more usable methods to build large travel maps and tracks. The current GPS technology competes with 5-year old mobile phones that can now be bought used for under $100 and set up as dedicated GPSes with better performance and more features than a dedicated Garmin device. That's the option my travel mates have adopted, so we'll be comparing notes on the trip.

Third, and as an extension of the above points, there is no practical way to restore maps and routes or tracks to a new Garmin device should the original device crap out while in the backcountry--or worse, if you happen to accidentally erase your device because the menu option to do that is inexplicably--and dangerously--co-located with frequently-used menu commands. Even if you carry a laptop with you (which I don't), it's a painful process to restore. For a device advertised as a rugged outdoor tool, these shortcomings seem like serious oversights. Hence the need to print paper maps and bring a compass--which Garmin makes hard to do.

Bottom line is that reliability means more than solid hardware; the software and other tools also need to be reliable and usable. While it's unwise to rely solely on GPS technology in the backcountry, it can and should be a lot easier and more reliable to use. I don't mind paying for content and technology if it solves a problem and is more convenient than the alternative, but not if the technology and content is demonstrably worse than free options.

After this trip, I'll be investing more time into learning about alternative methods to build maps that don't rely on Garmin's DRM-infested model. The alternatives are now easy enough to use--and obviously superior in quality--that there seems to be little justification for sticking with what I've become adept at using up to now. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Mountain biking access on the Carp Ridge

Just west of Ottawa lies the Carp Ridge formation, a strip of rugged Canadian Shield that protrudes up out of the surrounding limestone plains. Consisting largely of exposed granite worn smooth by glaciers, covered in mixed hardwood and pine forests (including some old-growth groves), and punctuated by beaver ponds and streams, it's a stunning natural area within a short drive of the Ottawa urban area.

I began exploring the ridge back in the late 80's when I visited my parents who had just moved to the village of Carp, located right on the edge of the ridge. At that time, Carp was a sleepy farming community, known chiefly as the location of the "Diefenbunker"(Canada's Cold War-era shelter for government leaders in the event of a nuclear attack) and the annual Carp Fair (one of Canada's longest-running agricultural fairs). Both are highly-recommended tourist destinations. Behind my parent's home lay many kilometers of unofficial trails into the largely undeveloped and uninhabited lands of the Carp Ridge. A large swath was owned by the City of Ottawa, who at the time seemed to have no real vision for this land except to sell it off to developers.

As the sport of mountain biking grew, so too did local demand for places to ride. The Ottawa area is, in theory, ideal for mountain biking: to the north lies the Eardley Escarpment and Gatineau Park, with hundreds of kilometers of hiking and skiing trails; on the other side of the Ottawa River lies the Carp Ridge with similar terrain in miniature, but with none of the barriers to mountain biking that the National Capital Commission (NCC) had originally imposed on Gatineau Park at the time. So, in the 1990s, unofficial trail development on the Carp Ridge began in earnest, mainly around its southern limits in an area known then as "Kanata Lakes" and now as South March Highlands (SMH).

Soon a local riding community developed around the SMH trail vision. A dedicated team of volunteers formed and systematically built a network of sustainable single track, following the IMBA model which has since been adopted by Parks Canada (among other organizations) as a gold standard for sustainable trails. The nascent Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) took unofficial responsibility for maintaining the network, and after much negotiation with the City of Ottawa, was eventually given formal responsibility to develop and manage the SMH network, as well as some new projects. This partnership between mountain bikers and the City of Ottawa--now extended to the NCC through the development of official single track in Gatineau Park--has benefited the Ottawa area in many ways, not least by providing high quality, year-round recreational singletrack trails in beautiful nature.

As more people discover the beauty and enjoyment of the natural areas that these trails enable, demand increases for more trails. That leads us to the development of a new trail area further north on the Carp Ridge, at Thomas Dolan Parkway. Here, the land is open with swaths of exposed smooth rock; it's a much different character versus the dark, rocky forests of SMH further south. The granite resembles the slickrock of Moab, Utah--one of the world's greatest mountain biking destinations.

Thanks to the initiative and volunteer effort of mainly one person, there is now a spectacular figure-8 trail loop at Thomas Dolan. It mostly follows exposed rock outcroppings, and thanks to some clever dry-stone work, achieves a wonderful riding flow over discontinuities that is always challenging but completely doable if you commit and push your limits. It is also a perfectly enjoyable hike, and one of my favourite destinations for hiking or riding.

But now it's all at risk of being taken away. Although the Thomas Dolan trail is on city lands, a dispute between various user groups is arising about who can use the trail. The city has now officially opened a review, and there's a risk that some or all access may be lost. As an avid hiker, biker, trail builder, amateur naturalist, and--gasp!--off-road motorcycle rider myself, I'm familiar with the many sides of these land-use debates and can empathize with the views of different user groups. But, I have to say, we all need to work harder to get along. There's a lot of misinformation, misunderstanding, and blinkered self-interest going on.

One thing I would like to point out is that if not for the extensive volunteer efforts of the snowmobile clubs, ATV clubs, and mountain biking clubs, there would be very few publicly accessible recreational trails in Eastern Ontario for the community at large to enjoy. Trail-building in the challenging conditions of our region takes a huge amount of work: I know, because I lead a small group of dedicated volunteers to build and maintain a 15km public trail network for biking and hiking, as part of OMBA. An unmaintained trail can become impassible in as soon as a few weeks because of overgrowth and blow-down from storms.

While hikers represent a large portion of trail users in our region, they seem to be under-represented when it comes to helping with land access issues and developing sustainable shared-use trails. Yet, I can't help but observe that hikers are over-represented as leavers of dog poop bags and other garbage (coffee cups, beer cans, etc.) on the trails I manage. Nevertheless, whether we are bikers, hikers, snowmobilers, or ATVers, we all have much more in common with each other than initial observations may suggest. Sure, there are a few bad representatives in every group. But if we work together more, and look harder for common ground and shared interests, we can build much-wanted trails that allow everyone to enjoy our lands together, in sustainable and low-impact ways.

Regardless of your preferred outdoor activity, if you want to continue to enjoy access to your local trails, please support one of the local clubs that build and manage these trails. Even if you can't volunteer your time, your membership fee will help to pay for the equipment and insurance needed to keep the trails open.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Gear for a long ADV trip

With all respect to the advice in a recent video from Fortnine (which I agree with, btw), for ADV trips longer than a few days, and through widely varying terrain and tough conditions, a bit more gear is needed to ensure a safe (or tolerably comfortable) journey.

Here's the complete list of gear I'm packing for a month-long, 7500km ADV ride with two other guys this summer. We're shipping our bikes to Calgary then riding down through the Rockies to Utah, across the desert, then winding back north to Calgary via Idaho. The route stitches together segments of the gpsKevin Crest of the Rockies trail, the Colorado BDR, the TAT, and the Idaho BDR. I'll be posting a detailed trip report when/if I return.

In choosing my gear, I'm relying on my prior experience with ADV riding, bicycle touring, world travel, backpacking, mountaineering, and personal preferences. Your priorities may differ from mine considerably, so choose accordingly. The following are my guiding principles in packing for this trip:

  • Pack light. I'm on a WR250R and most the route will be on dirt roads and trails, so maneuverability and fuel efficiency are important, and there's not a lot of HP left at high altitude.
  • Supplies can be replenished every few days. We're not so far off the beaten path that if we need something, we can't find it at the next Walmart or outdoor store. Similarly, we can have replacement tires delivered from vendors like Rocky Mountain ATV to somewhere convenient along the way. 
  • Some gear is meant to be shared (tools, first aid, etc.).
  • The three of us are coordinating our maintenance and tire changes to minimize wasted time and materials (like oil), and we plan to do the work in a major centre near the halfway point (probably in Moab, UT) where there's relatively easy access to any services or parts we may need.
  • If I could, I'd ditch all electronics, but they have unfortunately become essential to my current lifestyle. 
  • A little comfort is OK.
Now, on to the gear! Descriptions are generally from foreground to background, left to right.

  • Footprint (ground sheet) for tent.
  • MEC silicone nylon tarp for quick shelter and to cover the bike and unpacked gear in camp.
  • MSR Hubba NX 1-person tent (poles and tent in red nylon). I debated a 2-person tent, but wanted to minimize packing volume.
  • Sleeping bag, 0C MEC Draco
  • 2 ratchet straps (green) for top-bag tie-down.
  • Anker 21W solar recharger
  • Laundry detergent
  • SeaToSummit packable towel
  • Thermarest 3/4 sleeping pad (in Petzl mesh bag)
  • Somewhere in there is a MEC inflatable pillow. Haven't tried it yet, but the reviews were good and it packs really small. 
  • LED headlamp
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Silva magnetic orienteering compass
  • Flint and steel
  • Sewing kit (in film canister)
  • Clothes line
  • Mesh stuff sack for all the small crap
  • Lumix camera. I'm bringing my iPhone, but I've found phones are unreliable with endless software updates, security issues, etc. when you just want to take a darn photo.
  • Insulated jacket with hood (in grey stuff sack). Highly compressible, it's also much lighter and warmer than a fleece.
  • Klim Tactical Pro jersey.
  • Garmin Montana 610 GPS. This is the main unit mounted on my bars.
  • My own Rugged Wheels brand knitted hat. 
  • 2-3 pairs of Nitrile gloves in ziplock bag.
  • SPF 30 sunscreen. My preference is to avoid sunscreen as it makes everything filthy after a few days of not being able to wash, so instead I stay covered and use a buff on my neck. 
  • Phone charger and headphones.
  • Anker 10000 rechargeable battery in mesh bag. I can keep this charged with the solar panel, and use it to boost other devices as needed.
  • Compact tripod for camera.
  • Tire pressure gauge.
  • SeaToSummit CoolMax Adaptor sleeping bag liner in blue stuff sack. Soft and stretchy, it helps keep your sleeping bag clean and adds a lot of comfort, and it can be used on its own in dodgy motel beds. 
  • Klim Carlsbad pants.
  • Garmin inReach SE+ satellite beacon (yellow). I've subscribed to the basic annual plan and bought medevac services through Ripcord. This should provide adequate first-response coverage until my health and security coverage through my employer can kick in.
  • UV flashlight. For finding scorpions in camp!
  • Yellow and blue silicone nylon stuff sacks (10L each). Yellow contain clothes, which are minimal (basically two changes of Under Armor Heat Gear shirts and tights for riding, two pairs underwear, two pairs moto socks, and a T-shirt and pants for town). No point in carrying more than one set of dirty laundry. The blue stuff sack is for dirty/wet clothing.
  • Klim Carlsbad jacket.
  • Kriega R15 backpack for bladder and essentials. Fits like a dream over my riding gear.
  • About 20' of 1" tubular webbing as a tow rope (in green mesh bag)
  • Spare tube. The other guys will carry an extra tube as well. 
  • RotoPax 1 gallon can. Adds 100km range.
  • Large nylon stuff sack (black). This is for holding all my riding gear on the bike during shipping, so I can fly with minimal carry-on. It also doubles as a food bag.
  • Source 3L water bladder for Kriega pack. Has a quick-release drinking tube to make refills easy, whether from tap or water filter. 
  • Whisperlite International stove. Runs on naphtha (Coleman fuel), gasoline, or kerosine. 
  • 1L fuel bottle for stove (red). Also shown is a 325mL bottle, but my riding partners and I agreed that 1L each should be sufficient and we can easily refill as we go along. 
  • Dish cloths (blue)
  • Salt & pepper in Nalgene bottles, spoon, fork, lighter
  • 1L cooking pot that holds the stove and other items. 
  • Assortment of freeze-dried meals and jerky. Plenty for a few days of emergency rations. 
  • Coleman cup and stuff sack for the freeze dried packs. 
  • Wolfman Expedition soft bags (yellow). They hold about 30L each. I sewed longer top straps so I don't need to roll them so tight, which gives me just enough extra room to ease packing.
  • Fox elbow pads. I opted to remove all the padding from my Carlsbad jacket, as the pads are more versatile if I don't want to wear the jacket. 
  • Microfibre towel (blue) for wiping visor and eyeglasses.
  • Shoei bag for my Hornet X2 helmet.
  • First aid kit (red). I put this kit together myself, and it contains: EMT shears, reflective blanket, sterile compresses, gauze rolls, alcohol swabs, burn dressings, waterproof breathable tape, triangle bandage, assortment of bandaids, large absorbent pads (actually panty liners - they work great and are cheap), tweezers, hemostats, digital thermometer, oral rehydration salts, Benadryl, Ibuprofen, Betadine, Cortisol cream, Polysporin, and probably a few other items. I can make a range of splints by cutting the plastic liners from my Wolfman bags, or use tent poles with duct tape if necessary.
  • Water purification tablets (in blue pouch - mainly as a backup). 
  • Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter
  • MSR Dromedary 4L water bag
  • Neck buff
  • MEC 30L waterproof top bag (orange) for food, frequent access needs
  • Forma Adventure boots
  • Chamois Butt'r for saddle rash (trust me--it can be a lifesaver!)
  • Pinlock visor for my helmet
  • Spare gloves (Fox)
  • Motul off-road chain lube
  • Moleskine notebook and pens
  • Toilet paper and hand-sanitizer
  • Tool bag (blue bag with First Aid badge)
  • TekVest Rally Max vest
  • Klim Mojave pants
  • Alpinestars Fluid Carbon knee braces. Because my knees need the protection!
Oh yeah, there's the WR250R as well. It'll get a new set of tires, MT21 in front and D606 in rear.

Packing it all up

Everything fits in the bags with room to spare. Bags are organized as follows, with weight reflecting food, some water, most clothes:

Left Wolfman bag (yellow) gets the heavy stuff (to balance the weight of the muffler): tools and tube at bottom, tow rope, then cooking and stove fuel, freeze-dried food, tent, and riding pants I'm not wearing at top. 20lb 8oz.

Right Wolfman bag gets the sleeping bag, pad, tarp, clothes, and first aid on top. 14lb 9oz

Top bag (orange) serves as my day-bag for groceries and stuff I need to access more often, like extra water, riding jacket, water filter, solar charger, etc. It also gets the tent poles. 14lb 13oz

Kriega backpack get the water bladder and stuff sack of essentials (snacks, compass, battery, chargers, beacon, ID, etc.). This pack always stays with me, so in theory I shouldn't be totally screwed if I lose everything else. 8lb 2oz

The RotoPax mounts under the top bag, and the top bag is held on transversely with the two green straps. This keeps the weight centralized while leaving enough room to slide my butt back on technical terrain. 

Overall, the weight and distribution is perfectly tolerable, even on such a light, underpowered bike.    

Review: Klim Mojave pants (2018)

Klim updated their popular Mojave mesh pant for 2018, issuing a more stylish design than in prior versions but now in only two colour options: black/gray or black/tan. I opted for the tan.
For reference, I'm 200lbs and 6' with an athletic build. Earlier this year I bought the Klim Carlsbad suit, pants size 34 and jacket in large, and both fit me perfectly with Alpinestar Fluid Carbon knee braces and a TekVest underneath. While the Carlsbad pant has proven very comfortable in cold-warm temps, its ventilation is minimal and will likely be insufferable in humid or desert conditions. Hence the Mojave pant, which I also ordered in 34. 
Mojave fit is almost identical to the Carlsbad, but perhaps a little bit tighter around the waist and in the seat area (by maybe 1cm, but I could've just gotten fatter), and a little looser around the knees. However, the waist is adjustable and compensates just fine. The mesh material makes the pants a lot more flexible and easier to move in, especially with knee braces. This is important, because I've had some pants that slide down when you swing a leg over. The Mojave is cut in a way that stays on my hips, even with a jersey tucked in. 
Note that unlike the Carlsbad, the Mojave doesn't include any armour. I just swapped the D3O hip pads over from the Carlsbad, but there's no pouch for a tailbone pad in the Mojave. The Mojave thigh pockets are well designed and located, and the bellows feature means your wallet isn't digging into your leg. 
While riding, the Mojave is especially comfortable. The velcro cuffs are adequately tight around my moto boots, and there are no obvious seams or folds that cause hotspots. The wind through the mesh is an epiphany of comfort. It should help reduce the funky-junk syndrome of sitting in plastic, on plastic, on hot and humid days. 
Overall I'm happy with the functionality, fit, and styling of these pants, although the real test will be on a month-long trail ride through the Rockies and Southwest this summer. Combined with a Klim Tactical Jersey, elbow pads, and a TekVest, the Mojave pants form part of a great, highly breathable suit for ADV rides on hot summer days.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Backcountry kitchen

This is a really basic kit that I take backpacking and on the motorbike as it's lightweight, compact, and reliable. Although I love good food and cooking, when camping/traveling I tend to eat really simply and then hit up local options when possible to meet local. Cooking properly (and all the gear it takes) can feel like a chore when I'm tired, so I usually stick to one hot dish and eat the rest cold.

Everything is cooked/eaten from the pot or a cup (not shown), and all cooking revolves around boiling water: whether for porridge, instant coffee, freeze-dried meals, or soup. In winter I use a larger pot for melting snow to create drinking water and fill an insulated Nalgene bottle that I drop in the foot of my sleeping bag to warm my toes.

This is a Whisperlite International that I've cooked on now for 25+ years without issue other than the odd cleaning. White gas (naphtha) has the highest energy density of readily available fuels and is what I generally burn, but the stove can also burn kerosene with a quick change of the jet. The red 1L and 325mL MSR fuel bottles provide enough fuel to cook for a long weekend in the summer.

To the left of the stove are the folded aluminum heat shields that go over and around the stove. They look pretty rough but they've also held up well for 25 years.

Sometimes you just want a cloth and scrub pad to clean up food mess. A 3M scrub pad is handy when  there's no clean sand available. The microfiber cloth lets you dry stuff before you put it away, to help resist mould/bacteria growth on days when you aren't cooking. I also wrap the stove in the cloth before stowing it in the pot, so it doesn't rattle in transport.

Water filter
My wife and I survived a six-month trek through West Africa and the Middle East in large part thanks to a Katadyn water filter. Potable water was often a real challenge to obtain, and was stored in all manner of unsanitary conditions ranging from a trough or pail shared with farm animals, to an open well next to raw sewage on the ground, to used motor oil containers.

The Katadyn Hiker Pro is a lighter, less industrial version of the filter we carried on that trip, but it's still capable of removing common parasites such as giardiasis which can cause debilitating GI infections. It won't remove lead or other dissolved contaminants, so drinking water from used motor oil containers remains out of the question.

Swiss Army Knife
What more can be said about this quintessential tool? This is the standard camping model, which includes a large and small blade, can and bottle openers, corkscrew, awl, tiny screwdriver, saw, and tweezers/toothpick. All items have proven invaluable at one time or another.

This one's polycarbonate and fairly indestructible. No need for a fork.

Flint and steel
Back-up for when the lighter and matches fail.

Stow bags
Everything but the fuel bottles and water filter fits neatly into one bag, with the small bits and stove inside the pot and the aluminum heat shield under the pot. I keep the bottle separate (and stowed vertically) to be able to monitor them for leaks. The water filter is in my day pack for easy access.