Both good questions. The former isn’t really relevant any more, so I’ll take a crack at answering the latter.
After 67 days on the road I had covered about 2,400 miles as I journeyed from Minneapolis to New Orleans by bicycle. Except for an Ortlieb handle bar bag (which replaced a handle bar bag that was hinged at the rear so it’s contents were not accessible while riding), I purchased no new gear for the trip, instead following the motto “what I have is enough.” By and large this proved to be correct. By the end of the trip, however, some things had failed and/or needed to be replaced.
The first piece of failed gear I replaced was my REI LiteCore 1.5 sleeping pad that had been leaking nearly the entire trip and failed completely in Donaldsonville LA. I settled on a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Mummy Pad, as recommended by both Nathan Watts (whom I met at a camp ground in New Roads LA) and by Tim Travis.
The second piece of failed gear was more of an issue: my Phil Wood Touring Cassette Freehub failed a second time, just 1,030 miles after Phil Wood repaired it. This time they claimed to have purchased a batch of incorrectly heat-treated ratchet rings, and recommended not returning the hub for service until a new batch was made in-house in February lest it be re-repaired with the same defective parts. At this point I think I’m going to have my home bike shop tear the hub apart post re-repair so we can inspect and document what should be “like-new” condition, test ride it for a thousand miles or so and then have it torn apart again to inspect it for what should be negligible wear before I’ll trust it on the road again. I understand mistakes can happen, but this is not the quality I expected to get from spending the big bucks on a Phil Wood Touring Cassette Freehub.
Two of the biggest problems I faced on a daily basis were the bike being over capacity (too much stuff) and over weight (too much stuff). I’ve decided to address the first problem, over capacity, by replacing my small front Ortlieb panniers with a second set of large rear ones so I don’t have to carry an external food bag, and could possibly fit the tent inside a pannier instead of on top of the front rack. (Every extra bag becomes a liability when off the bike, as I learned while packing things up for the train trip home from New Orleans.) I’m also considering replacing both my synthetic sleeping bag and my synthetic pillow with a down-filled sleeping bag and using my 6L MSR Dromedary water bladder as an air pillow; this should free up nearly half a large pannier. The second problem, over weight, is still un-solved. I’m still considering a 22-32-44 mountain crankset (in place of my current 26-36-48) which would raise my pedaling cadence to something more comfortable when crawling up hills at 3MPH.
A few other minor equipment changes: I got a silk sleeping bag liner for a few more degrees of cold weather tolerance, and I also want to modify my dynamo-hub powered wiring harness to include another pair of quick-disconnect connectors so I can field-replace the headlight without a soldering iron should the need arise.
Next Destination and Routing
The next destination was going to be San Diego CA by way of the Adventure Cycling Association “Southern Tier” Route through Texas. This is now up in the air, mostly because of my experience the second half of the trip (after leaving the Ozarks in Missouri): once out of the hills, the scenery degenerated into endless miles of dead farm fields, small towns with no services (restaurants or grocery stores) that had all but died, and constant headwinds.Traveling solo in these conditions made the second half of the trip a drag, where my biggest concerns were always where I was going to find food and a place to stop for the night, taking away much of the excitement the trip initially held. (It also made getting into places like Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans really special.) While I don’t know much about Texas, I do know one thing: it’s big. Really, really, big. So whatever it holds, it holds a lot of it. Plus, the prevailing winds are out of the West, so I’d likely be in for constant headwinds. In other words, it’s likely to be a lot like the second half of the trip south along the Mississippi River. This makes me disinclined to attempt it solo.
Well then what?
Since it looks like I’m going to be hanging out in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul for the next few months, I arranged to rent a room from a friend in St Paul’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood. And since I’m not a fan of negative cash flow, I decided to follow one of my other long-term dreams, and start working for myself. At present this means I’m open to the possibility of short-term contract software engineering projects; I’ve currently got a few on the horizon. I’m also (slowly) teaching myself the workings of the Android platform, with the intent (ha) of writing Android apps. I’m considering what kinds of destinations I’m interested in seeing; Italy still beckons with a siren song that I haven’t been able to forget since I was there for work back in 2006. Finally, I’m looking for people who think seeing the world by bicycle sounds like more fun than sitting in a box and wishing. As strange as it still sounds, I learned on the road that the right person will show up when the time and the place are right, just when I need them most. Till then it’s a matter of maintaining the right attitude and keeping things in perspective.
One thing is certain (as I’ve been joking with friends since I made it to New Orleans): Plans Is For Changin’.