Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Revenge of the 29'er: The Route


Using RidewithGPS, I was able to discover the dirt roads to bypass the hideously developed sections of the route that had so bothered me from my previous tours.  As the horrors of Pipeline Rd. illustrate, sometimes this can backfire.  I'm glad  I did the route and proud of my effort, but that section is not one I'd like to repeat.  The rest was good--if sometimes very hard riding--and the route through the East Mojave Preserve was brilliant and highly recommended.  Below are links to the route.  The first is the whole enchilada in all its gnarly glory.  The second is a partial workaround to the section getting from Rt. 95/Lake Havasu turn-off to Pipeline Rd.  If you recall from the journal, I encountered a couple of locked gates that I was just barely able to squeeze through and, fortunately, got across without conflict.  I DO NOT recommend this to anyone thinking of enjoying the delights of my particular route.  Using satellite view on Google Earth, you can actually see the gates just past mile 5 on the second link.  No bueno.  But near mile 5, you will also see an arroyo that leads south around the property and hooks up with dirt roads.  I HAVE NOT ridden this section, so rider beware, but it looks like a viable option.  Be prepared for deep, slow sand. Study the images carefully and work it out.  Do NOT trespass.  Closer study of the area in RidewithGPS reveals some other possible options bypassing this to the south.  Do your homework.

The whole enchilada:


 The partial workaround:





Revenge of the 29'er Gear Talk


Gear Talk

Here’s a quick breakdown of my equipment, what worked, what didn’t, what I’ll do differently for my next tour.

The Bike

Ivan is a 2021 XL Surly “Krampus” 29’er + steel mountain bike. It has a 1x12 Shimano Deore drive train but with Microshift thumb shifter. I found that the stock trigger shifter was actually injuring my hand. There was something about the repeated pushing under the bar with my right thumb that was leading to growing and persistent pain. The Microshift is a fantastic unit. It provides a number of ways to move the gears—thumb, knuckle, full hand. Also, I find it to be much more precise and less prone to missing a gear. The trigger shifter has a certain amount of slack in the system that makes it likely that sometimes I would not push hard enough and thus not fully make the shift. No bueno. This virtually never happens with the Microshift. Can’t recommend this change enough.

Jones bars: These are fantastic, employing an ergonomic sweep that many find addictive. They also allow plenty of ways to lash on gear, which proved especially useful for carrying the big water bag on the long dry stretches. Love ‘em. Also, I adore Ergon grips, which are a requirement for me, providing a wide platform for my hands. I do have an extra tall steering tube riser to give me a much more upright posture. This totally eliminated hand pressure issues (along with the grips) and very much eased lower back strain. For reference, the ends of my grips are about 1.25” higher than my seat.

Old Man Mtn. rear rack: Bomber. Nice wide platform helped with loading and strapping things down. Get one.

Surly fork-mounted front rack: Oh, boy, do I love this thing. It’s super solid and provided a really quick and easy way to lock down my front load. It was a snap to add extra stuff like a sweater or windbreaker that I needed to shed. For me, the standard front load ended up being my sleeping gear—bag (puffy jacket usually included in that compression sack, sometimes other clothing I’d only need at night like fleece pants), sleeping pad, and the fat, heavy extra tire. This nearly two-pound boat anchor was a drag but seemed like necessary insurance given the remote nature of my ride.

Wheels: These were the stock WTB that, I presume, were wound a little too tight as the holes in the rear rim started cracking—most of them. As mentioned in the narrative, this gave me a good deal of stress, but backing off the tension seemed to do the trick. The wheel held up for the duration. I’m replacing both wheels with another set of WTB’s 40mm but assembled by a different company and using DT Swiss hubs. We’ll see how they do.

Tires: Maxxis Rekon 2.8’s. These are fantastic tires. Light, durable and grippy. Set up tubeless with about 4 oz of Stans sealant in each, these skins never failed me. Roughly speaking, I’d run 20 psi or little below off pavement and 30 psi on pavement. I got many small punctures that sealed immediately. Fantastico! In addition to the spare Rekon (a 2.6” to save weight and bulk), I carried a full complement of tire plugs, patches, sutures, glue, boots, and two tubes, one being the super light Tubelo brand. Very pricey with some dodgy reviews, but I got one anyway. None of these were used. The more beating the tires, took, however, the more the sealant tended to seep through different areas—sidewalls, punctures, etc. The PSI never dropped, but the tires started to look a bit leprotic. I’ve since learned that Orange Seal doesn’t do this, so I’ll be switching over for the next set of tires.

Brakes: These were the stock mid-grade Tektro hydraulics. They have a great feel and, especially with the added 203 mm rotors, good stopping power. However, as noted, the front one did fail me when I needed it the most. I guess the fluid boiled and I lost braking power. When things cooled down, I eventually got almost all the braking power back, but the experience was enough to get me to switch to a cable actuated brake system. These are easier to service, especially in the field, and will not suffer brake fade. I don’t think, under cycling conditions, that steel cables can boil. I’m very concerned about this as most future bike tours will be with our 34 lb. cattle dog, Patchy, plus the trailer and water for him, so on descents, my base load will jump about 50 lbs. Add this to my 185 lbs. + bike + camping gear. I’m swapping out the Tektros for TRP Spyke, which have superb feel and stopping power. I look forward to giving them a real test.

Update: I installed and did a few rides on the Spykes. Fantastico! Quiet, strong, easy to adjust. I’m a fan so far. 

Seat post: I’m running a Thudbuster LT shock absorbing seat post. This is another must have. It takes so much sting out of rough terrain, allowing me to stay seated longer. Highly recommended.

Panniers and bags: These were a combination of bags made by my talented wife, Jodi, and commercial offerings. Jodi made the frame bag, the panniers, and the little green top tube bag against the seat post. The front top tube bag is a Revelate, and the feed bags are by a Ukranian crafts person. They’re Kasy Bags, and they’re brilliant. Jodi found them on Etsy, and I hope he’s okay given the madness going over there. Shipping was a little expensive but worth every penny.


Sleeping and Camping Gear

Bag: My wife and I are both now using quilts by Enlightened Equipment. These are superb and made in the USA. They offer a bunch of designs with many custom options. Go get one! Or two!

Tent: An ancient Sierra Designs Light Year single person tent. I purchased it back in 2007 for my solo coast-to-coast tour, and it has seen me through many adventures. It’s heavy by modern standards, clocking in at about 3.5 lbs for a single person tent. But I had it, didn’t have to buy a new one, and it worked. The main door zipper is starting to go, however, and I did have to totally re-seam seal the whole tent before leaving. The new version is much lighter, but other options are lighter still. A single person tent shouldn’t weigh more than about 2 lbs. these days.

Pad: As I described in the narrative, my “new” pad failed me—a Nemo Tensor insulated ultralight. When it works, it’s great, but the technology is simply not reliable. Jodi encountered some other campers who have had similar bad experiences with the pad. The manufacturer is good about replacing them, but if you need to rely on it for remote packing, I vote no. My replacement was a now discontinued Thermarest model that worked great. My only complaint is the 20” width. As a 6’4” fella, it feels a bit tight. But it got the job done. I’m shopping around for other options.

Stove: A Soto “Fusion Trek” model. It runs on small gas cannisters with the universal screw connector. This stove has a hose connection, so you can put a windscreen around the burner if necessary. Great stove. I was only using it for coffee, however, going for cold dinners. It turns out I could have got by with a single canister but carried an extra one that I used on the last day. A lighter stove would have worked just fine.

Pot: Old titanium Ever New. Ever great!

Mug: GSI insulated plastic mug with a tight lid. This is the bomb. Doesn’t leak. Get one.


Navigation and Communication

Cell Phone: I’ve been using a basic Android smart phone running a RidewithGPS app for navigation. Keeping the phone in navigation mode EATS battery power, so I carried two 10,000 mAh batteries to keep things topped up. Another key tactic was to NOT leave it on navigation mode. I would turn it off and on depending on the complexity of the route—or my anxiety about distance or elevation profile. By only using the navigation when necessary, I could get lots more time out of one battery charge. I never fully ran down an auxiliary battery, so, technically, I could have gotten by with just one. I did top off all gear at the motel, the only time I did so on the full tour—over two weeks of riding.

GPS locator: For emergencies and communication when out of cell phone range, I carried a Garmin InReach Mini. This thing is FANTASTIC. Weighing in at only 3.5 oz, it can send out an SOS with GPS coordinates if necessary, and it also works to send text messages via email or phone service texting. There are a handful of generic quick messages, but with a Blue Tooth connection to the phone, you can compose more elaborate messages with ease. There is a yearly fee plus a monthly charge, so it’s not super cheap, but you can pay for it by-the-month as needed and then reboot when you head out for your next adventure. Yearly plans are a little cheaper. Tracking points help friends and family keep an eye of your progress. I did use the Mini to check in a few times when cell service was not available, and it worked exactly as advertised. Schweet.

Revenge of the 29'er Day 16

Day 16: The final miles. 36 miles/3630 ft. climb

Twelve days without a break, and I was feeling it. The night passed well enough, however, and the temperature at 5AM was only 44 deg. F., the warmest morning of the tour. A clump of mountain mahogany helped blocked whatever winds came our way, although I had lain Ivan on his side just in case the breezes got a little frisky. It was a most fitting and excellent emergency bivi for a wayward, exhausted bike packer.

I climbed before first sun and, as I suspected, only had 300 ft. to gain to reach the summit, enough to warm up. The descent down into the Peeples Valley was fast but an unexpected ice bath. An ocean of cold air lay in wait, and I shivered down to my bones as I rolled out into the expanses of golden grasses, distant, granite studded mountains, and large ranches with imposing gates. My aching hip and sore bum kept me moving, shifting positions, standing out of the saddle. I was ready for the tour to be over, especially dealing with cold mornings.

Climb descend climb descend, reel in the distant village of Wilhoit at the base of the final mountain passes before Prescott. No winds for much of the morning but kicking in on the last miles, but from the south and manageable. These would “freshen,” as they say, a little later and provide some head-on entertainment but never for long as the route twisted and turned, gaining and losing elevation, the way flanked by scrub, mesquite, and mahogany, tall golden grasses.

Former Marine on quad rolled up to the store in Wilhoit, the final supply point before the rugged snaking road biting into the mountains above. A bit overweight, smoking a cig, swilling coffee, close shaven head, he asked about my trip. He was astonished, although I had to give him serious respect for being a Marine, which he brushed off. I meant it, though, and wondered what lay in his past–Iraq, Afghanistan? Marines always seem to be in the thick of it.

Back on the road, 16 miles to go. This tour was going down, and a clear sky meant no snow. I would make my deadline. Climb, coast, climb, rest, repeat. No records to break, I decided to let the ache in my left hip dictate how long I would ride for each section. I stopped at prominent corners, gazing down on vibrant pines and chaparral, the signs of a solid monsoon season months before.

Far sooner than I could believe, I crested the first pass at 6,100 ft., my second highest of the tour. I knew from a previous ride that this was NOT the end, as a sweet fast drop was followed by another climb, even a little higher. I banked into the fast downhill turns, brushing the tips of the tall blond grass, feeling the speed. Bottom out, gear down, crank again. This was it, I could feel it. Stand out of the saddle, swing and pump, Ivan and me joined at the hip–among other places. He responded like the over-loaded mule that he was, dependable and slow. The front brake had recovered from the Rollercoaster of Horrors and seemed normal.

The Welcome to Prescott sign. That was it. I stopped for obligatory selfie and Ivan photos and stood about, gaping in the swirling breezes, this time trending tail, and I pushed off for the drop to Prescott, probably the last time I would do this ride, three times from California, once from Bar Harbor, Maine. With the hardcore bike packing element, this tour was a solid final act. It was time for other things, whatever they might be.

I hit the key turn and battled the last insult, another climb to my friends’ house. I grinned at my aching body, knowing the shower and rest to come. And there it was, in through the carport under the towering pine, up to the side of the house. Done.

That night is snowed three inches as predicted.

Revenge of the 29'er Day 15


Day 15: 56 miles/3850 ft. Climb

Twenty nine deg. morning—again. I tried to work quickly in the cold early hours, knowing I had a big day ahead. No rest for wicked bike packers. No sir. Layered up, I rode into the freezing morning light, determined to get to Congress, perhaps beyond.

The day slowly warmed and the layers came off. The deep ache in my left hip would rise again and again throughout the day, ensuring regular breaks. Music helped fuel the miles, and the low angle of the climb and descent to Hwy 93 kept my pace well above 10 mph, often in the mid-teens. I reeled in hills forested with stately saguaro and the angry spined cholla. A reasonable shoulder and low traffic, as predicted, ensured the distance was low stress. It was all coming together.

Congress was mine by three pm. I knew that I had to tackle the notorious Yarnell Hill, something of a wall the climbs steeply above town. I was achy, sore, in desperate need of a rest day, but the coming storm had other ideas. Knuckle up, butter cup. Remember Jodi’s wise words: “It’s only pain. How long do you expect to live, anyway?” Well, I wasn’t expecting to die, not this day. The classic old general store had been replaced by a tediously generic Dollar General, but I got what I needed at a gas station, loading up with water, extra bars, food for the night, and a fat final night’s brew. I attacked the grade, climbing higher and higher and higher, a slow battle of attrition as the sun dropped behind me. I would race the line of darkness as it crept across the desert basin, the Yarnell escarpment facing due west. If I could dispatch a sizable chunk of this climb, the next day’s work would be easier.

I kept my eyes sharp for possible bivouac zones, not so frequent on this craggy mountain wall, huge blocks of granite overhanging the road and spilling out into the desert below like so many gigantic dice. The golden light washed over my straining carcass like a benediction and a threat. Where will I camp?


At the end of a long steady pitch, the road hooked back into the mountain, a flat spot above. I knew there would be some sort of access. I rounded the corner, slipping into the chill shadows, and climbed steeply away from the main road, leaving the occasional automobile to continue up the mountain without me. My first examination was not encouraging—the flat terrain was good but too exposed, and a paved connector between the two sides of the road would ensure at least some traffic. Higher? A “No Trespassing” sign hung on a slack cable between metal posts, the road beyond overgrown and long unused. It led up to the overlook I’d seen from below. Begging forgiveness from man, beast and the gods, I easily pushed Ivan around the gate and up to a perfect campsite. This would have to do. The sun dipped as I pitched my tent on the edge of the world, the vast deserts of the American West spread out below me. Yeah, this would do nicely.

Well thrashed from my long day, my legs yelped in protest as I squatted and stood repeatedly to pitch the tent and get everything ready. I took occasional hits of the cold beer as I went about my chores, grinning through the aches as the reality of what I’d done sank in. This was it, my last night, and I’d bagged most of the first big climb to Prescott. After a quick talk with Jodi, I watched the sun dip below the horizon.