Car Less Ohio

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Category Archives: Touring

A Towpath Century

It’s been a lower-than average mileage year for me; by mid-August of 2013 I had three century rides under my belt for the year, but I had not done one at all this year until today. A day off with fine fall weather (summer sun with mild early fall temperatures) beckoning took me to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail with my Salsa Fargo.

Other than a short ride to work one day, this was the first test of some new upgrades on the Fargo. I had purchased a pair of Velocity Blunt rims that I found a good deal on a couple of years ago. They are 36-hole rims, so I figured they’d make a good pair of heavy-duty touring wheels someday, and was I saving them until I settled on what hubs to use. A couple of friends of mine started using generator front hubs, so I jumped on the bandwagon to try out being self-sufficient with power while on the road. I went with the Cadillac model of hub, the Schmidt SON28, and likewise for a dynamo-powered headlight, the Busch & Mueller Luxos U. For the rear hub, I went with a Shimano Deore XT.

The Luxos U headlight has a handlebar-mounted switch with a built-in USB port. During the daytime (when you’re not using the headlight), you can plug in your smartphone or any USB-powered device to keep it running and charged. With my phone in my top tube bag and the USB cable running between the phone and the light switch, I was good to go.

Occasionally taking the phone out to snap some pictures of the scenery along the way didn’t post any additional challenges.

Trunk sewer line near the Towpath Trail just south of Portage Path in Akron.

Trunk sewer line near the Towpath Trail just south of Portage Path in Akron.

Floating bridge over Summit Lake south of downtown Akron

Floating bridge over Summit Lake south of downtown Akron

Towpath Trail bridge over Pancake Creek a mile north of the village of Clinton

Towpath Trail bridge over Pancake Creek a mile north of the village of Clinton

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A dike separating the Tuscarawas River from State Route 21 near downtown Massillon

I noticed there were a few more sections of pavement on the Towpath compared to the last time I had ridden down this far south. One part included a section just south of the Summit/Stark county line. I suspect this may have been done after the repair of some flood damage from storms that we received in Northeast Ohio in the spring of this year.

Downtown Massillon is currently the only unfinished section of the Towpath Trail in Stark County. The trail ends when you reach the Lincoln Way bridge. I usually just detour through downtown–it’s quicker and less complicated–to make my way over to the Walnut Road bridge, where the trail continues south. Instead, today I decided to follow the posted detour just out of curiosity. It takes you over the river on the Lincoln Way bridge, then along a convoluted series of back streets, glass-strewn alleys, and paved local park paths until you reach Walnut Road. However, I noticed this not-yet-open extension of the Towpath Trail extending under the Lincoln Way bridge:

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When I got to Walnut Road, looking north, I could not see where this new stretch connected to continue south. So, I’m not sure when this new trail will open, and if and when it will complete the continuous trail through Massillon.

UPDATE Nov. 30, 2014 – Apparently, there was a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for this new section of trail on November 12.

Since my goal was to do 100 miles today, I continued south of Massillon until my cyclocomputer hit the 50-mile mark, which happened to be this spot about a quarter-mile south of Wooster Street in Navarre, on another stretch of new pavement:

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I had a Clif Bar snack before turning around and heading back north. I stopped at the Cherry Street Creamery in Canal Fulton for some lunch (chili cheese dog and a soft pretzel).

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Beaver Marsh area in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Beaver Marsh area in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Usually, when you do an out-and-back ride to reach a specific distance, the margin of error makes you end up a little over or a little under your target mileage. Surprisingly, in this case, the moment I arrived right at my car back at my starting point in Peninsula, my cyclocomputer turned over just 1/100th of a mile over 100 miles.

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The generator hub coupled with the USB port on the headlight worked perfectly. After running the Endomondo app on my phone during the entire 8-hour ride, I ended up with a fully-charged phone.

Panniers and bivvies and Crocs, oh my!

I’ve been helping my friend Keven select bike-camping gear lately, and so we planned a Sub 24-Hour Overnight to test it out. Keven rode down to meet me in Peninsula, and we left as soon as I got off work at 4:00pm. We headed up to Hudson and stopped at the Acme for supplies.

I brought my commuter bike this time around, because it was the bike most ready to go in touring mode (my Salsa Fargo currently has mountain bike tires on it). Keven rode his Cannondale flat-bar commuter bike, with his gear all on the rear rack.

I had a couple new pieces of gear of my own to test out.

First were my new panniers from Hyalite Equipment (formerly known as Pacific Outdoor Equipment). The rear panniers are sold as a set, and the front panniers are sold individually. The rear panniers are left- and right-specific, with cutouts for heel clearance. The front panniers are ambidextrous. The rear model has zippered side pockets. They all are waterproof, and use a roll-top closure, with side-lock buckles and straps to hold the roll-top in place. There’s a loop of velcro attached to the ends of each strap, so you can roll up the excess strap and hold it in place without it blowing in the wind and getting caught in your spokes. The R&K hardware is adjustable, so you can make it fit almost any rack. It all looks kind of complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to make all the necessary adjustments the first time you pack up for a trip, and everything just attaches, detaches, opens, and closes easily during your trip. There’s a double pocket on the inside of each pannier, which would probably be big enough for a pair of flip-flops, but not big enough for a standard pair of shoes (or Crocs).

My previous panniers were Axiom Monsoon (front) and Typhoon (rear) panniers. They also had roll-top closures, but with an added flap that dropped down over the roll-top. I found that the flap just got in the way more than anything else when I was trying to get stuff into and out of the panniers, so I don’t miss the flap on the Hyalite panniers.

The one thing the Axiom panniers had that the Hyalite ones don’t is a stiff bottom that allowed the bags to stand up on their own when not on the bike. This was handy when packing the bags at home. I find, however, that during a trip, I usually leave the panniers on the bike most of the time, anyway, so I don’t think I’ll miss this feature, either.

With all of the experimenting I’ve been doing this year with ultra-light, ultra-compact bike-packing gear, the space provided by a full set of four panniers was like being back in the land of luxury. There was a time when I could barely fit everything I needed for a bike trip inside four panniers, but now as I packed for this trip, I kept thinking, “What am I going to put in all of this space?”

In my left rear pannier, I had my sleeping bag, pad, and shelter, with room to spare. In my right rear pannier, I put a pair of Crocs, a pair of pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, underwear, and a spare pair of socks, hat, pack towel, a bottle of camp soap and sponge, and my toiletries kit; again, all with room to spare.

In my right front pannier, I put my stove, cooking pot, coffee press, bowl, mug, utensils, small pack towel, small scrubbing pad, and fire starter sticks and matches. After putting my food supply in here after the stop at Acme, I still had room to spare.

Finally, the left front pannier was left only for the obligatory 6-pack. While packing, at the last minute I decided to toss in the couple of zip-lock bags full of tools and spare parts. I didn’t think I’d need any of this for a one-night trip, but then figured that since I had the room, it would be foolish not to pack them in case I did end up needing them. This still left plenty of room for the 6-pack as well as room to spare.

The next new piece of gear is not really bike-related, but it’s my new choice of off-the-bike footwear. No matter how comfortable my bike shoes are, I always find that it feels good to have a non-cleated pair of shoes to wear around camp in the evening. I’ve always felt flip-flops were not quite substantial enough. I never thought I’d buy a pair of Crocs; I always thought they were the ugliest and dumbest-looking things around. In talking it out with my other bike-touring friends, though, we came to the conclusion that they’d make the perfect bike-touring shoes. Enough support to walk around for reasonable distances, toe protection, they can double as shower shoes in less-than-ideal facilities, and you can strap them on a rack outside your bags if needed and not have to worry about them getting wet. I decided that if I were going to dive into the world of Crocs-wearers, I may as well dive in feet first and do it right, so I got the garishly bright blue version, to match all of the blue components on my Salsa Fargo.

Finally, the last new piece of gear was the Outdoor Research Highland Bivy. I had been thinking about investing in some kind of ultra-light shelter in place of a full tent in order to get the bulk of my bike-packing gear down even further. The Highland weighs next to nothing, and packs down to next to nothing:

The head area is supported by a single shock-corded pole. It’s got two stake loops on each end, plus a tie-out loop at the top of the hooped head area. I didn’t use any of these, but the stake loops would come in handy if it’s really windy and you need to worry about the thing blowing away when you’re not in it.

The inside is plenty roomy enough for my rectangular inflatable sleeping pad. The head end has a mesh zip-up panel, and then the outer zip-around panel. Getting into the shelter is a bit more of a challenge than a regular tent, but it’s not that bad once you get used to it. It’s not big enough inside to change clothes, but the head area does provide enough space to read or write for a bit before you go to sleep.

I had read in an online review that it’s recommended to leave the outer zip open six to eight inches in order to allow enough air to get inside for you to breathe. I did this after working my way inside for the first time. As I laid there trying to get to sleep, I was panting heavily and out of breath. I figured at first that this was just from exerting myself to get in, so I gave it a few minutes. After about 10 minutes, I was still panting heavily, and I realized that I was suffocating myself. I opened up the outer zipper completely, and that made all the difference in the world; I was able to breathe easy immediately.

With the outer cover zipped almost all the way, the tension from the front and back is enough to keep the hoop upright. However, with the outer cover unzipped, the hoop drooped over. I’ll have to experiment some more; maybe unzipping the cover halfway would provide a balance of enough air with enough support for the hoop. Tying a guy-line to the loop on the top of the hoop would provide good support, but that might make getting into and out of the bivy that much more of a challenge.

There were a few brief showers throughout the evening, but I stayed completely dry. With the outer cover unzipped, I had to try to make sure the edges of the top still hung out over the bottom edge, so that any water falling down would roll onto the ground rather than inside the bivy. This seemed to work well enough during the light rain this evening, but for a full-on downpour, this may not work as well.

In conclusion, the Outdoor Research Highland Bivy provides a reliable and comfortable enough shelter for when I want an ultra-light and ultra-compact option for a one- or two-day trip. Whether or not I could stand having it be my only home for an extended six- or eight-week trip remains to be seen.

Keven and I slept in and took our time packing up our gear in the morning. After making some camp coffee and having some breakfast snacks, we left around 10:30am and rode into Kent for a full breakfast at the Wild Goats Cafe.

A not-quite-century on the Towpath Trail

I rode a century on my singlespeed Surly Cross-Check about a year ago, all on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. I wanted to do it again this year. I thought about it the past couple of weeks on my mid-week days off, but errands and other life stuff got in the way. This weekend, I found myself with a Sunday off and no other plans.

I got up early and headed out under darkness, driving down to the Botzum Trailhead, and got started pedaling just as the first signs of daylight made their way on the horizon. I stopped at the Valley Cafe to fuel up with some pancakes just two miles down the trail. I hopped right back on the bike after eating. I should have relaxed a bit and let my breakfast settle a little more. Perhaps too much “All Hailing the Ale” the night before didn’t help, as well. Either way, my stomach was doing somersaults the whole time.

I stopped to take a break on the floating bridge on Summit Lake, then another longer break just before Snyder Road in Barberton, hoping things would settle down. This was the first time I’d ridden the new section of trail between Snyder Road and Eastern Road, which was the final part of the Towpath Trail to be completed in Summit County earlier this year.

Anyway, my queasiness continued, and I started to debate whether or not I should pack it in earlier than planned. When my front tire went flat just south of Canal Fulton, that sealed the deal for me. I swapped in my spare tube, and was able to use my mini-pump to get it re-inflated enough to ride, although just barely so. I continued south towards Massillon, hoping that Ernie’s Bicycle Shop would be open for me to borrow a floor pump.

I started to see a handful of bright green Electra Townie bicycles coming towards me on the trail, which I assumed were Ernie’s rentals, so that was good news. I arrived at the shop a little before noon, and asked about borrowing a floor pump, which of course, they graciously agreed to. After topping off both of my tires, I hung out a bit, topped off my water bottle, and peeled off the base layer I was wearing under my jersey (it was starting to warm up quite a bit).

I headed back up north and made good time. My gut felt a bit better, although still not 100%. I got back to my car around 2:30pm, with a total of 71 miles on the day, and no regrets. It was a fine ride and a great way to enjoy the unseasonably warm Indian Summer day.

Mountain Biking the High Country Pathway of Michigan – Day 2

You can go back to Day 1 of this trip report if you haven’t read it already.

Brent and I arose from our tents not long after sunrise, packed our gear back up, and had some breakfast. I ate a bagel with Nutella, some dried fruit, and instant coffee. We got pedaling around 8:00am, I believe about an hour earlier than our start the first day.

We turned right out of the access road for the Tomahawk Creek Campground, looking for the blue markings where the High Country Pathway crossed. We didn’t see any marks before we came to Spring Lake Road, so apparently, we missed the trail. We decided to just head south on Spring Lake Road, since it paralleled the Pathway. About a mile later on this dirt and sand road, we finally picked up the trail markings again, and the Pathway actually followed this road for a short stretch. The sand got deep enough to be unrideable in one brief spot, and then turned back into the woods.

The Pathway went through one or two clearcut fields; sometimes the lack of features on these sections can make the trail even more difficult to follow.

There were one or two road crossings, and we came to a section of Pathway that was the most unrideable as we had seen so far–downed logs, dirt mounds, and severe overgrowth. We could see that a dirt road more or less paralleled the trail a dozen or so yards to our left, so we bush-whacked our way over to the road and proceeded to pedal happily unfettered. Since it appeared that we’d be doing more riding out in the open today, I stopped to apply some sunscreen to my face and ears.

We took out the map to see if you could figure out which road we were on, and what our next course of action should be. Many of the undeveloped roads in the area are not signed, and there are logging and maintenance roads that aren’t on the map, so it can be tricky. The rising sun was at our backs as we rode, so we figured we were heading west, more or less, and we concluded that we were on Clay Pit Road, which would lead us to State Route 33 again. This road had some long, rolling hills with some loose sand; I had to walk up one of the hills after getting bogged down in the sand at the bottom of it.

Brent on "Not Clay Pit Road"

We reached M-33 and turned left (south). Not long after that, we saw a sign for the junction of Clay Pit Road, so the road we were on before was actually NOT Clay Pit Road, but another unnamed, unmapped road. We ended up in the same place as we had intended, though, so no harm done.

We had noticed another side road on the map called Tower Road, and off in the distance to the southeast, we could see a radio tower that appeared to be several hundred feet high, so it was obvious where Tower Road went.

This section of M-33 did not have a wide shoulder like the section we rode the briefly the day before. As we rode down the right half of the lane, Brent was a little spooked by the numerous large logging trucks that zoomed past us. I guess I just didn’t think about them enough to be bothered; I was just glad to be pedaling along at a good clip.

Riding south on the M-33

We went on for a few miles until we got to Clear Lake State Park, and turned right (west) onto County Road 622 along the south side of the lake. This paved road wound through a residential area until it turned to gravel, and then joined up with the Pathway.

The Pathway soon left the gravel road and turned back into the woods. The trail finally became much more rideable again, other than one brief stretch through a low marsh area where it crossed Van Helen Creek. There were a couple of steep but do-able climbs as the trail left the creek valley, including one past the Pug Lakes area.

Brent at the top of the Pug Lakes climb

We rode through a couple more clear-cut fields. One was especially rough, as whatever machinery was used left deep, soft furrows in the earth that went across the direction of the Pathway, making riding across them impossible. The Pathway followed alongside the three sparse trees shown on the right side of the picture:

We continued through more wooded sections, mostly rideable with a few short, steep climbs. We were getting closer to Rattlesnake Hill, which, from our pre-trip research, seemed to be the most notorious climb on the Pathway. Along the way, we pedaled up the side of one large mound, and were rewarded with a smooth, flowing descent down the other side that was probably the most fun and true singletrack experience on the whole Pathway. We ended up at a road crossing, at the intersection of Rouse Road and an unnamed service road, which I dubbed “Rattlesnake Junction.”

Brent at Rattlesnake Junction

We proceeded on the Pathway, and soon were pedaling up some switchbacks, which eventually became a steep climb straight up the fall line. I managed to keep pedaling until I reached the peak, and for a short time was proud of myself for having pedaled all the way up Rattlesnake Hill.

We stopped for a while for a lunch break on the peak. I ate my last bagel with some pepperoni. It was a nice shady area, but there wasn’t much of a view, as it was blocked by surrounding trees.

Kevin on top of "Not Rattlesnake Hill"

This is where having studied the contour lines on the map more carefully would have paid off. It turns out, we were NOT on Rattlesnake Hill. We dropped down a very nice descent from this hill, and at the very bottom, there was a small sandy patch, with a downed sapling across it, which sucked all of my momentum. As the trail immediately turned steeply upward again, it was at this point that we realized that THIS was Rattlesnake Hill. I didn’t have the energy nor the will to attempt to pedal all the way again, so I stepped off the bike and trudged up sheepishly.

There is a bench at the top of Rattlesnake Hill, and the view is much more memorable. It is much more open and exposed to the sun, however, so at least I was comforted in believing that at least the “false” Rattlesnake Hill was a better place to stop for lunch.

Kevin on Rattlesnake Hill

The descent off of Rattlesnake Hill was a little rough; it looked like the trail had recently been re-routed, and the new trail was not yet very well-established. I didn’t bomb down, but just took it easy to stay in one piece. Not long after that, the Pathway re-joined County Road 622. We decided we had enough trail experience for a while, and stayed on the road to try to cover a big stretch of ground more quickly.

The road was the usual dirt, gravel, and sand. The sand was a little thick in spots, but never so much so that we couldn’t keep pedaling. It felt good to be pedaling along at a good, steady pace, but it was hotter out on the open road, and the sun reflected off of the sand, making me fell like I was getting double exposure. County Road 622 ends at Black River Road, which we took north until it intersected the Pathway again. There were a handful of residential houses on both roads; the people in them must really enjoy living off the beaten path.

We followed the Pathway (alternating between rideable trail and unrideable wooden bridges again) until it met Chandler Dam Road. We turned right (east) here to follow the road into the Town Corner Lake Campground in order to top off our hydration packs. Standing at the well, a guy came over from his RV parked at the adjacent site. He was wearing a mountain bike-related t-shirt, so he apparently recognized us as fellow adventurers. He was from Kalkaska, and told us about trails and events in the area that he recommended we try out someday. He mentioned that he had biked the Pathway in the past; I asked if he would do it again. He chuckled and said, “I think you’ve answered your own question.”

We headed back west on Chandler Dam Road until it ended at Tin Shanty Road. We intended to follow this north until it crossed Sturgeon Valley Road, but again, with scant road signage, we ended up going all the way to Hardwood Lake Road. This goes west until it joins Twin Lakes Road, which shortly brought us to the park headquarters and our car, for a total of 40 miles ridden for the day. We enjoyed an impromptu post-tour celebration.

I would conclude that the High Country Pathway of Michigan is a worthy challenge for any mountain biker looking for a unique backcountry adventure that can be completed in a couple of days. It’s an ideal testing-ground if, like Brent and I, you’re preparing for a longer off-road tour, such as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. However, being that it’s not what the average mountain biker would call a “pure” riding experience, I would not say that it’s a trail that needs to be on every mountain biker’s “bucket list.”

Despite the couple of minor unplanned detours that we had, navigation of the Pathway is pretty straightforward. A GPS and/or compass may have helped a little, but the average person should be able to find their way around the Pathway using the map and common sense.

We were amazed that we suffered no flat tires, especially after having ridden (or pushed) through so many overgrown weeds, many of which were thorny branches. However, I later found at home the next day that both of my tires were flat, so that would have been something to deal with had I been on the trail a third day. I would recommend either tire liners, sealant, tubeless systems, or whatever your preferred combination of puncture-protection technologies is.

Similarly, we were amazed that neither of us suffered poison ivy; not long into the first day, we gave up trying to avoid it as we pedaled through the weeds. To avoid both the poison ivy and just plain being cut up by the weeds, I’d recommend long sleeves and some type of long pants or tights. As I mentioned before, the insects were not as bad as we had feared, but the dry weather may have given us better than typical luck in this regard.

Because of the rough and less-developed nature of the trail surface, a full-suspension bike would be ideal for traveling the Pathway most efficiently. However, I am still quite happy with the performance of my rigid Salsa Fargo, and wouldn’t hesitate to keep using it for other similar adventures.

There are couple of things that I learned from this trip that might influence further refining of my bike-packing setup (see Day 1 for the details). The slight changes I made to my cooking and eating gear for this trip really helped create the extra space I needed for food in the frame bag. Eliminating a lot of extra clothing saved me both space and weight on this trip, but I’ll still need to account for that on a longer trip through more varied weather, such as the Great Divide.

I found that I really didn’t need all of the snacks and personal care items so close at hand in the top tube bag. That stuff could have easily gone in my backpack, and for the times that I needed it, it would not have been that big a deal to retrieve it from the backpack. Maybe I can find a way to better utilize this space.

The only issue I had, and it was quite a minor one, was with the two zip-lock bags containing my tools and spare parts. During the first day, I had them in the front of the seat bag, with my sleeping bag and sleeping pad in the back of the seat bag. The irregular size and shape of the tools and spare parts left voids in the space between them and the sleeping bag and pad, causing the bag to sag a bit. On the second day, I put the sleeping bag and pad in first in the front of the seat bag, and then the tools and spare parts in the back. But, this put the heavier items more towards the back of the bag, so it still sagged more than usual and I had to stop and re-cinch the straps a few times throughout the day.

Maybe I can distribute the tools and spare parts between the top tube bag and frame bag, or maybe put them in the handlebar bag, and use the top tube bag for my smartphone and digital camera. Either way, it’s a good excuse to continue planning short adventures to work these things out.

Mountain Biking the High Country Pathway of Michigan – Day 1

My friend Brent and I are planning to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 2014. We wanted to do a short tour to test out our bikes and gear, as well as our mettle in handling a multi-day off-road adventure. We selected the High Country Pathway, located in the northern reaches of the Michigan lower peninsula, because it is within a reasonable drive, and we figured we could handle the 80-mile loop in two days.

The High Country Pathway is open to hikers, mountain bikers, and cross-country skiers. There are also equestrian and snowmobile trails in the region that intersect it. We referred to the trail using the abbreviation “HCP,” but locals and the trail signage refer to it as simply the “Pathway.” It spans a four-county area, mostly within the Pigeon River Country State Forest. You can order a map of the Pathway, printed on quality waterproof and tear-resistant paper, from the Pigeon River Country Association (please let me know if any links become dead).

Despite the remoteness of most of the Pathway, it’s easy to get to where you can begin your adventure. The nearest town is Vanderbilt, just off Interstate 75. Turn east on Main Street, and as you leave town, the road becomes Sturgeon Valley Road. The park headquarters is a few miles away, just up Twin Lakes Road on the left.

After a detour along the way to ride the singletrack at Fort Custer State Recreation Area, lunch and dinner stops, we arrived after dark. We set up camp at the Pigeon Bridge Campground, the camping area just before the park headquarters. There are several such campgrounds along the Pathway to provide starting and stopover points. There are no showers or electrical hookups, but there are toilets, fire rings, and wells with clean drinking water.

The Pathway runs right through this campground:

Although, it turns out we would not end up riding this particular stretch.

Checking in at the campgrounds is done on a self-registration system; only cash and checks are accepted, so remember to have some small bills on hand for correct change. As of this writing, the fee is $13 per campsite per night. In addition to camping fees, you’ll need to buy a state parks recreation pass to bring a vehicle into any Michigan state park or recreation area. You can buy one at any state park office for $8 per day or $29 per calendar year (for non-residents). Michigan residents can purchase passes when they renew their driver’s licenses. I’m guessing non-residents can order them by mail or online, but I could never locate that information on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources web site.

There was one other site occupied, by a couple in an RV. They were running a generator, which broke the silence of the otherwise isolated area, but fortunately, it didn’t run continuously, and most of the evening was spent in quiet. We hit the sack in our tents.

It had been warm most of the day, and remained relatively warm through the first part of the evening. I slept inside my sleeping bag in my shorts and t-shirt, until I woke up in the middle of the night feeling pretty cold. I got my sweatshirt out of the car, and slept comfortably again for the remainder of the evening.

In the morning, while we re-packed our tents and sleeping gear, the gentleman from the RV stopped over to say Hi and get some water from the well. He said he’d be making a pot of coffee, and apologized if his generator was disturbing. “Gotta have it for my coffee,” he said, “So I figured it was only fair if I offered some.” After I ate a bagel with Nutella for breakfast, I took my travel mug and wandered over to the RV to partake. We chatted a bit; his name was Philip, and he was from Traverse City. The women with him was actually his sister; he said he brought her out to “give her a break from her kids for a couple of days.” They planned to do some fishing later in the day.

Brent and I weren’t sure if the best course was to leave our car there at the campground, or move it somewhere else while we were out on the trail. So, we loaded our stuff back into the car, and drove up the road a bit to the park headquarters. There’s a small trail parking area right next to the headquarters building, so we decided to use that.

Brent had forgotten the car charger for his mobile phone, so it was pretty much dead at this point. He asked if he could plug in for a few minutes at the ranger station, and the ranger generously agreed. It took about 30-40 minutes for us to get our bikes set up and change into our cycling clothes, and by that time, he had a decent 40-50% charge. I had noticed the night before that my cell coverage dropped off as we left Vanderbilt, but we thought we might get occasional coverage on high ground, and he wanted to be ready to check in with his wife once in a while when possible.

In our research about the Pathway, we had read that the mosquitoes, deer ticks (carriers of Lyme disease), and other insects were particularly nasty. Brent bought some 100% Deet insect repellent; I stuck with the more innocuous Deet-free Natrapel that I already had. I applied some to the exposed area of my lower legs. Since I figured we’d be riding under tree cover for most of the day, I didn’t bother applying any sunscreen.

We finally started pedaling, some time around 9:30am if memory serves, but we weren’t really watching the clock. We joined the Pathway immediately in front of the park office. We passed a couple of backpackers almost immediately, and then rode through the Pigeon River Campground, which is located along the Pathway just northeast of the park office.

The terrain of the Pathway was mildly rolling; the climbs were not extreme. The route of the Pathway was easy to follow, marked with blue blazes painted or nailed onto trees or sign posts. The surface was pretty solid dirt most of the time, but it seemed that it didn’t get enough traffic to pack it down smoothly. To a hiker, it would seem perfectly fine, but our rigid bikes felt every minor bump and trough. At times, the path through the woods would be fairly wide open, but much of it was very overgrown with weeds. This made riding cumbersome sometimes, as it felt like we were continually bushwacking to find and follow the path of the trail. The weeds, often thorn bushes, slapped against our legs, leaving them looking like we had been attacked by feral cats. I wore long sleeves mainly to keep the sun off of my arms, and this gave me the added benefit of keeping the weeds off of my arms. Brent, in short sleeves, was not so lucky.

It didn’t take long, however, for the weeds to deposit a plethora of burrs on my gloves and sleeves:

Our first major break came about 4-1/2 miles in, on top of a hill overlooking Grass Lake, although with the tree cover, the lake itself was not visible. We took some pictures and rested a bit, marveling at our so-far slower-than expected progress.

About 5-1/2 miles in, we came to the first of only a handful of significantly steep climbs. I’m no expert at reading maps with contour lines, but I could see ahead of time that the “Devil’s Soup Bowl” would turn out to be an apt name. There was a steep, fast downhill, then the trail immediately turned steeply upward to get out of the bowl. I was able to grind it out in the granny gear on my Salsa Fargo bike, but Brent, on his singlespeed El Mariachi, had to push it up.

The Pathway continued for several miles with more of the same as before–some wide trail, some overgrown, mild ups and downs. We came across another trail feature that would bedevil us for the rest of the trip. In some low, marshy areas, wooden bridges were built to provide solid footing over the soft, muddy ground. For a hiker, again, this would be no problem, but the bridges are usually too narrow to risk trying to ride across (unless you’ve got mad trials riding skills), and also makes it very tricky to push your bike across. A bike loaded for touring is too heavy to carry for very long. I usually put the front wheel in front of me on the bridge, and held my bike so the back wheel swung out beside me over the edge of the bridge. This was tricky as well, because often the weeds were as overgrown on the bridges as they were on the other parts of the trail. Sometimes I would tilt my bike up vertically, so that I could hold the handlebars in front of me and roll it on the rear wheel as I pushed it from behind, but it got heavy after a while in this mode.

Often, the transitions from the dirt to the bridge are abrupt and not very bike-friendly, which in many cases, was what made them less rideable than they could have been, because you couldn’t get a good start. Some of the bridges are built wider and are much more rideable, but these were the exception:

There were also a couple of larger footbridges over streams and creeks, which were just barely wide enough to be rideable:

About 9-1/2 miles in, we stopped at the Pine Grove Campground to top off our hydration packs and take another short break.

I’ll take this opportunity now to list my gear and packing setup. What I used was a more pared-down version, with some refinements to the cooking/eating gear, of the bikepacking setup I first used on a sub 24-hour overnight last month.

Wearing:

  • Bell Sweep helmet
  • Buff bandanna
  • lightweight long-sleeve jersey
  • Endura Hummvee Lite 3/4 baggy shorts with snap-in liner short
  • Merrell Chameleon socks
  • Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek shoes
  • Giro Bravo gloves
  • Road ID

Osprey Manta 25 hydration backpack:

  • 3-liter water bladder
  • Ibex boxer shorts
  • large pack towel
  • trowel
  • two rolls of camp towel paper
  • zip-lock bag with all-purpose camp soap and small sponge
  • one ActiveWipes towelette
  • wallet
  • Princeton Tec Byte headlamp
  • Seat To Summit Mosquito Head Net
  • Columbia Sportswear booney hat
  • Surly wool cycling cap
  • small Case Logic digital camera bag for personal care items:
    • toothbrush
    • floss
    • camp mirror
    • nail clippers with file
    • tweezers
    • scissors
    • travel-size deodorant
  • food:
    • meal-ready-to-eat (MRE) with chicken and pasta shells in tomato sauce, diced pears in heavy syrup, crackers, peanut butter, grape drink mix packet, instant coffee packet
    • one packet of StarKist tuna
    • two packets instant mashed potatoes
    • 7-ounce packet of Sun-Maid dried fruit
    • 1-pound packer of pre-sliced pepperoni
    • three bagels

Revelate Designs Viscacha seat bag:

  • tent poles
  • Pacific Crest 40-degree synthetic down sleeping bag
  • Big Agnes Insulated Air Core sleeping pad
  • O2 Fluid3 hooded rain jacket stuffed into a small mesh stuff sack
  • MSR MiniWorks EX water filter pump
  • 2 zip-lock bags with tools and repair supplies:
    • Pedro’s compact chain tool with spoke wrenches
    • cable cutters
    • Leatherman multi-tool
    • spare brake cable
    • spare derailer cable
    • spare derailer hanger
    • spare chain links and master links
    • miscellaneous nuts, bolts, and washers, cable tips, ferrules
    • Park Tool tire boots
    • zip ties
    • duct tape
    • Tenacious repair tape
    • 2-ounce bottle of Tri-Flow lube
    • 2-ounce tube of Buzzy’s grease
    • two shop rags
    • two Gojo wipes
    • spare batteries: 2032 for cyclocomputer, AA for headlight, AAA for taillight

Revelate Designs frame bag:

  • two spare inner tubes
  • Guyot Designs Squishy cup and bowl set
  • Markill compact canister stove
  • small scrubbing pad
  • REI titanium cooking pot (with the above four items inside)
  • small pack towel
  • REI plastic mixing spoon
  • Brunton titanium utensil set (knife, fork, spoon)
  • food:
    • small jar of Nutella
    • zip-lock bag of trail mix
  • basic repair kit in smaller left-side pocket:
    • Slime Skabs patch kit
    • IceToolz L-bend hex wrench set
    • Craftsman flat/phillips convertible screwdriver
    • Topeak Shuttle Lever 1.2 tire levers
    • Lezyne Pressure Drive Medium mini-pump

Revelate Designs top-tube bag:

  • sunscreen
  • insect repellent
  • lip balm
  • Clif Bar (Chocolate Brownie is my favorite flavor)
  • two sample packs of Gu Chomps
  • a few electrolyte drink mix tablets
  • Planet Bike Blaze 2-Watt headlight

Outdoor Research 10-liter stuff sack on Salsa Anything Cage on left fork leg:

  • Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent, stakes, fly, and ground cloth

Outdoor Research 10-liter stuff sack on Salsa Anything Cage on right fork leg:

  • neoprene socks
  • Showers Pass Storm pants
  • Pearl Izumi Zephyrr shell gloves
  • DeFeet DuraWool liner gloves
  • SmartWool Cuffed Beanie hat
  • SmartWool liner shirt
  • SmartWool liner pants

Avenir Metro Mini handlebar bag:

  • smartphone in waterproof case
  • digital camera in zip-lock bag
  • car key
  • small notepad
  • pen
  • trail map

I didn’t get the opportunity to weigh the complete setup, but I suspect it was just a few ounces less than the full bike-packing gear setup that I broke down in an earlier post. It probably came to about 24 pounds, including the bags themselves, on a bike that comes in around 27-1/2 pounds.

The handlebar bag was a last-minute decision, because I figured I wanted to have the trail map and my digital camera close at hand at all times. I had planned to add a cable lock somewhere in the mix, but that ended up being the one item that I inevitably forgot.

I also added a bottle cage to the mount on the bottom of the down tube, just so I’d have a bottle that I could use to mix up a sports drink along the trail using one of the electrolyte tablets.

The MRE had been given to me by a friend about nine years ago; I figured this was a good opportunity to finally try it out. The tuna and potatoes were a backup in case the MRE didn’t fare so well.

I did not end up needing any of the cold- and wet-weather clothing in the one stuff sack, but it was all fairly light, and I felt better knowing that I had it in case I did need it.

I usually like to pack a pair of non-cycling shoes or sandals when I’m bike touring. No matter how comfortable my cycling shoes are, it always feels good to have something different to change into for walking around camp in the evening. To save space, however, and since it would only be for one night, I decided to let my feet rough it for this trip.

I felt like the Salsa Fargo handled well on the off-road terrain while carrying all of this gear. I was a lot more tentative than I would be compared to riding singletrack on an unloaded bike, just for the fear that something is bound to come loose if given the opportunity. But, during the few times that I did “let it all hang out” on some fast sections, the gear was none the worse for wear.

We decided to stop for lunch around the 12-mile mark. There was no distinguishing landmark at this point, other than a fallen log beside the trail that provided a convenient place to sit. I ate a bagel with Nutella, some pepperoni slices, trail mix, and dried fruit.

Around the 15-mile mark, the trail crosses Osmun Road, and here we encountered our first navigational error. Maybe where the trail continues was not marked clearly enough, or maybe we just didn’t look carefully enough, but we thought the trail continued along the road, so that’s the way we went. The road surface became very loose sand, making pedaling tough sometimes, but not quite to the point that we had to dismount and push.

Brent on Osmun Road

My tire in the sand of Osmun Road

We called out “Mukluk!” on these sandy stretches, continuing the tradition that we started on the trails at Fort Custer State Recreation Area the day before. We continued for a few miles, until, after not seeing any of the blue blazes for the Pathway, and presented with an unmarked fork in the road, we realized we must not be on the right track. We consulted the map, and after discussion, determined to take the right fork. This turned out to be the correct choice. It turns out, we had been riding on Duby Lake Road, and we crossed a junction with the Pathway shortly thereafter. A short time after re-joining the Pathway, we crossed the intersection for the trail spurs to Duby Lake and McLavey Lake, confirming that were were once again on the right track.

The Pathway continued much as I’ve already described–some wide-open trail, much more overgrown trail, gently rolling terrain interspersed with some short, steep climbs, and more of the narrow wooden bridges. There were a couple of areas where the Pathway crossed an open field. One in particular looked very surreal, with tall, strange-looking weeds with groups of bulbous green seeds on top; we dubbed it the “Land That Time Forgot” because of its prehistoric-looking nature. Sorry; I didn’t think to stop for a picture here.

We planned to stop for another snack break at the Canada Creek Shelter, which would have put us at the 33-mile mark for the day, out of an expected 40 miles to the Tomahawk Creek Campground. The Pathway crossed County Road 634, where we saw a sign that there was a bridge out where the Pathway crosses over the actual Canada Creek, and it advised to follow the posted detour south on 634 (a dirt and gravel road). We were getting pretty tired and hungry again, and in hindsight, we probably should have stopped here or even sooner for another break, but we decided to press on to finish the day’s ride as soon as possible.

Brent along Canada Creek Highway

The detour along County Road 634 dead-ended on Canada Creek Highway, another dirt and gravel road, where we turned left (east). The Pathway markers indicated that we could have picked up the trail again somewhere just before State Route 33, but we checked out the map and decided to take the most direct route to the campground. We turned right (south) onto Route 33, and less than a half-mile down the road, turned left onto the dirt and gravel Tomahawk Lake Highway, which led to the campground. We had logged a total of 37 miles for the day, but it had felt like double that.

We did the usual self-check-in at the camp site. There were only two other sites occupied that we could see, and the sites were quite spacious, which afforded the quiet and solitude that most bike-campers would hope for. I took my socks off, and clicked the liner out of my shorts and changed into the boxers; with the outer shorts and the jersey, that’s what I ate and slept in for the night.

Tomahawk Creek Campground

We ate our dinners at the campsite picnic table. My MRE turned out to be surprisingly good; an added bonus that I wasn’t aware of until I opened it up was the self-contained chemical heating unit. I saved the instant coffee for the morning. Brent had an instant backpacker’s meal of beef chili, plus some of the tortillas and sausage that he had brought.

Brent enjoys dinner at the Tomahawk Creek Campground

I heard a few mosquitoes buzzing around my ears throughout the evening, but they weren’t nearly as bad as we had expected from our pre-trip research. We never felt like we needed our head nets. Horse flies were attacking my ankles, so I applied a little more Natrapel to that area (formerly protected by my socks), and that did the trick. I’m sure that the bug population varies with the time of year and the weather, and the very dry summer that we’ve been having here in the Midwest probably helped with that.

We turned into our tents while it was still light out, and had no trouble falling asleep. We heard a storm rolling through during the night, but we weren’t sure how long it lasted. Our tents held up well and we stayed dry, and I was comfortable temperature-wise the whole evening.

Exploring the Four Corners

I’ve referred to the “four-county area” in my posts on Facebook and Twitter in the past. I’m referring to Cuyahoga, Summit, Portage, and Geauga Counties here in Ohio. These four counties come together in one point, similar to the “Four Corners” region out west where the states of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet.

It’s pretty easy for just about any ride I go on to take in all four counties, since I live right in the northeast corner of Summit County. In fact, I can hit all four counties with a ride of only about 5 miles right from home.

This all may only be of interest to you if you’re a geography nerd like me. There are lots of great bike routes to be found all over Northeast Ohio, but I find this area nice, because you can live close to one of the urban centers, but don’t have far to go to get to some wide-open and low-traffic rural roads.

I have a few “standard” loops I do, but I never cease to be amazed at the variety of new back roads that I come across to add a new twist to an old favorite ride.

Today, I did one of those standard loops, making my way into Aurora to catch Pioneer Trail east all the way to Garrettsville. I headed over to Hiram, then straight north on State Route 700 up to Burton. The last time I was up that way, I just headed south on Rapids Road until it dead-ended on Winchell Road, which leads back to Aurora. This time, a short couple of miles down Rapids Road, I took a right onto Stafford Road, then a left onto Valley Road, which does a very scenic jog along the shore of LaDue Reservoir.

I joined the people fishing and boating on the lake in enjoying the perfect overcast and cool summer day. Valley Road ends on Washington Street, which I took straight west through Auburn, veering off onto Bainbridge Road, through Bainbridge Township and into Solon and Cuyahoga County, completing the fourth of the today’s four-county tour, for a total of 63 miles.

Bike-packing gear list, version 1.0

I recently obtained my new hydration pack, which made me ready to start testing my plan for packing up the Salsa Fargo for light-n-fast “rack-less” touring.

Here’s a shot of the naked bike with all of the gear before packing:

The weight of the bike as shown is about 27.5 pounds. Included on the bike are:

  • Cat Eye Strada Wireless cyclocomputer
  • 2 Salsa Anything Cages (mounted on the fork legs)
  • Planet Bike Blaze 2-watt headlight
  • Planet Bike Superflash Turbo taillight

The weight of the empty bags is about 6 pounds.

Here’s a shot of everything packed and ready to ride:

Here are the details of the bags and contents:

Left unpacked are what I’d be wearing while riding:

  • Endura Hummvee Lite 3/4 shorts
  • Surly Wool short-sleeve jersey
  • Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves
  • wool cycling socks
  • cycling gloves
  • Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek shoes
  • Buff bandanna
  • Bell Sequence helmet
  • Road ID

Revelate Designs Viscacha seat bag:

  • Pacific Crest synthetic-fill 40-degree sleeping bag
  • Big Agnes Diversions Insulated Air Core sleeping pad
  • tent poles
  • O2 Fluid3 hooded rain jacket (in a stuff sack)
  • Showers Pass Storm rain pants (in a stuff sack)
  • generic down jacket packed in (in a stuff sack)

Revelate Designs Gas Tank top tube bag:

  • sunscreen
  • lip balm
  • insect repellent
  • hand sanitizer

Outdoor Research 10-liter dry sack on left fork leg:

  • Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent body, fly, stakes, and ground cloth
  • tent stake hammer

Outdoor Research 10-liter dry sack on right fork leg:

  • REI titanium cooking pot
  • Evernew titanium mug
  • Snow Peak titanium bowl
  • Light My Fire titanium spork
  • Markill stove
  • fuel canister
  • REI plastic mixing spoon
  • salt and pepper shaker
  • small pack towel
  • scrubbing pad
  • waterproof matches
  • fire starters
  • MSR Miniworks EX water filter pump
  • first aid kit

Salsa/Revelate Designs frame bag:

  • 2 spare tubes
  • tire levers
  • patch kit
  • tire boots
  • hex wrench set
  • multi-tip screwdriver
  • Pedro’s chain tool with spoke wrenches
  • Leatherman multi-tool
  • cable cutter
  • brake cable
  • derailer cable
  • spare derailer hanger
  • spare small parts: bolts, nuts, washers, chain links, zip ties, cleat bolts, cable tips and ferrules
  • small tube of Tri-Flow grease
  • small bottle of Tri-Flow chain/component lube
  • duct tape
  • Tenacious tape
  • 12mm coiled cable lock
  • 2 Gojo wipes
  • 2 shop rags

Osprey Manta 25 hydration pack:

  • Large pack towel
  • 2 spare pair of socks
  • Ibex wool boxer shorts
  • lightweight casual shorts
  • lightweight long-sleeve shirt (can double as a spare bike jersey)
  • SmartWool liner shirt
  • SmartWool liner pants
  • SmartWool Cuff Beanie
  • DeFeet DuraWool liner gloves
  • Neoprene socks
  • Pearl Izumi Zephrr shell gloves
  • Columbia Sportswear booney hat
  • multi-purpose camp soap
  • toothbrush/paste/floss
  • camp mirror
  • tweezers
  • nail clippers with nail file
  • scissors
  • travel size deodorant
  • 2 rolls backpacker’s toilet paper
  • trowel
  • smartphone and charger
  • GPS and charger
  • vitamins
  • body wipes
  • spare eyeglasses
  • wallet (with cash, credit/ATM cards, driver’s license, passport card)
  • Princeton Tec Byte headlamp

A couple things that I’ve since thought of that are not included above, but I’ll have to find room for eventually:

  • spare batteries: 2032 for cyclocomputer, AA for headlight, AAA for taillight
  • small notebook and pen
  • route maps

In looking at this list, as well as the photo of the unpacked gear above, it’s hard to believe that it all fit on the bike. I weighed the packed bike, and subtracting the original weight of the bike and the empty bags, it’s about 25 pounds worth of gear, not counting the clothing and other gear that I’d be wearing on my body while on the bike. That’s not too bad, considering that for normal touring with racks and roomy panniers, I’d typically have about 40 pounds of gear.

The problem, however, is the bulk of the gear. With everything packed in as I described above, it leaves hardly any room for a food supply. The Gas Tank bag has room for a few energy bars and gels; a few small items might still be stuffed into the frame bag, and the OR dry sacks might fit a few more things.

Either way, though, I’ll have to put my gear list on a diet and make some adjustments to where stuff is packed.

I also need to think about how to plan for extended periods without a water source. Possibilities include an MSR Dromedary bag lashed to the seat bag, water bottles in the side pockets of the hydration pack, and a bottle cage mounted on the bottom of the bike’s down tube.

This past Sunday, I put this packing scheme to the test by riding it to work, and then taking it on a Sub-24-Hour Overnight trip with my friend Brent to our usual destination of West Branch State Park.

The full gear list above takes into account the full range of weather that might be encountered on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, including cold and wet. Being that it’s now July in Northeast Ohio, and there was only a small chance of rain this particular evening, I was able to ditch quite a bit of gear to free up space. I removed the down jacket, wool liner shirt and pants, wool liner gloves, wool hat, neoprene socks, shell gloves, and booney hat. I also would not be needing the water filter, since fresh water at the West Branch campground is readily available. I left out the trowel and toilet paper, since there are also restrooms. I kept the Ibex boxers, used the outer layer of the Endura shorts as my in-camp casual shorts, and packed a t-shirt to wear around the camp. I wore the same pair of socks through the whole trip. I meant to leave the rain jacket and pants behind, but only realized later at the camp site that I still had them in the seat bag.

I packed a few food items in the hydration pack. For dinner, I took a box of macaroni & cheese, packet of tuna, and a pack of instant mashed potatoes. For breakfast, I took two packets of instant oatmeal. I also took a few cookies to snack on.

On the way to work, the dry sacks on the fork came loose a bit. I stopped to tighten up the Velcro straps I was using to hold them in place, and that seemed to do the trick for the time being. Once I got to work, I found a couple of extra bungee cords and used them for extra support around the Salsa Anything Cages, just to be safe. I’ve concluded, however, that the Anything Cage works best with soft goods, like my tent on the left side. It doesn’t work so well with hard goods like my cooking gear on the right side, because this kind of stuff tends to shift around too easily, and thus the straps holding it in place come loose more easily. So this is one area where I can adjust the location of where I pack stuff.

I started thinking that I should just ditch the whole concept of bike-packing, and go back to traditional racks and panniers. Back at home a few days earlier, I weighed my panniers, front rack, and rear rack. If I used these instead of all of the frame bags, the gain in weight is about 4 pounds.

However, after getting everything situated, making the ride to West Branch, setting up camp, and then breaking down camp the next morning, I got used to the bike-packing scheme. The way I had all of the items organized lent itself quite well to easily unpacking and re-packing, and finding stuff when I needed it. I guess like any new idea, it has to grow on you a bit. I’ve already got a few ideas for changes to pare down the bulk of the gear, so stay tuned for version 2.0 of the bike-packing gear list.

Brent and I did a little route exploring on the way to West Branch. We usually hop on the Portage Bike and Hike Trail near Towners Woods park. The last time we made this trip, the trail ended near downtown Ravenna. It’s been extended since then, so it now ends on Peck Road east of town. We made a right onto Peck, then a right onto Newton Falls Road, very near where it meets the intersection of State Routes 14 and 59. Normally, one would take Rt 59 east to where it meets State Route 5, then turn right onto Rock Spring Road into West Branch State Park. The campground entrance is just past the railroad overpass bridge.

This bridge is being rebuilt, so the detour involves taking Rt 14 south for a few miles to Booth Road, which meets Rock Spring Road from the other end. Cable Line Road would provide a similar, but shorter, detour, but it, too, is closed. We decided to head up Cable Line Road anyway to see if the closed section were passable by bike or on foot.

Not quite a mile from Rt 14, we got to the closed section:

There was no gap in the guard rail to cut around, so we had to hop over and lift our bikes over. We finally saw the reason for the road closing:

As you can see, a wide section of road has washed out, leaving a chasm about 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep.

Carrying our bikes and shuffling a little at a time to avoid losing our footing, we made our way down, through, and up out of the chasm. So, Cable Line Road is passable via an extreme hike-a-bike. But, for the extra time and effort it takes, taking the Booth Road detour is a better option, which we did for the ride home on Monday morning.

First Annual Heart of Ohio Gravel Grinder

Today I did an adventurous ride from Bolivar to the town where I grew up, Adena. I’ve done this ride a few times in years past, by taking the most direct route, which involves taking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail from the Akron area down to Bolivar, then a few back roads and State Route 800 to New Philadelphia, then US Route 250 to Cadiz, then local roads into Adena.

I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with this direct route. It’s very scenic, especially the section that runs along the shore of Tappan Lake, but that’s balanced by the need to dodge semi-truck traffic going to and from the Walmart distribution center in nearby Wintersville.

My goal for today’s ride was to find a less-traveled route along the many county and township roads off the beaten path. Many of these roads are just a gravel surface, so I thought that maybe this route would become the basis for an annual event like the many “gravel grinder” endurance races/rides that are becoming popular throughout the Midwest. Every ride needs a name, so I came up with the “Heart of Ohio Gravel Grinder,” a.k.a. the HOGG Ride.

I scouted out the route ahead of time using Google Maps, and made notes on what I thought would work. A month or so ago, I drove the route ahead of time as a sanity check. Online mapping data can be sketchy sometimes, especially on rural back roads, so I wanted to find this out when I had an easy bail-out option in the car, rather than stuck out on two wheels. The information was surprisingly accurate, though, and I had to make very few refinements to my route notes before I actually pedaled it. Google Maps estimated about 60 miles from Bolivar to Adena by this route. You can see the turn-by-turn details at the bottom of this post.

I packed up the Salsa Fargo bike to get ready a couple of days in advance. Although the route would be taking me through a couple of small unincorporated villages, none would have even so much as a convenience store or gas station to stock up on water or snacks, so I had to bring enough with me. I also wanted to pack enough to be prepared for any weather conditions. This year’s early Spring in March has paid us back with a return to cold days and sloppy conditions, including some hail and sleet earlier in this April week.

For packing up the Fargo, I settled on the frame bag, packed with the usual emergency repair supplies, and some snacks (one Clif bar, one pack of Clif Shot Bloks, and some trail mix). In the oversized Revelate Designs Viscacha seat bag, I packed my rain gear: waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, waterproof shell gloves, and neoprene socks. Also in the seat bag were my change of clothes for when I arrived in Adena: sweatshirt, pants, underwear, socks, and sneakers. I used a small handlebar bag to keep my phone and wallet close at hand.

I put two water bottle cages on the front fork mounts, and for the first time, used the bottle cage mount on the underside of the frame’s down tube. For a cool day, I figured one bottle of water per 20 miles was enough; if it had been a hot summer day, I would have found a way to use all five bottle cage mounts, or maybe would have used a hydration pack.

I woke to find almost an inch of snow on the ground this morning. I almost bagged the ride idea completely, but I had plans to meet some friends for breakfast anyway, and since I already had the bike gear packed up, I figured I may as well toss everything in the car and see what happens.

After breakfast, I headed south and drove to Bolivar. More snow and sleet continued to fall on the way, but things cleared up to just a little overcast about when I passed the Akron-Canton airport, and by downtown Canton, it was actually sunny. In Bolivar, it was a little overcast again, but thankfully dry and pleasant.

I left my car at the Dairy Queen just off of Interstate 77. In deciding what to wear to start off, I decided on my Endura Humvee 3/4-length cycling shorts, SmartWool liner shirt, Surly wool jersey, DeFeet wool socks, Lake winter cycling boots, SmartWool cap under my helmet, Pearl Izumi windproof fleece gloves, and Pearl Izumi convertible windbreaker jacket/vest.

I got started pedaling around 10:45am, and hopped onto the Towpath Trail where it continues just south of town from Fort Laurens State Park. This section of the Towpath runs for only a few miles, beginning with a relatively smooth surface of fine gravel. After about 3 miles, a posted sign warns that “This section of trail suitable only for hiking.” The trail turns into packed dirt like a typical hiking trail; rough in some spots, interspersed with some tree roots, and even a few rocks. It’s not a problem, though, on a fat-tired bike for anyone with any singletrack riding experience.

Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail near Zoar

The trail dead-ends on State Route 800. Here, I was already starting to heat up, so I made a quick stop to peel my sleeves off, taking advantage of the convertible jacket’s ability to, well, convert into a vest. After a quick jog on a brief stretch of gravel, I was onto the back roads.

The route was much as I had hoped and expected. Traffic-free rural roads, although not as much gravel as I had thought there would be. As the flatlands of northern Ohio transition into the foothills of the Appalachians, this area consists of a series of undulating ridges. You’ve gotta climb up to get to the top of one ridge, then follow a gently rolling road along the top of the ridge for a while, then dip down and back up to get to the next ridge.

The weather reared its fickle face throughout the morning and afternoon. There were a few sprinkles of rain early in the ride, but nothing serious enough to warrant digging out the waterproof gear. There were hail showers that lasted only a couple of minutes. It was that wacky kind of back-and-forth, where I’d be hearing the hailstones bouncing off of my helmet, but could look across to the adjacent ridgeline and still see patches of blue sky and sunshine peeking through. The temperature was in that odd “in-between” stage, where I would get too hot and sweaty cranking up the hills, and then too cold from the breeze on the descents.

And man, those climbs–of course, always worse than what you remember them being when you drove them in a car. I found myself in my granny gear more often than I expected. A couple hills that stand out in my brain are Brown Hill Road and Herbert Road.

I crossed the line from Tuscarawas County into Harrison County around the 25-mile mark. This was a good landmark to stop and take a little break, and the sun was out again, so I decided to re-work my clothing. I figured that if I lightened up my clothing, I wouldn’t get so hot on the climbs, therefore I’d sweat less, therefore I wouldn’t get so cold on the descents. So, I ditched the SmartWool liner shirt. I replaced the SmartWool cap with a Buff headband. I swapped out the windproof fleece gloves for my thin SmartWool liner gloves. I rubbed some sunscreen on my face and ears for safety’s sake, and got going again.

With the perfect timing of Murphy’s Law, it started to hail again, and I started to shiver. I pulled over right away, and put the sleeves back on my jacket. This, finally, turned out to be the perfect combination, and I was comfortable for the rest of the day, with the exception of the hail stones bouncing off the skin of my exposed face.

During the next few miles, I had a few of those moments that cyclists live for. As I cruised down several nice long descents, with the hail stones stinging my face like a hundred needle pricks, I found myself thinking, “I must be freakin’ insane to be out here like this, and yet there’s virtually nowhere else I’d rather be at the moment.”

The sun came and went many more times, and the miles and beautiful scenery slipped away along the continuing quiet, rural, ridge-top roads, such as this one:

Gundy Ridge Road in Harrison County

After the big breakfast I had to start off the morning, I didn’t have to reach for my snack supply as much as I expected. Around the 40-mile mark, along Hanover Ridge Road, I stopped and munched on three Clif Shot Bloks. On the far side of the village of Unionvale, I turned onto the last gravel stretch, Lamborn Road, which crosses the line from Harrisson County into Jefferson County and leads into Adena.

I stopped at the top of the final granny-gear climb on Lamborn Road to look back at the ground I’d just covered:

Looking back on Lamborn Road in Jefferson County

This stretch of gravel is traditionally known to locals as Penova Ridge. Looking ahead to the final descent, I re-mounted the Fargo, and enjoyed the thrill of bombing down the hill and arriving in Adena. I arrived in town at 4:00pm on the dot, for a total of 57 miles.

Just before the final descent down Lamborn Road into Adena

So, who’s ready to join me next year for a semi-organized, unofficial endurance event? Some post-ride thoughts I have are:

  • Modify the route to make a loop ride more practical to avoid the need to hitch a ride back to my car; possibly stage a turn-around point in the nearby city of Cadiz.
  • An earlier start would also make a loop ride more do-able.
  • Let me know any thoughts and/or interest you may have in the comments.

1st Annual Heart of Ohio Gravel Grinder – Bolivar to Adena

  1. Head SOUTH on State Route 212 (pavement)
  2. Turn LEFT into Fort Laurens State Park (pavement)
  3. Turn LEFT onto Towpath Trail (fine gravel, then rough dirt)
  4. Turn LEFT onto State Route 800 North (pavement)
  5. Turn RIGHT onto Towpath Trail/Old Zoarville Rd (gravel)
  6. Turn RIGHT onto Boy Scout Rd (pavement)
  7. Turn LEFT onto Bissel Church Rd/Trail 386 (pavement)
  8. Turn RIGHT onto Riggle Hill Rd (pavement)
  9. Turn LEFT onto Johnstown Rd (pavement)
  10. Turn RIGHT onto Brown Hill Rd (pavement, some gravel)
  11. Turn LEFT onto Tabor Ridge Rd (pavement)
  12. Turn RIGHT onto Henderson School Rd (pavement)
  13. Turn LEFT onto Buck Hollow Rd/Township Rd 395 (mixed rough pavement/gravel)
  14. Turn RIGHT onto New Cumberland Rd (pavement)
  15. Turn RIGHT onto Old Roswell Rd (pavement)
  16. Turn RIGHT onto State Route 29 West (pavement)
  17. Turn LEFT onto Herbert Rd (gravel)
  18. Turn LEFT onto Roxford Church Rd/County Hwy 66 (pavement)
  19. Turn LEFT onto Beans Rd/Township Hwy 331 (pavement)
  20. At Crum Rd, bear RIGHT to continue on Beans Rd/Township Hwy 331 (pavement)
  21. Road becomes Cougar Rd/Township Hwy 105 (gravel)
  22. Road becomes Cottage Rd/Township Hwy 102 (gravel)
  23. At Harrison County line, road becomes Tunnel Hill Rd/County Hwy 44 (gravel)
  24. At State Route 151, continue STRAIGHT onto Gundy Ridge Rd/County Hwy 44 (mixed pavement/gravel)
  25. Turn RIGHT onto Hanover Ridge Rd/County Hwy 17 (pavement, then gravel after State Route 9)
  26. Turn RIGHT onto Bakers Ridge Rd/County Hwy 51 (rough pavement)
  27. Turn LEFT onto Upper Clearfork Rd/County Rd 13 (rough pavement)
  28. Road becomes Unionvale-Kenwood Rd/County Rd 13 (pavement)
  29. Turn RIGHT onto Unionvale Rd (pavement)
  30. Turn LEFT onto Lamborn Rd/Township Hwy 72 (gravel)
  31. Turn LEFT onto Lamborn Rd/Township Hwy 74 (gravel)
  32. Bear RIGHT to stay on Lamborn Rd/Township Hwy 74 (gravel)
  33. Turn LEFT onto W Main St (pavement)

Springtime in January, Again

The weather gods smiled upon me once again this month, with dry skies and temperatures into the 50’s on my day off. I took Uncle Rico (my knickname for my Xtracycle-equipped bike) down to Kent to check out Wild Earth Outfitters, the new outdoor store.

The most direct route to Kent is about 18 miles. I decided to try a new way to avoid some of the more heavily-traveled roads. I started by heading to Aurora and jumping on Pioneer Trail, a common launching point for many of my favorite routes. A good ways into Portage County (more eastward than I had anticipated), I made a right onto Diagonal Road. This road heads south and slightly west towards Kent, and runs concurrently on State Route 303 for about 1/2 mile in Streetsboro. I was starting to regret taking the scenic route, as I just wasn’t “feeling it” today; my leg muscles felt like they were running out of gas early in the ride.

I reached the point just north of Kent where Diagonal Road becomes a one-way (the wrong way for where I was headed). To avoid having to hop on State Route 43, I made a left onto Ravenna Road, then after a couple of miles, a right onto Lake Rockwell Road, and shortly thereafter, hopped on the Portage Hike and Bike Trail for the final push into Kent. I finally arrived in Kent, after covering about 27 miles since I left home.

I headed back out of town on Fairchild Avenue, and caught the Summit County Bike and Hike Trail where it starts near Stow-Munroe Falls High School. I followed it to where it meets Barlow Road outside of Hudson, then took Barlow Road west to go browse a bit at Appalachian Outfitters in Peninsula. After that, I backtracked to the Bike and Hike and headed north. This is one of the most beautiful sections of this trail, where the former railroad bed cuts through a hillside, creating a rocky canyon wall, with sunlight streaming through the tree branches.

I got to check out the latest developments on the Brandywine Road bypass. All of the trail is now done except for the new bridge over Interstate 271. Continuing north, when the trail dead-ends just before the future bridge location, you only have to hop on Brandywine Road for about 100 yards, and then make a left into the newly-refurbished parking area for Brandywine Falls. Then, hop on the new trail, loop around back under the parking lot entrance using the new tunnel, and continue on the new trail, around the Brandywine Inn, up the hill along Brandywine Road, then continue on the original trail.

At this point I would usually continue north on the trail until it ends at the Summit/Cuyahoga County line, and follow Alexander Road back towards home. However, I had always wondered what it would be like to follow State Route 82 on the busiest part through the strip mall stretches in Northfield and Macedonia. So, when I got to where the trail crosses Boyden Road, I just made a right onto Boyden, headed up to Route 82, and made a right to head east.

Route 82 wasn’t so bad after all. The only recommendation I’d make is to take your place in the line of cars well enough ahead of time before you get to a traffic light. Otherwise, the shoulder often disappears right before and after the light, so if you don’t take the lane, you’ll get squeezed out.

Just east of where Interstate 271 cross Route 82, a bike lane starts and runs right along Route 82. The only dicey part was just before the Macedonia/Twinsburg border, when all at the same time, the road narrows from two lanes to one in each direction, the bike lane ends, and the road shoulder turns to soft dirt. The road opens back up to two lanes in each direction again soon after, leaving plenty of room to share the road heading towards downtown Twinsburg.

Before heading home, I made a sightseeing side trip into the Locust Grove Cemetery, Twinsburg’s first burial ground, and the final resting place of many local historical figures, including Aaron and Moses Wilcox, the twin brothers for whom the city was named. I arrived at home with a total of 56 miles under my belt for the day.

Product Review: Salsa Fargo, Part 3 – Touring

This is the third part in my ongoing review of the Salsa Fargo bicycle. In Part 1, I gave my initial impressions based on some short road rides, including commuting. Part 2 was my head-to-head comparison of riding the Fargo on singletrack versus a full-suspension mountain bike. As promised, this post describes my experience with using the Fargo in a touring environment.

First, I’ve made a couple of changes to my Fargo setup since the last part of the review. After the singletrack test was done, I swapped out my Kenda Small Block Eight tires for the new Continental Comfort Contact 700×54. This is a smooth but fat tire, basically equivalent to a 29×2.1-inch tire in size, which runs at a maximum of 60psi. As you might have expected, these tires made the Fargo feel much more road-worthy, rolling more efficiently, not to mention more quietly.

I initially debated about which crankset would be better, a traditional 22/32/44 mountain triple, or a 26/36/48 touring triple. I used the mountain triple for the rides covered in Part 1 and Part 2, and found it to be ideal for riding singletrack, but it felt a bit anemic on pavement. I swapped on the touring triple, and found this, like the tires, made the Fargo feel much more road-worthy. It may seem like a no-brainer: the off-road crankset works better for off-road riding, and the on-road crankset works better for on-road riding, but I can’t really explain why this is the case. The differences in the upper and lower limits of the gear ranges aren’t that significant, and I didn’t really spend much time riding at the upper and lower limits on either crankset. Maybe it’s a mental thing, or maybe it has to do with how often I needed (or didn’t need) to shift between the middle and large chainrings. Anyway, perhaps my experience with choosing the ideal gearing for a Fargo is common, based on the recently released specs of Salsa’s 2012 models. For 2011, they offered the Fargo with one version of the complete bike, which came with a mountain double crankset. For 2012, they are offering it in three complete versions, one with a mountain double, and two with a touring triple.

To transition into touring mode, I installed a pair of Planet Bike’s Cascadia 29er full-coverage fenders. With the Fargo’s full complement of eyelets, plus the chainstay-mounted rear disc brake, the fenders went on without any hassles. The only thing that caught my eye was that the two pair of eyelets on the rear are spaced kind of close together, making the mounting points of the fenders and my Topeak Explorer rack bump against each other. It worked with no problem, but the slightest variation in the length of the rack’s lower struts, or in the angle required for the fender struts, might cause some issues with other fender and rack combinations.

The Topeak rack works great for both commuting and touring, but I decided to dress up the Fargo with matching Salsa front and rear racks. The Salsa Wanderlust rear rack has more streamlined lower eyelets compared to the Topeak, so the rack/fender eyelet crowding is much less of an issue. The upper struts on the Wanderlust rack need to be trimmed to length for installation. Theoretically, you line up the upper struts with the upper eyelets on your bike, then mark the other end of the struts to know where to hacksaw them off. However, it’s not possible to line up the struts with the eyelets at first, because you can’t rotate the struts down enough to clear the strut mounting plate on the rack. This photo makes it more clear what I’m talking about:

Ironically, the installation instructions that come with the rack describe the process of lining up the struts with the eyelets, but they include a photo that looks pretty much like my photo above! So, they’ve designed a rack with a Catch-22 installation procedure: you have to align the struts to know how long to cut them, but it’s impossible to align the struts until after they’re cut. (This would be less of an issue on larger Fargo frames, or other frame models.) What you end up having to do is just completely remove the struts from their mounts on the rack, line up the eyelets, and hold the other end close enough to make an educated guess as to where to mark them to be cut. This is what I did, and my struts ended up being just long enough, so I would suggest over-estimating the length you need on the first cut, test-fit, then cut to trim again as needed.

The front rack from Salsa is called the Downunder. It’s a two-piece rack that uses the lower- and mid-fork eyelets. The problem with many two-piece front racks is that once you load them up with cargo, the torsional forces that the load places on the rack can cause the mounting bolts to loosen, or worse yet, strip out (I have had this happen). The usual solution to this issue is to use a one-piece front rack that has an upper platform or an arch that connects the two sides of the rack, which makes the whole rack rigid enough to relieve the torsional forces on the mounting bolts. The Downunder rack takes a different approach; it keeps the two-piece design to save weight, but the mid-fork mounts have a double prong design. Thus, in addition to the bolt on the lower-fork eyelet, each half of the rack is held in place by a bolt on the outside of the fork leg and a bolt on the inside of the fork leg. This design provides plenty of rigidity, and installation was a breeze.

Not that I anticipated needing them for my first brief touring tests, but just to show how cool they are, I threw on two extra bottle cages using the mounts on the Fargo fork. So finally, here’s a shot of the Fargo in its full touring-mode glory:

One final addition I made that is not apparent in the above photo was to add a taillight bracket to the rear rack. This ended up being a bit more of a science project than I anticipated. Most rear racks made for sale in the US have a light/reflector mount that consists of either two holes oriented vertically, or two holes spaced horizontally at 50mm apart (some, like the Topeak Explorer, have both sets of holes). Many racks made for sale in Europe have a light mount that is two holes oriented horizontally at 80mm apart. The Wanderlust rack has two eyelets spaced 80mm apart, but these eyelets are oriented so that the openings are vertical, i.e. pointed towards the ground and the sky. I emailed Salsa and asked what their thinking was behind this eyelet design, and how they suggested mounting a taillight. In their response, they said that the eyelets are intended for mounting your own home-made enhancements to the rack, and they suggested using a taillight with a rubber or circular (seatstay-type) mounting bracket.

My favorite taillight is the Planet Bike Superflash, which has an optional rack mounting adapter that uses either of the two US-style mounting holes, and I wanted to find a way to make this work. I dug through my stash of spare rack parts, and it turns out I had an adapter made by Topeak that converts an 80mm Euro-style light mount to a vertical US-style mount. I bolted this to the bottom of the Wanderlust’s 80mm eyelets, then bolted an L-bracket (the kind that comes with some cheaper racks in the US market to provide a reflector mounting point) onto the Topeak adapter. The L-bracket then provided two mounting holes in the proper vertical orientation to attach the Planet Bike mounting adapter. So, here’s the finished setup, without the actual taillight, so you can see all of the bracket detail:

I’m still on the fence about how I feel about this. On the one hand, it works really well, and I’m proud of myself for coming up with it. On the other hand, it kind of offends my aesthetic sensibility, because it seems a little too Rube Goldbergian.

I did a few commutes and other short road rides with the Fargo’s touring mode setup, and everything felt great. The first major ride I did was not a “touring” ride in the true sense, but what many recreational cyclists consider to be touring; it was the BikeMS Pedal to the Point on August 13. This is one of the many MS150 rides held throughout the country to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. My girlfriend and I do the one-day ride instead of the two-day, so that we don’t have to worry about finding somebody to watch our beagles. We wanted to figure out a way to do this without having to deal with taking a shuttle back (from Sandusky, Ohio) to the starting point (in Middleburg Heights, Ohio). So, we do the first-day route to the lunch stop, including the optional century loop that adds an extra 25-30 miles before lunch. Then, we do the regular route in reverse from the lunch stop back to the starting point. This makes a nice 93-mile loop. The weather forecast that day called for possible thunderstorms, so I put a single waterproof pannier on my rear rack to give us a place to stash our rain jackets and helmet covers, plus to keep our wallets, keys, and cell phones dry. Since we’d be riding the last part of the route “self-supported,” we also threw in a few extra snacks, and took an extra pair of water bottles (in my fork-mounted bottle cages). The predicted rain never came, and the day ended up being not too hot and quite pleasant. The Fargo continued to feel great throughout the whole 93 miles. I never felt like it was a struggle to keep up with the true roadies along the way when I felt so inclined.

My first true self-supported tour on the Fargo came when my friend Brent and I took an S24O trip on August 28. “S24O” stands for “Sub 24-Hour Overnight,” which means a bike-camping trip with a single night stay. The term was coined and made popular by Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works; the Adventure Cycling Association has created a spin-off web site dedicated to the activity at www.bikeovernights.org. This was another “Tour de Salsa,” as Brent was once again riding his new Salsa Vaya.

I left work in Peninsula around 5:30pm, after realizing I forgot to pack a bike jersey for the tour. I decided to just ride in my t-shirt, and that worked fine, since it was a cool, pleasant evening. I had a full complement of front and rear panniers. In one rear pannier, I carried all of my camping gear: tent, ground cloth, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp pillow, and headlamp. In the other rear pannier, I carried my cooking gear and food: backpacking stove, fuel canister, cook pot, coffee press, plate, bowl, mug, utensils, two packs of instant mashed potatoes, one pack of ramen, and some pre-ground coffee. In one front pannier, I carried spare clothes: shorts to change into at camp; hat, arm warmers, and long-sleeve jersey in case it turned unexpectedly cold; spare socks; and rain jacket. I left the other front pannier empty to serve as a six-pack cooler. I also used a small handlebar bag for my phone, wallet, and keys. If this were a more full-length tour, my gear arrangement would have been a little different in order to better balance the load, plus I’d have more food, clothing, and spare parts and tools. But for this short trip, this packing scheme worked fine and would be easy to keep organized. When I first got going, the bike and panniers felt a little more shaky and unsteady than I had expected, but I think this was just because it had been so long since I had ridden a fully loaded bike. Within a half mile or so, I got used to the feeling again, and the load on the Salsa racks felt rock-solid.

I met Brent at the Acme supermarket in Hudson.

We stocked up on a little more food, and the aforementioned six-pack:

You can see from the shots of us and our bikes that we are sort of using the opposite packing schemes compared to what our bikes are optimized for. I’m using the full front and rear panniers that are more traditional for a road touring bike, where Brent is using a more “fast and light” setup becoming popular with the off-road touring crowd, with his camping gear up front, top tube bag for extras, and other gear in a large seat bag.

We made quick work of the remaining leg of the 26 mile trip to the campground at West Branch State Park, outside of Ravenna, Ohio. We took the Portage County Bike & Hike Trail for part of the route, which is an unpaved rail-trail, so the trip did provide just a small taste of multi-surface touring. We checked in at the campground a bought a bundle of firewood, which let me test the cargo-hauling ability of the Fargo a little more:

We had enough daylight left to get our tents set up, then enjoyed cooking and eating our dinners under the light of the moon and our headlamps.

We got up with the sun, packed up all our gear, fueled up with some camp coffee, and hit the road.

Our return trip was uneventful; our bikes and gear performed well. We stopped at the Starbucks in Hudson for a quick breakfast, then headed back to work.

I noticed one new thing about the Fargo after several rides with the current setup. I mentioned in my two previous reviews that whether riding on-road or off, I spent much more time in the drops of the handlebars on the Fargo, compared to a typical drop-bar road bike. However, I think mostly due to the smooth tires, and partially due to the touring crankset, I’m not having to exert as much effort to keep my momentum up, and so I’m spending a lot more time riding on the hoods now.

In conclusion, the Fargo without a doubt makes a great touring bike. I had some minor setup issues that were more related to the racks and accessories themselves, and not the actual bike. Packing, organizing, and hauling touring gear is a snap, and the Fargo handles it with finesse.

Of course, a longer, more rugged tour would be a true test of the Fargo’s design and abilities. As I mentioned earlier, the Fargo was meant for off-road touring. I’ll be experimenting with some alternative touring setups, including some fast-and-light off-road options, in preparation for a tour of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route I’m planning for 2014. Until then, I’ll report back on any more shake-down tours I undertake. Either way, the Fargo will be the first bike I reach for whenever I’m planning a self-supported bike tour, whether on-road or off.

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