Sunday, November 29, 2009

(A)typical Day Ride on the Parkway

Mountains have moods. Ignore this anthropocentric faux fact at your own peril. I’ve made the mistake of ignoring the mood of the mountains a few times backpacking, too light and ill-equipped while peak-bagging, and found myself in dangerous and uncomfortable situations. And I’ve done it biking a few times as well.

Today Richland Balsam enticed me to play on her steep slopes with sunny skies, moderate temperature and the solitude of a closed and gated Parkway. Just above 5,000 feet, the mood turned gloomy as a half frozen rain began pelting me. Turning back, I found the weather had closed in from behind as well. Sneaky mountain.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Warm Showers Continue...

The past two weeks has brought us three WarmShowers guest. Andy Lievertz spent a few days with us as he passed through on his way to the Blue Ridge Parkway on a bike of his own creation. A tandem turned touring rig. Andy stayed with us long enough to meet a few of our friends and to join us on the gem mine ride.

About a week later Debbie and Max Thompson spent a night with us as they did a loop around our area. Starting in Cleveland Tennessee, passing through Gatlinburg, up and over Newfound Gap (impressive!), Bryson City, North Carolina (gateway to the Smokies), and on to Murphy before returning home to Cleveland. Debbie and Max are missionaries who run an orphanage in Brazil. They were a fascinating couple and we enjoyed meeting them very much.

Read more about Andy, Debbie and Max on VeloHobo
Thanks for reading, Jack and Raquel

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bicycle Prospecting

Always willing to push the extremes of bicycling, we ventured out Sunday to do some ‘bicycle prospecting’. Gone are the days where prospectors loaded Molly the mule with pick-axe and shovel to stake a claim in the wild outback. Our very good friend (bicycle diva and belly dancer extraordinaire) Paige, organized a ride to a gem mine to sluice for treasure. Rubies, sapphires, moonstone, garnets and other gems pollute our local soil and we did our part to correct things by sifting through buckets of mud and removing them. Too much fun made even funner with a bike ride.


Paige's 20 carat Sapphire!!!!!!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

I Screamed for Ice Cream!

Friends Cindy and Sue joined us for the 44-mile Brasstown Loop Sunday. We started in Andrews, rode to the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown where we stopped for a picnic lunch, and then rode through Murphy. We did the mandatory ice cream stop at the Sweet Tooth in Murphy then headed back via the Valley River road.

This is one of our favorite rides and is one of the most beautiful in our area. You’ll ride by rolling pastures surrounded by mountains and two quaint small towns. The folk school makes an interesting rest stop and a great place to have a picnic.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lighten Your Load with Free Gear!

Here are a few tips to lighten your, panniers, from a great blog I've stumbled across.

"If you don't mind some borderline petty theft, here are a few things you can snag for free to lighten up your pack on the cheap."
from Gear Talk with Jason Klass

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Curious Critters

One thing we learned about bike touring on this last trip is not to walk off with an open pannier, even if just for a few minutes, and especially not if curious critters are about.

This photo snapped by Joe Lilly of Weaverville.
Another bike tourist we crossed paths with on Loft Mountain.
Also, keep a close eye on roadside mules. They lure you in with that innocent look then nibble away when your back is turned.

"Say Buffy, that looks like the Brooks saddle you ate last week".

Friday, July 24, 2009

And we're back

As it is, we completed all of the Skyline Drive and 200 miles of the BRP. We learned a lot about ourselves, each other and bike touring. This was a tour of extremes. One night we were stealth camping a stones throw from the Parkway and bathing in a bathroom sink, the next we were enjoying dinner theater at a mountain top lodge. One day we were basking in sunshine, the next we were in fog so thick we could not see more than a few yards. We toiled for hours gaining thousands of feet of altitude only to lose it in mere minutes on fast descents.

The trip was great despite the rain and fog, which had us hemmed in at Tuggle’s Gap for two days and sitting by the side of the road for some time atop a few of the higher peaks. We reluctantly decided to cut the trip short at Fancy Gap, rent a U-Haul in Mount Airy and truck ourselves back home. We had thoughts of pushing on in the thick fog and frequent heavy downpours and getting a bit farther south, but we realized we would be missing the very thing we came for, the views. We also had a sick puppy waiting for us at the vet. The kennel called to tell us our beloved 15 year old basset hound Indio had emergency surgery. She is doing fine now.

Fancy Gap is only a four hour drive from home so it will make for a good starting point for a second tour to complete the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Special thanks to Paige for the ride north and the offer to “come rescue” us if anything went awry. Luckily, all went well (okay, not the weather, but all else) and we can hardly wait to accrue more vacation time to finish the Parkway. We feel very fortunate to live next to such a beautiful scenic byway that lends itself so well to touring by bicycle.

Here’s a link to the album:

Jack and Raquel

Friday, July 10, 2009

And we're off (almost)

A friend is driving us up to Front Royal, Va. starting at the crack of dawn tomorrow. We'll motel it Saturday night and head back Sunday. We are planning about 12 days, somewhere between 40 to 60 miles a day. Just a leisure meander through the Blue Ridge Mountains back to Bryson City, NC.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Minimalist kit for 2 weeks of touring

Raquel is the ‘planning’ type. I’m more the ‘procrastinate till the last minute’ type. But I can say, I have put a lot of thought into what I will be taking on the Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive tour.

I’ve been into ultra-light backpacking for many years so I’m looking at this trip the same way I would a backpacking trip. I really don’t want to slog a bunch of gear up and down the mountains either on my back or on my bike. Luckily, the same gear works well for both backpacking and biking.

Here is my ‘minimalist’ kit for two weeks of touring in the mountains.

-Big Agnes Seedhouse 2 tent (this one can be set-up using the fly only, but Raquel will not consider it. So we’re taking the whole tent.)
-Big Agnes sleeping pad
-Coolmax sleep sheet
-Inflatable pillow (yes I could do without this, but I refuse to live like an animal)
-Umbrella (I’m not sure if an umbrella is an unusual bike-touring item. I can’t recall seeing anyone carrying one. But I never backpack without one, so I’m taking mine. It’s great to have an umbrella to cook, eat, pitch the tent, whatever in the rain and this one weighs almost nothing and is fiberglass, not metal.)
-Titanium pot/mug/bowl and a home-made stove/wind-screen/pot-stand
-Lexan spoon, knife, fork
-Poncho/tarp to cover the bike at night
-Rain jacket, booties, helmet cover
-First aid kit
-Nalgene bottle, water purification tabs and bandanna (for filtering out the big chunks)
-Head lamp
-Hygiene stuff
-Bike tools, pump, tubes
-Clothes in a compression sack
-Small bottle of woolite

I hope I'm not forgetting anything, Jack

Car/Bike Camping in Cades Cove

Cades Cove sits in a valley located on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It is on the opposite side of the park from our hometown, Bryson City, NC . The best way to explore Cades Cove is by bicycle. Deer and flocks of turkey are everywhere and occasionally a bear or two can be seen. The wildlife is accustomed to the almost never ending stream of cars that creep around the 11 mile loop, but are most active when the loop is closed to automobile traffic.

Saturday mornings before 10:00 am the park service closes the loop to all but bicycle and foot traffic. Prowling through the historic churches, houses and barns make Cades Cove a good mix of on and off the bike activities. The single lane road is in poor condition so fat tires are preferable but this is a great ride for kids and beginners. The biggest hazards are from (guess what) kids and beginners, but this makes for a good opportunity to practice patience. Cades Cove has a nice primitive camp ground, a camp store, bicycle rental, horse back riding, hiking trails, hay rides and lots of activities for kids.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Setting Things On Fire.

Before I describe my current stove, a little disclosure of my personal history with stoves might help to explain my stove addiction. Being a typical heterosexual type male I’ve always enjoyed setting things on fire.

My first stove was a Coleman multi-fuel I picked up somewhere when I was a teenager. It would burn un-leaded gas and had a little pump on the side to pressurize the tank. All the elements for a proper disaster were in place. Teenager? Check. Gasoline? Check. Matches? Check. Device to spray gasoline into the air? Check.

To this day the hair on my left hand grows in thicker than the hair on my right. Much of my first attempt to light it is a blur, but I do remember kicking the little metal fireball away from my camp-site and into the woods then spending some time stomping out the fire. But I still used it for a few years with only the occasional mini-inferno.

Next I moved on to a tiny German-made butane stove that would easily fit into a pocket. The fuel was expensive and hard to find. I soon lost the German stove and replaced it with a Primus stove that worked great but was very noisy. Pressurize gas stoves are expensive to fuel, the canisters end up in landfills and they sound like little jet engines. The noise seems to take away from the back-to-nature experience.

I tried a wood burning stove with a battery powered blower underneath. It worked pretty well and was a move in the right direction, but a bit on the heavy side. Burning wood was appealing, fuel was everywhere and free, but rain is common in the mountains and a few experiences of eating dry/uncooked noodles led me to look for something more reliable.

On to alcohol; my current favorite. I have a couple of Trangia stoves and love their simplicity, affordability and reliability. I’ve also been making Pepsi can stoves that weigh and cost nothing. Wood and grain alcohol is environmentally safe (I think) and can be found in any hardware, auto parts or liquor store. The only drawback is the invisible flame which can easily burn the bejesus out of you.

We’re trying esbit tabs and twigs on our next trip. We are trying to go as light as possible and space is an issue as well. With the esbit tabs we can take exactly what is needed for each day. I’m looking forward to trying something new.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another WarmShower

Our second WarmShowers guest has come and gone. Once again the experience was positive. Jeremy Myers, touring up the east coast and, on a whim, deciding to traverse the state of North Carolina, took respite in our home for a couple of days. Jeremy is a recent college graduate who is doing a bit of adventuring before settling into the day to day drudgery of employment. Jeremy recently earned his degree in civil engineering. We can only hope he will go to work for DOT and dedicate his career to making the roads more bicycle friendly.

And he could start by doing away with the rumble strips that are in the shoulder of the road by our house… no pressure Jeremy, just whenever you can get to it.

Jeremy left in a somewhat southerly direction as he meanders his way back home to Pensacola, Florida. Raquel and I wish him all the best.

Follow Jeremy’s adventure by clicking on his link to the right.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tsali Bike Camping

Tsali Recreation Area is only about 12 miles from our back door. It’s named after a Cherokee leader who refused relocation via the Trail of Tears. He and his band of followers hid in the mountains of Western North Carolina until his capture by the government. Sometime later he was executed by firing squad.

The government was so moved by his bravery they decided to build a monument to his name. First they built a hydro-electric dam and flooded his ancestral home creating Fontana Lake. Then the government took axe in hand and cleared away some useless and unsightly old growth forest. In its place they created a campground with miles of single track mountain bike trails, an information kiosk, boat ramps, paved parking lot and a multi-hundred dollar cinderblock two-seat outhouse complete with hand sanitizer dispensers and those really big rolls of toilet paper. Nice.

Anyway, Tsali Campground was our destination for a short overnight bike camping trip. I ran out of the office at exactly 5:00:01 pm and made my usual 20 minute commute in 17 minutes flat. Raquel had the bikes packed and waiting at the back door. So off we rode.

Arriving at Tsali, we found the campground packed silly with screaming children, RVs with generators, people grilling with pungent lighter fluid soaked charcoal, and not an empty camp site to be found. So, in the spirit of Tsali himself, we quickly decided to defy the government and sneak off to one of the many finger-lakes to stealth camp.

We returned home early the next morning.


Hanging a bear bag

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Bicycle by Korns 1892 ...Enjoy

If this isn't working for you, the book can be found at

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Jack's Gear Notes

The Surly Travelers Check is working out well. The Travelers Check is basically a Cross Check with couplers. It’s a good all-around bike that can be dressed up for touring or dressed down for general riding. I’ve enjoyed the bike on day rides and now a short credit-card tour and look forward to two weeks on the Blue Ridge Parkway soon. The chain stay length is a bit shorter than the Long Haul Trucker and there are no braze-ons for front racks, but still a good bike for touring and a more affordable choice if you are looking for S&S couplers.

I could not be happier with the Carradice Camper Long Flap saddle bag and Ostrich handle bar bag. Together they provided plenty of cargo room (before over-stuffing, which you can easily do with both). People have thru-hiked the AT with less pack space. Together they should provide enough room for many days on the road if packed wisely.

The Carradice bag sits mostly in my slipstream which is a good thing if you are riding into a strong head-wind. Most of the weight is carried in front of the rear axle (also a good thing) and I didn’t notice any ill effect on handling having the weight so high. The Ostrich bag sits on a Nitto front rack putting the weight on the fork, not on the handle bar, so loading it heavy is not a problem.

Another handy item is my parking brake. I’ve tied a loop of elastic cord around my handle bar and slip it over the brake lever when I park the bike. The bike stays put even in a stiff wind. This is a useful thing even if you don’t use a kickstand.

And then there’s that. I’ve had a mental block keeping me from putting a kickstand on my bikes for years. Now that I have one, I love it. No more laying my bike down in the dirt and no more bending down to pick up a loaded bike. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen folks lay expensive bikes down on pavement or have them fall over after being haphazardly leaned against something.

Metal versus plastic fenders. I have plastic fenders on my Sequoia and metal fenders on the Surly. Yes, the metal ones weigh a bit more, and cost a bit more, but I think they are worth it. They are much more durable and should last years. I’ve had a few toe strikes before I got used to the overlap. Now, I don’t even think about it when I adjust my pedal stroke to miss the fender in a slow turn. It quickly became automatic. If I’m in a slow uphill turn, I’ll unclip my outside foot and pedal through the turn with my foot back a bit.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Raquel's Tommaso

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, sometime in 1993: It was a regular day, like any other. I decided to pop into my local bike shop, Bay Ridge Bicycle World. I hadn’t seen Patrice, the owner, or Gerald, the wrench, in a few months. I walked in and saw a beautiful sight, a Tommaso frame hanging from the ceiling. I said “wow, she’s beautiful”. Patrice pointed a tobacco stained finger at me and said “that’s an Italian racing bike, it’s not for you!” I don’t remember if I gave her a smart-ass response but, being a native New Yorker, I probably did. It hung there unsold and after a year I convinced Patrice to sell it to me.

The bike and I have been through a lot together. I’ve been squished between two buses in Manhattan, crashed in the Adirondacks which dented the top tube and gave me a concussion and I was knocked over by a pickup truck. But lots of good things too, century rides in Montauk, New York, Lake Tahoe and Savannah and countless shorter rides as well as some light touring. Throughout the years my Tommaso has been a faithful companion and just like her owner, she’s a tough New Yorker.


My "mojo"

Indio the Wonder Dog