Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Riding the Tractor Road - the gear post

In case you missed it, Mikkel Bølstad and I took a fatbike/packraft trip across Hardangervidda National Park during the summer. We used bike-legal 'tractor roads' and joined the sections with a packraft across one of the many alpine lakes. My trip report can be found here (my new home for trip reports), and Mikkel's here. I will continue using this site for less grandiose posts, for the moment at least.

A trip utilising a bike and a packraft requires a little extra thought and gear than one would take on a trip concentrating on only one form of transportation. Well before we embarked on this trip I had drawn up a spreadsheet to ensure I didn't forget anything and to also allow myself to spend a little time justifying each item to myself and cutting down on redundancy. After several years of gram-counting I no longer add a weight column to my gear spreadsheets, trusting my instinct and experience to keep the weight down. Also, I have learned that when packing on a bike, volume is more of a concern than weight.

I carried my gear on the bike in a range of Revelate Designs bikepacking luggage including the Frame Bag, Harness, Pocket, 2 x Feed Bags, Jerry Can, Gas Tank and Viscacha seat pack. I've yet to reduce my gear needs for a bike/packraft trip to the point where I don't need an additional small backpack. To this end, we both carried Osprey Talon 22's.

Bike Gear

We both rode fatbikes and were amazed at how comfortable and capable they were of even the most difficult, rock-strewn sections of the tractor road. A 29+ rig would also cope with a lot of the terrain and a regular mountain bike would be ok, although for each step down in flotation, I would envisage an increase in the amount of hike-a-bike you would be forced to do, especially in the softer sections.

We rode most of the route in our lowest few gears and a single-speed drivetrain would cope fine and offer even more simplicity. However, the sealed and more groomed gravel road miles we had to ride, to get to and from the trail, would suit a 1x9/10/11 drivetrain even more. We both ran flat pedals too, which proved to be the right choice, considering the walking and packrafting sections we encountered.

We carried basic toolkits, similar to what we would carry on any kind of ride. Some additions included a dropper bottle of chain lube, a spare Alternator drop-out for me and two inner tubes, instead of one.

Camping Gear

Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff for me. My trusty GoLite Shangri-La 3 has several pros and cons. I like the simplicity and space it affords and I'm continually impressed how it sheds wind. I don't like that it's a little tricky to set up when it's blowing and it takes a while to dry in the morning. I chose to take the aluminium centre pole, instead of utilising three sections of the packraft paddle I was already carrying, as I find using the paddle doesn't afford you the same level of adjustment when it comes to pitching the SL-3 in 'limpet' mode on exposed plateaus. I took my Katabatic Gear bivy to act as a groundsheet/bug shelter, based on our fantastical pre-trip conversation about sleeping 'cowboy' style if the weather cooperated, but I wished I had taken my MLD Solo inner instead, as it's more spacious and reduces condensation build up in your sleep gear.

Sleeping bag was my old trusty stand-by Western Mountaineering UltraLite. Any time I hesitate about the warmth of my super light MLD Spirit quilt, I reach for the UltraLite. Mattress was a Thermarest Prolite, picked over my more comfortable All Season due to it's lower packed volume. Meticulous camp site choice ensured I still slept comfortably. On the first night I also discovered my old OMM Duomat in the back of my Talon backpack. Result!

Still can't see me using anything else other a Jetboil for cooking duties right now, and the new MiniMo version looks even more appealing than my current Sol Ti, although the shape will require me to find a new place to store it on my bike. I also remembered my spoon this time...


Quite possibly, I spend more time thinking about the clothing I'm going to take on trips like this, than anything else. You need to take the right mix of clothing for riding, packrafting and sitting around in camp, when the weather on the Hardangervidda in summer can range from hot and sunny to snow, continuous rain, and possibly all three during the course of a few days.

Some kind of padded riding short is mandatory for most of us about to spend hours a day on a bike. I find bib shorts the most comfortable of all and chose to take my Giro New Road bib under-shorts. Almost perfect, with the added genius of a working fly, meaning answering the call of nature is a snap. Giro Ride over-shorts are impeccably tailored. Sitting nicely above the knee without being overly baggy off the bike, they almost melt into true cycling shorts on the bike, thanks to their clever cut and material. Possibly a bit too stylish and expensive for this kind of trip, I was still mightily impressed.

I wore a Brynje micro mesh under-shirt and Endura Coolmax/merino blend polo shirt. These were great 80% of the time, the addition of my Montane Litespeed wind-shirt took care of the colder sections. Montane Atomic rain pants and an old Haglofs Ozo rain jacket were both light and compact and used several times when it rained for extended periods. A crossover from my younger years as a bike racer, Endura knee and arm warmers helped me maintain thermoregulation, without the need for major clothing changes. I wonder if these would would work for hikers too?

Salamon XA Pro 3D trail shoes were the only footwear we took. Too stiff and heavy for the current trend in minimal backpacking footwear, their lack of excessive flex makes them a good riding shoe. Unlike other flat pedal riding shoes (such as the Five Tens I use on day rides) they dry quickly thanks to their lower levels of padding and mesh construction. A pair of waterproof oversocks (or plastic bags) turns them into a camp shoe and cuts down on having to carry another pair.

Sleeping gear was comprised of my Ibex merino hoody, Smartwool merino 3/4s and Woolpower socks. I also carried my Rab Xenon puffy jacket, and I was very glad of it after I took a bit of a swim crossing a river that was a little deeper than I bargained for...

Packrafting Gear

The outstanding item in this section has to be the Anfibio Bouy Boy inflatable vest. With only flat water to contend with I felt no compunction to carry my bulky foam Astral PFD. The Buoy Boy rolls up to nothing and provided me with ample peace of mind. I also carried a Sea To Summit Big River dry bag to keep my backpack dry and act as my 'seat' in the raft. Six webbing straps of varying length (including the awesome Salsa Anything Cage straps) took care of lashing my bike to the bow. A repair kit and inflation bag rounded out the packrafting accessories.

On the packraft itself, an Alpacka Denali Llama,  the biggest problem I had was actually carrying the bike on the boat. I had been on a few less intense bikerafting trips this summer, and always managed to get my bike lashed safely in place and have room to paddle. For some reason, on this trip, I couldn't get the bike to sit nicely and afford me the space to paddle effectively into a headwind for several hours. This resulted in me deciding to switch to pushing my bike along the overgrown shoreline instead. Neither option was faster than the other but I'd like to be able to paddle my packraft more effectively with the bike on board. There are different ways to orientate your bike on your raft (Doom takes you through a few in these videos) but with the whitewater deck I currently have fitted, the options are limited. I wonder if anyone has 'downgraded' from a whitewater deck to the cruiser variation (or is it even possible)? I would also like to try the Cargo Fly storage option to stow some gear out of the way.

On the whole I think I got it pretty much spot on for this trip. There were only a few things I really wish I had done differently and some minor changes have taken place already. Planning and dreaming for next summer is already underway.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Is this thing on?

Another weekend, another bicycle/bivy adventure. Another 300m higher (than last time). Slowly Norway's winter carapace of ice and snow is receding, and I'm following it's retreat.

"Cycling, also called bicycling or biking, is the use of bicycles for transport, recreation, or for sport. Persons engaged in cycling are referred to as 'cyclists', 'bikers', or less commonly, as 'bicyclists'". 
No mention of 'pushing'.

Brynje mesh shirts. Not only the chosen underwear of the discerning modern viking, but they make excellent packaging to keep two bottles of East India Pale Ale safe and cool in my frame bag. To the victor, the spoils.

According to Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book the mechanisms of heat loss include: "Convection - Heat lost to moving air or water, e.g., the wind strips heat from you" and "Evaporation - Heat lost via the evaporation of water from your skin". Here I combat both with dry, wind-proof, and insulative clothing, sitting in the chilly evening breeze.

"A Sundowner, in colloquial British English, is an alcoholic drink taken after completing the day's work, usually at sundown". Here, it is taken just below the summit of Livarden.

The sunset threatened briefly to go full nuke but instead the sun caught up with the bank of cloud heading over the same horizon and the result was rather muted.

From the end of my road I can see the slopes of Livarden, on a clear day. Conversely, one of these lights is probably my neighbour's annoying security light.

My bike acted as a windbreak during the night and my bivy was secured to my handlebars to stop my 'camp' blowing away while I enjoyed the sunset on the other side of the ridge. In the morning the air was still and already warm, as the sun poked out over the nose of Hausdalshorga.

B-town! Well, the 'burbs of B-town.

Breakfast at the summit. Cold pizza, chocolate and a mountain frappuccino. According to Wikipedia: Livarden is a mountain in the city of Bergen, Norway. It is located south-east of the Ulriken mountain massif, in the boroughs of Fana and Arna. The summit is situated at 683 metres above sea level. 

In this image the trail home traces the ridges, right of middle. Highlights included one detour, one crash, some delightful single-track, quite a lot of downhill pushing and the realisation that I didn't have a clue how to work my borrowed GoPro. So you'll just have to use you imagination at just how amazing these highlights were...

Monday, 21 April 2014

Sweet Sour

A disproportionate amount of grinding along tarmac roads on the fatbike brought me to the car park at the end of Haudalen. The gravelled road beyond was hot and dusty but it weaved it's way up into thinning trees, increasing rock and snow-capped sentinels in almost every direction. I've camped here once or twice before.

The alignment of Easter weekend and stunning sunshine made for busy progress. Families, runners, hikers and bikers laid claim to the many pretty resting spots along the river's margins. Laughter, grill smoke and a communal relief that we'd made it through another winter.

I pushed on further, to the top where the trail tips downward to the fjord. I cut right and pushed/pulled/swore-at my bike along the narrow, rocky trail at the base of Svenningen. The only sign of man here is a brief glimpse of some power lines to the north. The rest of my quarters was made up of rocky cliffs, ridges and the quiet, dark waters of the lake below, pocked occasionally but waking trout. The carefully wrapped, final, holiday weekend beer was retrieved from the frame-bag and lovingly supped while sweat dried on my skin in the heat.

I waited for the sun to set behind the ridge on the other side of the lake, then I would light my fire. Instead the sun played with me and tripped along the curve of the ridge in a downward arc, prolonging the bright light and delaying the waiting cold.

Once the sun had finished her games I threw sparks at the tinder and rubbed my hands with glee. Party time. I warmed my foil-wrapped pesto chicken and cheese sandwiches and delighted in the simple pleasure of toasting marshmallows. Where's the best toasting spot? Up over the flame? Down near the embers. The white fluffiness bloomed and crusted amongst the heat.

Behind me, the shadow of the ridge I was on crept up over the mountains to the south east of the fjord below. The snow blushed pink then became washed-out grey as the heat of the day was replaced with cold, far more in keeping with the time of year. I snuggled into my sleeping bag and bivy and stared up at the arriving stars. The Big Dipper, tipped up on it's handle, stared down at me, like some giant cosmic question mark.

Sleep was dark and solid. My eyes fluttered open only a couple of times. Once, to witness a mass of stars in a navy blue sky, and then later, to see the purple of dawn. The alarm on my phone had forgotten it was a bank holiday and rudely shook me from my contented rest. I rolled over and smiled as the rusty flanks of Svenningen stared back, still and silent.

Coffee was a priority once out of my cocoon. I pulled my stove, water, food bag and sleeping mat over to the sunny side of the ridge. The breeze was cool but in the moments of stillness the new day's warmth washed over me. I brewed a couple of disappointing coffee bags (and cursed my lack of preparedness on the coffee supply front) and dug into a Justin's chocolate peanut butter fajita and a brownie.

Descending from the ridge to the valley below was cold in places, the sun, as yet, unable to penetrate Hausdalen. The gravel track was empty and fast and passed in the blink of a cold wind-induced teary eye. The banks of the river offered lots of options to stop a while and play, marvelling at the fat tires floating over the rock and sand, splashing through the cold, shallow water. Two other campers, one in a bright red Hilleberg and another, in a more traditional lavvu, waved at my passing. I hoped they too had had a good night and beautiful morning. From their returned smiles, I was sure they had.