Sunday, December 1, 2013

First bikepacking trip!

Hitting the open trail
The weather looked good for Thanksgiving weekend, and it was time to hit the trail.  I decided on doing an overnight on the Black Canyon Trail.  My frame bag wasn't complete, and my gps mount was still in the mail, but who cares?  Get on the bike and go for it!

The first thing I needed was a way to mount my GPS on the bike.  A bit of sleeping pad, some tape, and 5 minutes time and I had a super-strong mount.  The tape started to slide off the GPS near the end of the ride, but it was pretty good while it lasted.  Duct tape or gorilla tape would've probably held up better.
As I started to pack my things onto the bike, I realized I'd forgotten the handlebar sling that I'd made!  It was in my house in Flagstaff.  I improvised with a canvas shopping bag and two straps.  Funny thing is, this setup actually secured the bag tighter to the frame than the sling I made, and it's simpler.  A new handlebar sling is in the works, using this idea.

The complete set-up, ready to go.  First true test of my homemade panniers.  I rode with a small pack and hydration system for my water.  All together, more space than I needed for an overnight (the pack carried only the hydration system, otherwise it was empty).

The route begins with nice singletrack through the open prairie landscape that I had only seen previously from interstate 17.

I met two guys doing a one-day trip down the trail while taking a break at this windmill.  I decided not to filter the cow-water and instead wait for a better source.
They soon left me in the dust; I'm not a very fast rider.

I think I'm headed down...

Sweet, smooth singletrack dropping into Black Canyon.

My campsite for the night, complete with a view of the Bradshaw Mountains, bike parking and a rock outcropping for protection from wind and redneck gunfire.  A mile or so earlier I found a pothole in a drainage with water from recent rain, and filled a water bottle for cooking.  That way I didn't have to descend down to Bumble Bee creek to find water and a campsite.  Staying out of the drainages is a very good idea in winter desert camping, since cold air flows down them at night.  My campsite was probably 10 or 15 degrees warmer than Bumble Bee creek.

Bumble Bee Ranch.  You can see cottonwoods next to the ranch; that's Bumble Bee creek, where I filtered water for the rest of the ride.

ACE friends note: this trail is built on a LOT of junk walls.  They seem to be holding up just fine.

More sublime saguaro singletrack.

The ride ended with an Agua Fria river crossing, complete with some bike-bushwacking along the bank to find the best spot.
I started where the trail crosses Highway 69, and finished at the Rock Springs trailhead in Black Canyon City.  40 miles in 2 days isn't a lot of distance for a mountain bike, but I was pretty knackered.  The biggest limiting factor was a sore neck and thumbs (oddly enough).  I attribute both of these to having not mountain biked in the last 3 years; this is one of the first rides I've taken on the new bike.  The panniers held up well, but I did lose a couple of straps from forgetting to tighten them up; my attachment method uses slider lock buckles and relies on tension to keep from unraveling.  I may look for a new method, or simply back up with tape next time.

Also, while I definitely like the panniers and will do more trips with them, for 1-2 night trips my framebag should be sufficient space.  And I need to make a small bag that sits in front of me while biking, for snacks and stuff.  It sounds kind of ridiculous, but digging into the panniers or a pack for a snickers is too tedious, and I don't eat as often as I should when food's not right in front of me.

All things considered, a wonderful ride.  Bikepacking is *so* much more fun than touring on a road. Riding singletrack, knowing that you can stop and set up camp any time, it's pretty cool.  It combines everything I like about backpacking and mountain biking.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Living out of my subaru, and my entry into the car commuter class

For the first 40 days of this semester, I lived out of my car while working a day job in Flagstaff.  This post is about how I dealt with the lifestyle, what I enjoyed about it, and what started to drive me nuts 5 weeks in (it might surprise you).

First off, the idea of living in the woods is about money, but it's not just me being cheap.  I'm generally just not that satisfied with paying rent.  I'd much rather buy a plot of land, build a shell of a house, and live in it while I finish it.  If I'm going to pay a monthly payment, I'd rather it be towards equity.  Also, Flagstaff has a lot of totally legal forest service camping, as long as you don't go over 14 days in a month.  Since I had three-day weekends and spent them climbing and hiking, that wasn't a huge problem; the rangers aren't sticklers about it if you don't trash up a spot.  But enough prelude, on to the details.

When I first decided that it wasn't worth paying rent in Flagstaff, my first worry was about comfort.  Not comfort in terms of sleeping; I know and trust my sleeping bag.  But comfort for me also includes being organized.  It means that in my daily life I know where the things I need are, and don't go thrashing through half of my stuff to find things on a routine basis.

So my first step was to go to the used gear store in town and sell off some of my excess gear.  The next was to rent a small (4 foot cube) rental space to store things I wouldn't need in the next few months (which makes you wonder, do I really need them at all?).  Having downsized my belongings, I set about making my car more comfortable to live in, by building some pull-out shelves from my sleeping platform.  My propane stove was parked on one side of the platform, and the shelves provided instant work space for cooking.  A small propane tank on the roof connects to the stove with a hose.  I dedicated one part of the storage space under the platform to my kitchen, and while I still haven't figured out the best way to organize that, it's a lot better than having no organization at all.

So with comfort more or less out of the way, the first challenge came: loneliness.  I'm a social person, and I like to have a sense of community.  This is something that was lacking even when I lived in my last house in Flagstaff, but I had Becky with me then.  For my first four weeks living out of my car this semester, she was out leading Prescott College's wilderness orientation.  So it was me, in my car, living out in the woods.  Getting out there at 9:30 or 10 o'clock after my night classes, after dark even in August.  Not ideal by any means.  I like to cook, but cooking for one person just isn't that satisfying.  And the night classes make it even harder.

Fortunately, the college provided some of the community that I'd otherwise be lacking, and I met up with a couple of new climbing partners.  It's not the same as living in a good house, but I felt better than I did when this started.  And I spent my three day weekends going on climbing and hiking trips (the grand canyon three weekends in a row before the shutdown), so the camping and working in town was really just a half time thing.  I started to enjoy waking up and doing homework in the woods, setting up a little office with my camp chair and my laptop or my kindle.  All things considered, the living part of living in the woods got easier over the weeks.  I could easily see myself living out of it again for a summer, when the weather is nice and the days are long.  Maybe a climbing summer next year?

So now for the worst part of subaru life.  It wasn't comfort, or loneliness, but driving my car every day.  That's really it.  Even though Flagstaff has the best free camping of anywhere I've ever been (I could give you complete directions to a half dozen forest service sites off the top of my head, all within 10 miles), none of them are quite close enough for me to bike into work every day.  I don't really want a 5+ mile commute back from night classes especially.  So I found myself, overnight, having joined the world of car commuting.  Years ago, I swore I'd never commute by car on a daily basis.  I like the exercise that I get from my bike, and I don't think it makes sense to spend so much energy driving around in our daily lives.  Driving this much doesn't feel particularly good, and I feel isolated from the town.

Now I'm living in a house within easy walking of downtown, and no more than 2 miles to either of CCC's campuses.  I'll have some late-night rides home, but nothing terrible.  And most importantly, I can give my subaru a rest for a day.  I think there was a point where it had been driven every day for over a month; I think this is the first time I've ever done that in my life.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sourdough Apple Pancakes

I almost never make "normal" pancakes anymore.  Just like I don't make plain cheese quesadillas.  I'm always after something interesting to add.  So here's my recipe for sourdrough pancakes, with apples added - but I'll put a list in at the end of all sorts of other fun things that I've mixed in recently, too.

First, you need a sourdough starter.  I got mine by mixing flour and water and waiting until it got bubbly, then feeding it periodically.  There are all sorts of recipes online about making and feeding starters, but I'm about as lazy as it gets.  I keep mine in a sealed glass jar and feed it whenever I use it, and occasionally otherwise.  I never measure what I add to it.  I've let it go for a week or more at room temperature and had no problems using it in a recipe.  It helps that all of my recipes involve long, overnight fermentations; plenty of time for whatever yeast and lacto-bacilli remain in my neglected starter to recoup, multiply and ferment.

Once you have the starter, the recipe for the pancake batter is quite simple.  This is enough for one hungry 27-year-old male:

  • 1 cup/4 oz flour
  • 1/2 cup/4 oz water
  • 3 grams of salt
  • 1 egg (you can at least triple this recipe without increasing the number of eggs)
  • 1 tablespoon of neutral flavored oil (or mix in melted butter in the morning)
The night before, mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Use a whisk if you have it and mix just enough for everything to combine.  And when I say just enough, I mean just enough.  Shoot for 10 seconds.  Leaving a few lumps is A-ok, they'll cook out.  Optionally spritz the top with oil (see my bread post for a DIY oil spray) to keep a skin from developing overnight.  This is only necessary with low humidity.  Cover with a cloth and leave at room temperature.

In the morning fry up some sliced apples in butter on medium heat (I sliced two small apples for this):

Fry until the apples are soft and browned, about 10 minutes.  Stir every couple of minutes to avoid burning.  Transfer to another container and start making pancakes!

You can either add the apples to individual pancakes, as I did here, or mix them in with the batter.  If you add individually, make sure to press them down into the batter a bit so that they don't fall out when you flip the pancakes.

Once your pancakes are set around the edges (a couple of minutes), flip them and cook another minute to finish.  Plate and serve with whatever toppings you feel like; I recommend plain yogurt, but this morning I had none and used strawberry jam instead:

And there you have it.  Here's a list of other ingredients I've added to pancakes this summer, or that I've thought of but haven't tried yet:
  • Shredded carrots (it might sound odd, but it works, especially when combined with bananas)
  • Bananas
  • Shredded cucumber (In small amounts.  I haven't tried this one yet)
  • Any kind of dried fruit, added to the batter the night before
  • Any kind of nuts, added in the morning