Thursday, July 28, 2011

Speaking of Creepy Crawlies

This youngster was eating breakfast a few mornings ago, and didn't seem to mind being photographed up close.

Breakfast

Wolfette was on the prowl for food, and practically posed for my camera when I brought it out:

Wolfette

And while I was setting up the bike shelter, this raccoon just climbed up on my railing, looking at me as if to say "What? I'm hungry, and those birds made a huge bird seed mess on your patio. I plan on cleaning it up if you'll get out of my way!" - I only had my phone on me at the time.

Brave little sucker climbed right up there in front of me.

Bicycle Lean-To Shelter

I usually camp early or late in the season. This bike camping trip is going to be among the hottest camping trips I've gone on, period. We're also going to be on bicycles.  My parents live very close to the route, and I've arranged for dad to be on standby to provide SAG, water, an air-conditioned vehicle, or anything else we may need in the case of some emergency. All of the folks who are apparently still in for this weekend can do this. They've ridden in heat like this before. That said, they aren't riding fully loaded bikes, and they usually have an air-conditioned home to look forward to at the end of the trip. Here, we're just going to have more heat, sun, and EVEN MOAR HEAT.

My usual backpacking tent is a junior dome tent my grandmother got me more than half my life ago. I just never grew to 6 feet in height, so I can fit in it with most of my gear very comfortably. It's got a ventilated top and a ventilated door, but they don't do very good at keeping the air moving. When it's above 80 degrees overnight (like it will likely be for a good part of the night Saturday into Sunday), the thing feels like a sauna. I contemplated using a hammock and mosquito net for this trip, but trees are kind of sparse near the campsite, bug screens are expensive and I would have to buy one. I'm looking for something lightweight that will give me some shade during the day, cover from rainfall if it rains at night, and mostly something that has lots of airflow for sleeping under.

I'm going to improvise.

I have a few rain ponchos that came equipped with brass grommets at the corners. They were $5 or so: cheaper than good silicone-impregnated nylon ponchos and better than those "trash bag" ponchos you find for $2 each at the sporting goods stores.

With 2 ropes, 2 bungees, 4 tent stakes (simulated by heavy objects on my patio), a bicycle and a poncho, I made a lean-to shelter that should give me shade in the day, rain cover (just in case) and a pack weight of way under 1 pound. Well, except for the bicycle part. The edges can be brought down to ground-level to form a back wall/roof and two enclosed sides, with a little finagling. I have two identical ponchos like this, which can also be used together. That obviously takes up more pack space.
Mockup: Bicycle / Poncho Lean-To Shelter

Mockup: Bicycle / Poncho Lean-To Shelter

I'm still debating whether or not I'll use this setup with my bedroll on bare ground or just go with the tried and true dome tent I've always used. Part of me likes having a shelter that keeps the creepy crawlies away, but it's likely going to be roasty no matter how we camp.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bike Camping Update

The extended forecast is here. Last week, the 10-day forecast called for mid-90 highs and bright sun on Saturday the 30th. Over the weekend, they were predicting highs in the mid-80s with a significant chance of thunderstorms.

I have my eye on the forecast, but I am still considering it a rain or shine event. My tent is waterproof and I've commuted in the rain before. In the summer, I actually like riding in the rain. Obviously, it'll be a safety first kind of deal, and we may delay the departure for a few hours if we feel the impending storm will be too dangerous.

We're still on, though.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Downtown Today

I like my job, but sometimes I still miss this place. I even miss the bus route. I do not miss paying Interstate Taxes.
































Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mobile Ham Radio

Last night, I decided to try proving out my mobile ham radio setup for the Lenexa Midnight Bike Ride. Since I was going to be coming by bike, the coordinators wanted me to provide support for the hiking part of the event on the Black Hoof Park trail. Duties included reporting when hikers first arrived at the turn-around point of the hiking trail, taking approximate count of them, and sweeping the trail both ways when the event was over. I didn't know how much talk time I was going to need, so I rigged up a 12AH gel cell and a 12V lighter outlet splitter in one pannier, and ran my Yaesu FT-90 as my primary radio, running the microphone cable under my top tube. The handheld mic snapped into a belt-clip rigged to my stem. I couldn't have asked for a nicer setup. It worked flawlessly, and although "too heavy" is subjective, at about 9 pounds total for the whole rig, I don't feel it's too bad.

Most of the radio operators were using some form of APRS to automatically map their locations for strategic purposes. I was running APRSDroid on my phone to fulfill this function and locate the other operators. I also used the gel-cell to keep my phone charged up for the event, as the application chews through phone batteries.

I couldn't get any really good photos last night. I have a bunch of video that I also suspect is similarly crappy. We'll just have to see. This morning, I rolled my bike onto our patio to show you how I've got it all rigged up. This setup might make an appearance at the Middle Creek bicycle camping trip, along with a solar panel to help keep the gel-cell topped off. I'm not a weight weenie, so it's mostly a question of how much room I have in my panniers and if rain is in the forecast, not how much extra weight this thing adds.

When I arrived home some 5 hours after firing the mobile rig up and after plenty of talking on the radio, the battery was at about 85% capacity. the radio itself can transmit at 50 Watts, but I was running it at the minimum power setting of 5 Watts. This setup could probably last a whole weekend without recharging, depending on conditions.

Photos follow. Enjoy.

s


Tuesday, July 12, 2011



This is one of the Williams Foods facilities in the area. If you've spent any time in the sodium seasoning aisle of a grocery store, you've probably seen their pouches of chili and taco mixes, among other stuff.  Occasionally, whatever they're messing with inside this building causes the surrounding air to smell exactly like the spice and cereal cupboard at my grandparents' old house, before grandpa died. It's an odd, pleasant and completely nondescript aroma, so  complex that my schnoz couldn't begin to dissect it to its individual components. It doesn't smell this way all the time. A lot of times, it just smells like chili powder or fresh ground black pepper.

I also encountered a veritable roadside hardware store. Every 10th of a mile or so, I saw a couple of large, unused zip ties. This particular one also had a trailer hitch retainer pin next to it. A lot of times, when I see things in the road that would be hazardous to other cyclists, I pick them up and dispose of them, or if they're too large, I move them out of the way. I snagged a few of these from the roadside for my own personal use. Never know when you'll need some huge zip ties.




I also had a quick chat with some of the regular amateur radio operators, who were going on about the heat and the price of gas. They said I need to get my head examined. I believe one has to be a bit eccentric to ride a bike in the first place, so there's probably a grain of truth in there somewhere.

Hundred MPH motorcycles

About half of my commute takes place on a road that's separated from I-35 by little more than a few sets of railroad tracks and the standard railroad right-of-way. Many mornings, I will observe a red or blue motorcycle barreling through traffic on the highway at speeds well into the triple digits, weaving between cars. I used to think it was the same moron with more than one bike. This morning, both of them were out playing a game of chase in the middle of morning rush hour, doing stuff that I can only imagine pushes the very limits of human reaction time several times per minute.

They're eventually going to get hurt if they keep this up. I couldn't really care less if they did -- after all, they likely know full well that they're teasing the grim reaper when they act this way.  I just hope they don't take anyone with them when it happens.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hot.

Home-bound heat index today: 105. Wind: travel-speed tailwind. Not a good combo. Fortunately, I keep Gatorade mix at the office, and got it nice and cold for the commute.

I got to scope out Middle Creek Fishing Lake over the weekend. This is where we'll be camping on July 30th. I can only imagine that it could be just as hot that weekend as it was today, or worse. I went fishing out there on Sunday morning, and caught a whole cooler full of bupkis. Mostly, I was checking out to see how viable it would be for a bike camping trip. I think it'll work great, but like I said last week: we'll actually be roughing it.

The whole park is gravel. But that shouldn't put too much of a damper on things.


Toilets: Brick shelters with a roof. Urinal and a hole in the ground. Wasps abound. Bring your own TP and hand sanitizer.

Sinks and showers? What sinks and showers? "Adult Skin Cleaning Cloths" -- essentially grown-up baby wipes are a favorite among commuters that don't have showers at the office. I can't imagine it'd hurt to bring some of those along. You can find them at the drug store.

Water? There's lots of it, but it's all in the lake, and the stuff I saw had twigs, algae, spiders and mosquito larvae in it. I will try to call Rutlader Outpost (a nearby RV park) and ask if they have water we can use (or buy?) but I decided it was high time to pick up a backpacking filter system of some sort.  I went with something similar to this Sawyer Water Filter (but with a transparent blue bottle) that I found at Walmart for half the price of anywhere else. How's it work? How about I show you with my mis-aligned camera, stammering case of the "umms" and fidgety hands?



That was some 36 hours ago, and I'm not sick... yet...

Honestly, it tasted just like the Brita filtered water I drink at home. I really should have boiled it first, but at 0.1 micron, there are only a few things that can make it through with the water, and most of those things aren't a problem here in the United States, even in grimy lake water. I'll probably properly boil the water at camp before filtration. I also found a way to pump water through it by pressurizing the bottle through the ventilation hole. I'll be more than happy to share while we're at camp if others need some purified water.  I'm sure others will also be willing to help.

Random Tunage:
The Prodigy - Fire
Andain - Promises (Myon & Shane 54 Summer Of Love Mix)

Friday, July 08, 2011

Bicycle Camping at Middle Creek - July 30, 2011

Well, that was fast. I mumbled the words "bicycle camping" and a few folks had jumped on it. Mark your calendars.

We're going to be roughing it this time. Middle Creek Lake in Louisburg, KS has no showers, electricity, flushing toilets or drinking water on site. There are some convenience stores on the way out and back, but nothing really close to the campsites.

People will be coming from various parts of town, but I propose those who wish to convoy to the lake meet at the Overland Park Arboretum just west of US-69 on 179th street at Noon on Saturday.  I plan on riding east from the arboretum to Metcalf, then heading straight south almost exactly 20 miles to the campsite.

Other than that, there's no defined route, no actual "start time" or anything of the sort, so feel free to join us later in the day. Just get yourself and your gear to the lake on July 30th and camp with other cyclists. It sounds like some participants may enjoy an "extended" gravel detour (maybe not as hardcore as last year?) on the way to camp, while others head straight to the lake.

We'll begin our return trip after breakfast on Sunday morning.

These things are always awesome, because there are many different ways to prepare the bike, shelter, food, cooking, and entertainment and everyone has a different technique. People learn cool tricks from the other participants on trips like this.
I'm actually looking forward to overcoming the drinking water challenge and seeing how others do it. You may want to think about bringing several extra bottles for water at the camp site, or peruse the various backpacking options for acquiring safe drinking water. I'll probably go the "filtered water bottle" route and boil the water before filtration.

If you've never done anything like this before, don't worry. It's easier than it looks, as long as you have a bike that can carry food and shelter. Feel free to ask questions and discuss the event in the comments. Invite friends. The more, the merrier. We had 11 folks at a similar event in 2009.



I'm calling this a rain-or-shine event. I don't mind camping in the rain, or riding in it this time of year.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Lenexa Midnight Bike Ride - 2011

I've been quite displeased with the official Lenexa Midnight Bike Ride route ever since they took it away from old town Lenexa, routing through the Meritex caves. In 2009, they let everyone dodge toddlers in the dark on the hilly, arduous and banal Shawnee Mission Park circuit. Lame.  Last year, they started and ended at Black Hoof Park. I like Black Hoof Park, but it's not a cave, and it's not a particularly interesting route at night.  This year, they're switching it up a little, but not by much. It's taking place in the same part of Lenexa.

With how crazy work was from the middle of May through the end of June, I lacked the mental and physical wherewithal to prepare a Lenexa Midnight Bike Ride revolt for the 3rd year in a row.

All this, and we still haven't had a Dark Side Ride at all this summer. I'm jonesing for some dark time on a bicycle. So, what to do?

Every year at pretty much any big event (charity walks, club rides, triathlons, etc), the amateur radio operators in the community volunteer their time, skills and equipment to help ensure the event's coordination and safety. So I volunteered bicycle mobile communications support for this years event. Perhaps the coordinator will have me stationed in one place, or maybe they'll want me to roam. Who knows. Either way, I'll be mixing up bicycling, geolocation (with APRS) and amateur radio. Maybe I'll see you there.

If you're around and also an amateur radio operator, I'll be listening on 446.000 (simplex) as well as the repeater being used for coordination of the event. Feel free to key up on UHF and say hi.

Also: We really need a Dark Side Ride and a bike camping trip, post haste.

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