Back in the US of A

Country roads lead us south from Fernie. We find a shady river bank and rest for awhile. Trains pass and people fish.

We camp on conservation land near Elko. A sign says to use at your own risk. Noted. The valley is narrow here and is shared by our road, the railroad and the highway. I wake up in the night, confused, as the trains echo through on their way to some place else.

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It’s early afternoon and we’re waiting in line at the border. I’m hoping this border guard is friendlier than the last in Skagway. He asks what we’re bringing in from Canada. Tyndall says groceries. He asks about veggies and citrus. Tyndall says kale. He makes a face and says we can keep that.

The land is high and dry and I’m baking.

From Eureka, the trail goes toward the Flathead. I’m spinning in my granny gear, up Whitefish Divide. A stream provides an opportunity to cool off, and then it’s down the other side.

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Another up and we are at Red Meadow Lakes, pitching our tent for the night.

In the morning it’s “all down hill” into Whitefish. There’s something wrong with my camera battery, so I’ve not taken many photos.

We detour to Kalispell and get lost in a maze of box stores.

Later, we ride a bike trail out of town and head for Marion to visit Danielle and her family.

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Charging System

I want to take a step back and talk about the charging system we are using in a little more detail. We got the initial idea to use a hub dynamo from Gypsy by Trade. As I ride down the road a set of magnets rotates around a coil in the front hub. As this happens, an alternating current is created with varying voltage depending on how fast I’m riding. There is just one problem. All of our electronics require direct current at a steady 5 volts.

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This is where the Sinewave Revolution comes in. The dynamo is wired to the Revolution which converts the Alternating Current to Direct Current using solid state electronics. I’ve used velcro to secure the Revolution to the top of my frame bag to keep it dry and out of the way. I’ve also added a grommet to the front of the frame bag and run my wiring through it for a cleaner look.

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Use a USB cord to connect any gadget that needs to be charged and start pedaling. Just remember to keep your speed up. Below a certain threshold the system doesn’t generate enough electricity for charging. This typically happens for one of two reasons. Yours truly has decided to tackle a vertical wall or a fierce head wind is beating me into submission. Otherwise I think the system works quite well delivering up to 1 Amp at 5 Volts.

I’m currently on my second dynamo as the bearings on the first one failed prematurely.  The manufacturer quickly sent a replacement under warranty. We worked it out so that the hub was sent to a bike shop ahead of us on our travels. Since then I’ve added a second dynamo to Liz’ bike and both have run for over 1000 miles now without any issues. Our new dynamo hubs are the PD-8 version. These are a little lighter than the PD-8X and recommended by the manufacturer if your bike doesn’t have a thru-axle.

Also, I don’t understand why the device is called a dynamo when it is really a magneto, but that’s just my problem.

Finding our own way

Adventure Cycling’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route connects dirt road and track from Banff to Mexico. We left the route to visit friends. It’s easy to get off route, but a bit more difficult to find the way back.

In the spirit of the Divide, we search for dirt road and trail to take us back to the route. Our first attempt was only that: an attempt. Our second is looking promising.

Fueled by cinnamon buns, we ride pavement south from Turner Valley. In Longview we wait out a thunderstorm. Evening light draws us on when the rain passes.

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From 22 south we turn onto 532 west. Cows line the side of the dirt road and run in front of us. They aren’t sure what to make of a cyclist, I think.

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We camp on the edge of a stand of aspen that are quaking in the wind. Aspen is one of my favorite trees.

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Morning comes and we are drawn further up the valley. A man asks if we’re going up and over the top. I say yes. He says good luck.

Tyndall’s stopped up ahead and beckons to me. Up and around the corner there’s a whole herd of sheep.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

I reach the top and zip down into the wind. The foothills here are something else.

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Dirt turns to gravel and then to pavement. We’re back on track, heading south again.

A day on the divide

A day on the Divide washes away the memory of pavement and fast cars. The map reads like a scavenger hunt. We dodge rainstorms and take in the views.

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We have friends in Turner Valley and detour off the Divide for a visit. The map says there’s a trail that cuts through some mountain passes straight to Turner Valley from where we are, but 35 degree temps, rain and a small window of opportunity have us considering other transportation methods. An engine and four wheels get us there within hours. We’ll try the off road route on the return, we think.

Turner Valley and Black Diamond have good food and good art. It’s the kind of small town I like. Fresh, local peaches are on sale at the grocery store and we eat mounds of salad and greens from Barb and Henrik’s garden. The Sheep River flows by just across the street.

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We ride 40k of idyllic country roads out of town, towards the mountains. Where the pavement ends, the trail begins. The map says this trail will take us back to where we left the Divide.

Ok, here we go. The trail is steep and rocky, but it goes. And then, suddenly, it doesn’t. There’s a bridge washed out. No worry, we wade across.

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Two years ago, heavy rain and late spring snow pack caused the Sheep to flood. Evidence is everywhere. Not only is the bridge washed out, but sections of the trail are blown out, too. Bark is scoured off trees where fast moving water pushed rocks and debris by. Whole canyons have been reorganized by Mother Nature.

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And the trail? When it’s there, it’s good. When it’s not, well, it’s just not. We push more than we ride. I stumble more than I walk. We hope for something better, but in the end throw in the towel.

Our consolation prize is a campsite beneath a towering peak on the edge of a canyon, with a clear stream for a bath.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

We look at the map and come up with Plan B. Somehow or another we will get back to the Divide.

Gadgets

We are carrying a lot of gadgets on this trip. Every one of which is powered by its own battery pack. It’s a lot to keep track of and to keep charged. We initially had one dynamo on my bike but have since added a second to Liz’s bike. So far it was a good move. The one dynamo wasn’t enough to charge all of our gadgets meaning we have spent a good deal of time sitting in libraries charging items. Particularly my tablet which is a serious energy hog.

Speaking of tablets.  Somewhere in my late 20s technology began to leave me behind. It’s crazy to think about. I’ve been using computers as long as I can remember. Some of my first memories are sitting at my grandfather’s World War II era oak desk. A big heavy beautiful thing with an Apple IIe planted firmly in the middle. I spent countless hours at that desk playing Oregon Trail watching green dashes and dots move across the screen. I shot wild game, forded rivers in a covered wagon, and died of cholera. Personal computer after personal computer seceded this one as they became more powerful. Each with more ram and a newer faster processor. I took typing classes in middle school and soon forgot how to write in cursive as I had been taught in elementary school. Eventually in college I had my own laptop and the desktop was an oddity. This knowledge lended well to the work place and made for an easy transition. I can left click, scroll, and type a mile a minute. But wait, what’s an app?

I’m 30 now. Technology has made a new leap forward. While traveling, I have seen children occupied with smart phones and tablets using these devices in ways that I’m unable to fathom. I have realized that they will never learn typing or the art of the left click. Maybe they will, but I doubt it.  I’m 30 and all the interfaces I learned as a kid are becoming dated. How can I already be so dated?

It’s for this reason that Liz and I chose a smart phone and tablet for this trip, leaving the laptop behind. Everything can be done on a touch screen. I’m writing this on a touch screen. I run my finger from one letter to the next, never lifting it from the screen. The tablet builds words and then sentences. With practice I may become faster than I was with a keyboard. I’m learning a new skill set. The muscle memory in my hands is changing.

There are frustrations. There are times when something gets deleted or an app doesn’t do what I want. They are of course just apps. Adapted from larger programs run on laptops they don’t have all the features, yet. Excel is one of those programs that takes some getting used to. It’s different. The shortcuts have changed. Some may not be there. But then again, now all my files are stored online, backed up instantly everytime I get a WiFi signal. I can access them anywhere. I’m never worried about a hard drive crashing or the blue screen of death. I don’t ever want to use a laptop again.

When we started the trip we had a couple requirements for our technology. First, everything needed to be rechargeable. We didn’t want to carry any spare batteries. This included our headlamps. Second, everything had to use a micro USB port for charging. Say goodbye to any Apple product with their unique charging system. Using micro USB ports means carrying fewer charging cables as we can use the same one for all devices. Be careful here because you may still need two different power adapters depending on the rating of each device. We carry a 0.5 Amp and a 2.0 Amp power adapter to cover all bases. Third, all devices had to have a microSD or SD card slot. Use a microSD card adapter for devices with an SD card slot. In this way, all our pictures, books, and music are easily transferred between devices and backed up to the cloud as necessary. Just try not to loose any of the small microSD cards. They are powerful but also tiny.

Below is a list of the gadgets we currently carry with us. All of which meet the above requirements.

Sony NEX-3N Camera
Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Note 10.1 Tablet
Delorme Inreach Explorer
Headlamps x 2
Battery Brick
Wall Charger x 2
Micro USB Cord x 2

So after traveling for two months how is it working out? Amazing. I never knew that I could learn so much so easily. I have a line up of pod casts saved to my device. I can learn about new technologies, economics, foreign policy, Pluto! All while riding my bike. I have audio books on loan from my library in Anchorage. I have mapping tools, email, communication. I’m discovering more everyday.

The biggest challenge is keeping everything charged. As I said earlier my tablet is an energy hog. I’m going to get technical here so feel free to move on with your day if you’d like. Otherwise, read on. Below is a comparison of four devices from the Samsung website. We carry the Note 10.1 and Galaxy S4 with us. Liz is able to charge her S4 very quickly using the dynamo we installed on her bike while my tablet lags behind. This is of course due to the battery size. My tablet has a battery that is over 3 times the size of the S4. I decided to look at this closer and found that when the screen is on both the S4 and Note have the same operating time. This means I require much more battery capacity per hour than Liz when I’m journaling or reading. I estimate 822 mAh’s for the Note vs 260 mAh’s for the S4. That’s a big difference.

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When we pedal, each dynamo delivers a steady 500 mA via the Sinewave.  Take the battery capacity and divide by the Sinewave output and in theory Liz can get a full charge on her phone after about 5 hours of riding. It takes me over 16 hours of riding for a full charge and I get the exact same screen time as Liz. This is a problem on the road. It’s one I didn’t think about when choosing a device. I just wanted a big screen that met the three requirements listed earlier.

Here is where I would add a fourth requirement. Evaluate the amount of power used per hour of operating time for any tablet or phone. Balance this with your need for screen size. Typically the bigger the screen the more juice it’s going to use. This isn’t a spec listed for you when you buy a device. It’s not a problem for most users as most users always have a place to plug in and aren’t concerned about making their own power while pedaling. That said, I now have a Note 10.1 for sale and will likely replace it with a Tab S 8.4. It uses half the power per hour of screen time when compared to the Note.  A smaller tablet means I will likely be able to get rid of the battery brick lightening my load and making more room for food. Time will tell.

For all those excel geeks out there, the above chart was made with Google Sheets on my tablet. I still haven’t figured out how to round numbers so you are stuck with all of the digits after the decimal. I apologize. I’ll work on that for next time.

The pavement keeps on giving

The train was supposed to arrive in Prince George at 8:30. Instead, we arrive at midnight. Something about congestion on the rails and not enough sidings for pulling over. I just read Atlas Shrugged, and this feels eerily reminiscent. I don’t mind the delay. It’s cool in the train and I have a good book to get lost in.

We stealth camp in a city park and wake early as trains rumble by.

Back on the road again, we keep pedaling. The pull towards Banff and dirt trail is strong.

We camp among an ancient forest, with 2000 year old trees.

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In McBride we find cake and blueberries. Smoke fills the sky. I’m told there’s a fire in Jasper. We’re going there anyway.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis

We detour to Kinney Lake to sleep at the base of Mt. Robson, away from the cars and trains.

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Jasper is busy and I try to make sense of it. Let’s get what we need and get out of town.

Three days of pedaling on the Icefields Parkway puts us in Banff, and at the start of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

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Finally, dirt.

Breakfast

A lot of time is spent thinking about food on the road. Afraid of becoming a scare crow, I tend to buy way more than necessary when making a grocery run, letting my stomach get ahead of me. Over the first month we have made a few changes to the breakfast menu. We are getting close to something really good. No cooking is required, saving fuel and time in the mornings.  The jar size is chosen for a single portion. Liz and I both carry our own jar. This allows us to get up at our own pace in the AM. The mornings are a good personal time for me. Maybe you will want to have this at home while you follow along with us.

Required Items
Empty 18 oz Plastic Peanut Butter Jar and Top
Steel Cut Oats
Dry Milk
Assorted Dry Fruit
Assorted Nuts
Peanut Butter
Favorite Sweetener
Water

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Directions
Prepare in the evening before going to bed for the following morning. Fill empty peanut butter jar 1/4 full of oats. Add healthy portion of dry milk, dry fruit (raisins, craisins, banana chips, etc…), nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc…), spoonful of peanut butter, and dash of your favorite sweetener. Add water to cover. Screw lid on peanut butter jar and shake so that everything is mixed well. Set aside in a dirty shoe to keep up right til morning. Check oats before going to bed and add more water if all the water has been absorbed.

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Liz likes to add her fruit and nuts in the morning. I like to do it all in the evening. It’s a personal preference but I think soaking the fruit and nuts over night leaches some of the sugars and salt out into the oats adding to the flavor. Also, don’t use minute oats or rolled oats. These turn to mash which is not a pleasure to eat. The steel cut oats create a great texture and seem to stay with us longer into the morning while pedaling.

Another item that can lead to a huge variety in this breakfast is the type of sweetener used. We started out using a strawberry-kiwi powdered drink mix. It created the best strawberry dry milk you can imagine. The hot pink color was a bit off putting though. Other sweeteners could be honey, malt, hot cocoa mix. I’m excited to try some malt next time I can find some to make this an even heartier breakfast. So far I’ve struck out.

Bon Appétit