Sunday, November 22, 2009

Backcountry Coffee

As a self-diagnosed coffee addict I've tried a lot of different methods to get my fix in the backcountry. Hopefully summarizing my experiences will help you avoid a few mornings of bad brew and speed your path to coffee nirvana.

Instant coffees:

I've tried a few different instant coffees. They're lightweight, easy to adjust strength, simple to use and usually inexpensive. Sounds wonderful and perfectly suited for backpacking, right? Wait until you taste it. Its hot and easy... but its not coffee.

Rating:

Coffee bags (commercial):

Until recently Folgers singles coffee bags were my go to solution for hiking. Similar to instant coffee, this is a lightweight option that can be scaled up or down for strength and the bags are relatively inexpensive. I typically use two bags for a 12oz cup of coffee. The quality is so-so but its far superior to standard instant coffee products.

Rating:

Home made coffee bags:

At home I only drink coffee from a local roastery - Cashua Coffee. I've tried a few different methods of making the equivalent of the Folgers bags except with GOOD coffee inside. Theoretically this is the perfect solution, right? Great coffee, inexpensive and MYOG to boot? Perfection. Unfortunately, I never made good cup using this method. I'm sure there's a perfect combination of grind, fabric or paper and amount of coffee in the pouch but I couldn't find it. I was successful in making OK coffee using this method but not the great coffee I'm in search of.

Rating:

Pressed coffee:

This is my method of choice at home. I have a press at work, a few presses at home, a cup with a press built into it for road trips... you get the idea. I'm addicted to pressed coffee. My sweet wife gave me the Snowpeak coffee press a few years ago and I love it. The only weakness of this system is that it only serves one function and its lighter than most presses but its still not UL. Still, I take it on some trips where I can afford the volume and know I'll have time to enjoy my coffee in the morning. Its hard to beat this.

Rating:

Starbucks VIA

On my last trip I took a few pouches of Starbuck's new VIA instant coffee. I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical prior to trying this one even after reading a few positive reviews on the internet. I've had more than one horrible cup of coffee due to experiments with instant coffee gone wrong. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by the VIA Colombian blend. It even creates a crema that you would expect from freshly brewed. The only drawback to this the price at about $1 per 8oz cup.

Rating:

Next experiment?

I've read that the Jetboil Coffee Press will work with the Snowpeak 700 mug . This could be the coffee holy grail - light at 0.8oz, low pack volume AND fantastic coffee.



Rating: TBD...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Table Rock to Eastatoe Gorge

I just got back from a two night hike from Table Rock State Park to Eastatoe Gorge via the Foothills Trail. This was a group hike coordinated by the SC State Parks program. We were blessed with great views and fantastic weather the entire weekend. The temperature never dipped below 45 F and the skies were clear all three days.

We started out at Table Rock State Park around 9AM Friday morning. We only planned to hike 9 miles each day so I was looking forward to taking time to enjoy the views and relaxing in camp both evenings.

Most of the leaves were gone but several of the large white oaks still were showing a lot of color.



Great vistas from just below Pinnacle mountain.

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The first night we camped at the Cantrell Homestead. There are still remnants of the old dry stack chimney at this site and there's plenty of room to spread out. Water is only a few hundred feet down the trail making this a great way-point on the FHT. Here's a photo of my MLD Grace Duo Tarp and Serenity bug tent.



One of the unique things at the Cantrell site are the stone recliners around the fire ring. They're a great way to cook dinner, enjoy good company and warm up by the fire.



We camped the second night at the Eastatoe Creek Gorge which is about a 9 mile hike from the Cantrell site. The Eastatoe Creek runs right by the camping area.



Just down from the main camping area is an impressive narrows. You lose the sense of scale in this video unfortunately. The narrows drop around 40ft in a 20 yard run that is never more than a few feet wide. Powerful!

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More great fall color along the FHT.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Two Wheels One Gear

Singlespeeding... I just can't quit jabbering about it. Jenny tries not to roll her eyes when I enthusiastically tell her about the beautiful simplicity of it. To help you understand the transformation a little better you can read this post on the MTBR.com forums. If you want the condensed version, here it is (I wish I could take credit for creating this!):

The Ten Phases of Singlespeeding

1. Build your first singlespeed -- inspired by others riding SS, you either convert an old bike or buy an entry level SS to get the flavor.. Ride it, ***** about how hard it is getting up the hills, think about where to ride next. Lather, rinse and repeat...

2. Upgrade madness -- the weight weenie / blinglespeed side takes over and you suddenly develop a need to upgrade. A combination of an empty bank account, an upset significant other or a weight weenie part failure ensues. You have parts shipped to work, so the wife won't see the bike parts you ordered. You start looking for ideas (like the MTBR SS forum) to further your obsession of the perfect SS. (note to Jenny: I didn't have any parts shipped to work)

3. Gear ratios - your brain becomes obsessed with determining the optimum gear ratio for the upcoming race or given terrain. You temporarily lose focus on just riding and being one with your bike. Your library of forks, chain rings and cogs/cassettes starts to rival the selection at Supergo or Webcyclery.

4. Realization - the entry level SS no longer is good enough. You convince yourself you need a better bike -- custom, SS specific, whatever..

5. Purism - you realize that you're almost exclusively riding your SS. Your other bikes are collecting dust. Under your breath, you sometimes mock others riding gears and work your butt off to one-up them. You use your SS as a tool to brag or as an excuse / handicap (I geared too stiff for the course...) Start hating RockShox and Shimano just on principle, and start thinking rigid forks and DH tires are the better setup.

6. Laziness - you go out and upgrade to a "proper" SS. Now that you it, the upgrade and gear ratio obsessions are fulfilled. You get lazy, and start trashing your bike without taking care of it. You forget about checking tire pressures, chain tension, broken teeth and don't even consider about the consequences. A wonderful delusion, until the bike leaves you stranded 5 miles from your car, and your cell phone has no signal deep in the woods...

7. Heresy - ride your SS so much, that when you ride your geared bike, you miss your SS. You take it one step further and actually sell off the geared bike(s) that you previously couldn't live without.

8. Fight club - start putting beer in your water bottles, grow some unusual facial hair (for the men), dress like a freak, and acquire the attitude that you don't give a **** about racing or beating the gearies. Riding a pink colored bike frame or wearing orange socks with your Birkenstocks to a bar after the ride doesn't even click to you as being strange.

9 (optional) Scorching - as if SS'ing isn't fringe enough, start thinking http://www.63xc.com is an interesting alternative. Give it a go, maybe even get hooked.

10. Approach martyrdom - actually leave the clique by riding so much that few buddies can keep up with you. You become one with your bike. You simultaneously learn a level of humbleness and let your results speak for themselves.


Because I'm a weak man I accelerated from stage 1 to 7 quickly. Most friends would argue that I teetered on the edge of stage 8 (fight club anti-social insanity) prior to singlespeeding. I argue that I'm quite stable but free thinking. I'm sure Tyler Durden would have a similar pitch. Leave me alone. Seriously, before I have to punch someone in the ear.

I digress... the point of this post is to share my new-found passion. Bikepacking (read closely - BIKE packing). I know, I know... I love cycling and backpacking so the combination should have been as obvious as peanut butter and chocolate. It just wasn't, though. It wasn't until I fell in love with singlespeeding. Better put until I became a singlespeeder. The thought of keeping all of the geary bits, springy parts and countless other complicated whatzits working properly plays counter to the simplicity that I gravitate towards. Its was fun to get out and ride but spending days out in the wilds with that sort of bike just didn't seem to fit. Enter the rigid singlespeed beauty. Seriously... sexy, fast, simple. Behold...



Now I can't wait to strap my gear on the bike and get out there. Farther, faster, easier and simply. Interested? Check out the friendliest bunch of people you'll ever meet over at bikepacking.net. There are tons of archived threads to get you up to speed and any questions that aren't easily answered by the history will be answered in short order if you post. I'll be posting gear experiments and trip reports soon. Let's go bikepacking!!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Montana Adventure

Where do I start? Its been a busy few days. Jenny & I took off for Montana this past Friday after work. Our flight out of Memphis was delayed so we missed the flight from Minneapolis to Helena. Delta was good enough to spring for food and a hotel. Unfortunately, its one of the worst hotels I've stayed in that still bears a brand name. Just in case you're looking for a hotel near the Mall of America, do yourself a favor and avoid the Ramada.

We adjusted our flight schedule to fly right into Missoula, MT since we lost a little time with the flight delays. Missoula is a great little town. We rumbled through a farmer's / craft market downtown and browsed a few stores.

Jenny in downtown Missoula



One thing that really stands out in Montana is the lack of chains. Some of them are there but they're usually on the edge of town and they haven't choked out the locally owned stores.

Jenny & Me Enjoying a cool morning in Hamilton


That evening we drove to see our friends in Hamilton, MT. Dayln and Lisa live there and were nice enough to take the bulk of their Sunday to entertain us. After grabbing a great brunch we floated the Bitterroot River.

Lisa, Jenny & Me enjoying a break on the Bitterroot


Looking downstream


Westslope Cutthroat trout - the Montana state fish

Me and Jenny in front of the Skalkaho Falls.


We drove to Helena, MT the next day (Monday). The drive from Missoula to Helena was very interesting with lots of great views. We rented bikes after arriving and rode around town to enjoy the architecture in the downtown area. Helena was one of the richest towns in the US during the local gold rush. The homes there resulting from the gold boom are gorgeous. Apparently deer are everywhere in Montana - including downtown Helena.



Tuesday was my last day in Montana. I intended to ride Helena Rim Trail... I was only partially successful. I managed to get lost on the multitude of trails outside of town. The bad news is that I never completed the HRT. The good news is that I still had a blast.

The trails look landscaped!


Big Sky


I think this is part of the trail that wasn't officially bike trail... who knows... who cares


More Montana Single Track

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lynskey Ridgeline

DO NOT BUY LYNSKEY. My frame was an absolute noodle with rear end tire rub, squeaking, popping, dropped chains and general no-funnery. I spent a year bickering with several representatives at Lynskey (including the arrogant David Lynskey) only to be told that I needed to tighten my seat post clamp, lubricate my slider every 3 rides (what?!), etc. Ultimately the frame broke both in the sliders (hairline crack) and failed massively at the headtube-downtube junction. The original fix was going to be a replaced downtube but after lots of argument they finally sent a replacement frame. I sold the replacement frame without assembling it on Craigslist. I received an email soon after posting the frame for sale telling me that they were shocked that I was selling it without riding it and if they had known I was just going to sell it they wouldn't have offered a replacement frame. These guys are the friendliest people you'll ever meet when you're buying a new frame but it turns bad fast when things aren't going well. For those of you around bikes awhile this sounds a lot like the BS surrounding Litespeed under Lynskey's watch prior to the brand being sold off. Do youself a favor and give your hard earned money to people that actually ride and know how to design and support bikes. As always, you may have a wonderful experience unlike me but why take the chance?
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So, its been a LONG time since my last post. I haven't been out hiking because of the heat of the summer. I have been doing a lot of mountain biking locally. I've read about the 29" wheel single speed movement for awhile now and finally decided to give it a try. My local bike shop, Harrell's Bicycle World , had a 2008 Raleigh XXIX that they were willing to give me a little break on so I bought it. First of all, I can't say enough good things about Raleigh's XXIX single speed. There's a great review of it here: Dirt Rag's Raleigh XXIX Review I've been riding this bike two to three times a week on our local trail system in the Harbison State Forest since I brought it home. I like the simplicity of the ride so much my high end Moot's RigorMootis sat idle all summer. Its not that I don't like the Moots - the larger wheels and single speed make the ride smoother, quieter, and in some cases even faster. Here's a photo of the XXIX.



After a few months of riding and some soul searching I decided to build up a nice single speed 29'er. What I finally settled on was ultimately the best of the Moots and the Raleigh XXIX. The frame is a Lynskey Ridgeline with single speed slider drop outs. Lynskey created LiteSpeed which was ultimately absorbed by American Bicycle Group. When big brother took over I assume he went off to do his own thing and eventually started Lynskey Performance.

I built the Ridgeline up as a rigid single speed - simple. Titanium is famous for being smooth and compliant like a steel frame while remaining stiff and lightweight. The tubes on the Ridgeline are heavily shaped allowing maximum stiffness with minimum material. As a result, the 19" frame (size L) only weighs 3.4lbs. Another advantage with titanium is its corrosion resistance. No paint is required and as a result there are no scratches or scuffs to fuss over. The rigid fork offers precise handling and less mechanical bits to maintain or break. Obviously, no suspension also means feeling all of the bumps and vibration associated with trail riding. To take the edge off there there are carbon fiber bits here and there (fork, bars, seatpost). Add in hydraulic disc brakes and some gorgeous single speed cranks and Ti chainring from Shawnee and you have a sexy ride for sure. Part of what helped me settle on the Lynskey was this series of reviews at 29 Inches: Twenty Nine Inches Ridgeline Review This is the intro review. You can follow the links at the end of each section for the next segment of Guitar Ted's review. I've only ridden the Lynskey around the neighborhood so far. If the weather cooperates today I'll have it on the trails as soon as humanly possible after work. I can already tell that the handling is significantly faster than the XXIX so I'll have to keep on my toes on the fast and technical sections. I've also noticed that the rear triangle is a lot stiffer so I should have more efficient power transfer. We'll see how much harsher the ride is as a result of the stiffened rear end.

Here she is... sexxxy!



The obligatory 'SIMPLIFY' theme (also lasered on the grips - thanks ODI)



Super sweet single speed cranks modified from XTR M960 cranks & Ti ring from Shawnee



Foster approves... FAST!