Category Archives: Camping

The Man with the Hammer — Part II

…When we last saw our hero, he was flat on his back, snoozing peaceably in the forest, wondering how he would ever summon the strength to ride his bicycle all the way back home, over hill and dale…

Morning found me in my tent. When I crawled out to attend to biological necessities, I noticed that my legs were a little sore, but not so bad as I expected after yesterday’s epic battle against the hills.

Maybe today would not be such a disaster after all.

I boiled some water for coffee, and soon the other bike hobos were up and about.

Before there is any breakfast, or any packing up of camping gear, or any conversation, there must be coffee.

I made Starbucks Via (instant) coffee, and it was pretty much OK. Sloth had some sort of drip filter, and made real coffee. I believe the bike hobo was also rocking the Starbucks instant.

Sloth having his morning coffee
Sloth having his morning coffee

I had a ton of cardio to do today, so I threw gastrointestinal caution to the wind, and ate two whole packets of instant oatmeal for breakfast. Shortly thereafter, someone started cooking bacon, and caused me to reconsider my entire nutritional regimen.

The Breakfast Table
The Breakfast Table

After breakfast, we broke camp, strapped all our junk onto our bicycles and made ready for departure.

We bid a tearful adieu to the bike hobo, and headed back to Harrisburg. Or at least we headed in a northerly direction. We hadn’t actually bothered to chart much of a course.

Bidding farewell to our traveling companion
Bidding farewell to our traveling companion

We looked at the google maps app on our phones, and hoped / guessed, that PA route 94 would give us a direct, flattish way home.

Cows
Cows

94 turned out to be a fairly major road, with no trees to shade us from the wicked day star. The hills were less traumatic than the ones the day before, but the traffic was horrific. We considered abandoning the road due to traffic, but kept plodding on. I do not recommend riding your bike on PA94, unless you have nerves of steel, and can hold a razor-sharp line. I don’t have any pictures of this part of the ride, because I was too busy trying to hold my line to mess with the camera. It wasn’t a great route, but we survived. We got off 94 somewhere outside of Dillsburg.

Stopped for a rest -- somewhere outside of Dillsburg
Stopped for a rest — somewhere outside of Dillsburg

It was hot outside. The sun was roasting us alive, and we were almost out of water. We tracked down a gas station, where we refilled our bottles with water, and our bellies with Gatorade and ice cream.

I was starting to crack, but we only had 15 miles to go, and we were almost back to familiar roads. So, we powered on. We stopped for one last rest stop / photo op just outside Mechanicsburg.

Mechanicsburg!  Almost home!!
Mechanicsburg! Almost home!!

We arrived back at our starting point to discover that Mrs. Sloth had locked Mr. Sloth out of the house. I was sympathetic, but I had my own Mrs. waiting for me at home — with food. So, I took my leave. On the drive back to my house I pondered the day’s adventure.

We had made it, and the Man with the Hammer did not totally destroy me like he did the day before. I attribute this to the following factors:

The Man with the Hammer – Part I

There’s this Bike Hobo on the Google Plus who was going on a bike tour from Northern Virginia to Harrisburg and back.

Sloth and I loaded up our bikes, and joined him for the weekend. The plan was to ride to Codorus State Park as a trio, spend the night, and then part ways. The bikehobo would head south, back to Virginia, while Sloth and I would make our way back to Harrisburg.

Cross-Check Loaded up and readied for the charge
Cross-Check Loaded up and readied for the charge

The plan was for about 53 hilly miles to the park; my longest and hilliest ride ever; loaded down with camping gear. I was a little bit apprehensive about the difficulty of the route, but I had (barely) survived a 50-miler a few weeks ago. So, I assumed I would manage one way or the other.

I did not want to meet the Man With The Hammer out there in the middle of nowhere, loaded down with camping gear, and with two other people waiting for me. So, I provisioned myself with Power Gels, dried apricots, and other sugary sundries.

I joined company with my traveling companions at Sloth’s house Saturday morning. We posed for a picture, and headed off in search of adventure.

The Bike Hobos
The Bike Hobos in rakish headwear

We rolled pleasantly through Camp Hill, and Lemoyne, but when we tried to leave New Cumberland, Route J had a detour due to a missing bridge.

Bridge is out
The Bridge is out

The detour routed us over Resser’s Summit. Reeser’s Summit (as the name suggests) is a monstrous climb. Sloth and I got off to push, but our strange companion rode up the whole mountain with a compact double and a 60 pound touring load; making us look bad.

It was a strenuous ascent, even on foot. I ate some dried fruit. The Man with the Hammer would not get me today!

After our several miles of rolling terrain, we came to Goldsboro, where we had a spectacular view of the Three Mile Island Power Plant.

One Reactor still running, the other one... not so much.
One Reactor still running, the other one… not so much.

We decided we needed some lunch, and stopped at a pizza shop called Antonio’s. The pizza was pretty good, and they were cool with letting a bunch of bike weirdo’s sweat all over the place. They even let us refill our water bottles. Very nice.

Bellies full of cheesy goodness, we soldiered on — over rolling hills, past corn fields, and under the occasional shade tree.

The Bike Hobos Soldier On
The Bike Hobos Soldier On

Somewhere around York, I neglected to eat. By the time we reached Glen Rock, I was starting to feel lightheaded. The road pitched up to the clouds, and then plunged back down. This cycle repeated itself for miles.

Space and time began to run in melting ripples.

I climbed. I descended.

I climbed. I descended. He was coming for me.

I traveled through multiple dimensions of transcendental realities.

At the top of the hill, my companions determined that, due to some navigational confusion, the route was now 62 miles instead of the 53 we thought. The fabric of space-time was expanding to swallow me whole.

I was going to have my first metric century, whether I wanted one or not. Rockville road rose, and rose up, to kiss the face of the Sun. I was off the bike and pushing. At the top, we had to turn onto an even steeper road, and climb some more.

I turned, looked up Nafe Sawmill Road, and…

Oh God no!

There he was!

The Man with the Hammer had come for me.
The Man with the Hammer had come for me.

I tried to sit down along the road for a rest, but it was too late.

The Hammer dropped.

I was flat on my back in the freshly-mowed grass looking up at the clouds. Sunshine on my cheeks.

I remember thinking that this would be a beautiful place to die.

I closed my eyes.
Discontinuity…
I opened my eyes.

I got up, sucked down a powergel or two, and started riding.

Fructose in my veins, the pedals began to turn. Slowly, the road started moving beneath my wheels.

It was getting dark, but the last climb found us at the entrance to the campground.

By the time I got off my bike, I had my Metric Century.

We Made It!
We Made It!

We pitched our tents, made our dinners, sat around the campfire, told stories, and carried on for a few hours. It wasn’t very long before we all decided to call it a night.

I lay on my Therm-a-rest with a feeling of accomplishment at having finally gotten a metric century under my belt. I drifted off to sleep wondering how in the world I was ever going to ride my bike all the way back home in the morning.

Fall s24o

Sloth and I did our annual fall s24o this past weekend. I was not feeling up to large amounts of miles or hills, so we decided to rail trail it. Stony Creek, to be specific. Sloth was feeling adventurous, and rode the whole way from his house. I drove to the rail trail to meet him.

When I pulled in, this is what was waiting for me.

Pipe Smoke and Spandex

Pipe smoke and spandex. What a sight.

We mounted our steeds, and made our way down the trail. This trail is is rough shape. It’s really more like tame double-track mountain biking than a rail trail. Fallen leaves were hiding big rocks, roots, and mud puddles. So, it was a little rougher going than you might expect from a rail trail. But we soldiered on for 8, er 10, er 13 miles or so. (There was some confusion as to how far we were going before turning off into the wilds).

At times, the trail had the look of an infinite tunnel through the wilderness.

Sloth and the infinite tunnel

After what turned out to be 13ish miles, we made a sharp left, dismounted and shoved our loaded bicycles up the side of the mountain, in search of the Appalachian Trail Shelter.

We found it, but it was occupied.

So, we kept hiking and found a nice tent site a little ways past the outhouse. The skies threatened rain, but I came prepared with my trusty Quarterdome.

Cross-Check and Quarterdome

After camp was set, we made some dinner. I brought along some Backpacker’s Pantry Wild West Chili. I am sorry to report that I can not recommend that anyone eat this stuff. It was foul, but it was all I brought for dinner. I choked it down, not wanting to leave any to attract the bears.

Sloth

After dinner, we hung the bear bag, and lit a candle lantern. It had to serve in lieu of a camp fire, since there wasn’t much dry firewood about, and neither of us were in the mood to seek any out.

Candle Lantern

We sat around the candle, and discussed many topics of great interest to learned gentlemen such as ourselves (politics, bicycles, etc). All the while, I was swelling up with an epic, legendary case of chili-induced flatulence the likes of which the world has never seen.

It didn’t take long before we decided to call it a night.

I slept quite comfortably in my tent. I was inconveniently forced out into the bracing night air numerous times during the night to make water. I suspect it had something to do with the 1600mg of sodium I had with my dinner.

Every time I woke up, I was convinced that I was directly down-wind from the AT outhouse, but it eventually dawned on me that I, myself was the source of the offending aromas. I opened the ridge vents in my rain fly. Thereafter, I was able to sleep peaceably until morning.

After morning coffee, Sloth attempted to fry bacon over a pepsi-can stove. Frying things is generally not considered to be one of the use-cases for a pepsi-can stove, but it actually worked out pretty well. I sampled a slice of the bacon, and can vouch for the efficacy of this technique.

Of course, frying bacon leaves bacon fat, and what better use for bacon fat than the poaching of eggs?

Eggs in Bacon fat over a pepsi-can stove

All this, over a simple pepsi-can stove! Amazing.

Shorty thereafter, in acute digestive distress, I took refuge in the AT outhouse. While there, with plenty of time to sit and meditate on deep and profound thoughts, it occurred to me that my approach to mountain cookery might be misguided. Freeze-dried astronaut dinners might not be the best plan, after all.

This matter will require further study.

In any event, the rest of the trip went more-or-less as planned. We rode back to the trailhead in a chilly drizzle, drove to five guys, and stuffed ourselves silly on burgers and fries.

It was a good trip, despite the rain, cold, digestive difficulties, etc. This is our fifth year of doing this trip, and I suspect we’ll do it again next year, too.

Bald Eagle s24o

The Sloth and I did our annual fall s24o this past weekend (fourth year in a row!). Somehow, we managed to pick the coldest night of the year for our camp out. It was the first time I’d been on a bike in two months. Hauling camping gear around the mountains after a long time off the bike is probably not a good idea, and my legs were shot shortly after we started.

We stopped by this covered bridge to take a picture or two.

Covered Bridge

A couple of miles later, we crossed into the State Forest.

Entering the woods

We had a big mountain to climb to get to our campsite, but it was starting to get dark. We wanted enough daylight to gather a big pile of firewood, since the forecast was for cold, cold, and more cold. I wasn’t sure we’d make it to the site before dark, so we started to look for any good site we could find.

Signs

We couldn’t find anything suitable on the north side of the mountain, so we climbed (haha, we walked) over the mountain, and rode down to our site, just as the sun started to go down.

camp site

When we got to the site, we discovered that the forest spirits had blessed us with a big pile of firewood, left by some previous campers. The only downside was that the wood was soaking wet from the recent monsoons and freak snow storm.

It took a long time and an Esbit tablet, but we got a fire going.

Fire!

Good thing, too. It was miserably cold. The forecast was calling for 26 degrees, but I call bullshit. I didn’t have a thermometer, but it was cold. Cold enough for stream to come off your pee. And that’s cold.

I experimented with cooking and making hot cocoa with an alcohol stove. Alcohol kind of sucks in the cold, but I eventually had a hot dinner and a big hot mug of hot chocolate. I later figured out that you need to keep the alcohol in your pocket so it stays warm.

We had the traditional bullshitting session around the campfire until it was so cold we couldn’t stand it anymore, and so we went to bed.

With the early bedtime and daylight savings time nonsense, I was awake by 4:30 the next morning. I got up and made a pot of coffee. After I finished my coffee, I got cold again, and got back in my bivy. I laid in my bivy, looking at the stars for about an hour. I saw 4 shooting stars, and thought that it was pretty nice not to be in a tent, even though my bivy and Thermarest were glazed over with a nice heavy coating of frost.

Frost

Sloth got out of his tent to go pee, and said it was cold. He went back to bed, and declared that he wasn’t coming out until the sun was out to warm thing up. I stayed in my bivy and kept on looking at the stars until the stars went away and the sky turned blue.

Dawn

I decided to go have some breakfast, but my cliff bar was frozen solid. So, I made a second pot of coffee, and dunked it in the coffee to thaw it out. This actually turned out to taste wonderful, and I think I’ll keep dunking my cliff bars in coffee even when they’re not frozen from here on out.

At long last, the sun came up over the mountain, and actually started to warm things up. Sloth got out of bed to make some oatmeal, while I wandered off into the woods to dig a cat hole (this is a wild campsite without facilities).

Sunrise

We broke camp, loaded the bikes, and were on our way and rolling down the mountain. It was a nice long descent. I was flying down a gravelly road on over-inflated 35mm tires, and I think my brains almost got rattled out of my head.

When we made it to the bottom of the mountain, I looked down at my handlebar-mounted GPS to see how fast we were going.

CALAMITY!

GPS was no longer there! Must have rattled loose on the way down the mountain.
My legs were already beyond fried at this point, and there was no way in hell I was riding back up the mountain to look for it. I honestly would have been lucky to make it back to the car (which was less than 10 miles away). So, I had to radio for a rescue.

Klinutus and Evil sister came and picked us up, found the lost GPS, and shuttled us and our bikes back to the starting line.

Instead of the 20 miles we had planned for day two, we rode about 7, and then ate gigantic cheeseburgers.

As we exited the cheeseburger establishment, we saw a young lady eyeballing our bikes. She said her dad was a frame builder in Philly, and that she liked touring bikes because most people ride hybrids.

Sloth and I are reasonably convinced that this mystery woman’s father is Bilenky, but neither of us had the presence of mind to ask, and didn’t want to come across as strange frame builder groupies. She was impressed to learn that we camped out, and told us the official temp was around 24 degrees that night.

I think this makes the coldest night I’ve ever slept without a tent or mummy bag.

For those of you curious about gear:
I was under a JRB Mt. Rogers quilt on a Therm-a-rest neoair, inside a cabelas XPG bivy.

I was very comfortable with this setup, except for my head, because my hat kept falling off.

This was a fun trip, and we’re even considering doing a second one this year; possibly in the Tuscarora State Forest.

Update:
The Sloth has written up a more entertaining account of our adventure on his site.

How to Go Camping: Part Two — Staying Dry

In our camping utopia, it never rains. In the real world, it might. You can mitigate the risk of getting wet by using natural features (hiding under trees, rock ledges, etc.) or you can bring some sort of shelter. Everybody knows what a tent is. The other options are tarps and bivy sacks.

The first (and last) thing to do before heading out for a camping trip is to check the weather forecast. Weather forecasts are worthless more than 24 hours beforehand, so check it right before you get packed. If there is a slight chance of drizzle, you can probably get by with just a bivy. If there is a chance of some rain, you need a tarp. If it might pour cats and dogs, or there’s a chance of thunderstorms, you want either a big tarp, or a tent.

Picking your spot:

First things first, though. As long as you’re not staying in a campground, you have some flexibility in where to lay down. If it rains, you might get wet, so pick a good spot. Look around for a spot that’s flat and level (or nearly so). If you lay down on a slope, you might slide off your sleeping pad, and that sucks.

You also want a spot that’s a few inches higher than the surrounding area. If it rains hard, you don’t want to sleep in a spot where water is likely to pool up.

Where to sleep

Pine Trees:

If heavy rain is not in the forecast, and if you only brought a bivy, you can sleep under the lowest branches of a big pine tree. All the pine needles above you will catch the big drops if it starts to drizzle. You might not stay 100% dry, but a good pine tree will keep a lot of rain away. Pine trees also smell nice. Additionally, they usually drop tons of soft fluffy pine needles on the ground, which are nice to sleep on. Make sure to look up in the tree to make sure there are no big, dead branches that might fall on you in the middle of the night.

Here is a diagram depicting the correct place to sleep when using a big pine tree to lessen the rain.

Artistic impression of hiding under a pine tree

Bivy Sacks:
A bivy is basically a waterproof bag that you sleep in. Put your sleeping bag or quilt inside it, and crawl in. Over the years, I have carried a Cabela’s one, a Hilleberg one, and one that I made myself. A bivy will keep the rain off you, but the ventilation is bad, and you might get sweaty.

Here is a picture of a bunch of my jackass friends sleeping in bivy sacks.
A bunch of jackasses in bivy bags

Tarps:
A tarp is just a rectangle of waterproof fabric. You set it up with two (or more) sticks, some string, and at least 6 stakes. They can be a little tricky to setup, until you’ve done it a time or two. They keep you dry in everything but wind-driven sideways rain. You can set them up under a tree to filter out some of the heavier rain – like this.

Tarp + tree

When I don’t expect it to rain, I carry a 58″x 104″ tarp which doubles as a rain poncho. This particular model weighs 8oz, and is made in Williamsport, PA. It rocks, and you should get one. You’re going to want a rain jacket of some sort anyways. You might was well bring one that doubles as a shelter.

This is the poncho setup as a shelter.
Equinox Poncho

Here it is in super-hero cape mode:
Equinox Poncho / Super Hero cape

If there’s a reasonably good chance of rain, I carry an 8′x10′ tarp. Weighs 14 oz, still made in Williamsport.

One of the best things about a tarp is that you can see out all around the perimeter. In the middle of the night, you might hear woodland creatures scurrying about. In a tent, you will be convinced that there is a family of grizzly bears coming to eat you. In a tarp, you can quickly look around and see that it’s just a chipmunk, and go back to sleep.

Tents:
When all hell is expected to break loose, a tent may be in order (although an 8×10 tarp is pretty weatherproof). Tents are expensive, heavy, and usually more trouble than they’re worth. They do keep the bugs out, though. Tents give you the feeling of “going inside” at the end of the day. I feel that this somewhat defeats the purpose of going camping in the first place, but some people get a sense of security sleeping “in” something. Tents are also nice in a crowded campground, because you can change your clothes without offending the sensibilities of the church ladies in the neighboring camp site.

Me setting up my tent in a State Park campground

Here’s a matrix of my thinking on the pros and cons of various shelter strategies:

Shelter Type Advantages Disadvantages
Pine Tree
  • free!
  • no weight to carry
  • Can be hard to find
  • only good for light rain
  • Sap / Pine cones might fall on you
Bivy
  • lightweight
  • Easy to setup
  • Takes up no room in backpack
  • No room to storge extra gear
  • no ventilation
Tarp
  • lightweight
  • good ventilation
  • nice views
  • bugs, snakes etc, might join you
  • doesn’t keep out wind driven rain
  • can be a pain to setup
Tent
  • Keeps out everything
    • rain
    • bugs
    • wind
  • Privacy in campgrounds
  • Good ones are expensive
  • can be a pain to setup
  • Very heavy
  • take up tons of room in your pack
  • ventiation is sometimes bad

So, there you have it. You now know how to sleep in the woods without getting wet. Up next, how to stay warm.

How to go camping: Part 1 – Introduction

I’ve recently noticed a disturbing trend. On Monday mornings, people ask me what I did over the weekend. I tell them I went camping, and they say “Oh, I’ve never been camping before.” I find this absolutely incredible. Occasionally, they decide they’d like to try camping sometime, and ask me where to buy a tent.

Running off half-cocked to the sporting goods store is a sure recipe for unhappy camping. So, I thought I’d write a series of blog entries explaining how to go camping for complete novices.

First off, let’s define what camping is, and what the point of it is. Camping is when you go outside and sleep over. The point of camping is to escape from your house. Your house is full of all sorts of bullshit that you’re better off without, at least for a short time. There is television, phone calls, bills to pay, leaky faucets that need fixing, Facebook, etc. The point of camping is to say “fuck all this bullshit” and get the hell away.

This is an important thing to remember when you’re deciding what to bring with you on your camping trip. The more stuff you bring, the less you’re getting away from.

You can’t get away from it all if you bring it all with you.

Bring as little as you need to be safe and comfortable for the conditions you are likely to encounter. The more time you spend setting up and tearing down your campsite, the less time you have to actually be camping.

No Campers!
Do not buy a camper. This is worse than not camping at all. Now you’ve got a whole other house full of bullshit to worry about.

I think it’s best to imagine a mythic, idyllic camping trip that requires absolutely no gear at all, and work your way up; only bringing the gear necessary to mitigate problems that are likely to arise when the real world differs from camping paradise.

The Idyllic, Mythical Camping Experience:

  1. It never rains.
  2. There are no mosquitoes.
  3. The ground is as soft and comfortable as a feather bed.
  4. The overnight temperature is warm enough to sleep naked with no blankets.
  5. The forest is full of fruit trees and wild berries, so you never have to cook or do dishes. Bears will not try to eat your dinner.
  6. You never have to go poop.
  7. You are a Zen master — totally content to sit and commune with nature. You never get bored.

The Real-World Camping Experience:

  1. It sometimes rains.
  2. Sometimes there are mosquitoes.
  3. Sometimes the ground is hard, cold, and/or lumpy.
  4. Sometimes it gets cold at night.
  5. You’re probably going to get hungry, and hungry forest creatures might try to steal your dinner.
  6. You will have to go to the bathroom.
  7. You might get bored.

In the Idyllic camp-out, you simply walk naked and empty-handed into the wilderness, sleep on the ground, and walk home when you’re done. You need no equipment at all. In the real world you will probably need one or two pieces of gear.

Not to worry, though. The problems presented by the real world require surprisingly little equipment to mitigate. My kit for an overnight trip in the woods weighs about 20 pounds, and fits in a small backpack. I can carry essentially the same kit in my bicycle panniers, or in the bilge of my kayak.

I’ll go over what you need and when you’ll need it as we go along.

Next up: What if it rains?

Further Thoughts on My New Tent

Since the last time I wrote about my new tent, I’ve spent two nights in it; both car-camping excursions.

On one of the two trips, it rained. It poured. Like Apocalyptic, build-an-ark rain. Everything inside was dry as a bone. The ventilation is awesome. I had no condensation problems sleeping inside during the monsoon.


Tent at Gifford Pinchot State Park

I think I need to retract, or least, modify my earlier statement about its roominess, though. I don’t think it’s really big enough to share with another dude without it feeling gay. Maybe if you laid head to feet, it might be ok. If there was a blizzard outside, or you were something appropriately manly, like climbing Everest or hunting Grizzly Bears, then it might not be gay.

It’s probably the ideal size to share with a lady, however. Though I’ve not as yet had any volunteers to test this theory.

Now that I’ve set it up a few times, I can get it pitched in about 5 minutes. The poles are a little bit confusing at first, because there are funny hubs holding them together, and it’s easy to try to put them in backwards.

I think I’m going to order the footprint for it next payday. You are supposedly able to set the thing up with just the footprint and the fly. Then you can crawl inside and set the actual tent part up without getting it wet. This sounds like one of those things that works in theory, but won’t work in practice. We’ll see.

At any rate, this tent rocks. Throw a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir in it, and it’s as comfortable as my bed at home. The NeoAir, btw, ranks right up there with indoor plumbing as one of the greatest inventions in the history of the world, but that’s a story for another day.

Tent Pictures

I set up my new tent in the back yard today, and crawled around in it. It wasn’t too hard to set up. I didn’t really get the rain fly attached very well, so there’s wrinkles and stuff.

Here she is with no rain fly. Other than the floor, the whole thing is mesh, so on a nice night, you can see the stars without getting eaten by bugs. The door is cool, too. It’s only attached at the very top of the teardrop shape, so it doesn’t flop onto the floor when you’re getting in and out. There’s a pocket in the roof to stick the door into if you want to keep it open.

There’s a door on each side so you can get up to go pee in the middle of the night without having to crawl over your tent mate.


naked tent

Here’s an overhead view from my deck, showing my sloppy pitch of the rain fly.

Tent

The moment of truth. I was able to get into it and lie down without my head or feet touching the ends. With a big fluffy winter sleeping bag, I might touch. It was too warm to try it today. Unlike most other tents sold as “2 person” tents, I think I could actually share this with somebody and not end up wanting to kill them in the middle of the night.


Feet fit!

There are vents in the top of the rain fly to let out condensation, farts, etc. You can open and close them from the inside, so you don’t have to go out in the rain. That’s pretty nice.

Vents

There are little orange tie-out points all along the perimeter. I suppose you could tie it out really well if you were expecting a blizzard or something. I doubt I’d ever use them. The vestibules are fairly small. You could probably fit your shoes and a few odds and ends in them with no problem.


tent

This is first tent I’ve ever owned that wasn’t some piece of shit from Wal-Mart, so I’m probably a little bit more excited about this than a sane person would be. I’m looking over my maps for bike-camping opportunities. I’ll hopefully get a chance to field-test it soon!

New Tent: REI QuarterDome T2 Plus

I normally carry a sil-nylon tarp on my overnight adventures. Tarps have many advantages over tents. You get way more room, way better ventilation, and they weigh nothing. Well, mine weighs 13 ounces – not counting stakes, poles and guylines. The tarp works great on backpacking and kayaking trips into the wilderness. You can set up the tarp with either your trekking poles, or your canoe paddles, or sticks you find lying around.

Tarp

It’s less ideal on bicycling trips, unless you bring along some sort of poles to set it up. On my last S24O, we stayed at a crowded State Park campground. I didn’t have very much luck finding good sticks to set it up with, and I ended up having the whole thing crash on me in the wee hours of the morning, dumping water all over me. I also had mosquitoes buzzing around my head all night.

Less than ideal.

The tarp is also less than ideal you want to change out of your bike shorts without provoking lust in every woman in the campground. You don’t get much privacy under a tarp. Not an issue on a backpacking trip to the middle of nowhere, but not so good in a campground.

Tarp setup for an s240

So, I decided I needed a lightweight tent for biking trips in civilized areas during bug season. The problem is that I’m 6’5″ and most tents are too short, and either my feet stick out, or I have to sleep in a fetal position. Not fun.

After some Internet research, I discovered that the REI half-dome and quarter-dome series tents are available in a “plus” size, that’s 10 inches longer than a standard tent.

So, the question came down to half-dome or quarter-dome. The half dome is $100 cheaper than the quarter-dome, but weighs a pound more, and comes in unsightly “apricot” color.

REI Half-Dome T2
The REI half-dome T2 plus

The Quarter-dome weighs a pound less, costs a hundred bucks more, and comes in a nice green / gray color.

REI Quarter-Dome T2 Plus

REI Quarter-Dome T2 Plus

This was a tough call to make based on only Internet pictures, so I drove all 104 miles to the REI in Conshohoken to see them both.

I was able to hold one in each hand, and the half-dome felt noticeably heavier. A pound doesn’t make that much of a difference on a bike, but there’s always the off-chance I might carry this thing on a hike where weight really does matter. So, I sprang for the quarter-dome. (Plus, I really disliked the half-dome’s colors.)

I got it home, disassembled it, and weighed all the parts on the gf’s baking scale.

tent body 25.5 ounces
rain fly 25.625 ounces
Poles (in their sack) 18.125 ounces
stakes (in their sack) 2.125 ounces
stuff sack 2.75 ounces
Total: ~ 4.63 pounds

I think I can live with a sub – 5 pound tent that I can actually fit into. It was after dark by the time I got home, so no pictures of the real deal yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to set it up ad snap some sometime tomorrow morning.

Now I need to find time for an s240 to see how it works in the real world.

Bald Eagle Ramble

For the past two years, The Sloth and I have undertaken overnight bicycle camping trips in the fall. We did the Pine Creek Rail Trail in 2008 and 2009. This year, we decided to mix things up a bit, and did our ride on the gravel forestry roads in the Bald Eagle State Forest.

I grew up a few miles from where we were riding, so I was already pretty familiar with the area. We planned a 20-ish mile loop Saturday, and a shorter loop for Sunday, with R. B. Winter State Park as our base camp.

We got kind of a late start on Saturday. It was probably around 1:00 before we started up the first climb out of the park.

It was about a 3 mile climb to the top of the first mountain. Even with my 17 inch low gear, I ended up walking some of it. At the top of the climb, there was a gorgeous view of the mountains all dressed up for fall.

My bike at the overlook

Overlook

I forgot to bring my camera, and I shot these with my cell phone, so that’s why they kind of suck.

After catching our breath at this overlook, we had about 5 miles of mostly downhill riding through the Spruce Run valley. A wild turkey ran across the road in front of us, but that was the only notable wildlife sighting.

Rolling down to Spruce Run

Then we had to slog our way up Running Gap, where I stopped to refill a water bottle out of the stream. No filtration needed. It’s nice that there’s at least one place on Earth where you can drink the water straight from the stream.

After the long ride walk through the gap, it was a long, mostly gradual uphill back to the park.

About a mile from the end, we stopped off at another overlook to take some pictures.

Overlook At R. B. Winter State Park

We rolled into the campsite just before dark, where Klinutus and my evil sister were waiting for us. They brought us some cupcakes, of which we were in dire need.

After we finished off the cupcakes, we decided that our freeze dried camping food didn’t seem very appetizing, so we drove into town and got a pizza.

By the time we got back to camp, it had gotten really cold out, and we had no firewood. So, I lit my candle lantern, so we’d at least have some light, and we sat around the picnic table and drank coffee and talked a load of bollocks until late in the evening.

The next morning it was freezing cold. Sloth emerged from his tent and discovered he had forgotten to bring anything for breakfast.

Calamity!

So, we packed up our stuff and drove into town for the manly farmer’s breakfast buffet at Ard’s farm market.

The breakfast at Ard’s is delightful, but it’s composed almost entirely of grease. With a gut full of grease, we decided to bag the 15 mile loop we had planned for the day, and drove back to Harrisburg with all due haste, before gastro-intestinal misfortune could strike us unawares.

So, only 20 miles for the weekend, but they were good, hard miles. Probably worth at least 50 rail trail miles.

Sloth has a few more pictures on his Picasa.

(For those of you reading this on the OpenStreetMap Blog aggregator, I traced the whole thing, and added the campground we stayed in to the map.)