Thoughts On Some Equipment

Day 15 - pump station 4 campFor this trip I used a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent. Even though this is considered a two person tent it seemed very small for a two person tent, however it was just right for one person plus all of my biking gear.

The tent has two rainbow shaped openings (one on either side). There are also two vestibules (one over each door) which allow gear to be placed under cover on each side. On this particular trip there was a tremendous amount of rain so the vestibules came in very handy.

The tent was lightweight (31/2 pounds) and easy to set up. The tent stakes are on the smaller side which was fine for minimal wind conditions. When the wind picked up I was forced to use softball sized rocks on the inside corners of the tent and larger rocks on top of the exterior tent stakes.

Bottom Line: I was very happy with this tent and would take it on another trip in a heart beat. The space gained from a two person tent was well worth the minimal extra weight.

Katadyn Vario Water FilterDue to the isolated conditions on this ride I took a Katadyn Vario Water Filter. Buying this filter was, as they say, a crap shoot. It seems like all filters have both good and bad reviews.

The filter worked very well, and was easy to both assemble and pack up. The surgical tubing hoses were very flexible and easy to move around into various positions. The tube for the weighted end could have been a little bit longer. There were times where I was sitting/kneeling in some marshy edges just trying to get the intake nozzle out into open water; another foot would have been much better.

There is a ceramic ‘pre-filter’ that cleaned out the heavier debris in the water. I learned quickly that you don’t want to use the filter with water that has a lot of sediment in it, because the ceramic filter clogged up quickly and had to be cleaned off before continuing.

The filter quickly filled both water bottles and pouches, and the water had no residual taste. In some areas the water had a weak tea color which was not filtered out. The output hose had a spring clip on it which was used to keep the hose in the bottle during filling; a nice feature.

Bottom Line: I was very pleased with the filter, and the three of us used it continuously as it performed better than several other brands that were also brought along.

Goal Zero Nomad 7I elected to take a solar panel along on this trip to charge the battery packs used to keep the Garmin Edge 800, cell phone, and Chromebook batteries charged.

I selected the Goal Zero  Nomad 7. I already had the Guide 10 Battery pack which was used last year and was very happy with it, so I elected to stay with Goal Zero products.

Except when it was raining I kept the panel open and bungee corded to the rear rack with the Guide 10 connected. When in camp I also kept it open and positioned to use the sun. I did not try hooking any of my ‘electronic items’ directly to the panel, rather I charged the Guide 10 battery pack from the panel and charged my electronics from the Guide 10.

The solar panel performed its function very well; in overcast days it would still charge the battery pack, albeit at a slower rate. On bright days the solar panel would charge the battery pack, then I would use the battery pack during lunch, and in the after noon the solar panel would again recharge the battery pack.

Bottom Line: The solar panel worked very well, and the extra 13 ounces was worth carrying on this trip.

Schwalbe Marathon PlusI switched to Schwalbe Marathon Plus bicycle tires (from Schwalbe Marathon) for this trip. The Marathon tires had worked very well for me in the past, but this trip was over very rough and rocky roads and I wanted the best possible tires.

I did carry two spare tubes, patch kit, and 2 tire boot patches but did not want to mess with carrying extra tires. Also, on the rear I put a version of the Marathon Plus called the ‘Tour’, which has a more aggressive tread pattern. Even with the more aggressive tread I found the rear tire ‘slipping’ under slipping while climbing some of the steeper hills in muddy or loose gravel condition.

Tom, also, used the same type tires on his bicycle and both of us had excellent return for our investment. Schwalbe tires are expensive but neither of us had a flat or damaged tire.

Bottom Line: The tires performed to our expectations.

Repel Insect RepellentI tried several types and brands of mosquito repellent and found the Repel brand of wipes to work the best. I also tried spray type repellents which didn’t seem to be as effective. Each person’s body chemistry is a little different so they may or may not work as well for you.

None of the repellents worked on open skin for long once we started riding and sweating, or the rain started coming down. I wiped my clothing and all open skin areas. I rode with leggings on for much of the time, and it seemed that the knees, hands, and the back of the neck were very susceptible so I focused heavily in those areas.

The wipes came 15 to a resealable pouch. At times I would go through 4-5 in a day. The wipes did not seem to dry out in the pouch, however, I was using up a pouch fairly quickly.

I always tried to keep 4 pouches with me, and replenished my supply in the mailed food boxes or other stops.

Bottom Line: Various brands all worked to some extent, but the Repel brand of wipes seemed to work the best for me.

Many of the items I carried were used and discussed on previous trips; the few I elected to discuss here were the ones that were of particular note.

Health Follow Up

Broken HeartThe big question was, ‘What happened that caused my health issues?’

Once returning to Montana my doctors began all sorts of tests: same results, and same answer. My sodium was too high, my blood pressure was too high, several other items were out of the normal range, my heart seemed to be fine, and no one knew what was causing all of this.

My personal physician is also a tri-athlete so he was very interested in what happened to me. We had some ‘at length’ discussions about the trip: diet, sleep, weather, road conditions, water intake, etc. His final thoughts were:

  • contracted some type of virus
  • the dried food meals had too much sodium for what my body was used to
  • since much of the trip was cold and raining I was not sweating as much water through my system as needed to remove the excess sodium from the meals
  • the food provided insufficient calories to keep the body sufficiently/properly fueled
  • inadequate amount of ‘rest time’ during long & steep hill climbs
  • the overall ride was too strenuous for me
  • we may never know the true cause of the problems

Sweatin' It OutI was advised to get plenty of rest, eat normally, watch my sodium intake (which I have always done), a get minimal (not strenuous) exercise, and come back in 30 days for a follow up. Plus, I was given several different medications to control blood pressure and help with the sodium levels.

Over the next 5 months I went back every month for another check up. It took awhile, but my sodium level gradually came down to normal, and my blood pressure has continued to decline. The doctor finally took me off of one medication and cut another one down by half. In his opinion, my blood pressure may or may not return to the ‘pre-ride’ levels, and I may require some type of blood pressure medication from now on.

Back In The SaddleSince finishing the trip I have continued either riding my Bacchetta bicycle outdoors (weather permitting) or riding the TerraTrike (on a set of rollers) indoors. For the first several months I continued getting stress pains in my chest if I pushed the exercise a little hard, but over time these gradually diminished until they no longer occur.

I would like to do another ride this summer, possibly from the Canada border to the Mexican border. At this point in time I am now able to get my heart rate up to 155-160 beats per minute for 3-4 minutes with no adverse affects. In addition to riding the trike indoors I have done several hour long outdoor rides and had no ill affects. Who knows? Anyway, I plan on continuing to train and plan and see how it all goes.

Me Ready For Bike RideThanks again, to all of you who have followed my ride(s) and inquired as to why the Alaska trip stopped so suddenly. Your thoughts and prayers were gratefully appreciated.

Take care, and talk at ya’ later. . . . . . Rick

Days 25, 26, 27, & 28: In Fairbanks and Heading Home

ConcernedOver the next 2 and half days I was poked, prodded, and tested by a wonderful medical staff at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. Drs. Herbert Day and Carson Webb did a super job looking me over.

The good news, according to them, was that all heart related tests indicated that I had not had a heart attack and my heart was in good shape. The bad news: I did have a very high sodium level, an extremely elevated blood pressure, and some other slightly out of whack blood test results.

The test report was somewhat confusing since I had a very comprehensive examination, including heart stress test, just prior to leaving on this bicycle adventure, and everything was quite normal. As a matter of fact, I had felt perfectly good during our one week ride in Montana and the first week or so in Alaska. Sooooo, the big question was, ‘What had happened to me during the last week or two?’ The doctors told me that the high sodium and very high blood pressure could mimic a stress heart condition, but other than that, they just didn’t know what had caused the rapid change in my body.

Bottom line: Both doctors recommended that I stop the ride, return home, and let my personal physicians try to sort things out.

After talking with Tom, and my wife, I reluctantly decided to take everyone’s advice. It was a difficult decision because I didn’t want to leave Tom high and dry in the middle of Alaska. Fortunately, this problem was solved when we were able to hook up with Menno, our new friend from the Netherlands, as he was currently in Fairbanks. He agreed to modify his route slightly so he and Tom could do most of the remainder of the ride together. My wife was already stressed out as she had to pick up and go to Wisconsin and help her brother through a heart bypass operation, and my continuing the ride would not have been good on her.

Bridgewater HotelWe, and our ‘stuff’, had been staying at the Bridgewater Hotel, in downtown Fairbanks, during our time here. It was a beautiful hotel more reminiscent of something seen along a Florida beach. They were very helpful and provided a secure place to store our bicycles.

Tom, Menno, and IThe hotel was replacing all of their TVs, so I was able to secure several of the boxes and Tom and I boxed up my bicycle and gear for a return flight home. Leaving was certainly difficult for me. Stopping in the middle of the ride was hard, but even more difficult was having to admit that, at age 68, I had started something that I could not finish. On the morning of Day 28, we put my 2 boxes of ‘stuff’ in the back of a pick up truck taxi cab, all three of us said our ‘Goodbyes’, and off I went to the airport. Tom and Menno were heading off the next day to continue the ride.

At this point I need to apologize to those of you who were following my blog during the trip for taking so long to finish the entries. So many of you have contacted me to inquire about the trip and offered prayers of support when learning of my problems, and for this I am eternally grateful. Between my health getting back to normal and me needing to mentally process all that had taken place I was not able to finish the ‘write ups’ until recently. In a followup blog I will discuss some of the follow up doctor findings.

Again, a big thank you to all who contacted me both during and after the ride. Yes, THANK YOU!