All This Stuff

George Carlin, the late comedian, had a fantastic routine on Stuff. Part of the routine involved deciding how to pare down the amount of Stuff in order to take only the bare minimum of Stuff on vacation. At this point I don’t think George would be real pleased with me.

bicycle 42.1
panniers & bags 16.9
repair items & tools 2.2
electronics 8.6
first aid & medicine 2.1
toiletries 1.7
clothing + helmet/bike shoes 11.9
shelter & sleeping 8.4
cooking & eating 2.4
water & fuel 8.5
food 10.9
miscellaneous 3.5
total weight 119.2

The total weight really caught me off guard. My first thought was, ‘How does this compare to last year?’ Well, last year the total weight was 103.5 pounds; this year I will be pushing 15.7 more pounds. Last year I had everything I needed, so where did the extra weight come from?

  • bike – the two weigh essentially the same
  • panniers and bags – these weigh 4.8 pounds more: 3.9 pounds for the bear proof food container, 0.9 pounds for rain covers
  • food/fuel – the food weighs 2.1 pounds more: the additional food will be required since shopping/restaurants are more spread out
  • electronics – this weighs 3.3 pounds more: the solar panel adds 1.2 pounds, the kindle adds 0.5 pounds, the tripod adds 0.7 pounds, the battery pack charger adds 0.4 pounds, miscellaneous items add .5 pounds
  • sleeping & shelter: 1.3 pounds more due to using a 2 person tent this year
  • clothing: 1.5 pounds more due to the addition of a sweat suit for warmth
  • cooking & eating: 1.1 pounds more due to the addition of a water filter
  • miscellaneous: the bear spray & holder weigh 0.6 pounds and the remaining 0.9 pounds is spread over a number of areas

Stuff gradually accumulates and adds up, doesn’t it? It is amazing how dependent we have become on the use of electronics: smart phone, GPS, notebook/computer, and camera, plus all of the cables and devices to keep them charged up.

The weight could definitely be trimmed down, however, we are not in a speed race for one thing. For another, much of our time will be spent in the middle of no where so a few things are necessary to improve the lot in life; that is my story and I’m sticking to it. The one week ride between Billings MT and Missoula MT will provide an opportunity to asses the on board gear to see if something really stands out.

I remember reading about through hiking the Appalachian Trail; apparently there is all sorts of discarded gear/food littering the sides of the trail for the first 50-60 miles as people throw Stuff away to lighten their load. I guess that option is available to me if desperation sets in.

Repurposing Some Cardboard

Finished BoxesThe second leg of the South From Alaska trip is an airplane flight from Missoula MT to Prudhoe Bay AK. Getting a trike and all of my gear up there safe and sound is a challenge. Trikes don’t fit in a standard bicycle box, even when disassembled, and Alaska Air will only handle a box measuring a total of 115″ (linear height + width + length) and no more than 100 pounds. After some research and a lot of measurements I finally decided to build my own cardboard boxes; one for the trike and the larger panniers, and a smaller one for the remainder of the gear and food items.

ToolsBuilding cardboard boxes is not that difficult if taken one step at a time. All you need is a little patience, some accuracy in measurements, some used cardboard, and a few readily available tools.

The first step involves getting a supply of large cardboard. I used a refrigerator box and two small washing machine boxes. Most appliance stores trash their boxes quickly so you need to contact them several days in advance.

Other items included a sheet rock square, a framing square, 1 quart of contact cement and throw away chip brushes, a box knife and a supply of blades, a black felt tip marker, a tape measure, a hammer, and a 1/4″ steel rod. Cardboard dulls knife blades quickly so don’t be afraid to change them out; they are not that expensive, and a sharp blade is an absolute necessity.

I used the sheet rock square to insure that all cut edges were straight and individual parts were square. The cut lines were marked off using the square and a marker and the square was used to guide the knife while a light cut was made. I always marked the line first so I could tell if the square was shifting as the cut was made. To protect the tip of the blade I lifted the cardboard up and ran the blade back down the cut to separate the two pieces. Remember: measure twice and cut once.

Scribe The BoxCut The Box

Making folds and corners is pretty easy. The first step involved marking where the fold lines are located. Next, place a 1/4″ rod over the fold line and tapped it every 3-4″ with a hammer. The key word here is tap, not hammer. The cardboard only needs to be dented, not mashed flat; with a little practice you will get the feel for how hard to tap it. With a little pressure the cardboard can be easily folded up. On longer folds try bending up a little all along the edge then go back and complete the fold. Two edges need to be marked and folded to make corners.

Scoring The FoldFold The Edge

After both edges are scored and folded one part of the fold must be cut to form a flap for gluing the corner together. The corner can now be folded up and the flap glued in place. I used brush on contact cement, rather than spray glue, because it was easier to limit where the glue was applied. I used a disposable chip brush to apply the glue; one brush lasted all day long, even though it tended to dry out between usage.

Cut The FlapFinished Corner

Since the trike box was rather large, 49″ L x 20″ H x 30″ W, and will hold about 70 pounds, I elected to double the cardboard thickness by placing additional panels on the inside of the sides, top, and bottom. The ribbing in cardboard runs in one direction, and to add the most strength I glued the additional panels with the ribs at 900 to the original box. The box was a lot more stiff after doing this.

Making the boxes was fun and only took a day to do it. In my case the only cost was the glue and chip brushes: $16. Try repurposing some cardboard by making your own specialized boxes; I bet you will have fun, too.

My Trusty Rambler

Upgraded TrikeFor those of you with a few years under your belt, My Trusty Rambler is not a Rambler automobile. Instead, it is a three wheeled bicycle made by TerraTrike in Grand Rapids MI.

This particular trike started out as my wife’s Rambler which I appropriated for the upcoming Alaska to Montana trip. It is still a recumbent type bicycle, which I absolutely love, but there are two wheels in the front instead of one.

There are some advantages to riding a trike: no balance issues at low speeds, weight is distributed over 3 wheels rather than 2, and you can stop/start without partially dismounting (a good thing for photo ops). Likewise, there are some disadvantages: additional road friction from a third wheels, vibration tendencies at higher speeds due to any misalignment between the front wheels, and additional component weight. Our trip is not a speed race but will require substantial hill climbing at low speeds which plays right to a trike’s strong suit.

Rear Cassette and DerailleurSince the original Rambler was a base model I needed to make some changes in preparation for this trip. To begin with, I changed the rear gear set up from an 8 speed cassette to a  SRAM PG-950 9 speed (11-34 tooth), changed the rear derailleur to a more high end SRAM X-9, and changed the grip shifter to a SRAM X-9 9 speed.


CranksetI changed the front crankset to a Shimano Deore M591 Crankset with Bottom Bracket (170mm, 48/36/26). Even though the 20″ rear wheel effectively provides a lower gear ratio than a 26″, I elected to lower the front gears to provide a higher spin at low speeds; my knees they ain’t what they used to be, and a higher spin takes some of the stress off of them. This isn’t a race so the higher end speeds were not an issue. I also changed the front derailleur grip shift to a SRAM X-9 3 speed. In addtion, I added a set of Shimano PD-M324 SPD Dual Platform Pedals; these worked very well on the trip last year. Trikes typically sit low to the ground, and it seems to me that some type of shoe/pedal restraint is a real necessity in order to prevent ‘heal suck’. ‘Heal Suck’ is a condition where the heal of the shoe inadvertently drags the ground and the foot is sucked under the the bike resulting in a potentially serious injury.

Handlebar StemI added a water bottle cage to the front post using a Two Fish Cage adapter. The bottle sticks up above the front post which made it difficult to mount a head light. Sooooo, I put an Extra Long 300mm Bike Handlebar Stem in the post, then inserted a 5″ thin wall aluminum tube with end caps in the top of the stem, and mounted a Planet Bike Blaze 2Watt LED Headlight and Garmin 800 GPS unit on the tube. Problem solved.

HeadrestOn the trip last year I really enjoyed having a headrest, so I installed the optional unit from TerraTrike. The headrest offers an almost infinite range of adjustments but the various tubes and posts stuck quite a ways out the back and obstructed the rack bag and solar panel. Sooooo, I cut a 300 wedge out of the upright post and welded it back together; this brought the post to an upright position. Next, after some trial and error adjustments I cut the headrest tube down to the length needed. The two alterations provided adequate clearance in the back. This headrest is nice, but it does ‘ride’ a bit rough. The system is rigidly mounted to the bike seat so there is no spring or give to absorb vibration when riding on rough roads. Also, the headrest has a nice curve which fits my neck, but the foam padding is somewhat skimpy which further minimizes any vibration absorption.

Minoura MountI attached a Minoura Accessory Holder on the vertical section of each handle bar to mount the Mirrcycle mirrors higher up and closer to the centerline of the bike. On the left side, in addition to the mirror, I mounted a Hornit dB140 Cycle Horn and a Bontrager Trip 2 computer; the horn button is mounted within thumbs reach on the end of the left handlebar. The Hornit unit doesn’t sound like a car horn; it sounds more like a loud piercing chirp. I am not sure someone in an enclosed car will hear it, but experience has shown that pedestrians and other bicyclists do. In addition to the accessory holders I also used 2 Minoura LW-Clamp for Handle Bars on the right side to mount a bracket for the bear spray.

WheelsThe original rims were single wall, and I decided to go with something a little stronger. On the front I used Velocity ATB Disc 32 spoke 20mm Front Hubs, DT Champion 14g spokes, and Velocity Aeroheat – 20″ [406] – MSW rims with Velocity Veloplugs. Some available information suggests centering the rim between the hub flanges will provide the most wheel strength, however the rim will need to be centered across the hub width when using the optional TerraTrike fenders. The set up for the rear wheel is the same with the exception of the hub, where a Shimano SLX M675 32h 9/10spd Rear Centerlock Hub was used.

I elected to use Schwalbe Marathon Plus RLX 20 x 1.75 Bicycle Tires and Q-Tubes 20″ x 1.75-2.125″ tubes. Based on available information, the Marathon Plus tires offer the best puncture and damage resistance on the market. The 1.75″ tire will have more rolling resistance than a smaller tire, however the larger tire and its lower air pressure (70 psi) should help smooth out the bumps in the road.

I installed the optional TerraTrike fenders on the bike. Some blogs talked about the TerraTrike fenders having insufficient clearance to go over 1.75″ tires; I found sufficient room without having to modify the fender mounts.  While changing out the front wheels and adding the fenders I added an Avid BB7 Disc Brake F&R Set with Avid HS1 160mm Rotors. The brake set that I purchased was designed for a upright bike, which uses one 0mm and one +20mm mounting bracket. The Rambler uses two +20 mm mounts so I had to purchase a second +20mm Avid Disc Brake Adaptor/Mounting Bracket to properly mount everything.

Safety FlagsTerraTrike seats have a built in ‘flag pole’ mount on each side of the seat. To improve visiblity I elected to install two flag poles, several decorative flags, and one HI VIS SAFETY neon bright flag on the end of each pole. I attached an Office Max Small Binder Clip on the end of each pole to prevent the flags from sliding off. I also install a clip at the bottom of each flag to help hold it in place. Once the clips were installed I removed the arms that spread the clips open.

Rear RackI used a Topeak Super Tourist DX Tubular Bike Rack with Side Bar and a Planet Bike 3018-1 Rack Blinky 5- 5 LED Tail Light mounted on the back. The Super Tourist rack has a top rack for attaching a rack bag and a separate bar on each side for easy attachment of pannier hangers.

Rather than the stock ‘pull pins’ on the seat support struts I installed a pair of Velogenesis Seat Strut Clamps. I believe that the clamps firm up the support struts by removing the vibration/movement that is inherent with two lose tubes held only by a ‘pull pin’. There is a noticeable difference with the clamps in place.

Trike With FlagsTerraTrike now offers a GT version in the Rambler frame style for $2,199; we paid $1,399 for the Base model two years ago. After all of the upgrades my Rambler is now a GT, if not better in some areas. Considering the fact that I do all of my own mechanical work (including wheel building) and search eBay and Craigslist religiously, I was able to do all of the upgrades described in this article for about $700. The original trike weighed  in at 37 pounds; with all of the upgrades the bike now weighs just over 42 pounds.

All in all I am very happy with this bike; it carries the weight well, is easy to pedal, is comfortable to sit in, and is not too low to the ground. The Rambler uses direct steering, which I truly enjoy (already owning the trike didn’t hurt, either).

I can’t wait to begin the 3,300 mile Alaska to Montana journey.