Coming out of Hibernation
Hello again! Enjoying the silence? We’re a few weeks off from a new season, which means it is time to get moving and back on the road. While there hasn’t been any updates for a few months, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t get up to anything during that time – In fact I feel quite accomplished about the time spent, and enjoyed some resting before the next phase of the trip occurs, wherever that leads me. I’ve gone back and forth with ideas on what comes next, dealing with variables that come out of nowhere forcing mandatory itinerary changes. I’ll get to that shortly. So what else is new? Read on:
I’ve got a new bike! As I mentioned earlier, I felt that I had hit the limit of my old bicycle, wanting to change components and perform some upgrades in hopes of better reliability for expeditions. Don’t get me wrong, the Surly Long Haul Trucker is a fantastic bike that has been around the world many times, but after doing the math to shuffle components around, it just made more sense to get a different bike. So, I did – In January I took possession of a Thorn Nomad MKII from SJS Cycles in the United Kingdom. The first thing you see right off is that, holy cow, is that ever bright. I ordered it in ‘Tonka Yellow’, as opposed to their other base offering “Flat Black” after many weeks of deliberation. Typically you’d want to not draw attention to yourself when cycling around keeping a low profile – but hey, when you are in a different country or cycling with 120lbs of gear loaded down, you stand out regardless. The handlebars are a bit different resulting in a more upright riding position, not to mention the fact it has a Rohloff Internally geared 14 speed hub in the rear, giving a different shifting experience without derailleurs and cassettes like traditional bikes. It’s highly reliable, virtually maintenance free other than a few oil changes every 5000km, and I can flip my sprockets around when they wear out as opposed to having to buy a new one every 5000km. The math showed that if I was to replace a chain, rear cassette and front chainrings over the course of 150,000km I would come ahead by using a Rohloff hub. I went with the Surly Front & Rear racks this time, after using the front rack on the old bike, and a Dyno Hub capable of outputting voltage from the bike while riding to power the little headlight you see there. There’s more to it, so I’ll write a detailed post on the Bicycle in the next few weeks, and speak about what else I am doing with the front electrical system next..
Pedal Powered Charging System - Based on my journey down to Mexico and across Canada I always found a difficulty keeping the electronics components that I use daily charged. I’ve standardized on using components that charge via USB, allowing a laptop to get the devices (Mp3 Player, Phone, GPS, etc) topped up again, which in turn caused a drainage of my laptop’s battery. I could cycle for 3 days and keep everything up and running before having to throw in the towel and spend a few hours in a coffee shop plugging away on the computer before heading off again. While this is a good thing in terms of social contact/people watching, it also affected the daily costs and I think my time could be better spent seeing the sights around me rather than worrying about guarding my electronics. So with that I put together a system based on available components that allows me to charge all electronics while I pedal. I’m not going fast in the first place, and I’ve got to pedal to get from one place to the other, so why not take 1% of my riding efficiency away and gain up to 20% of my day back and save up to $10 a day? Based on my calculations, my return on investment will come back within 40 days of riding. Not bad for someone who plans on being away for 1500. Using a B&M E-Werk device that takes the 6V AC output from my Dyno Hub and converts to DC, I can safely output 13.3V and up to 1.5A, selecting my output when needed. Since USB components operate at 5V and a maximum of 500mA – I can theoretically charge 3 devices at once, or charge my laptop on its own. This is huge. I tried a solar charging system in September after running into a cyclist on the road who raved about it and didn’t get the same warm and fuzzy feelings about it as he did. While it worked, I found it was one more thing to attach to the bicycle everyday, and took an incredible amount of time just to charge one component. On my test runs it has worked wonderfully, but I am waiting for a final component to arrive before I deem the project ‘complete’ – Again I’ll dedicate a separate post to this charging system for people interested.
New Equipment – While everything worked moderately well on the trip across Canada, I needed to shuffle a few things around, drop some gear and optimize how much weight I was carrying along. I’ve dropped some of my cooking supplies, going to strictly a pot (bowl) and a lid (frying pan and plate), yet added a pair of collapsible chopsticks, using a free-standing tent (MSR Hubba Hubba – a step down from my Hilleberg Nallo GT 2, but lighter), limiting the amount of clothes I carry with me (no point in carrying anything but Merino Wool!), and a neat portable radio that picks up AM/FM and Shortwave, to be used to get local news, also for white noise generation when I’m sleeping since it draws minimal power on its batteries. I’m finally sleeping again without the aid of earplugs or dosing myself with medication at night, and hoping to continue it while riding again. It’s funny, a common thought was “ahh, whats an extra XX grams” earlier on in the trip, and now I look to shed as much gear as possible for tough climbs and less bulk. I can wear the same pair of socks for 7 days right?
Redesigned Website - Did you see how fast things loaded? You may not have noticed in the past, but it took an awful long time to fully load the page – sometimes up to 30 seconds! I’ve gotten it down to less than 6 seconds per page load now, which is a huge jump. I have a few more tweaks to go, but am quite satisfied with the difference. I’ve gone and rewritten whole chunks of the website in order to make my life easier, respond quicker, and become a bit more user-friendly. Since there is so much content outside of the “Journal” it is a delicate balance of maintaining a proper user interface, loading and unloading of components that are not necessary per page, and just overall keeping things up to date. With this you see a complete interface shift – the Top Navigation menu sticks up above to assist in having to scroll up and down to go to a new page, along with a dynamic font resizer for those who have trouble viewing small text on webpages. All images have been compressed to their smallest size possible without sacrificing quality, and I’ve got dynamic translation happening on the pages for 10 languages. English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Dutch, Italian, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew based on my analytics showing where my visitors are coming from.
Some pages even got a whole rewrite of code in the process:
- Statistics and Logs – It’s as close to real-time as I can get now, showing daily statistics and totals in an easy to navigate manner. You can few the daily ride on a map and take a peek at elevation charts as well, or choose to download them should you want to plug them into your own GPS and ride in some of the same locations I did.
- Country/Region Statistics – Previously I had quickly hacked together a stats page as I traveled from province to province which ended up breaking in most people’s browsers. Not only was it kludgy, it was a real pain in the ass on my end to update manually. I’ve automated the majority of the screens, grabbing things such as currency, demographics, and merging all media captured (photos, video) into easy to use tabs. You can access them by looking under the Route -> menu and picking a Continent/Country/Province/State.
- Equipment and Gear Page – This is one of the most visited pages outside of the journal postings on the site, so I wanted to thoroughly provide as much information as possible. I now show current gear used along with its respective price paid, weight, and detailed description of the component. Readers have the option of buying the product via a link – this is about as far as I’m going to go with advertisements on the site. If you purchase it through one of my partners, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.
- Other Minor additions – The About page got a rewrite, added a “Show your Support” page, added a fun “What am I reading?” page and dropped some pages with old and stale information.
The things you can’t see is where things really start to get interesting for me. Along with the excessive amount of time it took to charge my electronics in the evening, it took a considerable amount of time (30 min+) to enter in my daily statistics in respect to distance, costs, elevation, calories, and modify the map to alert you of my whereabouts. Now, its less than 3 minutes as I’ve automated the entire process. Again, this gets me back out and enjoying my surroundings as opposed to sitting in front of a computer. I’ll be setting a feature freeze to the website very shortly (I need to replace the header above, if you know any graphics artists willing to lend a hand let me know!) and not muck with it for a while, something I realize I spent far too much time while coming across Canada after coming up with ideas and figuring out what worked and what didn’t.
Did Arts and Crafts – I made a neat little case for my Kindle reading device last weekend out of an old book. Not only am I interested in the stealth aspect of it, but I needed something to protect some of the other electronics in one of my panniers, and I couldn’t find a reasonable hard case that would satisfy my needs. It took about 4.5 hours to get this looking this way, gluing the edges of the book and painfully cutting out the pages so that it would fit snugly. In fact, it was almost like doing actual work! I’m considering making a similar case for my laptop with a larger book to protect from bumps from the mounting bolts of my pannier. I don’t need a smashed LCD screen!
Relaxed – Yes, I took it easy. I decided to tough it out and stop riding for the winter season in St. John’s, Newfoundland – a well established city (dating back to the 1600s!) home to a wide range of cultures, people, and music. Yup, some of them talk funny, The beer is overpriced, and the weather is absolutely ridiculous some days with gusts of wind at 140km, paired with icy roads (not to mention some of the craziest hills in Canada!), but it has acted as a temporary home for me. I managed to find a place to stay with a retired Physics professor who seems to be on his own quest for happiness, yet found in playing the Harmonica and flute, in a spacious environment complete with a Jacuzzi in the room! We call it the SPA room, but this certainly isn’t a honeymoon for me.. I’ve made a bunch of friends that I will continue to keep in touch with when I’ve gone, and have spent time sampling some of the attractions that this place has to offer. Down the road from me is George Street, known for the most amount of bars on one street anywhere in the world – Yup, it’s a shitshow – people staggering around even at 7-8am. Makes for good entertainment, and a good time if you feel like letting your hair down and acceptant of the resulting hangover the following day. One major complaint however, we are in the middle of the ocean – but the mail delivery seriously needs an overhaul. It takes almost 7 days for a piece of letter mail to go from one side of the island to the other (900km), resulting in ultra long wait times for packages. it could be better.
Of course I’ve done other things, but this is just a few of the highlights and the post is getting a bit long. Updates will be coming fast and furious shortly once I get back on the road in the next 3 weeks. I first need to find a way off the island, as I can’t bring myself to cycle through the central part of the province when it is still full on winter here. If you know anyone who is in Newfoundland and travels from St. Johns to the Port Aux Basques ferry terminal, I’d love to catch a ride with them!. After that, I’m looking to circle back into Nova Scotia and visit Halifax, before going one more time into New Brunswick to see a few friends that I met along the way in 2010. Everything after that is completely up in the air – It’s been a back and forth in my mind where is next and it seems like one day once I have a plan, it shifts the next. One of the major parts of this next few months is a friend of mine is getting married – and has asked me to be the Best Man. It’s an honor and I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity for anything, which means I’m going to have to change my route, deferring areas for another time, and perhaps stay closer to my hometown in Vancouver, BC for the wedding in September. I’m sure I can find things to do – and once I get a better idea of what’s going to happen I’ll be sure to let you know!