I’m very out of touring shape. The muscles I use to stabilize my loaded bike are underdeveloped right now, so I’ve spent my first few days on the road wobbling around and just trying to get my balance again. I huff and puff a lot, not yet trusting myself to really get up out of my saddle and get after each hill. It will come, sure. But for these first few days, I have been exhausted. Riding a 70+ lb bike for 6-7 hours a day is something that I don’t really do unless I have to. Surprise, surprise, a few laps of Hains point on a road bike after sitting at a desk all day doesn’t really train you for riding this bike.
It’s been almost three years since my last bike trip of longer than two weeks, and I’m itching to go out again. Good thing I’ve spent the last few months planning a trip! Early-to-mid next year, I’ll be riding along the Silk Road across Asia. For accuracy’s sake, I should point out that this route is not quite the Silk Road, it’s at best Silk Road Adjacent. The Silk Road, if Marco Polo and others decided to explicitly chart a route deliberately skirting most of the major cities and populated areas of Central Asia. I have carved out six months between when I leave my job and the start of graduate school, to undertake this trip.
This post, combining this project with my other failed experiment, is 8+ years in the making. In March, I posted progress I had made on building a carbon fiber bike frame that I was building from scratch using epoxy resin and raw carbon fiber fabric. This is the short and sweet conclusion to that post. The bike is finished, and it works. It is a step for me to say that outright, because I feel in some way that it still might tempt fate to do so. I’m not superstitious, but I am a little -stitious.
I’ve put 100 miles on the frame, mostly on DC’s potholed, nightmare of city streets and bike paths, and I think I’m ready to declare this project a success. I’ve climbed and put stress on the frame, and I’ve taken it up to 20+ mph for long stretches. No play or flexing in the frame geometry, no vibrations, and it’s just… silent. My real road bike is louder, creaks more, and is more fickle than this is. (Its components are 10+ years and thousands of miles old, but still.)
There are a ton of old Mercedes still out on Morocco’s roads. They must each have around a million miles, and they are beautiful. Not particularly beautifully taken care of by classic car standards, but you can tell that they have each been loved well by their owners over time. European tourists ride around in massive Jeeps with snorkels, or those monstrous world tour adventure RVs with massive wheels and a motorbike attached to the back. But well-to-do locals often drive these ancient Mercedes, or even older Renaults. There are also a vast array of different motorbikes, of all different shapes and sizes. From tiny Motobecanes, to touring motorcyclists riding massive BMWs. Also the occasional mule or horse.
At a party one night last fall after I returned from Iceland, Collin Harkrader and I had a wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if conversation about another international bike trip. When he called my bluff on the plans a few days later, we considered the idea again in the light of day, and pushed forward with more serious planning. We initially tossed around the idea of a ride along one of Spain’s famous long-distance walking paths, but over the next few weeks our plans drifted south towards Morocco. Even better, a direct flight from from Washington DC to Casablanca would facilitate the logistics. So we decided to forego all of the comforts and easy riding of southern Spain for an ambitious, 5-600 mile trek through the Mid- and High- Atlas Mountains.
Time for another adventure! This May, I will be adding a fifth continent and ninth country to my sidebar, as my bike and I will be off to Morocco for some on-season (for once) riding through the Atlas mountains and along the edge of the Sahara. Collin Harkrader, a colleague of mine from the Illuminati Center for Monetary Policy will be joining me on this excursion. The trip will give us both a much needed two-week break from the endless 16-hour days we spend slaving over the money printing presses.
We’ll be starting in Fes or Meknes on May 5, depending on where we feel like getting off the train, and heading southwest through cedar forests and over the High Atlas. After topping out at around 9,000 feet, we’ll coast down the back of the Atlas to Ourzazate through tiny Berber villages and towering gorges. After that, it’s a race against time and the odometer, until we reach our goal of Agadir on the coast of the Atlantic. My personal goal is 1000km over two weeks, just shy of 600 miles. As always, this depends on our daily progress, conditions, and wind direction. The first week will be tough, the second less so.
As always, I leave these posts for other people planning to follow similar routes, and this will be no different. Road conditions, bike durability requirements, water and food availability. Morocco is quickly upgrading its infrastructure, but we should be able to find at least some lonely mountain roads.
When I was a senior in high school, I made a bike out of bamboo joined with wrapped carbon fiber thread. For various reasons, including my own impatience, inaccurate measurements, cut corners, lack of an income, and just a general ‘winging it’ attitude towards the project, I failed. While it looked nice, the bike broke at the head tube lug on just the second ride. I had made some questionable design choices, including but not limited to sanding the carbon fiber lugs after every carbon fiber wrap (basically ruining the strength of the carbon fiber every time I wrapped it), and not having any sort of strategy with respect towards orienting the carbon fiber wrap in an optimal way. I never squeezed out any epoxy, so the carbon fiber was very loosely wrapped on the lugs, and leaving much of the strength of the frame dependent on the epoxy. I was 18, didn’t know very much, and I never tried again.
I’m 25 now, and after a lot of research I know a tiny bit more about working with carbon fiber, and a lot more about working with bikes. I have an income now, and am arguably more patient with myself. So over the last few months, searching for a distraction from the gloom that is the world outside my apartment, I picked up framebuilding again. I proceeded to get way in over my head and drew up plans to create a whole frame out of carbon fiber.
What is the point of a vacation if it doesn’t, upon your return, make you appreciate how relaxing your regular routine can be?
Brief recap. As I start this post, I’m heading into week two of my Iceland trip. It’s cold, it’s windy, it’s rainy, and I haven’t seen the aurora yet. But I’m having a great time. After reaching Husafell, I’m headed up into the Storisandur to the north of the Langjokull glacier.
I spent two weeks alone in the highlands of Iceland on my bike between September 16 and October 1 of this year. It was an amazingly rewarding, but undeniably challenging adventure that was worth every rain-soaked, windblasted second. I covered a little over 700km over the two weeks, riding 13 days straight out of the Keflavik Airport. I didn’t use automotive transportation and camped every night. With my new handheld bank of solar panels, I also did not need to use any outlets. It was certainly a way, if not the way to do Iceland on the cheap. Except for some unexpected costs incurred along the way…
On September 16, I leave for Iceland. There, I’ll be spending two weeks crashing through the Icelandic highlands on my fatbike. The dates of this trip, September 16-October 1, fall at the extreme tail end of the tourist season, and I’m not sure what to expect, weather-wise. Nevertheless, I am no stranger to doing a trip like this out of season, and it hasn’t really gone terribly wrong yet. I’m anticipating similar conditions to Patagonia, with rain, possible hail, unlikely snow, and a certainty of incredible wind.
It is common to go to Iceland and cycle the ring road during summer. Then, you can expect 18-24 hours of daylight, allowing you to cycle for pretty much as long you want every day. The towns are nice, the country is safe, and the ring road is paved. A high standard of living ensures that you’ll have plenty of places to restock with food. It all sounds remarkably pleasant.
The highlands are not that. With little tree cover, the Icelandic interior is a moonlike, windswept wasteland full of unpaved 4×4 tracks, geothermic activity and monstrous glaciers. Human presence is limited to a few small outposts at popular tourist spots and emergency shelters. By late September, the heavy tourist season has largely concluded in the highlands due to deteriorating road conditions and bad weather. Mountainbiking paradise
My route takes me first on the Nesjavallaleið road out of Reykjavik to Þingvellir. Next, to the the Kaldidalur road through Storisandur, up and over the Langjökull glacier to the northeast. Then southeast through the valley and singletrack trail of Hveravellir and Þjófadalir to Gullfoss. Next, southwest through Landmannalaugar National Park on the Fjallabaksleið Nyrðri road to Kirkjubæjarklaustur along the ocean. Finally, down to the black sand beaches of southern Iceland, passing through Vik and Landeyjahöfn, under the volcano Eyjafjallajökull and through the town of Selfoss before returning to Reykjavik. I don’t know how to properly say any of these names.
The bike I have chosen for this trip is my Surly Pugsley, with 3.8in diameter tires which can float over just about any terrain thrown at it. I will be packing significantly lighter than my previous tours. My full gear space is comprised of two large rear Ortlieb panniers, a large Carradice handlebar bag, and a Revelate Designs frame bag. Plenty of space for a trip of this length.
I have a GPS this time, with maps of Iceland loaded. And a new windproof stove. Also, new solar panels, just in case I can manage to get some sunlight and need to recharge phone/camera batteries. My hub-mounted generator is on my other bike. I probably realistically could do with less, but I’ve packed 14 days of dried food because Iceland is expensive and shops are almost nonexistent in the interior. A mix of instant oatmeal, dehydrated fruit, powdered milk, and protein powder for breakfast, nuts, Clif bars, and candy for lunch (cheap calories) and Mountain House dehydrated meals for dinner. Not much variety, but it’s light and that’s a priority on this trip.
So that’s the plan, subject to changes due to wind direction or progress. One blog I read specifically told its readers not to go touring in Iceland after September 15, and I arrive September 16. Depending on the weather conditions, this trip could be a cakewalk, but it also could be absolutely brutal. I’m hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.