Archive for April 4th, 2017

He’s Back!

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

After 7 years, 9 months, and 14 days Kevin Koski is once again on a bicycle tour (sorry, ever since Trump was elected I have been referring to myself in the third person).  If you recall, I had to cut my last trip short in 2009 in Tanzania due to a herniated disc in my neck that caused excruciating pain. Returning to the USA, I got an MRI and a doctor injected me in the neck with a six inch needle filled with cortisone to reduce the swelling and inflammation. I had to sign a multi-page waiver stating that the procedure may cause permanent paralysis or death, among other side effects. Somewhat apprehensive, I asked the assistant how many of these procedures has the doc done before? He assured me it was fairly common, even showing me his computer screen with all the patients who had survived the injection within the past week. As the needle went in, within millimeters of my spinal cord,  the doc watched it on some kind of MRI screen and kept asking “how do you feel?” I said “I have a six inch needle in my neck, how the hell am I supposed to feel?” It felt weird but it worked. Within weeks I was pain-free.

After the procedure I took a break from cycling and let my bike languish for about three years. But finally I started riding again. It has been a long time and I am overweight and out of shape. But I know from experience that I burn about 5000 calories a day while cycling so I expect that after a few months I will be back to a normal weight.

Besides being several years older a lot has changed in the world since 2009. A number of places I cycled through have deteriorated into civil war and unrest: Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Kenya, just to name a few. The unbelievable tragedy in Syria continues with over 300,000 now killed and most of the country in ruins.  Take a look at the great Umayyad mosque of Aleppo below. I took this photo in Nov. 2008.

Here is what the mosque looks like today:

The 1000 year old minaret was destroyed during bombing in 2013.

Here was the inside of the mosque in 2008:

and today:

It is too depressing to dwell on the Syria tragedy right now. The sad part is the Syrian people were some of the most friendly and hospitable people I met on my entire trip. In cafes the owner often did not charge me. People would flag me down as I was riding past and offer me tea or other goodies. They were just eager to be able to give something to a foreigner.

I will examine the Middle East conflict and current political events in a future post but for now, let’s move on.

Since 2009 new technological tools have greatly improved bicycle touring. Smart phones with GPS, google maps, street view and google earth allow me to see what roads and terrain look like in advance when planning routes. Getting lost is a thing of the past. I just go on google maps, type in my destination, select the bicycle icon, and Google will tell me turn by turn the best bike-friendly route to take. With street view and google earth I can see what a road’s shoulder looks like and if camping is feasible in an area. It’s a miracle!

Accommodation options are greater too. Air BnB, couchersurfing.com and warmshowers.org are all online accommodation sharing sites which provide many more options than in the past, especially in cities, where instead of a hotel I can hopefully find a room for much cheaper.

As if that weren’t enough, with my smartphone I can also check the weather instantaneously. This will help in making decisions about where and when to ride. A strong headwind can be a killer and reduce my speed by up to 50%. Similarly, if heavy rain is forecasted I may plan to stay in a hotel that day.

Besides google maps and on line lodging, social media has changed a lot too. In 2007 Facebook and Twitter were still developing, and Instagram did not exist. Now, besides this blog, I will post tidbits on all those social media sites (twitter: @KevinKoski24, Instagram: koski_kevin, Facebook: kevinkoski24). I am not an avid poster, however, so most posts will just be a notice that I have a new blog entry, although I can see uploading a quick photo or video on the moment if it is interesting, That’s another thing–I don’t have to wait to get to an internet cafe (do they still exist?) I can upload content almost instantly since I will be traveling with my cell phone.

So what’s the plan for this trip? The first stage is to ride from south Florida to Copper Harbor, MI to attend our family reunion in July. Then I will ride from there to Denver, CO to visit my sister, my Dad and other family. Next I will spend a couple months exploring the Southwestern states and from there head to Mexico for the winter. In the spring of 2018 I will head north, eventually reaching Seattle, WA to visit my old Seattle friends. I also hope to visit two states I have not been to before: Maine and Utah. Succeeding this, I will have been in 49 of the 50 states, missing only Hawaii. Can anyone reading this blog top that? Anyone been to all 50 states?

Below is my intended route for the FL-MI stage. This includes a substantial ride in Canada through Quebec and Ontario. By the way, it has been 26 years since I did a serious bicycle tour in the USA. The last one was in 1991 when I cycled from Michigan to Seattle, WA.

fl-mi-route

I plan to cycle, on average, 50 miles  a day, six days a week, or about 300 miles a week. Google maps tells me that the trip is  4100 miles so this should take me just over 3 months. Highlights are expected to be the Blue ridge Parkway, Great Smokey mountains, and wilderness areas in Pennsylvania,  the Northeast, and Canada. I will camp when convenient or avail myself of the aforementioned lodging when available.

My bike is the same one I used for my last trip, with about every single component replaced. I also have new panniers, a new tent and various other upgrades. For the record, my frame is made of 4130 cromoly steel alloy–a  Fuji touring design bike I bought in 2002. I have 48 spoke wheels and Phil Wood hubs. Most components –brakes, cassette, derailleurs– are Shimano. I have an SRAM chain, Schwalbe marathon tires, and a Brooks B-17 leather saddle. I have five Arkel panniers, I use an Optimus Nova all-fuel stove, and have a Kelty two person tent. At the end of the post is a list of my equipment.

One of the big questions I have is will my neck problem return? I have cycled several thousand miles since 2012 just around south Florida with no problems so I am cautiously optimistic. Otherwise, my health is good and I foresee no problems doing 50 miles/day. I will probably do more once I get back in shape.

In terms of safety I will carry my usual pepper spray to deter aggressive dogs–and people. But I also decided to bring a high voltage stun ring that will shock hostiles if needed. I also have an app on my phone that tells me my exact latitude and longitude. If I run into trouble in the bush and am rendered immobile I can simply call 911 and give them my exact location.

I have taken several short trips around southern FL in the past year to test out my gear and get in shape. South Florida is riddled with canals that were dredged decades ago. The mud that was dredged was deposited next to the canal and made into roads that are designated for bikers and hikers so there are hundred of miles of these criss-crossing the Everglades. Below are a few pix.

20161216_081755

 

Camping on Lake Okeechobee

Bike trail around Lake Okeechobee. Had it all to myself for about 20 miles.

 

A few last shots of southern Florida. These two were taken a couple years ago while I was riding near the beach. A front came in suddenly with dramatic cloud formations.

cam00043 cam00042

 

To Have or Have Not?

One of the toughest parts of bike touring is deciding what to carry and what to leave behind. Every ounce you keep you must lug up every hill and pannier space is limited so this is a constant balance. I usually carry too much then end up ditching things along the way. But I want enough to keep myself comfortable. Below is a list of what I am taking with me. It amazes me that there is so much stuff, and also that I am able to fit it all in my panniers.

Bike Trip Equipment List

Camping stuff

  • Stove
  • Fuel can
  • Large cooking pot
  • Small eating/cooking bowl
  • Cup
  • Utensils
  • Spices
  • Lighter
  • Tent pad
  • sleeping bag
  • silk sleeping sheet
  • tent
  • rain fly
  • stakes
  • Inflatable sleeping mattress
  • small flashlight with batteries
  • Extra flashlight battery
  • Water filter with extra filter
  • Stove repair kit
  • Insect repellant
  • Camp stool
  • Iodine tablets
  • Taste tablets for iodine water
  • Air mattress patch kit

Tools

  • Chain link remover tool
  • Spoke wrench
  • Tri wrench
  • Allen wrenches
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Wire cutter
  • Small crescent wrench
  • Small Philips head screwdriver
  • Swiss army knife
  • Length of wire
  • Chain stretch measuring tool
  • Duct tape
  • Zip ties
  • Old toothbrush

Spare parts

  • Spokes (3)
  • spare tubes (3)
  • spare tire (1)
  • patch kit with tire levers
  • Spare shifter cable (1)
  • Spare brake cable (1)
  • Oil
  • Grease
  • Assorted nuts and bolts
  • Brake shoes

Emergencies

  • First aid kit
  • Emergency ramen noodles
  • Phone app for emergencies
  • Aspirin/ibuprofen
  • Emergency contact info
  • Whistle
  • Pepper spray
  • Stun ring

Clothes, etc.

  • 2 T shirts
  • cold weather top
  • Swim suit
  • Wallet
  • Black biking slacks
  • Biking shoes
  • 3 pair socks
  • one pair nice slacks
  • one pair combination walking and dress shoes
  • one nice shirt
  • underwear
  • Sunglasses with strap
  • Windbreaker/rain gear
  • hat
  • 2 pair Biking shorts
  • biking gloves
  • headband
  • bandanas
  • Flip flops
  • Sewing kit

Toiletries

  • Electric shaver
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Reading glasses and carrying case
  • Magnifying glass (for my bad eyes)
  • Hair gel
  • Deodorant
  • Soap
  • Washcloth
  • Dental floss
  • High absorbent towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Toilet paper
  • Chapstick

Electronics

  • Mp3 player with radio
  • Bluetooth Earbuds
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Bike computer and spare battery
  • Macbook Air laptop and power cable and case
  • La Cie hard drive and cable
  • SD card
  • USB flash drive
  • Go Pro camera
  • Solar panel to keep devices charged

Misc.

  • pump
  • tripod
  • Bike cable, lock and key
  • Compass
  • Earplugs
  • Plastic water bottles
  • maps
  • passport
  • journal
  • writing pen
  • travelers checks
  • Credit cards
  • Insurance card
  • Baby powder
  • Plastic bags
  • Watch
  • Bungee cords
  • Straps for rear rack
  • Baby wipes
  • Rear light and AAA batteries
  • Binoculars
  • Plastic trash bags
  • length of twine or rope
  • Proofide saddle wax