Friday, December 11, 2015

Back on the saddle

It's 3:30pm and I write this from the rooftop of the hostel, Plantas y Blanco, in BaƱos, Ecuador.  There's a nice breeze coming through and the sound of a waterfall can be heard in the background.

On Dec. 3rd I flew back down to Quito to continue my cycling journey through the Andes Mountains of Ecuador.  My bike which I, unfortunately, went sailing down on into a cement drainage ditch back in January 2015, was waiting for me in Tumbaco.  Tumbaco is the home of a very welcoming and friendly cyclist house run by Santiago Lara & his family, who have been hosting cyclists from all over the world for the past 25 years.

Here's Santiago in the middle, Javi from Spain on the left & me on the right, with my newly fixed bike.

From the crash, the bike needed a new front suspension and rim. I also added a front rack I brought down with me from California, allowing me to put some weight on the front and have 4 cat litter panniers.

The first day getting back to tour riding has always been frustrating. I was cycling regularly in California before I left, but, here I'm carrying full weight, am starting at about 7,000 ft above sea level, and am a country where I don't know the roads and they're not big on road signs here.

The first night I slept at the fire station in Amaguana, about 25 miles from where I started.  I know this sounds strange, but in the underworld of tour cycling it is known you can stop at any fire station and they will, 99% of the time, let you sleep there for the night. I think it goes back to the Che Guevara days when he took his legendary motorcycle trip through South America and stayed at some fire stations. I have also slept at police stations, churches, truck parking lots, floors of restaurants & anywhere I can put my tent up.

Anyways, the firefighters in Amaguana had a meeting room upstarts they let me have for the night, so I slept on floor and had a bathroom and cold shower right down the hall.

Honestly, when cycling I'm happy to sleep anywhere with a roof over my head and an available bathroom. A shower is a bonus.

I actually slept pretty well and headed out early the next day for a long ride to Latacunga, approx. 70 km (45 miles) south.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Unexpected Occurrence in Ecuador

I write this overdue entry from my place in Napa Valley, CA where it's sunny and the grape harvest has started early with all the warm weather.

This was my 4th consecutive year heading down to Latin America for a winter adventure.  My first time traveling south was in Dec 2010 - Feb 2011 backpacking in Chile & Argentina.  I spent 5 weeks of it volunteering (WWOLF) on an organic farm in El Hoyo, a small Argentinian town in the northern Patagonia region.  It was an incredible experience and what got me hooked on Latin America.  Here is a photo from Feb 2011 - As a former baker, I was in charge of baking all the bread for the farm so was about to load some challa & whole weat loaves into the homemade, wood-fired oven with fellow volunteer, Justin.

Back to Ecuador.  After riding 1200 miles through Colombia & Ecuador last winter (Jan - March 2014), I had a better sense of what I would be going through.  I definitely felt more confident but was also about 20 lbs heavier from when I left Ecuador the year before.  Let's just say living in Napa Valley, California can be gluttonous, haha. I was eager to get a new bike, having some clue now as to what I prefer, and start cycling south.  I flew from San Francisco, CA to Quito, then spent 5 days there acting as a tourist.  (My "Ecuador" page is in the works, including my experiences cycling from the Colombian border to Quito Feb-March 2014 & Feb 2015 in Quito)

From Quito I took a taxi to Tumbaco, a city of 50,000 about 15 km/10 miles away.  Tumbaco is the home of an incredibly warm family, the Laras. Santiago Lara, seen below building my bike, is a long-time, avid cyclist & began hosting cyclists with his wife, Ana Lucia, in a house in Quito 35 years ago.

They now live with their 2 daughters, Ana Carolina & Micaela, plus other relatives in Tumbaco and always have friends and family stopping however many cyclists are camping there,  Santiago also runs his bicycle business off the property, fixing & building bikes for customers.

La familia de ciclistas (Ana Lucia, Ana Carolina, Santiago & Micaela):

I was getting extremely eager to get moving, being surrounded by other cyclists, talking about their adventures and working on their bikes.  Below shows the garage and outside camping space for any cyclists passing through:

The big day finally came and I was ecstatic.  All packed up andready to head off on day 1.  (Left to right: Franco from Buenos Aires; myself; Santiago & Mattias from Bogota)

I would be riding for approx 2 months, making my way into northern Peru.  I did not have a final town or city in mind as I don't like to make any real plans, just kind of go where locals recommend.

My first bike, the Specialized 01 Work Hybrid is back in California and I use it regularly.  Here is my new (and improved) bike, built by Santiago. It's an Ice Biker mountain bike with 27.5" wheels, front suspension & 27 gears (all Shimano components).

I left around 1pm the first day so got a late start and the brunt of the sun.  By dusk it was starting to sprinkle and I was ready to be done, though I only rode about 45 km that day, ending with an hour climb up a mountain.  I found an hourly hotel which only charged $11 for the night and unloaded my gear. The issue with ending a day on top of a mountain is that it's colder and you get chilly plummeting down the next morning.  When it's getting dark you don't have any choice.  As such, I had the pleasure of taking an ice cold shower that night before eating a dinner of fruit, granola, tamales & crackers.

The next morning I was sore, but feeling great mentally.  I was back on the road with no obligations and the freedom to roam as I please.  I found a little restaurant serving breakfast right before getting on the Pan-American Highway and had a scrumptious meal of eggs, bread, coffee & fresh strawberry juice.  I walked out content and ready to start covering some miles.

I turned onto the Pan-American, staying in the 3 foot shoulder on the side.  The road starting going down hill and I started picking up the pace.  I was listening to Jack White on my mp3 player.  I glanced down at my speedometer - 20mph - I was moving!  Then my mp3 player unclipped from my jersey and fell down, ripping my headphones out.  I looked down and swiped so they wouldn't get caught up in the chain or my spokes but had no luck,  When I looked back up, it was too late.  I was riding directly into a 3 foot drop cement drainage ditch that runs right next to the shoulder of the road.  I slammed the breaks but still dropped down in the ditch and sailed over my handlebars, skidding along the cement.  It all happened very quickly and I remember ending up on my back, looking up at cars passing above on the highway.  I started yelling "Ayudame" or "Help me" in Spanish and within a minute there was a police officer.  I had managed to crash directly in front of the entrance to a police academy.  That was fortunate.

At first I didn't know if I had broken anything or could even get up. I was still wearing my helmet, which saved me from some serious head damage.  I managed to get up and could walk with no problem.  The police were helping get all my stuff (my homemade panniers hadn't moved an inch!) and asking me about the accident.  They called for an ambulance and got me into their main office.  Since I was traveling solo I didn't have anyone to capture my time with the police, in the ambulance and in the free clinic where I got stitches in my cheek, chin & wrist.  The nurses were friendly and allowed me to skip the line, and one police officer, also named Santiago, stayed with me while I was getting stitches.

You might be wondering what something like this costs a tourist.....nothing.  It's free, even for tourists.  Thank you, Ecuador.

After the stitches, Santiago drove me back to the police station and got 2 other officers in a truck to drive me to the next town of Machachi and find a hotel to recover in.  I found a cheap hotel and they carried my bike and everything up the stairs into my room. Thank you, friendly Ecuadorian police.  Now I was able to look in the mirror and view the damage:

My right wrist had been cut deep and I could barely carry anything in that hand:

My helmet:

Jersey (there is also a 12" long hole on the back where I slid):

and finally, the brand new bike with a slightly bent frame and wheel:

All said and done, I feel fortunate to have walked away with wounds that can be healed.  I stayed in the hotel for 3 days before taking a taxi back to the casa de ciclistas in Tumbaco.  Santiago and his family were so welcoming and comforting, working as a team to make sure I was ok.  Santiago inspected my bike, his wife, Ana Lucia, served me pancakes and his brother went to the farmacy to get me more medicine and things to cure me faster.  Talk about hospitable people.  I've barely spent 2 weeks with them and I am like close family.  Thank you so much, Laras.  The Sunday I returned to their house happened to be the day before a family friend & fellow cyclist, Henrik from Denmark, was finally flying back home after 4 years of traveling....and it was Superbowl Sunday.  The family grilled burgers and we drank some beers.  Here is my family away from home:

The day after that picture, I flew home to California, unexpectedly losing a close friend.  It's now been 6 months since the accident and I look back at it as a learning experience.  Other cyclists have told me their bad stories of crashes and broken bones and it happens to the best of them.  Santiago has broken all sorts of bones over 40 years of cycling.  I still cycle regularly back here in Napa, California but am more cautious overall.  The crashed bike is still with Santiago in Tumbaco, Ecuador waiting for me to return this December 2015.  Santiago is going to fix it before I return and I will set off south once again towards Peru with plans of cycling 2 to 2 1/2 months.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Homemade Soda Can Camp Stove

After cycling for 2 1/2 months through Colombia & Ecuador last year, I picked up some great tips.  I met cyclists with top of line, expensive gear, like Ortlieb bags, but also met those who had the bare minimum.  Those bare bone cyclists taught me to make some key things from scratch with inexpensive materials to save a bundle of money.

I will share how I made panniers, a handlebar bag & a camp stove for a fraction of the price of what you would pay to buy your own.  These will be three separate posts on my blog.

Third, homemade camp stove:

I met a number of backpackers & cyclists who had bought camp stoves for $100+ and had endless problems with them or they just stopped working completely.  I then met a cyclist, Leah Manning ( who had a Coke can stove and used rubbing alcohol for fuel.

There are a million videos and pictures online if you search "coke can stove", "beer can stove" or "soda can stove".  You will see all sorts of variations.

I saw one video with a guy that put a tin can (with the top & bottom removed) over the Coke can to function as both a wind guard & a means to rest your pot or cup.

Here is everything I carry for my stove:

1. 70% Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol - this pic shows the 16 oz bottle but I decided to get the larger 32 oz bottle instead
2. Tin Can - used a large tomato sauce can (4" diameter x 4 5/8" tall) - read below what I did to it
3. Soda can - cut the bottom 1 1/2" off to make a small bowl/dish
4. (2) 8" pieces of metal clothes hanger
5. 16 oz Olicamp Space Saver Cup (on Amazon right now for $8.90 shipped) -
6. Brown Paper Bag - this stuff gets sooty after one use so you don't want to get that on the everything else in the panniers

The Tin Can!

This was the missing component from when I used the soda can stove last year.  It's so key, both blocking the wind and acting as the means to rest your pot or cup.

1. Open the can, eat the contents & wash it out.  Then fill it with water and freeze it solid.  Freezing it will allow you to punch holes in the can without bending it

2. Use a hammer & Phillips head screwdriver to knock holes around the bottom for air flow.  Also punch out 2 slightly larger holes on each side up top for the metal clothes hanger pieces to slide into:

3. Unfreeze the can with hot water in the sink

4, Cut the bottom lid off so you're left with a cylinder (using the same can opener you used to open it).  Save that lid!  It can act as the lid on your 16 oz Space Saver cup to make water boil faster.

5. Get a bottle opener and make 4 cuts evenly spaced at the bottom of the can for air flow

6. Your can is ready to go.  You want to do a few test runs to burn the inside.  There's a thin plastic film that burns off, lets off black smoke and smells.  My apologies to the environment.

Now you fill the bottom soda can dish with rubbing alcohol and light with a ligher.  It can take like 10 seconds of holding the flame to the alcohol to get it to light.  Let it burn a moment then place the tin can over it with the air holes at the bottom.  Slide the metal hangers through the holes at top.

Fill the cup with 16 oz of water and place on the metal hangers   Put the lid from the tin can on the cup so the water will boil faster.  I timed it and slightly cool water was at a rolling boil after 8 minutes with the cup on the flame.

Pretty damn good for about 10 cents worth of fuel, a tin can & Coke can my roommate put in the recycling, a metal hanger from my closet and a $9 cup.  This thing cannot break and can easily be replaced.  If I end up cooking more, I'll pick up a pot that can sit on top of the tin can.  Right now, 16 oz is sufficient for me traveling solo.  I mainly boil water for coffee, tea & oatmeal.  I also carry a thermos to keep it warm through the night.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Homemade Waterproof Handlebar Bag

After cycling for 2 1/2 months through Colombia & Ecuador last year, I picked up some great tips.  I met cyclists with top of line, expensive gear, like Ortlieb bags, but also met those who had the bare minimum.  Those bare bone cyclists taught me to make some key things from scratch with inexpensive materials to save a bundle of money.

I will share how I made panniers, a handlebar bag & a camp stove for a fraction of the price of what you would pay to buy your own.  These will be three separate posts on my blog.

Second, handlebar bag.

I never actually saw any cyclists with homemade handlebar bags but thought to do it after making the kitty litter tub panniers.  I walked through various aisles at the grocery store & Target thinking of what to use.  I first thought of using a smaller, laundry detergent plastic tub, then looked at the tupperware options, then hard coolers...then saw this soft lunch cooler (seen below)

This handlebar bag doesn't require any tools, just attaching stuff you buy.  Here's what I used (with costs):

(1) Soft Lunch Cooler (measures 10" wide x 7.5" deep x 6" tall) @ Target for $8.99 + tax = $9.71

(2) Coleman Carabiners @ Target for $2.99 + tax = $3.23.  These are small, only 2 5/8" long x 1 3/8" at their widest point

(3) 2 strips of velcro - mine are 10" long each but they can be shorter.  I cut mine off my old, crappy handlebar bag so they were "free". You can buy velcro at Home Depot, Target & many other stores

There are two small loops on the back of the cooler so the carabiners can attach:

Total cost of this handlebar bag is $9.71 + 3,73 + 0.00 = $13.44

Cost of Ortlieb handlebar bag on Amazon right now = starting at $101.98

This handebar bag is waterproof (I soaked it in the shower), easy to put on/off and inexpensive.

Homemade Kitty Litter Tub Panniers

After cycling for 2 1/2 months through Colombia & Ecuador last year, I picked up some great tips.  I met cyclists with top of line, expensive gear, like Ortlieb bags, but also met those who had the bare minimum.  Those bare bone cyclists taught me to make some key things from scratch with inexpensive materials to save a bundle of money.

I will share how I made panniers, a handlebar bag & a camp stove for a fraction of the price of what you would pay to buy your own.  These will be three separate posts on my blog.

First, homemade panniers.

When I was staying in a casa de ciclistas in San Antonio Prado, Medellin, Colombia with Manuel & Martha, there was a photo book of cyclists with their bikes & gear.  I saw some that had kitty litter tubs as panniers and was like, "No way!"  So, having come back to the California to work for a bit, I decided to make some for myself.

Here's what I used to make and attach them to my bike (with all costs):

(2) Purina Tidy Cat 35 lb. Kitty Litter Tubs - $12.90 each + tax @ Walmart = $27.86 total.
(I first asked friends, the animal shelter & Petco to get them for free, but had no luck.  Fortunately, my roommate has a cat so the 70 lbs of litter will be used. I saw the tubs @ Target later for $11.99 each, with a $5 gift card when you bought two).

(4) Tarp/rope hooks @ $1.19 each = $4.76 + 0.38 tax = $5.14 total (They did not have the right size @ Home Depot so I had to go to a local hardware store in town.  They are small - just 2" tall)

(8) Each of nuts, screws & washers #8-32 x 1/2.  $3.56 + 0.28 = $3.84 total

(2) Quick release straps 1" x 45" (made by Liberty Mountain) @ $3.50 each on Amazon = $7.00 total:

Cost of everything for homemade panniers: $27.86 + 5.14 + 3.84 + 7.00 = $43.84 total for (2)

Cost of Ortlieb Back Panniers: They are on Amazon now @ $199.65 = $399.30 total for (2)

These homemade panniers are inexpensive, waterproof, durable, dog proof (I met cyclists whose Ortlieb panniers had been bitten through by dogs), less likely to be stolen and double as a seat when you're camping at night.  It's a win-win.

Now the process of making your own kitty litter tub panniers:

1) Cut a small piece out of the 2nd lip from the top of the bucket so the rope hook will sit flush against the side.  Mark the 2 holes of each hook with a pen so you know where to drill.

2) Drill small holes (you see I am going to put the hooks about 1 1/2" - 2" in from the outer edge of the tub)

3) Attach hooks with screws, bolts & washers:

Here's what it looks like inside:

Once done, the hooks actually almost snap onto the rack because of their size.  I actually had to apply some pressure to push the hooks down onto the rack, which makes them fit very snug:

For extra stability and so they don't bounce around I added a quick release strap on each one, which goes through the inside of the rack:

Outside view:

I plan on putting reflective tape on the 3 visible sides of each bucket.  You can also cover them with bumper stickers or paint them with Krylon Fusion Spray Paint, like one post I found below:

Low rider bike with painted kitty litter tub homemade panniers: