Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bikepacking - new bags, new camera.

Autumn is here and the sky is full of skeins of geese
So far all my attempts at bikepacking have been made with gear that on the whole I already had. I did buy a cheap bar bag that worked well but it won't fit the wider bars of my cyclocross bike. I also bought a seatpost rack, but that snapped on my last trip. Mainly I've just lashed dry bags to various parts of the bike. But with the bikepacking idea taking off in the UK as well as elsewhere, the British firm Alpkit (who I've written about in the past) are now offering custom frame-bags and are bringing out additional bikepacking luggage. I invested in the Stingray frame-bag for my CX bike and also bought one of their "beta" Fuel Pods.

Packed up and ready to go
 Last weekend I went for an over-night trip to try the bags out. The morning before the ride had also seen the UPS guy deliver my new camera - a rather fine little Canon - so I was keen to try that out too. The photos in this post and video at the bottom were all taken with it.

Quiet Finnish roads #1
Quiet Finnish roads #2
It's pouring with rain now but last weekend was far closer to the glorious summer Finland has had this year, rather than this newly arrived, business-as-usual autumn. The sun shone until it set and then through the forest canopy I could still see lots of stars. I rode about 85 kms to a little beyond the town of Karkkila, around 100 kms northwest of Helsinki on Friday afternoon. Just west of the town the land becomes more forested and less agricultural, and with lots of lakes. I wanted to camp on a lake edge; for aesthetic reasons and simply as a source of water, and despite there being lots of lakes around those parts, I was quite surprised by how many summer cottages there also are - so it took me a few attempts at following various quiet gravel roads to find some lakeside forest that kept me a respectful distance from people enjoying the last weekend of great weather in their summer places.



I had thought perhaps optimistically that the mosquito season was now over so took a tarp but no mossie net. At first in the evening there were more than enough mossies to be annoying but interestingly later at night they all seemed to dissappear allowing me to sleep with my head out of my sleeping bag comfortably. It was just below 14 degrees when I went to bed (my new cycle computer very handily has a thermometer on it) and just below 12 when I woke up, so I'm now theorising that there must be some magic point between 12 and 14 degrees Celsius where its gets too cold for mosquitoes!

The morning sun starting to burn away the mist
Overnight camp
A bit before midnight I could hear in the distance some interesting howling, that at least to me didn't sound like a dog. Noting this on Twitter as I lay in my sleeping bag, caused some amusement amongst other late evening Twitter perusers around the world, along with some useful research done for me on the most southerly sightings on wolves in Finland, some terribly bad lupine-themed jokes, and even a friendly suggestion from the deputy mayor of Helsinki to make sure my tent zip was done up tight. This of course made the howls feel closer as I lay there under my door-less and indeed side-less tarp!
The only nighttime visitor
Dew droplets on a spider's web
Morning arrived sunny and wolf-free with the forest glistening in its thick coating of dew. I had some breakfast and coffee and made a reasonably quick start as I had promised to be home by lunchtime in order to be ready for the family's annual trip to Linnanmäki, Helsinki's long established amusement park. Overall I was gone for less than 24 hours and rode about 170 kms, probably split evenly between surfaced and unsurfaced roads - the kind of riding that my CX bike is perfect for.

Greeting the morning sun with coffee
Packed and ready to leave where I camped
 There's been some good stuff written, originating in the UK, about "microadventures", whilst from the US there's the idea of "S24O" - or sub-24-overnight bike trips. It's taken off in Helsinki too which is really great. The ideas are simply about encouraging people to get out, see some countryside and sleep under the stars. I think it's a great concept; not everyone has the time, money or family situation that allows them to go off for months to some far-off wilderness, but most of us can nip off for 24 hours, and some exercise plus a night out in the woods listening to the bird calls (and maybe even a wolf howl in the distance) has to be good for your health - physical and mental.
It's probably not funny at all to Finns, but I would love to live in a place called "Ahmoo"
Somewhere in the Finnish countryside
 The Alpkit bags seem great so far. The frame bag takes quite a lot of gear but doesn't bulge enough to rub. I picked the thinnest option, 4cm bulging to 6cm width, as it was for a CX bike. On a MTB you might be able to get away with a slightly wider bag. The 'fuel pod' also worked well, although due to the hydroformed frame shape at the front of the cross-bar on my bike, I could do with the velcro tabs being a little longer, whilst the tab that goes around the stem could be thinner. They only had them in size large when I bought it, so went for that size by default. Nevertheless it's not that big, so I think the smaller option must be tiny with room just for some energy gels or similar. I wasn't sure when I ordered it, but I'm glad I got the bigger size.

The Alpkit "Fuel Pod", size large
Drops bars on a CX bike making attaching luggage to the handle bars trickier. A small-ish dry bag packed no bigger than to fit between the drops works OK, and for this trip I had some much better straps to hold it on. These are from the Aussie firm, Sea-to-Summit, which make some of the most intelligent little bits-and-bobs for camping and outdoor pursuits, as well as some amazing if very pricey serious gear like this very high quality sleeping bag that I reviewed for UKclimbing a couple of winters ago. They were sillily expensive for a couple of nylon straps - about €10 - but the alloy locking buckles on them work very well and didn't loosen despite hours of vibration, particularly riding on gravel road - so as long as I don't lose them they should pay off in the long term!

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