Category Archives: Bike packing

Frame baggin’

I have been searching for ways to get my hands on a super sweet frame bag for my specialized AWOL from a number of companies (Porcelain Rocket, Roadrunner Bags, Rogue Panda, etc.).  On average, frame bags seem to cost about upwards of $170.   Once you have paid that money, it is not necessarily a guarantee that it will fit properly (unless you customer order), since most bike frames have variation to them even if the theme is similar (road geometry, MTB Geometry).   That is unless you are buying the Salsa Mukluk 3 bag direct from Salsa (same goes for Surly, and now Specialized).

My local bike shop is fantastic, but they don’t carry a size run of full frame bags from myriad bag providers and I am not sure it would be cost effective given bike packing isn’t exactly booming in Central Illinois.   It leaves me with a dilemma – how do I get my hands on a frame bag that fits without spending colossal amounts of duckets.

I started reading a bunch of blogs and researching the cost of fabrics and materials.  I decided I was going to make my own frame bag for my AWOL.

  • Is it easier to purchase a pre-made solution – Maybe
  • Is it more fun to DIY your way through a problem – Sometimes.

I happen to know a lady with as many sewing machines as I have bikes, who loves to teach and make things out of fabric.  I asked if she would teach me, and she happily agreed.  I created this model with a roll top design, avoiding the use of zippers, a known point of failure.

Here is how it looks so far:

It is made out of extra fabric my mom had in her sewing room (read bike room, but with fabric).  It reminds me of a 60’s beach umbrella in France…

Now that I have a template and semi-functioning model, I think I am going to order the proper fabric and other needed parts and create a more sturdy bag.

More Updates to follow….


Road Trip: Canadian Highlights

Earlier this summer my VSLF (Very Special Lady Friend) and I took a trip to the old country for a family wedding.  Since it is fairly expensive to travel to Canada from our location, we generally make them longer trips (around 10 days) and work in a mini vacation for ourselves too.

Our high level itinerary is below.  I actually wrote a really detailed itinerary in GoogleDocs because I like being organized and sent it to my family to keep them in the loop. It also helped to ensure we wouldn’t be overlapping or missing any big extended family activities.  It was met with giggles and loving familial ridicule.

There are quite a few good stories to tell, but will only be sharing the highlight reel:

Day 1: Pincher Creek/Waterton for a day hike with my close friend Blake up to Goat Lake, around 14 Km round trip (there is a really cool circuit overnight backpack from here I would like to do).  It rained the whole time and it was still fantastic.  We were dead tired from some travel delays and an overnight stay in our rental car so we smashed some Tim Horton’s Double Doubles for energy.  We ate summer sausage and Laughing cow cheeses on Pita bread with dried mango for snacks.

Day 2: Crowsnest Pass –> Frank Slide –> Radium Hot Springs and Dry Gulch Provincial Park for Camping.  We said our goodbyes the next day and after a big breakfast we headed for Frank’s Slide and Crowsnest Pass (Migratory route for Golden Eagles).  Franks Slide was pretty humbling to witness and hike around.

We were fairly excited for the drive that day through mountain passes and forest heavy scenery.  We stopped for road side blueberries, and local ice cream and beer, and of course to put our feet in cold, cold rivers.  We rounded it out with Pad Thai for dinner and more games of Speed.  Our campsite at Dry Gulch was really nice, cozy and near many mountain bike trails.


Day 3: Dry Gulch Provincial Park –> Stanley Glacier Hike –> Banff –> Bow Valley Camp Ground.  This was a pretty sweet day, although we did a bit of driving and had an underwhelming time in Banff, the hike was spectacular with a primo lunch spot.  We ate some poutine post hike and then went to our final campsite, which was the cleanest one I have even been in! Stanley glacier has been described as a rock and roll glacier, “a big, iconic slobbering tongue a la The Rolling Stones.” It was true.

Day 4: Meet the family in Canmore at Tim Horton’s for more double doubles, carpooled to another day hike to Boom Lake, headed into Calgary. We got to spend some quality time with my sister, who I had not seen in months!

Day 5 and Beyond: Family, Family, Family and VSLF was able to fit in some horse back riding.  I was able to rent an FSR (Full Suspension) Mountain bike for a few hours with my sister along the elbow river!


A few lessons learned:

  • We were able to reserve all our campsites online ahead of time for super cheap.
  • We drove a lot, but it was worth it.  As a results we were able to hike in different parks every day, and each drive was pretty spectacular.
  • We should have picked out our hikes ahead of time.
  • More research on hot springs would have been good.
  • Bring climbing Gear next time or rent bikes for Canmore to Banff Trails
  • Banff is great if you have never been there, but can be overwhelming due to the volume of people.
  • Grocery stores are the best places for food, period.
  • There is good Mexican food outside of Waterton.

All in all it was a great trip!




Reportage: Ghost towns and Bridges

We made great time out of town.  Starting at 530 pm, we bolted from the LBS, and headed West on the constitution Trail, the famous artery of asphalt athletics.  A 12 MPH tail wind that pushed us along with vigor into the western part of the county, into a horizon increasingly green, golden, and pink.  The temperature was perfect for our 20mph pace.

We made it to the first bridge location, only to find that it is on private property – a local hunting club owns access.  We decided to skip it, and took our time riding the gravel roads back to the main route we were following.

Private Property and Sportsman & Gun Clubs should have been the title to this communique, as they became a fairly common site west of Bloomington, especially around the Mackinaw River.  Who can blame them, it’s the perfect location for them. The river meanders so slowly through a few counties, and is buffered by a generous amount of green trees, plants and rolling hills.  This is where the good game is!


None the less, I do hold some animosity over their seizure and privatization of some of the most interesting geographical locations in central Illinois for purely personal, and commercial use.  Natural Resources like this should be shared, and we should not be limited by  property lines because we want to enjoy a river and the surrounding forest.  Not every beautiful place, resource needs to be exploited.  Also, it kind of ruins the concept that outside is free, by adding the caveat – *not applicable everywhere .

I digress…We left the main road for some more Spartan back roads, paved but hilly and low with traffic.  We managed to find a fairly steep incline known as Peacock Hill (on Strava), and climbed it slowly with our heavy bikes and gear.   As I crested the peak, a woman drove past, headed down the impressive grade, eyeing me and shaking her head, acknowledging the idiocy and unnecessary route we have taken.

Around 7:30, as the sun was sliding under the covers of the horizon we found Kentuckiana Road, and headed down some fresh gravel and rock roads to the second bridge and the Ghost town.


The second bridge was also on private property, or so the signage said, but fuck it – It was Radurday and we were out to see these old relics.   It was a mess, and amazing.  we followed 4 wheel tracks that traced the rivers edge until we found a heavily graffitied barrier.  We walked around it to reveal an iron skeleton the color of brown bark.  There were missing wooden boards everywhere. People had hammered their own boards down to be able to traverse shore to shore.  There was also evidence that people set fires on top of the old wooden planks that made up the surface.  Bizarre. We snapped some photos, and took in peacefulness of the location.  The sun was setting through the trees.


We debated camping out on the bridge for the evening…but thought better of it, given that it was again on (post fact – not sure this is true..) the Tremont Sportsman’s Club’s property.

IMG_20160520_202538The ghost town was in worse repair that the Google aerial image made it seem.  Most of the building were burnt down and full of bullet holes.  Overgrown with weeds and refuse, the site was spectacular.  The bursting natural reclamation gave the dilapidated buildings a special quality, maybe authenticity.   We took a bunch of photos, picked some ticks off of us and split a cliff bar.  We left before the local’s came to party.


We ended up camping a few miles down the road at the Kentuckiana Kampground, a massive RV camping location that has a few other gems tucked into it’s boundaries: Two mini lakes, Shuffleboard, Bag’s tournaments, Washer’s Tournaments, and the longest running Opry in Illinois, every Saturday night from May to October.  The place is friendly and offer’s many services.  Worth checking out!


We woke in the AM packed and head back home.  We found even more gravel North of Hopedale and Stanford and passed another shooting range just before town.  We ended our Sub 24 hour/Blitz weekend back in town with a coke and some tacos from Carniceria la Mexicana.  I consider this place as holding the touch for the best taco’s in town.  What a killer weekend.  42 miles on Friday after work, and close to another 40 Saturday morning.  Beautiful weather both days.  Check out the Instagram feed for photos!

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Get groovy, and stay Rad!


30 Miles out, Bridges, and Ghost Towns

Another Blitz has been planned!  Looking to span a bit farther than our 20 mile (minimum) radius…Same schedule: Leaving after work Friday, and biking west, camping, and then more biking in the AM, then Donuts.

The Deets:

  • A total of 16 hours away from home base (BLITZ)
  • A total of 67 miles (potentially up to 75)
  • 2 old abandoned bridges (potentially a 3rd)
  • Gravel (guaranteed)
  • Campsite is a potential Ghost Town/RUINS (100% happening)
  • See previous point – maybe the beginning of a horror story or reveal of a local cult

Here is a snapshot of the potential route:

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 9.52.44 PM

I was looking for destinations with this one.  I have been thinking of paddling the Mackinaw River next year from source to finish with VSLF and our pup, Brooks.  While doing research on Google Maps of the river/route, I came across some old bridges off dirt roads that seemed to lead to nowhere.    I found the first one not far from the BCF teams locally famous gravel grinder course, and then another 2 within 10 miles!  SCORE!   While scoping out how to access them, and determining property (Private/Public) lines, I noticed abandoned buildings clustered together near the second bridge right along the river. DOUBLE SCORE.  I hope to camp amongst the riverside ruins.

In my research about the abandoned buildings I see on Google maps, I found out that there are people who travel, and catalogue old bridges (Rail, and Automobile) and blog about them in detail  both large and small.  As a matter of fact, there is more than one person who maintains a digital bridge catalogue, for the state of Illinois.  Right now, I am totally psyched that the folks are into this seemingly banal hobby are out there! Their archives have provided great bridge beta for this weekend’s excursion.  I might snap some photos and send them on to the site owners in appreciation.

Pretty sweet what people are doing out their with their free time, really.  Deep down I feel like the bridge fascination is somehow related to an older generations fascination with Trains (models, engine types, old rail lines, routes)  and their past dominance of the American landscape (the original American transportation obsession).  Given that I can find a catalogue of old bridges in Illinois, sorted by region, I bet their is come research online that points to a connection between the two.

The 20 Mile Radius.

The promise of a day of hustle and bustle at work had been broken by lack of work, or interesting work anyway.  On day’s like today work is not work at all, but instead a tediously slow death of a perfectly good day due to inactivity.  My mind quickly wandered into daydreams, and blogs, and maps.  I’d make my own “work.”

I decided that this weekend, regardless of the weather, would be a perfect time to do a blitz overnight bike pack. Based off the success of the previous endeavor, I began pouring over the best planning map in the world – Google maps.

I decided that for a Friday – Saturday blitz trip, that we should be looking for a location to poach a camp site, at minimum, a 20 mile radius from home, with a maximum distance of 25 miles.  This is especially helpful if all parties involved still have to work a full day on Friday.

Criterion for bike packing blitz/overnights:

  • Minimum of 20 miles away
  • Maximum of 25 miles away
  • Never Pay for Camping.
  • Rain
  • No tents
  • Body of water
  • Donuts

Lucky for us, we live in great biking country.  Our county is flat and contains within it’s oddly rhombic boundary lines a populous that loves lakes, boating, and weekend camping.  There are 2 Parks within 25 miles of us with camping and lakes.  Additionally, we have the indifferent, meandering 125 mile path of the Mackinaw river (I want to paddle it source to finish) that has a shield of protected forest preserves and hiking trails. There are also no shortage of country roads with little traffic, which make for nice wide bike paths to cruise.

Needless to say, we have options.

20 miles as a lower limit for travel might have to expand as the summer waxes into Autumn.  With good lights, friends and gumption, there are some bigger rivers to bike too and sandbars to camp on.   But for now, late spring/early summer, 20 miles is a nice fit for after work on a Friday, and a single night under that twinkly canopy.


Update 5/18:

Trip was a partial success!  Due to time constraints we landed just under 20 miles from home, and snagged a beautiful campsite in a stand of pines.  It rained from when we started pedaling until 10pm, when the nearly fully moon burst out of its cloudy cover.  We got a hike in and even saw a beaver!

I used my OR Molecule Bivy sack for the first time, and it kept all my stuff dry, and was great for one night out!