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April 6, 2016:

Preparing for a Very-Long, Astro-Centric Ride

Although I’ve logged thousands of miles pedaling The Big – the bicycle on which I’ll attempt to visit all lower-48 U.S. states before August 21, 2017, the day of the Great American Solar Eclipse – I’ve made relatively few overnight trips on it. Truth is, I’m used to road trips in a spacious old van, with room enough to haul everything I might actually need when away from home. And still I manage to forget something essential to the trip … every single time.

The Big is … well, big. It has huge cargo capacity for a bike – more than 100 liters of rain-resistant storage, in fact. But that is a tiny fraction of what I’m used to loading into the van for extended road trips. I’m simply not going to be able to carry everything I’ll need for the long ride. Which means I’ll have to make do with what I can carry. Which means I’ll have to prioritize.

Astro Gear

Sharing astronomy is key to the project, so astro gear gets the highest priority. Astro gear is also heavy. I’ll carry at least one small refractor telescope capable of delivering both solar and night-sky views, plus at least one tracking mount, both of which can be mounted on The Big in place of the seat post as shown in the image that accompanied my April 4, 2016, blog post. Key to getting both solar and night-sky use from the refractor is DayStar’s Quark Ha Solar Filter.

I’d like to carry an additional refractor and tracking mount, plus a camera tripod to carry both, so I can share views with even more guests, but I’m literally having to weigh that option in lieu of such mundane necessities as food and water. We’ll see.

Plus, binoculars. I’m going to be thoroughly immersed in the Great Outdoors, so, yeah, binos are a must.

Photography

One of the goals of the project is to capture at least one credible astrophoto from each state. My go-to terrestrial and astrophotography camera is a Canon 60Da, but it, two lenses, spare batteries, plus its bag, weigh 10 pounds – more than 10 percent of my maximum payload – so I’m going to attempt to do all still and video photography with a phone and two little bike-mounted action cameras. The phone is an LG V10, chosen specifically for the excellence of its cameras, as well as durability, so I may actually get away with this.

Shelter

Shelter is very basic: A backpacking tent and a sleeping bag for me, a lightweight tarp for The Big, plus a microfiber towel to dry us both.

Clothing

I’ll be pedaling for 16 months throughout all four seasons – I’m not at all likely to finish in the clothes in which I start out, but I’ll start out with two pairs of shorts, two pairs of long pants, three pair of underwear, three pair of socks, two short-sleeve shirts, two long-sleeve shirts and a lightweight jacket – all of quick-dry material – plus a rain- and wind-resistant top and bottom.

I should wear bike shorts and pants – you know, the skin-tight kind with padding built in – but I never have and probably never will.

I ride in cleated mountain-bike shoes that make descent sneakers with the cleats removed and will wear slides the rest of the time.

There’ll be no formal attire on this trip.

Mobile Tech

Despite that I’ll be traveling with no more than can be loaded on a single bicycle, albeit a cargo bike, I’ll remain as connected as anyone on the planet via a smartphone and a Wi-Fi hotspot. The phone won’t just keep me connected, it’ll also report my location. Those few of you, who may be so inclined, will be able to track my progress via this site – in real time – as well as on Facebook.

The phone will even gather heart-rate data from a wearable to more accurately calculate how many calories I have to consume to fuel each day’s ride. This is all ho-hum mundane as modern mobile tech goes, but it still feels like magic to me.

I’ll also carry a laptop or a tablet and keyboard. My current laptop is a ThinkPad – it’s compact but powerful as laptops go, but it is still heavy for a main bike-borne productivity device. On the other hand, it has phenomenal battery life thanks to its dual-battery configuration, but I’m trying out lighter tablet alternatives before leaving.

Power

I’ll carry a couple of 20 amp-hour USB power bricks, plus a lightweight fold-up solar panel for charging them during the rides. All mobile tech I’ll carry is either USB-charged or -powered, but for the laptop. Many of the camping facilities at which I’ll stay offer AC power even to tent sites, so if I take the laptop, keeping it charged means also carrying an extension cord.

Food and Water

The Big has four water-bottle cages, and I usually carry a bottle of water in each, but in the summer – especially in the hot, humid South – that’s not nearly enough. Most days, I stop and refill along the way, but there will be days when refill sites are not available, so I’ll need to carry additional water on those days.

Food may be my greatest challenge. I’ll average better than 50 miles per pedaling day and burn around 500 calories every 10 miles when pedaling the heavy Big. That’s on top of the 1500 to 2000 calories I otherwise require each day to stay alive. Which is a lot of food. A typical pound of trail mix packs about 2100 calories. I’ll try to carry a few pounds of it as a reserve. I’ll eat fast food where available, and even a sit-down restaurant meal now and then. The rest of the time, I’ll stock up at in-route stores. It’s a rare spot in the U.S. that doesn’t have a Walmart or Dollar General within tens of miles.

Replacement Stuff

We’ll ship replacement gear to and from the in-route bike shops with which we are coordinating the project.

At Least, That’s the Current Plan

We have a plan, and as with most plans, reality on the ground will look much different. Truth is, despite all of our preparation, we’re not ready, but we’ll make it up as we go along.

Oh, and toilet paper. Wow, see, I almost forgot the TP!

Gary

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The Big is shown here carrying an 80-mm DayStar refractor with a DayStar Quark Ha Solar Filter where a standard eyepiece would normally go. Unlike dedicated Ha Solar scopes, which are limited to providing solar views, the Quark allows a conventional refractor to do double duty, delivering either high-resolution 0.5- to 0.3-Angström Ha views of the Sun with Quark installed, or traditional views of night-sky celestial objects sans the Quark. This one-scope-does-the-job-of-two versatility is essential to limited-payload bike travel.

The refractor is supported by Sky-Watcher’s Sky Adventurer tracking micro-mount, a perfect solution for ultra-portable astronomy.