When you plan to travel by bicycle for a year, you think hard about what to carry, because your feet have to propel every ounce thousands of miles. Although it’s possible to hang four, five, even six bags on the front, back, or sides of a bike, I want only one pair of panniers plus accessories that clip directly to the frame. Everything has to be compact, light, and essential.
I addressed the challenge, as I do most problems, by creating a spreadsheet. The main categories: bike-mounted items, clothing, communications, toiletries, repairs, and miscellaneous. I vetted the list through my son Andy. Since he hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years back, he’s expert at packing.
The bike-mounted items are easy: front and rear light, air pump, two water bottles, lock, helmet, and odometer. Whenever I lock the bike, the helmet stays with it. A pair of Ortlieb panniers will hang on either side of the back rack. My Surly Long Haul trucker has already aced a 3,000-mile junket. I know its dual brakes, 21 gears, and Brooks saddle are up for the challenge of pedaling five times that distance.
Although it seems counterintuitive, going from a ten-room house to a pair of panniers required more shopping than I’d done in years.
Clothes. My big splurge was three custom cycling jerseys (Pactimo) advertising my question. Bright yellow, of course. I layer on a yellow down jacket (North Face), and/or yellow shell (Marmot) as the weather requires. Yellow is my fundamental color- I want to be seen. Add two pair of cycling pants (EMS), and five pairs of socks (iQ). I’ve never liked clip-on shoes, so I purchased a new pair of New Balance 856’s, my only footwear for the journey. Although one pair of shoes is sufficient, one pair of gloves is not. I have three variations of palm-padded bike gloves: fingerless for warm weather, Gore-Tex for the cold and wet, with insert liners for when it’s even colder.
For off-bike wear I’m packing two black Technic shirts (EMS), one collared sun-protection shirt (Columbia) a pair of black microfiber paints (REI), a pair of microfiber shorts (Columbia), a swimsuit / yoga short (City Sports), three pairs of nylon underwear (Underarmour), a wool hat for cold days, a baseball hat to shade my noggin, and an ancient pair of scrubs (Yale-New Haven Medical Center laundry, but don’t report me on that). That’s it. Everything can be rinsed and hung to dry for the next day, except for scrubs and the socks. That’s why I need so many pairs.
Communications. I am going all Apple: an iPhone 5S and 11” Macbook Air. Considering I did my last long trip with a cellular flip phone, paper maps, and a Dell Notebook, it’s a welcome upgrade. But I’m still old school in liking to use a mouse so I’ll tote one along with my chargers.
Toiletries. If there is anyone in the world with simpler toiletry needs, I have yet to meet him. A toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste (sorry dentist, leaving the Sonicare at home); first aid kit; soap with covered dish; microfiber towel; sunscreen; razor; Carmex; and Abreva. After having a short beard for over twenty years, I’ve decided it will be easier to shave regularly than carry my electric trimmer.
Repairs. This is not the place to scrimp. I am not particularly mechanical, but have to be able to keep my bike rolling. I’ll carry an extra tire, three tubes, Allen wrench set, three plastic tire levers and lubricant. I’ll need a tune-up and new chain every 2,000 to 3,000 miles. That will require a layover in Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, and other cities along the route.
Miscellaneous. Every list needs a miscellaneous column. There’s the lightweight sleeping bag I’ll carry for particularly gorgeous nights. I’ll haul my already tattered personal copy of Architecture by Moonlight for reading events along the way. I’ll begin the journey with unread NY Times Magazines, but once they are consumed and recycled, I’ll pick up paperbacks along the way for casual reading and leave them for others. I’ll pack two additional water bottles just to claim the space, but won’t need to fill them until I get west of the Mississippi where water sources grow scarce. I’ll carry a portfolio with paper, tiny pads from Staples that fit in my bike shirt pockets, and several pens, as well as a 250-box of Vistaprint calling cards. I’ll have subsequent boxes mailed to me along the route. I’ll also carry three power bars to start, and add more snacks as the towns grow farther apart.
I laid everything out on my bed. A lot of stuff, a lot of yellow. Then, I organized groups of items into plastic bags. Finally, I put everything in my two panniers. One for dry stuff (computer, book, clothes), the other for wet stuff (water, repair supplies, toiletries).
The good news – everything fit! The plastic bags were too flimsy, so I got an assortment of mesh bags to help organize the bags. Now my only worry is, what did I forget?