Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Return Trip to Maine

We had such a great trip to Maine in 2012 we decided to do it again, focusing on the best parts of that trip, the week-long cabin rentals and the canoeing.

As in that trip, we have 7 locations this time where we will stay 2 or 3 nights. In 2012 we had three week-long cabin rentals. This time, however, we have nine! And each one comes with a canoe or kayaks!

With our new, more compact travel tandem (see our last blog post for details) we chose to fly East for a change, rather than do the three-day Amtrak version of the journey. Ten hours after leaving our condo in Seattle, here we are checking in to the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Mass., a 45-minute cab ride north of Boston's Logan Airport. Except for a few things to be mailed to us when we get to our first cabin in Maine, everything we need for the summer is there: the tandem in many pieces inside the two suitcases, two large panniers hanging from the suitcases, our helmets, and a lightweight backpack each. Our bike shoes and two medium-sized panniers plus all the small bags that go on the bike are also in the two suitcases.

Two and a half days later, here we are taking off from Gloucester. The backpacks are folded away inside the panniers, the bike is fully assembled, and we're ready for our Return To Maine.

One of those days was spent at the Peabody Essex Institute, a marvelous museum in Salem. Though they focus on New England and its connections to the Far East thanks to Salem's early prominence in trade with China, the featured visiting exhibit was about California design from the 1930s to the '70's. Some described how California firms switched from making inexpensive WW II Army supplies from molded plywood to designing and manufacturing postwar goods using similar techniques. Other exhibits explored California's part in design innovation and as a role model for "outdoor living" as it had never been done before.

The tandem, of course, did not just reassemble itself. Perhaps some day we'll get to do it in an hour, but it took a little over two hours this time, only our second time doing it. Our innkeepers Judy and Roy in Gloucester created what they called the "tandem palace," under the back porch and complete with drop cloths, for the task, and posed with Louise afterwards. They even gave us and our two now-empty suitcases a car ride up to the Fedex office, where we put the smaller suitcase inside that larger, together with a few tools and packing materials. A few days later they were at Louise and Masaharu's near Washington DC, where the bike will be packed up four months from now.

We're looking forward to a lot of canoeing this summer. 7 of our week-long cabin stays are on tidewater and the other 2 on lakes. So where better to start our biking and boating summer than with a third type of setting, rivers. We hopped on a shuttle 12 miles up the Ipswich River and had a wonderful paddle downstream with a gentle current, mostly through an Audubon Society wildlife sanctuary. The highlight was certainly the three beaver lodges we passed, two of which are pictured.

Then we spent three nights on the Piscataqua River, where airbnb owners Michael and Petra provided a canoe we took for two adventures. They were demanding efforts on this large tidal river so the camera actually stayed in its waterproof case, except for a shot of our cottage. Taking our hands off the paddles for any length of time after that was not something we cared to do. But after shooting downriver with a four-knot tide past ocean-going vessels, we found quiet cove, took some photos, and stopped at a boat-in cafe for coffee and lunch. That small red canoe on the right was our transport. We waited for the incoming tide for the return, but had quite a time of it. The 4-knot tide going with us and the 12-knot headwind in our face battled mostly to a draw, so it was a hard 7-mile paddle back compared to the trip downstream. The next morning we headed upstream starting at high tide, so we had slack water for half an hour, then an outgoing tide to fight for an hour. When we turned around for the trip back, though, we now had an even stronger current working for us, and even a light tailwind. Tides and wind, wind and tides -- we're going to be thinking about them a lot this summer!

We'll also be seeing a lot of beaches. Maine has few of any size, but there are pocket beaches in most of the areas where we'll be, great for getting out of a canoe and restoring sensation to your legs. We did detour the bike to a beach in Massachusetts, Plum Island. It even has separate areas for birds to breed and for people to -- enjoy the beach. The Parker River Nat'l Wildlife Refuge offered some trails to explore the sand dunes and the marsh lands behind the barrier created by the dunes.

A little further north, Hampton Beach was getting ready for its annual sand sculpture competition. Who knew that sand castles had gone commercial? Some local businesses plus the Disney Corporation provided funding, hence the designs on these first sculptures.

We spent one night in Kennebunk and followed a self-guiding walking tour around town prior to dinner. Both the small house and the mansion partially seen date from about 1790. The first pair of photos are fairly self-explanatory. The second historic photo shows how the Storer family chose to build their barn around a tree. When that barn had to come down, later owners built a new one a little further back, but around another tree! The mansion is up for sale, complete with its one-car, one-tree garage. Also noteworthy is the Congregational church that was sawed in two when the congregation grew, with the back section moved and the church expanded with a new center section. And just outside town is this 1804 farm (now a garden business) in Classic Maine style, all the buildings connected so you can get from the house to the barn even in the worst weather that winter can send you.

At the mouth of the Saco River we had yet another water adventure, this time a ride upriver on a power boat and a 4 1/2 mile paddle back to the boathouse from the mill falls of Saco, Maine.  It was our first experience with a sit-on-top kayak, and it was a somewhat wet one.  Somehow, we're always more comfortable in a canoe.

In the 19th century, some of the first tourist destinations in America were large hotels built around mineral springs. In Maine, this was Poland Spring. Unlike most of its brethren, it's still in business as a resort, though much changed. The massive Victorian resort hotel shown in the model burned down in the 1970s, vacant and probably beyond salvation in any event, but other buildings on the grounds survived and we spent two quiet nights there, getting in a lake canoe trip past our first loons of the summer, and a hike past two toads (and perhaps another few dozen, but these two guys moved and therefore gave us a chance to see them despite their amazing camouflage). Back when Poland Spring was a Very Big Deal, the owners purchased the Maine State Building constructed for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and had it hauled here and rebuilt. It now functions as a history center and art gallery, currently showcasing quilts.

We've been on the go now for 14 days and nights. One more 2-night stay and we reach our first week-long cabin, in Boothbay Harbor. We'll tell you about it in our next blog entry.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A New Tandem !

Our first tandem ride was on a borrowed tandem.  After our third ride, we ordered our own custom-made tandem from R&E Cycles in Seattle, which we're now calling "Early Red."  It was a great bike, and we rode over 38,000 miles on it in the US and Canada.

However, Early Red didn't come apart.  That's not an issue when you're commuting to work, as in the photo to the right, but as we approached retirement and looked forward to even more trips with the tandem, we decided to also retire Early Red and to have a second bike custom-made for us at R&E, "Big Red."

Big Red has also been a very good bike, and taken us another 25,000 miles on three continents, but as a travel bike it had two issues.  One was that it took us close to 3 hours to disassemble it, another 2-3 to reassemble.  The second issue was that it fit into two cases that just made the size limits for air or train travel as checked baggage, but not for train travel as carry-on.  That limit is 28"x22"x14", and Big Red packed up in two cases that were 26"x26"x10".

We were discussing these issues at R&E last Fall when owner Dan Towle suggested we be the first to order a new bike they had been thinking of creating, one that would solve both problems.  Hmmmm, a third tandem?  Well, with the money we save by not owning a car, why not?

First things first.  R&E measured us once again, up and down.  Then they dialed in the exact specifications of our current tandem on a bike-fitting device that looks like a bike without wheels, first captain Jeff then stoker Louise, and asked us what we would change, if anything.  Well we're not getting any younger, so higher handlebars would be nice.  OK, raise this, change that, tweak this other thing, how's that feel?  Great.  Next, they did detailed CAD drawings, two sets of them in fact:  one for the geometry, one to get the placement precisely right for the lock, the air pump and each of the six bottle holders.

Now for the fun part for R&E, fabricating the bike.  Once it hit the top of the queu, it went together fairly quickly, in about a week.  First the tubes are cut to the correct sizes and the couplings (more about them later) are silver brazed on, then everything is placed on the assembly jig to get the angles and connection points just right, and spot-welded (i.e. in 2 spots per joint to hold it all in place).  When the frame is completely assembled it can be moved off the jig to where each joint can be fully welded.  Meanwhile chief mechanic John Lehman has been busy lacing up the wheels.

They built "Little Red" so quickly, it was done before the rear hub had arrived from the distributor, so they borrowed a rear wheel from another bike and invited us to take a test ride before it was painted, when it would still be relatively easy to make structural changes.  We did a ten-mile ride around town, including some good-sized hills to check it out ascending and descending, and there was nothing we could suggest.  OK, let's paint this baby up.  What color?  Hmmm, since we don't want to change the name of our blog page or email address, we think, maybe . . . red?

So, what's different?  First off, of course, the wheels.  If the wheels of your travel bike are 26" in diameter, you can't put them in a case any narrower than 26".  So these are 20".  Yes, lots of kids' bikes have 20" wheels, but so, it turns out, do lots of adult bikes.  So much so, that you can get very high quality rims and tires in that size.  The tires they found for us are actually better (higher thread count and pressure rating) than any we ever located for 26" Big Red!  We had tried a Bike Twosday tandem years ago that also had 20" wheels, but found the steering "twitchy."  Because Little Red has much better bike geometry, it actually handles almost the same as its two predecessors.
Next, the rear wheel.  No derailleur!  It has a 14-speed Rohloff internal gear hub.  Each gear is 13% higher than the one before it, with an amazing range.  At a cadence of 80 pedal stokes per minute, our average, we move at 5.1 mph in 1st gear, up to 26.6 mph in 14th.  For the bike techies, that's a range of 21 gear inches to 111.  By comparison, Jeff rode across the US in the '70s with a bike that was considered at the time to have an extreme gear range, 31 to 108 gear inches.  Compared to Big Red, Little Red has the same wide range, but is almost one gear lower.  Oh, those aging bodies again -- we figure we need more help getting up steep hills, and at this age are less and less inclined to go bombing down them at high speed.  Even so, we can pedal up to about 31 mph before it makes more sense to just coast, and that's just fine with us now.

Yes, we used to have a 27-speed, but in fact on any bike with a derailleur there are 2-4 gears that you are not supposed to use (ones that bend the chain too much laterally, such as the biggest chainring with the biggest freewheel ring), and many others that are almost duplicates.  Now each jump is an even step.  Better yet, the Rohloff eliminates the problem we often had of coming to a stop (particularly a last-minute stop for a traffic light that you didn't quite make) and finding ourselves in too high a gear to easily start.  With the Rohloff you can change gears standing still.  Jeff has already figured out that that means gear 7 on flat ground, 6 on a small uphill, 5 on a steep uphill, and so on.  Since there is no derailleur, there are no more dropped chains to worry about, and both chains, the timing chain from Jeff to Louise and the drive chain from Louise to the rear wheel, can be on the same side of the bike.

As we mentioned, the two things we wanted our new bike to do were to pack smaller and pack faster.  Smaller is accomplished with couplings -- LOTS of them.  In fact, 14 of them!  When you undo them all you end up with 6 tubes, 3 vertical sections (front fork and steerer tube, captain's seat tube and stoker's seat tube) and the so-called "rear triangle."  However, since the rear triangle has couplings plus a bolt that comes out, it  pivots at a second bolt and becomes a relatively flat piece as well.  Bike racks are big and cumbersome, but this rear rack comes apart into three pieces, and the front rack when taken off the bike pivots in the center to become relatively flat.  Here, in fact, are ALL the pieces of the bike when fully disassembled, with the five tools that accomplished that, and close-ups of how the couplings work.  To help us quickly match up the tubes, R&E stamped one end of each one and of its matching spot on a vertical piece.

And how compactly does it all pack up?  Our entire tandem (plus our bike shoes and rainjackets) is in these two suitcases!  The larger one is 27"x20.5"x10" and the smaller 24"x18"x10" and both rolled quite easily with the bike inside.  When we reach Boston next week and unpack the bike, we will put the smaller one into the larger (it expands to 13" in depth) and only have to ship one case by Fedex to our final destination of Washington DC.
R&E came up with a number of ways to make it faster to take apart and reassemble.  Not having a derailleur helps, plus a simpler front handlebar stem.  But some even bigger time (and hassle) savings came from quick release bottle cages (in the photo above you can see that the cages stay on the bottles) that slide off sideways with the pressing of a small tab.  We used to spend 20-30 minutes undoing two screws for each one, then reinserting them into the tubes to keep them from being lost.  The pedals are also quick release, by pulling the red tab out.  No more messing with the greasy pedal bolts, not to mention times when the pedals have gotten so tight from riding that you can scarcely get them off.  Finally, Big Red had packing material custom cut for each piece that came off the bike.  That meant you had to match up each of 20+ parts with its packing.  With a little fleece and some nylon reinforcement at the bottom, Louise sewed up four identical bags for four of the straight tubes.  Though each of the four tubes is a different length, you just fold the pouch over the top and cinch the excess length with a rubber band.  For the two larger tubes (one the fat boom tube, the other the tube that the pump stays attached to) she used different-colored fleece.  That left the short and therefore distinctive bag for the (folded) rear triangle and three taller/wider bags for the three vertical pieces, each now labelled.  One issue remained, how to protect the ends of the couplings from damage to themselves or damage to things nearby.  We cut some pieces of old inner tube into squares and put one at each end, then held it in place with a plastic glove, the kind you buy cheaply at drugstores.

So, how fast is the process now?  We don't yet know.  We spent 3 hours disassembling and packing it for the first time last week, but much of that time was spent writing out detailed notes on the exact sequence -- what comes off first, second, etc. -- and packing order, including which of the two suitcases each piece goes into.  Not to mention a lot of head-scratching time, figuring those things out.

We think we can do it next time in about an hour.  And that next time is rapidly approaching.  On June 12 we fly to Boston to start our next adventure, in which we spend spend 9 weeks in Maine, each one in a different week-long rental cabin.  Seven of the cabins are on tidewater, two on lakes, and every one comes with a canoe or kayaks.  Each one is also 32 to 44 miles from the next one, a very do-able distance for each "moving day."  After Labor Day we then turn southwards and bike down the coast to Bridgeport CT, take a ferry to Long Island, ride into NYC right down to Wall Street, where we hop another ferry that takes us to the North Shore of New Jersey.  We'll take our time down the Jersey Shore to the southern tip, Cape May, where one last ferry brings us to the DelMarVa peninsula.  Friends Louise and Masaharu have volunteered to pick us up at the east end of the bridge from Annapolis to the peninsula (since bikes are not allowed on the bridge) and on to Washington DC, where we hope to have about two weeks left for visiting and sightseeing with them before heading home at last.

Look for our first entry in mid-June, as soon as we can hit the pause button on having fun -- and find a library to be able to post a blog.  Happy Trails to you 'til then!