Monday, December 29, 2008

The Big Thaw

The Portland metro area, and the Pacific Northwest in general, is thawing out from one of the biggest and worst snow storms in decades. I had 23" of snow fall at my house in the Cascade foothills and have a pile of snow several feet high blocking a large portion of my driveway.

According to my notes, I haven't ridden my motorcyce since 12/9, the longest riding drought I've had since I bought my bike back in February of 2007. It's driving me nuts.

Now that the snow is gone, the prodigious amount of standing water and sanding gravel on the roadways is the biggest problem. It's raining to beat the band and there is no sunshine in the seven-day forecast, but I'll probably ride to work on Wednesday anyway. That will give the road crews enough time to hopefully sweep the main streets. The rain won't bother me, however.

It's been quite a storm.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Too cold to ride?

The short answer, so far, is 'no'.

I've ridden in temps down to 25 degrees before without issue. There's a thin sliver of cold air that comes in through the top of my helmet's face shield and hits me right on my eyebrows, but if cold eyebrows are the only thing I have to complain about on a cold ride then I'm doing pretty good.

The weather lately, however, has been a bit more than I'm willing to risk. It's been cold to be sure -- 17 degrees when I got to work this morning -- and I'm tempted to set a new record for my coldest ride yet, but there is still a lot of patches of packed snow and ice around and we continue to have very strong east winds. The combination of random and various slick patches coupled with a brutal crosswind make it more than a matter of comfort.

It's a matter of safety. It's just not worth it to be on two wheels right now.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How to Sleep Outside

Although it's not exactly the time of year to be thinking about rallies and bike camping, I decided to write an article covering the tips and techniques I've learned over the years about how to sleep outside. It's more than simply plopping a $20 bargain basement sleeping bag on the ground and crawling inside.

Sleeping bags and pup tents were not built for comfort, they were built for survival, for getting by. While you can't expect the experience to match a high-end king size mattress under a down comforter in your own home, there are some things you can do to make the experience a bit more comfortable. Here are some things I've learned through years of backpacking.


What you do before you hit the hay can have a big impact on how well you sleep once you do.

Go to bed (and get up in the morning) at the same time every day of the week, even on weekends. Sleep experts recommend this approach to everyone whether you're sleeping in a tent or in your own home. I've adopted this approach and find that I wake up at the same time every morning, ready for the day. Plus, the quality of my sleep is a lot more consistent. I also don't have a problem getting up to go to work on Monday mornings, either.

Wind down before bed time. Don't engage in intense activity, or even conversation, in the half hour or hour before bedtime. Don't exercise or do anything overly strenuous for at least an hour beforehand.

Don't consume caffeine after mid-day. Keep it to mornings only if you can.

Boudoir To Go

How well you sleep depends a lot on your gear and how you set up camp.

Sleeping bags are rated for the lowest outside temperature they'll keep you comfortable. Not all manufacturers are truly honest about the ratings they assing to their sleeping bags, but a good rule of thumb is to buy a bag rated 10-15 degrees colder than your intended use.

Mummy bags will keep you warmer than rectangular shapes. If you like to sleep on your side or in a curled position, move the entire bag with your body rather than move your body within the bag.

Use a smaller pillow than you're used to. It only needs to be about 12-16” long, and maybe 6” thick. I take a polar fleece jacket and stuff it into its own sleeve. Also, put the pillow under your sleeping bag, not inside it. You'll sleep warmer that way.

Uninsulated air mattresses are not very warm. Invest in an insulated model, such as the “Insulated Air Core” model from Big Agnes ( [Highly recommended] Another idea is to place a closed-cell foam pad on top of your air mattress. This adds extra comfort and insulation without adding a lot of bulk to your gear bag. Keep in mind: direct contact with the ground will steal your body heat much faster than the air will.

Don't wear sweaty socks to bed. Put on the next day's socks before crawling into your sleeping bag.

Wear a soft fleece stocking cap and pull it down over your eyes. This will keep your head warm, keep your face from feeling sticky when pressed against nylon sleeping bag material, and will keep things dark for your eyes.

Wear foam ear plugs. They keep camp critters weighing ounces from sounding like ravenous carnivores weighing hundreds of pounds. They also keep you from being disturbed by roads or any other late-night human activity.

It's not a good idea to have a campfire if you're not awake and watching it, but if you need to keep a fire going through the night, set your body's alarm by drinking a lot of water before going to bed. When you have to get up to go the bathroom, stoke the fire, drink some more water, and go back to bed.

Tents are meant to keep you dry and keep bugs from driving you crazy. They're not meant to keep you warm, so get rid of that expectation. The best they can do is block wind from making you even colder.

If you want to be woken up by the sun, place your tent in a spot that will be exposed to the sunrise. If you want to sleep in, make sure it will be in the shade until late morning. If it's particularly cold outside, early morning sunlight on the side of your tent will be welcome added warmth.

Sleep Aids

Sometimes there's nothing you can do to get a good night's sleep. When sleep is crucial but just doesn't want to happen, there are some ways to assist the process.

Avoid alcohol. Although many people feel sleepy when they drink, alcohol can actually reduce your quality of sleep. Instead, use an over-the-counter sleep aid. Many people find Tylenol Nighttime to be very effective, especially if they have any sore muscles from the day's activities. They also make a Simply Sleep formula that has the same sleep aid minus the pain reliever.

Warm decaffeinated tea is a great late night snack before going to bed. Decaf chai tea is especially effective. If you are in a campground with hot showers, take one within 30 minutes of going to bed. As your body cools down, it makes you sleepy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I miss my Aerostich

My Aerostich Darien jacket has been away getting professionally cleaned and refreshed for over a week. I miss it.

I have said before that my 'stich is my favorite piece of gear second only to my bike (2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650). It has been the single best investment I've made since getting into motorcycling, worth twice the price I paid. I love that jacket.

Friday afternoon I went for a short ride, wearing my Joe Rocket Ballistic jacket. It's tighter and isn't as comfortable or as warm as my Darien. The pockets are a pain in the neck to use and I doubt it's even waterproof. It accomplishes the job of protecting me in case of an accident, but it's not even very effective at helping prevent an accident -- there's not a single square inch of retro-reflective material on it anywhere. The fact that it's bright yellow is irrelevant considering I ride to and from work in the dark. It could be flaming pink and still wouldn't make me any more visible to the obliviots on four wheels.

I may ride less often during the winter months, but I still ride. Having my 'stich gone to the cleaners has been driving me nuts.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving ride

Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I got off work early, dashed home, packed up my bike, and rode south to my in-law's house. I took the back roads following my usual route along the eastern edge of the Willamette Valley through a series of scenic and bucolic small towns. It was a sunny but chilly ride, with fog in some places, but fortunately I had very little traffic to contend with. That's because everyone was taking I-5, the freeway a dozen miles west of my route.

My wife drove down separately in our car and got stuck in all that freeway traffic. Her journey took twice as long as normal because of it.

After the usual Thanksgiving Day dinner the next day, we headed home. Because we didn't leave until mid-afternoon, I took the freeway as well. It had been misting and I had rain drops on my face shield for the first few miles as I headed north, but fortunately had dry pavement all the way to Salem. I had already been riding in the dark for at least an hour when I pulled off the freeway on the south side of town to gas up.

I filled my tank and got back on I-5. By the time I got to Aurora and pulled over at a rest area for a bio break, the rain had returned. Traffic was fairly thick but was traveling at regular speeds. To avoid back roads, instead of leaving the freeway at Woodburn and riding home through Molalla and Estacada, I continued north to the Clackamas exit and went home through Damascus and Boring. The combination of night riding and rain on my face shield made visibility an issue. I made it home safely, however.