Tree Nursery S24O: Get on Boards

When I started looking at maps with an aim to ride out my back door for an S24O, being that I live in a rural area I found plenty of space. I was a bit hesitant to just pirate camp anywhere for fear of pissing off landowners and/or encountering hostile local yahoos. There’s a river that runs pretty much north/south a few kilometers behind my house and rail trail that runs next to it. I started thinking about the best way to go about establishing some contacts with folks who lived and/or owned property along the river/trail. Then it dawned on me. I sit on the board of the river watershed association (an illustrious postion granted mainly since I provide pro-bono design and web work) and after an email to the Pres, within minutes I was in contact with some folks.

Out watershed association has a tree nursery (for purposes of growing trees to be replanted along the river to fight erosion) on a portion of the river on land loaned by someone who lives nearby. I’d inquired about camping there. Turns out the woman that owns the property is very cool, and very amenable to people using and enjoying her property respectfully, particularly if that doesn’t involve motorization of any kind. I was in.

Takeaway: if you’re a bikepacker, joining and/or participating in as many local environmental, landowner/stakeholder type groups as possible would be a great way to network. Folks are a lot more likely to let you recreate on their land if they know you, and maybe even like you first.

The spot I’d picked was only about 20km (12mi) up the trail/river. My purposes of this trip were not really to slog forever, more to test out all my kit/carrying setup/bike fit and get my first S24O under my belt. My plan was to head out in the evening, leaving myself some light, then hit the spot, make some dinner and camp. The next morning I wanted to get up and head further up the trail to scope out some other potential spots I’d seen on day rides for camping, as well as a ‘shelter’ I’d seen a sign for but never gone far enough to check out. I had to get up and roll early ’cause I only had a Kitchen Pass until noon the next day. Weather was looking good with no rain predicted, however it was forecast to be super hot – 30-35ºC (86-95ºF) with high humidity pushing into the feels like 40ºC (104ºF) range.

I set out around 5pm, made it to the tree nursery and made contact with the property owners. Super cool people. Couldn’t be happier that I was there. They live in a house on the property and said if I needed anything let them know. Win.

I headed across the field from the house ’cause I wanted more seclusion and set up camp. Made dinner and some coffee and then walked down to the river and sat in it for about an hour – it was too low for actual swimming, only about waist deep, and watched the sun go down. Felt great in the heat though.

Had a good night’s sleep. Checked out the stars through the tent roof with my SkyGuide app. Their spot is near a highway a few KM away so there was some road noise, but as the evening wore on it tapered to none and eventually it was nice to hear nothing but the breeze in the trees, the bugs and I was happy to realize I could even hear the river water moving over the rocks in the distance.

Got up just before light and made breakfast. Oatmeal, coffee. Standard. started to break camp. Was rolling by about 7:30. I wasn’t exactly sure how far up the spots I wanted to check out were. Turns out the ‘shelter’ I had seen signs for was a snowmobile warming hut at the intersection of the provincial snowmobile trail system. I had seen signs for this on a ride before and thought it might be a good S24O spot, but wanted to know for sure. Turns out it probably would be. It’s about 20 kms (12mi) further than the tree nursery, so roughly 40kms (25mi) from my house. Would make a good winter ride destination too. Waypoint added to GPS.

Made coffee at the shelter and then started to head home. The day before when I was packing in a hurry to get out, I was distracted. On my way to the Tree Nursery I realized I hadn’t packed a tube, patches, pump, or anything to do with repairing/fixing flats. I was past the point of no return. I rolled with it. Heading home the next day I was flying, making good time, set to be home around 11. EARLY, ffs. POW. Rear tire blows. Sigh. Had to call the SAG Wagon (wife) for a pickup about 12k (7mi) from home. Lesson, learned. Some other things I learned:

  1. Don’t pack in a hurry. See above.
  2. I didn’t bring enough water. I’d packed my Camelbak in the frame bag with about 80oz of water in it and I’d brought a 1L Naglene for cooking. The 1L was gone after dinner (2 bags Mr. Noodles) and coffee the first night. Luckily I bummed some water from my hosts at the Tree Nursery for breakfast. I had water left in the Camelbak and could have used that, but dispensing it out of the Camelbak is a drag. Plus, I had just about drank all of it when my tire blew up due to the heat, so if I had use some for breakfast I’d prolly have run out. Realizing now that I need to allow for more water packing and/or definitely a filter/purification strategy for any longer trips. In this case the river would have been fine (probably could have drank it straight even without filtering) but if I had a filter or tablets/drops, would have been perfect.
  3. Everything will get wet. Plan accordingly. I’d decided to leave the rain fly off my tent so I could look at the stars since I knew it wasn’t going to rain. Being that I was on a low-lying flat right at water level, in a valley, the next morning, everything was soaked from condensation/a fine mist. Not a huge deal, given I was going home, but if I had to go for a few more days, packing a damp tent and sleeping bag would have been a drag to unpack/use. Possibly a future idea would be to always use the rain fly, but pack it in a separate drybag so if it’s wet, it doesn’t get everything else wet. I realize in some regions of the world/climates this isn’t an issue. It pretty much always is here. We get dew most nights year round. I had brought a cheapo foil emergency blanket that I’d covered the bike with the night before and that somewhat helped there. The emergency blanket also proved useful for putting on the wet grass to sit on when cooking.
  4. Even if an item of kit comes with it’s own stuff sack/bag, that’s not necessarily the best way to pack it. A couple of examples. My Sea to Summit Pillow comes in a little bag – probably would be easier to just throw it in with sleeping bag and compress – same time use items anyway. Even though my MSR Hubba Hubba comes in a nice compact bag – I think if I took the poles out, and put them in the framebag, I would actually be able to compact the tent considerably more and create more seatbag space.
  5. I’m pretty sure the Brooks Cambium C17 won’t be the go-to saddle for this bike. After that much riding (the most continuous riding I’d put on it) I was finding it a bit to hard and not comfortable. I think it would be ok for pavement rides or dirt roads, but for these trails that were often large gravel, rock, etc, it was harsh. I think I will try my Selle-Anatomica NSX on it. Though I have some concerns about water with the NSX, I know a lot of bikepackers use them, so maybe they’re resilient enough. I think the added cush of the leather/suspended saddle will be more comfortable.

Gear MVP Award for this trip: Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow: after messing about with clothing/makeshift pillow options on some family camping trips, I decided to spring for one of these after hearing good things. My local outdoor shop has trouble keeping them in stock, they’re so popular and I had to wait for a new shipment to come in. TOTALLY worth the negligible weight/space penalty on this even if there is one at all. Very comfy, and to me, having a decent pillow makes a huge difference in the quality of a nights’ sleep. 5 stars.

I think total distance was somewhere in the 50-60km (30-40mi) range, I forget exactly. Great weather and riding conditions. Fantastic scenery and excellent mojo. All in all, a great trip – even with the tire blowup – and a very productive one as well!

The Surly Pugsley Adventure Bike

I honestly don’t remember when I first saw a fatbike. I know it was a Surly Pugsley. It may have been a prototype floating around the interwebs. I do remember when they first put a production one in the catalog. I remember thinking that it was awesome. And I knew instantly a lot of people weren’t going to get it. Not right away anyway. I was excited about it.

Many years later, after following along on the development of fat, I finally landed a Pugsley. It was winter of 2013. All along I had been drawn by the snow capabilities of it. After all, that was what was being touted too. I planned to try and commute with it through the winter along the snowmobile trails in my region of the world. Though it proved to be – and still is – plenty snow-capable, my commute just turned out to be too long geographically to make it work – for the time being. Having to get kids out of bed, moving and on buses in the am didn’t leave me enough time to get to work through the snow. I resigned myself to the evening and weekend blasts through snowshoe and footpacked trails in the woods, still good times.

Even before the snow melted, I started to get curious. I had suspicions. “I wonder how this thing would handle on dry singletrack? How would it feel on the trails?

Turns out – as many people now know – that answer was pretty damn fantastic. The big tires suck up the bumps, provide a smoother and more enjoyable ride and give beginners and more advanced riders alike a much bigger margin of error. After a few rides in the spring through the woods, I was sold. My conventional MTB hung in the garage all summer. I had a new #1.

Many of the local XC/race cats all poopoo’d it. “It’s slow. It’s heavy. There’s no front shock.” I wasn’t concerned too much with going fast. I was just concerned with going. Even then, having had a taste of how the bike handled the trails, I told ’em, “you wait. The tech will catch up. They’ll get lighter, faster. People will be racing ’em.

Even more than that, I saw fatbikes as a primo beginner mtb. They offered some of the benefits of a full-sus bike, but still provided some rigidity and had less moving parts. Initially they were cost-prohibitive, but again, I told people who came into the shop – “you wait, the price will come down. More people will be making ’em.”

I still maintain that anyone looking for an entry level MTB hardtail now should at least give a fatbike a try. Especially considering that the cost of fatbikes has come down and many can be had at the same or lower pricepoint than an almost equally appointed hardtail. I know several people now who have started mountain biking on one and now have no intention of going to a conventional MTB. And as a bonus, they’ve got way more riding season.

Around this time too, I started commuting on mine as well. Being that I could ride to and from work almost entirely on crushed rock trails, I wasn’t worried about being speedy on the pave. I was worried about carrying stuff from time to time though. Groceries from the farmers market. Clothes for work. Stuff. Never been much a fan of backpacks on the bike though.

I started checking around for gear. Racks, bags etc. There wasn’t much initially. People still thought fatbikes were a fad. They were gonna go away.

Then 2 things happened – and I don’t remember what order they happened in, but they did. I stumbled on an article whereby someone had built up a set of 29″ wheels for their Pugsley and I started noticing lots of blog posts about guys strapping all kinds of junk on their bikes and going camping. These were holy shit moments for me.

Eventually, as I kept slogging along in my commutes and reading the internet all day, guys started putting bigger than usual mtb tires on these 29″ rims and also started making custom bags to carry stuff into the woods as it was easier handle the bikes in tight spaces with the gear secured closer to the bike vs. hanging about on racks a la more conventional touring.

These guys were camping, and mountain biking in between camping spots. Hnnnnng. Count. Me. In.

So eventually the formal monikers of ‘bikepacking’ and ’29+’ eventually became lexicon. During this time it dawned on me that the Pugsley would be an excellent platform to launch a sort of ‘multi-purpose adventure bike’. I could set it up with different wheels and tires, as well as different cargo configurations to suit all kinds of different terrain and trips and still maintain relatively the same feel and cockpit.

So that’s what I did.

There’s no argument that there are other bikes out there that will excel in some conditions where this one will be only ok, but there’s no one perfect bike. I wanted to try and create a jack-of-all-trades, knowing it would be a master-of-none.

So I had the stock 26″ wheels with 3.8″ tires. I built me up some 29″ rims to run 3″ tires. I got some racks and panniers for hauling the kitchen sink on trips to the market, or say, with the kids where I might have to carry gear for 2 or 3, but also got some fast and light bikepacking bags for solo adventures. If I really want to pack some shit, I can combine the two.

So thats what we’ve come to. What I’ve dubbed the Pugsley Adventure Bike. Snow? It’ll do it. Sand? Yep. Singletrack? Loves it. Long gravel grinds? Sho’ nuff. I’ve yet to christen it with an overnighter, but I will. That’s the only thing left to do.

Build Spec

Surly Pugsley ‘Necromancer Edition’, Moonlander Fork
Seatpost clamp: Surly Stainless, 30.0mm

Crankset: SRAM x5
Chainring: Blackspire narrow-wide, 32T
Bottom Bracket: SRAM
Rear Derailleur: Shimano XLS, clutch, 9-speed
Cassette: Shimano Deore, 9-speed 11–32t
Chain: Shimano Deore, 9-speed, narrow-wide
Pedals: 45 NRTH Heiruspecs/Crank Bros. Candy C

Headset:Cane Creek 40
Brakes: Avid BB7, 160 mm rotors front and rear
Brake Levers: Avid BB7
Shifter: Shimano XT 9-speed
Stem: Bontrager RL
Handlebar: Jones 710 mm Loop Bar, Aluminum
Grips: ESI Jones, Extra Chunky
Saddle: Brooks, Cambium C17
Seatpost: Kalloy

Wheels – 26″ Fat Setup
Front Hub: Surly Ultra New, 135 w/ bolts
Rear Hub: Shimano Deore
Rims: Surly Rolling Darryl
Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, 12mm brass nipples
Tires: Surly Nate, 26″ x 3.8″, 60 tpi rear, 120tpi front

Wheels – 29+ Setup
Front Hub: Surly Ultra New, 135 w/ bolts
Rear Hub: SRAM X9
Rims: Surly Rabbit Hole
Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, 12mm brass nipples
Tires: Surly Knard, 29″ x 3″, 120 tpi

Cargo Components
Frame Bag: Porcelain Rocket El Gilberto
Handlebar Harness: Porcelain Rocket MCA System
Seatbag: Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion
Salsa Anything Cages on Fork with Porcelain Rocket Anything Bags
RandiJo Fab Bartender Handlebar Bag
44 Bikes feedbag
Old Man Mountain Phat Sherpa front and rear racks
Serratus (formerly MEC house brand) front and rear pannier sets