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July, 1981

Flashback!  It’s 1981, I’m fifteen years old, and I’m on day two of the four-day bike tour.  It’s the 114 mile day, replete with sunburn and hallucinations.  In the heat of the day, my tush is killing me.  As I was riding along in the middle of nowhere, I happened to pass an old sofa, carelessly dumped into the ditch along the side of the road.  As I ride on, I’m thinking, “Gee, what’s with people?  Is it that hard to take something to the dump?  Why would someone just dump an old sofa in a ditch in the middle of nowhere?  How tacky.” 

Then the answer occurred to me:  It’s not the Tacky People who have dumped the sofa in the middle of nowhere.  This is clearly a gift from God.  For an hour, I’d been thinking to myself that I’d give a million dollars for something to cushion my tush (would this be a tush cush?  I hear a ZZ Top song coming on…), and suddenly the answer to my prayers makes a miraculous appearance.  Sofas are filled with FOAM.  Sweet, spongy, cushy, soft FOAM.  A pocket knife turned out to be a great choice for my one and only tool. 

As I rode away, floating on a three inch layer of nirvana, I saw several riders descend into the ditch, feeding like piranhas on the carcass of an old sofa. 


September 12, 2003 

It’s a terrible shame that I can’t ride my bike while I sew… because I will clearly be logging many many hours with the sewing.  I’m working on making my own set of panniers.  Panniers are what some might refer to as “saddlebags”.  They mount to a rack above the rear tire of the bike, and hang alongside the tire, on both sides.  My plan is to carry all my gear in the two rear panniers, and in a rack trunk – essentially, a semi-rigid bag that mounts atop the rear rack.  The objective is to keep the load under 40 pounds.  This is an interesting trick when you consider all of the gear required for camping:  tent, air mattress, sleeping bag, food, stove, etc. 

I’ll also need to carry spare clothes, tools, spare inner tube, and rain gear.  I also intend to make a handlebar bag, for the frequently-used items:  camera, map, flashlight, compass, and the all-important SNACKS.  Probably the heaviest item carried on the trip is also the most critical:  WATER.  Two bottles mounted to the frame, and at least two more in the packs.  At a typical consumption rate of one liter per hour, the weight of adequate drinking water adds up quickly.  A mere two liters of water weighs two kilograms, or more than four pounds.  Think of it like this:  If you’re traveling to a small town 30 miles away, it will likely take four hours to get there (I estimate a speed of 7 miles per hour with a full load).  That’s four liters of water, or nearly 9 pounds.  Not too big a deal for a short distance… but who wants to carry an extra 9 pounds for thirty miles?  Gee, where does the 9 pounds go if I DRINK it?  (I’m hearing a voice in my head right now, saying, “Dude, quit eating sweets, lose 9 pounds, and carry more water!”). 

Where was I?  Oh, yeah, the panniers. 

Panniers are expensive.  The cheapest bags are $60 or more.  None of these inexpensive bags has sufficient capacity for a three day trip.  Larger panniers price out at $80 and up, with decent-quality, durable bags costing $120 or vastly more.  I doubt that anyone who knows me will be surpised if I say that I elected to seek a more economical alternative.  Am I CHEAP, or what? 

Waterproof nylon material is NOT easy to come by, I should mention.  But I did find it at my local Hancock Fabrics, at a very reasonable price.  I chose a bright red material.  It’s all about visibility, baby!  Besides, it kinda matches my bike.  I also purchased nylon thread, which is necessary, since cotton is prone to rot and fall apart if exposed to frequent moisture.  The nylon thread is interesting.  On the spool, it looks like normal thread.  As long as you pull it taut, it looks like normal thread.  But as soon as you cut a piece off the spool, it contracts like a bungee cord, and becomes a wispy, fuzzy bunch of stuff that looks a little bit what they use to stuff pillows.  Try getting THAT through the eye of a needle.  Some kind of threading device is absolutely necessary (I use tape dental floss). 

So, Brian the seamstress has set off to create his own panniers.  The design uses a trapezoidal shape, which accommodates the arc of my heel as I pedal the bike.  The structure of each bag will be reinforced by a sheet of acrylic plastic (Plexiglas).  After making this design decision, and purchasing the acrylic, I read somewhere that Plexiglas is a poor choice for such things, as it is prone to shatter if whacked.  (Yeah, me too.)  But the recommended replacement – Lexan – costs nearly three times as much.  Did I mention that I am cheap?  I think it’s probably just more sensible to not WHACK the panniers once they’re completed. 

I’ve been sewing furiously for about a week now, and I’m guessing that I’m about 10% complete with the task.  The timeline obviously doesn’t work – either I’m going to have to sew much faster, or I need a better idea.  My progress is impeded by the fact that I only know one stitch.  I’ve contemplated borrowing, or getting access to, a sewing machine.  But I don’t know how to use a sewing machine, and I’m not sure that the required nylon thread will work on a machine, anyway.  Guess I better start sewing faster, eh? 

My overly-ambitious, soon to be simplified design includes zipper openings, with overhanging tops to prevent rain infiltration.  Small sections of Velcro will keep the rain lip in place over the zippers.  I’m thinking that dry weather will be my best option when the time comes!  But what are the odds?  I’ll need to design some kind of metal clip to secure the bags to the bike rack.  That design is still on the drawing board.  I also have visions of a  bungee-cord system to secure the packs, and keep them from flopping about (an idea I stole from some commercial versions).  Both bags get wrapped with a compression strap, like you’d see on a lifejacket. 

So far, I’ve made wholly inadequate progress on this project.  I’ve stabbed my fingers with a sewing needle about thirty times.  (I hope my tetanus is current).  Fortunately, the blood matches the red fabric.  Aesthetically, the bags are not exactly going to impress anyone.  But with any luck, they’ll be quite suitable functionally.  This will save me from the entirely impractical idea of carrying all my gear on the bike rack, and in a monster backpack.  Which reminds me; better not forget the Ibuprofen. 


September 14, 2003

Managed to get in another ride today.  I headed to downtown Parkville as I usually do, then turned west on F highway.  For some reason, instead of continuing down F highway to Union Chapel road, I turned onto Crooked Road.  I normally avoid this road, since it requires a very steep climb.  As I turned off of F highway, I could hear the distinct “thump thump” of a bass drum.  It took another half mile before I put two and two together and got four:  This is the evening that RR Daddy is playing at The Bluffs neighborhood barbecue. 

I’m not especially familiar with The Bluffs, except for the street where Dan lives.  And I don’t think I’ve ever been past his house, even on THAT street.  As the band’s sound reverberated down through the valley, it was very difficult to determine from which direction it was coming.  I took my best guess, and turned left up a VERY steep hill (even steeper than the one I’d already climbed on Crooked Road).  I am fortunate that I guessed correctly; if I had made a wrong turn, I’m sure I would have simply called it a day and headed home.  I would never have had enough remaining energy to climb another similar hill.  There is a reason why they call it “The Bluffs”.  Now why the heck couldn’t Dan move in to “The Flatlands”? 

The party was situated at the end of a cul-de-sac.  The band’s primary audience seemed to consist of 6 and 7 year olds, who were fascinated with the myriad of toy instruments which Dan had brought along.  The band was sounding better than ever, so I parked the bike and sat down on the end of the driveway for a listen. 

I’m not sure who the guy was who “sat in”…  he indicated that he was from the neighborhood, as he strapped on Dan’s  guitar.  But the guy had some serious Hendrix mojo…  his rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” was pretty cool.  The guy didn’t seem too keen on leaving the “stage” after several songs.  Not sure if they ever got back to the planned set list.  Oh well! 

I soon realized that I’d need to get going, unless I was willing to ride in the dark.  Without a light this was, of course, a bad idea.  So I saddled up and headed out. 

This was a relatively short ride – maybe 8 or 9 miles total.  But it was a challenging ride.  In fact, most everything in and around Parkville is a challenging ride, since every road from downtown climbs uphill out of the river valley.  So from my house to downtown, it’s often downhill.  But from downtown to The Bluffs, there are some steep climbs.  Returning home, it’s a brisk downhill to downtown… but then it’s mostly uphill from there.  Count me tired. 


September 17, 2003

Quick ride in the evening to downtown Parkville and back.  It’s only a five mile ride, but I was pleased as can be to complete the ride in about 25 minutes.  That’s quite a feat for Mr. Couch Potato, considering it used to take me 50 minutes, counting the time required to walk the bike up those last two hills.  My physical condition is improving, and I can now easily pedal the bike up those same hills.  Admittedly, I still gasp and wheeze like I’m dying – but I don’t have to get off and walk. 

For this ride, I tried raising the seat up considerably.  I read a few hints on the Internet which seemed to suggest that I’ve been riding with my seat WAY too low.  Most articles indicate that you should NOT be able to plant your feet on the ground when you stop, without sliding your tushie off the saddle.  That is, you should not be able to stand on the ground while astride the saddle.  This setup allows you to fully extend your leg while pedaling, assuming that you correctly have the ball of your foot on the pedal.  The change seemed to be very effective.  Climbing hills seems to require less effort, and I feel like I’m generating more power with less exertion. 

My next experiment is to install the toe clips (we used to call them “rat traps”).  Allegedly, toe clips improve your pedaling efficiency by allowing you to generate power on the upstroke as well as the downstroke.  They also keep your foot in the proper “ball of the foot on the pedal” position.  Cycling shoes and matching pedals are supposed to be the way to go; with these, the cleat of your shoe actually clips into the pedal, literally making you an integral part of the bike.  But road cycling shoes and compatible pedals get expensive.  What if I spent $100, and then hated the setup?  Oy.  Better to try the toe clips first.  We’ll have to see if they seem to help… and whether or not I can even get used to them.  Ever seen someone forget to pull their foot out of the toe clip when stopping?  It isn’t pretty.


September 20, 2003

The panniers are now about 40 or 50% complete!  I am, in fact, learning to sew much faster.  Still, it is a profoundly time-consuming process.  Not for the impatient!  I’ve now completed the lower “bag” portion of both panniers, and I’ve begun work on the top covers.  The tops require quite a bit of sewing, since the design includes a “rain flap” over a zipper.  Not only am I sick to death of sewing, but I’m also slowly driving my wife insane.  But on the other hand, I’ve been doing that for years.  May as well finish the job. 

I did NOT get in any bicycle riding today.  However, this morning, Camden walked in the Riverside Riverfest parade, with the Cub Scouts.  Cam and I also took a walk around the riverfront park, after the scout pancake breakfast.  It’s a very nice park, by the way, with a terrific brick walk along the river.  They also have a nice mini-amphitheater, with a covered stage. 

After lunch, Cam and I went hiking at Weston Bend State Park.  I got the idea from Cam’s friend Joshua.  Well, from his folks, actually.  They had planned a trip to Weston this afternoon to pick apples at the orchard.  That didn’t sound too exciting to  me (especially since this year’s apple crop is allegedly a bust), but it reminded me that there is a state park near the orchard.  I suggested to Cam that we should either go fishing, or take a hike.  He voted for a hike. 

The trail at the park runs along a high ridge overlooking the Missouri River.  It’s a commanding view, with relatively little civilization in sight.  It makes you feel a bit like Lewis and Clark!  Interestingly, about the only man-made structures you can see from the ridge are those which are part of the Leavenworth Penitentiary complex.  I am hopeful that neither of us will ever have an opportunity for a closer view! 

We headed down a trail which was marked with a length of 2.5 miles.  Along the way, I made several recommendations that we should turn back.  But Cam was insistent that we should go all the way to the end.  I couldn’t believe he still had the energy, after walking around the Riverside park in the morning, then walking 2 miles or more in the parade.  The walk was mostly uneventful, as the trail is well-traveled – there seemed to be no wildlife anywhere in the vicinity.  I noted that there was a posting indicating that this is a good place to spot bald eagles in the winter, soaring high above the river valley. 

A round trip on the trail added 5 miles to the 3 or so miles which Cam had already accumulated.  Eight miles in one day, for a six-year-old!  He is, of course, in far better shape than I; I’m exhausted.  But I guess I got in some training, even if it wasn’t on a bike.  I’ve noticed that it definitely works different muscles.  I am sore in all new places.


September 22, 2003

I’m not one who believes that there is such a thing as a bad omen.  This is fortunate, since if I did, this scenario would certainly qualify. 

For the last few weeks, I’ve been reading all the articles on an interesting web site written by an avid touring cyclist by the name of Ken Kifer.  The site includes numerous helpful and interesting articles about bike touring, bike camping, and similar topics.  Mr. Kifer is widely regarded as a popular authority on self-supported bike touring.  It is from this web site that I got my primary inspiration for making my own panniers.  A bit of an eclectic guy … he apparently checked out of Hotel Reality many years ago, and moved to a cabin in the woods to live a much simpler life.  He owned no car, and rode his bike everywhere he went. 

Today, I stumbled upon an article about Mr. Kifer.  It seems that after more than forty years of cycling and touring, he was killed while riding his bike.  He was struck by a drunk driver.  The driver of the vehicle had been released from jail only four hours earlier – after being arrested for drunk driving.  This occurred just a few days ago:  September 15, 2003.  Sad and depressing.


September 25, 2003

Managed to work in a five mile roundtrip to downtown Parkville.


September 27, 2003

Planned to do a long training ride today, but there just wasn’t time.  I managed to work in a short ride of about eight miles.  I am beginning to doubt that I will be able to actually ride this tour, since I have yet to accomplish a training ride of any significant distance.  I am SO out of shape.  Oy.


October 6, 2003

Just returned from a five-day vacation in the Bahamas!  Great fun… stayed at the Atlantis resort.  We enjoyed plenty of water fun – water slides, numerous pools, salt water lagoon.  The kids like the water slide that goes through a tube within the shark tank.  Pretty cool. 

Unfortunately, being on vacation for a week means NO bike riding.  I think I’m in big trouble.


October 13, 2003

It’s now only three more days until my planned departure.  Unfortunately, I’m in serious danger of not being ready.  My panniers are not yet completed – in fact, not even close.  I haven’t ridden the bike in two weeks, and my longest ride in the last 20 years was only about 20 miles.  Do I seriously think I’m ready to ride 50+ miles a day for three days in a row?  No matter; can’t go ANYWHERE if I don’t have some way to carry all the camping gear.  Without adequate panniers, the adventure is a NO GO.


Copyright 2009 Brian A. Moffet