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Rocky Mountain / Review of Ride Idaho 2014: 6 out of 10
« on: August 11, 2014, 11:34:24 am »
Bottom line:
Will I be back next year? Sure. But I have no objectivity here. I was on the committee that planned three of Ride Idaho's events so I enjoy watching it evolve and I love to see my home state at low speed from the comformt of my recumbent.
Would I recommend this event to others? Sure. But you've got realize Ride Idaho is an average event. Most of its good to great features are offset by avoidable mistakes. So it ends up being no better or worse than other fully supported rides designed for 200-500 riders.

See for their promotional puffery, route descriptions, entertainment listings, luggage limits and the other information you will want to know before considering Ride Idaho 2015. The 2015 route will be announced in January. Considering they failed to sell out their 10th anniversary gig, we are speculating they will go back to Northern Idaho.

Review of Ride Idaho 2014, Tenth Anniversary , August 2-9 (A fully supported bicycle tour for 350 but fewer than 250 riders signed up this year.)
Theme: Biblical Rain
Highlights: Most meals, rest stops, sag crew, camping sites, shower truck, mechanics, anniversary party, entertainment, and the fabulous route that ran across Idaho's high desert plateau (spectacular, wide open, endless vistas, sagebrush, fragrant, farms, dairies, soybeans, potatoes, sugar beats, alfalfa, canyons, rivers, springs, hot springs, thunderstorms, sunshine, trains!)
Low points: Maps, some meals, camping sites, RAIN, desert course (some called it boring). Did I mention the rain?

The good news and the bad weather:

On Day One, as we were pedaling east, trying to hydrate in the withering 100 degrees, invisibly behind us, a huge volume of cold, moist air was colliding with super heated air rising off Idaho's desert. Phones started squawking as flash flood alerts came in. About the time we arrived at camp, a tremendous thunderstorm was dropping 2 inches of water on the city of Twin Falls, Idaho, 80 miles behind us. Rain moved in and pounded our camp at Castle Rocks State Park a few hours later. The storm tracked us for three days. It was a one hundred year event that tested Ride Idaho.

There is no way to predict weather this rare and severe so there were no contingencies in place. Ride Idaho's management scrambled to get us to the next campsites. They located fairground buildings and a gymnasium for those who wanted to escape the waves of rain. Reactions to the weather ranged from resentment to resignation to acceptance and even some relief. Heat was not going to be much of a problem on this ride after all but cycling Idaho's crowded two-lane highways in thunderstorms left many feeling anxious. Some folks brought their rigs in from Twin Falls and went home while others strained the capacities of the staff to sag them along the route.

Those who rode the entire distance have earned bragging rights; stories will be told for decades about the deluge that was Ride Idaho 2014.

On the other hand, how many touring cyclists can you feed with seven dozen eggs?

No one could have anticipated the excitement RI had to cope with (and, all things considered, they did a fine job of dealing with the weird rain), but it's the fundamentals—stuff like good and plentiful food, garbage and recycling, communications, and legible and accurate maps—that just keep slipping through RI's grasp.

RI's meals are prepared and served by community organizations in each venue along the route. Evidence suggests no one from RI double checks the menus and ingredients for quality, quantity, or caloric delivery. No one from RI vettes the food prep and serving plans so the locals can forget or ignore whatever advice and specifications provided by RI. The rest stops, however, are run by cheerfully enthusiastic volunteers who spread a wide variety of high calorie goodies. Still, I'd like to see some proteins added to their selections. It's a good thing the rest stops are so well done; grab and stash some goodies in case the next planned meal is a disaster.

We had three spectacular dinners, three superb breakfasts, and three excellent lunches that were prepared by skilled and caring people who obviously love to eat. As usual, though, we had many more uninspired, inadequate or totally inexcusable meals, including these three bummer breakfasts:
1. "We can't open two serving lines because we're afraid we'll run out of food." (They ran out of food.)
2. "We started with 7 dozen eggs! They were gone in ten minutes!" (Duh. Fifty of 300 people ate that morning.)
3. "Ya'll are gonna need to be patient, there's just the two of us here cooking and one of us is handing out silverware." (Most of us hit the road hungry.)

RI's maps are, umm, funny. Expect many typos, weirdly inaccurate distances, non-referenced profiles that use a different vertical scale every day, and unnecessary icons that obscure the route. Even with a great marking crew, folks managed to wander off the course.

Rocky Mountain / Ride Idaho 2014, tenth anniversay
« on: January 15, 2014, 09:19:04 am » and on facebook

There's real challenge in coming up with unique and interesting rides through parts of Idaho; we just don't have the roads and the geography means you ride a bike over or around obstacles like mountain ranges, river canyons and deserts.

This year, a loop starts and ends in Twin Falls with extensions south to the City of Rocks and north to Hailey. They're promising a 10th year party on a layover day in Hailey. Or you can do a challenging century by heading to Stanley in the incredible Sawtooth Range and along the Salmon River, humping over Galena Summit both going and coming.

Twin Falls has a real airport so you can fly in from anywhere or you can come to Boise and drive 120 miles or Pocatello and drive 90 miles.

Impossible to predict the appeal of the route but I'm signing up today and this is my ninth Ride Idaho. If you join us, watch for the guy on the Tour Easy recumbent and say "Hi."

Gear Talk / Vargo titanium alcohol stove
« on: December 22, 2013, 09:05:20 pm »
Sorry if this is not news to anyone else, just stumbled upon it while reading VeloOrange's blog. Apparently the stove has been around since 2005, news to me. Looking for reviews took me to Zen Alcohol Stoves, great spot for ultralighters looking for DYI spirit stoves

Gear Talk / Old battery systems, convert to USB?
« on: October 22, 2013, 10:34:11 pm »
I recently acquired some new NiteRider LED lighting systems. They're very cool and insanely bright and they have self-contained batts that charge from USB. But these new systems (obtained serendipitously at deep discount) replace perfectly serviceable NiteRider 6V halogen and 12V HID systems. The older batts use NiteRider's 4-wire 6-12V cables. There must be a way to buy or build a box that will accept the old NR batts at the input end and provide a USB output.
Any clues where I'd start looking besides NiteRider? It's a product they don't make so I'll probably be soldering up an Altoids box-based unit after obtaining pin-outs from NR.

Gear Talk / Briefly: NewTrent 120R extreme battery pack
« on: October 15, 2013, 12:10:42 am »

I've had this unit for a couple of weeks now. Its main function for me is powering my iPhone 4S while I'm using a GPS app like MapMyRide which sucks the phone's internal battery to under 20% in 3-4 hours. It's heavy at 12 ounces but it packs a huge load of energy, 12,000 mAh, which, I think is 12 full Amp hours. Complete specs can be found at the mfr's site.

Part of my tests was to run my phone down to 30-40% and see how many full charges I could get out of the NewTrent. Answer: 9 before it stopped providing a charge output implying it could recharge an iPad mini or iPad retina from 50% to full maybe 3 times.
Pros: Bombproof case, water-resistant door protects the output connections, dual USB jacks for 1Amp and 2Amp outputs, recharges quickly from a 2A USB device and not so quickly from a 1A USB jack.
Cons: Heavy, door on the output jacks is a bit flimsy, no water protection when cables are plugged in, requires odd USB charging cable ("SD," hard to find but apparently it's all the rage for non-Apple phones so I wouldn't know), remaining charge indicator is difficult to see, truly bum-numbing gray color.

Would I recommend that you buy one? Not yet. Wait for more user reviews to show up around the webs. But if you need a high capacity power pack in your hands in a few days, I don't think you'll regret spending $60. There are dozens of similar devices on the market in varying capacities and with a variety of features and conveniences. Not many are water resistant and armored like this one.

I have not examined the physics carefully or run the numbers but I think it would take about 14 days of direct sunlight to top it off using my little Goal Zero #3.5 solar collector, if it was possible at all.

Gear Talk / See the gear on Velo Orange
« on: October 04, 2013, 07:30:59 pm »

No panniers. Full load. Not a road bike. Not really a tourer. 

Gear Talk / Mtn Hardware customer service rocks
« on: September 07, 2013, 12:13:07 am »
Eight year old Sojourn 2 tent and a few issues arose on a recent tour. Contacted Mountain Hardware about what I expected to be repairs I would pay for since the tent was so old. They handled everything to my satisfaction, faster than I thought possible and at a far, far lower cost than I had expected.

If there is a tent in my future, I will considern a Mountian Hardware unit first.

Rocky Mountain / Review of Ride Idaho 2013
« on: August 13, 2013, 03:21:29 pm »
see for the 2013 route information and daily maps.

This was my eighth year and Ride Idaho's ninth. This is the fourth time the route has been set in northern Idaho and the third time we've been on a similar route that included some of the same towns and the delightful Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes.

Ride Idaho is a fully supported, non-luxury ride, 350-380 riders, six days, 400+ miles. Amenities include most meals, a 16-stall shower truck in camp, appropriate sanitation faciliities, fun and interesting extracurricular diversions, excellent sag and communications on the road, superb mechanical support on the road and in camp. An espresso service out of Boise provided specialty coffee in camp at reasonable prices. Swag inlcuded a nice t-shirt with an elegant logo over the breast, a water bottle and a chance to buy the dated event jersey. I have a closet full of jerseys so I didn't buy one.

The route was fabulous, probably the best ever for this organization. We saw parts of Idaho I have never seen. They found obscure backroads that kept us off the main highways for most of the ride. However, some of those backroads were unpaved and we rode on hard-packed dirt. This really upset some of the skinny tire/carbon folks but the tradeoffs, in terms of safety, remoteness and scenery, were worth a bit of careful bike handling and some dust. I enjoyed the challenge and the views but mostly I appreciated the careful attention Ride Idaho expended to find and vette these backroads.

After nine years, you'd think Ride Idaho would have their little tour down to a science but they still have several things to work on. Maps and cue sheets were dumb, produced by free software and assembled without ground truthing, and the route marking was disappointing. They used Route Arrows (disclaimer: I know the inventor of Route Arrows and avidly promote them whenever possible, in fact, he accompanied me on this year's Ride Idaho), a simple and nearly foolproof marking system, but the marking crew was improperly trained. Only a few of us got lost, so, while I expected to be provided with far better maps, marking and cueing, I guess they were adequate to the task.

Inconsistencies in how the volunteer staffs at the rest stops operate their food and beverage dispensing methods meant l-o-n-g lines at some stops and instant access at others. Protection from food-borne illnesses and contamination was adequate but inconsistent. However, most small tours have no sanitation practices at all so I give Ride Idaho lots of credit for what they're trying to do for their clients.

Food? Using local organizations and small catering firms for meals still presents issues for Ride Idaho. We had fabulous meals in several locations and mediocre meals in others. Providing adequate calories, made of wholesome ingredients, on schedule, and accomodating vegetarians with high quality foods are not complicated tasks but Ride Idaho can't quite hit these goals. A dedicated catering service would solve those issues but, without lots of additional sponsorship income, likely raise the cost of a seat on the ride beond what most people would be willing to spend.

In two towns, Sandpoint and Wallace, we were given coupons to use at local restaurants. A good meal cost much more than the face value of the coupons.

Campsites? We stayed three nights on major railroad corridors and two nights next to a freeway. I was raised on Air Force bases so I didn't mind either of these distractions. Earplugs took care of the worst noise but, sheesh, there were lots of sleep-deprived, grumpy folks staggering around most mornings. We stayed the last night in Heyburn Park, near Chacolet, on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. It was crowded and the grass was neither flat nor level. Bummer. But we had a great performer for entertainment and, of course, there was the beautiful lake and the shower truck. We managed.

Extracurricular activities this year included an opportunity to rent some mtn bikes and do the Trail of the Hiawatha ($50 group rate), explore Wallace ID on foot during the layover day and take relaxed rides to a unique museum and up a ski mountain while in Sandpoint ID. Providing these opportunities required energy and creativity and Ride Idaho deserves credit.

Weather in the Northwest has been stupid hot for months; above average temps for long weeks with absolutely no precip. We had a few very brief thundershowers in Sandpoint and saw some fabulous electrical storms in Heyburn but, for the most part, it was predictably sunny and hot for six days. Fires raged in the distant mountains around us. We were never threathened but that was a toss of the dice. Lightning could have started fires anywhere this year. Anywhere.

Bottom line: Ride Idaho continues to improve while curiously and stubbornly refusing to change some fundamental stuff even after nine years. Come ride with us anyway. I think you will have a wonderful time.

Next year is the event's tenth anniversary. Something special is expected and the event should sell out quickly. Announcements will be made in January, 2014. You can get on the mailing list at the site.

You should consider Ride Idaho 2014 if you are looking for a fully supported event that is small enough to give you some personal attention yet large enough to provide amenities like the unspeakable luxury of the shower truck. You will see great scenery on a well designed route. You will have all the snacks you want and meals will be, umm, adequate to great. You will enjoy most of your time with us but, like me, find a few things to complain about; these will not affect your enjoyment of your visit to Idaho.

Rocky Mountain / Ride Idaho 2013, coming soon
« on: December 30, 2012, 09:30:12 am »
Ride Idaho should be celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. Route and schedule will be announced on January 16, 2013.

Promises to be interesting.

Full dislcosure: This will be my ninth tour with this organization. I used to be involved with the planning and execution but now I just pay my money, get my recumbent and gear to the starting line and enjoy the ride. See my review of last year's event in this forum.

Limited to 300-350 riders, Ride Idaho is a week-long supported tour running 350-500 miles through Idaho's river vallerys, mountains, deserts, prairies, farms, ranches, and small towns. Amenities include professional mechanical and enthusiastic sag support, local food, a hot shower truck and entertainment at each camping site. If you have the money, a tent/porter service is available.

Gear Talk / In prasie of OtterBox (phone cases)
« on: December 05, 2012, 10:50:39 pm »
<< >>

This company in Fort Collins CO (looks like their products are "assembled in Mexico") makes a huge variety of decorative and protective cases for many phones, GPSs and other portable electronics. We bought their heavy duty Defender cases for our iPhones and I have Otter's armored cases for our office iPads.

OtterBoxes add bulk to your devices and this level of protection is not necessary for most casual users. But if you're taking your expensive toys into harsh environments (or you're the kind of person who drops their stuff onto concrete and watches in horror as it shatters) you want the insurance of a good case. These guys makes 'em in lots of colors and different levels of screen and impact protection and dust and water resistance.

The cases are functional, practical and good looking but it was OtterBox's excellent customer service and warranty protection that have won my brand loyalty.

Gear Talk / Burro AA power packs, rechargers
« on: October 28, 2012, 10:28:35 am »

They make a universal AA charger, rechargable AA batts, a USB charging pack that holds 4 AAs, a desk light, and a hand torch. You can also purchase vouchers that will allow the company to give products to off-grid users in Ghana, West Africa.

I have no experience or relationship with these products. However, Kent's blog is full of useful and practical information. If he likes this brand's products, you will, too, probably. These products appear to have been field tested in conditions that are far more brutal than anything you will do to them on a bike tour.

They have a startup crowd-funding presence on indiegogo and they sell their products in the USA through an Amazon storefront:

I recently acquired an iPhone and now I must contemplate how to keep it charged and useful on a bike tour. Even though I only do supported tours, electrical service is not always avaialble where we camp. These look like viable products. I'll be getting them soon but won't have any practical experiencce for several months.

General Discussion / Velo Orange series onk bikepacking
« on: October 13, 2012, 06:02:05 pm »

Gear Talk / MAss reduction for supported touring events
« on: August 14, 2012, 10:39:53 am »
I don't do self-supported touring. My days of backpacking cured me of the desire to carry my house and furnishings. I went ultralight for my last two seasons of backpacking so I know how to reduce mass and shop for light gear. Nonetheless, my load for Ride Idaho was almost 50 pounds divided into two large duffles.
When I got home, I carefuly weighed my entire kit, item by item. Rounding up to whole pounds conservatively, here are the rough numbers:
1. Tent: 7#
2. Sleeping pads: 5#
3. Chair: 6#
4. Sleeping bags: 5#
5. Bike clothing: 4#
6. Camp clothing: 5#
7. Personal effects and toiletries: 5#
8. Junk and accumulated junk: 5#

The tent will be with me till it dies, no savings there.
I carry two self-inflating pads to create enough neck height becasue I'm a side sleeper. I might be able to reduce that using newer technology but that's at least $130.
The chair is required although there may be lighter units. An unexpected bonus of this particular chair form REI is I can pull it inside the tent and read in comfort during a storm or in heavy bugs. A lighter chair is not as comfortable and might be $50-100.
I carry two down bags, a one- and a two-pounder. Together they can handle any temperature down to about 20F. This proactice is not likely to change since a 20F down or synthetic bag is about the same mass and reduces the flexibility and comfort.
A full riding kit is about 16 ounces so I could reduce that mass by leaving one set of bike clothes at home and doing more laundry.
Camp clothing includes my rain and cold riding gear as well as bug and sun protection clothing and shoes. Not much can be elliminated but some lighter versions are available. However, none of this gear needs to be replaced.
There are maybe two full pounds of personal effects, toiletries and other silly stuff that can be left at home. This costs me nothing except some entertainment.
The useless junk one packs and stuff one acquires along the trip can add up quickly. That seems to be the only major mass savings I can control.

A fearless inventory of my gear results in savings of less than 5 pounds but that's roughly 10% of the total so that's not negligible. Going deep into deprivation mode, I can leave almost 10 pounds at home. I am not replacing any equipment that is not damaged.

ONe of the major benefits of my ultralight backpacking kit was the total lack of superfluous stuff. Setting and striking camp was easy and quick because there was nothing to lose or misplace. I'm just glad someone else is carrying this stuff for me.

Rocky Mountain / Ride Idaho 2012 review
« on: August 13, 2012, 03:00:00 pm »
Is Ride Idaho a tour you should do? Mostly yes and a little no.
There are great things about Ride Idaho that, according to my discussions with folks from all over the States, are simply not provided on other multi-day events. This list includes our shower truck, mechanical support and on-route attention. The organization is still young but that's no excuse for screwing anything up (like route marking) or failing to anticipate and plan for typical problems at campsites or meals; they've been doing this for nine years now.
Is Ride Idaho recumbent-friendly? As much as any organized and supported event.
There were three 'bents on this year's ride: me on my Tour Easy, a kid from Portland on a Bacchetta Giro, and a gal from the Midwest on her Vision. No trikes this year but we had three Bike Fridays, including a Two's Day tandem, two other tandems and maybe 20 other non-racing bikes like Surlys and Rivendells and a few mountain bikes.

More explicit information, opinions and reviews:

We rode about 400 miles over six days. We had no layover day this year which was unusual. Lots of 6-9% climbing including the epic slogs of the Old Whitebird Grade and the Spiral Highway out of Lewiston. A long stretch of 11-14% out of Stites made lots of folks angry and forced them to walk. Not me, I just motored up on my Tour Easy recumbent—slowly but steadily.

The route marking this year was terrible and several of our 240 riders took wrong turns or overshot and had to retrace many miles. Route marking is a long-established practice so there's absolutely no excuse for screwing it up. Lots of people complained each day but the marking crew never improved or changed their dangerously inept practices. Weird.

Food was hit or miss this year, ranging from great to terrible. They rely on local organizations and, even after eight years, they cannot properly communicate the needs for multiple serving lines, adequate calories from healthful foods, and how to accommodate vegetarians. Someday the Ride Idaho organization will be able to cater the ride. Till then, dinners and breakfasts will remain a tolerable but, in my opinion, totally solvable problem.

Camping facilities were great for 5 out of 6 nights but the "interesting experience" of camping on a backwoods airstrip was a classic case of miscommunication. The FAA requirements for the airport were inflexible and the airport manager had no real interest to bend the rules to make life easier for "a bunch of rich city folks in silly clothes and their fancy little bikes." Over the history of the ride, there has been one messed up camping facility each year. One time we arrived at what was supposed to a freshly mown pasture only to find that horses had been removed from it that very morning. One time we had to put the bikes on a trailer for a mile of impassable jeep road to arrive at a remote YMCA camp where there was no room to put up 150 tents. These situations are avoidable and they're not nearly as "interesting" for the riding clients as the planners seem to think.

One of the more amazing features of RIde Idaho is the shower truck. That Ride Idaho can include this luxury item is a reflection of the organization's financial management. However, it also implies the expense of the shower truck reduces the budget for at least one other aspect of a 200- to 400-person tour. I've done Cycle Oregon many times so I thought everyone has used shower trucks. Not so. We had dozens of people who expected to be camping on school fields or worse, using gyms or small campground facilities and simply accepting long lines and cold water. They left Ride Idaho with a new sensual experience and the shower truck is something they will look for when considering other rides.

We were on busy highways for only about 50 miles. I heard many riders complaining about the lack of shoulders, rumble strips, tire-shredding debris, slippery gravel, stupidly rude drivers and heavy traffic. Yeah, well, this is Idaho. The economy and the culture are, umm, different. Idaho's terrain, except for our deserts and prairies, is largely huge mountain ranges separated by wide valleys. You either ride over these mountains or around them. There are typically only two roads into and out of most of our smaller towns: the highway or old farm roads. Idaho's highways are not maintained or built for bicycles and they support the movement of everything from logs to radioactive waste, from grain to motorcycle gangs. The non-highway roads are rarely bicycle-friendly but the route planners did a SUPERB job of finding every alternative and ridable rural road.

The route, when it could be found and followed, was great fun and challenging and it took even the Idaho natives in the group into places we did not know existed. We saw fantastic prairie country. We rode along and dropped through fabulous river canyons. We visited interesting towns and villages that, for the most part, were glad to have us.

You can see the 2012 route at until December 2012 when they will take it down and post the 2013 route.

Weather was hot and dry: 85-110F each day, down to 40s at night above 5,000 feet and down to 55 at lower altitudes. Second-guessing the weather in Idaho is a waste of time; we could just as easily have had four days of mountain thunderstorms and fierce winds out on the prairies. If you come to Ride Idaho, bring your rain gear and your cold weather gear.

Technical support on Ride Idaho is better than great. Three professional wrenches and two assistants provide constant attention along the route. They are at all water and food stops and in camp each day. Most of them have been with us for four or more years. 

Ride Idaho's other amenities like snacks, beverages, spacing of water and food stops and sag support on the route are all good to great. You will not be pampered but you will be taken care of. From discussions with other riders who have been all over the States, Ride Idaho's attention to the riders' various needs is unusually and unexpectedly high.

Next year's route will be announced in January, 2013. I'm certain it will be fun and challenging and delightfully unique especially if you've never been to Idaho. The event will be the first full week in August. I hope you'll think about joining us.

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