So what in the world did I carry across the country on my bicycle? This stuff.
I brought two pairs of shoes on my trip – one pair of sneakers, for riding, and one pair of sandals, for relaxing and touring towns. That’s right, sneakers. I did not ride with clips. Instead, I had toe straps, or baskets. I’ve never ridden with clips, so I really can’t compare them, but I found the baskets to be functional. They were good for cities because I didn’t have to clip in and out before and after every red light. They also allowed me to pull the pedal up when they were attached properly. The sandals were fantastic because it meant I didn’t have to wear my stinky shoes into cities and at night. They did, however, mean that it was easier for mosquitoes to bite my feet at night.
If I had to do it again: I would consider cycling in close-toed sandals (available with toe clips), and using socks or double-socks when it was cold, and shoe covers when it rained.
I had a Whisperlite stove. It was awesome. It can use either white gas (easy to find) or gasoline (easier to buy) and it worked quite well. About 6 weeks into my trip I had to clean it out completely by taking everything apart and flushing it – I was really glad I had brought the instruction manual and the repair kit along with me. I think it probably got clogged up when I overflowed the starchy rice-water pot several times when I was still figuring out how to use it.
If I had to do it again: I would change nothing.
My very tiny pot was just the size I needed. When I did occasionally cook for an extra person, it was a bit small, but I easily made do. The small size of the pot and its insulation made the water boil quite quickly, thus not wasting any fuel. I stored other supplies (camp soap, knife, salt and pepper packets, and matches/lighters) inside the pot. This was super handy and it meant everything was there when I needed it.
The salt and pepper packets were a stroke of genius, if I must say so myself. While it did mean there was a bit more refuse (although the paper packets could be recycled), it meant my condiments were taking up less and less space as the trip went on. Every ounce counts!
If I had to do it again: The knife was pretty handy, but because I didn’t always have time to allow the pot to dry completely before storing the knife inside again, the knife became a bit rusty. This problem could have been solved by carrying another cloth to dry my dishes, but this seemed a bit frivolous to me – also, it rained so much in my first month that the cloth probably would have been wetter than anything else I was carrying. I survived.
The jay-clothes were awesome. They allowed me to clean in between my bike chain links, and also between the gears in the cassette.
The duct tape, the zip ties, and the extra chain were completely useless. But I’m glad I had them. I could have pretty much fixed anything with these, and was fortunate enough to not have needed them. I did, however, give some zip ties and duct tape away to needy cyclists.
My Canada by Bicycle book was good, but not perfect. Some of the stuff was just flat out wrong, but it did provide good basic directions, and the elevation maps were awesome. The front few pages made excellent kindling for a fire.
Sunglasses, camera (with bag and charger and extra memory card), headphones, and pens – all useful.
The headlamp I used every day. After the first couple of days I learned to turn it off for a few moments before opening my tent zipper, so that the mosquitoes weren’t too attracted to the light. I don’t know how much it helped, but mentally it was very soothing to know I was doing something to drive the mosquitoes away.
Bike lights – I used these only a couple of times, and that was only because of the dense fog. I was lucky enough to have never been caught riding in the dark. But, I was glad to have these (and the charger) with me.
Padlock – I used this once, at the very beginning of my trip, in the hostel in Vancouver. I would have thrown it out (or given it away) but I forgot I had it until the very end of the trip. Waste of weight.
Tent patches (Tenacious Tape) – This was super handy to have, especially when mysterious holes appeared in my tent mesh. It still bothers me that I don’t know how they got there! When I went into MEC the oh-so-helpful sales staff (read: jerk) suggested the holes were from embers from the fire. Did he think I was lighting a fire inside my tent? Gah!
Water bottles – I carried about 3 litres of water, plus a supply of extra-just-in-case-water. Good plan.
Pedal wrench – This is a heavy piece of gear, but one that is completely necessary. I purchased one before I left Toronto, and then used it to disassemble and re-assemble my bike at the Vancouver airport. I gave it away in Hope, BC. Then, I purchased another in St. John’s to disassemble my bike for the flight home. Next time, I would do exactly the same thing. It’s a waste to carry it across the country, and it’s worth the $15 to buy a new one.
I decided to take a few small containers filled with shampoo, etc. That way, I could get rid of the containers as I used up the contents. Bad for the environment? Yes. Made me feel a little guilty? Yes. But it was lighter and it took up less room. Also, let’s face it, I was riding a bicycle and not driving or flying, so Mother Nature and I are cool.
I brought small amounts of everything, because there’s not really a place where you can’t buy soap or toothpaste. Even the gas stations on the side of the road have tampons.
Toilet paper – Every cyclist I met carried toilet paper. Put it in a little plastic bag so it doesn’t get wet when it rains (pretty sure it would just dissolve). You just never know when you’ll need it.
Diaper Rash Cream – You’ll know why after day 3 of riding. You’re welcome.
Bike shorts – For the love of everything good (ie, your butt), invest in some good cycling shorts. You’re going to be sitting on a tiny bicycle seat for up to 10 hours per day. You want as much padding between the seat and your rear end as you can get. Try to align these shorts the same way every day, to get the best tanlines that will still be visible come winter.
Shirts – Get some brightly coloured shirts (for visibility) in a fabric that dries quickly and is fairly sturdy. A long-sleeve t-shirt is also a good idea for slightly chillier days.
Fleece sweater – So much needed, especially in the mountains. It gets pretty chilly in the evenings, particularly at the beginning and end of a 3 month trip, and you just never know when the temperature will dip below 10 degree Celsius, so it’s always a good idea to have a warm layer. I found an amazing North Face fleece that was super super lightweight (actual weight wise), but also very warm, and packed up small. It kept me warm, didn’t take up much room in my bags, and didn’t drag me down weight-wise. I love everything about it.
Rain coat – You’d be ridiculous not to have one of these. Even if you don’t ride with it on (it can get pretty hot and sweaty), it’s worth having for the campsite and rest days.
Extra clothes – I carried leggings, a skirt, and a non-cycling t-shirt for off days and sleeping. It was nice to be able to change into something that wasn’t cycling shorts and a sweaty orange t-shirt. These clothes helped me to feel more human when I wasn’t on a bicycle.
Toque – Or, “hat”, for any non-Canadian readers. So warm, so comfortable, so worth carrying.
Socks and underwear – Try to get something sturdy that washes easily and dries fast. To me, it was worth spending a little more on something I knew would survive the torment I put it through.
Towel – I purchased a Pack-Towel. Super lightweight, folds up tiny, dries fast. Doesn’t feel quite as good as a real towel, but certain sacrifices must be made.
Cycling gloves – Oh man, are these awesome. They’ll provide a little bit of padding that your hands will need, and give you really awkward tan lines on your fingers, all at the same time!
Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad:
Tent – I have a Big Bertha tent. It’s amazing and I love it. It developed a small hole in the mesh, but nothing a little tent repair kit couldn’t fix (don’t use duct tape. Just don’t.) It was a bit more on the expensive side, but it survived various rain storms, thunder showers, floods, wind storms, and everything else my trip and Mother Nature threw at it. Totally worth it. Next time, I would purchase the footprint (basically another layer to go between the ground and my tent) to help keep dry and keep the bottom of the tent in good shape. This thing fit me and my gear inside, and packed up really small and light (about 3 pounds).
Sleeping bag – I bought an amazing and lightweight sleeping bag from MEC (Aquilina). It’s for temperatures down to -2 degrees Celsius and held up really well to everything I threw at it. It packs up pretty small and is lightweight to boot.
Sleeping pad – I bought a Thermarest size small. I decided to go with the small because it’s that much smaller to pack up. While I packed my tent and sleeping bag on the top of my rack, I kept the sleeping pad inside my pannier bag, so size was important. I could fit my whole body on the Thermarest, except for my knees down, which worked out just fine. Except when the temperature dropped really low, and my calves and feet felt the cold. Sleeping bag minimum temperatures (ie, -2 degrees Celsius) only apply when you have a sleeping pad between you and the frozen ground, so definitely make the investment. It also provides a bit of padding between you and the ground, which is always nice.
Pannier bags – I carried two 43L pannier bags from MEC. They have built-in reflector strips, compartments, and are sturdy (built for touring, rather than city riding). I then purchased North Face rain covers for them. They didn’t fit great and often collected water if the panniers weren’t completely full. Next time, I would either purchase water-proof pannier bags, or covers made specifically for these bags (if they exist). Often, if I suspected it would be sunny later, I would just ride without the coverings and let the bags air dry (they dried quite quickly, especially with sun and wind). I had everything in plastic bags inside my panniers anyway, so I wasn’t super concerned about my clothes etc. getting soaked.
Handle bar bag – This bag was awesome. It took a bit of getting used to the weight on my handle bars, but it was a great place to keep snacks, camera, wallet, sunscreen, phone, etc. Also, it was pretty easy to install.
Extra bag – I brought this extra bag to carry my stuff around on rest days. On riding days, it was a pain to have it take up so much room and often get soaked and smelly, but it was handy to have around on rest days. Next time, I’m not sure what I would do about this.
Repair and maintenance gear:
I had a small bag under my bike seat (it attaches to the post) to keep some maintenance stuff inside. It was a convenient place to keep everything, so that if I needed a repair I wouldn’t have to dig to the bottom of a pannier to find a spare tube. I had oil, a multi-purpose tool, tire levers, a chain fixer-thingy, patches, and spare bungee cords inside.
In my panniers, I also carried a spare tube (just one, stupidly), a spare chain, duct tape, and zip ties (which can fix pretty much everything).
If figured I could get anything else I needed at a bike shop. For the most part, I was right.
Oh, and a bicycle:
I had a Trek hybrid bicycle. It is lighter than a touring bike, and survived quite well. I would definitely do the same next time.