Route and final kit updates

I am moderately concerned about my tire width, as I may be riding on sand or very poor roads.  Wider tires help in sandy conditions by “floating” on the sand instead of digging in.  They also help with poor roads as the pneumatic volume is larger as the width of the tire increases – cross-sectional area goes with radius squared, so a small increase in tire width can make a significant increase in pneumatic volume making for smoother riding.  I’ve tried three tires:  the stock Vittora Cross XL Pro (33×622), Vittora Cross XG Pro (33×622, had these laying around), and the Schwalbe Smart Sam (37-622, purchased for this trip).  The tire measurements are the “European” style and are considered more representative of actual width.  I tried all three and they all seem about the same width, eyeballing my chainstay clearance.  This highlights the fact that tire measurements, even when standardized, still vary quite a bit.  I decided on the stock XL pro on the front and a Smart Sam for the rear.  I also noticed a small out-of-trueness on my rear wheel, but tire clearance is fine and since I’m using disc brakes it shouldn’t have much effect.  I’ve tried to true wheels before and it ended up a mess, you really need serious patience and diligence for that task!

As far as the route goes, I go with minimal planning and maximum flexibility.  A good analog water resistant road map is indispensable for my style of touring – I’ll plan the exact route a day or two in advance.  The map I purchased off Amazon (by costaricaguide.com) seems pretty good; marks the small roads and trails, points of interest, and a zoom area of the big cities.  I combine this with pre-planned legs based on my touring time (14 days in-country).  My route is below, it leaves a few slack days.  It will be a challenging tour.

The plan is to unbox/assemble bike in a hostel (already booked) and store the box there for the duration of the tour.  I will take a bus to Puntarenas where I’ll take the ferry to Paquera to start the tour.  I’m taking the “clockwise” route so if I end up short on time, I can take a bus in a more populated area to San Jose.

Leg 1:Paquera to Tamarindo

Distance: 170 miles (est); 5 days.  Inspiration from this blog: A dirty adventure around the nicoya peninsula

Following the road may be difficult here, the guys in the link above did some beach riding to cut some miles off.

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Leg 2: Tamarindo to La Fortuna

Distance: 120 miles (est); 3 days

Undecided which direction to take around Lake Arenal.  Get to Las Canas vis Liberia (North) or Nicoya (South).  Unfortunate the amount of highway riding, but it should go fast.

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Leg 3: La Fortuna to San Jose 

Distance: 100 miles (est); 3 days

Alternate route: 126 between Juan Castro Blanco and Volcan Poas. More highway riding.

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Costa Rica Planning

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It’s been a while since I wrote on this blog; I figure a two week bikepacking trip in Costa Rica will be a good place to pick back up.

Why Costa Rica?  It seems like a perfect storm this year.  My new job has a great vacation policy (5 weeks PTO, yeah!), I got to see most of my extended family on Thanksgiving, and I was getting a travel itch.  I carved out a little over two weeks at the end of the year for a vacation – now where to?

I considered the South-Western US low desert, Baja, Morocco, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.  Novelty, expense, beauty/climate, and logistics were the biggest factors.  Most of these places have been on my hit list for a while, especially Morocco and Ecuador.  Since this is my first bikepacking trip: light, fast, hopefully offroad, I wanted an easy introduction and Costa Rica fits the bill this year.

The setup will be a Felt F65x aluminium frame cyclocross bike w/ carbon frame.  I have some 33mm tires with nice knobs on the front and back.  I’d like to go a bit wider for sandier riding though I couldn’t find anything thicker (will look harder in the next few days) and am somewhat concerned about the narrow rims not clinching properly on thicker tires.  I had a larger 10-speed cassette (32t) installed in order to reduce my gearing (I did a test run a few weeks back up to the Crystal Cove campgrounds and I was in low gear pretty much the entire time with my stock cassette, not recommended).  The cassette switch required a new rear derailler which came in very expensive from the bike shop – I had them purchase and install it.  Next time, I will purchase separately and learn to install myself.  I don’t want to check how much they marked up the components but I probably should just have spent the extra $ and got a hardtail 29er for the trip.

Bags are purchased from Revelate Designs; excellent design and craftsmanship.  A “small” frame bag for the triangle, a medium seatpost bag, a handlebar bag, a small bag on the top bar, and a small multi-sport backpack.  Really, this is a lot of space and I think I went overboard based on my first test run.

 

 

My last New Zealand trip – Taranaki

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Volcanic black sand on the coast

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Chelsea

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Wind tower art sculpture….it moves with the wind

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Classic Belen

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We were the only ones at the lodge.  That’s my yellow garbage liner rain jacket in the corner

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Waterfall on the way back to Auckland

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Stopping point.  Not the summit….we were ill prepared for the crazy weather.

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Always have time for a Whittikers chocolate snack

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Kame and Matt visit for the holidays

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Crossing a river to get to the (supposed) hot water beach.  There was no hot water.

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Cathedral Cove

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Looks the part!

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Lake Taupo

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Flowering pohutukawa

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Sister & Brother in Law enjoying their vacation to New Zealand

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Beer on the river in Wellington at golden hour.  Doesn’t get much better than this.

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North of the South Island

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Long exposure of our busy campsite

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Typical kiwi bridge…fun!

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Fault line waterfall

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Not pictured: BUGS

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Cloudy Kai Kora

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It was a HOT day…and no shade.  We all ended up as red as the lobsters they cook up as street food.

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Hai

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Spotting the elusive blue penguin in the Akaroa Peninsula the day after New Year’s

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Slingin’ mud in Rotorua

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Disaster in Mojave

It’s been a tragic week for the commercial space industry. With the media primed from the spectacular fireball of the unmanned space station resupply mission ORB-3, tragedy struck in Mojave with the in-flight breakup of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo on its third powered flight, killing one test pilot. This marks the first in-flight fatality of the burgeoning space tourism industry, though not the only fatality in the SpaceShipTwo program – an explosion during engine testing on the ground killed three test engineers in 2007.

Initial reports from the NTSB indicate the feather locking mechanism was moved by the pilot from “lock” to “unlock” prematurely. The mechanism was unlocked in a region of high aerodynamic loading and two seconds later the vehicle was destroyed by aerodynamic forces. By my back-of-the-envelope calculation, the operator unlocked the feathering mechanism about five seconds before called in the procedure. The unlock mechanism, pilot, and procedures are now the focus of the NTSB investigation.

The NTSB findings were a shock to the amateur space community who assumed the accident was caused by the rocket engine – the long awaited first test flight of the vehicle with an upgraded rocket engine. The engine has had a dubious development history and has been a constant source of external ridicule for Virgin. Pilot error championed the news outlets for obvious reasons – a simple, superficial explanation for the public and partial exoneration of design flaws in Virgin’s vehicle. Richard Branson, the figurehead and bankroller, spouted the all-too-common space industry platitude: “Space is Hard”.

Well, space IS hard. Development and operations is hugely capital intensive, the operation environments are extreme, and things generally have to work right the first time. But these are financial and engineering challenges bounded by interest rates and physics – comforting to an engineer.

Virgin states “safety is our guiding principle and the North Star for all programmatic decisions,” and while this sounds reassuring, it is not a tenable requirement to design a vehicle. This “North Star” needs to be assessed as an engineering risk, and the results fed back to design. The risk assessment process has once (Challenger) again (Colombia) proven to be broken. Perhaps it’s because the answers don’t lie in integrals and probability distributions, but in the ego of the human mind.

Tiki Tour

Hola Amigos! It’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but things have been pretty busy with your pal Sol.

I expanded my free time about a month ago by working part-time – so only Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for me. After putzing around in my new found time trail running, freediving, and online courses for about a month, my travel plans hatched. First on the docket is a tiki-tour of the South Island. I got a hookup with the director of the observatory at Lake Tekapo (run by the University of Canterburry) to do an oversight observation session with resident astronomers on the MOA telescope. Possibly the coolest science instrument in New Zealand, I planned my 3.5 day trip around it. The telescope stares at the milky way and detects differences in brightness over the course of hours to days caused by gravitational microlensing (read up on wikipedia if you’re curious). TL;DR: fog was so thick I could barely find my way to the telescope building, much less see anything. You don’t win them all.

On the otherwise non-eventful plane ride from Auckland to Christchurch, I decide to get my hair cut. It’s been growing for the better part of 16 months and was getting pretty ratty, so time for a change. Out of the plane, into the rental car, out to a cafe for brunch. By pure coincidence, I discovered a barber shop across the street while munching on my bagel sandwich. Snip, snip, and I’m headed out West via Arthur’s Pass.

Driving on the straight and flat Canterbury roads up to the mountains allows the mind to run wild. I quickly accrete stereotypes: The South Island is white, rural, and cold. In fact, I think I only saw a single Maori in my whole trip. I make a few stops and end up at Arthur’s Pass around 4pm. I stood reading a note on the only hostel in town (note: the hotel closed and the other hostel burned down) when I turned around and saw a bike tourer approaching. We hit it off, he’s Canadian and traveling for a few weeks inbetween jobs at a ski resort. I go off for a short hike in the wet thick bush and when I return, three young women are now in the dorm. One is an American from Montana on her first overseas trip and two Germans. They are all live-in-nannying for rich parents in Christchurch for gap year. I think this is a bit odd for reasons I can’t reproduce now, but I suppose it’s a win-win. The hostel (YHA) is by far the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Nice beds, clean bathrooms and an immaculate kitchen.

Immaculate Hostel. SEA take note

Immaculate Hostel (YHA, Arthur’s Pass). SEA take note

Summer homes (“batches” in Kiwi) in Arthur’s Pass have a distinctive pastel-metal-cladding style. They seem to be kept in good condition and despite being utilitarian, look better than many Auckland homes (there’s no accounting for bad taste).

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I wake up fairly early, microwave a meat pie I saved from the other night for breakfast, and started the drive to Mt. Cook, having to backtrack slightly. The weather starts to clear and the sun pokes out around Lake Tekapo. The raw beauty of the South Island is unmatched so far. The water even looks turquoise through my color slanted vision.

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But no time to waste! I still have some hiking at Mt. Cook planned for this day. Managing to avoid swerving into the opposing lane of mostly campervan while admiring the scenery, I roll into Mt. Cook Village. This is definitely a tourist area – two very nice restaurants (but that’s it!), a nice resort, a hostel, many motels, and open campground. Accommodation for all! This peak peaked my interest and due to it’s prominence I initially thought it was Mt. Cook (false! but I haven’t found the proper name yet). It looks computer generated.

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The trail to Mt. Cook was fun, with three bouncy suspension bridges.

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At the hostel, I meet a Portuguese IT professional who worked in Wellington but recently quit to travel in the South Island. He was very interested in Space, and a few hours after sunset I wrangled in a polish woman and french man to go out and shoot the milky way. The South Island is the land of the DSLR’s, but it’s surprising how little some people know about taking a photo with one. Maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised. Unfortunately, the shots didn’t turn out well because of the lights from the resort (lame!) and a dust that kicked up shortly after we set up our shot. The next morning, the Portuguese IT guy, a German woman, and myself did a quick trip out to Blue Lake and the Tasman Glacier. The glacial lake is beautiful and deep turquoise. The glacier is receding at over 0.5 km per year (!), though it’s not clear to me if this is natural in the lifecycle of a glacier.

I pack up, say goodbye, and start the drive back to Tekapo to the observatory. This section is very uninteresting and I only got one photo of the whole thing:

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Overnight in the Waitakeres

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Small town of Huia, last stop before the Waitakeres start.  This was a 10 minute drive away from the Treehouse.

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They look like air plants

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Wood pidgin

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Love this tarptent!

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Whatipu

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Morepork / Ruru – the New Zealand owl.  I was very lucky to see on in the wild!  Near sunset.  Their call sounds like “more pork, more pork”.