Of all my gears, you’re my favoritest one. We’ve been spending a lot of quality time together lately and I’ve enjoyed your companionship. While all those hammer-heads with their fancy-smancy compact doubles go flying by us on the mountain, I just smile and say, “I’m spending time with my Granny”. And when we do finally reach the top and they’re blowing snot bubbles and can hardly speak I say “Come on boys; no time to rest!” Old girl you’ve seen me to the top of some pretty hairy climbs and in all kinds of nasty weather. You’ve never let me down, and for that I’m grateful.
Your beloved rider, The Velo Hobo
No I’m not suggesting eating then regurgitating Edgar Friendly’s hand. I’m saying wave; the universal hand gesture for howdy neighbor. I share my commute with logging trucks and wood chip trucks. Despite there being a four-lane highway running parallel to and in sight of my commuting road, these massive trucks stick to this scenic back road. I understand why; they are trying to avoid a ticket for their overweight loads.
Bike commuting with logging trucks is our equivalent to swimming with sharks. If you’re not alert you’ll get bit, maybe eaten. Lately I’ve made an effort to build a relationship with these gruff burly men by throwing up a friendly hand. As if to say, “Hey neighbor, I’m the guy that was sitting next to you in the pub Saturday night and in church Sunday morning” or “Hey neighbor, didn’t we go to high school together?”
I think it’s working. They are starting to wave back and I’m beginning to recognize the same faces day after day. They’re beginning to cut me a little slack and don’t seem to be as impatient. And why not? The trucks may be monsters, but the drivers are just hard working guys trying to provide for their families. Humans are very social creatures and we’re all looking to make connections.
Thanks for reading The Velo Hobo!
Check out more of James’ adventures at CycleFar.com!
“I’ve been living in New Zealand for the last 18 months following a cycle tour from England. I didn’t cycle all of the way but rode a comfortable selection of about 25 countries along with my partner Ellie. Ellie had recently spent 6 months in New Zealand but for me it was the first time.
The initial introduction was very unfortunate. Upon arriving at Auckland International Airport our bikes were stopped and searched. We were found carrying a small container of methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) that we used to fuel our Trangia cooking stove and fined NZD 500! Had it been a bottle of Vodka (a perfectly adequate fuel substitute for our Trangia) in a delicate glass bottle with a leaky lid we would have been fine, but denatured undrinkable alcohol in a super durable plastic container with safety lid is in violation of the aviation safety laws.
Delayed by hours of arguing and messing about with manual credit card payments we finally arrived on New Zealand soil in the middle of the night. We cycled out of the city late into the night until we came to our first suitable wild camp site and with very little conversation we set up our tent by torchlight and quickly fell asleep.
Because we pitched the tent in the dark I had no idea what vista lay outside the tent that morning. Groggy from mild sleep deprivation I caught glimpses of the early morning sunlight hitting the top of the tent and gradually creeping down the sides illuminating the inside. You can’t ignore the day night cycle when camping, there’s no option other but to conform. It was clearly going to be a bright and sunny day, the air was fresh and cool and reluctantly I felt myself waking.
I unzipped my tent and gazed in astonishment. We were up on a hill in a field looking out over a maze of small rugged hills, verdant gullies and farmland.
A quick look at the map indicated that to get to New Plymouth, Taranaki we just needed to head South. Over the next five days we passed small mountain ranges, black sand beaches, valleys with fast flowing rivers and eventually arrived at the foot of Mt. Taranaki, a perfectly symmetrical and charismatic volcano that watches over the peaceful coastal towns that surround it, one of which is New Plymouth, my home.” James~ CycleFar.com
The bike touring community is a small one; there’s not many of us out there. Within that small number is a subculture of ultralight enthusiasts obsessed with the challenge of touring with lighter and lighter kits. James is the author of a wonderful website on the topic of touring and ultralight travel (actually puts The Velo Hobo to shame). James has also written an e-book on the subject. Check out CycleFar, subscribe to be updated on new posts and buy the book. I think you’ll be as pleased as I am to find such a wealth of information on this obscure topic of Ultralight Bike Touring!
“My name is James and I’m the Author of cyclefar.com
Though I love to cycle tour, and recently I have been captivated by ultralight touring, I’m an advocate of cycling culture in general.
“I’m passionate about cycling for transport, utility and touring. I secretly enjoy cycling’s subversive potential to make people happy and challenge the value system of society.”
I often tour with my partner Ellie (see pics) we love to cycle pretty hard, tackle hills but then enjoy relaxing with coffee and food, lots of rest and plenty of sightseeing. We currently live in New Zealand after cycling part way here from England where we commute 100% (we don’t own a car) and like to grow our own food and live simple.
The bane of my existence and yours too I’m guessing, is rumble strips. Rumble strips are those evil divots carved at great expense into road shoulders in an attempt to hinder sleepy or texty drivers from careening off into eternity. They are also great at flipping cyclists over handlebars, jarring dental work loose and generally wreaking havoc on bicycles and bicyclers.
So here’s an opportunity to participate in a study to develop safer strips to rumble over. In March volunteer riders, my wife and I included, will spend a few hours riding over an assortment of rumble strips and giving feedback to the researchers. A shuttle will ferry us for our downhill runs. This sounds like a great way for cyclists to add their voice to the development and application of rumble strips.
The project is being conducted by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at NC State University. It’s being held in Almond, NC on a beautiful stretch of highway 28. If you are anywhere near the area you should plan to come for a visit and participate in the study. There’s a lot of great hiking and biking opportunities in the area; so make a mini-vacation of it.
To learn more and to sign up, contact Sarah O’Brien at email@example.com . I hope to see you there!
So the new year is here and my resolution to write 52 letters this year is off to a great start. I sent off three so far, one to Hendrik in Finland (Hiking in Finland), one to my sister in Virginia and one to my boss thanking him for my bonus. But now I need your help. The United States Postal Service is insisting I put an address on each envelope, as if a stamp were not enough.
If you’d like to receive a hand written letter the way it was done ‘back in the day’, please send me your address via firstname.lastname@example.org . It would be helpful to put something like ‘send me a letter’ in the title. You’d not believe the amount of email The Velo Hobo gets; mostly trying to sell me Viagra and hair plugs (who have they been talking to?).
In the mid-1930s Congress decided to share the miracle of electricity to the savage hillbillies of Western North Carolina (e.g., my family). To do this they dammed-up and tamed the last of the wild free-flowing rivers and built a series of peaceful and picturesque concrete hydroelectric dams. After completing the dams and seeing that the hillbillies no longer needed electricity because their homes were submerged under 150 feet of frigid mountain water, the government decided to send the electricity across the state line into Tennessee and give it to an aluminum company to make beer cans. They also sent some to Nashville to fuel America’s most important industry, country music, because you can’t drink beer without country music. Although homeless, the hillbillies were happy because now they had lakes to play in and they had learned a new word, corporatocracy. It was what aluminum company executives called a win-win situation.
Anywho, what we are left with today are some pretty nice lakes and some scenic road riding around said lakes. One of my favorite road rides here in the Smokies is an absolutely beautiful stretch of road from the foot of Fontana Dam, slicing its way between the lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park till it reaches the tip of the Dragon’s Tail. By Dragon’s Tail, I’m speaking of ‘The Tail of the Dragon’, a famous and dangerous twisty-turny road (318 turns in 11 miles) where motorcyclists and sports car-er-ists come to challenge their skill and bravery. The trees along this road are festively decorated with car, motorcycle and body parts. Despite being so close to the Dragon, this mountain lane sees little traffic and is relatively flat considering it’s skirting the GSMNP. Not to say there isn’t any climbing, there’s plenty from the Twenty Mile ranger station up to Deals Gap. Enough to kindle a small fire in your thighs, but a series of switch-backs makes the climb manageable for most riders.
This ride is about 22 miles round trip. For extra credit (24 miles round trip) start and end on top of the dam, but be careful. The steep road winding snakishly (yes, I do like to make up my own words; why do you ask?) from the top of the dam to the foot of the dam is just about as dangerous as it gets. For extra-extra credit do a loop around Yellow Creek and experience the steepest paved road in North Carolina - see my Yellow Creek ride post.