One feature of my Hennessy that I really like is that it’s pre-hung. What I mean by that is that each end is fixed to a specific length of line. This automatically creates a ridgeline for the fly without all the fuss and muss of hanging an additional line and makes setting up the hammock a lot quicker and simpler. I recently purchased a Grand Trunk Ultralight hammock. Not that there is anything wrong with the Hennessy. After ten plus years of use it’s still in great shape and my favorite piece of camping equipment. But in my ever present obsession to trim weight from my kit, I’ve decided to put together an even lighter hammock system than my pound and a half Hennessy.
My new setup has three ingredients. The Grand Trunk (10.5 oz.), 550 paracord (approx. 2 oz.), Kelty Trip Tease line (well under 1 oz.) and my Equinox UL poncho (6 oz.). I trimmed some weight off the hammock by removing the steel S-hooks from each end. I’d say this off-sets the weight of the paracord, so my estimate is that this system comes in at a pound or just under. I’m saving half a pound, but sacrificing bug netting and the ultra-cool bottom entry of the Hennessy.
I’ve pre-hung the hammock on a single strand of paracord using Prusik knots at either end. The hanging straps are 550 parcord with a series of knots every few inches for adjusting the tension. Additional Prusiks for the rainfly/poncho finish off the assembly. At a complete disregard for safety, I’m using sticks I pick up off the ground to keep the hammock line from slipping out of the hanging straps instead of using the steel hooks. Danger is my middle name.
I already owned the poncho, so I’ve spent about 30 dollars putting the system together. I may buy a rain fly from Hennessy later; we’ll see how the poncho works out. I believe I paid about forty buck for the poncho years ago and used it hiking as a shelter/poncho many times. If you like to build small fires in your hammock the poncho’s hood acts like a chimney to vent the smoke. Kelty Trip Tease is used to guy out the poncho’s corners.
I still intend to use my Hennessy; I think I can get another decade of service out of this well-built hammock. I’ll use my new setup when I’m camping at higher altitudes and spending the day climbing and when I’m touring with my wife or a friend who wants to borrow a hammock.
A note about hanging straps: I understand the hammock industry need to over build hammock equipment for liability reasons. But if you’re making your own stuff, ask yourself if you really need to use one inch webbing strong enough to do a cargo drop out of the back of a moving airplane. I weigh less than 170 pounds so I think the 550 paracord is over-kill, but then again, Danger is my middle name.
Here’s a video tour of the hammock: (sorry for the wonky “smart” phone video. The next one will be much better, ’cause it can’t get much worse.)
The 2013 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Cup qualifying trials came to town this weekend. Boaters from around the world as well as the press, vendors and spectators you’d expect to see at a World Cup event; so what better time to slip out of town on my bike to avoid the circus and enjoy some solitude in the National Park.
About six miles north of Cherokee NC, nestled in the picturesque Oconaluftee valley and just within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, lies Smokemont Campground. It’s about 20 miles from my backdoor making this a great S24O destination. The road from my house to Smokemont passes through Bryson City, my hometown.
Not bragging but, Bryson is a beautiful little town. While other small towns in our area are showing evidence of hard economic times, Bryson seems to be doing well. Every store front is occupied with an eclectic collection of coffee shops, restaurants and gift shops. There also a friendly local bike shop, Bryson City Bicycles. But the main attraction is the train. When not out on an excursion through the countryside, you’ll see a beautiful vintage locomotive parked in the middle of town. The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad offers a unique way to experience the mountains here in Western North Carolina.
I stop by the bike shop and meet up with Andy. Andy is Bryson City Bicycles co-owner and head mechanic. He’s also an avid fly-fisher who has begun dabbling in the cult-like world of Tenkara. With only a little persuading, Andy quickly swings a leg over his bike and we head out for an overnight fishing/biking adventure. Just because they said it could never be done, Andy is S24Oing on an all carbon racing bike. I look at him with some doubt as if he’s off on a deadly mission never to return, but Andy has the confident look of a Mercury astronaut about to be shot into space. This should prove, if Andy returns in one piece, that Ultralight bike touring can be done on any bike.
Leaving Bryson City on US19, we wind our way up and over a small mountain pass and drop into Cherokee. Traffic Sunday mornings is light here in the bible-belt as most folks are attending services; only the wicked are out bike touring. We make our way past countless souvenir shops and into the center of Cherokee.
The home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is rich with cultural and outdoor activities. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is well worth the visit. I’ve been three times over the years and every time I visit I learn something new. The theatrical production of Unto These Hills is another ‘must see’ attraction for those with more time. But not us, this is an S24O, so we push on through Cherokee and enter the Oconaluftee Valley on US441.
Elk crossing signs mark our departure from Cherokee and entrance to the GSMNP. The best times to see elk are early morning and late evening. The GSMNP visitor’s center is worth a stop too. US441 is the main drag bisecting the park and leading to Tennessee. So this visitor center and the one on the other side of the park, Sugarlands (just south of Gatlinburg), get a lot of visitors. They are well provisioned with guidebooks, maps and souvenirs. But of course, the gift shop is not the reason to stop. A short walk from the center is the Mountain Farm Museum with an old farmhouse, barn, smokehouse and corn cribs. This is a good place to get off the bike and stretch your legs. Just watch out for the occasional copperhead coiled up under the numerous outbuildings. Almost nothing takes the fun out of bike camping like the bite of a deadly viper.
Not much farther into the park is Smokemont. We’ve reserved our spot online (thanks for the help Raquel) to be assured of a place to sling our hammock-tents. Reserving online also gave us the opportunity to pick a nice spot close to the river for more privacy, not that there is much of that to be had in a front country camp. Once the hammocks are pulled taught between trees, we break out the Tenkaras and head for the river.
Fishing the Bradley Fork River, which flows through the campground, is usually productive and I’ve caught a number of small trout here on prior fishing trips. I believe the river benefits from being upstream from Cherokee, where the river is kept well stocked for the tourists. The Tenkara rod is particularly well suited for narrow Appalachian rivers. Fishing our local streams is often like fishing in a tunnel of fly-snagging vegetation. Long graceful over-arching fly casts are things of dreams around these parts. Anglers here get very proficient at short side shots up-under overhanging limbs. The Tenkara also packs down small making it the perfect bike-fishing rig.
After terrorizing the local trout, we ride back into Cherokee for a well earned dinner. I pull into the first place we find, a Chinese restaurant which will remain nameless (but really, how many Cherokee-Chinese restaurants can there be? You figure it out). There I find the most dried out, unappetizing buffet I’ve ever experienced. I eat three plates.
We leave the Cherokee-Chinese restaurant and head out in search of elk. We find a big one munching on grass just inside the park. The elk, bear too for that matter, are quite accustomed to the gawking gaze of tourists, so he’s just calmly hanging out by the side of the road with moose-like majesty.
Back at camp we enjoy a fire and sip a little Irish soup till the sun slips behind the jagged horizon. Smokemont is at a lower altitude than much of the park, so nighttime temperatures are tolerable. Hammocks are notoriously cold sleepers, and hammockers need to be prepared. An extra layer of clothing and some form of insulation between you and the bottom of the hammock is a good idea as temps drop. Still, hammocking is my favorite way to sleep outdoors. It’s true adventure sleeping where you are one slipped knot away from thudding to the ground and becoming the laughing stock of the whole campground.
I wake the next morning to find myself still hanging from two trees, and I’m happy that I hadn’t become a dangling play toy for a bear during the night. Another twig fire built in my hobo stove (tin can) heats a mug of cowboy coffee that leaves our teeth peppered with coffee grounds. Cowboys must have had horrendous dental problems. After we breakfast ourselves, we roll out onto the blacktop and cruise back home.
The bicycle gods have blessed me with bunches of fine S24O destinations within striking distance from my backdoor. I’m looking forward to doing more and sharing them with you.
Follow along on Facebook and Twitter for pictures and snippets on the fly, and here at The Velo Hobo for more detailed ride descriptions. I’ll give more detail later on Andy’s bike!
As always, thanks for reading. Jack
All this in only 22 hours…now this is adventure cycling! Follow the link above for the rest of the story.
Another friend caught my tweet and asked how my stay was. I jokingly replied that the room smelled like a cheap hooker. Whatever. I showered, watched t.v. and surfed the web for two more hours before giving in entirely to exhaustion. ~ ha1ku
As the years end is drawing near, I sit here reflecting on a pretty active year of cycling and camping. For me, an ailing Basset hound (who we finally had to put to sleep), a new position at work, studying for my substance abuse counselors’ certification and family obligations has kept me from putting together a longer tour this year. Still I managed several S24Os and ‘base camp’ bike tours within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’m hoping to get back to more multi-day and week to 2-week tours in 2012.
At the beginning of this year I posted a contest of sorts. We have a couple of entries so far. If you have a trip to enter you can leave it in the comment section or email me. Internet access here is a bit sketchy, but I’ll be returning home next week. I’ll put all the names in a hat and draw the winner. Schlocky prize to be determined…perhaps a hand crafted stove.
Follow this link for more details: The 2011 Velo Hobo Challenge
As always, thanks for reading, Jack
A Special Note of Thanks: I’d like to thank Grant Petersen for inventing the S24O. Before that we had to stay out 25, sometimes 26 hours.
Saturday night, oddly enough and through no fault of my own, my house became infested with belly dancers. This sort of thing can be either a blessing or a curse. Not willing to take a chance, I abandoned the house and retreated to the woods for a quick impromptu bike camping trip. So with no real destination in mind, I just headed out. I knew I wanted to be near water and some place in the shady cover of trees. I also knew I wanted the solitude and primitive setting that only a stealth camp can provide. The Smokies are blessed with plenty of just such places. If you’re not afraid to do a little bush-whacking with a bike across your shoulder, sweet tranquil solitude is just a stones throw away off the side of the road. I’ll keep the exact location a secret; one: to keep from incriminating myself, and two: I want to return. But rest assured there is no shortage of stealth camping opportunities in the Smokies.
(Note: Don’t stealth camp in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. You may be fined and/or diminish this beautifully preserved wilderness. There are plenty of places outside the park in the surrounding forest to make a wild camp).
I took the advice from comments on my last trip report and left the cooking gear behind and suppered on an American classic, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. No fuss, no muss, just unwrapped it and gobbled it down. Not cooking is a good idea when stealth camping. There is usually a lot of leaf-litter on the ground and nothing gives a stealth camp away like an out of control forest fire.
Another thing that gives away a stealth camp is a big blue hammock hanging in the trees, so I spend a few hours fishing before making camp. The Tenkara fly rod performs great and even though a dry fly may have been better suited for this mountain lake, my Killer Kabari snagged a few trout, or perhaps I was catching the same one over and over again. Either way, I was having fun and if I was catching the same fish over and over, it must have been having fun too.
I rigged the hammock between two trees in the last few minutes of usable light and crawled in. Despite being only a few dozen yards from a paved road, the location had the feel of a true back country camp. Soon the night-time forest sounds that evoke peace and calm in some, and fear and anxiety in others, slowly began to grow in volume. A chorus of frogs, crickets and the pitter patter of some four-legged creature very close to my hammock kept me entertained till sleep overtook me.
The lower portion of the Hennessy Hammock has a slit in the middle for getting in and out. It’s held closed with a combination of Velcro and good Karma. At about 10:00pm I pushed my heel through the Velcro and stood myself up. Just then I heard a soft thump, a muffled bouncing sound and a ker-plunk as my Thermo-Lite 2 bivy, still stuffed in its sack splashed into the lake. I shined my head lamp on it and it was spinning, paddle wheeling its way to freedom. Luckily I was able to hook it on my third cast of the fly rod.
I crawled out of the hammock at first light and did a little early morning fishing. Early dawn is a beautiful time to fish. Mountain lakes and streams are the source of much of the foggy mist which gives the Smokies their name and patches of puffy clouds clung to the surface of the water. The lake was a mirror, perfectly still except for the occasional trout breaking the surface to feed. As the sun rose the mist burned away and left heavy humid air behind. Cravings for caffeine pulled me away from my secret mountain camp. A short ride and I was back at home in time for fresh brewed coffee and breakfast.
Small Nashbar Pannier
Topeak Handlebar Bag
Tenkara fly rod and a few Killer Kabari flies
Summer sleeping bag
Thermo-Lite Bivy (by the way, it floats)
A few hygiene things, A few bike tools
My Sequoia loaded for an S24O weighs in at a tad less than 35 pounds. That’s bike and gear, minus food and water. The Marmont summer sleeping bag is comfortable if the weather doesn’t drop into the 40s and weighs a few ounces over a pound. The Hennessy Hammock is 1.6 pounds (obviously) and I use the Thermo-Lite Bivy (6.5 ounces) as an insulator. I lay on the Bivy and use the sleeping bag unzipped as a quilt. That leaves my cooking gear. My Snow Peak 700 titanium cooking mug weighs 4.8 ounces. After four seasons of stuffing it in packs and panniers it’s no longer round…kind of oval, but still works fine. I combine with a DIY windscreen/pot stand, a mini Bic lighter, two tent stakes and piece of aluminum foil to protect the ground. Fuel varies with my mood, sometime Esbit tabs, sometime a DIY Pepsi can alcohol burner, sometime just a pile of twigs. There is usually enough room left over for a baggie of coffee. I almost always have a used book with me; one I don’t mind messing up or losing. I toss in a ziplock of food. In my handlebar bag is a GorillaPod, rain jacket, camera and a few comfort items. The same stuff I carry for my daily commute. A few bike tools and spare tube are in the saddle bag.
So, what’s in your over-night kit?
Determined to sleep at a higher altitude, I left the wife, kids and dog behind and snuck out the backdoor for a quick over-nighter. I pushed my car down the driveway so no one would hear me leave. To make this a true S24O, I drove to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and started my mini-tour. The center sits in a beautiful valley just inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is one mile from the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It features a brand new history museum, a recreation of an old mountain homestead and offers a good selection of trail maps and guide books. Just two miles north of Cherokee, North Carolina, this is a very popular entrance to the GSMNP, so expect traffic during the tourist season. Smokemont Campground is just about a mile deeper into the park and would make another great starting point for visitors to the area wanting to do this ride.
Once on the BRP it’s a steady climb up, up, up through a forest with a thick growth of bright green leaves. Life seems to ooze from everything this time of year in the mountains. Wildflowers, moss, ferns and wild mint sprout from every crack in the granite boulders, which themselves seem to be sprouting from the ground. Trees compete for every spare patch of earth and some have decided to grow themselves in some pretty improbable places. The Oconaluftee Valley sits at 2,000 feet above sea level, so with 3,280 feet of climbing ahead I find a comfortable gear and prepare my mind for a few hours of monotonous spinning.
A handful of dark and damp tunnels lie between the tail-end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Mile High campground, my destination for the night. Mile High is a commercial campground atop Soco Mountain, just off the narrow strip of asphalt and greenery belonging to the Parkway. Far enough off the beaten path to avoid being a “ghetto campground”, it is one of my favorite places. The campground has been around for more than a few years and it is showing some age, but that just adds to the appeal. Some of the sites teeter on an almost cliff-like ledge overlooking the Smokies. Sunsets viewed from here are unforgettable. After the sun slips behind the jagged horizon, I enjoy a twig fire before crawling into my Hennessy Hammock.
Hammock sleeping is a unique experience, but once you get the hang of it (ahem), you’ll pity common ground dwellers with their blowup mattresses and fluffy pillows. Well, pity or envy. Either way, you will definitely have a firm opinion one way or the other. Personally I love the way the wind gently rocks the hammock. And when it comes time to strike camp, a hammock packs down to the size of a Nalgene water bottle.
The next morning, I brew up a stout mug of ‘Cowboy Coffee’ and breakfast myself on a granola bar before rolling off the summit. There are three routes off Soco. Back along the Parkway towards the Qualla Boundary (Cherokee Indian Reservation), climb up and over Water Rock Knob and descend into Balsam Gap or ride the graveled Heintooga Road which takes you through a portion of the GSMNP and back into Cherokee.
I chose to return the way I came and enjoy a fast swoop down the mountain on the BRP. What took about two hours to ascend the day before lasted only minutes and deposited me back in the Oconaluftee Valley.
Small Nashbar Pannier
Topeak Handlebar Bag
Summer sleeping bag
Snow Peak 700 titanium mug
Taco Bell spork
A few Esbit Tabs, A few groceries
A few hygiene things, A few bike tools
When I think of S24Os, wilderness camping is the first thing that comes to mind. But any local destination will do for a mini-tour. A cheap motel, nearby campground or even a friend’s couch make great destinations.
A mere 8.5 miles from our backdoor is the privately operated Turkey Creek campground. A small brook, Turkey Creek, meanders through the camp and eventually pours into the Nantahala and Little Tennessee Rivers. The campground sits in a heavily wooded cove just off NC Highway 28 in the community of Almond, NC. It’s in a great location. Close to Tsali Recreation area, the Nantahala Outdoor Center and Bryson City, there is plenty for visitors to do. Single track mountain biking, zip-lines (canopy tours), white water rafting, trout fishing and tons more are within a few miles. Bryson City is the closest town and would make the perfect starting point for visitors to the area wanting to include a short bike tour in their Smoky Mountain vacation.
With the exception of stealth camps and backcountry camps in the park (GSMNP), Turkey Creek is the quietest campground I’ve experienced and it’s very clean and well laid out. Sites have picnic tables, fire places and raised tent pads. There’s also a very nice bathhouse with hot showers, a coin laundry and a game room.
I make a very Spartan (but Ultralight) camp consisting of little more than my Big Agnes tent in fast-fly mode, Big Agnes air mattress, summer sleeping bag and a small twig fire. Equally Spartan is supper: Instant mashed potatoes, frozen peas (thawed by the time I cooked) and Spam. A few cookies for desert, Yummy. After dinner as the light begins to fade, I crawl into the tent to read.
A lot has been written lately about e-readers on bike tours. I’m choosing a totally different device to read with, a paperback novel from the local library’s used book store costing a whopping twenty-five cents. Battery life is substantially longer than most e-readers although processing speeds are getting slower the older I get. Titles are limited, but I’ll bet more will be added if this ‘paper book’ reading thing catches on. I’m reading Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness” (which, by the way, is a total rip-off of the movie “Apocalypse Now”). Despite Conrad’s frequent use of the “N” word, this short novella is about the right size for an overnight bike trip. Its dark dreary plot reeks of existentialist angst and should be read with caution if you are feeling the least bit suicidal.
An hour long downpour put the Big Agnes’s fast fly to the test. The biggest issue was big fat rain drops ricocheting off the muddy ground into this Ultralight shelter. The next morning everything, including me, was covered with little muddy dots. This may not have been a problem if I had pitched the fast fly on grass and staked the rain fly closer to the ground.
Overnight trips feed my touring addiction and stave off withdrawal symptoms until I can manage more time for a longer trip. I’m very fortunate to live in a place with so many opportunities for short bike camping trips.
The standard fix-a-flat stuff that’s always on my bike
Big Agnes Seed House 2 fast-fly ~ Big Agnes air mattress.
Summer sleeping bag
Snow Peak 700 titanium mug/ DIY windscreen pot stand and a few Esbit tabs, lighter, spoon
Food in a zip lock sandwich bag, camera and a paperback novel
Thanks for reading, Jack
Adventure Cycling Association has launched a great new web site dedicated to S24O (overnight bike camping). Follow the link above and explore this great new resource. I’m excited about the “submit a trip” feature. I’m looking forward to submitting a few of my own.
Although not something I care to do anymore, sleeping under a poncho is one of the lightest tent alternatives. Ultralight poncho/shelters made from silicone impregnated ripstop nylon weigh just eight ounces. Add three light weight tent stakes and a small length of paracord and it’s still a feather-weight sleeping solution. Nice accessories to this setup are a small ground cloth and mosquito netting. Poncho/shelters are available at Campmor for about $45.00.
Drawbacks are a lack of privacy and little protection from heavy windy downpours. Also, from time to time, things will slither in there with you. Try to avoid screaming or swatting at them till you are sure what they are. Here are a couple of pictures of my poncho/shelter on a hike in the Smokies a few years ago. Click to enlarge.
Okay, here’s the challenge. Go somewhere. Here’s the tricky part; bicycle from your backdoor (no cars allowed) and spend at least one night before returning. Spend the night at a friend’s house, loiter in a bus station, camp, sleep in a flea bag motel, get arrested…whatever.
Take a few photos and a write short description of your experience and send it in for posting here firstname.lastname@example.org . At the end of the year, I’ll devise some way of choosing a winner and offer some schlocky prize or trophy. Fame and adventure will be your true reward.
Good luck, Jack
As this year comes to a close and another begins, it’s time to reflect. This has been a busy year, both in my private life and the one I share online. I’ve done some touring, but not as much as I’d like. Raquel and I explored the Chesapeake Bay area with one of our foster kids. Using a rented bungalow by the bay as base camp, we joined the largest organized ride in the area and did some exploring on our own as well. Later in the year I was joined by my good friend, Larry (‘The Tractor’) for a tour of the North Carolina portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you ever have the opportunity, this is the most scenic ride on the east coast. It’s also the most challenging.
My wife and I have hosted some wonderful bike tourists as they passed our way. In order of their appearance at our home: Susan, Christopher, Charles, Rocco, Joe and Emmalee, Russ and Laura, Tomas and finally (unless someone shows up today) Zachary.
And this silly bike blogging project has taken on a life of its own. Readership has grown tremendously. December of last year The Velo Hobo had a little over three-hundred visitors for the month. That number has grown to well over two thousand a month with daily averages between 70 to 100 and the numbers just keep growing.
So what’s next?
I’ve received some very helpful feedback from readers. You’ve told me you’d like to see more ‘Featured Rider’ articles, more on bike camping and more detailed information on packing and carrying gear. You’ve also told me you’d like to see less on leather tooling (for the life of me I can’t understand why, but okay).
Plans are in the works for our annual tour of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We hope to be joined by friends and I’m looking forward to writing a trip review. S240s and short tours on the Parkway are almost certain and if you would like to share ‘trip reports’ of your own, just send them in with a few pictures and I’ll post them.
You may have noticed a new tab at the top of the page and a banner ad in the side bar. Raquel and I will be offering ‘destination day tours’ this spring. These will be laid back activity based tours of our little corner of the Smokies; gem mining, wine tasting, hiking and more. No need to lug your bike across the country, rentals will be available through Bryson City Bicycles. Check back for more details.
Thanks to all Velo Hobo readers for making this a fun and interesting project.
Here’s my first ham-fisted attempt at making a video using a collection of photos from tours and S24O’s of years gone by. The melodious instrument you hear is not an angelic harp, as you may have thought, but a banjo played in the traditional Appalachian claw-hammer style. The artist is completely unknown, as are most banjo virtuosos.