Sunday, September 2, 2007

By the Seat of our Pants

*(I wrote this article 4 years ago in 2003.)

I have always wanted to do a self-contained tour. Not being able to take three months off for a trip across the country, I opted for a four-day, three-night excursion around southern New Jersey. I picked southern NJ because it’s flat and I didn’t know how well I could ride with a loaded bike. I approached my 21-year-old son, who was very excited about the idea. We decided the last week in August would fit into our schedules. I purchased a Hagstrom Southern NJ map and Geograhia Quickfinder Southern and Central laminated maps. (Very good, I might add). We decided that the state parks were the most economical way to go. We mapped out a triangle from Englishtown to Bass River to Parvin to Lebanon (now Brendan Byrne) and back home.

Over the years I have purchased tents, panniers, air mattresses and sleeping bags, all with the purpose of being light weight and easy to carry on a bike. We packed Sunday and rolled out Monday at 7:30 am with my wife and in-laws taking pictures and wishing us luck. The bikes and equipment weighed well over 50 pounds and I was a bit nervous as to how well they would handle over some hills. We were pleasantly surprised.

The bikes we used were a 2000 Rans Stratus fully equipped with fairing, fenders, rear rack, Lights, compass, and battery radio. I used Arkel 2550 cu in panniers, which are cavernous. I did not use front panniers, as I like the fairing. I also felt the bike has too much tiller up hill when riding below 5mph. I felt panniers in the front would make it worse. The other is a 2001 Rans Rocket; equipped with fenders, rear rack and computer. I had an old pair of Cannondale panniers, I use for every day and a Rans Aero bag behind the seat.
We arrived at Bass River at about 80 miles after many stops to check our maps. We set up our tents and showered and were ready for dinner. Unfortunately state parks are in secluded areas. We had to travel another seven miles to town for food. We found a local tavern and had great burgers and cold beer. The seven miles back in the dark was interesting. I must say the Cateye micro lights are quite good and we used them as flashlights too.

Tuesday, at 7:30am, we headed west to Salem county and Parvin State park. It was 20 miles before we found a place for breakfast. We were a big hit as the locals admired our loaded recumbents. Eight miles before Parvin we had lunch in town and purchased sandwiches and drinks for later. We took all the equipment out of the Aero bag and jammed them wherever we could. We lined the Aero bag with plastic and put 12 cans of drinks and a bag of ice, our own cooler. My son was having trouble handling the Rocket with the high center of gravity caused by our cooler. The front end was light and twitchy. Next time we will use an under-seat rack and panniers. At 60 miles we hit Parvin.

Wednesday we headed northeast to Lebanon. This was by far the most scenic country in the southern area. Five miles into the ride, the crank came loose on the rocket. I brought some tools, but did not have a socket to tighten it. We were in nowhere land and we knew it could be another ten miles before we reached civilization. Fortunately, we found a mobile glass shop just 3 miles down. An employee of the shop fixed our bikes and advised us of a great diner down the road. He was right and we were right on track for our quest for Lebanon. Two miles from the park it started to get dark with thunder and lightening. Just as the first few drops hit we saw a country market and tavern. We had a great lunch and then the rain had stopped. Three miles more and we had set up shop at Lebanon. 60 plus miles for the day. We later went back to the tavern for dinner. We talked with the locals who had a horseshoe contest and reminisced over our perfect day.

Thursday we headed home, a bit sad it was over, but excited about our accomplishment -- 271 miles in 4 days. Great trip, great company. An experience we will cherish forever.
In closing I would like to add, the Stratus is by far the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden. It performed flawlessly. The Rocket will work for loaded touring, but needs under-seat racks for stabilization. I feel loaded touring requires 2 sets of panniers and under-seat racks are the way to go for recumbents.

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