Planning and Preparation
AL’S NOTE: The following article is a companion to the authors’ first entry entitled “CANDISC Bike Tour 2013” and the focus here is on the logistics of traveling to and preparing for an event such as this. It has been written from the perspective of the author and includes equipment lists and things to do that are applicable to bike tours of any length or type. As before, this article is a reflection of one man’s experience and should be considered a “guideline” at best. For further information specific to the CANDISC bike tour, please see the following website: www.parkrec.nd.gov
THE NEED to KNOWS
– If you’re traveling from Winnipeg, there are a lot of ways to get to Garrison but in my opinion, the easiest way is to head west along the Trans-Canada to Brandon, turn left on Hwy #10 (look for the Shell station/convenience store on your left) and head south to Boissevain. Get a coffee at Tim’s and take a bathroom break if you need to as there won’t be many chances to do so at least until you get to Boissevain. Gas is usually cheaper just across the border so if you want to save a bit of dough and don’t need to gas up in Brandon, fill up across the border.
– Your border crossing will be at the International Peace Garden and while it’s a lot smaller crossing than Emerson is, in some cases there can still be line-ups and you’ll have to wait, so patience is a virtue here. Before you cross, you may want to check in at Canadian Border Services to see if you need to declare your bike especially if it’s a US brand, ditto with any personal electronics including cameras.
– Have your passport ready (remember that your driver’s license or birth certificate isn’t good enough to get you into the US any more). Remember too, that just like their Canadian counterparts, most of the US Customs/Border Patrol agents have had their senses of humour removed as a requirement for the job, so any wisecracks or attempts at humour will most likely get you in more trouble than it’s worth, so from personal experience, please be advised not to be a smart ass when talking to the kind folks at the border.
– Once through the border, continue along Hwy #10 through Dunseith, onto Rugby and then turn south again as you head for Minot. Practice saying “Mine-it” and not “My-not” as you drive since I’ve come to learn that us Canajuns can be spotted a mile away cuz we improperly say “My-not”. From “Mine-it”, head for Garrison and you’re there.
Figure 4 – Garrison High School parking lot
– Registration/check-in is at Garrison High School (easy to find as it’s the only one in town – Go Troopers!) and you can safely leave your vehicle parked there for the whole week.
– You’ll receive a goodie bag that includes a T-shirt and will be required to fill out some forms including a medical ID tag that must remain with you for the duration of the week. Be sure to have your MSC/Blue Cross number and personal physician’s address and phone number at hand during registration as these things will need to be recorded and carried with you as a condition of participation. Got to remember that the US is a litigation-based society and they need to cover all the bases so they will ask for a lot of personal medical stuff. Like me, you may not like it and while I don’t think I’ve got anything to hide, that’s the way it is so suck it up.
– A very nice meal is provided following registration and all participants must attend a number of brief, safety-related and organizational lectures and then everyone is dispersed to do whatever it is they like to do in Garrison, N.D. on a Saturday night in August. Camping spots are available in the school yard for the first night but remember that sacred American shrine called the football field is out of bounds!
– Distance from Winnipeg to Garrison is approximately 540 km and driving time is about 5 – 6 hours more or less depending on how many stops you make and your comfort level with trying to avoid speeding tickets.
Other Need to Knows:
– In 2013, the route covered approximately 582 km or 363 miles which was more or less the advertised distance. Daily distances ranged from 57 km to 120 km with the average being about 83 km per day. One day of the week typically has an option to complete a full century distance meaning you can ride 100 miles/164 km that day for those so inclined (FYI – I haven’t been “inclined” to do that so far).
– Group demographics are very diverse and includes families, couples, singles, high-school students right up to very fit and inspiring seniors. Average age of those participating is usually around 50 years old and I think it was announced that the average age in 2013 was 53 years. Group size is usually limited to 300 but often exceeds this number each year without any problems.
– If you’re the social type, it’s very easy to meet and hang-out with other like-minded people over the course of the week but on the other hand if you like your independence and privacy, that’s more than available too. Personally, this was something I’ve always liked about CANDISC (not necessarily the independence part but the fact it’s very easy to meet people and hang out with them as much or as little as you like).
– Registration fees in 2013 were $195 USD/person, $380 USD/family and there is even a daily rate of $50 USD/person. A late registration fee may apply and in some cases, refunds may be made depending on individual circumstances.
– Meal plan fees in 2013 were $90 USD (supper only, 7 meals), $60 USD (breakfast only, 7 meals), $126 USD (full meal program).
While any type of bike is suitable for a multi-day event such as CANDISC, most participants usually go with the road or hybrid bike as their weapon of choice but in my opinion, a dedicated touring bike trumps them all as it is purpose built to handle the rough stuff in all conditions and rarely if ever, let’s you down. Remember that if you think of your bike as the tool that allows you to enjoy the cycling experience, sometimes it’s not always the most expensive tool in the box that you need to get the job done but the one that’s most durable and best suited to the task. You have to go with what you’ve got, but having a bike that doesn’t fit you well and is held together with duct tape and zip-ties is a recipe for disaster on any bike tour so please be sure your bike is in good shape before you embark. They say that failing to plan is planning to fail, so it’s up to you to decide how much failure you are prepared to tolerate especially if you don’t think your bike is up to the task. Be sure to seek the advice of your favorite local bike shop for help in this area if you are at all in doubt.
Whatever type of bike you choose, here are a few things to keep in mind for CANDISC or any other multi-day tour:
– The event goes everyday rain or shine and you need to be able to soldier on in all conditions so for example, there’s no waiting out the rain until the next day.
– Having fenders on your bike is not essential but in my opinion, definitely a plus as over the course of the week it’s bound to rain and it usually will at least once and it could last for the better part of the day and you will get wet. Staying somewhat dry while you ride is a good thing but everyone has their own level of comfort in this department. There are a lot of easily installed, removable fenders out there you can bring along for the week if you find having fenders on your bike all the time too “geeky”, so check out your local bike shop for advice and a selection of fenders that best meet your needs.
– Just like Winnipeg, summer weather in North Dakota is bound to change throughout the day so you need to anticipate and react accordingly. Having a simple rack/pannier setup on your bike allows you to stash that extra layer when it isn’t needed and have the security to pull out that rainwear when called for – jersey pockets can only carry so much.
– Being able to run wider tires on your bike is a plus as they allow for a larger volume of air to support you and while they can often be somewhat heavier and “slower” than a skinny road tire, they provide less of a tendency to puncture. Remember that even though the quality of an average stretch of North Dakota highway far exceeds that of the best Winnipeg street, there is still a good chance you may puncture so it helps to be prepared for the inevitable. Learning how to change a tire is a good skill to have for everyday riding so don’t be afraid to give it a try if you don’t know how. Ask a trusted friend for a demo or better yet, drop in to your local bike shop and during a quiet time, they will probably be more than willing to help you out. (Word on the street is that at many bike shops, beer is often a better way to say thanks than any hand-made thank you card, so this is just a tip if you are the type who likes to show your gratitude when someone extends a courtesy on your behalf. As I say, it’s just something I heard, but a round of coffee, hand-made cards or cookies are still pretty nice too!). Finally, if you still live in your parent’s basement and don’t like human contact all that much, there are a lot of good YouTube videos out there to help you learn how to fix a flat real good so check those out!
Of course, whatever “extra” you plan to add to your bike will always add weight so if you’re a gram counter, only you can be the judge as to how much extra you want to carry for your own peace of mind and riding (in)security. Personally, I don’t worry that much about carrying an extra pound or two especially if it means I’m less likely to encounter a problem over the course of a day’s ride. By cycling standards, my body type put’s me well into the Junior Clydesdale Division so if anything, dropping a few pounds would make more sense than worrying if carrying a second spare tube would make my day’s compliment of gear too heavy.
The Author’s Personal Gear List for CANDISC 2013
NOTE: The gear list described below is somewhat unusual for an event like CANDISC in that this time, I planned to go “self -contained” for the week which meant I wanted to see what it would be like to carry all of what I thought I’d need and not rely on the cargo truck for daily transport. If I wasn’t carrying everything myself, I certainly wouldn’t have brought such things as a trailer and as many pannier bags but I might have brought a small lawn chair and a few other creature comforts instead, given that someone else is carrying it. I’ve also added a few personal anecdotes as to why I’ve chosen each item if that matters to anyone. In most cases, all of the items I’ve described in my kit are things we have in our family inventory of camping/cycling goodies and in the name of economics, I don’t think it’s always necessary to go out and buy something new just because I’m going on a trip. In the interests of common sense and weight savings, I’ve chosen items that can do double duty whenever possible.
– Surly Ogre (a very versatile, do it all steel-framed 29‘r set up with flat bars and very reliable Shimano thumb shifters. Not a light bike by any means but it’s very stable on the descents especially when pulling a trailer. This particular bike frame design allows for disk brakes, fenders and racks to be used all at once which is very slick. On some bikes, this is a next to impossible combination so “Orson” as I’ve named it, really performed well in this situation. If you’re over 55 years old as I am and as a kid, probably watched way too many cartoons, you may be able to identify the origin of the name “Orson” – anyone, anyone? (remember there were only two or three TV channels back then and it’s got nothing to do with Orson Wells or Orson Bean, that guy Johnny Carson would have on as a guest sometimes).
– Mavic 719 touring rims, Shimano XT disc hubs with Avid BB 7 brakes (rim brakes are good but discs are better especially on hills and when carrying serious cargo – thanks for the great wheel build Liam!)
– Old Man Mountain pannier racks; White Rock on the rear, Utimate Low Rider on the front (this brand of carrier is very sturdy and easy to mount on all bikes especially those with cantilever or linear pull brakes as the posts serve as mounting points and create a super-stable set up. The racks themselves are not cheap but will outlast lesser versions so if you amortize their cost over the years, they become a very good value)
– Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires 700 x 40 size (very durable, puncture resistant tires, heavy but that’s the trade-off. Remember please, no tire is “puncture proof” despite what the advertising may say – at best, they may be considered puncture “resistant”).
– Axiom Monsoon roll top panniers on the front (easy access to contents, very waterproof and can even be submerged for short periods and your cargo still stays dry. This is where I carried my quick access items such as raingear and it was also a space in which to dump extra clothes as the weather changed throughout the day. When pulling a trailer, the physics of having that much weight at the back of the bike will negatively affect your steering up front in that it becomes twitchy as you attempt to accelerate forward – hey you kids – pay attention to your Science teacher as this is an example of Newton’s Law of Equal and Opposite reaction. Having some weight up front in the form of panniers balances off the excess rear weight and makes the steering less twitchy, which is a good thing as stability is maintained).
– Axiom Journey trunk bag on the rear (not a lot of room here but great for tools, spare tubes and first aid kit)
– Revelate Designs Gas Tank top tube bag (I use this on my winter fatbike and it transfers well to summer bikes too. Very handy for carrying the small stuff such as batteries, wallet, energy gels, and other things that you can grab while riding).
Bike Related Stuff:
– BOB Yak trailer with waterproof, roll-top cargo bag (lots of space for bulky items like tent poles and rolled up sleeping pads. Be careful though as its large capacity may make you want to over pack)
– Camelbak hydration system, 3 liter capacity (their motto is true, “hydrate or die” especially when riding through rural North Dakota in the heat of August)
– Camelbak PolarPlus insulated water bottle, 750 ml capacity (electrolyte replacement or sugary drinks go in here, water only goes in the Camelbak)
– Garmin eTrex 200 GPS unit (battery powered, handlebar mounted, very accurate, no wires to fuss with, provides all the data you need and then some)
– Two spare tubes for 700 x 40 tires including one spare tube for trailer wheel (you’re not going anywhere if your trailer tire is flat and it can be difficult to find a 16 in tube in rural North Dakota)
– Spare rear skewer for BOB trailer (if this ever craps out or gets lost, lets just say your screwed and you won’t be carrying your trailer any farther).
– Quest Starlight tent (old but still reliable, just like me I guess)
– Cascade Designs ThermaRest sleeping pad (a good combination of R-value, packability and comfort)
– North Face Cat’s Meow sleeping bag (due to the unusually cool week this year, not a warm enough choice as I was cold every night)
– headlamp (great for late night reading in the tent, does double duty as a flashlight. Lots of different brands and they’re all are good)
– 1 pr cycling shoes (Specialized brand because they are what I have and they fit my feet the best)
– 3 pr cycling shorts (different brands brought along as each type has a different stitching/chamois pattern so there’s less likelihood of persistent chafing from the same shorts when worn everyday. Clean pair worn each day and then washed with soap and hot water post-ride and allowed to dry. Without sounding too festidious here, hygiene is important on any bike tour especially when it comes to cycling shorts and one’s “gentlemanly bits” as moisture is your enemy as it leads to irritation and potential saddle sores that can easily become infected. These irritated areas are the favorite party zones of nasty, anaerobic bacteria and just one bad saddle sore can end your tour faster than you can say “Bob’s your Uncle”, so clean riding shorts are an investment in your cycling enjoyment – consider bringing along more than one pair if you can. If you have only one pair, wash them well with soap and hot water each day and hang them inside out to air dry. You may also consider adding a little powder such as Gold Bond into your shorts each morning as the talc will soak up small amounts of moisture but remember, talc isn’t a ShamWow so it has it’s limits).
– 3 pr cycling gloves (the ones with gel padding are best, I always bring along at least one pair that are full-fingered especially if it gets cool)
– 4 cycling tops (not necessarily “official” cycling jerseys and they can do double duty when off bike)
– Helmet (Giro Atmos – fits my melon real good even though there’s not much in there to worry about)
– Socks (some wool, some cotton)
– 1 pr long riding pants (MEC Scholler fabric climbing pants to be precise, close fit but not skin tight and the fabric they are made from is suitably warm and water resistant during a brief rain shower. Parading around small town North Dakota in spandex may be too intense for some viewers, so use your judgement here. I usually carry a light pair of typical workout shorts in a pannier that I can quickly access and slip on over my riding shorts if I ever have to go into a store or restaurant that is probably unaccustomed to seeing someone wearing riding shorts that often leave little if anything, to the imagination. I’m not that modest of a guy, but I like to respect the viewing audience)
– One long-sleeve shirt (I like the light-weight, quick drying fishing shirts here as they are full cut and usually have shoulder pleats and back vents to keep you cool – they also look reasonably normal if wearing it off the bike too. This kind of shirt works well as sun protection while riding and many have fold-up collars that helps protect the neck from sun when hunched over the bars. I’ve used shirts like this from Eddie Bauer and Cabela’s and they’re both good choices).
– Light weight hat (I wear one under my helmet most of the time to keep the sun off my follicle-challenged melon. I can wilt quite quickly in the sun, so I go for maximum protection of the head. A hat also reduces the chance of a stinging bug getting into your helmet while riding – not fun when screaming downhill on your bike).
– Sunscreen, lip balm
– 2 pr arm warmers (one pair designed for sun protection Cannondale brand SPF 40, one pair for warmth Sugoi brand, midweight)
– Neoprene overboots (for warmth more than for rain protection)
– Marmot PreCip rainjacket (full cut for layering, good ventilation by way of generous pit zips, helmet friendly hood, bright colour for visibility)
– Entrant waterproof breathable overmitts (wet hands suck when riding)
– Cabela’s GoreTex rainpants (full cut to get over my fat ass)
– NEOS Voyageur overboots (not SPD pedal friendly but will keep your feet very dry when riding and/or in camp. On a long tour I will often use a two-sided pedal that has an SPD-style cleat on one side and a platform on the other. When I need to wear the rain overboots, I use the platform side otherwise I always use the clip-in side)
– Sugoi waterproof breathable helmet cover (that annoying yellow colour for visibility, warmth and rain protection)
– Cactus Creek safety vest (again, more annoying yellow plus I’m not that keen on getting hit by a car, truck or piece of farm machinery so if there’s anything I can do to help me be seen while riding, I’m all for it)
– Assos brand chamois cream (my butt and groinal area thanks you for inventing this superior product!)
– Battery powered, red blinky light (not so much for night riding but for overcast mornings and flat light days. See comment above on not wanting to be hit while riding)
– Spare AA and AAA batteries (I prefer to use the Eveready lithium Ultimates as they have tremendous endurance especially in the cold and while they are expensive, last way longer than regular ones plus they have a ten year shelf life. If you’re traveling stateside, be sure to check out Target store as they are often on sale there and even at regular US prices, these batteries are significantly cheaper than they are at home. A very good sale price for AA Ultimates would be about $2.25 to $2.50 USD/battery)
– Lightweight, long pants (for cooler nights, if you are sun-sensitive like I am and they ward off mosquitoes too. The kind that have the zip-off legs are great in that you have shorts and pants all in one)
– Some kind of walking shoes/runners/sandals for in-camp time
– T-shirts (the light weight, technical fabric ones are great in that they pack small and dry quickly if you should choose to rinse them out after a day’s use. They can do double duty for on-bike riding)
– Light weight long underwear and a light toque (it can get surprisingly cool in the summer when the sun goes down especially at altitude or if it’s a rainy day. I’m a cold sleeper and found myself wearing these to bed each night given that it was an unusually cool and wet week this year)
– Other clothes appropriate to the weather and/or one’s personal taste (rarely is there anything to dress up for on a bike tour).
– Shower shoes (cheap flip flops, Crocs, etc. Athlete’s foot is not my personal friend)
– Toiletries (I like to be a clean-shaven kinda guy on these trips)
– Minor first aid kit (including any personal prescription medicines and other items as needed such as Ibuprofen, Tylenol and Benedryl. There are a lot of stinging critters like honeybees and wasps out there looking to get you while you’re riding, so be prepared especially if you’re not sure how you react to bug bites. A mild steroid cream such as Cortaid or the Target house brand is helpful when butt-rash comes to visit also. If you can, buy some of this cream in the States as it contains more of the active ingredient which is hydrocortisone. At home, to get a version of that cream with a greater than 0.5% hydrocortisone content will require a prescription but in the States, the over the counter versions come standard with 1% of the active ingredient. Moral of the story: more hydrocortisone is good and your butt rash will clear up faster!).
– Towel and facecloth (micro-fabric ones absorb water well and dry quickly, cotton ones are comfy against the skin but dry slowly. I’m not a fan of the ShamWow as a towel – save that for wiping up a real mess).
– A length of small diameter rope and a few clothespins (to hang up your wet towel and those freshly rinsed items like your riding shorts)
– Passport (make sure its valid)
– Manitoba Health/Blue Cross/CAA supplemental insurance cards (the American health care system is very good but will bankrupt you if you have no valid coverage, so be sure to check out your personal plan if ever in doubt).
– US cash (many of the small towns won’t have ATM’s if that’s how you roll, so it helps to have some on-hand pocket cash for your daily needs. Also, if you plan on purchasing anything at one of the rest stops, it’s guaranteed to be cash only)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Al Dixon is a dedicated cycling enthusiast, Olympia Cycling Club member and retired school teacher. He’s been a part-time, seasonal employee at Olympia Cycle and Ski since 1991 and enjoys all types of activities including cycle touring and is always quick to say that his personal style of riding is not about competition but more about enjoying the experience. He and his wonderful wife and favorite riding companion Debbie, have been avid participants at CANDISC on numerous occasions and while it is one of their favorite events, they have also enjoyed many other self-contained and fully supported cycling trips over the years. While a few of those trips would fall into the “epic” category not necessarily by design but by circumstance, most of them were just challenging fun and well within the ability of anyone reading this article. While Al would be the first to tell you he has more ambition than ability, it has never really stopped him from attempting cycling events that many would say he has no business being a part of but he has has no plans to listen to them and ever stop. Al has never held a cycle racing license and has no plans of getting one.