A-Man’s 29er Hammock Ramble…

10 07 2012

A-Man on the move…

Aaron writes:

With all the adventures Vik & Scott have had bike packing I felt that it was high time that I figured out what all the fuss was about. Originally we had planned to get out together but various and conflicting schedules torpedoed our designs for a tour.  Now I was left with a loaded bike but no companions and no place to ride to. Still being keen to camp, and loaded with awesome equipment, I struck out for a nearby summit.

Taking a break along the way…

To provide some companionship, my colleague from work, Grant volunteered to ride to the summit with me and also shoot some photos. Grant has significant photography experience and produced some excellent photos from my humble Nikon. The two of us also happened to be riding on decked-out Moots titanium 29” wheeled machines from two different schools of thought. My bike, loaned to me by Tim Unger (my generous employer) was a MootoXYBB with front and rear (pivotless) suspension. Grant was riding his fully rigid MootoX. The difference in bikes could not have been more pronounced but we still cranked along the trails together and enjoyed the beautiful woods of the West Coast.

Loving those 29er wagon wheels in the forest…

The area that I chose to go camping is accessed by a multi-usage trail system that is open to both hikers and bikers. Typical of Vancouver Island, I saw neither all day. While you are allowed to ride and hike these trails (lets call it “Hill-X”), camping is a no-no. Guerrilla stealth camping was my other trip objective so I wasn’t concerned by this technicality, who was going to see me anyway? Compared to the fire roads & jeep tracks that Vik and Scott have ridden before, my route was way, way gnarlier. Steep single-track climbs, tight corners through the trees, and rock gardens made for a hardcore effort. If I can make it through this fully loaded I should be able to survive anything else. So was my thinking anyways.

Moots loaded for a bikepack…

Because I am new to bike packing (BP), I scrolled over and reviewed some articles on Vik’s blog to gain an idea of how to pack my steed. Besides experience, the other deficit I was working against was a lack of equipment. I possess no bike bags at all but was adamant that I not use a backpack. It is my belief that the bike is the beast and therefore it carries the burden. To my rescue flew my friends, I brought my bike to Scott (founder of Porcelain Rocket), he looked over my bike, thanks again Tim, and dug out an older model seatbag, as-well-as a barbag and small frame bag. The frame bag fit very well for not being designed for the Moots at all. During the ride I was still able to access my bottles and food was always within reach.

Seatbag…

Taking some cues from Vik I loaded the Moots as follows:

Seat Bag           

  • First-Aid kit
  • Fire kit, toiletries
  • clothes (thermo layer, spare socks,toque, & gloves)
  • Dinner food stuffs, & two beers
  • Lashed on top is a canteen & on the bottom is my rain jacket.

Frame bag…

Frame Bag            

  • Pump + tools & spare tube
  • Big bag of assorted candies & Clif bars

Bar bag…

Bar Bag           

  • Main compartment = sleeping bag & Hennessey hammock.

Auxiliary front bag (white) contained:

  • more energy bars & shot-blocks
  • camera & tiny tripod
  • phone
  • compass
  • headlamp
  • leatherman
  • Lashed between the two bags was a ¾ length sleeping pad
  • Secured on the outside was my camp axe & big knife

 

Cockpit view of bar bag…

For visibility I mounted battery lights on the bars and on the rear so that if it got dark on me I wouldn’t be in a bind. After a mild pavement ride out of town Grant and I reached the trailhead and the real riding commenced. Weighted against the roughness of the trail I was pleasantly surprised on how the bike handled. With no prior experience the positives of a 29” wheel were obvious. Riding out was done at a fast clip and many sections of trails were devoured by my big wheels.

Old and new wagon wheels…

After trying various techniques and watching my riding partner, Grant, I settled on the “Monster Truck” method. Every time a rough patch of roots or rocks came along I headed for the smoothest possible line and let the wheels flow over the terrain. Just attack the trail and float over. Climbs required a decent cadence to maintain momentum but if you kept on top of the gear then getting up at speed was a virtual guarantee. Another element that was an immense help was the titanium frame with the YBB addition. For those who don’t know “YBB” is Moots’ patented soft-tail design that adds a small amount of give in the rear frame triangle. Besides smoothing out the rough stuff, I detected that the frame actually gave me a bit of extra spring to spin up the hills. By compressing and extending in sync with my pedal strokes the frame assisted my efforts with a little extra forward nudging. No doubt the titanium’s flex characteristics also contributed. When Moots makes a bike in 650B with a YBB my wallet’s going to start to twitch. {editor’s note – Moots does full custom bikes A-Man so you can have your 650B Moots dream machine anytime you like… ;) }

Titanium bikepacking goodness…

Previously whenever I went on a bike camping trip I would utilize my racks and panniers to carry my gear. Adding these parts brought the weight up of my bike significantly, increased the complexity, and widened my trail profile. In contrast, bike bags are far lighter than a rack/pannier combo, much quieter over rough terrain, and I could slip through narrow obstacles at speed with ease. The added benefit of these bags is it keeps your amount of gear to minimum, which helps in keeping the weight down. I’ll never completely get rid of my racks or panniers but the next time I ride into the woods I hope to be using a compliment of Scott’s fine bags. Racks and panniers will still be used on my town bikes for getting groceries or running errands.

Top of the World…

After a brief rest at the summit, accompanied by some cold beers, Grant rode off down the trail whilst I remained to set up my camp. Many times I found a good spacing of trees that were the right thickness for the hammock webbing straps but they were all too close to the trail. Now camping is not allowed in this park and I didn’t want any hassles from the authorities or other militant park users so I hiked the Moots deep into the woods. Close to the edge of a cliff I found my little Shangri-La.

Time to hang out…

Close to the cliff edge so the view would be amazing, good Arbutus stands to support my hammock, and best of all, totally hidden from the main trail. Because I was a hammock newbie it took me a try or two to get the set-up correct. Luckily the instructions are printed on the stuff sack for the hammock. My knot skills did not include the type that’s recommended for tying off but I had an ace up my sleeve.  Because I was within cell range I pulled up YouTube and searched for instructions on tying the knots. Armed with my newfound knowledge I made short work of the set-up and was swinging in no time. Technology is at a very high level of usefulness these days. Total set-up time from un-bagging to stuffing in the sleeping pad and bag was just over 15 minutes. More experienced hammock campers are way faster than that.

Chillaxing with a view…

After setting up it was time to relax and explore my little slice of paradise. A small clearing near camp ended at a steep drop off but was clear of trees and offered a dense panorama of the Malahat Hwy., precipitous hills overflowing with trees, and a beautiful view of the beginning of the Saanich Inlet. I ate my dinner sandwich sitting on an arbutus branch overlooking this domain. After battling my way to the summit and then running around to find a spot to set up I was on low ebb. With the retreating rays I to retreated into my shelter to read a little with my headlamp before drifting way from consciousness.

Killer slug…

I must have been comfortable because when I finally awoke it was after 7am! The sun was up and the canopy was full of bird song. Squirrels roamed through camp but largely ignored me. After about two hours of dawdling about I forced myself to break camp and head for nearby civilization. On the way out I was having a bit too much fun on the single-track and managed to get quite lost.

Lost, but having a great time!

The one thing I can virtually guarantee when I go riding is that I’ll inevitably lose my way. Finally I emerged from the woods and commenced the paved/gravel stages that would bring me home. Because I was so close to home I decided to continue riding north, rather than south-east to my door, and hook up with the Lochside Trail for some gravel action. Another delightful section was the Saanich Centennial Trail, which breaks off in a couple of directions of various names. I took several sections before linking up to the Lochside and rambling home. After about 7hrs of riding and approximately 70-80kms I was home to rest.

A rocky road…

From the comfort of my favorite chair I was able to reflect on what worked for me, what I liked, and what didn’t do it for me:

Pros:            

  • Bags are lighter than racks & panniers
  • Much quieter than panniers being rattled around on racks
  •  Easier access to food and other items while riding
  •  Handling is much less affected with bags
  •  Forces you to pack smartly = no unnecessary stuff
  •  Bicycle profile remains narrow = good for tight trail sections & aerodynamics
  •   Versatile = Seat & Bar bags will mount on any bike
  • Hammocks pack very small & is self contained, no poles or extra parts, very comfortable to sleep in & great ventilation

Light is right…

Cons:           

  • Main frame bag is a custom fit & may not fit other frames as well
  • Storage is limited (but ultimately is that a con? Decide for yourself)
  • Points of access can be limited
  • A hammock requires two specific things to set-up, tree spacing & thickness of stock webbing straps (I saw many more spots where I could have just dropped a tent down)
  • Cramped for space & not possible to bring some gear inside with you to keep out of the elements

One of the best parts of a tour – the delicious meal at the end…


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7 responses

10 07 2012
Rob E. Loomis

Nice report. One tip for A-man should he stick with the hammock: http://www.hammockforums.net
The amount of info, mods, and excessive hammock-geeking is overwhelming, but it’s worth a look. I found my way there after my first Hennessy hang when I determined that A) I loved sleeping in a hammock but B) There has got to be a simpler way to tie it up. I can now tie up with limited knots, avoid that Hennessy lashing, and readjust my hang without undoing any knots.

10 07 2012
AaronM

Rob, that is indeed an excellent forum site. The many things you can do to your hammock set up is impressive, especially to a novice such as myself. I agree wholly that they are very comfortable to sleep in. Perhaps I need to pick up a backpacker tent for a back-to-back comparison…

10 07 2012
theporcelainrocket

Great report, Aaron! You shall have to show me this “Hill X”…looks stellar!

Scott

10 07 2012
AaronM

I can show you any time buddy, makes for a nice trail ride to. Hope you like climbing!

10 07 2012
Brian

Love my hammock. Great for mid-ride siestas.

10 07 2012
Bryan

I’ve had a growing interest in this type of camping/touring. So far all our (me+gf) tours have been full on pannier goodness. Thanks for the write up, really enjoyable!

11 07 2012
AaronM

Bryan, glad you enjoyed the write up. It really was 100% fun. If you have a chance to try this kind of camping/touring, I highly recommend it; you will like the lower weight and stealthy nature of bike bags. Try both hammock & tent to see which you prefer.

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