First solo ride - Denver to Alaska - July 2012

Discussion in 'Americas' started by This Is Tom, Jun 26, 2012.

  1. This Is Tom

    This Is Tom Adventurer

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    EDIT: PLEASE SEE POST 21 FOR CURRENT CHECK LIST - OPINIONS WELCOME!



    Hey all, been lurking for quite some time but finally made it to creating an account. I first want to say thanks for all the great reading!


    About me: Young fella (21 to be exact) that works IT here in Denver Colorado. I've been working like hell and finally have the opportunity to take 3 weeks paid vacation off of work. So... I'm heading to Alaska! I ride a newly purchased bike and have never done such a long ride. Usually weekenders and such..

    About the Bike:
    2012 Kawasaki Versys. I'm in the process of installing a larger windshield, hand-guards, wolfman enduro tank bag. About to order some GIVI side bags, They are soft luggage about about 35ml I believe. Other than that, the bike is all stock and just finished its break-in period.

    The Trip:
    Well.. Not sure where to even start. I have a tent and sleeping bag and some essential gear, so camping and solitude sound great to me. I'm about to purchase a GPS (Garmin, I think..) and begin planing the route, but I'm willing to 'wing' it when needed. If you have any recommended stops, PLEASE let me know. Staying at hostels is perfectly fine with me.

    Some Random Questions for you Experts:
    1. Cell phone - Purchase one for Canada emergencies? Worth it with crappy signal? thoughts?
    2. I plan to do a lot of photography.. Any tips on lenses (for you photographers) on a Nikon D3100?
    3. Bears. I've been reading a book on bears in the wilderness. Those are my only fear of the trip i suppose. I have bear pepper spray. Thoughts?
    4. Pack food or eat out?
    5. Recommended tires? Also recommended spot to get them changed in AK? How about bringing a spare with me?
    6. Soft luggage a bad idea? Recommendations?

    I'm sorry for the big list of questions! Any and all help appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Tom
    #1
  2. TheMuffinMan

    TheMuffinMan Forest Ranger Magnet

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    I would bring a mini bicycle pump and a tubeless tire patch kit. I didn't have any flats in 35,000 miles on my bike, and then I got two flats in two days so you never know. For tubless this kit is decent though packs a bit big. I would get the tire replaced in the next major city, but the patch will keep you from getting stuck out on the road in the middle of no where.

    If you're mostly sticking to dirt roads and pavement I'd say some Anakee or Tourances would do just fine; Shinko 705's might be an option as well. If you'll be avoiding dirt roads you could get some Pilot Road 2 or 3's.

    Soft luggage is fine, typically it just holds less than hard luggage, typically isn't waterproof, and you can't lock it like you can on hard cases. The advantages of soft bags are they're typically narrower, lighter, cheaper, they hold up to vibration better, and they won't break your leg if you're off-roading and your foot gets stuck behind a rock; that really only applies to gnarly trails though and not the kinds of roads you'll be on. Either type of luggage will be fine for your trip.

    Put all food in a bag and learn how to hang it from a tree properly before you go to bed. Buy unscented deodorant, and keep toothpase and scented items (even chapstick, soap, etc) in the food bag you hang from a tree at night. Bear spray is good, and stops most bears. Also make loud noises, clap your hands and such and the bears will typically run way. Don't get between a mother and her cubs. I would get two bottles of bear spray, take one out into the fields far, far away from anything else, and fire the whole can so you get a feeling at what it feels like, how far it goes, and how long it lasts. Fire it downwind so you don't get it in your eyes.

    I personally carry some dried food (beef jerkey, granola bars) and some apples for snacks during the day. Then I stop in a town before dinner and get something at a local grocery store a couple hours before I camp. Typically refrigerated foods keep in the 2-3 hours until dinner and that way I don't have to worry about ice or a cooler. I carry a couple dehydrated meals for when I don't feel like stopping or cant find a town. I have oatmeal and granola in the mornings.
    #2
  3. LngRidr

    LngRidr Been here awhile

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    Skid plate. Just in case.


    Jon Kohler
    sent from my iPhone
    #3
  4. GISdood

    GISdood Been here awhile

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    With regards to cellular coverage, you can always just stop in the first BC city on your way north and sign up for a prepaid or pay-as-you-go deal without a phone. Just get the sim card and you may be able to you use your existing phone. Just check with your local service provider or send an email to some of the larger providers in BC to see if they can help you with a coverage plan.

    The three big providers serving areas outside of metro Vancouver are Telus, Bell, and Rogers.
    #4
  5. This Is Tom

    This Is Tom Adventurer

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    I'll have to order that or find another simular for that tire kit. Seems like random luck on flats eh!

    Do you recommend getting the tires changed while out on the road?

    Otherwise, thanks for all the solid advise! I am taking all of it as very valuable info. Much appreciated.


    Any recommended brands?


    Awesome thanks! My phone does not use sim cards unfortunately so a little to go phone might just work. Thanks!!
    #5
  6. max384

    max384 Bandaided

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    I hope your luggage is larger than 35ml each side! I have more room than that in my pockets! :D

    1. Do you already have a cell phone you use in the US? If so, you could check with your carrier to make sure there is no roaming charges and just use it for emergencies. I just got back from a two week trip into Canada and I ordered a 50 text plan for $10 and a 120mb data plan for $30. This enabled me to text the wife nightly to let her know I was okay and I could surf the internet as much as I wanted, send and receive email, and do other odds and ends without worrying about racking up a bill. Calling was $0.79 per minute without a plan, so I didn't bother with one since I would only be calling if it were an emergency. I have AT&T. I'm sure the other major carriers are similar.

    2. Dunno. I have point and shoot camera that I keep on automatic settings. :lol3

    3. Make sure you have the big can of bear spray. That is no problem to bring into Canada. However, any of the small-sized canisters or anything that is marked for human use is illegal to possess in Canada. In Grizzly country, I'd definitely bring bear spray with you.

    4. If you have a big budget, eating out is nice because it's easy, a good way to meet locals if you stop into the small eateries, and you don't have to worry about cooking while camping (bear issues). However, if your budget is tight, that's a great way to save cash. Also, I do find a bit of satisfaction in packing and cooking my own food. I try to keep a day or two worth of food with me at any given time and then stop by a grocery store as I need to. As was already said, practice bear safe camping with your food and any other 'smelly' items.

    5. When I did my latest trip I was on sport touring tires. I ended up spending way more time on dirt roads and old logging trails than I had anticipated. A set of light dual sport tires would have been great for my trip. Traveling to Alaska, I'd imagine that might hold true for you as well.

    6. Whatever you get, make sure it's waterproof or you have some way of making it so. When it's wet and you're on the road, you don't want to be worrying about your stuff getting wet. Even if you use waterproof bags inside the soft luggage, make sure you can keep your stuff dry. Hard luggage is nice for security purposes for sure.

    A new item I recently bought and really love is a luggage security net made by Pacsafe. You bundle up whatever gear you want and put the net over it and lock it to the bike. It won't stop a determined thief, but it will prevent most crimes of opportunity. This was great when I parked my bike to take a hike or something. I could lock up my riding gear and not be worried about my stuff while away from the bike. If you get one of these, buy larger than you think you need. I got the largest one available and was very glad I did.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000NGFVUU/ref=oh_details_o02_s00_i00

    [​IMG]

    Good luck on your trip. Make sure to write up a ride report. Alaska is my dream bike destination. I'm a bit jealous.
    #6
  7. lddave

    lddave been there

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    Buy a current copy of the Milepost .
    Take a small 12 volt compressor and strip of its housing . Take tire tools , patches , gummy worms , and spare tubes if it is tubeless . Waterproof boots and riding gear . Never worried about bears just kept the food away from the tent . Have fun .


    Dave
    #7
  8. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil

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    Heck, I was that young once. Lessee... was it Lincoln or Jefferson was President then. :hmmmmm


    Same thing, you're just putting a bunch of those weekends together, back-to-back.


    The soft bags will do, but before you've finished your trip you'll probably be wishing you had ordered the hard bags.

    A GPS is a nice accessory, but hardly necessary if you could use the $$ for something else. For years we got by with paper maps, and as long as you know the next major city you're headed for, road signs will keep you from getting lost. The farther north you go, the less need there is for a GPS or a map. Just not that many roads to get lost on.

    Although you will see quite a bit of traffic on any highway you're likely to be traveling, you'll also be enjoying a fair measure of solitude. Something I really enjoy is to ride all night once I'm on the Alcan and headed north. Very few travelers do, so I have the road pretty much to myself - with the exception of wildlife that also enjoys the absence of vehicular traffic. By doing that, you can do some camping in the middle of the day when it's warm and you don't need to dance a jig to get circulation going when you crawl out of your sleeping bag in the morning.

    Now that cell phones are so common, we seem to think we can't get along without one. But, believe it or not, we used to travel the northern highways when they were in far worse condition with no communications other than word being passed on down the road to the next available telephone if there was an emergency. When you don't have all the safety net devices, you tend to be more cautious and take fewer risks. Survival rate was just as good back then as it is now. But if you really need to stay in contact, do as someone else already suggested and look into adding Canada coverage to an existing plan. When I had AT&T if cost an extra $20/month. The plan I now have here in Alaska works anywhere in North America for the same low rate.

    Light, rugged, and quick to get in action. Sure, there will be opportunities to open up a tripod, take a series of panorama shots, or bracket your exposures. But there will also be times when you drag your camera out in the rain, and want to get a shot, then put it back under cover as quickly as possible. Or... when that grizzly is looking over his shoulder at you for the perfect shot, but you don't know whether he will bolt into the trees and you will only get the south end of a northbound bear, or if he might decide he wants to see what you're carrying in your side bags - with or without your permission.

    The least of your worries. Spend your apprehension on the drivers with whom you will be sharing the roads - they are your greatest danger. You will probably be lucky to see a bruin in the wild unless you like to ride in the wee hours when there is little or no traffic.

    Having kept your nose to the grindstone (good discipline, by the way :thumb) 3 weeks probably sounds like forever. But you will find it winding to a close just about the time you're just getting into the groove. There is never enough time, so think about how you will be spending what you have. Fixing meals in camp, after keeping your food a safe distance away and not cooking in your tent, then cleaning up all your cooking gear and getting it put away properly - takes quite a bit of time unless you've spent an inordinate amount of time, and have the proper gear for, backpacking in the wild. Planning your camp stops so that you won't starve between breaking camp and arriving in a town that has a restaurant will get you moving at least an hour earlier each day, and that can add up to almost an extra day of travel time.

    You could do the entire trip on street tires if you have some gravel road experience, and you will have by the time you cross the border into Alaska. Get some tires that will provide good life as well as decent traction on wet asphalt, 'cause it will be a miracle if you don't ride in the rain for a few hundred miles on this trip. If you feel that you are going to be riding somewhere that a 50/50 tire is essential, you might consider getting them mounted in Fairbanks at Adventure Cycleworks. It has become the place to get your bike checked over, tires changed, etc. if you're anywhere near Fairbanks. In the Anchorage area, The Motorcycle Shop (with an inmate who posts frequently in the Alaska regional forum) fills the bill. If you can remove and install your own wheels (and you really should be able to when taking a trip of this magnitude) Alaska Leather carries a broad selection of tires and will mount them on your rims if you bring them in.

    Three of my bikes have had Givi mounts installed for side bags and top box. That way I can swap them around between bikes, or from the side to the top, etc., or take them off completely. Makes it easy to pack one with stuff I will need in a motel room, so I just unlock that one and carry it in. I've dropped the KLR and the Concours on those bags and they just get scratched a little. Mighty tough!

    If you think your list is big, you haven't really looked over some of the queries we get. :lol3 Yours is just mid-sized.
    #8
  9. This Is Tom

    This Is Tom Adventurer

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    1. Yep i'm running with a verizon phone right now. Sounds like I will be looking into a small package for international!

    That pacsafe looks awesome! I'm going to order that one from Amazon now.

    Thanks for all the other advise. Very helpful stuff!



    Buying the Milepost now! This might be a noob question, but why tubes for a tubeless tire?
    Check for the Gummy worms!
    Much thanks!
    #9
  10. This Is Tom

    This Is Tom Adventurer

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    Wow.. just wow. This is all amazing info! Thanks a bunch!

    Well said on the back-to-back weekends. I think the best part is going to be waking up, packing the bike and heading off to the next spot. Super excited for that odd fact.

    Sounds like I'm going to be looking for some hard bags then! :rofl

    That is a refreshing way to look at the GPS idea... I was browsing some of the options and gosh does it get expensive.. I think it would be a great experience to only use paper maps! Do you think just dot the map for spots to camp and such?

    As for the bags, what size are yours? Seems like all the ones I look at are small compared to pictures I see around this site :eek1

    Thanks again though! Your info is super helpful and I am going to be using all of it. :freaky
    #10
  11. max384

    max384 Bandaided

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    The pacsafe is awesome. It now occupies a permanent space in my topbox along with my first aid kit, tire repair kit, and wet weather gear.

    Hahaha... The packing the bike up day after day gets old REAL quick!

    I prefer using paper maps for planning and such, and really rely on them more than a GPS. However, a GPS is nice if you're in a busy area with lots of rapid turns. It can be very easy to take the wrong one and get pretty lost. A GPS is great for this. I also keep a GPS going, even if I know exactly how to get somewhere, because I like to keep track of miles left to go and I always try to 'beat' the time they give me to arrive to a destination.

    I use my iPhone with Navigon app as my GPS. I have a waterproof case for it so inclement weather is no problem.The Navigon app isn't perfect, but it's good enough for what I need.
    #11
  12. This Is Tom

    This Is Tom Adventurer

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    Okay here is my checklist. Let me know what you think! Add/remove/note? Sorry for the formatting... pasting from a spreadsheet :lol3



    Item Owned? Idea if needed to buy/status

    1. Tent Yes - Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2
    2. Sleeping Bag Yes - North Face Cats Paw
    3. Sleeping Pad Yes - REI Light Core 1.5
    4. Survival Kit Yes - SOS Small Waterproof survival kit
    5. Flash Light Yes - Small LED (Uses 1-AA Battery)
    6. Pocket Knife Yes - Swiss Army Knife
    7. Stuff Sack Yes - x1 -REI 15 liter
    8. Large Knife Buy One.. you gangster, you..
    9. Folding Shovel Buy One..
    10. Tank Bag Yes - Wolfman Enduro
    11. Side Bags Preferably hard bag - check with shop when picking up bike after tune up.
    12. Trunk rig(Bag) Find rack - Talk with shop
    13. Larger Windshield Order from shop- Find right model when in shop
    14. Hand Guards Order from shop- Find right model when in shop
    15. Bike Power Output Jacks Order from shop- Find right model when in shop
    16. Riding Pants Yes - Olympia - All Seasons
    17. Riding Pants Waterproof layer Yes - Olympia - All Seasons
    18. Riding Boots Yes - ICON
    19. Riding Gloves - Hot Yes - Joe Rocket
    20. Riding Gloves - Cold Yes - Alpinestars
    21. Riding Underwear Order online
    22. Riding Jacket Yes - Joe Rocket - All Season
    23. Riding Socks Yes - 1 pair of knee socks Order More online
    24. Helmet Yes Upgrade to Dual Sport model?
    25. Sun Glasses Yes - $2 Target ones. Pick up another set just in case
    26. Sheep Skin Bike Seat Ordered Online Should arrive early next week
    27. Flat Tire Kit Find/order one with pump
    28. Water Pack Yes - Osprey backpack
    29. GPS or Paper Maps? Alaska Map - check - buy Canada Map - Western US Map
    30. Bear Pepper Spray Yes - 8.1 ounce - Counter Assault Bear Deterrent
    31. Odor Proof Food Bags Yes - x3 - LOKSAK OPSAK (9" x 10")
    32. Ipod nano? Decide if you want music.. Start downloading ya bum
    33. Headphones Get some
    34. Ear plugs Yes - Packs from Shawn and pink set from shooting
    35. AA Batteries
    36. Passport Ordered Should arrive early next week. Check receipt for tracking online
    37. License Plate Pick up from County Clerks office
    38. Underwear - x4 Yes - In Closet
    39. T-Shirts - x4 Yes - In Closet
    40. Jeans - x3 Yes - In Closet
    41. Socks - x5 Yes - In Closet
    42. Hoodie Yes - North Face
    43. Camera Yes - Nikon D3100
    44. Camera Lenses Yes - 55mm Get recommendations from the pros - Purchase 300mm or 500mm for mad zooming yo?
    45. Camera Lense Cleaner Get small microfiber rags
    46. Camera Tripod Yes - The usual one..
    47. SD Card Yes - one 8GB for Camera and one 16GB for GoPro Buy more online - ver 6 - as high capacity as possible
    48. Emergency Contacts Sheet Make it
    49. Reading Book Buy one
    50. Insurance Card Yes - Under Bike Seat
    51. License Yes - Wallet
    52. Bike Lock Yes - Under Bike Seat
    53. Trunk Net Lock Order Online - Amazon
    54. American Cash Pick some up - $800?
    55. Canadian Cash Pick up at Border?
    56. Credit Cards Yes - Wallet
    #12
  13. alpiner84

    alpiner84 Been here awhile

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    The only thing on that list that makes me go :huh is the three pairs of jeans. That's a lot of denim. I think you could make it three weeks with just one pair.

    Excited to hear how your trip goes: I'm thinking about doing the same jaunt next summer (but I think I'll take a couple months rather than a few weeks). Curious how many riding hours it takes to get wherever you're going. Thinking about going into the interior, or just getting to the coast? Have fun!
    #13
  14. This Is Tom

    This Is Tom Adventurer

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    That makes sense! One pair should do it LOL.

    Thanks though, I'm very excited too. I'm sure its going to be three awesome weeks. Are you retired or between jobs to take that much time off. Curse being a young kid!! :lol3 To be honest, I'm not really sure how far I will make it into it. I at least want to see Fairbanks, but I'm not sure of anything else to actually go see. Deadhorse would be sweet but who knows.. Hopefully in the next few days I'll have the route planned.
    #14
  15. alpiner84

    alpiner84 Been here awhile

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    I'm 27 ;-) I just organize my priorities a little differently than most people...
    #15
  16. max384

    max384 Bandaided

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    What are you using the folding shovel for? If it's just to dig a cat hole to shit in, don't get one of those huge (relatively speaking) military-style entrenching tools. The one I have is basically a garden shovel that folds up to a size that fits in my palm. There's no need for anything bigger if you're just digging shitholes. I'm not sure what other reason you'd need a shovel for on a bike trip.

    I second the suggestion to cut down on your jeans. I'd also carry only two, maybe three extra t-shirts. Also, get something light and synthetic. They pack lighter and can be easily washed and dried by hand in a creek using biodegradable soap. When you're on the road, different people see you each day. No one can tell you've been cycling the same clothes for the last few weeks.

    I guess you decided not to cook? If that isn't the case, you'll need a small backpacking-style cook set, unless you fancy eating cold food out of a can for all your meals!

    Make sure to call your credit card companies and let them know the trip that you are going to be doing so that they don't cancel your cards due to suspicious spending. On my last trip I called them and let them know the dates and location of where I was going... and the bastards still canceled my card on me! Once you cross the border you can withdraw Canadian cash with your ATM card or you can exchange it. If you bring over US cash to exchange, go to a bank... Don't go to one of the just across the border money exchanges that will rape you on rates and fees.

    Other little things that are extremely useful to have with you that I didn't see listed (in fact I keep all of this stuff in my tank bag at all times):
    -ziplock bags (lots of them)
    -small trash bags
    -zip ties
    -550 cord (paracord)
    -lighters
    -duct tape
    -electric tape
    -toilet paper

    I'm seriously jealous of your trip!
    #16
  17. ALinUTAH

    ALinUTAH Been here awhile

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    I've been a backpacker since the 70's and I camp off the bike like a backpacker. I'm impressed by how short your list is. Many people, especially camping noobs but even experienced campers take WAY more stuff than you really need to just sleep warm and dry and then be on your way the next morning.

    You should try to stay away from all the jeans and cotton clothing. You will almost certainly be riding and camping in wet conditions. Once those jeans are wet they will stay wet for the duration of the trip. Even if you take a pair of jeans to wear around town off the bike, get some synthetic pants. So that's riding pants, some synthetic pants, and maybe a pair of jeans if you must. Outdoor supply outfits like REI have synthetic pants that don't look like ski pants, basically a pair of dockers made of nylon. Riding pants plus a pair to change into is really enough.

    The same goes for your socks and skivvies and shirts. No cotton. Underarmour or Exofficio underwear will keep you from getting a chapped ass sitting on that vinyl seat for 3 weeks. I like smartwool socks. A little spendy but worth it. If you take some cotton tshirts, have at least one that is synthetic so you have something to wear when everything else is wet. I carry three sets. That way I have a pair to sweat in all day, a dry one to change into at the end of the day, plus a third one to sleep in or a backup if the others get wet. I also like a fleece vest. It packs relatively small, fits easily under any jacket and is comfortable to sleep in without binding you up. And some kind of beanie cap to sleep in if it's cold.

    Plan on a laundry day or two at some point in the trip.

    On road trips I like to mix eating in camp with eating at cafes and funky joints that come along. I carry a couple three Mountain House dinners, plus some granola/protein bars, dried fruit, nuts, jerky, coffee. The only "cooking" I have to do is boil water. No cleanup required. I just use my 4cup coffee pot. I'm into the homemade beercan alcohol stoves (zenstoves.com). They are cheap/free and tiny and pint of alcohol lasts a long time if you are just boiling a couple cups of water here and there. The butane backpacking stoves are popular. Or you can always boil a pint of water on a twig fire. Another way to eat dinner in camp without messing with cooking is to get takeout from somewhere along the way that day.

    When backpacking, you can get by fine for a week with about 60L of backpack capacity. And that's carrying a week's worth of grub. I ride with a pair of 19L wolfman soft saddlebags, a camelback daypack on my back, with my tent strapped on the tail of the bike. Add a tank bag and you should be set.

    In 35 years of backpacking I have never carried a shovel. A flat rock or the heel of your boot will dig a fine shit hole. -al
    #17
  18. ALinUTAH

    ALinUTAH Been here awhile

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    I thought of another tip. Get a compression sack for your sleeping bag. It makes it easier to fit into smallish saddlebags. -al
    #18
  19. This Is Tom

    This Is Tom Adventurer

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    -Yep the shovel was for digging shit holes, but I may end up just using whatever I can find to do that on the road now..
    -Sold! Jeans reduced!
    -I think i'm going to being some cold/dry food and than check out local places I pass by.
    -I'll be sure to call them and do that! Any thoughts on how much cash I should take?

    Thanks for the additions to the list. I added each of them!
    If I wasn't looking to 'get away' i would totally invite you :freaky
    #19
  20. This Is Tom

    This Is Tom Adventurer

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    Thanks! I think a lot of that comes from the fact that I want to get away from regular life in the city and tough it up for awhile. No need for a laptop and I'm only looking to carry the necessities :evil

    Well said! As you and others suggest, I'll will be doing just that. Sounds like I'll be making a quick trip to REI here soon!


    Wow I might do just this! Hitting up local spots I pass by sound fun! I suppose I will look into a little stove of some sort or go with the camp fire style.


    Okay this soothes my one headaches. I was looking at some GIVI bags and they are a pair of 30L (estimate) side bags. I'll also have a water pack on my back, a large wolfman tank bag. I'm also going to use the back seat (unless i can find some sort of rack) to tie down the tent/sleeping bag. Good stuff!


    Check! Luckily enough, my north face sleeping bag can do that :D
    #20