Notes on Gear and the Rough-Roadster


Since I was carrying about 20 pounds of water during this transdesert trek, I trimmed all other gear to the bone.

Eat: I got along very well without a stove and cooking. I ate corn chips, crackers, cheerios, hummus, energy bars, and jerked beef, with some cashews in case I needed filling up. All packaging was paper or plastic so I wouldn't be stuck packing out cans.

Drink: I carried a steel pot, a spoon, and a plastic cup with a cone and filters for coffee. Water at Piute, Rock, Government Holes, and Marl Springs looked like it'd be fine if filtered and treated, but I had more than enough water cached, so left the native water alone.

With a gallon in each pannier and three 24-ounce water bottles, I had enough water to keep me happy for 2 days and a night between caches.

Sleep: A wool blanket and a 10X10 nylon tarp made my bedroll, and I slept like a rock every night. The secret to getting by with a single blanket is simple: pile on every stitch you have before turning in - wool cap, sweater, down vest, whatever. This is the lightest way to travel, using stuff you'll carry anyway. Moreover, when you get up in the morning chill, you can wear the blanket until the day warms up.

My current camp blanket is a Pendleton "Monterey", which is about as thick as a good wool shirt. It sufficed when temps hit the low 30s at Government Holes. Their "camp" blankets are a little too bulky for streamlined travelling. They have a washable wool blanket that's mid-way in weight between the Montery and camp blankets. These all run around $100.

I slept in nice soft sandy washes every night, which is a big-time desert no-no. If there are heavy rains upstream, a person could be killed by a sudden flow of mud and rocks, and some have been. But if I know the weather and terrain, I use my judgment and take my chances. I absolutely would not sleep in a wash if there was any chance of a flash-flood - they're a leading cause of death outdoors. You have to see one to believe it - but fast-moving water has the power of a freight train.

Death Valley, 2003 - Two people were killed when their car was caught in a flash flood. These vehicles at Furnace Creek were caught in a flood that night and destroyed. National Park Service photo.

Shoot: I carry delicate instruments in a padded LowePro Pro Mag AW photographer's shoulder bag. The "AW" has a tuckaway waterproof cover that actually works. While riding, the bag's weight rests on the hip bone, like a messenger bag. B&H Photo in New York usually has the best selection and prices on fotog's gear. See The Pro Mag AW goes for $139, but they have others as low as $30.

Ride: I always carry a comprehensive tool kit. It includes a multi-tool and a speedy-stitching awl. I carried front and rear lights, a headlamp, and a AAA pocket LED flashlight.

I also carried a GPS, which I didn't need, and a tiny multi-band Sony receiver that gets AM/FM/TV and NOAA, which I highly recommend on the road. The TV band is important - it has the best weather forecasting in the business. I got mine for $20 at a Walgreen's years ago.

Last, I carry a little Silva orienteering compass, just in case. I have been turned around in the past, and a compass is the only cure.

My preferred source for camping gear is

the rough-roadster

Back Road Betsy is a Surly Long Haul Trucker, which lists for $984 at this writing, and it's well worth it if you like riding away from motor traffic. It's specifically designed for rough-road touring, with correct rack and fender mounts, and clearance for fat knobby tires when they're needed. After 220 miles so far, I love it!

My frame size, 54 cm, uses 26" MTB wheels. Larger frames use 700C. More details are at The bike can be ordered by any dealer who has an account with Quality Bicycle Parts, and almost all do. Mine arrived in 2 days, on a rush order. Support your LBS! They may save my butt some day. I got mine through Kingman Bicycle Outfitters, with a set-up that's still holding tight and trouble free.

For this trip across the desert, I took off the stock WTB 1.5" street tires and fitted a pair of Ritchey 2.1" Z-Max folding knobbies, with Slimed tubes. Good clearance - flotation - traction - and no flats.

Racks are Nitto cro-moly steel, from Rivendell. I like aluminum racks for light duty, but I wouldn't bet on one in the backcountry. Check 'em out at

The panniers I'm using are ancient Kirtland Tour-Paks with blown zippers. I usually line one with the green day-pack, and the other with a shoulder-bag/butt pack I use for trail running. When it rains, I cover the load with my waterproof tarp, if I have to ride.

I believe fork blades should be allowed to flex over bumps, and not be loaded with dead weight, so I'm dubious about low-rider front racks. The Nitto front rack I've been using carries 10 pounds of food and tools easily. In really hot weather it carries a little plastic cooler full of cold beverages - a real luxury!

Note the military-surplus duffle bag on the rear rack. For air or train travel, delicate stuff goes in the hard-shell cooler, and everything including the cooler goes in the lockable duffle, which gets checked along with the bike. . I travel with just the shoulder bag, and hope to see my gear again when I arrive.

My ride for the last 3 years, Bad Road Betsy, was a vintage '84 Schwinn "High Sierra", which I believe was their first attempt to mass-market a Marin County-style "clunker". Modified for touring, it served me well over many rough miles, but the Surly is light-years better. It remains to be seen if the Surly can take a beating like the Schwinn, but so far, so good.

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