2020 Gear Review Part 1

I am going to give my opinion on gear usage in the two outdoor settings I mainly participated in during 2020, the van and river trips. I might add some side notes on other uses. Being first an environmentalist then becoming a long distance hiker, I have found that I end up being a minimalist in many ways. The need to look for multi functional equipment before making a purchase is almost second nature now.

Below I will split the gear by the primary function I bought it for, but will also review its alternative function.

Primary Van Use

Yeti Tundra 35 Hard Cooler

I received a Tundra 35 as a gift from my brother, it’s great and I love it! I would probably have went with the 75 or 110 if I had purchased it, but I did not and I am super stoked about having it! The features of the different size coolers are basically the same except for the capacity. The first time I used my Tundra 35, my pasta actually started to freeze. It does a great job keeping things cold. My only complaint is it didn’t come with a bottle opener. I added a beer bottle opener to it, it was easy to do I just tied it onto the handle. The non slip base is great when the van is moving and I slam on my brakes, but when I try to slide it under the bed platform, the non slip really works making it difficult to move. Hence, it now lives out from under the platform making it the perfect dedicated beer storage cooler keeping those frosty beverages within easy reach. The Tundra 35 can hold enough food and beer for a long weekend for just me. It doesn’t quite fit the needs of two people for the weekend. When my partner comes for a few days she brings her cooler which is about the same size. This allows enough room for beer and food! If I worked out how long to freeze my beer so it thawed at different rates and didn’t explode, the cooler would work great for two people for an extended weekend, because this would limit the need for ice. Let me know if you have a formula for this?

For rafting

The integrated tie down points make it a breeze to attach to the raft with NRS straps. The reason I would have went with a bigger one if I purchased it myself is for mufti-day rafting and less need to stop to resupply in the van. I know, surprising the cooler holds the same amount of things for rafting trips as van trips.

Would definitely get again, probably would upgrade to a Tundra 110.

Goal Zero Nomad 13 Solar Panel

I have trouble getting this to charge my Iphone! I think I feel like it’s Apple proprietary bull shit. I have trouble getting multiple things to charge my stupid Iphone. I use it primarily to charge my Goal 0 Venture 30 battery through my van windshield when parked. I tried chaining multiple Goal 0 Nomad 13 Solar Panels to charge my Sherpa 50. I never got it to gain power, but it seemed to stall its draining. I don’t end up using it as much as I thought I would. I takes awhile to charge my batteries living in the rainy Mid Atlantic. If it would work with my phone I would definitely use it more, but as of now I charge my battery then use the battery on the phone. Since I drive the van a good bit I just cut out the solar and use the van battery to charge stuff.

For rafting

On both the Grand Canyon and the Salmon River the charger seemed to get too hot and not charge. It only seemed to charge my battery packs in the mornings before it got sunny and super hot. Does anyone else have this problem?

Going to try it backpacking to see if it works out any better. I don’t have high hopes.

Would not purchase again for my needs.

Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Power Bank

This can power my computer for a short amount of time. It keeps my phone and Ipad charged for about 5-6 days with moderately heavy use. It charges from the charger faster than overnight. I usually plug it in to charge the night before I leave. I have forgotten and plugged it in later when I woke up and was like shit I forgot… and it charged in at least 4 hours. It’s small enough to move around the van with you or carry around in your pack. It’s heavy for hiking weighing around 2.2 lbs.

For rafting

I have had the built in light click on in my bag and drain the battery a few times, but I use and carry this thing around a lot. When it happens it’s a bummer but it doesn’t happen that much and the light is useful. I don’t use it as a primary light, but when I am looking for something and the battery is beside me I really appreciate it being there. It’s been useful way more times then its drained my battery.

Would definitely purchase again.

I purchased rechargeable lights for the van instead of running wires and purchasing a large battery. I did this thinking it would be more environmentally friendly. I am not sure if that is going to work out. It is in the sense that I can use the lights in multiple settings as opposed to having different dedicated lights for each activity.

MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern + Charger

I chose this light because it was supposed to charge other devices from the solar solar and enclosed battery. This function only worked reliably for a few weeks. Now sometimes it charges sometimes it doesn’t. It’s fairly bright when inflated and hung overhead. It can also be set upsidedown/rightly and used as a lantern.
I love that I can charge it from the van USB port with the enclosed cord. This is needed if you don’t have access to the sun, i.e. don’t spend a lot of time above tree line.

For rafting

The light would not charge my phone at all on a three week rafting trip. The plastic got really hot and the strip which you hang it from came loose. I was able to tape it and it has stayed since. I did keep it charged via solar and provided plenty of light in the tent. Was not enough by itself for the group outside of the tent.

Would probably purchase again on sale.

MPOWERD Luci Lux Inflatable Solar Lantern

This light is not as bright and only charges by solar. It’s not as useful as the MPOWERD Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern + Charger. It works fine in conjunction with the other Luci’s to light the van. I primarily use this one before bed since the light is softer.

The plastic did crack in the cold, but it still holds air and functions as it should.

For rafting

Haven’t used yet. I feel it will function fine. The light isn’t quite bright enough for me to justify taking it.

Would probably purchase again on sale.

MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Charger

This light charges with solar and USB which makes it great for the van. Since its a string light, I can have it charging via USB and use it at the same time unlike the lantern types. Their charging cords are not long enough to have a useful placement while being charged. I bought two of these and they give off enough light to make reading in the van a breeze without straining my eyes.

For rafting

One of my friends brought this light on a couple rafting trips and it was amazing. It lit the kitchen area and he kept it charged with the solar portion only. I was so impressed I bought two for the van.

I feel these lights would be extremely useful on a bikepacking trip!

Would probably purchase again. One of the two quit working after only a little usage. Will see if the other one lasts longer. I will not purchase again if only getting a few months usage out of it for environmental reasons.

Avocado Mattress Topper

This was purchased by my partner. I had an old worn out mattress, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, and she found it uncomfortable. After she mentioned it I noticed it was uncomfortable also. She went on a mission to find an ecofriendly mattress topper. So, now we have a Avocado brand topper (and a mirror in the van, not sure how that got there) which is really comfortable it helped a lot! She chose a latex topper so it would be less likely to be rock solid in sub zero weather. Not only did it make for better rest at night in a range of temperatures, the company uses organic materials and ethically sourced labor throughout their supply chain.

For rafting

I would’t be against packing it and taking it on the river, but it would take up so much space. Haven’t motivated to try it yet.

I wouldn’t buy it, but would definitely use it if she purchased one in the future.

Next post gear for the river

Yeti Panga 50, NRS Expedition Driduffel 35L, Goal Zero Venture 30, Hydro Flask Thermos

Flat Tires Day 39 and 40 (Actually 41)

It actually took 41 days, but as I mentioned before lost a day somewhere!

4/23/2015

Rode 108 miles

Rode approx. 8:47

4/24/2015

Rode 101 miles

Rode approx. 8:12

For a total of 3015 miles +\- when the computer flew off bike

For a total of 273:02 hours +\- when the computer flew off bike

I was having a shitty day due to technology issues, this happens a lot. Why do you need to change your passwords so often and then you can’t use one you used before? My favorite is that you need to use a computer for this, not your mobile device. Hmm, I am in the middle of nowhere, a three day hike and then a 30 minute hitchhike to a library that has a 30 minute time limit! Okay that’s from an earlier adventure; enough bitching back to cycling!

The server at Denny’s, the only restaurant close to me, could obviously tell I was having a shitty day. I ordered enough food for 2.5 people as normal; you burn 4,000-5,000 calories a day cycling cross country. When the bill came she just charged me for the desert, yes I had desert for 2.5 people! I left her a 50 dollar tip to cover the cost, just in case. Anyway I was in a better mood after that!

In yet another example of how awesome my parents are, my mom drove down and picked me up along the road west of Gainesville, Florida. She was able to find me using technology. It worked in this instance, but it was a pain in the ass updating my InReach to get the stupid thing to work at the time!

We stopped soon after to get the bike better situated in the car.

We stayed at a Knights Inn in Gainesville; mom didn’t think it was a very nice place. I thought it was amazing; I didn’t have to set my tent up inside the hotel to keep the bugs off and it didn’t come with used toothbrushes and toothpaste!

It was late so we just got some snacks at a gas station nearby for dinner.

She drove me back to where she picked me up and I continued on the last leg of my trip.

I cycled into Saint Augustine where we met Stephen later at the beach where he had finished the Southern Tier, also!! We celebrated with beers after dipping the front tire into the ocean to symbolize the completion of the journey!

Flat Tires Day 38

4/22/2015

Rode 75 miles

Rode approx. 6:38 hrs

I woke to a loud, deep, almost rattling noise followed by a huge splash. I immediately hoped the Ajax that I poured around my tent last night from a Ziploc bag to keep ants at bay, procured from a gentlemen’s stash that I talked to when I arrived, also works on alligators!

After cautiously unzipping my tent to peer out at the lake, steam rising from it giving it an even eerier feel, I see three gators making the smallest of ripples as they patrol on an otherwise still lake.

I eat a breakfast of Kind bars given to me along with the Ajax the night before, as I watch the ancient reptiles during my breakfast.

After breakfast I get back on the road; eventually catching up to Stephen.

Flat Tires Day 37

4/21/2015

Rode 99 miles

Rode approx. 8:39 hrs

Today was another mostly relaxing day for me. I didn’t leave as early as everyone else and treated myself to a Sushi lunch.

I almost got hit by a car, which put a momentary damper on my day!

Those damn white lines are super slick after the rain! As a truck was passing me, I moved to the right to give him room. I slid on the white line initially veering to the left; I swerved back in time to avoid him! I made eye contact with a guy to the right just down the hill as I got the bike under control, his look said everything I needed to know, that was a close one!

I never caught up with Dutch and Stephen today, but found a cool place to camp off route a little bit; I believe I crossed into Georgia to stay at the campground.

On the way here a semi lays on his horn, stops in the middle of the road to inquire if I was going cross country; then he hops out and hands me an energy drink. “Thanks.”

I then sped towards my campsite. I peddled thru tall trees. They were standing in line, like regimented solders in formation, the sun dropping to the horizon behind them. The light barely breaking through, as I made my descent to my home for the night.

Flat Tires Day 36

4/20/2015

Rode 79 miles

Rode approx. 5:47hrs

I enjoyed a beautiful coastal ride, today. I took a slower pace stopping to lie out on the beach and enjoy the breeze. I slipped in and out of sleep lulled by the ocean waves breaking on the beach with the occasional call of the seagull; waking just enough to rotate on the blanket for a nice even burn.

Caught back up with Stephon and Dutch to enjoy pizza and beer at Hop Jacks, a restaurant close to a church where we planned to stay the night. The host of the church had completed the TransAmerican route across the USA; he had some amazing photos from his cycling trip.

Saw an older couple who I had spoken to earlier that day at the church, they were cycling the Southern Tier like us, but then headed down the Florida Coast then possibly elsewhere. I remember a comment that the man made about his panniers when he saw how light I was traveling. “Well my two front panniers are full of her stuff”. I thought this was amusing because of the look she gave him in reaction to the statement. I hope they finished their epic journey, mine was almost over and theirs was still underway!

I lost a page from my journal and I believe this is the day it happened, but I am not sure since I didn’t keep one every day and jotted notes when I had time, so I am just going to continue on like this day never happened. I actually took one more day to finish this trip than what this blog states due to the lost page.

Flat Tires Day 35

4/19/2015

Rode 109 miles

Rode approx. 7:58 hrs

Everyone is really starting to push to get done. Stephon has a plane to catch and Dutch wants to see his family. We had to start early to catch a ferry from Dauphin Island. Must have gotten up too early, we had to wait for the ferry, hopefully that’s the last time I take initiative on this trip, totally could have slept in!

Saw and met the most people at one time cycling the Southern Tier. Everyone was waiting on the ferry. We were the only self supported cyclist on the ferry, everyone else had a sag wagon (a vehicle that follows behind bicyclists to pick up those who drop out or to carry gear) they took turns driving or had paid someone else to shuttle their stuff. We rode to a restaurant, had breakfast with our new friends then parted ways shortly after due to varied riding speeds.

It’s always easy to talk to and meet people when traveling within the traveling activity. You normally have common interest and/or experiences and the other travelers generally don’t know anyone in the area. It’s nice to make such instant friendships and is one of the benefits of travel.

Flat Tires Day 33 and 34

4/17/2015

Rode 88 miles

Rode approx. 7:36 hrs

4/18/2015

Rode 46 mile

Rode approx 3:38 hrs
Should make it out of Louisiana today, it’s weird knocking out states so fast, since a majority of the ride to date has been spent in Texas.

Stopped at a place called the Sugar Shack. I devoured donuts for breakfast; you know you need to have a balanced diet when participating in rigorous activities! The owner was awesome, he gave us advice on a route out of town and breakfast was on the house.

Crossed into Mississippi today.

We decided to depart from the Adventure Cycling Route to get to the coast sooner! In Alabama now!

I was peddling along minding my own business when I hear this hoooooonnnkkkk!!! I jump and the bike wobbles back and forth before I gain control. I look behind me and a truck is just feet from my rear tire honking again. Then he pulls beside me, rolls down his window, and starts running his mouth, his eyes full of venom. I reply, “Sorry I thought you were just being a dick, but obviously your belly was stuck against the horn, my bad” he went off on an unintelligible rant swerving at me again, and then speeding off.

The rest of the day was uneventful.

Flat Tires Day 29

4/13/2015

Rode 76 miles

Rode approx. 5:13 hrs

I am starting to get hungry all the time, all I can think about at this point is food. If you have ever experienced any long distance hiking you know what I am talking about, that hiker hunger! The insatiable feeling when you stop to eat crushed and trampled M&M’s you find in the trail after you have already consumed 5,000 plus calories that day but you are still staving.Mostly van trip with Jackie 168

I set up camp at a lake, mosquitos were swarming me trying to exsanguinate me as I set up my tent between the down pours and thunder storms. Driving the tent stakes into the ground while slapping handfuls of the little blood suckers. After finally setting up my green Timberlight tent I dive into the sanctuary leaving the vestibule open and zipping the interior door of my tent as fast as possible. I lay on my back smashing the buzzing insects against the tents celling and walls leaving behind red smears of my blood. It started raining again, I sit up in the tent abandoning my slaughter of the mosquitoes as I open the tent to zip up the vestibule as water starts to splash into the tent. Once I finish zipping everything up, I continue my massacre.

Another late start the next day, after stopping at the Dollar Store to eat ice cream, bag of chips and jerky, a guy cycled up behind me (Dutch) and started talking to me as we were pedaling. Dutch was cycling the Southern Tier, also. We decided to split a room after I talked him into going 20 miles more, which actually ended up being 30, I missed one of the mile markers on the map. He ended up with 117 ish miles for that day. It worked out great for me, I had someone to pace. Even though I didn’t get started until about noon today I still got over 70 miles and split the cost of a hotel room that included a pool and hot tub.

Stopped at a liquor store to get information on a hotel and to get some soda, the guy working the register gave them to us for free, that was great! Got to the hotel and we were checking in and couldn’t remember Dutch’s real name. When I asked him his real name, which is Clark, the lady looked at us quizzically from behind the desk and asked,” you don’t know each other?” “Nope, we just meet 30 miles ago.” The lady sent snacks to our room which was awesome.

She had a beautiful white husky who was afraid of the bikes. The dog reminded me off one of my dogs.


Drank a White IPA by New Belgium and munched on the snacks in the hot tub. Great end to the day!

Flat Tires Day 27 and 28

4/11/2015

Rode 69 miles

Rode approx. 6:54 hrs

4/12/2015

Rode 72 miles

Rode approx. 6:29 hrs

Started day by hitting the snooze button, beep, hand slaps phone, minutes later, beep, hand slaps phone again, process is repeated until 8:30.

Had a rough start to the morning, cycling slowly, could not get going until the heavy rains hit again. That motivated me to pedal harder, pushing down and pulling madly on the pedals, they spun like a blender on its side, while I tried in vain to out ride the rain!!!

I find it hard to dress for biking, sweating uphill, freezing downhill; of all the sports I find layering for cycling to be the most difficult!

Frantically searching for a hotel room to escape the rain again, I enlisted my support team (thanks again mom) to help me find a place. All the hotels on the ACA Map set I paid for were booked. I called one of the hotel chains 800 numbers, don’t remember which one, and the helpful lady who answered informed that there were multiple hotels available. Great … where?!? The closest was only 50 miles away. Hummm, well mama I am on a bike, a bicycle to be exact, is there anything closer? Luckily for me while I was on the phone my support team found something a lot closer! I hopped on my bike and pedaled to the hotel and what do you know, I caught up to a ACA group. How convenient, they leave the good places off their map set, at least the group offered me some food.

Looks like I am stuck in a storm system for the next week.

Pedaling uphill thru heavy traffic getting honked at and cursed, I decided to take a park road to escape all the wonderful human beings rushing around trying to run over me. I took Park Road 1A to 1C which had hardly any traffic, a wonderful juxtaposition to what I just endured.

I rode thru an old burn, skeletons of trees surrounded me, some still standing tall others scattered across the ground like dead soldiers after a battle.

I met a guy that sounded like Boomhauer off King Of The Hill. While I was eating, he stopped to talk to me. I think he was telling me to be careful because a school bus ran him off the rode into a tree twice.

Took the morning to mess around and watched TV until 9 ish. After spending so much time away from TV, I find that there is nothing new. I just zoned out not wanting to leave the room.

I only rode 72 miles today, got caught in heavy downpour and heard thunder so stopped at 5:30 at a campground. Got set up and the thunder died along with the rain. I don’t really miss the desert, but the lack of constant rain was nice. It was nice not having to jam news papers down my biking shoes to dry them out.

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Flat Tires Day 26

4/10/2015

Rode 87 miles

Rode approx. 7:56 hrs

Day 26

I pushed my bike with my newly installed clips and pedaled away from the hotel in the pouring rain, water splashing from the newly formed puddles, alternating swishing and squeaking noises omitted from my bike. I had been lucky and had avoided the severe thunder storms and rain up to this point, which were all around me. For days I had read the forecast for storms and I could hear the thunder threatening to let loose the rain. It was hard to see with all the rain as I tried to make my way out of the city. The rain was cold, a drastic change from the oppressive heat I had been contending with.

I found the bike trails in Austin, TX hard to follow because they weren’t labeled and I did not have a detailed map of the area. I got lost due to a combination of the aforementioned issues and I missed a sign in the driving rain. I know, I know, just use Google Maps! My phone quit working due to the moisture, every time I touched the screen more water ran down it keeping me from entering my code to unlock the phone, each drop of water rolling down my screen washing away my ability to open my phone and find out where to go. The Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) Map I was carrying was useless once off route, so I just kept heading east, I hoped, until I could find someone to ask for directions. I was really close to hypothermia from the multiple methods of heat loss; convection, radiation, and evaporation the weather was causing. About the time my hands started going numb, I stopped to change clothing and warm up at a gas station. I took full advantage of the hand dryer in the restroom, warming up and drying my phone. I got back on track a lot warmer and made a beeline to a hotel and took a hot shower to end the day.