Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Odyssey Catchup: Test Rides, GPS Tracking, and more

In the last 2 weeks, in the mad dash to make sure that I'm ready, at least from a packing list point of view, for this expedition, I've done a few longer rides and an overnight camping trip.

The first weekend of test rides was to set out with the bike fully loaded for the trip, but to do a 50 to 60 mile loop from the apartment. Starting out is a little strange, as the handlebars and bike handling drastically change with the addition of a bunch of weight, not least of which is about 10 pounds of liquids. I was doing well for the first half of what turned out to be a 66 mile test ride, but as the day got longer, I started making mistakes about taking breaks and consuming enough water. Despite all the jokes about the wet, cool summer we've been having, I can attest that there have been some days that were clear and hot enough to bring on heat exhaustion in the unprepared and stupid. I compounded this with a 30 mile ride the next day in similar heat and again didn't drink appropriately. However, otherwise, the legs felt good for 100 miles in 2 days.

2 weeks later, it was time for an overnight camping trip to do a real test of the proper gear being on the bike and a stab at starting to sort gear into appropriate locations and levels within the Panniers. 51 miles each way on back to back days, with breaks every 12-15 miles and consuming just over a quart of water in that distance resulted in feeling great. While not a good example of the hill climbing that will be required on the real trip, I'm sufficiently satisfied that even with the bike loaded, the bike has low enough gears to climb most reasonable grades.

Speak of hills, looking at Google Maps using the Terrain layer instead of satellite is really cool, and somewhat frightening to look at central Pennsylvania. Check out this map segment, by Pittsburgh standards, that section on the left above Northern Cambria is pretty hilly(by RI standards, it'd be mountainous...8)

On the Gear Front, the bad news is the Dynotec Solar charger is a no go. I've returned the unit to the manufacturer. After corresponding with them, they suggested using a USB port to charge the device, which seemed to work a little better than using the wall charger, but what it really turned out is that there is something wrong with the connections, as sitting on a counter undisturbed, the units charging light will go out, even though the unit was only plugged in for a few seconds and was completely drained. The other problem was that the solar panel was just too small to give the battery a significant charge in a reasonable amount of time. In my experience, a week sitting on a roof or a sunny window sill didn't give the unit more than a minimal charge.

I've replaced that with a larger secondary battery pack from FastMac that should nearly quadruple my running time between mandatory recharging. I'll just make it a point to stop by libraries, cafes, etc where I can recharge the backup battery while I'm waiting. The bonus is that the FastMac iV also includes a superbright LED, which gives me a third flashlight for the trip. The second is a Petzl headband mounted LED lamp on loan from a friend.

One of the reasons I'm so concerned about power is that I'd like to provide semi-accurate, semi-live GPS track recording, or a live tracker via a web portal. I believe what I'll be using is the InstaMapper website with their GPSTracker app. While I'd like a super accurate GPS track of my exact travels, the battery drain is pretty big. While not a lot less, I think it may be more useful to be able to have my position plotted to within a mile for emergencies, and with the position posted every 15 to 30 minutes, except in an area with a lot of turns, it should be accurate enough.

GPS tracking powered by InstaMapper.com

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