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Heavy touring - John C. Kirk

Sep. 1st, 2013

01:05 am - Heavy touring

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Last weekend I was away LARPing. I'll talk more about that in another post, but this is just about the logistics of actually getting my gear to the campsite without a car. The same principles could apply to other camping holidays, or to cycle touring.

When some other people saw me arriving/leaving on my bike, with a heavy load, they were quite impressed. However, I have to admit that I don't cycle the whole way from home carrying all my stuff: I go most of the way by train, similar to my daily commute. There are typically 5 stages to the journey:

  1. Cycle from my flat to the local station (East Croydon).

  2. Take a train to Victoria.

  3. Cycle across central London to Marylebone or Euston.

  4. Take a train to a station near the campsite.

  5. Cycle the rest of the way.

The distances vary depending on the campsite, but none of the routes have been particularly strenuous.

At my first event (in May), I crammed everything into my panniers. However, I got some extra kit after that (e.g. my tricorn hat) so in July I had a couple of carrier bags dangling off my handlebars. I don't really like doing that, and I got even more kit for the August event. Some people might say that this is the right time to go by car instead, but I say no: clearly this is the time to use a trailer as well!

Fully loaded bike and trailer

Starting out with general advice, if I'm going by train then I need to find a local station. This may not necessarily be the closest station to the campsite, because there are other factors to consider. For instance, I'd prefer to be on a direct line from London, rather than changing trains along the way.

When I go to Paccar, I use Denham Golf Club station. This is about 3 km away, and there's a bit of a hill in between, but nothing too serious; if I make an effort then I can do it in 10 minutes. There's step free access from both platforms to the road, with no ticket barriers in between, so it's easy to roll a bike up and down that slope. Just be aware that the station isn't signposted particularly well, so you need to watch out for it on the return trip, otherwise you may shoot past it. There's no ticket office at the station; supposedly there's a ticket machine, but I couldn't find it. So, it's best to get an off-peak return (valid for a month) on your way there. Another nearby station is Gerrards Cross, which has a Tesco superstore opposite. However, be aware that this is at the top of a hill with a 12% gradient, i.e. it would be marked with a chevron on an Ordnance Survey map. I went there on a supply run (empty panniers on the way uphill), but you may not fancy it at the end of an event, when you're tired and you're hauling all your gear with you.

The nearest station to Bispham Hall is Orrell (1.6 km away). However, there's only 1 train from Orrell to London (Euston) on a Sunday, which leaves at 07:27, so if I used that station then I'd need to be up very early and miss the final day of the event. Also, going from Orrell would involve changing trains at Wigan Wallgate and Wigan North Western. However, if I go straight from Wigan North Western (8 km) then there are direct trains into the evening (e.g. at 18:09, 19:14, and 20:15). This is also cheaper: about £80 for a return instead of £300! As it turned out, I was able to hitch a lift there and back from people who were driving, so I didn't use my bike at that event.

There are 3 stations near Sherratts Wood: Blythe Bridge (10 km), Stone (9 km), and Uttoxeter (14 km). I went to Stone, because there are direct trains from Euston, whereas I'd have to change at Stoke-on-Trent for Blythe Bridge or Uttoxeter. However, I then discovered that I had to carry my bike over a footbridge to get out of the station. The return journey to London was much easier, because I could wheel my bike straight onto that platform from the road, but it's not an ideal situation. Looking at the NationalRail website, Uttoxeter is very similar, but apparently Blythe Bridge has ramps to both platforms from the level crossing, so I may try that next year.

As a side note, the train I took from Euston to Stone was very crowded, particularly after we got about halfway. The previous train broke down, so all those passengers had been waiting an hour to join our train. If I'd been on that earlier train, I doubt that I would have been able to squeeze my bike onto the 2nd train (i.e. the train I actually caught at Euston), so I would have had to wait another hour for the train after that. Based on that, it's best to allow a bit of margin for error, i.e. don't plan to catch the last available train. Also, remember that there are restrictions on when you're allowed to take (non-folding) bikes on trains.

More generally, I take a list of train times with me to each event, along with an estimate of how long it will take me to cycle each leg of the journey. I'll be a bit slower than usual when I'm carrying a heavy load, so I try to reflect that in my schedule. Also, I need to allow extra time for loading/unloading, e.g. when I'm ready to leave my flat and I carry my bike downstairs, it will take me an extra few minutes to carry down my panniers etc. and attach them.

I wrote about the trailer 2 years ago (Brompton bags); as I mentioned then, you attach a bracket to the bike, then hook on the trailer via the lollipop hitch. Here's the same bracket on my touring bike:

Bracket for trailer

The slight complication here is that the bracket is in the same place that I hang my rear left pannier. (That's not a problem on my Brompton, because the rear bag just sits on top of the rack.) When I put the pannier onto the bike, I found that it wouldn't drop down quite as far as before. Fortunately it gets down just far enough to clip to the pannier rack. However, this also means that I can't attach/detach the trailer while the pannier is in place. I need to remove the trailer before I can board a train, so the sequence goes like this:

  1. Remove the pannier.

  2. Remove the trailer.

  3. Reattach the pannier.

  4. Put the bike onto the train.

  5. Get off the train again.

  6. Put the trailer onto the train.

So, coming back to what I said about train times, I don't want to turn up on the platform just as the train is about to leave; if I was on foot then I could just jump on, but that won't work when I have a whole sequence to go through. In fact, if I'm catching a train at a terminus (e.g. London Euston) then I'll try to be there about 15 minutes before departure so that I've got a better chance of finding a space.

Regarding train policies, trailers are a bit of a grey area. I've never had any trouble taking my City Trailer on board, possibly because it's about the same size as a suitcase on wheels with an extending handle. Still, I'm aware that the train staff could refuse to allow it. In the longer term I'd like to get a bigger trailer, e.g. Carry Freedom's large Y-Frame. However, I really don't think that I could take that on a train, so it would only work if I cycled the whole way to a campsite.

Once I get to the campsite, I need somewhere to store my bike. None of the LARP sites have a dedicated area for this (e.g. a bike rack). At Paccar I've locked it to the fence outside the event team's office, and there are normally people around there. At Sherratts Wood, a friend let me store my bike inside his car (after he'd unloaded his gear), which saved me having to carry a lock with me. As for the trailer, that fits inside my tent, so I think there's a nice symmetry there (since the tent fits in the trailer when it's packed up). I can also fit my Brompton inside my tent (when it's folded up), but I can't do that with my touring bike unless I start dismantling it (e.g. taking the wheels off).

Moving onto packing, I've made a list of what goes into each pannier. I tweak this a bit as I go along, but it's useful to have a record so that I don't have to figure it out from scratch each time. It also means that I've got a checklist, so I know whether I've forgotten to pack anything. Ideally I'd like each pannier to be roughly equal in weight (to help balance the bike). I also try to go for a theme, so that similar items are all together.

Starting with the bike frame itself, I have some cycling accessories (water bottles, pump, satnav). I've also strapped a few things to the top tube: a "real" axe (for chopping firewood), and my LARP sword/spear.

Bike without panniers

I bought a LARP dagger in May, but the sword and spear are significantly longer:

LARP weapons

I bought them both from Saxon Violence, and the spear comes in 3 sizes (5', 6', 7'). I have the 5' version, simply because I don't think I could transport anything longer. You may have a similar problem if you want to carry particularly heavy items, e.g. steel armour. As it is, the black bundle sticks out above my lights at the front and rear. That's ok if I travel in daylight, but I wouldn't want to cycle around in the dark like that. The bundle sticks out to the left a bit, but I can still pedal ok.

I've used Gelert luggage straps to hold it all on the frame, and I highly recommend them. You can adjust them for the size of what you're carrying without having to tie/untie knots, and I've never had any problem of them coming undone. That link (to Camping World) says that they've been discontinued, but you may be able to find them elsewhere.

From a legal point of view, the CPS have a page about offensive weapons. The LARP weapons are fine, because they aren't sharp, but I keep them covered anyway to avoid causing any confusion. The axe does have a sharp blade, but it's legal if you have a "reasonable excuse", and I think that chopping wood on a camping trip would qualify. I've also covered the blade and covered the whole axe with the LARP weapons, so nobody can just grab hold of it and start swinging it. Anyway, I haven't had any trouble riding through the middle of London with these, e.g. the police haven't stopped me.

In July, I just had the axe (not the sword/spear) so I put my tent and sleeping bag on top of it on the rear rack. With the extra bundle, the tent wouldn't be able to lie flat, so I brought in the trailer. (This also freed up a bit of space in my panniers.) Looking inside:

Closed trailer bag Open trailer bag Contents of trailer bag

This is the tent I bought in Bristol last year, and I think I'm getting my money's worth out of it: I only used it for 3 nights last year, but I've used it for 15 nights so far this year. I bought a sleeping mat at the same time, although I had some doubts about it afterwards. In May, I tied that to the rear rack above my tent and sleeping bag:
Bike in May

When I went down to Southampton in June for the WNBR, I filled my trailer with camping gear and left it with a friend, so that they could take it to the Wigan LARP event for me. The sleeping mat wouldn't fit inside, so I tucked it inside the "cargo net" on top. Unfortunately, it fell out somewhere between the station and their house, which I didn't notice until I arrived. (Hopefully whoever found it can make some use of it, rather than just binning it.) So, after that I needed to replace it, and I went for the Exped SynMat 7 UL LW (the yellow thing in the photo above), along with a Schnozzel pumpbag; this is the one that I was thinking about last year. I have to say, I think the Exped mat is far better for my purposes. It can be a struggle to squash it down enough to fit back inside the original bag (this takes several iterations of squeezing out the air), but even if it's only half in the bag it still fits inside my trailer rather than having to go outside; it's roughly the size of a pint glass. Similarly, the Schnozzel pumpbag takes up a negligible amount of space (it's underneath the spare guyrope in the photo above), and if necessary I could use that as a bag for other items.

Looking back at the first photo on this page (bike and trailer), I wedged 2 of the points of the tricorn hat through the gaps in the cargo net so that it's less likely to fall out. I think it also helps that it's smaller, so I can push it up to the end of the net, whereas the original sleeping mat would only stick in about halfway. Even so, I kept glancing back at it whenever I stopped at a junction, just to make sure it was still there!

I also have a few other random bits and pieces in the trailer:

Moving on to the left rear pannier (above the trailer):

Closed rear left pannier Contents of rear left pannier

This has my LARP clothing (3 shirts, 2 pairs of black trousers, and tartan/belt to make a kilt). I only took 1 pair of black trousers, but then I wore a hole in them (in the arse area) so I needed to buy a 2nd pair; hopefully I can patch up the originals later. The green tracksuit trousers served a hybrid purpose: stuffed inside my sleeping bag as a pillow, monstering kit if necessary, and something to wear OC on the first night if it got too cold for shorts.

I also have pyjamas, toiletries, and a lightweight towel. (Tip: I double wrapped the shower gel inside another carrier bag, so that it wouldn't get everything else wet.)

The small pocket in the pannier stores cycling stuff: 2 spare inner tubes, chain lube, and a chopstick. (Why the chopstick? It's surprisingly useful, e.g. if I get lots of mud between the tyre and the mudguard and I need to poke it out.)

Then the rear right pannier:

Closed rear right pannier Contents of rear right pannier

The small pocket has sun cream.

The main part of the pannier stores my uniform coat, a spare T-shirt (for the first/last day), and underwear/socks. I also have a first aid kit; there are first aiders on site, but it will make life easier if I can treat minor injuries myself. The photo isn't very clear, but the orange thing between the first aid kit and the coat is a carrier bag containing a toilet roll. The loos at these events do sometimes run out of toilet paper, so it's worth having my own. I don't need a full roll, so I kept an eye on my "main" roll at home and set it aside when it was nearing the end. As always, there's a balance between what I'd like to take and what I can fit in.

I wanted to take a hoodie too, but I didn't have room for it. So, I think I need to invest in a synthetic jacket which I can squash down to a small size (like the sleeping mat). Still, I was ok without it at this event, and if I'm wearing my LARP coat then I'll be warm enough, so it's only an issue in May/August when I arrive the day before time in (or on other camping trips).

Moving forward, here's the front right pannier:

Closed front right pannier Contents of front right pannier

The main things in here are my boots and the D-lock. I have separate shoes for cycling, partly because they're cleated (to clip into the pedals) and partly so that I'll have clean/dry shoes to go home in, even if it rains throughout the event.

The black carrier bag contains "sundries" which would normally go in my bar bag, but that's still out of action after my Dunwich Dynamo attempt. (I swapped emails with Carradice, and they said that they can repair it, so I just need to get round to posting it back to them.) This has keys, wallet, phone(s), ereader, tyre levers, biro, lanyard (to hold my character card and spell cards), and a couple of extra luggage straps.

And finally the front left pannier:

Closed front left pannier Contents of front left pannier

This has a cagoule and headtorch for when I'm OC. My tankard goes inside that cardboard box to protect it during transport. There's a tavern (pub tent) at these events, but it's useful to have some of my own booze too, so that I can get a drink without needing an armed escort on the path. (I keep them out of sight and decant them into the tankard so that I blend in with the environment.) The matches, stove, lighting paper and mess tin are for IC cooking, so that I'd have an alternative to the burger van. However, I haven't used that stove at any of the events this year. I bought a disposable BBQ after I arrived on-site, but it's overkill just for me. I think I agree with what other people said: IC cooking only really works for a group, not an individual. So, I won't bother taking the stove etc. to LARP events next year, although I may take it on other camping trips.

So, how much does all this weigh?

Mass (kg)
Sword, spear, axe4.1
Rear left pannier5.7
Rear right pannier5.6
Front right pannier5.4
Front left pannier4.2

That's quite a lot if I'm carrying it by hand, but it's not so bad when I'm rolling along on the bike. So, who knows, maybe if this catches on then we'll get a LARP peloton at a future event!


[User Picture]
Date:September 1st, 2013 03:08 pm (UTC)
I've been stopped once by a police officer carrying LARP weapons openly (in a frog) on the tube -- after I showed him they were foam he told me to not be stupid and bundle them up in something. I was a little worried that if I partially concealed them people would be more likely to think they were real, but he seemed dismissive of the idea.
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