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Prepare - Gather Materials, Arrange Services, and Train
I made an equipment list (here), and test-packed everything,
making sure that each item fit where I had assigned it, and that weight from front to back, and side to side was balanced. I tested
each item to be sure it worked. I examined what I had, looking for ways for things to do
double duty. For instance, my sweats would not only be used for cold nights, but also
would allow me to wash all my riding clothes while remaining legal.
I tried to anticipate unusual needs.
I knew there would be unlighted tunnels. I wanted something like a 6-volt lantern,
but didn't want the bulk or the weight. The only difference between a 6-volt battery
and four 1.5-volt AA batteries is how long they would last, and I didn't need more
than an hour. So I took a 6-volt lantern, cut away the top and sides of the battery
enclosure. I bought a 4-cell AA battery holder from Radio Shack and wired it to the
light/reflector part. With the help of a hair dryer, I folded up the still-attached
bottom to make a new back, using wide plastic tape to secure it. I could change the
batteries by unscrewing the light/reflector part. Worked like a charm. I left it at
the end of the last tunnel for someone else to use.
I'd heard stories of rain on the C&O towpath making the path quite muddy, and actually
jamming mud between the tires and fenders. I built a scraper to scrape off half the
mud from the tire. It was attachable to the leading edge of the fender. I never got to
test it. Even though there was a hard rain the next to last day, the towpath condition
was never bad enough to think of using it.
I wanted to have my camera and voice recorder instantly available without having to
stop and dig them out. From an insulated school lunchbag, I fashioned a handlebar bag.
I shortened the carrying strap, so it would attach to the bottoms of my waterbottle
cages, but could be removed when I left my bike unattended (I seldom felt the need).
The bottom had a zippered compartment for carrying a sandwich container, but it hung
so low it rubbed my top tube. I cut off the sides of the compartment and re-sewed the
zipper, giving me a concealed, zippered compartment for documentation and money. The
bag had a small zippered front compartment where I carried the camera and recorder,
leaving the inside for snacks. Since it was insulated, it was also waterproof.
My route would be mostly flat, with occasional minor inclines. A local multi-use path
fit that profile, and two loops of it was about the average distance of 20 miles that
I would experience on the trip. I used it to first strengthen the cycling muscles that
had weakened during the winter, then I began carrying more weight, building to the 50
pounds I would eventually be carrying.
I would need to hone other skills. One is riding slow to enable sightseeing which, with a
load, is harder than it would seem. Even more difficult is quickly deciding to stop, which
is quite different than deciding to stop quickly. It's easy to get in a dreamy mode,
having no traffic or other dangers, then seeing something worth stopping for, but
just coasting by, unable to make a decision to stop. It would have been even harder
had I been riding with someone else.
As I was training, the seat frame on my recumbent broke - in two places. The seat
was at least 12 years old and the mesh on the seatback had some tears, so I elected
to buy a new seat assembly directly from the factory. During the install, I noticed
the stays each had a larger screw than before - too large to fit the screw holes in
the frame. I stripped down the bike and took the frame to
a machine shop to have larger holes drilled. I reassembled the bike and went for a
ride when I immediately noticed something wasn't right. Back home, I discovered the
problem - one of the dropouts (where the rear axel goes) had separated from the frame -
the weld had broken. Back to the machine shop to get that fixed.
With all this preparation (and interruption), I still hadn't tried an overnight with
all my equipment away from home. In southern Michigan there is a rail trail that goes
from Kalamazoo to Grand Haven. It is over 30 miles long and fairly level. I elected
to take two days to do an out-and-back ride. It was all I could hope for - it even
had rain. That experience gave me the confidence that I had done as much as I could
- I made sure I would have enough to last, not only for the trip, but also to give
me enough time to get refills when I got back.
- I carried the bulk of them in a plastic container, each in their own prescription
- I carried a weeks-worth in a container designed for that, and put that container
in a zip-lock bag, which I kept with my bedding (as a reminder). I don't know if that
meets legal requirements, but all my pills (except vitamins) are code embossed and
could be matched with those in the pill bottles.
- I carried my doctor's phone number, both in my phone, and on my emergency sheet.
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- I was used to paying bills in response to receiving them in the mail. I converted
all my monthly payments to autopay. As I wasn't confident of the process, I started
it many months before leaving. By the time I left, everything had been working
flawlessly. No worries.
- I turned off the furnace and the water heater.
- I emptied the refrigerator and freezer, but left them on to prevent the
growth of mold.
- I went to the Postal Service and asked them to hold my mail while I was away.
(When my neighbor noticed it wasn't happening, he collected it for me.)
- I arranged with a neighbor to mow my lawn whenever it started to look like
nobody was living there.
- I made final arrangements for the care of the cats. I stocked up on more than
enough food and litter, and left some emergency money - just in case of ...
- I gave keys to neighbors and cat watcher.
- I called two motels along the way to D.C. to get prices and options. I bought an
AMTRAK ticket online and printed out the barcoded voucher to let me bypass the
ticket desk at Union Station in D.C. and then I reserved a room at the Comfort Inn
south of Pittsburgh near the bike shop where I would have left my bike. I also
called a taxi company in Pittsburgh to make sure they would be running when my
train arrived, and to find out what the fare would be.