Sunday, August 19, 2018

Touring Tips/PSA: Handlebar Cell Phone Mounts

Ok, I needed to get on here to post a quick PSA of sorts. For the past five years or so, I've used one of those handlebar-mounted cell phone holders. They're great. They hold your phone while you ride so you're free to listen to some tunes, check your map, write a blog post, google "what are bear sounds," etc. I've advocated for them to folks in the past due of their usefulness. They've definitely made my touring life much easier.

That said, I realized a few years ago that while they're great for me they may not be the best for my phone. Now, before I continue, let me just say that nothing I'm about the write has been proven as fact, just as reasonable hunch. Additionally, I own zero stock in any bicycle equipment companies, though I do really like the folks at Nutcase.

Disclaimers aside, I'm pretty sure that handlebar-mounted cell phone holders wreak havoc on the touch screens of some cell phones. I'm not going to say which cell phones I've specifically had this problem with, just that it's happened to a variety of them, from multiple manufacturers. And I don't blame the phones, so no point in dragging them.

This thing. In the red box. I blame this thing.

But what I've noticed is that after a tour, usually within a month or two, my touchscreen goes to complete crap. It's happened to at least three phones of mine, and after the last one, I started to get suspicious. I'm real sharp like that. A tack. By "goes to complete crap," I mean that they get less responsive, less reliable, and more chaotic. And with time, the lesses got lesser, and the mores morer, until I'd have to get a new phone.

So my gut feeling is that all the potholes, rumble strips, and dirt roads shake the shit out of the inside of the phone so much that, over time, it craps out. That seems reasonable, right? Like, if you put your phone in a paint can shaker at Home Depot, and it stopped working after (even though there was no visible damage), you'd think, "yeah, that makes sense to me."

As an inquisitive person, I've taken these different dying phones apart and have found nothing wrong with them. I mean, I'm not a trained professional or a robot that could link up R2D2-style and perform a proper diagnostic analysis, but all the screws were still tight and nothing was rattling around in there. But still, the touchscreens all had similar problems. And all the problems happened after a tour. 

Does the correlation imply causation? I dunno. But I just wanted to get it out there before you broke your brand new phone. At this point, I think I would recommend one of those arm band phone holders that runners wear. Let your body absorb the shock. Alternatively, someone could come up with a shock absorbing handlebar mount. I'd pay upwards of $25 (USD) for something like that. Oooh, and give it a little waterproof rain cover as well as a sound funnel to boost the speakers. Yeah. Make that. Send me one to test and review. I'll give it 5-stars.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

My Beard Maintenance SEO is through the Roof!

First things first, I got a job back in September, so my upkeep of this blog has really gone downhill. I look at words all day at work, and well, the last thing I want to do at night is look at them here. So if you're the one person that's been all like, "And then what happened on that Souther Bike Tour???", I apologize. I'll get there. Eventually. I'm paying for the domain, so I might as well, right?

More importantly, in the months since my last post, my blog's comments section has been hecka crazy. For over 100 posts, not a single comment. Then all of a sudden... BOOM! Three comments! That's, like, infinite percent growth. Yup, people are finally starting to take interest in Old Troy's blog.

You're probably wondering what amazing post spurred this soaring popularity. I'll give you three guesses. "The one about Subway"? No, though that would make sense since nothing came out since then. Also, I just found out that some people don't like Subway, which is weird because who doesn't like sandwiches that taste exactly the same regardless of the part of the world you're in? "Was it the one about that time you found your stolen bike after it was gone for eight months?" No, twasn't, though that was a good post. Real uplifting story there, but no. "I dunno... the one about beard dandruff?"

Correct! Amazing guess! Since it's post on August 1, 2017, that itchy post has reached a previously unimaginable commenting level! Here, see for yourself:

So comment! Such interaction!

I've been telling all my friends and family about the amazing turn of events, and I couldn't hold back anymore. I had to tell you too, blog reader. Allow me to give a play-by-play:
October 29, 2017 - Bradley Fowler comments that he has a better beard product than T-Gel, and kindly offers a link to said better product. What a guy!

January 22, 2018 - Calvin Ewers responds that while he doesn't have any male family members with beard, he wishes he did so he could buy them the beard kit that Bradley Fowler mentioned on Oct. 29, 2017.  No mention of female or non-identifying family members with beards, though, so he may just be publicly airing his private familial shame of male-identifying beardlessness.

January 27, 2018 - Burri 69 (you know this guy is up for getting down with a handle like that) lets Bradley and Calvin know that there's a better blog for beard care. Another blog? The nerve!

It's been a real rollercoaster since finding this fame. A lot going on these days in the old bloggeroo. Sure, you may think Troy's selling out by allowing all these hyperlinked, promotional comments, so to you I say, "Troy's not selling out, the world is finally buying in!"

(This post sponsored by the Dandruffed-Beard Advocacy Group)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Subway: The Law & Order of Food

Day 11 - Sept. 29, 2016 - South Boston > Bear Creek Lake State Park

I couldn't have been happier to spend the night in a cheap motel.  The storm that ripped through overnight would have tested both the waterproof nature of my tent and my ability to properly stake out a rainfly.  Also, the lightning would have probably taken me out, much like it had taken out the motel's cable and internet.  This was clearly not the front desk worker's first thunderstorm.

By morning, though, both clear skies and cable television had returned, allowing me to catch up on Law & Order while I got ready for the day.  I know the joke about Law & Order always being on no matter the hour is a dead horse, but all beatings aside, it really is on all the time.  Hand on the bedside bible, every morning spent in a motel had a TV playing L&O in the background.

When I hit the road, the storm had, thankfully, taken some of the heat out with it.  While still in the 80's, it at least felt like the lower, temperate 80's, not the high, practically 90's, 80's I had grown very tired of.  My miles for the day were also going to be in the low 80s.  I could handle an 80/80.  Almost seemed like a vacation after all the 90/90 days.

That day, the turtle parade continued.  Baby turtles and tortoises everywhere.  I even moved some from the middle of the road, thwarting suicidal plots along the way.  Here's one of the little reptiles I saved from itself:


After a beautiful morning of riding, with only a little light drizzle, I stopped in Keysville, VA for lunch.  Motels and expensive campgrounds may have thrashed my budget, but there was always Subway for a cheap lunch.  Come to think of it, that's not an exaggeration, and there always is a Subway.  It's like the fast food equivalent of Law & Order.  Seriously, go to even the smallest of small towns, and if they have electricity, they'll probably have a Subway.  There should be a cross-market collaboration between the two of them.  I'd buy a Stabler Special or a Benson Lettuce and Tomato.

I used my lunchtime downtime to give my mom a call.  She is a worrier, so phone calls are requisite for the prevention of missing persons reports.  Anyway, towards the end of our conversation, she asked if I wanted to stop riding yet, because she'd be happy to drive the 370 miles down to Keysville to pick me up if I wanted.  I declined, assuring her that I'd much rather spend those miles on a bicycle than in a car.  I'm thankful she doesn't watch Law & Order, or her worrying would be even worse.

Just few miles from Keysville, the rain began.  It didn't begin as a drizzle, it began as rain.  Actually, it wasn't rain.  It was a million wet fingers poking me repeatedly; persistently.  The rain was a sibling in the backseat of a minivan on a long drive to Ohio, and now matter how many times I yelled to the parents in the front, it couldn't be stopped.  The rain was a 10-year-old with ADHD.  I hated that rain so much.

And that rain would persist all damn day.  All the way to Bear Creek Lake State Park.  Well, just outside of the park.  The rain stopped just before I started to navigate the park's winding roads on my way to finding the heavily price-gouged tent camping on the far side of the lake.  The park was mostly empty of occupants and entirely empty of employees, so I found what looked to be the cheapest flat pad site (according to confusing signage) and laid claim.   After unpacking and pitching, I headed to the showers.  I know I was already soaked, but I wanted to be warm soaked, not cold soaked.

I got back to my tent as the rain started up again.  I was happy to be done for the day, but not looking forward to breaking down in the rain in the morning.  Everything I had was soaked.  Everything I had was going to stay soaked for the foreseeable future.  I had 300 miles standing between myself and Philadelphia.  That was only three more days of rainy riding.  How much mildew could develop in three days?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dollar General: Passing the Savings onto No One

The stanky Walmart bag story reminded me of another low cost mecca of the South (one that also exists up North but less noticeably so), Dollar General.  I wasn't born in a palace, so I'm familiar with dollar stores.  When I was a little kid, I thought they were great because I could actually afford to buy things there, making me feel like an adult.  A standard summer vacation of ours was to drive out to the suburbs of Cleveland (on a single tank of gas, as was noted each year) to visit family, and one of the highlights was always the Big Lots discount store they had out there.  We didn't have Big Lots in my hometown at the time (not true now).  I ended up with a lot of unused fishing lures from that store, and I loved them all.  I think most of the reason they make fishing lures so flashy is to attract humans to buy them, not fish to eat them.  Best I can remember, fish mostly wanted balled up pieces of cheddar.

Now that I'm an adult, dollar stores elicit a different emotional response.  The first is a bit of disgust with the realization that cheap, shiny goods were intended as a starter kit for a future of purchase-based personal-satisfaction.  You're not buying garbage, you're buying smiles.  The second is a bit of sadness as those stores are usually a depressing reflection of the local economy.  Dollar stores, pawn shops, and check cashing joints are usually a really bad sign for the future of a small town.  There will usually be a few adult bookstores sprinkled in there too.

$6.99 is a good deal...

Throughout Mississippi, 'Bama, GA, and SC, Dollar General was everywhere.  As my ride down to Asheville was done mostly at night, I never had a chance to pop in and see what necessitated such brick-and-mortar frequency.  But on my way back to Philly, a daytime crawl, I had plenty of opportunities to explore the aisles.  And guess what?  I get it now.  Dollar General is a mini-Walmart, so if you can't make it to Walmart, go to Dollar General.  They have a wall of refrigerators and freezers, aisles full of discount food, and even a hardware section.  Everything you could possibly need.  (I bought more than a few $1/bag salted pumpkin seeds on my way down, as well as a few bags of Knorr Noodles.)

But unlike Walmart, the only options were real bottom of the barrel options.  It's not so much that everything was inexpensive, as much as everything was cheap.  Food with no nutritional value, walls of soda, home goods that have a life expectancy of maybe two uses.  As I watched people push entire grocery carts up to check-out, it occurred that only a few explanations could cover the need to buy that much from a Dollar General:

  1. No other stores in the area
  2. Broke
  3. Raised that way/Don't know any better
All three of those possibilities can be directly tied to a downturned economy.  If there are no other stores, it could mean that other stores started and failed, or chains researched the locally economy and didn't see the town as a viable expansion option.  If Dollar General is just people's preference, it's either out of necessity or habit.  People that don't need Dollar General don't decide to suddenly become Dollar General people.  And once you're a Dollar General person, there's no way out.  You go there because you're broke.  Then you buy cheap products that break right away and have to go back to buy more.  Now you've spent twice as much but still only have the cheap good that's going to break again.  Eventually you spend 10x as much on a piece of garbage, so you're broker than before and need Dollar General more than ever.  You should buy it again.

And then it becomes generational.  All that cheap food?  Oh yeah, it's terrible for you.  So you eat the high sodium instant food, have a heart attack at 50, end up in the hospital, but you're broke (hence shopping at Dollar General) and you've been firmly against socialized welfare because you don't want handouts from Washington D.C., so you survive for a bit at the hospital equivalent of Dollar General, but the years of eating poorly can't be fixed, and tens of thousands of dollars later you die, dropping the bill on your kids who are now guaranteed a life of Dollar General.  Do you really think this is not by design???

Speaking of dying (economies, this time), growing up, my home town had two grocery stores five minutes away.  The bigger of the two is now a discount grocery outlet that sells cheese labeled by color, not type.  The smaller disappeared over a decade ago.  Within a mile of that grocery store is now a Dollar General, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, and Dollar Plaza.  These are all actual, not-made-up-off-the-top-of-my-head places.  Probably not moving back there.

All that said, I now live in Seattle, a city not known for its dollar stores.  There is, however, a deconstructed coffee house, which I find an equally troubling reflection of the local economy.  Deconstructed coffee is coffee that hasn't been mixed for you.  Like, people are paying extra to pour in their own cream and sugar.  It's just another thing people buy to prove that they're wealthy.  Like Jaguars and Apple Watches.  To prove that money is but for novelty.  Because there aren't any real problems here, like homeless tent villages and high addiction rates, so spend the money on having people not pour cream into your coffee.  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

It Got That Walmart Stank

Day 10 - Sept. 28, 2016 - Hagan-Stone Park > South Boston, VA

While packing up my site in the morning, I noticed that my water pannier (front, drive side) was getting suspiciously funky.  All that was inside of it were a few Platypus water bags and some tubes of Nuun tablets (plastic goods with no inherent odor), so I wasn't sure where the rotten smell was coming from.  I didn't have time to investigate that morning, but made a mental note to give the bag a cleaning that night.  My guess was it was just mildew from riding through the rainy, humid, summer South.

I was ready to cross the Mason-Dixon, and today I'd be one state closer.  My next stop would be in or around South Boston, VA, a confusingly named town about 90 miles away, that while technically south of Boston (over 700 miles south), has a noticeably different accent.  Not sure which I prefer.

The evening rain didn't do too much to clear out the heat and humidity, but there was a layer of clouds on the horizon that was both appealing and repelling.  I really wanted those clouds to catch up with me and block the sun's rays, but I really didn't want to spend the day riding in the rain.  I could think of a lot of reasons why riding in the rain sucked, but the two big ones currently were my lack of phone access and nipple chafe.  I always stowed my phone in a waterproof pannier when it rained, making it inaccessible for maps, podcasts, and music.  I know this could be mostly remedied with bluetooth technology and waterproof pouches, but I haven't gotten there yet.  As for the nipple chafe, my favorite riding shirt is wonderful on dry days and even on days with intermittent rain.  But on days with heavy rain that doesn't dry up quickly, water seems to turn it to 80-grit sandpaper, and my nipples get a harsh rubbing.  I was already riding with bandaids on them from the heavy rains at the start of the tour, but a big storm would soak them right off and I'd be exposed to a world of nipple hurt.

I had just barely made it to an Exxon in Yanceyville, NC when the skies opened up.  I could not have been happier to be under cover for that show.  Giant explosions of lightning in all directions, gusting wind, sheets of rain.  It would've been a top five riding storm for sure.  Even under the large awning of the gas station, I was still catching my fair share of rain.  It was bad.  And then twenty minutes later, it was gone.  Just like that, it was a hot summer day again and I got back on the rode.

(Before leaving Yanceyville, I'd just like to mention that they have a pizza joint called Little Pizza My Heart.)

The route I was planning to taking from Yanceyville to South Boston was going to be all back roads.  Bumpy, hilly backroads.  Thinking back to the stray dogs and sand traps of Mississippi and Alabama, I didn't have nighttime back roads left in me, so I headed due north to Highways 58/360.  Riding in traffic probably wasn't going to be fun, but at least it would be smooth.

Having survived that decision, if I had to do it again, I'd probably take the back roads (at least on a clear day).  That highway didn't really have much of a shoulder, but it had an abundance of cars.  And while it had an overall elevation decline, it still had a lot of hills.  A lot of getting up to get down.  At least the tops of those hills gave me a good view of the incoming weather to the west.  It looked like another Yanceyville storm was approaching, and that actually made me happy to be on the highway.  Torrential downpours on highways don't result in mud pits that stall out bikes.  They can on back roads.

Clear sky, smooth road, big shoulder, no cars, not The South.

Not wanting to get caught in that storm, I hauled ass to the closest Budget Inn, just southwest of the big city.  I didn't know if there was camping anywhere in the area, but the flashes in the distance made me not care to find out.  I checked in, was told the cable and WiFi might get knocked out by the lightning but the electricity will probably stay on, and went to my room.

I unloaded my bike and when I opened my water pannier, was almost knocked over by the stench.  So much for needing to make a mental note.  Bag in hand, I headed to the shower.  And that was the longest shower I've ever taken in my life.  I hand washed every item in the pannier, and when I reached the bottom, I found the source of the stank.  It was a single Walmart bag.  I don't know why a plastic bag would ever smell so bad, but this one did, and it had infected everything else.  After throwing the plastic bag in the trash next to the toilet, I soaped and scrubbed out the entire pannier. (Actually really easy with an Ortlieb waterproof bag.  Fill it up with soap and water, roll up the top, shake it really good, pour out the foam, hand scrub, repeat.)  Once the pannier and all of its contents were scent-free, I tended to my own dirt covered body, legs coated with puddle splash.  I left that shower feeling more accomplished than I did after 87.5 miles on the road.

That night I slept comfortably in my bed to the sound of thunderous lightning and gusting wind, hopeful that maybe this would finally be the storm that killed the heat.