Potential delay – alas. And more of the itinerary

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series 2015: Alaska or Bust

There’s a pretty good chance I’m already behind schedule, and I haven’t even left yet!

I got a recall notice for the bike, and it’s a fairly significant repair. The shop is able to squeeze me in on Tuesday morning, but it’ll probably take just long enough to make the rest of the day rather frantic if I try to get it all done for a Wednesday departure. Add in the weather we’ve been having down here in Houston, and I’m probably going to push my departure back to Thursday to avoid the forecasted thunderstorms on Wednesday. There looks to be the slightest of gaps in the storms on Thursday, so… we’ll see. I’m anxious to hit the road, but I’d rather not start a 3 month trip off dodging Zeus’ wrath.

Here’s the next few stages of the itinerary…

stage4Stage 4
Glacier National Park to Dawson City, Yukon, Canada
Camping near: Balfour, BC, Can; Jasper, ALB, Can; Charlie Lake, BC, Can; Watson Lake, YUK, Can; Carmacks, YUK, Can; Dawson City, YUK, Can.
Est. Miles: 2407
Est. Saddle Time: 54 hours

 

stage5Stage 5
Dawson City to Fairbanks, AK
Camping near: Tok, AK; Fairbanks, AK
Est. Miles: 502
Est. Saddle Time: 13 Hours

 

stage6Stage 6
Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, AK
Camping near Coldfoot, AK
Grabbing a hotel (probably) in Prudhoe Bay. Options are a bit limited, and can’t make reservations more than 10 days in advance. I’ll figure it out in Fairbanks.
Est. Miles: 502
Est. Saddle Time: 12 hours

More later… time to work on packing and stuff.

2015 Summer Adventure – Partial Itinerary

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series 2015: Alaska or Bust

I’m just about done with the planning. Which is a good thing, because I leave in 10 days. All that’s left is finalizing a few things on the long, winding way home. For the most part, I’m traveling through areas I’ve already spent a good deal of time, so there are a few “highway blast” days mixed in there since I’m damn near into August already.There is some serious exploration going on in Idaho and Montana, however, so that’ll be fun to finalize.

Typically, I plan my trips in stages. It helps me keep track of things in my head. Most often, a stage ends with a multi-day stay somewhere. Relaxation, laundry, sight-seeing… it makes a bit of sense in my own head. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work out that way. I’ll stay a couple nights with some friends in the middle of a travel stage. I can’t explain my thinking, it just works for me.

This particular trip, at almost 3 months and (so far) 17,000+ miles, was a challenge. Some stages are a couple hundred miles. Some are over 2000 miles. It’s not the distance that makes the stage. It’s the destination and the state of mind needed for that particular stretch of road.

What follows are the first few stages of what looks to be a 16 stage summer adventure. I’ve done the research and have campsites or other arrangements in place, but I’m always willing to hear an offer of friendly lodging 🙂

2015: Stage 1Stage 1
Houston to the Baltimore area.
Staying with friends in Bentonville, AR and Baltimore
Camping near Carthage, TN
Est. Miles: 1853
Est. Saddle Time: 30 hours

 

 

stage2Stage 2
Baltimore Area to Rochester, NY
Staying with family in Rochester
Est. Miles: 354
Est. Saddle Time: 6 hours

 

 

 

 

 

stage3Stage 3
Rochester to Glacier National Park
Staying with friends in Wixom, MI
Camping near Ontonagon, MI; Penn, ND; Fort Benton, MT; Glacier National Park
Est. Miles: 2263
Est. Saddle Time: 39 hours

From there, I shoot up into Canada. More on the next few stages in a day or so.

Testing!

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series 2015: Alaska or Bust

I picked up a Garmin Virb Elite for the trip this summer. Here’s the first test run: A time lapse of this morning’s commute. 30ish minutes squashed down to 55 seconds.

There are a bunch more overlays and graphics I need to explore, and I don’t have any music here at the office so there’s that, too. But all in all, right now I’m a happy camper!

As a side note, the link over on the right of the home page for my SPOT map is also active and working.

Summer 2015 – coming to a state near you?

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series 2015: Alaska or Bust

Things have been quiet over here in my little corner of the internet. I’ve been a busy little bee, and that’s still very much the case. But there’s just 22 days left. Twenty-two. Twenty. Two.

Holy crap, I have so much to do!

The semester isn’t just winding down, the end is veritably nigh. And just 4 days after I submit final grades, I’ll be throwing a leg over the bike and heading out on the trip I’ve been planning for a decade or more.

And it feels like I haven’t planned a damn thing. Here are the states I’ll probably be passing through:

us2015

And here are the Provinces:

ca2015

Things may change a little bit in the next 22 days, but that’s basically it. I’m still adding in stops here and there, and I am still waiting to hear from a few folks for confirmation (Utah *cough* check your email!), and knowing me, by the end of the first week I’ll be miles and miles off route, but hey… a man’s got to have a plan, even if it’s more of a rough guideline than any kind of plan.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll go into a little bit of detail about the route and the prep I’ve been doing for the last 4 months. It’s been hectic, to say the least. I’ve made some big changes to the bike and to my packing strategy. This is by far the longest trip I’ve ever been on, in both days and miles, and it’s… kind of scary sometimes, to be honest.

But at the end of the day, I’ve reached the point where I don’t want to WORK on the trip… I want to BE on the trip. I don’t want to READ about Alaska and the Yukon, I want to be there, bouncing along the Top of the World Highway – and dodging the trucks along the Dalton on the way to the Arctic Circle and Prudhoe Bay – and relaxing in a B&B outside Homer with my gal.

In short… I want to be gone.

I’ll try to be posting along the way… at the very least some of the pictures and video I capture along the way. So hang in there… 22 days.

Twenty-two.

Twenty.

Two.

Review: Marsee 15L Teardrop with Powerlet and Quick-Release Mount

20140527-bagprofileI’ve been searching for a powered tank bag for the GS for a while now, and recently came across some good reviews of the Marsee line of bags. I did a bit of research, and decided to go with the 15 liter Teardrop with the added Powerlet Accessory Kit (installed) through Racer Parts Wholesale. At $210, it seemed like a fairly decent buy, even if I was more than a bit hesitant about the mounting options since the GS tank has such a wicked slope to it and this is a “generic” mounting system for all bikes. All my comments and opinions are geared towards the use of this bag on the BMW R1200GS.

First things first, I love the idea behind this bag. When I use a tank bag, I am typically on a long trip – multiple days (if not weeks or months) of street and dirt riding, camping, and high mileage (last summer’s trip was 13k+ miles, for example). For day rides, however, I leave the bag at home and just use the top case or a backpack, whichever is more convenient. The waterproofing, power options, and rigid mapcase sounded perfect for my needs, especially with my trip to Alaska coming up next summer.

I’ve just finished up a quick 2,000 mile trip with the Teardrop and can offer some insight for folks considering this bag. I stayed on pavement the entire time, with about a 50/50 split between interstate and winding 2-lanes. Weather ranged from 90+ and sunny to 50s and absolutely pouring (yeah, that was fun).

Bottom line: the 15L Teardrop, while it does a lot of things right, as a few major flaws. This is not the bag I’ll be using on my Alaska trip.

Now for some detail.

Waterproofing
The waterproofing of the Teardrop is outstanding. Not a drop seeped in from anywhere, and I had one full day of absolutely bone-soaking rain. This particular aspect of the product is absolutely top-notch. There is no rain cover, it’s all in the material and construction, and it performed well above my expectations.

20140527-portPowerlet Install
I opted for the Powerlet BMW CanBus option since this was basically a test ride. There is also, of course, an accessory to hook this up directly to the battery, and that is easy to swap out. The one issue I had is a bit of user error on my part, but also, I think, a small design flaw. The port for the Powerlet is located about 2-3 inches left of center, and I didn’t leave enough play in the cord when I wired it up. The end result was a slightly bent connector and (at first) several unintentional unpluggings as I maneuvered in parking lots and such. Again, this was my error as I didn’t leave enough slack in the cable, but I am curious as to why the port isn’t centered. In the end, however, it isn’t a big deal and something that was easily remedied along the side of the road.

General Bag Layout
20140527-topThere are three compartments to the Teardrop. The top tray, and the primary reason I was attracted to the bag, is about 2″ deep with a clear, hard-plastic cover. There are two pass-through portals in the read of the tray for stringing through electronic cables from the Powerlet port, which is in the large middle compartment. Additionally, there are two small cable ports on the front of the tray, which would make connecting powered clothing a breeze (I did not test this capability, but it looks like it would work brilliantly). According to the product description, this top tray is designed for maps and electronic/communication gear. More on this later…

20140527-mainopenThe middle section of the bag is cavernous. I kept my camera (DSLR-size frame), wheel lock, spare rain gloves, notebook, a couple pens, munchies, spare headlights, and I forget what else. I didn’t come close to filling it. It’s a huge space that I just didn’t need to completely fill for my short trip to Atlanta and back.

The bottom section is designed to hold spare maps. It’s a tiny thing that I didn’t use at all. I didn’t even keep spare maps in there, because the slope of the BMW tank makes the integrated zip-lock container impossible to use conveniently. Really, this bottom section is no more than a flexible mounting “platform” that the top 2 sections zip on to. 20140527-baseprofileThis allows the bag itself to be easily removed if you don’t want to leave it on the bike unattended. Again, more on this later.

Mounting
This the beginning of where my problems with the bag start. There are a couple different mounting options available: A magnetic mount, and a Quick Release mount with straps. Once again, it’s important to note that this is a 20140527-basefrontgeneric mount, and, as far as I am concerned, does not work well with the 2009 BMW GS. They bill the mount as a 4-point system, but that’s not really the case. Yes, it connects to the bag at 4 points, but it only attaches (or loops around) to 2 points of the bike – one in the front on the frame under the bars, and the other under the seat.

In front, the straps loop around the frame under the bars quite easily, and then cinch down. The problem comes in the rear, where the battery placement becomes problematic. My old bag was one of the GS-specific models from BMW which called for a bracket to be installed at the base of the tank. Without this bracket, I would have had to remove the battery and battery shelf to find an adequate strapping point. Likely this would not have proved to be more than inconvenient, but I think it would have been difficult to maintain a strong, tight mounting solution had I needed to do that.

An additional mounting problem is the overall width of the bag. While the mount itself gives you some leeway into how far front/back you end up placing the bag, I couldn’t find a point where it didn’t interfere with the extreme ends of the steering movement – the handlebars were always making contact with the bag when turned sharply. For the kind of riding I did on the trip, this was never an issue, as I only used the full range of the bars when parking the bike. If I were going off-road, however, or doing low-speed maneuvers, then this may well have been more problematic.

My Main Concerns
What makes the bag, as far as I am concerned, unusable, however, are two design oversights.

Security
This is a bag that is designed to hold electronics. It even says so right in the product description. Not having a means to lock the compartments is a tremendous oversight. Less essential, but equally problematic is the ease and speed at which this bag is removed from the bike. A single zipper is all that secures the bag in place. The simplest solution is to have a means of attaching a small padlock, but without some significant modification that seems to be impossible. It would take an observant thief about 15 seconds to make off with camera, phone, GPS, iPod, or whatever else was stored in the bag.

Top Tray
The design of the top tray is the biggest design flaw of the bag. Again, the idea is outstanding – it’s just poorly implemented at this stage. First off, and of far lesser importance, the inside of the tray is a kind of crushed velvet type of material. Very soft, so it won’t scratch anything, but also quite slick. I was concerned my phone and SPOT tracker would be sliding all over the place, so I put down some velcro to hod things in place. This worked great. Until…

My phone stopped working. This is a direct result not of the Powerlet, but of the actual construction of the plastic, see-through cover.

20140527-crackFirst and foremost, this is some thin, flimsy plastic. I’m not sure when the crack in the front corner appeared, but I think it was during the initial installation. Normally I would have returned it, but I was in a bit of a bind for my trip so I just slapped some Duct Tape over it since it was in an unobtrusive part of the lid. This quick-fix worked fine and did not hurt the overall integrity of the waterproof construction.

A bigger concern is the reason the iPhone quit working: Temperature. I live down in TX, so we get a lot of sun. The first day of my trip was no exception, but it never got above 85 degrees (F). The iPhone has an upper “recommended” operating limit of 95 degrees, but I’ve used it as high as 114 degrees (last summer in Death Valley – stored in my jacket pocket). The magnification of the sun through the plastic lid, however, rendered my iPhone unusable. This in turn made me check the Lithium Batteries in the SPOT unit, and I discovered that one of them was in the process of failing with a rather significant bubble forming at the positive terminal. This leads me to believe that, evidently, there is no kind of protective or UV screening or coating on this plastic cover. Indeed, the cover itself was hot to the touch, so I moved the phone and SPOT unit to the pockets of my jacket – meaning that the sole reasons I bought this bag, the Powerlet options and top electronic storage section, were now of no use to me (to be fair, however, I did charge the phone on occasion by keeping it in the main compartment for brief periods). Why Marsee didn’t construct the plastic cover out of the same type of material with the same types of coatings as helmet manufacturers use for face shields is puzzling to say the least.

Even with those tremendous design flaws, however, I still love the idea behind this bag, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Marsee to see if they address any of the issues that concern me. The overall production quality is high, and I would have no issues at all trying out another of their products. The 15L Teardrop, however, is, in my opinion, unusable for my needs.

More Pics:

Interior of the main storage compartment

Interior of the main storage compartment

 

20140527-maintop

Top of the main storage compartment

 

***Update: 6 August 2010 ***
The good folks at Marsee saw this review and went above and beyond to replace the bag because of the cracked lid. Their customer service was top notch and I am more than satisfied with the conversations we had and their explanation of the design decisions I have issues with. Everything above still holds true, but the quality of the product and their focus on customer satisfaction cannot be denied. I look forward to doing business with them again.