Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nordhouse Dunes, Michigan

We started packing for our first backpacking trip last night, but this morning the packing continued. Our 9AM departure soon became 11AM and even then we weren’t ready. Instead of hitting the highway, we ended up going back to REI to make one more purchase. It’s something we have wanted to get for a while, something we could have used on our recent motorcycle trip, also something we could not do without if we were going to backpack. We looked at it yesterday when we were at the store but wanted to do more research on the internet about it before buying it.

We were in and out of the store within minutes with our new water purification system. The car trip up to Michigan was supposed to take us 5-6 hours depending on the traffic. We wanted to get there as early as possible but knew that if we got there a couple of hours before sun set, that still wouldn’t be too bad.

picture of a sign Once we got off the interstate we were supposed to take a bunch of smaller roads to Nurenburg Road which ended with the parking lot where we would be leaving the car for the night. Once off the interstate it was only supposed to take 30-40 minutes to get there but it took longer because all the roads going there were closed. Apparently a tornado passed through this area two months ago and many of the roads were still closed . We had to take an alternate route to the wilderness area. We would have been driving in circles had we not stopped at the gas station to ask. Before Mike had time to finish his sentence, the lady behind the counted handed him a small piece of paper with the directions to Nordhouse Dunes. This was a slightly longer route, and some of the roads including Nurenburg Road where the trailhead is located, were gravel/dirt with some sandy portions, which my Acura didn’t care for.

When we arrived at the parking lot at the end of Nurenburg Road we found the lot filled to capacity. But it looked like some people might be leaving so we waited while we got our gear ready for the trip to the beach. We parked the car and paid a fee, I think it was $5. We met a couple with some kids on the trail, they said a year or two ago this area was free.

This was it. There was no turning back. With our packs on and the GPS pointing the way toward Lake Michigan, we headed toward the trail located next to the parking lot. It was later then we would have liked, we less then two hours of daylight left but supposedly from everything Mike read on the internet about a the Nordhouse Dunes, the hike from the parking lot to the lake was supposed to take less than an hour.

Following Mike on the sandy trail

Views from the trail, a small pond behind the trees

After taking to one of the REI employees yesterday about all the places where one might backpack near Chicagoland, we were very intrigued by Nordhouse Dunes which was a place one could go to and not see people if one didn't want to. But we especially liked the fact that the trails weren’t flat. After all, in the future we would be backpacking in the mountains, so we wanted to get a taste of some changes in elevation and hiking in sand would definitely be the same or more strenuous then hiking up a slight slope. Within the first few minutes on the trail we knew this experience was going to be awesome.

Nordhouse Dunes is a National Wilderness Area located inside the Manistee National Forest on Lake Michigan in the state of Michigan. It is the only designated Wilderness in the Lower Peninsula. There are about 20 miles of foot trails here and lots of shoreline with no sight of man-made structures. Because this is a wilderness area, there are no trail markings. Most of the dunes here are 3,500 to 4,000 years old and some stand about 140 feet high.

Mike and I on the trail

One more dune to climb

I can see the lake

The trail was sandy and hilly but it wasn’t that strenuous even though we were carrying a bit a of weight, but it wasn't easy either. After about 45 minutes we emerged from the forest in to an opening, we had some small dunes to climb next. By now I was definitely feeling the weight of the pack. We climbed down the dune and Lake Michigan stretched in front of us as far as the eye could see. The water was very still. There were a few people here, but not too many. After all, who ever wants to use this beach has to hike here. It was also Labor Day Weekend so we expected that there would be a bit more people here this weekend.

We were looking for a spot to set up camp. We decided to hike further in and find a more isolated spot. The rule is that campsites must be more than 400 feet from the Lake Michigan waterline. After 30 more minutes of hiking, and climbing a couple more dunes we found “the” spot.

Lake Michigan

A beach at sunset

A dune glowing red with the reflection of the setting sun

One last dune to climb before finding the perfect spot to set up camp

The sun was setting already so we had to hurry to set up the tent, soon it would be dark and there was no camp fires permitted. We managed to get the tent up and still hike to the beach to watch the sun despair behind the lake. The mosquitoes got me before I managed to pull the bug spray out. We ate our dinner, tuna and crackers, and got ready for bed.

Sun set over Lake Michigan

Our camp site

The sun is gone

Darkness comes quickly

The overnight temperatures were not supposed to drop any lower then 50 degrees so we decided to leave the the rain fly off. The stars were out and there were so many of them, even some shooting stars. The roof of our tent is mesh so you can stargaze from the sleeping bag.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

And now for something totally new

The day started so innocent, just a trip to the store. Mike needed to go to REI to see about a new sleeping bag. The REI Nooksack +35 degree bag he bought a few months ago wasn’t working out for him, it was way too tight. He ended up exchanging it for a Kelty Light year +20 degrees, which is more roomy. REI is excellent for returns and exchanges, if you’re not totally satisfied with something, you can exchange it even months after the purchase.

There was a sale going on at REI today and we ended up looking around. There has been something we’ve talked about doing, you know, in the future, we weren’t going to pursue it right now.

But there was no harm in looking and trying to see which ones we would want. So we talked to a couple that was shopping at the store, who just returned from a 4 day backpacking trip at Yellowstone raving about their Gregory packs. Then we got fitted for our packs, we tried many different brands and styles. Before we knew it we were standing in line and purchasing two Gregory packs.

We left the store with our new packs and a destination for our first ever backpacking trip.

Tomorrow we’re going backpacking!

My Gregory Deva 60

Mike's Gregory Palisade 80

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Packing list for a 6 week motorcycle trip

Moto-camping July 2008 - Nebraska

Back on July 4th I was packing the ST3 for the trip out west. I thought I was going to be on the road for 7.5 weeks and I was bringing all the things I might need during this time. Once the bike was packed I realized the ST3 was the heaviest it’s ever been.

The ST3 has been very heavy two times before, the time I rode with my Friend Sandy out west in 2006 for 10 days (I brought lots of camping stuff and clothes) and it was even heavier when I did the 9 day southeast ride with Mike in 2007 (I brought my lop top).

While finishing packing I actually ended up taking some things out to lighten up the bike, but in the end the ST3 would not even be making this trip since it still wasn’t running right the day of the departure. The broken valve spring which was fixed a few days may have been fixed but now the bike kept stalling.

We really wanted to leave on time and in a few hours I had all the items that were packed on the ST3 off the bike and I was trying to fit them on all on to the 954RR. Not everything would fit on the smaller bike with soft luggage so I had to leave a whole pile of stuff behind, basically clothes and luxury items.

I learned from this experience that very little can get me by on a trip. I have always packed light for trips regarding clothes but this trip would qualify as “ultra” light. All I can say is that I never missed the extra clothes I would have brought, well… there were only two things I wished I had brought.

Below is my detailed packing list with pictures.


I brought 5 hot weather synthetic fiber, moisture wicking shirts (there are only 3 in the picture because I'm wearing one of them and I'm washing the other at the time of the picture), two long sleeve, one short sleeve and two sleeveless. The benefit of these type of shirts is three-fold. They dry quickly so you can wash a shirt like that at night in the sink and it will be dry in the morning. They pack really small and don't wrinkle. And when you sweat the moisture wicks away from your body. 5 shirts was an ideal number for riding on this trip. I'd wash some in the sink if I needed and always made it to laundry day with no problems, which was once a week.

But when I was packing I forgot about something very important. What was I going to wear off the bike? I originally had a couple of cotton t-shirts packed but when I had to re-pack the bike I left them at home. This was a mistake since I didn't want to wear my wicking stuff on the bike and off the bike. I ended up purchasing two cotton t-shirts during the trip.

I also brought moisture wicking layers for the legs. When it's hot I wear short bicycle type moisture wicking shorts, when it's cooler I wear the long moisture wicking leggings which are made of a thicker material. I should have brought two pairs of the short ones, I wear those more often in the summer, That way I didn't have to keep washing the one pair over and over, sometimes daily. I also brought a pair of regular non-cotton shorts (not in the picture because I was wearing them at the time of the picture). Good for sitting around and sleeping.

On this trip I brought one pair of convertable pants. These pants have zippers on the pant legs and convert to shorts in seconds - great for hiking. If you only bring one pair of pants these are the ones to bring. During this trip I never felt I needed a second pair of pants, even though originally I had packed two pairs, but left one pair behind.

For an extra warm layer, I had my black thinsulated long sleeve pullover with fleece on the inside.

And for off the bike and also used as a warmer layer under my riding jacket, my black Gortex waterproof windbreaker jacket with a hood.

When it was really cold I would wear my Gerbings heated liner, when it was really hot I could wear my cooling vest. I ended up not wearing the cooling vest on this trip at all. I should have worn it on the ride through Arches National Park, it was so hot there, but I didn't bring it with me on this day ride, I left it at the motel - duh.

The one thing that I originally packed that I ended up leaving at home was the liner from my Fieldsheer jacket. I didn't have the space for two jacket liners and I couldn't wear them both at the same time anyway. On those really cold nights when we were camping, it would have been nice to have the Fieldsheer jacket liner to wear around the camp ground (it doubles as a jacket) and to sleep in. I wore the Gerbing liner instead as a warm layer but when the Gerbing is not plugged in it's not that warm, since it's not thick. I made do with it but thought the Fieldsheer liner would have came in handy a few times and it weighs hardy anything although it's thick and does take up some space.

Besides my motorcycle boots I brought two other pairs of shoes. A pair of hiking boots and a pair of flip-flops. I always tour with my flip-flops. They are great for wearing in the showers at the campgrounds so that you don't catch some foot fungus. And they can be used around the camp site to air out your feet after a long ride. And as slippers in someone's home. They are small and weigh nothing.

The Merrill hiking boots above, I bought them just for motorcycle trips. I have a pair of Vasque hiking boots to wear for serious hiking, but they are big, bulky and heavy and much better for cooler temps. I needed smaller and lighter boots… lighter as in weight but also lighter as in for hot weather... and for bringing on the bike. These vented hiking boots are awesome for summer bike trips. They actually fit in my tank bag.

Motorcycle Gear

I usually tour with three pairs of riding gloves. Rain gloves and two pairs of riding gloves. The reason for two pairs is simple. If I lost a glove on a ride I would be out of luck. No MC dealer carries small gloves like the ones I wear. I like to carry two pairs just in case I loose a glove, which hasn't happened yet. It's also nice to have two pairs in case one gets wet in the rain. In light rain I wear regular MC gloves, it really has to be pouring for me to put on rain gloves.

A thin fleece balaclava and silk glove liners can be used to wear under the helmet and under gloves when it's cold. While camping in cold weather I wear the balaclava rolled up as a hat and the glove liners serve well as gloves. The thin silk keep hands very warm and both these items weight practically nothing and take up hardly any space, so I take them along even on days rides.

I always have two helmet visors with me, a tinted one and a clear one. The one I'm not using fits nicely in my tank bag. I have it inside a protective cloth so it doesn't scratch. A worn out long sock works just as well.


Electronics weigh a lot. It’s not just the items that you have to lug, you also need the power cords and the chargers. Unfortunately I need them. On this trip I ended up leaving my iPod and charger behind. I needed space for the lap top and other things.

Electronics weigh a lot. It’s not just the actuall items that you have to lug, you also need the power cords and the chargers. On this trip I ended up leaving my iPod and charger behind. I needed space for the lap top and other things.

I usually keep all my cords and chargers in this mesh Eagle Creek bag, on this trip all the stuff I brought barely fit in to this bag. I brought two cameras on this trip so I needed the two camera battery chargers. I brought two chargers for my cell phone, the one you plug in to the wall outlet and the cigarette lighter charger to use on the bike. And the GPS charger.

Also pictured but left at home, iPod chargers and one of those small portable power inverters (blue thing to the right of the bag).

The heaviest and biggest of them all, my lap top power cord. can't they make these things any smaller?

My lap top, wireless mouse and mouse pad, shown packed in the larger picture. I have this ultra soft, thick but light lap top case which I love. Besides bringing the lap top, I also needed to bring some paper work on this trip. The pink plastic envelope worked out nicely although paper does tend to weigh a bit.

Since I was bringing this pink envelope I also used it to carry all my paper maps, receipts, documents and notes. It kept everything very organized.

I have two batteries for each of my cameras. Pictures are very important to me. This way I don't have to worry about running out of juice in the middle of the day and I don’t have to charge my batteries every day. My Pentax and Nikon batteries last 1-3 days and I take lots of pictures. The old Canon battery for my old Canon Elph Powershot only lasts a day sometimes less. I always buy cameras with rechargeable batteries, I like them best. On this trip I only took the Nikon and Pentax cameras, I also have an extra SD (Secure Digital) card incase I fill the other two. All my new cameras use SD cards now which is nice, the extra one can be used in either camera. The old Canon uses a CF (Compact Flash) card. I'm trying to faze out old technology.

I found a plastic soap dish (see insert in the above picture). The spare camera batteries and the spare SD cards fit in there and since everything is now protected from water, I can keep this container in the tank bag.

And lastly, I don't leave home without one of these multiple outlet plug thingies. It’s great for charging all the stuff simultaneously at a camp site where they usually only give you two outlets and that's if you're lucky to have electricity, or in a motel room (there never seems to be enough outlets in motel rooms).


From left to right: my Northface 40 degree sleeping bag, Big Agnes sleeping pad and a mummy sleeping bag liner. All light items, the sleeping bag is the largest but all three items actually fit inside one of my soft saddle bags.

The sleeping bag liner is a new item bought just before this trip, I'm glad I got it. It adds extra warmth, depending on the type of liner you get, you could be adding as much as 9 extra degrees of warmth to you sleeping bag. But that's not all it does, it keeps your sleeping bag cleaner. This way you just have to wash the liner once in a while and the sleeping bags stays clean for years.

I've been using my Big Agnes insulated air core pad since 2006 and I like it a lot. Having to blow it up is a drag, but because it's filled with air it keeps you insulated from the cold ground. There is an inflating device that will blow this pad up but we can't seem to find it in any of the stores, we'd have to order it on line and it just hasn't happened yet.

Even though I've used my Northface Wasatch 40 degree sleeping bag since 2005 without any problems, I found that many nights while camping on this trip I was cold. My Northface Wasatch was my the first and still my only mummy sleeping bag that I bought specially for motorcycle trips. It packed small and it didn't weight much and it was under $70. On the past trips around the midwest, southeast and southwest trips, the night time temps during summer tend to stay warm, between 70 and 50 degrees. Before this trip the coldest night that I've endured in my Northface sleeping bag was in 2006 while camping in New Mexico at around 6-7,000 feet in elevation, it dropped to around 45 degrees and I remember being cold that night.

On this trip even with the sleeping bag liner, I was cold a few nights when the temperatures dropped in to the mid 30's overnight in the mountains. I will need a warmer sleeping bag for camping at higher elevations. I have two zero degree sleeping bags which are warmer but they are not good for bike travels since they pack large and are heavy. I use them when we're camping with the truck.

Camping pillow is a must for me.

Camping towel, I use a small one

A headlamp is a necessity while camping. This is a discontinued Rayovac light that is superior to all others. I used to have another headlamp but the power button was located on top of the light and many times while I was unpacking the headlamp at my destination I would find that the headlamp was on wasting the batteries. Something had pressed on the button while the lamp was packed away.

After a few trips I decided to put the headlamp in to a small box, this way nothing could rub against the button and turn it on, but that was crazy to carry a special box for a headlamp. Mike had this Rayovac light and I liked it. There was no button here, to turn this headlamp on you have to turn the dial. It's very hard for this dial to turn by itself so the batteries don't get wasted. This headlamp also has three types of lights, a bright LED white, a regular white bulb and a red light. The red light is great because it doesn't attract bugs like the white light. All the newer headlamp designs use buttons and it's hard to find a headlamp that had three lights in one. I wish they would still make this headlamp, it's great for moto-camping.

We have a Eureka Apex two person tent. We also have a tent liner that protects the floor of the tent from rips. We also now bring a regular blue tarp that can be used for various things like extra shelter from the rain, or an extra floor liner when camping on rough rocky terrain. It can also be used as a picnic blanket, a table cloth or a clean surface to step on when you need to change your clothes or place your gear on while packing the bikes. We also use it to cover our gear while camping to keep it dry from the rain or morning dew. The tarp is great. Mike carries all these things on his bike.

I carry my water in a Platypus type system. This is my old Platypus in the picture, it's 1.8 L, the new Platypus that I brought on this trip holds 3 L of liquid. At first I was like wow, this thing is big, this thing is heavy when filled with water, but it worked out great especially while camping. At times when it was hot 3 L of water wasn't even enough. While riding I'd have the Platypus strapped to the top of my tail bag, easily accessible for a drink. I like the Platypus better then the Camelbak (which I also have) because it's easier to fill, since the opening is like an opening from a plastic bottle. On this trip we had even used my Platypus to take a shower with.

For this trip I had to buy a large brimmed hat. The sun is very strong at higher elevations. Since I like to hike I have to protect my head from heat and my face from the sun. I picked up this hat at Jax in Fort Collins and would keep it on top of all the other stuff in the top case. I've never had a hat like this before, it really does work, I'm glad I got it.

Packing it all

To pack loose items like clothes, especially socks and underwear I use these cinch sacks. On this trip I had two of these cinch sack filled with clothes.

Miscellaneous stuff

Bottles are too bulky so my vitamins were kept in a zip-lock bag.

I like to use a sponge in the shower instead of a Loofah. This one is great for camping because you can hang it on the wall, instead of setting it down on the yukky shower floor.

Some other things that I bring on long trips:

Travel wippes - great for cleaning up while camping when there is no water near by

A small folding rain umbrella - I've used this umbrella many times, it's small and light so I keep bringing it. I've used it to keep the contents of my luggage try while packing in the rian. It can also be used for shade

A first aid kit

Sunglasses and case

Extra key for motorcycle

Travel alarm clock

Bug spray

Sun screen

Nail file, clippers, small scissors and makeup (mascara, eye liner and lip stick)

In the black case are my regular toiletries:

Lip balm
Contact lenses
Contact lens Solution
Eye Drops
Headache Medicine
Tooth paste
Hand Sanitizer

In addition to all this stuff, the things that come very handy on rides are plastic shopping bags, actually the more bags the better. We use then to carry dirty laundry, use them to put stuff you want to keep dry when it rains and you can use them as garbage bags when camping.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Our Colorado Trip Summery

Now that the trip is over, it time to reflect on this amazing experience. This was the longest motorcycle trip I’ve been on. Actually, this was the longest trip I’ve ever been on. For 50 wonderful days we were away from the Midwest. I ended up riding 6,864 miles during the 50 days, Mike’s mileage was a little less than mine since his bike was the dealers getting fixed and I got to do a few rides while he had to work.

Location, location, location and lodging

Besides riding some awesome roads and seeing some amazing places, this trip had a purpose. The purpose was to take a close look at three locations in Colorado and to see where we would like to live. Now that I no longer had a job in Chicagoland, we were thinking of moving away from Illinois. This was not a new thought, it’s something we’ve been talking about for about a year. Colorado seemed like a nice place to live but before moving there we wanted to take a closer look. The three areas we wanted to look at was Denver and the surrounding suburbs, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.

During our trip we spent a total of a month in Colorado. A week in Broomfield, two weeks in Fort Collins, a week in Colorado Springs and three days in Highlands Ranch. We also spent a week in Monticello, Utah. The week we spend in Utah was just for fun.

Our Friends in Colorado

But this trip wouldn’t have happened without some help. We have to give thanks to some special people who we now call friends, who took us in to their homes. If we had to stay in motels the entire duration of this trip, this trip would have been a short one since motel stay can get expensive and we couldn‘t camp since Mike worked Monday through Friday during this entire trip and he needed high speed internet to do his work and a quiet work area to do his phone calls.

In Broomfield with Rita and Carl (Carl took this picture)

In Fort Collins with Jim

In Colorado Springs with Paul, Deb and baby Daniella

In Highlands Ranch with Mike's uncle Larry


One of the advantages of staying with people is having a real kitchen. A Kitchen = home cooked meals, which also saves a bunch of money, since eating out gets expensive. Mike is good cook so whenever possible he would cook something good.

Mike and I grocery shopping at Safeway

Mike’s scrumptious shrimp etoufee in Broomfield

Mike's yummy beans and rice in Fort Collins

A good meal makes excellent leftovers for lunch

The one week we stayed in a motel we cooked in our room since we had a fridge and microwave in the room.

Our motel room at the National 9 Inn in Monticello

The meals we made in the motel room were not very fancy but way cheaper than going out to eat


Colorado is known as "The Napa Valley of the Beer World” so the one thing that I tried to do while on my trip was to drink beers brewed in Colorado.

Colorado Beers consumed on this trip:

Estes Park Stinger Wild Honey Wheat

Boulder Beer Singletrack Copper Ale

Breckenridge Avalanche Amber Ale

Odell (Fort Collins) Levity Amber Ale

Odell (Fort Collins) 90 Shilling Ale

Odell (Fort Collins) Easy Street Wheat on tap and some Fort Collins pizza

New Belgium (Fort Collins) 1554 Black Ale

The Fort Collins Brewery The Kidd Lager


National Parks, Monuments and Recreational Areas Visited:

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado
Flaming Gorge Recreation Area, Utah
Curecanti National Recreational Area, Utah
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (South Rim), Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Canyonlands National Park (Needles and Island in the Sky), Utah
Arches National Park, Utah

We sure did visit a lot of parks on our trip. Even though each one was unique and worth a visit, some were better then others for particular activities and reasons.

Grand Teton had absolutely amazing views but it was pretty crowded at the park and the roads weren’t what I‘d call good motorcycle roads. Too bad we didn’t have enough time to do some hiking, I think it would have been great.

Rocky Mountain National Park has beautiful views, great trails and amazing roads. But I thought the riding in Mesa Verde was even better, the road was much twistier and there was way less traffic than at the Rocky Mountain and the views were great also. But my favorite park for riding a motorcycle through is the Flaming Gorge. The road and views are out of this world, and the traffic is light also. Even though Canyonlands have spectacular views and the road is great, and there is hardly any traffic, the road isn’t that twisty as at the above parks.

The parks that were not at all what I expected were Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Arches. The road through each of these parks wasn’t all that great, but after all that is not a prerequisite for a national park. The scenery just wasn’t as good as the other parks that I listed above. Although before I make a final conclusion about Black Canyon of the Gunnison I’d like to see the rest of the park. What I did see at the South Rim wasn’t that impressive. As for Arches, there were just too many people there for me to enjoy the park, and this wasn’t even a weekend. Too many tar snakes on the road and not enough spectacular scenery to be seen from the bike’s seat makes this not the best park to ride through. I do think this would be a great place to explore on foot, since you have to hike to most of the arches.


Biggest frustrations of this trip for me was the soft luggage. Packing was very time consuming. Each week over the 6 weeks it just became a bigger pain especially when camping over the weekend with all our stuff. Packing the saddle bags off the bike actually is not that hard, but when the saddle bags are already on the bike it make it harder to pack them and of course to take them off the bike just to put them back on the bike is a lot of work also. That‘s why hard luggage is best for long trips or for people that tour frequently. That was the reason why after a couple of years of touring on the 954RR I ended buying the ST3. Instead of spending 45-60 minutes every time to pack the bike, with hard luggage it only takes about 20 minutes or less to pack. I'm sure it would have been easier if I had less stuff with me, but unfortunately I already brought only the necessities. Hard luggage rules!

Overall this was an amazing experience and as all good things, it went by way too fast. We met some great people and saw some spectacular scenery and rode some terrific roads. Too bad Mike had to work each week, but we decided before we left Illinois that even though the trip would be way more fun for me than for him, this was one of those unique times in our lives where we could pick up and go for an extended time on our bikes since I had no job and he was working from home. We wanted to do it and we don’t regret the decision, the trip was great even though we still couldn‘t go and see everything we wanted to and rushed through some of the days like on our other trips.

We have what we were seeking on this trip - an idea of where we want to live. We liked the Denver area a lot, but it was just another big city with suburbs, not as big as Chicago but too big for us. Colorado Springs grew since I was last there in 2006, it was very built up and congested and also felt big. Fort Collins felt just right. It had that laid back small town atmosphere, but it’s big enough to have all the big city amenities. And it’s so close to nature - mountains and rivers all close by.

A rainbow over Fort Collins - we enjoyed our stay in Fort Collins so much we ended up staying an extra week there