31 August - 30 November 2003

I got out of town once again on Oct 4th. This time I went to Bishop, CA by way of Fernley, NV on I 80 then Yerington, NV on Alt US 95 where I stopped for breakfast at Dini's Casino. I had never been to Yerington, NV and considered this a good opportunity to do so. It is an old copper mining town, somewhat like Bisbee, AZ where I went to school during my 2nd to 5th grade. The town contracted painfully when the mine shut down but has grown back to a population of around 4,000. It is the County Seat, so there are some government jobs, farming, ranching, hunting/fishing and retirement living seem to keep it alive if not booming. There is a very large onion and garlic farm in the area plus a lot of hay farming. After leaving Yerington I followed the Walker River on NV Hwy 388 that becomes CA Hwy 108 to Bridgeport, CA where I joined US 395, the highway that offers a direct route from Reno to Bishop. I had been that way once before, in May of 1996, just before selling my 1990 Celica and leaving for Bulgaria. On that trip I did a big loop drive as far south as Hermosillo, Mexico passing through Bishop and turning off US 395 near Big Pine, CA to drive through Death Valley.

The purpose of this trip to Bishop, in addition to seeing the sights, was to meet a fellow that I had been in e-mail contact with about building a "teardrop trailer" for me. He lives in Yucca Valley, CA and I had contacted him about visiting him sometime in Oct or Nov. He said he would be at a Classic Car Show in Bishop on the 4th so I saved a lot of driving by meeting him there. I talked to him for about an hour about the trailer and then looked at cars in the show for another hour before checking into my motel and going out for lunch. I have almost decided that I'll get a trailer from him but it will be after the end of this year before I do so. He makes 3 different reproduction styles; the Kit Kamper (a Classic teardrop shape), the Benroy and the Scud-a-bout (both are similar in shape; more rectangular, less teardrop). I'll probably go with the Scud-a-bout because it has the lower profile yet has the highest rear hatch opening. It's my idea to NOT have a galley (having one was traditional) thus leaving the trailer open through the back. This will allow me to wheel my bike into the trailer without any disassembly and I'll have built in tie-down hooks to secure it during travel. It will also function as a "mini-RV" since I'll be able to sleep in it rather than staying in a motel every night when I'm traveling. These trailers were most popular in the 1940s and '50s. They were usually 4 feet wide by 8 feet long made of plywood and "skinned" with aluminum. The reproductions look the same, built the same, but use our more modern materials such as pre-painted aluminum and an improved electrical/lighting system.

I said above that the trailer would come after the end of the year; the reasons for waiting are two other projects that I have to pay for first. One of those projects is an upgrade/change to my bicycle drive train, brakes and stem. First, I have never been totally happy with the way the Campy Ergo shifters have functioned with the Triple Derailleur (front and rear), my triple chain rings (48x38x24), and the 11-30 cassette freewheel. I selected this chain ring combination to allow me to have the 8 gears in the middle chain ring that I used most often, occasionally using the smallest 2 or 3 freewheel cogs with the 48 tooth ring on long down hills, and using the 24 tooth ring with the three biggest cogs to bail me out on the steep climbs. The middle gear set up was great, the top gears were not too bad getting in/out of, but getting into or out of the "granny" was not very good at all. It wasn't entirely the equipments fault - there was probably too much of a jump from the 24 to the 38 and I was trying to use the front and rear derailleur at its maximum range plus some. To make it all work as well as it did, I was using a shortened chain that wouldn't allow the use of big/big or small/small chain ring cassette combinations. This left me with about 18 usable gears and 3 of those were near duplicates when shifting from one chain ring to the next. Second, it seemed that the brakes were not as effective as the cantilevers had been on my old bike. The brakes were the same but the Campy Ergo levers didn't feel like they gave me the stopping power that I had before. Lastly, the handlebar stem had a rather short quill and I couldn't raise my handlebars level with the seat. In looking for a solution I came across an internal hub made by Rohloff in Germany, the Rohloff 500/14. I don't know what the 500 denotes but the 14 is the number of internal gears. With my existing 48-tooth chain ring and a 17-tooth sprocket on the hub I can almost duplicate my previous gear range but the change between gears is a consistent 13.5%. The spacing between gears using the derailleur system varied quite a bit so this should be a big improvement. I'll now have no front or rear derailleur, a single chain ring and all 14 gears will be sequentially available, even when stopped. I'm replacing the Ergo levers with Dia Compe cantilever levers and the stem with one that has a quill that is over 2 times as long. I pick up my "new" bike after work on Friday Oct 17th and went for my first ride the next morning. It is slick! The only learning process involved was which way to twist the shifter to move up or down in the gear range. The shifter has numbers 1 thru 14 molded in but they are also black on the black shifter making them very difficult to see. In addition, the shifter is designed to mount on mountain bike bars so the marking that lines up with what gear number you are riding in is not visible on my drop bar installation. Neither of these issues are a problem, when riding with a derailleur I didn't know what gear I was in unless I looked to see what freewheel cog I was using. To complicate the gear numbering issue even further I have the shifter installed "inverse". The "normal" installation will show number 14 when you are in the highest gear whereas my shifter will be on number 1. I prefer it this way simply because to gear down requires me to turn the shifter in a clockwise direction (like opening a door) which I find more natural than turning counter clockwise. You usually have plenty of time to gear up but it is sometimes VERY important that you can shift down quickly and easily. I like it a lot! I was contributing to a bicycling thread on the Internet the day of my first ride and someone asked if a Rohloff hub would be a good choice for an around the world trip. One of the respondents was very adamant that it would not because it was a "delicate" piece of equipment. This started an "Internet flame war" with another poster that has had one for two years. The anti-Rohloff poster then made the comment that the only advantage of having a Rohloff hub is that you can say, " I own the most complex, expensive and impossible to field-maintain shifter/hub ever designed." I promptly responded: I own the most complex, expensive and impossible to field-maintain shifter/hub ever designed; I like it and wouldn't hesitate to use it on an around the world tour. His statement has also now become my signature on that Forum (LOL).

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leftpic Two pictures to show what the bike now looks like. The first picture on the left shows how the cables are routed from the handlebars. The second, left top row, shows the stem is much longer and you can see that I have the handlebars up above the level of the seat, that was impossible before. The third shot shows the routing to the Rohloff hub. And last a close up view of the twist shifter, the longer stem and Dia Compe levers.

The other project is the custom taillights for Cousin MINI that I mentioned in my last letter. I made original contact with back in June after seeing that they wanted a "development partner" for MINI taillights. My original focus was on getting "smoked" tails without applying a film or paint of any kind. I was thinking along the lines that they could replace the covering lens with one that had the "tint" included in the plastic. (Note: I just saw an Internet site that is offering this style of tail light for $390 per pair. The site also specifically states that additional reflectors may be required to comply with state law.) What has done is cut the light open (it was a sealed injection molded unit) and paint the internal reflective chrome black which then gives the appearance that they are smoked/tinted. By doing this I have retained all the reflective capability of the red tail light lens and they remain totally legal. The stock tails are the same for MINIs sold all over the world but for the USA the top bulb in the unit (the fog light) was not functional. It has no electrical power to it here whereas in Europe there is a toggle switch that activates the fog light. MINI owners in the US petitioned MINI-USA for the toggle activated fog lights and/or have modified their tails to use the top bulb as an additional brake light. The "brake light mod" simply ran a jumper wire (such wire being a paperclip many times) from the bottom bulb brake connection to the top bulb. I liked the idea of having an additional brake light but thought that the top bulb should work just like the bottom and asked to modify them to function that way. This requires a rebuilding of the bulb socket and printed circuit board to provide power for a tail light filament as well as a brake light filament (the stock fog light bulb is single filament). also does a lot of modifications using LEDs and they recommended that I change over to them while I was doing everything else. So the bulb sockets will be eliminated, the LEDs will be soldered into the new circuit board and permanently affixed to the molded light body, which contains the reflective lens. Custom work is not cheap, and I'm having a lot done, but the finished product will be unique and the first modification of this type that has been done for the MINI. This assumes that they will be finished - it is taking forever to get them done.

I returned to Reno from Bishop on Sunday but as in my past travels I didn't do so by the most direct route. I did retrace my route of Saturday as far north as CA Hwy 120, just before Lee Vining, CA, where I turned to the west and went over Tioga Pass (the highest pass over the Sierra at 9,945 feet) into Yosemite National Park. I had never been to Yosemite and thought this would be a good opportunity but was somewhat disappointed because the Park Service was doing "managed burns" and had the canyons full of smoke. It was a great drive through the Sierra but the views were not as spectacular as they could have been if it had been clear. This road is closed during the winter months and I can see why, from the east it climbs from around 4500 feet to the summit in about 14 miles. I was looking at it from a bicycling point of view and thought it to be a very tough climb. However, I stopped to visit with my friends John & Janice in Placerville and they have ridden both Tioga and Sonora Passes and they both said that Sonora is the steeper. To get to Placerville I joined CA Hwy 49 at Chinese Camp, CA and followed it north with a stop in Angel Camp, CA (home of the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Contest) for brunch. Therefore, since January, when I bought her, Cousin MINI and I have covered the entire length of Hwy 49 in CA, a very twisty and fun road for us both. The total weekend loop from Reno to Bishop and return was 628 miles with a lot of mountain driving and I still got 40.6 mpg. There are those that complain about the gas mileage of their MINI but I'm sure not one of them!

Last but not least, I have finished re-typing all of the Letters from Bulgaria and now have them on my web site. My next chore is to create web pages for the Letters from Reno that I wrote after returning from Bulgaria (I don't have to re-type these, I kept them in my Yahoo e-mail account). I will then also re-format all the existing Letters from Japan and current Reno Letter web pages. This will probably keep me entertained for most of next year.