When I got here and even several days into the trip I was like “I’m not on tour yet but I’ll know it when I see it.” Day after day after day I was still not yet on tour. Now I am.
What does that even mean? Honestly, I’m not sure.
Maybe it happened when I finally gave up on a hill. I ended up walking up the rest of the way, not the first hill I walked up, I even had one of those in the first day, but it was the first time where if someone had driven past and asked me if I wanted a ride, I would have said yes, absolutely, please save me from this hill. It was a combination of the steepness, the road surface (very chunky gravel), and the 12km extra I’d done that day as a result of missing a turn.
Maybe it happened when I decided to make that left turn and ride into Kaitaia, where I happened upon a parade and just … started crying. Why did I start crying? No idea. But there were lots of people around, out having fun, the local fire department was out in force blowing their sirens and honking their horns, there was a Santa in the back of a convertible, some rando dude on a loud motorcycle. It just overwhelmed me and told me I’d made the right decision to ride into Kaitaia instead of staying in Awanui.
Maybe it happened when I got all sorts of flustered and scared of the idea of riding my bike to Cape Reinga, with no services or camping or anything for 70km with nearly 1000m of climbing, most of which is at the end, and then having to ride back down a super steep hill to the campsite to then have to ride way back up and back all those hills again for 25km and constant headwinds on 90 mile beach and riding on sand and hating life and putting less kms per day on than people WALKING and freaking out and crying.
Maybe it happened when I decided to just take a tourist bus to Cape Reinga and scout the route. What water supply options are there? Are there accommodation options not shown on google maps? How about shops or restaurants? How’s the traffic? What do the hills look like? Is it pretty enough to make it worth my while?
Maybe it happened when, after leaving the literal last place to buy anything going north, passing a sign saying 20km to the Cape, we started climbing a huge hill, then went down the other side, and started going back up again and I decided, finally, that nope, I wasn’t going to ride all the way up there.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, or why, but it happened. I am officially on tour. Hills are still scary. Mileage still gives me anxiety. I’m constantly worried about finding accommodation. But that’s all just part of touring. That’s normal. There is no point so far on this trip other than a small handful of close passes from inconsiderate drivers that I can honestly say wasn’t at least type 2 fun. Even the stupidly rough gravel road descending down into Mangonui, which is probably the chunkiest gravel I’ve ever ridden on. Even the hill earlier that day that I gave up on. Even the felt-like-a-hurricane force wind I rode into coming into the campground at Oakura. It has all been worth doing.
It’s been worth doing for things like being the only person on a train with the tool to fix the air line that broke and left us stranded on the tracks.
It’s been worth doing for the awesome places I’ve stayed like the roadside hostel at Kahoe Farms and the awesome pizza cooked up by the host.
It’s been worth it for the bridge barely wide enough to ride my bike on.
It’s been worth it for all of the right reasons. And some of the wrong ones.
From here, I join the Tour Aotearoa cycling route and head south. Ahead of me are many days of uncertain accommodation options, spotty ferry schedules, lots of hills, lots of kms, probably some headwinds, hopefully some tailwinds. Ahead of me are many reasons why it’s worth it.
Literally the day before my departure to New Zealand I lost my wallet. Fortunately, I keep an extremely minimal wallet. I had my passport card, my debit card, and my daily driver credit card. I don’t even need my passport card, really, I like to have it because I don’t yet have a RealID Oregon driver license (for silly reasons I might rant about some time) so it’s good for domestic travel. I like to carry it and leave my real passport at my accommodation when I’m abroad, as it’s much more compact and less fragile than my full passport. It has yet to fail to work as ID when I needed it, and for everything else, there’s Mastercard playing the dumb foreigner. But this isn’t about my passport card. I don’t care about my passport card. It’s gone. I’ll replace it when I renew my passport. Ignore it.
This isn’t even about my daily driver credit card. I primarily use a Chase Sapphire Reserve card because of the baller feel of the metal card perks and whatnot and all those sweet sweet points I’ve used to book international travel in the past. The Apple Pay version of that on my phone and my watch (which is dead, actually, another story) are working just fine and still my primary form of payment at places that accept contactless payments here which is about 75% of places. It’s actually odd, there’s a weird mix of places that don’t even want cash and some that won’t accept “paywave”. The fee structure for contactless payments here is completely broken apparently which is where the problem lies. No. It’s not about that card. I have a backup physical card for my United card so even places that don’t take paywave but still take physical credit card I can use just fine. I do want to replace it, but it’s not a huge priority.
The card I really care about is my debit card. It’s the only way I can get cash. And for some things, you just need cash. Fortunately, I brought some US currency with me and got robbed at a currency converted it, but I’m running low. So today, I decided I needed cash and went to get some.
The moment I realized I’d lost my wallet I immediately called my banks and reported the cards lost. I also reported my passport card as lost, which is itself a bit of a terrifying process because it’s not super clear you aren’t also reporting your full passport lost, but that’s another post. No big deal. Except I was leaving in less than 24 hours to fly halfway around the world for 6 months. Where were they going to send my replacement cards?
Poste restante is a service offered by some countries’ postal services, including New Zealand. You basically send some mail to a post office and they’ll hold it for you until you pick it up, for a small fee. Kind of an ad-hoc P.O. Box. A lot of hostels and accommodations and such in New Zealand will happily receive a package for you, but I wasn’t quite sure where I’d be, when, and with poste restante they are able to forward the mail along which is handy. Also since it was my credit and debit card, I thought it might not be a bad security decision to have the post office hold it rather than some rando working holiday bloke at a hostel somewhere.
At time of incident and up to and including time of writing, googling for “NZ post restante” took you to a page on the NZ post website that listed a bunch of locations that provided the service, contact info, and instructions and costs for using it. Knowing that I wouldn’t be in Auckland for very long, and that I’d be heading north, I decided my best bet was, well, the only location north of Auckland, in Whangarei. So when I called my banks I told them that address and off I went. No big deal.
Roughly 2 weeks later I was was sitting in Whangarei. Silly me, not paying attention to things like “what do you mean the post office isn’t open on weekends?” I didn’t realize I was getting in to Whangarei later afternoon on Friday and leaving early Sunday morning. Oops. No big deal, though, they could just forward it along. I’d call them and arrange that, later. I figured, once it’s in country and on the same island it should only be 1-2 days from when I call to when it gets to where I’ve had it forwarded to, intra island mail is usually only one day if you make the cutoff, with rural delivery being longer but I could plan a few days ahead no big deal.
My first clue something was a bit off was when I walked past the location in Whangarei where the poste restante service was supposed to be and it was, in fact, a bank. Or maybe a men’s clothing store. Or both? Not really sure. Certainly didn’t look like a post office. But the bank was closed and I was sure the men’s clothing store thing was wrong so I left it for later.
The second clue was when I called the number listed on the website, only to find it was disconnected! They had a fax number listed, too, so I tried that just in case and while that one wasn’t disconnected it definitely sounded like it wanted me to talk in fax language and I wasn’t feeling up for it.
But whatever! I’d just get cash back from using my debit at a grocery’s store, no big deal. So I tried. And being silly misinterpreted the display saying my total was going to be $49 when I wanted $40 cash. I thought it was trying to charge me $9 to get cash. No. That $9 was for my groceries. I panicked and just used my credit card and left. But in my brain, it had worked, no problem.
Bay of Islands
5 days later I was sitting in lovely Bay of Islands, staying at a little backpackers on top of an extraordinarily steep hill. Super cool host, I have the place to myself, we talked about travel, food, even some politics, as much as I hate it, we seemed to be mostly on the same page so it was ok. Up came the topic of people running out on the tab with him. He was one of those trusting types who lets you pay on the way out. Awesome. But also only took cash or NZ bank transfer (so, cash). No worries, there was a grocery store on the other side of the bay and I was going to be over there at least once during the trip, I’d stop and get some cash there.
So I did. And it failed. But not because I couldn’t get cash, I never got the option. The terminal ran it as credit, which should work fine, it’s a Visa. Except it didn’t. Very odd. Feeling stupid I paid using my credit card and moved on.
When I got back to my accommodation I contacted my bank and asked them what was up? It turns out that the Apple Pay card is tied to the existence and activation of the physical card. Well, that’s certainly A Decision. So now I wondered what to do? The lady from the bank and I talked it over and I decided I was going to try to Western Union myself some cash the next day. It would probably cost an arm and a leg, but it looked like I could do it from their website. Another thing she did was say she’d find for me the tracking number for the package so I could try to track it that way.
I needed to pay for my accommodation with cash, but didn’t have enough cash and couldn’t get any more. On a whim, I tried my credit card in the ATM and that allowed me to get some cash. Ok. $10 cash advance fee and interest and all of that but at least I had some cash and a (hopefully) reliable method for getting more. And it was probably cheaper than western union.
Just gonna preface this here: always always always always always always always get a tracking number.
Anywho, now I had the tracking number so I threw that into the fedex website, where I saw it had been attempted to be delivered a number of times and failed due to wrong address and then was … finally delivered?
So I treads the number on the NZ post website again, and got disconnected, again. I called the main number and spoke with someone there. They said the address was wrong. I said the address is right there on the website. The number is disconnected. What do? The very kind and patient lady there told me she’d call the local branch in the morning and see what was up. I heard back from her the next day and apparently that was in fact a partnership with the bank in question but they aren’t doing that anymore and the location doesn’t do Poste Restante. Sigh.
So I called fedex. One thing I noticed is that after the delivered part it actually showed it was back in East Tamaki, I’m assuming their local distribution center. Which led me to believe that maybe it was on its way back, but, importantly, still in New Zealand!
So I called fedex to see if I could get them to redirect the package to somewhere I was going to be in a few days. This awesome amazing wonderful human being, after some back and forth trying to explain the situation and what I needed, said it was absolutely possible and arranged for it to happen. He said it would probably take a few days for tracking to update because they would be handing it off to a local courier and I’d use the tracking number there, but it was possible, and even likely that it would happen!
So I waited.
And every day, many times, put the tracking number into every shipping website I could think of in New Zealand.
I arrived at the place the package was to be delivered to, the Whatuwhiwhi Holiday Park. Nothing.
I had booked for 2 nights hoping it would show up while I was there. Refreshed tracking info every 5 seconds.
Suddenly! An update! It was delivered! … to Whangarei?
My heart sank. They’d only just now handed it off to the local courier? They’d tried delivering it to Whangarei again? What happened? Being a Friday I was really hoping I’d have it by then because it probably wouldn’t get delivered on the weekend and, lovely as the holiday park and the Karikari Peninsula is, I was getting awfully bored just waiting for this. but I’d already booked for 2 nights so I’d just wait and see in the morning.
Later in the afternoon I hitched a ride into town (the holiday park is at the bottom of a HUGE hill) so I could get some food. One of the front desk staff from the holiday park was who took me into town. About 15 minutes later after I’d ordered my food and sat down waiting for it to arrive, she comes up and hands me the package.
It had been delivered to their P.O. Box or something and not the main office (I had just given fedex the google maps address) so they hadn’t seen it, but it had arrived! It had finally arrived! I opened it up, called and activated the card, and life was good. Finally complete.
Another patron of the takeaways came out and sat with me and I told him a very brief version of this and he was happy for me. Then we talked a lot about my trip, what I was doing, etc. I ate my burger and chips and had one of the best evenings I’ve had so far on the trip.
Now if I can just repeat this success with the contact lenses I ordered the other day…
Bonus content: the view from a much larger hill above the town.
Yesterday I rode my first day on the tour! It was quite a bit harder than I was expecting. I felt really great early on but bonked pretty hard later in the day. It was still a good day full of great experiences and I’m proud of myself.
We’re having a bit of a storm here in the Auckland region right now and that ended up canceling all of the Auckland to Gulf Harbour ferries for the day. Fortunately, they were running buses to replace the ferries. A bit of a sad, but one cool thing it allowed for was a personal guided tour of the route from my bus driver, since I was the only passenger!
After arriving in Gulf Harbour, I was amazed to find that I could see downtown Auckland quite clearly, despite it being an hour away by ferry or bus! Perfect for a “it begins” photo shoot.
The lovely gentleman who took my picture let me know of a nice place further out on the Whangaparāoa Peninusla where there’s a Kiwi sanctuary and some pretty views. Sadly, no Kiwi were to be found, as they are not active during the day, but the views were really nice, and I got some extra credit riding in to make up for the shortened day.
See, originally I had planned to ride all the way past Orewa to Wairera and stay at the Schischka Campground. But all I’d heard about from people for the past few days and from the weather service was the storm approaching the area, and how much of a doozy it was supposed to be. So I decided to cut the day short and stop in Orewa. Orewa is a beach community, and only about an hour drive from Auckland, so it’s a very popular weekend spot. Fortunately I was able to get in at the local holiday park, and extra double bonus points: they had a cabin I could stay in.
Combine the storm with my long ride planned for the next day, made that much longer because I was starting farther away, I decided not to ride and just hang out in Orewa for the day. Judging by the surf conditions, I think I made the right choice.
So now I’m hanging out at an awesome coffee shop with tons of couches, chill music, great coffee, and friendly doggos.
Tomorrow I’ll get back on the bike, weather permitting, and suffer my way to Sandspit, where I’ll probably spend 2 more nights, one to rest up from the long day, but also to do some side excursions in the area.
I’m using a new mastodon account for my travels. I had planned to use this site for more microblog style content but I feel like I want to post that way more than makes sense to do here, so I’ll do it over on mastodon.
As is obligatory before one sets off on a human-powered adventure, here is my gear post. There will be lots of photos and text, but hopefully it’ll be well categorized for easy skimming!
How I have packed things kinda falls into 3 main categories: sleeping kit, clothes, and food. Sleeping kit by itself so it’s easy to pull off the bike and take into my tent in one go during the rain and so I can pack it up in dry conditions before loading it onto the bike. Food and cooking to keep messes contained and also to avoid things like cooking oil from getting into my sleeping gear. Nobody wants to sleep on a greasy mattress and that’s gotta be hard to get thoroughly cleaned. And clothing because it takes up a lot of space but all else fails I can wear what I wore into my tent.
For the back I’m using a pair of Arkel Dolphin 32 panniers. They’re waterproof and combined 32 liter capacity. They have what I feel like is a fairly useless outer pocket and 2 very handy water bottle shaped pouches with cinch cords. They are super easy to get on and off the bike, and have so far been very solid for me on previous rides.
Up front I have a Rockbros handlebar bag that can hold up to 14 liters. It has a very odd combination of straps and Velcro and I need to do some trimming and probably just removal of some of the straps. I don’t like destructive mods but honestly I’m not really sure how some of these are meant to work. The reviews on Amazon were good and it was a third of the cost of the Apidura bag I had previously been looking at.
Then I have a Rockbros “feed bag” top tube bag. Honestly this is way narrower than I thought it would be so I’m probably going to replace it. It holds stuff I want easy access to during the day that isn’t super water sensitive.
And finally on top of the rack is my tent. It doesn’t need to stay dry of course so it’s just in its stuff sack and strapped on.
This is where I am putting my clothing. The handlebar bag is kind of a pain to get on and off with all of its straps and also the 4 different brake and shifter lines coming out of the handlebars at all angles so it’s pretty much going to just be permanently attached to the bike.
From upper left across the rows we have:
Columbia Sportswear hiking shorts, 2 pairs. These will be my primary riding shorts. They’re what I took to and wore on my Pieterpad hike.
Prana cargo shorts. These look a bit less #hikertrash than the Columbias and will be my off-the-bike shorts.
Lightweight chamois towel. No idea the brand, I’ve had it for ages, works great, dries fast, and I won’t shed a tear if it gets lost.
Frogg Toggs rain jacket. I don’t remember where I read it but someone was raving about this jacket. It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world and I wish like hell it had some sort of pockets so I at least have somewhere to put my hands but it does the job and weighs basically nothing. It’s not really meant for biking but I subscribe to the “dolphin” technique with regard to rain: I’m going to get absolutely soaked either way, I just need to make sure I’m warm. Also if rain is light enough this should keep me pretty dry anyways.
Injinji toe socks. Padded. These are the best socks known to man. I have tons of these.
Ex Officio boxer briefs. Another internet recommendation, I’ve worn them on Te Araroa and the Pieterpad and they’ve never let me down. We’ll see how well they hold up to riding.
Osprey stuffable day pack. This thing packs down pretty small and while it’s not the most comfortable thing it’s not meant to be a long haul pack, just a grocery getter.
Stuff sack I affectionately call “red bag”. It’s where my dirty laundry goes, and is also what I do my hand washing of clothing in when away from proper facilities (like at a hut in the back country). It’s the stuff sack from my old thermarest foam sleeping mat.
“Existing” cat shirt. This is 50% polyester, 25% cotton and 25% rayon and is probably the most comfortable shirt I own. It’s also a cat shirt. This is more off the bike clothes. It also depicts my general mood at all times. I adore this shirt.
Kathmandu leggings. New Zealand has lots of 2 things: UV radiation. And #!%^ing sandflies. So I wear long pants and long sleeves as much as I can when outside to try to protect me from both. These will go on under my shorts. I’m not sure yet whether they’ll go on top of or under my normal underwear or if they’ll completely replace them. I just bought these. It’s an experiment.
Kathmandu tops. Same thing. Bug and sun protection. Except these are not underwear they are top layer grade, so I won’t feel too weird wearing them and only them.
Not pictured because I forgot: I have an underarmor lightweight hoodie that I’ll be using as a thermal layer if necessary. It’s comfy.
Also not pictured also because I forgot: a Buff neck gaitor. They’re comfy and versatile.
Aside from my tent this is all of my sleeping stuff.
Pictured here in no particular order:
Nemo Fillow. It’s an inflatable pillow but it has a layer of foam on top to make it a bit softer. It is pretty comfortable but I’m not sure I like it more than my much lighter and much smaller packing sea to summit pillow. I think the biggest thing I’m missing with camp pillow is overall size. Needs to be taller, needs to be longer. I will say, however, that a pillow is probably gram for gram the best quality of life non-essential in a sleeping kit. I’ve tried the stuff sack full of clothing. I’ve tried just using my arms. I’ve tried using my pack. Nothing comes close to a pillow. And my sea to summit pillow weighs in at 29g and barely takes up any space. This is heavier, but if it’s more comfortable, I’m happy to have it.
Nemo Tensor mattress in normal/wide size. It’s 25”x72”. I’ve slept on 20” mattresses (poorly). I slept on a 23” in NL. That extra 2 inches makes a big difference. This thing is well recommended. VERY small, and VERY lightweight. After I got rid of my bed last week I slept on this for 4 nights and it was great. It’s a bit noisy but that’s the norm with lightweight mattresses.
Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner/sheet. This used to be a sack but now it’s a tube. I had the foot end of it cut open and hemmed. Honestly I don’t love the mod. Now it’s just never in the right place. But before, the problem was that my feet would roast in this. My feet are weird: if they’re hot I am not comfortable. I would like to figure out a fitted sheet for the mattress and top sheet situation at some point, but for now this works.
Icebreaker merino t-shirt. this is my shirt I sleep in. I discovered that I like having a shirt to keep my shoulders and arms off of the mattress. Especially prior to making the sheet into a tube because it wasn’t long enough to pull over my shoulders. Makes me less sensitive to draftiness around the top of my quilt (which has basically zero stuffing around the neck anymore) and my skin isn’t in direct contact with my mattress material. Plus it’s a warmth layer, I guess? 10/10 comfy.
Another pair of boxer briefs. I have these here because if I’m in a big hurry out my tent up and get inside I’ll probably be wearing wet boxers and these will at least be dry. And if you’re wondering where the towel is, well most of the time it’ll probably be hanging off the bike somewhere to dry and if it starts raining I’ll probably move it into the sleeping kit bag.
A 3L collapsible water bottle. I don’t love having to go to the water spigot every time I want a few splashes of water to rinse my hands or whatever when I’m in camp. This lets me bring 3L with me and saves me a few trips. It’s also a secondary bottle in the event I have a long stretch without a fresh water source, which is rare in NZ but I’d rather have it and not need it etc. This isn’t really sleeping kit of course but it lives in the outer pouches of that pannier.
An umbrella. It’s a decently sized umbrella that folds into a compact space. A friend of mine who has hiked both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails once told me the thing she really wished she’d had was an umbrella. Not for rain but for portable shade. I tried it out on the Pieterpad and I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t my favorite thing. The umbrella itself is fine, sturdy and all that. But walking with it, even without trekking poles, was annoying. The slightest breeze would jerk it all over. My arm would get tired. It wasn’t the best. I brought it here because I had the space and I thought I’d see if there was any time I felt I wanted it. It’s likely one of the first things I’ll get rid of. This is also an outer pouch resident.
And last but not least, underneath it all is my Jacks-R-Better down quilt. It’s getting a bit long in the tooth at this point, I’ve probably spent 100+ nights under it (and sometimes on top of it when it was super hot in huts). It’s been stuffed into a tiny compression sack countless times. It’s been to 4 different countries with me. I love it. Super lightweight, packs small if I need it to (though it has a relatively LUXURIOUS 16L pannier this time around) and makes for an excellent primary insulation layer. I have only been cold with this thing a few times, and it had more to do with the mattress than anything.
Oddly enough, there’s no food in this bag. But it’s where food will go. And so much other stuff. This bag is kind of a bag-of-bags mess. I’ve been told before to get rid of stuff sacks for everything but I feel like just dumping all of this stuff into a bag would make for an unmanageable nightmare. So for now it’s a bunch of smaller bags. I’ll go over the high level and then dig into each bag.
Kindle paperwhite. I don’t remember which generation this is, but I think it’s the latest at time of writing? “Most important thing in my pack”, I always say. Don’t leave home without it. I recently added a pop socket to the back and let me tell you: game changer. Behind it is the Belkin kindle sock I bought for my third gen kindle and have had it on nearly every kindle I’ve owned since.
Notebook. This is a moleskine-alike notebook. I use it sort of in the Bullet Journal style, in conjunction with Obsidian on my phone and the Reminders app. It’s an experiment. It was incredibly INCREDIBLY useful to have during my whole “get rid of all my crap” phase, and I do feel like looking at a map (on my phone or otherwise) and writing by hand is a more comfortable way to help plan things. We’ll see how it goes.
Water bottle. I stopped at a bike shop here in Auckland (Bennys Bike Shop) earlier to have them properly torque the various critical bolts on my bike that had been undone as part of the packing process. Sadly they didn’t have any branded bottles so I got this and one other rando brand bottle. This one, with the blue valve, will be my “flavored beverage” bottle.
Tent poles. My tent is designed to be used with 2 trekking poles but since I’m not using trekking poles, but more importantly couldn’t figure out how I would even carry them on my bike, I bought these. They’re carbon fiber and one section is adjustable which is pretty nice as I can make the tent a bit higher or lower depending on rain and wind conditions. They’re still long enough to have to fit awkwardly in my pannier and I’d like to figure out a better place for them but food bag it is for now!
Repair / first aid kit. This has some gear tape, rehydration tablets, an emergency blanket. Random stuff for repairing me or my gear. I need to get a few more things for it like some bandages.
The bag with the pink zipper and all of the cats on it is what I affectionately call “greenbag”, which has all of my electronics and stuff in it and I’ll go over that and why it’s called greenbag a bit further on.
Contacts. I wear daily disposable contacts. They come in a box. That box worked GREAT in my backpack, there was like a perfect place for it I called “the shelf” and it was perfect. Not so much in my pannier. I don’t love the ziploc bag approach but it’ll do for now.
Medicine bag. This makes it look like I take a ton of medicine. I only take 3 medicines. This is just what a fresh 3 month supply from a NZ pharmacy combined with the leftovers from my US fills looks like. I may de-blister these at some point but the NZ versions of the pills are different and I don’t want to get confused so I’m going to leave them be for now.
Scrubby. This is just a dish scrubber. I like this kind because you can get them clean and let them dry and they don’t get mildewy. It hangs from the back of the pannier with a little carabiner.
2 BeFree 1L collapsible water bottles with integrated filters. Last time I was here I used a sawyer squeeze and loved it but using it with gas station water bottles proved awful and the collapsible bottle I bought for it had different threads so it worked but half the water would spray out the side and it was annoying. This time around I’m doing it right from the beginning. The BeFree seems to be the new hotness. I have 2 because I bought one, lost if, bought a second one, and found the first one. In my food bag. When I was packing the second one into my food bag. I’ll probably drop one of them in a hiker box somewhere down the road.
Upper right is my toiletry bag. It’s overkill. I’ll probably replace it at some point. I kinda wanted to ask the friend of mine who made greenbag for me to make another one for this bag but never got around to it. I’ll go over its contents shortly.
And finally the big orange bag on the right is cooking bag. I’ll go over it soon!
Greenbag is not, you might say, green. But it used to be. The bag that used to have these things in it was green, I called it greenbag. When a friend of mine made this bag for me I immediately knew its purpose. It was the new greenbag. I tried to think of a new name for it but in my brain it has always been greenbag, and is now, canonically, greenbag.
It contains all of my chargers, batteries, cables, and various other bits. Greenbag goes with me everywhere even when not backpacking or bike touring so that’s why it is so ingrained into my brain.
Anywho, it contains:
Passport. The actual most important thing in my pack. Don’t tell my kindle.
COVID-19 vaccination card. I have this in electronic form on my phone, both as photos and as verifiable cards in Apple Wallet, but I also have the physical one with me just in case.
Auckland Transit fare card. Amazingly it still works flawlessly after 5 years.
Metrocard is the same thing but for Christchurch. No idea if they still use it or if it’s still valid. Ask me in a few months when I get into Christchurch.
And the fish one is for Wellington. Again, no idea if it works or not but I brought it with. I collect farecards from places I visit 🙂
2 USB-C to USB-C cables.
USB-C to Lightning cable. I should have gotten this in a different color. The other day I even thought maybe white. Then it hit me: white lightning. If I find a good one I’ll do it.
USB-C Apple Watch charger. I hate the Apple Watch charging mechanism. It seems to be really picky about positioning to even get it to charge and good luck trying to charge it anywhere other than a flat surface. Also wireless charging is super inefficient, so me using battery as primary source on the road I cringe a bit. Honestly, Apple Watch is probably gonna get yeeted fairly early on. The charger is also really heavy because it has huge metal shielding for the wireless bits.
Anker Nano Pro (521) dual port USB-C charger. This thing is not much bigger than an OG iPhone charger and puts out 2x20W or 1x40W of power. Great for getting some juice fast while sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant if I’m not gonna have power where I sleep that night.
Rando type I (Aus/NZ) to type B (North American grounded) power adapter. I don’t need it to do voltage converting or anything because my charger takes basically whatever I can plug it into. I like this one because it has an outlet on the top which means less chance of the charger falling out of the plug which happens all the freaking time. Fun fact: I used a type F European adapter once to plug my charger into a plane (which also took type A) on a domestic US flight because my charger would just fall out but the adapter stayed in the plane and the charger stayed in the adapter.
More contacts, because they just get everywhere.
2 USB-C to micro-B adapters. My Garmin InReach has a micro-b port, but I don’t want to bother with a dedicated cable. It only needs to be charged once every couple of weeks anyways.
USB-C to lightning adapter. Originally I was going to use only these and only have USB-C cables, but one time I had one getting really hot on me, probably just a not great contact between the cable and the adapter and that wasted heat is wasted battery, and since my phone is the biggest power need I have, a dedicated, quality cable is worth having. I have this as a backup and also in case I want to charge my AirPods and phone at the same time or something.
USB-A to USB-C adapters. Most source ports nowadays are still USB-A. The airplane I flew here had USB-A ports on the seatback monitors. The Auckland transit bus I took earlier had A ports. The public buses I took in NL had A ports. My friend’s brand new 2022 Subaru: A ports. So I have adapters, in case I want to use an A port. also my battery has a C port and an A port and can charge devices from both at the same time so that’s handy.
M and L AirPods Pro tips. I had memory foam tips for a while but recently switched back to official. Not being entirely certain what size I needed I bought both M and L. I’ll probably toss the unused ones at some point.
A USB-A and USB-C combo microSD card reader. I brought this thinking maybe it could come in handy. I then realized my phone has neither of those ports. My iPad does, but I didn’t bring it. Meh. It weighs nothing so I’ll keep it for now.
A Lightning to HDMI adapter. One thing my trip to the Netherlands taught me is that very very very few hotel, hostel, airbnb, wherever TVs have Apple TV app built in or are AirPlay capable. Being an iPhone user, this makes me extremely sad. But this lets me hook my phone up to a tv with an hdmi cable.
Anker PowerCore something or other 5000mah battery. It charges at 20W and I think can output 18W? It has USB-C and A that can both charge devices (at the same time, even!). Anker is my go to brand for power stuff if you hadn’t noticed.
2 sets of “musician” earplugs. The one set I’ve had for a long time and like but lost them at one point and they need to be cleaned. The others work fine but tend not to stay in place well? I fiddled with them a lot at the Rammstein concert I saw in September. I’ll probably clean up the ones I like better and toss the others at some point. These are not for sleeping or anything, for that I’ll use the foam cheapy disposables. These are for concerts and such.
2 quadlock compatible pop socket adapters. I have a quad lock case on my phone so I can mount it to my handlebars but how do I pop socket? Quadlock makes a thing but I don’t love it. These will take a “poptop” or something and fit into quadlock port. I will figure this out or toss them at some point.
This bag is mad overkill and I really would love a bag just like greenbag to use for this but it’s what I have for now. I mostly bought it because it has a mirror and a hook to hang it up with. The mirror is important because contact lenses are much easier to put in with a mirror. My phone might work ok, I need to experiment more. Doing totally blind didn’t work well when I tried it for a few days.
Anywho, the contents!
2 COVID tests. These are from the US. I deboxed to save space.
Gold bond lotion. It’s basically just thinned out vaseline but I get really dry skin on parts of my face and my hands get dry too so I have this. It may be less necessary with the right sunscreen since I’ll be wearing that mostly all the time.
Shavette razor and a lifetime supply of blades. I usually use a double edge safety razor but they’re all super heavy (and kinda need to be) and the light ones or packable ones I tried just sucked. Shavette is like a straight razor but uses half of a standard double edge blade. It’s lighter and more compact than a proper double edge, but I don’t need to baby it like a proper straight razor. I toss the blade when I’m done with it. Those 2 boxes of blades will last me years and they’re about a dollar each. Each box. Cartridge razor users are suckers.
Angle tweezers. I have a few wild hairs that creep in and drive me nuts if I don’t pluck them. These are for pluckin’.
Face mask. In case I go somewhere that requires them or if I get Covid myself.
Dr Bronners soap. This is the best soap for the trail in my experience. And it’s oddly hard to come by places. Since I use this soap for dishes it needs to be unscented or it leaves a nasty taste in my food. Camp soap works fine too but can also be hard to come by. This bottle has a pretty secure flip cap but the bag is there for leakage and whatnot.
Deodorant. A friend told me before starting the TA to ditch the deodorant. She was right. But on this trip I expect to have more frequent access to showers, and since I won’t be carrying a huge backpack that gets sweated on all day and never washed I won’t be quite so smelly by default, and I certainly feel better when I wear deodorant, so it’s coming along for this trip.
Not shown because I forgot: toothbrush and toothpaste. They’re by the sink in the bathroom.
And finally the cooking bag.
A ziploc container with screw on lid. I brought this on the TA with me and it was invaluable. I’d put oatmeal and such in it in the morning then heat up some water and dump it in. Couple stirs and start munching while heating up more water for tea and packing up the rest of things. Screw on lid could be handy if I want to soak some lentils while riding or something too to make them cook faster later. Definitely going to be doing more lentils this trip.
Snowpeak GigaPower stove. This thing is a champ. Got me across NZ once. I have faith it will do so again.
Fuel canister for stove.
Storage container for stove
Bag of tea bags. In particular this is Twinings New Zealand Breakfast. I drink tea on the trail because it’s cheap cit’s available everywhere and I will drink whatever crap is available. Coffee I’m picky about and it needs gear. This just needs some hot water.
Nuun tablets. Electrolyte tablets. I try to alternate a bottle of fresh water and a bottle of Nuun water when out on the road. I have 3 because I bought a 4 pack case and brought them all.
MSR titanium pot. This also got me across NZ once and will again. I’m probably going to get a little aluminum non stick skillet at some point though because honestly this thing sucks at much other than boiling water.
A cutting board. It’s tiny. It’s cute. It’s overkill. But it does actually provide some structure in the bag so that’s nice.
And finally: a 5” chef’s knife. “A WHAT?!”. Hear me out. I plan to stay in a lot of hostels, backpackers, holiday parks with shared kitchen areas, etc. These almost universally have TERRIBLE knives. A full knife is a dangerous knife. So I brought my own. You’ll thank me later. It’s a Victorinox Fibrox and has a hard plastic sheath. Why not a full size? Because I bought this one for actually using in camp back before I’d done any real human-powered travel and realized I’d never use it in camp ever. And my full size was in need of a good sharpening or replacing and I’d need to get a sheath for it and and and … mostly, well, I had it already. It’ll do great.
All together now
And here it all is! Loaded up and packed and mounted to the bike!
Now I already know I forgot some things. Like I forgot to mention my shoes, my Garmin, and even what all the bike itself is! That’s fine. I’ve been writing this on my phone for like 3 hours now and I’m tired. I’ll write up the bike itself at some point and also oh yea I have a Garmin InReach Mini for gps tracking and emergency communication and my shoes are Altra Lone Peaks. Going to try flat shoes this time, we’ll see how it pans out.
As the amount of possessions I own and the number of days left before my flight dwindles down, the reality of this whole thing is really sinking in. It’s really happening. I’m really doing this. It’s unreal.
The past few months but especially the past few weeks and even more especially that last few days have been an emotional roller coaster. Getting rid of everything I own. Surrendering my cats. Possibly trying to sell my condo at the worst possible time. Wondering if this is a good idea or if I’m going to give up in a month and come back and have to buy all new furniture and stuff again and start working again and and and and and
For me I think the biggest problem I’m trying to solve with this new direction is getting out of the house. I never do. So I don’t meet new people. I don’t explore new places. I just kind of exist for the sake of existing. But on the trail, on the road, my default action is to keep moving. I don’t have to plan a weekend trip a month in advance I just go. I can get somewhere that I’ve been excited to go to, not like it, and just leave. Or get somewhere and unexpectedly love it and stay a while. I don’t have to say “I’ll come back here some day” and never do, or make it a huge event, I just stick around a bit.
Being out on the road also means I just naturally meet people more. The spontaneous “family dinner” situations I’ve had around picnic tables and hut tables and tables in hostels and such have been amazing! Running into people again further up the road is not at all uncommon, and with modern technology, keeping in touch and arranging to meet with folks is super easy! Plus everyone always has cool stories and amazing ideas for the next thing to do.
Every day I think of something else I need to do to my place before I try to sell it or rent it, and it scares me. Every day I think about running out of money on the road and having to scurry home and start working again quickly. Every day I worry that the grass really isn’t greener on the other side. That maybe I should stay home and try to figure out how to get out more, how to eat less, how to lose weight, how to make my home feel less shameful, how to fix everything in my life that I feel is broken.
But I also think about how much fun I’ve had doing this sort of thing in the past. The first trip to New Zealand. Japan. Te Araroa. The Pieterpad. And how much I love visiting new places and thinking about how people live in those areas. How much I love just being outside and moving. Even when it’s crappy and rainy. Or when there’s a headwind.
My thoughts right now are pretty scattered and random. I’m exhausted after weeks now of preparing to depart. 5 more days and I’m on a plane. Bags are starting to get packed, the bike is boxed and ready for the plane, storage unit is getting more full, and my stuff is rapidly flying out the door now that it’s all listed as free on Craigslist.
I wanted to write this because I felt I needed to cover the anxiety and the doubts and just how scared I am and how excited I am and all of that. I am confident that once I hit the road and once things settle down regarding my condo, I’ll be in a lot happier place. Right now I just gotta put in the hard work to get there.
Ultimately, I’m proud of myself for taking this leap. I’m incredibly fortunate and privileged to be able to do this, so not doing it would be such a waste. Hopefully I can adequately share my experiences to either inspire others to do it or at least live vicariously through me.
Anywho, enough babbling.
I said earlier the bike was boxed and the bags are starting to get packed. I don’t have a full gear list yet because that won’t really be finalized until I’m in Auckland, once I’m ready to actually hit the road. But here’s a shot of “the pile” as it stands tonight.
That Kona box is a lie. It’s not a tv in the box nor is it a Kona. That’s just the box Joe Bike used when I hired them to pack it up for me today. I’ll post a full gear list and spread next week before I pack the bike up to head out on the road. For now, this is just a little teaser.
I am super excited to be doing this and can’t wait to be on the road!
I have some exciting news to share with the blog today!
A few years ago I tweeted that I was leaving to journey around the world for the next 2 years. Sadly, this was an April Fool’s joke that … nobody caught because part of the joke was that it was actually April 1 in New Zealand, but hadn’t yet gotten that far for the rest of the world.
However, today it’s NO FOOLIN!
I am leaving. I am selling/giving away all of my personal belongings and am heading out into the world on a grand adventure. The goal is to be gone for the next FIVE years!
As far back as 2011 I’d been making plans or dreaming about riding my bicycle from Los Angeles to New York with a friend of mine. That never panned out, for a wide variety of reasons. But the dream has always been there, clawing at my brain.
Later, during my job search where I ended up at Nationbuilder, I was looking for a job that would allow me to work fully remotely so I could basically work while I was bike touring. Like I would set up at a campground for the week then ride to the next place on the weekend. Sadly, that didn’t happen, and honestly, it probably wouldn’t have worked long term anyways, but again, setting the stage for what’s to come!
Back in 2016 I traveled to New Zealand for vacation. I’d never been outside the US except for visits to Canada, and I’d heard good things about New Zealand.
The plan for the trip was to land in Christchurch, which I’d read (on Wikipedia, probably) was the “bike city” in NZ, spend a few days there, exploring, having a good time, take the train out to Greymouth, rent a car, go skydiving in Franz Josef, drive around, end up back in Christchurch. After that I would take the bus out to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, which is an old volcano formation just southeast of Christchurch, and spend 4 days hiking the Banks Peninsula Track, a private tramping track with huts with cooking fuel, hot showers, electricity to some degree (at least, electricity enough to charge my phone), and comfortable beds.
After finishing those last 4 days on the Banks Peninsula Track, I referred to them as “the best 4 days of my life to this point”. I’d made a number of mistakes: I was wearing jeans, for one, I misunderstood what a “tramper’s shop” was (I thought it was like a convenience store, it’s more a pantry with an honor box), I broke a window by accident. But despite the mistakes, it was truly an incredible time. And I wanted more.
So a few months later, in April 2017, I decided I wanted to go to Japan for a few weeks. Only this time, instead of touristing it up for 2 weeks and then spending a few days on the trail, I wanted to tourist for a few days and spend the rest of the time on the trail. I’d found the Tokai Nature Trail which runs from Tokyo to Osaka, and I would spend some time hiking part of that. I started in Kawaguchiko, which is on the northeastern corner of Mount Fuji, walked counter clockwise around Mount Fuji for a bit, and then departed and headed west toward Osaka. To say this was an amazing experience is not even remotely doing it justice. A truly wonderful time. I thought after 3 days of hiking around Mount Fuji I would get kinda tired of seeing it, but nope. Not once. Every time I turned a corner and had a new view of it, it was like seeing it for the first time all over again.
Later that year, after having a bit of a falling out with my employer and leaving, a friend of mine offered to watch my cats for me while I went back to New Zealand and hiked the South Island section of Te Araroa, a trail that runs the length of the country, from Cape Reinga at the very tippy tip of the North Island to Bluff at the very tip of the South Island. So I went there and spent 52 trail days walking, starting from Bluff and heading north. What an incredible experience that was. The people I met, the places I saw, the food I ate. All the things. Absolutely incredible.
Fast forward to a year ago. I wasn’t happy with my job. We were on the second year of COVID. In the span of a few days I lost 2 of the most influential people in my life: my foster mom Betty Becker, who had been declining for quite some time, honestly it was amazing she lived as long as she did. And my best friend Sam Haber, who went from perfectly normal happy fun guy to having a seizure, being diagnosed with glioblastoma, and dying less than a year later. I was miserable. I needed out.
I’d been thinking about a trip for some time where I would walk the length of Japan, from north to south, which I expected would take about a year. So, I decided I was going to do it. I was going to make it happen. And that would be the first leg of a trip where I would spend about 5 years traveling around the world, primarily on foot.
However, COVID is still today running rampant around the world. Life has mostly “returned to normal” but only just recently has Japan fully reopened to foreign travelers without strict itineraries and supervision and private transportation. As it’s heading into winter in Japan, it’s not a great time for me to start walking across the country, or at least, it’s not a good time for *me* to be doing that, as I want to kind of ease into this trip a bit, especially since I’ve put on a *lot* of weight since getting back to New Zealand. Furthermore, the more I looked into the route I would take, the more I realized that the first few days, weeks, maybe even the whole trip, would involve a whole lot of walking on roads. And not even particularly pretty roads, just roads. For days at a time.
I have a very very beefy touring bike I built several years ago. It’s a Salsa Marrakesh, but that bit is mostly the frame. Nearly everything else about the bike is different. It has a Rohloff Speedhub 14 speed internal gearbox in the back, Jones H Loop handlebars, Sugar Wheelworks wheels, and dynamo powered lights. It is a rolling brick but I love it a lot. I built the bike to tour around the world, to be able to endure any condition, and … well maybe I should just use that?
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to start in New Zealand, and spend about 6 months riding around on my bike all over the country. Why New Zealand? Because New Zealand is a traveler’s paradise. There are inexpensive accommodations all over the country. Public transit is decent. Hitchhiking is a national pastime, and, well, honestly it has a lot to do with: I speak the language, I know how New Zealand do, and I really love the place. And it’ll be spring/summer/fall when I’m there, so ideal time to visit!
After New Zealand, the rough plan is to, yes, go to Japan and bike there. I will still be trying to figure out how to go about walking, and there may be a bit of a hybrid approach, where I bike to get around but do a lot of backpacking side trips, especially things like the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage. I still would like to spend a full year in Japan, I feel like there’s so much to see, so many trails to hike, that I really just need to, but we’ll see. From there, possibly China, I’ve heard that’s a really great place to tour. Southeast Asia. South America. Really, wherever the winds take me.
Where you gonna post?
I have a Twitter account (obviously), but I really don’t plan to use it. I don’t have Instagram, I don’t have TikTok, or any of that stuff. I may post some videos to YouTube, but I don’t have a channel set up for that or anything. So I’ll mostly be posting stuff here, be it long form blog posts, interesting photos, short blurbs about a place, whatever. This is going to be the primary location for all of that.
Lately I’ve been working on a setup such that I can use my iPad as my primary desktop, at least for personal tasks. In this, the first of what I plan as a series of posts about my journey, I’ll outline what I’m currently using to be able to use emacs from my iPad.
For the impatient, and also to serve as an outline for the post, I’ll just list out the tools I’m using to make this happen.
An M1 Mac Mini
A hardware keyboard
The combination of the above gives me a nearly desktop-native experience running emacs and other terminal applications on my iPad. Note that this setup of course requires network connectivity between the iPad and the Mac Mini, and there are some complications with that, but I’ll try to cover those later in the post.
I run emacs as my primary editor/IDE/operating system. I’m not one of those old school emacs users, I’m one of the new young punks using someone else’s emacs. In my case, I’m using the doom-emacs package, which provides me with a very comfortable user experience pretty much out of the gate, and since I’ve been a vim user for so long, the adjustment wasn’t that significant.
Emacs is a gui application framework wearing the skin of a text editor. It has support for both terminal ui (tui) or actual native gui (gui) interfaces, and can do so much more than editing text. I primarily use emacs as an editor, however, and I primarily use emacs over other editors because of org-mode and org-roam. I’ll talk about org-roam in another post.
Emacs doesn’t have a native iOS port and it is highly unlikely that it ever will. Largely in part due to application restrictions on iOS making code interpretation not a supported thing, which is fundamental not only to the emacs experience, but fundamental to emacs operation as a whole. I mentioned that emacs is a gui application framework, and it is, but as part of that framework it has its own programming language, emacs lisp, which powers not only custom things, but a lot of emacs’ own built in functionality.
So, as a result, I need a machine somewhere I can run emacs on and have it display on my iPad. And the best experience for that is, in my opinion, a terminal.
Blinkshell is a terminal emulator, ssh, and mosh client for iOS. There’s so much more to it than that, but it has the basic functionality I need: terminal emulation, ability to configure ssh key authentication, ability to do ssh agent forwarding (I won’t be covering this here, as I’m on the lookout for alternatives and it’s been covered elsewhere). It also provides an extremely basic text interface for commands, which is nice, I primarily live in the command line and on my keyboard, not having to tap my way through menus and such to do things is a huge plus.
It’s not a free app, but I’m totally fine with paying for good software. It *is* open source, which is nice, as that allows for auditability and also allows me to try to fix bugs or implement features if I feel up to the challenge.
One thing I discovered recently that it had was support for OSC52 terminal sequences. This is something I only recently discovered, but the general gist of it is that it allows terminal applications to manipulate the clipboard on the client system. If you’ve ever highlighted text on iOS you understand just how hard it can be. Now take things like terminal gui elements into consideration, and it’s basically impossible to copy/paste from the terminal by hand. However, OSC52 allows your terminal application (such as emacs, vim, tmux, etc) to send its own clipboard contents down, so you can use those applications’ native copy/paste functionality to manipulate the clipboard on iOS, making it easy to, say, copy some code from a file and paste it into a discord conversation, or a gist. This is huge, and one of the things that when I first needed to copy something from blink was nearly a deal breaker for me, as I copy things out of my editor all the time, so having that be a bad experience was probably going to prevent me from being able to do this. Fortunately, the problem is mostly solved at this point. There are still some limitations, for instance it doesn’t seem to work with mosh, but there’s a PR waiting to be merged into upstream mosh which hopefully will make its way into blink soon after.
Traditionally, when I’ve wanted to grant access to a machine running on my home network, I have fired up my router configuration web interface, set a static IP for the machine, forwarded a port, etc. This works fine, but has some serious drawbacks. The most important one is that now this port is exposed publicly on the internet. That’s probably not toooooooo bad, especially if I run the service on an alternate port, but it’s still a vulnerability. It’s also a huge pain for the friend who’s hosting the machine for me, as they have to maintain this. And the only way they know if it’s broken is if I call them. Furthermore, it assumes a moderately static IP for the internet connection. When I had my cable connection, this was pretty reasonable to assume, my IP rarely changed. But with my new fiber connection, it seems to change fairly frequently. To solve that I have DNS somewhere and a script to update the dns record on a schedule, but if that breaks then I’m back to calling my friend. It’s all very fragile and troublesome to fix.
So I went on the search for vpn solutions. I thought of having a VM instance somewhere that both my remote shell machine and my iPad could connect to and that would allow me to connect between them. This is fine, and something I almost went with. I would have likely used OpenVPN for this as I’ve done a lot of stuff with OpenVPN in the past, I’m familiar with it, and confident that I could make it do what I wanted. One problem with this, though, is that third party machine. Even the cheapest machine is going to cost me a few bucks a month, and now it’s something I have to maintain. There are third party VPN providers, but I’m not sure how many of them would allow my clients to connect to each other through the VPN, and I’d really rather not use one of those providers anyways, for trust reasons, but also because I really don’t like their ad copy. But that’s another post.
But! I remembered. There’s some new vpn thing built into the linux kernel now, isn’t there? What was that called? Well, it was called Wireguard. I also won’t cover this here because it’s been covered in great detail elsewhere.
Wireguard’s model is point to point VPN. Meaning clients create tunnels directly to each other. Once the connection is established, you can do routing and all sorts of stuff, so I could do the central model with a VM somewhere with wireguard, but it’s still not ideal.
So I went looking for ways to make it so wireguard endpoints could “discover” each other. So I could have my shell machine on a private network with no ports opened, no assumption of a dynamic IP address, etc, and have it just work. I found this article that talks about various scripts and a third machine that updates dns entries and does some cool stuff. Exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. But again, the third box. I thought more about it and thought that would actually make for an interesting service to offer to the world, and thought about how I might implement that.
It seems I’m not the only one who had this idea. Tailscale is *exactly* this. And actually, it’s significantly more. Most importantly for my consideration is that it takes NAT traversal a step further. They will transparently (and securely) proxy your data between your nodes if the NAT needing to be traversed is particularly problematic. On either end. This means that, in theory, no matter where I am, or where my shell box is hosted, I can establish a wireguard tunnel to it.
And the best part: it’s free. At least for single user purposes like mine. They can do this because their service is just providing the discovery for the endpoints, they aren’t actually proxying your data (unless you have the aforementioned troublesome NAT), so their bandwidth needs are relatively low. You install the agent on your machine (they have iOS, Linux, and Mac support at the very least), log in, and your machine is now able to be connected to from the other peers you have set up, as if it’s all local. No ports to open, no dns to configure, no worries about static or dynamic IPs. It all just handles everything smoothly. Wireguard handles when one end or the other changes IP addresses, and tailscale steps in if both sides have changed, or when a new peer comes online and doesn’t know any of its peers. It also handles public key distribution to the peer nodes, and rotation of keys, and and and and and. Seriously well thought out software and service.
Blinkshell support ssh directly, but something else it supports is Mosh, the Mobile Oriented SHell. Mosh has some significant advantages over standard ssh that make it ideal for a client with transient internet connectivity such as a traveling iPad.
Mosh uses SSH for the initial authentication and session establishment, then switches to running on its own port using UDP. The fact that it uses UDP for this is huge, because it allows the client to go offline without having to worry about a TCP session dropping. This means mosh clients can go offline for a practically infinite amount of time without “losing the connection”. In practice what this means is I can pack up my iPad and head out on a trail for a few days without internet access, fire things up when I get back and my connection hasn’t dropped. This may not sound like a big deal, especially when things like tmux exist to allow you to background a terminal session on the remote machine, but it’s pretty big. For the iPad specifically one of the great things about this is that iPadOS times out tcp connections on background processes pretty aggressively to save battery life. So if I switch from my shell to watch a youtube video, say, or read an article, I may come back to my terminal and the connection has dropped, meaning I need to re-establish. This gets really old really quickly, as you might imagine. One extra cool bonus feature of this is, since mosh sessions are inherently resumable, so long as the client keeps the connection information around, a connection can be resumed even after rebooting the client for a software update. Something I recently did! I was pretty blown away!
One of the best features of mosh for actual mobile usage, though, is its predictive local echo. If you’ve ever been ssh’d into a remote machine with a lot of latency, you know just how frustrating an experience typing can be. Mosh makes a great attempt at solving this by guessing what affect your keystrokes are going to have on the remote session and applies those affects locally before getting the result back from the remote system. It’s obviously not perfect at it, it can’t be, but for a lot of cases, it’s a HUGE enhancement to the mobile experience. This will be extremely useful for instances such as camping on a remote mountain top in Japan using my LTE connection to connect to my shell box on a cable connection in Portland. Something that absolutely will happen.
A downside to mosh is it doesn’t support ssh agent forwarding. SSH agent forwarding is a troublesome topic. It’s one of those things you really want to have, but it’s implemented in such a way that you really shouldn’t use it. There are alternatives, but they aren’t widespread, and they aren’t currently supported by blinksh. I think my solution for this in the long term is to have an ssh agent start on login on my shell box, then I’ll enter my ssh passphrase on first use to add it to the agent. Since the client would be running with mosh anyways, I shouldn’t have to type my password very often, and it should provide adequate protection for my private key.
Throughout this I’ve talked a lot about my “remote shell box”. In my case, I’m choosing to go with a Mac Mini. Currently I’m using an M1 Mac Mini with 16GB of ram and 512GB of storage. This should be completely adequate me for a very long time, especially when just using it as a shell box.
But why the Mac mini? Why not a raspberry pi? Or a linux box? Maybe even a linux box hosted in the cloud somewhere so I don’t have to worry about VPNs and firewalls and port forwarding and all of that.
There are a couple of reasons. First and foremost, cost. A virtual machine that has those sorts of specs is quite an expensive proposition. I mean, the absolute cost of the Mac mini being factored in means I can buy a lot of VM hours before reaching the cost of the Mini, especially if I do some optimizations like turning the VM off when I’m not using it, etc. So it’s only a moderately important consideration for me.
Another major consideration for me is storage. I currently use iCloud Drive for my cloud storage stuff. I use this primarily because I’ve leaned very hard into the Apple ecosystem, so all of my devices have native support for it. I also pay for other Apple services, so the storage I use with iCloud Drive is pretty much free. I could use dropbox or something else, or even something like syncthing and roll it myself, but I like the safety net of a cloud backed storage mechanism, and my cloud backed storage mechanism of choice is iCloud Drive.
Furthermore, despite being out for a long time, despite “mobile devices” being a lot of folks’ primary experience with the web, there are lots of web interfaces that just don’t work well on the iPad, be it in Safari (my browser of choice) or Chrome. Oddly, one of the biggest offenders is the AWS console. It is literally unusable on safari for some functions, and only just works on Chrome for some things. And I’m not talking about the obscure things nobody uses, I’m talking about first class fundamental features like Route53 or S3. So having easy access (via VNC) to a full desktop web browser is very handy. This is something I could certainly do through other means, but having it be on the Mac Mini means I get things like my 1password database for free without having to load it onto some third party machine (and good luck trying to do U2F via some sort of remote desktop connection, which I need for my 1password authentication)
And finally, there’s part of me that still would really like to figure out iOS app development. I have some ideas for things I’d like to implement, and at the moment, iOS has no native support for XCode. I can’t imagine it’s not in the works somehow, as it would be great to be able to write software for the iPad, y’know, on the iPad, but there’s probably going to be some cloud component to it for compilation and simulation before that can happen, and it’s just one of many projects Apple has in flight. So having a Mac desktop I can VNC into and do some iOS development on while I’m on the road is great.
Not just because I’ve gotten into custom mechanical keyboards during the pandemic, in order to use my iPad as a desktop, I need a hardware keyboard. There’s just no way at all I can type on the iPad screen. Not even a little bit. I can do some mild hunt and peck if my keyboard isn’t handy or if I’m mostly browsing the internet or youtube and need to type in a url or a search term, but for the most part, I need a physical keyboard.
There are many options for this, but I did say I’ve gotten into custom mechanical keyboards lately, so I’m currently using a caseless Corne Chocolate v2.1 keyboard with a pair of nice!nano controllers for wireless bluetooth connectivity. I made it into the group by for the Corne-ish Zen keyboard and am probably going to make that my primary travel board next, and am looking into building some other types of boards to see if I like one or the other better for travel purposes. I’ll probably talk about my keyboard use cases in another post, but I also distinguish between keyboards for “long term travel” (backpacking and traveling mostly on foot) and “short term travel” or “heavy travel” (traveling mostly by not-foot, such as work travel or “heading out to the coast for the weekend” sort of travel)
That’s a whole lot of words, and if you’re reading this, thanks for reading along. I have other things I want to cover about this journey toward using an iPad as a primary desktop, there will be some things that are “this is the definitive way to do this” and stuff like “I’m trying a new thing and wanted to share”. I am enjoying this little experiment so far, and getting more and more confident that I’ll be able to use just my iPad for my future planned “long term travel” (more about that at some point as well).
One thing I do want to say is that it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to use just an iPad for work purposes any time soon. I’m still very much bound to a shell of some sort, and then there’s consideration of device and credential management from employer, consideration of ergonomics of using effectively a tiny laptop display for all of my work, etc, but I would like to eventually give it a solid try! Maybe in a few years once Apple has further converged the iPadOS and MacOS experiences.