Traveling With A Crateworks Bike Box

Here, have a pile of weirdly specific instructional videos on how to ship an ordinary touring bike with a modified Crateworks box!

Preparing your Crateworks box to pack a bicycle into it.

Disassembling a bicycle to fit into a Crateworks box.

Packing the disassembled bike into the Crateworks box.

Getting your bike out of the Crateworks box and reassembling it.

Re-folding the Crateworks box and preparing it for shipping without the bike.

Boxes and coffee

Now that the bike was unpacked and ready, I needed to deal with the box.

Innermost layer of the box, folded up.

The endcap makes a little holder for foam blocks!

Ready for shipping.

The next step was to get the box shipped out of the country. Like last time, I couldn’t be sure of my eventual destination, so I couldn’t just send it ahead of me. I needed to ship it to someone who could hold onto it for three months or possibly longer, and then be willing to send it somewhere else.

Extra strategy time!

Instead of getting out at the airport like a sucker I asked the shuttle driver to take me around the corner to the DHL depot.

I didn’t do this last time because I didn’t know exactly where the DHL office was or what it looked like.  I thought perhaps it was a desk inside the airport itself.  I also didn’t know where the shuttle would be dropping me off relative to anything else.  This time I had a mental fix on it.

The lobby was closed but a guy came out and started to tell me that the nearest DHL shipment center was quite a ways away. Then he paused mid-sentence, shook his head as if to clear it, and told me to come inside because they could just ship the package here.

He brought me back into the rear office, and I sat in a chair by his desk. He opened the website shipping interface on his computer and walked through the forms with me. All around, people were moving boxes and loading up a van, listening to 80’s-era rock music loud on a stereo built into the wall. In about ten minutes they shut the van doors with a bang and it sped out of the loading bay.

My friend clicked the last button on the form and saw that the site intended to charge me 900 dollars to ship an empty box. He hissed in his breath, then without saying a word to me, he put on his earphones and made several phone calls, talking rapidly in Icelandic. He leaned his head close to mine and said, “bear with me,” then got up and left the desk for a while, still arguing on the phone in Icelandic. Eventually he pulled out his earpiece and sat down again. He opened another window on his computer, typed a few things, and presented me with a bill for $450 — cutting the cost in half.  I had never asked for a discount, and he had no obligation to give one to a wacky foreign tourist like me, but there it was. I could only conclude that charging so much to ship a box was morally offensive to him, and he had the freedom to do something about it, and so he did.

While the paperwork printed and he ran my credit card, we chatted about traveling the island and the weather projections, and I showed him a picture of the bike.

He wished me a good journey.

Note for next time:  bring an entire roll of tape, not just a quarter.

In the evening I visited the cafe I’d grown fond of on the last visit.

Cafe Petite in Keflavik
Excitedly showing me the sketches for the remodel.
The local motto of Cafe Petite
Piggy bank butt! Oink!
My gut says this is Bach or Mozart, but I'm probably wrong.
One of my favorite bands.
Comfy and eclectic.
I just love old maps. Even when they're useless artistic prints on bathroom walls.

“I think a tip jar is just thievery.  People in Iceland get paid a living wage.  But it’s complicated, because sometimes visitors feel obligated to leave a tip, or the custom is too strong and they feel weird if they don’t do it.  So I have a jar at the end of the bar there but I don’t label it.  Really though, don’t tip.  It’s just businesses taking money for no reason here.  It’s almost stealing.”

“I see what you mean.  Yeah, I wish it was like this back in the U.S.  Employers can hire someone and pay them very little, because they know they’ll make money from tips.  But then they take a cut of the tips.  They should just pay them a living wage.”

“Yeah.  And it’s also confusing for me when I travel.  I was back in the ‘States, and I gave a tip to a waiter who did a really good job.  My friends told me that he doesn’t actually get the money; it goes into a pot and all the waiters get a cut, and also the chef in the back.  That doesn’t seem right.  How do I reward good service?  And if a waiter is doing badly, the other waters will want to punish them.  Plus the taxes are different in every state.  I feel bad if I don’t tip, but how much is right?  So, I don’t know.  But there’s two things I tell everyone who comes to Iceland:  One, don’t tip for anything.  And two, don’t buy the bottled water.  The water from the tap is better.  And it hasn’t been sitting in a plastic bottle on a shelf for who-the-eff-knows how long, pardon my language.”

Mmm. The first of probably many slices of cake.

After my chat I ordered a tasty looking slice of cake, and what I’ve decided to call an Icelandic-style mocha, which is more like an elaborate hot chocolate with coffee mixed in. I ain’t complaining — it’s delicious!

A familiar-looking painting.

There’s that guy again… I suppose it’s time for me to hit the internet and try and figure out who he actually is.

Aha. It’s a painting of a fisherman by a German-born artist named Harry Haerendel. Apparently it’s become popular in a semi-ironic way. “You come to Iceland thinking about stoic old fisherman, yeah? Okay, here he is. The rest of us don’t fish much, but he does.”

After my pie and coffee, I went riding around in search of more substantial food, and came upon a tiny little fish and chips shop:

Room enough to dine in ... For maybe three people!

While I chomped my order inside and away from the wind, I read the little “about us” poster they were displaying on the wall:

The charming story of this tiny Fish And Chips shop.

Across the street I could see a situation unfolding that I’d never seen during my previous visit. A police officer pulling over a motorist.

It's the coppers!!

A little more riding around town and I came upon something I never thought I’d see in Iceland: A vandalized car.

Local hoodlums must have stolen this car and taken it for a joyride?

It's pretty messed up in here. What are the rocks for?

For a brief moment it was just like being back in Oakland. And not in a fun way.

But then I saw something that made me laugh out loud, as I was riding back to the hotel for a nap:


I suppose you have to be of “a certain age” now to find it funny that a shop is making an oblique reference to “Olsen twins”. (But it’s not really worth explaining, so if you don’t get it, go poke the internet!)

I crawled into my hotel bed and tried to sleep for five whole hours, but tossed and turned with my brain racing instead. “Don’t Stop Believin'” kept echoing around in my head, to my extreme annoyance. The restaurant I used to frequent back in Santa Cruz would play that song every night as they shut down, and I’d grown to dread the way the few remaining patrons would burst into song during the chorus. Now it was filling the silence of this room. Arrgh!

I had coffee but it was seven hours ago.  Would it still be that strong? Was my resistance to Icelandic coffee weaker?

Me And Some Big Boxes Take A Trip

I woke up in my van, stowed my bedsheets, and re-packed my toiletries bag. It was time to set in motion that long, weird collection of gears that would move me and three big chunks of luggage nearly four thousand miles across land and ocean in less than a day.

My friend Zog had plans to drive my van while I was gone, so I gave him a brief tour and promised to write him a more thorough document later. While he helped me lug the suitcases and box with the bicycle into the van, I chatted with his relatives, and they gave me some messages to send along to the Icelandic people, as follows:

Dear Iceland,

Lawrence A. Bell says he’s sorry about Mr Trump, but he takes responsibility.  Jeremy is sorry too, but does not take responsibility.

And then we were on our way to the Portland airport! Zog had to come along so he could drive the van back to his place.

Zog is my co-pilot.

We chatted about work and groovy electronics projects, and listened to some throwback 90’s-era goth electronica by Gods Of Luxury. (Sooo deliciously pretentious and cheezy and well produced!) In short order I was hugging Zog at the terminal curb, and then I was alone with my giant pile of stuff and a couple of hours to get on a plane.

Two disposable suitcases, each right up at the 50 pound limit, and one oversize bike box, right up at the 70 pound limit.

A handcart was only a few feet away, so I bundled everything onto that. The little wheels that I’d roped onto the bottom of the bike box turned out to be redundant, which was great news.

This time I didn’t encounter any sarcastic resistance from airline agents who didn’t know their own luggage rules. They knew the box was legal, and they knew it could go up to 70 pounds as long as I paid the oversize fee. I was asked to haul it to a special roped area, and allowed to watch as they unbuckled the straps and poked through the equipment inside.

Inspecting the box in the open, where I could see. I like that.

I appreciated that a lot because it meant I could watch them reassemble the box as well, and make sure they got everything back inside and properly tightened the straps.

With that done, all I had to do was get a few labels attached, then check my other suitcases along with the giant box and wave goodbye to the whole set.

It was exactly 70 pounds, but the clerk approved it anyway.

In the trip through security, my hands tested positive for some chemical contaminant so they padded me down and then searched my backpack. No big deal; I’ve got lots of time.

They also said my second camera lens – the 50mm f1.2 – was a strange object and they asked me to take it out of the bag and show them. The woman looking it over said, “holy mackerel, that’s a serious lens!”

“Yeah it’s nice, but my arm just about falls off after using it for a while,” I joked.

Bumped my head on the overhead bins.

I swear I should just wear my bike helmet all the time.  Even if it does make me look like a dangerous lunatic.  Actually perhaps that’s an advantage.

Skirting Mt. Hood as we take off.

Cool clouds on the plane.  Learned about clouds on my materials audiobook.

As we went north, the ice turned into a loose blanket. It didn’t look solid enough to walk on, but it was definitely enough to endanger any ship without a specialized hull.

In time, the patches dispersed a little, and I could look down and see the forbidding coastline of the Nunavut territory of Canada.

Looks cold down there.

Somewhere around here, I did my best to take a nap. I would be losing most of a day upon landing in Iceland, and getting through the next one would be challenging.

Believe it or not, the Qikiqtarjuaq airport is down there.

As I dozed I imagined the freezing air streaming all around the plane, and the churning ocean far below, and how utterly impossible it would be for me to make this journey if I had to deal with the surface.

How many paths was I crossing over, from thousands of forgotten explorers in the near and distant past, who endured loneliness and desolation beyond anything I’ve felt, as they searched for a place to live?

I bet the Inuit people have some amazing history to share that has been almost entirely hidden from me by language and cultural barriers. If I was down there, perhaps I would encounter it organically. Plane travel is miraculous, but every time I use it, I am struck by how much I am missing from the spaces in between.

The chance to see those in-between places is why I love bicycle touring so much. Ironic that I’d start out a tour with a plane flight, yeah? If I had the time, I’d cycle all the way to the eastern-most chunk of the Canadian archipelago instead, then look for some way to cross the ocean.

Barring that, I’d go to the eastern-most airport. I already figured out where that is, of course, being the obsessive planner I am. It’s St. John’s International Airport on the Avalon Peninsula. At some point perhaps I’ll close this link by cycling across North America and ending up there. But not this time.

Iceland Round 2 Gear And Bike Setup

For my own reference, here is the overwhelming amount of gear I packed for my second Iceland tour, and how I arranged it.

This is what everything looks like packed on the bike. It’s basically the same as my 2019 trip:

Here are the bags without the bicycle:

In the back: Two Ortlieb sport packer plus bags, each with an add-on net pocket and an add-on large roll-top pocket.

In the middle: Two ortlieb recumbent bags. The one on the left has three net bags attached to its underside in a row. The one on the right has a net bag, and then two small roll-top bags attached below, since it hangs over the drivetrain of the bike.

In the foreground: A Kelty Redwing backpack. On the loaded bike, this is placed sideways on top of the recumbent bags, where it fits nicely behind the seat, and is held down with two bungee cords.

All the gear I'm taking with me. Can you believe this all fits on a bike?

This is everything that’s packed onto the bike, including the bags shown above. As with the 2019 trip, the majority of the weight and space is claimed by the sleeping bag and the tent, shown on the far left.

In The Large Bags

These items went into the recumbent-style bags on the rear rack, or into the attached pockets:

In The Small Bags

These items went directly into the sport packer bags below the seat, or into the attached pockets:

The following mesh bags and their contents went into the sport packer bags as well:

The white bag: Assorted USB cables and adapters.

The green bag: Media cards and drives, and the cables for reading them.

The biggest change here is, I left out any kind of multi-port USBC hub doodad. I have wasted money on so many of them, and they all have problems. Some get very hot. Some of them have misshapen connectors. Most of them can’t read from an SD card and a Micro SD card at the same time. And almost all of them have annoying power problems and fail to reliably charge or stay connected to more than one USB device at once.

A pox on the lot of them!

The pink bag: Lens and laptop cleaning supplies.

  • Generic lens-cleaning wipes (For cleaning laptop and camera.)
  • Microfiber cloth (For cleaning/drying lenses.)
  • Extra microfiber cloth (In case the big one is soiled.)

A lightweight power brick with 3 USB-A and 1 45-watt USB-C.

This charger has one fewer USB ports than the one I took in 2019, but it’s a good amount lighter. Like the old one it allows me to charge the laptop and my other doodads at the same time, from one outlet — which in turn means I need only one international plug adapter when I’m traveling.

My Frankensteined portable speakers, and an iPod Nano to drive them.

I use the iPod Nano to play bedtime music. An iPod shuffle is not suitable for this purpose since it has no ability to stop playing! It will always repeat the current playlist forever or until it runs out of power! How silly.

Not that it matters, since all iPods have been discontinued and will soon die out, and we will all be locked into digital subscription services and completely abandon the whole idea of controlling what we listen to without it being mediated from one minute to the next by a jealous corporate overlord in the sky. (I’m not bitter.)

A good wind-resistant microphone for conference calls.

The above items attach to my headphones. The resulting setup works with the laptop and the iPhone lightning adapter, there’s no flaky Bluetooth involved, and it sounds far better than anything else I’ve tried. The strangest place I’ve used this so far is by the side of the road next to a geothermal power plant in the middle of Iceland.

The sport packer bags also hold two SenReal Mesh Makeup Organizer Pouches that contain camera-related gadgets:

In The Backpack

These items went into the Kelty Redwing backpack:

The toiletries bag. Basic stuff for a mixture of hotels and camping.

In Other Bags Or Directly Attached

The following items were attached directly to the bike:

These items went into the Allnice 1L PVC Bicycle Pouch just behind the seat:

These items went into the FastBack NorBack Frame Pack between the seat and the front wheel:

Also in the NorBack pack, my toolkit:

Replaced or Removed

These are items I brought in 2019 but have replaced with newer items for this trip:

These are items I brought in 2019 but decided to leave out entirely for this trip, with no replacements for them. They were just not useful enough.

Solo Campsite Routine

The routine I set up for camping on a solo bike tour works really well, but it’s awfully complicated. Partly for reference, and partly to amuse myself, I wrote the whole thing down here!

Setting up the campsite:

  • Unhook the luggage straps that hold the backpack in place, and stow them.  (Left rear pouch.)  Move the backpack out of the way so you can open the large rear panniers.  (If the ground is dirty, place it on the seat of the bike.)
  • Open the tent pannier. (Right side, rear.)
  • Unclip the bag of tent stakes from the tent sack and stuff all the stakes in your pocket.  Leave the tent stake bag in the pannier.
  • Open the tent sack, and pull out the tent.  Leave the sack in the pannier.
  • Place the rolled-up tent on the ground a few feet in front of where you want your head to go, and unroll it.
  • If the ground is hard, get out the bike lock (Underside pocket, tent pannier.)
  • Drive in the lead stake. (The one on a guyline that goes near your head.)  Use the bike lock as a hammer if you need to.
  • Drive in the stakes to the left and right of that one, slightly less than full tautness.  (They will go taut then you drive in the remaining two.)
  • Close both valves on the tent.
  • Fetch the pump from the tent bag and inflate the tent, then place the pump back in the bag.  This should take about 90 seconds.
  • Drive in the remaining two stakes for the tent, then reposition the middle two if necessary.
  • Unzip the right-hand tent door. (The one that isn’t under the bike covering.)
  • Open the sleeping bag pannier and pull out the sleeping bag, and fling it into the tent.
  • Take the empty pee bottle out of the tent pannier, and throw it into the tent.
  • Remove the compression sack with the pillow (underside, sleeping bag pannier) and throw it into the tent.
  • If it’s not raining, take any computer or camera items you want out of the front bags and place them in the tent.  (Usually the white cable sack and spare battery at least.)
  • Zip up the tent again, temporarily.
  • If you plan to be here a while and explore on foot, fetch your off-bike shoes (underside, sleeping bag pannier) and place them in the right-hand alcove.
  • Place the backpack in the left-hand alcove (below the bike covering.)
  • Open the front right-side pocket and pull out your water sack.  Place it in the left-hand alcove.
  • Position the bike next to the tent, on the left side, with the pedals facing the head of the tent, as close as possible, and kickstand it.
  • Turn the cranks so the left pedal is facing up and out.
  • Take off your helmet and hang it from the handlebars.
  • Remove the GPS tracker and phone, and the spare battery if you were using it.
  • If there is appreciable wind, use a guyline from the stakes bag and stake down the bike, by running a cable from the stem around the seat and down away from the tent.
  • Fold the bike cover over the bike and use the remaining stakes to secure it.
  • If you got the lock out, place it in the alcove.

If you plan to cook, fetch the stove from the front right-side mesh pocket and place it in the right-side alcove.

If you have access to hot water, now is a good time to fill your thermos if you have it, for washing in the morning.

Setting up inside the tent:

  • Jump around a bit to dislodge water if necessary.
  • Unzip the tent.
  • Sit down across the threshold of the door with your butt inside and your feet facing out.
  • Remove your sandals, then rain hood, then jacket, then rain pants, then rain socks, and place them in a stack in the alcove outside the door.
  • Pull your legs inside and zip up the door.
  • Unzip the other door to gain access to the backpack and bike.
  • Open the backpack and pull out the laundry sacks:  Sleep gear, shirts, sweater, underwear and socks, etc.  Line them up against the back of the tent, with the sleeping bag in front.
  • Position the spigot of the water sack so it hangs inside the tent door, then zip up the door around it to hold it in place.
  • Get out the speakers and iPod nano, and hook them around the gear loft.

Setting up for bed:

  • Get the LED candle out of the yellow sack, turn it on, and place it up in the gear loft.
  • Take out the toiletries zipper bag and place it in one of the wall pockets.
  • Take our the sleep mask and earplugs bag, and your mouth insert, and place them in another wall pocket.
  • Pull the sleeping bag out of its cloth sack and set the sack aside.
  • Kneel with the sleeping bag where your head will go, and unroll it towards the back.
  • Close up the “deflate” valve and open the “inflate” valve.
  • Get the pump out of the yellow bag and inflate the bed.  Replace the pump.
  • Open the compression sack with the pillow and pull it out.  Punch it a few times and put it inside the sleeping bag.
  • If it’s going to be a very cold night, take all your electronics and put them into the sweater sack, then shove it down into the foot of the sleeping bag.
  • If not:  Take your bag of cables, your phone, the GPS tracker, and the spare battery and start charging things in one of the wall pockets.
  • Change into your sleeping outfit from the yellow sack:  Long johns, long-sleeve wool shirt, toe socks.  If it’s going to be a cold night, put the wool hat on.
  • If you have a hand towel in the laundry sack, pull it out and place it in a wall pocket.
  • Shove your remaining laundry sacks, plus your sweater, into the cloth sleeping bag sack, making a large side-pillow.
  • Get in the sleeping bag.

You should now have the following items close at hand, and will only need to reach an arm partway out of the sleeping bag to get them:

  • Sleep mask.
  • Earplugs.
  • LED candle.
  • iPod nano playing music.
  • Phone.
  • Water drinking tube.
  • Toothbrush.
  • Towel.
  • Sleep apnea jaw insert.

Waking up:

  • Stow the mouth insert, earplugs, and sleep mask.
  • Play some nice morning music.
  • Climb out on top of the sleeping bag and open the valve to deflate it.
  • Unzip the tent to lean out into the alcove, and wash your face with the washrag, mirror, and hot water.  Aaah!
  • Brush your teeth if you like.
  • Stuff the pillow back into its compression sack and seal it.
  • Flatten out and roll up the sleeping bag, then dump everything out of the cloth sleeping bag sack and push the sleeping bag back into it.
  • Stow the candle, mouth insert, toiletries bag, and sleep mask pouch in the yellow sack.
  • Change clothes, and put the sleeping outfit back in the yellow sack.
  • Go about your morning business.  (Breakfast? Showers? Water refill?)

Repacking inside the tent:

  • Switch off, detach, and bag the speakers.
  • Repack all your wires into the white zipper pouch.
  • Place all the laundry sacks back in the backpack.
  • Put on your rain gear in the doorway (if needed) and exit the tent.

Repacking outside:

  • Empty your gross pee bottle.  Find a toilet or a nearby bush.
  • Unstake the bicycle cover and lift it up.
  • Move the bicycle away from the tent and kickstand it again.
  • Clip the phone and GPS to the bike.
  • Fetch the bike lock from the alcove (if you got it out to drive stakes) and stow it.
  • Pull the packed sleeping back out of the tent and stuff it into its pannier, then clip it closed.
  • Re-stow the other items in and around the tent:  Water sack, stove, off-bike shoes, pillow sack, etc., until the tent is empty.
  • If it’s raining, make sure the rain cover is on the backpack, then move it from the alcove onto the seat of the bike.
  • Wipe any debris out of the tent and zip it closed, including the alcoves.
  • Open up the valves and let the tent deflate while it’s still staked down.
  • Pull up all the stakes and put them back in the stake bag.
  • Fold the tent sides inward, then roll it up from the feet to the head, driving out the air.  Wipe the underside as you go, if you need to.
  • Jam the rolled up tent inside the tent pannier and close it.
  • Clip the tent stakes back onto the tent pannier.
  • Place the tent back into its pannier.  Make sure the pump and pee bottle are in there with it.
  • Place the backpack on the rear of the bike and strap it down.

Off you go for another day of riding!