Do you think that riding the GDMBR was all fun and games? Most of the time, I was thoroughly enthralled by the scenery and the hills. However, I too battled boredom some days. When the trail got a little too monotonous, here are the ways I kept myself sane.
Omaker M4 Portable Bluetooth Speaker
What Worked: Durability, bluetooth function, sound quality, battery life
What Didn't Work: Ability to connect using the audio cable
Would use again. Actually, haven't stopped using it. Rocking out on everyday rides.
Before the trip, my brother insisted that he get me something that would be essential in making my trip a success. Since I already had most of my essential gear, I gave him the option of either a snap-on camera lens for my iPhone or a waterproof speaker. He chose the latter, and I later came to regard the speaker as "essential".
Sound - The speaker was loud enough for two people to rock out to El Ten Eleven or Sylvan Esso as long as we weren't flying down a mountain pass. If that was the case, only I got to descent to a soundtrack. ;) It was loud enough for me to follow a podcast as long as the sound quality was good. The sound quality was also pretty boss.
Water Resistant - The speaker made it through a number of short showers without a hiccup. I never submerged it, and I never left it out for a long time in a downpour. Overall I would say that it was entirely water resistant.
Ruggedness - This thing was -of course- shaken up quite a bit over 2,800 miles of trail. I dropped it and I leaned my bike over in the dirt while it rested in an outside pocket of my feedbag. It still works, and the only visible damage is a small dent in the speaker screen. It is hellah rugged.
Bluetooth / Audio Cable functionality - I originally requested that the speaker be able to accept a 3.5 mm audio cable as to not waste battery using bluetooth. Some people (including myself) have witnessed a defect in the speaker when using with the cable. However, the bluetooth function works perfectly, and the battery usage was negligible compared to drainage related to screen time (e.g., taking photos).
Battery - This speaker claims 12 hours of playtime, which I found to be accurate. It also claims 3 hours to recharge, which I found to be a little on the short side. I typically charged the speaker using my generator hub, and simply tried to not go too long without throwing it on the charger. Topping off the charge occasionally kept the tunes flowing. You see the battery state of charge through your phone's display.
Mounting to the Bike - Here's probably the only drawback to this speaker... it's not built for bikes. You have to find a home for this cube (measures 3.2 x 3.2 x 1.8"). It doesn't have any attachment points that make sense for bike mounting. I carried it in the outside mesh pocket of my Revelate Designs feedbag.
What Worked: Anything with good sound quality and consistent volume
What Didn't Work: Rambling podcasts... blah.
Would use again.
Music is great, but sometimes the brain needs a little more structure to keep the boredom at bay. Here are a few podcasts that I found entertaining. I listened to them mostly when riding alone.
Freakonomics - I thought I already loved the Freakonomics podcasts, but this trip produced a deeper appreciation bordering on cult-following. Stephen J. Dubner comes up with interesting questions about the world and finds equally interesting evidence to flesh out his curiosity. Topics range from end-of-life healthcare to the economics of sleep. HIGHLY entertaining for long ass slogs through a the high deserts.
This American Life - More of a story-based podcast that touches on a wide variety of topics. Ira Glass also has a voice that will keep you on your toes.
Radiolab - I love Radiolab when they do put out episodes, but the sound is highly dynamic. Sometimes the volume will be soft and at other times very loud. This is great when you're listening in your car or at home, but frustrating when you're cycling. I had to temporarily resign the Radiolab love during the trip.
Fresh Air - Closer to the end of the trip, I started to download Fresh Air podcasts. Hosted by the venerable Terry Gross, this 'cast is a bit more tuned into the current events. So when I wanted to actually learn something about the Pope while all of Philadelphia shut down for his arrival, Terry had me covered with "How Pope Francis is Changing the Tone of the Church"
The Buddy System
When it comes down to it, traveling with another person is a great way to stay "with it" on the trail. Sure, there are times when neither of you have anything exciting to say, but I can attest to some epically deep conversations up Montana passes (despite all the climbing) with my friend Jeni. I can also say that some people have incredibly story-telling capacities, even when air is scarce. My friend, Damien, kept the tall tales rolling all throughout Wyoming.
For the GDMBR, if you don't go out with a friend, you're likely to find a few people along the way. There are enough people interested in the trail that it's actually rare to go a couple days without seeing another rider. Most riders are actually glad to see another human cyclist (as opposed to a robot cyclist); you're bound to strike up a conversation.
One might file this under "Jedi Mind Tricks".
I didn't always entertain / distract myself from the trail. This is going to sound basic, but I believe being aware in the present moment is a life-saving skill. It's something that I think we've lost in the hustle of the modern world. How many times do you pull out your phone while you're waiting in line at the grocery store? How many "to do" items do you think of while you're driving home? How many things did you not notice on your walk to the train because you were texting your friend? Take all those things away, and what do you have? The present.
Bikepacking allows you to be in the present moment if you're open to it.
Sure, you could obsess over where you're going to camp that night, or you could play out your favorite date night over and over again in your head. But I'll bet the trail will feel a lot longer that day. I challenged myself to really focus on the present moment. You know, like, "dat mountain tho". Any endless day can be broken up in a million present moments. If I can be entertained in THIS MOMENT, and then THIS MOMENT, and so on... the miles go by with less drudgery. For comparison, the last hour before Pie Town was the longest hour of the trip, because I was so focused on the future, which just hadn't arrived yet.
So try it out on your next long ride. Or in the grocery store line. Are you not entertained?