For years I’ve been dreaming about riding my bike across the U.S.A. Truth told, I’m not sure if it’s a fantastic dream or a nightmare. The thought of heading off into the unknown is both exhilarating and frightening. The goal is so huge and there are so many decisions to be made—when to leave, the route to ride, equipment, duration, solo or companions, set schedule and route or seat-of-the-bike shorts exploration, accommodations, and the list goes on and on. So, as any SparkPeople member worth their weight will tell you, you can’t tackle a big goal all at once. You have to pick smaller, more manageable goals, work towards them, then add more as you learn about yourself and have some successes and failures under your belt. You can learn more from your failures than your successes.
So, this past weekend, I tackled Goal 1: Take an overnight camping trip on the bicycle. Friday night I made a quick list of gear to pack and began gathering everything. It looked like too much when it was piled in the hallway, but there was nothing that I felt I could leave behind. The gear:
2 rear panniers; 1 handlebar bag, bike tools, spare tube, air pump, 2 water bottles, Cambelbak
Helmet, gloves, bike shoes, 1 pair socks, bike jersey and shorts; 1 pair shorts and 1 t-shirt (served as PJ’s, too)
Camp towel, travel size soap, toothpaste and toothbrush, comb, sunblock
Tent, tent floor, rainfly, air mattress, 2 mylar sheets (saved from half marathon races)
2 bagels, small container of peanut butter, 1 ClifBar, 1 Gu, 1 banana
Total gear weight: 28.3 lbs. Bike weight: 30 lbs.
I laid my biking clothes out and loaded all the gear onto the bike so I could get on the road by 6 a.m. on Saturday.
Saturday morning I awoke at 5 a.m., skipped my morning shower since I was soon going to be hot, sweaty, and mildly smelly, and ate 2 scrambled eggs, a bagel and O.J. for breakfast. Gave D.H. a peck, and was on the road at 5:57 a.m. The sky was overcast and the air was cool—perfect conditions for a ride to Prince Gallitzen State Park, which was approximately 24 miles away.
The first hour of the ride was mostly flat and I didn’t mind carrying the extra weight. The second hour was all uphill. The mountain road starts off with a gradual climb and easy rollers, but the last third of it is steep. The ride is beautiful, though, so I kept my focus on the scenery—streams, mountain laurel (not yet in bloom), small farms—all typical rural Pennsylvania scenery.
A deer’s movement deep in the woods caught my eye, and a heron surprised me when it glided out of a creek and proceeded to float upstream through the dense forest—it looked as if its wings might have been brushing the tree limbs. I’ve never seen heron in such dense woods. The not-so-pretty side of wildlife was visible, too—roadkill. One deer and two porcupines. You really appreciate the foul smell when you are only riding by at about 4 mph. Some things are better in a vehicle.
When I finally crested the mountain at the tiny village of Lloydsville, I raised an arm in triumph. I pedaled the entire way without a stop. The next section, the last 45 minutes, was a series of rolling hills with long downhill sections and shorter uphill sections.
My first destination was to a friend’s (Linda) camper about 10 miles from Crooked Run Campground where I would be staying. She has her camper permanently set up at a campground and had told her neighbors about her crazy friend who would be arriving sometime in the morning by bike loaded with camping gear. As I pedaled up the campground lane, numerous people said hello and were clearly surprised when I rolled in at 8:45. One gentleman said he had taken bets that I would arrive around 6 p.m.!
The morning was spent in relaxation and with a great big cup of hot coffee—boy did that taste good. After lunch, we drove up the road for some guilt-free ice cream. Then we drove around the lake with Linda pointing out where Bald Eagles are nesting and some other points of interest, including where I could turn off if I wanted to take an alternate route home. We played Scrabble in the afternoon (she won) and chatted with her neighbors.
About 3:30 p.m. I got back on the bike to head over to my campground. There were two routes I could go, unfortunately, I picked the hilliest with strong headwinds. When I arrived at the camp check in, the rangers were interested in where I had biked from and my final destination. Just a few days earlier they had a cyclist on his way to Johnstown, PA, just a day’s pedaling away. He had started in Oregon. If only I had arrived earlier—I would have loved to talk to him about his trip.
The ranger asked the usual check-in questions, including “are you camping with a tent?” (I’m straddling my bike, still have on my helmet.) I responded, “Well, I started out pulling the camper, but realized after just a block, that there was no way I was going to be able to pull it up the mountain, so I turned around and got the tent.” He appreciated the humor.
I had my pick of sites, so I chose one that had a view of the lake. It didn’t take long to set up the tent, and then I walked down to the lake and waited for Linda to pick me up so we could go out to dinner.
By then, the day was catching up with me, so I headed to bed just before dark. I couldn’t decide what to do with the pannier that held the food. I decided it was safest to keep it in the tent with me. It seemed like only minutes until I heard “skritch, skritch, skritch” near my head. I lay there hoping it would go away, but to no avail. I was worried that the raccoon might get bold and actually paw the tent (It’s mostly mesh, and wouldn’t take much to damage it), and then I was worried it might be a bear. Despite my fear, I got up, opened the tent, and set the pannier on the picnic table. Of course, no raccoon (or bear) was in sight. The worst that could happen is that I’d be out breakfast in the morning, and there was a restaurant just 5 miles, so it was no big deal.
Back into the tent, eyes closed, beginning to drift asleep and what did I hear? That rascally raccoon making a second attempt at the food! Again, I crawled out of the tent to check things out—I wasn’t sure what to do next. I did not bring any rope to tie the pannier in a tree. The pannier was not on the picnic table—it was on the ground and about 2 feet away. Now I was really concerned—I wouldn’t have been too put out to lose breakfast, but I did not want to lose a pannier. My solution was to thread my bike cable lock through the pannier so it couldn’t be stolen, and I wrapped it tight with a bungee cord and went back to bed. And sure enough, moments later I could hear the raccoon wrestling with the bag. Before I could get out of the tent again, all went quiet. I waited, but there was no noise. Then, five or so minutes later, I hear a woman in the next camp circle yelling “Shoo, scoot, get out of there!” and clapping her hands vigorously. Then I hear her closing or boxing things up and opening and closing a car door. I wonder if the raccoon ever did score some food.
Sleep eluded me for a good part of the night—the improvised pillow (my clothes in a bag) was absolutely horrible and led to a pinched nerve in my neck by morning. The mylar blanket was not a good idea. It made a lot of noise when I turned and twisted, and there was some condensation, though it did keep me warm enough.
At 5:30 a.m. I broke camp and by 7 a.m. I was on the road. I stopped at a general store for some coffee to have with my bagel, and headed home. It rained a bit, but it felt refreshing and was a better option than the hot sun.
I learned a few things on this trip. First and most important—I like bike camping and am strong enough to do it. I wasn’t confident that I could climb the mountain on the heavier bike with gear. Second, I need to add some gear and clothing: pillow, sleeping bag liner, camp stove, rope, walking/hiking shoes, a jacket, and camera. As I get more experience, there will probably be a few more additions, maybe some deletions, but they will all have to literally be weighed for comfort vs. weight.
The pillow and sleeping bag liner arrived yesterday; I hope the camp stove arrives before my next trip, which is yet to be scheduled. My next adventure (Goal 2), is biking from home to Prince Gallitzen for a night or two, then onto Black Moshannon for a night, and then back home.