Remember in January I attempted to partake in the “s24o a month club”? Yeah, we all know how that turned out. (Answer: It didn’t.) But I still had hopes of doing as many overnight bike camping trips in 2014, and really hoped I could pull something off in February.
And originally this was going to be easy, as I was leading the Cycle Wild trip to the cabins at Battle Ground Lake on February 8-9. Then the weather got in the way: the Snow Event that we get about every five years here happened right on that weekend. No trip. The rest of the month was shaping up to be bad for camping, as Mother Nature was making up for a pretty dry winter by dumping as much moisture on us as possible in February. Every “weekend” I had (and I put weekend in quotation marks because my days off are typically Tuesday and Wednesday) ended up with sucktastic weather. It started to look like February would be a washout, pun intended.
But the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February was shaping up to be different. Indeed, it was going to be dry and mild, with highs in the mid-50s. Perfect off-season camping weather for these parts. I pondered going to Battle Ground Lake State Park in rural Clark County, Washington as it was relatively close (about 25 miles) and we were denied the opportunity to go earlier in the month. Battle Ground Lake is in general a nice setting: a lake surrounded by woods, the lake being a great place to swim in the summer. And it’s sort of a hidden gem as most Portlanders don’t even know about its existence. (Vancouverites however are hip to its charms.) Plus, I was itching to test out the XO-3 as a “camping” bike, and if things went totally south, the park is just about 3 miles from public transportation if I needed to bail.
Then my neuroses started to kick in. I’d be going alone to a campground on a weekday in February, meaning barely no one would be there, if anyone. Sometimes I get weird about this, especially if I’ve been feeling lonely, which I have been lately. Then again, I’d most likely be alone at my house, so the big difference is I’d be in a tent in the woods instead. Then I started to think about all the things on my plate, deadlines looming, etc. But none of these deadlines are that immediate, and I always have stuff going on. Too much stuff going on. There are three strategies that one can employ when one has to do too much shit:
- Get that shit done by making a list and checking it off.
- Realize that your list is way too big and you don’t even know where to start, so do nothing and spend your days in a fetal position, hoping the world ignores you.
- Realize that shit will still be there, and take a mental break.
So wisely I opted for option 3, and on Tuesday morning, February 25 I packed up my bike and headed out on the road, leaving Woodlawn around 1:30pm.
The ride was mostly good on the way out. While sunny, there was a stiff east wind as I crossed the Columbia. (As I got further inland again, the wind dissipated.) While 1:30pm isn’t so bad a departure for a 25 mile ride in summer, I soon realized it was a bit on the late side for winter camping, as sunset was 6pm and I wanted to be to camp by then. (While I’ve done it countless times, I don’t relish setting up camp in the dark, especially with a new tent.) And when I got into central Vancouver I breaked for the obligatory coffee and food (I hadn’t eaten lunch), so by the time I got rolling again it was pushing 3pm. Not only did I have less time, but I would be hitting rush hour, ugh. I had planned a more meandering and ambitious ride out, but I realized that I would need to take the direct route. This put me on busier roads with all that traffic, which wasn’t exciting, but these roads had either bike lanes or wide shoulders, so the fast pace I was keeping and the grandeur of the landscape (especially a very snowy Mount St. Helens and the Cascade foothills in the distance) made up for the shortcomings.
I took a quick break in downtown Battle Ground at Fred Meyer to pick up some groceries, then rode the final four miles to the park. I rolled into camp at 5:30pm. Indeed, besides a few day-users, Battle Ground Lake State Park was bereft of overnight campers save myself and one lone person in the main loop. (And of course, the camp host.) But I was at peace with that, as I was in a nice wooded setting with a view of the lake from my campsite. I set up my tent, went back to pay for the night ($12 for a walk-in site) and bought some firewood from the camp host. Of course, the camp host misheard what site I was in, so I had to go back again to get the wood.* I typically don’t build a fire when I camp solo as I look at it as more of a social thing with people (and April was always better at building the fire than I was.) But on a long night like tonight a fire was nice, though it took 3 Esbit tabs to get the thing going, and it was never “blazing”. Still, any fire is better than no fire,** and even though I had a book to read and a letter to write, I ended up spending a good deal of the evening looking at the fire while listening to the radio. I put out the fire, and hit the proverbial hay.
I woke up around 8:30 on Wednesday morning.*** I made a breakfast of coffee, pancakes, and veggie sausage while listening to NPR and the weather band on my radio, then packed up and hit the road around 10:30am. After a coffee break in Battle Ground, I took a different route home, the route I initially intended to ride out on Tuesday. This route was a bit more rambly but used quieter roads and passed through some bucolic country. There’s a scarcity in this bucolica as the urban area of Clark County (read: Vancouver, for the most part)**** keeps creeping outward. I imagine these lonely roads passing by some houses, some farms, and some woods were much more prevalent 20 years ago. Now there’s lots more housing developments and McMansions.
I also got to ride a portion of the Chelatchie Prairie Rail Trail. Right now it’s barely one mile long, starting at Battle Ground Lake and abruptly dead-ending in the woods. But the backers have ambitious plans: a trail parallel to the Lewis and Clark rail line, stretching from Vancouver Lake just north of central Vancouver all the way to Battle Ground Lake. When completed, it would allow for a completely car-free ride between the two points, which will be great for bike camping! Of course, us Portlandites still need to get across the Columbia River and through the central part of Vancouver. But it’s better than nothing. But at the current rate of development, it could take a few decades to complete. For now I’ll have to be satisfied with the one mile near Battle Ground Lake, and think wistfully for the future.
I got back home around 3pm, exhausted. Unfortunately I can’t classify this expedition as an “s24o” but it wasn’t like I was really trying. And the timing was good, too. Leaving camp it was sunny, but high clouds soon came in, and by the time I got home the wind had picked up and the temperature dipped. Overnight it rained pretty good. I lucked out on getting a window of decent weather.
Overall it was a fun trip. While I wish I had left earlier on Tuesday, nothing bad happened, and the new equipment/setup worked too. (More about all that on the next post.) I’m looking forward to more camping expeditions, especially as the days get longer, warmer, and typically drier. Now I just have to figure out where to go next.
*If you are wondering why, if the campsite is so empty why couldn’t the camp host couldn’t figure out where I was, I’ll explain: He thought I was in the main loop, where the drive-in sites and the cabins are located. But I was in the separate walk-in area, which are 14 sites strung along a quarter-mile trail. And the parking for the sites are near the beginning of the trail, so when he didn’t see a car in the designated parking area, he thought I didn’t exist. Because we all know the only way to get to a campground is by driving.
**Unless you have asthma.
***I always tell myself I’m going to get up earlier.
****Before the Vancouver partisans have my head, I realize that a lot of that growth is unincorporated areas outside of Vancouver proper, like Hazel Dell. And Battle Ground itself is growing, too.