Like a broken record, the bike camping/touring itch returns

Beverly Beach State Park on Emee and my Oregon Coast Tour, 14 August 2021. Camera: Olympus Pen EES-2. Film: Fuji Sensia 100 (slide film)(expired)

Winter camping in Portland is a possibility: there are several all-year campgrounds nearby and we rarely see snow or temperatures below freezing. Every once in awhile the temptation to do a mid-winter trip arises, but I never carry through. While it might not be freezing or snowy, it’s still on the cold side and things tend to be damp.

But even if I do get a dry, mild day, there’s no getting around the short length of sunlight. The sun sets a little before 4:30 PM on Solstice, and that’s early. What can you do at a campsite with so much night? Sure, you can build a fire, but unless you want to buy multiple bundles of firewood, you’ll get about 90 minutes of fire at best. Retreat to the tent? Sitting in a small, cramped tent for many hours is not my idea of fun. 1 For tent camping I’ve only done mid-winter stuff when it’s with other people, where there’s a social aspect to things.

But bike to a cabin, which has beds, heat, light, and power outlets? I’m there. That’s what Emee and I did on February 6th and 7th when we biked to Stub Stewart (more on that soon.) This was my first bike camping/touring typed thing since the Oregon Coast Tour in August. That was six months ago. Despite wanting to do something in September or perhaps October, bike issues nixed that idea. Six months is definitely a long time, but perhaps not as long during these COVID times, so don’t think I’m beating myself up or anything.

But going out to Stub has definitely brought that “itch” back. This seems to happen from February to April: I get excited about what overnight bike adventures I can do in the coming year. While I plan out bigger tours for summer, I definitely want to do something smaller before then. Preferably now.

And the same search for a camping spot plays out, again and again, as we are in the “Interzone” between winter and summer camping. I’ve repeatedly hit up the year-round camping options within 40 miles of Portland, so it gets a little boring. Come mid-March options like the Gorge campgrounds and Milo McIver open up. I love going to Ainsworth, but what if I want to do something before March 18th, this year’s opening day?

I could go to Oxbow if I wanted to, as it is the closest–just 10 miles from the end of the MAX. But they are doing reservations only, the sites are pretty pricey ($25 not including booking fees) and oof, that hill. Battle Ground Lake is only 25 miles away if I want to bike across the river, so that’s a decent possibility.

Or perhaps it’s time for a visit to Champoeg, my second-to-least favorite local campground? 2 I only go there every three years 3so a return is due. I’ve been wanting to incorporate the WES commuter rail into a Champoeg trip, as it’s the only local transit service I haven’t used. The end of the WES line in Wilsonville will get me just 10 miles away from Champoeg, and while that means I need to ride Boone Bridge (I-5) over the Willamette River, the “regular” way out there ain’t no picnic either. But the WES only runs commute hours: Either I’d get out there really early (like 10 AM) which doesn’t sound that appealing. And the first afternoon train gets into Wilsonville around 4:45 PM–with the sunset just around 5:30 PM that means getting to the campground before dark would be really tight. Once Daylight Saving Time hits in mid-March I’d have more of a time cushion. But then Ainsworth in the Gorge would be open. Maybe it’s just best to wait until mid-March, then?

I’ve also been giving some thought to how I want to camp/tour this year. The cabin run at Stub is a good shakedown. But I ended up bringing a lot of stuff. It’s the paradox of cabin camping–since shelter is provided, you don’t need a tent, so you think you’ll go lighter. But you still need bedding, so the sleeping bag comes along. (Thankfully the pad isn’t needed.) And if you cook, you’ll still need a stove, unless you luck on a deluxe cabin with a microwave like they have at Fort Stevens on the coast. Spend more than one night? Well, you better stock up on food unless there’s a store close by–one preferably not at the bottom of a hill. So that’s how bringing too much stuff happens.

I did a bit more bivy-ing in 2009 to about 2013, when I had a heavy-duty one (Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy) with bug shield. Still, it was 2 1/2 pounds and needed a tarp if there was risk of rain. From the Cycle Wild trip to Milo McIver State Park, 5-6 May 2012. (Oh sometimes I miss you, Long Haul Trucker!)

It would be nice for the next quick overnight happens with a stripped-down kit. But what about skipping the tent? I do have a bivy sack, basically a weatherproof cover over the sleeping bag. They tend to be light–mine’s just half a pound–and pack down small. I get jealous of seeing people “going out on a bivy”, as I haven’t used mine in a number of years. The conditions have to be just right–no rain, not too buggy. 4 Spring is actually a good time for a bivy, maybe the next trip I’ll do that?

And while the Bantam is my primary touring machine, I’d like to switch up the bikes. It’s been awhile since I did a three speed camping trip, so I’m due. And I’d definitely like to try a camping trip with the Brompton! I think I could get my load down to my front Carradice bag plus Carradice Camper saddlebag. And using the Brompton could mean it’d be easier to incorporate a bus trip into the plan.

So let’s see what my next camping trip will be. It’ll hopefully be sooner than later.

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1 Yeah, you can read a book or two. But Murphy’s Law means that your headlamp will go dead in an hour and you forgot to pack spare batteries.

2 Least favorite is hands-down Paradise Point.

3 It’s actually been four years since the last time I went in 2018, but I did plan on going there last year.

4 I can bring a tarp, sure. But might as well bring a tent if I go that route. My old bivy had a bug shield, but it weighed nearly as much as my current tent, so I got rid of it.


6 thoughts on “Like a broken record, the bike camping/touring itch returns

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  1. I’m getting the itch also. I plan to ride and stay at a hotel within walking distance of a brew pub. It’s something I’ve never done. Low mileage. I’m done with suffer fests. Weekends are for pleasurable rides.

    1. I think I can still do “suffer fests” if it’s part of a larger bike tour, or if the scenery/location is great. But that’s for nicer weather, not winter.

      Staying indoors is also cool. I like the idea of “inn to inn” touring (I prefer that moniker over “credit card touring” which means nothing nowadays). I didn’t do a lot of that in the past because I was younger and broke-er. But even with little/no money there is ways to incorporate indoor lodging into a tour with services like Warmshowers.

      Emee and I are hoping to do at least two inn-to-inn typed tours this year–one in Willamette Valley wine country (where legal camping options are pretty much non-existent) and in the San Juan Islands. After my inn-to-inn tour last year, I definitely see the appeal–no need to bring camping stuff so you can ride unencumbered!

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