Champoeg post-report: A de-briefing on my first (tent) bike camping trip of 2022

St. Louis Church, 7 April 2022. Olympus 35 RD/Kodak TMAX 400

My first tent bike camping trip of 2022, to Champoeg State Park, happened just about two weeks ago. (My first bike overnight was in February with Emee to Stub.) Even after bike camping and touring for the better part of two decades, the first outing of the season is always a big deal. After many months of not doing it, it’s natural to forget some things. Thankfully, I didn’t really forget anything this time around, but there are things I would like to do differently the next time I head out. This is probably more useful to myself than you, but here goes:

I need a warmer sleep setup for these shoulder-season campouts. It’s easy to be fooled by a balmy spring forecast, and it indeed got warm on Thursday April 7, a high of 78F/25C. But this was after an overnight low of 35F/2C. My Nemo sleeping bag is rated to 30F/-1C, which means the actual comfort minimum is somewhere around 40F/10C (if that). 1 I thought that I’d be warm enough with a wool/silk baselayer, bag liner, and bivy, but that was not the case. I need to remember this the next time I camp where the low may dip below 45F/7C. I don’t know if I want to invest in a colder-weather sleeping bag, as they are more expensive, bulkier, and right now I don’t do a lot of cold camping.

What I can do next time is bring an extra layer. I just got a Klymit Versa blanket. I was more intending this for summer use, but I could use it over my sleeping bag for added warmth on cold nights. I also need to think about my mattress. I love my Klymit Static V air pad, but it doesn’t have any insulation. I could get a pad more designed for winter use, but like a sleeping bag they are more expensive and generally bulkier. I could instead bring a closed-cell foam pad (a la Therma-Rest “egg crate” design) in addition to my Static V. All this stuff will add weight and bulk to the rig, but it’s either that or crap sleep on cold nights.

Bivy sacks are just not my thing. I’ve used bivy sacks on-and-off for almost fifteen years. My first one was an Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy, purchased second-hand around 2009. Besides the Willamette Valley Bike Tour of 2009, I didn’t really use it until 2012, when my only tent was the “three-person” REI Quarter Dome I still have. The Quarter-Dome was too much for solo trips, so I used it a few times before I got a one-person tent for the PDX-Oly-Astoria Tour. The Alpine Bivy was great, but a little over-engineered for my needs. And it was big and bulky: At 2 1/2 pounds, it’s just a half-pound less than my current Marmot EOS 1 tent.

I sold the Alpine Bivy when I got the EOS 1 in 2014, but still thought I might need something small and stealthy. So I got another bivy, a Mountain Hard Wear Conduit. It’s definitely smaller and lighter, just a hair under a pound and packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle. But I barely use the thing–before this Champoeg trip I can only recall using it on three occasions:

  • a stealth overnight on Powell Butte in June 2014, before my Sunrise Coffee Outside for the first day of Pedalpalooza
  • a bike overnight to Ainsworth in October of 2014
  • My San Juans mini-tour in July of 2017

I was encouraged to bring a bivy to Champoeg because it had been awhile, I wanted to travel a wee bit lighter, and I always hear about the Grass up the Middle folks and their bivy camping. But I just didn’t enjoy the experience: the bivy sack felt too constraining to me. I’d rather be in a tent. And a bivy is really only an option under ideal circumstances: if it’s not raining (unless you want to add a tarp) and it’s not too buggy, as there’s no mesh.

There is still a certain appeal to a bivy sack: the compact size, the stealth factor, the “just throw it on the ground” setup, the looking up at the night sky. But for me the negatives outweigh the positives, so I should get rid of this bag before I foolishly decide to bring it on another camping trip. And I can always look at the stars when in a tent, as long as the rain fly is off.

More multi-modal overnights! While there’s definitely an appeal to “riding every mile” on a bike overnight, there is something to be said about shortening the ride portion, especially when that ride is less than ideal. Riding only 6 1/2 miles from the bus stop by Aurora Airport to Champoeg was nice. There was definitely more forethought in the planning process because of all the transit used, and I did spend almost three hours on trains and buses. But to not have to ride up the hill in Oregon City or deal with the hairy riding just west of Canby made it worth it.

I’m looking into other trips that I can do with the bus or train to shorten or cut off “the suck”. It’s been five years since I’ve ridden the Crown Zellerbach Trail up in Columbia County. Getting to it via MAX to Hillsboro, then Banks-Vernonia Trail is easy. It’s the other side, where the trail ends in Scappoose and the return home option is either a section of notorious US 30 (aka “Dirty Thirty”, where the last time I rode it I got a nasty flat) or steep climbs back into the hills. But there’s a bus that travels from Scappoose to downtown Portland. Perhaps I’ll do this as my next trip?

Champoeg isn’t that bad, actually. My previous four trips to Champoeg instilled a sense of ambivalence when it came to this state park campground. But in retrospect, a lot of that “meh” feeling was due to the sub-par riding experience getting to it. Decoupled from that, I can appreciate Champoeg a lot more. It’ll never become a top-tier destination for me, but I can envision doing more getaways here, especially if I can remove the crap ride from the picture.

The main issue with using transit to Champoeg is the infrequency. The WES train only runs during rush hour on weekdays. I’m lucky to have a flexible schedule that I could use it. There is a bus that runs from Oregon City to Woodburn, and that has more service and even runs on Saturdays. The ride from Aurora (a town on the route) to Champoeg is under ten miles, so that’s another option. And the Cascades Point Bus (the Amtrak Thruway Connection) has several trips a day from Portland Union Station to Woodburn, which is a ten mile ride from Champoeg. That bus runs daily.

*****

And now with my first tent camping of the season out of the way, I’m looking forward to more overnight adventures. Stay tuned for what will be next!

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1 A common online complaint about my bag is that it’s not that warm, but I’ll overlook that, since it’s really comfortable for side-sleepers.

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