I grew up camping. When I was a kid, we camped while riding horses. Later I moved to “iron horses” aka motorcycles, and have camped all across the United States from the back of my bike. Anywhere from the Sierra Mountains to the Rockies to the remote wilds of the Glover River in SE Oklahoma to a grass lot behind a convenience store in Birmingham. I have camped while flying my Maule to the Idaho wilderness, flying my twin Cessna T310R to New Mexico, while driving my Jeep to Missouri, and even with a mini-van full of kids in Colorado. Camping is something I enjoy. But I had never camped while riding a bicycle. Until this past weekend.
I had been wanting to bicycle camp for many years, but never really had the opportunity, the gear, or the legs to make it happen. Since 2017 I have been pretty serious about riding my bicycle and exercising in general, so my fitness level, despite multiple heart attacks and open heart bypass surgery in 2018, is pretty good right now. I had recently purchased a Trek Checkpoint ALR5 with the express purpose of bicycle camping. It has the gearing I need to ride up steep hills while fully loaded with camping gear, and it has plenty of mounting points for racks, fenders, and other parts that make bicycle travel more practical.
Want to go on a bicycle camping trip?
My neighbor Geoff Detrich is a long-time bicyclist who had been out of riding for a few years. He got started again recently and we have done a few rides together. I expressed an interest in bicycle camping and he said “count me in”. So on short notice, I told him I was planning to gravel ride from my home in Edmond to Lake McMurtry in Stillwater. He checked his schedule and decided to ride with me. While Geoff had bicycle camped years ago, neither of us had camped from our current rides. My bike was closest to being ready, since I had purchased it over a year ago with camping in mind, and had been acquiring the racks needed. I already had most of the camping gear from my time on motorcycles, so I just needed a good way to mount everything to my bicycle. I bought some really nice Axiom bags last year that was perfect. After loading my bike and doing a test run, and getting some advice from friends, I decided to move some of my load upfront on my bicycle rather than having all the weight on the rear.
Day 1 – Edmond to Lake McMurtry
We left our homes in Edmond around noon on a beautiful Saturday with a slight breeze and temperatures in the 60’s – perfect cycling weather. I had hoped to get away a bit earlier but we had to do some tweaks on Geoff’s bike before leaving. I knew at my slow pace, 55 miles was going to be a chore on gravel roads to arrive at McMurtry before dark, especially with a loaded bicycle.
Day 2 – Lake McMurtry to Guthrie
Geoff had a previous commitment that night, so his wife picked him up at Lake McMurtry and I spent the night alone. The weather got a bit cold at 42 degrees F. I have camped in much colder weather, but had warmer camping gear. I had packed my bicycle pretty lite knowing I had to pedal it all the way to McMurtry and back. I used one of my summer 40 degree sleeping bags with a liner. I stayed warm enough, but just barely. I had to wear my long riding pants, two pairs of socks, and my down jacket.
I woke up the next morning and cooked breakfast. The weather warmed up pretty quickly, but I was faced with the reality of pedaling home in some very strong headwinds. Geoff ended up driving to Guthrie and then riding his bike north to meet me at I-35 and Highway 51. After a tough Sunday of riding in strong headwinds and dealing with wheel-stopping thick mud, I was happy that I only had to ride 40 mile to Guthrie rather than 55 miles home to Edmond.