Last weekend I was out near dusk riding my mountain bike. The last glow of the sun produced a silhouette of Columbia Mountain etched against an orange background. Two whippoorwills began their back-and-forth singing across a valley creek. A barred owl burst out with its call, asking, "Who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all?"
I got a little nervous. You've heard the stories. Whippoorwills call when someone you know is going to die soon. Owls are omens of mystery and danger. And here I was . . . alone, on my bike, light fading, and no sign of my car, which was back at the trailhead where I had parked it that morning, a good half-hour's hard ride away. Squeezing the last drop of water out of my bottle, I continued climbing up the mountain, deeper into the woods and away from civilization.
I eventually reached a ridge and rolled into a small clearing where the light was a tad better. I smiled with relief. There, standing where it had been pitched earlier beside the small creek, was my tent looking snug as any home. I parked my bike against a small tree, walked to the tent, unzipped the fly to reach inside for my hearthside moccasins, and slipped them on. From my small cooler, I took out a cold one and carried it over to the hammock strung between two trees. Stretched out and swinging slowly, I listened to the night noises grow louder around me.
Bike camping. A few years ago I never would have considered it, but more and more I'm finding reasons to head out into the woods, panniers hung and trailer in tow, where I will stay a night or two, stretching the day's ride on both ends of twilight. It's a combination many mountain bikers are finding they enjoy. And it's hardly any more complicated than planning for a regular day on the trail.
The first time I ever loaded up my camping gear on a trailer and took it into the woods behind my bike, I had my doubts by the time I left the trailhead. You see, the learning curve for bike camping can be quite steep. In my case, I had to return to my vehicle after having left of all things my food. Later, the trailer tire suffered a pinch flat, the trailer no doubt overloaded with some stuff I should have left behind. But I had started early and had time (and the tools) to take care of these unexpected challenges.
That night, at my campsite, when I lay in my hammock watching the flames from the campfire throw shadows against the trees, the only thing I would have changed was the size of the hammock: Bigger would have been better. The last thing I saw that night before I closed my eyes were the stars burning brighter than I ever remember them burning before. I fell asleep to the sound of the wind softly swooshing through the limbs. When I awoke the next morning and saw my bike leaned against a tree, and behind it, a deer taking a drink from the creek, I knew my next bike-camping trip could not come soon enough.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication