John Muir walked into the woods with not much more than a journal, some flour in a sack and a pair of boots. He would disappear into the wilds, exploring, making notes, making weird breads out of plants and the flour he brought, drinking from mountain streams, making house calls on lonely woodsmen. These days he makes a decent tomato sauce.* The appeal of Muir’s adventures has not diminished with time. Every REI, Hudson Trail Outfitters and Patagonia advertisement calls upon his sense of the world: shedding the chains of urban or suburban life, forging a simple, if temporary life in the woods and wilds of the country.
Americans have always loved the concept of roughing it. Most of us just don’t have the time. There are other concerns as well. Lack of comfort, lack of know-how, lack of equipment. Backpacking is a time and potentially equipment intensive sport, and many of us have enough expensive hobbies already. It’s time intensive: planning, driving to a hiking spot, spending hours cruising through the woods to get to your camping spot, doing it all again the next day. Long trips require more planning, from meals, to supply drop points, to potential bail points. Weeks of planning cannot control the weather, which can dump rain, extreme heat or snow, depending on the season. A preplanned trip can lead to misery, as tents fail to dry out, blisters form, snakes consume fellow hikers, etc.
Alternatives exist. The sub twenty four hour overnight, or s24o is a great, cheap way to get out into the woods. It works like this: leave in the evening, ride to your destination (don’t drive, loading the car adds time, complexity), camp, wake up, ride home. All in under 24 hours. You could leave Saturday night and be home before 10 am Sunday. Despite the limited time, the s24o allows you to switch gears, relax, and get a good nights sleep in the woods. Everything that makes camping fun is in place: the transcendent act of watching a fire burn down, the taste of sunrise coffee in the morning, the heart pounding scares at night when you think a squirrel foraging for night snacks is actually a bear waiting to devour the first person to leave the tent for a quick pee…
You’re thinking: man, I am not a tourist, I don’t have a touring bike or all that kit. Well you might, actually have most of it. It’s just overnight. You don’t need advanced equipment, a stove, a titanium spork or a even a tent. You just need a few basics. A tent is fine, but a tarp works just fine. A blue 8×10 tarp and some twine will keep you dry even in a nasty downpour. That green thing in the picture above is just a tarp, pitched like a tent. Blue tarps are under 10 bucks in the size you would need. Most summer sleeping can be handled by a cheap foam mat and a fleece blanket. You don’t even need the mat if you find a cushy place to sleep, like on moss, or if you make a pile of leaves. So the three most expensive things, really, can be replaced by stuff you already have or can get for less than twenty five dollars, total. You can bring a stove and cook, but really, just cook over the fire. Bring something to shove on a stick, some snacks, and you are set. Because it’s just an overnight, if you forget something major, it’s not a big deal. Even if you forget food, you’ll live till you get home.
There are plenty of places locally to get your s240 fix. Gambrill, Greenbrier, and Cunningham Falls State Park all have inexpensive camping, with showers, water supplies and bathrooms. They are all a pretty easy ride from Frederick. Cunningham Falls and Greenbrier both have swimming, which is rad. There is free camping too. A bit of a ride, but totally doable: head up to Michaux State Forest which is just above the PA line above Emitsburg. Camping here is free, you just plop down in the woods where ever looks enticing. This is real woods camping, no amenities, no water, etc. Go prepared. Slightly less rustic, but just as free, is camping along the C and O canal. The canal is littered with decent camping spots, all of which have water pumps and porta johns, and is a pretty easy ride from Frederick to access. I personally really like the area between Harpers Ferry and Hancock, which is scenic and has some great sleep spots.
If you want to know more about bike camping, what you need and don’t need, stop by the shop and we can chat about it. If you want to go full hog, and get some dorky backpacking kit, we love that stuff and can either source it or point the way to it. We have a great selection of panniers, racks, and all that. Again you don’t need that stuff, but if you get into it, life gets marginally easier with it’s use.
If there is more interest in the topic, I can write about how to make some kit, but, probably there won’t be, so consider this the final word!
*That’s a joke, I know he really runs Ken Burns’ Civil War themed Laundromat.
It’s a huge summer o’ shop rides!
Sunday evenings: If it isn’t raining horribly, meet at the shop at 5pm. We’ll hit the road around 5.30 for a 30-45 mile road ride at a decidedly casual pace. We occasionally hit dirt roads, but it’s a road ride so you can bring a road bike, we promise. The terrain will be hilly to downright mountainous, but done at a pace that won’t leave you gasping for air. We even take breaks. Bring these things with you: Bright Lights (front and rear), spare tube (at least one), pump/co2, some food, some money for soda or whatever along the way.
Tuesdays: 8am road ride from Starbucks on 7th street. 45 miles or so right now, by the end of the summer we will be doing 80ish. This is a long ride, with no fixed schedule, and ridden at ‘James touring pace’ which is to say slow. Climbing, back roads, stuff you maybe haven’t seen. Bring: food, money, tubes
Wednesdays: Hill ride with Brian. Meet at the shop around 5, wheels down at 5.30 in the evening. Fast (but not insane fast) road ride up into the mountains, back down again, back up again, and down again. Back before dark but bring a rear blinkie in case of mechanicals.
Thursdays: Mountain ride with Brian and Team Flying Dog. Meet at 5.30 at the foot of the dirt section of Mountaindale Road, by that big maintenance shed. Hilly, technical watershed mountain biking, but a relaxed pace. Back before dark.
Sunday Mornings: THIS WEEK’S WOMEN’S RIDE IS CANCELED BUT WE WILL BE BACK NEXT SUNDAY! Women’s beginner road rides from the Starbucks in the Westview Shopping center. 8AM 12-18 miles on low traffic roads. Rides will be led by Tracy, who works here, and know the roads well, and all that good stuff.