Camp Local: Building a Bikepacking Community
No matter how close to home it may be, a local campout brings a disproportionate amount of high vibes to your week and helps build a local bikepacking community. Cass heads out with eight friends for a quick winter campout and returns home feeling especially happy with the world, along with hints and tips to share…
Here at BIKEPACKING.com, we love to share stories of journeys set in lands far away. In part, it’s because everyone digs an epic adventure set to a breathtaking backdrop. But it’s also because we believe that overseas travel expands your mind and creates a strong, lasting impression; both whilst you’re riding, and when you’re reflecting on the experience back home.
All this said, we’re big fans of local adventures too. There’s nothing like a bikepacking route close to where you live to keep things real and relevant. No matter how busy you are, almost everyone has the time to squeeze a short, local trip into their lives, if you just rearrange (or maybe juggle) your priorities. I’ve already waxed lyrical about the Power of the Overnighter and how fun it can be to ride in a posse. Getting a group of friends together for a quick local campout, even if it’s just a handful of miles down the road, is more in the same vein.
It’s somewhat ironic that in this day and age, simply negotiating an escape date can feel like a greater challenge than the ride itself. Tracking down that elusive evening, those precious hours within the complex Venn diagram of schedules, can be tricky. My advice? Pick a date in advance, get the word out, and trust that people will shuffle their lives around to make it happen. It’s the initial catalyst of the suggestion that’s key. The rest will happen.
As for our group, we ended up with nine riders from the original twelve who expressed interest, translating into a 75 percent success rate. Not bad at all, considering it was midweek endeavour, on the last day of January, and the forecast was for a sub-freezing night. Most people knew each other, but there were new faces for some, which is a good sign if you’re aspiring to grow your bikepacking community.
Text sent on the day prior (reprinted minus emojis, of course):
Looks like we have quite the posse for tomorrow. Let’s aim for a prompt 3pm rollout (meet at Counter Culture for quick access to the bike path). Seems like we have a few camping options. Worth bringing a chunk of wood each, or scavenging there. Fend for yourself food wise, bar communal chocolate, bourbon, or whatever takes your fancy! Please forward this to anyone I forgot! Seems like a few people will need to make a very early start back to town, I’m happy to dawdle a little and be back home by midday or so. It’s a Caja ride so pretty much any reasonable tire size goes as long as there’s not too much mud and muck! Reports are favourable. I’m going with 2.8s as they’re the narrowest tires I have! Looking forward to it, chaps!”
Cycling straight out of town keeps logistics straighforward, as does fixing a meeting point close to traffic-free trails; a bunch of wild, gear-bedecked bikepackers on busy roads can be hectic, to say the least. The Caja del Rio is a favourite local Santa Fean haunt, especially for those of use in town who enjoy a sense of exploration to our rides, given how easy to get lost, crisscrossed as it is by a number of primitive dirt roads and faint cattle tracks. The area has its own, particular character; an expansive plateau of low lying hills, sagebrush, junipers, it’s cupped by the Sangre de Cristos to one side and the Jemez Mountains to the other. More often than not, the Caja is bathed in a beautiful, ethereal light come late afternoon and early in the morning. Experiencing these bookends to the day is the best shortcut to that moment of realization we all need sometimes: “This is why I’m here. This is why I make the effort to get out on a bike and experience the world around me.” In short, a night under tarp is a surefire way of providing a much needed mental and physical reset to the system.
The Caja is not, however, an area that takes kindly to the slightest hint of moisture. But with a week passed since the last snowfall, we decided to take the gamble, assuming that New Mexico’s almost unfailingly bluebird days would have baked the roads sufficiently dry. The punishment for any misguided hubris is sharp: manhandling your bike through a quagmire of the state’s notoriously sticky mud, clogging drivetrains and testing even the roomiest of tire clearances.
As bikes and setups, ours reflected the rich tapestry of bikepacking life. I rode a Surly Bridge Club as it’s a bike we’re reviewing here on the site, and it’s the perfect steed for mixed duties; commute by day, camp by night. But, almost anything goes on this kind of ride, be it an old 90s hardtail like this heritage Stumpjumper, or the spendy backpacking steed you cherish and lavish with love (and boutique parts). The same gear permutations apply to camping. Some chose to cosy up in nothing more than billowy down feathers and a bivy bag, whilst others preferred the extra insulation of a tent.
Scroll across for our lineup of riders and their rigs, from a basketpacking Troll to a full carbon Salsa singlespeed…
In the event, Mother Nature did remind us who’s boss, transforming what began as a mellow cruise into something of a mudbath/evening slog over the last few miles. But at least she graced us with a beautiful sunset to drag our bikes to. The original intention had been to make it to Chino Mesa, a plateau that promised a sweeping morning vista of the Rio Grande, just as we’d done on our family-friendly Swift Solstice Campout. But with the sun long having dropped behind the horizon and the temperature plummeting, the unanimous decision was made to set up camp at the first appropriate spot.
Once drivetrains had been poked with sticks in an effort to coax them back into life (leave it until the next day and New Mexican mud sets like concrete, or rather adobe) and a roaring fire had been lit, spirits were buoyed once more. Stories were shared, drinks were imbibed, and it was close to midnight before we retreated into our sleeping bags.
Come morning, flames were rekindled to warm toes, thaw out frozen water, and sip sunrise coffee. The early bird gets the worm: the light was magnificent. Those who needed to be at work early rallied themselves for a 7:30 am departure, whilst the rest of us cruised into town well before midday, with plenty of time to tackle whatever chores the Matrix had for us that day. We left camp long before the sun had a chance to melt the land into a slop once more, memories of the night before spurring us into efficient, communal action.
Our complete loop was probably no more than 40 miles, door to door. If the weather had been on our side, we might have eked out another dozen and earned ourselves a morning view over the Rio Grande. But honestly, I was perfectly content that we stopped where we did. Getting out is what it’s all about.
Ultimately, it doesn’t take much physical effort to enjoy a local campout. But it does require you to take action! Here are a few hints and tips to help you do so.
GROWING YOUR LOCAL BIKEPACKING COMMUNITY
- Form a local Facebook page to share ideas, routes, ride reports, and inspiration.
- If you’re into social media, set up an Instagram feed or hashtag to share the local stoke!
- Frequent your local bike shops , get to know riders, and encourage them to be involved.
- Consider organising informal talks and workshops through your bike shop or outdoor store, for those new to the concept of bikepacking.
- Pick a date in advance and trust that people will come! Aim for one trip a month, to build some momentum.
- Things slow down in a group, and that’s ok, because the intention isn’t to cover big miles. Enjoy the company of others and save the mile-crunching for smaller posses or solo riding.
- Start small. Even a dozen miles out of town is enough. Short, local outings will appeal to more people, especially when schedules are tight. Grow the scope of your rides from there.
- Collect old gear to lend out to those new to bikepacking. Everyone has some. It might as well get used.
- Reach out to those who haven’t reached out to you, for a broader, more diverse band of riders.
- Eventually, an organised event can do wonders in helping to put your bikepacking community on the map, spreading the word and showing local businesses the value of backcountry bicycle tourism. The Danger Bird 350 is a great example of an all inclusive format.
- Consider mapping your routes with a service like Ride With GPS so others can get out if they can’t make the group date.
- Whilst it’s not all about the bike, riding roughly similar steeds will help keep your pace is in sync. Don’t get too hung up on it, though.
- Check in pre-ride and make sure you’re all on the same page as to the style of the excursion, how challenging it may be, and the distance you plan to cover.
- Make sure everyone knows the destination and has a form of navigation, in case anything or anyone goes astray.
- Similarly, check over gear and other necessities… Does your sleeping bag have an appropriate rating for the temperatures expected? Do you have enough water? Are your tires set up tubeless, if needed? Is your bike mechanically sound? What’s obvious to you may not be to those new to bikepacking. Avoiding gear mishaps will help maintain the flow of a ride, especially if larger groups are involved.
- Make sure your chosen camp spot can handle your group size and be sure to Leave No Trace.
Stay tuned for more on this subject, as we have something new cooking. In the meantime, let us know in the comments below if you have tips of your own, or a similar bikepacking group in your community.