As soon as the weather warmed up in April, I thought it would be a great idea to invite my coworkers on a bike camping trip. I work on a farm and education center (Round the Bend Farm, A Center for Restorative Community) in southeastern Massachusetts. At lunch one day, I floated the idea to the team.
“Hey does anybody want to — ”
“Yes!” interrupted Laurel.
“ — go bike camping next week?” I finished.
“Let’s camp in my yard!” shouted Josh, waving his hand in the air.
Everyone nodded and started chattering about the trip. It was a very easy sell.
We all had different weekend schedules, so we’d have to squeeze the trip in on a work night when everyone was around. Most people had never been bike camping before. No one owned panniers or bike bags. A few didn’t have a bike. It was destined to be a wonderful adventure.
A few days later, I sent out this email to organize our crew (lightly edited for clarity):
Hello, bike adventurers!
I’m just checking in about our EPIC ADVENTURE to go bike camping on Thursday in the remote wilderness of Josh’s yard.
On Thursday, we’ll arrive at work with our packed bikes. At 5:00 PM, please meet on the front lawn. Then we’ll ride off into the sunset to Josh’s house (9.7 miles away). We’ll set up camp, light a fire, and cook dinner. In the morning, we’ll pack up and be back at work by 9:00 AM.
I can provide dinner. Dinner menu: burritos with Spanish rice, beans, cheese, hot sauce, and chorizo; hot chocolate and whiskey. Please pack your own breakfast. (I recommend granola.)
Please pack your bags and have your bike ready by Tuesday. I can check your bike and gear on Tuesday evening if you have any questions.
Here is what you need to do to get your bikes ready.
Check Your Bike:
Pack a Simple Bike Repair Kit*:
*This is a minimalist bike repair kit for a local overnighter. If you don’t have everything before Thursday, that’s okay. I’ll bring extra patch kits and tools. But if you think you might do a bike overnighter again, I recommend putting together your own repair kit as soon as you can.
Pack your camping gear. If you don’t have everything, please “reply all” ASAP so we can get you sorted.
If you have a back rack, you can strap panniers, a duffel bag, or a backpack to the rack. If you don’t have a rack, you can use a front basket and wear a backpack. If your bags are not waterproof, line them with a garbage bag in case it rains.
By the weekend, six people had signed on to the trip. They borrowed bikes and camping gear from friends or family members. Some people put their gear in baskets or tied bags onto their back racks with rope. Others just stowed their camping gear at Josh’s house ahead of time (an ingenious packing solution, if you ask me!). For a few people, the 9.7 miles to Josh’s house would be the longest ride they’d ever attempted.
By Tuesday, no one had asked me for any bike or packing assistance, which made me very suspicious. Then on Wednesday, the questions poured in.
“How do I pump up a tire?”
“Does my chain really need oil?”
“Why are the brakes rubbing?”
In the evening, we set up an impromptu bike class on the lawn and went over the “Check Your Bike” list from my email. It reminded me of my first bike tour when I was trying to learn everything for the first time. Over 12,000 touring miles later, I’m still a terrible bike mechanic. But I’m decent at pumping tires, oiling chains, and saying “I have no idea how to fix that, let’s fiddle with it and ask the internet.” And sometimes that’s really all you need.
On Thursday, I rode my fully packed bike to the farm and leaned it against the office building. I didn’t see any other packed bikes around, which again made me suspicious.
I trotted off to work. Around mid-morning, I glanced out the window and did a double-take. White flecks swirled in the wind. Oh dear, I thought, staring outside. I guess the weather isn’t so warm after all. Then Beth texted me: “Oh no, my bike isn’t working. I think the back brakes are shot.”
I went outside and looked at Beth’s bike. The back wheel was slightly off-center. I kicked it a couple of times and tightened the quick release. “Fixed it,” I texted back. There is nothing more satisfying than fixing mechanical problems by kicking them, especially on a snowy day.
The flurry passed quickly, and by afternoon the sun was bright and the ground was clear. At 5:00 PM, I wheeled my packed bike out onto the front lawn. The only person there was Josh. We looked at each other and laughed. If no one else showed up, at least we were both ready for a bike ride.
After a few minutes, people started trickling in. Maddie showed up dressed in a professional neon bike blazer. Beth arrived with a giant stuffed animal monster in her bike basket. Laurel’s bike had a milk crate tied on the back. A second Josh had a tube on the back of his bike to hold his fishing rod. And last but not least, Juliette arrived fully loaded with bundles of clothes, camping gear, books, and musical instruments. The gang was all here, and it was adventure time!
Our friend Geoff hopped on the farm husky and escorted us to the parking lot. Spirits were giddy. We pedaled in circles around the lot while Geoff revved his engine and cheered us onward. Then, like a school of chaotic fish, we flowed out the gate into the great unknown of the actual road.
The evening was brisk but beautiful. We cycled and chatted, sang and laughed. The roadsides showed signs of spring — new buds, sharper shades of green. We passed familiar farms, forests, and houses. It felt good to be on an adventure so close to home.
After five miles, everyone agreed that we needed snacks. We stopped at our local gas station and bought cider and dill pickle chips. Juliette pulled out her ukulele and played tunes while we munched. When everyone was fully provisioned, we hopped back on our bikes and pushed onward.
Just over an hour after leaving the farm, we turned down a long dirt driveway to Josh’s house. I love camping in people’s yards, but Josh’s yard is a special treat. The lawn is wide and flat and juts out over a slow-flowing river, flanked by forest. We parked our bikes, unloaded our stuff, and quickly turned the lawn into Tent City. Josh chopped wood and lit a fire in the fire pit. Around that time, his roommates Carissa and Adam arrived home.
“Oh, hi!” said Carissa, who is the actual owner of the house. “What a nice surprise!”
Apparently, Josh had not provided his roommates with the more subtle details of our trip — like what day we were coming. Luckily, Carissa and Adam are very special people, and they hopped right into the party. We sat by the fire, roasted sausages, and sipped ciders. As the sky darkened, everyone gathered to eat burritos, trade stories, and play music. We read aloud from one of Juliette’s books, and Josh led a puppet show involving a giant sock monkey.
Later that evening, I snuggled into my sleeping bag and thought about how strange and funny we humans are. Everyone brought their own special energy to our trip, and that’s what made it such an adventure.
In the morning, we woke up, packed up, and rode back to work. Carissa gamely got on her bike and pedaled with us. Actually, she had to since she normally carpooled with Josh and he had left his truck at the farm.
And that’s the story of how I took my coworkers on their first bike camping trip! If I could describe the experience in one word, it would be “careening.” But sometimes it’s good to careen a little on a Thursday evening, adventuring with friends close to home.