Bike Camping Five to Nine

May 11th, 2021

One day I got home from work at 5:00 PM and looked out the window. The sun was bright and beautiful. I made a peanut butter sandwich, put on my bike shorts, and threw my camping gear in my panniers. A half-hour later, I was pedaling to my favorite campsite a few miles away. 

I arrived at my site, pitched my tent, and watched the sun set while I ate my sandwich. It was a perfect evening. In the morning, I woke up, packed my bags, and cycled back home. By 9:00 AM I was back at work, ready for a new day. 

This was my first “five to nine” bike camping trip, and it revolutionized my life. It made me reconsider the scope of what an adventure can be. And it gave me the freedom to reimagine my daily habits. Bike camping five to nine is not about practicality — it’s about possibility. It’s an acknowledgment that every routine is still full of choices. And it’s a great way to get on your bike and enjoy a sandwich and a sunset. 

Since that first tiny trip, I’ve gone on lots more small, strange adventures. Sometimes I go alone, other times with friends. Bike camping five to nine is all about choosing your own adventure! 

Laura holds a frosty leaf so that it sparkles in the morning light
In the midst of daily routines, there are always new possibilities.
Laura Killingbeck

The following guide shows you how to plan and embark on your own tiny trip.

Create an Area of Intrigue (AOI)

Sometimes the best adventures really do happen close to home. The key is to pump yourself up for whatever is right around the corner. You can do this by creating your own Area of Intrigue (AOI):

  • Always start by screaming the acronym “AOI” as loud as you can, for as long as you can hold the vowels. This sounds something like a wolf howl and forms a crucial part of the intrigue.
  • Next, find a map of your area. I use a paper traveler’s gazette, but you could also just print a map off the internet. 
  • Find your starting point (home or work) and mark it on the map. 
  • Get a ruler and measure out the rough distance you want to ride. For example, according to my map legend, one inch equals 1.3 miles. So when I put my ruler on my starting point and measure eight inches, it equals 10.4 miles as the crow flies.  
  • Hold your finger on the ruler at your starting point, and put a pencil against the ruler at your distance mark. Turn the ruler around in an arc to draw a circle. 
  • This circle and everything in it is your AOI! This area is ready and waiting for your attention and exploration. Roads are wiggly, so if you measured a 10-mile radius as the crow flies, this might actually encompass hundreds of miles of rideable roads. 
  • Spend some time looking at your AOI and mark specific places of intrigue. Look for campsites, new roads, high points, friends’ houses. You might be surprised at how many fascinating things are close to where you live or work. Every time you mark something new, yell, “AOI!”
Laura sits in her tiny house with a map in front of her, measuring her area of intrigue.
Laura measures her Area of Intrigue, the area waiting to be explored from her front door.
Laura Killingbeck

Find A Campsite

Look around your AOI for registered campsites. You can also search the internet for free dispersed camping. If you don’t live close to either of these options, consider asking a friend if you can camp in their yard. I do this all the time, and I always have wonderful yard adventures! If you don’t know anyone with a yard, consider looking at sites like Warmshowers, Couchsurfing, or even Airbnb. All of these sites connect people with places to stay or camp. 

Plan Your Route

To plan my route, I look at paper maps, Google Maps, and a free app called Both Google Maps and have “bicycle route” functions that put you on roads with less traffic. Both apps let you download your map ahead of time so you can use them offline. also shows elevation.

When I cycled across eastern Canada and the U.S., I used as my primary route finder. It often put me on really rough, unexpected dirt tracks that didn’t appear on other maps. This led to some surprising river crossings and hike-a-bikes. Where I live now in Massachusetts, the roads are much tamer, and always puts me on pavement and paved bike paths. Just keep this in mind — depending on where you are in the world, your app’s “bike route” function might take you to a range of places.

When you plan your route, you can go straight from point A to point B, or you can meander anywhere you’d like. You can visit lots of areas of intrigue, stop to see a friend, or make your own treasure hunt. You get to choose your own adventure!  

Pack Your Bags

You can probably use the bike you already have, and pack it with bags you find around the house.  Make sure to bring enough warm clothes, rain gear, and a bike repair kit for flats. You can bring a camp stove and cook a big dinner, or pack a simple sandwich and other easy foods

Laura's friend stands with her bike loaded with whatever bags she could find at home.
Laura’s friend Juliette is ready for a Wednesday bike camping five to nine, loading her bike with whatever bags she has on hand.
Laura Killingbeck

Pedal Off into the Sunset

And then you just pedal away! If you want to keep screaming “AOI,” just do it. Enjoy the wind on your face, look out for birds, and let your mind wander.

As soon as you get to your campsite, pitch your tent and put away your phone. I mean it! Don’t look at your emails or Instagram. Take this little pocket of time to be right where you’re at. You’re in the heart of your Area of Intrigue! Hang out, cook food, read a book, sketch, write. When it gets dark, snuggle into your sleeping bag and drift off, knowing that the days are full of possibilities. 

Return to Work with New Perspective

If you’re riding home before heading to work, just return early enough to pop in the shower, change clothes, and be on your way. 

If you’re going straight back to work, this is where things get more fun. When you pedal into the parking lot with your camping gear and dusty smile, your coworkers may be surprised or even jealous.

 “Who is this radical adventure queen who smells like campfires and mystery?” they will mutter to themselves in the hallway. “It’s only Wednesday. Why does she look so bold and buoyant?”  

For the rest of the week, you can regale them with tales of your epic overnighter. Perhaps you saw a wild animal, like a squirrel! Or you ran out of food and ate a dandelion! These are the stories that legends are made of. 

In the midst of daily routines, there are always new possibilities. Good luck on your next five to nine adventure!

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