Life can be chaotic at best, and in the midst of that chaos, you still have to find your way. Sometimes all you can do is embrace the chaos and let it spin you into new, unlikely adventures.
This summer, my friend Anni was carefully descending a flight of three stairs when a gust of wind struck her from the side and she toppled downward. Her foot twisted and she heard the bone pop. So much for summer plans.
Although Anni’s foot was broken, her spirit was not! She decided to celebrate with a potluck. She sent an invitation to a small group of friends: “Illuminated by the light of our personal dumpster fires, let’s eat, drink, and be messy. Bring a dish, drink, and/or problem du jour.”
That weekend, we gathered around the kitchen table to banter about the highlights and lowlights of our current states of body and mind. Anni sat in a chair with her foot bandaged in a boot cast, her crutches propped against the wall. Most of the dinner guests were farmers, so the table was filled with fresh vegetables. We ate lettuce salad, kale salad, vegetable salad, and a box of macaroni and cheese. It was perfect.
By the end of the evening, we decided to leave all our troubles behind by planning an overnight bike camping trip to the beach. No one questioned how Anni would do this in her cast, nor did we consider what bike gear people actually owned. Instead, we spent most of the conversation waving our arms in the air and exclaiming about how much fun we would have.
Later that week, I sent out an email with a packing list and the time and meeting place for our bike adventure. We planned to cycle six miles to the beach and hike our gear a quarter mile over the sand to a camping spot. Excitement levels were high. Every email exchange included many exclamation points!!!
That Friday, I packed my panniers and pedaled to our meeting place at Eva’s Farm.
No one was there. I puttered among the flowers until Monica drove up and leaped out of her car. Her eyes were wild, and her hair was covered in coffee chaff from a compost delivery. She explained that she’d been running deliveries all day, had eaten nothing but pastries, and was finally ready to start packing.
We scampered around the farm, gathering odd pieces of gear to stuff in her backpack. She grabbed a large propane stove from a storage trailer, a sack of kale from her camper fridge, and several musical instruments from the farm office building.
“Do you think we will need more than one flute?” she asked, holding up an armful of wind instruments.
Meanwhile, Madlyn and Anni drove into the driveway. Madlyn got out of the car, clutching a large rucksack. Anni opened her door, stood up, and limped toward me, dragging her cast slightly in the dirt. Somehow I had already forgotten that her foot was still broken.
“Oh wow!” I said. “Is this, um, going to work?”
“It barely even hurts,” she grinned, dragging herself toward her bicycle. “No problem.”
That’s when Aimée pulled into the driveway, waved hello, and lugged a full-sized, fully packed, backpacking backpack out of her car. The only issue was, she didn’t have a bicycle.
Over the next hour, the five of us zigzagged around the farm, unpacking and repacking, trying out helmets and bikes, until we were finally — mostly — situated. Madlyn borrowed our friend Eva’s bike, and Aimée rode Madlyn’s. Everyone wore their gear in backpacks. There are many ways to go on a bike adventure, and “by the seat of your pants” is one of them. It didn’t matter that folks didn’t have the perfect gear or ideal bikes. What mattered was that this creative, funny, and fascinating group of humans all showed up, ready for adventure.
Finally, it was go-time! We careened down the driveway and pedaled out into the wide world. It was a beautiful summer evening. Aimée’s long hair blew back in the wind, lacing around her giant backpack. Monica and Madlyn chattered at the front of the pack, while Anni gamely pushed her left pedal with her boot cast. I couldn’t stop smiling. It reminded me of all the best adventures I’ve ever been on: somewhat impractical, totally unpredictable, and full of exuberance.
We cycled slowly along tree-lined roads until the ocean appeared on the horizon. The breeze blew the scent of the sea past our faces, and drivers gave us a wide berth. We turned down a road along the shore, crossed a causeway, and finally arrived at a sandy beach. From here, we had a quarter-mile hike on the sand to our designated spot.
We paused at the edge of the water for a team huddle. The trip’s biggest challenge still lay ahead: horseshoe crabs.
Horseshoe crabs are large, leggy sea creatures that often wash up along the shoreline. Madyn — who is one of the most fearless people I know — happens to have a deep phobia of these placid animals. (In her defense, they do look like giant alien spiders.) We offered to blindfold her for the walk, but she graciously declined.
The five of us fanned out along the beach, pushing our bikes alongside us. Anni, Monica, and Aimée walked ahead to shield Madlyn from any surprise crab sightings. I lingered in back to photograph our procession. It’s not every day that you see people facing their fears, bikepacking with broken bones, and laughing the whole way.
We arrived at our campsite, pitched the tents, and set up the stove for dinner. I had suggested that everyone bring their own sandwich, but no one did. (Not even me.) Instead, we’d all just grabbed odds and ends from our houses. We sat on the sand around the stove and pooled our food in a pile. Among the five of us, we had:
We cooked the pasta, and Monica made a big bowl of massaged kale salad. Someone sliced up the radishes, and we passed them around with cheese, avocado, and toum. It’s amazing how delicious “odds and ends” can be when you pool them together and eat them at the beach!
Soon the sky darkened, and we laid in a line on the sand, looking up at the stars. Aimée played her ukelele and Madlyn pointed out the constellations. We all screamed when a meteor slid across the sky, its orange tail disintegrating into darkness. Aimée handed out squares of chocolate, and we chattered about books, adventures, and the cosmos. Eventually we crawled into our tents and fell asleep to the sound of waves.
In the morning, I woke up early and wandered across the beach, gathering sticks for my twig stove. I lit the stove and boiled water for coffee. We sat on the shoreline and sipped from our mugs while Monica dove into the ocean for an early swim. As the sun rose higher, we packed up the tents, stuffed everything in our bags, and hiked back along the beach to the road. It was a beautiful, short ride back the way we’d come.
And a great reminder to embrace the chaos.
From: The Netherlands
Previous bike camping experience: I have bike camped with my family — my dad used to organize different camping adventures every summer.
Favorite part of our trip: The moment I realized that I could bike in the boot cast!
Next dream bike trip: Anything with good company and good snacks.
From: Great Britain
Previous bike camping experience: I would go on adventures biking with my dad and sister most summer weekends as a child, and sometimes we’d go camping. I think those adventure bike trips really built my confidence: my dad would allow us to decide any direction to go in, and take the lead.
Favorite part of our trip: My favorite part was trying mac and cheese for the first time! So American-y. Yum, love it.
Next dream bike trip: I would really love to get my gear MUCH smaller and compact haha, and do a solo adventure! Laura has inspired me, and I really crave having more alone adventure times. We can learn so much about ourselves when we’re alone. I have heard that Myles Standish State Forest is a magical place, maybe it shall be there.
From: United States
Previous bike camping experience: I did a little bike trip with a wonderful friend years ago up to Portland, Maine, from just north of Boston. It was only a few days, but we swam and ate ice cream every day.
Favorite part of our trip: I loved biking along a very familiar route with camping gear attached to our backpacks. Massaging kale with Monica while sitting on a towel in the sand felt extravagant, and we saw a truly amazing shooting star whose tail broke off as it fell across the sky.
Next dream bike trip: My best friends have a farm in the Berkshires, and that could be a fun trip. We could have a feast at the farm when we arrive.
From: United States
Previous bike camping experience: First time ever!
Favorite part of our trip: It’s totally tied between the mac and cheese and the bike riding! The euphoric feeling of riding in a funny bike caravan — laden with broken feet and gargantuan backpacks — helped distract me from some pretty serious crotch discomfort from my heavy backpack.
Next dream bike trip: I’ll go anywhere as long as I have panniers and mac and cheese.