Here Montana’s Bike Overnight In Our Own Backyard

Oct 25th, 2022

Keilin is a part of Here Montana and shares about their Bike Overnight in early October.

Ilearned to bike in Helen Wills Park in San Francisco. My parents would take my brother and me there maybe once a week and we’d have a blast climbing the wooden play structure and running around the baseball field and tennis courts. It was also the place they took us when it was time to learn how to ride a bike.

My first bike was pink with purple hearts on it, with shiny plastic streamers coming out of the handlebars. I started with training wheels and remember feeling excited to finally go from four wheels to two. My dad would stand behind me, holding the bike seat, while I, decked out in helmet and padding from head to knees, would yell, “Okay, ready!” I’d start pedaling while my dad pushed me and eventually he’d let go. From there, I either fell over or was able to keep my balance and propel forward.

Biking was never something that I would’ve considered a “passion.” Instead, riding a bike was more of a convenient functionality: I could get around without relying on public transportation and it was an easy way to exercise. Of course, there were limits to having a bike as my main mode of transportation. There was that time I went to Costco and tried to bike back with six liters of olive oil. Or that other time when I tried to bike to a party and ended up on a busy thoroughfare with no bike lanes and a bunch of cars honking at me. Yeah, not fun.

HERE Montana
Snack time with some borrowed bikepacking supplies from Spotted Dog Cycles.
Courtesy Daniel Mrgan

Ironically, I think biking became “fun” when I moved to New York City. Despite what people think of the Big Apple, the city is very bikeable and there are quite a few bike-centric organizations and groups. I purchased a bike share membership and I joined other bike enthusiasts in cycling 40 miles around all five boroughs. Biking was the perfect middle ground between being outdoors and enjoying New York City without having to deal with the cesspool that is the subway or paying an exorbitant amount of money to take an Uber one mile. When I moved to Missoula to go to grad school, I knew that I wanted to bring my bike. I also knew that it’d be hard to not have a car, especially for a place that was rife with great outdoor recreation.

Here Montana’s Outdoor Opportunities

So when I first learned about bike packing from Here Montana, a Missoula-based organization whose mission is to get more BIPOC into the outdoors, I was intrigued. “BIKE packing??” I asked incredulously. “Yeah, it’s like backpacking, but you bike to the campsite instead of hiking,” explained one of the other Here Montana members.

HERE Montana bikepacking
Heading into the Rattlesnake for the evening.
Courtesy Daniel Mrgan

In my mind, bike packing could be really, really fun or really, really terrible. I liked backpacking and hiking and biking, so combining them could be good. On the other hand, it could be similar to when I combined pineapples, peanut butter, and orange juice at a smoothie shop I used to work at: seemed like a good idea but ended up being a hot mess.

I decided to go because:

  1. I’ve never bike packed before and figured I should at least try it before making assumptions,
  2. Here Montana was covering the cost of everything and I’m a sucker for free stuff, and
  3. It was camping in the Rattlesnake, a place I’d never been to but had wanted to check out.
Here Montana Riding
Keilin Huang loaded up and rolling.
Courtesy Daniel Mrgan

Facing Some First Timer Fears

I was excited about the prospect of biking through a wilderness area. The majority of my bike trips had always been on paved roads or manicured dirt roads, so it was thrilling to think about what it’d be like to be in nature. At the same time, I was nervous about not being able to keep up with everyone else, especially on a rocky dirt trail. Would I hold everyone back? What if I had a bad accident where I end up skidding into the creek? In addition, I would also be carrying 25 pounds of camping gear. In hindsight, backpacking on a bike seemed easier than actually hiking but I had zero experience and figured the trip could go either way.  

Our group of five met at Spotted Dog Cycles in Missoula on a beautiful October day. I opted to get a bike from the shop and ended up with a sweet hardtail mountain bike. We gathered our packs, took some pictures, and then we were off! The trail was relatively flat, with some parts of the trail going through neighborhoods and other parts going through dirt roads with some nice views of Rattlesnake Creek. Our final destination was in the Rattlesnake recreation area in a designated campground, complete with a fire pit, a place to hang our bear bag, and a toilet a short bike ride away. After setting up our tents, we went for another ride around the area and came back ready to start our campfire and eat dinner!

HERE Montana Bike Overnight
Heading towards the overnight campsite. 
Courtesy Reed Sallans

Full Bellies And Chilly Hands

The rest of the night involved instant udon ramen (tempura flavor), chocolate and cookies, and campfire conversation that ranged from creepy stories to who could make the best rice. It was also a full moon that night, so despite being in the middle of the woods, it wasn’t that dark. I’ve told my family and friends that it seems like going camping is the way people here connect; instead of “let’s go out for drinks,” it’s “let’s go camping/hiking/insert outdoor activity here.” It makes sense though. Montana is a gorgeous state and I can’t think of a better way to bond with people than by being in a beautiful setting. Maybe it was the fact that I had biked nine or so miles with these other people carrying 25 pounds worth of camping equipment, but that night around the campfire was such an invigorating experience.

The rest of the night was cold, but with MSG and sugar in my belly to keep me warm, I slept fitfully. The next morning was also cold, but I think the MSG and sugar were still coursing through my veins, so the temperature didn’t bother me too much. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my gloves so I ended up biking back wearing the Adventure Cycling socks on my hands.

Here Montana
Arriving and setting up for the evening.
Reed Sallans

A Victorious Return To Town

The ride back seemed much easier, probably because I knew what to expect but also because I was motivated to warm up. When we arrived back in Missoula, we gorged ourselves on breakfast. I went all out and got a breakfast skillet with carbs and cheese and salt because obviously, I had to replenish all the energy I had expelled.

Overall, bike packing was awesome! I felt an immense sense of accomplishment once we arrived back, not only because I had completed the trip successfully but also because I had done so with no prior knowledge of what bike packing was. My shoulders were sore the next day from carrying all my camping gear but the trip itself was one of my highlights since moving to Montana. Would I do it again? Absolutely! Next time I’ll remember to bring my gloves though.

bikes not bombs
Setting up tents for the evening.
Courtesy Daniel Mrgan

More About Adventure Cycling’s Local Partnership

Here Montana

Here Montana provides outdoor adventures to People of Color and intersecting communities. Participants can experience backpacking, rafting, skiing, climbing, and more throughout all of Montana. They are based in Missoula, MT, and hope to bring more programming as local partners with Adventure Cycling. 

Bike Overnights

Adventure Cycling’s Bike Overnights program seeks to empower, connect, and inspire bike travelers, focusing on beginner bike travelers from historically marginalized communities, including BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and transgender, women, intersex and gender nonconforming individuals and riders with disabilities. We’ll be sharing more about opportunities to get involved in 2023 later on this year. 

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