It should not have been a grand revelation for me, and yet, at the helm of my small hatchback full of warm sleeping bags, dog food, LaCroix, and first aid, I realized: A car can be key to a Bike Overnight.
On Bike Your Park Day this year, a group of entirely trans, women, intersex, and nonbinary riders traversed from Seattle to Lopez Island for a weekend of beginner bike camping. Marley Blonsky of All Bodies on Bikes organized and led the event while Adventure Cycling’s fledgling Bike Overnights program assisted with a registration process and provided stipend funds for campsites, ferry tickets, and snacks.
There are so many great ways to think about a Bike Overnight: a trip you organize with friends, people in your community, or the public is not limited to a set of rules! For Adventure Cycling, a Bike Overnight is a trip of one to three nights, where each day the ride is less than 60 miles. Even better, a Bike Overnight is accessible and inclusive — the trip should be fun and a joy to ride.
The Lopez Island Bike Overnight was a 27-mile ride from the Mt. Vernon transit station. Folks could drive with their bikes on a rack or take a bus from Seattle. Once the group arrived at Lopez Island, it was a short mile or so to the campsite. Throughout the weekend, many biker-hikers participating in Bike Your Park Day joined us at the Odlin County Park Campground.
While I don’t really have an adversarial relationship with cars, I did spend a long time living in a city where I used my bike for everything. When I took my first bike adventure, I used regional transit (Metra, the way to really fly!). I’ve used Amtrak, Lyft, and rides from others. I also helped organize a huge cycling event in Chicago where a trusty and grizzled crew of SAG drivers made it possible for 20,000 riders, many of them newbies, to enjoy a sunny morning on Lake Shore Drive. It was a TOUGH job.
What I discovered then and on Bike Your Park Day was that the addition of a Support and Gear vehicle was a way for the Lopez Island trip to embody accessibility for riders who were still nervous about doing a Bike Overnight. Having a car meant folks with less bike luggage, a floofy sleeping bag, or additional needs could carry as much as they wanted and stash their extras in the car. We were able to include a small child in our trip because we could carry the right supplies for their family. It was a true beginner Bike Overnight.
We weren’t alone in this experience. Another amazing Bike Overnight weekend trip from Bike Your Park Day involved a group of first-time bike campers in Chicago, where they traversed the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie along the Wauponsee Glacial Trail to Kankakee State Park. They used some of their stipend funding to provide gas and meals for two SAG drivers. When it appeared one of the drivers might drop out, the entire trip was in peril. Luckily, it came together and everyone had a great weekend riding and enjoying their first Bike Overnight.
Many of us have had the joy of being able to go out on our bike trip, involving whatever modal support we’d like, from airplanes to hitchhiking. As people begin to plan their Bike Overnight group events, why not enlist a co-conspirator to lead the ride or drive the support and gear car?
Having a vehicle provides peace of mind and logistical support for beginning adventurers. People might not have the bags, straps, or racks to carry everything. They might have medical concerns they’re working on addressing for future rides. People just might want a cold, bubbly water or beer at the end of the trip. The extra support might be just what they need to decide if bike travel is for them. Why not build community and open doors for others by being a responsible, safe, and cheerful pilot of a motor vehicle? As a wonderful colleague advised me, “You can make some amazing SAG playlists.”
It takes time and patience to build confidence in adventuring. So many people enjoy supported group rides, whether they are Adventure Cycling Tours, fundraisers, or events like RAGBRAI. Bringing a little bit of that hack into organizing a Bike Overnight can truly open your ride to beginners, families, babies, and even our four-legged friends.