Camp Spokes began as a partnership between Rag & Bones Bicycle Cooperative and Groundwork RVA in 2021, created by us: Sera Erickson and Alexa Santisteban. The program began as a week-long summer camp to introduce bike mechanics and adventure cycling to high-school and middle-school girls and gender variant youth in Richmond, Virginia.
Gender and racial diversity in the bike industry remains low, and we notice this every day as people who hold underrepresented identities. We both work in shop spaces as mechanics, and while attitudes are improving, our knowledge and experience still gets questioned.
We started Camp Spokes to be a space that we wished we had growing up: somewhere to learn about bike tools, DIY arts and crafting, cycling in the city and on trails, and to affirm identities and experiences while rejecting the idea that those things determine what someone is able to do or how well they do it. We aim to encourage and empower people to learn a new skill and explore hobbies that they may not have the chance to outside of this space.
At Camp Spokes, each camper chooses a bike and learns how to work on it, and then we spend the week cycling, crafting, building, and learning. After a group of Camp Spokes organizers bikepacked 150 miles along the Great Allegheny Passage last fall, it felt like a natural progression of the camp to plan an overnight. This year, funding from Adventure Cycling Association along with a small grant from the Capital Trail Equity Foundation helped make it possible.
On October 21, Camp Spokes participants and organizers gathered at Six Points Innovation Center (our home base for Camp Spokes Activities) to set off on an overnight ride on the Capital Trail. The campers packed their bags and bikes to ride 14 miles the first day, set up tents at Chickahominy Riverfront Park, and cycle six miles the next day to Jamestown. As they arrived at the meeting point, they were greeted by handlebar bags, trail snacks, gel energizers, and saddle pouches of bike tools. For many campers, this was their first time camping overnight and it would be the longest ride they had ever done. Despite their butterflies, we knew they were ready.
For months prior to the trip, we met with the campers for various urban exploration rides, hoping to build up stamina for the overnight trip. We rode with them to some of Richmond’s most exciting events: Riverrock, a festival on the James River celebrating outdoor activities, Rumble in Richmond, an BMX competition and day at Gillies Creek Skills Park, and the Great Queer Bike Parade, a bike event that celebrates queer identities. These rides spanned 8-12 miles, and since the campers had been through Camp Spokes, we knew they could perform basic maintenance.
At 2:00 PM on the Big Trip Day, after a big lunch followed by stretching and bag reorganizing, our group set out from Charles City on the Virginia Capital Trail. The weather was perfect: 65 degrees with full sun. Our first two miles were a little rough — we adjusted seat heights, fixed things we missed in tune ups, and secured our bags extra tight. After that, we were cruising with a tailwind. The Capital Trail runs from Richmond, Virginia to Jamestown, and the group would be completing the second half of the route.
We had enough daylight after a 5:00 PM arrival to explore and settle into the campground. The campers assembled their tents and set them up like forts with extra blankets and sleeping bags. We taught them how to build a fire, and half of the adventurers helped cook tacos on camp stoves and the other half helped with dishes and camp chores. Then it was s'mores and spooky story hour. We spent our evening hanging around the fire discussing the best chocolate-to-cracker-to-marshmallow ratio and using the time to connect and get to know each other, tell stories and jokes, and enjoy the outdoors.
We woke up bright and early the next morning to finish the rest of our trip. Full of breakfast tacos and hot chocolate, we packed up and headed down to Jamestown. Along the way, we made a pit stop at Spoke and Art Provisions Co, a food and music destination near the trail. We took a break to refill water and enjoy locally made pastries. The last two miles of riding were the hardest for our bodies and minds. Many were tired and ready to get off the saddle, but we pushed through and made it to the end! Despite their exhaustion, you could see how excited everyone was to have completed the whole ride. After celebratory pictures, we headed down to the James River to eat lunch, play on the beach, and stay present in this huge accomplishment.
In the beginning stages of planning, we weren’t sure how it would play out. We went back and forth on dates, distances, and if this was the right next step for Camp Spokes. Completing this trip and seeing how well the campers did made it well worth it.
We are incredibly proud and grateful to have been able to organize the overnight adventure with these young cyclists and witness them accomplish an amazing feat. While there’s no guarantee they'll all jump at the chance to go on another ride like this, they enjoyed their time and appreciated the experience. We can’t wait to continue to build out this new part of Camp Spokes and look forward to many more trips in the future.
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