The Cola Town Bike Collective (CTBC) hosted two bike overnights for women, trans, femme, and nonbinary (WTFNB) individuals in 2023 thanks to support from the Adventure Cycling Association.
CTBC was established in 2015 and serves as a local bike shop and charity benefiting the Midlands region of South Carolina. CTBC partners with community organizations to provide bicycles to people experiencing homelessness, refugees, and other individuals with the greatest need.
For every bike sold, four are donated back to the community and for every paid repair completed, five free or low-cost repairs are made for people in need. CTBC has established a vast series of bicycle repair stands throughout the community to get a person safely on their way. In 2023, to complement CTBC’s bike transportation mission, we wanted to expand our support for bikepacking, specifically increasing interest and access for WTFNB individuals.
I got back into biking in spring 2022 after a hiatus of more than 10 years, quickly falling in love with it again. The town of Columbia offered a supportive and fun community, including a monthly WTFNB ride. That fall, a local group of guys had done a bikepacking trip — the Chauga River Ramble — and after hearing their stories I knew bikepacking was something I wanted to experience. But there was no way I could start off with something like that. I needed an entry point, which my friends had ready for me.
My first overnight was in December 2022. It was freezing. Literally. And that does not happen often in Columbia, South Carolina. Despite the temps, that trip was so much fun. Our destination was the Peak to Prosperity Passage of the Palmetto Trail. It was the best entry point for bikepacking I could have asked for. Shortly after that trip, I was invited to join CTBC’s board, and when the opportunity for the Adventure Cycling Association Bike Overnights arrived, I knew I wanted to share my experience.
The Peak to Prosperity Passage of the Palmetto Trail is located less than 30 miles from downtown Columbia and CTBC. In my opinion, being close to home for an introductory trip is ideal. The Peak to Prosperity Passage is an 11-mile section of gravel and dirt rail-trail cutting through piedmont forests. It includes numerous wooden trestles crossing Crims Creek and a scenic 1,100-foot bridge over the Broad River. Best of all, it’s almost entirely flat. Climbs on a loaded bike certainly can make for Type II, (or even Type III) fun and I wanted folks to bikepack again after this trip. Another advantage of this location is that Wilson’s Grocery is right next to the trail, serving up burgers and snacks and reducing the concern of packing food and hydration for beginner bikepackers.
Our first group overnight trip was April 29th. While the afternoon was beautiful, the overnight forecast was bleak. Six riders joined for a daytime trail ride and hangout, while three of us stayed to brave hours of overnight storms. Only one of the six participants had prior bikepacking experience, while the majority had some primitive camping experience.
That afternoon, everyone arrived at the Alston trailhead, loaded up, and biked a little over five miles to our campsite. After setting up our tents and hammocks, the group set out to bike to “The End” at mile 11, then pick up snacks and dinner at Wilson’s Grocery about a mile from our campsite.
The group knew the grant supported meals to reduce a financial barrier to participation, but it didn't stop any of them from generously packing things to share. I was surprised when items like tea, cheese, and crackers made their way out of bags and onto the picnic table, but I was shocked when a whole frying pan of chorizo emerged from a backpack.
We enjoyed an evening of tacos, cards, and good company. Those who did not camp got the bonus of a new water feature on their way out thanks to rising waters from previous days' rain, and to avoid possible flooding and riding in the rain in the morning, those who camped learned that three people, gear, and bikes can fit in a car ... if you're really determined.
Unlike the night of our spring trip, the weather was perfect for our fall bike overnight on October 7th. Same place, same plan. This time, eight bike overnighters participated and even more joined for a day ride. Six of the eight considered themselves a beginner or had no experience bikepacking, while one also had never been camping before. After our 15-mile ride, again a frying pan appeared, this time for shrimp tacos. Even though we did not have rain like we did in the spring, this time our hazard was black walnuts, which would make an alarming thud on impact, sometimes too close for comfort.
We enjoyed an evening of good food and even better company around the campfire, several of us still wearing helmets out of fear of the walnuts.
It was nice to not be rushed out by rain the next morning. After coffee and breakfast of local bread, we packed up to cycle back. Overall, participants completed at least 22 miles of riding, 10.5 on loaded bikes.
With the support from Adventure Cycling Association, multiple individuals got to experience bikepacking for the first time. Because they were introductory trips, participants were encouraged to use the gear they already had or borrow items from friends or CTBC instead of making purchases.
CTBC was able to support some riders with items from our developing gear locker, while others had their own solutions for bike storage like making panniers from Aldi backpacks. It was inspiring to see the enthusiasm, creativity, and generosity of the riders on these trips, and proof that you can make bikepacking work with what you have.
I feel confident that everyone had Type I fun. CTCB is excited to continue to plan intro WTFNB bike overnights and expand with more challenging or self-supported trips for those interested.
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