Trying out bike packing

Last week my friend Mike pinged me and asked what I was doing on Saturday night. He picked up a bike a few months ago and has been hankering to try out bike packing. We’ve gone on camping trips before, so he knew it’s something I was curious to try as well. Neither of us had tried to deal with the logistics of camping and biking, so he thought a quick, local, one-night trip would be a great idea.

As it so happened, I knew of exactly the place we should go. Carver Lake Park is right at the end of the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail, down in Victoria, MN. It’s a trail that I’m very familiar with, as I run my Fall 50 Mile bike ride event on it every year. It’s also a park that is very close to a town, which means we can depend on shops for food, instead of carrying all of it ourselves. Since this was our first outing, we wanted to keep it as simple as possible.

img_0061The Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail is crushed limestone, which although being an unpaved surface, it’s very smooth and easy to ride on. It also drains really well, so our recent weather didn’t cause any major flooding. Now that we had a route in mind, we just needed to pack.

I decided to put everything I could into my trunk bag and panniers. I have a Bontrager trunk bag that folds out on the sides with two panniers, that are pretty large. In fact, I was able to fit everything I needed except for clothes into this. The one awkward part though was the tent, as the poles are 20″ long. I have some other ideas on how to deal with this that I’ll talk about later, but for the time being I just packed it all in the pannier and let it stick out the top. I did also pick up a Salsa Anything Cage to strap my dry bag of clothes to.

Saturday afternoon we parked my car in Hopkins, and hit the dirt. You could certainly tell that we were loaded down. Because I put everything on the back of the bike, there was a certain amount of imbalance to how the bike cruised. I certainly wasn’t able to get going quickly from a stop, and turning wasn’t quite as smooth. Where I really noticed it though was when the bike was stopped, and when I was trying to mount/dismount. The weight on the sides just pulled the bike downward, and there was more than one comical moment of trying to get it to lift back up, which not falling down completely.

The ride out to the park is relatively short, only 90 minutes or so. We got our campsite, and set up our tents, as best as we could given the winds. We had timed it so that we’d miss the rain that was earlier in the day, but ended up with a freak shower for about 10 minutes… right when we were setting up the tents. Thankfully, I managed to keep everything mostly dry, and soon we had our shelters buttoned up.

img_0067We had brought a little bit of cold food with us, which we munched in our tents, and then headed back out on the bikes to Victoria and Enki Brewing. There we got to sit back and relax for a bit with food and beer and enjoy a quiet evening of hanging out. Our other option would have been to make a fire, but with the high winds, simply going in to town was a better option.

The night passed uneventfully, also I never sleep well my first night away from home. I got a fair amount of rest, but soon enough it was time to get up and start packing up for our return trip. We once again headed into Victoria to have breakfast at School of the Wise and then hit the trail.

Sunday was a completely different day from Saturday with bright sunshine and moderate temps. We cruised back to Hopkins faster than the journey out, and were back home by lunch time. All in all, a great little adventure, and one where I learned a lot.

img_0042So what did I learn? Most of all, I learned what I need for bike packing bags. When I had a chance to reevaluate my packing, I realized I could have strapped the tent poles to my down tube (though I need to move my bottle cage). That would have allowed me to put the tent itself fully into the pannier, and close it up. I also realized that I need to distribute weight better, and I want to get a nice cradle setup for my handlebars. That, along with another Salsa Anything Cage, should allow me to balance where I put things.

One option I am also considering is to get a full frame bag that would be big enough to carry the poles along the down tube side of the bag. I would then need to get a bottle holder for up on my handlebars, but that could be a good option for even longer and more extensive trips. Oh, and one final thing I want… a top tube bag for snacks. That might be a purchase sooner rather than later.

Overall, I’m pleased with how the adventure worked. We had plenty of supplies, and were able to sleep comfortably, just as if we had hiked in to a site. The Vaya performed great under load, and got me from point A to point B in relative comfort. I’m thinking of a couple more small trips like this next year, as it’s a different way to experience camping than I’ve done before.

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