Monday, December 6, 2010

Bike Camping in the Rain

Our original Thanksgiving holiday camping plans having been clobbered by the villainous rats, we still felt the need to get out and bike-camp a bit. However, the Prius we have on loan until the truck gets fixed can't really carry bikes. Thus, we needed a bike ride that would start and finish from our house, but there are precious few campgrounds withing reasonable pedaling distance of the Anna+Nimue tandem team.

The best choice seemed to be a campout at Joseph D. Grant park. We've hiked there a few times, but had not yet camped; it's a pretty park, about 25 miles from our house, and they had a spot open. We'd depart on Friday, camp that night, and come home Saturday.

"There's some precipitation that might come in Saturday afternoon" warned my charming wife. No problem, I replied, we'll be almost home if it does start to sprinkle.

We've found on previous bike voyages with the three of us, that we have two fairly evenly matched bikes if I take all the gear, and Anna gets Nimue and the tandem. Soon enough, Nimue will be putting out more than her share of power on a continuous basis, but for now it's kind of intermittent, and she does weigh 65 lbs now! With the added bulk of winter-time clothing and sleeping bags, I quickly found my bike equipped with both front and rear panniers, plus the trailer... and hoping my gearing would be low enough for the hill.

Did I mention the hill? Oh yes, Joe Grant park lies halfway up the climb to Mt. Hamilton, one of the favorite big mountain rides in our area. It's not a steep climb, without a burden, but we were about to find out what it feels like toting an extra 60-some-odd pounds.

As it turns out, it's not that bad. We had a nice, mostly-flat ride from our house through Santa Clara and San Jose, winding our way over towards the hill. The key to getting across the valley on bikes is figuring out where to cross the freeways. Anywhere south of Sunnyvale, bike/pedestrian over/under-crossings of the freeways are almost nonexistent. The routes that do go over the freeways are mostly treacherous high-speed, multi-lane, cars-only affairs... fortunately, Anna has scoped them out thoroughly on her previous rides to teach at the schools in the area, so she picked crossings as good as can be found, and on an almost-holiday Friday the traffic was very light.

My heavily-laden rig was entertaining to keep going in a straight line at first -- I'm used to towing the trailer, or carrying rear panniers, or a small load on the front, but not the combination of all of them! Small changes in grade (imperceptible to the eye) made themselves known immediately through the pedaling effort. Once we started up the hill, and I dropped into lowest gear, I figured I'd be able to pedal all the way up to the park without trouble, but knew that I'd work up a good sweat in getting there.

I was happy enough to see the park entrance, but the views out across the valley on the ride up the hill were great. There was a last steep pitch getting into the campground, that pretty well used up what was left in my legs at the moment. We had a nice campsite tucked on the side of a scenic oak-covered hill. Sadly, the campground host had left for the season, so no firewood was to be had, and it quickly was turning chilly in the absence of internally-generated heat from our earlier pedaling efforts.

We huddled around a little stove and made some hot tea, and got the tent put together. Anna and Nimue played a vigorous game of scrabble, while I took a warm-up rest in the sleeping bag.

You know you did a good job packing when, after arriving at your campsite and getting set up, all the bags from the bike (or backpack) are empty... we quickly reached that state, as every item of clothing found its way onto our bodies. We cooked up some soup for dinner, along with more hot tea and cocoa... as a light wind was coming up, we dove into the warmth of the tent as soon as dinner was finished. I think we got in the tent by 7 pm, and were asleep by 8. The stars were out, clear and bright.

At 5 am, the rain started. Lightly at first, just a sprinkle. But it gained energy as the morning dawned, and I worried how dry the tent would keep us. It's just a little backpacking tent, for two really, with two adults and a (growing, and sometimes wiggly) kid stuffed in there... By 7ish it was really pouring, but the tent was keeping the water out.

There was a break in the rain around 8, and while the girls made a run for the restroom I took advantage of the now-extravagant spaciousness of the tent to get everything inside it packed up. We then folded up the soaking tent, and loaded the bike while cooking up oatmeal for our breakfast. Just as we started eating, the rain picked up again... but having the gear packed, I really didn't mind too much. I knew that soon enough, we'd be back on the road and pedaling, and I much prefer that to just standing around in the rain. Somehow, the addition of motion makes the rain much more tolerable.

We did realize that our day's ride would start off with a long, wet descent, back down the hill we had climbed the day before. We left all our insulating layers on, under the waterproofs. Normally, when pedaling the bike, this would be a recipe for near-instant overheating. I knew I'd want the luxury of that warmth soon enough, though, and could take it all off when we got to the bottom.

As soon as we started out on the bikes, our moods lifted. We rolled down the hill at a good clip, and the rain even let up; the storm cleared out of the valley as we rode above it, giving us spectacular views through freshly-scrubbed air.

Once down in the valley, the rain gradually built up again, leaving us pretty well soaked but happy to arrive home where warm showers and dry clothing awaited.

We figured out, over the next couple of days, that the cold of Friday night, and the next day's soaking rain, had really used up a lot of calories, and our tasty soup-dinner represented only about 100 calories -- far fewer than we probably needed. Other than that, our rather wet little trip was a good success, helping to get the touring gear sorted out and ready for longer expeditions.

No comments: