July 7, 2021
I went on my first bikepacking trip last weekend. It all started when my family decided to go on a vacation. They would drive from Seattle to Anacortes and then take the ferry to Friday Harbor. I don't like cars so I chose to bicycle the hundred miles instead.
I am no stranger to budget travel. I rode a motorcycle to Mexico. I busked my way to Las Vegas on a Greyhound bus. I even taught a class on wilderness backpacking. But I had never bikepacked before so I was worried about camping. I had no idea how long it would take me to get to Anacortes. It might take one day. It might take four.
Before this trip I was impressed by bicycle bloggers who camped impromptu. After a few hours on a bicycle path, I realized that bicycle camping is easy. You select a patch of grass, pitch your tent and lock your bicycle. It takes less time than checking into a hotel.
I had planned to bicycle until nightfall but I discovered a little fenced-off area with a picnic table partially concealed from the bicycle path and overlooking an empty farm. The campsite was so perfect I ended my first day two hours early. I handwrote a blog post, ate dinner and unrolled my sleeping bag.
Because it was summer I hadn't brought a tent. There was no chance of rain. I hadn't thought about the mosquitoes. I hadn't even brought insect repellant. My thin cycling attire was insufficient to keep them biting through. Fortunately, my lightweight sleeping bag was thick enough their proboscises at bay. I hid in my sleeping bag and zipped the mouth shut.
Summer is hot. I had just sealed myself inside my sleeping bag with no way for air to enter or leave. If I sealed the mouth I'd burn up. If I opened the mouth to breathe cool air I'd get eaten by mosquitoes. I compromised by breathing cool air for a few minutes at a time and then hiding back inside the sleeping bag. After a few hours it eventually cooled down enough for me to sleep.
I awoke early in the morning. I chose to sleep in. I went back to sleep. I woke up for a second time fully-refreshed at 6:30 am. I was back on the road by 7:00 am. It took zero effort to get moving. There was nothing else to do.
A rooster crowed. The further I got from the city the more animals I encountered. I saw rabbits and chickens and horses and goats and sheep and even a couple snakes.
Another thing I worried about before leaving was bathrooms. It wasn't an issue. The bicycle paths went from from park to park. The parks all had bathrooms and running water. One of them even had a special water fountain for dogs. I was well-hydrated the whole way.
The trees and bicycle paths ended. I reached a big flat plain of farmland. I sent the following message to a friend.
One road fades into the next. I don't know if I've been here for days or weeks or months or just a few hours. I am in flatland. All is flat.
It wasn't all corn. I hung out at a golf course full of working-class people. Attractions became scarcer the further I got from the city. I accepted that I would be cycling along the highway through repetitive farmland for a long time.
I got a flat tire. I replaced it. I got another flat tire. I had already used my replacement tube. I had brought only half a tire patch kit.
The nearest bicycle shop was a two and a half hour walk away. Public transit did not extend to this little chunk of nowhere. I started pushing my bicycle down the highway. I mentally prepared myself for another night with the mosquitoes.
Before I had even gotten to the end of the highway's on-ramp an old man pulled over and asked if I needed help. He offered me a lift even thought he was going the opposite direction. I threw my bicycle on top of the junk in the bed of his pickup truck.
The man was a retired Navy SEAL from Vietnam. I listened to his stories about HALO jumps and covert amphibious landings. I barely got a word in the whole drive.
At the bicycle shop I bought tubes, tire patch glue and a good pair of sunglasses. I was ahead of schedule. I ate the last of the chicken pizza and tuna rice balls I had cooked at home. The food had been in the hot sun for two days. I met my family at Friday Harbor. I tried to sleep on the floor of the hotel by they insisted on giving me a bed.
Friday Harbor was fine. Being indoors felt unnatural. I ignored the tourist attractions and just spent time in parks where I handwrote blog posts. I paid close attention to the temperature of the air. I knew exactly how long it would be until sundown.
I accepted my Aunt's offer to let me ride home with her. We drove home around midnight, with the windows up and temperature control on. From the interstate, all I could see of the local culture were giant casino signs. I got carsick from looking at my phone.