Recently, my family and I went on a bikepacking trip. The idea for this trip actually came from a fellow Glib (I don’t recall which one) who linked to bikepacking.com. Bikepacking is as it sounds – it is backpacking, but on a bike. While bike touring is long distance biking over roadways, bikepacking is on rural or single track trails, and nights are spent in tents rather than hotels. Bikepackers rarely carry backpacks instead supplies are stored in a variety of bags around the bike. The trips vary from a short overnighter to a 2,700 mile epic ride from western Mexico to Canada. My wife and I have been very interested in trying a longer bikepacking trip. Biking Murphy to Manteo North Carolina is at the top of our bucket list as we are both love our state. This summer, we thought we would start smaller and bikepack New River State Park in Virginia with…our 3 and 1 year old children literally in tow in 2 bike trailers.
Throughout the summer we biked once or twice a week, usually up to 16 to 18 miles. The point was more for the kids to get used to 1.5-2 hours in the trailer. To facilitate their willingness to ride with us, we bribed them with a stop at a playground near the end of our route.
The New River trail is an approachable first time trail. It is a largely flat, 56 mile long, rails to trail set up. It has many bridges that were formerly train trestles, and it also has two tunnels (something we knew our train-loving son would be crazy about). There is a campsite partway through. For us, this particular trail had the added benefit of being about 40 minutes away from the home of my wife’s best friend. We decided to cheat a little, and my wife’s friend agreed to meet us for dinner at the campsite and manage bringing our food and our car. Things were set. I reserved a campsite right on the river, and the weather seemed like it would be cooler than the 90s we usually suffer through in my part of NC. The big day was approaching and we were all excited.
Then the gods gave me signs that things would not go well. First, my dog developed an allergic reaction on his paw the night before “go” time. I didn’t want to go on this trip or be midway through the ride and get a call from the boarding kennel about him. We decided to cancel, and it all went downhill from there.
Our two alternative dates did not work for my wife’s friend – which meant we would need to carry our own food and figure out how to get our car from the beginning of the trail to the end of the trail. The bike shuttles were absurdly expensive, even for just one person. Taking both our cars to shuttle ourselves would not work due to the travel time both from NC to VA, and then the back and forth along the trail. We decided to reserve a spot at the campsite, and do an out and back overnighter rather than complete the whole trail.
The big day 2.0 arrived. Things seemed to be going well. It was hot, but the weather was good enough. All of our gear fit (phew!), and there was even room for the kids!
So we sped off. Much of the trail was shaded. At times, the scenery looked like western movies with large cliffs and small rapids rushing by below (unfortunately, not pictured). Our kids loved going over the bridges and through the tunnels. Things seemed to be going well.
At 12 or 14 miles, my wife asked at what mile marker the campsite was. I had looked at so many different trails lately, that I couldn’t remember exactly where it was. I figured it was doable anyway. I told her I thought I was sometimes around the 16 mile point. 14 miles in, I was starting to feel the ride. I kept telling myself, we were almost there. But then, 16 miles came and went with no campsite. It was at this point that I really started lagging. I told myself that had to be close – it was probably at the 20 mile mark. 20 miles came and went. At this point, I was sore and exhausted. I couldn’t even afford to stop and ask any passersby where the campsite was. (I let my wife do that.) At 25.29 miles, we finally reached the campground.
By then, I just felt bad and wrong. I wasn’t sure if it was dehydration or what. I felt like STEVE SMITH HAD WAY WITH ME SEVERAL TIMES. What I did know was that there was no way I could bike 25 miles back to the car the next day. The question was could I survive the night. Did I mention that my training was just weekly rides. Apparently, I am not 22 anymore where I can just jump into some athletic event and be ok. Besides, we were both hauling close to 75lbs between our gear and children.
My wife was pretty worried at how sick I felt. We decided we should just head back home. At this point, it was 6pm and our children had spent the day cooped up in bike trailers. My wife’s friend – who would have come to get us so that we could get to our car – was out of town. We tried Uber and Lyft and there was nothing available for as remote as we were. My wife desperately called her friend to try to find someone local to get her back to the car so she could pack us up. We were finally able to find someone. So, after a three hour bike ride, followed by another hour at the campsite with two stir crazed children, we were on our two hour car ride back home.
Now that I scared you away from ever bikepacking, I would like to say the first 12 miles were fun. The kids seemed to enjoy the trip – at least the part they were awake for. They definitely loved the marshmallows at camp. Riding with two toddlers and two trailers isn’t too bad, but the gear really adds a lot of weight to the ride. I do want to try to bikepack again, but with more reasonable goals. I am thinking about riding the Jamestown end of the Capital Trail in Virginia or tackling the New River again from a shorter trail head.