Saturday morning, after breakfast at Red Roaster coffeehouse, I pedaled across the Ohio River bridge and started exploring Henry County, Kentucky. This is the home of one of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry. Berry describes and reflects on this simple country in his writings, from wooded hills to rolling meadows to creek banks and the Kentucky River. I rolled through Port Royal and tried to take in the essence of this place, which is at the same time remarkable and commonplace. From my experience of this day, I will read Berry with more clarity and understanding.
By Sunday daybreak, the wind had died down but temperatures had dropped to freezing. I climbed out of my sleeping bag, dusted frost off my panniers, broke camp, and prepared to ride from Madison back to Columbus in the cold. Against a headwind, I arrived in Columbus around 3 pm, loaded the Surly on my VW, and drove back to Indy.
I covered about 140 miles over the weekend and had what I consider quite a nice little adventure. Here are a few lessons I learned and pass along from my first solo bike camping weekend:
1. Cold is not an enemy or a friend. It is a factor to plan for. Reduce cold’s impact with good gear.
2. Riding self-contained produces wide options and independence. But it’s a slower ride. I'm used to riding 18-22 mph, but with 30 lbs. of camping supplies, etc. in two panniers and a seat saddlebag, I managed about 15-17 mph. I can still pedal fast on flats, but climbing hills are much slower.
3. My bike shop (A1 Cyclery in Indianapolis) set me up with a perfect cross-country touring steed: a smooth Surly Long Haul Trucker, which I've ridden for four years. This is a no-worries, tough, dependable bicycle for riding long distances. I've had no breakdowns or problems in 10,000 miles.
4. Factor wind in your plans. 30-40 mph winds changed my distance and range of activity. No way around this; it's just ugly and hard.
5. A State Park base camp made a nice returning point. Keeping a base camp for a weekend of riding made day travel lighter. And, I met very helpful campers whom I talked to each day.
6. A 30-degree F rated sleeping bag works for 30 degrees F (and high wind). I stayed warm. Good buy. I purchased a sleeping bag that was also lightweight.
7. Enjoy local coffeehouses, food, and places. These are better than franchises in small towns. I like eating at local restaurants instead of cooking on my own, also. Except for making some coffee and soup, I ate at local places entirely.
8. Indiana’s Clifty Falls State Park gets a thumbs up for service, cleanliness, and scenic awe. Deep ravines. High cliffs. Beautiful falls. This place is worth a two-day visit. Plan on vigorous and rugged hiking.
9. Relax and you’ll enjoy the ride on the way to where you want to go. Be here now.
10. I need to find a lightweight, compact fuel cooking unit that defies windy conditions. Taking recommendations.
John Franklin HayIndianapolis, Indiana, USA