Summer bike camping test ride

I don’t usually post things that don’t pertain to family biking or cargo biking, but this small-bikes-no-kids camping trip was essentially a test run for our summer Kidical Mass bike camping trip and I want to remember my observations and solicit advice, so on the blog it goes!

Last weekend’s camping trip was just three women, two of us with two kids a pop left at home, all three of us with longtail cargo bikes (Ellie: Kona Ute, me: Surly Big Dummy, and Alyssa: Xtracycle EdgeRunner) left at home in favor of our regular bikes (Ellie: Soma San Marcos with Nitto Albatross bars, me: Surly Straggler with Soma Sparrow bars, and Alyssa: Surly Cross-Check with Surly Open Bars).

For background, here’s the 2014 family bike camping trip, the 2013 family bike camping trip, and the 2012 family bike camping trip. And you heard it here first: this summer’s family bike camping trip will happen August 15-16, 2015. Maybe even August 14-16 because I want to do two nights. Note: this is the week after Bike for Pie because I’ve decided it’s just too much to do both. There will probably also be a big family bike camping trip June 20-21, 2015.

I’m still getting the hang of carrying stuff on the Little Struggler (that’s the Straggler’s name if you couldn’t guess) and often can’t close my panniers when I take it grocery shopping. Here’s my array of items to take camping:


And here it is all loaded on the little bike! I put most everything in the left pannier to leave the right pannier available for the tent. I shoved my sleeping pad on top of the tent and intentionally stuck the mugs on the outside of my left pannier because I thought they’d look cute out there. My front basket holds just snacks and dSLR camera.


In past years I’ve taken our four-person car-camping tent, the REI Basecamp 4, on the camping trips, but for this trip I’m carrying Alyssa’s four-person REI Halfdome 4. By the way, there is nothing funnier than watching cargo bikers argue over who gets to carry the tent. But there is nothing less funny than having to listen to the “cargo intervention” jokes by the other two cargo bikers at the expense of the winner! Obviously, I won the right to carry the tent. Woo hoo! Note: I recently got an REI Halfdome 2+ for me and the kids to use this summer which will open up so much cargo space on the Big Dummy. I can’t wait to test it out!

Alyssa and I arrived at the ferry quite early (which takes Orca cards now! That may or may not be new, but it’s new to me!) so we parked our bikes in the bike lane and hung out in the unseasonable sun.


We learned there’s a Top Pot Doughnuts just across the walkway accessed from the ferry passenger terminal so we went for coffee and doughnuts. For summer family visitors: there’s no bathroom at this Top Pot, but it’s an easy walk with little legs and there’s a bathroom in the passenger terminal (as well as other food options). And look: bike street art on the walk back to the ferry!


I might aim to come early for our next camping trip because it’s fun to watch the ferry pull in:


I still think there is nothing like biking onto the ferry. So exhilarating!


Cargo bikes get to park at the very front of the ferry on their burly centerstands, but regular bikes tie up to little yellow ropes alongside the cars:


Ours was a very scenic ferry ride given the clear skies and big sail boat race. There was also extra ferry honking at boats who strayed into our course. That’s downtown Seattle off to the left. (“I can’t see my house from here!”)


We arrived and biked off the ferry, but stopped halfway up the hill, deciding to wait at the former gas station for the aggressive car traffic to clear out. This would be a good pitstop for the family biking trip, too.


In the past we’ve followed the Chilly Hilly/Bike for Pie/non-highway route to Fay Bainbridge Park, but this time we tried the highway 305 route and OMG it was so flat! Granted, it’s hard to appreciate the difference riding with 75 pounds of bike + gear versus 200 pounds of bike + kids + gear, but I’m pretty sure it was much much milder. Though also much less scenic.

It does feel like a highway, but the shoulder was very wide. And at the beginning, we followed signs to leave the side of the road and share a bridge with pedestrians:


Later the speed limit increased from 40 mph to 50 mph, but it still didn’t feel worrisome with the nice wide shoulder. I’m curious to hear from the family bikers who’ve taken this route: did you like it and would you do it again? Tell me below in the comments. I think I’d like to do this come summer.



We moved pretty quickly on our little bikes and before we knew it, we were following signs for the Phelps Road exit towards Fay Bainbridge:


After four miles of highway with lots of cars and wide shoulders, we had 2.5 miles of quiet roads with no shoulders (which is the style of the bulk of the scenic route). There was only one big climb, which is hard to capture with smartphone picture, but I think this is the only hill family bikers might need to walk:


In the past we’ve always camped down on the beach in the kayak-in spots, but this year we pitched our tent in the hiker/biker spot near the top of the hill. This was partially to honor the letter of the law, partially because the new camp host last summer wasn’t so cool about bikers camping on the beach, and partially because Jason Goods of Swift Industries/Get Lost Adventure Club camped at Fay the previous weekend and said it was cold and windy down on the beach.

There are picnic tables and fire pits, but no bathroom up here. Plus it’s far from the playground. And kids have to walk down and up the car road to get to the bathroom and playground. So I’m undecided this is a better area to camp in the summer. I think it’s probably worth parking up here and then having one or two families walk down to see the cammp host and check on space. We saw a pair of bikers camping in a car spot. At $7 per biker, it might be worth squeezing into a car spot, though they’re not as nice and open as the kayaker spots. Again, thoughts welcome in the comments below!


Unloading our gear, I noticed how bulky my sleeping bag/pad situation was compared to Alyssa (left) and especially Ellie (top). I might keep an eye out for a smaller sleeping bag. And a smaller but squishier pad because my hips could feel the ground through my Thermarest pad.


I wasn’t sure what to do with myself once we were unpacked–I haven’t been camping without kids since I was a kid! With no potty breaks to administer, snacks to dole out, or rock throwing to referee, we snoozed on driftwood at the beach. I found a heart-shaped shell and admired Mount Rainier.


But it wasn’t too boring! Apparently I had told Alyssa that Ellie would bring coffee beans and told Ellie that Alyssa would bring coffee beans. Thankfully we discovered this Saturday evening and not Sunday morning. Alyssa helpfully offered, “Well, at least we have the instant coffee you brought!” but I decided that would be overkill with my chocolate-covered espresso beans and their beans and left it at home. So I offered to ride back across the island to the grocery store and pick up coffee beans.


It was nice to get a sneak peak at our return route. I noticed one possible problem area on family bikes: approaching Madison Avenue there’s a narrow bike lane between the through-traffic lane and right-turning lane. It’s fine on the way north since it’s downhill, but a little claustrophobic on the uphill southbound route. So come summer I think we’ll take the right-turn bike lane on the edge of the road and then carefully make our way over to the left at the intersection.


At the grocery store I got coffee beans, instant coffee, and the last box of Girl Scout Tagalongs. And met a women who said, “What a great idea! Going grocery shopping with a little basket on the front of your bike!” I hope she’ll try it soon.


And I saw the world’s coolest dog. Whom I think I saw in Seattle the other day. Unless dogs lounging out the window is a trend.


While I was gone, Alyssa and Ellie prepared dinner in my little percolator. Oh, in case I forgot to mention it, I not only flubbed the coffee beans, I also forgot that I was the one who said she’d bring the cooking pots. It’s nice to have all this room to improve on next time!

The morning was amazing, but I think we would have come even if it’d been drizzly. I started the morning with a long quiet walk on the beach and then we had coffee and pancakes (cooked in my percolator) down at a picnic table by the beach rather than up by our campsite.


One advantage of camping up in the hiker/biker spots is not having to bike uphill from the beach, but I discovered last summer than it’s possible to bike a fully-loaded cargo bike up that hill provided the kids walk on the side. So I packed up my bike and brought it down for a photo. And Alyssa took her tent poles (cargo bike intervention, sigh) so I was able to close both my panniers for a [slightly] sleeker look.


Climbing back up that hill wasn’t all that easy, but it certainly was doable. I was happy to rest a bit before we set out. And capture my sock situation for an Instagram: hi-vis Sean Sako‘s DeFeet on the car-side and punk rock Cars-R-Coffins on the forest side.


I got a pretty good group shot on our way out with my iPhone wedged in my helmet vent across the street and my TimerCam Pro app set to 30 seconds while we changed the ABC song (this works great with kids!). Excellent timing because a car zoomed between us and the phone less than a second after the click.


We opted to backtrack the route back to make sure it was as flat in the way in. Despite the lack of scenery compared to the hilly route, we still pass Frog Rock. I remember the good ol’ days when there was never a line at the frog, but we waited patiently while two guys on road bikes climbed around the frog and then took turns taking pictures of one another.


And more pictures of the bike lane leading up to Madison. It might be worth exploring leaving 305 before this point. I think I might need another test ride/test camp.



Not to mention the SHOULDER–FERRY WAITING ONLY signs that started quite a ways before the end of the highway. It wouldn’t be very pleasant to share the one car lane during a busy summer Sunday.


And then back on the ferry. The mom and daughter in the foreground were part of a family of four and the father was riding a bakfiets! I’m guessing they live in Seattle, in a flat neighborhood.


As fun as it is to leave Seattle behind, there’s nothing like the view of downtown looming closer and closer as the ferry approaches pier 52.

So, who wants to go camping??


From Kristin:
“Madi, there was a porta-potty at the top camping site in the summer. It was pretty clean, so not bad. We only rode on 305 for a short bit. We followed Miller Road back some of the way. The Pie and Pints ride (I think) was the same weekend and we followed a lot of that route back to town.”

6 thoughts on “Summer bike camping test ride

  1. I really hope we can go. It sounds like such a great adventure.

    Your first packing picture made me laugh. You threw in everything PLUS the kitchen sink! (What is that “kitchen sink” thing anyways?)

    • I love that you noticed the kitchen sink! I forgot to make a joke about it :) I first saw them on our preschool camping trip three years ago when EVERYONE had one but me and they’re so cute! Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink. They come in various sizes.

      A few years ago there was a family campout at Magnuson Park. We didn’t go, but I thought it sounded so fun and convenient!

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