Recap: Family bike camping Bike Overnight

We had an amazing time on our Family bike camping Bike Overnight June 4th-5th! This bike overnight was part of Adventure Cycling Association’s 40th Anniversary National Bike Travel Weekend, a nation-wide event.

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The tally: 62 people (23 families/32 adults, 30 kids), 1 dog, 36 bikes, 22 tents
The pictures: Flickr album of 194 photos.

Our group was even a little bit bigger than last year’s epic Swift Campout for Seattle family bikers (that’s coming up June 25-26, by the way, if you want to join or set up a ride!).

Here’s our cast of characters…oddly arranged because I had trouble making an accurate count and ended up just taking photos of each tent/bike(s) to tally at my leisure later:
1 tent, 1 adult, 1 kid, 1 bike (Xtracycle EdgeRunner with BionX e-assist)
+ 1 tent, 1 adult, 1 kid, 1 bike (Surly Big Dummy visiting from Portland!)
+ 1 tent, 2 adults, 1 kid, 2 bikes (bikes + Weehoo iGo trailer bike, BOB cargo trailer)
+ 1 tent, 2 adults, 2 bikes (from Portland!)
+ 1 tent, 2 adults, 2 kids, 2 bikes (Xtracycle EdgeRunner, bike + Xtracycle FreeRadical)
+ 1 tent, 2 adults, 1 kid, 2 bikes (Brompton with IT chair for kid, bike with Burley Travoy trailer for gear)
+ 1 tent, 1 adult, 2 kids, 1 bike (Bike Friday Family Tandem + Burley Piccolo trailer bike)
+ 1 tent, 1 adult, 1 kid, 1 bike (Metrofiets longjohn with Stokemonkey e-assist)
+ 1 tent, 2 adults, 2 kids, 2 bikes (Yuba Mundo and regular bike)
+ 1 tent, 1 adult, 2 kids, 1 bike (Sun Atlas with e-assist…rented from Familybike Seattle!)
+ 1 tent, 2 adults, 1 kid, 2 bikes (Xtracycle EdgeRunner with BionX e-assist and regular bike)
+ 1 tent, 1 adult, 1 kid, 1 bike (Xtracycle EdgeRunner)
+ 1 tent, 1 adult, 1 kid, 2 bikes (one kid bike!)
+ 1 tent, 1 adult, 1 kid, 1 bike (Xtracycle EdgeRunner)
+ 1 tent, 2 adults, 1 kid, 2 bikes (Yuba Mundo with Stokemonkey e-assist and regular bike)
+ 1 tent, 1 adult, 1 kid, 2 bikes (1 regular bike, 1 kid bike…they weren’t with our group, but I’m counting them anyway since they’re new friends and were happy to set up in the same spot)
1 tent, 2 adults, 2 kids, 2 bikes (Surly Big Dummy, bike with trailer)
+ 1 tent, 1 adult, 2 kids, 1 dog, 1 bike (Rodriguez tandem with kidback plus Burley Piccolo trailer bike)
+ 1 tent, 1 adult, 2 kids, 1 bike (Xtracycle EdgeRunner with BionX e-assist and cycletruck conversion…+ 1 adult via car)
+ 1 tent, 3 adults, 2 kids, 3 bikes (Xtracycle EdgeRunner with e-assist rented from G&O Family Cyclery, Brompton folding bike, regular bike rented from Bainbridge Island Bike Barn rentals, 2/5 of party visiting from Dublin, CA!)
+ 2 tents, 2 adults, 3 kids, 4 bikes (2 solo-riding kids, 1 kid coupled to 1 adult bike via FollowMe Tandem coupler, 1 regular bike)

As you can see, lots of longtail cargo bikes, quite a few with electric assist. Also, four kids riding solo this year! I think I’ll have my kids ride their own bikes next time out, but I’ll bring the Big Dummy just in case one or both needs to be carried at any point. I’m slow to change and would probably have kept doing all the work (they don’t do a lot of pedaling on the tandem+ but it’s still more pedaling than when they sit on the Big Dummy) a couple more years had I not witnessed little kids riding so competently this trip. But this trip, we were on our used Rodriguez tandem (of older vintage than I realized, it appears…foreshadowing!) with Burley Piccolo trailer bike.

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I love this picture from heading home Sunday with my lackadaisical stokers doing their thing. I’m happy my six-year old (in the middle) didn’t resort to his usual tricks of sitting backwards on his handlebars, leaning against my back with his feet extended along his top tube; staying forward facing with his feet resting atop the top tube is NBD. And I guess my nine-year old is examining a ladybug on his wrist? I think they would have had a lot of fun on their own bikes.

We started our Saturday morning by meeting outside the PCC Natural Market in Fremont. We met at 9 (well, 9:05 in my case) with firm leaving time of 9:30. Outside PCC offered less room than last year’s spot a block away in front of the bank, but it’s right by groceries and potties…and in the shade. I think I’ll keep this spot for the future, or perhaps convene across the street so we’re on the correct side of the road to get rolling, yet still close to food and restrooms.

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We got rolling at 9:45, only 15 minutes later than I had intended, with about 50 people on 30 bikes. Here’s our Strava’ed route from PCC to the Seattle Ferry Terminal–it took 54 minutes so we were plenty early! Riding along the nearing-completion Westlake bikeway was very nice.

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And we encountered a street fair on Bell Street! The east-most block of Bell Street Park (or “Bell Street Park for Cars” as I like to call it since no one heeds the “No through traffic” signs) was closed to cars, but we were welcome to bike through slowly and admired the many fire trucks. One family even grabbed a couple kid fire hats.

There were two cruise ships parked (moored?) at the cruise ship terminal, but our timing was such that we weren’t stuck behind a traffic jam of taxi drop-offs. In the past the roads have been clogged and we’ve opted to take the sidewalk on the east side of Alaskan Way. Options like this are one of the many benefits of traveling by bike :)

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Arriving 45 minutes early for the ferry (we were aiming for 25 minutes early) meant no waiting in line for ticket booths. There’s a bike lane to the right with an ORCA card reader that works well for adults on regular bikes (and I’d imagine for youths on regular bikes who have youth ORCA cards, too), but I’ve been stopping at a ticket booth lately thanks to my confusing bike. It didn’t take an excruciating amount of time for us to get through, but I think I’ll lead with a “Last time I was charged for an adult plus bike and a youth plus bike” although now I realize I’m underpaying by one youth, even though I’ve mentioned the kids’ ages. I think I’ll just swipe all three of our ORCA cards next time, which I guess would be one dollar too much on the tandem+, but will be spot on for three separate bikes. Sometimes friends are charged an extra bike surcharge ($1) for trailers or big bikes, but usually they’re not. Ferry fares here.

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I love how accommodating Washington State Ferries are of bicycles. Early birds get to board before the cars and latecomers are allowed to squish on at the end. We were waved aboard first and directed to one of the side car lanes. This left many of us in the wrong gear for the uphill slope, oops! It’s always a good idea to downshift aboard the boat in case the tide is low and the climb off the ferry is a steep one…but I usually do this while riding across the empty ferry, not ahead of time. But anyhow, this crossing was great with the front of the left-most car lane set aside for us. Half of our area was flat and half on a slope, but all the bikes stayed upright for our 35-minute voyage. There are spots to tie up along rails on either side and those of us with sturdy kickstands (I have an Ursus Jumbo on the tandem, the widest after-market center stand for non-cargo bikes and lots of the longtails had Rolling Jackasss center stands) parked in the middle. Another option is to lay bikes on their sides (not on your chain side, FYI!), but in my case, I don’t think I’d have been able to muscle my bike upright again and removing all or some of the panniers to do this didn’t seem worth it. But that’s an option.

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Off the boat, we climbed the hill away from the ferry terminal and pulled over outside Bike Barn Rentals, which doesn’t have much shade for a hot day, but is a good spot to wait for the ten minutes it takes the car traffic to clear out. This also allowed the group to split into three: those stopping at the grocery store and taking the scenic route, those leaving immediately for the scenic route, and those taking the highway. I prefer the highway since it’s a lot flatter and the shoulder is very wide. A lot of the side roads (on the scenic route and for the second half of the highway route) have no shoulders, but they’re very quiet roads.

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We still had a large group for my ride on the highway. Here’s our route on my Strava. Our moving time was 55 minutes, with regroup stops after every stop light. Our overall time was two hours…because I got a flat tire! That added quite a bit excitement, but most importantly, helped me realize how awesome and helpful a group we were among.

The *pop* of my tandem’s rear tube exploding was heard halfway down the long bike train on highway 305, only halfway through our seven-mile journey. I knew we were just about to the point where we exit the highway so I nominated a new leader, showed him the map and described a nice area to pull over where I would meet up with them to fix my flat after walking there. The highway shoulder is nice and wide and drivers on Bainbridge Island are very aware of and kind to people on bikes, but I didn’t want to fix the flat out in sun next to the noise of the highway. Instead, the kids and I trekked less than half a mile to the aforementioned meeting spot.

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Halfway through our trek a dad–now relieved of his passenger at the meeting spot–swung back to offer one of my kids a lift with his trailer bike. The remaining kid and I found our way to everyone happily resting and snacking in the shade of a fire station, and I was given a spare tube (because of course the one size tube I couldn’t locate while packing the night before was this one!) by a well-prepared mom. I parked my bike in the shade and before I could dig my way to my tools (six panniers hold a lot of stuff so you have to memorize where you put everything), the dad who led the party in my stead had already removed my wheel and started fixing it. It was apparent my old tire was in dire need of replacing so I hoped for the best and pedaled the remaining three miles to camp. It held!!! Then at camp, a mom loaned me her bike (which even had a puppy basket so I could bring Pixie along for the errand!) and offered to watch my kids at the beach while I biked into town for a new tire.

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Classic Cycles on Bainbridge Island (right by the ferry terminal) is AWESOME, by the way. Jaime remembered me from a previous visit and we had a lovely chat. Another bicycing family camped at Fay Bainbridge a week ago (Bicyclebungee USA: Bike Camping on Bainbridge Island) and ended up with a new, bigger kid bike at Classic Cycles on their way home! I was tempted to buy 10 spare tubes, but that seemed excessive to the point of tempting fate and causing all the bikes to get flat tires so I settled for three–one to replace the one I borrowed (and popped while transporting the wheel) and two for me. And an extra tire for my front wheel which looks OK, but is apparently from the 80’s.

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Later a different dad helped me wrestle my rear wheel with new tire back on. Teamwork!

Now, this was just my own experience, but I saw so much camaraderie throughout the course of the weekend. I’m sure this isn’t unique to family biking, but there is just something about arriving by pedal power that makes us feel wonderfully strong, and perhaps more eager to share that strength and go above and beyond in lending support. I think I have something in my eye *sniff!*

Even with my 15-mile side excursion, I still got plenty of friend time, beach time, and campfire time. Though with a group this big, I never feel like I get enough time to talk to everyone. I wouldn’t have it any other way because these big groups are amazing…I just need to convince everyone to stay out a couple more days :)

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Sunday was HOT. Other than the excessive heat (excessive for the Seattle area–88 degrees), we had the best timing for our visit because Sunday at 11:40am was the lowest tide of the whole summer, -3.2! The beach at Fay Bainbridge Park is magical at any tide level, with a lovely view of Mount Rainier to the south, Seattle–so close, yet so far!–across the water straight ahead, so much driftwood to climb on and build stuff with, and a great view of boats sailing by.

Families tend to leave in small groups over the course of the morning, but we were in it for the long haul and stayed for the tide to go all the way out. The kids marveled at sea anemones, dodged squirting geoducks, and examined moon snails, crabs, shrimp, tiny flatfish, and sea worms. Such an amazing array of sea life!

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In the past we have congregated at a kid-friendly Seattle brewery at the end of the ride (Peddler Brewing last time, though I was pushing for Fremont Brewing this time since it’s on my way home), but this year we were more spaced out than last and everyone was ready to head straight home and get out of the heat. It was hot and Fay Bainbridge Park doesn’t have a lot of shade, but it was a bit cooler than Seattle and the bike ride between park and ferry has quite a bit of tree coverage.

Now the only unfortunate part of the trip (I’m not considering my flat tire an unfortunate part of the trip since it worked out OK) was our surprise arrival at the campground. Unfortunately the camp host hadn’t remembered our lengthy conversation during our last visit four weeks prior and the “It will be fine, I’ll let the park manager know” didn’t pan out. I feel horrible about our camp host being so stressed out by our arrival and catching the camp manager off guard. SO OUR NEXT TIME (and if you plan to show up with a big group on bike do this, too) I’ll send an email address of the camp manager (contact information is on the Fay Bainbridge Park website ) to get in touch ahead of time. For this particular visit, we were directed to camp in the kayak-in campsite (as has always been the camp host’s preference for our big group in the past) and it was great! There’s also a hiker/biker campsite on the other end of the park, but it’s a lot smaller and closer to the parking lot so it’s not quite as nice. There have never been any kayakers during any of our visits, but we would all fit just fine, though I’m not sure how kayakers feel about sharing their site with bikers. We were charged $7 per adult which was very generous. This is how it’s been in the past (and the camp host told me during our forgotten conversation that she believes in charging per tent), but we’re all always prepared to pay the $7 fee per person just in case. The camp manager called us “stinky bikers who would use up all the water taking showers” but I chalk that up to his having been caught off guard by our arrival. And he also stressed he didn’t want to discourage anyone from enjoying the great outdoors. Speaking of stinky, sweaty, sandy bikers, I brought enough quarters for everyone to take showers, but I didn’t find many takers and I don’t think we dipped into the water supply much.

Upcoming trips
I’m hoping to find someone to lead a group trip for Swift Campout June 25-26, but I’m not sure if that’ll happen. I will lead another group trip July 30-31 and I promise everything will go seamlessly!

And we’ll do a bunch of weekday camping at Fay and other places, too (like Manchester State Park and Spencer Spit State Park and/or Odlin County Park on Lopez Island). Any group trips will be linked to at the top of the right column (or down towards the bottom if you’re reading this on a small, mobile device).

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One thought on “Recap: Family bike camping Bike Overnight

  1. It’s sort of…fascinating how some camp hosts and/or park rangers are so “put out” by a large group of cyclocampers. We’re still a fraction of the total campground load, but somehow we’ll be putting the undue strain on the facilities. Nevermind all the space taken up by parked vehicles! We had a weird experience when a bunch of us group bike camped out at Cape Lookout on the Oregon Coast a few Labor Days ago.

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