Bikepacking runs away from home for adults

I think it started with Brendan’s lumberjack stacking a few small fallen logs across the opening of the tarp. The sun had just set below the ridge above the meadow, and hoping the wind would die down with it, we were about to crawl into our sleeping bags for the night. Suddenly, we weren’t young professionals—or even responsible adults—anymore. We were children. Sneak alone in the forest on our bikes. Run away from home on a Tuesday night.

I’d felt it coming on for a few hours, pedaling my bike up the winding new trail, tramping around the woods looking for our campsite, then building the weatherproof equivalent of a blanket fort. The simple joy of young children in exploring and camping seemed to sprinkle over us like Tinkerbell’s pixie dust.

I’ve “slept out” quite a bit over the past few years, dozens of nights on a mattress in the back of either an Astrovan or Subaru and several more in tents or under the stars. And I’ve come to think of the #vanlifers and other scumbags who regularly sleep in their cars at cliffs and ski areas, like some sort of Peter Pans. We eschew more typical adult comforts like bigger houses and time on the sofa in favor of rock climbing, cycling or downhill skiing. Sometimes I think we just don’t really want to grow up. And living out of a van or station wagon helps keep that dream alive a little longer – but I see now, maybe not as much as a good backpacking or bike ride.

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Don’t get me wrong, cars are obviously one of a backpacker’s best friends. How else could we sneak off on a two-day weekend and find ourselves hiking along a ridge with no one else in sight? But cars are also a marker of adulthood. They are toys for big children. They are a symbol of freedom, but you still have to drive them through traffic to get where you need to go. As Brendan likes to say, sometimes there’s nothing less free than the freeway.

Do you remember what gave you that heady rush of independence before you got your driver’s license? I bet it was a bicycle. Sometimes we forget that. We pack up our nifty car-camping gadgets, our comfy mattresses, blinkers and cocktail shakers, and find a scenic spot to park our big four-wheeled toy for the night. It’s a fun escape from the laughter of the city. But rolling into the campsite on my bike, swerving and leaning it against a tree last week was something else.

Maybe it’s because we’re also often so competitive and serious about our cycling and hiking that adding campsites just took the pressure off. It felt childish. There was no racing, no “hold on, I’m going to session in this rock garden.” It was just a slow discovery of what lay around every corner. Then we set up our home for the night and it felt a bit like playing house like I did under a blanket tent in the backyard as a kid.

There are all kinds of claims about the value of backpacking or bikepacking – a closer experience of nature, learning self-sufficiency, the beauty of simplicity – but none of that was on my mind when I strapped my sleeping bag to my handlebars to head back down the mountain last week. What was? Simply put: How much fun will this trip be? Stripping down to the basics was just what I needed – a fresh sprinkling of pixie dust.

Photo: Patrick Hendry/Unsplash

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