Sunday, October 05, 2008


Last Saturday I did my first attempt at bike camping, using Grant Petersen's S24O format. Being my first attempt at hauling any camping crap anywhere on my bike, my total time invested was way more than 24 hours, but I can see how it would get easier and easier the more one does it. The part I really liked is how different it is from my normal car camping weekend trips. These take a lot of planning and effort, and it made me realize that most of that effort involves bringing stuff that isn't strictly necessary. Although to be fair, it is a bit of an apples vs. oranges debate as most of these trips are with the whole family so the amount of gear is dictated by the number of campers and the age of two of them.

I decided to go to Afton State Park for my trip. Afton is a nice park and I estimated it was about 30 miles from my place, which was about what I was looking for. Afton is also unique in that it only has hike in sites, no car camping or RV camping. Living in a river town has it's disadvantages. Specifically in this case, I needed to figure out how to get over the Mississippi River by bike. There are a limited number of river crossings, and not all of them are bikeable. I ended up deciding to take the counterintuitive route of heading into downtown St. Paul to get out of town. It worked very well. Here's the route I took to get out of town. I found a nice surprise in a trail through South Saint Paul that runs along the river and took me directly to the 494 river crossing I was planning for.

Fully loaded bike along the Big Rivers Regional Trail.

Barges on the Mississippi in South Saint Paul.

Train yard.

Trail closed.

The trail closure wasn't a big issue, it was really just the underpass portion of 494. I crossed the river and started heading away from civilization.

Bike on the 494 river bridge.

Once over the river, the route to Afton is extremely simple. Follow Military Road. It's a very pleasant ride with wide shoulders and low traffic. It's a good representation of life on the prairie.

Military road.

The most puzzling thing I saw all weekend.

Nearly there.


The colors were just starting to change, but it's a beautiful park even without full colors.

I stopped and registered for my campsite at the main office. The ranger astutely noticed that I had biked there (I was still wearing my helmet) and told me that bikes were not allowed in the campsite, but I could lock my bike up to anything in the park, "as long as it's not a tree." I figured it wouldn't be that big of a deal to lock my bike up below and haul my things up to the site. I pedaled in to the foot of the campsite area and started to look for a potential lock up. My choices were pretty much limited to picnic tables and trees.

Trail to the campsite.

Crossing a stream.

Stream from the bridge.

I knew trees weren't an option, and the only way I could have locked it to a picnic table would be to crawl underneath with the bike. Not terribly convenient, and I wasn't super excited about leaving the bike to begin with. So I did some hike-a-bike action and took the bike along with me to the campsite. The first couple hundred feet of the climb was brutal. But after that the trail flattened out and pushing the bike was pretty simple.

Campsite #9.

One of the cool things about Afton is you pay $4 for all the firewood you choose to burn. The catch is that you need to cut your own wood and haul it back to the campsite. It's sort of a self-limiting arrangement. Water is also available at the firewood site from a solar powered pump. But again, take as much as you can carry.

Dinner was simple, a can of beef stew heated over the open fire. The pan you see here and a spoon was all the cooking utensils I brought. The next morning, I made oatmeal. Everything else was fruit (fresh and dried), trail mix or nuts.

After dinner I stared at the fire until it was time for bed.

I slept great. I didn't have a watch, but I would guess I got up around 8 or so. There was a slight drizzle in the air, but not enough to get my rain gear out. After breakfast I packed up and headed back home.

The one small issue I ran into was my tent pole broke. I heard something snap when I was setting up the tent, but it didn't seem to cause any issues with the tent and I didn't think much of it. When I was tearing down I noticed the broken pole. It's not a huge deal, and with a little tape it should hold up fine for future trips. But it's a little disappointing considering I've only used this tent about 5 times. But the tent was super cheap, so I guess you get what you pay for.

Fun with the self timer.

After packing up and leaving the campsite I did some exploring in the campsite.

I decided to try an alternate route on the way home to see if there was a more southerly route to my place. I took a few twists and turns that I didn't need to because the roads were marked inconsistently. Here's a hint, municipalities: If you put a sign that says "To County Road 26", then you should mark the arrival of County Road 26 as such, and not as 70th Street. I also had to detour due to a road closure, but subtracting these out I think the southern route is about 3 miles shorter. I left home on Saturday at about 2pm and arrived back around 1pm on Sunday. Everything went without a hitch, and I'm anxious to give this bike camping thing another try.


midway cyclist said...

Cool, looks like it was a fun trip, and nice job on the camping beard.

Looks like we almost crossed paths on Sunday. We were heading down to Red Wing, and probably got on Military Road within a half hour after you left it along that stretch.

I gotta find a weekend to do some camping.

Tex69 said...

great report Pete, and even better with lots o pics. everyone seems to be more blessed with close-ish campsites than I, but a little stealth camping is doable, I guess.

Apertome said...

Looks like an awesome trip. That sure is some beautiful country out there. Makes me want to do another S24O ... someday!

Lois said...

Enjoyable post...thanks, Pete.

Doug said...

Congrats on a successful S24O. Afton is a nice place to camp. I love the St Croix river valley. Although, I'm not sure I'd want to push a bike up the hill to the campground. It's a challenge without a bike.