For the eighth year in a row thousands of adventurous spirits will load camping gear on their bikes for a weekend adventure. Here at Swift, we believe there’s little better than spending the longest day of the year on a bicycle, and the shortest night sleeping under the stars. In the lead-up to Campout, we seek to inspire and educate, sharing fun stories and deep knowledge to help newer Campers with some confidence-boosting tips before they head out on their first bike-camping adventure. We surveyed some of the most trusted and most experienced folks in our community to get to the bottom of some burning questions and glean some insights from their years of touring on bikes.
This week we talk about managing challenging situations before (or after) they become full-blown crises.
Our most cherished bike-camping memories are undoubtedly of the amazing times spent in the saddle and at camp with old and new friends. But we also know that serious or challenging situations can happen on adventures, especially in larger groups, and on strenuous routes. Bonking, ego-clashing, route-finding mishaps, gear failures, and injuries are a few of the examples we’ve seen in the field. We asked our community to think back to a particularly challenging experience where it felt like the wheels might just come off the bus, to share any tips for how to overcome or manage the situation, and how to minimize the likelihood of it happening in the future.
The survey responses centered heavily on personal preparedness, group/expectations management, and awareness/management of one’s own mental landscape. If you’re a first-time bike-camper and you’re feeling anxious about loading up and heading out, rest assured that every experienced rider you look up to has already been through every little thing you might be stressed about (and then some)! We’re to share these learnings so you don’t have to learn them the hard way.
Best response goes to Chris @slimwonder: “I’m of the mind that if some, or all, of those things (mishaps, injuries, etc.) didn’t happen, did you even go bike-camping?” LOL, true! But jokes aside, it seems the best way to avoid a meltdown is to focus on certain small things to prepare yourself, and to be sure to create space for clear communication with your group about expectations before you ever kick a leg over your bike.
Our friend Duncan, former owner of Transit Cycles in Tucson, sums it up succinctly: “Make sure if you are heading out for a big undertaking that you are in the proper mental head space. If you aren’t you could wind up making a silly mistake that is pretty costly.” This mental clarity work is done early in the game and goes hand-in-hand with attending to the actual gear and tactical readiness items. Making a gear list and checking items off it as you go is a great approach. Ilana, our head of design, suggests spending time beforehand getting to know the route, inspecting for bailout points and options for flexibility should things go awry — don’t just leave that to the trip leader. She also mentioned carrying a paper map (they still exist and can be a lifesaver when your device dies!). But at the same time, don’t forget to download the route so it’s accessible when you’re in the backcountry, says Kelly, our head of production.
Hailey Moore is a big fan of burying SOS snacks deep into the bottom of a bag for those times when they’re really needed — and those times definitely happen.
When it comes to group dynamics, the things that came up most had to do with spending more time at the beginning of the trip getting on the same page to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard and that expectations are leveled across the group. Swift boss Martina says; “So far, the wildest shit that’s gone down for me could have been avoided by better planning and more pre-adventure communication. The higher the risk (loosely defined as higher on the ‘remoteness index’ and higher on the ‘challenge scale’), the more planning has gotta go into a trip. Planning = COMMUNICATING, and communicating includes logistics AND expectations and feelings!” Our Seattle buddy Brandon likes to preserve the flow & make sure heads keep cool by, “doing my best to cultivate an attitude of collaboration and improvisation. Personally I can’t stand when it feels like one person in the party has us on rails, and especially when that plan starts to go off the rails and the inflexibility sets in.” Don’t be that person!
But what about when things do get spicy? We got lots of responses reminding us to keep our cool, to try to “be flexible and adapt. Most problems are easier to solve with a smile, so remember it’s all about fun and let that steer your choices” (thanks for that Sweet Adam!) … which, while 100% true, in the moment, that can be easier said than done! Photographer Brian Larson shared a tale of Type II Fun from the Caucasus Mountains in the country of Georgia, where, “even in the toughest conditions, covered in, we’ll call it ‘mud’ (it was actual shit), the wheels weren’t even close to falling off. Because holy shit, we were in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a stunning viewshed and cracking jokes—always jokes. Even the most demanding days on the bike (or, in this case, pushing a bike) are the best days. It’s easy to remind yourself when you’re going through it on a challenging ride that these are the types of days you dream of when you’re going through it when not on the bike.” And really, these times make for the best dinner party stories for years afterward!
I stumbled across something online recently which seems like something I should’ve heard or learned many years ago, and which has since turned into a bit of mantra. Maybe it’ll come in handy for you, too: “in the times when it feels like you’ve given 110% and you can’t go on any further, you’re really only at 60%.” The key here is to remind yourself that, whether you believe it at the time or not, your body has gas in a reserve tank and the strength to keep going. The trick is to reframe the situation upstairs before going down the drain of negativity, which is the real self-defeating path.
[EDIT] I recently had the opportunity to put all this bike touring self-help into practice IRL! Two weekends ago, we were 25 miles into a very strenuous and remote backcountry multi-day route when my left pedal broke, literally sliding right off its spindle (see pic above). We had a casual post-work Friday afternoon start and planned a mellow ride to our first night’s camp. We were already losing daylight but were close to our first camp objective, so turning around definitely wasn’t an appealing option at the point. I decided to keep rolling — “oh, I’ll just be mindful of keeping pressure inward to keep the pedal in place, and then I’ll figure out a repair at camp…” Yeah, that lasted about 5 minutes. Shortly thereafter, my Wald Basket leapt off the front rack, four zip-ties failing simultaneously. And all this was after numerous issues with the front rack tab bending under the weight of the load, allowing a bolt to grind my tire, slowing progress. A mellow Day 1 was turning into a nightmare of minor and major mechanicals threatening to shut us down, and it was 100% on me. Fortunately, earlier that week I’d already read through all the responses to the survey we’d sent out, and lots of this intel was top of mind! Instead of fretting about holding up progress, I reminded myself that our pre-planning gave us intimate familiarity with our route and our whereabouts, we had plenty of light left to at least get to camp; that really, we could stop and camp anywhere at that point and still have a good time at camp; that if deemed necessary in the morning, there were several bail-out options available; that between the three of us we had enough functioning brain cells, handy skills, tools and supplies to jerry-rig some fixes; and, finally, that we still had two full days to go only 65 more miles, and so, how bad could it get, even if I had to pedal on a spindle the rest of the way? Mechanicals are real, and the hassles and distractions they present are equally so. But by not becoming obsessed on the challenges, by keeping the bigger perspective in mind, by focusing on the strengths of the group and the situation, you can succeed in at least keeping the morale elevated and the experience somewhat positive, even when your pace has slowed to a crawl. And once you emerge from the backcountry, the enchiladas and margaritas taste that much better and the stories you share with your friends won’t be centered on icky vibes!
We’d be remiss to not mention one last theme that popped up. Swift Campout typically falls on the same weekend as Fathers Day, and so we got a couple tips for bikecamping with the ninos. From our good bud Covey, this one’s for the rad dads out there. “I love to Swift Campout with my kiddos. They are now 8 and 5, but we’ve been Swiftin’ going back to the days when there was just one and he was just a year old. Some of the greatest joys have come from having the kids in tow… roadside berry feasting, never ending campfire songs and s’mores sessions, and sweet cuddles in the tent. But some of the most horrific moments are also because they are young and not as well versed in Type II Fun… it’s been a good lesson and reminder to always have the snack bag diversified, to have stories ready to tell, and to be game for anything that comes your way. It’s not the miles, man, it’s the journey.“