Get Out! Question everything
Some must-answer queries before taking a camping and biking trip
On a recent snowy spring camping and biking trip to Cortez and Durango, we reminded ourselves of this: the main goal of a bike trip is to ride every day. This is often easier said than done as spring weather is never predictable and summer weather in the mountains is even less so. Still, there are things you can do to ensure that your next camp/bike trip is as successful as possible. In this case, success equals: a day of biking, eating lots of great food, perhaps drinking some good beer, and generally hanging out with people you like while staying dry and (maybe) warm.
Check the weather and plan accordingly. If you have a meteorologist friend, bug them about the weather. No matter what the weather shows, be prepared for rain. Weather.gov is an excellent source and even has hourly precipitation prediction graphs to help you determine the best time during the day to go ride —assuming the trails are rideable.
If you are camping in a tent, perhaps it’s time to invest in a rain shelter with walls. On our trips we’ve used The North Face Docking Station and comfortably had 5-6 people hanging out in it during rain storms. You’ll still be cold, but at least you’ll be dry. If you have a camper, well, enjoy your heat and cram as many friends as possible in with you — at least until it’s time to go to bed.
If rain is likely to occur during or shortly after your bike ride, take your rain coat. Don’t think you can outrun the storm. Trust me, you can get drenched in a mile of riding. Then you’ll be cold and you won’t feel like hanging out for an apres ride beer.
While you’re out biking, watch the sky. Is that storm moving straight at you? Then don’t take the longer route down. Get to the end of the ride and be grateful you got a ride in at all. Then cram in the car with everyone else, or under a pavilion, eat some chips and laugh about how you almost got caught in the rain.
Check the campgrounds. Sure the website says the campground has walk-in sites, but what does that mean? Does that mean you park and walk 50 feet to a campsite? Or does that mean you have to haul all your stuff across a bridge and up a hill in a rolling cart? Call and find out. You will then also be able to ask important questions like: If we have 2 cars parked at our site, how much do you charge for the second vehicle? Do you have showers? Is there potable water available?
Can you make a reservation? If not, are there other possible campgrounds in the area? The worst thing that could happen at the beginning of your trip is for you to get to a campground and not have anywhere to camp. Do some research and find out how many campgrounds are around there. Is there BLM land or National Forest land on which to camp? If these might be possibilities for you, make sure to check regulations and rules for both before setting up camp.
Check your gear and your bike. Have you ever ended up far from home and ready to ride only to discover that you’ve forgotten something necessary like your bike shoes or your helmet? Worse, have you ever gotten to a campground only to find that you’re missing your sleeping pad? Do yourself a favor and make a list. If you need a start, try this one: (http://www.gjsentinel.com/images/documents/Camp_Bike_List.pdf).
If you’ve got maintenance issues you know you need to take care of, get on the ball! Don’t get out to the trail head and remember that your back brake pads need changing or that your tire is flat. Take the bike in to the shop for a tune-up or give it one yourself before you take off on a trip.
Research the trails. Are the trails you’ll be riding usually sandy? Are they clay? Can you ride them if they’re wet? If it’s windy are there sheltered trails you can ride? When we were in Moab in March, the wind was gusting to 50 mph. Because we’re determined bikers, we thought of the most sheltered trails we knew about: The Horsethief area trails. Located just across from the Horsethief Mesa campground on Highway 313, these trails drop down below the rock formations and mesas surrounding them and we were able to get in a decent ride without being blasted by much wind.
You can find great trail condition information on Facebook, too. If we’re headed to Eagle, for example, I might check out the Mountain Bike Eagle Facebook page to see if they have any new trail condition information to share. When out-of-town riders head here, I hope they check the Colorado Western Slope Trail Conditions Facebook page for up-to-date information on which trails are dry and ready to ride.
Knowing what’s rideable, what’s closed for wildlife migrations, and even just what a decent intermediate ride is in a particular area is always helpful. Websites and Facebook pages lend themselves well to this sort of information. Local trail groups on Facebook or sites like MTBProject.com are helpful too.
Research the rest: What else is there to do where you’re going? Is there a brewery to check out? Are there museums or movie theaters in case you want a recovery day? What restaurants are around? This section can be trickier, because it might require some Yelp and Trip Advisor searches, but the best place to start is with the people you know and their friends on Facebook. Just ask the question without being specific. For instance, ask, “We’re planning a trip to Ridgway this fall. Does anyone have restaurant recommendations?” Don’t ask, “We’re heading to Ridgway this Friday after work and will be away from our home for 3 days… where should we eat?” For the record: Colorado Boy pizza and Taco del Gnar are where you should eat in Ridgway.
Your vacation should be just that: a vacation. It’s supposed to be relaxing, even if it’s a short trip. Don’t let a lack of information or weather screw it up! Get the planning and grunt work done beforehand so that when you arrive at your destination you can simply relax, set up camp and get ready to ride!