I haven’t trained enough for this trip. That’s a fact.
In January and February, I managed to get to the gym 5–6 times per week, but then March came around and I got busy trying to make major life decisions and the gym became a distant memory. Persistent cool weather and rain eliminated the possibility of weekend training rides for much of March. And then in April, the television show for which I am a volunteer camera operator started up again, so my Saturdays were booked full.
If those sound like excuses, well, they are. I could’ve done more. I could’ve gone to the gym or gotten out on my bike. I could’ve watched less Netflix. I could’ve eaten healthier. I could have practiced camping more. But I didn’t.
And so last Sunday I found myself with one night left before I needed to take my bike to the shop to be disassembled and shipped to Maine. One single day to ride with full weight and one night to practice solo camping.
I woke up late, threw all of my gear in the car, and drove out to Klondike Park on the Katy Trail. A previous Internet search had told me that the place was fully booked, but with only one chance left to practice, I thought I’d take my chances.
There was no one at the park when I showed up around noon, so I decided to ride twenty miles out and twenty back and then see if anyone had showed up or if I could claim one of the empty campsites.
It was a gorgeous spring day, and my ride was mostly uneventful—except for when I crashed on patch of damp gravel two miles in to my ride. And five minutes later, when I decided to push Fang through a patch of mud and ended up getting him covered in mud. Rookie mistakes, both.
After about 15 miles, I stopped at the Peers Store for a snack and then decided to turn around and head back to the park. The campsite was still empty when I got back, so I paid the $10 camping fee and set up camp.
I cooked a little supper, cleaned up, and settled in to my tent for the night. It was my first experience with solo camping, and even though I was in a well-maintained campground just a short walk from my car, being completely alone was a little nerve-wracking. I would’ve preferred it if there had been other campers at the sites next to mine, but unfortunately there weren’t. A ranger stopped by around 9:30 to check on me and told me that she was on duty until midnight after which point I could call 911 if I experienced any problems. That simultaneously made me feel better (because now the ranger knew I was there) and worse (I started thinking about things that could happen that would warrant calling 911).
After a restless hour of listening to the sounds of the rural Missouri night: birds, insects, wind through the leaves, and what I swear was the snort of some small mammal rustling in the bushes next to my tent, I finally fell asleep.
In the morning, I woke to light rain and a wet tent. I quickly packed up and drove back to St. Louis, washed the mud off Fang, and took him to the bike shop to be disassembled for shipping.
All told, my first night solo camping went pretty well. I’m kicking myself for not doing this sooner, not doing more to prepare, but unfortunately it’s too late. I leave for Portland next week and with Fang gone, there’s not much else I can do but double-check my packing list and have faith that I’ll be able to figure things out on the road this summer.
I’ve been reading about bike touring for years and I thought I felt ready, but the closer my departure date gets, the more I find myself questioning my decision to do this crazy adventure. I don’t have much camping experience and I’ve never traveled alone — let alone solo bike toured — so this summer will be a learning experience in many different ways.
The truth is, you can turn the Internet upside down and read all the blogs and articles you want but there comes a point where you just have to put your nerves aside, pack your bags, and go. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I’ll even like it. But I’ll never know until I try.