Summer in the Inland Northwest is the time for camping — getting out under the stars and cedars, lake swimming, etc. But preparing for a camping or touring expedition can be a tedious process — assembling equipment, organizing transportation, scheduling time off work. Just the thought of all this planning can be stressful enough to make you put off the trip altogether.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
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In the Woods
Communing with nature (and bugs) on Mt. Spokane
Going deep underground with rats, bats and worms
Like love, tandem skydiving takes a bit of faith
Adventure plans stressing you out? Just say S24O.
Ready, Set, Go!
Behind the Mad Max scene at Riverside’s ORV park
Enter the S24O, or Sub-24-Hour-Overnight, a bicycle camping style promoted by Grant Petersen, founder of the legendary Rivendell Bicycle Works shop near San Francisco. “The S24O is the closest you can come to [bicycle] touring when you can’t actually tour,” writes Petersen. “And rather than thinking of it as a poor substitute, think of it as a mini-tour that’s about a hundred times easier to plan for, commit to and just do.”
Simply put, an S24O (pronounced “ess-two-four-oh”) means biking somewhere in the afternoon or evening, setting up camp, going to sleep and biking back in the morning. No careful planning needed, no work time lost.
The discipline prizes simplicity above all else. Because you’re only going to be gone for a night, you don’t need all the extra crap you would if you were planning a longer tour. (On the other hand, because you’re only going to be out for a night, it’s not such a pain to cart around that copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, if that’s what you really like reading around the campfire.) The idea is to take the pressure off of the planning process. What’s the worst that could happen — you gotta make do without your Merino wool hiking socks for a night?
But simplicity has a price, as I found out in preparing for my maiden voyage. Turns out I was ill-equipped for any kind of camping trip, let alone one that would require me to carry all of my equipment on my bike. I shopped for gear that would pack away into tiny stuff sacks but found my budget wouldn’t support it. I ended up splurging on a decent sleeping pad but settled for my bulky old two-person tent and absurdly poofy sleeping bag.
So how to get all that stuff on my bike? Over my rear wheel, I installed a rack I’d had lying around (and lashed my bag, pad and tent to it), but I had no saddlebags to pack with my overnight clothes, toothbrush, food, etc. That meant stuffing a raggedy Jansport backpack with everything else — a pair of pants, a sweater, sunscreen, bug spray, a notepad, a foam football (you never know), extra liquids, flip flops and a whole host of other (ultimately unnecessary) stuff.
In the meantime, my co-campers and I had to decide on a destination — someplace sufficiently distant to feel like an adventure, but close enough to be manageable in our short timeframe. I e-mailed John Speare, a bike blogger and a vocal proponent of the S24O. He was full of great ideas — Amber Lake to the south, Horseshoe Lake up north, a steep and winding road leading out of the Valley towards Newman Lake — but they all sounded way too hardcore for us S24O virgins.
In all, squaring away the gear situation and figuring out where we were going took the better part of three days.
I know: This is supposed to be the simple way of camping.
And it did end up being simple. We set out from Browne’s Addition at about 6 pm on Saturday, pointing our wheels toward the Centennial Trail and Riverside State Park. It was a natural decision. The park is sprawling and wild, though easily accessed by the trail, and close enough to town that (as John had helpfully pointed out) you can bail out if things fall apart.
We wouldn’t need to. We found a quiet, secluded spot at an undisclosed location along the river (note: the only place you can legally be in the park after dark is the small, boring campground near Bowl and Pitcher), unpacked our bikes, pitched our tents and sat down for dinner and a little whiskey. A patrol car with a spotlight cruised the parking lot across the river around dusk, looking for loiterers. With no fire, we were nearly invisible. We sat under the bright, waning moon and talked until we were tired.
Aside from some small animal footsteps and a couple of unexplainable booming sounds, the night went without incident. It was warm and clear. The moon was so bright I didn’t need a flashlight to get up and pee.
In the morning, we packed up, packed out our trash, drained the last remaining drops of whiskey and headed back toward town. I was home by 9:30, sand in my shoes, sunburn on my neck.
Granted, it hadn’t been a completely stress-free camping trip. But now that I have the right gear (and I’ve mastered the Byzantine art of cargo-rack fastening), my next camping trip will be as easy as stuffing a backpack with booze and trail mix.
See you out there.