Good night to the wandering tires,
Treading through parts unknown.
Good night to the loaded bags,
Filled with gear; velcroed, strapped and sewn.
Good night to the beauty of the landscape,
Draped in wildflowers, trees and sonnets.
Good night to the twinkling stars,
Framing still tents and hammocks like bonnets.
Good night to the challenging terrain,
Taking more sometimes than can be given.
Good night to the demanding fortitude,
Championing all that has been ridden.
Good night to the friends met on the trail,
Sharing journeys abroad and near home.
Good night to the laughter and smiles,
Perched upon our faces, as together we roam.
What a strange year 2020 has been. I am privileged in that the pandemic afforded me the opportunity for reflection, growth, and some memorable bikepacks here in Ontario. I fell in love with the countryside all over again and met some lovely people along the way.
When BIKEPACKING.com announced the Good Night 2020 Campout, I was immediately drawn in. What a great way to end the year; bringing together bikepackers near and far, sharing their stories. This would be my first winter bikepack and I was excited to end the season with one more adventure.
With a provincial lockdown in place and my hardy bikepacking friends living in different regions, I decided to camp out solo in my backyard. The night before departure, I laid out all of my gear and crossed my fingers that it would fit on my fat bike and in my hip pack. I kept my tool kit to a minimum since I wasn't going far and packed a plethora of socks, mitts and gloves. My sleeping bag thankfully fit in a dry sack that was just within the limits of my harness' straps. With some ingenuity from a friend, I was also able to rig up some clamps to transpose my fork's bolts and use my mini panniers. Honestly, one of the easier packing sessions I've had. My bike with gear and water however weighed a whopping 31 kg. Eeep.
I went to bed without a route planned. Perhaps some would deem the route critical, however with this adventure, I felt the route was secondary to packing and camping itself. This was the part that was new to me - the unknown and the exciting.
On me: winter boots, two pairs of wool socks, beaver pelts for my toes, bibs, tights, mtb shorts, wool sports bra, long sleeve wool shirt, thermal jersey, windproof/ waterproof vest, wool buff, headband, cap, helmet, sunglasses, and a thin pair of gloves.
In my hip pack: spare gloves, mittens and buff, wool balaclava and toque, two plastic bags, camera, headlamp, bar light, power bank, charge cables, and wallet.
Frame bag (Thief): tool kit, lock, and 3 L of water.
Mini panniers (Framework Designs): footprint, tent, fly, emergency bivy, and first aid kit.
Seat bag (Arkel): sleeping mat, silk liner, toiletries, wool socks, underwear, short-sleeve wool shirt and leggings, puffy pants and jacket, and a winter shell strapped to the bag.
Front harness (Revelate): -18 degrees Celsius sleeping bag stuffed in a dry sack with tent poles attached.
Top tube bag (Bruiser Bags): plethora of snacks.
Feed bags (Thief): more snacks and water with electrolytes.
I woke up early and took my sweet time prepping food, including a chicken and bacon pie with tarragon and scalloped potato crust which I planned to reheat over the fire later (woe is me, I cheated and did not carry this on my journey).
For Day 1, I stole a 50 km route from my archives that had a mix of pavement, gravel and trail. I invited a couple friends to send me off and as soon as we met up, it became apparent that my loaded bike was no match for two cyclocross bikes and a naked fat bike. I tried to ignore their tempo and putted along, careful not to burn all my matches.
Once over the highway bridge, we decided to pedal through a field of fresh snow, about 5 cm deep. As we crossed the field, I spotted two bikepackers on the adjacent road. They yelled out to me and my heart fluttered; I was so excited to see others fully loaded! We met at the roundabout downhill and sure enough, they too were participating in the Good Night 2020 Campout; headed for Glen Morris.
It wasn't long, distance-wise, before the skinny tires parted ways from us. Spencer and I continued on across some gravel roads, pavement and meandered through neighbourhood catwalks before we arrived at Huron Natural Area - a forested patch of land tucked away at the edge of Kitchener. Spencer left for home and I decided I would wonder around the singletrack until nightfall. (Of course it wouldn't be a winter bikepack if I didn't have to set up in the dark.) I had such a marvelous time in the woods - so quiet and still with treetops blanketed in snow.
I toodled home in the dark, to find my neighbours already had a fire going in their backyard. So spoiled! I set up my tent and sleeping system in the moonlight, with snow reflecting from the ground. I was happy to slip into the tent and change into some warm and dry clothes.
With my dry socks on, I threw some grocery bags over my feet, put my boots back on and headed over to the neighbours' yard. My neighbours no doubt think I'm a bit wild, and this was affirmed as I walked over, my hair wrapped in a towel with a toque on top. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do (I wanted dry hair for bedtime). We had a lovely couple hours around the fire chatting, eating pie and drinking whiskey. (Another cheat here - I grabbed another jacket from my house; thank goodness for easing into this winter camping thing.)
Bedtime rolled around and I decided with it still raining outside, I would place my clothes near my fireplace inside to dry overnight. (How does one dry clothes on wet nights? Hanging under a tarp near the fire? Things to figure out for next time...)
I crawled into my sleeping bag, snug as a bug.
I survived the night no problem, even with the tent rippling in the wind and freezing rain pouring down.
Admittedly, I wasn't eager to get going in the morning but knew the sooner I finished my ride, the sooner I could eat more pie. I grabbed my dry clothes from inside my house, shimmied them on inside the tent and packed up; thankfully the rain had stopped. I set out with no route, just an idea of the general direction I wanted to go - in the direction of the donut shop.
Once packed with fuel, I headed towards St. Jacobs. This required using a connector path adjacent to some fields. In hindsight, it made perfect sense that the path adjacent to open farmers' fields would be covered in drifted snow. I was determined to make it to the fork in the trail, even if it meant trudging through snow up to my knees in some sections. I quickly found that I could not push the bike. I had to drag it on an angle, thrust against my hips, in order to make it through. After what felt like forever, and much hilarity, I made it through and chucked snow chunks out from the brim of my boots. (I later mapped this section to be over a kilometre...).
I made it to St. Jacobs and jigged towards gravel in the countryside. Luckily there was enough exposed gravel along the shoulder and frozen tractor marks that I had enough traction moving along without studded tires. The wind was killer in farm country with no trees for reprieve. This resulted in wind-burnt cheeks but also made for some comical balancing acts in order to not get swept over. I also had the pleasure of biking through some light sleet.
I hit one last spot on my way home - the Grand River Trail. Always a magical place:
Somehow I ended up putting in 55 km on Day 2. It felt great to roll into my driveway, knowing that I had officially completed my first winter bikepack. The downtube of my fat bike reflected a day's hard work in the sloppy and icy conditions.
Thank you to BIKEPACKING.com for the inspiration to get out there. I loved ending the year this way and look forward to it becoming an annual tradition with friends.