I completed my first Sub 24 Overnight (S240) this week after years of procrastination. The purpose of an S24O is to get outside for a short camping trip using the bicycle as the vehicle for fun and exploration. The concept was popularized by the folks at Rivendell Bicycle Works, who suggested that a quick overnight into the woods is just as enjoyable as a multi-day loaded tour and, in many cases, more attainable by people who work Monday through Friday. In it simplest form, you leave work Friday, ride to the campsite, camp, and return home Saturday morning. As such, the entire adventure is completed within 24 hours. Depending on the campsite location, public transit or a car might be used to get within reasonable riding distance of the campsite.
I heard about S24O’s before I learned about bike packing, probably about 3 or 4 years ago. The S24O was attractive to me because I like cycling and enjoy camping, although I haven’t done any serious camping in many years, but I don’t have the time to undertake a multi-day loaded tour. Heaven knows I planned to do a big tour many years ago; I have the over-built CoMotion Americano as a result of my lofty touring goals. But life got in the way as they say and I never took that long tour. The S24O, on the other hand, is intended to be quick, easy and not require special equipment beyond basic camping gear for sleeping and eating. Many people, by the way, skip the cooking gear altogether and eat on the way to and from the campsite.
I never got my act together to actually do the S24O, predominantly out of guilt over having an incomplete doctoral dissertation hanging over my head. When you’ve wasted so much time not doing your academic work, it’s hard to justify riding into the woods on your bike and sleeping in a tent. That burden was lifted this month when I finally completed my doctoral degree. Time to have guilt-free fun!
I chose to mash together two concepts: the S24O and bike packing for my first outing. Bike packing is basically off-road bike touring with frame mounted bags instead of racks and panniers. I just didn’t want to ride on the road for my first trip, I wanted to be in the woods. It took me awhile to find a suitable location to do this because there are no nice public campgrounds near my work and home. Eventually, someone suggested the Taconic-Hereford Multiple Use Area, also known as the “909” to locals in the Catskills. The 909 has everything you need for a simple S24O. It is accessible by car, is well mapped, has designated campsites (public camping in NY State is limited to certain designated areas) and a mix of riding surfaces. I made a recon trip to the 909 a month prior to my S24O to scope out the trails and campsites, and communicated by message board with the locals to make sure the campsites are not used for drinking parties at night.
After years of procrastination and delay, the trip came together very quickly. I monitored the weather forecast early in the week and decided on a Wednesday to “go for it.” I packed all my gear on Thursday evening and pre-loaded it into my car. I brought my gear and bike to work with me Friday so I could drive to the park entrance after work. At the appointed hour, I stripped off my business clothes, put on my riding shorts and shoes and drove the 90 minutes from Long Island to the 909.
I was on the trail by 5:45 pm. I started off on the jeep tracks, just to get the hang of riding a loaded mountain bike. I patrolled around to see who else was in the park and scope out the camp sites. One site had some empty beer bottles, suggesting it was a popular party spot, so I eliminated it from my list of places to camp. Another site had a mattress in it. Odd thing to see in the middle of the woods, so I scratched that site, too. I then decided to try my luck on one of the single track trails, just for the sake of putting on some miles before setting up camp.
The trail I chose was at times too technical for my first loaded bike packing trip. It started out nice enough but soon turned very rocky with several roller coaster ups and downs. On an unloaded bike it would be a fun trail but with a giant dry bag strapped to the bars it was a bit nerve racking. If I had to do my first ride again, I would not go on technical single track and would stick to the jeep and snow mobile trails. Live and learn.
I rode around for nearly two hours to shake down my rig. I had a seat bag, Camelback, top tube bag and a giant dry bag strapped to the bars. I purposely did not invest in a frame bag or handlebar roll because I wanted to make sure I enjoyed this method of camping before buying specialty gear. You can get by with minimal gear, but the specialty gear no doubt makes things easier. Here’s a summary of my packing strategy:
Revelate Pika seat bag:
- MSR pocket rocket stove, small pot with lid, cup, utensils
- rain jacket
- small pouches with toiletries and repair kit, head lamp, first aid kit
- camp towel
- food: freeze dried dinner, oatmeal and tea for breakfast
Revelate Gas Tank top tube bag:
- snacks while riding
- small camera
- first aid kit
- toilet paper, hand sanitizer
- repair kit
- phone and wallet
- 70 ounces water
- gorilla pod
- more snacks
30 liter Eastern Mountain Sports Dry Bag
- Tarptent Moment
- 40 degree Marmot sleeping bag
- Thermarest air mattress
- sleep clothes, ski cap
I secured the dry bag to the handle bars using a pair of Rok Straps. The dry bag was the weak link in the system. It was too bulky and my rigging method was nothing short of craptastic! The bag sagged and rubbed against my suspension fork producing an irritating noise. I plan to replace it with a purpose-built harness. I managed to duplicate some items because they were already in my Camelbak. I brought more snacks than I needed and I never used the tripod. Interestingly, I used all my water (70 ounces in the pack plus two water bottles) both drinking and cooking. I usually don’t drink that much but it was warm and muggy.
I’m not a big fan of wearing the backpack. I don’t like the weight on my shoulders and I think it facilitates carrying stuff you don’t really need. I also feel that it makes me sweat more. Going forward, I will try to ditch the backpack and shift the water and other items into a frame bag.
My gear worked fine. I was concerned that I’d forgotten how to camp because I’ve been dormant for many years but there were no serious issues. I should have paid more attention to the patch of ground I pitched the tent on. It was not flat and, as such, my pad kept sliding to one side during the night. The 40 degree bag was spot on for the weather Friday night. The night started at about 60 degrees and dipped to the upper 40s by about 2 am. I used the mummy bag as a top quilt; I’m done with zipping into mummy bags.
I awoke Saturday morning at 5 am, which is when all the birds in Pleasant Valley wake up and start chirping and signing. I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t so I packed up and rode to the trail head. I drove home with the goal of being back in time to cook breakfast for my family. I was back home by 8:15 only to find that the power was out and I was unable to cook. Ironic that I left the woods to go back home where the power was out.
One thing I learned from a visit to Army University last year was that every mission should have a Lessons Learned component. Here are mine from my first S24O:
- Wet Wipes for cleaning up before bed are great, provided they are actually wet. Check them before you leave home
- Don’t forget bug spray
- Don’t take your first S24O ride on technical singletrack
- Sweep your tent site for sticks etc and make sure it’s level. It might look level in the fading light but it probably isn’t
- Re-check all your gear when packing and eliminate duplication
- Have a water management plan
My first S24O was a success. I had a peaceful evening in the woods and got to shake down my gear. I got to get away and ride my bike and still be home in time to cook breakfast and spend the weekend with my family. If you are on the fence about whether to do an S24O, just do it. If I can, anyone can. It’s fun and does not require a ton of gear.
About the 909. It’s a New York State DEC multi-use area. It has trails for hiking, cycling and snow mobile use. I saw a couple of vehicles deep in the woods, so don’t assume you have the wider trails to yourself. There are two official campsites with fire rings and space that has been cleared for camping. As a general rule, you can camp anywhere on DEC land so long as you’re not on the trail, next to water or in an area marked “no camping.” In the 909, there aren’t many flat places to pitch a tent beyond the designated campsites. Bring your own water. The only water I saw was in giant puddles in low lying spaces. The 909 is sandwiched in between residential communities along a major two lane parkway. You’re probably not riding your bike to the 909; you’re arriving in your car and then riding. The nearest food establishment is several miles away by car. Riders from the Fats in the Cats mountain bike club frequent the area and are very helpful with local beta. The area is patrolled by NYS DEC rangers.