I’ve wanted to try bikepacking for quite some time now. I first heard of the combination of cycling and backpacking probably four years ago, inspired by such adventurous blogs as Lacemine 29, Republic of Doom, and Pedaling in Place. The basic premise of bikepacking is simple: load your bike with the lightweight essentials and head out on a camping trip traveling by bicycle. Whereas traditional cycle touring involves road biking, racks and panniers, bikepacking usually involves off-road routes and bags fitted to the frame of the bike. One look at the blogs listed above and you’ll realize that those guys have access to some pretty incredible places. Me, not so much.
This winter I decided to stop procrastinating and actually try to do a trip. I have a couple of bins filled with camping supplies from when I used to backpack and climb and, as such, the gear isn’t holding me back. I have enough common sense to know not to try a trip like this into someplace “nice” like upstate NY without first taking a dry run locally to make sure I have the bike packed properly and assess what my mileage capabilities would be with a loaded bike. With that in mind, I wanted to plot a route that could be navigated after work, either riding or driving to the trail head, with a camping spot within 90 to 120 minutes from the start. What is holding me back is a place to camp locally.
In my part of New York, wild or stealth camping is not allowed. It’s called trespassing. In the county I live in, there are exactly two authorized campgrounds. One is at the beach (I’m not a beach person) and the other…..well that’s what this post is about.
This morning I set out in search of the public campground to be used in my trial bikepacking run. It wasn’t really a search as searches go since I knew where it was located, but I had never ridden there on a bike. I set out from a popular trailhead in Woodbury, NY and rode on rooty singletrack trails that parallel the Long Island Greenbelt Trail.
The trail gets a lot of use by local mountain bikers and at times it crosses a paved multi-use trail maintained by Nassau County, hence the trail kiosk pictured above. I’m not a big fan of roots. I’d rather be riding a dried up river bed like some of the posts in the blogs mentioned above. You’ll notice that I did not pack any of my camping gear. Something told me to take a run to scope out the campground before committing to carrying the gear. It turned out to be a good decision.
You can see the darndest things while out on a bike. I was cruising along minding my own business when I came upon thirty people in street clothes in the middle of the woods.
They were walking exactly 1.4 mph. One of them eventually realized I was following and they all pulled off the trail and cheered me on as if I were the one out-of-place in the woods.
A few minutes later I arrived at my destination, Battle Row Campground in lovely Bethpage. It derives its name, no doubt, from the obvious fact that it looks like it has been to hell and back! As you approach on the road leading into the park, you encounter all manner of trash and debris. And you get to see this
The park is sandwiched between a semi-abandoned quarry, a fire academy and a landfill. Good times.
I pedaled into the park to check out the advertised tent sites. One look and I realized that tent campers are not the intended clientele. The park predominantly caters to RVers and, the best I can tell, it’s mostly a storage yard for RVs or people who live in their RV year round. The campsites looked pretty sad.
I went in search of a campground and I found one, but not one I’d actually sleep in. I suppose it would be worth the effort to load the bike with the camping gear and make a round trip to and from the campground just for the experience of riding the loaded bike, but I was looking forward to camping.
This trial run was not successful, although I suppose an afternoon on the mountain bike is nothing to complain about. I learned that the campground I pinned my hopes on is a mess. I learned that I may have to look elsewhere-perhaps Westchester–for a suitable camping spot for my first bikepacking trip. If you know of anywhere within an hour’s drive from Nassau County that has public camping not next to a landfill please let me know in the comments section.