Trial Run #1

We tried our first overnight cycling trip! We rode along Sacramento’s beautiful American River Parkway, a 30(ish)-mile paved bike trail that runs along a greenbelt on the banks of the American River from downtown Sacramento to a suburb called Folsom. The trail ends at Folsom Lake, at a California State campground and picnic area called Beal’s Point.

This was a gear test, of sorts, including the new (bikes, racks, panniers, and Julie’s new sleeping pad) and the old (sleeping bags, stove, tent and Mark’s old Thermarest sleeping pad).

Loaded Up & Ready to Go
Our loaded bikes – Only rear panniers this first time around

Ideally, we would have left around 10:00am, but we were still attaching our brand new racks and fenders, so we didn’t actually hit the road until nearly 2:00pm. Before we left, we found our first gear failure: our sleeping bags are too big to fit well in a pannier. And the old Thermarest doesn’t fit at all (at least not if we want to close the pannier). Luckily (at least for us), we’re in a severe drought here in California, so we strapped our sleeping bags to the top of the racks and didn’t worry about getting rained on.

We went a whopping 1.46 miles before stopping for lunch! We enjoyed a leisurely meal at one of our favorite local restaurants (Jack’s Urban Eats) and then started riding in earnest. We quickly joined the bike trail and headed east in the heat of the day: 93° F! While we’re used to riding in Sacramento heat, we’re usually smart enough to finish up by late morning. We told ourselves this was preparation for Europe where we’ll be out in the elements all day long.

Mark on the American River Parkway, Sacramento, CA
Mark on the American River Parkway, Sacramento, CA

Neither of us had ever seen the bike trail so dry! The vegetation along the entire length was goldenrod yellow. At approximately mile 22, the trail crosses under a major thoroughfare and splits, following the shoreline of either the north side or the south side of the first of two reservoirs. The lower lake, still full, is an oasis of summer fun, with kayakers, swimmers and other watercraft reveling in the cool water. Meanwhile, cyclists enjoy the shimmering blue waters, the cooler temperature and slightly higher humidity that immediately surrounds the lake.

August 5, 2015
Folsom Prison from the American River Parkway

We took the northern route, hugging the edge of the lower lake for several miles before starting our short climb to Beal’s Point and Folsom Lake. Just before reaching the second reservoir, we passed nearly a stone’s throw from Folsom’s most infamous “attraction,” Folsom Prison, made famous by Johnny Cash.

By this point, close to 6:00pm, blazing hot and tired, we were both exhausted yet elated. We were doing it! We were parched, sweating, and ravenous (lunch didn’t last), but we were just a mile or so from the top, the end of the trail, the end of our first day cycle touring! Not used to climbing nor used to carrying any weight, we both shifted down into our granny gears and huffed and puffed to the top of the hill. We did it!

And then our hearts sank. The campground costs $33.00/night and it doesn’t even provide showers! This, to camp at a so-called “lake.” But after years of record-breaking drought, it’s a distant puddle.

Folsom Lake at height of drought 2015
Lifeguard Towers. Really?

Although it would have been easy to fork over the 33 bucks and collapse in our tent immediately, we decided to save money and try wild camping. We’ll want to wild camp in Europe, so why not give it a try now?

So we continued beyond the official end of the trail and found a not very secluded, but relatively flat place to pitch our tent and call it a night. Thus, it was a night of “wild camping,” if not necessarily “stealth camping.”

Setting up camp, we discovered our second major gear failure: Julie’s brand new Exped sleeping mat that she was so excited to try requires a pumping mechanism…and Julie forgot the pump! Mark took one for the team. He gave Julie his old Thermarest while he slept on the hard ground. What a gentleman!

Our first wild camp!
Our first wild camp!

The next day, we got a decidedly earlier start, waking up at 6:15. It still took us an hour to break up camp and return to the campground’s picnic area to make breakfast. After eating and chatting with several cyclists out for a morning ride, we left Beal’s Point around 8:45 on a quest for coffee. Gear Failure #3: We’re going to have to find a way to make coffee! Julie doesn’t function without it. In fact, we’ll call it a medical necessity, as it often helps prevent her migraines.

At last, we got back on the trail and headed back home to downtown Sacramento. We did it!

One of the most exciting revelations of our first trial run was that we didn’t have to go out of our way to meet people. People went out of their way to meet us! The panniers piqué curiosity and invite friendly questions, practically ensuring that we’ll meet new friends every day! We can’t wait!