I didn’t know bikepacking was a thing until I saw videos of it on YouTube. It’s like backpacking, except you carry all your gear on your bike instead of your back. My 9 year old son and I both love riding our bikes, so I thought I would try out a bikepacking trip with just the two of us (and my son’s Fuggler).
The Silver Comet Trail is a 61 mile paved bike path that follows the tracks of the old Silver Comet passenger train. The Silver Comet runs from downtown Atlanta all the way to the Alabama border, where it connects with the Chief Ladiga Trail that extends for another 33 miles. Both trails are part of the Rails to Trails project, where they convert old, unused railroad lines into biking and walking paths. There are rail trails all over the U.S. and I’m lucky to have one of them practically in my backyard.
I chose a 34 mile round trip route, 17 miles to a campground in Alabama and then 17 miles back to where I would park my truck. I honestly wasn’t sure how my son would handle biking 17 miles. We mountain bike frequently, but we do maybe 4 miles max on the mtb trails. They’re a lot tougher, with hills, curves and roots to navigate, but we’re still only on the bikes for an hour or so. I estimated 17 miles on a flat, paved path would take us about 2 and a half hours. That’s a long time when you’re 9.
We started out at the Cedartown Depot, a train station that’s been converted into a welcome center for the Silver Comet. There are restrooms, an air pump for bike tires, and plenty of parking in a safe area. From the Depot we had 10 miles to ride to the Alabama border, and then another 7 miles in Alabama to the Chief Ladiga campground.
I packed plenty of snacks and water and planned to stop several times to take a break and feed Hunter. One thing that helped keep him motivated was the mile marker signs all along the trail. When you’re biking, the miles tick by a lot faster than when you’re hiking, and he enjoyed watching us eat up miles as the signs went by. It also kept him from asking “How much longer?” a million times. He could look at the signs and figure it out for himself.
We arrived at the campsite around 7:30 p.m. and set up our little camp. I packed hammocks this time, instead of a tent, because they fit better on the bike. I am just getting into hammock camping, but so far I strongly prefer it to a tent, mostly because of my back. When I sleep on the ground with just my little foam pad, my hips and back are pretty sore the next morning. The hammock does away with all that discomfort and I wake up feeling great.
The Chief Ladiga Campground is AWESOME. It is a privately owned piece of land surrounded by the Talladega National Forest. It is located right off the Chief Ladiga trail. Terrapin Creek runs through the campground and there’s even a little waterfall for kids to play in. The property is large enough to accommodate RV’s and campers, and there is a bath house with hot showers. When we were there on a Wednesday night, the place was empty except for us and one other man camping by himself. It was quiet and peaceful and perfect. At night we looked up from our hammocks at millions of stars we can’t see in the suburbs because of all the ambient light. Chief Ladiga is one of the prettiest campgrounds I’ve ever been to, and I’ll definitely be back!
For dinner Hunter and I had a freeze dried meal. I was about to start a fire and stay up a little longer, but by 8:30 p.m. Hunter was ready to crawl in his hammock and go to sleep. We woke up the next morning around 6 a.m. and had breakfast around a little campfire. Because we packed so light, it took hardly any time to pack up and we were soon on our way back toward Georgia.
Much to my surprise, Hunter did not complain one time about the distance. I promised him a treat once he got back to the Cedartown Depot, so he had something to look forward to. He handled the riding just fine, almost better than I did. He never complained that he was tired, and his butt didn’t get as sore as mine. By the time we got to the Depot, my butt was hurting. I have a very padded bike seat, but I’m not used to sitting on it for that many hours.
It was a very successful bikepacking trip and something I would definitely do again. The cool thing about bikepacking is that you’re able to travel faster and farther, and you’re usually near enough to towns that you can go to a restaurant or get a coffee or ice cream while out on your adventure. You can’t do that when you’re backpacking in the middle of nowhere. If you’re interested in taking your own bikepacking trip, check out www.bikeovernights.org for lots of stories about quick bikepacking trips and tips on how to take your first one.
If you’re into gear, here’s what I took:
I bought a bike basket at Wal-Mart for $16 and it was GREAT. The thing stays on like it should and it’s strong enough to carry some weight. I even put my chihuahua in it and rode her around the neighborhood.
I bought a bike rack on Amazon and it was a total piece of garbage. It broke about 15 miles in and I had to tie it back together just to get it functional enough to make it home. Luckily I carry baling twine on every camping trip, the indestructible plastic rope that they use for hay bales, and boy did it come in handy this time. This is the rack I bought. Don’t buy it! I will be returning it and buying something more expensive but better made.
I bought this fanny pack at Wal-Mart for $6 and used carabiners to attach it to my handlebars. It works perfectly to hold my license and debit card and my phone. I have another one that I wear as a fanny pack when I’m riding horses. For $6 you can’t beat it.
I have a backpack similar to this from Wal-mart as well, and I call it my adventure bag. It stays in the front seat of my truck and has a few hiking supplies (collapsible dog bowl, water bottle, Benadryl because I’m allergic to everything, and my rain jacket. I can just grab it and go. For this trip I used it as our pack and it held hammocks, kitchen stuff, hygiene items and extra clothes. I bungeed it to the bike rack.
Hunter wore a Camelbak so he could get a drink of water whenever he wanted, and I clipped a tiny backpack full of snacks to his handlebars. The backpack came from a yard sale.
The only things I bought for the trip were the basket and the rack. I think people get too caught up in buying the latest and greatest gear. I try to use what I already have and only buy something new if it’s absolutely necessary. I had no way to carry anything on my bike, so I had to buy the basket and rack. I think people hesitate to take trips until they have the best, trendiest gear. I say use what you have and just get out there!