About the Author: Julia Everheart is a native of Hatteras Island, North Carolina now living near the mountains of north Georgia. She is a hiker and an equestrian, and she combines her two passions by hiking with a donkey named Rusty. She loves encouraging people to get outside, especially people who don’t consider themselves “outdoorsy,” and she is an advocate for a simple life lived close to animals and nature. She blogs about horses and hiking at www.simplesouthern.wordpress.com.
Have you ever heard of bikepacking? I hadn’t, until I saw videos about it on YouTube. It’s exactly what you would think. It’s like backpacking, but instead of carrying all your gear in a backpack, you strap it onto your bike and hit the road. My 9 year old son, Hunter, isn’t much of a hiker, but he loves to ride his bike. Backpacking didn’t sound like much fun to him, but bikepacking did! I’m always looking for ways to get my kids outside, but I have to tailor our trips to their interests, not mine. I like slogging up hard trails and roughing it. They don’t. Bikepacking seemed like a fun way to go outside with my bike-loving kid.
I live near the Silver Comet Trail, which runs from Atlanta to the Georgia/Alabama line and then continues on into Alabama as the Chief Ladiga Trail. It’s a rail trail, which means it used to be a railway line for passenger trains. When the railroad went out of business, some innovative folks got together and turned it into a walking and biking path. These rail trails are all over the place. Check out https://www.railstotrails.org/ to see if there’s one near you. The Silver Comet is paved and most sections of the trail are flat, so it makes for an easy ride. There are multiple trailheads along the way with access to hotels, campgrounds, and restaurants. I planned a route that took us from Cedartown, Georgia (a tiny speck of a town) into Alabama to camp at the Chief Ladiga Campground. It was an out and back trip, 34 miles round trip.
34 miles is a long way when you’re 9 and only about 4 feet tall. I knew my son could physically do it, because we mountain bike regularly, but I didn’t know how much whining would be involved. Would he still be excited about riding when we got past the first few miles? To combat boredom, I packed a lot of snacks and we took regular breaks to fuel up and stretch our legs. It helped that the trail had mile markers so that he could watch the miles tick by.
We arrived to an almost empty campground, which turned out to be an absolutely beautiful spot on Terrapin Creek. The Pinhoti Trail was a stone’s throw away. The Pinhoti Trail runs through Alabama and Georgia and connects with the AT eventually. We set up our hammocks with a view of the creek and a tiny waterfall, fixed our dinner and then passed out pretty quickly. Clean up and packing the next morning was very easy because we had so little gear with us.
We biked the 17 miles back to Cedartown, where my truck was parked, with the promise of ice cream at the end. I was blown away by my son’s toughness and willingness on the trip. He didn’t complain once. That kid really does love riding his bike. By the time we got back to my truck, my backside was pretty sore. You think you have a comfortable bike seat until you ride on it for 34 miles. But Hunter was stoked about the trip, with no soreness, and very proud of his accomplishment. He couldn’t wait to tell his friends how far we had gone, and he was already talking about planning another trip.
A quick word about gear if you’re interested in trying bikepacking. You can use the bike you already have with a couple modifications. I bought a basket for the front and a rack for the back. I used bungee cords to strap a small backpack onto the rack and I made Hunter carry a small backpack with our snacks on his bike. We went in the summer, so we could go really lightweight. It wasn’t an expensive undertaking at all. There is specific bikepacking gear out there, but you don’t need it at first, especially if you’re doing a quick overnight like we did. A great website for inspiration is www.bikeovernights.org. Bikepacking is just another way to get out there and enjoy the outdoors.