Overnight Trips

Brompton Overnight Gear

 Self-contained Brompton set-up

Self-contained Brompton set-up

Here’s a complete listing of gear brought on a sub-24-hour overnight camping trip on a Brompton folding bike. The trip took place in mid-October, with daytime temps in the low to mid 50’s and low 40’s overnight.

Luggage

  • Brompton-mounted T-Bag

  • Lightweight nylon backpack

    Comments: My original idea was to get everything in the T-Bag, and —in warmer weather— this would have been completely doable.

Essentials

  • Bike: Brompton H3E Superlight

  • Phone & charger

  • Wallet

  • Toolkit (fitted inside Brompton frame), spare tube and pump

  • Front and rear rechargeable bike lights

  • Personal items: toothbrush and toothpaste, advil (just in case)

Shelter and sleeping

  • 2-person Nemo Galaxi backpacking tent (fits neatly at the bottom of the T-Bag!)

  • Nemo Tensor Ultralight Sleeping pad (this is amazing and rolls up smaller than a beer can)

  • REI synthetic sleeping bag, nothing special

  • Thin alpaca wool blanket —this would not have been necessary in warm weather, but made a crucial difference on this trip since I knew my sleeping bag would be insufficient.

Coooking/Food

  • Pre-cooked spaghetti with meat sauce packed in plastic container

  • MSR Pocket Rocket campstove and one fuel canister

  • MSR Camp Cookware Set (more than I needed but it was the only one I had)

  • Insulated steel tumbler

  • Tea bags

  • Matches

  • Folding eating utensils

  • 32 oz bottle of water

  • MSR Trailshot Pocket water filter (I didn’t need it, but I did'n’t know what the water situation would be)

  • Pssst, don’t tell anyone! 1/2 small carton of Bandit Cab to enjoy with my spaghetti.

    Comments: I considered bringing coffee-making apparatus, but opted for tea bags for optimum simplicity. It turned out I did not miss the coffee. Similarly, I would have enjoyed having a hot breakfast at the campsite, but decided against the complications of carrying extra stuff and having extra clean-up.

Clothing

  • Thin stretch cargo pants (these were sufficient for the ride in, but were packed away once I arrived in favor of warmer gear)

  • Gym shoes (my Brompton does not have clipless pedals)

  • Thin wool long johns

  • Insulated windfront biking pants (not tights)

  • Cotton t-shirt

  • Thin LS merino wool jersey

  • Insulated synthetic jersey

  • Neck gaiter

  • Synthetic fleece hat

  • Thin packable down jacket

  • Lightweight gloves

  • 1 pair of thin merino socks

  • 2 pairs of thick merino socks

    Comments: at night I wore pretty much everything except the jacket (which I used as a pillow) and the cargo pants. I layered the cozy merino socks with air gaps between the layers, and they kept my feet warm all night.

Solo Brompton Overnight

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For months, I’ve fantasized about doing a quick, minimalist overnight on a Brompton. After all, what more perfect tool for a quick getaway than this stealthy, compact, uncluttered folding bike, with neatly fitted self-contained luggage options? What could be simpler? Pack a bag, hop a train, find a stop with good biking access to some bucolic location, get off, unfold the bike, clip on the bag and ride off on a delicious midweek escape, right?

It turned out kind of like that, only not quite. Due to circumstances outside of my control, I was not able to take this trip during the warmer part of the season, and the two days I finally chose for my adventure happened to be the coldest ones since spring. This necessitated bringing a little more gear than originally anticipated, in the form of extra clothing, sleeping gear, and food heating gear, which in warmer weather I might have dispensed with (see this post for my complete gear list).

However, I was still able to get all my belongings into a front-mounted Brompton T-Bag, and a small, not excessively stuffed backpack.

For the purists, let me state right of the bat that I was never planning to embark directly out my front door. If I had the luxury of a little more time, I might have been willing to spend a couple hours fighting city traffic to get to a decent trail. However, with the sub-24-hour schedule, I prioritized the pleasure of trail riding over cycling purity, and I — gasp! — drove out to the south-west suburbs to a convenient spot along the Tinley Creek Trail, from which I mapped an approximately 20-mile route to Camp Bullfrog Lake in Willow Springs.*

In retrospect, I realized that I had put off this adventure partly because I could not carve out a time to do it all by bike. So take my advice: forgive yourself. Do what you need to do to get yourself out of the city and maximize the time you have available to enjoy nature and adventure on your bike.

I was a little concerned about carrying an overstuffed T-Bag on the front of the Brompton, but I have to say that it handled admirably, although it was very perceptibly slower on the climbs. Oh, well. I wasn’t going for speed anyway.

 Solitude on a leaf-strewn trail

Solitude on a leaf-strewn trail

 Self-contained

Self-contained

My routing turned out to be pretty impeccable up to a point (see below). I parked on a neighborhood street adjacent to the trail in Oak Forest (parking overnight in Cook County Forest Preserves is not allowed). I rode up Tinley Creek Trail following the east part of its northern loop. At its northern tip, I joined the Palos Heights Bike Path to connect to the Cal Sag Trail, which I took west. That connected —seamlessly, as it turned out, despite extensive road construction— to the I&M Canal Trail at Archer and 83rd in Lemont. The sequence of bridges over the Cal-Sag Canal and the train lines have signs requiring you to walk your bike, and I would not call them luxurious or scenic trails, but they are continuous and protected.

I continued my trip along the I&M Canal wondering where the access point to the forest preserve, on the other side of the canal, train track and Archer Avenue would be. And here was the one major glitch in my routing: there IS NO ACCESS. As I rode on toward Willow Springs, my phone confirmed that I had passed the point of entry to the campground. I arrived at the trailhead parking area at Willow Springs Rd, at which point I was finally able to cross the canal, but I was considerably farther up the road than I needed to be. I gamely doubled back along a narrow sidewalk on Archer Ave. Regrettably, the sidewalk came to an abrupt halt about half a mile shy of the entry to the forest preserve.

If you are unfamiliar with Archer Avenue at that point, let me tell you that it is a high-speed road (40mph posted, 55mph actual) thick with cars and trucks, a rumble-strip along the narrow shoulder, and a scant weedy, thorny, bottle strewn strip of grass hugging scraggly woods along the side. It did not help that the time of day was approaching rush hour. Like any normal human being, I consulted my phone for a more sensible point of ingress to the forest preserve. There did not seem to be an obvious option. The other roads were unfamiliar to me, but I knew that a relatively short walk from where I was would put me at the park’s entrance.

So, I walked. This was the most hair-raising half-mile walk I’ve ever undertaken, particularly, as one of the roadside attractions were four crosses erected to the memory of victims of automobile crashes along this very strip of road. I knew that on the way back I would have to come up with different routing.

As you can imagine, I arrived at the campground with considerable relief. On the approach through the gate, the sight of the serene lake, with voices of delighted kids echoing through the woods, and rays of the late afternoon sun warming up the landscape washed over me like a soothing wave, helped me remember why I came, and made everything right again.

 All tent sites are lakeside!

All tent sites are lakeside!

 what a way to experience First frost …

what a way to experience First frost …

 Brompton, barge and train in the distance on the Cal-Sag

Brompton, barge and train in the distance on the Cal-Sag

 … and sunrise

… and sunrise

I took care setting up the tent, blowing up my sleeping pad, and making comfortable sleeping arrangements. The folded Brompton fit snugly in one of the vestibules of the tent. It was too windy to build a fire, and with temperatures quickly dropping, I was glad I brought a tiny campstove to make my spaghetti dinner piping hot. When done, I carried it (along with a paper cup of red wine I snuck in for the occasion) down to the secluded fishing dock on the lake, and enjoyed a beautiful dinner al fresco under the crescent moon.

The night was cold. Official readings were in the 40’s. I stayed reasonably warm in the tent, but I was certainly glad for the extra covers I brought along. At 6am, I woke to a a silvery, frost-covered campsite, completely quiet except for the gaggle of a flock of geese overhead. Steam rose from the lake, and the rising sun gently warmed up the meadow around it. I made hot tea, and drank it while packing up my tent and planning a safer route out of the camp.

I opted to take 95th St out of the campground, and Willow Springs Road back into town to join the I&M Trail. The 2.8 mile ride was much better than Archer Ave, but far from ideal. The shoulder is non-existent, however the traffic is more sparse and slower, with generally courteous drivers who gave me a wide berth.

After a cold night spent outdoors, I was chilled and hungry, and definitely feeling fatigued. I had really hoped to find some great breakfast place to replenish my reserves. As it turned out, I made it all the way back to Palos Park before finding anyplace to eat. I took a short detour off the trail to visit a place called The Harvest Room, where I had about four cups of hot coffee, and a dish of food that had the word “mountain” in it.

I would never wish to repeat my hike along Archer Ave. But having tried a solo camping adventure for the first time, I relish the memory of it, and plan to make time and space for many more.

*Yes, this would have been totally doable by train with a little more planning. From my location on the NW side, I could have taken the Blue Line Downtown, and boarded the train to Orland Park, and connected to the Tinley Creek Trail via the Orland Park bike path.

Great River Trail by Brompton

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We picked the wrong day for this ride. With our Bromptons in the trunk of the car, we headed out of Chicago intending to ride out and back over a 20 mile stretch of the 60-mile Great River Trail between the towns of Fulton & Savanna, Illinois.

However, after the first few miles of nicely wooded, shaded path, the trail took us over vast, open expanse of prairie, crackling in midday sun. To be fair, the prairie landscape is nothing short of breathtaking. Miles of uniquely midwestern flora along the trail deserve to be fully explored and appreciated. However, though the thermometer readings may have been in the mid-90's, with heat radiating off the exposed ground we felt like we were under a broiler. We began to look with anticipation for the smallest hint of shade offered by spindly trees and sparse sumac bushes.

At last we came to a beautiful evergreen woodland park with pine-scented shaded paths, a working water fountain, and a very civilized washroom. We used our bottles to generously douse ourselves with water from head to toe. This would be doable, we thought, prematurely, as it turned out. After a short run through the state park, the trail spit us out again onto the side of a flat, bare, straight, sun-baked road, with contours of a US Penitentiary shimmering on the horizon. Gamely, we headed on, but after a couple of blocks it became clear that continuing the journey as planned might actually put us in danger of heatstroke.

We decided to cut our loses and turned east into the small hamlet of Thomson, IL in search of light colored t-shirts, sunscreen and water. We were pleasantly surprised to find all three at Arnold's Bike Shop. Actually, we were even more surprised to find Arnold's Bikes Shop in the first place -- tucked away in a tiny town, Arnold's is a minuscule shop, packed to the rafters with recumbent bikes and trikes! Our Bromptons were an instant conversation starter, and the owners gave us free tubes of sunscreen and a free t-shirt to cover up my sunburnt shoulders, and pointed us to a nearby old school ice cream place.

On the way back to Fulton, we took a little extra time to explore the beautiful piney state park, and discovered a tiny, secluded campground directly on the banks of the Mississippi, pictured in the main photo.

We'll definitely be back. In cooler weather.

 

Season: July (NOT recommended. We'll repeat this ride in the fall.)
Distance: 20 miles (out of 40 planned)
Weather: Brutal heat, mid 90's.
Highlights of the trip: gorgeous piney campground on the banks of the Mississippi at Usace Thomson Causeway Recreation Area, Arnold's Bike Shop in Thomson, IL.