When I acquired a used 2010 Surly Long Haul Trucker is 2021, I envisioned going on adventures fully self-contained and camping along the way. True bikepacking. So far my bikepacking has been more like bike touring because I overnight in hotels or stay with friends. True, I camped overnight during RAGBRAI 2021 and Death Valley 2022, but I consider those van supported, so not really bikepacking. In 2023, I need to do some real bikepacking. I have some criteria that I’ve established for planning my bikepacking adventures.
- Ride straight from my house. I live on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and I want to ride out my driveway fully racked and packed and head straight to my destination.
- If I can’t ride straight from my house, I’m willing to drive 4-6 hours to get to a good bikepacking route.
- Mostly overnights or long weekends. I still work full time (I’m 70) and any bikepacking adventures will depend on whether I have to use Paid Time Off (PTO) and whether I can get time off from my employer.
Where will I go?
One bikepacking destination I’ve been eyeing for some time is Catalina Island, which has great scenery and campsites. And I can get there from my front door, riding south on Palos Verdes Drive to San Pedro, then down to the waterfront to the Catalina Express, a boat shuttle that operates several times per day. I can simply walk my bike on and enjoy the 22-mile ride to Avalon.
Catalina is considered a bikepacking gem, with incredible views, lush vegetation, wildlife (including buffalo), great campsites, and challenging climbs. Most of the bike route is unpaved, but I’m confident my LHT can handle the off-road with my new Maxxis Receptor road/gravel 40mm tires. As the Catalina Island website warns, some of the climbs are not for the faint-hearted, with grades up to 14%, and plenty of switchbacks encountered. Yet, if I have to hike-a-bike to make it work, that’s what I’ll do.
Getting to Catalina is a slam dunk compared to reserving campsites along the Pacific coast heading north from my house. Ideally I’d like to ride up PCH to Leo Carillo State Park, camp overnight and ride back. Sounds easy, right? Not so much.
If you want to camp in one of 15,000 State Park campsites in California, you must reserve your dates six months in advance. If I want to reserve a campsite for June 23, 2023, I need to book it December 23, 2022 when those dates open at 8:00 am Pacific. Similar to check in roulette on Southwest airlines. Plus I need to have alternate campsites handy if I can’t get my first choice.
HipCamp is a good option for finding and reserving campsites that are not state parks. I used HipCamp to book a campsite in San Luis Obispo prior to a bike overnight to Paso Robles. HipCamp offers glamping, lodging, RV and tent campsites, but does not have inventory like California State Parks.
The Bureau of Land Management allows camping on public lands, offering everything from fully developed campgrounds to dispersed camping, which is camping on public lands away from developed campgrounds, all without needing a reservation. However, for my planning purposes, there are no BLM campsites near my desired overnight route along PCH North. I did find BLM dispersed camping site near San Simeon, so that could be added to a drive-to overnighter. The best site I’ve found for finding free camping is Campendium, with locator maps and plenty of useful tips, guidelines and suggestions.
Meanwhile I will try to play Reserve California roulette and see if I can score a Pacific coast site sometime in the future. I will keep you posted on my success.