BIKE CAMPING ON BAINBRIDGE ISLAND

The kid and I are gearing up for the summer, and the destination for our first bike-camping trip was Fay Bainbridge Park on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Up to this point, most of our riding has been urban and strictly day trips, so this was the first run out to a relatively comfortable location to test the logistics, equipment, and feasibility of bike camping on a more regular basis, for longer distances, and to more remote locations.

The first step was to set up the bike to handle the extra cargo we’d need. I added a Topeak Super Tourist DX rear rack that I picked up from Angle Lake Cyclery (anglelakecycle.com). The goal was to mount everything to the rear rack and allow enough clearance for the Bicyclebungee.

Before investing in panniers, I wanted to make use of some bags I had around to get a feel for weight distribution and volume needed for the gear we were carrying. The net result was I mounted the tent to the top of the rack, which left just enough clearance for the Bicyclebungee. Then I adapted two mini-duffle bags to the sides, which contained clothes, gear, etc. I strapped one sleeping bag to the handle bar and the other off the rear rack. Overall, it worked pretty well, however, I was very tail heavy, so I will look into some front racks to get more of the weight up front. Also, panniers designed to mount to a rack will be a lot more practical, but this setup was good enough to get us going.

The equipment we brought was the following: a three-man tent, two sleeping bags, extra change of clothes, extra layers, toiletries, travel towel, Goal Zero solar charger, book (for reading), misc. camping gear (flashlight, knife, leatherman, matches, extra straps), and some snacks and light breakfast items. There were going to be plenty of eating options along the way, so I didn’t want the extra weight and hassle of packing cooking gear and food, however it would have also fit in our bags. The regular biking equipment goes in the frame bag or directly on the frame and includes: locks, tools, spare tube, pump, and water bottle.

The route we planned from downtown was the following:

The distance from the ferry dock on Bainbridge to Fay Bainbridge park is about 7 miles. We biked to the light rail station at Seatac, which is about 4.5 miles from our house. From there we rode the light rail to the Pioneer Square station. We decided to go up the new 2nd Ave. protected bike lane (for just one block), just to say we did. We turned down Columbia Way, which was a little complicated on a Friday afternoon during rush hour with a cargo-laden bike, and the wee-man to watch out for. We mostly walked down the sidewalk until just beyond 1st Ave. and then biked from there. Perhaps a better option is using Yesler instead.

Getting on the ferry by bike is simple. There is a bike staging lane, and the WA State Ferry staff are very helpful. Once on, you can park your bike anywhere on the side. One trick I learned observing other commuters is it’s helpful to have a bungee cord to strap your bike off to the railing. We left all of our gear on the bikes and went upstairs for most of the ride. That’s a good time to use the bathroom, fill up with water, etc.

 

On arrival, we just followed all of the other cyclists out. It was about time for dinner, so we decided to grab a quick bite at That’s A Some Pizza. To get there, you just take left on Winslow, and it is one block up. There’s no bike parking per se, but you can see your bikes from just about any part of the small establishment. We opted for the outdoor seating. The pizza was really good, and they also sell it by the slice so it was a quick and delicious meal. The kid certainly loved it.

   

With pizza in our bellies, it was time to make the 7 mile trek to Fay Bainbridge with enough daylight to set up camp. We followed Ferncliff Ave. Which has a bike lane leaving town and minimal traffic. The bike lane goes away after a while, but the traffic is light, and I never felt unsafe along the way. There is an inherent biking culture on Bainbridge, as this is one of the best ways to commute to Seattle.

From Ferncliff, the route jogs down Lofgren to meet up with Moran, which ends at Hwy. 305. There you could take Madison all the way through, but we took the more scenic Manitou Beach Dr. This is a beautiful route, as it follows the beach around the point with amazing views of Seattle.

At the end of the point, there’s a neat little bike lane that puts you up the hill and around the curve. Manitou takes a bend and runs into Sunrise Dr. which takes you north all the way to Fay Bainbridge. There is a convenience store and cafe at this intersection which is the last place to get any supplies before the park if you need them.

The stretch down Sunrise Dr. to the park is straight but is a series of climbs and descents. It’s nothing too extreme, but with all of the gear on board and towing a bike, I was panting at the top of each climb. Fortunately, each descent was enough to catch my breath for the next one. The traffic is very light through here, but taillights are recommended, even during the day. The towering trees that border the road and occasional wildlife create an ethereal backdrop to bike through.

The last stretch to Fay Bainbridge is downhill, so it’s a pleasant way to end the ride and catch your breath. We made it there just before 8 pm, and we were rewarded with a stunning sunset. We threw the tent up and then went straight down to the beach to witness the best entertainment available. It was a clear and still night, the city far in the backdrop, sailboats drifting in the distance, and the golden, orange light of the setting sun was all we needed.

We lit a little camp fire as it was getting dark and hung out below the stars for a bit before hunkering down for the night. We woke up to overcast skies, and shortly thereafter a light drizzle came down. We weren’t that compelled to hang out on the beach in the rain, so we got everything packed up and ready to make the trek back. Just as we were setting out, the rain fortunately let up for us. The ride back down Sunrise was smooth. We stopped at the Rolling Bay Cafe for some really good breakfast sandwiches, coffee, and conversation with the locals there.

 

Just after setting out again, the rain caught up with us and came down relentlessly the whole way back to the ferry. We muscled through the weather and finally made it to town. We stopped at Classic Cycle, the local bike shop, to see what they had to offer (and dry off a bit). What I discovered was a truly amazing bike shop! The selection was great and the staff was even better. I was perusing the pannier selection and was quickly approached by Jaime who was extremely helpful and friendly. As it turns out, along with general cyclery, she had a lot of experience with family biking.
The topic eventually turned to the mechanics and physiology of my kid on his bike, how he’d grown so much in the last six months, and why his current 20″ bike was both problematic and dangerous. It all made sense, the way she explained it, and I quickly realized that he needed to move up to a bigger bike sooner than later. They just happened to have a used 26″ Trek mountain bike with a 13″ frame that was in excellent condition and a very sleek “big-boy” bike. At first glance, I thought it would be too much bike, but he took it for a test ride and looked perfectly natural on it. He immediately had more stability and power, and everything Jaime had taken the time to explain to me was spot on.

I knew that we had to make this change for him to improve his biking, and a used bike like this isn’t very common. Classic Cycle took the old bike on a trade, which solved the issue of getting home with an extra bike. They mounted a kick stand, a new bell, and all of his other accessories while we went for another round of pizza.

Our experience at Classic Cycle was so great, that I would recommend stopping by there sometime soon, if anything, just to talk to the nice folks there and look at their collection of classic bicycles, but you won’t be disappointed with their offerings either.

The kid adjusted very quickly to his new ride, and we went on our merry way to the ferry terminal. We were two of three bicycles on the way back, surprisingly.

For the way back, I planned a different route from the ferry terminal to the light rail station. Instead of taking the short but precarious route up the steep downtown climbs, we went south on Alaska Way for a few blocks and then got on the Elliot Bay bike trail. The Elliot Bay trail was great, and worked out really well. It took us down to Atlantic near Safeco Field, and from there we went south on 1st, then jogged over to Occidental all the way to Lander and on to the Sodo light rail station. We pulled up just as the train was arriving, loaded up, and we were heading south again. There was another biker in our car who was super friendly and we were able to exchange stories on the way down.

  

We take the train to the end of the line, Seatac airport, but I’ll be happy when they finally finish the new Angle Lake station. It shaves about 1.5 miles off of the route, but more importantly it eliminates the need to ride through the sketchy International Blvd. area. There is a new road along the station that puts you out on 204th. From there, you can ride the sidewalk just to the next intersection which is 208th, and then cut down to 24th, which parallels Pacific Hwy., has a bike lane, minimal traffic, and is a very easy ride.

Overall, we rode about 15 miles on the first day and about 17 on the second. This was a great weekend getaway, and a great warm up to future longer bike camping trips. I now have a better idea of what I can pack and fine tune for the next trip. Also, the Fay Bainbridge outing is now something we can do at the spur of the moment. I highly recommend this trip when you have the opportunity. Of course, the kid was pretty happy with his reward!

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