Failure, the Greatest Teacher (My 1st Bike Tour)

I’d been itching for my next adventure. For weeks, I vicariously devoured other people’s travel accounts. I was tired of sifting through the all-engulfing vortexes of guides, blogs, and other media on the interwebs. So I set a date for my first bike tour.

I wasn’t really sure where to go, or how far I could last. But that didn’t matter. Like most new hobbies, I threw myself in headfirst, justifying this course of action on the “figure it out along the way” approach. After all, it’s all about the journey and not the destination, right?

Well… Surprise, surprise. I got in way over my head, and didn’t even make it half way!

Here’s my story and what I learned 🙂

Trip Report: (Attempted) Overnight Tour to Frank Raines OHV Park

Difficulty Level: Very Difficult

Time on Bike: 9 Hours 

Up to this point, I’ve been a casual biker. I bike for most of my daily chores and transit, and this is within several miles of home. I don’t believe I ever biked beyond 13 miles in a single day.

I knew this trip was beyond ambitious, but I love a good physical and mental challenge. And hey, worst comes to worst, wifey can bail me out if I fall apart like an iron man triathelete at the finish line 😉

I’m not going to lie. I love figuring out the logistics for a trip, which makes me a bit of an aberration in the outdoor community. So glad to be applying the knowledge I learned from the interwebs and past backpacking trips, I set out to plan the route and camp, and put together my kit.

Planning the Route
To select the route, I pulled up trusty Google Maps. I looked for “green” spots on the map. Then did some searches to see if there were campgrounds. Frank Haines seemed like a good option. It was only 50+ miles away. I knew there was some steep elevation gain, but some Google searches anecdotally yielded that most bikers who like climbs typically do about 4k in elevation gain in a day. While I’ve never done any major hill climbing, I reasoned that I could white knuckle through this gauntlet, being the endurance junky I am.

Planning for Camp
I called ahead to the park to get details about camp and reservations. The park staff was quite confused that I would be riding my bike there and not an off road vehicle. They couldn’t recall anyone ever biking in to camp. Over several attempts, I tried to explained plainly what I was doing, and that I just really needed a place to crash. Still confused, the attendant impressed upon me that they would charge me the standard car camping rate, and that it was first come first serve.

Putting My Kit Together
My rig looked a bit ghetto fab, all strung together. I went a little gear crazy over the year preparing for my week long section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. I needed to travel ultralight to cover more ground in less time, so I basically had to replace my entire kit with uber expensive backpacking gear. With empty pockets, I had to use the tools I had and whatever wits I had left.

I didn’t yet have panniers (bags to carry my gear and camping equipment), so I improvised. I went to Target and picked up a 10 pack of bungees, pulled out my web of carabiners, and pulled out my heap of dry stuff sacks. Then, I strapped the shit out of my rig, doing my best to try and balance the weight.

My kit roughly included the following: sleeping quilt packed into my dry sack on my front rack. Strapped on top of that was my ultralight 1 person tent. Piled onto the rear rack was a stuff sack with various clothing, a dry sack for various snacks and meals. Somewhere, I clipped in my bike tools, 4 liters of water, a camp stool, a camp stove, sack with toiletries, electronics, and other misc gear.  IMG_4721

My Trek 7100 Hybrid, fully loaded for an overnight tour. Outside my apartment, San Jose, CA. 

Tour Day. An eventful beginning. I got a late start that morning and suffered an injury (even before getting on the bike!) that made me reconsider my journey. Before jumping into the shower, I decided to do a cute movement for my wife Amanda. I was standing in the narrow hallway that intersects the bedroom, bathroom, and living room. Since I was about to get in the shower, and showering typically requires one to remove clothing, I started to strip down, but had to confine myself far back in the narrow hallway–otherwise, I’d risk exposing myself to the neighbors. Then I executed my cute move. This move involves pulling down my drawers, then using my foot to sweep up said drawers and toss it up onto my head. While the maneuver itself was executed expertly, I failed to account for the dangling air plant enclosed in a glass container that resided just behind me above the bookshelf. While executing the maneuver, my arm overcompensated for the movement and smashed into the container, which resulted in a few chards of glass embedding themselves into my elbow 😦 Fearing that I would need to get stitches, I further delayed the trip until I could control the bleeding and assess the situation. After about 20 minutes, I controlled the bleeding, and felt good to continue as planned. I then hit the road, albeit a bit rattled.

It was a dreamy morning. The fog created a light drizzle that gently enveloped the air and kissed it in wispy movements. With slippery shoes from the wet ground, I wobbled about the first few hundred feet, attempting to get a sense for the  weight unevenly distributed across my rig. I was off on my adventure!

I made my way east on Tasman Drive in San Jose. The road was basically mine for the first 30 minutes. By the time I made it to Milpitas, the road began to bustle with traffic, and my confidence with my rig and abilities slowly began to improve.

Penetrating deeper into unknown areas of San Jose, I found myself in a rhythm. Dutifully obeying Google Navigation, I made my way to the mouth of California Highway 130 that leads up the windy canyon. Battling through my first climb and the strenuous effort required to get myself up the hill, reality set in. This is going to be f-ing hard… Bring it!

In granny gear, I painstakingly climbed and sweated buckets. The sun hadn’t yet shone through the surrealist fog-scape, so the temperature was still moderate. Despite the cool breeze, my exertion level was great and I was disconcertingly blowing though water faster than I anticipated. Pushing my fears aside, I pressed on and watched the last wisps of fog glide away from the ridge, chased into oblivion by the menacing sun that stretched out overhead.

Invigorated by the promise of the golden sunrise, my pace quickened. As the terrain plateaued slightly, I got my first taste of downhills. My blissful break from drudgerous pedaling was cut short by the oppressive mid-day  sun bearing down upon me. I took a quick break at Joseph D. Grant County Park and enjoyed the sights.

The onset of fatigue crept over me. My legs tightened. My mood deteriorated. Hanger set in. I trudged through several more knee bruising miles of climb, and stopped to reassess the situation with a bite of lunch.

As I finished up my lunch, I met a fellow tourer who gave me a good recommendation on a less strenuous tour option (which is where I went on my next tour :)) Thanks for that great tip, guy! Then, I began my analysis on the fate of my tour.

I felt spent. I still had about 1,000 feet of vertical climb to reach the highest point of the trek, and my legs were starting to lose their muster on the uphills. I felt certain I could soldier through at a snail’s pace, but daylight was escaping me, and this caused me great concern of biking the dangerous windey hills at night. I was certain I would not reach camp in time at my current pace. Additionally, the lack of a shoulder was wearing me down as I couldn’t control my wobbly rig well enough amongst the competing traffic, which resulted in me sliding off the road.


Catching a breather. Joseph D. Grant County Park, San Jose, CA.

At approximately 23 miles into my journey, I threw in the towel. I erred on the side of caution and began my return journey home.

I learned a great deal about myself during this trip. While some might consider this trip a failure as I didn’t achieve the desired objective of camping over night via bike, I choose to look at it differently. While I didn’t reach my intended destination, I had a blast of putting together this awesome local experience, trying my best, and having a great day out in nature on my bike. Also, this experience helped me to define a personal baseline or set some boundaries of what a safe and enjoyable local bike tour could look like. And what that looks like for me is something a little flatter and less exposed to traffic 🙂

My advice to bike touring neophytes:

  1. Get out and go. Even if the stars are aligned against you, at some point you need to pull the trigger and go tour. Plan and prep to the best of your ability and mitigate possible hazards where you can, but know that there will always be unknowns that no amount of preparation or planning will control.
  2. When you fail (and yes, you will fail at some point in life), turn the experience into a learning opportunity. Make note of your development area and learnings, and then roll that into your next experience.

Happy trails!



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