A Brooklyn Bike Overnight: Bikepacking to the Beach

Rode from my home in Queens, New York City to the Gateway National Recreation Area in Brooklyn, New York, then to the beach at Jacob Riis Park, and home.

Bicycle Adventurers: Solo ride

When: August 2017

Accommodations: Public campground at Floyd Bennett Field, Gateway National Recreation Area.

Distance: My round-trip mileage was 37 miles. Day one: 14.5 miles each way between the camping area and home, and eight miles round trip from the camping site to the beach.

Bonus tip for this adventure: Alcohol is prohibited at the Floyd Bennett Field camping area which can be a bummer after a long bike ride loaded with gear. However, cold craft beer is plentiful down at Jacob Riis Park, along with all of the fun available at the ocean. The tacos and other food selections can’t be beat, either.

Day One

The plan was to load up my bicycle for a “shake out” overnight camping trip to see how the bike handles a heavy camping load and to get some experience at bikepacking and riding. Living in New York City, there are not a lot of camping places nearby without going out to Long Island, upstate New York, or other nearby states. The only one I know that’s not too far away is Brooklyn, New York. What? You can go camping in Brooklyn? So, I packed up my bike for an overnighter near the ocean, right in New York City. 

After packing, I set out midmorning on a beautiful sunny Saturday. The ride down was probably not your typical bike overnight ride, as it was not through the countryside. Rather, it was directly through the inner city through Queens and Brooklyn. I received some curious looks as I stopped at traffic lights, and pedestrians eyed a bike packed up with camping gear. I was sporting a big grin, because I could not wait to get to my destination. 

The camping area is located at Floyd Bennett Airfield on what basically is an island in Jamaica Bay off of the south shore of Long Island. Floyd Bennett was NY’s first municipal airfield and later became a naval airfield during World War II. Aside from a small area used for police helicopters, it is no longer an airfield, but rather is now a very large nature preserve. The runways are still there, and you have to pedal down the length of a 6000-foot runway to get to the camping area. I arrived at about 1:00 PM and checked in at the camp store. You are not allowed to bring or chop down your own firewood, but must buy it from the camp store. I had enough of a load on my bicycle and was not about to load it down with wood! After dropping off my gear at the campsite, I went back and bought some firewood. 

I set up camp, and started my first fire. I was hungry and wanted to make some lunch. I had a salad prepared at home earlier and after setting up camp and getting the campfire going, proceeded to boil some water and then “cook” a prepacked, freeze-dried meal. As my goal was to make this a test ride for later trips through the wilderness, I intended to rough it as much as possible. I could have easily stopped for lunch anywhere in Brooklyn on my way to the campsite.

After lunch, I got on my bike and proceeded to explore the area at Floyd Bennett Field. It is a relatively large area that you could easily spend more than a day riding around. I saw the other campers nearby, people fishing, and was able to go down to the bay and see some great views of nature that one is typically unaware of when living in a large city. 

Back in camp, dusk came rather quickly. I had my campfire going and cooked a nice dinner for myself. I had more salad, cooked some bratwurst over the open fire, and boiled some corn on the cob. I had a brownie for dessert. Being relatively far removed from the urban areas, it was relatively quiet, and you could hear crickets and other sounds of nature. After some star gazing, I climbed into my tent and turned in for the night.

Day Two

It was a warm night, but a surprisingly crisp morning. I woke up at dawn, but being tired from the ride, I slept in for another hour. Once I got up, I used a small backpacking camp stove with some Esbit tablets to boil some hot water for coffee. For breakfast, however, I again built a campfire for both cooking and comfort. Again, in the spirit of roughing it, I made a prepacked, freeze-dried omelet meal from a package with boiling water. It was actually very tasty. To supplement this, I had a nice slab of bacon that I cooked in a frying pan on the open fire. Other campers were packing up, and a few new people came into the campsite, including some fellow bikepackers. After breakfast and enjoying the fire, I packed some items on my bicycle for a trip down to the beach. 

The beach is about four miles away and requires a trip over the Gil Hodges Memorial Marine Parkway Bridge to the Atlantic Ocean at the Rockaway Peninsula. Traveling over the bridge, I crossed a very large bay that had many boats out fishing and traveling around. The nearest beach is Jacob Riis Park and it’s a long sandy, beautiful gem of a beach, including a landmarked Art Deco bathhouse built in 1932.

I locked my bicycle to the railing on the boardwalk and went down to the beach and set up a blanket. I spent a couple of hours on the beach swimming, sunbathing, listening to music and people watching. Afterwards, I headed up to the boardwalk for lunch. There was live music being played at the bathhouse, and plenty of food and drink places. Most of these are unique venues serving homemade food of various types. I had some great tacos and some cold craft beer. The vibe was great and I could have stayed there all day.

Late afternoon, however, I got back on my bicycle and rode back to my campsite at Floyd Bennett Field. 

I started the campfire again, as I planned on cooking dinner before I packed up and headed home. I did not think that I was really hungry, but never the less, warmed up some leftover pasta that I had brought with me. Surprisingly, I had built up a hunger at the beach. While I was cooking, I broke camp, took down my tent, and repacked my bicycle. It was just starting to get dark and I had about 15 miles ahead of me, back through Brooklyn and Queens.

The ride home was uneventful, but during the ride I was able to think about all of the fun I had and started planning my next overnight bicycle adventure!

Your favorite local bike shop? Spokesman Cycles, 49-04 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City, NY 11101

Bike overnight tips and tricks? Probably the best idea was having a large front rack on the bicycle, similar to a delivery rack. I was able to roll up some of the gear and strap it to the rack including my airbed, blanket, and some other gear. My clothes, food, and tent went into/on two panniers on the back of the bike. Because there was potable water available at the site, I only brought a bottle of water for riding and a collapsible container to fill later.

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