My Illinois Bike Overnight: How to Carry Too Much Stuff

I wanna do this! I’ve camped a lot before, but never on a bike. So here’s my first go at it!

Bicycle Adventurers: Solo. None of my friends are dumb enough to ride that far with me just to camp.

When: August 2017

Accommodations: Illini State Park very near the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail

Distance: 55 miles each way, an out-and-back route

Bonus tip for this adventure: Mostly secluded trail, very little competition with cars

Day One

I packed everything I thought I needed; I’ve never been a minimalist camper.

  • Dinner of chicken and rice on the Jetboil
  • Breakfast of granola with dried blueberries and powdered milk - just add water for cold cereal
  • Four bottles of water
  • A change of clothes
  • Sleeping bag and hammock
  • Snacks in the fuel can
  • Battery charger for phone and Bluetooth ... and even my Kindle eBook

When I started planning on Monday, the lows for Saturday night were right at 60 degrees — perfect for camping. By Friday, the lows looked to be at 50. Now I’m thinking, that’s a bit chilly, and I hate being cold ... so I threw even more stuff on the bike to stay warm that night. 

I got on the road around noon, estimating that the ride would take me about five hours. The weather was perfect: mid 70s with some sun and calm winds. The ride down was perfect. I got on the Centennial Trail at Romeo Road. My first stop was at the Second Street access — the place with the building labeled “Symerton,” even though it’s not. It’s a good place to prop the bike up and stretch out. 

The herons, egrets, and cardinals were keeping me company on the next leg. I even saw some turtles enjoying the sun along the canal. About five or six miles out from my destination, I almost ran over a possum crossing the trail — scared the bejesus outta me. I mean, those guys don’t come out during the day. 

I actually made the campground after 5.5 hours, so I felt pretty good. Tired, but hey, that’s a long way. 

So, I made this site reservation online. I thought I was choosing the most secluded spot in the campground — no electricity and better yet, no other reservations anywhere near me. On the map, it looked like the farthest spot anywhere on the grounds, mmmhhmmm. Turns out, I actually got the FIRST spot by the entrance to the grounds. There were people all around me; they must be walk-ups. Well, OK, they were pretty quiet, so no big deal. 

I set up camp, went across the street from the grounds where a local resident was selling bundles of firewood for a nice fire, then headed over the bridge into Marseilles to hit the gas station. I got a coke Slurpee. The brain freeze was totally worth it. 

Well, it turns out that I’m not made for hammocks. I tried to hang an arm over the edge, which worked right up until I lost all feeling from blood loss in my arm. Between train horns, fireworks, and music in a distant pavilion, I got maybe four hours of sleep all night.

Day Two

Ok, it’s Sunday ... a new day of bike riding! I make some tea to enjoy by the fire after packing everything back on the bike. My load is certainly lighter: two water bottles are intentionally left empty, plus I have less food to carry. By the way, I felt like water bottles on the fork caused a steering wobble, so I moved stuff around to be sure that didn’t happen again. 

I got on the road early. Fog on the Illinois River made for a great visual while crossing the bridge into Marseilles. Damp and cool from the early morning air, the riding was fantastic. 

About 20 miles in, I started to feel sluggish, and five miles later, I was bonking. This was my first time riding back-to-back long days, so I didn’t know what to expect. Turns out, I needed more water and fuel. Carb up! I ate a couple of dehydrated fruit bars and a Clif bar with about a quart of water. After a few minutes, I got back on the bike feeling good. 

I spent more time enjoying the locks and dams along the I&M Canal Trail. It’s amazing that these narrow channels were vital to shipping for so long. One of the aqueducts is a steel sided duct. I’ve never seen anything like that, almost like a bridge for water. 

After I get back on the last leg on the Centennial trail, things got a little hazy from pushing all the weight and I thought about how to cut things out.

  • I decided to drop the hammock for a bivy sack.
  • I’d get rid of the Jetboil setup and just use fuel and a burner with a collapsible pot.
  • I needed fewer clothes for an overnighter.
  • I think I could get everything into a seat bag and lose the panniers. 

All in all, this was great. I really enjoyed the ride and doing something a little differently. I can’t wait to adjust my setup and do it again!

Your favorite local bike shop? 7 Mile Cycles, 45 S. Arlington Heights Road, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007

Bike overnight tips and tricks? To quote my daughter “You pack your fears. Don’t pack your fears.”


HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your own bike overnight adventure!

7 responses so far ↓

June - Sep 25, 2017 at 2:37 PM

Really great story. Very informative. Love the pictures

Joe - Sep 25, 2017 at 5:39 PM

Bill, I did almost the same ride in February and I did it solo too because NO ONE is crazy enough to do this in February. I left from a little further north on the path and went only too Channahon State Park (which I think that picture is from!). I slept in my hammock but loved it! I have not gotten to do another overnight yet but definitely over packed as well. Keep on riding and maybe I will see you out there! I will be the one on the Fat Tire bike!

Don - Sep 25, 2017 at 6:56 PM

Pretty cool ride

Rob - Sep 25, 2017 at 10:12 PM

Great write up! Sounds like it was a fun trip and if you're only going overnight you might as well be comfortable. Speaking of comfort, what's that mounted under your saddle?

Bill - Sep 26, 2017 at 2:27 PM

Rob, that's a sleeping bag warmer for cooler nights lol.

Joe, I like to camp. I will not camp in February. I'm not surprised you were solo.

I'm planning a two nighter in a couple weeks. I'll try to write up the next adventure - with less stuff.

Leo - Oct 10, 2017 at 8:44 PM

How many pounds were you pulling? Although that’s a pretty flat route, so in principle it shouldn’t matter so much.

Ryan - Oct 13, 2017 at 8:41 PM

Just rode from Port Byron to Annawan on the I&M on October 7-8. It was 50.4 miles one way. Beautiful ride. The Canal is amazing and the trail was easy. There were 6 of us and we camped at the Johnson’s Sauk Trail campground. Amazing food at the Purple Onion in Annawan. Took my 15 year old with me and he loved it.

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