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.”

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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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