Swift Campout: bikepacking with family and friends
In celebration of the Summer Solstice – and the Swift Campout that sees hundreds of bikepackers worldwide spend a night under the stars – Cass reports on his New Mexican camping trip with family and friends.
The Desert Mariners was our chosen name: a fine, upstanding, yet somewhat motley crew of Santa Fean riders, inspired by the Swift Campout to bike, cook over the embers of a camp fire, and sleep under New Mexico’s canopy of stars for the night. Friends and families alike, our ages ranging from 15 months upwards and we numbered 9. And as for our bikes, we took a certain pride in the richness of their variety and heritage… from a ’86 Mashiki Colorado to a Rivendell Appaloosa, a Surly ECR to a Salsa Fargo, and a Raleigh 29er that had passed through the hands of various bikepackers in the community. There were even two fully fledged cargo bikes, in the extended form of an Xtracycle Leap longtail and a Copenhagen-born Bullitt, both of which were charged with child-hauling duties.
Road conditions were typically New Mexican: a smorgaboard that encompassed smooth bike paths, frontage roads, dirt, gravel, and corrugation, with a sprinkle of sand, a helping of double track, a sprinkling of babyheads, and a dose of volcanic magma. 40 miles was the intended loop… time enough for it to feel like we had escaped town, yet manageable for those carrying an assortment cargo. This being the high desert – in the height of summer – Appaloosa John had kindly offered to haul a 7 gallon container of water in a Mule trailer, along with a 10 pound, bowling ball-like watermelon in a wire basket for good measure. Rusty, master of the Bullet, had a carseat fitted in his barge-style cargo hauler with 15 month Clementine, embarking on her first official bike camping trip. And I was riding the bike I’ve dubbed the F150 – a Surly/Xtracycle frankenbike fitted with 29+ tires, with room enough for 4 year old Sage and his beloved Isla bike, lashed on in such a way that he could hop off and ride when the whim took him, and the conditions were suitable.
We left late, to escape the full might of the desert sun, stopping only to gorge on watermelon, dodge a storm, let the little ‘un stretch her legs, and attend to a mechanical, in fact, evening had almost arrived as we reached our chosen campspot. In the distance, the Jemez Mountains were lost in a hazy blaze of a setting sun, and the last, lingering fingers of light were quickly retreating from the deep and craggy gorge of the Rio Grande that dropped down far below. There was just time to gather firewood and pitch the tents, while refreshments were served. Did I mention that aside from the 26 litres of water and the 4 kilo watermelon, John was also carrying all the necessary paraphernalia for making margaritas? Soon, fanned by a gale force wind that was blasting with classic New Mexican zeal through our outcrop, we had a roaring fire before us. Sage took particular delight in adding sticks to the fire, foraging for spent cartridges, and spiking himself with choya cacti… ah the delights of New Mexico! Each Desert Mariner had their own take on the perfect camping food – Poppi’s Pizza, Thai curry, Vegan Tacos were all on the menu.
For those unfamiliar with the Swift Campout, think of this loosely organised event as a call to arms – an excuse, really – to gather friends and family on the weekend closest to the solstice, pedal to your heart’s content or your legs run out, loiter around a fire, and sleep under the stars, cosseted by the warm and fuzzy feeling that hundreds of fellow bikecampers are likely doing the exact same thing, in their own little nook of the world.
Given that the wind refused to let up, we retreated to our various cocoons come midnight, awaking in the morning to fill our bellies with what food remained, take in the view, and ‘go see the world’, as Sage so poetically put it. While the way out was very much a learning curve in handling our various rigs, by the way home we were a tight bunch, gliding up and over the undulating dirt roads of the Caja del Rio with undeniable speed and grace. The 20-mile return ride went quickly enough; retracing our tire tracks up rocky gullies was easier than expected and the gentle climb upstream less of a chore than it might have been. Stops were made for photos, to let the children stretch their little limbs, to chitchat, play chequers, and just to eek out the ride.
By midday, the full might of the New Mexican sun was making itself known, just as we pulled into the fringes of Santa Fe. We bade our farewells and split off to continue about our days… jubilant, tired, and undoubtedly content.
With thanks to John Critchfield for capturing me and Sage in action!