Words and photos by Bill Brown unless noted.
The concept of bike touring has always been something that's intrigued me. The ability to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles with just your bike loaded up is fascinating. Having wanderlust, I often dream of jetting off to Seattle by bike, crossing the plains and then through Montana into the land I love, the Pacific Northwest. But let's be real here. I have a job and rent to pay so the idea of a couple month long journey, while appealing, isn't feasible at this point in my life. What is feasible is a weekend getaway by bike. So that's what I have been doing.
Living in Chicago doesn't exactly afford me too many options for a fun weekend get away into the wilderness and open roads like I long for. However, there are several good options for a weekend bikepacking trip, such as the State Beach Park in Zion or Starved Rock state park. I opted for Zion because I like looking at the lake and you can legally drink there. I'm in my late 20's and a working class type of guy so being able to crack open a few is enticing on a getaway and I hear Starved Rock doesn't allow sick luxuries. Anyways, when I first decided to go I didn't have a lot of gear and hadn't done much planning but that didn't stop me!
Planning was the easy part. The trip is about 45 miles and you can take the Robert McClory path from Evanston all the way up to zion and then just a quick ride on some side streets and you're there!
The gear side of things is a little more interesting to me. I have a cheap fat bike I decided to ride on the trip. In hindsight, the large tires were overkill but at the time I didn't want to take my road bike up there so I went with the fatty. A quick trip online and to REI netted me the rest of the gear I desired. I didn't want to mess with racks and panniers as I wanted to be minimal so I opted for a half frame bag , saddle bag and two anything cages for my fork.
Packing wise I loaded my tent and mini stove into the saddle bag, my sleeping mat and clothes went into the fork cages and my sleeping bag was bungeed to my handlebars. The frame bag held tools, tubes, snacks and various other miscellaneous items. I did a few trial runs around the block and decided I was good to go.
My group left on a Sunday morning from Logan Square in Chicago. There were six of us all with various set ups. I had my fat bike, a couple of folks had touring bikes, a couple had cyclocross bikes and one person went with a fixed gear and a backpack.
The ride was simple enough, it's a pretty straight shot up there. We left around noon and got to Zion around five thirty. Not bad time for having a one flat, one food stop and one pannier blow-out. Nothing some duct tape couldn't fix. The ride was smooth and the trail was pleasant, albeit a little boring but definitely a good one to start with.
We hadn't pre-booked campsites but since we we're going early in the week that wasn't an issue. We got two good sites and set up camp. The nice part about the beach park is the proximity to the town of Zion. There's a grocery store close by so instead of bringing my own food, I opted to buy food to grill once we got there. The weekend was spent cooking, swimming, drinking and exploring. We got in on Sunday night and left Wednesday morning.
Robert McClory Bike Path. Photo by Yasmeen Schuller
The ride back was exactly like the ride up. Only not as exciting because I was pretty tired from a little too much drinking. We made it back in about five hours.
The fat bike handled really well and I never had an issue with the terrain or ride. I thought my packing job worked pretty well but could be improved with some tweaking. In the future I plan to spring for a full size frame bag to be able to bring my own food and save some money.
This was a great first bikepacking excursion and I am planning a few more in spring. If you're looking for a quick little get away, load up and head up to Zion!
Bill Brown is a Chicago-based bicycle enthusiast. He works as a cycle courier in downtown and when not at work he often finds himself riding to the local brunch establishment for fuel. As a volunteer at The Recyclery in Rogers Park, he helps others discover their love of cycling and is passionate about getting people riding. When not involving himself with bikes he can be found at the park playing frisbee or eating doughnuts.