Bike Packing: A Unique Camping Experience on Fire Island

The soft sound of the ocean lapping the coarse sand of the beach is illuminated by the moonlight. Coasting your fat tire bike with its overstuffed saddle bags, you attempt to pick up speed as the light salty headwinds slow your 20-mile trek from Robert Moses Field Five to Fire Island’s Watch Hill. You navigate around the glow of the surfcaster’s headlamps posted at their favorite section of the shoreline to reel in a bigger-than-average striped bass. Timed for low tide, you find yourself racing against the ocean and the rapidly surrendering firm high tide line. You pause briefly to get lost in the endless sky and wonder if there are more stars or grains of sand. You pass one of the world’s seven hardwood maritime forests and see a fox hunting in the dunes, and within half a mile, you glance behind you and see the fading soft glow of homes in Cherry Grove. As you approach Watch Hill, you find solace in the secluded miles of beach, dunes, and pine brush shrubs. For a brief moment, you forget that you are about 60 miles from the most densely populated city in the United States. Searching for like-minded people or a community to venture into the depths of the night can be a click of a like button on the Facebook group Long Island Fat Bike Enthusiasts (L.I.F.E.). However, some seek more than an adventurous beach ride.

“A 15- to 20-mile ride with a heavy bike in soft sand and an additional mile or two by foot is not for everyone. But the wilderness zone is a true camping experience away from the rest of the world,” stated avid bike-packing enthusiast Robert Gill. Fellow bike packer and Gill’s friend, Chris Siegal, expresses, “It is about the company of unique misfits that makes these trips memorable. We are like a family. My packing process isn’t one you should follow. I throw everything in my car into my bike bags when launching. My zen moment is riding after midnight and crossing the breach. Some say it is about the journey, but I say it’s all about the memories.” Bike-packing is referred to as riding a variety of terrains combined with rugged outdoor backpacking and camping. In the shadows of the luxury homes and far from the sounds of the parties is the overlooked camping experience that Gill and Siegal rediscovered with their friends.

Photos by Robert Gill.

The furthest and most rugged destination for camping is Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness – the wilderness area has no bathrooms, running water, or electricity. This 1,363-acre section is the only designated wilderness area in New York State. It is only accessible from Watch Hill, with no ferry stops. The distance from Watch Hill to the wilderness area is approximately a one-mile hike. This federally protected area does not allow bikes or open fires, and all campsites must be north of the primary dune in the sandy area. The other camping option is at Watch Hill’s glamping sites, which have restrooms, showers and are a short walk from a general store and restaurant.

Glamping at Watch Hill or off the grid in the wilderness area comes with the priceless ability to fall into the rhythm of nature and absorb the tranquility of hearing the passing waves that come with no beginning or end.