Cape Henlopen Car Camping

My better half was in Atlantic city for a girls weekend. I saw the chance to get out while the getting was good. Camping, Photos, Biking, Beer.

In anticipation of the weekend I took Friday off and planned to hit the road early afternoon. I spent an inordinate amount of time packing on Thursday night and Friday morning. I’m not sure what I was doing because I forgot a ton of stuff. I left the house around 11:30 and the drive down was smooth. I set up my tent after checking in, and decided to head for Rehoboth since I didn’t have any food with me (strike 1). I put absolutely no thought into food or clothes while packing. Amazingly I didn’t think about food all day on Friday. I ate oatmeal at 7:30 that morning, and at 4 I realized I was 5 miles away from the nearest eatery with no food aside from a cup of dry oats and a can of tuna. How I arrived at packing those 2 food objects I will never know.

This was also my second attempt at taking Pugsley out on the surf. My first try was a generally unpublicized event back in August tacked onto an east shore trip to spend a few days with friends who live there. On that day I tried every trick I could think of to plow through the sand. Leave the air in the tires, let the air out of the tires, running start, hard pedal, soft pedal, you name it. I had marginal success riding in the quasi-wet strip of sand where the ocean met the beach, but if I strayed too far in either direction, I’d get bogged down. The biggest change between now and then was my dropping close to 40 pounds. I’ve also worked to improve my bike handling skills a little by riding Pug around town and on trails to get used to its unique geometry.

Shame I closed out the Utilitaire 12 early. I could have filled in the dinner category on Friday. I hit the surf in search of adventure and pizza. To put it bluntly, it sucked. I was starting to think that this was something that I “just didn’t get” — Kind of like when you see a kid pulling off incredible stunts on a regular old mountain bike. Maybe riding on loose terrain required some innate ability I lacked. Just like in August, I had to push out to the surf. Once I got there if I strayed too far towards the water the tires would cut in and clod up with wet sand. If I went too far towards the dry I’d bog down there too. I thought about this and putting Pug up for sale before the trend peaked while I had the reward for all my hard effort at the Nicola Pizza bar…

Camera phones always make food look terrible. I assure you it was very good.

After dinner I headed back to Henlopen. I decided I’d had enough of the surf and set off for the Junction & Breakwater trail. The ride back was quiet and uneventful. In camp I coasted around to collect fallen branches from the neighboring campsites so I could enjoy a small fire for an hour or 2 before going to bed…

Just enough fire to keep me warm for a bit. Didn’t want to have to contend with putting out a giant smoldering pile of coals.

Looking up as the fire was going out stars were poking through the clouds everywhere. +1, the thunderstorms they predicted never materialized. As usual I slept like a baby. It wasn’t too cold — probably somewhere in the low 40’s. My sleep setup is dialed in really well for just-below freezing temps with a North Face down bag and Big Agnes inflatable pad. Could probably extend that a few degrees with the Alps mountaineering bag liner I have, but it wasn’t cold enough to try that out. I woke up to a foggy morning with visibility around 1/4 to 1/2 mile max. There was plenty of birds and wildlife out, but they all appeared to be outside the hazy perimeter of my view. Just like last night I decided to get out and explore early. I have a french press for camping, but it is also on the chopping block for replacement due to sucking at what it is supposed to do so I didn’t bring it or coffee grounds along. This was irrelevant because the bath houses were still closed for the season and I think the water was off too. I wasn’t hungry since I had a big dinner the night before so I started out riding around the trails in Henlopen taking photos.

Bunker along the surf – Cape Henlopen was a major defensive position for the Delaware Bay in WWII

Surf from the top of the bunker

“Battery Smith – U.S.E.D. – 1941”

I made a circle of the park on the paved trails, cutting off here and there to explore ‘side streets’. While doing so I came across one sandy path that was deep enough to make me get off and push. I thought about tire pressure and decided to give low psi one more go. Worst thing that would happen is I’d have to waste 20 minutes pumping my tires up again. Using the dates on my photos I can trace the exact time and place of my Pugsley ‘A-HA!’ moment to March 17, 7:43am on a little sidepath behind the bunker pictured above. Of 3 contributing factors to Pugsley ‘all-terrainability’ — rider weight, tire pressure, and bike skill — any two wouldn’t be enough, but all three and everything just clicked! The magic numbers for me (measured after the fact) were: Rider weight – 176lbs / Tire PSI –  3 front, 5.5 rear / bike practice – 2 months. I pedaled up and back the same chunk of trail 2 or 3 times and once I “knew what I was doing” I headed for the nearest beach access point. Fun tip, If you put in/take out at locations for surf fishing, you can use the air stations made for 4wd vehicles to pump your tires back up. Just bring along a presta/schrader adapter.

“Walking on–walking on the moooon.”

I saw a few people out on the beach, but no more than 1 or 2 per mile. As I approached Rehoboth, the strange looks from the boardwalk as I pedaled in from the surf were priceless. I stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts for an egg sandwich and coffee–browsed the local book store and quickly turned back–excited for more action.


Once I got the tire pressure set properly, I was amazed at how shallow of a footprint Pug left in its wake. Click above & below for examples–comparison with foot traffic below…


Every time I passed a breaker I got a little more daring in the point I would try and cross. Towards the end I looped back and made a pass over these rocks multiple times. My excitement was only tempered by the facts that I didn’t want to get a pinch flat and if I fell and hurt myself I hadn’t seen another soul in about 2 miles. I stayed well within the limits of my skill.

near panda success

I started dodging the surf to try and get a picture of me, the bike, and the reflection of the bike in the wet sand. I took my attention off the ocean for 5 seconds and it rewarded me with a knee-high wave. All I could think is “if I fall, which way should I go?” I’ve got my dslr on my back and my Canon G11 in my hand. Good news is I didn’t fall.

Yes Pugsley, you’ve been someplace and seen something now.

After packing up the bike I decided to hike the park for a while and take everything in at a different pace. The act of riding Pug is both social and anti-social at the same time. “Anti” because it takes you places no-one else can get to and “Social” because it’s so freakish that everyone you bump into on the way there wants to know about it. I had 10 conversations with complete strangers in the course of 2 hours Saturday morning. I think that’s some kind of personal best for me. Even after I was off the bike, people who’d seen me riding earlier on the beach were approaching me about it.

By the time I got to the main bath house I was hungrier than I’ve been in years. I really hoped that there was a vending machine or something, but it was all still closed up for the winter. I went back to the campground and made the executive decision that I’d had enough beach for the weekend. I folded up my tent and was ready to go in about 15 minutes. Anyone looking in my car would probably think I was living out of it and was a hoarder, but it all fit. All that was left was to drive into town for some food before going home.

No Dogfish this time. I went in at 2pm thinking it was the slow time of the day, but forgetting that Saturday was a drinking holiday. When I saw every seat at the bar was taken, I went to the hostess about being seated and they acted as if I was ruining their life by asking what the wait for a small table would be. 25min wasn’t bad, but the attitude was so unwelcome that I went next door to Finbar’s instead. By contrast they had awesome service and I got a fantastic burger with roasted red peppers & brie. I had Evolution Lucky 7 Porter, which turned out to be a local brew from Delmar as well. Highly recommended. The only demerit I can give Finbar’s is that they posted “magically delicious” on the side of their building even though General Mills has had a cartoon leprechaun saying it as a catch phrase for 50 years.

I walked the strip in Rehoboth for a few hours to be sure I burned off all the residual alcohol in my system and made the final final final decision that I’d had all the beach I desired for now before getting back in the car. The trip home was smooth and I got in with just enough daylight to quickly wash the surf off Pug before dark. I’m glad I left early because with all the cleanup, work Monday would suck if I had driven home today.

Equipment successes & failures:


  1. Seattle sports rear rack dry bag – picked off clearance rack for $8 a year ago. kept everything dry, and when I got home I just hosed the sand off.
  2. Homemade Pugsley fenders. Still need to work on the details a bit. I’ll show these off better in another post.
  3. Yakima trunk rack: I’ve been nervous about tying a bike to my car with this ever since I brought it on sale last year. Finally overcame my fear and it worked just fine. Solid! I wouldn’t trust it with 2 or 3 bikes on my flimsy trunk, but 1 big bike held great.
  4. Lowepro Slingshot AW200: This is a really well designed pack which gives you access to everything you need almost instantly. I had it on Friday evening and nearly all day Saturday. I’ve thought about replacing this bag with something that looks a little less like a camera bag for a long time but it works so well that I no longer care what it looks like.


  1. Avid BB7 mechanical brakes with stock pads: I’ve been fighting with bb7’s on both of my bikes since I brought them. If I clean the pads and rotors, then reinstall and adjust everything they’re quiet. The first time they’re contaminated with anything they scream like Yoko Ono. What good are brakes on a bike like Pugsley if you can’t get them wet or dirty at all? Useless that’s what. I came to a tentative peace with them for the second half of the trip by planning my stops well in advance and feathering the brakes for 500 yards or so to heat them up. That helped a little, but man what a pain in the ass. I’ve read about everything disc brake related (pad composition, setup, cleaning the system, bolt torque, flex, tension, resonant vibration at other parts in the system, etc…). None of the setup issues solved the problem, so I guess it’s time to try organic pads or something. I can understand not getting oil on the rotors, but if any contaminant will make them squeal they’re no good and will need replacing. Problem is I read about this problem with all price points of disc brake. And I thought cantis were hard to set up. Any advice on disc brakes is more than welcome. Power and fade are not issues at all. Modulation and silence is.
  2. Chain Lube: I think there were still traces of the stock wax and lube left on the chain, but whatever was there sucked up crud and cruft from the beach like nobodies’ business. I’m going to start with pro-link and rotate through all the stuff I have around the house to see what works the best for atrocious conditions like this. Any advice is welcome here too.

More/Different Photos: in the Flickr Set Here.

4 thoughts on “Cape Henlopen Car Camping

  1. Oh, spit. That is a great ride report Dave. Wish I coulda been sitting on the boardwalk eating a softserve and watching you do 180’s in the sand. Great weekend. -Bob

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