Camp Out with Your Lamp Out

Take a look behind the inspiration and cult that is COWYLO — a Specialized tradition for the adventure-curious.

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Photo: Colin Belisle

Sunrise and sunset — these are the bookends to our every day. And yet, so caught up are we in the scurry, the deadlines, and the meetings of our Mondays-to-Fridays, we rarely give them more than a cursory glance. But not the Camp Out with Your Lamp Out (COWYLO) kids. These adventurous souls are all about giving the sun its due. On a weeknight, they load up their bikes and climb a mountain, stopping once at “beer stop” to share suds and watch the sun go down before continuing on to the campsite. After a night under the stars, some will rise quietly to witness that same sun crack open the lid of darkness to begin the day anew. Packing their gear, they then descend 3,000 chilly feet, each at their own pace, to begin the workday refreshed, renewed, and reborn. It is a soul restoration.

But Camp Out with Your Lamp Out — a pilgrimage to the top of Henry Coe on a weeknight (most often Monday) to camp with work mates — is much more than the chance to attend a sun sermon. To those who tackle the 15ish-mile journey from the backdoor of Specialized HQ to a campground in the clouds, it’s about exploring the paradise in our own backyard and connecting with the tranquil world that rises above an overcrowded valley. It’s about bonding with your colleagues in a more personal way, sans emails, spreadsheets, and product timelines. It’s about the camaraderie of riding bikes together; of pitching a tent under the stars; of spinning stories in the darkness. Here, friendships are cemented, and in some cases, are born. Ideas spring forth — April fools jokes, big adventures, on-the-fly R&D tweaks, even food innovations such as the SmOreo (an Oreo on a stick, heated in the fire) — and spirits reignited. It is the secret sauce of the Camp Out.

“Sleeping outside is always, always a plus,” says Rita Jett, COWYLO regular. “[…] and it’s on top of the hill where the sunrises and the sunsets are just…they’re just magical.”

“I always appreciate the “inconvenience” of breaking up my week once I’m out there. I’ll never regret laying on my back in the dirt with a bunch of folks watching one of the big meteor showers up at Coe.”

John Kraft, HR, Specialized

“Every time I cross Highway 101[in the morning] and it’s only like 3 minutes more to work,” says Erik Nohlin, Industrial Designer and one of the founders of COWYLO “I see that line of cars and every time, I say: ‘I feel like a winner today.’ […] Getting into work, having a shower, having your oatmeal and you have this big smile — you’re just glowing because you started the day in the best possible way. That’s the magical thing about it.”

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Photos: Beth Welliver

Sixteen people — that’s the attendance record so far. Sixteen bike campers who’ve swapped their beds and their televisions and after work commutes to instead go and commune with nature. And with two years under its belt, COWYLO has taken on a life and legend of its own outside of Specialized, inspiring others to try their own version of the weekday adventure.

“I heard about it before I even started here,” says James Nixon, PR for Specialized. “I had a buddy who worked as an engineer, […] and he would say, ‘Yeah, we camp on a weeknight,’ which was just foreign [to me]. I grew up camping, but the idea of camping between workdays was just…whaaat? It was almost mystical, like whoa.”

“It’s becoming an institution — you’ve gotta like that,” says Erik. “And it’s something we should encourage a lot more people to do. [It shows] people how easy it is, and that you don’t need to plan for three weeks to do it.”

“And it’s only one night and it’s a short ride,” continues Rita, “So, if you want to carry your guitar, you’re not going that far — you can take whatever you want with you. Like if you want to take a skillet and make some eggs in the morning, you can.”

It’s not just beneficial for riders, either. Specialized reaps the rewards of the COWYLO vibe, too. “I would say that it has the same effect on my work week as the lunch ride has on my workday,” says Erik. “[With lunch ride] you ride your brains out and you get back and you’re energized — you got your sun, you got the fresh air, and you can be productive for the second half of the day. I get the same by doing the campouts in the beginning of the week.”

Weekdays may seem filled with stress and hassle, meetings and timelines, but for some, every day holds the potential of something special. Of freedom and escape. Of peace and tranquility. And so the sun sets and rises in a state of patient hope, winking seductively at the valley below. “Come and join me,” it says. “I’ll always be here for you.” Will you answer the call?

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