The Joys of Camping – The Romance and the Reality

Jan 24, 2011 View Comments by

The late afternoon sunlight lay scattered like shards of glass on the forest floor, as I knelt over the glowing coals to check on my dinner’s progress. I was at a heavily wooded walk-in campsite for the weekend, and my secluded site seemed a world away from the row of RVs and campers, a short walk up the hill. The clear juices atop the T-Bone told me that it was probably ready, and a quick squeeze of the foil-wrapped potato below yielded the same verdict. The state of the similarly wrapped ear of sweet corn next to the potato was anybody’s guess, but as Meatloaf sings, “two outa three ain’t bad,” so I cautiously plucked the food from the fire and arranged it on my plate. The pièce de résistance was the contraband bottle of beer that I pulled from the floating ice in my cooler with furtive glances. As long as there were no beer-detectors hidden in the trees, I was probably safe.

This account illustrates, for lack of a better word, what I’ll call the “romance” of camping. It’s the essence of a perfect camping experience that manufacturers of camping gear try to tap into when marketing their products. It’s the image of a guy sitting by a campfire and gazing across a glass-smooth lake while the sun slides behind the mountains. There are no mosquitoes, bees, poison ivy, or neighbors twenty feet away playing Euchre at two in the morning by the glow of their tiki lights. Is it a bunch of hype? Not entirely. The opening description is an accurate account of a meal that I prepared at a local state park around thirty years ago. That meal, or perhaps I should say the experience of preparing and eating that meal, in the stillness of the forest, was absolute bliss. And there are just enough of those blissful moments in memory to keep me lining up for more.

Conversely, at the other end of the spectrum is what I’ll call “reality.” This next account, also entirely true, paints a completely different picture:  I awoke sometime in the pre-dawn hours of morning, quickly realizing that my sleeping bag was soaked with cold water. No surprise I suppose, considering there was around a half-inch of the liquid on my tent floor. I had no camping pad, and the bottom of my sleeping bag was completely saturated. I crawled out of my tent relieved to find the rain had stopped, boiled water for some jiffy-java, and opened the cooler. I had placed a plastic bag containing cinnamon rolls in the cooler the night before to protect them from marauding raccoons and the anticipation of the rolls and coffee was the momentary bright spot of my sodden predicament. That is, until I realized that the bag had a hole in it, and the rolls were every bit as wet as my sleeping bag. I promptly collapsed the tent, rolled it up with the contents still inside, and strapped the entire dripping mess onto my bike.

Am I trying to discourage you from camping? Quite the contrary. I would love to see campgrounds full of motorcyclists sharing stories around evening campfires. Truth is, a successful camping excursion is the culmination of good planning, proper gear for the conditions encountered, and perhaps a bit of luck thrown in for good measure. Although Mother Nature holds the ultimate trump card in any outdoor venture, there are many things that can be done to stack the deck in one’s favor. The nighttime rain that ruined my trip would have dampened my fun (pardon the pun) in any case, but it need not have sent me scrambling for home like it did. A campsite on higher ground, not to mention a better choice of storage for the cinnamon rolls, would have changed the outcome of the trip entirely. In the coming issues, I’d like to share with you some tips on motorcycle camping, as well as some personal experiences I’ve had. Most of my knowledge was learned the hard way, and which is why I’m confident the advice will be useful. My goal is to help beginning campers bypass the aggravation that I have endured and move directly onto an enjoyable excursion.

The first thing that prospective campers need to do is decide what type of experience they want, which should be a bit more specific than “a good experience.” For example, are you simply looking for cheap overnight accommodations, or do you plan to enjoy some of what camping has to offer by sticking around the campground for a while? Do you expect to cook your meals, or will you be eating out? Are you by yourself, or will you be two-up on the bike? Do you expect an evening shower and flush-toilets, or will a sponge bath and pit-toilet suffice? Get the picture now? The more specific your expectations are, the better prepared you’ll be to meet them with a good plan of attack. I hope you join me in the coming issues for a few smiles and some tips to insure that your camping experience contains more romance than reality.

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