The Case For Camping

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: Bruce Read, Karen Parks

You see them at motorcycle rallies, state parks, and numerous other locations: motorcyclists camping out on the ground. Do you ever wonder what it would be like to pitch your tent under the stars, cook your meals over an open fire, let the rhythms of nature lull you to sleep in a cozy sleeping bag, and have a tree full of birds sing you awake in the morning?

Why Camp?
Communing with nature is one of the most enticing reasons to camp out, but there are many others.

Self Sufficiency - Taking one's own food and shelter, in addition to two-wheeled transportation, conveys a greater sense of freedom to roam and explore. Having camping gear along on any motorcycle trip also provides back-up sleeping accommodations when all of the lodgings on the route have their "No Vacancy" signs out.

Saving Money - Campsite fees cost a fraction of the average motel's nightly rate and preparing meals also reduces daily touring costs. In other words, for the same amount of money, a camping motorcyclist can travel farther and stay away longer than riders who stay in motels and eat their meals in restaurants.

Meeting People - When motorcyclists pitch their tents in campgrounds and gather around a campfire, no one is a stranger. Camping at a motorcycle rally can be a particularly rich experience and a great way to learn about interesting new routes and destinations.

Spending Time Alone - Conversely, camping in more remote areas allows you to really get away from it all and recharge your batteries.

Cooking and Eating Outdoors - For me, food just tastes better when it's prepared and eaten outdoors. Even the portable food rations I had to eat in the U.S. Army tasted less gruesome when consumed outdoors on maneuvers.

A Greater Sense of Adventure - If motorcycle touring is about finding adventure in today's humdrum world, then camping clearly takes that experience to the next level. A motorcycle camping trip can be a wonderful time, as more riders are discovering every day.

So, What Can Go Wrong?
Although a motorcycle camping trip can be idyllic, it also can turn into your worst nightmare.

Where Did My Camping Gear Go? - The packing strategy I used on my first motorcycle camping trip proved to be a good lesson in what not to do. I was riding a cruiser-type bike with a tiny rear seat. I stacked item after item of camping gear on this small platform, all of it held together by a complex array of bungee cords. When finished, the rear of my bike resembled a model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa; and once we were rolling, the wind and vibrations launched everything off the back. Playing "pickup the camping gear" while dodging cars on a major highway is a scenario I don't wish to repeat. If you look at your packed gear and muse, "I think that will hold," you can count on it not to, so you better reassemble it.

Oops, I Forgot - A camping gear checklist is critical for packing everything that you will need on a trip, but discovering that your inflatable sleeping pad is still at home can make for a sleepless night and an aching back in the morning.

Oh No, the Campsite is Full! - Many campsites operate on a first-come, first-served basis. And especially during warmer months, many of these campgrounds fill up earlier in the evening than do the motels. So if you're late you'll probably have to resort to a more expensive, and perhaps more distant, lodging option.

Who Turned Out the Lights? - On my first motorcycle camping trip a buddy and I had reservations at a campground, but we arrived after dark. Trying to set up camp on this moonless night, with only a headlight to illuminate the area, was the last thing we wanted to be doing after a long day's ride. Gear found easily in daylight becomes a treasure hunt after dark, particularly if you don't have a flashlight; and, after the tent is finally assembled and you crawl into your sleeping bag, the tent floor invariably rests on a sharp rock in a most inconvenient location.

How Does This New Tent Work, Anyway? - One of the most common mistakes new campers make is failing to familiarize themselves with their gear before leaving on a trip. It is certainly entertaining for some, but there is nothing more frustrating - and maybe even somewhat embarrassing - than awkwardly trying to erect a new tent in front of your more experienced camping neighbors.

Hey, Where's the Toilet? - Some camping locations don't have basic amenities, like running water, bathrooms, and showers. Consequently, campers settling down in these areas have to plan ahead and compensate by bringing along the necessary items.

The Rain Must Fall - Trudging around a campsite in the rain is not a lot of fun, but sooner or later you will be rained on while camping. If this is when you discover that your tent leaks, a very long, miserable night is a highly likely bet.

Why is Everything Wet if it Didn't Rain Last Night? - Warm weather with high humidity produces morning dew.

Why Can't I Fall Asleep? - A light sleeper, I often have trouble falling asleep the first night in a fabric shelter, on an inflatable sleeping pad, and with unaccustomed sounds of nature and other campers passing through very thin walls. Earplugs can help muffle any irritating noises keeping you awake, like the sound of snoring from the camper just 50 feet away.

Don't Bug Me! - Inexperienced campers are often afraid of being attacked by marauding members of the wild kingdom. Snakes crawling into their sleeping bags or bears foraging for food usually top the list of many new campers' most feared encounters. However, you're likely to find that the smallest creatures - mosquitoes, bees, ants, and gnats - are the most annoying visitors at your campsite.

My worst experience with wildlife on a camping trip involved bugs. A buddy and I decided to cut through thick underbrush to access a secluded fishing spot. About 25 yards into the undergrowth, we noticed that most of the leaves were covered with ticks. We beat a hasty retreat, and as we emerged from the jungle, an old-timer greeted us, saying, "I was kind of worried about you boys in there, 'cause of that big den of rattlesnakes." Momentarily thankful that the ticks had triggered the quick exit, I felt my euphoria fade over the next several hours as I tried to master the art of tick extraction by flashlight in the gathering darkness.

Why Are the Other Campers Giving Me Dirty Looks? - There's no real privacy in most campgrounds, which is why most have posted rules. With that in mind, making a lot of noise, particularly during "quiet hours," is one sure way to earn the lasting enmity of your neighbors.

Part II: What to Know Before You Go.
Planning ahead is the key to having an enjoyable motorcycle camping trip. Our next installment on motorcycle camping covers 10 steps to make your next trip a great success.