The Joys of Camping

Text: Rick Schunk • Photography: Uwe Krauss

Location, location, location. This real estate mantra certainly applies when selecting a piece of land on which to pitch your tent. The good news, though, is that finding a perfect camping spot is far less stressful and less consequential than purchasing a home. When searching for a great campsite, you should focus on two aspects: the type of campground and a specific site within the area. A bad decision for either one can result in spending more than you have to or a sleepless night - or both.

For starters, I suggest that, unless there's no other option, pass on the RV parks. These places are designed for large vehicles primarily, not tent camping. As such, shade and grass are usually in short supply, and the distance to the restroom usually requires lacing up your hiking boots. When nature calls at 2 a.m., this can be uncomfortable to say the least. Additionally, RV parks are usually expensive, with thirty dollars or more, per night, being the norm.

So what should you look for when selecting a campground? The general location is extremely important. "Easy freeway access" spells trouble, as Peterbilt and Kenworth will keep you awake all night long. It takes at least two miles to separate yourself from the traffic noise.

You'll want to be at least two miles from railroad traffic, as well. I once stayed in a campground just off the Mississippi River, in Wisconsin, where the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF) trains ran every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. As if that wasn't bad enough, the railroad crossing was less than 200 yards from my site. Along with the rumble, I had a virtual cornucopia of BNSF horns and whistles. How I missed the railroad crossing signs on check-in is still a mystery - but even experienced campers make mistakes now and then.

There are many great state and national park campgrounds that avoid the problems of interstate traffic and train noise. Tent-friendly private campgrounds can also offer a lot of amenities such as laundry and camp store facilities.

Once you've selected the perfect place for camping, you need to think about the campsite location within the campground. Adequate lighting can be your friend on that 2 a.m. jaunt to the bathroom, but the flip side is that the all-night-long, 500-watt, Halogen flood light will punch right through your tent's fabric walls. Great for late night reading, bad for sleeping. Choose wisely, the position of these security lights is easy to overlook during daylight hours as you select a spot.

The proximity of motorhomes is another consideration. A noisy generator can wreak havoc with a good night's sleep. Today, most RV parks provide electrical hookups, but it's good to keep this in mind just in case.

When choosing a tent location, consider the lay of the land. Always take the high ground, if possible. Few things are worse than waking up to discover that you're floating when a sudden storm hits during the night. And a wet night of camping can certainly put a damper on the coming day's activities.

When canvas tents were state-of-the-art, it was standard operating procedure to cut a shallow drainage trench around the tent's perimeter to help funnel off rain water. Generally, this is unnecessary with today's equipment. With a properly fitting rain fly and a ground cloth that protects, yet doesn't extend beyond the tent's floor, you should be warm and dry during all but the heaviest rain. And besides, environmentally friendly campers frown on trench digging.

Once you've chosen the high ground, follow up with a closer inspection of the ground itself. Ant holes, depressions, oak or walnut trees in the fall, class-five gravel - all of these factors can take a toll on your tent's ground cloth and floor, not to mention your back. Remove sticks, small stones, and anything else that might puncture the base and disrupt your sleep. Make sure you'll be able to set up the tent on a pretty flat section of ground as well. Sleeping with your head downhill is never comfortable. Finally, inspect surrounding items like picnic tables for signs of tree sap. It's best not to camp under that tree! Thick grassy tent sites are a dream come true. Treat them with respect. In all cases, strive to leave your campsite as clean or cleaner than you found it.

Which direction does your prospective tent site face? Will it catch the morning sun and aid in drying any dew? You can always pack a slightly damp tent on the condition that you can dry it out the next evening. But what if your plans change and you don't set up camp the following night? Harness the sun's energy, and pack your tent worry free.

Along with a decent spot for your tent, a picnic table, and a fire pit or grill is ideal if you intend to cook. More primitive campsites, like those provided by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), should include bear proof boxes for your food and cosmetic items, if you're in bear country. A nylon tent isn't much of a deterrent to a 300-pound black bear, and motorcyclists don't have the luxury of throwing food items in their trunks for safe keeping.

With a little experience you'll be able to spot a good campground location and a reat site. Take the time to observe and imagine what the surroundings will be like after dark, or when you climb into your sleeping bag. Focusing on your location and choosing wisely up front will not only make your trip and sleep that much more enjoyable, but you'll likely be anticipating your next motorcycle camping trip.