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Komfortable Kamping

by Cathy Seckman
WINDING ROAD MOTORCYCLE TIMES
March/April, 1999, pp. 58-59

     Winter should be loosening its hold on the northeast about now.  If we're lucky, it'll show at least 40o on the bank thermometer when the mail carrier drives out of town to deliver this issue to me.  But I'll still be in hibernation mode next to the fire with my afghan, a cup of tea and a stack of motorcycle magazines.  The bikes will still be clean and waxed and covered up in the back of the basement.  My husband will still be cussing at the map program on the computer while he plans routes for this summer's camping trip to New England.  (We'll be gone for two weeks, and we might get as far as Nova Scotia).

     But spring is surely coming, and it's time to get ready. It occurs to me that I know a lot about motorcycle camping. We don't do it the hard way -- throwing your sleeping bag down under a tree behind the rest stop -- and we don't do it the easy way -- from Kamping Kabin to Mickey D's. But after years of comfortable, mid-priced wandering around, we know all the angles. So here's my take on motorcycle camping.

     It all started back in 1979. We owned a brand-new 1000ST Kawasaki and were itching to take a camping trip. Trouble was, we didn't know how. The two of us and all of our stuff had to fit on one bike with a tiny luggage rack and a set of KG bags. We needed advice. We ran into a couple with a Vetter-dressed 750 Yamaha down on the Blue Ridge Parkway. They were on a 10-day camping trip.

     "We've been thinking about doing this" I said, by way of introduction. I waved an uncertain hand around their meager campsite. "Can you tell us how you fit all this stuff on one bike?"

     We listened to their advice, watched them pack up, then went home to try it ourselves. We didn't own a tent, just two big plastic tarps for a lean-to. We bungeed a sleeping bag, duffel bags and some cooking gear to various parts of the biek, and set off for the local state park (where they had pit toilets).

     That overnight trip has to rank as our stupidest vacation experience. As we squirmed on the rocky ground and swatted the mosquitoes that zoomed back and forth under the tarp, we talked about what we should have done. That conversation has continued for 20 years, and we're still refining our camping technique. Today we tour with two motorcycles, a pop-up camper and our own personal copy of "Everything We Need to Know About Motorcycle Camping We Learned From That Stupid Trip to the Park."

     Rule 1: You need a full-service campground. It doesn't matter how much money you spend, it'll still be cheaper than a motel. Sure, you can stay for free in some state and provincial parks, but you probably won't have hot showers, and you might not even have a flush toilet. Those things are pretty important to me after spending a long day on a motorcycle. A cheap campground can be annoying, too, for its lack of amenities. It might have showers, but no picnic tables; flush toilets, but no trash pickup; shade trees, but no laundry. Expect to spend $15-30 a night at a full-service campground. It'll be worth it, because you'll be comfortable.

     We like KOAs (Kampgrounds of America) because their corporate policy is to accept motorcyclists. We know we can pull into one anywhere in the country and they have to take us. You won't spend much time motorcycle camping before you find out that some campgrounds turn you away for the sin of arriving on two wheels.

     Rule 2: You need to stay dry. A lean-to made of pine boughs, or even $12 tarps, may be cheap and picturesque, but it won't keep you dry. Nothing is more miserable than camping in the rain, unless it's camping in the rain without a good tent. We introduced a friend to camping once, and I foolishly told her to buy a cheap tent in case she didn't like it. She spent $25 at Kmart, and and got about $25 worth of protection from it before enough water poured in to float her air mattress. She slept most of the night in her car, then went home and bought a good dome tent with a rain fly.

     If you're camping alone, have few possessions and are reasonably flexible, a sturdy pup tent will do, but couples need at least a four-person tent. That way there'll be room for two people, plus luggage. Remember, you can't lean your duffel bags, or your sleeping bag, against the outside wall of the tent. They'll get wet.

     Rule 3: When it rains all day, you need to be able to stand up and stay dry at the same time. Most motorcycle campers buy llittle A-frame or dome tents because they pack small and light. The trouble is, you can't stand up in them comfortably. It can be really annoying to try to put on your rainsuit while sitting crosslegged and hunched over in a small tent. So either buy a tent taller than you are, or invest in one of those $12 tarps and a few pieces of rope. Then camp in some trees, and string the tarp from tree to tree by its corners. Voila -- a stand-up dressing room.

     Rule 4: You need to sleep off the ground. It didn't take us long, after that first disastrous campout, to buy an air mattress. They squeak every time you turn over, but the insulation from rocks and cold, wet ground is worth a few squeaks. There are other options besides air mattresses. You can get a self-inflating pad if you have a lot of money. Don't opt for a piece of foam, cheap as it may be, because it'll just soak up water.

     When you get past 40, you might decide, as we did, that a tent and air mattress just aren't enough. Which brings us to

     Rule 5: When it's time to buy a camper, shop long and hard. There are plenty of choices in motorcycle campers. You just have to decide which options are right for you. They all start with a canvas- or nylon--packed box, from which you raise, unfold, prop up and tie down the walls and roof. Setup can take 90 seconds or 20 minutes, depending on brand and size. Most sleep two comfortably, the biggest can sleep four.

     With some of the bigger campers, you have to take the walls and roof completely off the camper to stow them. That means your sleeping bags and clothes are out in the open and exposed to the elements while you pack and unpack. You have to decide whether the extra space is worth it.

     With some campers, you have to open them up completely to get your stuff. With others, the cargo box is easily accessible whether the walls are up or down. You have to decide how important it is to get to your toothbrush in the middle of a 500-mile ride.

     Rule 6: Cooking in camp is fun, but only if the cook thinks so. When we first started camping, we assumed we'd eat most of our meals in restaurants, but that turned out to be less convenient than you think. Picture this -- it's 101o in the shade, but you're comfortable in shorts and swimsuits, sitting lazily around camp and squirting each other with water guns. Do you really want to put on jeans, boots, helmets and gloves to go to eat? Or picture this -- it's been raining since yesterday, your leathers are still damp, but you're dry and cozy under a tarp with the campfire. Do you really want to wriggle into those leathers and go for a supper ride?

     We had our epiphany during one of those all-day rains. The Fudpuckers, our ride-to-eat, eat-to-ride group, had scraped together hot dogs and chips for lunch under the tarps, and no one wanted to bestir themselves to get wet and go out to dinner.

     "We have Sue's quadracycle," someone said. "We could send her to the grocery store for food."

     "There are 19 of us," someone else said. "How could we cook for that many people? Who would cook for that many people?"

     My husband stuck out his chest. "I can do it," he offered. "Let me. Please, please, let me!"

     It was as simple as that. We always eat in camp now, and he nearly always cooks. Fudpucker Stew is famous from the Rockies to the Adirondacks. As long as you have someone in your group like that, you have it made.

     Rule 7: It's perfectly okay to sneer at the motel people for being sissies. Click here to return to Lessons Learned Page 1