One of the things I absolutely love about riding bikes is bike camping.
When you ride, reality is in your face in a visceral way you forget about if you go from your house to your car to your job. If you don’t ride a bike, drive a convertible, or take a long walk from where you park to where you work, you get so isolated from reality you don’t recognize it. Think about it. In your cage do you smell someone’s smoker or burning leaves? Feel the humidity on your face? Hear the sounds of someone running a circle saw in their garage? Do you smell fresh cut grass in the summer? Can you smell when it’s going to rain or feel the pressure changing? 100 years ago everyone could, now we just know when Game of Thrones is coming.
I love all the gadgets in my house, but like Edward Norton said in Fight Club, the things we own end up owning us. There’s so much shit to worry about you can’t sleep at night. But on the motorcycle, a lot of that falls away. As long as I have my key and my saddlebags are latched, I’m good. Not much else to worry about. Sunscreen during the summer because I burn superfuckingeasy.
So on the bike you are:
- Experiencing nature with your sight and ears and nose
- Making vitamin D through your sunburned skin
- Loving life
Now, add camping to that. If you don’t like camping, you probably won’t like motorcycle camping. Go somewhere else, this post is not for you. If you do like camping, imagine the joys of camping but with even more minimalism, and the camping starts before you even get to the campsite.
In the summer of 2015 my brother and I decided to experiment with camping gear. We both settled on variants of the military sleep system. It’s a rain proof bivy with two bags inside it. Properly configured you can sleep comfortably in 90 degree weather or -30. Because we’re middle aged and cranky we also brought a tarp in case of torrential downpour and a self-inflating air-pad each. No tents or anything like that.
We headed up to Lake Wazee, Black River Falls WI.
Now as I’ve mentioned before and I’m sure I’ll mention again: I like food. I like to eat. There is no situation in which I can’t overdo it on food. So campfire cooking is a fun challenge for me. I have made fucking awesome meals for 12+ people with two cast iron pans, a pair of tongs, and an open fire. Even with my generous saddle bags, though, space is at a premium when bike camping. I settled on one folding-handle Coleman skillet and just a few supplies:
- A handful of charcoal to help our firewood
- A handful of wood chips because: wood smoke baby
- A simple tongs
- 1 simple chef’s knife
- tiny jar of olive oil
- tiny saly & pepper containers
- a few feet of aluminum foil, folded
We found a corner grocery store with steaks, mushrooms, and some broccoli. By making a smoke-collecting hood out of foil I was able to get some wood smoke on a couple of bone-in ribeyes and use a tiny amount of olive oil to cook up some mushrooms and broccoli. We sat in the dirt and ate like kings.
Now, we came to the campsite and dropped off some of our gear before going grocery shopping. This meant I had room for beer. You may notice that my Victory saddlebags are a touch more generous than your standard Harley bags, but I believe they are both water tight. I’ll just say that while saddlebags are not meant to be insulating, they hold enough ice to keep a lot of beer cold for a long time.
If one were to pack towels one could enjoy a lot of ice cold beer and safely haul their gear the next day. If you’re in Wazee, like we were, you should have a towel anyway because the swimming in the lake is fantastic.
We had a great time eating, drinking suds, warming by the fire, and talking while the stars wheeled overhead. The only downside was we underestimated the mosquitoes. The mozzies were all over the place like white on a rice-filled paper-plate in a snowstorm. While they didn’t bite me through the bivy, they could smell that I was there, and the flying around an inch from my face kept me awake. Despite having polished off a respectable-even-for-Wisconsin amount of beer the night before, we were up and out of there at 6am to escape the torture.
Still, my brother and I talk about this as one of the best times we’ve had. We were only 150 miles from home, it was only one night, and we didn’t go to some amazing destination like Pike’s Peak or the Dragon’s Tail. But we rode. We smelled the countryside. We ate a simple meal cooked over hot coals, drank cold beer, and talked about whatever men talk about under the stars until we fell asleep. There was no 4G LTE there. I couldn’t live blog this on Facebook as it was happening. Someone in a nearby campground asked if we had iPhone chargers and we just laughed. This was a perfect reboot for the brain.
Bike camping is the best.