Posts Tagged With: camp

How to Pack

My friend Bob recently emailed me, knowing that I’ve done a few of these road trips, asking my advice on packing and loading a bike for a week (or more, in his case) on the road. I gave him some quick answers, but figured the detailed explanation would be better shared with the world, so here we are.

Packing a bike for a road trip is a bit of an art form. The exact procedure is going to be different for every bike, and for every rider, because everyone takes different stuff. Some may grab food on the road, while others may bring a full camp kitchen. Some may stay in hotels, while others sleep under the stars. Some may use a tent barely big enough for their sleeping bag, while others strap the Tent Mahal on the back of the bike. Some like to go low tech, while others bring cameras, DVD players, or in my case ham radios. There’s no single right way to pack, because every person and every bike is different. I’m going to show you what I do, and explain why I do it. You can use that as a starting point to do what I do, or use similar logic to make your own decisions, or decide that I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. Whatever works.

So here we have my PC800, loaded up and ready to go.IMG_0718 It’s a terrible picture that I’ve never posted before, but I’m not about to go dig my bike out of a snowbank and load it up for a trip I’m not going to take, so I’ll settle for it for the sake of this discussion.  As you can sort of see, the back of the PC800 opens up like a car trunk, revealing two large storage compartments on either side of the back wheel. On the left side, I have my air mattress, travel pillow, and a thermos of coffee. I snapped this as I was about to leave for Lake George. What I didn’t expect was that the following morning, the coffee I hadn’t drank in the thermos was still warm. So for an overnight, if you’re a coffee drinker, you can get your cup of joe before getting on the bike  by bringing it with you from home. Anyway. I also usually bring an pair of comfy shoes with me so I can get out of the riding boots when I get where I’m going. I usually end up sliding these wherever I can fit them in the main trunk. Often they’ll fit between stuff on the left side.

The right side of the main trunk is where I have my ham radio mounted for APRS. It’s a “permanent” installation, meaning it’s bolted in and not going anywhere. The associated wiring and TinyTrak3+ live here, too. The bike’s own toolkit plus whatever other tools I feel like bringing sit in the bottom of this side. In the photo I’ve stashed an extra fleece in there, along with my cargo net, because you never know when you might need to strap something else to the bike. I usually keep a small hand towel in here, mostly to wipe the dew off the bike in the morning. Then I used the cargo net to strap it down to the rack on top of my top trunk before I set off, letting the wind dry it off as the morning goes on. I put it all away at one of my stops along the way once it’s dry.

Though I normally leave it on the bike, my Givi top trunk is detachable, and I take full advantage of that on these trips. I bring it inside and pack it like a suitcase, with clothes, toiletries, and pretty much anything I’d pack for a few days away from home. I’ve found that packing extra clothes for a week rather than a weekend doesn’t take up nearly as much space as I thought. Also, Ana taught me a trick before my Florida trip that rolling up clothes actually takes up less space than folding them normally. I didn’t believe it at first, but I tried it, and that’s what made the difference of letting me fit four days worth of clothes plus my bulky motorcycle jacket in my suitcase. (The other trick was to wear my riding boots on the plane. They’d take up a lot of room in the suitcase, but they unzip quickly and easily to get through airport security.) A week’s worth of clothes, plus various other odds and ends, are about the most the top trunk can handle. I know from my Canada trip that I was getting a bit tired after seven days straight on the road, so on a longer trip I’d take a day off from riding, and find a way to run a load of laundry through somewhere.

In the top trunk I also pack anything additional I want quick and easy access to – cameras, printed maps or directions (you never know if the GPS is going to conk out), earplugs… When I reach my overnight destination, I simply detach the top trunk and bring it into the tent or wherever else I’m staying.

IMG_0719Once the trunks are all packed and shut, I strap my tent, sleeping bag, and the tarp I put under the tent onto the back seat. The top trunk helps hold these in place, and a series of bungees keep them from shifting around on me. I can’t quite use them as a backrest, but that’s OK. The sleeping bag and tent are each in waterproof stuff sacks instead of the bags they came in. Even if I ride through a downpour at least I’m not spending the night in a wet sleeping bag in a damp tent. I can still open the top trunk pretty easily with everything strapped on. And though it’s a bit more difficult due to all the extra weight, I can still open the main trunk if I have to.  It needs a little muscle to get it open, but once it’s open the hydraulic strut still manages to hold it there. It would work for an emergency repair on the side of the road, but when I reach my destination it’s definitely easier to unstrap the stuff on the back seat first.

And that’s how I do it.

How should you do it? However works for you. In Bob’s case, he has an ex-cop Harley, which has hard bags but no top trunk or luggage rack. In a case like that, if you don’t want to go all out and buy them (they’re not cheap, especially for a Harley), you could buy a waterproof nylon bag of the appropriate dimensions to carry what you need, and strap it to the back instead. If you attach the bag first, you can use it to help support the tent and sleeping bag like I do with my top trunk. You could also use cam-lock straps instead of bungees to attach your cargo a bit more solidly. Ratchet straps would also work but are probably overkill, and would risk bending bits of your bike. The bungees I have work just fine for what I do. In fact I brought these very same bungees to Florida with me to strap my suitcase to the back of the Street Glide for the trip from the hotel to return the bike to EagleRider.

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Greatest Hits Tour

I’ve booked a campsite at Mohawk Trail State Forest in a couple of weeks. I’ve been wanting to get out and do another bike camping trip before it gets too cold, yet I’m limited by the schedule of my new job, so I chose somewhere I can get to on a Friday night after work and hopefully still be able to set my tent up in daylight. That’ll give me an early start in western MA to take a loop on Saturday, and a long loop ending at home on Sunday.

As I’m sitting here wearing my Eric Clapton World Tour 2001 t-shirt, I thought of a theme for this trip – a Greatest Hits Tour. The Mohawk Trail is one of my favorite roads, and I’ll be camping right along it. I can do a loop out around Lake George, back into Vermont past Mad River Glen, and hit a few other favorites in the area along the way. Sunday I might head down to CT, where I haven’t ridden much yet but want to check out and see what’s there.  I’ll hit Lime Rock Park, which is a race track I haven’t visited in a while (I’ve driven it a few times) and explore the nice area around there a bit.  I’ll pass by the Quabbin Reservoir on my way home.  It’ll kind of be one last hurrah for my multiple day camping trips this year due to my limited time for this sort of thing.  Should be fun, especially if the wonderful weather we’ve been having continues.

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Lessons Learned: Canadian Edition

My longest bike trip last year was my three day trip around Vermont. Last week’s Canada ride more than doubles that. As I said, I’m rather amazed things worked out as well as they did, especially considering how quickly I threw this trip together. There are also plenty of things I’ve learned as a result of this trip.

Plan routes manually

Though I had a general concept of how a Cabot Trail trip could work, I didn’t work out the details, where I’d spend each night, etc. until the day before I left. As a result, I didn’t do what I usually do and, rather than simply ask my GPS or Google or whatever to plot me a route from place to place, browse Google Maps myself, and look for scenic, squiggly roads that look like they’d be fun to ride. As a result, I ended up on long stretches of superslab that my GPS insisted was not a highway and probably missed out on some excellent roads in these areas as a result. I also may have been able to avoid spending hours backtracking down roads I’d already ridden to get out to Cape Breton Island, and possibly found better quality roads while I was at it.

Don’t trust “Avoid highways”

Going along with manual route planning, I found the “Avoid highways” route planning feature of my TomTom GPS to be useless. I have this problem with Route 2 and I-190 near home, but out in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia it was convinced that Trans Canadian Highway 104 was not, in fact, a highway, and it was dead wrong. If I’d planned my route myself, I would’ve known how to trick it into guiding me down the route I actually wanted by telling it to take me from town to town along my preferred route.

Plan some downtime

During this trip, 200 miles was a short day. That’s about the length of my trip to and from Maine from home, and the Cabot Trail.  By the last day, I wasn’t enjoying being on the bike so much, and I needed more and more stops to rest and stretch. I didn’t even get on the bike again for several days after I got home, despite decent weather to ride. I think this is because the entire week was go, go, go.  Even if the day’s mileage wasn’t too much, they were all full days, whether I was on the bike or off.  For any longer trips, I think I need to plan at least one rest day per week. I can certainly get on the bike to run into town for supplies if needed, but that would be about it. I’m not as young as I used to be, and my body needs some time to recover.

Staying two nights isn’t so bad

I’ve previously ranted about the growing trend of many campgrounds requiring a minimum two night stay. This prevents me from riding a fair distance, camping one night, then continuing on the next morning – at least without paying for two nights and only staying one. However, once you’re in an area you want to explore, it’s actually easier to stay in the same place multiple nights. Case in point – I rode the Cabot Trail pretty much unloaded, because I camped in the same place the nights before and after. The only reason I put the top trunk back on was for the extra lighting. I didn’t have to worry about breaking down camp and loading the bike before leaving, or setting up camp when I was done riding for the day. In that way, it’s probably easier to do a three day trip than two days, like my recent New York adventure. On longer trips, this is also a good way to build in a rest day if I’m not staying with a friend.

One day on Cape Breton Island is not enough

I went there to ride the Cabot Trail, and I was successful. There are many places and parts of Cape Breton Island I learned about that I didn’t get to see or do, such as:

  • The Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddeck
  • More of the Gaelic College
  • The Bras d’Or Lakes Scenic Drive
  • A whale watch
  • Hiking in the Cape Breton Highlands
  • The Fortress of Louisbourg
  • Ride the Cabot Trail clockwise, and/or both directions

That list, alone, sounds like enough to fill a return trip, and that’s just what I could think of off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s more.

The Bay of Fundy is a trip in itself

I visited the Bay of Fundy because it was on my way to Cape Breton Island.  But there is plenty to look at there that’s worth a trip in itself.  It would be a long day in the saddle, but I could potentially ride the 500 miles or so from home to Alma, NB in one day. Then I could spend a day or two just bumming around the parks before taking another long ride straight home. At least one full day at the Bay of Fundy is necessary to get through an entire tidal cycle, to be able to see the full effect of the huge tides there. Hopewell Rocks may cost $10 to get into, which is a bit steep for a stop on my way somewhere, but it would be well worth it to spend the day and see the tidal changes for myself. There are plenty of activities to keep you occupied there for an entire day besides just looking at water.

Rain isn’t so bad

Don’t get me wrong. I prefer to avoid riding in the rain entirely. And I consider myself VERY fortunate that it didn’t rain on me during my entire time in Canada. But, the downpour I went through in Portsmouth, NH put my rain gear to the test, and I stayed perfectly dry. My biggest problem was not being wet, and not even reduced traction, but just plain visibility. That said, I do need to RainX my windshield and visor. But I’m a lot less concerned about having rainy days during a longer trip than I used to be.

Get a battery powered air mattress inflator

It goes without saying that I need to patch the leak in my air mattress. But the effect of this leak would’ve been mitigated if I had a small battery operated inflator in addition to the one that runs off my cigarette lighter. In fact, for as short a time as I need to run the inflator, I might be better off with the portability of the battery operated one anyway, and just being able to keep it in my tent. That way, if I do lose air in the middle of the night, I can just grab the inflator, fill it up, and go back to sleep. It’s far more difficult to do that when I have to plug it into the bike and run the engine to generate enough electricity for it. Not to mention that some campsites, like the one I had at Fundy, don’t let you park close enough to your tent for that to even be an option.

I’m sure there’s more, but those are the big ones I can think of right now.

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The Molly Stark Trail and Americade

It was a relaxed Saturday morning. Certainly not lazy, but not super early either. Although this trip would be a whirlwind tour, the daily mileage wasn’t that high, so I had some time to pull myself together. I’d never done this motorcycle camping thing before, so I wanted to give myself plenty of time to work out the kinks in my plan.

IMG_0719Loading the bike was easy, mainly because I’d practiced earlier in the week and bought some appropriately sized bungee cords when the ones I had didn’t work. I’d taken my top trunk inside the night before and packed it like a small suitcase, which was exactly how I’d use it this trip. I added some tools to the right side of my main trunk, and the air mattress and pillow fit into the left, with enough room for my thermos as well. I know it’ll keep coffee hot for more than a day, so I brewed a full pot, drank some, and packed up the rest. One less thing to think about in the morning. Once the trunks were loaded, I strapped the tent and sleeping bag to the back seat and I was ready. Best of all, I still had access to both trunks with the extra cargo.

After a short super slab blast to get out of town, I picked up 119 and followed it all the way to NH. This took me through part of the Give Back Ride route I’d done recently, but this time I could enjoy the twisty bits through Willard Brook State Forest. The bike handled much better than I expected with the extra load. It was easier than carrying a passenger, and carrying a passenger is not difficult at all. A flock of sport bikes caught up to me on this section. I hope I didn’t slow them down too much. We soon got caught behind slow moving cars as we crossed into New Hampshire. Nearly all of them managed to follow me when I passed them, and when a climbing lane appeared I moved right and slowed down to let them by. A few stragglers caught up to me soon after, and I moved over and waved them by. Clearly they were trying to catch up to their buddies ahead of me.

IMG_0721The rest of the trip up through Keene and into Brattleboro, VT was uneventful. I picked up Route 9 west out of Brattleboro, the Molly Stark Trail.  This is the section where, during last year’s Vermont trip, my trip eastbound on this road, along with at least a hundred other cars and bikes, was ruined by one slow moving RV. This time, I was, for the most part, unimpeded, and was able to enjoy this road in its entirety.  The Mohawk Trail to the south in Massachusetts has traditionally been one of my favorite roads, but I think it’s just been replaced by the Molly Stark Trail.  The scenery is even better, the twists and turns and hills are fun, and the speed is a bit higher. I stopped at a couple of scenic overlooks to snap some pictures. The colors are amazingly brilliant.

After Bennington I set course into New York state, new territory for me on a motorcycle. At lunchtime, I followed Bamarider‘s advice and looked for the bikes.  I skipped the fast food joints, and found a number of bikes parked at Benson’s Family Restaurant in Eagle Bridge. It was quite hot and humid at this point – lemonade has never tasted so good to me as I rehydrated and had a chicken salad sandwich.

I soon remembered something interesting about rural NY. Take a road that, where I live in Massachusetts, is posted at a 40mph speed limit.  NY has a state speed limit of 55, and unless there’s a good reason to slow you down, they don’t.  So, rather like VT, but even a tad faster, I feel like a hooligan as I bomb down these roads a whole lot faster than I’m allowed to at home, legally. In fact, I saw very little law enforcement presence at all along my route.

Before long my GPS brought me into Saratoga Springs and to the Saratoga Automobile Museum – my primary mission objective for the day. It was so hot and humid that I was glad to get off the bike for a few hours and check out the sights inside. I’ll post a separate entry about the museum itself, so that those who are more interested in the travel story can skip along while anyone interested in some sweet BMW cars and motorcycles can stare at my pictures for a while.

day1After the museum, I set a course for Lake George Escape, my overnight stop. Along the way, I saw lots of bikes. I figured it was because it was a hot, sunny day, but the number of bikes became almost overwhelming at times.  As I pulled into the town of Lake George, they were literally everywhere – many of them in both lanes of traffic through the center of town, and hundreds parked on either side of the road.  Unbeknownst to me, I’d ridden smack dab into the middle of Americade – the world’s largest motorcycle touring rally. How did I not know about this?! Mainly, because I’d planned to do this trip the previous weekend, but couldn’t find a place to stay, and then the weather turned bad, so I rescheduled for the first weekend in June without thinking, and that was the very beginning of Americade.

I continued on to camp, despite it being only 4pm. Being my first motorcycle camping adventure, I wanted to make sure I had time to get set up and deal with any difficulties before dark. I arrived, checked in, and found that my reservation did not exist anywhere in their computer.  Fortunately, this wasn’t a problem, as they had plenty of vacancy, and booked me a nice little camp site across the street from the beach.  Only then did I realize that swim trunks were an item I should’ve brought and didn’t.  Oh well – the shower was good, too. I rolled in – passing many bikes there for Americade on the way – found my site, and set things up.  The tent was no problem, since I’d used it before.  I had a small problem with the air mattress – I blew the fuse on the bike when I turned on the inflator.  Unfortunately that also took out my headlights, since they’re all wired together.  I found no spare fuse where it was supposed to be, but discovered that my ham radio power wiring uses the same type of fuses, so I popped the fuse in and had my lights back.  I also turned on the motor, and used the throttle locker to set a high idle around 2000 RPM to generate some extra electrical power.  I was then able to inflate my air mattress with no problem.  So I had a bed, and headlights, but no APRS until I replaced the fuse for the radio.

IMG_0789After unloading the bike, I went back out for provisions – a sandwich for dinner, a light for the tent (I forgot my flashlight at home), and some beer. Back at camp, I brought the top trunk into the tent with me, then slipped into shorts and comfy shoes – completely inappropriate for the bike, but I was done riding for the day. And so I enjoyed my beer and dinner by the beach.

Afterward, I completely failed to build a campfire. What can I say – I was never a Boy Scout, and never allowed to play with fire. I’ve already learned some tricks that should let me to get one going next time, no matter how inept my abilities.  Once it got dark, the bugs came out, despite a completely ineffective citronella candle, so I retreated to my tent. I did a little research on Americade on my iPhone, and it looked quite interesting to a two wheel tripper like me. However, I was on an extremely tight schedule, since I was due home the following day and had taken no time off work for this trip. It would’ve been nice to take at least a day to check out Americade, but I simply didn’t have the time, so I decided to stick to my original plan of heading out to Fort Ticonderoga on Sunday, then heading home.  But now that I know about this event, I may have to see about attending for real, rather than completely by accident, next year. In fact, upon returning home, an old friend of mine asked me “Hey, why didn’t you tell me you were going to Americade? We should’ve gone together!” Maybe next year, with any planning whatsoever, we can.

Anyhow, I soon shut off my phone to save its battery, rolled over, and went to sleep by the sounds of croaking frogs in the nearby river.

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Better Luck Next Weekend

That’s not just a wish – it’s a fact. I am having better luck planning an overnight for next weekend. In fact, I’ve done it.

It’s pretty much like I described in my last post. On Saturday, I’ll cruise out to Saratoga Springs, NY, to the Saratoga Automobile Museum, partly to ride some fun roads across MA, NH, and VT into NY, and partly to check out the BMW exhibit there – which, I’ve discovered, includes a number of BMW motorcycles as well.  I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures.  From there, it’s a fairly short hop up to Lake George Escape Campground, where I’ll try out this camping by motorcycle thing for the first time.  Sunday I’ll break down camp, visit Fort Ticonderoga, then meander home by a mostly different route. It looks to be a good mix of places I’ve been to and through before and would like to visit again, and a bunch of new places and roads, too.

I spent way too much time this morning just trying to find a campground that would accommodate my travel plans. It’s not that there’s a shortage of campgrounds, nor was there any problem with availability the weekend after Memorial Day.  The big problem is that many places these days are requiring a minimum two night stay.  On this trip, unless I make special arrangements to leave work early on Friday and miss a whole lot of fun back roads by taking the highway out there, I’d still get there long after dark.  And in general, for motorcycle touring, I’m on my way somewhere, stop off for a night, and then keep going, rather than hanging around a particular area for a couple of days.  There are exceptions, but not many.  Sure, I could always reserve for two and just stay the one, but that doubles the cost of the stay.  The most sad part is that it seems to be many of the state parks and campgrounds that have adopted this policy. NY, VT, and MA have all done it.  That’s really too bad, because state parks are generally a great value for the money as compared to private campgrounds.  So I’m paying a little more at Lake George Escape (it’s not a cheap area to begin with), but at least they allow me to stay for just the one night.

Now I need to go pull the tent I’m borrowing out of storage and repack it in a form suitable for motorcycle transport. I also need to evaluate whether my sleeping bag should travel in the bag it came in, or something more weather tight. The forecast for next weekend is looking awesome, so it may not be an issue as far as dampness. I could always carry a garbage bag to wrap it in if necessary.

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Too Many People

After pondering several additional possibilities, I’ve given up on an overnight trip this weekend. Because Memorial Day weekend is such a popular excursion time, everybody’s doing it. Everything is already reserved – my fault for not thinking of this sooner. Everything is also more expensive than usual. Even camping is pricy – the cheapest I could find was $60/night, or $30 with a two night minimum, which is the same thing. I could stay in a motel one night for $90-100. When did camping get so expensive?

So I’ll probably just do a day trip instead. I have a route I mostly haven’t done before through CT and MA. I’ve also pondered going to the Royal’s Car Show at Lime Rock Park on Sunday. There’s a motorcycle category, and they’re encouraging people to bring out whatever they have. A rare PC800 like mine (they only made about 500 in 1998) would be worth showing off. But that would be a day of showing, not riding, and with nowhere local to stay it would be a very early and possibly cold start to the day. If I want two days of bike related stuff, I could do the show, and take a day trip somewhere else on Saturday. It costs a lot less to sleep at home and to ride out there than to stay out there. If I’d thought further ahead, I could’ve planned the weekend to camp at the track, but I’m not prepared for motorcycle camping yet.

Though I’m looking to try it. Not this weekend – too many people doing the same thing – but possibly soon. I replaced the missing stakes and got a different sized bag for my girlfriend’s small tent that I’ve used before. Sometime soon I may try an overnight camping trip on the bike, for the sake of trying overnight camping on the bike rather some grand adventure somewhere. That way, if it doesn’t go well, home isn’t far away. If it does, I can consider the option for future trips.

Speaking of which, with July 4 on a Thursday this year, that creates a 4-day weekend with only one day off work, and possibly none if they close the office. My possible Cabot Trail trip is four days, so that may be my opportunity. Irony – celebrating Independence Day by leaving the U.S. I should try the camping option soon, since that would open some possibilities for places to stay on that trip. Also, if I stay in the same place the nights before and after riding the trail, I can do it relatively unloaded, without the tent and baggage and all that.

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Quick trip musings

The long weekend snuck up on me. I’m working every day during the week now and trying not to take too much time off while I have the hours and the money is good, so this is an opportunity for a weekend road trip. Unfortunately I haven’t put enough thought into figuring out where I want to go, so I don’t have a plan yet.

The biggest problem is that being Memorial Day weekend, many places I’d like to go will be mobbed, which is far less fun. Mt. Washington, the NH lakes region, and the Kank are out because of this. Maine is out because thanks to tourist traffic, you can’t get there from here. That leaves VT and NY as decent options if I plan accordingly.

This seemed a good opportunity to stay at Hostel Tevere again as I passed through, except they’re closed for the spring. So I’m looking for alternatives in VT or eastern NY. I’d still like to check out Ft. Ticonderoga sometime, and that could be a destination this weekend – especially if I can stay somewhere nearby – but, again, it could be mobbed by tourists.

I’m not sure what to do yet. I know I want to start doing more than day trips. And I know I’ve got a great bike for it. I just need to figure out where to go and where to stay. I don’t have any small, lightweight camping gear at the moment, which would expand my cheap options a bit. But that’s also big and bulky to carry with me. I do have a decent sized bike, though. If not for this weekend, it may be worth considering, and definitely worth seeing what’s out there.

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