The Motorcycle Camp


Jeff Hughes


“You’re taking the flame thing, there?” she asked.

“Flame thing?  FLAME THING?!  It’s called a backpacking stove,” I replied.  “And, yeah, I’m taking it.”

Ginny laughed.  “That’s no stove.  And, anyway, I’ve seen you with a stove.  What are you taking it for?”

This time it was my turn to laugh.  “No need to make fun of me.  All I’ll be using it for is heating water.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Well,” I explained, “after riding all day in summer’s heat and humidity you’re usually pretty grungy.  Now, imagine you’re camped at a primitive campsite – no shower and no way to clean up.  With my stove here I just heat up a bit of water, add it to the cold water I already have, and use my little fold-up basin to clean up in.  Just like at hunt camp.  Simple.”

Ginny nodded slowly, obviously not convinced that that sounded anything like fun at all.


Camping has a romantic sort of aura to it.  It conjures up images of far-away places.  Of campfires and self-reliance and adventure.  And like pulling a much-loved rifle from the gun cabinet before a deer hunt, the paraphernalia of camping is similarly evocative.  Tents and camp stoves and sleeping bags trigger an emotional response, a stirring of the juices.  Mix them with motorcycles and you have, for me at least, as powerful an anticipatory feeling as it gets. 

I’ve spent the last week getting ready for this little trip.  Five or six days away, with just a rough idea to head down the Blue Ridge Parkway into western North Carolina.  A working trip, since I need to get some photographs. 

The challenge is putting together a kit which is not overly cumbersome or that adds too much weight.  Especially given the great roads I expect to be on, it would be a shame to diminish the handling of my motorcycle.  With that as my mantra, I work hard to pare things down to only the basic stuff I truly expect to need. 

I’m gone at 6:30am.  It’s just light.  Even in the early morning one can tell that it will be hot.  The air has a liquid feel to it, the haze and humidity a physical presence.  But right now it’s simply gorgeous.  The world is just awakening, with tired drivers heading groggily north and east toward work.  There is a feeling of great fortune to be heading the other way, on a motorcycle, to be gone for at least a little while.  Head out on the highway, looking for adventure…

I arrive at Price eleven hours later.  Plenty of time to set up camp and get some supper before needing to be up at Raven Rock, seven miles away, for the sunset.  So that’s what I do.  While pitching my tent a fiftyish fellow on a bicycle rides by my campsite.  “That’s definitely the way to do it,” he says, nodding towards my BMW.  We talk for awhile.  He seems genuinely interested in starting to ride, so I tell him about the Suzuki SV650 I used to have.  He seems quite serious, asking good questions and obviously making a mental note of what I tell him.

He leaves after a few minutes and I quickly finish setting up camp.  Then I climb back on the bike and relaxedly ride back out to the campground entrance, where I register my site, pay the fee, and talk to an older couple there doing the same thing.  I’ve always found a motorcycle to be a good icebreaker and conversation starter.  Most folks seem genuinely interested, especially if you’re traveling alone.  And it seems that most men have had some experience with motorcycles, of some sort, at one point or another in their life.

Supper will be a 4-piece wing dinner from the KFC in the little town down off the mountain.  Stowing that in one of my saddlebags, next to the bottle of beer and packet of peanuts, I head back up to the Parkway.  In just a couple of minutes I’m back at Raven Rock.  I probably have a good hour before the sun sets.  A trio of teenage girls are parked across the way, sitting on a blanket, having their own picnic.  Chatting away happily, as girls are wont to do.

As I’m finishing my dinner, a fellow on a VFR rides in.  John is a local and rides up here a lot.  We talk for awhile and I congratulate him on the terrific roads he has in his backyard.  He knows it.  And he knows how lucky he is.

A second fellow drives in while we’re talking and comes over to join us.  He’s in his car today, but has an old beater GSX-R750 that he rides.  He and John have never met but it turns out they know some of the same people.  They both mention the bad crash a couple weeks ago on the right-hander just south of the overlook, where two guys overcooked the corner, went over the cliff, and had to be medivac’d out.  Same thing everywhere – the really good roads exact a high price for not getting it right.

Back at camp, it’s just turning dark.  I light my candle lantern and fire up the “Flame Thing,” heat some water and wash up.  Then I sit in the dark outside my tent and drink the now-only-slightly-cool bottle of beer and eat the peanuts.  It’s been a good day.

Retiring, I find there’s absolutely no breeze and it’s sweltering inside the tent.  I get back out and fuss with the fly a couple of times, first loosening it, then pulling it away altogether from the no-see-um netting on the tent.  I’ll remember that later.

I’m up at 5am, while darkness still blankets the ground.  In just a few minutes I’m dressed and ready.  The sky has but a tinge of light to it as I roll out of there.  I consider doing something with camp – I’ve left everything rather scattered around in a mess – but figure since its dark and I’ll just be a few miles up the road, there’s little need.

Two hours later, the light outside the cafe is kind of grayish, the way early mornings often are.  As I’m finishing up my coffee I notice the parking lot seems to have darkened just a bit.  Is that rain?  Damn, I sure hadn’t expected that.  Neither the sky last night nor this morning during my photo op at the overlook had given any indication of precipitation.  But as I walk outside I see it surely is.  A light drizzle is coming down.  I dress hurriedly, glad I already refueled last night.  The rain picks up steam even as I’m dressing.

By the time I get back to the Parkway it’s raining hard.  And by the time I ride the few miles down to Price it’s coming down in buckets.  I already know what I’m going to find.

My camp, which I’ve left entirely open – bags, stove, lantern, and other miscellaneous stuff just lying about – is saturated.  My tent, from which I had pulled the fly last night for ventilation, lies entirely exposed and now has a couple inches of standing water inside.  My down sleeping bag is sopping wet.  Everything is wet.  And the rain is still coming down hard.

Talk about miserable.  I’m buttoned up in my Aerostich Roadcrafter riding suit.  Leaving that on, along with my helmet, I remove my gloves and begin breaking camp.  Of course I’m sweating like a pig in no time.  I feel like a frigging astronaut trying to work with all this gear on.

The campsite is deliberately set up with these tiny little pebbles spread everywhere.  The force of the rain has kicked those onto everything, so in addition to everything being really wet, it’s now all covered with these little pebbles.  They stick to my wet hands, which helps with the spreading.  It’s a holy mess.

Soon enough, all things considered, I’ve got everything packed up.  As I pick up my duffel bag and lash it to the rear of the seat I ruefully note how much heavier it is.  When originally packing for the trip I had been happy that I had kept the weight of that duffel down pretty well, to that of half a woman, more or less.  Now, surely, it weighs as much as a whole woman.  I shake my head sadly.  I always figured that if you’re going to be hauling around the weight of a whole woman, you ought to at least be getting sex out of the deal.



And so unfolded one of my more unflattering episodes in motorcycle camping.  Lest you think I offer it to dissuade you from giving it a go, nothing could be further from the truth.  That little morning was, in fact, more humorous than anything.  It remains one of the more memorable moments I’ve spent on two wheels.

And that’s the real point – motorcycles and camping were made for each other.  Individually, they each bring one closer to the real world, one unfiltered by glass windows, air conditioning, high-def TV, and all the other conveniences of modern life.  Together, they provide a remarkably unvarnished view of the world.

Just make sure you secure your tent fly before leaving camp.


© 2009 Jeff Hughes