If you are new to moto-camping, take the advice of someone who learned the hard way
Story and Photos by David G. Williams
It was 2 a.m. and my youngest, T-Bone, woke me to say, “Dad, I don’t like the sound of the rain on the tent. Can we go home?” I struggled to make sense of this, as it had taken me till about 1 a.m. to fall asleep, because I wasn’t used to sleeping on the ground – and just so you know, it’s really uncomfortable. As I processed my 12-year-old’s words, a new sensation attempted to make itself known to my sleep-addled brain. I felt as if I were lying in a giant wet diaper. Thankfully, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt this way.
I lay the blame for this entire ordeal on Editor Roberts, because he liked a crazy idea I pitched to him. You see, I have to make a confession: My name is David Williams, and I’ve never been camping. I mean never. So I said to Editor Roberts, “Hey, you know all those great adventure stories about guys riding around the world on BMWs? What about the total noobs? The poor wankers who’ve never been camping by motorbike, would like to try it, but may feel a bit intimidated? I actually know a few people like that. Maybe we should do a story for them.” “Okay,” he said. I could tell that deep down inside he was excited.
Let The Adventure Begin
This was to be my greatest moto-adventure! And what better way to make an adventure more, um, adventurous than to go about it completely unprepared? Un-researched! Un-anything that a normal person would do before undertaking something for the first time! That was my plan.
Well, even I knew that you needed some basics for camping. A tent would be good, and a sleeping bag. So I went to Canadian Tire and bought their finest $29 tent and borrowed a sleeping bag from T-Bone: I’m six-foot-two. I didn’t think that part through.
For my first adventure, I had figured it might be worthwhile to try things out in my backyard for a start to make sure I have the basics for survival in the wild – and access to a bathroom. T-Bone had thought this a spectacular idea and insisted on joining me, which brought us to the wet diaper and my first lesson: Never make your “footprint” larger than your tent. The footprint is a tarp or similar item, which is placed on the ground as protection for the bottom of the tent. If you make it larger than the tent, it acts like a basting pan, and directs rainwater right under the tent and, through the wonders of science, into your sleeping bag. Don’t do that.
With adventure one behind me, I was ready for the big-time – an actual provincial campground. Two nights there taught me a few things. First off, every outdoorsman has a hatchet, so I’d better have one. Before my next trip, I rummaged around in the crap under my workbench and came up with a rusted boat anchor sporting a handle wrapped in black electrical tape. This had been my grandfather’s hatchet. He’d always taken care of his tools and had sharpened this one nicely before going overseas with the Royal Canadian Engineers in 1939. I tuned up the edge with a file and threw it on the pile of stuff to pack for the next adventure.
The second piece of knowledge I gained from my time at the campground was that people need food to survive. This was a more complex problem to solve than rummaging through crap under my workbench. I didn’t want to contaminate the experiment by actually doing five minutes of research, but I folded like my cheap tent and sought some advice.
Better Tools For A Better Experience
For a solo traveller who needs to travel light, a Jetboil stove seemed like a good solution. All the parts, including a small canister of fuel (which is said to do 100 “boils”), fit into the included cup for a small and light package. Add to that some backpacker-type freeze-dried, pre-cooked, boil-in-bag meals – surprisingly tasty, just don’t let it harden on your utensils or you’ll be cleaning them with a grinder – and some instant oatmeal for breakfast. I also packed a few tea bags (you could substitute instant hot chocolate) and some packets of sugar I lifted from an A&W (thanks guys!). Add a big ol’ bag of trail mix and some granola bars, and I could be out there indefinitely. Or at least for 100 boils.
I also discovered the need for a way to carry large items like a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat so that they stay put on the bike and don’t get wet. Canadian Tire provided a large, waterproof duffle bag for $45 that I could strap across the back of my seat.
I was feeling pretty good about things, but realized that before my third adventure, which would see me camping for a week near Lillooet, British Columbia, during September, I needed to address the sleeping bag situation, as the one-foot height difference between T-Bone and myself had proved to be a problem. With some shopping around, I was able to score a long mummy bag at Atmosphere, complete with a $50 discount. It is pure luxury, and oh so cozy on freezing nights.
I also learned pretty quickly that there is a reason some tents cost $29 and some cost $500. You can easily make do with an inexpensive tent if you’re a casual camper, but if you want to take things to the next level, it’s worth investing in a better tent. You get things like an included footprint that’s just the right size, better fabrics and zippers, two doors instead of one (easier to deal with bear attacks, as we’ll learn later) and vestibules, where you can keep stinky boots out of the tent but protected from the rain. Again, shopping around I found a good $300 tent on sale for $200. Deal.
And sleeping on my wife’s yoga mat wasn’t going to cut it, so it was off to Canadian Tire again for a $45 self-inflating sleeping mat. What else? One of those flashlight thingies you strap to your head: excellent for reading, setting up in the dark, etc. Also, my lovely wife gifted me a solar/windup-powered radio with AM/FM and weather bands.
Time For A Real Moto Adventure
So now I was ready. I loaded up my new V-Strom 1000, fully prepared to proceed with my third adventure.
Riding up the Sea to Sky Highway, I was completely exhilarated! So much so that I decided to side-track up a random road because it looked interesting. It wound uphill and quickly changed to both dirt and gravel. I stopped my bike and looked at the road disappearing around a dusty curve. I thought to myself, “Here I am with a heavily laden bike, all alone in the middle of nowhere and I have no off-road experience. It looks as though this could go bad very quickly. I should really turn back.” So naturally, I clicked into first gear and carried on. A little farther on, a sign said “Dirt road 12 km.”
This was more difficult than I thought. I tried to remember all the things I’d read about riding in such conditions. About halfway up I came upon a group of mountain bikers. I stopped to chat and asked what the road was like ahead and what was up there. They looked at my bike and basically told me I was crazy and that I’d never make it. Lesson learned: When riding alone, don’t be crazy. Live to show off with friends another day.
Once more on the highway, heavy clouds were moving in. Darkness approached quickly. And then the rain came. Time to shut it down for the night. I finally saw a sign for a campground and hung a left off the highway. The road quickly swept upward through a series of seriously tight hairpins, then turned into gravel and dirt. I carried on regardless and finally came to the campground. I soon learned that even if you’re in a hurry to start a trip, practice setting up your tent at least once before you leave so that if it rains, you’re not scratching your soaking wet head wondering why it doesn’t go up like your last one did.
Fortunately, the next day was dry for the run to Lillooet. Once north of Whistler, traffic thinned and things got interesting on the winding mountain roads. By Pemberton, I was ready for lunch. Cruising through town I spotted a café with a hitching post outside. “That’d be a good place to park my steed,” I thought.
This is not an epicurean magazine, but the lunch I had at The Pony was spectacular, and completely unexpected in a rather remote location. Shannon, the manager, and sous chef Mike took very good care of me. The Black and Blue Burger (blackened ground sirloin with blue cheese) was fantastic, and I had…