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Fall/Spring Motorcycle Camping

Not for everyone, but the payoff is worth it

You like the open road and a lack of RVs in front of you all day? Right on! You like walking through goose crap to get back in your tent after a late night pee. Buddy � welcome to my world. You like twenty degree temperatures at night and waking up at 5 a.m to orange vested hunters next door packing guns into their trucks to get the early morning chucker? Me too!

In general, motorcycle camping isn't for the faint of heart, but motorcycle camping during inclement conditions isn't something I hear most riders talking about at all. Ever wondered why?

In the Northwest there are 52 weeks in a year, 26 of them suck, so everyone tries to cram several hundred motorcycle events into the months of May through September. Yow! I'll agree that between October and April the Northwest is not the most wonderful place in the world to be riding a motorcycle, let alone taking your chances on an overnight or weekend trip, but it does have its advantages. You might wind up riding in the rain for a while, but if the end of the day provides a stunning sunset, it's worth the trek.

10 tips for those who ride overnight in the Fall and Spring

  • � Own it. Insuring you're warm when you ride will put you in a far better position to make the decisions on the road you need to and operate your bike effectively.
  • Be Water Tight � Everything you have needs to be water tight. Buy high quality luggage like Nelson-Rigg textile gear, or hard bags from a company like Givi. Pay the money for a quality tent, rather than the $29.95 Kmart special. Carry plenty of plastic bags you can use in a jiffy to protect things like books, maps cameras or your electric shaver. Invest in quality rain gear like Tour Master or Nelson-Rigg. Make sure your gloves and boots are water tight and treat them with waterproofing products like Nikwax several days before you ride so they have time to cure.
  • Get A Room � Snow up ahead? Don't chance it. Get a room, call the boss and tell them you'll be to work when things improve. You're on two wheels, not four.
  • Check the Weather � If it's going to be raining the entire time you're on your adventure, it won't be much of an adventure. Scrap it. Riding a motorcycle is fun when the weather is good, it's technical when it's not. Sure you want to do several days of technical riding?
  • Stay Optimistic � A little rain, some cold, goose poop on your boots. Big deal. Get over it and look forward to the things that make it fun like a nice road, a great sunset, visiting a new place.
  • Private Campgrounds � With all the government budget cuts over the years, many state parks are now independently run. I haven't come across one yet that was a slum � in fact most of them are better maintained than when the state ran them.
  • Eat out � After riding 325 miles in a day the last thing I want to do is cook and clean. I eat out and relax amongst the town locals instead of fussing with the chores.
  • Lists � There's plenty of them out there. Start by making your own several days beforehand to be sure you don't forget something important.
  • Dual Purpose � Many things provide a dual purpose. You forgot a towel? Use a shirt. You need to get tent stakes into the ground? Use your boot. Still not good enough, use the butt of your flashlight.
  • Moist Hand Wipes � Carry them, they come in handy for all kinds of things � like when you find out there's no warm water at the shower.
  • I do make it a habit of staying away from the open mountain passes November through February, so overnight trips are rare during these months. This leaves late September, October, March and April open for adventure.

    These are great months to head south and east. The fine terrain of places like the Columbia River Gorge, the Palouse region and Eastern Oregon have few travelers, yet provide stunning scenery (picture fall colors or spring blooms) as well as stunning sunrises and sunsets. These regions provide no shortage of great twisties and plenty of campgrounds to boot.

    On most tertiary roads you'll often find you're the only one out there. I've ridden for one to two hours sometimes never passing a soul. I've routed rides through the Palouse that were great in this respect, but I'll admit I wondered what would happen in the event of a breakdown. It's the chance we take.

    Rain is obviously an issue. If you head out overnight during these months you'll run into it here and there more often than not. Good rain gear, a well made tent and sensibility will get you through it.

    Cold is also an issue. Heated clothing is advised, a decent sleeping bag is critical and stopping for coffee often seems to do the trick.

    Several anecdotes from past trips come to mind.

    During a cold October I did a great job of maintaining my core body heat. I had on insulated clothing (not heated), put my rain gear on over it and rode up into Snoqualmie Pass where it was 36 degrees. My core was warm. The problem was my body decided to relive the excess heat via my fingers and I perspired into the insides of my insulated gloves. Long-story-short my gloves were wet inside, the 65 mph wind I was riding at stole the body heat from the gloves and my fingers chilled. Solution: I pulled out at Travelers Rest in the pass and held the gloves over the air blowing hand dryer in the men's room. Problem solved.

    Another Snoqualmie Pass trip back to Seattle, this one during April, was met with a downfall of snow. Once you pass Easton there is essentially no turning back. Solution: I put myself behind a tractor trailer and rode the swath of his path as he cut down to the bare pavement with the weight of his rig on the wheels. It was the most intense 50 minutes I've ever experienced on a motorcycle. Once I hit the west side of the pass where the snow subsided, I pulled out and massaged my extremely tense shoulders back to normalcy, then completed the ride.

    I once spent the night at a campground where several hunters resided in the space next door. "When you wake up make sure you don't put antlers on your helmet when you leave" said one guy from Tri-Cities. Solution: I did as I was told and am alive to tell about it today.

    September in the Columbia River Gorge is usually beautiful, but not one summer when it rained for 6 days straight. My tent absorbed the smell of fresh gnat larvae and I was left with pretty stinky housing. Solution: I washed the tent when I got home and then sprayed it with Nature's Miracle, an enzyme-based liquid used to remove cat urine odor from carpets, available from the pet store. Problem solved.

    There's always a solution to the problem. Riding during the spring and summer months requires a cool head, some wherewithal about the elements and a positive attitude. If you posses these three attributes you've got what it takes to hit the road and enjoy the adventure.

    Patrick Thomas/Fall 2004


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