Thursday, October 20, 2011

take me back there, a.k.a campsite shakedown, a.k.a. the best things in life are free

Back in June, I made it from Detroit to L.A. in two weeks without spending a single dime on a place to sleep. Here's a shakedown of my favorite spots...

Lake side abode in Nebraska. Had no idea this kind of place even existed there. The firewood was plentiful and the sand was soft for sleeping, and it marked my first night truly alone on that trip. The night before I spent sleeping on a pretty gnarly beer-and-piss-soaked incline behind Jeff Wright's "Kung Fu Tap n' Taco" Bar after the DicE party. Don't think I slept more than 3 hours that night, but it was worth it. Great party. This spot, on the other hand, was quite the change in scenery.

Two feelings I battled while camping alone in the woods all those nights were boredom and paranoia, the latter of which I wouldn't fully experience until I got farther west and deeper into the wilderness, where the threat of a bear entering your site is real. The problem of boredom was solved just inside the border of Nevada when I picked up a little classical guitar at a pawn shop for 50 bucks. Still can't believe it fit on my bike, and that it made it home in one piece. God bless that little guitar, i've never played so frequently or with such passion before or since then. I had blisters on my fingers that whole trip.

Colorado is one of my favorite states to ride motorcycles in, with a close second being tied between Utah and California. I got to cross over independence pass that day and look at 6 foot tall snow drifts on the side of the road. Fucking awesome.  By the time I got to my campsite I didn't have enough sunlight or energy to start my own fire, so i crashed a fire of a Lithuanian family that was camping just down the river from me. We had a great fireside talk about how massive the United States are and how each state has it's own flavor and how road trips here are unlike road trips anywhere else on the planet. The whole time I was sitting around their fire, I kept wondering where they hell they were all going to sleep. Turns out, at the end of the night all 8 of them crammed into a tent not much bigger than mine. Brilliant. Oh, and it was their first time camping, too. On a side note, I stacked up some rocks in the river to make a makeshift icebox for my beers, worked like a charm.

This might have been my favorite night camping. I had planned on staying at a campground on Big Sur off of California's coast, but failed to factor in the impact of the "tourists season" and how badly those campgrounds price gouged. All "legit" spots were full, but a quick look at the map showed me some national forest land just up a dirt road that would be my home for the night.  It was just about to get dark, and the road was by far the twistiest road i traveled on that trip, and to make matters worse (or more fun!) it was just wide enough for one vehicle, half of it was made out of dirt, and it was positioned at a dizzying grade of something like 11%! The spot you see was the best looking clearing I saw after about 9 miles of traveling on that nerve wrecking road. Absolute solitude for miles around, the stars were mind blowing, and I played my guitar at full blast, singing away the wild creatures that made their presence known with hoots and grunts and foot steps in the night.

Utah at it's best. Route 95 runs right across the northern part of Lake Powell, crossing wide open desert and sun scorched rock formations. I camped right on the lake front in the middle of no where, about 50 miles east of Bullfrog, and 80 miles west of Blanding-- litterally, not a soul in sight. What i thought was going to be a fireless night (not exactly an abundance of trees in the middle of the dessert) turned out to be my best blaze yet. Years and years of drift wood had piled up about 100 feet from my tent, and a few trips with my arms loaded up provided for some very hot, very fast burning wood. The six pack i bought back in Bullfrog had nearly boiled inside of its cans on the hour ride it took me to arrive there, but never before had i been so appreciative for warm budlight (it was all the gas station in bullfrog had!) The night feel quickly and the stars were again awe-inspiring. I'm almost certain i saw aliens approaching my site that night too, swear to God. Two lights slowly moving towards me, not responding to my calls, and then disappearing suddenly, only to re-appear about an hour later. Spooky stuff for sure. I found myself repeating some Dr. John lyrics in my head that seemed especially pertinent that night; "Refried confusion is making itself clear, Wonder which way do I go to get on out of here. I been in the right place, But it must have been the wrong time.."

In my three weeks spent on the road, I camped about 75% of the time, and spent the other 25% either staying with old friends along the way, or couchsurfing with newly met friends (On a side note: anybody who does any amount of traveling and has a sense of adventure, this is an invaluable resource-- look into it!) There were other campsites I stayed at on that trip, but the ones highlighted here were my favorites.

If there was one thing I learned from that trip, it would be that the adventure doesn't have to stop once you're done riding for the day. I would have never experienced these places so fully if I would've just checked into a motel 6 and plopped down with a remote in my hand for the night. Getting outdoors and exposing yourself to the elements just further amplifies the whole motorcycling experience. This land is full of surprises and hidden gems that you can't discover from behind a keyboard or on a TV screen. They're gems because they take a little more effort to find, and that effort is what makes them worth it. If given enough time on your next trip, take the two lane roads this country has to offer and bring your bed roll with you-- I don't think you'll find a better America any other way.


  1. Great post. I've camped my way from Birmingham to Cali and Birmingham to Canada, that's the only way to do it. Always buy good atlases and never be afraid to try a campsite you know nothing about. Those are often the best kept secrets.

  2. yes! a good atlas is key... and knowing that you can camp anywhere in a national forest for free is good knowledge too. Can't wait to do some more of it next summer.