The small Northeast Pennsylvania town where I grew up was located within an hour of the wildest, most beautiful state parks, forests and game lands that I could ever imagine. In my neck of the woods, hunting, fishing, hiking and camping were de rigueur for kids and grownups alike. I remember weekends in my late teens and early 20’s when we would take off with our tents, some food and lots of beer and find a campsite near a stream but far away from other people. In those days, primitive camping had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, meaning if you didn’t bother anyone else or set the woods on fire, the rangers would pretty much leave you alone.
But my love of camping and the outdoors began way before that, harkening back to when I was 8 or 9 years old and my parents packed me off to a Girl Scout camp in Eatonville, continuing to do so every summer for years afterwards. The camp was a mountaineer’s delight; rather primitive what with the outhouses and canvas tents, and the skunks and raccoons that regularly raided our candy stashes. But it was nestled between the foothills of the Endless Mountains and the banks of the Susquehanna River, providing ample opportunity to discover one’s outdoor soul. And discover I did, with hikes and week-long canoe trips where we set up our nightly encampment alongside the river and cooked over an open fire, falling asleep to the scent of the pine needles underneath our bedrolls and the swoosh of the gentle winds tickling the treetops. Sometimes, when the weather was right, we wouldn’t even set up our tents, instead laying on top of our sleeping bags and trying to pinpoint the planets and stars in the summer constellations, eventually drifting into deep slumber.
Many years ago, I moved to New York City and during the decade I lived there, I didn’t own a vehicle so outings beyond the city limits were few and far between, with campouts nonexistent. It wasn’t until I moved out of Manhattan and started riding motorcycles that outside living once again began to play a big part in my life.
The guys I rode with on my first trip to Sturgis were itinerate campers and I followed their lead, loading camping gear onto my Sportster so I would be prepared for wherever we would stop. We discovered some very cool out-of-the-way woodsy retreats as we traced Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the Canadian border. That journey reawakened my love of camping and spending time in the great outdoors. For years after that first Sturgis adventure, I packed my camping stuff in the saddlebags of whatever bike I was riding, thoroughly enjoying the quiet time away from the highways and Howard Johnsons.
As time went on and my travel schedule became more condensed, and my camera, video and computer equipment took up the stow space formerly inhabited by my camping gear. So I started leaving my camping stuff behind, and instead, checked into always-cheap and usually-dingy motels along the way. Granted, that saved me from the trouble of pitching my tent (especially in the rain) and preparing meals, but it didn’t give me much to look forward to at the end of every day, nor did it leave me with any lasting memories of where I stayed.
But recently, my love of camping has been rekindled by the three campouts in which I participated in with the Skylands Womyn Riders, a local female-only riding group. This is when I discovered that camping apparatus has, over the past few years, improved greatly. A trip to the local sporting goods store revealed a tiny stove that folds flat as a pancake for easy transport, and bedding that rolls up smaller than your Sunday paper. So this year, while packing for Sturgis I managed to find space for my new mattress pad and sleeping bag, figuring I might find a spot or two outdoors where I could stay overnight.
After my first full day on the road, I found myself near South Bend, Indiana, only an hour from where I-90 splits off to Chicago. I’ve camped at the South Bend/Elkhart KOA in the past, and always found it to be a delightful place to stay, so I called ahead and found out they had a cabin available. When I pulled into the campground I saw a sign proclaiming that Thursday night was gelato night. My evening was complete!
With a cicada chorus lulling me to sleep, the next morning I awoke relaxed and refreshed, ready to hit the road again. I didn’t get an opportunity to camp again until my journey back home when I spent two nights in cabins. It was getting to the point where I couldn’t stand the thought of being cooped up in yet another stuffy, musty motel room.
Because all of my camping gear can now fit onto any of my bikes, even with all my photography and computer equipment, I’ll be able to tent it again. And just last week while visiting a survival store, I discovered self-heating meals that require only cold water to prepare. I picked up a container of southwest chicken with rice and beans and another of pasta e fagioli. No more protein bars for dinner!
So don’t look for me at the Motel 6 just off the highway. Try the campground around the bend and down the dirt road. There I’ll be making a temporary home under the trees or maybe beside the brook.