Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Our First Moto-Camping Trip: May 17&18, 2014

It took me all afternoon, and 2 trips to Sport Chalet, to get our gear packed into our available luggage and strapped to the bikes. I'm still wrestling with the emotional impact of coming to terms with the apparent fact that my days of gram-counting, ultra-lite travel appear to be left in my single-girl youth.

Oh well. I have the BF now. I guess that's a worthwhile trade....

Hmmmmmmmm....

(in one hand) 15 pound pack; warm, comfy sleep in Western Mountaineering Versalite 900 fill goose down mummy bag.... (in other hand) 70 lbs of stuff between two bikes that I have to ride on "roads" that are not roads only to spend my nights shivering, freezing cold because the boyfriend insists on rectangular sleeping bags that mate together so we can "snuggle."

Yeah. Yeah. Definitely worth the trade. Sure.

Well, it is what it is and this is what it comes to. At least we are FINALLY going moto-camping!

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But we won't be doing it here apparently! Good thing we just stopped for a snack.


There was a "Wooden and Classic" boat show at Bass Lake on the 17th, so we decided this was as good an excuse as any to start our moto-camping portfolio.

The packing was by far the hardest part of this trip for me, but I finally got everything we needed onto the bikes. We opted to go ahead and pack kitchen and food into my bear canister, just in case. A lifetime of camping/hiking in the Sierra Nevadas often tends to give one an appreciation for a bear-proof food container.

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I ended up with a 30 inch duffel on the back of the Wombat. Made a comfy backrest though.

The route was lovely-- all along actual paved ROADS. Twisting through the foothills and up into the mountains just south of Yosemite Nat'l Park. We got gas and enjoyed lunch in Tollhouse, then continued on up in elevation through some beautiful scenery to the tiny town of North Fork-- which boasts itself as being "the exact center" of California. From North Fork, we aimed for Bass Lake. The ride was perfect.

At Bass Lake, we found ourselves at an entirely different boat show than we'd expected. And not a single one of them in the water. Apparently there was also a classic speed boat show too.

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But boats that aren't even in the water aren't very interesting to me. There were some fancy paint jobs, some low-rent Boat Bimbos, and a Dos Equis tent that didn't offer any beer whatsoever to this thirsty, road-weary traveler.

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Boat Bimbos in Daisy Dukes and high heels.


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Beerless beer tent-- is that even LEGAL?!

I was over it all pretty soon.

We toured the little seasonal lake community on foot, walked down the marina, shared a mediocre ice cream ("mediocre" ice cream?! I wouldn't have even thought it was possible for ice cream to just be "meh.") and briefly entertained the notion of inquiring about a room at the hotel... ahhh, the opportunity to eat steak in a restaurant, drink beer all night, and sit in a hot tub.

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I might be getting old.

But I've been whining about camping for a year now and we had all that gear on the bikes... it was time to find this fabled "Whiskey Falls" campground that the BF said we were camping at.

So we saddled up and headed out, taking the scenic tour around the lake. Which is how we discovered "Miller's Landing" and the ACTUAL "wood and classic" boat show. Unfortunately, the boat show had officially ended at 4 p.m. and we didn't happen upon it until around 4:30. So all we could do was walk down the dock and admire the boats tied up there while their owners were probably enjoying a few rounds of beers and sharing tales of how awesome their boats are with eachother instead of us.

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Naturally, I really like the little fiber glass boat. I dig the "I'm driving my car on the lake" look. Which should not be taken to suggest that I didn't do my fair share of drooling over some of these beautiful Chris Crafts.

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But the clock is ticking and we don't even know where our campground IS! So we saddled up just as a couple of two-up cruisers pulled in alongside us at the parking lot.

The ladies hopped off the backs of the bikes and headed for the bar, one of the guys came by to gander at our little bikes. He seemed pretty impressed that I ride my own, although he was pretty sure I'd be growing out of my 200cc Wombat pretty soon.

I assured him that I had another bike just like the BF's at home, but I love my TW.

(Hmmmm, maybe I should install the kickstart kit on the Wombat? That would've impressed the Harley guy, huh?)

So off we roared, back to North Fork for a top-up of the gas tanks and some beer-- which presented new challenges: My mini panniers are made from small, lunch-box style coolers. They hold a 6 pack of cans and have an expandable top for dry goods. I saw them last year and thought they would make really cute panniers. The BF wasn't convinced they were going to last long, but for $14, we figured it'd be fun for awhile. They've lasted nearly 5K miles and are still holding up, and have been great for carrying drinks and snacks on numerous jaunts.

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So it seemed reasonable that it'd be easy enough to pop a 6 pack of trusty Bud light into one side and tie a bag of ice on the back and go, right? Hmmm. Well. Errrr. For starters, not many gas station/mini marts sell 6 packs of Bud Lite in cans. 12, 18, even 20 packs? Check. Long necks? Check. A surprising variety of quasi-micro brews? Check.

Eventually we found beer that fit in the cooler. Ice, on the other hand, was a more difficult quandary. I ended up with a duffel bag that was nowhere near waterproof. So it didn't seem like the best plan to strap a 7 pound bag of ice to the back of the Wombat that was just going to melt and drip and saturate my stuff. But the BF's tail bag is a tight little bundle that really didn't allow for adding a bag of ice either. In the end, the lady at the Chevron station/mini-market filled a plastic grocery bag with ice from the fountain soda machine and we managed to cram it into the cooler with the beer.

Note to self: Plan for obtaining and transporting beer and ice in the future.

Have I ever mentioned that it's the BF who does the map-obsessing for our trips? It's not that I can't read a map, or don't own an impressive collection of my own, or even that I'm not interested in planning our routes-- it's just that the BF loves it SOOOOOOOO much. So the BF is my navigational unit and I follow him with the faith of a woman who knows she can find her own way home if he leads her down one too many trails that he insists are "roads."

And so I followed him. He said we were looking for "Casca Del Road." He turned right, I followed him-- completely blowing the ridiculously sharp hairpin turn that took me uphill to the right on a road that darn near folded back on itself in a manner that reminded me of a science fiction story I once read about a 4th dimensional home
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%22%E2%80%94And_He_Built_a_Crooked_House%E2%80%94%22

I found myself over the yellow line, in the lane of oncoming traffic, VERY relieved that there wasn't any oncoming traffic and chastising myself for being so sloppy. It'd been a long day-- I was probably tired. I scolded myself and promised to stay more aware.

As I returned to the proper lane and headed up the very steep incline while my heart beat returned to normal, the boyfriend pulled over to the side of the road. I continued on. I hate stopping on an uphill, and he didn't make any gesture to indicate that I should also pull over. But he wasn't behind me, so when I found a relatively level spot, I pulled over and waited for him.

He finally pulls up alongside me and tells me that he's pretty sure that "Casca Del Road" is probably supposed to be "Cascade Road" -- seeing as how we'd just passed a "Cascade Road."

So we turned around, headed down, went around that crazy hairpin turn again-- this time easier because it was on the downhill and we got to do it in the outside lane, but I took careful note-- this was a particularly HAIRY hairpin turn!-- and took Cascade Road.

It was like a two rut driveway... I think I heard banjos. If this was the road to Whisky Falls, I'm not sure we need to go camping afterall! But I followed him up the hill, around the turns, past the hovels-- all the way to the dead end in some guy's gravel drive way with his hound dogs running out to meet us.

*gulp*

The BF navigated his retreat with aplomb. I, however, do not have the physical command of my bike that he does. I cannot simply stand up OVER the bike and turn it around underneath me and then just sit back down and go.

No.

My feet don't even reach the ground entirely-- not even on the TW. So I do my pushing with my pelvis. With the balls of my feet firmly planted in 4 inch deep pea gravel. What an adventure! My "reverse" gear is less than reliable and my forward is likely to result in my feet slipping out from under me. All the while, two giant, drooling, inbred, hillbilly dogs are headed my way.

And do you think my knight in shining armor stays close by to protect me? Nope. He's halfway back up the damn road.

Fortunately, the dogs were less than interested in eating me. They arrived at the end of their yard and stood there drooling in my general direction with a curiosity that suggested they wouldn't actually attack until I appeared unable to fight back.

So I managed to get the Wombat turned around and caught up to the boyfriend where he was stopped dead in the middle of the road, head down, studying the Garmin in consternation. Eventually, he looked up at me and announced that "What'd'ya know? There really IS a road called 'Casca Del.' "

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Yay. I get to go around that inter-dimensional hair pin turn again.

Which, by the way, really IS a ludicrous angle. I'm not sure I could do it in the car. It's just a crazy M.C. Escher-esque experience. But I did manage to stay on my side of the line the second time around.

We found this infamous "Casca Del" Road, made our turn, and the off-pavement adventure began.

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I'd really wanted to take Pinkfoot on this ride, but Pinkfoot didn't have a rack yet (another story entirely) and the BF was pretty sure some of the road would be dirt-- he is coming to understand my feelings about dirt roads-- so he figured I'd be better on the Wombat. As it came to be-- he was wise.

The sign said "Whiskey Falls 9" so I checked my odo when we made that turn. The pavement ended, but the road was still easy enough. Then more pavement. Then more dirt. Then there was a fork in the road... and we, we took the road less traveled. Naturally!

We stopped at the Y intersection. There was no signage to indicate which way to go. The BF studied the map again and confidently proceeded to the right.

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I should know better than to follow him.

We rode along a nice enough forest trail. Nothing too strenuous. It got a little rocky, but not scary. And then we came to another fork in the road. This time, both forks had signs-- facing the other way! So he went one way and I went the other so we could see what the signs said to travelers coming from the other directions. My sign pointed to his fork and said "Whiskey Falls 5"... ???... we had already come 7 miles.

So we headed the way the sign indicated. And that's when we hit the rocks. And the ruts. And the scary. We came to one point where I had to stop and ponder the steep, rocky hill that lay before me. The BF parked his bike at the top and walked back to spot me-- but it was too late, I'd already chosen a line, downshifted, and crawled up. Like a boss!

He seemed impressed.

There was only one other section that slowed me down-- I stalled on the uphill on a section that was more gravelled drainage ditch than trail. I hate stalling on an incline. And in gravel. But I eventually got all my levers and pedals co-ordinated and made it to the top.

To the sign. That said, "Whiskey Falls 2." When it had already been 4 miles since the "Whiskey Falls 5" sign.

So, 13 miles from the "Whiskey Falls 9" sign, we coasted into the campground and picked out a spot.

The campground was great. Only one other group was camped there and they were great neighbors-- calm and quiet.

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We opted not to have a fire-- even though fire restriction weren't in place yet and we could have-- because we were pretty tired and didn't want to sit up late waiting for a fire to die down.

We parked the bikes in our site and got to set up our new tarp for the first time so now the BF understands why I wanted the tarp. It makes a nice garage.

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I like this picture because it looks like I have a Panda hat on. Not actually pictured: the tarp.

We had a picnic table in the campsite and was that ever a score! Nice to be able to set things out and have a place to sit and cook and stuff.

Once everything was set up, we made dinner-- nothing fancy, just some Pasta-Roni noodles with canned chicken added, but my "chicken isn't meat" man was surprisingly delighted with it.


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Sleep was as I feared, however: Cold. There is much I have to say about the subject of sleeping well when camping, and about the array of sleeping bags and pads I have collected over the years for just this purpose. The BF wants rectangular sleeping bags that mate together so we can make one big bed and "snuggle." I appreciate his romantic notions, but I just want to get a good night's sleep and avoid hypothermia.

When we started dating, I invested in a pair of very-hard-to-find rectangular DOWN sleeping bags-- one rated to 0 degrees F, one rated to 20 degrees F-- that mate together, in an effort to have a boyfriend who would go backpacking with me.

We have done very little backpacking in our 8 1/2 years together.

I very much wanted to take those down sleeping bags on this trip. But try as I might, I could not get them to squish down small enough to fit into the luggage we had. Compression bags might get added to the "to-get" list. Strangely enough, I can squish them into the backpacks, but I think shape of the bag has something to do with it. Maybe.

So I ended up packing the sleeping bags that we bought just for moto-camping last year, before we went moto-camping. They are thin, synthetic fill, floppy blanket things rated to 40 degrees F. And I had absolutely NO faith in them to keep us comfortable below 60.

So I pulled out the best of the Thermarest collection. My beloved Neolite pad for me, with its 3 inch thickness and 5.6 R value insulation...mmmmmmmmm. And my very first Thermarest from before I knew what a pain it was to carry everything around for several days days for him. 24 inches wide, but at least I figured it'd keep him warm.

So we spent most of the night shivering. He wanted me to spoon up against him to keep him warm, but that meant slipping off the edge of my pad, onto the ground because my pad is coffin shaped to cut down on weight.

He finally put on an extra layer of clothes and I dragged his moto jacket over me and we got some sleep.

Breakfast was croissants with Canadian Bacon and cheese, packed up camp, and stopped by the falls before heading home.

We met a mountain biker at the falls who was in an exceptionally good mood. She had just ridden her bike up 10 miles from the main road. I'd have been in an exceptionally good mood too if I had accomplished that! So we took her picture for her and asked about the road condition...seeing as how she had come from a different direction that we had.

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So I made it known that I intended to follow the mountain biker back down to the main road, instead of navigating the same TRAIL that we had come up.

Guess what? It was actually 9 miles to the main road via that route. And, that route was totally doable by passenger car. A little rocky in spots, not nothing intimidating and nothing that made me curse my boyfriend or question my desire to continue to refer to him as such.

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Our ride home was lovely with a stop for lunch at Bear Mountain Pizza in Squaw Valley where we ran into a couple of the Central Valley Dual Sporter clan as they were leaving after a long day of apparently not making it down the trail they had attempted.

First moto-camping trip was declared a success. Although we did immediately set about making a list of gear to upgrade and a few things to add... Fortunately, REI's Memorial Day sale was in progress.

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