Trip Report: British Columbia 2018

I recently completed a 5-day motorcycle trip from my home in Oregon through Washington and up into British Columbia. This was my third motorcycle trip to B.C., all completed on The Grey Mule, my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom DL650. The trip total was 1,594 miles in 5 days of riding.

Day 1 Thursday – Sandy, Oregon to Leavenworth, Washington

290 miles

I left the house at 7:45 AM and got gas at the Sandy Chevron. There were small droplets of mist on my face shield and by the time I got to the top of Cherryville I had to pull over and put on my waterproof Aerostich Triple Digit over-gloves. And suddenly the precipitation stopped. I’ll have to remember that technique the next time it rains. I had blue skies by the time I got to Government Camp, so I pulled over and removed the over-gloves.

My next stop was Hood River where I changed into my warm weather gloves and opened the sleeve vents on my Aerostich Darien jacket. I paid $1 at the toll booth and I was riding across that scary, narrow metal bridge across the Columbia River. I wouldn’t be back into Oregon until Monday afternoon.

There was a moderately strong wind blowing through the Gorge, fortunately it was from the west, at my back. Now on the Washington side of the river, I turned north on highway 142 at Lyle and followed the Klickitat River and then east to Goldendale where I stopped and got gas and a snack. The temperature was warming up.

That west wind was now at my left side as I headed north on highway 97. It wasn’t too bad when I rode over Satus Pass. The scars from previous wildfires in that area were dramatic. The temperature continued to climb and got even warmer when I passed through the town of Toppenish.

I used my Garmin Zumo 200 GPS to guide me to Selah, in search of route 821 along the Yakima River, but I got a little misdirected and had to navigate on my own down a side road until I got to 823 and then 821.

Yakima Canyon (route 821) is listed at 45 mph but could easily be 60 mph. The ride through that stretch is well worth the detour.

I stopped at a boat ramp to use the pit toilet outhouse they had there and saw something funny written on the bathroom wall. “FOOK DA MAYWETTAS” it said. I’m not sure what that means but it seems a Scotsman has a strong opinion about what I presume are Mayweathers.

The wind was getting stronger the closer I got to Ellensburg. I gassed up at the Chevron there and ate lunch at the busy McDonalds a few doors down. It was good to get inside out of the heat. By the time I left, the wind was whipping really hard and blew me around rather aggressively.

My GPS guided me onto I-90 for a few miles and then back onto highway 97 north. A few turns and junctions later, I was on my way over Blewett Pass. That’s where I got a speeding ticket (for going 62 mph in a 60 mph zone) back in the summer of 2007, my only ticket on a bike and only the second in my entire driving career; the first was shortly after I turned 16.

Traffic on 97 north to Leavenworth was rather thick and I got stuck behind some trains of cars led by slow pokes who completely ignored the frequent “let them pass” signs and turn-outs for slow drivers.

Leavenworth itself was predictably busy with summer pedestrian traffic. I got into town at 2:40 PM, which was good riding for the day.

I stopped at the 76 station on the west end of town and bought three things: a one liter bottle of water, a 22 ounce bottle of Dru Bru Kolsch beer, and a bag of cookies for a snack later on. Icicle Road was next to the gas station, so it was easy to find with no GPS directions necessary. It follows the Wenatchee River, which is very rugged and filled with many dramatic looking boulders.

There had been a burn recently so the canyon walls were scarred and black.

Eight Mile Campground is the first one I came to. I rode through the whole site once to scope out my spot, which was right next to the camp host and also near the pit toilets. I set up my tent and then walked down to the entrance self-pay station and put $22 in the envelope. That’s a steep price when you consider the only amenities are pit toilets and a drinking fountain that only works when the sun is shining (it’s solar powered for some reason).

My dinner that night was freeze dried beef stroganoff. It wasn’t bad. The book for my reading pleasure was Hiero’s Journey by Sterling E. Lanier.

Day 2 Friday – Leavenworth, Washington to Hope, British Columbia

334 miles

It was very windy but the temperature was pleasant at my campsite. My new air mattress, the Therma-Rest MondoKing 3D, worked well and is the best comfort sleeping on the ground I’ve ever experienced.

I was awake at 4:30 AM and out of bed by 5:10 AM. There was just enough light for me to break camp without requiring my head lamp. Once my bike was loaded up, I rolled out onto the road at 6:10 AM and headed into Leavenworth looking for a restaurant for breakfast. McDonalds was the only place open, so that sufficed.

My route was southeast back the way I came until I caught highway 97 northbound. The wind was calm and the temperature was mild; a nice morning ride.

At Twisp, I headed west on highway 20, a new road to me. There were several more dramatic burn areas along the way – a frequent theme on this trip.

The town of Winthrop, Washington was very quaint and fun. It reminded me of Leavenworth, but instead of adopting a Bavarian theme, they chose a western theme instead. I also saw lots of people bicycling in the area.

And then scenery cranked up several notches. Highway 20 is amazing as it crosses the northern Washington Cascades mountain range in a east-west direction. The mountains are rugged and dramatic.

I stopped at the Lone Fir campground for a lunch break, just shy of the pass. I ate one of my freeze dried breakfast meals of egg, sausage and hash browns. There were a few mosquitos around, several of which bit me on my head. It made for some itchy times under my helmet later on.

After my meal break, shortly up the road the mountains became much more close, steep and immediate. Very cool!

The road down the west side of the pass was in great shape and had many nice sweeping curves. I relied on my GPS to help me navigate to Sedro-Woolley and then north where I stopped at a Chevron in the community of Nooksak. I had cell service so I called my partner back home and her and I chatted for a bit.

I crossed the border into Canada at Sumas, and was only asked a few questions by the border agent. One was, “Do you have any firearms?” When I said no, the agent then asked, “How long has it been since you had a firearm?” I felt that was rather presumptuous. After answering that question, I was given permission to enter their beautiful country.

Once through the border, I was amazed at the line of cars waiting to get into the U.S. The line was at least a half mile long.

I got onto Canada Highway 1 and headed east. Traffic on 1 was thick, almost like rush hour, and I rode for maybe 10 kilometers [do you see what I did there?] before I could get into upper gears.

The run to the town of Hope was fast, with a 110 km per hour speed limit. I had to use my GPS to find the Coquihalla campground where I intended to stay. It was the only one in the area that has showers. Unfortunately, they were full.

I decided to get a room instead of staying in my tent out in the woods somewhere nearby. The first hotel I stopped at didn’t seem to have a lobby or entrance; I walked all the way around it and couldn’t find the door. The next one looked utterly scary, the kind of place my Dad would describe as “not a good idea to walk across the room barefoot.” The third hotel seemed okay, the Skagit Motel, and fortunately they had a room available. It turned out to be a nice place to stay.

My shower felt good, as there wasn’t any available back at the Eight Mile campground near Leavenworth. It had been a warm ride, and nothing makes you look forward to a cleansing shower more than riding a motorcycle in hot weather. I even washed some of my clothes in the sink and hung them to dry in the bathroom [tip: ExOfficio underwear. Get some.]

I walked three blocks to the 293 Restaurant for dinner. The food was good.

So far on the trip, other than the bit of mist as I was leaving Sandy, it hadn’t rained, although the forecast looked tumultuous. It was also supposed to get hot on the east side of the mountains.

Day 3 Saturday – Hope, BC to Pemberton, BC

269 km / 167 miles

Today was the best ride of the trip so far. The road north from Hope to Lytton, highway 1, is very nice, especially on the southern end. The hills are nice and the road is in great shape.

The scenery dried out by the time I got to Lytton, with small pines and sage brush dominating the area as the road follows the mighty Fraser River. The last time I came that way I was traveling from north to south and the river was swollen and the color of chocolate milk. This time the river was low on its banks but still impressive.

Fortunately, traffic was light. There were some slow drivers but there were many passing lanes available.

I stopped in Lillooet and got gas, then used my GPS to find a Subway restaurant for lunch. A guy on a BMW 1200GS was in the parking lot putting his helmet on when I pulled in. By his accent as we chatted, I would have guessed he was from Australia or maybe New Zealand.

This was my first time riding highway 99 from east (Lillooet) to west (Pemberton). I recall saying, “Holy shit!” out loud inside my helmet. The road climbs an 11% grade into a narrow canyon between high mountains on either side and gets better with every mile.

The mountains were almost violent in their closeness and severity. When I had ridden 99 before, it was from west to east and it was raining, so the bulk of the scenery during that trip was shrouded and hidden by clouds. I can say this highway rivals Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park, and the road itself is much more fun to ride and a lot faster. In fact, I think highway 99 might be my favorite motorcycling road of all time.

The only really slow RV that refused to pull over and let others pass had a Washington license plate. Boo!

My day started by waking up at 6 AM, which was a late wake-up for me. I subconsciously knew I had a short ride ahead of me so I wasn’t in a hurry to leave. I got dressed and walked four blocks to the Blue Moose coffee shop, but despite Google claiming they were open at 6 AM, their sign and gated entrance declared they wouldn’t open until 7 AM.

I walked back to my motel room and hung out until 7 AM, then made the trip again. The place was busy but I had no trouble getting a table to eat my bacon, egg and cheese scone and drink my decaf mocha.

An older gentleman sat by himself enjoying his beverage in silence. When he got up to leave, he began speaking in a very loud and angry voice, “That’s my f%cking garbage!” He repeated this a few times as he walked toward the door, and kept saying it once outside. He walked straight across the street without looking either way and continued across the park on the other side, repeating his loud comment. I got the impression he does this on a regular basis, because when he began his verbal tirade, none of the staff looked up or acknowledged it was happening.

The clothes I washed the night before weren’t quite dry yet so I used the hair dryer to finish the job. I took my time packing and loading the bike.

Let’s jump ahead in the story to when I arrived in Pemberton just before 1 PM. I rode into the very busy Husky gas station and topped off my tank, then continued further west down highway 99 to the Nairn Falls campground. It was full!

Back in Pemberton proper, I found my way to the Pemberton Hotel where I had stayed a few years ago back during my first visit to the area. I got the last room available, but unfortunately it was directly above the pub downstairs. I figured it would be better than sleeping in a hot tent outdoors (it was fairly warm in Pemberton) so I accepted the room.

Also unfortunately, they wouldn’t allow me to check in until 4 PM, so I had to find somewhere to kill several hours of time, preferably in the shade.

I rode back to the same gas station and hung out in the attached McDonalds. Their air conditioning was excellent, but it was a very busy place and I didn’t want to occupy my booth for too long, freeing it up for other customers.

Back on the bike, I wandered around town a little bit until I remembered a large covered barn-like park structure near my hotel. I parked the bike outside and went into the shade with my book and sat at a picnic table.

The “Downtown Community Barn” as it was called sat directly opposite a busy liquor store. Although many customers bought beer, none seemed to buy it in bottles. Everyone came out carrying cases or flats of beer in the can. Lots of beer, in fact!

I eventually got on my bike and swung around the back side of the barn and parked it in the shade next to my picnic table. I doubt it was legal or appropriate, but no one seemed to mind and it certainly wasn’t in the way.

At 4 PM, I checked into my room. It took four trips to get everything off my bike and carried up to my second-floor interior room. Thankfully the unit had both air conditioning and a shower. The room I stayed in a few years prior had neither.

Dinner was at The Pony, “across the railroad tracks and through the gap in the fence” as the front desk clerk described the restaurant situated about 100 meters away. My beer was great as was the Caesar salad and bison meatballs on pasta.

As I enjoyed my meal, I noticed the various languages I heard spoken by other diners around me. I heard what sounded like Portuguese, French, German, and what I think was likely Swedish or Norwegian as well as yet another European-sounding language I couldn’t identify. I mentally remarked that it was an experience very unlikely to occur within my United States, at least not without a lot of jeers and negative looks from closed-minded xenophobic locals.

Thinking ahead to the next day’s destination, I phoned the Super 8 hotel in Osoyoos, BC and reserved what the clerk said was their last room available. The Best Western I called just prior to that had no vacancy at all. Again, the ‘last room available’ was the repeated theme of my trip so far.

Day 4 Sunday – Pemberton, BC to Osoyoos, BC

463 km / 287 miles

I didn’t sleep very well, but I had better conditions than I would have had in a tent. I had air conditioning and a shower and Wifi, which were nice.

The pub downstairs did indeed make some noise, with the repetitive thump-thump of music heard from 9 PM right until they closed at 2 AM. Ear plugs really didn’t help much, but most of the noise I dealt with was actually from my air conditioner.

Breakfast ended up being at McDonalds, the same place where I ate lunch the day before. One restaurant next to my hotel was closed for the entire day and the coffee shop and bakery next to the railroad tracks wasn’t open until 8 AM.

I pulled out of town at 6:40 AM. There was dew on my bike seat so I used a hotel washrag to dry it off before loading up the Grey Mule.

It was an absolutely beautiful morning to depart. The sun was hitting the mountain tops and mist was floating through the willows of the valley floor. Visibility was an issue when the rising sun peeked into the valley and hit me straight on. I took things slow for that reason, and because of the risk of deer or bear in the road.

The air warmed up as I ascended the steep (13% grade!) road east bound. The views all the way to Lillooet on highway 99 did not disappoint. I trailed behind a van with Alberta plates for several miles but eventually overtook it, having the rest of that amazing road to myself.

I did not stop in Lillooet, choosing to continue south to the small town of Lytton before I stopped for gas. Other than to put directions into my GPS, I didn’t stop again until I broke for lunch at the Dairy Queen in Princeton.

The Chevron in Princeton was very busy, with a dozen bikes or more there and half that many cars. I chatted with another rider, maybe my age, riding a nineties-era Honda 600 sport bike. He recommended I explore a road leading up to the viewpoint just to the east of Osoyoos.

The road leading to Princeton (highway 5A) passes through some beautiful aspen groves and bogs that would make for excellent moose sightings. Alas, I saw none (I still haven’t seen a moose in the wild, or even at the mall for that matter). The highway also passes by a series of lakes in a line at the bottom of a forested valley. Numerous paddle-boarders were seen on the water, along with many expensive-looking homes on the water’s edge.

As I rode through the fertile wine and orchard valley of Keremeos, I saw firsthand the wildfires burning on the hills on the western side of the valley. Several helicopters picked up huge canvas buckets of water from the river below and rose up to dump them on the hillside. Seeing them rise and fall and fly around reminded me of wasps building a nest or bees flying around their hive.

Fortunately my route wasn’t affected by the fires and there wasn’t much smoke to contend with, either, as I rode through.

The warming remainder of my ride into Osoyoos went without incident or note. I gassed up at the Shell station in town, and pulled into the Super 8 just a few hundred meters away. Fortunately I was able to check in even though I arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon. After having a nice chat with the desk clerk, I parked around back and unloaded my bike.

The air conditioning in my room never felt so good, as it was already 32 degrees outside (that’s 92 degrees to us ‘Mericans). My nap was nice, too. The temperature peaked at 93 hazy degrees by the time I walked across the busy street to get dinner at the A&W. At this point of the trip I was feeling rather tired of fast food.

My shower after dinner was nice, and the lack of cleanliness is one of the biggest drawbacks to camping on a trip like this. It’s hard to reset and recharge your batteries when you’ve sweated all day and never get a respite from it.

The forecast showed heat in the low to mid 90’s the next day. I knew I’d need to rely on all of my hot weather riding tricks to get through it.

Day 5 Monday – Osoyoos, BC to Sandy, Oregon

440 miles

The last day of my trip is what could be referred to as a “porno ride”: hot, long and hard. Forgive the juvenile humor, but the description fits.

I was on the bike at 5:50 AM and had no problems crossing the border back into the U.S.

Once again, I didn’t get much sleep. The air conditioning was one of those units that’s quiet for several minutes and then kicks on in a noisy fashion. This pattern of noise and silence keeps you from falling asleep very easily, and often prevents you from getting that deep regenerative sleep you need.

I was out of bed at 4:52 AM. My initial breakfast to get me going was a Clif Bar that I ate while I finished packing and loaded up my bike. My proper breakfast was at Shannon’s Café in Tonasket. I had eaten lunch there during a previous trip and enjoyed the food. Several local farmers where having breakfast there as well. I stood out like a sore thumb but fortunately I didn’t get any judgmental stares. The service and food were nice.

My ‘fastest’ route by GPS took me on SR17 past the Chief Joseph Dam, through the middle of nowhere, and into the center of nowhere town of Ephrata, where I stopped for gas.

After using the restroom, I was outside putting my helmet on when a couple pulled up in a Toyota FJ Cruiser. A toothless man got out of the passenger side and eyed my bike for several seconds before saying, “I sure wish I could go with you.” He went inside and after coming back out, pressed his thumb on this forehead and jokingly taunted, “I hope a bug hits you right here!” I smiled and said, “Many already have.”

I mounted my bike and began to back it out when I noticed the man back in his truck saluting me several times with a big smile on his face. I saluted back, then rode away.

I didn’t stop again until the Chevron in Goldendale, Washington. By this point, I was very hot and feeling quite knackered. I had a headache and my brain felt like it was vibrating. I was also getting hungry. I snacked inside the air conditioned mini-mart on a corn dog and chocolate milk.

The Columbia River was calm when I crossed at Biggs Junction, and for the first time I could actually smell the water.

To escape the heat of I-84, I turned south on highway 35 at Hood River and gained elevation to get into some cooler air. I rode up and around Government Camp rather than the faster route of 84 into Troutdale and then backtracking to Sandy.

I got home at 2:25 PM, and had been on the road almost continuously since 5:50 that morning. The ride was very hot and long and I was utterly spent.

Final Notes

I apologize for not posting any pictures from this trip. I carried my phone in a waterproof case and the lens over the camera made all my pictures come out very dark and blurry — basically unusable. I also have a bad habit of riding through the scenery enjoying the ride, rather than stopping and photographing it.

The highlight of the trip had to be highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet, BC. The scenery and road condition make it a riding experience above anything else I’ve ever experienced.

The low point of the trip was that very long, hot last day of the ride. It was a lot of straight, fast riding with little to look at. The smells of the agricultural communities I passed through were interesting, however, often changing by the second.

Finally, I intended to camp every night of this trip under the pretense of saving money, but in hindsight I am glad it didn’t work out that way. Because of the heat and lack of showers — everywhere I stayed was experiencing very warm conditions — sleep would have been elusive and my ability to recover and renew my endurance for the following day’s ride would have been compromised. Thinking about this, it is my view that we can endure crappy conditions based on the inverse of our ability to recover from the experience. Maybe I’m just getting too old for sleeping under the stars, at least more than one or two nights in a row.

Bike-camping shake-out trip to the Oregon Coast

Recently I took a shake-out overnight ride to an abandoned campground inland from Coos Bay on the central Oregon coast. The purpose was to sort out my bike camping gear and to find an adequate camping spot roughly halfway between my home in Sandy and my favorite riding grounds on the northern California coast.

Here’s the route I took.

I camped at Rooke & Higgens County Park along the Millicoma River, about halfway between Coos Bay and the tiny inland community of Allegany. The park seems to have been abandoned. Weeds were everywhere, many of the picnic tables were overgrown, there was no camp host, and even the privies were filled with spiders.

Needless to say, I had the campground to myself.

Prior to choosing Rooke & Higgens, I rode past Allegany and checked out Nesika County Park. It was nearly full, I couldn’t find the camp host, and the only few spots available were dusty and right along the park road. I wouldn’t have had any solitude considering one of the campers was blaring music out of their vehicle. So, I backtracked to Rooke & Higgens.

The weather was pleasant, with a steady breeze, but that unfortunately didn’t keep the mosquitos off me. I had numerous bites on my legs, hands and forearms.

My gear was another story. I got maybe an hour or two of sleep, and none of it in spurts of more than 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch. I used a Therma-Rest air mattress that requires me to blow it up manually. It’s only 20″ wide and never allowed me to get adequate sleep. I’ve since ordered a Therma-Rest MondoKing 3D from REI, which is 4″ thick and 26″ wide. It’s expensive, at $179.95 but I have a year to try it out and return it if I don’t like it.

Other than the overnight experience, the ride there and back was adequate for a post-Independence Day weekend. That means lots of slow drivers and lots of traffic. At least the weather was good.

I saw something interesting on the trip southbound. While rolling through Florence, I saw a half-naked grey-haired white man walking along highway 101 carrying a large sign that said “Obama is Satan” in handwritten letters. I think he’s out of date by about two years (and is thinking of the wrong POTUS).

Bike Camping in Eastern Oregon

I recently took an overnight trip on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom (DL650) to eastern Oregon. Although the premise of the trip was to meet some friends at a remote hot springs, I was also using it as a shake-out trip to sort out gear and methods for bike camping. The former didn’t happen, and the latter proved to be very informative.

To start, my route from Gresham to Tygh Valley was uneventful, taking familiar paths of highways 26 and 35, to NF48 through Wamic. Once in Tygh Valley, I took highway 216 past Sherars Bridge over the Deschutes River, and up the dramatic east side road to Grass Valley. The climb out of the river canyon on 216 is twisted and dangerous, with no guard rails and zero room for error. Survive it, however, and you’ll have great memories of the experience. Riding a motorcycle is like that.

From Grass Valley up highway 97 to Wasco, then southeast on 206 to Condon, I rode through some incredibly beautiful scenery. It is almost exclusively wheat fields and wind turbines, with views that include Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood in Oregon and Mt. Adams and Rainer in Washington. The road surface is in fantastic shape, and follows the rolling contours of the land as if Vivaldi composed it himself.

Lunch spot

I gassed up in Condon–which sells ethanol-free premium unleaded–and continued south on highway 19 to Bear Hollow county campground south of Fossil. There I parked the bike, busted out my MSR Pocket Rocket stove, and made lunch from freeze-dried Mountain House beef stew. There were a few house flies bothering me, but otherwise it was a pleasant stop.

Whenever the road dropped in elevation, the temperature rose. By the time I stopped at the Thomas Condon Interpretive Center near the junction of highways 19 and 26, it was downright hot. I filled up my water bottles, merged onto highway 26, and rode east to Mt. Vernon for gas at the Chevron station.

By this time, it was nearing 4 PM and I had somewhere to be. My goal was Ritter Hot Springs, which was north of Long Creek off of highway 395, just across the middle fork of the John Day River. The stretch of 395 north of Mt. Vernon has some incredible high prairie views that make you say, “Wow!” inside your helmet.

I found Ritter Road and took my time following its tight curves ten miles west from 395 to the hot springs. The road is in rough shape and matches the contours of the middle fork of the John Day. When I arrived at the hot springs the first sign I saw said, “No alcohol on the premises.” I had purchased a six pack in Mt. Vernon to share with my friends. Sorry, not allowed. I pulled into the hot springs parking lot and was disappointed at how run-down the place was.

The buildings were constructed in the 1800’s, and looked as if they haven’t been upgraded or repaired since then. I used the restroom and had to tell some very large spiders to get out of the way. Walking around the main building and the pool, I checked out the grass tent area. It was crowded asses-to-elbows with tents, and the only space remaining was on a steep slope. My tent would have been within arm’s length of another. I walked back to my bike and noticed a sign on the pool fence, “Pool closed until 8:45 PM Saturday.” I recalled reading that the hot springs were owned by devout Seventh Day Adventists. It made me wonder if the Creator of the Universe and Lord of Hosts would smite me if I dipped my toe in the water at 8:44 PM.

Shaking the proverbial dust off my sandals, I suited back up and rode away. My friends hadn’t arrived yet, I would not be allowed to enjoy a cold, well-deserved beer, and I couldn’t enjoy the pool until after dark. Plus, the crowded camping situation had me longing for solitude. I headed south on 395 back toward Mt. Vernon.

My campsite

Somewhere between Long Creek and Mt. Vernon, I found a gravel road and headed up the hill into the Malheur National Forest. After riding about two miles up to the 4,200 foot elevation mark, I found a flat spot in the grass, parked the bike, and made camp. I had the woods all to myself.

I was glad to be at higher elevation. The temperature was much cooler than it was at the hot springs, although it was still warm enough to be in short sleeves. There was no rain in the forecast so I didn’t worry about putting a tarp over my Eureka Backcountry tent.

After dinner and cleaning up, I gave myself a sponge bath with a couple of baby wipes. I felt somewhat foolish standing in the middle of the woods stark naked, running moist towelettes over my arm pits and nether regions, but after the sweaty ride getting there, it was the best I could do. There were no creeks or lakes nearby. Once that was done, I changed into fresh clothes and laid down in my tent to read on my iPad. Prior to departure I loaded up a few new books. The iPad is great because you don’t need a flashlight to read. That helps if night comes and you’re still not tired enough to sleep. It had been a long day, I was tired, and I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Alas, that was not to be. Although I don’t know why, I didn’t fall asleep until sometime after 3 AM. My sleeping bag was comfortable and I was never cold. My air mattress was comfortable. My pillows were comfortable. I think my brain just didn’t want to shut up. Once I fell asleep, I slept well, but it wasn’t nearly enough. I was awake by 5:30 AM. At some point during the night, I got up to relieve myself and was amazed at how many stars were visible. The Milky Way was brilliant. I also heard a lone coyote yipping and yowling about 100 yards away during the night.

Despite my lack of sleep, I felt happy when I got up and made breakfast. I started with a cup of hot coffee (Starbucks singles). Then I followed it with Mountain House blueberry granola. You only add a half-cup of cold water and stir, no heating required. It was surprisingly good. Once that was done, I cleaned up camp and loaded everything on my bike. Other than my lack of sleep–which was the fault of my brain and not my gear–it was a fantastic camping experience. The solitude was especially nice.

I left a few minutes after 7 AM and rode down the gravel road, out of the forest, and onto highway 395. I got to Mt. Vernon and filled up my gas tank, then got a proper breakfast at the Silver Spur Cafe. After I ate, an older gentleman from the area chatted me up outside as I suited up. We talked for about 20 minutes and had a great conversation.

The wind between Fossil and Condon and Grass Valley was intense, but the scenery going in the opposite direction was more than worth it. Any good road should be ridden in both directions to get the full experience.

By the time I got home, the round trip had been 700 miles. My gear worked perfectly, the weather was great, and I saw some amazing scenery. Eastern Oregon has some wonderful motorcycling roads and a lot of beautiful country to explore.

Thinking about my trip, I had a realization about loneliness. Although I spent the night alone in the woods, without any sign of people or civilization, I never felt lonely. In fact, I quite enjoyed the experience. The only time I feel lonely is when I’m by myself around groups of people I don’t know. If I had stayed in a campground surrounded by strangers, I would have felt lonely indeed. It’s odd, but I don’t feel lonely when I’m alone, only when I’m around other people [that I don’t know].

Review: Hilleberg Nammatj 3 GT tent

My previous tent, a 3-person dome from Cabela’s, was getting long in the tooth and lacked some features I wanted in a motorcycling tent. After doing a lot of research, and realizing that I’d wasted a lot of money buying cheap tents in the past, I decided to get the best tent I could and stop this repeat purchasing madness.

I chose the Nammatj 3 GT tunnel tent by Hilleberg.

The Nammatj is somewhat expensive, costing me $795 for the tent and $96 for the matching footprint. I purchased both online from BackcountryGear.com, a retailer based in Eugene, Oregon, and received the gear the very next day after ordering — with free shipping! As my review will show, it’s not about the cost, it’s about getting more than you paid for. That’s how I define value, and the Hilleberg delivers value in spades.

Unlike a free-standing dome tent, the Nammatj is a tunnel design that requires staking down. The downside to this is you can’t pick up the tent and relocate it to fine-tune your spot. This is a minor issue, however, as you merely need to pick your spot a bit more carefully — which is something I do anyway.

As you can see in the picture, the tent has two chambers, the sleeping quarters behind the yellow door and the storage ‘mud room’ just inside the door. There are vents fore and aft that provide a surprising amount of ventilation. Because they are sloped down, you can open them even in bad weather.

The matching footprint has dongles that let you tie it down at key points around its perimeter. This prevents the footprint from moving around once it is in place under the tent. The footprint packs up to the size of a hardback novel when folded, or a can of Fosters when rolled.

The tent itself can be set up in the rain without worrying about getting the inside wet. My previous dome tent had a mesh no-see-um material for the roof, so setting it up in the rain got the inside wet. It didn’t become weatherproof until I attached the external rain fly. The Nammatj doesn’t have a separate fly; the tent material itself forms the weather barrier. The inner tent (in yellow) is actually attached to the outer tent using a series of dongles and can be removed, making the outer tent just a shell. This is great versatility.

When using this tent, it becomes clear the designers at Hilleberg thought of everything. The attention to detail is impressive and the craftsmanship is superb. I expect this tent to last many years.

It took me 15 minutes to set up the tent for the first time, aided by watching a video on Hilleberg’s web site ahead of time. Now that I have practiced, I could probably get the tent erected in under 10 minutes. Break-down takes even less time.

Everything goes into a stuff sack that easily fits on top of my waterproof duffel on the passenger seat of my Suzuki V-Strom. It’s too large to fit into a side case or top case, however. The tent is too heavy for backpacking, but that’s not why I bought it. If that was a requirement, I would have purchased the Nammatj 3, which is a single chamber tent minus the front ‘mud room’ chamber.

After spending a night in the Nammatj, I can say the purchase price is easily forgotten and the tent quickly becomes a joy to use. For motorcyclists looking to save money on motels, or those simply wishing to enjoy the outdoors, I heartily recommend Hilleberg tents in general, and the Nammatj 3 GT specifically.

Testing out gear

Gear update 12-15-2010:

I’ve replaced my 25 year-old CampinGaz stove with an MSR PocketRocket. It fires up easily, cooks nice and hot, is ultra-compact, and boils water very quickly (which is what I use it for 99% of the time). I got mine for less than $35 from Amazon.com

I’ve also purchased a new sleeping bag. My old one was a 30-40 degree bag made out of spider silk and smoke, and required the use of a Thermolite liner to keep me alive. I’ve slept in that system down to 20 degrees and although I made it through the night, it was unpleasant. I’ve since ordered a Marmot Never Summer 0-degree down bag from Campmor.com. I’ll report more when I’ve actually slept in it

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming (a.k.a. the original post):

I have a trip coming up that will involve several nights camping out rather than staying in motels. The location will be remote, far away from services such as gas, food, and lodging, and will be at high elevation. This past weekend I decided to ride to a spot in the woods on the eastern slope of Mt. Hood and spend the night, testing out my camping gear. The last thing I want to do is find out my gear doesn’t work or isn’t adequate for the job when I’m relying on it for real.

The whole purpose of the short trip was to spend the night in the woods to test gear, rather than the more usual goal of a bike trip. I planned to eat dinner in camp, stay the night in my tent, eat breakfast, then ride back home.

It had rained at Government Camp within a few hours before I went over the pass, judging by the wet pavement and cool fall-like air. By the time I got to camp, about an hour and a half away from home and on the dry side of the mountain, I could see spots in the dust where it had rained briefly within about a half hour before. There was still an inch thick layer of fine dust on the ground, however, and it got everywhere as I rode over it.

I set up my tent and unpacked my cooking gear, then set out to make dinner. I’ve been using the same small Campingaz butane camp stove for 25 years and it has always been rock solid. However, partway through cooking dinner the fuel ran out. Prior to leaving I had suspected my fuel canister was getting low and when looking for a supplier I discovered that brand is no longer sold in the United States. So I took my chances and ended up eating most of my dinner cold.

One trick my brother taught me was to take food that doesn’t have to be cooked in order to be edible. If you get into a situation (like I did) where you’re unable to heat your food, you won’t starve. Eating my dinner cold was no big deal. However, yellow jackets soon discovered my presence and began to pester me aggressively. They landed in my food, on me, and began to really threaten my quality of life at that moment. I had to continuously walk around camp while I ate because if I stopped I’d have a half-dozen yellow jackets in my food.

I finally managed to eat my cold dinner and get my mess kit cleaned up. With the summer fire season in full swing building a fire was out of the question. Considering the prospect of a cold breakfast and more hassles from the increasing numbers of aggressive yellow jackets, I decided spending the night at home would be more appealing. Plus I already knew my tent and sleeping bag set up worked fine down to 20 degrees so I had basically tested out everything that needed testing: cooking, food prep, and packing/loading it all on my bike.

I broke camp and rode home.

End note: I’ve already ordered a replacement for my venerable but now obsolete Campingaz stove: An MSR PocketRocket from Amazon.com, $35 with free shipping. It’s the same type of stove but uses a different kind of fuel canister.