Friday, December 18, 2009

Saga, part 5, The Search for Camping

I've always been very spontaneous, more so than most people. Over the course of this summer I would take that to a whole new level, increasingly enjoying the nervous excitement of "not knowing what the hell I'm gonna do until I get there." Things usually work out (I'm resourceful), and when they don't it becomes an opportunity for creative problem solving. I grow from it, become smarter, stronger.

I had, prior to leaving home, found what I thought was a "decent" campground not too far from the company's hometown. However, it was in the opposite direction of the one I had traveled in that morning. I decided to forget about that one, for the time being, and look for something closer to where I was. I didn't figure it would be difficult... I was in a mountainous area, and campgrounds usually aren't too far apart. At least it seems that way when I ride randomly through the country on my bike and pass by them periodically. I know you're also usually not too far from a State Park (didn't I mention that already?).

I left the campus and rode into the nearby village. I found an older-style gas station - you know, just stand-up pumps with a lever, rotary digits and no card-swiper - and stopped to fill up and ask if they knew where a campground was. There wound up being more to it than a simple question, answer, get my change and go, and I like that. We should really talk to each other more, I think. The guys in the store didn't know of any that they could recall, but then another customer walked in who thought he did. He gave me some less-than-certain directions and it was confirmed by chants of "oh yeah, I think I remember that place" from the others, so I thanked him and headed out with confidence that I could find it.

It may interest you to know at this point that New York isn't exactly overbearing with its highway/road signage. This is a fact that certainly interested me at numerous points over the course of this past summer.

I followed the directions as best I could. It was easy to go past a turn because I couldn't tell what road it was, then find out by looking back over my shoulder at the sign for the other direction. This can be a fun, if not efficient, way of riding around. When you don't have to be anywhere soon you can go, "oh, that's where that is" and keep riding straight for a while. And the roads were fairly nice, and I started enjoying them a bit longer than I thought I should have without seeing a campground.

When I gave up I backtracked to a more modern gas station I'd passed and stopped with perfect timing. A couple on a bike pulled in and parked next to me, and thinking that another biker will know the location of a campground isn't usually like those "other" assumptions. They turned out to not have any idea about the one I'd been told about, but recommended Green Lakes State Park.

I went into the store, bought a map and borrowed a pen and piece of paper. I had a nice cup of coffee while I plotted a route to the park and wrote it down. I stowed the map and tucked my directions under the left side of my tank bib (so I can pull them out to glance at when I need to).

By now it was pretty close to rush hour, so I paid attention to how long it took me to get there so I'd know what to expect in the morning. The traffic wasn't too bad, but it was as slow as it always is when there's a bunch of it in front of you. It didn't bother me much though, the wonderment of being someplace new does a lot for the mood. Especially, I think, when it's in hilly territory.

I got to the park office a little after 5 and paid for a primitive site for a couple of nights, telling them that I'd like to be able to ride through and pick one. They went ahead and booked me one, but told me if I liked another one better I could call them and they'd just have to make sure it wasn't reserved.

The park did have campers in it on a Monday, including one other guy on a bike with his kid.

After some looking around I found that site 19 was perfect, and when I called they said it wasn't reserved till the weekend. That was fine because I wouldn't need it through the weekend. I took my luggage and sleeping bag off the bike and rode back up to the office for some firewood. I bought one bundle for 5 bucks, bungeed it to my passenger seat, and hauled it back to the site to make camp.

View from the "perfect" campsite:

The first thing I did was remove the wood from the seat so it wouldn't sit there and leave an impression in the vinyl.

Then I found a straight stick to use as a pole and carved the ends sharp with my hatchet, and cut a few small "V" shaped branches to use as stakes. I snapped my two Army ponchos together as my tent. Using theatrical tie-line (a high quality, braided and usually waxed twine, black) I tethered one end to a tree. At the other end, which would be the front*, I put the pole into the grommets and pulled it up and tight with more tie-line to two stakes at about 90 degrees from each other. More stakes for the side and corner grommets of the ponchos, and I had myself a nice, open-ended tent tall enough to sit up comfortably in. For good measure, in case it got breezy or rained, I unfolded an emergency blanket and gaff taped it (also a theatrical product, black) over the front opening of the tent from the inside so it would look nice and neat (and so that if I were to need to fix it in the rain, I wouldn't have to go outside to do it).

*The site was selected mostly for level/flatness and distance between the best tree for my purposes and the fire pit.

My tent:

I scouted around in the woods for sticks to use for the beginning of my fire, and pulled up a couple of armloads of tall weeds to use as bedding. I also found a nearby clearing that had just been mowed, so there was lots of soft grass clippings. I wished I'd done this scouting before I built the tent so I could carry a bunch of it in a poncho, and decided it would have to wait till I came back later with some grocery bags.

I then unpacked my luggage and one of my saddlebags (the other one carries the things that stay with the bike, like my rain gear) into the tent and reattached the luggage to the bike for a trip to the store. Before leaving I went up to the bathroom and chanced upon meeting the other motorcycle camper. In the short conversation that ensued he wound up telling me where I could find restaurants and a grocery store before I even thought to ask.

I donned my gear and got on the bike once again. I found the grocery store with little trouble, but it turned out to be what I thought was a "Fresh Market." Down here in the South that's a chain of organic and health food grocery stores, and while it's good stuff and I think mostly worth it, it was out of my current range of dependable powers of expenditure. Then I got to feel like a complete fool when I frustratedly asked some ladies in the parking lot where a "regular" grocery store was and found out that it was. It was actually called a P&C, but "P&C" wasn't nearly as big on the storefront as "Fresh Market" was. I swear.

So I went in and got, well... I hadn't been camping in a long time. So of course I got hot dogs and marshmallows. I got about a half pound selection of cookies from the bakery, and a couple of fresh bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. I got some rolls and some meat and cheese from the deli to make sandwiches to take for lunch, figuring I'd save time and money but still ride with the fellas (I'm a slow eater). I bought the smallest jar of mustard I could find. (It's kinda tricky trying to buy for literally a couple of days, because you don't have room for leftovers.) And I got a sixpack of, oh... how nice. They had a really decent beer selection, and I discovered that they also had multiple local and regional breweries (though I didn't yet know the full scope). I picked out a local stout, paid and grabbed a couple of their sale/coupon papers to use as kindling (I hadn't found any fatlighter on my brief scout). I packed it all onto the bike and headed back to the park.

I got back to my campsite just after dark, and the first thing I did was empty a couple of bags and make several trips to that field for grass clippings. I laid out a thick layer of them through the center of my tent, and then laid the taller stuff I'd gotten over them. Rolling out my Army sleeping bag and testing it out, I found it was damn near as comfortable as the bed I'd left at home. Then I packed a bunch of my things back into my luggage and tucked it into a corner, and laid the rest of my stuff along the sides of the tent.

I turned off my phone so it couldn't ring and attract attention to itself, walked a couple of campsites down to a powered one, and plugged it in to charge for a while.

Satisfied with my living quarters, I emptied out my water bottle, poured myself what turned out to be an excellent stout, and began the task of building my fire.

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