152_MC_CampingBy Jesse Walters

While driving home one brisk evening last fall near Beaver Bay, MN, I came across two young men on a motorcycle trip. They were riding a clapped out Kawasaki KLR650 and Suzuki DR-Z400. Both were hanging out at a local gas station with maps in hand pointing in all directions, looking a bit lost.

Their bikes were loaded down with spare parts, tire irons and an extra tire.  It was apparent they were not from around Northern Minnesota. It was about 8pm, the sun was going down and it was getting cold.  

Like a moth to a flame, I stopped by to see if they needed any help, and sure enough, they were looking for a campsite.  They explained they were from New York and heading to the West coast by way of the Superior National Forest. I told them I had 17 acres and a moto-workshop just up the road, they are welcome to camp there.

That evening we pushed their bikes into my bike workshop, I invited some local riders over and we helped with some routine maintenance on their chains, brake pads and tires.  We also did some not-so-routine maintenance on the cracked DRZ crankcase.  Long story short, it involved JB weld and the recommended 15-minute drying time – I wasn’t kidding when I said clapped out bikes.

After I fired up the grill and we had our fill of burgers and brew, I offered the heated motorcycle workshop for sleeping quarters.  Instead, they opted for my campsite just out of sight of the cabin.  The next morning, I walked over to the campsite with some fresh coffee to send them on their way, when I noticed their frugal camping setup.

No tent, no ground pad, no tarp, just a sleeping bag on the ground and a small fire between the two of them, fed all night with twigs and branches to keep them warm. Packing camp consisted of rolling up the sleeping bag and cinching it to the back of their metal steeds. Simple. Easy. Efficient. Just like the cowboys of yore.

They left that morning, and we exchanged text messages for a few days, but a year has passed and I haven’t heard from them since.  I’m sure they made it to California as planned, most likely with an oozing crankcase, and leaking fork seals.

Ever since then, it’s made me reconsider my motorcycle camping setup. Do I really need that inflatable sleeping pad, titanium coffee cup, Mountain House dry food and three-season space-aged camping clothes? What about the fancy tent, 550 cord and ground cloth? Probably not, but I’ll continue to make my own camp coffee, eat Mountain House cherry clobber and enjoy the finer things in life. All the while, I respect the guys who order their coffee “black, no cream” and sleep in the ditch next to their bike with nothing but a rolled up blue tarp.


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