The Art of Motorcycle Camping
“There are some things nobody needs in this world, and a bright-red, hunch-back, warp-speed 900cc cafe racer is one of them — but I want one anyway…” -Hunter S. Thompson
It’s easy to look at things like a motorcycle as frivolous and unnecessary. And it’s generally completely true. I used to view such things in this way. It’s dangerous and impractical, so where’s the point in spending your cash on such a machine?
For every rider, it must be different motivations that have them cough up parts of every paycheque just to have their own hog. Some like it fast, some like it cool and some like a donkey. I’ve never been one to specialize, so I like it all. But maybe it was as I flew down the US101 along the open coast and felt the thick, damp air against my neck that I began to finally accept the necessity of these machines. As I pulled into the campground at Kalaloch Beach perched atop a slope above the sand with an expansive vista, this necessity was fortified.
I’ve always been a fan of road trips. Most people are. I’ve done a lot of traveling alone. I find that it’s not always easy to believe that ‘it’s all in the journey’ when entering your 10th hour on the road in a car by yourself. Like our lives, it becomes a grind, and the destination becomes the focus. And when the destination becomes the focus, all is lost, because once you arrive your focus will shift to whatever’s next rather than whatever’s now because that’s how you’ve trained your mind to operate.
Taking to the open road on a motorcycle has changed the way I see road trips forever. When your ride shifts and leans with every bend and takes off like an arrow with every open stretch and slaps you in the ass with every unseen pothole, you realize what you’ve been missing behind the windshield of your car. There is nothing else but the moment and there is something to be said for reaching a meditative state at 75 mph on one of the most iconic highways in the world. I don’t think this is how Buddha pictured it, but I know he would be proud.
I have a tendency to overpack for trips. Too much planning, too much contemplation, and far too much everything in the end. So many things that never get used. Packing for a motorcycle trip is a different experience. Every little piece of gear counts, and there’s no room to entertain far-fetched hypotheticals: if you need something bad enough while you’re out on the road, you’ll be able to get it. Identify the necessities, and choose half of them to bring.
Seneca recommends practicing poverty as a means of inoculating one’s self against fear. To those who are truly poor, this is probably offensive. But for those of us that find ourselves awakening to the unconscious grind of the day-to-day, working to fulfill someone else’s dream or society’s expectations of our lives, practicing poverty is a powerful notion. There are many ways to do this — eat rice and beans for a week, take a day to walk the streets from the perspective of the homeless, or hop on your bike and eat out of a can for the weekend — or a year. We work so hard to save and to purchase and to move towards complexity, and then one day we wake up depressed and wondering what we could ever do to feel richer. We fear taking any big leaps in life because we don’t want to lose it all. But, it is in this rehearsal of being poor that you will begin to truly understand just how rich you really are, and how material loss rarely actually translates to real loss. It is then — in that instant — that taking life’s giant leaps becomes less intimidating, for your contempt for regret triumphs over your fear of failure.
In simplicity lies truth and power, and there is definitely power in reducing your existence to the search for firewood and a decision between canned ravioli or Spaghetti-Os for dinner. Our lives seem to move unwaveringly towards complexity. We tend to resign ourselves to this as if it’s dictated by the universe’s movement towards maximum entropy. But we neglect to consider that our lives are but one system in the universe. A universal movement towards disorder may be law, but other systems — the highway system — can absorb complexity and directly simplify our own existence. On the road, I liked to imagine life as a pack of bandits hot on my trail and it was just me and my trusty steed on the open road trying to evade them. Sometimes I can be very imaginative.
Ultimately, it is not a pursuit of material goods that has us drooling over the gauges of our bikes. Instead, it is the opportunity they represent. The opportunity to live. It is the potential for escape — even if just for a weekend — from the complex lives we build that has us yearning for another champ at the bit. It’s like being a roaming cowboy of the wild west, but with the power of 75 horses between your legs instead of just the one sickly old thing.
Yeehaw. I’d like to see them bandits catch me now.