Moto-Camping V.1: Test and Learn

“Dude, Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.”

- Jake the Dog

That beautiful quote from Adventure Time keeps popping up in my mind when I reflect back on our first attempt at moto-camping. Failure is the new hot trendy phrase among academics and start-ups alike. “Fail Big!” they say. However what they usually leave out is the importance of learning from those failures. I prefer the idea of test and learn. We didn’t fail, we conducted a test, and learned from the results.  

For months, Mr. McQueen and I have been telling ourselves that we needed to just jump in and get our hands dirty. It seemed that every time we started planning a trip, the pack lists, maps, gear, it was paralyzing. How could we possibly feel prepared for something we’ve never done? 

Finally I told Mr. McQueen it was now or never. We needed to just do our best, and learn from any mistakes. 

We’ve long day-dreamed about doing a South-West National Park tour including: Valley of Fire, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and Meteor Crater.  So with Spring Break underway, we screamed “Bonzai!” and took off, with only our destinations and a map of BLM land in hand. 

Our goal was take this trip easy and slow, and so were sure to schedule less than 3 hours of driving per day except the first day where we drove straight to Valley of Fire from Los Angeles, which took us about 4.5 – 5 hours. Unsurprisingly, the campground was full, but we were able to find a small dirt road just outside of the park boundaries, and after finding a clear spot that had been clearly used for camping, we decided to make camp.

We set up our tent which went up quickly and was a good size for the two of us, and used our camp stove to cook a couple of packages of ramen noodles, so far everything was going really well, we did make a note that we could have used a cutting board or some kind of plastic sheet to set down pot lids and food so that they didn’t end up in the dirt. 

For how little I get to do it, I absolutely love to camp. There is nothing more peaceful and healing than finding yourself alone in nature. You start to think about your place in the universe, and all of the daily troubles and drama melt away as you realize how insignificant they are in the grand scheme of life. 

That night it was bitter cold. Our sleeping bags were rated for 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and we spent most of the night shivering. It was clear that we had underestimated how cold it was going to be at night. Despite this we woke up bright and early, and as soon as the sun came up our tent warmed up dramatically; enough for us to get ready for the day with big smiles.

I highly recommend instant oatmeal packets for breakfast, they were surprisingly filling, easy to pack and easy to make with little clean up required.

It took us about an hour from breakfast to get completely packed on our bikes, we were definitely getting better at strapping everything down securely.

After spending an hour or two exploring Valley of Fire, we headed to our next campsite at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, just outside of Kanab, Utah.

When we were about 10 miles out, we were met with several big angry “ROAD CLOSED AHEAD” signs and I started to get a bit nervous. Luckily it just meant that the paved road was turning into dirt road, but this was terrifying since we had little to no experience riding on, let alone with our street bikes.

It ended up being good practice for us, we kept our feet down and kept at a steady speed and were able to get through it without any incidents. 

I had been using the site www.campendium.com to find good free/BLM campsites, which turned out to be a fantastic resource. This spot in particular however was nothing but sand. It was hard packed in most areas enough that we could drive on it, but it was clear we were on the wrong bikes for this terrain.

Mr. McQueen casually mentioned that this would be a really bad spot if it rained. I looked at the blue skies in every direction and laughed. There was no way that it was going to rain.

How wrong I was.

As we were making dinner, I noticed some dark clouds in the distance. We kept telling each other that the clouds were moving parallel to us, and wouldn’t reach us. However, we got our answer at midnight when the sound of raindrops along with a serious drop in temperature began. It was clear we weren’t going to sleep that night. 

It rained off and on all night, and I just curled up as close to Mr. McQueen as I could, hoping that once the sun came up the rain would stop, and we would warm up enough to get up and pack. Unfortunately, that wish was never fulfilled.

At about 9 am we admitted defeat and realized we would have to start packing up. Within seconds of taking the tent down our fingers were numb and everything we had was wet and muddy. We realized that we should have packed garbage bags so that we could have somewhere to put our things while we packed everything up.

Somehow we managed to get everything broken down and loaded up. We even managed to get my Harley on to the paved road without too much difficulty. Mr. McQueen discovered that his lithium battery does not like the cold and his engine wouldn’t turn over. By now it was snowing, and with just a little bit of panic, we managed to push his bike through the sand on to the main road.

Thanks to the podcast Adventure Rider, Scott knew that this was a known issue with lithium batteries, and that he just needed to run his lights for about ten minutes.  

We headed for the town of Kanab, finally admitting defeat and realizing that if we didn’t get warmed up soon, we were going to be in serious trouble.

That 20 mile drive was some of the worst riding in my life. I did not pack my winter gloves, or pants and within seconds I could no longer feel my hands. Each mile felt longer than the last and we stopped twice to ask the locals for directions, just to make sure we were going the right direction.

We stopped at the first hotel we saw, and after looking at our beet red hands, and wet faces, the man at the front desk let us into a room 4 hours earlier than check-in. Not only that, but they let us use their laundry to dry some of our gear, and their hose to wash the mud off of our bikes and tent.

That was the best shower of my entire life.

Over lunch, Mr. McQueen and I deliberated on whether we should keep going, or admit defeat and head home. We decided that we were vastly unprepared for the weather, and that even though we could purchase better sleeping bags, there were a few other items we needed in order to make the trip successful. We cut our losses and decided this was a lesson learned.

We came away with the following:

  • Aero-stitch Roadcrafter suits just jumped to the top of our wish list.
  • Check the weather report way more often than you think is necessary, definitely not just at the beginning of your trip.
  • Get sleeping bags rated for comfort at temperatures way colder than you expect
  • Tent with a vestibule for cooking in the rain.
  • A tent with a garage would be really useful for packing up in the rain.
  • Don’t make reservations for sleeping arrangements too far in advanced, schedules can change without warning.
  • Check into a hotel every few days for sanity’s sake.
  • Pack for every possible weather condition, however unlikely.
  • Cache some podcasts and Netflix for night time entertainment
  • Pack a few garbage bags.

Going forward, we plan on doing a few local overnight trips until we have our gear nailed down, before trying another week-long trip.

I think the most important lesson that we learned on this trip was that you can read all the blogs, listen to all the podcasts, but it’s not until you are out there on the road, sleeping in the wilderness, that you truly know what you need. 


For those interested, we packed the following gear - this will vary greatly depending on your comfort levels and needs. 

Camping Gear

  • Tent
  • Sleeping pads x2
  • Sleeping bags x2
  • Camp Stove
  • Stove fuel can
  • Mess kit
  • Cooking kit
  • Stuff Sacks x2
  • Tire repair kit
  • Tire air pump
  • Water Can
  • Camp soap
  • 30 oz Gas Can / Gas
  • Straps
  • Headlamp x2
  • Leatherman
  • First Aid Kit
  • Body Wipes
  • Toilet Paper
  • Flip Flops
  •  Sandwich and Gallon Ziplock Bags

Food

We planned on restocking at the grocery store as needed. 

  • Instant Oatmeal
  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter
  • Honey
  • 2 Packages Flavored Couscous
  • 1 Can Baked Beans
  •  1 Can Spam
  • Salami Nuggets
  • Instant Coffee
  • Hot Cocoa
  • Hot Sauce
  • 2 Packages Ramen
  • 5 Granola Bars
  • 5 Fruit Snacks

Mrs. McQueen Gear

  • 7 pairs of underwear
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • Motorcycle Helmet / Gloves
  • Headset
  • Backpack with waterproof cover
  • Walking shoes
  • Sunscreen
  • Mirror
  • Microfiber Towel
  • Basic make-up kit 
  • Sports Bra
  • Spandex leggings
  • Regular leggings 
  • Hiking pants
  • Water bottle
  • Cables for phone, headset and watch
  • USB Battery
  • Phone
  • Eye drops
  • 2 camisoles 
  • 3 t-shirts
  • Motorcycle pants
  • Down Jacket
  • Rain Jacket
  • Headphones
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair Ties
  • Bobby Pins
  • Hairbrush
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush/paste
  • Chapstick
  • Diva Cup

Mr. McQueen Gear

  • Motorcycle Helmet
  • Motorcycle Gloves
  • Earplugs
  • Headset
  • Leather Backpack
  • Backpack Rain Cover
  • Microfiber towel
  • 4 pairs of underwear
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • Boots
  • Running shoes
  • Shorts
  • Blue Jeans
  • Snow Pants
  • Water Bladder
  • Cables for phone, headset
  • USB Battery
  • 5 T-shirts
  • 2 Flannel Shirts
  • Windbreaker/ Rain Jacket
  • Phone
  • 70D w/ Charger
  • Canon 24-70mm
  • Camera Clip
  • Zipshot Tripod
  • 70D Batteries x2
  • Headphones
  • Sunglasses
  • Toothbrush/paste