The Wonders of Tent Space

Motels and the like are expensive after a few weeks on the road, but there's a solution.
Words: Zac Kurylyk   Photos: Zac Kurylyk, unless otherwise noted

If you read CMG faithfully, you’ve probably seen my stories from the past few weeks detailing my trip around the US.

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If you’re sick of photos and tales from that trip, stop reading now, and delve into the CMG archives instead – find an MV Agusta test ride or something to keep you entertained. Otherwise, read on, for some wisdom gained from the road.

The Wonders of Tent Space

When ‘Arris and I started talking about this trip, one of my first thoughts was that I was finally going to get a chance to use Tent Space.

What’s Tent Space, you ask? The best way to learn about it is to visit ADVrider and read about it, but here’s a run-down.

Basically, Tent Space is a sign-up list (on ADVrider.com) of motorcyclists who let other motorcyclists stay at their place.

The Switchback, tucked away safely from the Amish Mafia in Tim's garage. Tim was the first ADVrider member I stayed with.
The Switchback, tucked away safely from the Amish Mafia in Tim’s garage. Tim was the first ADVrider member I stayed with.

The idea is, you get in touch with these folks via ADVrider, and they’ll let you pitch your tent in their yard. Some go further than that – most will let you know if they have tools, in case you need to perform maintenance. Some will let you crash on a couch in their garage, or even in their spare bedroom, and some will insist on plying you with food and drink.

I suppose I could have asked to pitch a tent in an Amish person's yard, but I was afraid of getting run over by a buggy.
I suppose I could have asked to pitch a tent in an Amish person’s yard, but I was afraid of getting run over by a buggy.

For the thrifty traveler, this sort of arrangement is beneficial beyond belief.

I used Tent Space three times during my US trip, and each time was a pleasure. The first time saw me camping in Tim’s yard in Amish country, outside Cleveland, Ohio. He and his family were at the movies when I showed up, but no worries – he’d instructed his neighbour to run into the yard and tell me where to camp when I arrived. After pitching my hammock in his yard, I even was able to roll my Harley-Davidson into his garage for the night, in case the Amish Mafia were about.

Of course, I got a ribbing in the morning, as he’d expected me to show up on a dual sport, not a Big Twin. But that was part of the fun – I got to meet another motorcyclist and his family, swap tales of the road (and off-road), and went on my way, with a new friend in an area of the world I’d never visited ­­before.

A few days later, I used Tent Space again, to stay with Travis in Lubbock, Texas. He graciously explained talked me through his city’s confusing roadways over the phone, but when I showed up, the deal got even sweeter. I didn’t have to sleep in the hammock for the night – he had a spare bedroom, a shower, the whole works for me.

In Lubbock, I opted to try using Tent Space again, instead of stealth camping behind the Buddy Holly Statue. Photo: Wikipedia
In Lubbock, I opted to try using Tent Space again, instead of stealth camping behind the Buddy Holly Statue. Photo: Wikipedia

Turns out, I was going to have the place to myself for the night, too – he had to take off to his girlfriend’s to prepare for a trip to New York the next day. So after some instructions on how to lock the garage, I was there, with his KTM dual sports and guitar collection, by myself. Pretty trusting!

This is a few miles up the road from Rick's house, and ADVrider I stayed with in Colorado. The views were amazing, and Rick's basement couch was a welcome break after I'd spent several cold nights camping in the high desert at Overland Expo.
This is a few miles up the road from Rick’s house, and ADVrider I stayed with in Colorado. The views were amazing, and Rick’s basement couch was a welcome break after I’d spent several cold nights camping in the high desert at Overland Expo.

The last time I used Tent Space was in Colorado, when I stayed with Rick. I got more ribbing about riding a bagger instead of an adventure bike, but I also got an offer to use a hot tub with a view of the Crystal River and the Rockies, and hours of chatting about the family’s rides through Moab, Mexico, and points beyond.

All these people were happy to help me with my trip – they offered up their washing machines, made sure I had breakfast, and gave me route advice and a little taste of local culture.

In Ohio, I got a candid viewpoint of what it’s like to employ Amish workers (you have to pick them up in a van to get them to work on time, since they don’t have cars). In Texas, I found out cowboy country isn’t free range anymore – dual sport riders must pay to play on rented land, since much of the state is private property. In Colorado, I found out the best roads were still impassible, as road crews worked overtime to clear snow and landslide debris before the long weekend holiday.

Want to find the twistiest route from A to B, or where to throttle down and watch for a speed trap? The friends you make on Tent Space are more than happy to share that sort of information.
Want to find the twistiest route from A to B, or where to throttle down and watch for a speed trap? The friends you make on Tent Space are more than happy to share that sort of information.

It’s stuff like this that’s the real point to using Tent Space. it’s great to have a free place to stay, but there are other ways to do that (more on that in a minute). When you use Tent Space, you meet people who are passionate about motorcycling, and those are the best kinds of folks to meet when you’re on the road.

The Wonders of Wal-Mart

Motels are cheap in the US, and sometimes necessary when it rains, but more money for lodgings = less money for gas = less time on the road - a grim equation, for sure.
Motels are cheap in the US, and sometimes necessary when it rains, but more money for lodgings = less money for gas = less time on the road – a grim equation, for sure.

Tent Space is great, but what if you want to stay in an area where nobody is offering up their yard for camping? What if you want to ride as late into the night as you can, pitch a tent, strike camp early in the morning and hit the road again?

You could stay in a hotel, but that’s mucho denaro. You could crash in a motel, but you could end up with bed bugs or a gaping knife wound, if you stay in the sketchy sort of motel I had in Alabama. You could use a campground, but why pay $30 for the privilege of tenting on someone’s land for a few hours?

A far more cost-efficient option exists – Wal-Mart. It sounds crazy at first, but talk to any serious RV-er and they’ll tell you Wal-Marts are hot camping spots. See for yourself – drive by a Wal-Mart late at night, and count the RVs in the parking lot.

My first night camping at Wal-Mart. My strategic location allowed me to hang in the corner of a chain link fence, and also get free wi-fi access from Sam's Club. No aliens tried to abduct me, illegal or otherwise.
My first night camping at Wal-Mart. My strategic location allowed me to hang in the corner of a chain link fence, and also get free wi-fi access from Sam’s Club. No aliens, illegal or otherwise, tried to abduct me.

I pitched my hammock in Wal-Mart parking lots in New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota. A couple of times, I checked with an employee to make sure it was OK, but if I saw a lot full of campers and truckers, I didn’t bother. In Iowa, it seemed every trucker and RV for 40 miles had picked Wal-Mart for camping.

Not my vehicle - I wasn't armed, but everyone else around me likely was.
Not my vehicle – I wasn’t armed, but everyone else around me likely was. Photo: Rockwallconservative.me

It sounds dangerous, and if you tried it in Detroit, it might be … but in a farming town, surrounded by RVs and transport trucks, it’s not as if anybody is going to rob you.

A yell for help would likely result in a parking lot full of angry vigilantes, gunning down any would-be crim. I felt less safe behind my deadbolted motel door in Birmingham than I did with my hammock hanging from the chain link fence between Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club in Roswell.

I did get occasional odd looks from other shoppers when I was pitching my tent at Wal-Mart, but I abandoned my naturally mild-mannered Canadian persona and gave them a “What are you looking at?” glare. Cowed by my Travis Bickle impression, nobody ever came up and questioned my right to camp.

Nobody hassled me at any of the Wal-Marts I stayed at, but I made it a policy to only camp at stores in rural locations.
Nobody hassled me at any of the Wal-Marts I stayed at, but I made it a policy to only camp at stores in rural locations.

In case you think I’m kidding about all this, check out Google; you’ll find many sites detailing the ins and outs of camping at Wally World, and even a list of stores off-limits to campers (usually due to local town bylaws).

After camping at Wal-Mart overnight, you can pick up a case of muffins for breakfast ... and lunch ... and supper.
After camping at Wal-Mart overnight, you can pick up a case of muffins for breakfast … and lunch … and supper.

It might sound funny, but if I was doing another trans-continental trip, I’d plan on camping at Wal-Mart most of the way. Even if you have to pay for a shower at a truck stop, it’s still cheaper than a campground (where you usually pay for showers anyway). The washrooms are cleaner than any campground I’ve been to, and in the morning, you can get a cheap breakfast of fresh fruit, and a hot coffee at the in-store restaurant.

Since most towns have a Wal-Mart, you can bet you’ll find a place to stay almost anywhere you ride. If you’re one of the anti-Wal-Mart crowd, who dislikes the mega-retailer for forcing mom-and-pop shops under, you can view it as a sort of subversion; stay in their parking lot, use their washrooms, then spend your money at the greasy spoon down the road when morning dawns.

If Wal-Mart camping is a little too ghetto for you, consider the US national forests. They're usually open for camping, with a few basic rules, and full of great scenery and usually good riding.
If Wal-Mart camping is a little too ghetto for you, consider the US national forests. They’re usually open for camping, with a few basic rules, and full of great scenery and usually good riding.

There are other options for free camping, too; ADVrider has plenty of threads on stealth camping, where you hide your tent in roadside bushes, hoping you don’t get hassled for trespassing. It sounds fun, but in plenty of the best roads, there simply isn’t a roadside to camp on.

You can camp in the US’s national forests for free, in most areas, as long as you follow the rules. These forests often contain great riding as well.

And, if you get really stuck, like I did in Mackinac, Michigan, you can shiver the cold off in the corner of a gas station and guzzle hot drinks until the attendant takes pity on you and tells you to camp out back.


GALLERY

Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.

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I suppose I could have asked to pitch a tent in an Amish person's yard, but I was afraid of getting run over by a buggy.

IMG_3565

Motels and the like are expensive after a few weeks on the road, but there's a solution.

IMG_3623

Motels are cheap in the US, and sometimes necessary when it rains, but more money for lodgings = less money for gas = less time on the road - a grim equation, for sure.

IMG_3627
IMG_4647

If Wal-Mart camping is a little too ghetto for you, consider the US national forests. They're usually open for camping, with a few basic rules, and full of great scenery and usually good riding.

IMG_5063

Want to find the twistiest route from A to B, or where to throttle down and watch for a speed trap? The friends you make on Tent Space are more than happy to share that sort of information.

IMG_4314

My first night camping at Wal-Mart. My strategic location allowed me to hang in the corner of a chain link fence, and also get free wi-fi access from Sam's Club. No aliens tried to abduct me, illegal or otherwise.

IMG_4647
IMG_5097

Camping roadside sounds fun, but isn't always possible - especially if your road doesn't have a side.

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This is a few miles up the road from Rick's house, and ADVrider I stayed with in Colorado. The views were amazing, and Rick's basement couch was a welcome break after I'd spent several cold nights camping in the high desert at Overland Expo.

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Some ADVriders recommend asking farmers to camp in their fields, but that's a poor plan during fertilizer season.

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That carefully cultivated turf is surprisingly comfortable to sleep on ...

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Nobody hassled me at any of the Wal-Marts I stayed at, but I made it a policy to only camp at stores in rural locations.

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I'd like to title this moody shot "Wal-Mart, 11 p.m., Cloquet."

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In Lubbock, Texas.

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The Switchback, tucked away safely from the Amish Mafia in Tim's garage. Tim was the first ADVrider member I stayed with.

Buddy Holly Wikipedia

In Lubbock, I opted to try using Tent Space again, instead of stealth camping behind the Buddy Holly Statue. Photo: Wikipedia

Smith Wesson

Not my vehicle - I wasn't armed, but everyone else around me likely was.

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After camping at Wal-Mart overnight, you can pick up a case of muffins for breakfast ... and lunch ... and supper.

I suppose I could have asked to pitch a tent in an Amish person's yard, but I was afraid of getting run over by a buggy.Motels and the like are expensive after a few weeks on the road, but there's a solution.Motels are cheap in the US, and sometimes necessary when it rains, but more money for lodgings = less money for gas = less time on the road - a grim equation, for sure.IMG_3627If Wal-Mart camping is a little too ghetto for you, consider the US national forests. They're usually open for camping, with a few basic rules, and full of great scenery and usually good riding.Want to find the twistiest route from A to B, or where to throttle down and watch for a speed trap? The friends you make on Tent Space are more than happy to share that sort of information.My first night camping at Wal-Mart. My strategic location allowed me to hang in the corner of a chain link fence, and also get free wi-fi access from Sam's Club. No aliens tried to abduct me, illegal or otherwise.IMG_4647Camping roadside sounds fun, but isn't always possible - especially if your road doesn't have a side.This is a few miles up the road from Rick's house, and ADVrider I stayed with in Colorado. The views were amazing, and Rick's basement couch was a welcome break after I'd spent several cold nights camping in the high desert at Overland Expo.Some ADVriders recommend asking farmers to camp in their fields, but that's a poor plan during fertilizer season.That carefully cultivated turf is surprisingly comfortable to sleep on ...Nobody hassled me at any of the Wal-Marts I stayed at, but I made it a policy to only camp at stores in rural locations.I'd like to title this moody shot "Wal-Mart, 11 p.m., Cloquet."In Lubbock, Texas.The Switchback, tucked away safely from the Amish Mafia in Tim's garage. Tim was the first ADVrider member I stayed with.In Lubbock, I opted to try using Tent Space again, instead of stealth camping behind the Buddy Holly Statue. Photo: WikipediaNot my vehicle - I wasn't armed, but everyone else around me likely was.After camping at Wal-Mart overnight, you can pick up a case of muffins for breakfast ... and lunch ... and supper.

13 thoughts on “The Wonders of Tent Space”

  1. Your right on the money with Walmart camping Zac, I’ve parked my Kenworth there many a time. Especially in smaller towns that may not have a truckstop, and it can be a battle with RV’s at times for space. I have only once seen a tent pitched however, and that was by a pair of bicycle riders. As you said, some places don’t allow parking, I have been booted out of some parking lots by the local police (because the safest thing to do is make a sleepy truck driver drive hit the hiway – not) others just issue tickets, up to $150 at one spot in PA. Our rule of thumb, if nobody is parked there by 10pm, probably not allowed.

    Nice follow up. Cheers.

  2. Another great read – thanks. The S&W pic is so true. The latest bike I got I did a lot of research with discussion groups in the States and there would always be gun related threads. Such as “where do you put your gun on your bike?” “Can you bring a pistol to canada” “what do you use for self defense in your home? A 12 gauge or a 410? Well if my wife is using it a 410 but if it’s just me a 12 gauge. But make sure you use buck shot because if you don’t want to shoot through the wall and kill your kids.”
    Bit of a wake up call for next time I went south of the border on a trip.

    1. Yeah, the sign said Smith and Wesson, but the image beside it was a Colt SAA… Just like those writers who claim revolver users have to switch off the safety! The Bible has plenty of references to carrying a sword, and I guess this is the modern equivalent. The difference between USA and Canada (same as New Zealand) is the British Empire were afraid of their citizens and disarmed them, like their Police. Maybe moral authority then was greater than the gun, but today? Not so much. Too much Hollywood.

      1. Yeah I noticed the under-barrel ejector, etc. At least it wasn’t a Luger or something like that.

        When I worked at a daily newspaper I was forever correcting other reporters’ mistakes on gun-related article. A bit of a pet peeve of mine.

  3. Great read. Informative, insightful, entertaining and funny.
    Great jobs Lads.
    Please more real world stuff like this and stop doing articles on electric bikes.
    Those things are sucking life out of me.

    Cheers

        1. Ha! I actually had plans for a very interesting loop on the east coast built around electric touring. Alas, it was not meant to be last summer, or this year. Maybe next.

  4. Got kicked out a walmart parking lot with my RV in Ocala Florida in the middle of the night when I was really tired. Turns out local campgrounds complained to city council that they were losing business. Dont count on free camping in FLA.

    1. I’ve heard that’s the case. I’d like to do a story on motorcycle touring in FLA, and the camping side of it will just be that much trickier. Also, everyone says the roads down there are straight, straight, straight.

      1. I have a friend who winters in Florida, not all roads are straight, there are some nice ones that wind through the orange groves and along rivers. Lots of dismal plaza to plaza stuff too, you have to look. My bike camping experience taught me two things – Euro camping is like an outdoor motel, with restaurants, pools, bars, etc., and cheap; and a stand-alone rather than peg dependent tent is (or rather, would be) valuable in rocky places like Greece.

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