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