Stopping and setting up camp seems contradictory for someone riding around Australia, but Jason Barton* says stopping and setting up a tent can be one of the greatest pleasures travel provides.
This is especially true when motorcycling which, in a way, may actually seem to be contradictory. Riding is often about embracing the rolling, rollicking nature of person and machine as we hyper-connect all five senses with the challenge and joy this form of movement brings. Combined, it creates a tunnel-vision like experience as we continually adjust and absorb which, as we know is fantastically rewarding and demanding.
While riding around Australia from March through to June, I was reminded of the importance of soaking up the times when I turn the engine off and stopped the motion.
And this is why I chose to camp as much as possible. Setting up and breaking down a camp is a disciplined act requiring a ‘slowing down of the journey’ especially when done daily spanning a number of months.
I needed this routine.
I had to find a way to break a toxic life pattern that was consuming me; hence the trip and yet, as romantic as it may seem, like we see of cowboys in those classic Westerns all gathered around a campfire, eating beans from tin plates and going to sleep under the stars, in reality, camping rough is not always as idyllic as seen on TV.
One time, and in spite of my self-talk mantra to ‘never ride at dusk’, I was riding at dusk. It had been one of those beautiful days where all seems great with the universe and, to reward myself, I was going to camp in a beautiful, isolated spot. All to myself and enjoy the beauty of nature. In the glowing fading light, looking out to my left I saw a big clearing, a disused dumping point for crushed stones to be used for roadworks. It was ideally positioned, sheltered away from the road, surrounded by a stand of eucalypts. However, it was on the old and still asphalted road; impossible to bang my tent pegs into.
Back on the bike, I kept glancing out to my right, noticing the sun entering the horizon. It was getting darker and feeling much colder.
I was quick to spot another site.
But, the smell. Dead pig? Kangaroo? Fox? All of them? Whatever was the cause it was not a place to a pitch a tent.
Back on again, full-beam headlight now cutting through the darkening sky and 70 kilometres to the next town. Too far, so I must find a place to camp.
Around another bend and yes, out to my left, just over a cattle grid was a secluded patch.
No smells of decomposing death.
No tent-peg preventive asphalt.
Quickly, racing the disappearing light I undid my packaging ties, rolled out the tent and as I was now expert, calmly inserted and erected the three poles.
The body was up.
Next part of my routine was to inflate the mattress and pillow, roll out the sleeping bag and throw up the fly. I could taste my dinner of hot noodles and instant mushroom soup. On all fours, entering the tent cavity, placing my hands down, both were stabbed by very strong spikes: Mimosa bush thorns. Stupidly, tiredly, I then ran both hands across the heavy duty plastic tent floor piercing the skin of both palms.
Back out to find the tweezers in the top case.
The sun had disappeared.
Forgot the torch. Back in the tent and more thorns this time in my elbows.
Foaming from the mouth with profanities, it was then that I realised the thorns were everywhere; some had even embedded in my motorcycle tires. Swearing more, scanning around with my primitive torch, I was in an area littered with twigs of the thorny stuff. It was too dark, too late to repack and move on. And adding to my stress was that I had recently just changed a blown-out air mattress to my new and more expensive ‘Sea to Summit’ model; the last thing I needed was to wake in the middle of this night to the sound of said mattress going “phiff”. Calling upon what (Bush Tucker Man) Les Hiddens would do in such an outback emergency I put on my motorcycle gloves, re-entered the tent and swept my protected hands across the floor attempting to stamp out beds of thorny heads.
Satisfied with my intelligent solution and to ensure additional safety, I then lined the floor with clothes, mostly the unwashed smelly ones including my towel. Then I set up the bedding. What normally would take 15-20 minutes in setting up had turned into an agitated display of 60 minutes of faffing around. Cold, worn-out I ate a cold tin of tuna, some dried fruits and nuts and washed it down with a bottle of water. In the morning, after trying to sleep in the most rigid of poses, I woke to a glorious sunrise and a still fully inflated mattress. Happy in the belief that Mr Hiddens would be proud, I prepared a hot noodle soup breakfast in my trusty collapsible bowl from Aldi. Wearing my motorcycle gloves, packing up my tent, I sat to eat realising that my bowl had split, leaking out the soupy contents leaving me with half warm, soup-less noodles.
Here, I reminded myself of why I was doing what I was doing. Months ago, and for many years my morning routine consisted of polishing my shoes, drinking a pot of tea using my favourite cup and replying to emails. Now, it was this and it was healthy. Ultimately motorcycling is not always deeply satisfying just by riding the thing; the ride is an element of a series of opportunities to stop, to respond and resolve what bike travel brings. As Paul Theroux, the great travel writer, once said, “travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a destination and becomes indistinguishable from living your life”.
*About the author
Jason, 48, lives in Melbourne and rode his 1997 BMW R1100GS 18,000km around Australia in March and June this year. His bike now with 96,000km on the odometer.