Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Camping on Top of the World?

I'm sitting on about half a million Hilton hotel points.  On the one hand, that's pretty cool. On the other hand, it means I live in hotels every week for my work and that I have no life.  I used a butt load of points when I did my Throw Momma ride. It was nice to have a soft bed after ten to fifteen hours in the saddle, but I can't count how many times I woke up during the night to peek out the window to check on Hester.

For my Alaska trip, I think I want to camp as much as possible once I'm outside the United States. My first two stops will be in Denver and Billings and camping there doesn't have much appeal. Hello Hilton Points.  Once in Canada however, I plan to avoid hotels wherever possible and enjoy the natural beauty that Canada and Alaska have to offer.  In that pursuit, I went looking for gear last weekend.

My family and I used to be Olympic caliber campers.  The four of us could make an entire troop of Eagle Scouts look unprepared.  We used to tent camp everywhere, cooking dinner over an open fire and then playing in said fire later that night.  I once almost burned down the San Isabel National forest at a dirt bike Spodefest.  We graduated from tents to a pop-up camper and eventually to a toy hauler when we got into the enduro scene and were racing all over the southwest almost every weekend.  In short, we became pampered.  To us, roughing it was a night when the microwave oven interfered with the satellite TV receiver in the last lap of the live Supercross race we were watching from Las Vegas. It's different now.  The boys are grown and gone, I no longer race, (Evel Knievel thanked me for leaving his broken bone record in tact), and My KTM-520 collects dust in the garage.  I guess the reality is I just got old!

This trip will be a return of sorts to my past and as luck would have it, I no longer have any camping gear.  So, I stopped by an REI store in Dallas to see what's what in hardcore camping these days.  I've always heard REI was full of eco-Nazis who worship mother earth and hate anything that burns carbon fuels. When I arrived, the parking lot confirmed the above and that they also hate George W Bush, Fox News, guns, and SUVs.  They apparently also don't like meat which makes me wonder...If we're not supposed to eat animals, then why are they made of meat?  Anyway, if I were a betting man, I'd bet they aren't fond of Harleys either.  I was safe in my pickup truck with my Springfield .45 in my pocket.

Once inside, the guy who assisted me was a post middle-aged beer-gutted pony tail earth child named Zach.  I know Harley guys with beer guts and pony tails, but they wouldn't be caught dead wearing Doc Martens with black knee socks and camping shorts with a belt and suspenders, and an unzipped quilted vest. The piece de resistance to Zach's camping supply salesman ensemble was his Lilith Fair t-shirt.  I am dead serious.  I thought for a moment that it might have been a father's day gift or something.  I took another look as Zach and thought otherwise.

I have to admit though, for all his universal harmony and cosmic color wheel vibration nonsense, Zach knew his product. I was impressed at all the cool new stuff and how small and lightweight it all was.  He gave me some pamphlets with all sorts of interesting information describing the various grades of goose down and the nylon thread count in a quality -20 degree sleeping bag.  He joked that genuine goose down was better for a bear's digestive tracts. He also deftly explained why I needed a two-person tent instead of a single.  I knew I would be off loading packed items from Hester when I stopped, and they would need to be under cover.

I left the store thankful for Zach's assistance and wondered which of the sticker-laden hybrid matchbox cars in the parking lot was his as I made my way to my full sized pickup.  I have to admit that instant, I wished it was a diesel.  I also have to admit that the entire time I was there, I secretly planned to just collect part numbers from the gear I selected and to look for it on line.  Zach told me to hold off on buying anywhere because this REI store was having their annual "garage sale" wherein returned items would be 50% - 80% off.  So now I find myself actually excited about going back to REI next month and rummaging for bargains among the flower children.  Look for an update here on this topic after the event.  In the mean time, maybe I'll break out my old Docs and quilted vest.