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30th June 2006

Camping by Classic Bike

Many classic bike shows and most rallies involve an overnight stay. In a field. Inebriated. PaulG80 presents his guide to camping for incompetents...

I've been prompted, by the ever increasing social whirlwind that is the RealClassic Club to put finger to keyboard about camping. It seems that weekends away drinking beer and talking about bikes are on the increase this year and I thought that I had better join in and see just what all the fuss is about.

Graham and Sean camp it up.

It all started late in 2005 when I couldn't attend the inaugural RealClassic Rally, I was told, in no uncertain terms, by Kent Shaun and Graham (the biggest campers around) that I will be attending the unofficial Brenzett camp in May, whether I liked it or not. Now being a coward of this parish I naturally said yes, mainly because they are both bigger than me, but this then left me in a quandary. I hadn't been away camping on a bike for easily 10 to 15 years and subsequently had no gear and no idea where to start.

I conveniently forgot all about it until early 2006 when the application for the Brenzett camp dropped on my doormat. This is when it became a RealReality™ and I had to get myself into gear. A free tent was procured via Kent Shaun but it wasn't going to be mine until the day of the camp due to the results of a poll on the message board (you know who are) so this precluded a dry run putting the tent up in the garden. Luckily when we met with Shaun and the gang at the Ashford Show and I was reminded of this fact, my Dad came to the rescue. He was sure that they had a tent lurking around. We found it and I instantly had a secret weapon. A quick session in the garden had the tent up in five minutes. Hopefully this meant I might even win some money as I was sure they were running a book on me.

Next I needed something to sleep on and in. I found a summer season sleeping bag and a sleeping mat in Tesco, of all places, in their value range. The bag was £6.47 and the mat £3.50. That meant the sleeping arrangements were sorted for about a tenner. Why a mat? I'm not as young as I used to be and need something twixt groundsheet and sleeping bag to insulate me from the worst of the cold and damp. When I was a callow youth and much more resilient (read as stupid) I used to sleep with the bag directly on the groundsheet. However I wasn't sure my aged bones could cope with that anymore.

Next I turned my attention to cooking and lighting. It was time to pay a visit to Millets during my lunch break (the day after getting paid, naturally). I got a small stove that twists and locks onto a gas canister, a battery powered lantern for inside the tent, a kettle and an inflatable pillow. This is where the first small disaster struck; I was inspecting my new toys when I noticed I had bought the wrong gas canisters. I had bought the type that had a regulator spiked into them, when I needed the twist on type. So another quick trip to Millets was in order the next day.

TOP TIP: Check you buy the right gas canister for your stove/lantern while you are in the shop.

You are probably thinking why an electric lantern and not a gas one? There's a really good reason for that, with this type of light there was no way that I could set fire to myself and my tent after a night of drunken debauchery. It just meant I had to ensure there were spare batteries in my luggage.

Random Camping Stuff on

So I have all the gear I need. The next thing is the dry run for packing it all on the bike. I was using the Guzzi as poor old Matilda (my Matchless) had her engine spread all over the garage floor, which is a completely different story. Whilst doing this I compiled a list so I had a check sheet. There's nothing worse than arriving somewhere and realising you've left something important at home, which is highly likely with my memory. I had run out of room during the dry run and needed more space to pack stuff so it was eBay to the rescue. I got a set of throw over panniers extremely cheaply and brand new to boot.

Friday dawned and after a day at work I needed to pack the bike up as I was leaving at stupid o'clock (for a Saturday) to meet LJ at the Birchanger services on the M11. The plan was to meet up, fill up and bimble down to Lenham where some of the Kent Sporraners would be waiting so we could have a ride in to the event. I employed as many bungees as I could find around the garage to fasten the load to the rusting hulk I laughingly refer to as my bike.

The alarm rang harshly at 6.10am to rouse me from my slumber. After a quick cuppa and some toast it was out to the bike and off to meet LJ. We had arranged to meet at the petrol station as a handy reference point. I arrived and was greeted by the sight of LJ and his daughter Emma beside his gleaming A10 waiting for me. After a quick hello, and a flat refusal to clean my Guzzi from Emma (I can't think why), we set off for Kent and the first meeting point. Now I won't describe the journey as we used the motorways but suffice to say I really hate the M20. It's the most boring road I have ever used and I dislike it with a passion. Junction 8 of this horrible road loomed and we took to the lanes looking for Lenham.

Are we there yet?

We found the village square and realised we were an hour too early so we hung about waiting for Shaun and the Chariot to appear. While we were waiting Cliff arrived on his Yamaha. At 10 o'clock on the dot and like a happy explosion Shaun arrived replete with Janette his long suffering wife (poor woman) in the chariot. Next stop the lay-by at Great Chart to collect some more people and we were off. My lucky charm of wearing my waterproofs to ensure it didn't rain worked until we got within a few miles of the camp site, but luckily it was only a smattering.

When he said camp...

The first obstacle to overcome was putting up the unseen free tent. The assembled throng of drunkards were most upset when the tent went up in 10 minutes with only one mistake. The next job was to chuck my gear in and get a coffee inside me. This is when I noticed that despite my fairly thoughtful preparation I had missed some vital ingredients (no, not the coffee). I had no water and the tap was at the other end of the field. Luckily the old hands at this (Shaun and Graham) allowed me to use theirs. So top of the shopping list for next time was a water container. The one everyone seemed to be using was like a bag with a tap at one end and supported with a wooden pole at each end. This was obviously so that it could be rolled up for storage and the pole allowed it to be hung from the handlebars.

After the first visit of many to the pub it was time to get the barbeques lit. This is when I realised my second mistake. I had bought a cutlery set but no plate. Luckily burgers and ribs, etc, are finger food but it was added to The List for next time.

Two more pub visits later and it was time for me turn in. Two reasons influenced this, first I'm a lightweight who can't take his ale and secondly it was chucking it down with rain and I couldn't be bothered to stand around getting wet. The tent had done a marvellous job of keeping everything dry (always a worry) so I turned in. It was about half an hour later I realised an airbed would have been a good investment. So I made a mental note to add it to The List. I was further reminded of this fact at about 3.30am the next morning and again at 6.00am when I woke up. I contemplated that maybe a summer sleeping bag wasn't such a good idea after all as I was also cold.

After four or five cups of coffee everyone else was up and about and Shaun had started mucking about with his collection of ancient Primus stoves to cook breakfast. It was at this point that the lack of a plate appeared again. While I had a delicious sausage and bacon sandwich (thanks Shaun) it could have been the full fat bloke monty.

Are we having fun yet?

Eventually the time came to break camp (see, technical terms now) and the job of fitting everything back where it came from. It looked nearly right when it all went back on the bike but I seemed to have less room to sit somehow.

Overall I had a great time but a lot of that was probably down to the company I enjoyed. I think that I'm firmly in the 'take too much just in case' category of camper rather than less is more but that's just me. I have learned a few things though and below are my top tips.

  • Make sure your tent has a separate flysheet to the inner as this stops condensation during the night

  • Be familiar with the way the tent goes up and comes down as well as how it packs away. A quick session in the garden after purchasing usually does the trick.

  • Take a hammer for your pegs. Otherwise you'll be treading them in.

  • Some sort of heat for the tent may be advisable even if it's for first thing in the morning to take the chill off.

  • Have a dry run packing your bike. That way you can take your time and make a list so you don't forget anything. Plus you'll get a good idea where the best place for everything is. Also don't forget to leave yourself enough room to sit comfortably on the bike.

  • Have your own emergency supply of toilet paper. Just trust me on this.

  • Take a comfortable pair of boots. I did as my bike boots are uncomfortable to walk in and it was a Good Move.

  • Remember your spare stuff like batteries and gas canisters and keep them together.

  • No matter how warm it is when you set up it WILL get cold during the night so prepare for it.

  • Finally, do not feed Graham Real Ale and barbequed food, you WILL regret it!

    So all that's left to do is book some more. I'm going to the Festival of 1000 bikes at Mallory Park in a couple of weeks' time to join the other RC Clubmen. Then it's another unofficial Kent camp at Stodmarsh for a beer festival -- where apparently we are the guests of honour.

    See you there!

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