A key part of visiting Skyline Drive earlier this month was the plan to camp out for two of the three nights on the trip. I’ve always enjoyed camping out in the woods (except in the snow…never again) and over recent years I’ve acquired lots of camping gear that packs up small and light for use on a road bike. Camping off the back of a motorcycle is pretty much the same thing, right?
Packing Up our Gear
From a packing perspective, sure! Grab your compression bags and your lightweight tent and shove it all into a pack that fits on the rear of your ride. I installed a rear rack that bolted on top of the fender. For two nights camping and one in a hotel, this amount of storage does suffice. I did order a tank bag for the motorcycle right at the last minute to ensure there was enough storage and to have something I could access easily while on the bike.
That duffel was attached to the rear rack with ROKstraps, which are a cross between a nylon strap-and-buckle system and a bungie cord. Part of the strap is a stretchable material. You tighten down the nylon strap and put some strain in the bundie and if your load compresses or shift while riding the bungie part of the strap picks up that slack. This helps ensure you won’t lose the bag off the back in a hard turn or after a bad bump. They worked spectacularly well!
The tank bag made itself useful during the day as a place to store a water bottle, some luggage locks, and a quick t-shirt change as the weather got warmer/cooler throughout the day. I only needed to un-strap and un-pack the large duffel when we made camp.
Rolling on the interstate
The plan was to knock out four hours of highway riding in one single day. This would get us all the way from New Jersey to Front Royal, VA and our first campsite was just another 30 minutes onto Skyline Drive. Being a new rider and having spent a handful of minutes on the highway already, I knew I wanted a windscreen on the front of the bike prior to embarking on this journey. It would deflect away much of the wind buffet and keep the 60 to 70 mph wind of my chest. Riding without one for hours would be exhausting.
For communication while on the bike we picked up Cardo’s PACKTalk Bold. The unit attaches inside your helmet and provides speakers and a microphone. It’s nice being able to chat with the person riding along with you, and for the hours on the highway it was good to have some music playing to pass the time.
One more essential piece of kit for highway riding was earplugs. Honestly, they’re good to wear all the time on the bike because you only have so much hearing! I’ve been playing with different types (foam and silicone). So far I prefer the silicone ones as they feel the most natural. This could be attributed to having used Apple’s AirPods Pro’s with their silicone tips for the past couple years! The foam ones feel like they are constantly trying to expand into your ear canal.
Camping in the Great Outdoors
We arrived at Matthew’s Arms Campground around 6pm and made camp. Earlier this year we grabbed a new tent (Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3, what a name!) from REI which is meant to fit perfectly between the handlebars of a bicycle and is design specifically for bikepacking. It also fit well into the duffel bag on the back of my motorcycle, and it sets up in less than 10 minutes.
Looking up to see clear skies (and anticipating stars that night) we dispensed with the rain fly. The morning air was brisk inside the tent the next day, but our sleeping bags and air pads kept us warm. There’s a refreshing feeling when you’re woken by the morning sunrise, the dew on your face, and a gentle breeze.
Packing the next morning went quickly. There was not much dew that settled overnight, and we did not need to linger and let the tent dry out.
The second day was all about getting to Loft Mountain Campground early on in the day and securing a campsite. Shenandoah National Park offers both reservations and first-come, first-serve policies for their campsites. The first-come sites account for 80% of their capacity but on a Friday would fill up quickly, sometimes by noon! We made for Loft Mountain which was 50 miles by Skyline Drive. Given a speed limit of 35 mph and lots of overlook opportunities along the way to catch the sunrise, this took us the better part of two hours. We checked in around 11am and got a site secured. Camp was setup quickly and we were off again!
Our route for the day led us southbound until Skyline Drive ended. We hopped on Highway 250 towards Crozet, VA. It was great to be riding around unencumbered by the camping luggage. Lunch was a BBQ place in town, followed by a trip to the Blue Ridge Tunnel and some beer/wine (more on that in my other post). Eating in a restaurant or grabbing a pint somewhere local has a much more magical feeling when you’re also camping outdoors at night and sitting beside a fire.
Prior to leaving home I had installed a 12 volt adapter on the motorcycle for charging various electronic things. Spending two nights outdoors camping and relying heavily on our cell phones for navigation would be a challenging combination if we could not charge them! The 12 volt plug on the motorcycle allowed me to top off a few battery packs tucked into my tank bag during the day riding and allowed us to top-up our phones and Cardo head units each night.
That was about it for tech on this trip. The goal was to get into the great outdoors, cruise along Skyline Drive, enjoy the views and the shifting colors of the leaves, and just relax. Having a fully charged phone made that all more enjoyable and the Cardo head units allowed us to chatter amongst ourselves all along the ride.
One thing Shenandoah National Park does really well is camping. The logistics of getting a site, accessing amenities, and driving in and out were all top rate.
Without hesitation I would do this trip again. I would certainly consider breaking up the four hours of interstate highway riding into two longer days using smaller highways and back roads. For example: NJ to Gettysburg day one, stopping in Lancaster, PA for lunch, then on to Front Royal day two. This would extend the trip beyond a four-day weekend, but there’s something a bit magical about rolling through the countryside on local highways and seeing what each town has to offer.
Capturing that magic is the essence of a trip like this.