19 May 2013

Camping in Calaveras Big Tree State Park

In preparation of our summer trip we wanted to test some of our camping and motorcycle gear. During this two week trip we will probably camp about half the time if everything goes as planned and that means we had to check some of our gear for usability and comfort.

Therefore, two weeks ago we rode the bikes to the Sierras again. We decided we didn't want to go very far or very long but just on a nice weekend trip.

Saturday was a pretty good day, the weather was warm in the Bay Area and fairly hot in the Central Valley.

Filling up the two beasts along the way.

Time for a break

Wasn't that soft ... 

After a nice day of riding very simple roads, some curves but nothing as crazy fun as we normally ride in the Bay Area we arrived in Calaveras Big Trees State Park along HW4. 

The campground there was actually pretty nice. Campsites under the trees, not too much dust, nice and big campsites and the neighbors weren't too close, either.

Home, sweet home.


Obligatory Coffee

We also bought some firewood for later which turned out to be a good idea as it got fairly cold once the sun was down. It was great just sitting by the fire and enjoying the evening there. The Kermit Camp Chairs were super comfortable and showed that they are worth their price!

We might not take the leg extensions on the summer trip to save some weight, but if we have space / no weight issues, we might just take 'em for the added comfort.

Nice and cozy place to enjoy the evening.

On Sunday we headed further East on HW4, planning to cross the Sierras here and then head back West on HW108. 

Good plan overall ... but scroll down and see for yourself.

Andrea's BMW

The author and his mighty cat

Along the way it got colder and colder and then started raining. We got in our rain gear which worked just as expected because after fighting for ten minutes with the gear, finally getting it on and back on the bike it pretty much stopped raining. That's exactly how rain gear is supposed to work ... ;-)

Definitely visible!

Now, precipitation and cold temperatures coming together can only mean one thing:

Snow along HW108

Yes, it actually started snowing at some point on 108 and we were very happy when we got over Sonora pass and back into warmer areas. 

Strawberry Inn - Highway 108, California

The Strawberry Inn was a very welcome break after the cold temperatures and slightly slippery roads (although most of that was due to rain and mud on Highway 4). We stopped here and had lunch and a good Cafe Latte.

Back in Sunnyvale, we only had very few items on our list to get for the longer trip:
  • a small hatchet or axe to split firewood and pound the pegs for the tent into the ground when a thunderstorm comes up in the middle of the night and we add 14 more pegs to the 4 we had used to set the tent up initially (luckily, we only got a little bit of hail, not much rain, and not much wind after an hour of thunder and lightning)
  • some harder tent pegs as I bent three of the aluminum ones during the night action while getting hailed on; yeah, the ones linked here are prohibitively expensive, so we got for just in case we need them for super hard ground somewhere
  • a better pillow for me (got an air pillow now from REI, we'll see how that works out)
  • take the flip flops with us, as the Teva sandals take too long to dry after a shower
  • take more food, including coffee and breakfast so we are a bit more independent and can also save a little bit of money when we are camping anyways
Overall a very good test for our gear, pretty everything has worked out great. All the gear fits in our panniers and the one Ortlieb bag for long and bulky items. The longer trip can come! Really looking forward to it.


  1. I envy you... not that I am a big fan of camping but I am warming up to that idea again since we started camping out in my sister-in-law's attic. I might consider sleeping in our new (used) station waggon once we have it...

    1. I like camping as long as I can have a hot shower from time to time. Camping in Europe is much nicer than in the US as the campgrounds generally have much nicer restrooms/bathrooms and mostly have grassy grounds. Not the dust / dirt / hardpack that we have here in 99% of the places in the South. On the other hand, we have better weather for camping here ...

      Sleeping in a station wagon sounds way nicer than it actually is. I have done that before and it mostly sucks. The rear area is normally not 100% flat, it's not very wide (our tent is 50% wider than a big station wagon rear), the windows will fog up and it gets very humid inside.

      I find a nice tent much better for a good sleep than a car if it isn't at least a small camper van (VW MultiVan or so).

  2. A perfect weekend except for the snow and storm trying to blow your tent down.

    It is nice that the campsites were spread out a ways instead of on top one another.

    When moto-camping we like to take oatmeal for breakfast (I make up one portion packets in snack size Ziplocs with dried cranberries, nuts and cinnamon ahead of time) then just add hot water in the morning. Sea to Summit collapsible bowls come in handy too. These are pricey but we have found them well worth it. We have two of the bowls and two of the mugs. http://www.rei.com/product/767560/sea-to-summit-x-bowl

    For easy coffee making when trying to pack light we've been known to take Starbucks Via instant coffee packages with us. While not the perfect coffee they are easier to carry on the bike than some other options.

    You two are going to have so much fun on your trip this summer.

    1. Great minds think alike ...

      We'll take oats (in form of a "Müsli") with us. Oats, nuts, raisins, craisins, milk powder, some cocoa, ... - just add cold water, stir, all good.

      Regarding the mugs and bowls: how are they for taste? Do they give a plastic taste or are they fully neutral? We were thinking about them, but not certain.

      Coffee: we have tons of Starbucks Via here - that's what we'll take for the camping trip. Mostly the "Mocca" as it tastes fairly well. Also goes well with dried milk (from REI). Just have to remember to get the milk powder mixed with COLD water because with hot water it will clump.

  3. Nice weekend trip. I plan on heading out next weekend for a sidecar meetup in Talkeetna. I also use the fold flat silicone bowls and I don't thing they have much taste at all. I'm not sure where I found it but I have a small french press that I use for coffee. It only makes a couple of cups but is a pain to clean up so I usually carry the Via instant packets as well for use in the morning. Thank's for the link on the tent pegs, I have a couple of steel spikes that I use when on the bike as I don't need to be as concerned about weight but they are starting to rust. And a hatchet would be more useful than the hammer I usually bring along.

    1. We had a rubber mallet with us on the last trip and while it worked great for the tent, it didn't do anything for the firewood ... could have pounded that for a long time without getting results. ;-)

      Have now several different tent pegs to choose from depending on the ground. I might put a different blog post up for them. The Stingers were the ones we were missing for super hard ground. They are basically like really large nails in full titanium. Super expensive unfortunately, but if the ground is that hard, four should work to keep the tent stable even in light wind.

      If you buy any, make sure to get a "unibody" design where the whole peg is one solid piece, I have ripped of a few heads from the pegs that came with our tent when I tried to get them out of said super hard ground.

  4. Guido:

    I am a nooby when it comes to camping but last year I bought some equipment and have already upgraded some of it. I find that I would prefer to camp over staying in a hotel as you feel more self sufficient. I am also looking into food options so oatmeals and instant coffee sounds good to me. I have a MSR Whisperlite internationale but I think I am going to only carry my alcohol stove as I will only be heating water, and not really cooking. I am still looking into RTE options and make lunch my main meal, and just snacks, fruit etc for dinner

    Can't wait to hear more about your big trip

    I had plans to do a weekend test too, but with Mrs Skoot's recent surgery, I have to stay near home so my test will be when I leave on my real trip

    Riding the Wet Coast

    1. I have been camping a lot back in Germany. Motorcycle tours were generally camping only because I plain didn't have the money to stay in hotels or eat in restaurants.

      Nowadays it's a bit different, I can afford to stay in a hotel, I'm a bit more picky with where I sleep, and one more thing: a lot of campgrounds I have seen here in the US (mainly by researching them online) don't have showers. And after a day on the bike, I want a good shower. I'm okay with feeding quarters in there, but I absolutely hate having only cold or lukewarm water or dirty washrooms.

      We have two MSR stoves: a Dragonfly to be used with liquid fuel like gasoline, and a MSR WindPro II for butane. Both are great. We'll be taking the gas stove this time around to make our life a little bit easier. We mainly bought that one because you can't take a stove meant for liquid fuel on an airplane nowadays (stupid regulations ...).

      For food we use ready made camping food. It's not great but gives us a hot dinner after a long day, makes for a more comfy evening. Lunch will likely be our main meal, too. I have read good things about "Mary Janes Outpost", but haven't tried it ourselves yet.

      We'll be writing about our trip, but probably only when we are back at home. So stay tuned ...

      Best wishes to Mrs. Skoot! Hopefully she feels better soon!