I was 40 years old before I owned my first tent. I wasn’t a boy scout, and on my mother’s side we didn’t camp. On my father’s side, summer visits as a kid led to many nights spent high in the Sierra Nevadas with nothing but a ground tarp and a sleeping bag carried in on our backs. We were often sheltered on three sides by downed trees as I fell asleep under a globe of stars so vast and brilliant it made me dizzy. I awoke to the sunrise and mountain air, crisp and fresh. It was always hard to leave the comfort of the sleeping bag and get the fire started. That was usually a simple task as there were always red hot embers still glowing under a blanket of grey ash residuals from the night before. During these summer hiking trips I remember thinking how claustrophobic it would feel being zipped in, sheltered and unaware of the stars and the moon and then of the breaking dawn right outside the flap.
Motorcycle riding in my 20s, I’d often take advantage of a free weekend and good weather and just tie an extra jacket and sleeping bag to the back and head out down the road. Today, I wonder how it was ever so simple and uncluttered. I’d sometimes stay at friends or relatives, when just dropping in somewhere was normal and acceptable. Other times I’d find a parking lot behind a church or business in a small town. I also can remember just lying out on the earth a short way down a small road off the main highway in the Arizona desert, a vacant piece of lakeside in Oregon or an unoccupied beach somewhere in Northern California, all under those same glorious stars. Being a solo rider, I could stealthily come and go with barely a tire print.
Later I started riding Moto Guzzis. Still afflicted with that travelin’ bone but not too keen to join groups, I maintained my primitive ways, although by now occasionally grabbing a cheap motel. Over the next several years I met other Guzzi riders and even subscribed to the national newsletter. There, I discovered a special family feeling and common thread with these riders and the events and rallies held across the country honoring our brand and its linage. I started planning a ride to one of the events. While researching them, I noticed all these campouts had the grounds peppered with tents and some not 10 feet apart. I realized this was a gathering, not just one man’s journey and adventure. I could have it my way enroute, but once I arrived, I was part of the flock. I decided that was ok though, after all, a field full of snorin’, burpin’, fartin’ motorcycle riders is probably best left under shelter and canopy privacy. So, I bought my first tent.
During the next dozen years or so, while not abandoning my solo rides, I did use the tent 4 or 5 nights a year attending some of the Guzzi campouts over the summer months. Even with that relatively light usage, by now it had started to look saggy and dated. So, I bought my new tent.
The last Guzzi campout of this season was my first night inside. I’d pitched it among a smattering of others, under tall pine tress and cloudless skies. Its green color blended into the woods better than the blue. The poles and clips had improved; it went up almost without effort. Also new was a sort of mesh skylight that made a small window of stars visible, and pocket pouch inside that kept my flashlight within easy reach. The zippers had authority, and it stood more taut and confident than its aging sibling. New and improved, better, sleeker and it still had that new tent smell.
At daybreak, I woke to the different color hue around me. I unzipped the fly, poked my head out and watched a squirrel scramble up a tree. Someone had already stirred the embers back to life and started the coffee. There was something reminiscent about those aromas in the air as I pulled on my boots. Tented or exposed, all those miles covered and those years gone by, some things never change. Greeting the new day from your own little spot claimed on a patch of earth the night before remains a simple, yet important pleasure that can never be replaced.