I've been doing some reporting in the Bay Area. I love the Bay, used to live in Oakland, and never tire of going back. But damn if it's not an expensive place to stay. The trips are for a new book, so it's on my dime. Staying at friends' houses only works for so long, and even cheap motels are $60+ a night. Frankly, staying with friends isn't my idea of an ideal reporting scenario. A crucial part of a reporting trip is having time to process the tidal wave of data you've collected, to read, to think, and it's tough to do those things while getting barnstorming drunk with old pals. So how's a striving author type going to save some coin.? Boom ... rustic writer's retreat (aka, camping).
Strangely, for all the outdoorsy goodness the Bay Area has to offer, there are pitifully few campgrounds in relative proximity to metro areas (my research is in Richmond, which is East Bay). To get a spot in summer, most campgrounds require reservations months in advance. That's doesn't help when you're booking a trip around a source's schedule and usually at the last minute. One option, if you're a badass, is to do some stealth camping. I was debating the badass option, but I decided to keep it in my back pocket on my most recent trip. I found two first-come-first-serve campsites on Mt. Tam (Pantoll and Bootjack campgrounds), so I decided to chance it.
I arrived on a Sunday, and both places were 90% empty. This is high season, but that just means that people arrive on Thursday and stay through the weekends. The Bay Area is a foggy mother, and Pantoll is just inside the fog belt. I was advised by a friendly ranger that things would get wet every night. Bootjack, which recently opened, is only a half-mile down the road, but it's outside the fog belt and dry as a bad meatloaf. I chose Bootjack.
More on camping in the next post, but for those non-riders out there, there's something incredibly liberating about riding a motorcycle. Having all your camping equipment on the back is even more liberating. There are a lot of great moments in Travels With Charlie where strangers approach Steinbeck, do a once-over of his epic custom camper, and tell him how much they wish they could do something like that. The same thing happens at rest stops and parking lots when you've got a motorcycle packed to the gills. It's one of those rare moments in life when other people's perceptions of your life align with your own. Journalists -- or at least journalists of a certain ilk -- tend to be independent souls, and long motorcycle trips can be real indulgences.
I was on deadline for two pieces while on my week-long trip, and just to be clear, being on deadline is a drag whether you're motorcycling or reporting to an office. There's no escaping that tyranny. But camping does put certain constraints on you -- chiefly, there are obvious limitations on internet and power. I had intermittent LTE service at the campground, so I could monitor emails on my phone, but most of the time, once I returned from a day of reporting or working in coffee shops, I was offline. I read, I worked on my new reporting project with no thought to deadlines, and I just sat and stared into a beautiful fire. That's the essence of camping, no?
Next up: Gadgets and gear to make camping a breeze (and leave others thinking you've had a proper shower).