Camping during Ride The Rockies takes a lot of effort, smart packing and a really good set of earplugs. I didn’t understand this when I did my first tour in 2005; I thought all I needed was a tent and I could just wing the rest. Not so, young grasshopper. In my case, it takes a few rough patches to learn my lesson. And by the time I learned my lesson, I was a dedicated hotel slug, never to return to Tent City again.
But for all of you who ARE camping for your first Ride The Rockies, here are some things to keep in mind.
You will be hauling your gear from the trucks to your camping spot in each town — and on days when you’ve ridden 92 miles and climbed 4,000 feet or more, you will not want to do this with a heavy bag. EVER.
I remember coming back from each day of riding in the 2005 RTR — dirty, sweaty and exhausted — and realizing I had to find the baggage truck, hoist my overpacked bag on my shoulders and wobble to the campground, sweating and swearing in equal amounts. Then I still had to find the energy to set up my tent, unpack my gear and find the shower truck before I passed out. I remember being so tired that I didn’t want to get up for food or the bathroom — and you have to eat, and you definitely have to drink enough to need a bathroom. So PACK LIGHT. I don’t care if you have to wash the same pair of cycling shorts each night, or wear the same pair of pants into town each night, if that helps lighten your load, you’ll be happy to do it. Besides, none of us will care if you wear the same thing every day, as long as we don’t have to smell you. This is not Cannes, by any stretch. Save the room in your bag for quality camping gear and weather-resistant cycling clothes.
I’d also highly recommend getting a bag with rollers on the bottom, so you don’t have to carry anything on your back. Make sure the wheels are sturdy enough to carry it over grass and dirt alike — many canvas bags come with wheels, and they work well.
PICK A SMART CAMPING SPOT
Usually, “Tent City” is set up on the athletic fields of the schools that serve as base for RTR. This is usually fine, most of the time. Sometimes, the fields are sunken so low that water collects in some spots, which can make the ground a little dicey AND draw bugs. I found my own little gold mine of camping spots that first year — I would set up my tent right next to the big massage tent, usually in the nice grass near the front of the schools, and with easy access to the entrances — and thus, easy access to the INDOOR BATHROOMS. Yay. Any way I can save myself from using Portajohns is great. It’s a little set apart from the main campers, but I’m a fairly unsociable type when I’m tired, so I’m good with that. One thing to be aware of: schools can forget to turn off their outdoor sprinkler systems, so keep your tent shell ready for that AND for the thunderstorms which can roll in during the evenings.
One thing I could not get used to was the level of nighttime noise in the camping areas. Because this is what you will hear:
— snoring campers;
— tent zippers flying up and down for bathroom breaks and social calls;
— rowdy local teens doing vocal drive-bys at 2am;
— tipsy cyclists tripping over your tent on the way back from town or the beer gardens;
— tired campers peeing loudly into bottles instead of braving the cold walk to the PortaJohns;
— people having intimate encounters in nearby tents.
Frankly, I don’t understand the last one. The last thing I’d want to do after 90 miles in the saddle is get frisky. But some people are a lot more resilient than me, apparently. In any case, bring a couple of pairs of earplugs, in case some get lost in the tent shuffling process. You’ll need them.
The Sherpa Packer. I started using The Sherpa Packer in later years, which was great because they will provide you with the camping gear, set up your tent for you and even carry your laptops and electronics in their truck between cities, which comes in handy if you’re blogging or reporting, like I was. It can be a little pricey, but if you want to escape the haul-and-set-up hell at the end of each ride, it’s worth every penny. A couple of things to keep in mind:
— If you’re a fast rider, you may arrive at the campground long before the Sherpa truck does, which means you’ll be waiting around in sweaty shorts for a while, unable to even take a shower until your gear arrives. I’ve found that can be almost equally uncomfortable as hauling my gear.
— The Sherpa tents are set up very close together; see if you can have one of the teens doing setup to put your tent on the end of a line so you get a little space. For a little tip, they’ll help you out.
It’s an option if you don’t want to set up a tent, don’t want to deal with the elements and all that, but … yuck. It’s so stifling, crowded and smelly inside the schools in the summer, honestly. If you’re not offended by BO or people stepping over you at 2am, then it’s probably okay. I think. You can also find an empty hallway or classroom to put your sleeping bag instead of joining the masses in the gyms, but you have to get to the schools rather early for this to secure those spots. They tend to go quickly, for good reason.
— If you’re camping outside, put the next day’s biking clothes into your sleeping bag with you the night before. It’s a lot easier to put on spandex when it’s not frozen; I just change in my sleeping bag each morning.
— Wash your bike clothes when you clean off in the shower trucks each afternoon. Then you can hang them on your tents (or in the trees) to dry before nightfall. And at this altitude, they’ll dry fast.
— Research food options in each town. After a long day of riding, I was sometimes just too tired to get myself cleaned up and take the shuttle bus into town. In one city, I finally broke down and did a phone search for pizza places. I actually found one that would deliver to the campsite, and I will never forget the image of the delivery guy carrying my steaming, fragrant pizza to me through the campground, while cyclists fell out of their tents to see what smelled so good. I was the envy of many, and that tastes SO good with pizza.
— Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. For those of you coming from sea level, you’ll have lost a lot more water than you think at this altitude, so it’s important that you replenish with something other than beer. I know you’ll be trying to avoid multiple nighttime trips to the PortoJohns, but that’s a better alternative than having to quit the next day’s ride because you’re too dehydrated.
— Be an adult. Know that you are sharing a small space with many people, so try to be quiet and respectful. But also seize the opportunity to meet your tent-city neighbors — like you, they are determined, strong and interesting people that you will be so glad you met, and that’s why we all keep coming back and doing the tour.
Those are some insider’s tips to lodging. For me, I finally tried the hotel route in 2010, and I will never go back to camping. Yes, I’m weak and a bit of a wuss, and I am absolutely fine with that.
I’ve earned it.
— Ingrid Muller