by Stan Purdum
I’m recently back from attending the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA), an annual cycling event that just completed its 31st edition. Each year, the GOBA team maps out a different week-long loop of Ohio towns and layover days, and 1500 riders pedal up to 400 miles. Though there are a few indoor sleeping areas for registrants that book and pay for them in advance, most participants camp on the designated fairgrounds or school campus in each of the visited communities. In fact, a sea of tents is the primary mark of the movable “GOBAville.”
This was my 10th GOBA, and the rainiest of any I’ve attended (it poured three of the days). Fortunately, the rainy days weren’t overly cold, but the mostly unrelenting downpours while setting up our tents on sopping ground made that part of the event less than fun.
Setting up under those conditions did highlight the importance of having rain in mind while organizing one’s gear to start with, and the importance of following some standard procedures while setting up and tearing down camp. (Those of you who find that last sentence too much reflective of an OCD personality are free to stop reading now, but these practices can keep you from spending a sleepless night in a wet sleeping bag.)
Before talking about organization and procedures, however, let me highly recommend one item: a shammy cloth. That’s a square of synthetic material commonly available in dollar stores, often sold for washing cars. Made of rayon or poly-vinyl, shammies can hold up to 10 times their weight in liquid. They’re lightweight, wring out easily to soak up more water right away and quickly dry once the sun finally comes out. Putting up your tent in the rain almost always means you end up with puddles on the tent floor, but once you have the rain fly up to stop the deluge from entering your tent, you can use the shammy to mop out the interior before moving your other stuff in. It’s good idea to keep the shammy in an outside pocket of your gear bag for quick access. I’ve had mine among my GOBA gear for the last three times I’ve attended, and never needed it until this year. But the soggy weather this time made it worth carrying it every time.
Like many events that rely on camping, GOBA permits attendees to bring two large cargo bags, which the organization transports from camp to camp for riders. Mine each have wheels on one end, with a telescoping handle on the other, making it easy to drag them from the luggage truck to my campsite. (I got one bag for $4 at a yard sale and the other for $7 at a flea market.)
One sensible way to divvy your stuff up is to designate one bag the camping (or okay-to-get-wet) duffle and the other the clothing (or best-kept-dry) duffle, with both being a bag of smaller bags into which you segregate items as makes sense to you — for example, cycling clothes in one inner bag, camp clothes in another, shower clothes in another, and so forth.
In the camping duffle, I put my tent, air mattress and pump, folding chair, tarp to cover my bike, and smaller assorted items that aren’t likely to be harmed by moisture. Since the camping duffle will have to be opened to extract the tent, I don’t put my sleeping bag in it, as it would get wet on a rainy day while the tent is being erected.
In the clothing duffle, I put both my biking clothes and camp clothes, each in plastic sacks, along with my sleeping bag, shaving kit and smaller items that are better kept dry. On a rainy day, this bag never gets opened until it is in the tent, which has been swamped out with the shammy.
Whether it’s raining or sunny, it’s easy to misplace or even lose items while camping, and that’s where procedures come in. Get in the habit of doing things in the same order, as, for example, when striking your tent: Remove all the poles at the same point in the packing up process each time and return them to the pole bag before removing the stakes, which go in the stake bag, etc. While living in the tent, make sure to return items to the same place you usually keep them, such as toothbrush to the shaving kit, notebook and flashlight to your ditty bag, and so on.
A lot of this won’t matter as much when the sun is shining, but developing your organization and procedures then will pay off big time when the weather is less than ideal.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.