Scootering vs. Backpacking

Thursday, 25th October 2012; 4:59 pm

When I went on my first road trip in 2009, the main thing I needed to figure out was how to adapt my previous backpacking experience to traveling by scooter. I’d be traveling light, and staying at state park campgrounds, so a fair amount of the gear and preparation were the same: tent, sleeping bag, weather preparedness, etc. But there were some important differences.

A major consideration for backpacking is food. On my last expedition in 2006, when I spent over a week in the wilderness, about half of my pack weight (when I started) was food. But on a road trip, it’s almost a non-issue: you can stop almost anywhere and order a hot meal, or to buy some granola bars for breakfast. Equally important when backpacking was water, which I had to hand-pump and filter from lakes and streams. That’s easily replenished on the road. By comparison to wilderness backpacking, scooterpacking is a breeze.

But on this trip, I’m doing both. And that poses new challenges. For the two days I’ll be on Isle Royale, I’ll need to be in backpack mode. But I’ll be on the road for five days before I get there, and during that time, in addition to scooter mode, I need to carry gear and provisions for the other.

So, for backpacking, I’ll need a couple days’ food. I have a few freeze-dried meals left over (good thing those don’t go bad), so I can pack those for my dinners. But… how to prepare them? I have a small camp stove that I can bring, but… do I need it? Freeze-dried meals can be prepared with cold water, they just turn out better (and more quickly) if it’s hot. Same with oatmeal (my standard trail breakfast). Or I could just bring granola bars for breakfasts (which I could pick up in Copper Harbor). Because I’m only going for a couple days, I can bring simple semi-perishable stuff like fruit or bagels for lunch, and get those in Copper Harbor as well.

A similar calculus applies to water. If I were only going to the island for one day, I’d simply fill a couple bottles with tap water and be done it. But for two days… I probably need to bring the water filter/pump. Neither the pump nor the stove is particularly large, but my current scooter-packing system doesn’t have any open spaces left for them to go into. And I’m sure there will be other items that I’ll want for hiking, that I’ll need to find a place for. Something tells me I’m going to have to lash more stuff to the rear rack.

So, assuming I get everything I need up to Copper Harbor, what then? I don’t wear a backpack on the scooter, because it just isn’t a good way to carry gear on a motorbike. Instead everything goes under the seat, on the rear rack, or in the shoulder bag that sits on the seat behind me. So how do I carry the tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food, cooking gear, etc. on the trail? I can leave most of the clothes and the riding gear with the scooter on the mainland. I’ll probably have to bring a small daypack to carry the rest, and strap that to the rear rack the rest of the time.

I don’t think any of these are insurmountable challenges. But unlike the last few rides, where all I needed to do to prepare was to pull out the same packing list I’d used before and do the same thing again with minor changes, this one is going to take some re-thinking, and some test-packing ahead of time.

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