Sunday, August 23, 2009

The greatest campground ever

A couple days ago, after spending most of the day exhausting myself on some gloriously twisty roads in Oregon, I headed down the Redwood Highway into California (Rt 199). It was getting late, and I was aiming to get far enough out of town that I wouldn't have problems finding somewhere to camp.

On the outskirts of town, though, just before I passed into California, a hand-painted sign at the side of the road caught my eye as I whizzed by.

Motorcycle camping, huh? A campground catering to motorcyclists? I had to at least check it out.

And holy crap, am I glad I did. This was the greatest campground that I've ever been in. Not fanciest, there's no electricity and the toilets are portapotties, but just . . . the place is so full of awesome that it's hard to describe. Just oozed personality from every angle. And a lot of that is centered around the owner and operator, a grizzled old 1%er who goes by the name of Sparkplug. Or simply Sparks.

(Sparks and his wife)

I'd write more about him, but words can't do him justice. He's exactly as you'd expect; loud, boisterous, covered in old tattoos, curses up a storm, drinks and smokes like there's no tomorrow, has a pistol in a holster permanently attached to his hip (look carefully), and is one of the friendliest guys I've ever met. As soon as I road in, I was greeted by Sparks and his buddies with laughs at how dirty my bike was, astonishment at how far I'd ridden, and generous offers of booze and drugs. Well this was a biker campground, after all.

I got there around 7pm, and after getting my stuff stowed at my campsite (more on that in a bit), Sparks hollered across the campground that it was time to eat. What, food? I like food!

He called these things "Tacitos", saying that he was inspired to make them after he saw a taco bell commercial and got hungry. There was no attempt made to healthy these up with vegetables; they were packed full of beef and cheese, with a little rice and beans. He made huge trays of them, enough to feed an army. He fed the whole campground and had some left over.

We got a fire going in the fire pit after dinner, and all stayed up for hours bullshitting about anything. I finally went to be around midnight, and had one of the best sleeps in a long time. That was far later then I've usually been staying up, and I made good use of sleeping in until the late hour of *gasp* 8:30am! By the time I got up, breakfast was ready.

Banana pancakes with strawberries, biscuits with sausage gravy, milk and sugar with a little bit of coffee in it. What more could I ask for?

It was too early in the day to start drinking (even for Sparks), so he made do with gallons of coffee, and took his breakfast sitting . . . well, yeah.

This place drew all sorts of bikers. This guy had just ridden 500 miles to get here, in one day . . . ON A 'BUSA?! This bike is built to go fast, very fast, and the seating position is a full-on race tuck. It's not meant for long-term comfort, but evidently, this guy doesn't mind it for long stretches, even.

For those of you not familier with the nickname "'Busa", the Susuki Hayabusa is one of the hairiest, and THE fastest production motorcycle you can currently buy. It's 480lb weight is propelled by a 197hp engine, blasting it through the quarter mile in 9.3 seconds at 150 mph. With the factory rev limiter removed, it won't stop accelerating until it's nudging 206mph, and it doesn't take much work to make them go even faster then that. And if don't value your life . . . well, google search for "Turbo Hayabusa". The 'Busa pushes the definitions of a sport bike, many call it a hyper-bike. And while you'll spend a small fortune getting that sort of performance out of a car, this bike can be had by anyone with $13,999 in their pocket. Aren't motorcycle awesome? :D

Anyway! Back to the campground. Lets have a tour!

I can't articulate how awesome this place feels. Imagine if you took Renn Faire, and replaced all the theater nerds and vaguely historical buildings with old bikers, and furniture made out of rusty car parts and scrap wood. That's sort of what this place is. The whole place is motorcycle-friendly; all the camp sites had parking perfectly sized for a large bike.

This was where I stayed for the night.

Yup. In a teepee.

It came luxuriously equipped with an old military cot, a fisher-price kiddy table as a nightstand, a dreamcatcher, and a dirt floor.

This was livin' the high life!

Just down the path from my teepee was the Day Use area, and swimmin' hole.

That would be a sitting area made from what I think was an old Packard grill and fenders, and a seat from who knows what.

The other seat is a swing, made of random branches and planks of scrap wood. A huge portion of the things built around this property seem to be built out of that.

A creek runs through Spark's property, and this area was deep enough and wide enough to make do as a spot to cool off during the heat of the day. Floaties provided!

This section of the property is pretty heavily wooded, and you get from one area to the other via little foot paths that wind through the larger trees. It feels like an environment out of Myst.

Walking out takes you past various other accommodations that Sparks has nailed together from whatever he found laying around.

This was . . . uh, dammit, I can't remember his name now. I should write them down or something. Either way, this was one of Spark's old friends, and his wife.

I don't know what to call that structure. It's big enough for that rolled-up mattress on top, and then the cloth on the roof flaps down to give a privacy door. Whatever it is, it's freakin neat.

This is looking back to my teepee. The paths around here alternate between the little foot paths, and larger paths for getting a bike down.

While there are a lot of teepees and those other little shack-type accommodations here, there's also a lot of tent sites. Don't get me wrong, this is primitive camping. There's no electric hook-ups, all the sites consist of is a clearing with a tin can nailed to a tree nearby for use as an ashtray. It's perfect.

One of the drinking water fountains. How is that not so cool?

Moving to the larger common area, which is shaded by some enormous, low-handing trees, we have the beverage center.

Saddlebags and a fairing, on a canoe. In the forest. Everywhere you look, there are indications of Spark's touch being applied to things. Often this touch involves motorcycle-related art made out of scrap wood and whatever he found laying around. Or, art made out of old motorcycle parts, and whatever he found laying around.

There's a large, outdoor, communal kitchen for use by whomever feels like cooking. The rafters are decorated with various bike-related memorabilia, pictures of Sparks with famous people, thank-you notes from various guests, and other random stuff.

Someone once told me that there should always be a window over the sink in a kitchen. But this is a biker's kitchen, so the grill is the focal point, not the sink. It looks out over the creek.

It's a fully stocked kitchen, with every utensil and spice and condiment that you would ever need to cook anything.

And something else that every campground kitchen comes equipped with? A dog.

This is Trinity. According to Sparkplug's wife, he's one of those dogs who just showed up one day and never left, realizing that he'd found easy street. Mostly huskie, parts something else, he's a big guy, at least 100lbs, and absurdly happy with every aspect of life. He barks loud and intimidatingly, until you yell at him to shut up, and say his name. After that, he's your pal for life.

Just outside the kitchen, there hangs a large swing. It has chiseled onto the seat, in large letters, "SWING AT OWN RISK". Sparks says that he has it up mostly for the entertainment value, watching drunk people trying to swing on it, and falling off.

This is one of Spark's bikes that sort of hangs around the campground. A Ural, made in the Ukraine to a design that hasn't changed at all since the 60s. Drum brakes all around, and a top speed of ~50mph, if you're lucky. People travel around the world in these things.

On the other side of the large common area is the stage, which has speakers that play rock/bluegrass music all afternoon/evening, and then NPR all morning. Sparks expressed a love for the BBC, saying he liked the non-America-centered perspective it gave on world events.

Behind the stage would be an old school bus that hasn't moved in many years. With another bus welded on top of it.

Across the drag from that bus was the campground showers, and laundry facilities.

Next to the showers stands the shaving station. Hot and cold running water, and to help see what you're doing, there's a side-view mirror pulled off of an RV.

Next to the shaving station is one of Spark's many well-tended gardens, which is decorated with dashboards.

Down from the showers/garden is the work shed. Sparks spent many years re-building electric motors, something he still semi-dabbles in. But I think more then anything, this place serves as the birthplace for the various weird things you find hidden around the campsite.

Not the whole property is wooded. There's a large clearing where Sparks planted some pine trees a number of years ago, which serves as overflow space when the other sides are full, or for people who like more open space.

There's evidence everywhere of alcohol-fueled late-night motorcycle races around the campsite. Surprisingly, I didn't see much evidence of crashes.

Turning around, we head back into the woods, through another winding Myst-like path, perfectly sized to get a large motorcycle down.. There's a bunch of teepees scattered throughout the woods, and there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason for where. You just pick some random path, follow it, and eventually, you find more accommodations.

The other teepees around the place are even more generously equipped then mine.

Many of the sites have little signs up giving the site a name. Many are native-American references, some are biker references, and others are just plain odd.

It's easy to get lost in this place. It's far larger then you think, and there are endless paths twisting deeper into the forests. The canopy is so thick that it takes your eyes a bit to adjust to the darkness.

Often you'll stumble across more of these little hut-things, nestled in the trees on the edge of a small clearing.

Other times, the path will end in a densely shaded area, perfectly sized for a tent or two.

Make enough wrong turns in this maze of paths, and it feels like you're in another world. A world so much better then the one we usually live in.

Even this deep into the forest, you still run across Spark's unique contributions to the environment.

When you see this, you know you're on the right track to find Spark's pride and joy; his bridge. Unless someone tells you how to get there ("Go down the road 'till you get to the bus with a van on top of it, and go right. Walk a while and you'll see a sink nailed to a tree with some flowers growing it in, and take a left. Make another right, and you can't miss it!"), or Sparks takes you there, it would be damn hard to find this thing. But it is very, very impressive.

A 50-foot suspension bridge strung over the creek. All of the weight is supported by the cables attached to the trees; the bridge sways and heaves as your walk across it, the steps aren't anchored to the ground. They just slide across it.

I don't know how long it took Sparks to build this, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was just something he decided to do when a little bit stoned one afternoon. He's just that kind of guy; decides to do something weird, and then does it, and doesn't think anything of it. The bridge has some ingenious touches, like the stairs at the far end, which have a Myst-like pulley system to raise them up against unwanted visitors.

The view from the bridge out over the creek.

And how much did I pay for all of this luxury?

$10/night. ($20/night for a "cage")

People, this place is a destination in of itself. It's worth a many-day ride just to stay here. Check out the website, and if you stay, tell Sparks that I sent you.

1 comment:

  1. That is simply full of win on every level. I want to go. Great photos and descriptions too.