Those of us who grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania in the ‘60s and ‘70s will remember the big voice and even bigger smile of Manny Gordon, district forester for the State Bureau of Forestry. Manny’s booming vocals, tinged with good humor, encouraged everyone watching WNEP Channel 16 to “Enjoy, enjoy, the great outdoors” of Lackawanna, Luzerne, Wayne, Wyoming and Susquehanna Counties. His trademark phrasing, along with his engaging and dramatic delivery, served as a backdrop of my childhood, and with video games and personal computers not having been invented yet, our mothers, who didn’t want us underfoot, encouraged us to go outside and play. From morning until night. All summer long.
We were fortunate to live in an area where within half an hour’s drive there were state forests, lakes, farmlands, mountains, and all sorts of nature-related diversions, so there was no lack of activities in which to partake. But where I really learned to love “the great outdoors” was at a Girl Scout camp near Tunkhannock, with its rustic accommodations (canvas tents on platforms and outhouses close by), set on a mountainside along the Susquehanna River. There we learned to backpack, identify trees and plants, cook bean hole meals, and even dig our own latrines for when we went on overnight hikes. Next to the camp was a farmer’s field where among the white birches, when weather permitted, we’d lay out our sleeping bags on soft beds of pine needles and try to identify the stars and constellations in the clear night sky. This sparked an early interest in astronomy (and astrology!), resulting in other visits to star parks and observatories, and this summer, a few of us plan to moto-camp at Cherry Springs State Park, a Gold Star Level Dark Sky Star Park, for its annual star party.
My appreciation for everything outdoors was further enhanced when I entered the realm of two-wheel transportation. All the clichés are true: being one with nature, stimulating all of one’s senses, uncaged freedom and whatever else people say. But an early moto-camping experience, although memorable, wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. June 2002 was the first time I rode to Laconia Motorcycle Week, and we were slated to stay at a campground in Ashland, about 15 miles from The Weirs. I figured, “it’s June, almost summer—it’ll be warm out.” It rained all week, plus I didn’t realize how cold it was in the New Hampshire woods at night. I nearly froze. I ended up buying sweats, warmer socks and gloves in the camp store just to survive until morning. I still have, and wear, that pair of sweat pants with a Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Campground silkscreened on one leg.
Once I knew how to better prepare for bad weather, I camped whenever and wherever I could. I learned the joys of parking my bike next to my tent and being able to fully immerse myself in the craziness of old-time biker events like the Easyriders Rodeo when it was held at the Orange County Fairgrounds and Am-Jam at another upstate New York fairground. I’ve camped everywhere from the Harley Rendezvous biker party where I was bestowed with beads and then later thrown off the stage, to the other end of the moto-spectrum where we camped in the infield of the tony Rolex Vintage Festival at Lime Rock Park and were treated like royalty.
I’ve ridden and camped at AMA and AMCA vintage motorcycle meets, as well as ‘70s-inspired bike parties like Strange Days. In 2005, I camped at a bike rally in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, out on the open plains, with the wind whipping wildly around the flaps of one of their huge Army tents. And I’ve slept in a tepee alongside the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, awakening at dawn to the steady drumbeat emanating from Leonard Crow Dog’s Paradise Sundance.
During my first ride to Sturgis, we camped all the way from New Jersey to South Dakota and back, staying only a few of those nights with friends. That’s when I learned that KOAs are always a safe bet—they do have consistently decent standards—and that I could luxuriate in a hot tub, watch a movie outdoors, or enjoy a chuckwagon dinner if I chose the right Kampground.
Over the past few years, I’ve pitched tents in upstate New York campgrounds so I could go mining for Herkimer diamonds, with one of the campgrounds actually featuring a mine on site. I’ve camped in several state forests in my own state, for no reason other than to spend quality time with Mother Nature and maybe ride some nice, quiet country roads. I’ve stayed at various family campgrounds with a women’s riding group, where twice I was the only person that slept in my tent outside while everyone else stayed in the lodge. How could I stay indoors when I had the choice to relax in my own tent, listening to the bubbling of the nearby creek or the wind gently rustling through the trees?
Some of my favorite campgrounds are those that cater only to motorcyclists. More than 15 years ago, a group of us rode the Blue Ridge Parkway south and spent the weekend at the Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground in Cruso, North Carolina, which was the first motorcycle-only campground I’d stayed at. And in 2009, I discovered Steel Steeds Motorcycle Campground in Milton, Pennsylvania. It’s truly a delight to stay at places that understand motorcyclists and their needs, with most owners being riders themselves, and to meet other campers with common interests. There have got to be dozens of moto-campgrounds, and I’m gonna try to find them all.
After decades of protecting his precious natural resources, Manny Gordon passed away 10 years ago at the grand old age of 97. Thanks, Manny, for your simple words of inspiration that got me started on this lifelong quest, and may you “Enjoy, enjoy” the great beyond.