Back in June, my younger brother invited some friends up to the Russian River to camp over the weekend. My wife and I were planning to join and thought it would be fun to head up there on the GS. We’d camped before on the bike two-up, so we knew we could pull it off. This time around, we had my wonderful SW-MOTECH Dakar Panniers, which are a soft textile luggage with a rigid frame. It was really easy to fit everything we needed inside these bags since they kind of mold to whatever you put in them. Last time we went camping we had a difficult time getting all our stuff to fit into the BMW Vario cases that I used to have. They are supposed to expand to hold more stuff, but I’d dropped the bike so many times that the internal parts that let them expand were crushed and no longer operational.
The Dakar Panniers also have several loops and straps on them which made it easy to strap the tent on top of one, and then our SW-MOTECH Drybag went on the other. The drybag was especially great for this trip because we were going to be spending a good amount of time floating down the Russian River on inflatable rafts. I wanted to bring my camera and GoPro, so we stuffed all that gear as well as some food and water in the drybag to bring with us on the river. Some people ended up also putting their car keys and phones in it once they saw I had it.
We made our way through San Francisco and linked up with my brother Alex. Heading north, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and proceeded up Highway 101 until we turned west towards the river. As we got closer to Guerneville, the town where we would park to get in the river, the road backed up for at least a mile with cars trying to do the same thing we were. It was a beautiful day, but even in the morning it was already really hot. Normally in that situation I’d hop on the shoulder and make my way up to the front, but since we were following our group of cars we decided to sit in the traffic. I never like sitting in traffic fully suited up when it’s hot, and my wife discovered she doesn’t either.
We got to the road we were looking for and found a great spot to park that had easy access to the river. We inflated our rafts, locked up our gear and headed down the river. The drought is very apparent in most of California; I was expecting that we would actually be floating and moving down this river, but it was nearly a standstill because there is less water flowing into the river. Fortunately, our inflatable raft came with oars – so we were able to move – but it did end up being quite a workout paddling, as opposed to just laying in a raft and floating down the river. For those in our group without paddles, we let them tie up with us, though at one point we were towing the whole group. This also included an inflatable child-size pirate ship, which was filled with ice and served as our cooler for the day.
We came across a rope swing at one point and stopped to have some fun. Some guys from our group tried it, only to be shown up by a kid a fraction of their age. After about 5 hours of paddling, we reached our destination and made our way up the river bank to a car our friends had parked (to ferry us back to our motorcycle and other vehicles). We were hot and exhausted but it had been a great day.
After a quick dinner at Stumptown Brewery, the next destination was our campsite. The entrance to the Austin Creek State Recreation Area is a 5 minute ride from downtown Guerneville. After passing through the main campground, there’s a fun road to get up to the Bullfrog Pond Campground. It’s one lane and very twisty with spectacular views all around. The campground itself is great. It’s high up in the hills away from town, with big redwood trees providing cool shade. It was just about sunset by the time we arrived. My wife and I snapped a few photos and then made our way to our site to set up our tent.
After a long day in the sun, it was great to relax by the campfire. One of the best parts of camping is losing track of what time it is and being completely unplugged from technology. Despite the the local grocery store being sold out of regular marshmallows, we improvised with mini marshmallows in foil packets to enjoy s’mores with the group. The Reeses Peanut Butter Cup s’mores were unforgettable (trust us, just try it).
It was still warm enough that we slept without the rainfly of our tent on. Of course, we awoke in the middle of the night shivering because it had cooled off significantly. Early in the morning, we were abruptly woken up again – this time by the sound of the wild turkeys that inhabit the campground area. Their funny gobbling sounds had us up and ready to head out well before 9 AM. We packed up all of our camping gear, successfully fit it on the bike and hit the road back to San Francisco.
Words and Photos by Nick Johnson | Additional Photos by Alex Johnson & Hayley Johnson
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