VIDEO: Camping colder than Russia

On Sunday morning, I unzipped my tent and the normally silent nylon fabric crackled like the plastic wrapping my dad used to take off his pack of Winstons before lighting up. My breath swirled around my head, orbiting in a cloud of smoke. It stuck to my beard in icy chunks. The sun had not summited the hills around Lovewell Pond in Fryeburg and the temperature was somewhere around -12 degrees.

I saw my boots just outside the tent door. I knew what had to happen next. One at a time, I plunged my feet into them with stifled whimpers. They were stiff from the cold and I hobbled over to the small fire Thermos and Chris already had going. It didn’t help much. The morning’s air was like an unassailable wall of ice.

Somewhere in western Maine.

Somewhere in western Maine.

“Hey, I bet it was colder in Irbit this morning,” I thought to myself as I rubbed my hands together over the heatless fire. The thought made me feel a little better.

Irbit is the city in Russia where Ural motorcycles are mostly made and Ural motorcycles are how we mostly arrived for this sub-zero camping trip. The odd, sidecar bikes are what keep us coming together, camping a few times a year, through good weather and bad weather. The cold, like the bikes, connects us to each other and to mother Russia.

We rode up to Lovewell Pond on Friday, in a snowstorm. Some, like John, Thermos and Keith, had heat in their tents. I didn’t. But I was OK in my cocoon of blankets and sleeping bags. And it’s not like my life was in danger. There were houses nearby. Poacher Bob had even tapped an extension cord into an outside outlet for his tent’s electric heater.

What I mean is, we were roughing it, but we’re no Ernest Shackleton.

Saturday’s riding, led by Bob, was a hoot. First, we made a pilgrimage to Whitehorse Gear in Center Conway, New Hampshire. It’s a huge clearing house for motorcycle books and accessories. They took a picture of our four bikes out front and put it on their Facebook page. I bought two books.

After lunch, Bob led us up through some hills to a magical overlook of Conway Lake and the White Mountains beyond. The landscape gleamed in a fresh coating of snow. Then we zigged and zagged through Brownfield and back to camp before dark. Waiting for us were some other Ural-riding pals who were not staying the night. It turned into a party. As the sun went down in a burst of pink and purple, the temperature dropped. Bob’s wife (bless her) brought us pizza and beef stew.

On Sunday morning, after I’d regained the use of my toes and my boots had warmed up a tad, we all tackled the problematic task of starting our bikes. The below zero temperatures turned the oil in our bikes to something with the consistency of Elmer’s Glue mixed with molasses. Many kicks were needed. Nobody’s battery was up to the job. Keith even put a pan of hot coals under his rig to try and warm it up. I’m not sure if that helped but we eventually all had bikes sitting at idle as we packed. As a bonus, we were warmer from the exertion.

I made the ride home to Portland in one shot. It was above zero and sunny with no wind. I got many waves and honks from drivers. Coming up Congress Street in the city, two road workers gave me simultaneous thumbs-up.

Later, I found out I was wrong. I looked it up on the internet. It was only -7 in Irbit.

Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.