Friday, July 3, 2020

Hot and Humid Camping Plans--Am I Crazy?

Jefferson County Park, Iowa, May 2019

The weather forecasts are predicting excessive heat and humidity for the next couple of weeks. I should not go camping. I should stay at home and hike in the mornings at our local county park, which is only four miles from home. That's what my wife and I did this morning.

Lake Darling, 2019

I had planned on camping four nights at Lake Darling State Park, which is only seventeen miles away. Had a site reservation and everything. After my walk this morning, I decided, though, to camp instead at Jefferson County Park campground, which will be much closer to home if the ninety degree heat and humidity become too unbearable. I've cancelled the state park reservation and will drive Monday to the county park, which operates on the walk-in system, and find a slot.

Jefferson County Park was beautiful on the walk--very green from all the rains, and the insects weren't too bad. Since this is the 4th of July weekend, about half the campground's sites were filled already at this mid-Friday morning. I'm hoping that most campers will be gone by Monday. I'll drive over Monday morning to check and see. I can always start camping on Tuesday if necessary.

Here are three articles based on my experience of camping in the heat.
I plan to enjoy the weekend here at home, and then it's off for my first trip at JCP!

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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

My Tiny Trailer Take on "18 New Rules of Camping"

Finally a bit of sunshine

Here I am, sitting in my tiny "standy" trailer while it's sprinkling rain outside on a gray, overcast day. I'm in my favorite spot in one of my wife and my favorite state parks which happens to be only twenty-five miles from home. Since this campground has good cellphone reception, I'm hotspotting and reading articles on my chromebook. What do I run across but an Outside magazine article entitled "The 18 New Rules of Camping." New rules? What? It seems to me the Old School rules weren't so bad. After having read the article, I think the new rules are for new campers--or for folks newly thinking about maybe camping. As for this old camper, I think about have the rules applied to me.

Let's start with the rules that were in the head-scratching or say what? category.
  • Glamping is camping, but it doesn't have to be glam. I get this, but for me as I'm writing while sitting in my tiny trailer while camped in a great state park, I'm thinking, "What's all the fuss? A $2,908 glamping night or a $50 night in a tent--either rental featured is just a night at a camping resort or spa. I have to confess that $3,000 is almost half the price the purchase price of the Green Goddess! New campers, though, whether rich or not-so-rich, could find a night in a rental tent inspiring.
  • Definitely take the dirt road, but roughing it is out. These two rules appear to be contradictory. It's OK to rough it as long as you pay big bucks for the perfect equipment. For newbie campers sitting at home reading about camping online, roughing it with state-of-the-art equipment is a great fantasy--one I still engage in myself.
  • Vanlife has mainstreamed. This section of the article discusses how easy it is to rent a camping van, so one of the new rules of camping is that it's easy to rent a camper van. For someone who doesn't camp, renting for a trial camp experience is a good idea.
  • Bring bug spray. I had originally included this in the useful category, but I'm swinging it to the !!??!! list because . . . bring bug spray is a new camping rule?
  • Sporktula. " . . . a spoon, fork, knife, and spatula combo." I don't think a sporktula needs a rule of its own; however, if I ever see such a gizmo, now I'll know what to call it.
  • Backpacking will "suck less" if you buy "these nine new technical pieces of gear." As with many of these eighteen rules, there are links, and we all know how readers following links can increase website profits.
  • Make sure your Instagram camping photos are genuine and creative. From the window of my tiny trailer, I see a red-headed woodpecker that has just landed on a hickory tree. I didn't take a photo, so I guess I missed a genuine, creative opportunity.
Here are rules or reminders for those of us who are, as I describe it, "utilitarian glampers," or folks whose camping includes a bit of cozy.
  • Stay local. This has been the trend, one that I wrote about earlier in my article "Camping Local: Discovering Your Big Backyard." Local can be good, and with COVID-19, it's also safer for ourselves and for rural communities. There are many beautiful camping opportunities, distant and exotic, but we should never stop appreciating the ease of camping nearby. Hey, less time driving and more time camping--not a bad combo!
  • Find Your Go-to Spot. Perhaps this can be called "vertical camping," a kind of camping where one delves deeply into the geography, ecology, and history of an area. This kind of camping is definitely not "a mile wide and an inch deep." It's a good experience, one that I've experienced and written about in "It's Just Not How Many Miles or Places."
  • Expensive gear. Outside says don't buy expensive gear--rent it. A link is provided, with a mention that the gear can be FedExed to you. Frequent campers should buy dependable gear, but the buying doesn't have to be lavish. Adequate but not opulent. Renting is great for a taste but not economically practical if you camp regularly.
  • Bring your phone. Although the article is enthusiastic about great apps and websites (with links), I do think that the ability to keep connected (if you want to) or to work online (as I'm doing now) is not antithetical to being in and enjoying nature. Our electronics can be additive but should not not addictive.
  • The campfire is still everything. I can't argue with this, although I'm not going to have campfires this trip because it's so hot and humid. How can we describe the pleasure of a campfire on a cold morning--totemic, atavistic? A deeply satisfying warmth, certainly. 
  • "You will not be mocked for your massive tent." Hmmm. I do like the basic idea that camping needs do have a lot of personal qualities and quirks. We should buy what we need, not just blindly follow the current fads. March to our own drum.
  • "Food tastes better outdoors." Yep, hunger is the best spice. Some of my most fun articles for this blog have been about camp cooking: cooking in a tiny space, campfire cooking, Dutch oven cooking. Cooking in the rain or wind is not much fun, but after a full day of bicycle riding or hiking, you betcha, that camp food is really tasty.
  • "Company is overrated." I once researched and wrote about camping alone . . . while camping alone: "Traveling Solo: Being Alone Is Not the Same Thing As Being Lonely." Henry David Thoreau and John Muir both wrote about how solitude can nurture the integration of the outer and inner world. 
  • Sleeping beneath the stars. Ignoring the links to sleep products, living in nature is a powerful experience. That's one reason I like tiny trailers. I'm old enough to like and need the comfort of my own bed, yet I still want to experience that intimacy of falling asleep within the loving arms of the natural world, if you'll forgive my waxing poetic. Tiny trailers are sometimes called "beds on wheels," and a comfortable bed is one big reason why many owners were attracted to tiny trailers--that and low cost, easy towing and storage, and a light footprint on the environment (compared to the behemoths).
I'm sure Outside magazine is perfectly meeting the needs of its readers with its advice about the eighteen new rules of camping. Judging from the new rules, I think the magazine's readership consists of folks who read about camping more often than actually camping--and that's okay. I've had a bit of fun poking holes in some of the "new rules," but what is really important is for people to find a comfortable way to camp. Thanks to the magazine for nurturing stronger connections with the world we live in.

And now I've finished this article and am going to follow some of Outside's advice. I'm going to cook lunch, which today will include some warmed up spanakopita, cooked yesterday morning using fresh kale from our garden. Yum! I'm sure it will taste great! I'm hungry, I'm outdoors, and since my wife went back to town, I get to eat both our portions. It won't keep, you know. However, sadly, I'll be eating it with just a plain old fork.

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Home Safe and Sound

I've been reading online articles on how to camp safely during this COVID-19 virus, and our goal on our recent camping trip was to find a way to have a comfortable and safe outing. I think we were successful, and my wife and I feel more confident now in heading out again.

Here are the things we did to establish a safe camping experience.
  1. Camping close to home. By camping nearby, twenty-five miles from home, we were able to localize whatever coronavirus dangers were out there. Health advice says this is safer for both us and for rural communities.
  2. Our tiny trailer provided a safe haven for our camping. It increased our self-sufficiency. Humidity, rain, and insects were all easier to cope with because of our little trailer.
  3. Our Green Elephant utilitent, Cleanwaste portable toilet, and first-time-used Iron Hammer shower pump allowed us to stay away from the public facility. (I've only used the camp shower twice, once at home and once at camp, so I'm not endorsing the product yet.)
In terms of the campground experience, the hosts were less interactive than in other years. In fact, we never talked to them. The reservation tag was posted when we showed up, and that was it. The children's playground was posted with a notice that playing there was not advised, and to proceed at your own risk. The toilet/shower facility also had a sign just stating to be sure to follow CDC guidelines when using the facility. That was it! My wife and I chose to maintain higher levels of distancing behavior. We just kept to ourselves.

Our trip quit a day early to beat the heat. It included a trip home one afternoon for some time with the grandkids. (We're getting in as much time as possible with them because the start of the school year is a real wildcard.) Sandy and I had some quality time together out of the house, which was a nice reprieve from cabin fever.

I know many of you are already out and camping, but this experience for my wife and me was new. My wife works her business at home. I'm retired and have spent most of the spring in our garden (which is doing great, by the way). For the last couple of months, my wife and I have been redefining our lives; COVID-19 is not going to magically disappear. We have no evidence that it will, anyway. We're carefully adjusting our lives to the new times, and it's great to know that camping is something we can keep in our lives.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Green Goddess Camps Again!

Arrival--a hazy, humid evening.

"We're just going to head out and deal with the weather!"

Famous last words--because there was a lot of weather to deal with.

Sunday, Late Afternoon

First, the day of our departure was hot and very humid, so the big question was whether we were going to camp or were heading to a spa for a sauna. Wanting to start the trip on a positive note, I started the car up and let the air conditioner do its magic before my wife and I got into the car. That made the twenty-five mile trip to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park a pleasure. We arrived at a little past six, the back-in to our spot was easy, and the site was so level that we didn't even unhook. We figured we'd do that and the put up of our Clam Quick Set shelter in the morning. Keeping the coronavirus epidemic in mind, first I sanitized the electric plug-in and water faucet. Then we put up was our utilitent and toilet so we could be independent of the communal camp bathroom/shower area. I did this while my wife sanitized the camp picnic table.

Ready for the night.

It was a hot, humid night, one of those nights where the air conditioning isn't quite the answer, using the AC as a fan wasn't right, and our little electric fan was just a touch too loud. We went with the slightly-too-loud fan and slept as best we could through the night. Toward dawn the rain came, and we had to close the camper door and shut up the window on my side to keep out the rain. Luckily, our roof vent hood works well, so we had air flow.

Monday Morning

With camp minimally set up, our second move was for my wife to head home to work all day instead of us throwing up the Clam and having her work at camp. Rain was scheduled, and we felt the better decision was for her to work efficiently at home and then to drive back to camp either in the evening or the next morning. One of the benefits of camping close to home!

Afternoon sun, cool and low humidity. Wonderful!

Now here I am at camp alone--with plenty of food, our cozy and dry tiny trailer, and my computer for writing. I've also brought two books, so I intend to take it easy today. Maybe I'll take a bit of a walk if the rain holds off. It's a grey, cloudy day, cool enough to be comfortable even though the humidity is still high. The day feels exactly like it is: moist and ready to rain, but it hasn't quite broken loose yet.

The Green Goddess basking in the sun

And rain it did, all afternoon, so I napped, read, and wrote inside, dry and comfortable. I  practiced my Transcendental Meditation technique early because it was supposed to clear in the early evening, and sure enough, it did! It was like the world was reborn--cool and clear, the humidity low, and the sun mellow in the western sky. My wife Sandy is working late at home and will be back the tomorrow morning, so I'm going to walk around a bit to get some exercise and probably take a few photos. Enjoy the moment! Off the electronics and off for a walk!

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Tiny Trailer Camping That Is Self-sufficient and Pandemic Safe

Lake Sugema Campground, a site we had considered for this trip.
The utilitent will be our bathroom and shower.

Camping for me has never been that much of a social event. Being by myself or with my wife is usually my camping experience (although that might change when our grandchildren get older and if the health environment supports more social interaction). Being on our own and discovering the beauty and wonder of the natural world that surrounds us has always fascinated me, and camping provides a basecamp for interacting with nature.

When I wrote an earlier article about how traveling solo doesn't mean that we have to feel lonely (Traveling Solo: Being Alone Is Not the Same Thing As Being Lonely), exploring that idea, I discovered that solitude isn't isolation, that there is a spiritual unity that can connect us with the world.

During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, recognizing the positive aspects of solitude is an important aspect of camping. Finding the means for self-sufficiency, both mentally and physically, is a new and refurbished survival trait that my wife and I are pursuing.

Mental Self-sufficiency

I wrote quite a bit about solitude and self-sufficiency in my traveling solo article that I linked to above. Henry David Thoreau knew solitude and used it to expand his life and his connection to the world around him. He wasn't a  hermit or anchorite, though. He still interacted with the community around him in Concord, Massachusetts. We can still interact with our social community during this time of COVID-19, but we have to do so in a manner than includes a lively acceptance of the coronavirus, its dangers, and the precautions to be taken.

Fall in Bentonsport Campground, a local campground I intent to visit again.

At the time I write this, I see the greatest danger to our present lifestyle is getting too familiar with this pandemic and letting our guard down--"crisis fatigue" is one term for the stress that prolonged interaction with a crisis can produce. It can cause us to break down . . . or give up. I've seen this in my state of Iowa, a state that never shut down completely, yet now that it has "opened," seems to be in denial of the coronavirus epidemic in many ways. The governor insists that because hospitalizations and deaths have not skyrocketed, that we can "open up." All we have to do is to take appropriate precautions. For many people, though, perhaps because of crisis fatigue, "opening up" means letting down and taking fewer precautions, which really opens up society to continuing waves of coronavirus illness. How this affects our society is really an experiment, and we won't know the effects except in real time consequences. I hope they are positive, but . . .

Some solo, late-fall camping at Indian Lake Park Campground, Farmington, Iowa

For camping in Iowa, the campgrounds are completely open now, even shower and flush toilet facilities. The guidance from the state is just "take appropriate precautions." Based on people's actions so far in opening up, some folks will just go back to pre-pandemic patterns of behavior. Some people will provide lip-service to pandemic procedures but interact in a manner that significantly increases their risk to exposure--we might call this approach "precautions lite," the idea being "I'll take the precautions I see are necessary as the day goes along." The problem, of course, is that the coronavirus is invisible. A final and best approach to being safe is to choose to continue with the best-practices protocols, even though a significant number of people have lowered their standards.

Hiking at our local Jefferson County Park

If you choose the final approach--say if you are a senior citizen or someone with health issues that put you in the greatest-risk category--then tiny trailer camping, fortunately, is an activity that can be self-sufficient, one that can be enjoyed with relatively low risk. You have to keep your mind on safety measures, though. Don't let down mentally. It's like a sport, say basketball. It's the fourth quarter, you're ahead, you let down, and the momentum flips and suddenly you're losing. Don't let that momentum change; maintain your winning streak.

Physical Self-sufficiency

Physical self-sufficiency in the time of coronavirus means being in control of your physical environment, of actively managing your physical world. That's not so hard with camping, especially if you have a small trailer instead of a tiny trailer. The difference? Small trailers can have their own kitchens and bathrooms, which allows campers to be at a campground yet to also to not be reliant on the campground's facilities. You're hiking, relaxing and enjoying nature, but you aren't sharing facilities with people outside your safety bubble.

Honey Creek State Park with some fall seclusion

Even with tiny trailers, complete self-sufficiency can be achieved; it's just that everything won't be self-sufficiently contained in one camper unit. You have to improvise and bring some add-ons. My wife and I will be camping next week for five nights (Sunday--Thursday), and plan to bring all the equipment we need to be completely self-sufficient. Here's our list of extras.
  1. Utilitent. Our Green Elephant utilitent will provide us with a small private space for toilet and showering needs. We've owned this shelter for several years and have found that it works well.
  2. Toilet. We own both a water-using portable toilet and a dry-bag toilet. For this trip, we are going to use the dry-bag toilet because it will allow us to not even interact with the campground's dump station. 
  3. Shower. Although I'm providing a link to the shower unit we're going to use, since I've only tried it once in our shower, we're not vouching for it. It's a small battery-powered unit where the suction-motor is immersed in a bucket, and the shower head is attached to a long tube. It cost under $50. We'll see if it provides minimal bathing opportunities. I've bought two five-gallon buckets for water, which we'll fill early in the day and set in the sun for the water to warm. We also have an induction burner and pot to heat water with. 
  4. Quick Set Clam outdoor shelter for office and cooking. We've used this Clam shelter for one season and have been pleased with how our livable space is expanded, especially for my wife's office space. Even though our tiny trailer is a "standy," it's still small, and having the extra space of a tent-shelter will increase our self-sufficiency. 
  5. Kitchen and food. I've provided a "Camp Cooking" link for several articles I've written about cooking, equipment, and procedures. Since my wife and I aren't big about going out for dinner while camping, we've had a complete cooking set-up for quite some time. 
  6. Tiny trailer. This "Why Tiny Trailers?" link provides articles about why having that tiny trailer (or small trailer), as opposed to a tent or big rig, is a good thing. A place to get out of the weather, more security, a "bed on wheels," there are several reasons why owning a tiny trailer increases the safety and self-sufficiency of camping.
Once we set up our safe "COVID-19" basecamp, we'll be able to enjoy ourselves, having distanced ourselves from close interactions with others. When we show up at our reserved campsite, we will sterilize those areas possibly touched by the previous occupants--table, electric hook-up, and water faucet. We will take sanitizing spray and face masks with us when we walk, and we'll continue to wash our hands often and keep our camper clean.

Our Quick Set Clam, or "Mobile Office 1"

The great thing is that this camping lifestyle isn't that much different than how we have camped in previous years. We're adding shower, full-bathroom use, and sanitizing procedures (as opposed to standard cleaning). Also, at this time, we're still camping closer to home. Our camping spot is at Lacey-Keosauqua State Park in Iowa, which is only twenty-five miles from home.

The Green Goddess, the safe focal point of our self-sufficient camping

This is our first outing together since the onset of the coronavirus. This spring I've been busy in the garden, which is beautiful and producing lots of vegetables. We're lucky to have our son who will watch over the garden while we're gone--watering, weeding, and spraying (and harvesting and eating). I've read online about others who have already gone camping this season. My wife and I are moving cautiously and locally out into the camping world again. I'll keep you updated on our experiences.

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