Monday, January 1, 2024

Off the Grid or Within the Grid?

For those of you who have been keeping track--probably no one has since even I haven't--it's been a year since I last posted, December 20, 2022, to be exact. I wish I could say that I've been off the grid, way out in the boondocks, and haven't had access to the internet. Yes, that's why I haven't posted! The reality, however, is that I've been within the grid, so to say, since I've been teaching school again, last school year as a substitute teacher for the spring of 2023, and this year since the fall as a full-time 4th Grade teacher. 

A little substitute teaching morphed into a one-time, one-year offer to teach in my old school district, Van Buren County Community School District, where I've been teaching in the little town of Douds until the end of the year when my position will be filled by a permanent teacher, one of several who are in the building completing their student teacher training. How do I feel about going back to full-time teaching after retiring for ten years? My answer is the same as it always has been: I'm always happy and excited on the first day of school, and I'm always happy and excited on the last day of school. 

My camping experience last year consisted of a weekend at the local county park four miles from our house. I've immersed myself completely in teaching, not trying to live two lifestyles at once, knowing that my commitment of one teaching year will end and then I can get back to a more relaxed, outdoor life. This situation is easy to accept because I am teaching a wonderful 4th Grade class this year--exceptionally kind, polite, and curious students. It's a wonderful encore for my teaching career.

Not all has been teaching, though. About eighteen months ago, my wife and I bought thirty-five rural acres in Van Buren County, around forty miles from our home, mostly wooded acreage that we've developed with some gravel, electricity and water, and a sewage storage tank for our trailer. We were considering how to add a small cabin to the land when we decided to do something we swore we'd never do--buy an "apartment on wheels." Yes, we bought a twenty-five foot Dutchment travel trailer that we had towed to the land and which now completes our small, self-contained space out in the country. On reflection, what I had always said about larger RVs is that I'd never tow one; I never said that I'd never own one. For a reasonable price we now have a small living space on our land that just happens to have wheels. 

Owning this land is fulfilling a lifelong desire for my wife, and I've enjoyed sharing the experience with her. So far we've only had a chance to spend one night this last fall in our new camper on our land, but setting up the land and the camping area has been a real learning experience for us. We've fixed fences, cleared brush, mowed grass, and generally opened up a private camping space for ourselves. The land has some beautiful features, but mostly the appeal is the privacy, the chance to truly be out and about without rubbing elbows with many strangers, their animals, and their chugging generators, unrequested playlists of music, and the social issues they're working out with friends and family. This doesn't mean we don't like to socialize; it just means that it's nice to have the option of solitude. 

We are looking forward to when school is out and we can turn our lifestyle more toward camping on our land. We want to try a "one-eighty" and live on the land Monday through Friday and then come back to our house on the weekends to shop, do laundry, and see the grandkids. Since we have Starlink, we will be able to set up a strong internet system on the land so that Sandy can work there with her consulting business. It will provide us with a good experience of living on the land and just having some private time for ourselves, and it's six months away.

December 19 photo of the river from the bridge by a fellow teacher
This next spring, perhaps in April, I have a camping project that should be fun. My school is on the Des Moines River. It's an eighteen-mile commute to work, and every day I cross the river to get to school. There is a small two-spot county campground down by the river, just before the bridge, and I hope to camp there next spring so that I can just walk across the river to get to work. The campsites have 30 amp electricity; however, there is no water, nor are there restrooms. With my little self-sufficient Airstream Basecamp 16, though, I'll be perfectly comfortable. Looking forward to that!

For long-term camping plans for the next season, we have hopes to travel to Michigan and/or Washington state this upcoming year since we have family in both areas. We even are considering on spending a winter in South Carolina sometime, enjoying cold (but not as cold as Iowa) winter walks on the beaches. 

For now, though, I am focusing on doing the best job I can teaching my wonderful students. At halfway through the school year, I have a good sense of the routine, the technology, and the curriculum. First years always have their challenges of so many new specifics, but my 35+ years of teaching experience provide a stabilizing influence on the day-to-day requirements. I love the people I work with--over a dozen people are former colleagues or students. Yes, many of the school's teachers and paraprofessionals are my former students!

I look forward to continuing my Green Goddess Glamping blog as time allows. Don't be surprised, though, if the posts are infrequent until the end of the school year. I'm still here, and look forward to the new year with all its variety of experiences. Happy New Year!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2022

A Rustic Trails Tiny Trailer Travelin' Man Travelogue, Part 3, Summer (June, July, August)

Zion National Park, June 2022
Two ways to introduce this summer of 2022 continuing Rustic Trails Tiny Trailer Travelin' Man Travelogue came to mind. Since summer is the season of growth and expansion, we decided to go with both! 

The First: "It’s hotter than hades here [Zion NP], so it’s up the mountain for sure tomorrow." (June 9)

The Second: "Well, it finally happened. After 111 days, it actually rained last night. As an Englishman used to more than 200 days of rain a year, this dry period has made me feel, well, like a fish out of water. These drought conditions out west are no joke!" (June 24)

To cope with the heat (even if it's a dry heat), Allan Finley took the high road for the summer leg of his multi-year expedition through the American West. With his intrepid Blue Heeler dog, his Kodiak Stealth model Rustic Trails Teardrop Camper, and his Ford Ranger pickup, he stuck it in low and headed up the mountains, posting inspiring photographs and commentary on his exploits via the Facebook group page Rustic Trail Teardrops and Friends. Below are some examples.

"We went down a rough rutted two track road [in Dixie National Forest] and found a great spot up on a knoll with a view of a lovely alpine meadow. It’s open range and as there are a couple of watering holes just below us, cows and other animals visit for a drink." (June 14)

"I just might be getting the hang of this boondocking thing. It was 97F in Moab, so we hightailed up into Manti-La Sal NF. Leaving Moab at about 4,600 feet, we climbed up to 8,850 feet and are enjoying very pleasant 78F temps with a light breeze. The views on the way up and at the site are gorgeous and it’s free!" (June 29)

Arches NP, Devil's Garden
Devil's Garden Hike, July 8
On a July 6 Facebook post, Allan really provides a taste of what his life on the road is like.

"So exactly six months ago today, Finley and I left home in western North Carolina to go on a walkabout. So far we have covered 11,810 miles at an average fuel consumption of 17.9 mpg and have visited eleven states so far. We had picked up the RTTC Kodiak last August and put about 5,000 miles on it before leaving on our trip, so we have about 17,000 miles under our belts in total. We have experienced temps as low as 16F and as high as 103F.  We boondock almost all the time now that we have arrived in the West. In fact, we have not plugged in for 106 straight days now. We go down some pretty rugged trails, so I think we have given the Kodiak a pretty thorough workout and I have to say I’m super impressed! All systems have functioned perfectly, keeping us safe, dry, warm/cool and comfortable. 

"I have only experienced three issues with the camper. 

"1) One of my leaf springs broke going down a gnarly two track. This is not an RTTC issue as they use industry standard springs. I managed to locate spare springs about 100 miles away, and I quickly fixed the problem. 

'2) The caulk around the front cabinets has separated. I imagine this is due to the constant jostling and maybe also the humidy from the Deep South to the western deserts. No big deal, I just removed the old caulk and reapplied some DAP 320. Super easy!!

"3) The bloody license plate holder is just way too low. It used to be above the rear light and now is below. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve have to bend back the plate. Finally I just took it off and stuck it in my glove compartment.

"That’s the sum total of my issues, and they’re all pretty minor or unforeseeable. Without a doubt RTTC makes an extremely well-made camper, and Finley and I look forward to continuing our little adventure for the next 3-4 years."

"The Rig" just before climbing Ophir Pass
Allan's adventures couldn't be complete without writing about his "superb off-road jaunt over the Ophir Pass." In Silverton, Colorado, Allan ran across the Scott Pesek family, who also owned and were traveling in an RTTC Kodiak. Scott suggested that Allan take the Ophir Pass, a 13-mile gravel road with the pass summit reaching 11,814 feet. Considered an OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) road, 4-wheel drive is recommended. 

Ophir Pass, Larry Lamsa photo
Allan said that he "had many compliments from people in jeeps and such saying that I was the only person pulling a trailer on that trail. RTTC builds a GREAT product!" Here is a link [Ophir Pass video] of Allan on the gravel pass road. The video is six minutes long, so Allan jokes to bring some popcorn! Stating that the road "wasn’t that bad," he added, "but you definitely don’t want to be scared of heights or suffer from vertigo." 

"Rocky Mountain High" is the theme song to Allan's adventures during his summer travels, as he always tended to seek the high mountains to avoid the heats of summer. He was successful, for the most part, and also experienced some great camping! Below are some of the "high" experiences that he shared on the RTTC Facebook group page. 

Uncompahgre National Forest, July 2022
One boondocking spot was the Uncompahgre National Forest. "After a lot of exploring yesterday," Allan said, "we managed to find this gorgeous spot to camp in a glade within the Uncompahre NF up at close to 10,000 feet." During his stay, he managed to catch a rain storm (or the storm caught him!) On their last night, they were treated to "a nice little storm." Finley, his Blue Heeler dog, sat close by Allan, "but was not stressed out at all." Once the rain started to slow down, Finley was already off to round up some cows. "I actually quite like being out under the awning when it’s raining," Allan said regarding the storm, "and especially like the smell of the air when the rain has stopped. Probably something to do with my English roots. I have really enjoyed our time here. Definitely a spot I’d come back to for the wildflowers alone, plus there are lots of hiking trails nearby, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison is just over an hour away."

RTTC Grizzly campers pulled by Mini Coopers
Moving on, Allan left the boonies for more civilized digs, camping at Golden Eagle Campground in order to rendezvous with owners of other RTTC campers. Arriving a day early, he was luckily able to grab an extra night until his fellow travelers arrived. Maybe it was good for him to arrive early so that he'd have a little time to acclimate to RV city life! "It’s been a while since we camped in a private campground, and they sure do pack everyone in. After all the wonderful solitude we have enjoyed recently, the sounds of voices are a little jarring." The two Mini Cooper families, the Schaberts and the Mahaneys (both also on the RTTC FB group page), provided a nice change of pace for Allan and his dog. "It was fun to camp with them for a few days. Finley is sad to see them go as they gave him so much love and attention, not to mention bacon!"

The Schaberts on their way to the Golden Eagle Campground
The Mahaneys, tucked in beneath their 12x12 canopy at the RTTC get-together

Pike and San Isabel National Forest
"After the luxury accommodations of a campground with hookups," Allan said on his next Facebook post, "we are back to our usual wild camping. After negotiating many tricky forest roads and single tracks, our tenacity paid off handsomely with a beautiful site at 9,600 feet in the Pike and San Isabel National Forest. We are surrounded by 12-14,000’ peaks and a site within an alpine meadow bursting with wildflowers. Finley is loving being off leash again and able to explore and chase things at will.  Even a little hummingbird popped by to say hello, and I managed to get quick snap of him. Not a soul around, this is paradise."

Roosevelt National Forest, August 1
Roosevelt NF boondocking
Back on the road again, Allan worked his way to the Roosevelt National Forest in Colorado, finding a campsite high up in the forest. It was definitely bear country, since they'd seen lots of sign even though no actual bear sightings. "Elk, mule dear and moose, yes, but no bears yet," Allan posted. "We have great views of Longs Peak, which is over 14,200 feet; and several other peaks over 12,000 feet dot the horizon. Finley loves it here, and it does my heart good to see him romping around off leash, chasing anything that moves. I could stay here for another month at least, but we will probably leave tomorrow and head up to South Dakota."

Custer State Park, August 2022
Heading up north, Allan and Finley discovered the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, passing through, that is, on the way to Custer State Park. "We are spending a week at the marvelous Custer State Park in South Dakota. So much to see and really nice hiking, too! We are staying in the Center Lake Campground, no services but all the sites are day of reservations, so it’s easy to get a spot. I’m actually surprised that there is hardly anyone here, which can’t be said for the roads that are buzzing with Harley Davidson riders, one of whom almost became a hood ornament. There is something called Sturgis going on nearby. So far the Black Hills are quite lovely."

Happy Birthday, Finley!
The time at Custer State Park included scenic hikes and also birthdays--the Kodiak trailer was one year old, and Finley celebrated three years of the dog's life (treats, the outdoors, and a loving owner). 

"It’s been a birthday weekend here in SD. Our Kodiak turned 1 on Friday. I gave her  a loving pat and checked her tire pressure. We now have over 20,000 under our belts, and I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. We certainly have already had a few adventures with many more to come, I hope! Yesterday my little buddy Finley turned three years old, and to celebrate we did his favorite thing, hike! (Well, second best really, first is always treats! And he had a few of those, too.)"

Heading to the Badlands National Park provided the opportunity to see bighorn sheep . . . but also brought on the heat! "It’s a scorching 104 degrees in the convection oven that is the Badlands," Allan posted. "Hard to get motivated to get out of the truck and capture good photos. Finley enjoyed meeting Bighorn sheep and cows at the campsite last night. Luckily he was on leash, so nothing untoward happened! We need to get up to higher altitude for some cooler temps!" 

Heading higher is just what they did, into the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. "Another day, another great campsite in the mountains," Allan wrote. "The 100+ degree weather of the last few days was a drag so up, up and away! At over 7,000 feet, temperatures dropped by over 20 degrees with cool nights in the upper 50s, perfect for sleeping. Extra benefit--not a soul around and especially no Harleys!" 

In the Bighorn mountains of Wyoming, the two travelers almost overloaded on spectacular vistas and secluded boondocking sites. "We found a lovely private camping spot deep in the Bighorn NF on the boundary of the Cloud Peak Wilderness. Not a soul around except for the occasional lost ATV rider." Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and points in between, free off-the-grid camping was the norm. With Facebook posts filled with wonder and whimsey, there is no doubt to be had of the high quality of Allan's (and Finley's) daily experiences. 

"We had a great hike in Tongue River Canyon yesterday. Perfect hiking weather and Finley got to cool off at several places along the way. We have really enjoyed our time in the Bighorns and will probably head west on Monday. Little to no cell service up here, so I haven’t posted much of late.

"It’s been a good day at Yellowstone. We’ve seen loose moose and bears in the woods and had an up close and personal with a bison. Also had a very pleasant chat with a raven, talkative chap.

"Gosh, I really love Wyoming. We left Yellowstone to visit its neighbor Grand Teton National Park. We found a really secluded spot with lovely views of the Tetons. Finley is off on a sniffari, and I can hear his little bear bell tinkling away. He hates it! I’m sitting with a glass of wine and watching the sunset. It’s been a really fab day."

September 2, 2022, near Grand Teton NP
A photo of a campsite such as the one above deserves some explanation of how Allan finds his boondocking campsites. Here's how he does it: "I make sure I pick up or download any maps of the area, especially the MVUM (Motor Vehicle Use Maps) put out by the forest service. I also use apps like Campendium, The Dyrt, free, etc., the paid version offers. Lot more detail, which is useful. Then it’s a matter of nosing around and generally going where other campers can’t! That’s where you find the best spots."

And what better way to end this summer travelogue idyll than with Finley the Blue Heeler off on a canine wanderabout, with Allan sitting in camp, kicked back with a glass of wine, and wilderness as far as the eye can see. Next stop, autumn and the Pacific Northwest! 

Please subscribe by email to easily receive Green Goddess Glamping's tiny trailer articles. Here are the links to the Part 1 and Part 2 articles of Allan Finley's travels.

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Sunday, December 4, 2022

A Rustic Trails Tiny Trailer Travelin' Man Travelogue, Part 2, Spring (April, May, June)

Saguaro National Park, Arizona, April 2022
Having spent the winter in the warmer climes of the east coast (Part 1), Allan Finlay and his canine Blue Heeler canine companion, Finley, head west to the high and dry redrock country. At Caprock Canyons in Texas, he had "an extraordinary meeting with a bull bison just ten feet off the trail." With so much country to see, the Tiny Trailer Travelin' Man wasn't afraid to clock the miles as he continued on with his multi-year exploration of the United States, towing his RTTC Kodiak tiny trailer. 

While hiking Capstone Canyons
In April, Allan visited Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas; Sitting Bull Falls, "an absolutely gorgeous pine forest" at 9,000 feet elevation above Cloudcroft, the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, Rustler Park Campground in the Chiricahua Mountains of the Coronado National Forest in New Mexico; the Tonto National Forest on the Mongollon Rim and Saguaro National Park in Arizona. The list of places visited is even longer, but you get the idea--the USA is a big place, and Allan is enjoying the scenery.

Near Sitting Bull Falls, New Mexico, April 2022
On this leg of Allan's journey, the extremes of altitude (with the corresponding heat and cold), off-the-grid boondocking, and the grand vistas of the West were all part and parcel of his discovery of the beauty of America. How did Allan's Ford Ranger and Kodiak camper hold up on rough roads? How did he manage the cold and the heat? How did he deal with waste management, with water management and cooking and washing? How did his Blue Heeler hold up during the travel? In a spring adventure that begins in Texas and continues on to splendors of Utah, Finlay and Finley found their peripatetic groove.

Boondocking: Allan was determined to get off the beaten track, and he did just that as he followed the spring weather to the great American West. Completing the "homework" information assignment I (your Green Goddess Glamping blog writer) provided, Allan determined that his overall camping habits for spring and beyond have been mostly off-the-grid camping.
  • Full service campsites 4%
  • Electric only 7%
  • Forest service, picnic table, fire ring, and privy 15%
  • Fully dispersed, no amenities at all 74%
On the West Fork of Oak Creek, near Sedona, Arizona, May 2022
That pretty much says it all, doesn't it? That's a lot of backroad travel, so the obvious question is how did Allan's travel trailer and tow vehicle hold up? The short answer is that the Ford Ranger and the RTTC Kodiak have "fared well." However, Allan did break a leaf spring on the Kodiak negotiating some extremely rough tracks in Arizona. He had to drive an hour to Phoenix to buy a set of springs and then change them in the parking lot. (Allan also said he has recently changed the Kodiak’s tires but that falls outside of the April-June time frame of this article.) Regarding his pickup, "The Ranger has been fine except that I have ruined two tires on rough roads and have replaced them with heavy duty off-road tires. Other than that it’s just been regular oil and filter changes."

Broken leaf spring, April 30, 2022
It was quite an adventure when one of the Kodiak's leaf springs broke. Allan describes the experience quite colorfully. 
"Bugger!!! That is an English technical term for when something goes wrong. As you can see, the picture is not one of Finley or a lovely vista but rather the undercarriage of my Kodiak and more specifically the broken leaf spring. As you all know, I love to find campsites off the beaten track; driving to them is often an adventure all by itself. So I do expect that things will break from time to time, although I am a bit surprised that the leaf sheared off where it did. Also, I want to stress that this has nothing to do with RTTC. They use an axle and suspension from one of the leading suppliers in the industry and a generously rated one to boot. I wonder if UPS will deliver to my campsite?"
Solar Power: "My solar system has worked flawlessly, allowing me to charge my many electrical items and keep the fans, fridge and lights working. I think for next year I may add some more battery capacity but other than that I am well pleased." (More solar specifics and a photo of the deployed panels are described in Part 1 of this travelogue series.) During the spring, no photos of raised solar panels on the Kodiak's roof were posted. I asked Allan about that--too much work, dangerous in the wind, not necessary? His responses made perfect sense and reflect the RV wisdom he has gained by his time on the road. "I generally only raise my panels during the winter when the sun is low in the sky," Allan said. "By May it is quite high and up for significantly longer, so it’s unnecessary to raise the panels. The panels are fine in winds up to 20-25 mph, but I would not raise them in higher winds in case of damage. They are so quick and easy to deploy that there is no point leaving them up in iffy weather."

Heater: "My heater has last worked perfectly," Allan said. "We have had temps down to 15F, and it can keep the cabin at 70+ with no issue. I have no idea what the upper limit would be as 70 is too hot for me! I have 2 x 10lb tanks, and I have to refill one every 2-3 weeks if I’m using it every night when temps are below freezing. We spent the vast majority of the summer camped at 8-12,000 feet, and the only thing that I found is that I must keep the tanks fairly full in order to have enough pressure to fire the burner." (Heater specifics are described in Part 1 of this series.)

BLM campground near St. George, Utah, June 2022
Hot Weather:
 "My main trick for dealing with hot temps has been to camp at high altitudes with nice warm days and cool nights. The only unpleasant night we endured was at Zion with temps over 100. We moved to above 8,000’ and the problem was solved. I can run my air conditioner with my solar setup for a few hours but have only had to do that once (in Zion)." In the photo above, Allan had just arrived at a BLM campground, "just a balmy 99F at 4:45pm." After helping a camper next to him back in a Minnie Winnie, Allan struck up a very short conversation. 
Me: Hot enough for you?
Dude: But it’s a dry heat.
Me: Rather like sticking one’s head into an oven.
Dude:  (Crickets)
Allan said about his hot stay: "No hookups but I will run the a/c later for an hour or two to cool things off.  Still it’s just for the night, we’ll head to higher altitude tomorrow."

Toilet Facility: (I asked Allan if he had a particular system for his waste management when off the grid, or whether he just managed with a shovel and a hole.) "LOL I do have a portable toilet but have yet to use it. I just use a 5 gal bucket with a toilet seat on top. I use trash bags and cat litter to keep things nice and clean and odor free." 

June 2022
Packing Water:
Water usage is always an issue when boondocking, and Allan typically carries about twenty gallons of water for himself and Finley, which gets them through a week to a week and a half, depending on how often he showers. "I have the ability to carry up to forty gallons, using some deflatable water jugs but have not had the need to use them yet." He has a hot water system made by Joolca HotTap v2, appropriately named the Nomad, and Allan reports that it works brilliantly. "One super indulgent thing I love about finding campsites way off the beaten path," says Allan, "is the ability to use my Joolca for an alfresco shower, then sit in the sun and sip my coffee while drying off. The Joolca is a game changer for sure!!"

Flagstaff, Arizona area, May 2022
The Blue Heeler:
 "Finley has been a trooper," Allan says, "always keeping me entertained and on my toes!!" The dog was sick once with what seemed to be a mild case of dehydration, but it cleared up in a day or two with rest and water. Then it was off for more hikes. Regarding the photo above, Allan wrote, "We had a fantastic hike up to the inner basin today, 6.6 miles and about 1500’ of elevation gain. I was watching Finley very closely, and he was back to his usual self, constantly pulling me along!! I made sure he drank often, and we took our time on the ascent. Still, I don’t think we’ll do any longer hikes until I’m absolutely positive there are no lingering issues. It was a beautiful day in the mountains!"

East Pocket, Arizona, May 2022
All of Allan's travel experience has paid off with a spring filled with beauty and adventure. What better way to finish this article than with a peak experience of our intrepid travelers enjoying a campsite at "the end of the world," as the locals describe an off-the-grid camping area between Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona. On the maps it's designated East Pocket. Located in the Coconino National Forest, the road up was a twenty-three mile journey over sometimes "quite rough and rutted gravel and mud but nothing too taxing," Allan relates; however, remember that Allan drives a pickup and pulls a tiny trailer that does have some off-road capabilities. "I did not even engage 4wd. It’s recommended that high clearance vehicles and 4wd are used, but I think a normal car could make the journey if they were careful. Did not see any trailers larger than mine while up there, mainly jeeps and trucks with tents and there are signs suggesting it unwise for trailers to travel the road," Allan said. The campsite was between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, is Allan's recollection. "Weather was lovely, highs in the eighties and lows in the forties at night and very dry. No water or any kind of facilities, so you have to pack in and pack out everything." The location was recommended to Allan by Jim Cook, of Facebook's Rustic Trail Teardrops and Friends group, as one of his favorite places to camp. 

East Pocket dispersed camping area, Arizona
The best place and time to end this spring adventure for Allan and Finley is traveling off-road on the rims of the Grand Canyon. Here's how Allan relates one day. 
"Well, we drove all over the north rim, had to make two u-turns on single-track roads (not easy) thanks to downed trees but perseverance paid off in the end with a spectacular camping site on the east rim, and I mean right on the east rim! Will definitely have to watch how many glasses of wine I consume! I even have a promontory to sit with my legs dangling over the canyon. Fin is happy as there’s no one around and he’s off leash to go on a sniffari."

Grand Canyon rim boondocking, early June 2022
The next leg of the traveling duo will cover the summer months of 2022, so expect some heat and some high altitude camping! Be sure to use the email subscription below in order to not miss Green Goddess Glamping articles and adventures, such as Allan's (and a few of my own). 

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Saturday, November 19, 2022

A Basecamp Country Mouse

The winds were from the north when we buttoned up our Airstream Basecamp 16 and left for home, thirty-nine miles away. Yes, it was cold, but we had some chores and appointments in town, so a couple of nights off our land was the best solution. I felt a bit strange leaving the trailer because usually we're either camping in it or it's parked in our driveway where we can keep an eye on it. Owning land has changed our habits, though, and in many ways our Basecamp has become our country cabin--a place to stay and also a place ready for us to stay. We're getting used to leaving our little travel trailer, and at least it has the company of our storage shed that we also have established as part of our country basecamp--a Basecamp at our basecamp!

One task on my to-do list for the Basecamp has been to set a drop light one night on the ground beneath the trailer, and then to go inside and open benches and cabinets to look for light and, therefore, small open spaces that could provide access to the trailer for bugs and critters. Those spaces I can stuff with steel wool. Well, I've never gotten around to it, and I'm sorry that I've put that task off. On returning to our trailer two days later, the trailer winterized and the electric Truma furnace set at 47 degrees, I discovered evidence that a mouse had taken up residence. On the kitchen counter I had left three acorns from one of our mother oaks on the property. Upon my return, two had disappeared except for some remains of chewed shell. Yikes!

I don't mind mice; in fact, I think they're cute--in their own environment. What I've found, though, is that mice aren't fun if they are in my environment--chewing on this and that, and the scat and urine. I had no traps, though, so dealing with the situation had to be left till we returned home. The mouse was remarkably neat and hadn't chewed into any food, not into the protein bars or the ramen noodles. We have most of our food stored in hard plastic containers, so that did limit the critter's access to our food. However, there was no doubt that the mouse had taken up residence in our trailer and was somewhere nesting.

That night, the motion sensor for our cabinet light flashed on even though the door was closed and my wife Sandy and I were in bed--corroboration that the mouse had not just visited, eaten a couple of acorns, and then vamoosed. The next morning, Sandy was drinking tea when she saw motion through the smoke-colored plastic cupboard door, and there was the mouse, happily checking out our food yet not chewing on anything. Very cold weather, north winds, and snow were arriving in a couple of days, so Sandy and I decided to pack up and head for home with the travel trailer, a good decision since the little Basecamp can be a tight space when we have to stay inside for longer periods due to more extreme weather.

When arriving home, I unpacked and then found a mousetrap in the garage. Setting it with sharp cheddar cheese, I was both hoping and dreading catching the mouse. I have as much right as any other critter to maintain my home, yet those traps are pretty brutal. For two days I played the game of baiting the trap with cheese and having the mouse eat it. I think the cheddar was a bit hard and flaky, so it fell from the trigger more easily than soft cheese. I changed out traps, and on the third day caught the mouse. Sad, yet happy that I didn't have to worry about chewed wires or insulation (or soiled cabinet and living space), I reset the trap just in case I was dealing with a family.

I've always felt okay with trapping mice that have invaded my living space, but I think I'm going to research humane traps and maybe try them. For our health and the integrity of our home (whether camping or permanent residence), I intend to keep our home critterless, but I hope a humane trap will work next time. I hope that's possible. If necessary, I'll send a mouse into its next cycle of evolution, into its next incarnation, playing the same role as a hunting hawk or a fox; it's part of the structure of the world. However, as a human, I have a choice, and I think I'll try a catch-and-release system next time. So if you discover a new mouse has arrived in your area, unless you have video . . . it wasn't me.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Rustic Trails Tiny Trailer Travelin' Man Travelogue, Part 1, Winter (January, February, March)

"Woke to an ice-encrusted camper and dismally cold temps." Emerald Isle, North Carolina
"D-Day (Departure day) has arrived [January 7, 2022]. All the waiting, planning and preparing are behind us as we leave our good friends Alex and Tavia’s house. Finley ever watchful in the backseat could sense it, that feeling of excitement and trepidation that courses through us as we start a new adventure. First stop was the CAT scales to make sure we were legally within the weight capacity of both the truck and camper. Had we packed too much? Probably. Had we forgotten anything? Probably but too late now we are on the way!! CAT scales said we were a bit porky but within specs so as the French say 'on y va!'"

Thus Allan Finlay begins his great epic Western travel adventure--by traveling east through North Carolina, visiting and overnighting at a couple of wineries, and finally landing at Oregon Inlet Campground on the Cape Hatteras Seashore. "This is where our journey really begins in my mind and though I have not yet dipped my toes into the frigid Atlantic Ocean, I will before we leave to head west.  Once you leave the commercial Nags Head region and head south the true Outer Banks reveals itself.  A line of sleepy villages dot this narrow island all the way down to Hatteras." 

Dipping toes in the Atlantic Ocean before heading west to the Pacific? Makes sense to me. After all, it's a tradition for bicyclists traveling across the USA. Allan, the RTTC Travelin' Man, and Finley, the Blue Heeler doggie, were officially on their way, off to adventure; and I was officially beginning my researching adventure of documenting their adventure--from Allan's blog, A Bloke and a Blue; from his Facebook Rustic Trail Teardrtops and Friends group page posts, and from a few email responses from questions I sent Allan after doing my research. 

Allan Finley describes himself as "a Brit who has been living in the US for over 35 years and although I've traveled to many parts of the country for business during that time, I'm not sure I've seen the real America." After nine months on American roads (and still driving), it's an easy guess to say that he's got a lot better idea about the American open spaces. His Blue Heeler, Finley, seems like the ideal traveling companion--a dog that likes "walks on the beach, treats, hikes in the mountains, belly rubs, chasing squirrels and more treats."

Little did Allan know that his first season, starting his trip at the beginning of the year, would be a real breaking-in experience! The weather turned more wintry when he arrived by ferry at Ocracoke Island. "Our first 1,000 miles has been full of adventure and challenges. Our time on Ocracoke Island was accompanied by a sand storm, frigid temps and gale force winds. It was interesting to see how the local villagers dealt with all this. To my surprise, nothing changed. There was no run on bread and milk at the grocery store, the school stayed open and even the crabbers went to work. Complete normality, it made me chuckle to think about the sheer terror and angst that would have pervaded the folks back home should such an event be forecast. A hardy bunch these Ocracokers!" 

An ice storm transforms the landscape
Changing up his itinerary a bit because of weather, Allan headed for Emerald Isle, where he hit an ice storm. (See this article's lead photo.) Allan and Finley held up well, though, in their tiny camper. "Throughout these extreme weather events I'm happy to report that our sturdy little Rustic Trail camper has kept us warm and dry and very comfortable indeed. I now know that all the research into various teardrop camper manufacturers was time well spent and I feel that I made the right choice for Finley and me." That right choice was a Kodiak Stealth tiny trailer built by Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers of Pilot Knob, North Carolina. With interior dimensions of 5x5x10 feet, this tiny camper is RTTC's best selling model.

Allan had a propane heater, a solar system, and a refrigerator installed during the build of his camper. The heater, a Propex HS2000 model, is thermostatically controlled and works well, "just sipping both propane and dc power," Allan says. The heater works on a heat exchanger principle, so all the inlet and exhaust gases are external to the camper, making it very safe, with no CO2 inside the camper.

Allan's tow vehicle is a 2021 Ford Ranger, rated to pull 7,500 pounds so his fully loaded weight of 2,400 pounds isn't an issue. Allan relates that the truck has had zero issues "pulling the camper over hill and dale and our overall average file consumption has been 18.2 mpg over about 20,000 miles."

Living the warm(er) life at Carolina Beach SP
Warmer fifty-degree weather awaited the Bloke and the Blue when they pulled in at Carolina Beach State Park, still in North Carolina, where they found the sites "nicely tucked back in the trees with quite good separation between them." Still traveling south, Allan summed up his North Carolina experience as follows: "Our journey down the coast of North Carolina has certainly been an adventure punctuated by the whims of the barometer. Ice, snow, wind and rain along with cloudless days of glorious sun have been our companions. I’m not sure what it is about the ocean, a fire or the night sky that captures my attention, holding me rapt and feeding my daydreams. It is something elemental, visceral even, that connects with the soul." 

Solar panels raised to catch the winter sun
After days of gray skies and no sunshine, sunny skies allowed Allan to come to some conclusions regarding his solar power set-up for the camper. Even with cloudy winter skies, his solar power had worked well. His battery had lasted five days with virtually no sun, about what he'd expected. Allan was pleased with that. He deployed the solar panels, "and for those that need convincing, I was reading just 205 watts coming in with the panels flat on the roof and 365 watts when raised," particularly important during winter months when the sun is lower in the sky and there are fewer hours of daylight.

"Big Oak": 335 years old, 155' spread, 70' tall, trunk 22' circ.
Traveling further south, the road led to Georgia, where Allan's itinerary included interesting and historical stops and pleasant (and warm) camping spots. He hoped Georgia would have more pleasant experiences, and she did not disappoint. "Our first stop for the night was a charming pecan farm called Terra Firma. Unfortunately their pecan trees produced nuts biennially and this was a fallow year. Still we enjoyed walking through the forest and orchard and Finley was able to say hello to the horses." They also stopped in Thomasville to visit the Big Oak, a Live Oak tree of great longevity, being 335 years old. Respecter of antiquity and dignity, Allan explains his (and Finley, the Blue Heeler's) interaction with Big Oak: "In deference to Big Oak’s celebrity, I did not let Finley, you know, be Finley, and so he had to be satisfied with some nondescript tyre." 

This completes the saga of Allan Finlay's "winter" leg of his travels--travels which he intends to continue for 2-3 years. When asked what obstacles or glitches he had to work out on this first leg of his adventure, Finlay thought that was a good question. "The first obstacle for me was learning to back the trailer up without jackknifing!! The second was getting used to bowing and not banging my head [on the shorter doorway].  After that I honestly did not have any issues adapting to the camper. I come from a backpacking background, so the camper actually felt very luxurious.  One of the most important things I learned was just how much my rig could take in terms of rough territory.  We tend to camp far from the madding crowd, often taking very rough roads to find a campsite.  During the first few months I also honed my technique for finding just the right campsite using a variety of maps and apps."

After a week in Florida, the travelers were ready to begin their trek to the West. Longer vistas and warmer weather were ahead as the trip continued, but these travelers had gotten down their routine and were now seasoned travelers. Part 2 of this travelogue will be the trip to the West during the spring. If you haven't already done so, follow this blog to receive email updates about new articles.

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