Friday, April 3, 2020

Enchanted Trails Sojourn

Enchanted Trails, Albuquerque, New Mexico

It's funny how articles come into being, how I am motivated to write on a particular subject. This post was inspired by the above photograph. I've been holding back this image for about seven months, waiting for the right moment to write an article--waiting for the right angle.

The tow vehicle and RTTC Grizzly camper is a great match-up, and sitting there before the trading post in that dramatic light is really a "picture postcard" moment. Kathy Hancock wrote for her August 2019 Facebook post, stating that their summer tour of the West was going well.
"We stayed in the most 'Enchanted' RV park in Albuquerque (just outside of the city). It originality was a trading post built in 1940, and it thrived during the Route 66 boom. In 1970 it was converted to a campground. It has a pool, nice showers, trees and a laundry and clubhouse furnished with some quality antiques! I would recommend Enchanted Trails, very reasonable rates. We’ve had a great trip from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Washington State, through California and heading home. Fifteen national parks, and we’ve had NO PROBLEMS with our 3 1/2 year old Grizzly. (We’ve also taken it to Maine.)"
I have a RTTC Polar Bear, and even though my wife and I have an Alto R-1723 on order that will better meet our family and business needs, there is a great appeal for me about owning a rig for which the most complex task in the camp set-up is plugging in the 110-volt electricity extension cord. There's a lot to be said for simplicity, and in some ways I'm already missing that, even though I'm also looking forward to a slightly larger and more complex teardrop for next fall.

1963 Winnebago Dot

Kathy Hancock and her husband discovered an RV park that had a retro theme that went along with the Route 66 history. The Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post has 135 sites with all but eight pull-through. They offer full services, including a laundry facility. The park also includes an exhibition of retro cars and travel trailers. The trailers can be rented for a sleepover. If you go to the Vintage Rentals page for the park and click on a trailer image, a great "Ken Burns style" slideshow features the exterior and interior of each trailer.

In addition to the website slideshows are a couple of YouTube videos about the park, one from New Mexico True TV and one from the full-time couple from the Drivin' and Vibin' YouTube channel. In a follow-up blog article, the Bradys from D & V mention that the interstate creates noise for the campsites at the front of the park but is not a problem at the rear.



The Hancocks continued on with their 10,000-mile odyssey after hitting the Enchanted Forest, looping up and west until arriving back home in Tennessee. "Ten thousand miles later we’re home!" Kathy said. "Our Grizzly performed flawlessly! We visited 15 National Parks and 2 NRAs. I posted the first set earlier in this group. Enjoy!"

Mount Rainier National Park

North Cascades

In addition to their camping activities, the Hancocks also volunteer for disaster relief work with a church group.

Although hoping to use their tiny trailer, the Hancocks ended up traveling on the bus.

During this time of staying more at home, it's good to remember the good times we've had, the great places we've traveled, and all our future camping plans. Whether it's prairie, ocean, forest, or desert, let's all hope and plan for enchanting camping destinations in the future!

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Safe Pandemic Camping? These Folks Discovered Their Backyards and Driveways

We were going to go camping this weekend, but they closed the campgrounds around us.
So we did the backyard camping thing! (John Koch photo)

Starting around mid-March, the last week or two of the coronavirus epidemic has focused on the need to hunker down and stay home, to not travel because travel is the chief mechanism through which contagion spreads. In my earlier article on camping and COVID19, "Camping in the Time of the Coronavirus," besides providing information and strategies for staying healthy--and keeping others healthy--I advocated camping in your driveway or locally, and some folks are safely doing so. This post shares the way some folks are being socially responsible yet who are also still finding some ways to lighten the moment . . . in their campers.

If home is where the heart is, then our camping home can be anywhere. From what I've heard (or haven't heard) Antarctica has no recorded cases of the virus. That would require winterizing the rig, though. How about the garage?

"Took a lot of reconfiguring all the garage storage and purging anything not necessary to keep.
Good motivation for that is when all is done both ALTO and RAV4 can sleep in the garage." (Fred Jacob photo)

Everyone looks comfortable in the above photo, even the grand old golden retriever. The garage looks nice and neat, the campers relaxed and happy, and are those garden starting pots to the right, ready for more spring weather? I bet they've got shore power, too--and great shower and toilet facilities!

Plans change as information changes (Alissa Levenberg photo)

Some folks were out weekend camping when the world changed, such as the Levenbergs, who were on a weekend getaway.
"We’re ok. We went into last weekend in a different universe than all of us came out in, but still, doing ok."
Lake Berryessa, California, enjoying the ides of March (Alissa Levenberg photo)

In rapid succession their relaxing camping weekend at Lake Berryessa in California turned to a stocking up move with a longer stay to allow their family better access to their home. Then state campgrounds were closed, lockdown was implemented, the planned three-week stay at Berryessa was in question--and my blogging information grows thin. Below is my last communication with Alissa Levenberg.
"This campground is under the Bureau of Reclamation. We heard from the camp host that there are no plans to close it, so we are cautiously optimistic. Eventually work will require me to get back into my classroom, most likely without students, so we’ll have to go home at that point. But every day we are isolated is another day we’re probably not carriers. So I’ll feel a whole lot better about going home."
Quite a few of our travelers had to journey from their camps to home before settling down. One camper, Rob Dickerson, was camping out with an original plan to camp through the South, eventually traveling from Florida to his home in Missouri. Because of health issues, after the U.S. began hunkering down, he considered traveling his route home but utilizing boondocking for increased social distancing. The third option was to blast the journey in three days, with just parking lot stops till he got home.

Other folks from our community are making it home, too. Roamer-of-open-spaces Mark Busha made the trip from the Southwest back home to the upper Midwest, practicing safety precautions while on the road.

"Took a few rubber gloved days, but home at last!" (Mark Busha photo)

I've had reports back from two full-time campers who have found stationary safe havens for hunkering down. World traveler Annie Wynn of Wynn Worlds blogging fame is parked in the side yard of a friend's house, which is also her legal domicile in Florida. She is getting car and medical issues taken care of and is glad to be out of the whirlwind of events with a chance to settle in. Annie's comments below were written on March 13, which was early in the information curve for what's happening in North America.
"As a full-timer, I'm relieved to be stopped for a while, so I don't have to worry about moving every two weeks, as I would be doing at campgrounds. At this point, I am taking things week by week. I have camping reservations going up the coast starting in mid-April, but I am prepared to cancel them if travel is still not advised. While I am in good health for someone over 60, I don't want to be part of the spread in any way, so if authorities are recommending no unnecessary travel, I'm perfectly fine with that. It's all about thinking of other people, like my two sisters who have health issues, lung issues, and are both over 60. 
"We need to be aware of more than just our own travel plans and being 'inconvenienced' by changes. Some of the most infuriating comments I've read on groups are those who say 'I'm bugging out till this is over' which is so ironic considering the spread of coronavirus has mostly been by people traveling between an infected location and a new destination. With the lack of testing in the US and the long lead time after you are infected and before you feel symptoms, no one should be traveling unless it is absolutely necessary.
"I am encouraging people to stay in place, not travel, and think of the big picture. Yes, I would LOVE to get to the South Carolina beaches and this summer see Lake Superior, but if keeping everyone alive means those plans are put on hold, I'm absolutely fine with that. Lake Superior will be there next year. People dying of this because we didn't do the right things fast enough (see Italy, for starters) would be shameful. Perhaps I am on the very conservative side of the scale with coronavirus strategy, but hell, I'd rather be wrong and more people live, than do nothing and the death toll mounts as I insist on keeping to my 2020 camping plans."
 Another full-time camper, Cass Beach of Tails of Wanderlust, has found a place to stay in order to get off the road. She lives in her Airstream Basecamp with her two traveling companions, her dog and cat. Her comments show just how fast our lifestyle routines are changing--like, over the weekend!

March 3 photo, before lifestyle changes. (Cass Beach photo)
"I returned from a ski trip with family on Saturday and came back to the social distancing recommendations and barren grocery stores. After visiting five different stores, I was finally able to gather enough food for 2-3 weeks. I'm currently stocked up with a food and water and am out boondocking on BLM land in AZ. I am concerned if places continue to shut down how I will dump/fill in the future, but as of right now that is not impacted.
"I am going to drive the 900 miles to my boyfriend's house and park in the driveway.  At this time, I'm slowly making my way back, enjoying boondocking spots along the way.  But if interstate travel becomes restricted, or dump stations are hard to find, I'll head quickly back to his house to hunker down.  During this time, I am following the CDC guidelines and am staying to myself in the RV or when taking Jasper on a hike.  
"I'm staying in touch with other full-timer friends via social media or texting.  Many of them are hunkered down on BLM land in AZ, CA or NV.  We stay in close contact to check on each other and ensure everyone is doing well.  I do not plan to travel to see any of them face to face until this calms down a bit. With traveling myself over the past couple of weeks, I'm self quarantining at this point."
"We had plans for our annual SW trip in two weeks. However, dispersed camping is closed over a broad area.
You can't buy gas in Moab unless you live there. (Tony Latham photo)

Some might be choosing our "big backyard,"  boondocking on national forest and BLM land.
Since I've written my last article on the epidemic last week, though, readers have made some insightful comments. One camper reported the following information about Moab: "Overnight Lodging. Effective at 10 pm (MST) on March 17, 2020, all overnight and short-term lodging facilities (including but not limited to hotels, motels, condos, townhomes, guest homes, RV parks, and all camping on public or private lands) within Carbon, Emery, and Grand Counties may only check-in, rent, or lease to Essential Visitors and Primary Residents."

Although there was some criticism on social media of the local closures, folks came around when the situation was explained by one social media comment: "Look into Moab’s infrastructure, locate the nearest hospital and its capabilities. You may then understand why they don’t want a million tourists clogging up the already-strained medical/emergency system with bike crashes and hiking accidents. Throw even a couple hundred cases of coronavirus in the mix, and they’re overloaded and unable to help anyone." Website High Country News wrote an article about the dangers of self-isolating on public land--and the focus was much like the above comments, identifying the danger to rural community support infrastructure.

The big dangers of travel are spreading the virus when heading into town for gas, food, and other supplies. Then if there is a vehicle breakdown or accident, the local community will get involved. Finally, what if you get sick and require medical attention? A camper and health professional put it best in the comment below.
"As a lifelong camper, I fully support [self-distancing by camping]. As a public health professional, I beg everyone to please use caution. Traveling is one of the main drivers of spreading this disease. More and more data is coming out that Covid19 is contagious without symptoms, perhaps up to 14 days. That means that you can feel healthy, be infected and travel to an area and introduce the disease. Many rural areas are not equipped to handle this. Many lack hospitals, much less ICU beds and ventilators. I would also encourage everyone that’s planning on traveling to be prepared to stay put for a few weeks or months."
Some folks, though, like the two camping in the garage, have found that camping is just fine for the time being outside the house, in the backyard, out of the house but not off the property. Seems like they're having fun to me--and it's safe fun for themselves and others.

"We're staying in our backyard. That Kubota is my husband's baby." (Christine Knox photo)

Not everyone has such a wonderful big backyard. I suppose the tractor gives away the fact that this "backyard" is more rural than most. Even if you live in the suburbs, though, you might find spending a night in the camper fun. It looks like those folks relaxing in their garage in the earlier photograph are enjoying! I've been working outside in my garden area, converting garden row space to raised bed box gardening . . . when it hasn't been raining or snowing, that is!

Iowa, my state of residence, has not yet closed its campgrounds, but the DNR has published online a statement regarding COVID19 and the state parks, canceling events and reiterating current restrictions. The thing is this--Iowa state parks have cold-weather, off-season procedures that include closing the shower/flush toilets. Therefore, what is available during the off season are the following amenities: dump station, electric hookups, water, and pit toilets. Camping during the off season in Iowa is the safest time--empty campgrounds, the high-contact areas closed, yet still with the basics of water and electricity. With a portable toilet, a someone camping doesn't even need to enter the pit toilets. Once the weather warms, though, in a few weeks--the DNR says it will reassess the situation.

Future campsite and rest area for the Green Goddess

You can see the Green Goddess in the background, and I just know that I'll be spending the night there sometime soon. I'm heading over to my step-son's place to pick up a metal fire pit. I've got a couple of great camping chairs. I think I can fix up a great place for a break while I'm preparing the soil and planting. Why not! Being socially responsible doesn't mean being glum. I'd rather be an Ernie or a Kermit while I weather this time. Oscar the Grouch can stay in his trash can.

Ah! Spring in Iowa. Photo taken one day after the photo above.

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Tin Lizzie and a Teardrop, the New Zealand Beauties

Built by Rusty Skerten at his home in New Zealand.
"I have owned and worked on the truck for over thirty years."

If it's a rustic home built with logs, you might find a photograph of it on Rusty Skerten's Facebook page. If it has an engine and tires and is a classic or a hot rod, there's a good chance Rusty has a photo of it. Rusty Skerten lives near Christchurch, New Zealand, and he thinks it's hard to beat sunsets from his lovely island. The man's a gearhead, a craftsman, and a lover of all things of beautiful and efficient design.

Posted on Rusty's FB page.

Rusty built his camper himself, loosely basing it on "the type of thing they were building following the 1947 Popular Mechanics article" that is a bible for teardrop aficionados. He designed it himself, using a spare set of late Model T mudguards (fenders) and running boards, which are the same as on his truck's body.

"Okains Bay, less than an hour from the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, hardly anyone there." Christmas, 2019.

"I drew the design full size on a large sheet of brown paper," Rusty says. "This has many advantages. It means you can lay on the paper and see how you will fit. If you draw every piece of timber in its square form on the paper and mark the joints, it is easy to get the angles of the cuts with a set square so they fit perfectly. I used a retro fishing theme and had much fun finding old fishing rods and collectables to support this."


"Once the design was finished and a cutting list worked out for the timber and the timber obtained," Rusty continues, "it took only six days to construct the trailer, using only hand tools, a jigsaw, and sander. The windows came from an online bargain site. The axle, hubs, stubs, tow coupling, and jockey wheel cost around $300NZ from a local supplier, and I welded the chassis out of box section. The carved internal cupboards were a lucky find off a period dresser, as was a brass railway luggage rack."


Much of Rusty's travel fun derives not just because of his home-built camper but also because of his pride-and-joy tow vehicle. He takes and shows both at car shows. "I have a lot of fun towing the trailer behind my roadster pickup truck. The body is a 1926 Model T, reportedly the first post office in a truck for Christchurch, NZ. The body is mounted on a Model A Ford chassis with a much-modified Ford Model B motor running through an overdrive and quickchange." This one-of-a-kind tow vehicle recently won the "Best Presented" trophy for its display by the Zephyr & Zodiac Car Club of Christchurch.

Rusty Skerten at Air Force Museum in Christchurch car show, "Best Presented." (February, 2020)

Car show at Christchurch, February 2020.

Photograph of interior.

Even with shop time and car shows, Rusty does get a chance to get out and do some camping. At Christmastime last year, he camped with family to Okains Bay, which is about an hour's drive from Christchurch.

Okains Bay, New Zealand, December 2020.


Okains Bay.

Coming full circle, Rusty Skerten loves to work with his hands. He loves machines that run well and are utilitarian. Classic cars and classic teardrop travel trailers? What a perfect fit that has provided a lifetime of pleasure and fulfillment! Rusty is half a world away from North America, yet it's not always geography that matters. The beauty that Rusty has created and shared wins a trophy for "Best Presented" in our minds and hearts, no matter where in the world we reside.

Keep rolling, Rusty!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Camping in the Time of the Coronavirus


I'm not going to tell you to not go camping during this coronavirus pandemic, but you know me, I do my research and then think about what I've learned, and there are a few things I want to share.

Because I'm a tiny travel trailer owner and have this blog, I belong to a number of tiny trailer and camping online social groups. In one, the administrator asked on March 13, three days ago as I write this, the following question: "Have you changed your camping or adventure plans?" The 177-person response was No (74%), Yes (14%), and Maybe (12%). At first glance, this could appear that the poll response overwhelmingly is to ignore the coronavirus epidemic that is sweeping the world. I don't think that is the case, though--at least I fervently hope not. Below are a few positive camping comments.
  • "I haven't changed plans yet but considering changing my hiking group plans and running away to the forest for a week . . . just me and my dogs!"
  • "Camping for a week to get away from the stress. Practicing self distancing."
  • I made the following comment: "If we camp, my wife and I will camp locally. There are more than six campgrounds within 25 miles of our home. We will 'self-isolate' with our camping."
This last week has resulted in huge changes in information and behavior patterns in the United States--and all over the world. Even over the weekend after this March 13 post, things changed bigtime. Some of that watershed change in information and attitude is reflected in the comments of this poll, as seen in an exchange regarding buying gas. One person comments: "How many times is the gas pump touched each day? Rubber gloves at the gas pump!" The response is the following: "Thanks! Got the gloves, hundred package from Home Depot. Lysol wipes, spray bottle of hand sanitizer. Who could of imagined this is all over?"

"Hunker down." Just because you feel OK doesn't mean you aren't carrying the coronavirus, research says.

Yes, who could have imagined? One expert who has imagined and dealt with epidemic realities is Dr. Anthony Fauci, "who in more than 30 years has handled HIV, SARS, MERS, Ebola and even the nation’s 2001 experience with bioterrorism — the anthrax attacks." He has been providing clear, expert information regarding the coronavirus situation, and advocates self-distancing, isolation, and travel restrictions. He has indicated that we are not prepared for dealing with this crisis and that it's going to get worse. We're being told to "hunker down." An ABC news program provides an eleven-minute overview that includes Dr. Fauci speaking. His interview begins at 2:17 into the video. ("Things will get worse before they get better": Dr. Anthony Fauci) The video begins with a slam on the government, but Dr. Fauci states that the government is adapting. The doctor is factual, and his advice is useful. One thing is clear is that the situation is changing rapidly. Look what happened last week--travel restrictions, sport seasons cancelled, restrictions on group sizes, Disneyland properties closed.

The need for social distancing was the big movement last week, but it takes a while to filter into our brains and then for our actions. This weekend was a real learning curve for my wife and me. A neighborhood couple contacted us and those around us, believing they had possibly gotten COVID19. That was Friday morning. I realized that I had experienced a brief conversation outside in my garden with the wife of the couple, so my wife and I put our house under quarantine. A lot of local health service confusion led them to not get tested until late Friday afternoon--results to be available 4-5 hours later. A little over sixty hours later, Monday morning, we found out the couple did not have the coronavirus. The test was negative.

It was a big wake-up call for us. I'm working in the garden, minding my own business, and someone in the neighborhood comes up, saying, "My dog wants to see what you're doing." The dog pokes around a bit, the owner is the distance of a leash away, a bit of conversation, and then later in the week I'm wondering if I was infected. What have I learned besides knowing I wasn't infected by that contact? Stay at home as much as possible, a message explained in detail by ProPublica in an article. ("Stay Home")

Alone in the off-season. "A Camping Trip as Sweet as Honey"

"Home" can be our tiny trailer or RV or tent, though, and some are opting to interpret "social distancing" as finding a campground and spending time alone or interacting only with a spouse or family. In areas that are cold (or really cold, some might say) in the winter, campgrounds close or limit operations. Right now those campgrounds function according to off-season protocols, which often includes shutting down shower/flush toilets. The campgrounds are mostly empty, and the opportunity for social distancing is ample and easy. Camping for organized get-togethers during this pandemic, though, is contrary to social distancing and should be cancelled in order to "flatten the curve" of the number of people who are infected at one time, which will ensure that our medical facilities and staff are not overwhelmed. A recent analysis of China's coronavirus experience indicates that the virus is passed mostly be those with no or few symptoms of illness.
Six of every seven infections – 86% — were undetected in China before January’s strict travel restrictions, according to the team’s computer modeling. That time of unfettered travel and visiting was similar to life in bustling U.S. and European cities prior to new guidelines and restrictions.
“The majority of these infections are mild, with few symptoms at all,” but if transmitted they can kill the elderly or medically vulnerable, said Shaman. “People may not recognize it. Or they think they have a cold.”
A fellow camper who works in intensive care has changed his camping plans because of this epidemic. He added details about how too many illnesses can affect our health services. " I had planned on doing a mid-May northern Ohio camp out, but for now I'm waiting to see what happens. I do see a very real threat if we do not slow the spread. This has the potential to overwhelm our healthcare system. People don't realize our ICUs on any given day are near capacity. If there is a sudden influx of severely compromised patients, there will not be enough beds, ventilators, and supplies to effectively care for them all. Throw into that the caregivers who become ill, and you'll be desperate to find people to care for the ill. This is very similar to the potential problems when H1N1 was happening. Unfortunately, this looks like it's going to hit us much harder."

Instagram @nationalparkservice, storyline.

Most campers feel they can control their social environment to self-isolate themselves. I think this is true. Even with tiny trailer campers, which are usually comment-and-gawker magnets because they're so "cute," it's pretty easy to just be on your own while camping--although it is more difficult on busy summer weekends. For me, the problem of camping in the time of coronavirus is not so much whether I can socially distance myself from others. I think we all can leave our houses with the mindset of not interacting with others and being prepared to tell others to limit their friendly approaches to the edge of the campsite. The real problems reside in the potential for interactions that are hidden, escape our best preparations, or are unforeseen. The best intentions on our part don't matter because the virus doesn't care. If contact is made, the virus is spread. Just by leaving our immediate area, the risk of contamination increases. Below are some examples related to camping that I have thought of.
  • Prepping for the camping trip. Buying gas, food, and ice are all contact points for possible infection. We know we can be infected by breathing in air which contains the virus. We know that hard surfaces can support an active infective substance for up to 72 hours. 
  • Make plans for unexpected, uninformed visitors. What will you do if you're in camp, minding your own business and cooking lunch, for instance, and another camper from down the way comes up to you, just gushing about how great a set-up you have with your cute little camper? We have two dangers to prepare for. 1) How to gracefully and effectively keep that camper out of our campsite. 2) To make sure we don't forget our situation and slip into being our usual cordial and accommodating selves.
  • Facilities. Pit toilets, flush toilets, sinks and showers, ice machines--anything we touch and any space where we are confined is a possible danger. 
  • Breakdowns and the unexpected. It's easy to forget that the unexpected can happen. What if we're traveling to or back from our camping trip, and our tow vehicle breaks down, or a wheel bearing on the trailer goes out, or someone pulls out in front of us and we have an accident, or a deer runs in front of us? Any of those scenarios will likely result in interactions with law enforcement, towing service, and possible lodging and food service (if it is available). Each contact point is a possible infection situation.
One teaching technique I used to employ was "keep the concept but change the details" in order to provide a different perspective of a situation. Let's apply this strategy here. The coronavirus is deadly, invasive, and tiny and invisible. Let's change the "invisible" and "tiny" qualities and see if that alters our perspective.

You've set up camp, and then unexpected visitors arrive from over the ridge. 

What deadly adversary can we replace the coronavirus with that is big and visible, yet still can infect us so that we can die and also infect others, even the ones we love? Zombies, of course! The zombie apocalypse is an appropriate perspective change. There is a contagion, it is deadly, and the ultimate search is for a safe haven. Let's just skip the macho reaction. Of course, if we had to, we'd defend ourselves from the zombies. But what if these zombies were invisible? What if a sword or bullet were no defense? Would we still go camping? "Back to nature" assumes an ugly face.

A Facebook tiny travel trailer group had a discussion about what to do in this time of the coronavirus. I added my opinion, pulling from articles I've recently read.
How to not be infected? Here is a behavioral strategy I read recently. Don't act to avoid getting the virus. Imagine you have the virus. How would you act to avoid infecting others and possibly causing their deaths? How would you buy your gas and camp supplies? How would you react if a friendly camper walked up to you? My point is that when you leave your home for whatever reason, plan to get from home to your destination and back with zero risk, if possible. If some risk is possible, then how important is the trip? Life or death important?
My recommendations are few and simple.
  • If you choose to camp, camp locally--in your driveway or in a campground close to home. This lessens the risk of spreading the contagion.
  • The experts say "over-react." Whatever we see in terms of the effects of the virus is old news, yesterday's news at its most current. The virus is ahead of us. The analogy I read was about lilies growing on a pond. First there is one, then two, then four. This continues for quite a few days until one day a quarter of the pond is covered with lilies. The next day the pond is half-filled, and the next day, the pond is completely covered with lilies. Over-reacting doesn't mean panicking, though. It means having a timely, thoughtful, and well-executed plan.
  • Think of others. We humans optimistically tend to think "it won't happen to me" and act accordingly. We are responsible for our actions, though, so we should ask, "How would I act if I had the virus and knew I was contagious?" Research has shown that the desire to protect others is a powerful incentive for us to change our behavior.
  • Follow the guidelines. Self-isolate, whether we define that as staying home or staying "home" in our campers. Honestly, we've seen that governments are unprepared and slow to react (and when I think "slow to react," I'm thinking of that lily pond analogy). Have a plan to stay at home (however you define it) if you can. If you work, have a plan to minimize your contacts. (Those who must work is a whole other topic, which is not the focus of this article. I must say, though, that as a gesture of regard, respect, and civility, we must all make sure that we keep a safe distance from those folks who are still working. And don't go out if we have any symptoms!)
I've referenced some good, informative articles so far, but I want to add a couple more in closing. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has an excellent page for information about how to protect yourself, what to do if you think you are sick, older adults, travel, business, and several other topics.

I found an article on the website KevinMD to be especially informative and useful. This website is self-described as "the web’s leading platform where physicians, advanced practitioners, nurses, medical students, and patients share their insight and tell their stories." The article, "A COVID-19 coronavirus update from concerned physicians," provides information about what the virus is, why it's dangerous, risks to ourselves and society, and "mitigation measures" to take to help ourselves, our families, and society.

If you choose to camp, I hope you don't travel far. Check to make sure the campground is open. Some are already closed. Don't feel guilty for finding appropriate activities to lessening the stress of the times--like maybe camping and hiking. Stay safe, though, and act in a manner that keeps others safe. COVID19 is an organism with a very simple, straightforward consciousness: it feeds and multiplies, and it multiples very quickly. Social distancing and quarantine was first used in Venice during the Black Plague. It worked. Let's be a part of the solution and get through this as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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Friday, March 13, 2020

How Easy Is It to Cook Inside a "Standy" Tiny Trailer?

The 5x10 foot RTTC Polar Bear. To the right of the door a shelf and cabinets are constructed.
To the left is the bed area and a small table that breaks down for the bed.
The inside walkway is as wide as the door.

To own a tiny trailer is to most likely also own some form of awning or shelter to keep off the sun and rain. Why? Because practically all camp routines take place outside, the tiny trailer functioning mostly as a "bedroom on wheels." Owning a standy tiny trailer, though, opens the possibility of engaging in more activities inside--even if those activities are elbow-bumping, side-by-side versions of activities we routinely engage in at home. Cooking is one example, or at least I thought it should be, so I decided to experiment to determine what could be a manageable set-up for cooking, if necessary, in a tiny standy trailer.

The bed area with the table up for use.

My standy is an RTTC Polar Bear, a tall teardrop. What RTTC has done with the camper design is to eliminate the rear hatch kitchen and use that space inside of the camper to have cabinets, a shelf, and a small walkway up front. One third of the bedspace converts to a small table, creating the classic small trailer configuration of back bed, table, and storage. Because the Polar Bear (and RTTC's shorter versions with the same floor configuration) is indeed tiny, with a 5 x 10 foot floor space, the idea of owning a mobile mini-apartment isn't really a reality. There still is, however, space for cooking if necessary . . . or, at least, that is what I wanted to find out.

The view of the interior front while seated on the bed.

The Challenges

I had cooked before during cold weather ("Cold Weather Cooking in a Tall Teardrop") and had found that cooking in the Polar Bear was possible, even if it involved going outside to get something out of the ice box. Okay, so the cramped space and lack of built-in kitchen would be inconvenient, but could I make the process more efficient, with less clutter and wear-and-tear on the camper? That's what this article is about, the quest for neater and cleaner cooking procedures for inside my tiny standy trailer.

A couple of limitations besides space were challenges that had to be met. One limitation for my Polar Bear is that with its electrical 15 amp wiring, I use only one appliance at a time inside the trailer. Turn off the space heater, turn on the toaster oven, turn off the toaster oven, turn on the Instant Pot. You get the idea--don't overload the extension cords and outlets and burn the thing down. ("Watt's the Problem? Tiny Trailer Electrical Issues.")

Steaming vegetables the traditional method: a great way to increase condensation!

Another limitation to cooking inside is that of condensation. Steaming vegetables on a stove top requires the release of a lot of moisture because of the boiling water. I had steamed vegetables on the table directly beneath the trailer ceiling fan, and that had worked, but I was looking for a more efficient use of space and less release of steam. Any cooking is going to result in some release of moisture, but I didn't want to cook my meal, eat it, and then have part of the clean-up involve wiping down all the condensation on the walls. Condensation can be a real problem, even though the RTTC set-up goes a long way toward minimizing the problem with its raised bed and available space for a portable electric heater. ("Minimizing Condensation in a Teardrop or Tiny Trailer.")

Inside Easy Cooking Solutions

My standy has no established kitchen, and we have no plans to try to create one. Like many tiny trailers, much of our living activities take place outside. My inside easy cooking solutions were those that required little preparation and little clean-up. My plan was to arrive at some recipes and procedures that could be used when necessary--when cold, wind, or precipitation (or perhaps bugs) were just too much to deal with.

My ad hoc kitchen: hot water pot, toaster oven, and Instant Pot pressure cooker

After two years of tiny trailer cooking, including some of cooking inside, I've arrive at three cooking appliances that will provide easy meals, yet also meals of some variety. I have not included a microwave oven, so those that use a microwave will have the options provided by that appliance. I've also not added our induction burner, although I have used it inside, because cooking with that takes up more space--grease-splatter, steam, ingredients preparation. The recipes I've used utilize mostly fresh foods.

A typical outside cooking station set-up 

Breakfast


Often breakfast outside includes scrambled eggs and home fries, but eliminating the preparation and clean-up is essential for a breakfast cooked inside. Here are some simple options that I've used.

Simple: eggs on a bit of oatmeal

A bit more "presentation" but still simple

  • Muesli/one-minute oatmeal: (Teapot.) Using a paper bowl (placed inside a plastic bowl for safety), just cover the cereal with boiling water, cover, and let sit for five minutes. Add milk and sweetener. I sometimes add nuts, pumpkin seeds, and raisins or other dried fruit to the mix.
  • Egg and toast: (Instant Pot and toaster oven.) Poaching an egg in an Instant Pot is very easy, using the trivet, a cup of water, a holder for the egg, and cooking for 1-5 minutes (even "zero" minutes!), depending on how cooked you want the egg. There are quite a few online descriptions of the process. I found Cooking with Curls to be straightforward. I haven't bought silicon cups yet and just use my stainless steel half-cup measuring cup or sometimes a ceramic Le Creuset Mini Round Cocotte.  Toast, of course, is made in the toaster oven. (Reminder: I have to juggle appliances and not use both at the same time in my 15 amp camper.)
Lunch

Lunch is usually my biggest meal of the day. I have the sunlight for clean-up, and I'm able to be active and digest easily so that I don't go to bed overly full. If I'm cooking lunch inside, that means there is some extreme situation outside, most likely wind and precipitation. I'm willing when cooking lunch inside my tiny trailer to have a bit more preparation, but since it's usually an exception to my rule of cooking outside, I still go simple. Below are some simple dishes.

Baked vegetables and feta in a small cast iron baking dish

  • Baked potatoes: (Toaster oven.) It can't get much easier than this, especially if I clean and wash the potatoes at home prior to leaving. I usually bake at 375 degrees, halving or quartering the potatoes. Lately I've been placing parchment paper on the baking tray so that I don't even have to clean the tray.
  • Baked vegetables: (Toaster oven.) Since I now prep my veggies at home prior to camping, baking vegetables is easy. I toss some mixed vegetables into a small mixing bowl, add olive oil and herbs de Provence, mix and bake. I add feta cheese for the last 10-15 minutes of baking. The baking time is usually around 45 minutes to an hour at 350-375.
  • Steamed vegetables: (Instant Pot.) My first experiences with steaming inside the camper with a pot and steamer tray released a lot of moisture. The Instant Pot reduces the steam because I can let the temperature cool before opening the pot, vent the steam on my dinette table with the ceiling fan on high, or just take the pot outside to vent. I use a cup of water in the pot, my folding steaming rack, and steam for zero minutes. Again, as with poaching eggs, the cooking time can be individually tuned with experience. Here is a YouTube Chanty Marie video on steaming vegetables with an Instant Pot. (And, no, that's not the shirt I wear when I cook!)
  • Kitchari: (Instant Pot.) Kitchari is a kind of Indian Ayurvedic stew, I suppose. At its most basic, the ingredients are dahl and grain along with spices. I find it easy to make when camping, especially with pre-cut vegetables. Here is my recipe: 1/3 cup dahl, 1/6 cup wild rice (or rice, quinoa, millet), 3 cups water, chopped veggies, 1 bouillon cube, 1 tablespoon oil, curry spices. I cook for 18 minutes. I add a little more than the 6-1 water/dahl and the 2-1 water/grain proportions for more liquid. This one-pot meal is easy to put together and is also a fairly easy clean-up.
Since I'm in a somewhat emergency mode if I'm cooking inside, my protein usually is just a hunk of cheese, or sometimes sliced tofu placed on top of the steaming veggies for the last five minutes of cook time. My grain is usually a piece of bread or a tortilla. If I felt like getting fancy, a cheese melt, open-faced sandwich or a quesadilla grilled in the oven might be on the menu.

Supper

Lately my camping suppers inside have become simpler and simpler, although I suspect my late-season camping with fewer hours of daylight have had a hand in my dinner choices. Baked potatoes are easy, filling, and the oven also heats the camper. The simplest "dinner" I've cooked (to use that term loosely) is cold cereal and a cup of tea. One step up is muesli and oatmeal with extra nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. As I write this, I'm wondering why I've never invited the squirrels and chipmunks over for dinner.

Another easy meal that only requires boiling water is ramen noodles. I like McDougall's, with Pad Thai or Miso Ramen. I've found the noodle cups to not be filling enough, so I add more ingredients to the cup before adding the water, such as a tablespoon or two of muesli or couscous, some raisins, and some walnuts or pecans. This thickens the broth and provides more bulk.

A fall brunch, Bentonsport Campground, Des Moines River

As a final request for forgiveness to all those who love camp cooking, I have to remind you that cooking inside is not typical for me. Stormy weather usually is the case for cooking inside. Tiny trailers are not really set up for inside cooking, even my standy, which has much more potential than tiny trailers that are mostly bed. Having a back-up plan for extended inclement weather is good, though.

This article shares my experiences with three electric appliances--the teapot, the toaster oven, and the Instant Pot--as the most "tiny friendly" cooking aids I've found for my tiny camper. I could get by with cooking inside for a few days with those three appliances. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if after a while I just said to heck with it and set up outside and happily cooked in the snow. I've done it before and found I enjoyed myself immensely!

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