Friday, April 26, 2019

The Traveling Teardrop Sisters: a Tiny Trailer Owner Profile

Betty and Ann, the Traveling Teardrop Sisters

Ann Schnepf and Betty Hanscum are the Traveling Teardrop Sisters.

The sisters travel a lot together with their tiny trailers and have discovered that they create a parade-like effect. "I travel in tandem with my sister," says Ann, "so there are two teardrops going down the road. I am in the lead, so by the time a car is passing me, they have already seen my sister. The looks we get are hysterical. We always have to give tours to other campers. You can tell they are curious as they walk by slowly. The usual response is, 'Is there a bed in that small thing?' Most people marvel at how much room and storage there really is in a teardrop." Both sisters reside in Iowa Des Moines area, having owned side by side apartments in a condominium for the last two years. Both own teardrops: Ann a Rustic Trail Teardrop Grizzly, and Betty a 5x10 T@G teardrop.

I (Tom Kepler, Green Goddess Glamping's sole cook and bottle washer) know this because I've seen the Traveling Teardrop Sisters all set up in their full campground splendor. The two rigs were the first teardrops I'd ever really looked closely at, and the story goes like this . . .

I was on an overnight bicycle camping trip to Lake Darling State Park in SE Iowa, having arrived early because of a wonderful tailwind. I pitched my one-person tent, cooked my dinner over a little alcohol stove, showered, and drifted off to sleep with the beautiful colors of the sunset reflecting on the lake. The next morning while walking, I met two women, whom I later found out to be Ann and Betty, who asked me about my camping set-up. They owned two teardrops, a T@G and an RTTC. Looking at my tent, Ann said, "Well, we finally met someone with a smaller camp set-up than us!" The sisters later took me on a tour of their teardrops and their campsite, answering my questions and allowing me to peek inside. That was my introduction to tiny trailer camping and my introduction to the RTTC models that eventually led to me buying a used RTTC Polar Bear--the Green Goddess. Therefore, I will always be grateful to Ann and Betty for introducing me to the world of tiny trailer camping.

Betty bought her T@G new in 2015 in Missouri, ordering it "with some custom items on it, no stove or sink in my back kitchen galley, just storage . Mine also has an ac unit in it with a 3-way roof fan. I also have an awning for my teardrop. My teardrop is white and yellow, and her name is Lemondrop. I bought it from Missouri Teardrop, outside of Warrensburg, Missouri, great place and great guy, Dana, to work with! He also installed a double bike rack to the tongue of my teardrop because I didn’t need a propane tank." Betty has modified her trailer from a double bed to a single, giving her more storage and open space. She can stand up in her 4-foot trailer by "hunching over," since she is only 5' 2" tall! She has also added a Velcro screen door to the trailer to keep out bugs and says it works great.

Ann hit the camping scene running (or driving), buying her Grizzly in July of 2017, picking it up in North Carolina, and camping all the way back home to Iowa. Her tow vehicle is a Honda CRV, which works great for her. She camped four times in 2017 and "was only able to camp five times in 2018," which shows that Ann is hooked! Ann and her sister camp at state parks because they love the availability of electric hook-ups.

That Traveling Teardrop caravan must be quite a sight, since not only do they both own teardrops but also the same model of tow vehicles, each a Honda CRV. Betty says, "I tow my teardrop, that weighs just about 1,000 lbs., with a 2018 Honda CRV. I got a new car this past summer; my previous car was a 2012 Honda CRV. There are no brakes on my trailer and generally I get 17-20 mpg towing. No issues ever with towing in Mountains, wind, all types of weather, etc. I usually forget she’s back there. I’ve even driven through fast food drive-throughs with her behind me! The best gas mileage was 32 mpg in Texas with a significant tailwind!"

For thirty years Ann was a tent camper, but over the years the tent routine grew old. "My sister had a smaller teardrop, and I loved it. I was tired of always having to put my tent up, and in bad weather we would sit in her camper."

Betty's take on her years of camping is similar--of how her life changed over the years until she finally "grew into" the teardrop camping life.
"I have been camping for over forty years, starting with my ex-husband going to Yellowstone camping in tents, every year coming back with a bigger tent until we bought our first pop up trailer. We pulled that little pop up with a 4-cylinder car (no ac) into the mountains! No problems. We had our first pop up for about 14 to 15 years before the roof rotted out. After that, we didn't camp for for about 2 to 3 years. Then we bought another pop up camper and had that one for eight years before we sold it. About 10 to 12 years ago my ex decided that he no longer wanted to go camping, so I packed up my son and my sister, and we went every year to lots of different places. After my son graduated from high school, the pop up was too large for one person, so I started looking into getting a teardrop. I was able to rent a teardrop from Missouri Teardrop to see if I liked the little trailers, and it was love at first sight! So I ordered one the following spring.  I love the size and tow abilities of a little trailer; also I could hitch up and go by myself and didn’t need any help at home or at the campground,. I felt very secure and safe if I was camping by myself."

The sisters have traveled throughout the Midwest and Southeast, state parks being a common destination. "Ann and I," says Betty, "belong to a group of women campers--Midwest Glampers. We attend several events every year with this group of over 250 women campers. Members set up camping events, usually starting in April, and we camp until October, depending on where in the Midwest and when. We usually camp on-grid in campgrounds, usually state or county campgrounds. We usually have electricity but not much else, and need a bathroom but have taken our portable potty a few times with us!  The thing that bugs Ann and me the most is that so many campgrounds make us get two campsites. Even though we aren’t as big as some of the big rigs and use hardly any electricity, they make us set up in two sites! Missouri has what are called family sites which have worked out well for us, but it is still two sites!"

Ann has also developed a particular style or look that has developed over time. "My camper had a short queen bed. I am single and do not need that size, so with the help of my sister and brother we modified my camper to a single bed, which gives me more room for storage. I love it. I've also decorated [my trailer] with pictures and quilts." Ann and her sister have a camp routine that works well for them. "Betty and I love to cook, so we have a screen room that we put up between the two campers. This is our kitchen. We put the picnic table in there. This is also an area to play games or retreat to when it is raining."

"Trailer trash." Where's the fashion police?
The sisters and their Midwest glamper group do enjoy glamping it up a bit for fun, hangers and pictures that can be changed out according to the holiday or glamping theme. Their club often has a theme which is common for a particular campout, such as Halloween to Trailer Trash to Christmas in July! Ann and Betty have several buckets of fun lights and decorations that they just pack up and go with. And although they have crazy fun, they also have their more personal and heartfelt memories. Betty says, "My main theme in my camper is one of outdoors, wildlife and basic camping. Years ago when I still had my pop up, Ann made me a mountain outdoor wilderness-themed quilt that I still use today. Putting curtains inside the camper also helps make it homey and comfortable, with extra pillows for comfort."

Although their camping norm is the comfort of a state park, there are some qualities Ann especially looks for in a campsite. She feels a lake or a stream is a plus. "I did tent camp in Canada by a lake and it was beautiful, until the moose came through our camp site!" Her favorite time of year is the fall when "the weather is cooler and the leaves are turning." Betty remembers her first time camping alone. She was in southern Missouri, "going to meet with fellow Glampers but was going to be by myself for two days. The campground was empty, no owner, no campers, no neighbors, no cell service--this remote part of Missouri was very scary, but I survived and have a great story about my 'Deliverance' camping experience!"

One interesting trip Ann and Betty took last summer was to Indianola, Iowa, for the balloon festival.

Betty feels that new campers should invest in good quality products. "Cheap doesn’t last long and just frustrates you when trying to do what you want to accomplish. Also a really great camp chair is important. You’ll be sitting in it for a while, so invest in a really good one." More advice from experience is that "quality cookware and stoves pay for themselves over time. Start with the basics and then look around camp to see what others do and start stealing ideas from others to build up your campsite." The sisters aren't afraid to let go of stuff they no longer use, frequently swapping or shopping out their equipment with other campers.

One useful tip is to take everything out of your trailer at least once a year. It helps you discover what you aren't using and what you need--and keep a list of what you have and where it is!  An important recommendation is to also to pack warm weather clothes and blankets, "no matter what the temp, you never can tell when you might need it!"

The Midwest Glampers group always checks with Ann and Betty if they need something because between the two of them, they usually have it, the two tiniest campers having the most stuff! Since Ann and Betty camp together most of the time, they don’t have to duplicate a lot of items, which saves a lot of space. One sister carries some stuff, the other sister carries other stuff! Permanent equipment and supplies stay in the campers, replaceable or temporary supplies go in the cars, which makes it easy to get up and go. "Just load up the cars, hook up the trailers, and go!"

Lake Darling, Ann and her sister Betty's campsite in the background, where Tom Kepler first met the sisters

As for future plans, Ann and her sister belong to several camping groups. Starting in January the groups they belong to start organizing different camping trips, so the sisters begin scheduling a camping calendar or destinations and dates and who they will be camping with, trying to schedule at least two camping trips every month from April till November, some close to home, others bigger trips, some with one camping group, some with another camping group, some just with the two sisters.

They are planning a few trips to southern Missouri and northern Arkansas,  in Iowa, and a big trip to Florida in November. "We plan on kayaking with the manatees down there!" says Ann. Travel dreams include trips to the Northeastern US, and also to North and South Dakota, and Colorado. "Wherever we can and for as long as we can!" The joy of camping for the Traveling Teardrop Sisters is infectious. They take the love and support they feel as sisters and radiate it out into the world, making the world a better place. The best way for me to finish this article is to say that I know that meeting the Traveling Teardrop Sisters has changed my life, and I sincerely hope our paths cross sometime during this next camping season.

(To read all the Green Goddess Glamping owner profiles, check out the Owner Profiles page. Click the link or the Owner Profiles button beneath the header photo.)

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Monday, April 22, 2019

First Spring Camping Trip: Flowers, Showers, and Everything Else

Tiny trailer camping in the spring means being ready for any kind of weather.

The pounding of hammers and the buzz of saws outside our house were the busy sounds of home maintenance--new siding replacement. The solution for escaping the hubbub was a week-long camping trip to Lake Sugema Campground, about thirty miles from home. Soon we were rolling down the highway, sun shining, field birds singing, trees a glowing green in that first blush growth, the sun warm upon our faces.

Well, no, actually. Our drive out was to the possibility of snow showers, which never happened, happily. We were well prepared for the possibility of cold weather, though, and the first morning was a couple of degrees below freezing. That was no problem. We had regularly hiked during the winter in freezing or near-freezing weather, and because we had dressed warmly, our hikes had be a lot of fun--no over-heating, no bugs, and great exercise. The sun burned through the haze, and wind blew away most of the cloud cover, so the day warmed as the day progressed. My wife and I settled in, cooked a good meal, I enjoyed some photography. Our sleep the first night was too hot, the second night too cold with only a cotton thermal blanket--then too hot when we added the sleeping bags. I felt like Papa Bear--to hot, too cold, what about just right?

Sunset is a golden time whether camping with a tiny trailer, a tent, or a larger RV.
Our activities during the second day included more sun and heat, up to seventy-five degrees. We set up the awning and took it easy. Having skipped warm weather clothing and sunscreen, we laughed at how totally unprepared we were for hot weather. Ditto for day three, hot and sunny. Lake Sugema must be on the migration route for birds heading north because we saw White Pelicans, geese, and ducks on the lake. In the trees around us were many birds singing, especially at dawn.

Day four turned so windy that we had to break down and put away our awning. All day the gusting wind had acted like a sail, rocking the tiny trailer, causing some of the suction cups to break loose with heavy gusts, allowing the awning to flap. It was cloudy,and thunderstorms threatened for the night. It rained that night but not a violent rain--peaceful. For two nights we hadn't used our oil heater at all and slept much more comfortably.

Our fifth morning, though, we woke to temperatures in the upper 40's and switched on the heater for a little comfort. We also enjoyed the fact that with the cloud cover and lower temperatures, the clothes we had packed were perfect. This trip I haven't done much hiking except shorter walks with my wife after she shuts down business for the day in her mobile office, aka the Green Goddess. What I have been doing is duplicating our home meals so that there isn't the physical shock of suddenly easting heavier, less fresh food. That's been working out well--baked vegetables, curried vegetables, toast over the fire, lot of hot tea in the morning.

This is our first camping trip of the season, so reaffirming our camp routines and reminding ourselves how it all works has been a great boost to our confidence. The only glitch we've had in our camp routine was when we first arrived and were unhooking and setting up. A camper walked by with his dachshund and hung around, talking. He stayed on, and I was trying to remember all the little details--and discovered after unhooking that I had forgotten to check the lateral level of the trailer. Luckily, it was only a little off, so no worries. That's been our running joke this trip--if we only had a dachshund, we'd be reaaalllly kicked back campers!

On cold, overcast days, it's great to own a tiny "standy" trailer to get away from the inclement weather.

We're finding, though, that as we stay in one place and the time extends more, we have more free time to either relax or to try something new. We aren't taking a good part of the day setting up or packing up. Last year I managed to identify a number of campgrounds with good cellphone reception, so this year we'll be able to head out more frequently, Sandy and I, to mix her work during the day with good meals, energetic yet peaceful hikes, and snug nights in our tiny camper. Tomorrow we're driving four miles to the city park and playground in Keosauqua, which is right along the Des Moines River, where we will meet and play with our grandchildren. Yay!

Plan change! I'm at home right now, two days later (the day we had actually scheduled to come home). Wind was the culprit for our early return home. Too windy for our sun awning, too windy for a day of play in the park with the grandkids, too windy for campfires, wind drying the sinuses and causing nosebleeds--we decided to come home, having enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and not feeling the need to force our pleasure. We did dodge the wind long enough to have three campfires in six days. We did enjoy cooking, especially getting to know how to use our induction hotplate--which is awesome to use in the wind! And Sandy and I did enjoy spending some time together alone.

Most of all, though, we enjoyed how easy this experience was--and the idea that we have a whole season of camping ahead of us. So, for the second time, YAAAAY!

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Friday, April 19, 2019

Tiny Trailer Travels West with Bob and Dian Teschke

a Rustic Trail Teardrop camper, Grizzly model

Bears in the Wild

"There’s something enjoyable about being around like-minded people." So say Bob and Dian Teschke, online members of a Facebook group I belong to, Rustic Trail Teardrops Camper Owners Group. The Teschkes and I both own tiny trailers manufactured by RTTC--a Grizzly for them and a Polar Bear for my wife and me. My travels center mostly around home--with literally several dozen campgrounds within a hundred miles of my home. Dian and Bob, though, have been able to take off--so let me share their journeys with you. Maybe it will inspire you to see a "Bear in the Wild"--as their adventures have inspired me.

Last year in June of 2018, Bob and Dian took an "epic cross country trip," in their words. It wasn't their first time across the country because in 2002 they had driven from California to Ohio in two cars with their young sons and three dogs, staying in motels as they moved--one of those epic migrations most folks have endured at least once if they've accumulated enough years. Think forward to last year, sixteen years later, just the two of them traveling in one car: "no kids, our dog Zoey, and bringing our bed with us in the form of a teardrop." Deciding to travel Interstate 80, they pulled their Grizzly through ten states, visiting family and friends along the way from their home in Ohio to Washington state and back--twenty days and close to 5,000 miles, round trip.

Flying J, Gillette, Wyoming

Hidden Meadows RV Resort, Milton, Minnesota

In order to make time and get on down the road, they took advantage of truck stops like the Flying J Travel Center in Gillette, Wyoming, and Loves in Roscoe, Illinois.  "We planned the driving time and the stops for each day before we took our trip so we knew exactly what truck stops we wanted to stay at.  The nice thing about truck stops are 1) coffee 2) shower . . . in that order.  It was nice that we could go inside, ask where they wanted us to park, pull in, watch our DVD player and get ready for bed."  They did stay at two campgrounds on their way back home. One was Hidden Meadows RV Park, near Pine Island, Minnesota.  The other was the Belvidere East KOA in Midland, South Dakota. These camping stops gave them a chance to relax some before they got home and to enjoy themselves without being rushed.  They felt both places were very nice.

A Grizzly at Mt. Rushmore

Traveling west on their way to Washington, Bob and Dian's first big point of interest was Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. "Mt Rushmore was awesome, totally unbelievably huge," Dian writes.  "You see it on TV or in magazine photos, but you never really understand the size of Mt. Rushmore until you’ve seen it in person.  They don’t allow dogs, so we didn’t stay long.  We were fortunate that it was in the low 70s and we were able to leave our dog, Zoey, in the car, under shade while we made our visit.  We were also lucky in that I had just turned 62. We received a discount, and it only cost us $5 for parking."

Zoey at home in her tiny trailer

The Spokane area in Washington state was the farthest west Dian and Bob traveled on this trip, spending a few days with family, sleeping nights in their Grizzly teardrop parked in the driveway. Then they headed back to Montana to visit friends again and dip down to Yellowstone,  the Badlands, and then Wisconsin.

Backyard camping, Nine Mile Falls, Washington

Dian is a mountain lover, so Montana really stood out for her. "Everything was so green, and the meadows had tall grasses. The wildflowers were blooming, and with the white-capped mountains in the background, it was breathtakingly gorgeous.  Going through the Continental Divide and passes in the Montana mountains was heart-stopping. Sometimes I thought my husband was going so fast down the mountains that we wouldn’t be able to make the turns."

Old Faithful, Yellowstone

Yellowstone buffalo along the roadway

Yellowstone National Park was a real highlight on the trip back from Washington state. Dian had visited Yellowstone when she was thirteen years old, but having been to the park a second time, she now realizes she didn't really appreciate it fully as a kid. Yellowstone was on her husband Bob's bucket list, too, because he had worked on a ranch near the Tetons in Wyoming when he had hitchhiked across country in the 70s and wanted to revisit the area.  "We saw buffaloes, elk, deer, a black bear and a grizzly bear. . . . Wow!!!  Due to the time, we never got to see the Tetons and just barely made it to see Old Faithful go off at dusk.  We did get some great photos.  Mind you, we left early in the morning, and the drive through Yellowstone took all day and all evening to drive back to Bozeman, Montana.  I was able to get a senior pass at Yellowstone for any of the national parks, which saved us on the entrance cost," Dian relates.

Bear sighting in The Badlands National Park

The Badlands of South Dakota was another scenic stop on the way home, the desolation and the extreme heat providing Bob and Dian with some memorable experiences. "The Badlands National Park was not in our original plans, but everyone kept telling us we need, must, go visit and see for ourselves all the beauty of that land.  We decided to visit the Badlands on our way home.  Being free made the decision easy.  Are we ever glad we took that loop, Highway 240, through the Badlands!  The land and scenery were so surreal that we must have taken at least a hundred photos.  Outside it was 106 degrees and so hot that our phones heated up after taking pictures. We had to hold our phones up to the air conditioner in the car to cool them down.  It took us roughly two hours to drive through the Badlands, about seventy miles."

Road to adventure, The Badlands National Park

Dian can't think of a better way to travel than with a tiny trailer. "I have traveled in a Class C, a travel trailer, truck camper, and a pop-up tent.  Traveling with the teardrop is by far the best choice ever.  It's easy to tow, to park in a parking lot, to unhook or hook up and go, to stop and sleep, to driveway surf, to relax in at family’s and friends' homes, or at parks, at lakes, and at campgrounds.  The simple stop and crawl inside to sleep with no set up made it super easy to spend the night at truck stops, have everything we needed in our camper, and then ramble on down the road in the morning."

The trip did have a few challenges, but Bob and Dian met them like the experienced travelers they are. "The most challenging thing we had to do on the road was eating as healthily as we could and not spend too much money on fast food.  I did go through Pinterest for some camping food tricks and hacks which helped.  We did get a flat tire in Wyoming on our way to Montana, and I thank God that we were stopped at a gas station and that my husband noticed it before we got back on the road.  It was a truly a blessing that we had everything we needed, including a spare tire, to get the job done."

Now that the 2019 camping season is beginning, the Teschkes have plans for teardrop traveling again. "We plan to do a lot of camping this coming season in Ohio and Michigan during the weekends.  We own six acres and love taking the teardrop out to sleep overnight in the 'back 40.'  Just close enough to the restrooms.  We plan to end this year with a big bang by traveling to Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina, for the RTTC 2nd Annual Gathering. There’s something enjoyable about being around like-minded people."

Dian and Bob went into their trip thinking of all the favorite summer songs heard on the radio--the windows rolled down, hair blowing in the wind, singing loudly.  They recorded over six hundred songs on a flash drive to listen and sing to while driving.  "We had a blast singing.  We were excited to see family and to visit [Dian's] best friend from high school.  We wanted to add some new states, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota, under our belts.  We really enjoyed just being on the road again."

I wonder if one of the songs they sang was Willie Nelson's famous road song? Maybe someday you'll meet a "Bear in the Wild," while towing your own adventure down the road with you. And if those fellow adventurers are anything like Dian and Bob, they'll probably be smiling and singing happy songs.

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Using the iPhone for Creative Camping Photos

The ground fog drifted above the winter-brown native grasses at dawn. Spring had finally arrived with warmer weather, the crystalline frosts replaced with morning mists.

I just had to get a photo of that, so I grabbed my iPhone and rushed for the door. Standing outside, barefoot and in my bathrobe, I whipped up the camera, ready to snap the shot and go back inside before my neighbors saw me and started snickering: photo app, quick frame, virtual shutter button, snap . . . done. No, wait--let's be a little bit more deliberately creative.

Yes, I did grab my iPhone and rush outside, barefoot and in my bathrobe--which, to tell you the truth, was a joy in itself to experience a cool spring morning rather than a frozen winter morning. So there I was, standing out on the sidewalk, ready to for a quick jerk, snap, and finished. Then I decided to enjoy the moment, to savor the photographic moment, so I slowed down and remembered some of the points of improving my photography that I'd included in an earlier blog post, "6 Ways of Using the iPhone When Camping." And so this is how that photographic moment really played out.
  1. The soft morning light was beautiful, so I turned off the flash. Flash is useless, of course, for landscapes, but I didn't know whether or not the flash function was linked to a number of other automatic functions that I wanted to consider and have control over.
  2. I stopped my rush and considered what was in the frame. I had already added the grid overlay to my screen so that I could more easily frame a shot, considering the rule of thirds. With the grid overlay, it was easy to see that I first had to walk closer to the field to remove my garden fence and the road, which were not the main interest of the shot. I then used the zoom to further limit what was in view, finally placing the distant electrical tower in one of the "thirds" spots. Standing barefoot in the dew-covered grass at dawn, I was in the photographic moment and loving it.
  3. I remembered to press the screen to bring up the yellow square for the exposure slider adjustment (to lighten or darken the image). It was past dawn now, and the automatic exposure had lightened the image even more--the automatic adjustment not considering mood but just for making the image easier to see. However, I wanted to capture that mood I'd first experienced, and to do that I slid the adjustment to underexpose the image, creating more shadow and contrast between the sky's light blue and how the light reflected off the tall, bleached grasses of the field.
  4. Next I wanted to lock the focus for distance (how much in focus). In the old days of manual cameras, this would be done by adjusting the f-stop to a higher number, creating greater depth of field in focus. By focusing on the horizon, the shot softened and the sense of unity increased. I pressed the screen until the yellow AE/AF Lock appeared, locking the focus on the yellow box located at the horizon point.
  5. At this time, I thought I was ready to snap the shot, but I wanted to just one more time look at the image. I'd been bringing the camera up and down, pressing the screen and settings to determine what the camera was going to do when I pressed "click," but now I wanted to take a moment to consider again my framing, now that exposure and focus were set. Yes, the zoom had isolated the image I wanted and the focus was at the horizon. However, the sun had been continually rising, so I set the exposure just a bit darker, steadied the camera with the image I wanted and . . .  
  6. One of the problems with the iPhone is that holding the camera steady, especially when using zoom, is difficult if then you have to drop one hand holding the camera to press the digital shutter button. At that point, you're holding the camera with one hand while pressing the screen with a finger. Hard to keep everything steady to avoid blur! Apple has included a solution for this--using the side volume up button for the shot trigger. That way the camera can be held firmly with both hands while the shutter is being released. So, finally--click!
I make no claims that the photo I took of a field across the road (while standing barefoot in my bathrobe) is a fabulous shot. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, but I didn't just mindlessly point and click, my attention more on my morning cup of tea than the photographic moment. I didn't let the iPhone camera automatically make all the choices. I thought, composed, selected, and made my own choices.

It's a week later after my across-the-road photo session. Now I'm camping at Lake Sugema Campground in SE Iowa. This morning I was up and dawn and took the time to take a few photos, using some of the above techniques to hopefully improve my photos while enjoying a bit more depth in the creative process. It's after 10 A.M. now, a light drizzle outside forecast for a couple of hours, so I'm snug in my tiny trailer, finishing up this article.

For this shot I placed the trailer in the "thirds" spot for dynamism, also focusing on the trailer and adjusting the light to be brightest on the main focal point. I framed the shot to cut out the car. Adjusting the light so there was still a dawn rose glow rather than a brighter, less emotional hue created a more interesting photo, I think. By choosing the focal point and the level of light, the trailers in the background were de-emphasized. Also, by increasing the exposure, the early spring red bloom on the trees behind the camper were more evident. Finally, I use the up volume button to snap the shot, providing more camera stability for a sharper image. 

After composing and shooting four photos of this dawn scene, I wish now I'd taken a little more time and removed some of the bottom of the scene so that the crown of the tree was included. Placing the trailer in the bottom third grounded the photo attention point, as did increasing the exposure to lighten the camper as the white front was not lit by the sun. This is a quiet photo, not as dynamic as I would have liked it to be, but more dynamic than the earlier shots (although some viewers may have different opinions).

The sky and tree are certainly more powerful in this, the darkest of four photos, but the trailer is all but lost, and after-thought in the photo. The sky is more dramatic, but as a camping tiny trailer photo, this shot would not be effective. The other two photos of this scene range in exposure in degrees between these two.

I think the results of these photographic moments were two-fold: one, my enjoyment was richer and more engaged, and two, the photographs came out better because of my conscious choices. The choices I made were not highly technical. I just took a bit of control away from the camera and placed it back into my hands. I liked the experience of making artistic choices, no matter that they were achingly simple for anyone who is a real photographer. I feel more ownership of those dawn photographs fine spring mornings--more ownership of the photos and of the experience. I believe the current expression for my experience is one of more deliberate or more conscious living.
I like to sweeten my experience . . . just like I prefer to sweeten my tea. I encourage everyone to sweeten their photographic experiences. However, I leave the choice of coffee or tea--sweetened or unsweetened--up to you.

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Minimizing Condensation in a Teardrop or Tiny Trailer

My first camper was a fiberglass shell mounted on a 1952 Chevy pickup, my college transportation back in the 1970's. I worked summers in a canning factory and always worked up until a day or two before school started. It was seasonal union work, so when I was laid off I had a guaranteed job the next season.

One year I had difficulty with housing and showed up for college at U.C. Davis, California, having only my camper for a home, and I lived the first quarter of school in a dirt overflow parking lot for a student housing project. One morning in late October when I woke, I discovered that the inside walls of the camper shell were wet with condensation. I was, of course, breaking pretty much every rule about how to avoid condensation in a tiny camper, but, hey, I was twenty years old!

Now when a cold rain is pounding on the roof of my tiny trailer and I'm snug as a bug in my down sleeping bag, I might brush my hand along the camper wall to see if it comes away wet with that dreaded word . . . condensation! The good news is that so far my wife and I have had no problems with condensation, but we still pay attention and follow some basic preventative steps to, hopefully, keep condensation from becoming a problem. Perhaps it's because of my early college "homeless" experience, but whenever the topic of condensation comes up, I pay attention--always ready to learn how to stay above the dew point, so to speak.

One of the things I've learned about condensation is that it's all about temperature, air, and moisture. The air that surrounds us usually contains moisture or humidity, the amount depending on conditions we can control fairly well in our homes. However, when we go camping, our ability to strictly control our physical environment lessens. We are outside, and we experience whatever weather conditions that surround us--rain or fog or morning mist. Inside our tiny trailers, we can close the door and windows, but then in that small space, one or two people have a great effect on that enclosed environment just by breathing, sweating, bathing, or cooking. Our bodies are, after all, mostly composed of water and give off moisture even as we sleep. Also, that camper shell that separates us from the environment is thinner and probably less insulated than the walls of our home.

When warm, moist air hits a cool surface, moisture condenses on the surface as droplets of water. Most commonly, we see this on the windows and mirrors in a bathroom when we bathe or shower in cold weather. The fact that bathrooms are generally small rooms increases the likelihood of condensation because the moisture has less air space in which to diffuse.

What is true for the household bathroom is true for a tiny trailer, especially the smallest of tiny trailers, the traditional teardrop. When condensation forms on surfaces, those surfaces can become damp and grow mold, which can cause health problems and cause the deterioration of structures and also damage finishes and fabrics.

Understanding what condensation is and what causes it can help a tiny trailer owner in either controlling or limiting it. As one can imagine, what is true for tiny trailers is also true for boats that have living quarters. Some solutions that work for the marine industry are also solutions for tiny campers. Dealing with condensation problems means finding a way to lessen moisture and to create a buffer between warm air and cold surfaces.

For a more scientific explanation of how and why condensation occurs in your tiny trailer, the Informal CampInn Forum has one thread that includes a thorough explanation by Craig Edevold on body temperature, outside temperature, insulation, and dew point (condensation). Scroll down in the thread to find Craig's comment. Enjoy the color diagrams and prevention suggestions. Below are some key concepts and strategies for avoiding condensation in your tiny trailer.

Air Flow

Air flow is a key factor in limiting condensation, whether it is in a bathroom, a car, or a camper. Moist air has to either flow out of a camper and be replaced by air with lesser humidity, or moist air must flow to a device that removes the moisture. Because a tiny trailer, especially a traditional "mobile bed" teardrop, has such a small volume of air, as moisture in the air increases, condensation will form on cool surfaces, just as condensation will form on a glass of ice water on a humid summer day. There are several actions that can be taken to lessen condensation with air flow management.
  1. Even if a heater is used in your camper, vent the air space. I slightly open the roof vent and at least one side window. Bringing in fresh air and removing moist air can help keep the camper dry. Turn on the vent fan if possible. 
  2. If you must cook in your camper, if possible do so with the windows open and the vent active, removing as much moist air as possible. When I steam vegetables inside my standy trailer, I want the vents and windows open and the vent fan on so that I can see a stream of steam rising up and out the ceiling vent. 
  3. Allow air to circulate around you when you sleep. My standy trailer has storage space beneath the bed, about sixteen inches, so this air buffer lessens the chance of condensation that would occur if I were sleeping directly on the floor. If I were sleeping on the floor, the warm, moist air next to my body would concentrate against the cool surface of the floor, creating condensation. Leave space if possible between the mattress and walls, and create an air buffer between your mattress and a cold sleeping surface. One teardrop owner raised the floor 3.5 inches, creating a small storage space that also acts as an air barrier for his mattress. One problem with this solution is whether there will be enough foot space above the bed once the floor is raised.
  4. Several products are available to create an air barrier between a cold bed foundation/floor and the mattress. These products allow air to circulate, and that is the key. If air circulation is still restricted by a mattress or heavy covers blocking air flow, then results will be limited. 
  5. HyperVent is "a white spun polymer woven into a large open configuration that is bonded to a breathable white fabric layer. This light mesh of polymer does not compress, allowing an open layer of air to form. It is 3/4" thick, allowing plenty of dry air to circulate." Installation includes making sure the mattress does not fit snugly against the wall so that air can freely circulate. This is a product also use for the marine (boat) industry. 
  6. The FROLI box-spring system is used by some RVers for a mattress. Because of its structure, air can also flow because of the individual spring network. The manufacturer states: "If eliminating moisture is your main concern and your mattress feels otherwise comfortable, then it makes sense to choose the lowest height model, the Travel. The Travel is our best seller and it allows for plenty of air to circulate under your mattress. At the same time, your comfort improves greatly with the cushioning effect."
  7. On the Unofficial CampInn Forum is a review of a CVT Anti-condensation Mat. It is similar to the HyperVent. The review includes photos and how the mat was fit to the teardrop. Be aware, though, the review admits to no actual camping experience with the mat.
  8. Open your trailer up during the day and allow it to air out. Take out your mattress to air if necessary.


This article will not address how to build a camper with insulation to lessen condensation. Building a tiny trailer requires a great deal of technical know-how, more than can be provided in this article. A good place to find information regarding condensation, insulation, and trailer construction is at Teardrops n Tiny Travel Trailer forum, where there are specific threads on how to build a tiny trailer to minimize condensation.

It is good to know, however, that a by-product of combustion is water, so using a propane heater such as a Little Buddy will increase the humidity in a tiny camper. If that's the only source of heat (for instance, when boondocking), then you're going to have to juggle heat and moisture, trying to find a balance. One individual said that he burned a candle, which raised the temperature in his teardrop about ten degrees. That "ten degree" number, of course, is relative to camper size, the person's size, outside temperature, and probably a number of other factors that I'm ignorant about. Our homes and many RVs have gas heaters that are vented--both to remove poisonous fumes and also moisture.

I heat with an oil heater I bought at Walmart and which is readily available in many stores. Some people use ceramic electric heaters. Other people use electric blankets or just good down sleeping bags. There are, after all, people who sleep in tents in snowy, frozen conditions. Some people recommend a couple of dogs, but then we're back to "combustion," except that it's calories of food that are being burned, and dogs also give off moisture. Different heat sources affect air moisture, but with all heat sources, the small space of a tiny trailer will still probably require venting moisture out.

A Hands-on Approach

Sometimes a straightforward approach can help. Yes, we'd like to have a situation where condensation is never an issue, but as long as warm, moist air and cold surfaces have an interface, then sometimes we're just coping as best we can.
  1. Wipe the condensation off surfaces, thereby removing moisture. This speeds up the drying-out process. Put the moist towel outside. 
  2. Regularly check beneath the mattress for condensation issues. Raise the mattress and air it out if necessary. Don't allow this situation to continue. Provide an air space between your sleeping foundation and floor. 
  3. Do you have screwheads in the walls that collect moisture? You can buy plastic washers and caps for them that can help insulate the cold surface from the warm air.
  4. One teardrop owner has good insulation in the ceiling but not on the walls. His solution for condensation on the walls in cold weather was cardboard. "Moisture understandably condenses on walls on chilly nights. Bedding gets wet. I glued two flats of cardboard together and cut various sizes to fit the various places in the walls.l slip the cardboard in place at night. It stays dry. It needs to be removed during the day to dry the walls. Bedding stays dry."
  5. Various other DIY "hacks" of board slats, styrofoam slats, interlocking gym mats, insulation foam boards and the like were mentioned in teardrop groups. Whether they would work for everyone is a trial-and-error experiment because camper configurations, bedding options, body sizes, and climates vary so much. A lot of information is available, though, if one searches teardrop groups (or marine groups) for "condensation solutions"--or by searching the net in general.
  6. One teardrop owner uses a product called Damp Rid to take up moisture. I use a small Pro Breeze dehumidifier that doesn't have a compressor. I only use it for warm, humid weather between trips, though, when the trailer is closed up. During cold weather the dehumidifier ices up.
Keeping the moisture outside on a chilly morning

Last fall I camped when the mornings were down to 14 degrees (F) and the campground was covered in a couple of inches of snow. I had several advantages to avoid condensation in my camper, the main being that the standy contains more air space than a small, traditional teardrop. Another advantage is that the bed in my camper is about sixteen inches above the floor, so there was not the situation of having the warmth of the body, moisture, and cold floor coming together and creating condensation. My blankets or mattress never have grown damp. I kept the vent cracked but closed the side window when the snow was blowing during the night. Camping alone, the amount of moisture exuded into the air was less than if my wife were camping with me.

Increase the venting when cooking inside.

Mostly I cooked outside, although I did experiment some with indoor cooking, baking vegetables and feta once in a toaster oven and steaming vegetables inside once with an induction burner. Setting up the standy's dinette table, which is located beneath the ceiling vent, I was able to watch the steam rise, adjusting the fan speed and the amount the side windows were opened to move the steam directly to the vent rather than letting it diffuse. During the evening I did not cook inside in order to allow the heater to dry the air as much as possible.

During the night while sleeping, I felt the walls several times to determine if condensation was forming. The walls remained dry, and the mattress was dry in the morning. If two people were sleeping, perhaps I would have had to open the vent more. If my camper set-up had the mattress on the floor, I think there might have been a problem. I know that my shoes were frozen-cold in the morning, having spent the night sitting on the floor.

I feel fortunate to not have to deal with a condensation problem. The interior space of my "standy" tiny trailer, the fact that the bed is off the floor, and the fact that my cold-weather camping last season was by myself all added to my lack of cabin moisture. I've followed the basic steps above to minimize condensation--mainly providing ventilation and cooking outside as much as possible. I've sifted through suggestions for dealing with condensation and included them in this article, yet whether these strategies will work for you depend on your particular situation--size of camper, number of people camping, climate, and trailer construction. However, the ideas above will hopefully provide a beginning point for coping with camper moisture.

It's best to wake up to morning dew by looking out the window and seeing the rising sun sparkling on the droplets of water gathered on the grass--outside! We wish you all warm, snug, and dry dawns in your tiny campers.

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Friday, April 5, 2019

A Blacksmith Metal Worker's Art: Teardrop Trailer Owner Chuck Fowler

Chuck Fowler
We sit around the campfire, taking in the heat and light, the warmth and the sense of safe haven. It's probably always been that way, fire being mesmerizing, a source of power. The ancient Greeks named their god of the fire and forge Hephaestus, patron of metal working for tool, weapon, and art. Even now, it's difficult to watch a blacksmith at work or to view a photograph of a smith seemingly elbows-deep in fire and to not experience some of that primeval awe embodied by fire and light. It's difficult not to perceive a cinder-scarred, sweating blacksmith as somehow a human equivalent of the workaday, mythic Apollo, who daily pulled the sun across the skies in his chariot of fire.

In Florida, that warm land of sunshine, resides a blacksmith who like Apollo, owns a chariot--or tiny trailer--forged with his own two hands, with his wife's help. Chuck Fowler is a blacksmith by trade, following a family tradition. He says, "Blacksmithing is the art of moving metal with extreme heat with a hammer and anvil. I was taught the trade by my father.  My wife and I have a large workshop at our house where we do metal fabrication work, blacksmithing and bladesmithing, and custom artwork and painting."

The editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica tell us that a blacksmith is a "craftsman who fabricates objects out of iron by hot and cold forging on an anvil." The use of iron replaced bronze a little over two thousand years ago, and iron was shaped by hand until the Industrial Revolution, which began in the late 1700's. "The blacksmith’s essential equipment consists of a forge, or furnace, in which smelted iron is heated so that it can be worked easily; an anvil, a heavy, firmly secured, steel-surfaced block upon which the piece of iron is worked; tongs to hold the iron on the anvil; and hammers, chisels, and other implements to cut, shape, flatten, or weld the iron into the desired object."

Chuck's skill with fire and hammer and his wife Lo Flo's artistic talents were put to work when they combined their talents to create their tiny trailer. "My wife and I combined our abilities to create our one-of-a-kind off-grid camper. We wanted something a little different than the norm. My wife did the unique paint job, and we both pitched in on the heavy fab work on the trailer. We pull the camper with our Subaru Forester, and the combination has worked out great."

Chuck's trailer is homemade (not surprising for a blacksmith/metal worker), topped with a "an old slide-in universal truck camper," of which only fifty were made before the company folded. "It was a lot of work but well worth it," Chuck says. "The camper was made by a company here [in Florida] that made a very short run on them before going out of business in the early 90s. We modified the inside of it, and it now sits on a handmade trailer with a back porch and custom swing-out cook tables."

Chuck's wife adds, "The company that made our camper was in the surfboard business out of California. This model was made to fit a surfboard inside that would have hung from the roof. Very cool, nostalgic tiny house for us. Surf's up!"

Chuck's blacksmithing craft has done much more than create a home-away-from-home camper for them, though. He uses his skills not only for the utilitarian but also for art. One aspect of his art and craft is bladesmithing. The weapons in the photo montage below are examples of Chuck's weapon-making work.

The axe and knife on the left were inspired by African tribal weapons. They have handles wrapped in leather and sinew. The bottom image of the large war axe was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. "The orcs in that movie," comments Chuck, "carried some serious weapons."

The top right image of the glowing knife on the anvil "is going through a cycle of stress relieving." The blade was all hand-forged, requiring several stages of heating and hammering. "One of the last things you do to a knife before you move to the heat treatment of the steel is stress relieving. At this point the blade is heated up to forging temperatures many times and placed on the anvil and hammered into shape. Certain stresses could build up, causing the blade to warp in the quench. Basically, you're hardening the steel. Then you must fall back and temper the blade, pulling some of the hardness back out of the steel in order to be able to sharpen and maintain the blade."

The History Channel's popular show Forged in Fire premiers four bladesmiths each episode who compete for $10,000 in a timed event, usually requiring materials that will push the smiths to the limit. Last year (2018) Chuck, along with another smith, Bill Benke, were separately highlighted on the episode "The Anthropomorphic Sword," Season 5, Episode 21, where he gave a tour of his home forge for a bonus scene.

As he explains in the video, Chuck also likes to manufacture
small, portable forges that are also works of art.

Able to craft not only larger or deadly objects, Chuck is also able to create more delicate and intricate work. "The bodies of the dragonflies [below]," Chuck explains, "are fashioned from 3/8-inch round stock. The bodies are tapered down to a point using a rounding hammer. Then they are run through a guillotine tool, creating the segments in their bodies. The wings are recycled stainless steel spoon handles shaped and chiseled on the anvil to give the look of the vessels you see in a dragonfly's wings. The eyes are simply small ball bearings."

Lo Flo Fowler
After the forge work is completed and the individual pieces of the dragonflies are constructed, assembly begins. "They're assembled with a tig welder. Then my wife cleans them up with a wire brush and gently heats each one up with a small propane torch and wire brushes them down with a brass wire brush. The brass transfers over to the steel, producing a bronze effect on the steel."

With spring on its way and living in the beautiful state of Florida, the time is coming for Chuck and his wife Lo Flo to head out and immerse themselves in the beauty of nature, relaxing from the bustle of work and finding inspiration in the world around them. Chuck says, "As far as traveling with our rig, we're fully equipped for off-grid camping, so the sky's the limit." They have plans of visiting places in south Florida, such as Lake Okeechobee, which, according to Chuck, has some very nice campgrounds and "even free-ranging, exotic reptiles." So no one will be surprised if some of Chuck's new art has its beginnings in a dragonfly landing on a green tropical plant near their tiny trailer . . . or maybe an alligator, lazing in the sun, which is the forge of life.

(To read all the Green Goddess Glamping art and craft articles, check out the Art and Craft Activities label URL, which aggregates all similar posts.)

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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Tiny Trailer as a Bicycle Basecamp

A ride around Indian Lake the day before snow arrived. I walked after that.

When I bought a tiny trailer, it was actually a huge, lavish increase of hauling capacity from my bicycle camping experience. Carrying food, water, and all camping and living gear on a bicycle is possible, but one has to be discriminative and uncompromising. The alternative is to be standing on the pedals, pumping up an Iowa hill, and then have the thought, "I didn't really need that five hundred page hardback book after all." Even car camping with the tiniest trailer still allows for a tow vehicle powered by more than legs, and the capacity to carry much more cargo.

A grocery run commute with the Burley Travoy trailer. 

I have a Burley Travoy trailer that I've taken on camping trips a couple of times. It works well, but I mainly use it for commuting around town to buy groceries and sundry. Hanging panniers from my bicycle, though, is what I've been using the last few years. Now that I own a tiny camp trailer with a rear bicycle rack, this next camping season will unfold a different kind of bicycle camping experience for me--setting up a basecamp at a campground that has bicycling opportunities for day rides. I did a little of this last year at two campgrounds and enjoyed the ability to explore beyond walking distance of the campground.

This is the most efficient set up for traveling, I've found.

In terms of touring by bicycle, I prefer shorter, local tours that allow me to take off for a few days but not to be gone too long from my family. One of my favorite tours that I plan to repeat this next season takes four days but is only around 100-120 miles, with no more that 25-35 miles per day. This 4-day trip is one that takes me to the areas I also tiny trailer camped last year: Oakland Mills, Indian Lake, Bentonsport, and home. I've ridden this route about three times, varying the route and campgrounds slightly each time. This route includes both pavement and gravel through forest stretches and along the Des Moines River--and, of course, lots of pedaling beside fields of corn and beans!

Indian Lake, my one-person tent without the rain cover put on.

Another favorite trip I've ridden twice is the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, a rails-to-trails lime chip trail from Waterloo to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, around sixty miles. I've ridden this twice, continuing on south from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City. The trail exists in a strip of land about thirty yards wide, usually with farmland beyond. It also passes through the little towns of the area. I also enjoy taking a trail the continues through Cedar Rapids, riding the trail through the town, on a bike yet still separate from the city traffic. There are always detours, though--one bridge has been washed out for years, sometimes there is a detour because the lime chips are being converted to tarmac, sometimes flooding takes its toll on the route, and once I just had a tree down across the trail. They were all manageable and part of the adventure!

A washout on the CVNT. It was dry enough to walk the bike through.

Tiny trailer camping will provide more of a "hub" for my bicycling, whereas for touring the experience is more linear. The possibilities for day rides from a basecamp include many of the bicycle trails that exist in Iowa, including the trails that circle two of Iowa's biggest lakes, Lake Rathbun and Lake Red Rock. These trail rides (some paved) include destinations to towns or even to a resort for a meal, in addition to pleasant rides along the lake and on grassy trails through state parks.

Bike rack behind the trailer with the bike mounted.

My big plan is to travel to Indian Lake in Farmington. I camped there twice last year, once with a tent in the early summer, and once in the fall with the Green Goddess. What I would like to do is camp at Indian Lake and then take day rides into the Shimek Forest. There are plenty of gravel roads in the area and trails for hiking, biking, and horses. I think that should be a lot of fun.

Bitternut Campground. A primitive site, quite woodsy.

I spent one night in a primitive campground called Bitternut Campground in Shimek on my last trip through the year before last. "Primitive" means no water or electricity. What is available is a pit toilet, a camp table, and a fire ring. The plus side is that I felt like I was really in the woods and not a park--nature felt closer and civilization a bit farther away. This is hard to find in Iowa where although there are not a lot of people, they're pretty much spread out on farms and such.

"I did a little over 100 miles today," he said. "Yes, sir," I said.
Tiny trailer camping still seems like a step up in extravagance--"Sure, I'll just throw that in, since I've got the space." I can do that and not feel the pain thirty miles later. I take it easy, reminding myself that I am deliberately choosing to not over-extend myself. I remember one overnight trip to Lake Darling, seventeen miles from home. I had arrived and set up when a gray-haired man pulled on his bike. We chatted a bit and he asked me where I was from. I explained that I was from close by and then asked about his travels. He was traveling north from Alabama--and that day had topped one hundred miles. He was an old hand at long hauls, though, and it was fun talking to him.

Whether traveling by tiny trailer or by bicycle, there is a joy in lessening our impact on the environment. I know that everybody can't travel by minimalist means, but for those of us who can and want to, it's a reward in its own right. This spring I expect I'll be traveling and camping, either with my tiny trailer . . . or with my extremely tiny trailer (or panniers). Yes, it's a bit more work by bicycle, but I can say without hesitation that the gas mileage is fantastic! I hope some of you readers leave comments about how you integrate bicycles into your camping experience.

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