Friday, September 27, 2019

West Coast Camping Extravaganza: Karen and Louis Valentino's Tiny Trailer Travelogue

The Valentinos at the Kalaloch "Tree of Life," Olympia National Park, Washington

How do you define a "Camping Extravaganza"? How about forty-five days of travel, 5,000 miles from mid-June to the end of July, a tiny trailer tour of the Western United States--California, Oregon, and Washington, up the coast and then down the interior?

That's how Karen and Louis Valentino defined it this summer with their 2019 Extravaganza objective to take off with their Hiker Trailer, visiting seven national parks in the three West Coast states, "staying close to the coast on the way up and working our way back down through each state’s interior. We decided to set specific dates we would be at each, and make reservations in advance, either at a campground within the park or close by. The exception was our last stop, Yosemite. We decided to stay somewhere outside the park and wing it rather than try to reserve a spot."

"Holy Spectacular! North Cascades National Park is remote, and maybe that’s part of its wonder. So many areas to explore."

"We stuck close to the script," says Karen, "especially at the beginning. But we also discovered some wonderful one- and two-night stays between the parks. And as the trip progressed, we found we were enjoying opportunities to look for more rustic camping. Some of our favorite stops were at places we had researched during that day while driving."

Tow Vehicle and Tiny Camper

As the Valentinos planned their steps to retirement, they decided they wanted to scale down to one shared car, so in contemplating purchasing a trailer, they were clear they needed the ability to tow and fuel efficiency. They felt that a key appeal of a tiny trailer was its light weight and that it could be towed without investing in a beefy gas-guzzling tow vehicle. "We decided to buy a hybrid Toyota RAV4 SUV," Karen said. "With a tow rating of 1750 lbs. – 250 lbs. higher than the equivalent non-hybrid RAV4 – we felt comfortable we were in good shape. Our SUV averages about 33 mph when not towing, and when towing on fairly level ground about 27-28 mph. (It can go down to 16 mph or so going up steep grades.) At times we are very slow going up hills, but we’re retired! We’re not in any hurry."

Hiker Trailer 5x8 Highway Deluxe, pulled by a Toyota Hybrid RAV4

They originally had in mind a trailer with the classic teardrop shape. But during a road trip right after their joint retirement, they stumbled upon a Hiker Trailer at a dealer–literally the only dealer for the entire Western US–and were immediately won over by its simple, practical design and solid construction. They liked that it fulfilled their desire to “tent camp with a better tent.” They opted for the 5x8 Highway Deluxe, designed for use on paved roads and decently graded dirt or gravel roads. (Hiker also sells heavy duty models designed for offroad use.)

"Although there are three base models to choose from," Karen said, "each Hiker is fully customizable. That meant our trailer was going to have all of the options we wanted, and just those options–which we loved!–but we were going to have to wait for it to be built. We made good use of the time, researching and purchasing items to kit out our new toy. It was a very fun road trip driving to Lake Havasu, Arizona, to pick it up and bring it home."

They have found that "trailer optimization" never ends. "We are constantly tinkering with our baby. We have increased our solar capability, shed our dependence on ice by purchasing a refrigerator, rearranged the galley and tongue toolbox several times, and added many small toys to enhance our big toy."

The best way to organize the Valentinos' West Coast trip is to focus on the seven national parks in the order they were visited: the West Coast national and state parks, Washington state parks, Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic, and Yosemite.

The Coastal Parks

Two state parks stood out for the Valentinos, Russian Gulch State Park and Mendocino Headlands State Park. "Russian Gulch is very close to Mendocino, north of San Francisco," says Karen. "Mendocino is a beautiful long-time friend to us, having spent part of our honeymoon there thirty-five years ago and returned a few times since. The weather-beaten Headlands have a wonderful kind of wildness, even though they can be accessed in minutes simply by walking from the quaint 'downtown' toward the Pacific. And the campground itself has its own little beach and hiking trails. Campers at Russian Gulch also have access to nearby Van Damme State Park."

"Russian Gulch State Park, just north of Mendocino. $47 per day (gulp). (Probably includes a senior discount and the reservecalifornia fee.) Good hot showers, $1 per 5 minutes. Water, no shore power or cellular. Mendocino is breathtakingly beautiful."

Brown Creek Trailhead, Elk Prairie Campground, Redwood National and State Parks

"We stayed three nights at Elk Prairie Campground. Wonderful hiking, and the redwoods are spectacular. We have lived in redwood country before, but the majesty of the old growth forest at RNP is not to be missed. We met some hikers from Oklahoma and Tennessee, and it was wonderful to see things through their eyes--amazement at their surroundings."

"Great overnight stop at Cape Lookout State Park in central Oregon, on the coast roughly due west of Portland. A short walk from camp, beyond a berm, is the ocean. Drop dead gorgeous beach."

Cape Disappointment State Park

Karen and Louis Valentino
"We also liked our stay on the last loop at Cape Disappointment State Park, located just north of the Columbia River, at the southernmost tip of Washington. The weather was perfect, we had a great site with lots of trees, we took a good long walk along the beach, and we were treated to a fantastic sunset. Cape Disappointment was not a disappointment at all. On the way we visited Ecola State Park with sweeping views of Tillamook Lighthouse, abandoned and reclaimed by sea birds, and Haystack, a monolithic sea stack. We stopped to see Astoria Tower and got a 360 view that included a shrouded Mt. St. Helens and the confluence of rivers at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River. We also visited Fort Clatsop where Lewis and Clark built a hasty structure to weather out a tough winter in 1805-6. Because we were only there overnight, we didn’t hike, but there are lots of opportunities: everything from old growth forestland to marshes and freshwater lakes."

Washington National Parks

The three national parks visited in Washington state--Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Mount Rainier National Park--each had their own unique beauty. "Olympic has incredible diversity, from Ruby Beach to Hoh Rainforest to Hurricane Ridge. North Cascades is vast, remote, and features glacial ice. Mount Rainier had . . . Rainier, and it was the first time I stepped foot onto the Pacific Crest Trail. All the parks provided fantastic hikes. We were lucky to meet up with a fellow Hiker Trailer owner who hiked with us at Kalaloch, Hoh Rainforest, and Rainier. We benefited greatly from having a local’s familiarity with the area."

"Kalaloch, how I do love thee! Fantastic beaches, the 'Living Tree' that lost the ground from underneath it and clings to life, miles of beach scattered with shells. And nearby the mystical Hoh Rainforest with its nurselogs, ferns, springs, and vine maples, with delicate moss everywhere. Coastal Olympic National Park. Phenomenal."

Hiking Olympia National Park

Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

North Cascades National Park just continued the spectacular experiences that characterized the Valentinos' adventure. They found North Cascades "so vast that the longish trails we explored showed up as a quarter inch on the park map. We saw glacial ice, a lake colored by glacial rock 'flour' dust, amazing views and not a single bear or mountain lion. We walked for miles without seeing a soul. This is a park we will try to come back to. We stayed at Newhalem, close to the Visitors Center, for a staggering $8/night (senior rate). Paved pads, wonderful privacy . . . will stop gushing now."

North Cascades National Park, from the Cascade Pass Trail

NCNP, overlooking Ruby Arm, a section off of Ross Lake.

NCNP, Ruby Creek

"Mount Rainier is a capricious mistress." Despite four nights there, Mount Rainier just gave Karen and Louis an occasional peek . . . until they headed out one morning and saw sunshine and the mountain in all her glory. Nevertheless they got great hiking in, and saw so many wonderful sights, thanks in part to another Hiker Trailer owner and avid hiker who took Karen and Louis under her wing and showed them some amazing places on “her” mountain. "Apparently," Karen says, "everyone who lives near Rainier feels just as possessive."

Mount Rainier: "Yesterday we got a peek at the peak." 

"We had a wonderful hike up to Nisqually Vista where there was no view into the glacier, but there were lots of views of the Tatoosh Range, marmots, swaths of avalanche lilies, and lots of other wildflowers. Great day today, and great stay."

"Swaths of avalanche lilies."

"She deigned to show her face literally as we were leaving." 

Crater Lake National Park

Four weeks into their six-week camping extravaganza, Karen and Louis began heading south to visit three more national parks on their way home. Their camping stops passed through Deschutes National Forest and Bend, Oregon, where they "turned into city people for a couple of days." They stopped at "pretty, serene Elk Lake, which is tucked in near Mt. Bachelor and South Sister."

"We used our tubes on the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon. Floating the Deschutes is huge fun as there is a short section of man-made 'rapids' during the run. We camped outside Bend at Elk Lake Campground, a FCFS Forest Service campground on a peaceful lake with views of Mt. Bachelor and South Sister."

Heading toward Crater Lake National Park, they thought there was a bump in the road when they were notified that their park camping reservation had been cancelled due to hazardous tree removal. They put out an internet appeal for dispersed camping sites in the area. "There seem to be lots of options," they posted to fellow travelers. "Would like to find a spot our trailer can handle. We don’t have an off-road model but can do decent dirt or gravel roads."

However, after being informed their reservation at Mazama Village Campground was canceled, they "ended up with three nights there after all and were swarmed with mosquitos the entire time. (It was better up at the rim.) $35/night, no hookups, water, coin showers, coin laundry, camp store, restaurant onsite. Crater Lake is literally surrounded by National Forest land so there are endless boondocking options."

Phantom Ship Island--the smaller of two islands in Crater Lake. "Crater Lake is a prime example of how a photograph can never replace the human eye. So vast, so impossibly blue. My humble photos can’t possibly do it justice, but here’s my effort."

Crater Lake was where Karen and Louis "saw water bluer than the sky," feeling that the best feature of the park was "the view from many angles at the rim." Spending three nights at Mazama Village Campground "was amazing, but our enthusiasm was dampened by the mosquito population down at the campground. In July at elevation there is still melting snow and attendant mosquitoes. We went through quite a bit of Deep Woods OFF during the second half of our trek." There was good hiking as well, of which they took advantage. "For us, three nights was perfect. The lake is astonishing. $35/night, a store, laundromat and restaurant onsite. Water, flush toilets, no hookups. Bring your insect repellent if you show up any time around snow melt."

Mazama Village Campground, Crater Lake

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Heading south from Crater Lake, Karen and Louis reached California for an overnighter at Mount Shasta and a spur-of-the-moment side journey to Burney Falls.

"Wow! On a whim we visited Burney Falls State Park on the way to Lassen National Park. Water flowing through underground lava tubes appears to seep out of the rocks. What a beautiful park! We walked the trail on both sides of Burney Creek and were rewarded with so much beauty."

By the time the Valentinos hit Lassen Volcanic National Park, they had already been to five national parks and been reminded five times why the national parks are our country’s crown jewels. Karen was interested to visit Lassen, but hadn’t heard a lot about it; and having lived on Oahu as a girl and visited the Islands several times since, she said she equated “volcanic features” to those on the islands. "Boy, was I off!" she said. Let's let Karen describe the Lassen experience.

"Helen Lake, Lassen Peak, and stands of mountain hemlocks."

"Lassen blew my mind! There were lots of first-time experiences. First time I saw a boiling mudpot. First time I saw a 'boiling' lake (Cold Boiling Lake). First time I beheld the stench of sulphur emanating from the ground. Also the first hike over snow. First time I’ve undertaken a grueling half mile vertical climb that culminated in a walk around the edge of a volcano (Cinder Cone Volcano). First look at hillsides swathed in mules ears flowers (Mill Creek Falls Hike). First time I’ve seen turquoise-colored ice (Helen Lake)."
"Mules Ears on the Mills Creek Falls Trail."

"Louis and I love to hike. My three most memorable hikes were all in Lassen. In July some areas were still closed due to snow accumulation, including the closest parking area available to access Cold Boiling Lake, which gets its name from bubbles created by release of CO2 beneath the lake. We parked on the main road and walked down into the parking lot and out over snow in search of the lake. I was wearing my usual hiking footwear, trail runners, and Louis was wearing hiking boots. Because the trail was invisible beneath the snow for most of the hike, we initially navigated using our GPS location vs. the location of the lake on a map. Before too long we discovered how winter hikers do it: we became aware of trail markers attached to trees along the path. We had so much fun on this hike! Our hiking poles were invaluable, both to keep us from slipping and to test for areas of wet snow we might punch a hole through with our feet. When we reached the lake, we felt like conquering heroes!"  
"Cold Boiling Lake--volcanic gases percolate, giving the illusion the lake is boiling."

"The second hike in Lassen, to Mill Creek Falls, was recommended to us by one of the rangers at the Visitors Center. Louis and I are in our late 60s and as we got well into the hike, we both swore that whenever a twenty- or thirty-something park ranger calls a hike 'easy to moderate,' we will automatically reclassify it to 'challenging for us.' Beginning at the Visitors Center, where we had just had our encounter with the ranger, the hike was a 3.8 mile out-and-back that felt like seven miles, due in part to significant elevation changes, and to elevation; for us sea level dwellers 6,700 feet is thin air, and we felt it! But what a gorgeous hike! It felt almost surreal to walk through fields of mules ears, then wooded hillside – and then to see the picturesque falls, water dropping seventy-five feet before continuing its rush down the mountain." 
"During the eruptions in the early 1900s, Lassen cast off many large boulders that came to rest miles from the peak."
"Then there was Cinder Cone Volcano. We had read about a small cinder cone located in a remote area of the park, down an unpaved road near Butte Lake. We have twice hiked up an ancient cinder cone on the Big Island, so we were intrigued. After our strenuous hike at Mills Creek Falls, Louis decided he would not attempt the climb (he’s prone to altitude sickness), so he walked with me along the first, level part of the hike, then turned back to hang out at Butte Lake. The hike up the cinder cone was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, and one of the most rewarding. It was a grueling 850-foot climb in the space of a half mile, the trail curving steeply up the side of the volcano. Every footstep was on loose volcanic rock, and each step slid about halfway back down. I used my poles to help pull me upward, and stopped frequently to rest. Along the way passersby came along down the trail, some who were turning back without reaching the top, and others who had been to the top and encouraged me forward with, 'It’s SO worth it!' and 'You’re almost there!'" 
"Lassen Peak from the Butte Lake cinder cone climb."

"Finally, I made it to the top and WOW! At the top the trail runs along the entire circumference of the rim, giving views in every direction including Lassen Peak, Snag Lake, Butte Lake, the Fantastic Lava Beds and the Painted Dunes. There’s also an inner rim, and from there a trail leads down to the bottom of the crater. I stayed up on the cinder cone for about an hour, drinking in the views and taking photos. Then I started plunging my way back down, carefully keeping my weight back as it would be catastrophic to lean forward, the trail was so steep."
Yosemite National Park

Some R & R was in order after the fun yet strenuous adventures at Lassen. On the way to Yosemite, Karen and Louis stopped for three relaxing days at Donner Memorial State Park, "making good use of our river tubes."  

At this point in their trip, Karen and Louis entered the unscheduled portion of their travels, winging it as they entered the Yosemite area, since they'd heard that the park campgrounds were very busy. In search of peaceful climes, they headed to Muir country, asking for advice on Facebook.
"We are about to enter the unscheduled portion of our camping extravaganza. Any recommendations for FCFS camping near Mono Lake/Lee Vining? Also looking for places in Sierra National Forest (with the intention to see King’s Canyon and maybe Sequoia). We are mostly looking at Forest Service land and county campgrounds. We can take our trailer on well graded gravel or dirt roads but it is NOT an off-road camper. TIA."
"Looking across the loop to our campsite. Tioga Pass is carved in the distance into the hillside."

"Onward to Mono Lake," Karen posted, "and the interesting feeling of not knowing where we’re going to spend tomorrow night." Sweet success, though!

"Wow! Winging it works well sometimes. We spent three nights at Aspen Grove, a Forest Service campground in the canyon off of Tioga Pass Road, which leads to the east entrance of Yosemite. We got perhaps the last available site (#16) at this FCFS campground, and it was a gem! Off of a loop at the end of the campground, we had ample privacy plus views of the canyon behind us and Lee Vining Creek across the loop. We could hear and see the roar as water raced down the mountainside. One of our favorite campgrounds of our 6-week camping extravaganza. ($7/night with senior pass. Vault toilets, dumpster, bear box, water at campground entrance.)"

"Lee Vining Creek off of our loop."
"We camped at seventeen locations during our trip. Aspen Grove, a Forest Service FCFS campground, is our top pick. At Aspen Grove, water was available at the entrance and portable toilets and dumpsters were scattered throughout the campground. The campground is not for luxury seekers. Tucked into a wall on the Tioga Pass, it’s just a 25-minute drive to Yosemite’s east entrance. We snagged the last campsite at the campground, on the end loop, and it was a beaut. We could see Lee Vining Creek roar down from the mountains across the loop from us, and we had a wide view of the canyon. We had to set up in increasing rain, but we slept like babies while it poured. We then spent our next three days exploring Mono Lake and scratching the surface of Yosemite."
 Karen and Louis had been warned Yosemite was crowded in summer, but as they drove through the Eastern side to Olmsted Point on the first day, stopping often to get out and view their surroundings, Karen thought to herself, “This isn’t bad at all.” Lots of hikers were staging to take trails out of Tuolumne Meadows and all along the road, but there was no heavy crush of people. "On our last full day we decided to drive all of the way to Yosemite Village. Aha! Yosemite Village was Crazy Town. There were people everywhere! There was nowhere to stop, so we just drove around the loop and right back out again." The too-busy atmosphere was unfortunate, because it was at that lower elevation that Louis, who suffered from altitude sickness, would have been able to hike, so they didn’t do any real hiking in Yosemite. They did, however, get a nice overview, and "Yosemite is close to where we live, so we will be back sometime when the crowds are gone."

Half Dome, taken from Olmsted Point

Karen and Louis Valentino's camping extravaganza was an experience of highs and lows--as in measures of altitude from all their hikes and camping spots. They planned their trip thoroughly, and then allowed for the unexpected and out-of-the-way. "We try to keep expectations low when we set off to camp. It’s hard to know what to expect when traveling to unknown places. And having expectations often leads to disappointment. Having already done a five and a half week trek the previous fall, we did have a very good sense what the pace of travel would be like."

Any expectations unfulfilled? Karen writes, "I have never seen a bear and that streak remained intact during our trek. I would really like to see a bear one of these days . . . from a distance!"

After Yosemite, they headed home, stopping for couple of nights at Arroyo Seco Campground in Los Padres National Forest.

Valentino Camping Extravaganza Itinerary

The Valentinos feel they are lucky to live on the Central Coast of California, with its extended camping season. In mid-October they plan to stay in Folsom, California, for three nights, riding the American River Trail on their bikes. Beyond that, they hope to "squeeze in another camping trip somewhere within an hour or two of home." Their 2020 camping plans are unformed right now, but more national parks feature high on the list. "So many choices! Eventually we will probably settle on two treks--one in spring, one in fall--interspersed with trips closer to home throughout the camping season. Can’t wait!"

Just keep posting those beautiful photographs and wonderful descriptions of your travels, Karen and Louis. You're an inspiration!

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Tree Limb Bashes My Tiny Trailer, the Green Goddess

The main sections of the limb that bashed the Green Goddess.
I began my two-week tour of northeast Iowa's state parks with rain, steady rain, at times the rain so heavy that the radar on the cruise control shut off the system. The hour and a half trip was a good one, though, and I showed up at Palisades-Kepler State Park with the downpour ratcheting up again.

Setting up camp was a quick back-in to Space 1, right across from the camp host's station, and then I was inside my little standy, the Green Goddess, wet from the set-up but dry and away from the rain. Dinner was potato salad, and after sunset I enjoyed myself, reading the Mary Stewart Merlin Trilogy.

Suddenly, Boom! A huge bashing sound filled the trailer as it violently rocked. I realized the sound had been that of a limb falling onto the roof, so I quickly dressed, including my yellow rain slicker, and went outside to find out what had happened. A limb was lying beside the trailer, its diameter about five inches and its length about ten feet. Picking it up to move it out of the way, it was a heavy, dead weight of waterlogged wood. Searching the roof lit by my headlamp, I saw a 4-5 inch crack in the hard roofing.

My duct tape patch, as photoed the next morning.

What to do? If I did nothing, water would enter that crack and flood the camper. Then I remembered that I had duct tape. And as we all know, "If ya can't fix it with duct tape, it ain't worth fixin'." It still raining, I wiped off the roof area and slapped the duct tape onto the crack. Returning to bed (and finally falling asleep), the next morning I was happy to discover that the duct tape had adhered well to the roof and kept me dry.

The 4-5 inch crack. I tried to even the surface but could not.

I texted my builder son-in-law and asked what would be a better temporary solution until I returned home. His answer was Flex Seal Tape, available at Menard's. I thanked him and by searching found there was a Menard's just a few miles off my route to my next stop, Backbone State Park, Iowa's oldest state park. I bought the tape, drove to Backbone, set up camp, and then applied the tape. That stuff is thick and sticky, and I have no doubts about it keeping the unit watertight.

Flex Seal Tape patches the roof once I reach Backbone.

As for a permanent fix, I've contacted my insurance agent, and my actions steps are to finish my trip, to contact RTTC, the roofing product manufacturer, and a locally well-known RV source to determine my options.

Safely camping at Backbone State Park, the sun out and the awning up.

In the meantime, I camp on, the Green Goddess my safe haven. If the limb had hit squarely on  the flat section of the roof (or on the vent) I believe it would have pierced the camper. If I had been in a tent--well, the hole in the roof is pretty much where my pillow and head lie when sleeping. The limb striking the roof where the "teardrop" begins created a glancing blow which deflected the energy instead of concentrating it on one spot. I feel fortunate and blessed by the Green Goddess.

I am unscathed; she is scarred but undeterred. We journey on.

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Friday, September 20, 2019

Tiny Trailer Glamping: A Personal Definition

Camping in Banff National Park with a teardrop trailer camping is great!
Jennifer Tipping photo, Bow Lake, Banff National Park, AB, Tiny Trailer Owner Profile

Glamping is a combination of camping and glamour. The word is common in the camping world, especially for those who view "glamorous camping" as a business opportunity.

During the last year as Green Goddess Glamping has established its place in the tiny trailer and camping world, I've added my two bits toward defining the concept of glamping.

Glamping, for me, is having the equipment, skills, and perspective which allow us to have an enriching interaction with nature. For me, what can be more glamorous than nature, as epitomized in Jennifer Tipping's photo that begins this article? Camping--or living--in this grandeur, finding our place in the larger scheme of things, can have an uplifting effect on our lives. Glamping, for me, is a means to provide ourselves the opportunity to feel so comfortable in nature that we can forget our small selves, our worries and pressures, and connect to the grander rhythms of the world. The organizing power of nature that maintains the planets in their orbits is also present in the forces that have polished those small stones upon which Jennifer stands in Bow Lake, Banff National Park. We stand in the waters of life, just as Jennifer stands in the waters of Bow Lake. Large or small, we are part and parcel of the world.

Doug Pollard photo. "Evening shower heading into Northeastern California." Travelogues

Roads connect one place to another. Whether the road is a freeway or the Pacific Crest Trail, there exist both the journey and the destination. We have to consider one more aspect, though, not just the road and the destination, but the one who travels the road. We are sojourners on the road of life, temporarily residing in place to place as we travel. I say let us glamp that road, bringing with us the tools and materials we need in order to have a fulfilling journey. Then we can relax and enjoy the view--views of both outer and inner beauty. In fact, the ability to see and appreciate outer beauty has its origin within us. However, life being connected, outer beauty can inspire and initiate, can prompt the appreciation of beauty within ourselves.

The Navajo "Night Chant" prayer of the Blessing Way describes the harmonious and nurturing relationship possible with the world, as seen in the following excerpt:
Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me. 
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.

Cass Beach photo. Tails of Wanderlust Owner Profile

I have added a new page tab, "Glamping," to Green Goddess Glamping, collecting all the articles I've written about glamping. Many of the articles listed might seem prosaic, such as the first I wrote: "How the Green Goddess Glamps," in which I consider what those things are we need to bring with us when we camp to feel comfortable and at home. John Muir's glamping was bringing a blanket, a loaf of bread, and his journal. He usually traveled by shanks' mare. Most of us, though, travel with a bit more. Beauty cannot be considered without the one who perceives.

As we've noticed in our camping travels, the "glamp-o-meter" can be dialed up considerably higher than Muir's standard. We all need to find our comfort zone in order to relax and enjoy. Whether camping allows us to find quietness and joy within ourselves, in the world around us, or both within and without, may we find that joy--and radiate and give joy. If we travel alone in the world (and glamp to the beat of a different drummer), that doesn't mean that we are obliged to feel lonely or isolated. Self-sufficiency has its own glamour. (See "Traveling Solo: Being Alone Is Not the Same Thing As Being Lonely")

Becky Schade photo. Owner Profile

The glamping articles I've written include considerations of equipment, camping rigs, procedures, and other furbelows and gewgaws. They are like pieces of a puzzle to a beautiful wilderness scene. Assembly required--and once assembled, therein lies the unity, and that unity is beautiful. Glamping is camping that surrounds us with beauty, positive and uplifting. Glamping is not only finding beauty; it is also being its source. "With beauty all around us may we walk."

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Friday, September 13, 2019

This Is Mongolia!: Tiny Trailer Owner Profile

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer

People living in a house will "never understand the life of those who live in tents," was the comment of friends of Ariunbold Myagmarkhuu who accompanied him on a tiny trailer camping trip this summer. Ariunbold, or "Ariuk," for short, lives in Mongolia in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.

Ariuk feels his friends' observations are true, and provides as support the following story about his first camping trip with his new camper:
"One night, it was so windy that our fathers had to get up at night and tie the tents to our cars to keep them on the ground. While they were doing this, my family and I were sleeping in our trailer as if you were sleeping in your bed at home. Later in the trip, the wind actually blew the tent away one morning just after everyone got out of it for breakfast."

Mongolia is in northern Asia, between China and Russia. It is slightly smaller than Alaska and more than twice as big as Texas, or as Ariuk describes: "The size of Mongolia is about the size of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah and Colorado combined, with population of three million people. There are about twenty million people living in those states." Mongolia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with two people per square kilometer. The terrain consists of areas of vast semi-desert and desert plains, grassy steppe, and there are mountains in the west and southwest. The Gobi Desert is in the south-central part of the nation.

The mean (or average) altitude is a little over 5,000 feet, with the country's low point being Hoh Nuur at 1,837 feet, and the high point being Nayramadlin Orgil (Khuiten Peak), at 14,350 feet. According to research, Mongolia has a "sparsely distributed population throughout the country, and the capital of Ulaanbaatar and the northern city of Darhan support the highest population densities. Its natural hazards (always a concern for campers) are "dust storms; grassland and forest fires; drought, and "zud," which are harsh winter conditions."

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer

The rig that rides the steppe is an Ecocampor Teardrop, a Chinese brand/model which Ariuk pulls with a 2014 Chevrolet Trailblazer, the Asian version, which is called the Holden Colorado 7. The SUV has a 2.8L i4 Duramax II engine, and a 6-speed automatic transmission. The vehicle has a custom-fitted hitch and is wired for towing lights and electric brakes.

Because Mongolia is so sparsely populated, all camping is boondocking, according to Ariuk. "Off the grid is the only option in Mongolia in terms of camping. There are camp-bases or tourist-bases, but they are more like a motel in middle of nowhere." In Mongolia, Ariuk says, "people consider camping as going out of the city for a few days with with a tent and kitchen gear. Everything else is called 'out for fresh air,' including hunting."

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
Tiny trailer travel in Mongolia

Most commonly, Ariuk, family, and friends camp "by a creek or river, since there would be no town or camp-bases nearby." And, simply put, he prefers camping close to water. Ariuk adds, "I personally favor winter (no mosquitoes), but when camping with the family, our favorite is summer, specifically July."

Mongolia camping
the river Mukhart

Tent camping was the family tradition until the extended family began including people of greater stature and circumstance in life. Then Ariuk decided he had to up his game--and he bought a tiny trailer. 
"The camping actually was an offshoot of off-road driving and fishing trips that I started enjoying since the early 2000s. I was so young a kid back then that the wind, rain, thunderstorm, snow, ice and my old Toyota Land Cruiser with leaf springs never bothered me. However, I started thinking about changing the way we do camping in 2009 as we welcomed a VIP into our family. In 2013, I purchased a utility trailer and then mounted a rooftop tent onto it, as a result of the VIP coming in our family and our love for camping. There was always a boiling dream inside of me since I can remember, the dream of 'towing a trailer.' Then a second VIP came into our family in 2016 and the first VIP showed his interest in a caravan a couple of times, so I purchased the tiny trailer in 2018."
Ariuk has modified his teardrop by removing the kitchen, since the larger group he camps with get up early and would be busy in the teardrop kitchen while his immediate family was still sleeping. "The modification is that I took out the kitchen unit. I don’t want people cooking and making all kinds of smells, especially early in the morning, because the kitchen will become a shared one. Tent people get up early and we don’t."

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer

Having stepped up his game to include a teardrop trailer, the plan for their first family outing with the rig was for a 10-day outing. The first stop was to be in an area of sand dunes. The second night at a small village, and the third night on the river Baidrag, a freshwater river in the desert "with lots of fish." What was unexpected was for the trailer to break down on the way to the river. Aliuk explains this adventure in the Mongolian wilderness.

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
"The main destination of this trip was the beautiful oasis named the Mukhart River in the middle of the sand dunes. A bio reserve for the area is named after beautiful Lake Haagchin Khar that feeds the river Mukhart."

"The river Baidrag is about 100 kilometers to the northwest of the small village where we stayed, and the road is paved. We didn’t take any photos of river Baidrag, but it was a red color because of all the floodwater it had collected upstream. When we reached the river, the flood had made the water undrinkable and too high for fishing. Also, the dirt in the river was making the color of the river red, making the fish not able to see the bait. We had heard about the flood before we left the small village but wanted to see it. Plan B was to drive 150 more kms north to a creek named Zag. The paved road ended right before the bridge over the Baidrag River, and a dirt road with rocks and big holes began. On this type of road, if you drive below 40 kms/h you’ll feel everything on the road, and if you drive at around 60kms/h then it feels a bit smoother. With the trailer, when driving at 60km/h on a dirt road, braking is a challenge even with an electric brake. So, on one of those many holes and bumps on the dirt road, the trailer axle broke from its frame." 

Mongolia camping
Lake Ulaagchin Khar
"We found out about the broken trailer frame at a smaller village after we had driven about 90kms. The smaller village had a number of signs for welders, but none I could reach. We decided to stay there to try finding a welder again in the morning. Luckily, we found one that evening, and he agreed to start working on the trailer early in the morning. That night was so windy that the other two fathers in our group had to get out of their tents in middle of the night to tie down their tents to the cars. The next night was our turn to sleep in the tent, as the trailer was not finished at the shop or yard, but I saw what they had done with their tent and did exactly the same before going to sleep. We had brought a tent just in case if anything happened, like kids wanting to sleep outside."
Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
Ariunbold Myagmarkhuu and the village welder making repairs

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
Damaged camper frame

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
Repair completed, about 20 hours of work

"The welder cut off the damaged part of the frame, filled it with metal with similar thickness, added a couple more layers of L-shaped metal under the frame as the bolts were long enough, and bolted the axle back to the frame. When you write about it, it sounds pretty easy, but actually it took about twenty hours of work. The electrical wires had been cut into two pieces, and fixing that added another two hours of work. We managed to hit the road after two nights and a morning. The trailer hasn't broken down again since then. A funny thing happened at the yard while we were bolting the axle back to the frame--the welder actually expressed his wish to attend a college to learn more about welding and get better at it. I saw the things lying around in his yard that had pretty good welds on them, so I asked, 'You are a good welder. Why go to college for it?' He said the yard was actually his dad’s!"
Everyone was tired when the repairs were finished and they finally took off. "The wind makes you tired, especially when you have nothing to do but to wait." The trip had to have another two days of rest added, bringing the total to fourteen days out in the wilderness. They had accomplished their goals, though, and certainly had a successful and memorable first trip with the camp trailer.

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
Vast, open spaces and few people characterizes the boondocking experience in Mongolia

"I love my tiny trailer," Ariuk says, and advises tiny trailer owners to love and enjoy their trailers, too. Ariuk and his family plan to go camping "again and again." As for where to camp and for how long, "Nature and weather conditions really make the decision."
"My wife and I think that people who spend more time in nature love, care, and respect everything around, including trees, tiny creeks, crickets, birds, and most importantly human beings. So, the tiny trailer dream is to be camping with it with the next generation of 'VIPs' or, in other words, grandkids."
Like many other tiny trailer owners around the world, Ariunbold Myagmarkhuu finds bringing family and nature together a worthwhile pursuit. Because of the geography of the land he lives in, independence and self-reliance are a big part of any camping trip he and his family take. I can't help but believe, though, that as far as Ariuk's family is concerned, the "VIP" of the family is none other than Ariuk himself. Safe travels, and may the wind be at your back.

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