Thursday, November 28, 2019

Giving Thanks to My Green Goddess Tiny Camper

Next week, the first week of December, I might go camping again, since temperatures are forecast to be in the 27-45 degree range. Definitely camping weather! Today is Thanksgiving, though, and I'm taking a moment to be thankful for everything good that my wife and I have gained from our tiny trailer camping experiences.

This means I must acknowledge not only our wonderful times in our camper, but also acknowledge the wonderful connections that have been made either on the road or online through people met because of this blog. What better way to identify what to be thankful for than through photos?

First of all, I am thankful for those moments of solitude and silence where the spiritual connections of the world become clear. (Lacey Keosauqua State Park)

For moments with my wife when we just enjoy some restful time together. (Sugema Campground)

All the wonderful tiny trailer owners I have met, especially those at the RTTC Gathering at Huntington Beach State Park, SC. (Brookgreen Gardens, near HBSP)

Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers, who put a new roof on the Green Goddess when she got bashed by a falling tree limb.

The Travelogues that I was able to write due to the gracious support of the tiny trailer owners. (Grand Falls Gorge, Canada)

Tiny trailer owners who provided all the information for my Owner Profiles articles. (Banff National Park, Canada)

A Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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(Note: As the content for Green Goddess Glamping evolves, sometimes content focus will dictate that articles will be posted on some Facebook groups and not others. Articles on Dutch oven cooking, portable toilets, or bicycle day rides, for instance, could find posts in different groups. The best way to ensure that you are receiving all articles is to subscribe to follow this blog by email notifications. And if you don't get a confirmation notice, be sure to check your spam box.)

Friday, November 22, 2019

Nothing Says 3-Day Weekend Like Cool Weather Camping

Hamilton Branch State Park, South Carolina (Lee Gandy photo)

With a carpet of orange, red, and russet leaves beneath our feet, my wife and I scuff our way along a lakeside path, enjoying the fall weather . . . and it appears that we are not the only happy campers out enjoying fall moments. The photo above is an early November moment in South Carolina that Lee and Lori Gandy enjoyed. Recently my wife and I enjoyed a November weekend in SE Iowa. The list goes on and on. It's just like Lee mentioned: "Nothing says 3-day weekend like cool weather camping."

Having posted last week my article on our fall weekend camp ("Our Solitary, Tiny Trailer Camping Weekend"), many fall campers reacted to the article on social media, sharing their wonderful experiences of camping in the fall. Now my wife and I are even more excited to try some more fall camping! A fall November or December camping trip, of course, will probably differ in terms of temperature if that trip takes place in South Carolina, Florida, or somewhere in the Midwest, where my wife and I are based, and we can probably quantify that difference in temperature as "cool" versus "cold." No matter, though, I've found that with a warm tiny trailer to return to, bundling up and hiking in temperatures that even are around twenty degrees can be a red-cheeked joy.

On our way to the Cottonwoods on the Grand Mesa. Mesa, Colorado. (Mary King photo)

Cool camping (or cold camping, depending on your sensibilities) depends both upon geographic realities and personal preferences. Recent social media posts about fall camping vary, all the way from "Did our last campout first weekend in November," to more adventurous souls (or residents of warmer climates) stating, "This past winter we camped for the first time (in winter). It was great! Only a couple other campers around plus no mosquitoes! Fall is probably my favorite, though. Love campfires and the fall colors," and the more gritty comment, "We normally camp right up until they start dropping salt and brine on the roads." It's not all about snow and ice, though. "Winter camping in South Georgia is like fall camping most other places," said one fall camper.

Most of us can guess why many folks like to camp in the fall, but scanning the social media camping groups provides a few specifics.

Why Fall Camp
  1. The "tranquility" of a campground with few people.
  2. "No bugs, no sweating while sleeping, and the fire feels toasty."
  3. The fresh, colorful fall weather is a natural "glamping" experience.
  4. Lower campground rates.
As camping edges into more extreme temperatures, though, being prepared to deal with colder weather is essential. Some means of getting warm is essential, and the ways campers do so are both varied and sometimes even amusing. I find my tiny standy trailer, built from plywood, does quite well in colder weather, although I haven't yet camped in it in temperatures below fifteen degrees. A portable heater and and the ceiling vent cracked keeps the camper warm and the condensation out. However, we don't sleep on the floor, which helps with the condensation.

Staying Warm
  1. "If it's real cold, I will get a camping site with electric and then bring a heater for my tent. Toast warm!"
  2. "We use a portable electric oil heater. Quiet."
  3. "My little propane heater keeps me warm enough at night. Well, and the golden retriever!"
  4. "Bring your electric blanket."
Most folks seem to enjoy a bit of a nip, enough to quell the bugs yet still warm enough during the day to enjoy a good walk. I know I was looking forward this year to the first frost strong enough to back off the chiggers. This was the first year that I really got some bites, and the chigger outbreak affected my hike choices this year. Fall weather brings cold weather issues, but it also gets rid of some of the summer issues.

 Fall weather was summed up by one camper with the following words: "My wife and I enjoy fall and winter camping. This past weekend the overnight temperatures dropped to 27, and we stayed quite comfortable in our little camper." Beautifully said--a little cool, a cozy camper, and probably a little time around the campfire. And the truth is that the temperatures could drop down to 15-20 degrees, and those words would still apply, as long as you were geared up.

With the smallest trailers, condensation is also an issue, one I've written about in an earlier article ("Minimizing Condensation"). If you want to be comfortable while camping in the cold, the best advice is to find a way to heat your camper so that you will have a warm environment that allows you to get out of the cold. If you can't create that, then your camping will be under more extreme conditions--and I admire your grit.

Amazing sunrise and hike today. We are only 100 feet from Port Beach State Forest, Lake Michigan. Amazing solitude. (Jim Grote photo)

Having a warm haven away from the cold, I've been surprised how much time I actually spend outside. When I dress, I layer up with warm clothes, and then being outside suddenly becomes "invigorating" rather than "excruciating." All joking aside, most of us tend to spend our days in a pretty narrow temperature range, mostly between 60-75 degrees, and we surprise ourselves when we discover that it ain't that big a deal to be active outside that range. One of the most enjoyable bicycle rides I've ever had with my wife was when it was spitting snow. We had dressed warmly, and we didn't have to deal with sweat, humidity, or bugs. It was great. My wife and I plan to hike as much as possible during our cold weather camping trips. During our last camping outing, we took both our lightweight and heavyweight down coats, using both.

We've both also found that we enjoy the campfire more when the weather is cold, the fire having a purpose more practical than symbolic. Speaking of the practicality of a warm campfire during cold weather, it's important to not go to bed too cold. You might have a difficult time warming up if you are cold and fatigued. Hot tea, a hot water bottle in the sleeping bag, maybe an electric blanket, sufficient time in the warm camper before jumping into bed--whatever is your method, make sure you don't over-tax your body's ability to warm itself; otherwise, you could have a miserable night's sleep.

"Six to eight weeks every fall. This year we worked our way to northern New Mexico." (Laurie Caldwell Kinney photo)

During our last camping trip, my wife and I discovered that the only patrons of our local state park were tiny trailer owners. It seemed that since we were used to not having all the functions of an apartment in the rig we tow, it wasn't such a drastic move to camp when the showers and flush toilets were closed. Business as usual, as it were, with the added pleasure of access to water and electric hook-ups at each site.

Hamming it up. It wasn't that cold!

What about the idea of cool weather camping and the 3-day weekend, though? I can only speak for my wife and me, but three days was about all we got before the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped. We would have loved to have had a month of "Indian summer," but the forecast was predicting to onset of record-breaking cold temperatures, a stiff north wind had replaced a south wind, and our woodstove at home was telling us it wanted some company. Two days later, we looked out our home's window to s snowy, windy, frozen, 3-degree dawn. I'll take a great weekend of camping in the fall or even the winter. I'll sneak one in and feel lucky. How about you?

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Our Solitary, Tiny Trailer Camping Weekend

It's Friday afternoon at Lake Darling State Park in southeast Iowa, and my wife and I are the sole campers in the entire park. We are not alone, though, abut are visited by deer, geese, swans, squirrels, and a lone eagle. And, of course, we have each other, as we have arranged for this late fall weekend of camping for ourselves, a chance to be together, to walk together, and to even enjoy an experience more rare nowadays in this modern world--to be out of cellphone receptivity.

It's much easier to get a lakeside campsite during the off-season.

"Solitary" has its etymological roots in the Latin word solus, which means "alone." Mirriam-Webster defines it as "being, living, or going alone or without companions." I see no reason, though, to not apply the term to a couple, such as a camping couple, traveling "alone or without [any other] companions." After all, by marriage or whatever process two individuals declare themselves to be a couple is really a declaration that two have become one.

I think we've all met couples who take out their rigs or tents and camp, enjoying the time alone and together. Maybe these are long-time couples, maybe two people new at this "couple" thing. Maybe they are enjoying the comfort of being together, celebrating a relationship strengthened with time; maybe they are using the camping time to increase the strength of the bond by creating experiences together. In either case, they are a unity, two become one as they sit together before their campfire, the crackling light of the fire illuminating their faces with the same flickering light.

Bundled up, we enjoyed several leisurely walks along the lake.

Four months ago I wrote a piece entitled "Traveling Solo: Being Alone Is Not the Same Thing As Being Lonely," in which I reference a Psychology Today article in which the author says, "Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness." It seems to me that couples can certainly travel alone by themselves yet not feel lonely, that they can come to understand and appreciate their relationship better by spending time by themselves. That campfire, after all, is the fire of the gods which symbolizes knowledge and consciousness. It is possible for time alone together to be a special time, a celebration of the reality that beneath the hustle and bustle of everyday activity lies that quiet unity of experience, hands warmed by a cup of coffee or tea, the fire warming faces, the day full of possibilities.

Later that night, the full moon illumined the same view.

Lake Darling State Park provides a spectacular view of the lake right from the campground. My wife and I have camped there together only once before, since the cellphone signal is practically non-existent, which means my wife can't work online from camp. However, we decided this time to spend a weekend together and to not worry about the work. There is a phrase I just ran across that applies: "escaping default life." We have our daily routines, our habitual behavior, yet we don't want to live our lives on "automatic." the hours and days drifting past without our even noticing. My relationship with my wife and my relationship with nature hold special status in my life. The only word I can think to describe that status is "sacred." A true experience of the sacred can never be taken for granted; it cannot become blasé. We put our cellphones away, held hands, and walked along the lake, warmed by the late fall sun and serenaded by trumpeting geese. I don't know if that's romantic, but I do know that it's impossible to sleepwalk through the day while surrounded by garrulous geese!

It's impossible for a couple to camp in a tiny trailer and to not experience a real sense of closeness--be that positive or negative. Tiny trailer camping, practically be definition, is the experience of sharing--or invading--one another's space. Fortunately for my wife and me, our experience with tiny trailer camping has been one of graciously sharing one another's space. Our weekend of sharing began with my backing into our space on the first try with Sandy guiding me. Go, team! . . . because rumor has it that this activity can be a challenge to happy couple relations. Maybe tiny trailer backing is easier, even though the short turning radius makes the backing quick and quirky.

Clear skies at late fall means freezing temperatures

For off-season camping in Iowa state parks, the water and electric remains on, but the shower and flush restroom facilities are closed due to freezing temperatures. (The dump station is available, but we didn't need it, of course.) There are two pit toilets for the campground/cabin area; we also brought our dry portable toilet to see how that works.

We immediately set up by plugging in our oil, electric heater for the camper. Having a great view of the lake, we were looking forward to sharing the campfire together, now that the weather was cold enough to justify a fire. We were essentially off the communication grid, although we could, at times, successfully push through a text or phone call with our signal booster if we were lucky. We hadn't realized how habituated we had become to checking our phones until we lost that option; then we embraced the moment, just enjoying the silence and one another's company. Our weekend boasted temperatures from 20-50, but we had brought clothes for the variety of weather.

Our family comes for a visit.

Our solitary weekend wasn't lonely, though. Certainly not! In addition to our quality time alone, Sandy and I were visited for an hour by grandkids and family. Swings, walking the dogs, climbing, and lots of happy sounds extended our sense of sharing and unity. After the kids left, we were also not alone--two more teardrops increased the campers to three. Imagine, only three campers in the entire park, and they were all tiny trailers! We discussed that with the other teardroppers, and the consensus was that since most tiny trailers don't have plumbing, it wasn't such a big change to camp in the cold weather. We're already used to no indoor facilities, and sleeping with the potatoes so they don't freeze isn't that big an accommodation, is it?

Across the bay, two teardrops arrive, this one a Silver Shadow

A home-built teardrop, both teardrops about a hundred yards from us

Activity arises out of stillness and silence. Physics tell us that the universe arises from the Unified Field, an unmanifest field of pure potentiality from which all existence springs, a field of energy and (I think) intelligence in the most abstract sense in that the order of creation implies intelligence. I think that's why camping can be rejuvenating; both physically and mentally we can refresh and remind ourselves of the order of things. For a couple, a weekend together can be an affirmation of that bond of unity. It's a time to slough off the distractions and to celebrate our common bonds, a time to experience something of the "perfect love and friendship [that reigns] through all eternity," as articulated in the Christian hymn "Blessed Be the Tie That Binds," or Bruce Springsteen's more scarred journey to love in "The Ties That Bind":
It's a long dark highway and a thin white line
Connecting, baby, your heart to mine
We're running now, but, darling, we will stand in time
To face the ties that bind
We don't hook up our campers and drive to nature. We are nature, as much a manifestation as the largest galaxy or the smallest flower. We are sojourners, all of us, and blessed are we who travel in unity, whether we be one, two, or many.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Single Mom, Classic Trailer--Perfect Fit

Classic trailers and Arizona tiny trailer camping
16-foot 1971 Aristocrat Lo-Liner

What better Christmas gift could a single mom and son who love to camp give themselves but a classic travel trailer? That's just what single mom Jarrett Ransom and Tanner, her son, gave themselves for Christmas in 2018, a 16-foot 1971 Aristocrat Lo-Liner travel trailer that they call "Little Miss Aster."

Tiny Trailer and Arizona camping
Happy owners of a classic single-axle travel trailer

"Merry Christmas to us!!!" Jarrett posted to Facebook on December 19, 2018. "We have upgraded from tent camping to a 16’ 1971 Aristocrat Lo-Liner trailer. We will do some refurbishing along the way, but she’s in good condition as is and can be used right away. In fact, we are sleeping in her tonight!!!"

Jarrett had always wanted to own a classic trailer because she "loves items with personality and character. I don’t find that too much in the newer models and builds. Sure, an Airstream would be nice, but I didn’t want to pay that $ at this time. I love canned hams and knew that I wanted something to fit the vintage title. Shastas, Scotties, etc."

The trailer was found on Craigslist after Jarrett overcame her longtime intimidation of towing and "learning how to maneuver the backing up of the rig. Thankfully, she's not big, but it's still new territory for me and a skill that I am consistently working to perfect." Jarrett tows her classic trailer with an Audi Q7 SUV, rated to pull 5,500 pounds, "so I barely feel Little Miss Aster behind me."

Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster
US Bureau of Land Management camping is a favorite destination

Jarrett grew up camping and is definitely a tent camper first and foremost. Then she moved to back-of-the-car camping when the weather was nasty or she "felt too lazy to set up a tent." Her Q7 has seats that lie completely flat, so it affords space for her and her son to sleep in the back. Living in Arizona, they can camp pretty much year round, especially if they aren’t too sensitive to cooler temperatures, although “cooler temps” can be relative. "Anything below 70 becomes long-sleeve weather for me now. During the summer months it is great to go up north and camp in the cooler temps. During the winter the lower part of the state offers some nice climates for winter desert camping."

Looking at only three trailers--all found on Craigslist--she finally went with one parked less than thirty miles from her home in Arizona. Jarrett enlisted Ben, a carpenter and "skoolie" owner, to go with her to inspect the trailers. Ben and his wife escape New England winters by parking in Jarrett's driveway. "He got on his hands and knees, lay on his back to look at the undercarriage, taught me to bounce around on the flooring inside and to look for weak spots, and for mold and rust."

Originally wanting a trailer with a toilet and shower, Jarrett finally settled on her Aristocrat. "It just spoke to me." She bought the trailer from a middle-aged man who was very focused on selling it "to someone or some family who would treat it right and make great memories in it."

"To this day," Jarrett says, "I have the seller’s phone number and share photos of our camping adventures with him. He loves seeing our excursions and the work I have done to Little Miss Aster. Ironically, he took her camping/hunting in the same area that my son and I frequent--so he knows to keep an eye out for her when he’s up there."

Now the renovation work began, and Jarrett's generosity of allowing Ben and his wife to winter on her driveway paid off.
"I was fortunate to have some amazing help--from a skoolie couple that I befriended off Instagram. Wild Drive Life (Meag and Ben) are a nomadic couple that were living in their skoolie [school bus converted to camper] that I followed for the longest time and are now family to my son and me. I offered them to park in my driveway while they escaped the New England winters this past winter and Ben, a carpenter by trade, was kind enough to help me inspect the trailer, and he did the majority of the work for me. It was kind of in lieu of calling my driveway home for a month and a half and also because he was itching to work on a project.  I cannot thank him and his handy skills enough. This would have been an undertaking that I am not sure I would have had as much done on her by now if it weren’t for him and the time he put into the trailer."
Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster

"Little Miss Aster" was camping and travel ready when Jarrett bought her from the previous owner, who "spent many hunting trips in her and even brought back two whole elk in her after one camping trip." The trailer was in "great working shape, but I did choose to make some cosmetic changes--for now it has been all inside changes. But I am looking to get her painted on the outside next."
"We started with ripping out the carpet--yeah, that’s right . . . it had CARPET. And after knowing the elk was in the trailer, I knew that the carpet had to go. We then removed the wood paneling. We knew there was some water damage (in the front right corner by the booth seating). Some paneling we could save and paint over, but most of it had to come out. I decided to put beadboard on the bottom of the dining booth area and the bottom of the walls around the inside of the trailer. (WARNING--painting beadboard is a nightmare!!!) The other walls were replaced with regular boards and painted white for a clean look on the inside. 
"I used contact paper to accent the back-storage area (where the bunk bed used to be) and will add more of that to the front cabinet area above the dining/eating area. The kitchen counters and the dining table counter are polyurethaned wood. The flooring is black hardwood (also found at Habitat Restore) for the clean black and white motif that I wanted. 
Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster
"The cushions have been covered thanks to my mom. (I do need to give a shout out to my mom for feeding the outdoor bug inside of me. I have fond memories of her and me camping together for my birthdays, having birthday camping parties at state parks and even camping with her once in high school during my spring break vacation--you rock, Mom!) I sent her the dimensions of the existing cushions, and she custom made an envelope, pocket-like slipcover for all of the cushions. Truth be told she still has the back-bed cushion and all of the curtains still yet to do. (No pressure, Mom, but I am waiting on ya!) 
"Ben also added a vent to the ceiling which I love because I can have the airflow come in or sucked out, and with the windows open, there is so much air circulation. No heating system, though, only body heat. I will add some solar panels to it so I can be off grid as much as possible. And other than the outside painting . . . she’s done."
Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster

Besides renovations, there have been upgrades or modifications. The original trailer slept four with a bunk bed, but the bunk has been converted to additional shelving storage, great for basket storage and containing items that may shift around when driving. The back bed is the traditional couch-like seating that converts to a bed that sleeps two. The front dining area converts to a twin bed, and one person can comfortably sleep there--"unless you're above 5'9"." The trailer has no toilet or shower bathroom, so Jarrett or Tanner will use a solar shower (water bladder) when necessary. Originally, they did plan for a compostable toilet in the trailer, inside the closet area, but the wheel well inside the closet space meant that wasn’t feasible. "I do have a portable camping toilet in the camper, but we rarely use it. We end up using the beautiful fields of the outdoors when nature calls."
"The kitchen is by far one of my favorite areas. It came with an old ice box, but I removed that and replaced it with a college style fridge that I picked up from Habitat Restore. I covered the face of the fridge with stainless steel contact paper to have a cleaner look. There is a 3-burner Magic Chef stove and oven combo--still in its original avocado green. With the two propane tanks I have hooked up at the front of the trailer, I can cook a pizza or bake some pies if I want to.
"The water tanks hold 40 gallons, so I am able to use the kitchen sink quite a bit to wash dishes, make sun tea, or fill up my solar shower/water bladder. I did replace the sink with a new black, hard plastic, full-sized sink with a standard faucet. It allows me to wash dishes easily with the deep basin. The countertop was also replaced. I ended up purchasing some boards and had them cut for the countertop and polyurethaned to bring out the natural beauty. It’s simple and sleek and also matches the new banquet table. Same wood, same finish and same consistency."
Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster

It didn't take much to make the classic trailer their own. "Adding the crisp white paint and new fabric and cushion covers, along with some personal photos, have made our trailer resemble us and our personalities more. The outdoor rug is also a nice added touch and provides some extra outdoor living space to do yoga, take a nap, or play a board game together."

Jarrett is more of a weekend warrior when it comes to camping. Of course, all single parents are warrior-advocates for their children, so we shouldn't be surprised at the "warrior" part of her self-definition. Neither should we be surprised at the fact that a working mom mostly camps on weekends.
"I work full-time as a nonprofit consultant, and my son is in the 4th grade. Therefore, our time is limited. We have taken her out twice--both completely off grid. We prefer primitive camping, and Arizona offers amazing BLM land. We have, however, had many 'staycation' adventures with Little Miss Aster--even in our own backyard. 
"The first night she came home to live with us, my son and I cooked dinner on the old avocado-green Magic Chef stove. It was a classic spaghetti dinner, but it was by far a memory I will always cherish, my favorite camping story so far. During dinner, my then 8-year old son looked up at me and proclaimed, 'Mom, this is my new happy place.' It was then that I knew I had just spent the best $1,500 in my entire life. I knew that this camper would provide us with memories abound, no matter where we parked her."
Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster
On a shared camping trip with parents

Jarret advises that new tiny trailer owners to have fun with it. "Play with colors and decoration. Use it in your backyard, too. Who said you had to take it out somewhere to enjoy it?"

The camping dreams for this mom and her son are "to adventure to more BLM land this summer," and ideally to Joshua Tree National Park and some other California national and state parks. "We may even go into Mexico to enjoy some Puerto Penasco oceanside camping."

Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster

Jarrett's tiny trailer dreams are just beginning. "The other day I found myself looking on Craigslist for a few more. I Airbnb my house during Spring Training (Arizona has some great baseball), and we will take the trailer out camping while our main house is rented with tourists coming to enjoy Arizona baseball." She also imagines buying another trailer, "maybe an Airstream, to permanently sit in my backyard as another rental opportunity."

"When my son graduates high school, I imagine I will live a more nomadic life and travel several months out of the year if not full-time." Jarrett's dreams are as big as the road is long, and right now--whether in her backyard or on local BLM land--she is living her dream with her son: single mom, classic trailer, perfect fit. Follow their classic trailer adventures on Instagram at little_miss_aster.

For more tiny trailer Owner Profiles, click on the link.

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(Note: As the content for Green Goddess Glamping evolves, sometimes content focus will dictate that articles will be posted on some Facebook groups and not others. Articles on Dutch oven cooking, portable toilets, or bicycle day rides, for instance, could find posts in different groups. The best way to ensure that you are receiving all articles is to subscribe to follow this blog by email notifications. And if you don't get a confirmation notice, be sure to check your spam box.)