Category: Camping

minimizing the schlep: yet another camper van setupĀ 

Camping, travel July 6, 2015

  
My entire approach to outfitting the family for adventures can be expressed by the mantra “minimizing the schlep”.  In line with that, we celebrated the 4th of July by finally trying to put together the bed/storage platform for the van. The end goal is to have two sleep in the van and two sleep on top in a tent for an easy sleep set up for long road trips.  Many google searches, build threads, trips to the hardware store, and minor marital squabbles later, we have come up with a system that I think will meet our needs. They are:

1.  This is a daily driver and we have two kids in car seats, so the bed has to allow for that and must be easily removable. 

2.  We don’t want to have to remove the car seats to set up the bed. 

3.  Must allow for easy access to gear. 

4. Must be something I can put in the van myself (with a baby and a toddler “assisting”) because I often pack the car for camping trips while my the man is at work. 

5.  We wanted something modular, so we can keep some of our gear organized in the van for quick day trips without having to pack. (Raft, fishing gear, small grill, etc). 

6.  Minimal carpentry because ain’t nobody with two small children got time for that. 

It is not sophisticated, but after mulling over many alternatives, we decided to err on the side of extreme simplicity. 

We bought three pre-glued panels of aspen (more expensive than plywood, but also more attractive and less formaldehyde); and a bunch of 1/2 “x 12” threaded plumbing nipples and floor flanges (can be steel or pvc); and rubber caps.  The flanges are screwed into the panels and this enables us to have removeable legs for easy stacking for transport.   

Now we can use one as just a shelf for the cargo area for day to day use, and throw the two remaining hinged together panels, which form a 48×48″ square, in the van when we are ready for or a trip. We are going to attach the panels with slide bolts on the edges to make a sturdy platform.  This is also beautiful because the single panel is the perfect table height for our low camping chairs if removed from the van. If it stays in the van, it provides a surface at a convenient height for cooking or changing diapers. (Not at the same time)  

These feet belong to a guy who is 6’1″.   

***update:

We spent a couple of days camping this weekend and our setup performed beautifully. Our companions admired our organization and I slept like a baby with the baby inside the van. (Inspite of a bunch of drunk archers roaming the campsite for an archery convention). Double plus bonus for the modular set up because we had an extra unexpected passenger on the way home. I unscrewed the legs off the center panel and back panels and stacked the remaining panel on top of those two. This enabled me to pull up the single stow and go seat, store something in the newly opened up cargo space, and then put my shelving on top of that, retaining the organization afforded by the shelving while seating my third row passenger comfortably enough for him to take a long nap on the way home. 

destination cabresto lake, nm

Camping, travel July 6, 2015

There is so little information out there about destinations in northern New Mexico, so I am going to try to do my part and write up our experiences in these ‘destination’ posts. 

Cabresto lake is a beautiful mountain lake at the end of a 2 mile switchback road that sometimes resembles a riverbed.   If you head into Questa on the way to Red River, there is a clearly marked sign for the turn off to Cabresto.  This road takes you through a residential neighborhood and onto a mountain dirt road for a few miles until the again clearly marked turn off to the climb to the lake.  Incidentally, if you ignore the turn to Cabresto and keep going there are some nice campsites along the river on the left.  

 Further along, there is a turn off to a pretty intense drive to Red River on another one -lane switchback that climbs up and up for breathtaking views and rough going for some vehicles.  

Back to the lake. Our awd minivan handled the road to Cabresto fine but I was relieved when we were done because the engine did not love it and it was slow going.   There was an old Honda sedan at the top amongst the jeeps and huge trucks, so patience and careful driving should get most vehicles up the road just fine with good road conditions.   We were however, the only minivan drivers.  I am missing the xterra pro4x right now. 

Once at the top, there are two or three tent sites near the road and parking lot- not secluded enough for our tastes, so we went back down to find a spot after visiting the lake. But the views are glorious. The parking lot features a single porta potty and a couple of picnic tables.  You have to walk down to the lake shore and the sides are pretty sloped. This is great unless you have a busily crawling 10 month old with limited balance!  We had fun anyway because the lake is clear and beautiful.  

 There were a lot of people fishing, mostly near the dam and there was plenty of tree lined shore for us to find our own spot. The boy and I paddled to the far side of the lake enjoying the lake as the only watercraft.   There is a trail that goes up to another lake I believe, but I’ll have to wait until the boys are older to experiment with that.  We might try to do an overnight sometime mid-week to avoid the surprising crowds, but all in all it was a lovely adventure and definitely worth the trip. The scenery along the enchanted circle, is unsurprisingly beautiful and getting that high up into the mountain air is always rewarding. 

tenkara fly fishing

Camping, lifestyle, travel July 2, 2015

  My husband grew up fishing in the many lakes of Michigan and I have enjoyed it here and there throughout my life, but neither of us have ever really fly fished and we are basically clueless. I did read ‘A River Runs Through It’ at some point and developed a long lingering desire to fly fish.   The romance, the meditation, the skill, and the trout. With our outdoor adventures often involving lakes and streamsit seems a natural endeavor to take on. However like so many other outdoor activities, fly fishing seems particularly burdened by the need for expensive gear and training.   
I recently stumbled across Tenkara fly fishing,  which is simply the traditional Japanese style.  Like many other traditional Japanese things it is minimal from a gear standpoint. You have a rod, a line, a fly.  It is also apparently ideal for fishing small mountain streams, much like those we have in great abundance within 20 miles in any direction of our home. I have been reading Tenkara: Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing and while we have yet to catch a trout, we have had fun messing around with casting in the rivers and streams we come across.  The simplicity of the set up means that (like our sweet packraft), our fishing gear just stays in the van and is ready to pull out at a moment’s notice or a riverside rest stop.  The spare set up also means that the financial investment is relatively small, from what I can tell, you can have a reasonable set up for less than $100.  We went for the Wetfly Tenkara Package when it went on sale on BackCountry.com, and are so far pleased because it has everything we need. 

I am thoroughly enjoying the book. It is sprinkled with quotes from the likes of Mark Twain and Thoreau and uses appropriately spare prose.  Underlyinb the instruction is a gentle reverence for the spiritual gains of spending time out doors, and I am learning the basics of casting, fly choice, where to look for fish and other such details.  You don’t have to “know what you are doing” to enjoy something and the learning process can start almost anywhere as long as you have the desire and the time.  Things like fly fishing can be intimidating (to me anyway) because of the knowledge and skill possessed by experts, but like everything else, you have to start somewhere.  When I was a prosecutor right out of law school,  I often squared off against men who had been practicing law as long as I had been alive, I always had to remind myself that everyone has to start somewhere and that my inexperience was just that.  This type of fishing offers an elegant and simple starting point for the inexperienced.   So far Tenkara has really added to our enjoyment of the outdoors, and I’m sure our experience will really deepen if we ever actually hook a fish.  As for now my three year son thinks holding the rod from the river bank is about the best thing next to ice cream. 

the poor man’s (kind of) vanagon

Camping, parenting, travel May 15, 2015

The Euro Van is the most recent incarnation of the Westfalia (available in the U.S. atleast, there is a cruelly named ‘California’ available in Europe). And they are sweet. They represent freedom. They capture the spirit of the adventurous American, our grand National Parks, and long highways. You can picture one adorned with surfboards and bicycles and parked on a beach, I’m sure of it. If not, see Pinterest. My stepmother still speaks wistfully about the Westfalia she had when her boys were young, her eyes lose focus as they follow memories of rising early and driving off down empty roads to new adventures. She also remembers it as her mobile office, a private retreat reserved for her dissertation away from the hubbub of motherhood. The only problem with Westfalias is that they are old, some show their age better than others, and they are expensive because of the demand. She also tells me that they’ll break your heart when they break down as hers inevitably would. Eurovans went out of production more recently, and are in better shape but that comes with a price. Repairs can be costly, and for my family atleast, having a vehicle (expensive or not) expressly dedicated to camping is out of our budget. We are trying to make do as is with one family car and one work truck. There has to be another way.

And there is I think.

We went for it and bought a Toyota Sienna minivan. It is not hip like a Westfalia. Understatement, I know. It is reasonably fuel efficient, has all wheel drive, and has a spacious interior. As a daily driver with camper tendencies, is actually affordable. Ever since we got it I have been busy trying to transform it into my version of a camper van for some epic road trips that I have planned. We do face the issue of having two small children and therefore cannot remove all the seats (plus it being a daily driver is what makes it affordable). Additionally, we need to keep enough room to have two huge ass car seats as well as enough sleeping space for 4 people. I also must have the pull over and be asleep in minutes effect of the euro van/ Westfalia. No pitching tents. No leveling trailers, just sleep. So, while my plan isn’t exactly revolutionary, it is precise and I think I’ve worked out all of the details. Here they are:

Priority: ready made bedding for four and easy food prep.

Need:

1xToyota Sienna, 2011 and up has sliding captains seats which is crucial to my plan of keeping our car seats latched in at night. (I also considered the Chevy Astro, but didn’t find a suitable one in our area, consequently I am unsure as to how the measurements break down.)
***you may be questioning the expense of a relatively new Sienna vs. a Westfalia, but think of this: gas mileage, dependability, comfort of interior for long distances of travel (the Sienna seats are spacious and comfortable, the captains chairs even have retractable foot rests), AWD, and the fact that a Sienna is a daily driver. Also, the beds on this set up are more roomy than those in the Westfalia.

1 cooler

1 Camp Chef Sherpa containing camp kitchen supplies (including small camp stove)

1 Nemo Helio camp shower, and some sort of sink vessel (we have the fold up backpacking type). The Helio provides pressurized warm water. I will be writing a separate review of it in a camp kitchen post, because it is awesome.

1 roof top tent (James Baroud or Autohome due to fastest set up) I like the James Baroud Horizon as written up here by expedition portal. It is light, low profile, pretty large, and less expensive than the other quick set up tents. They are available on adventure-ready.com

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It would be awesome to have a hitch mounted stow away cargo rack to hold the camp chef Sherpa and cooler (they fit perfectly, I measured) for an easy access kitchen and making room for the bedding the van. But, that may come in a couple of seasons. In the meantime we will move the Sherpa and cooler to front seat for nights. Also, you may want to reserve the hitch mount for a bike rack.

So, roof top tent goes on top of course with bedding. The captain seats remain in the car with the car seats. When they are pushed forward as far as they go, you have a full 72 inches in the back for sleeping (with bench seat folded down, obviously). The back holds one partially inflated sleeping pad and one cot already assembled (because that’s what we have, but a folded futon could work too) and bedding, folded in half, as well as the cooler, Sherpa, the water, our clothes and the toilet. Pull over, pop roof top tent, slide seats forward, flatten out the van bedding, throw the cooking stuff in the front seat, and sleep.
Here is the bedding, assembled for travel and with ample room for the rest of our gear as well as the full extension of leg room for passenger seating.

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Here is all the bedding and tent that we will no longer need to pack:

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Here is the assembled bed, after a couple of minutes setup.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetThe cot fits my 6’1” husband comfortably, and the slightly folded sleeping mat will be perfect for one of the boys for many years to come. Without car seats, this could comfortably accommodate two adults around 6 feet.

All we need now is the roof top tent and a road map.