Category: travel

minimizing the schlep: yet another camper van setup 

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 best boat is the one that is with you 

lifestyle, travel June 28, 2015

We woke up this morning, and after a leisurely breakfast, decided that we wanted to take the boys fishing. We have a baby and a toddler, which means that just getting to the grocery store can be challenging.  After everyone is dressed, fed, brushed, changed, and packed, it is almost time for another nap or meal.   The pull of the couch can be powerful for even those who aren’t responsible for tiny dictators with lots of accessories. So anything you can do to streamline and simplify getting out the door to go out of doors is invaluable.  I grew up paddling around mountain lakes on windsurfing boards, and the desire to get out on the water has been nagging at me all summer. We decided on the Advanced Elements Packlite Inflatable Kayak to get our family on the water.  We wanted something easy, something that could fit atleast one adult and one child, and something that we wouldn’t have to sell one of the kids for.  (Like an Alpackaraft , which I would love to have) This is kind of a tall order, but this boat is perfect. In fact, I think that I am now a fervent believer in pack rafts in general.  

We drove up to the lake, grilled up some hotdogs and inflated the boat with the foot pump advanced elements sells for it. (Just a couple of minutes). We could actually carry the baby and all of our picnic items, as well as the boat and life jackets in one trip.   That is four hands.  On the way home we discussed just packing up a backpack with the boat, fishing stuff, a couple of chairs, picnic blanket etc. and leaving it in the car for impromptu day trips. 

We wanted to avoid the crowds at the dock, so it was a bit of a walk to reach the shore. But it was no problem with this boat. My husband and I took turns paddling around with our elated toddler. So fun. The mountains, the water, the swans and ducks, the strain in your arms, the sound of the paddle dipping into the lack, the joy of an almost three year old. It would be no problem to load up two boats with a few picnic items and take small trips. (I believe our time to be more limited by the small passengers more than the boat).   So that’s that. I considered numerous water craft options (fantasized about portages in a gorgeous wooden canoe, looked into SUPs to relive my childhood, love the Orukayak but couldn’t afford it). This  wound up being the most affordable and it turns amount, most convenient way to get out there.  Not only do we not need to heave the thing onto our car, but we can fit it in my diaper bag. Apparently these boats are also serviceable on a mellow river run.   We may even go again tomorrow. And as I said, I want another. Yesterday.  Happy paddling and find a mountain lake and packraft as soon as you can.  

Update:  I love this boat. Took it on another day trip to Cabresto Lake- 4 miles up a steep switchback, was glad to not have anything on our roof. Once again, the shoreline wasn’t close to our car, so we hiked a ways to a nice private spot and paddled away. We will hit up every lake in the southern Rockies until the snow falls.  

 

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.

destination Ojo Caliente

travel May 9, 2015

I have been to the hot springs at Ojo Caliente (not far from Santa Fe, New Mexico) many times. They have changed much over the years but the different pools with different temperatures and minerals are lovely as always. When I was a child, the place consisted of some funky buildings and a series of pools separated by rock walls. People bathed nude together, man woman and child. The atmosphere was laid back and anything but pretentious. Since then it has burned down, been purchased and remodeled. It is landscaped, there are casitas and a restaurant and a yoga yurt and a gift shop. Though the old northern New Mexico funkiness is gone, the charm lent by the beauty of the surroundings and the essence of the soothing waters remains. The complex is nestled in a valley with cottonwoods and sandy bluffs overhead. There is hiking to be done here as well.

Camping is our preferred method of travel due to financial issues and a family love of the the out of doors, so I was excited to find campsites listed under accommodations on Ojo Caliente’s website. I pictured some cottonwood lined nook, perhaps a creek nearby. A day at the resort swimming and soaking sounded perfect, perhaps I could sneak a massage or a yoga class for Mother’s Day. The prices have gone up, but we decided to spring for a special treat.

At $40 a campsite, I figured the sites would be pretty nice. Our friends were going to meet us and the sites are supposed to accommodate two tents, so that took a little sting out of the cost. When we showed up with the boys in the evening, exhausted and ready to set up camp and go to bed, we found that it is very much an RV park. In fact, the “tent sites” are basically a parking lot with trees. We were tellingly, the only tent campers. And the sites are small. They won’t accommodate two cars and certainly not two tents.

Neighbors are very close by. I spent a good portion of the night in my tent not sleeping to the sounds of car doors and watching the shadows of people move across my tent as their bright lights illuminated my sleeping family. A car horn as they locked their car. Nice touch. Somebody appeared to have been watching TV or listening to the radio. Too close for my comfort. Again, the price.

Additionally, the ground is compacted and it was very difficult to drive stakes in, and difficult to pull them back out. I am now shopping for new tent stakes as mantid ours are now bent.

I have nothing against RV parks, I just choose not to stay in them because, you know, I don’t have an RV. So I think a little honesty on the part of Ojo Caliente as to what this ‘tent site’ actually is, would have been appreciated. $40 for a parking spot. This is all a shame, because the area really is stunning and there could be beautiful campsites if the resort had chosen quality over quantity.

On the upside, the sites have electricity and water. But we camp assuming these things are not available anyway. There is a bathroom available that I did not visit and pretty clean porta potties. Each site also has a nice picnic table.

In the mid May morning of our visit, the temperature was just below 40 degrees and we got a little rain during the night. We were up early before the rest of the lot, so our breakfast and coffee was pleasantly quiet. Just birds and the occasional breeze in the trees overhead. New Mexico after ang moisture is always lovely, and thus was no exception. However, once I was in the tent while the little one took his morning nap, the hubbub of sliding doors and the like could be heard amongst the quiet morning voices of my neighbors.

In the end, we got hailed out of our site and left. By then it was freezing outside and I was irritated that the $32 entrance to the pools didn’t get you more than an unreasonably small towel and that a stay at the RV park didn’t get you a discount to the pools. The place is not as I remembered it and the bottom line seems to have edged out concerns for guests’ overall experience. It is less original than it used to be, and is more like a resort you may expect to find anywhere. The staff though, was friendly and helpful. It is definitely worth a day trip, and rent one of the houses available if money is no object. I would stay away from the campsites though, unless you are an RV owner or don’t mind camping in a parking lot. The picture below is the camp site at its best, green with the moisture and the neighbors carefully cropped out of view of the empty spot.

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camp coffee: biolite + aeropress

Gear, travel May 2, 2015

Camping is not just about being outside, it is about recapturing the joy in simplicity. To that end I present: coffee.

It is warm in your sleeping bag, chilly outside and the day is starting with sharp slants of sunlight through the shadows of trees on the tent. Nothing helps bring the sun up to warming heights like a good cup of coffee.

For us, my stepmother’s old aluminum percolator that I inherited has become a toy for our oldest child. We took our French press along last time and that is ok, it’s portable, easy to use, and produces decent coffee. But it is hard to clean and our glass carafe is just begging to be broken. So when our stove melted and we opted for a biolite replacement, we decided to try something new for coffee as well, an aeropress.

On the first go it took twenty minutes to get a cup of coffee. This involved leisurely setting up the stove on our porch, getting shoes, starting the fire, etc. It also took 5 extra minutes because my husband didn’t grind the coffee and get the aeropress set up until after I had the water heated up. I assume that we will get this time down and you can supposedly get water boiled in under 5 minutes with the biolite. I feel like 10 minutes or so is an acceptable wait for coffee.

A few thoughts on the setup:

1. The coffee is exceptionally smooth. The aeropress really reduces the acidity.

2. There is something very satisfying about using a wood fire to make your coffee. It is not for nothing that Prometheus was punished for eternity for stealing fire from the gods. Also, see above comment on recapturing joy in simplicity.

3. The whole setup is pretty compact. We have the biolite and the biolite kettle that you can store the stove inside. (Thanks again REI for your amazing return policy). The aeropress is tiny, way smaller than a French press or percolator.

4. The only fuel you need is some kindling. I really like the idea of not having to buy and pack fuel for the stove.

5. The biolite has been criticized as being merely a novelty item. But it is a very efficient rocket stove that streamlines a process that man has been using since Prometheus. I like it. I like simple good food and drink and I don’t need to be making soufflé while in the woods. We will see how the food preparation works and I will do an update.

6. The aeropress is quite affordable at $25. The biolite and accessories however is not. Ours was essentially free, but if you want a small stove that can quickly boil water and save on fuel it seems to be a good choice. Taking time to prepare food has its own rewards. The grill attachment seems to be well liked as well. If you just want to be able turn the stove on, throw a kettle on it do other things, look elsewhere.

All in all, I am very satisfied with our new coffee procurement system. I think I’ll even take the aeropress along to use in hotel rooms on an upcoming trip.

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Have a good morning.

Day two:

Getting a cup of coffee still takes a bit of time, but it is evolving into a family event. We ate breakfast outside this morning. Birds singing, apple tree blooming, fire crackling. My husband declared that he wished it could be a daily event, moments later we realized that it could.

Also, we ran out of cream, but the coffee is so smooth that I’m considering drinking it black for the first time since I was in college drinking black americanos from Seattle coffee shops.

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babies love tents

Gear, parenting, travel April 27, 2015

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Alright, we did it. We survived our first camping trip with a 7 month old baby and a two and a half year old toddler. Here are some thoughts on what worked and what didn’t work.

sleep

First and foremost, I was concerned about sleep (as are most parents of infants in general, most likely). Let me just say right off the bat that it was completely painless. In fact, the little one slept better than he had been at home recently and the toddler slept in until 7am (usually a 5:30, 6 am type of a guy). Both inspite of loud music from the neighboring camp until around 2am! Yes, I was the one who called the ranger. That’s just rude.

I fretted all winter over what type of baby bed system would be best. Pack n play, travel crib, cot, baby sleeping bag, bunting suit. I just couldn’t figure it out and didn’t want to experiment with hundreds of dollars of equipment. As it happens, we ended up using a leaky sleeping pad folded in half with a crib sheet and topped with a sheep skin. I just put that next to my sleeping pad and we slept together under my unzipped down bag. The baby had warm pajamas and a wool sleep sack and a hat. He was cozy and barely stirred. Amazing. All that worry for nothing.

The toddler slept in one of our full sized mummy sleeping bags on a full size pad. (A thin backpacking one was sufficient for his tiny self). We didn’t want to spend more money on kid sized stuff, and I can’t see a reason why. He slept great, slid around a little but we just scooted him right back into the pad. We also brought a battery powered sound machine from home to bring in a familiar element to bed time and just followed our routine as usual. The scary specter of sleepless nights in a tent vanished and I couldn’t be happier. I am buying a portable fan for naptime since it is during the hottest part of the day.

I also think think that having a large tent made a difference. There was plenty of room for us all to spread out in. It is canvas, so pretty warm for a huge tent, and I was grateful for it when the wind picked up because it was quite quiet. So there it is. Sleep.

eating and play

As for the rest of the trip, our tent has a large door that essentially makes the tent an open shaded living area for daytime. The baby enjoyed army crawling about in there throughout the day, no pack n play needed. He tended to want to eat the sand so I had to watch him when he got off the blankets/ out of the tent.

Instead of buying a portable highchair, we brought our baby back pack with stand and he chilled in there while we all sat in chairs. And as for the toddler, we use low to the ground camp chairs that also fit inside the tent. That way buying a special child sized chair isn’t necessary. He loves his camp chairs.

This was primitive camping, so no picnic table, we just used a small GSI folding table. This was also good at night time to keep in the tent to keep our diaper changing items organized. It is also perfect for dining with the low chairs.

Don’t forget an assortment of toys from home. I think I’ll be picking up a backpacking bocce ball set.

organization

Little kids require a lot of stuff and a lot of time and attention. Organization and streamlining packing makes this kind of venture so much easier to attempt. To that end, I’ll just go ahead and mention that a mountainsmith gear hauler is genius for families. We each get a ‘cube’ and it requires only one trip to load and unload for all four of us. It kept our tent organized, and the mesh bag that holds the folded up unit for storage doubled as a laundry bag. I keep trying to find an excuse to buy a second one, it is so useful.

Also, those huge blue bags from ikea that cost a couple of bucks each are super useful. One had all of our bedding and another held all of our furniture. I want one more for odds and ends like the solar shower (pressurized by foot pump by Nemo, and excellent for rinsing dishes and sandy feet) and the portable potty (never thought I’d get one, but they are awesome, ours is from cleanwaste.)

It is unrelated to children per se, but if you are looking to organize a camp kitchen, the Camp Chef Sherpa is great. Everything is in one place, it is compact, and no set up or take down. You can have pb and j made in a jiffy.

Finally, I will be picking up a sand mat for the front of the tent. It turns out that toddlers run in and out of tents all day and don’t brush off their feet or remove their shoes. Lots of shaking sand out of everything.

What else is there? Good clean family fun enjoying the great outdoors. It is such a great way to focus us on the basics and spend time as a family. Once your gear is put together, it is inexpensive as well. Happy camping.

car camping road tripping the mountains are calling christmas wish list

Gear, lifestyle, travel December 12, 2014

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Ok. This is my third and final car camping gear post. I promise. Maybe.

I have just realized that the last good trip I went on was three years ago, a combination of San Francisco (including running the marathon, ouch) and Alaska. It was our last hurrah before the kids came and we didn’t know it. It was a good one. Beer, friends, running, eating, travel and mountains. Some of my favorite things in no particular order. We covered a lot of ground, had zero itinerary, lots of time and were light on the luggage. Ahhh. I have been making a decent yearly trip for most of my adult life and this year as December closes in on me, I think I’m getting some major cabin fever. There was a time when I felt that 14 miles was the perfect distance for a run and that a trip didn’t count unless it lasted atleast a month. Now, I’m lucky if I can find 45 minutes to walk 1.5 miles with my double stroller up the hill by my house. My diaper bag is roughly the same size as the bag I lived out of for 6 months in Africa. The grass is growing tall under my feet. I am nursing a newborn constantly, buried in childrens’ naps and diapers, and have yet to figure out how to get my brood out the door within a reasonable time frame. I’m itching for an adventure. With this realization, my current and almost pathological obsession with camping and road trips makes some sense. At least that’s what I’m going with. In honor of those suffering from cabin fever and wander lust everywhere, here is my finalized wish list for the epic family road trip/ camping set up. Our current plan is to start with short jaunts to Colorado for beer festivals and go from there as our clan gains some finesse.IMG_3026.JPG

1. Vehicle: we just traded in the very fuel efficient station wagon for a Nissan Xterra. Not efficient. Not at all. It does however, have 4wd and we do live in the mountains where there is (hopefully for the ski season) plenty of snow. It is also very offroad capable, came with a tow package, and holds both our car seats and our legs comfortably. It also has a rubber cargo area that will contain our muddy dogs beautifully. This is our ticket to freedom. And yes, we looked at more efficient crossovers, but most of the fibers of my being resisted such a practical mom choice. I wanted a car that I can drive up the side of a mountain.
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*** update, Xterra was too small and too thirsty. Traded it in for a Toyota Siena minivan. Amazing. Never driving anything else on road or camping trips.

2. Sleeping: this has been the biggest challenge because it is the most expensive and biggest commitment. And for a lifelong insomniac like myself, the most important. I’ve got it narrowed down-ish.

Least expensive: the good old fashioned tent. Coleman has some good cheap quick set up ones. Kelty has some neat inflatable camping palaces.

Pros- affordable, roomy. Cons- more set up, more restrictive in terms of where you can sleep. (We’d love to be able to park in a friend’s driveway and sleep in our car).

Middle road: Cartop tent, ranging from $1500-$3500 (for the size we would like). Pros- comfortable, quick setup, doesn’t take up cargo room. Cons- expensive, smaller, drag on fuel efficiency, and you have to schlep small children up and down a ladder and not let them fall out.

In my dreams: a teardrop (Camp Inn, Little Guy) or other compact, lightweight camper trailer like the Cricket or Sylvan Go. Pros- easy, just hitch and go. They carry your gear. Home on wheels. Cons- expensive. We probably should not spend our children’s college fund on this. The Sylvan and the teardrops start around 8k, and you can go as high as you want from there. These also have the added benefit of including kitchens or dining areas, shaving more time off set up and take down as well as a little savings on gear.

Last post, I had settled on the behemoth Tepui Kukenam XL. I’ve since decided that it is too heavy and make our already thirsty xterra even thirstier. I have finally decided on the Cascadia Mount Hood tent out of the following:

A. James Baroud Nomad 160: 62×86, 95lbs, nice windows, looks airy on the inside, 30 seconds to set up. $2,199.95

B. Cascadia Mount Hood: 72×96, 140lbs, $1,495. A few minutes to set up.

C. James Baroud Grand XXL: 63.75x 89, weight unknown but hard shell so probably not much. Opens in 5 seconds. Fan and led lighting as well as exterior cargo bag. $3,510.95

D. Autohome Maggiolina Airland Lg:63×85, 150 lbs. Hard shell opens with crank in a few seconds. $3,199.00

E. Tepui Kukenam XL: 76×98, 205lbs, $1,925. Huge. Rugged. Would work well on a trailer if we could afford that.

The hard shells are really nice with quick set up but they are smaller and more expensive. The middle road seems to be the nomad which is also smaller with a quick set up, but $1k+ cheaper than the hard shells. This one is also the lightest at less than 100 lbs. Then, there is the large, economical and slightly more involved set up of the Cascadia mount hood.

Al we will need to complete our sleeping set up will be a couple of sleeping bags for the boys and some pillows for all of us from Sierra Designs.

3. Eating: we have a back packing set up from GSI Outdoors. I really like it, efficient and useful and stores nice and small. I think we will go with another more expansive GSI system for car camping. They also sell nice classic enamelware table settings,
Volcano three fuel grill for cooking and aeropress for coffee.

Also, you need a place to store it, so the Camp Chef Camp Sherpa comes in at $100 to store and serve as a table for the stove.

A collapsible sink or two from from Sea to Summit, coupled with a water bag for washing dishes and toiletries.

GSI macro table and helinox chairs for dining

Hydroflask insulated growler. Beer festivals.

Yeti cooler- doubles as bear vault

4. Power
Goal zero generator kit to power lights, phones/tablets, and cooler.

5. Misc.
Nemo pressurized solar shower

Small porta potty and pop up tent seems like it might be nice for late nights and showers. Never used one.

Books! Books. And more books with maps.

The gear without the tent adds up to a little over a grand, with my husband’s discount through his winter job at a ski/outdoor shop. By my estimate, we can be fully mobile with our dream gear for around $2,800. That can be shaved down considerably if we make do with things like a normal cooler, our backpacking stove and dishes, no table, no solar power etc. In any event, that is a budget I can work with. Bye bye airfare, cramped hotel rooms, and terrible road food. Hello national parks and lots of bathroom breaks for the kids. In the meantime, it looks like ski season has started:

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