Being There 2.0

This is all Marty's fault.
   Pat Cross

My wife and I are relative newcomers to camping. With borrowed equipment, and in a beautiful place, we had great fun on our first tent outing, as described in my September, 2011 article, “Being There”. That trip resulted in several “keeper” pictures. Since then we've used our own tent and camping gear as much as we could through the summers, and into the fringe seasons when weather can offer additional challenges. Pat enjoys it all, and constantly looks forward to our next trip. I see camping as a means to an end; it puts me closer to locations I want to photograph, making it easier to be in the right place for sunrise and sunset light, the golden hour. But I too enjoy the camping experience, and it's allowed us to be in some places we'd otherwise never have seen.

Several years ago, prior even to our first tent-camping experience, Pat saw, on the cover of a magazine, a teardrop camper. These are tiny trailers with a kitchen and a bed and little else, so small and light it could be pulled behind the kinds of smaller vehicles we choose to drive. It was love at first sight. She researched these little campers, learned all about them; she soon decided it's what we needed. Although generally happy with our tent camping, there were days, in driving rain or brutal wind (or both), when I wished for a more solid shelter. Besides, I'd never get in the way of Pat's fun. She clearly enjoyed learning about these little trailers, how they're outfitted, how people customize them, the crazy places they get to with them. Sometimes wanting a thing is half the fun. It'd be fair to say the search became something of an obsession.

Little Guy

Teardrop campers appeared after World War II. Home-made using surplus materials from the war, the small trailers became popular very quickly. Now commercially made, these campers come in a variety of sizes and can be as basic or fancy as one wants to make them. You can read about the history, available models, and customizing options on the Little Guy site.

Our usual drive to Glacier National Park takes us past a small church with a large lawn. Along the edge of this, in an unmowed weedy area, sits an aging teardrop camper. It's a bit shabby looking, has a few scrapes and dings, and appears to have settled into the ground. Clearly the thing hasn't moved or been used in years. Pat comments every time we drive by: I wonder if they'd sell it, I wonder how bad its condition might be, I wonder if it's ever used anymore, I wonder if we could restore it. Wonderment abounds. One day we stopped on the road, noted the name of the church. A little search effort via the Web led Pat to a phone number, and a conversation with the church's pastor. Nope, the owner's not interested in selling, end of conversation. It's now several years later, and the little camper still sits forlornly among the weeds, looking lonely and in need of some TLC.

Pat continued searching. In April of 2013 we stopped at a massive RV and marine dealer in Missoula. They had one of these small campers on their lot; we got a show-and-tell. Pat got a little more excited (as did I) at the prospect of using one of these, but as often happens, a year of other activities occupied us, and thoughts of little campers moved to the back of the mind.

What're Friends For?

A few weeks ago (late April, 2014) friend Marty called. He'd seen a small camper for sale in a parking lot a few miles from our home. Knowing Pat's interest, and Marty being the person he is, he stopped for a conversation with the trailer's owner. He decided the camper was in excellent condition and offered at a reasonable price. He called Pat from the spot to provide the owner's phone number, which Pat called immediately. The woman said someone had just stopped to look at the camper, but she'd call back when they were finished. And she did, to say that the trailer had sold. Being a pop-up type camper, which has soft sides, it would be unsuitable for camping in bear country, where we often are. With a tent, or any soft-side camper, one must store all food items in a vehicle, a steel “bear box”, or suspended above ground in the proper way. But with hard-side campers that's not required; food can be safely (and legally) stored within. Hard-side is what we wanted.

But the exchange with Marty, and with the camper's seller, reignited the desire in Pat, sending her back to her iPad and more beating around the Web.

PC (Personal Camper)

Pat and the Little Guy camper.

Pat preparing dinner in the Little Guy, at Apgar campground in Glacier National Park.

Pat's browsing took her to the site of the same RV/Marine dealer we'd visited a year earlier. They had a Little Guy Five Wide on their lot, a year old, gently used, etc. Pat arranged to see it, and a few days later we made the drive to Missoula. I awoke that morning knowing we'd buy the thing, and after looking it over, asking some questions, and thinking about it none too critically, that's just what we did. A week later, while we hiked the “M” trail, the car got outfitted with a hitch and wiring, and we then brought the Little Guy home. Our 2010 Toyota RAV 4, with its 269-horsepower V6, pulls the trailer just fine, even up the long mountain inclines we typically encounter on our travels. The trailer tucks in nicely behind the car, but there's no free lunch; we see an appreciable hit to fuel mileage.

The Little Guy and it's tow vehicle.

The Little Guy and it's tow vehicle, at Apgar campground.

So far we've given the camper a two-night shake-down cruise to the Apgar Campground in Glacier National Park. Being early in the season, we shared the campground with very few others, making it peaceful and quiet. We had a couple of lovely dinners, and slept well, although we awoke to cold mornings. The bed is large and comfortable, and off the ground. We learned a thing or two, but there were no surprises. It's really nice to stand upright at the two-burner stove when cooking, rather than bending over a campfire. A sink with running water, thanks to the camper's small fresh-water tank and pump, feels like a luxury.

Since returning home from that trip we've made some changes to the kitchen layout, added a spare tire, removed the roof rack for which we have little use at present, and made better use of the available storage in the camper. We've also added window shades for a bit more privacy. I expect these kinds of little tweaks will continue for a while.

Our first longer outing, starting about June 1, will be to Yellowstone for a week, or until we decide to come home. In our thirty-plus trips to the park we've not spent much time around the Lake District (Yellowstone Lake), so we'll spend our first couple of nights there before moving to more familiar territory.

Dawn at Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.

Glacier's Lake McDonald, not far from our camp site, just after 6:00 on a May morning.

The fun is just beginning! Thanks very much, Marty, for the loan of the tent back in 2011, for all the good advice, and for that phone call a few weeks ago. This really is all your fault!

May, 2014

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