My Heart is a Big Red Dot

February 24th, 2014

We have met a lot of colorful people and characters since we’ve been on the road. Often, I remember them much more vividly than the places. During a conversation about quilting tonight, I was brought back to one of our early adventures in the camper. It was the one where we tried our hand at “stealth boondocking” for the first time. I think it was this day.

Being in central FL, we decided to head to the beach and stay the night in a nearby neighborhood. We drove around for a couple of hours and never found a place we felt comfortable staying overnight. Finally, and way late a night, we just pulled into a Lowes parking lot. I heard every car that drove by that night. We expected to be rousted at any minute. Thankfully, it never happened.

All that is still in my mind somewhere, but what really stuck out the most was our first real interaction with another traveler. While having the hardest time trying to maneuver the camper in the extremely full, tiny beach parking lot, we saw a woman with a trailer so small it was hard to believe she could lay down in it. On it’s side, in plastic roadside marquee letters, it read “My Heart is a Big Red Dot”.

The woman, who was a bit forward for this conservative southern girl, beckoned us and told us of her travels. She said that, as she goes from place to place, she helps people deal with the grief of a passed loved one by helping them make a quilt from said loved one’s clothing. I must admit, I found it odd.

Her camper was dubbed “The Mantra Trailer”. She asked us what our mantras were. She told us that she had a recording studio inside of the trailer where she records people speaking their mantras. She invited us in. We declined. Apparently we weren’t the only ones. Later I found her blog and, it seems that she hadn’t had much luck with getting Floridians to open up and come inside.

I think back to that day and who I was. The road has really changed my perception of things and people.

mantratrailer


This image is from her blog. You can see the cab over of our camper behind her trailer. Her trailer had a recent someone’s mantra on it.

Lay back and groove…

May 11th, 2009

…on a rainy day.

I guess we’re starting to see the ‘real’ Washington weather. Our first week in the state was pretty dry, but the past week has been rather damp or perhaps moist. In fact, you could say it has been downright soggy.

Last Sunday, we headed towards Mt. Rainier National Park from the north side. The park is still closed, but there is a lot of forestry land around the park which allows dispersed camping. We spotted at least one exceptionally nice boondocking spot on the main road into the park, but as it was a fairly well traveled road, any and all turnouts were occupied. Near the park entrance, we crossed a rather long one lane bridge across the Carbon River.

Immediately, the road turned to gravel and around the first bend, the road was constricted by a fallen tree and a couple of large boulders on the opposite side. This particular section of road was more mud, boulders and tree roots than gravel. We had around 18 inches of clearance between the jacks and the obstacles. Not too bad, but the angle of attack required getting rather close to the edge of the road. Normally, this wouldn’t be a large concern, but we’d already seen the edge of a couple roads washed away that morning.

With Jenn’s help in the form of ambiguous hand signals (does anyone know what two crooked fingers forming a ‘U’ means?), we managed to get through the constriction without any new dings or scratches. Not too far up the road, we found a somewhat obscured pullout that would be our home for the next week.

I think we had one sunny day, on Monday, followed by four rainy ones. We then figured we might as well stick around through the weekend since Washingtonians seem to enjoy camping and grabbed all the good spots on the weekends. Anyway, it seemed like a good idea to let that hairy bit of road dry out some as there was a drainage culvert right above it.

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Gila Cliff Dwellings

March 29th, 2009

Gila Cliff Dwellings, Gila NF

It’s actually been so long ago that when Jenn mentioned she was uploading the pictures from Gila National Forest, I had no idea what she was talking about! Obviously, this post is way overdue. About six weeks overdue actually.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings weren’t really on our way; in fact, I think you could say they aren’t on the way to anywhere, but we took a little detour to see them anyway. By little detour, I mean it was about fifty miles off our route. Did I mention that the last twenty-five or thirty miles were on some pretty hairy mountain roads? That leg alone took around two hours. The signs advised no vehicles over thirty feet! The grades were fairly steep; the turns were sharp and many.

However, it was a very pleasant ride as we weren’t in a hurry to get there and were planning on staying over in one of the many campsites along the way. And there were quite a few campsites. Dispersed camping and a number of actual campgrounds lined the route. Many, if not all, of the forestry campgrounds were free, but memory is a bit hazy. It was nice to see a bit of snow on the ground still, when temperatures were pushing eighty in the desert we’d been driving through just a bit earlier.

The cliff dwellings were quite interesting. They are built inside of natural sandstone caves and have walls built inside of them that are still standing today, despite time, weather and treasure hunters. We were lucky enough to show up just as the interpretive presentation began and had a guided tour through the dwellings. As usual, our America the Beautiful pass covered the cost of the tour, but it was a fairly small price in any event. Don’t quote me, but I think it was in the range of $5 per person. It’s a bit awe inspiring to realize that people have been using the same area for thousands of years and by the way, that’s their house right over there!

If you’re going anyway, by all means check out the displays at the visitor center as well as the nature display at the base of the cliff dwellings. Both are well worth a look. In addition, there are a few other dwellings in the area that are on a smaller scale. Ask the local volunteers and they’ll be glad to point you in the right direction.

Makeout Point!

March 25th, 2009

Makeout Point -  View from campsite in Tucson, AZ

You know that place where all the kids go in the movies and either a serial slasher shows up or someone gets pregnant? Ever wonder just where the heck it is? Apparently, it’s just northeast of Tucson, AZ in the Coronado National Forest.

We were passing through the area and decided we just couldn’t pass up checking out all of the giant saguaro growing in the area. We had planned to hit Saguaro National Park, but as we were coming in late in the afternoon, we decided to just make camp in the Coronado National Forest and hit Saguaro later. As it turns out, there wasn’t much need to go to Saguaro just to see the cacti. You couldn’t throw a rock in the national forest area without being convicted of damaging the endangered saguaro cacti. They were literally every twenty feet or so as far as you could see.

View of road to our campsite in Tucson, AZ.

By the time we finally got close to the top of the first mountain, we knew this was going to be a different camping experience. We passed dozens of cars coming down the road in the five miles or so before we found a nice campsite. We’re used to seeing maybe half a dozen cars over the course of a week in the national forests. As you can guess, we had people diving past our site all night long in everything from Cadillacs to dirt bikes. Still, it was worth it just to camp next to this sight!

With such a movie panorama spread out below, how could we resist? I mixed up a pitcher of fruit juice and ethanol and we climbed on top of the camper with a blanket to ward off the chill. It was a wonderful view and funny to watch people slow down to look at the nuts sitting on top of the camper.

We never did make it to the national park, but we put up with all the traffic and the shooting range just over the hilltop to hang onto the view for a few days.

Life in the back of a truck (part 3)

March 14th, 2009

This is part of an ongoing series on what it’s like to live in a truck camper fulltime. You may read other articles here:

  1. Part One – The fulltime lifestyle
  2. Part Two – Why a truck camper?
  3. Part Three – Weights & Dealing with them
  4. Part Four – Boondocking resource conservation

We still haven’t got the shiny pictures from Carlsbad uploaded, so I’ll go back to an old standby and bore you all with life in the back of a truck… again!

It’s a truck, you can carry anything, right?

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Weight is a big concern for most fulltimers, but I think it is a much higher priority for truck campers. At first glance, you might think a class C would be heavier than a truck camper, and you’d probably be right… at least until you add the truck. They’re on similar sized chassis, so why would you worry about weight so much more in a truck camper? If you stop and think about the construction differences, I think you’ll get a pretty good idea of what causes the problem.

Class C’s are built on a bare chassis as a stand alone unit. A truck camper is separate from the truck and still needs to maintain structural integrity. Additionally, it’s sitting on a truck that hasn’t been gutted by the manufacturer to remove unneccessary (for camping) features. A truck camper and truck combo has a fair bit of redundant construction compared to a class A/B/C RV. The camper has to hold itself together both on and off the truck, which is more than you would ask of a standalone RV.

But, it’s still way smaller than the giant 5th wheels and trailers you see people towing, right? Sure, but there’s a big difference in the way the weight is carried. Trailers put the bulk of the weight on their own axles, which is why trucks can tow so much more than they can haul. Trucks have all sorts of weight ratings including GVWR, GCWR, GAWR, and tire load ranges.

Confused yet? Ok, let’s see if we can make some sense of these ratings and which ones will matter to you.

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