Hello again everyone, and welcome back to the now-intermittent version of this blog. Summer is flitting past us here in the Great Northwest, and between the crummy spring weather and a mid-August return to school for those so involved, we only had time for two short trips. Of course, both were to the wonderland that is Montana; one to the southwest, and one to the northwest. The southwest trip was just a weekend, and we were able to pack everything we needed with minimal fuss. We also learned a valuable lesson: sleeping bags must be very securely packed. Preferably inside the vehicle. Please don’t ask how we learned this.
The northern trip was to be a bit different. One week in Glacier National Park, with a friend along as well, for a total of six people in our ancient, undersized minivan. This called for some strategy. I had great plans to build a wooden cargo carrier for all our camping gear, and in fact did so. I cleverly repurposed a couple of wooden pallets:
into a sturdy and attractive package:
that was, sad to say, a bit too heavy for the van’s factory roof rack. Even before being laden with ice chest, tents, and other gear, I noticed the cheap plastic rack starting to give way. At first I started scheming ways to reinforce and repair it, but we were scheduled to leave the next day and there simply wasn’t time.
What to do, then, but pare down the cargo? Well, find new hiding places for things, that’s what. I tucked the two smallest tents under the rear seat, three folding camp chairs under the middle seat, and all the other loose gear into a small plastic bin. I went through my red Coleman chuck box…
and, with a few minor adjustments, got everything we would need for meals in there. I had already planned for this to fit behind the back seat, with the Coleman stove on top, and fit it did. Sleeping bags got stuffed in back (where they belong!), and I saw where I could make most of the rest fit within the space allotted for the factory roof rack.
There remained the question of the cooler. We were planning to bring our big Igloo 5-Day Super Cooler- on the roof. It wouldn’t fit in the new setup, and doesn’t actually fit anywhere in the minivan but on one of the passenger seats. Trouble was, we had a passenger! Remember that one of our friends was coming along on the trip, making a total of six people and their gear. Well, back to the drawing board…or the basement shed, where I found another vintage Coleman ice box I had been thinking of modifying. It was just a tad smaller than the Igloo, but enough to let it nestle alongside the middle seat of the van. Big enough to hold what we needed and a proven cold-holder from earlier this year, it was the final piece of the puzzle. I strapped our sleeping pads to the van’s bike rack; tied everything on the roof with good, stout rope in a very clever pattern; and we were ready to go.
Sadly enough, there seem to be no pictures of the fully-loaded Green Monster with this innovative, sleek setup. At any rate, all passengers reported good comfort and the van returned unusually good gas mileage- 23 mpg (9.775 km/l) over the trip, better than I’ve ever gotten with this vehicle. The van also went through less oil than ever on a trip this length, roughly a pint.
As the miles slipped easily by and we settled into some delightful campsites,
I had cause to reconsider my desire for a more elaborate camping setup. For years, I have been dreaming and scheming around the acquisition of a motor home, camper van, or some such contraption. But on this trip, when everything we needed (and then some!) fit neatly, if with some Tetris/origami finagling, into the van…and everyone was comfy…and we got good fuel mileage…and it was all just easier somehow…and as I watched the RV’ers wrangle their tank-pumping hoses, struggle into parking spots, and generally take up lots of real estate, often for a mere two people…it began to truly dawn on me how just enough of the right gear, well kept and packed, could be a liberating thing indeed. Next stop: backpacking!