Yes, I’m still basking in the reflected glow of moonlight on northern lake waters; still inhaling the subversive aromas of hot bacon and fresh coffee among whispering evergreens; still tossing and turning all night on a thin, inflatable mattress, yet waking early, refreshed and “annoyingly chipper.”
Yes, I’m still in camping mode; and though our early return to school (starting next week!)
may prevent our getting out again this season, the fire inside is well-kindled and should last until the next time. The off-season, should it begin now, provides plenty of opportunity not only to plan new adventures but also to prepare for them. Resealing tent seams; dehydrating food; cleaning and repairing equipment; all are ways to vicariously connect with the hobby.
Armchair travel (also known as reading) is another great means of gleaning advice, ideas and inspiration. I’ve noticed something, though, in my perusal of “how-to” books on camping. It seems that car camping is often treated as a “kitchen sink” enterprise, where you can just throw whatever strikes your fancy in the trunk and hit the road. Sorry, but I have to disagree. Especially these days when resources are at a premium, I’m increasingly of the opinion that a vehicle trip demands as careful a job of planning and packing as a backpacking expedition. I think it’s a rather useful analogy, so I’ll push it a little further.
As I understand it, the most important considerations in loading a backpack are overall weight, weight distribution, and convenience, i.e. having what you need most often be easy to access. Well, that’s easy enough; overloading a motor vehicle is going to have a negative effect on all aspects of its performance. It’s going to run slower and hotter, take longer to brake, and handle worse to boot. Oh, and fuel mileage will suffer, too. How to reduce weight? I started by accident, with an oversize wooden cargo box, and pared down from there. I borrowed two of the vertical support poles from our big screenhouse and used them in tandem with a tarp for a sun/rain shelter; brought only small flashlights for everyone, leaving my giant Mag-lite at home; kept the cookware, books, and games to a minimum; and, we only brought three days’ worth of food, planning for a resupply trip halfway through the week. I may have cut it a bit thin, though. We wound up wanting the bigger axe and needing more fuel for the camp stove and lantern, but we muddled through and learned a thing or two.
Weight distribution is a little tougher to analogize, but since one important aspect of a car’s performance is its aerodynamic profile, let’s have that stand in as a substitute. Having scaled back the overall mass of our gear, I was able to get by with only a few things on the roof: the two larger tents, the utility bin, a three-gallon picnic jug, two bags of clothing, and two tarps folded and stuffed under everything else. I strapped the sleeping pads to the rear bike rack, which seemed to have a net positive effect on the van’s performance. As I previously mentioned, the 23 mpg we got for the trip was the highest I’ve ever recorded for that vehicle. Put another way, we got 48 more miles per tank of fuel than before. That’s an important consideration when gas stations are as far apart as they are in places like rural Montana.
As for convenience, things worked pretty well. The kitchen box opens to the side, so access to dishes and such is easy when it’s stuffed in the back of the van. The ice chest with our food fit next to the middle passenger seat, very handy for snack distribution. Less-used items could get buried a little deeper, and they did. All in all, the packing and unpacking went very smoothly.
I also tried to keep my personal gear to a minimum, and did pretty well. I conceded in bringing a hardbound journal I found on a thrift-store run, as well as three knives, but those all turned out to be good calls. My clothing was minimal, for me anyway: one pair of nylon hiking shorts, one pair of nylon warm-up pants, two performance-wear (polyester) t-shirts, a fleece vest, a sweatshirt, a windbreaker, three pair each of socks and briefs, my cut-off sweatpants, a pair of cotton long underwear for sleeping, my brimmed hat for the sun, and a knit cap and wool gloves. Other than the sweatshirt, everything was suitable for the interesting weather of the northwest, but I wish I had packed my orange fleece pullover:
because it’s a) warmer, b) more damp-resistant and c) a better pillow. Next time, for sure.