The Happy Camper

Mer & Lucky Dog in Wyoming -- note the tarp because of a leak

We sold our camper this weekend. Although that is not the lifestyle change it appears to be, it is the first time in 13 years that we don’t have a camper. That warrants a little explanation and recollection of the thousands of miles we travelled with the camper on some great adventures, as recently as last week.

our first camperIn 1998, Lucky Dog adopted us. Soon after, we bought a camper that slid into the truck bed and popped up, with the top two feet canvas; part tiny cabin, part large tent. Our first trip to Water Canyon immediately revealed that a four cylinder Toyota truck could not carry the camper. Moreover, the small cab required Lucky to ride at the passenger’s feet.

By providence, Merri found a newer Toyota Tacoma at the same place we had bought the old truck two years earlier: Ideal Autos, owned by Rick Jackson, a very nice guy. The truck had an extended cab for Lucky and 6 cylinders. We added leaf springs and stiffer shocks and we were off. We drove 5,000 miles that first trip of 5 weeks, all the way to Hinton, Alberta. The experience was mostly wonderful.

Early on, we pulled into a campground in Montana. Nearby, two people struggled to set up a tent. It began to rain. We popped up in a minute and soon had bacon frying. The next morning, our poor neighbors threw their soaked tent into the trunk. I never missed tent camping or sleeping on the ground after that. Eventually, we had little need for campgrounds. Time and again, we drove to the end of a rugged road to camp.

somewhere west of MagdalenaEvery year, for 13 years, we loaded the camper and drove north. We drove to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming several times. We heard wolves howl near the Frank Church Wilderness. Mer followed a heron to the top of a mountain to discover a phenomenal view of the west side of the Grand Tetons, which we watched at sunset and sunrise (very cold). Another trip, I opened the camper door to find a moose standing 20 feet away. One summer, we drove to Washington state and Oregon, specifically for a CD-release concert by our favorite commercial musicians, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer (the CD: Drum-Hat-Buddha); we camped next to an urban park that night. [Dave Carter died suddenly months later. He was a fantastic lyric poet. We were so glad we got to see him then.] We camped some in Utah; poor Lucky nearly died in the heat at Hovenweap. Most of all, we camped in Colorado. Each year, we drove a little less and camped a little less, but we still got out several times a season.

somewhere west of MagdalenaI took our first camper to Chaco, where the wind promptly ripped the canvas side. I drove that camper to Springtime Campground, San Mateo Mountains, west of Socorro, for my 47th birthday, with my first friend, John Stewart. The truck died suddenly 47 miles south of Albuquerque. We set up chairs and sat beside the road, waiting for the tow truck. After a quick and minor repair, we resumed our trip, joining a dozen other great friends.

Merri enjoying the new camperFor my 50th, I drove that first camper to Resumidero, San Pedro Parks, north of Cuba, to meet many of the same folks. Driving up I-25, I heard a weird woosh as the truck suddenly slowed down. A passing driver with a horrified expression gestured frantically. I pulled over to find I had only latched one of 4 latches for the top and it had popped up, tearing the canvas worse than a Chaco wind had. Thankfully, the one latch held strong, and no one was killed by the blankets and sleeping bag that blew out and disappeared.

We fixed that camper and sold it cheap and bought a much nicer camper, which had a propane-powered fridge and lots of storage under the bed. That second camper kept us comfortable for five seasons.

On Stoner MesaSometimes, plans change as you are making them. That’s the way a lot of our trips developed: one day at a time. This year we bought a newer truck to replace that truck we had for 13 years (our 3rd truck from Rick Jackson). When it came time to ready that truck to carry the camper, we balked: did we really want to burden our new truck so soon? With the end of summer nearing, would we store the camper in the driveway as we have for 13 years – making it impossible to use the garage for the newer truck? Could we justify two trucks, and wouldn’t that just wear out the older truck? Suddenly, it made sense: sell the camper, sell the old truck, park the new truck in the garage, see what happens next camping season. Mer posted the camper on Craigslist and Karl responded within an hour. He had looked at many older campers in worse shape, costing more. Campers that fit smaller trucks are hard to come by. He was delighted to buy ours. A yard sale motivated us to clear out much of the garage. Now, we are selling the old truck on Craigslist. For the first time in 13 years, the rig I called Turtlehouse is gone.

Valley of Fires State Park
above: Valley of Fires State Park, near Carrizozo

above: Molly, Dave Mehlman, Chica, Luke, Merri, & Mark along Treasure Creek, Colorado, June 2011

On Stoner Mesa
above: on Stoner Mesa, July 2011

Mer relaxes with a cuppa tea
above: Mer relaxes with morning tea

Look for it -- on Beaver Lake
above: look for it; camped next to Beaver Lake, Cimarron, Colorado, July 2011

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