When I found out that the kids were going to be off from school on April 19, I started checking the weather. Turns out that the weather was going to be absolutely gorgeous, although a tad bit cold, but we don't really care about how cold it is! The fact of the matter was that we are in the middle of a big data center move where I work, and I would be required to work nearly every weekend from here until Memorial Day, so this looked like a really good time to go camping and check out the new system we have been wanting to put into place for camping. I found a Roof Top Tent (RTT) from Odin Designs on Craigslist for $500! Officially I got it "for my birthday", but the reality is that was just an excuse to buy it. I've been looking for one for the right price with the right options, and usually that takes time... about a year and a half to be exact! I got it used, but the truth is that this one is barely used. The previous owner had it mounted on top of a small teardrop trailer but with insufficient mounting hardware, so this one ended up bouncing down the road after falling off the top. So, the bad news is that the cover had some road rash, but the good news is that it was repairable (at least temporarily) with good 'ol Gorilla Tape, and there was no damage to the tent inside, just the cover! The color and texture of the Gorilla tape match, and you can barely tell the difference between the PVC cover and the tape. It has stood up to 70+ MPH road wind, and has not yet peeled back. I started doing some research, and unfortunately Odin Designs is now out of business. Sad, but true, most every RTT out there is made by the same company in China with varying degrees of fabrics, options and quality. I can probably get a cover from another company that would fit, and I'll probably look into it at some point, but for now it is sealed and keeps the water out.
So with one weekend soon coming, we started planning our trip. No clue where we were going, but I gave the kids some choices based on the "Exploring Colorado's 42 State Parks" brochure that I picked up from the Springs branch of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) office. One of these choices was Eleven Mile State Park, and it was close enough to the house and other camping if we decided it wasn't adequate to our camping "needs" . We planned our meals out and the minimal amount of stuff that we would need take, but it always ends up being more than we expect! I tend to over pack with the intention to be as prepared as I can. When you are in the woods, you don't know what you will run up against. This trip was no different, I had a complete 50L backpack full of survival goodies "just in case"...
The plan was simple: Make a reservation, pack necessities, and go camping.
We have traveled by the entrance to the State Park for nearly two years, but have never visited. This time instead of going straight to the kids first and favorite camping spot, Iron City campground near St. Elmo, we hung a left at Lake George and proceeded down the dirt/gravel road to what would be the east side of the lake where the office is located. We go there after hours, but we had a state parks pass and a reservation, so we gleefully headed to our spot...which we discovered was on the other side of the lake! It took us about 20-30 minutes to get there due to having to head full north to go around. When we arrived, as usual in the off peak season, we were the only ones in the campground. The wind was blowing, and I don't like being exposed, but we dropped anchor anyway. I didn't do our normal setup because I was afraid that half of our gear would end up in the lake due to the wind and was afraid that our 20 year old camper wouldn't withhold the strain on the canvas. I didn't even drop the back stabilizer jacks, that's how certain I was that we would be moving the next day....
We had dinner (Chicken Fettucine Alfredo) boil and serve, and what an easy cleanup. Paper plates and the plastic went in the trash (it was WAY too windy for a fire), and used the hot water to wash the utensils. Done with it all in 20 mins! This new approach beats the heck out of trying to cook every meal from scratch, and the cleanup that entails. Simple is definitely better in this case. We want to enjoy the outdoors, not be stuck cleaning camp!
It was a little chilly during dinner, so I fired up the furnace in the camper to knock the chill off, and we settled into bed.
I didn't sleep very well, I never do on the first night, but I wasn't exhausted from it. Ironically, I was rather refreshed from the rest I was able to get. It's strange, but when we are camping I can drift in and out and still feel like I slept a solid 8 hours. The heater stayed lit all night this time, without the sputtering it did in New Mexico during Spring Break. I made the kids oatmeal (another version of the boil and serve mentality :-) ), but we don't have paper bowls. We have a set of four pretty decent plastic bowls that we keep around for other things like trail mix, cereal, etc. I still have two children that tent to be a complete klutz so the rigidity of the plastic bowls keeps them from spilling the contents. Washing them is easy, just boil enough water for the instant oats and to clean with, and it's a breeze. The kids wanted milk, but to my surprise, the milk and my "cold brew" once again was colder brew; both were frozen from being immediately adjacent to the salt water blocks we use to put in the cooler. I neglected to remember that "note to self" from the Spring break trip! Additionally, it was COLD. The frost on the cooler was thick; I've never seen frost like that before. It had to be because we were next to the lake.
I sent the kids off throughout the empty campground as I began reorganizing the camper. our HOA won't allow any campers in the driveway except for "immediate loading and unloading", and no maintenance can be performed on them either. I think the HOA needs something else to do as this interferes with my pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, but I digress....
There have been several items that have remain stored in cubby holes the that we either don't currently use, or haven't used since we started camping in it. Here lately I have been having the attitude that if it isn't used, then it goes. We have shed a LOT of tools, equipment, and extraneous other apparatus that we have NEVER used in the two years of camping. Things I thought we'd use, but in reality have never touched, need to go. The only "use" of these were to move that item out of the way to find something that we really did need! I'm still going through stuff and pulling it out of the camper or putting it in a space where I can access it easily and remove it when we get home. A couple of examples are, the cute little Ikea hand mixer I thought would be handy for mixing pancakes, or perhaps the "burger baskets" that we have never pulled out of their original hiding place. In theory, great. In reality, a waste of space. I pulled and collected a bin full of duplicate/extraneous kitchen type utensils that I will be removing from the camper and putting in the other bins for when we head out for those style outings. We have shelves at home that have bins that contain just the essentials for each type of camping: Camper, Tent Camping (1 and 2), and Backpacking. When we head out, we just grab the appropriate bin and load it in the truck. It always has the right stuff in it, because when we return to the house, we always reload the bins so that they are ready to go. The "Camper" bin holds what we would need when using the camper, "Tent Camping (1 & 2)" hold the things we would need when tent camping, like a stove, lanterns, propane tanks, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, pots/pans/dutch oven etc. Each bin has a label on the outside with the inventoried contents so that I know at a glance what is in it and don't have to go through each bin to see what's in it! Makes it easy to get gone in a hurry!
As I was going through the process of separating out all the extraneous items, Jesse blew into the camper and exclaimed, "DADDY, CLAIRE LOCKED HERSELF IN THE BATHROOM!" A temporary wave of panic on the run to the vault toilets was quickly squelched by a calm and cool voice from inside the vault toilet. She had used the little lift and slide latch to lock the door ("Because I'm a big girl and don't need help" she says), and now she couldn't reach it! I tried to coach her into how to unlock the lock. I was at a slight disadvantage as I didn't know what we were dealing because I hadn't see it, but there wasn't a lock on earth that was going to separate me from my little girl! I headed back to the truck to get my pry bar, but by the time I got back, Kaye had already slid a stick under the door, and coached little Claire right out of the jam she was in! I was so proud of both of the girls for remaining calm in that situation, and for working together to reach a happy ending, and a very happy Daddy.
After a short celebration of high fives and hugs, we headed back to the camper and I finished up my reorganization task. I also took the time to plan for the installation of more LED lighting. This round is a couple of 60" LED strips that are really designed for a truck bed, but meh, a light's a light. I plan on wiring them into the existing lighting to be controlled with the same on/off switch. This will allow us to be able to really see in the camper, with minimal draw on the battery when boondocking. With the reduced draw, I am hoping to be able to continue recharging the battery with the existing 13 watt solar panel as we have been. I figure if we can run the lights for a few hours, and the fan on the furnace all night, then surely we should still be able to recharge via solar in the summer when when we don't even use the furnace. Thinking of all of this reminded me to plug in the Solar Panel to charge the battery!
We took a short bike ride in the early afternoon, and then headed out to explore some of the National Forest, with the intent of relocating to a better spot. Even though we had paid for our spot in the park for two nights, I really wasn't happy with the location and being exposed in the open. We found several spots, including one that had a gorgeous view of Pikes Peak, and we used FaceTime to call my sister Tammy. She was in awe of the sights, and we are planning to camp there on Siblings Trip Part II. What a great place! There are several places to put the camper, so we decided that we would mark the spot on the GPS and save it for later so that we could even find it in the dark! With the ability to "camp anywhere you can park it" (and permission of the Forest Service), there's no telling where we'll "pop up"!
We headed back to camp so that we could fish for a little while, and then completely lost track of time. At one point, Kaye exclaimed, "Daddy...." with a concerned voice, and when I turned around, I noticed that she had a rooster tail fishing lure hanging from her lip. I thought about snapping a picture, but I didn't want to totally embarrass her! Luckily, the barb had not entered into the lip and it was easily removed. By the time we finished fishing, it was too late to move the camper to the better spot! The kids had rosy red cheeks from being in the sun all day, we all got a little sun burned, but not crispy. Kaye was the only catch of the day, not one in our fishing party experienced even a nibble!
Before the sun went down I started smelling propane, which usually indicates that the tank needs changing, so I pulled the tank and replaced it with a new one. We then made a gourmet dinner of smoked sausages and Bush's Honey Beans (Corey's favorite), and then I surprised the kids by continuing our Friday tradition of "movie night". Even though we were camping, I had brought my MacBook because it has a DVD player on it. I prayed that the battery would last, and as it turns out, it lasted longer than most of us campers did! Corey watched the movie and was the only one that made it until then end! He actually got up and shut the lid on it. It had 12% left!
My phone was at 1% when I woke up. Before our Trip of a Lifetime I had wired in a volt meter, 12v outlet and a dual USB charger under the seat to charge phones, but they are prone to being accidentally unplugged it in the dark and never plugged back in. I thought that this was the case, but it turns out that we had a bad connection on the battery, so the solar panel that gleefully produced the sun juice was useless because the charge never made it to the battery. That also explained why the furnace stopped kicking in at about 5:30AM: the battery was just too low to generate the RPMs on the fan to engage the sail switch, which tells the igniter to light up. Good thing was that it wasn't that cold overnight, so we survived.
I really need to wire a USB port or two into the cabinet by the bed, I plan on using something like this little dude. Even though the cables I have are about six feet long, they are about a foot too short to reach around the stove/sink and are also prone to being pulled out of the device being charged. Sigh. Another task to do when we get home.
I was going to make oatmeal breakfast again, but the kids opted for the Yogurt instead. Claire opened her container and said, "Yuck! Daddy, it's CRUNCHY!" I couldn't understand until I saw that it was frozen too. now along with the milk and cold brew! I really have to make that note to self more visible! We discussed where in the movie we fell asleep, and laughed about the parts in the movie that we remembered last before droopy eyes took over. We were watching "Muppet Treasure Island" a gift from our friend Allison and her husband Stephen from back in Texas, who introduced us to the movie in September during their visit to the Springs.
Jesse remembered rats kissing. I have no idea where this is in the movie!
Claire remembered "Hue ne squirelly stew" (The Swedish Chef)
Kaye remembered "Set the sails!"
I remembered "Hmm. We see you have boom boom sticks. Bye Bye!"
Corey remembered "the lines with the names". I later figured this out to be the credits!
Now that I think about it, I think we all fell asleep near the same part in the movie!
After breakfast, we packed up our beloved camper and headed home, taking only one detour. It was to see whether we could make it safely with the camper to our newly discovered maybe new favorite camping spot with the great view! We got all the way up there, and discovered that we aren't the only ones that like that spot, here was someone already setup for the weekend there! It's not easy backing a trailer down a 4WD trail, but one of the talents I possess is backing a trailer. Took a try or two to get it straightened out and on track on the curvy trail as one could imagine, but we finally got the rig turned around and headed back to the house. An uneventful trip home, and everyone was happy to see Mom and Moose!