Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

13 (14) Truck Camper Hacks

Lurch, doing his thing at Toroweap, Grand Canyon

Four years and 170 nights into this truck camper adventure, it occurred to me that I’ve learned a whole lot about making life easier boondocking.  Some of these things I learned the hard way.

So, for your reading pleasure, the hacks;

    1.       Mobile phone booster.  I know, I’m supposed to be glad to be off the grid, blah blah    blah.  If that’s your thing, that’s great, but I often want to communicate for safety and follow radar for approaching storms.  I use a Wilson Model. Speaking of communication,

     2.       Get a satellite communication device.  I use the InReach (now a Garmin brand).  I was convinced after breaking down in Death Valley in 2014.  Though I’ve not had another emergency, I use it to let someone know where I’m camping, rather like dropping breadcrumbs along the way. 

     3.      A Coconino National Forest Ranger clued me in to the free Avenza Maps app.  Yes, they’re trying to sell you maps, but several of the National Forest Units in Arizona (Coconino, Prescott, part of the Kaibab) have free downloadable maps that geolocate me even without a phone signal.  They also include information about where it’s legal to camp, because we’d never camp anywhere else, would we?

Beer and the pooch, Coconino Forest AZ
4.       I never thought I wanted a hammock, until I got one from Cairn, the outdoor product-of-the-month outfit out of Bend Oregon.  I was wrong.  My Serac hammock sets up in about 45 seconds and it makes me smile.  Bonus points for the way it encourages me to take in the up-view.

      5.       If you, like me, have a stovetop but no oven, buy this little collapsible stovetop oven by Coleman.  Now imagine yourself in your hammock eating fresh-baked cookies.

Lurch in the Kaibab Forest.  Aluminess Bumper & Box

6   6.       Two thoughts about trash-management; One, I love my little collapsible trash bag holder.  Before I met this little gem, I had a trash bag on the kitchen counter which caused some low-level irritation.  This is $9 well-spent. Two, you need somewhere to put the stinky trash on multi-day trips other than your camper or your truck’s cab.  This is one of many uses for my Aluminess back bumper with the storage box.  It also holds other dirty stuff like recovery gear and my sometimes-wet door mat (You need a good door mat.)

7    7.       Fill a container with miscellaneous stuff like duct tape, safety pins, a tarp, extra shoelaces, bug repellant, a water purification device, batteries, sunscreen, a sewing kit, gaffer tape.  You get the point.

8    8.       Take out the back seat, if you can.  For a dedicated overlanding vehicle, you’ll want the space more than the option to carry passengers.  Admittedly this one is a matter of personal preference, but worth considering.

9    9.     Ditch the hard-to-clean rugs and try these thin, dense foam floor mats from Target.  I clean them buy dipping them in the pool after a trip. Easy, peasy.

     10.   Tools.  At the very least, a good multi-tool.  I use this Gerber Multi-tool, also from Cairn. The thing about overlanding is that everything shakes loose eventually.  If you haven’t found a screw on the floor and wondered what was about to fall apart, you will soon enough.

1   11.   A remote-reading thermometer.  Not only is this good for bragging rights (“You won’t believe how cold it was last night”) but it’s really nice to know how to dress in the morning without opening the door while wearing PJs and uttering expletives about the cold.

1    12.   Adventures often include frustration, including bad weather and mechanical challenges.  Plan for your inner toddler with emergency treats or good book.

1    13.   Don’t forget your toothbrush.  They’re hard to improvise and really icky to do without.

Happy camping; see you out there.

 Essential Wipes Travel Tubes  ~ 3 Tubes  30 Essential Oil Dry Wipes

14.  Oh my gosh; I forgot perhaps the most important hack when I posted this yesterday!  Essential Wipes.  I don't think I could camp without wipes, but I had trouble with artificial scents and icky residue in most wipes.  I got my first package of these from Cairn, and I was in love.  They're scented with essential oils, made of bamboo and wipe clea.

Addendum; if you're dying for more, here's the second installment in June 2018, "16 More Four Wheel Camper Hacks."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Ant on a lupine, Transept Trail, Grand Canyon

Ranger Gaelyn and I were talking about Forest Bathing (shinrin-yoku in Japanese).  She created a unique Ranger-lead hike along the lovely Widforss Trail on Grand Canyon’s North Rim last season.  The point was to walk very slowly and experience the environment with all the senses.  Research has shown that this sort of focused trekking is likely to have a variety of health benefits, from improved concentration to decreased anxiety to decreased blood sugar levels in diabetics.  Those of us who do this sort of thing frequently (and in fact feel a certain compulsion to return) know this intuitively.  

So, what’s the down-side?  I can’t imagine one, but Gaelyn found there wasn’t much interest.  She thinks that maybe visitors want a more traditional, interpretive hike.  I wondered whether most folks have a hard time slowing down and becoming absorbed into the place.  I saw several 20-somethings with loud (I could hear it clearly) music playing as they hiked.  How sad, to miss hearing the canyon wrens’ calls.
Lovely stripes, across the canyon from the Uncle Jim Trail

On the third day of my trip last week, I hiked alone along the Ken Patrick and Uncle Jim Trails.  I had no particular place to be, and after a bit of photography I found some shade and did what I call “communing,” which I reckon is indistinguishable from shinrin-yoku.  Connectedness.  

Regular readers will remember that I generally travel in my truck-camper combination, fondly named Lurch (he’s a little unwieldy.)  I knew I’d have a night backpacking and two car-camping in a tent.  Because Jess, my other gracious ranger friend, offered a spare bedroom for the other three nights I brought my Subaru instead.  It’s easier to drive and I get fully 2 ½ times better fuel economy.

Last Light, Widforss Point
An overnighter on Widforss Point has been on my (long) North Rim list for a couple of seasons now.  Sadly, the only permit which fit my schedule was for the day I drove up.  Backpacking after a 6-hour drive is not ideal, but it was workable.  The wet summer has kept the flowers going along the trail, and there were elk and grouse and lots of other critters as well.  Hiking alone makes the wildlife a bit less skittish.  There’s another reason to turn off the music! 

There’s always unfinished business, though.  As nice as the point was, there’s another spot which will be more photogenic, so I pulled another back-country permit for late September.  In the cold.

Raven, Cape Royal
My photo Friend Lynda kindly allowed me to invite myself to join her group.  I hope I made myself useful by telling them about a lovely viewpoint which doesn’t get much traffic.  Gaelyn and I joined Linda, her brother, and her photo road trip buddies there for happy hour, snacks, and shooting.  This afternoon was one of the more memorable parts of the week, despite less than exciting light.

Toroweap Sunrise
After 4 days at the North Rim I met Lynda and her lovely band of three at Dreamland Safari Tours in Kanab, UT.  I’d heard tell of Will James and his operation before.  Frankly, I might not have hired him as a guide if not for this trip with new and old friends.  I’d driven myself to Toroweap (inside Grand Canyon National Park) and White Pocket (Vermillion Cliffs National Monument) before.  The former is famous for carnivorous limestone and the latter for deep sand.  Being driven, guided, and cooked for was a pleasure, I must admit.  I do recommend Will’s tours for fun, safety, and an education.

White Pocket
The pace was unhurried, perfect for shnrin-yoku.

More images from this trip are in the Grand Canyon Gallery on the Website (start at the end).