Chapter 3 – Finding Priceless Moments


Remember the Meme on Pinterest that I talked about in the first chapter? It showed a Prius at the top of the image, and at the bottom a Jeep in the desert sitting on the crest of a hill, in front of a sunset. A guy and his kids are in the Jeep enjoying the sun setting in this majestic place. The closing message of the meme said, “Your kids will never, ever remember you getting fifty-five miles per gallon. However, they will remember the night you watched the sun set over the mountains.” Let’s talk about some camping basics today.

Check out my books on camping

Why go camping today?

Because there will never be another today. In the Prius Meme, the point is that things don’t matter, experiences matter. Perhaps you can make a daily drive fun with some singing or frivolity. Or perhaps ride to the top of a mountain to watch a sunset. Those are the priceless moments to chase after. I encourage you to get out and enjoy life. Not everything has to be constrained, and I think in many ways that’s what camping is all about.

Don’t allow challenges to get in the way.

When you consider camping, there can be challenges: you might get rained on, it could be extremely hot or cold, the bugs might be extra annoying, dry kindling may be hard to find, etc. But, at the end of the day, the goal is to build memories. There are only so many opportunities to go camping with your children or your spouse or even take a solo trip. Right now it seems as though you have all the time in the world, but you really don’t. Your kids will be in college or active in other things before you know it. So grab those moments while you can.

The experience matters, not the stuff.

Someone who had a very nice late-model sedan asked about my Jeep. He indicated that if only he had an off-road vehicle, he would try camping. Why go camping if you can’t go trail-riding, he said. That’s the wrong attitude. True, driving on thirty-five inch tires with a four inch lift and a bunch of modified stuff is great. It’s nice when you’re riding around on a spring day with no top and you’ve got no doors. But you can still create those priceless memories by rolling down your windows and opening your moon roof.

Persevere.

The trick with camping is that you can find yourself in a rugged situation, for example it might rain the whole weekend leaving you nothing to do but play cards in the tent, or after rain from the first night all the kindling is wet and you can’t start a fire, maybe an animal got into your food supply and now you have nothing to eat. It doesn’t matter what happens, the secret is in how you handle the situation.

Don’t give up, persevere. Sometimes camping makes no apologies. Your skills might be tested, but I am going to promise you that you will still have opportunities, even on those off weekends, of making solid memories. You might be sitting around the campfire or hiking or hearing the coyotes howl or watching the sun set or building a fire with your child—those priceless moments can’t be bought so grab a hold of them.

Keep a look-out for memories of a lifetime.

Keep your outlook fun and positive because you can’t predict when memories will be created. But trust me, your kids will remember and they’ll tell their children about these special times one day. Just put yourself in a good situation to have those moments. They may occur in your Prius getting forty-five miles per gallon because of the song you sang. Or perhaps when you’re sitting on top of the mountain and out of your element as you watch in fear as a bear ambles by. Be available and put yourself in situations to achieve those priceless moments.

Coming up, we’re going to look at convenient, low-cost, low-pain, and low-suffering ways to be in a good situation to discover joy. By attaining that joy, you get those memories that will live on because you taught the next generation skills. And one day, your kids will not only pass along the skills to their children but will share their childhood priceless moments around a roaring campfire.

Chapter 2 – Types of Camping

Check out my books on camping

There are many different levels of engagement when you’re camping. Anywhere between an epic adventure like Man vs. Wild or perhaps one where more creature comforts are brought from home. Either is fine as long as you can physically pull it off and afford it. The goal is to have a good time and enjoy your time. For me, I like to camp with a tent, I’m not an RV guy. I don’t mind taking a shower on the side of the mountain or backpacking in. Sometimes the best way to really see and experience a location is to backpack to the camping site. But, say my wife joins me, she prefers a larger tent, more organization, more creature comforts. If Connie’s coming, then what we bring changes and where we stay may change. For both of us to have an enjoyable time, compromises need to happen. Let’s talk about some different options.

Live off the land for a weekend.

One option would be to head out into the woods with a knife, some tinder, flint and steel, a waterproof jacket, and a wool blanket. The idea is to live off the land for a weekend. If you’ve got the skills to do it and you enjoy that level of difficulty, go and have fun! There are certainly people that thrive on this primitive I’m-gonna-figure-out-as-I-go-build-me-a-lean-to-in-the-woods-and-feel-close-to-nature type of thing. However, keep in mind your skills and your traveling companions. For example, if you are taking your five-year-old daughter and wife who have never been camping, it would be wise to rethink the details otherwise the trip will end quickly. And, the ride home will be the squirmy kind of uncomfortable.

Purchase an expensive RV for camping.

Another option is to head to your local RV store and buy a half-million dollar motor-home, don’t forget your checkbook. Now, you’re probably laughing and about to fall off the couch right now as most people don’t have that kind of money to invest in a hobby. Or perhaps you have the type of disposable income to make this dream come true. With an RV, you could spend a year driving around the United States. If so, enjoy yourselves and send me a postcard.

But honestly, most of us don’t have the means to pay for a million dollar motor home. So as we look at other forms of camping, be aware of what you can afford. If you want to participate in the RV lifestyle but don’t want to buy one, then consider renting one for your trip.

Camping shouldn’t involve stress over money.

Because stressing over money doesn’t equal fun, keep the scope of your camping trip and equipment in-line with your income. If you have to save for a hundred-dollar tent, instead buy the fifty-dollar option and choose the contingency of camping close to home in case a catastrophe happens so you can head home easily. People can enjoy different levels of camping, regardless of their financial ability. Also, consider borrowing supplies from family, friends, or neighbors. Once you decide you want to invest in pieces, you’ll know better what works for you.

Survivor Man versus backpacking.

These are two extremes. One is to hike the Appalachian Trail maybe something similar to doing the Survivor Man thing for five to seven months. For that epic trip, you’ll need to delve into other books to succeed. For this book, let’s talk about backpacking. That means you have what you need on your back, and you’re going some distance. It may be the whole length of the Appalachian Trail; but more likely it’s something like four miles through your local woods.

With backpacking, everyone will bring what they need for the jaunt in their pack. The goal is to have a lightweight and comfortable backpack and equipment that doesn’t weigh much. Consider eating dehydrated food as it is light. If you don’t take these suggestions into consideration you’ll end up hauling a fifty-pound pack instead of a twenty pound one for miles and miles. Trust me, the weight on your back will make a difference with each step. Backpacking isn’t for everyone and may be difficult to pull off with your family in tow, especially if this is the first camping trip.

Car-camping.

This is pretty simple. All the things you need are in your car and you drive to the campsite. You unload a popup shelter or tent and a sleeping bag. You might have kitchen items to cook by the fire or you may choose to eat at local restaurants. Whether you build a fire or not, you’re experiencing the version of camping that works for you, so embrace it. I highly recommend this for your first outing, especially if you have a family.

Supplies for backpacking versus car camping.

Personally, I think there’s a good chance you will enjoy the outdoors. Which means that eventually you will end up with two setups—one for backpacking and the other for car camping. Backpacking provisions need to be ultra-light, whereas supplies for car camping can be bulky and perhaps less expensive.

Advancing further.

You’ve got to right-size your trip with what your family wants so that camping is a successful experience. You may need to take several simple car-camping trips before progressing further. Or, your group may be content with this simplest kind of adventure. But, maybe it grows into more. Perhaps add a campfire to the next trip, or cooking over the open flame, or a longer more involved hike. The trick is that if it’s a family thing, go slow and let everybody ask for more so they don’t feel forced. I have found the biggest objection about camping is that people don’t want to get out of their comfort zone.

Car glamping.

Which means bringing every creature comfort from home. There are different levels of glamping. Honestly, sometimes I feel like I glamp when we go to our place in the mountains because of the luxury items we haul with us. The over-the-top items we could bring are a super-big tent, which we’ll talk about later, a flat screen, an Xbox, a generator, maybe some gilded throw pillows. I’m sure you’ve heard of the glamping sites where you can go live in a tent that’s a lot like your house. They can even have air-conditioning!

Economy glamping.

Connie and I go “economy glamping.” We bring a ten by twenty feet tent. My choice would be much smaller, but it’s all about compromise. I want her with me and happy, so we’ve figured out what each party needs to feel comfortable for a weekend. That includes an inflatable mattress. We don’t wear shoes in the tent, which keeps it much cleaner. There is a small area designated for shoes and dirty clothing. We also have a cozy spot to sit down. These are things we do to make the clean up easier and the space more comfortable. Given these conditions, Connie will gladly come camping with me.

With a big tent, you have room for an air-mattress. In fact, a big tent will usually allow everyone to sleep under the same roof, which goes a long way to a good night’s slumber for all. The more comfortable you can make camping for your loved ones, the better the chance that your kids will want to have epic, hard-core adventures in the future.

Camping without camping, is it possible?

What works for your family? You can always stay in a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast that’s close by to your activities and then do day trips. I’ll argue that you’re not camping per se, but those day hikes and discovering waterfalls, will still get you outdoors. It will allow you to spend quality time with loved ones and set yourself up for those priceless moments with your family. If staying in a hotel and having day time adventures works, then do it!

What will work for you?

As you can see, there is a vast range of options for camping. Are you an RV kind of guy where you plug in at a campsite with power and air-conditioning and running water? Perhaps it’s going to be something simple, where you have a tent and minimal equipment and eat at restaurants. Or maybe you’ll go for something in between. There’s no wrong answer as long as you’re getting everyone outdoors and create those family memories.

What are my goals and intentions?

As you can see, the camping experience can span quite a range from a tent and a sleeping bag, to many of the creature comforts of home. Ask yourself:

  • Where’s your comfort zone?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • How much effort do you want to exert?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • How much time do you want to be at the site?

Getting everyone together to create memories.

The goal is you want to get your family outdoors and allow everybody to have a great time. Depending on if you choose an RV, a pop-up, or a tent, may or may not affect whether or not you have that priceless moment. I think with an RV you’re a little more separated from things. But people have different comfort zones. If the only way you can get your people to camp is to rent a pop-up or an RV for the weekend, then do what you need to do. You’re achieving some of your goal, everybody’s having a great time, and you’re creating family memories, which make it all worth it.

Don’t feel pressure if camping is new to you.

There’s no pressure to be Mr. Outdoors. Because if you’re the kind of person who has never been in the wilderness before, no one would expect you to build a fire with flint and steel and some cotton you pulled out of your pocket. Feel free to use matches. Keep it simple when you build your first fire, and maybe even your tenth. Later on we’ll talk about some of these other skills. But, my goal here is to give perspective on your different options.

Most of my camping experiences revolve around family trips or Boy Scouts. As a result this book really focuses on family camping. However, the same principles, skills, and knowledge apply to a single person or family. Maybe you are a single man or woman who wants to experience camping for the first time. You could be a widow or widower, or newly divorced. There are many people in lots of different situations that head out to enjoy camping. This book spends a lot of time talking about family interactions and considerations, but the skills and knowledge apply to a variety of life circumstances. If you don’t want to go by yourself, then consider joining an outing club. It’s a great way to go with a group and enjoy the camping experience.

Build up your skill set.

You may need new outdoors skills. Or perhaps it’s time to teach those techniques to your kids or spouse. You never know when you need to build a fire. Your car may break down in a place that has no cell service and the only thing to keep you alive overnight is to build a fire. Does this happen to everybody? No. But, the simple ability of building a fire could be a lifesaver. One reason to continue to camp regularly is to keep our skill set sharpened. This gives peace of mind and boosts confidence. Learning outdoor knowledge improves self-reliance that translates to other areas of life. These regular camping trips build a happier, well-adjusted, better-prepared-for-life family member who is more available to partake in those priceless moments.

It’s not a question of how rugged someone is. The question is what they want. Some people at different points in their lives simply don’t want to spend the weekend working hard outside doing camping stuff. Sometimes you want the fun component and not the work part. So instead of a tent and open flame cooking, they might choose an RV and restaurant food. Or perhaps they’d rather do something at home that weekend.

Compromise.

There are trips when Connie doesn’t come because I am hunting and I’m fine with that. Sometimes it’s nice to be on a solo trip, or a trip with the guys. It’s an opportunity to go with a smaller tent and do different activities. The point is to keep the perspective that there are a lot of ways to get a win out of camping—backpacking, economy glamping, hunting backpacking are just three. They all have their pluses.

First trip could be a solo one.

If you are unsure about camping for the first time with the entire family, then consider just going solo, or with your spouse. Then bring the kids on the next trip Camping can be enjoyed in lots of different scenarios from the whole family going, or individuals without children going solo (or with a group), or situations where only one parent takes the kids.

The key is to figure out what works for you, at this time in your life, with whoever is going camping with you. Don’t feel pressured to be Mr. REI, because that won’t make you happy and it isn’t what your loved ones are looking for. Kids are seeking quality time spent with Mom and Dad. Your spouse is looking for the same thing. Leave your pride and ego at home. Camping is about those priceless moments.

Do You Want to Go Camping but Don’t Know How?

Camping is a great way to get outdoors and take a break from the digital clutter. Consider a digital detox and reap the benefits.

I want to help you achieve that goal of taking your family camping. You can read the first of my camping series of books:

www.montie.com/book

This book helps families (or individuals) make that first foray into the woods and actually enjoy it. I share what I’ve learned in a lifetime of outdoor adventures. The book is not about extreme camping or anything crazy. I just talk about practical skills, knowledge and how not to spend a fortune on equipment on our way to a great weekend with the family.

If you want to see my handiwork and the campsite that I designed, checkout

#camping
#campinglife
#campinggear
#digitaldetox

Great NC Hike – Up Grandfather Mtn via Boy Scout Trail / Grandfather Mtn Trail

If you are looking for a great hike that is challenging and very, very beautiful then this might just fit the bill. This is probably one of the most technical hikes in NC, but there is view after view after view.

Connie dropped us off on the Blue Ride Parkway and picked us up at the top of Grandfather Mountain, which turned out to be a good thing. There was a lot of traffic on the Grandfather Mtn trail and it was slow going at times. The hike up was about 6 hours.

If you want to do the hike up the mountain only, then you will need to arrange for a ride or have someone pick you up at the top of Grandfather Mountain. If you want someone to pick you up on the top of Grandfather Mountain, you’ll need to buy a pass, well in advance. There are a limited number of parking spots, so they sell passes with a window of time on a specific day to enter the park with a vehicle. You can purchase the pass to Grandfather mountain here. You don’t need to purchase a pass to hike in the park, but you will need a pass to enter the park with a vehicle. Grandfather Mountain does operate a shuttle service up the mountain, but I’m not sure how that works.

Alltrails.com is a great resource for hiking in this area. Click on the image to read about the trail and the hike.

The Daniel Boone Scout Trail portion of the hike is not very technical and the climb is gradual throughout the trail. The first part of the hike is on the Tanawha Trail. The Scout Trail turns right and heads up the mountain after a short hike from the parking lot on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The only gotcha on the Daniel Boone Scout Trail is the trail markings and trail configuration just past the trailhead (leaving from the parking lot on the Parkway). The signage is a little confusing where the Scout trail turns off the Tanawha Trail.

The Grandfather Mountain portion of the trail gets very technical in spots. There are lots of spots where you have to be very careful because of the steep drop offs and slick, or even icy, rocks. There were icy spots during our hike in mid-Oct. There are ladders and very exposed climbs, but it truly is beautiful.

One option to consider is just doing the Grandfather Mountain Trail. You would start at the parking lot near the swinging bridge, and do the trail as an out and back (returning to the parking lot on the top of Grandfather Mountain).

The plane crash site is pretty neat, worth the short detour.
Lots of ladders

2020 NC Overland Challenge – Part 2

The Overland Challenge was a lot of fun! It was held in Uwharrie National Forest (between Raleigh, NC and Charlotte, NC). Portions of the event were also held in Big Creek and Grand Overland District. Outdoor events like this are a great way to minimize the risk of contracting COVID while having a great time.

Here are the rigs in our team. Amazing the Tacoma was almost bone stock! There was some carnage on the Tacoma, but it made it through.

There were a variety of events and lot of 4wheeling, often at a fast pace trying to achieve the objective. It is a great playground that we have to enjoy.

The time trials are where you do a 4wd course for time. So they are moderate speed events that can be hard on your vehicle. Even the mighty full-size Cherokee has some carnage after one of the time trials (tire destroyed and mystery transmission fluid leak). It was a pretty quick fix to change tires and double check the transmission and we were quickly headed to the next event.

There were lots of cool overlanding rigs and setups. Some amazing. Lots of cool off road trailers.

We also put the teardrop to good use. It makes events like this so much easier and comfy.

It was a great weekend. I was very happy with our team performance. We tied for second with the BFG team!

Building our Campsite / Overland Destination – Evening of Day 1

We accomplished a lot on Day 1. Most of the stumps were removed. The brush and logs that were left from the last trip were cut up and pushed into piles on the side of the property. I also was able to start cutting some of the unhealthy trees on the perimeter.

The brush piles are good for the wildlife. They provide shelter for birds like grouse. They also provide places for a momma deer to stash a young fawn while she feeds else where. My wife was pulling brush into a pile (on the previous trip) and suddenly realized the was a fawn tucked away just a few feet from where she was working. We had been working in the area all day and the fawn had been there. We didn’t realize it until Connie saw it.

Tommy (with Bluff Mountain Nursery) started pulling stumps at the bottom and worked his way up the hill
Tommy is working his way up the hill.
Some of the stumps were easier to get out than others. There are 58 stumps to remove
The apple tree in the middle of the property had a bunch of apples on it

The apple tree in the middle of the campsite has been a subject of much discussion. The tree has struggled to survive under a canopy of faster growing Ash and Poplar trees. We cleared the trees that shaded the apple tree earlier in the year. The apple tree has put on a bunch of new growth with the extra sunlight hitting it.

The challenge is that the apple tree is in a spot that it is exposed to vehicular damage so we had to adjust the plans for the driveway to protect the apple tree. When we discussed the tree as a family, the consensus was to cut it down. I was the lone hold out to keep the tree. We’ll need to top the tree next year to keep it healthy and trim away growth that isn’t good for the tree long term.

It is important to note that those green apples are sooooo sour that the deer are even reluctant to eat them. You’ll see an apple on the ground with a couple of bites missing, like the deer tried it and walked away. They are cooking apples, just way too sour to do anything else with.

The saga of the apple tree continues, well see how it goes.

Building our Campsite / Overland Destination – Morning of Day 1

We’re working on the campground. Join us to see how it looks before the heavy equipment arrives.

Where we started. Thanks John Burwell for mowing the grass and cleaning the shoots off the stumps so we could see where they were. That made things to quicker.
Lot of stumps to remove before the new water lines can go in.
The teardrop is so handy for trips like this.
Cool picnic table provided by John Burwell!

Staying safe from Covid-19 While Camping

Thinking about going camping soon? The video below shows how we tried to stay safe last weekend and avoid the Covid virus while we were camping at Grandfather Campground in Banner Elk, NC.

The goal was to not enter the shower or bathhouse. Instead we used our pop up shower tent and portable, propane hot water heater to shower at our campsite. We used our portable poop bucket for those needs.

Stay safe out there!

Pimping the Teardrop Trailer

The teardrop trailer has been a work in process. We’ve wanted to add more capability and storage, but I didn’t want to have a big impact on ground clearance or break over angle. Moving water, propane and the spare tire to the trailer means more space in the tow rig (either or Wrangler TJ or 4Runner).

Another challenge is the 200 lb tongue weight limit on the Wrangler. Once we get everything loaded on the trailer, I can check the tongue weight. I had relocated the battery to the rear of the trailer and that will help off set some of the additional tongue weight that we are about to add.

Items for this round of upgrades:

  • propane tank for use with the oven and especially the shower water heater (which can use a good bit of propane)
  • 2 jerry cans for water or gasoline
  • winch for the spare tire – wanted to tuck the spare tire between the structure so it didn’t have a big impact on the ground clearance and breakover angle
  • go to a larger jack on the tongue so i could use a two wheel roller (this part didn’t turn out like I hoped)

First step was to trip check that the bumper on the tow vehicle wouldn’t hit the jerry cans at the minimum turning circle. That also required a Bojangle biscuit since I was already in the Bojangles parking lot. This was just before the virus hit.

Last check of the clearance when the tow vehicle steering is at the maximum travel
Removing the old jack alignment plate
Ready to start the fabrication process after touching up paint that wouldn’t be affected by welding or grinding

Once we had the lower guide plate for the jack removed we could start verifying the layout of the can holder, tongue jack, propane tank and spare jack.

Important to test fit the location of everything before welding

Next step is to fabricate simple brackets to attach the tank holder. Then the brackets were attached to the tank holder and squared up before welding the brackets to the trailer frame.

Test fitting and aligning the mounting bars for the jerry can racks

One of the challenges was attaching some sort of frame to the front rail of the trailer frame without getting the weld bead too close to the blue skin and causing heat damage to the skin finish.

We also found a structural weld that was not adequate and could have caused a failure on the trail. The tire winch mount is bolted along the top and welded along the bottom. The weld pattern also addressed the frame weld issue and fixed the weak spot with the bad weld.

Support for propane tank is in place and the support for the jack
Propane tank rack in place. It took a little work fit everything in limited space and allow for the motion of the tank closure
Jerry can mounts tacked in place prior to final weld
Now we just need to add the tire winch mount and paint
Winch mount in place and painted. Need to grind and add final welds.
Welds and final paint almost complete
Painted and ready for final assembly
Next step is to add the tank, racks and spare tire

It was a lot of work. It would not have happened without Maverick Metal Works

Once we have the trailer out and outfitted, we’ll take some pictures and show off the new gear.

2019 Uwharrie Jeep Jamboree

We spent two awesome days on the trail. The first day was in Big Creek. Big Creek is tight and technical with lots of rocks and several great hill climbs. We made it up Winch Hill with no problems and lots of smiles from my wife and co pilot. We also finally made it up Perimeter Hill without having to winch. We had tried getting up this hill for 3 years before we made it up without winching. So that was a nice victory.

The second day was doing the D’s in Uwharrie. The D’s are Daniel, Dickie Bell and Dutch John.

Correcting the line created a little drama
Off camber but in a good line
Nice and slow through the second obstacle on Daniel