Sleeping platform for the car

Recently we’ve been talking more and more about our future camping setup. Our Coachmen Clipper 9.0 is a decent tool for camping, but we sometimes muse about other options. We’ve spent some time talking about the difference between camping trailer vs camper van, and the pro’s and con’s of each. For the time being we’re not making any changes, but I decided to make a change to the status quo to address one of the con’s of our current situation.

One of the cool parts about a camper van is that you can simply pull into a rest area or truck stop and crawl into bed. It’s a great option for traveling, since you don’t need a campsite, nor do you need to set up a camper just so you can get a few zzzz’s. It’s also great for traveling to races since your vehicle is easily self-contained, and all you need is a parking spot near the race start to use as your home base.

I’m not going to do a full pro-con list, but I wanted to share how I’m addressing one of the issues we have with our current setup. Namely, trying to sleep in my car. I drive a VW Tiguan Limited and as much as I love it, it’s not the largest vehicle I’ve ever owned when it comes to cargo space. I can fit a fair amount of stuff into the back, but on a few occasions when I’ve tried to sleep back there, it’s just too cramped. I can lower the seats, all the way up through the passenger seat in the front, but there’s gaps between the seats that make it impossible to lay fully extended. What I needed, was a sleeping platform.

On Saturday morning I headed out to the hardware store and picked up a few simple supplies. I got some 1/2” plywood, a couple of posts, and some basic hardware. My plan was to create a platform that goes from the back of the car, 6 feet to the front. In order to that that though I need to support the bottom of the platform so that all the of the weight isn’t resting on the back of the seats.

I went with two pieces of plywood, 2×4 and 2×2. Originally I thought the 2×4 would end up in back, but after putting it into the car, I realized that it should be reversed. So the 2×2 is now sitting on the main cargo area of the car at the back where the lift gate is. Then I put the 2×4 in front of that, and attached the two posts to the bottom using removable bolts for easier storage.

I filled up my sleeping pad and tried it out. Sure enough it was perfectly sized for one person like myself to lay flat or curl up and get some shut eye. Eventually I’ll get some foam cushioning to make it softer, but for now, this actually works. It was a lot simpler than I had anticipated, and some simple planning made it a reality with about an hours worth of work.

The downside is that it’s one person only, so this solution won’t work if I’m traveling with the wife, but for trips where it’s just myself, and I need to sleep along the way, this works great. Creativity! It’s what drives the human spirit forward.

Working with what Minnesota gives us

This past weekend we took an extended trip to Itasca State Park. It was a long time coming, and we were super happy to finally be able to get to a place we’ve been trying to get to for multiple years. However, there’s always a twist when it comes to seasons in Minnesota. Being in the middle of the north woods in summer presented a set of challenges, that we learned a lot from.

Normally when we go on outdoor trips like this we spend a lot of time running and biking, as well as hanging out at the campsite. However, summer in Minnesota tends to be incredibly humid and hot (despite our reputation for harsh and cold winters). This also means that our bug population skyrockets in the summer, and being out and about in the woods is often a battle against a thousand tiny buzzing insects. Not fun.

This past weekend proved this once again. We managed to get out for one 3.5 mile hike in the woods, but that was it. To accomplish the hike we put on long pants, bug nets over our head, and copious amounts of bug spray. We probably looked silly, but the bug nets were a godsend. I can’t imaging doing a deep woods trek in summer around here without one.

This is hot... in more than one way
This is hot… in more than one way

I also went for a 6 mile walk but I kept almost exclusively to paved trails, which helped a lot. One 0.75 mile segment of my walk was on a dirt path, and I was constantly inundated by flies and mosquitos. They were buzzing around me so heavily that they actually showed up in the pictures I was taking. This was one of the more scenic portions of the walk so it was a scramble to take out the phone, snap a picture, and get back to moving as quickly as possible.

A small fly who wanted to be in the shot
A small fly who wanted to be in the shot

However, what we discovered was that there were other activities that we enjoy, that are much more bug free. One was expected, the other was new to us. First, we love biking and brought the bikes with us on this trip because we knew that Itasca had a lot of good bike paths. On both Monday and Tuesday we did the Wilderness Drive loop, which is a 16 mile biking loop that goes around the perimeter of the park. It’s a really fun ride, and despite three quarters of it being shared with a road, that road is almost all one-way traffic. Meaning you don’t need to worry about oncoming cars on curves. The terrain is rolling with lots of quick short up hills that sap your legs a lot more than you expected. But, you’re rewarded with beautiful downhills with flowing curves that are incredibly fun to bomb. Just be careful when coming up on Mary Lake. It’s at the bottom of a long downhill, around a curve. If you’re not careful you could end up shooting right off the side into the drink!

Stopping at Nicollet Creek
Stopping at Nicollet Creek

While biking is awesome, we also discovered something new on this trip. We really enjoy being out on the water. We had a canoe rental for the entirety of Monday, and so we took a couple different trips around the lake. Almost immediately we discovered that the flies and mosquitos don’t like buzzing you in the middle of a body of water. We spent hours on the lake and the level of insects was minimal with only dragonflies being a slight nuisance. I’m sure that in the mornings or evenings the mosquitos will come at you even on the water, but during the day we were bug-free.

Paddling
Paddling

In addition to the lack of bugs, we also discovered that we had a lot of fun paddling. It was cooler than on shore with the oppressive humidity of the woods, and we got to explore a lot of areas that we’d never be able to reach on foot. It awakened a desire in us to get out and try more boating. After all, Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, and maybe we’re just dim for missing it, but it seems like the water is the place to be in the summer.

Our next steps are to spend some time at some local parks that have open watercraft rentals so we can check out kayaks and other craft. I’m not opposed to investing in something permanent for ourselves, but I’d like to get some experience with the different types (canoe vs kayak for example) to make some educated decisions. Plus, there’s a lot to learn in a new wilderness discipline, and I tend to want to take a lot of time to do a solid amount of research before walking into things.

So I’ll put a question out there to my readers… what do you like to paddle? What’s some good resources for folks looking to learn more about paddlesports? Any good tips and tricks for lakes in Minnesota to check out?

Crossing the Mississippi

The Mississippi’s mighty. But it starts in Minnesota. At a place that you can walk across with five steps down.

Indigo Girls (Ghost)

I’ve lived in Minnesota for all but the first two years of my life. Growing up I was in Saint Paul, which runs along the Mississippi River. Yet, despite living here for four decades, and living near the mighty river, I’ve never taken the three and a half hour drive to see the headwaters at Itasca State Park.

Two years ago (in 2018) we decided to correct this oversight and we planned a 3 night trip that coincided with the Tour de Pines bike event. However, something came up (don’t even remember what anymore) and we postponed the trip till later. We ended up postponing the trip another three times before COVID came along and the DNR cancelled all reservations anyway.

So now, two full years later, we decided to actually follow through and take the trip. We arrived this afternoon, and of course the first thing we did after setting up camp was drive over to the headwaters to check them out. Sure enough there was a small stream flowing over some rocks out of the northern side of Lake Itasca. It was just like the pictures, and since I was wearing my sandals I waded right in.

The water was surprisingly warm, but I guess it shouldn’t have shocked me since the air temps have been in the 80s for quite a while now. I then proceeded to wander across the 30-40 feet of the outflow and claimed a river crossing on foot. The water never even really got up over my calf. I climbed up the beach on the other side and gazed out over the lake.

It’s amazing to think that something miles wide, thousands of miles away, starts and just a small bubbling creek. It’s truly awe inspiring to think that the same water that ran over my legs has a chance to flow all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s still just a creek coming out of a lake. There’s nothing physically striking about this particular outflow. It looks like many other lake outflows that head into creeks. It’s really more about what it symbolizes, the power of nature to persevere and shape its surroundings, and in turn shape history. Without the Mississippi, much of the country would not be like it is today. Rivers were highways in ages past, and hundreds of towns got their start because they had access to this commercial pipeline. Without it, there would be little reason for many of these places to exist.

Humans are drawn to places of movement and access. Rivers allow us to conduct trade, travel, harvest food, and so many other things. Just like how a few years ago people flocked to the Internet. It’s the modern day equivalent of rivers, carrying information, commerce, and shaping entire lives by it’s presence.

Yet, how we use these pipelines is up to us. Just like rivers can be polluted by muck and waste, so too can our modern pipelines get overrun with shit. It’s important that we think about how we want to shape our future online, as much as we thought about how to treat the waterways of the past.

Not sure how I got onto a diatribe about the Internet, but perhaps being near something monumental brings out the philosopher in me. For now, I’ll end by saying that if you live in Minnesota, it’s worth a trip to see the root of one of the most important features of our state.

International Wolf Center

I’ve always wanted to visit the northern Minnesota town of Ely. As a kid I knew plenty of people who went up north to the BWCA, but I never had a huge interest in camping until later in life. So I had never been to this part of the state. This past weekend the wife and I headed up to experience Ely in a typical Minnesota winter, and it’s been a great trip.

One of the key attractions for Ely is the International Wolf Center. This is an organization that does wolf research, and helps to educate folks on wolves in general. They also try to contribute to the difficult discussion around wolves and agriculture, which are issues that we simply don’t think about that much in the cities.

We visited the center early in the day on Saturday and got to hear a presentation about the ambassador wolves at the center, as well as see a couple of them sleeping in their enclosure. However, we knew that to truly see them we’d want to come back at 7pm for the Saturday evening feeding.

Sure enough, as soon as we arrived on Saturday night all four wolves were running around and getting excited about their upcoming meal, as well as all the people watching them. These wolves have been raised in captivity and so they’re very comfortable around humans. They can see inside the building and would often come up to the glass to look at what we were all doing.

There was a presentation on how wolves hunt and eat, and then the main attraction was the depositing of a road kill deer carcass into the enclosure. Sure enough they started chowing down right away. I managed to get a bunch of cool shots before and during the feeding. I’ve put them together in an album over on SmugMug.

https://swiftphotography.smugmug.com/Exploration/International-Wolf-Center/

If you’re in the Ely area, this is certainly worth a stop. It’s a great facility, and getting to see wolves up close is really cool.

An unexpected adventure

This past week didn’t turn out quite the way that I had planned. After we got done with our race, I got sick. We were supposed to fly out to Vegas on Friday for my wife’s birthday, but I wasn’t sure I’d be up for the trip. Plus, a large snowstorm was moving in, and was threatening to cancel or delay flights.

Friday came and I was on the fence about going, however at the last minute I decided that I wanted to be with my wife on her birthday so I would go. That’s when all the trouble began. Because I had been ‘stuffed up’ I had issues with my left ear upon landing. When we got on the ground it wouldn’t pop, and within a couple of hours it was in excruciating pain. We went to an Emergency Room and they confirmed that I burst blood vessels along my ear drum, but that I didn’t rupture it. It would be sore and damaged for a while.

img_0666At this point I knew that flying back home would be a bad idea because it would put me at high risk of rupture of my eardrum. Thus began the planning for how I would get home without an airplane. At first I thought about just renting a car and driving the whole way in about 3 days. I would want to take the southern route through Albuquerque and Kansas City, since driving through the Colorado Rockies in January didn’t sound like a great idea. It would also mean I’d need to leave pretty early on Sunday morning.

Another option presented itself when I looked at Amtrak. They had a shuttle service that would bring me to Kingman, AZ where I would catch the Southwest Chief to Kansas City. There I would then rent a car and drive the final 6.5 hours home. Because it would involve two overnights, I opted for the more expensive sleeper car. This seemed like the best option as well, because it meant I could stick around until Sunday night before heading out.

img_0675As it turns out, sticking around on Sunday was a good idea. I started feeling a bit worse on Sunday, and when I happened to check my throat it was blazing red and covered in white spots. We headed over to an urgent care, where the nurse practitioner first looked in my damaged ear. She informed me that my ear was infected, and when she looked at my throat she didn’t even bother to take a swab. Since she was giving me an antibiotic for my ear, it would take care of both.

On Sunday night I boarded the van, which took me to the train. The train arrived and I immediately went to bed. I got some fitful sleep, but boarding a train at 2am is never a recipe for a restful night. The next day was spent relaxing and taking it easy. I did some work on a future race idea, and cleaned up some stuff from SC40. I managed a little bit better sleep on the second night, but because the train was heading east I was losing hours to the timezone changes as we went.

img_0691At 6:30am on Tuesday we arrived at Kansas City. I then boarded a bus to take me to the car rental place for the drive home. Thankfully, the drive home from KC is incredibly simple. Within a mile of the car rental agency I was on Interstate 35 heading north. That’s about it. Just keep heading up 35. I listened to a bunch of podcasts, and tried to not eat too much gas station junk food. I arrived at the airport within ten minutes of my wife landing so that we could hop in our own car and finally get home.

The one upside is that I’ve also gotten to see a ton of amazing landscape, from tall mountains to wide open plains. Some areas have snow, while others are bone dry and yellow. This has been a nice perk of traveling this way, as I can simply absorb the landscape. If this had been the plan for how we were going to travel it probably would have been more enjoyable, but I tried to make the best of it all.

Now for some time in my own bed.