Geowoodstock to TBEX: Lessons from the road…

So I’ve finally finished the tale of last year’s Geowoodstock to TBEX expedition. Took awhile huh?

Does camping out of your car with two kids and a dog for five weeks on a cross-country road trip sound like your idea of fun?

It was a necessary, albeit lengthy, exercise for me to process the experience and begin to wrap my brain around the upcoming 6-week trip from Overland Expo to TBEX… the obligatory debriefing to prepare for the next expedition.

That brings me to what lessons I learned on that trip that I’ll be taking with us this time around. To refresh your memory and give you a frame of reference, I covered nearly 6,500 miles through 18 states and one Canadian province in five weeks, car-camping out of a Subaru Forester with two kids and a dog. You’re probably questioning my sanity. Rightly so! (Here’s a link to the Flicker set of the trip.)

What was right…

  • Camping vs. hotel: With the combination of our car-camping set-up and the sheer insanity of the ground we were trying to cover, the long driving pushes with quick overnight stays in hotels worked fairly well. You can pull in to a hotel late at night, sleep, then get back on the road with minimal fuss. Camping… not so much. This is, of course, not budget friendly and has the added implications of finding dog-friendly lodging if you’re traveling with pooch in tow. But if you think ahead just a bit, you can plan those hotel stays strategically to minimize them.
  • Traveling with a dog can be cumbersome. Good thing there are pet-friendly places like the Keystone Inn that make it a bit easier.
  • Making camp count: Having said that, obviously my minimum camping stay is two nights. Even that can feel like a rush turn-around though. Three nights is quite nice and we managed staying 4-5 nights most places. It allowed us to use our camp as a home base while still exploring near and far. And some days we did travel far from camp but not having to move camp made life much easier.
  • Flexibility: As you can imagine, we had a lot we wanted to do and see and there was plenty to choose from given the territory we covered. One of our strong points was remaining flexible so we could add in unexpected finds as well as drop places that would have run us ragged, thus taking the fun out.
  • Trust your gut: This lesson is one we got better at on the road. Our campsite in Estes Park was not a winner for us and on that one I didn’t trust my gut… I didn’t like it but I reconciled it would do for a couple of days. We ended leaving early we were so uncomfortable. So I took that lesson and ran with it when my initial campsite choice near Salida, CO was lacking and we opted for alternate arrangements. Chalk it up to a lesson learned… I’ve done a lot of camping and I need to trust my judgment on campgrounds rather than stay in a place that could ruin our time.
  • Creative tent drying while on the road.
  • Step away from the car: In general at Camp Granola, we don’t do fast food. On occasion sure, but it’s fairly rare. On a roadtrip of this magnitude though, the allure of a quick dinner can be very tempting. We did well in not being sucked in to the “convenience” of it during the driving portions of the trip. We stopped for real meals that got us out of the car when we opted for a restaurant… (and usually a geocache!) or pulled from our camping stash for picnics at roadside rest stops.

What needs attention…

  • Refresh the recipes: In my rush to prepare for this trip, I didn’t plan any interesting camp recipes. I went with our standby fare and after a few weeks we were all pretty sick of the same stuff over and over. I will have to add some new ideas to the mix to keep us all from dreading dinner!
  • Gear Adjustments: Space is a huge issue for us if that wasn’t obvious. We’re fairly minimalist campers but we still have issues from a geometry standpoint in getting the camping gear in the roof box. One tactic I’ll be using for this trip is getting smaller camp chairs. Ours are on their last legs anyway (ba-dum-bum!) and they’re difficult gear to pack because of their rigidity and size… all the soft stuff like sleeping bags and pads can be smashed and molded into our Thule roof box… the chairs are a no-go on that front.
  • The Pup: Oh our sweet, sweet Disapproving Beagle… how we love him. But traveling with a dog complicates matters to no end. This year I’m hoping to leave him behind. He doesn’t get much out of the adventures and it severely limits our options on restaurants, hotels, hiking trails, and indoor activities like museums.
  • The big screen house got to be overkill but a smaller shade/rain canopy would be quite helpful.
  • Kidtastrophe: Oh my darling Fred and George! I love taking them on thee journeys but good grief… The Stuff! They’re each allowed a small bag of entertainment for the car but it inexplicably ends up all over the car. Granted, their rooms are no different but when you’re on a roadtrip, keeping kid gear in check is a big deal. So I need a better setup that they can manage so their belongings don’t into complete mayhem in the back seat.
  • Camp Comfort: I used to take a fairly beefy screen house with us on our trips but it became cumbersome and unnecessary to have something so large. I dropped it from the gear list entirely awhile ago but after five weeks in the summer sun (and sometimes hail and rain) I could see the advantage of having at least a lightweight canopy for the campsite. Having hammocks on hand would also give us some other hanging out options without being stuck in the tent in summer temperatures. Fortunately, hammocks and a small canopy would pack up quite small so it should be manageable in our little car.

So those are my personal lessons I’ll be using this year. I hope these are considerations you can use on your future trips as well.

For a recap of the Geowoodtsock to TBEX adventures, here’s a handy gallery to browse…

Geowoodstock to TBEX (2012)

And now for your moment of green…

Why do we insist on camping? Because this is what our “backyard” looks like when we do.