I’m a planner.
Some might say I lean toward a Type A personality. Some might describe me as organized. Some might chalk it up to the fact that I’m a Capricorn. Some might blame my mother (she’s the same way). I’m not sure what to attribute it to, but when I’m focused, I get things done. I make lists. I think ahead. True, sometimes my efforts backfire (and instead of diminishing, my stress level increases), but I usually feel like I’ve got a handle on things.
Anyone who goes camping often knows that planning is key. You can’t just go traipsing into the wilderness unprepared. And in a teeny, self-contained box like Betty, organization and efficiency are paramount. There’s just NO ROOM for the alternative. Everything has its place. That kind of order speaks to my inner neat-freak… and makes camping comfortable.
I don’t pretend that this is roughing it; the only “rough” part about camping in Betty is the lack of space. But after 8 weeks of calling this little tin can HOME two summers ago, we’ve got a system. We prep as much as we can ahead of time. We use two coolers- one for food, and one for beverages. We plan menus and shop for food accordingly. We use the icebox in the camper as our dry food storage, which holds more than expected. This trip, I made granola, cookies, and cornbread to tote along.
We make the bed ahead of time so it’s ready when we set up camp. We each have two small baskets for clothes, which fit in cabinets above the table- we each get a side. There’s a small closet for jackets and hanging clothes, where our tool kit, broom, and cleaning supplies also live. Extra items get stashed under the table or bed, out of the way.
There are plenty of creature comforts– books, candles, a tiny flower vase, a wall clock, plenty of pillows and throws, games. There are nostalgic items, like the piece of driftwood from the Washington coast, pictures from various photo booths and a growing collection of “We’ve been here” magnets, a hand-crocheted potholder from my Mom. When we travel, we secure breakable items on the bed or tucked into the sink in the fluffy rug. Everything has its place.
We set off on Friday evening by 5:30PM and were settling in at Aspen Grove campground before 7:00PM. When we arrive at a campsite, John and I divide and conquer. He pours us a couple of drinks, then sets up the coolers and camp chairs, unloads firewood and axes, and stabilizes the trailer. I roll out the outdoor rug, replace the items inside the camper that were secured for traveling, and get started on happy hour snacks. Candles and lanterns helped illuminate dinner prep: easy side dishes from the deli at Whole Foods and tasty salmon for the grill. Scrumptious!
Camping mornings are special. It’s chilly in the trailer, the windows fogged from the cold air outside. The first order of business is to heat water for coffee. It’s a quick, frigid leap from under the covers to light the burner, then right back into the still-warm nest of bed. The flame from the burner helps begin to heat the camper. Piping hot water is poured over coffee grounds in the French Press, and I save some water for a washcloth. As kids, camping in another old trailer, my mom would hand us each a steaming washcloth while we were still snuggled in our sleeping bags. There’s no better way to wake up on a chilly morning in the woods.
I love opening Betty’s door in the morning and seeing our surroundings. Since we usually arrive as daylight is fading, this is the first chance to see where we landed. Saturday’s sky was big and blue, and Betty was tucked in under yellowing aspens and pine trees. I sipped my cup of extra-strong coffee while John pointed out a trail to explore on the map. Cholula’s ears were in overdrive, multiple squirrels chirping their warnings from all directions. The trees swayed above us in the breeze, and a few leaves fluttered to the ground. A trail to my right led to the Duchesne River, and a rugged cliff band was visible beyond the trees. What a gorgeous autumn day!
After packing up a portable lunch, we left camp in search of a hike. We (finally) found the dirt road that would lead us high into the Uintahs to Grand View trailhead. We climbed slowly and steadily for a few miles, up and over Hades Pass, just below the tree line to Heart Lake. It was small and deep, glacier-blue and tucked under the barren Grandaddy Mountain. The much larger Grandaddy Lake was below us, with the high point of Utah, King Peak, in the distance. We munched on turkey and salmon wraps and fresh strawberries in the sunshine, warming ourselves against the rocks. John dipped his fishing line in the lake and Cholula took a swim.
By the time we headed down the hill, meeting horses and a dog named Slim Shady along the way, the afternoon sunlight made the aspens truly glow. Back at camp, we were greeted by a family of deer who had already begun their happy hour.
Saturday night’s special: Smoky Camp Chili and Charred Jalapeno-Cheddar Cornbread. As clouds gathered overhead, John started the campfire and I started dinner. Chili is one of my favorite things to make on a camping trip- it’s so easy. I cooked up some bacon, then sautéed onion, peppers, jalapeno, and garlic in the same pot. I added ground beef before we discovered the one thing we’d forgotten: a can opener. John used his knife on a can of diced tomatoes and two cans of beans, which went into the pot with some chicken broth and a bunch of spices. I let the chili simmer away while I sipped wine by the fire, feeling the crisp air and trying to ignore the fact that Cholula was licking the grill. Before we ate, I added chopped cilantro, shredded cheese, more jalapeno, and avocado. John grilled the cornbread on the fire, just beating the first raindrops. We listened to the rain and some reggae while we devoured the spicy chili and played backgammon by candlelight. (Psst: I won.)
Sometime during the night, as the three of us jockeyed for space in the full-sized bed, the rain fell hard on the roof. John said, “I’m so glad we’re in here. Cozy.” and went back to sleep. Cozy, indeed.
On Sunday, John snuck out to fish on the river while I snuggled in bed with Cholula. By the time we started packing up camp, the clouds were threatening another downpour. We decided to skip the camp breakfast we’d planned and head toward home instead. I walked to the river before we left, spotting two hearts among the rocks, while Cholula said goodbye to her squirrel nemeses. We paused for some cows in the road before pointing the truck toward home. The rain turned to slush, and the first snowflakes of the season hit our windshield before we tucked into the Mirror Lake Diner in Kamas, Utah. While we waited for breakfast, we high-fived each other on a perfect camping weekend. And then my egg sandwich arrived, too big and egg dripping onto the plate. I happily dove in- even a tidy Capricorn can appreciate the sloppy joy of a delicious bite.
Back home, our divide-and-conquer tactic applies in reverse. John unloaded the truck while I toted the bedding, dish towels, and clothes to the laundry room. After hot showers, we ordered a pizza- because even with a cushy trailer, even with lists and organization and a PLAN, camping can take a lot out of you.
We clinked wine glasses over our gourmet candlelit take-out pizza dinner and agreed that the effort is totally worth it.