I’ve spent a lot of nights in tents, big and small. I’ve camped on beaches, at the top of mountains, and in forests and snow. But I’ve never spent a week in a truck camper until now. It’s different. Not bad, just different.
First of all, I’m not at all used to campgrounds, especially the kind that are filled with large, white, expensive trailers, like the Everest model down the way with four slide-outs. That block the sun. Or campground showers, which I’ve come to appreciate as much as good coffee. And I’ve also discovered that the larger the trailers, the smaller the dogs are. Which may explain why we have two semi-largish dogs in our little truck camper.
After far too little preparation and sleep, we loaded our camper with food, beverage, and dogs, and took off for Henrys Lake, a lovely piece of water about 20 miles from West Yellowstone. Dragging Gary’s 20’ bay boat behind us, we looked like kindergarten retirees, too young for the big boy fifth-wheels, toy haulers, speed boats, and mega-trailers.
Seven and a half hours later, we arrived at Henrys Lake, found our campsite, and met up with our friends, Randy and Jane.
If you’re going to have a truck camper, it’s best to make friends with people who have a “real trailer,” one with recliners and cabinets that hold things larger than molecules. Oh, and hot water. That’s another good thing for your friends to have, just in case you discover that your own hot water heating element burned out and you didn’t know it.
Speaking of technology, a while back, I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson expounding on the now-commonplace inventions that were developed as a direct result of space technology. The list is impressive, include GPS technology, cordless power tools, LASIK technology, and smoke detectors. He’s pretty easy to believe, especially since he was voted the World’s Sexiest Astrophysicist. (How much competition did he have, really? Well, yeah, I think he deserves it.) I personally have benefited from all of these fine inventions. The LASIK technology even changed my life, really. It came from the same technology that allowed space crafts to dock onto the Space Station. Cool, huh?
A little-known fact is that before being accepted into the space program, prospective astronauts have to prove their docking abilities by doing what should be a simple Earth-bound task: Put a truck camper onto a pickup truck. If you can’t do that, you have no business being in space trying to dock onto the Space Station.
In addition to the alignment challenges, the prospective astronaut has to have a second person there to assist. This second person can be a spouse or anyone that the docker has a complicated relationship with.
It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. Just line the damn thing up, latch everything down, and hit the road. But if you’re more than, say, ¾” off, you’ll find that one of your rear truck doors won’t open. More off than that and you’ll find the 3,500-pound camper on its side and you’re speed-dialing your insurance company and divorce attorney.
We are still pretty new at this lining-up business. The fastest we’ve done it yet was in one hour, the longest was a little bit more than two hours. Hand signals are particularly challenging because I have never worked on the tarmac at an airport, but apparently Gary has. Plus, the sound of his diesel motor can easily drown out my screaming.
You can get the damn thing 90% on, be a measly degree or two off, and have to start all over. I’ve also found that doing this in the wind and rain is a particularly bad idea. Sadly, we never seem to tackle this task when we are rested or have blood sugar. Both of these things could also help a lot. I bet TPTB make sure that astronauts are not running on empty before they dock.
The Internet is full of good advice for how to do this lining-up business. You can spend $500 for a vertical laser thingy that lines up with another vertical laser thingy and, bingo, you’re lined up. Gary wasn’t about to spend more money for a vertical laser than he would for a fly rod, so, instead, he bought the $47 version of the laser thingy from Harbor Freight.
In theory, we would mount the thingy to the exact center of the truck window and then line it up with a line on the camper. Boy, were we feeling smug, at saving $453. Until we found out that the Made-in-China-visible-to-40-feet laser was only visible for three feet in the daylight. Well, it could have worked, at night.
Back to the old-school method: Backing up, swearing, wincing, sucking your teeth, sighing, waving, repeat. Then a serious cocktail, when it’s over.
When we got to the campground, we had to unload the camper, which isn’t a big deal, so that Gary could continue to use our truck to launch/load the boat every day. As I looked at our little truck camper, sitting on its puny little legs while the wind swirled and howled around it, I wasn’t thinking about how much fun I was going to have in this beautiful place. Nope. I was fast-forwarding to a week from now, when we’d have to put that sonofabitch back on the truck. (It really was level; the photo is just from a weird angle.)
I’ve also never tried to work in a truck camper, with a lousy wi-fi connection that went from bad to worse every time the wind blew (which is does quite often here). I’m used to working off of two monitors, checking three e-mail accounts, and flipping from one crazy task to the next.
Working at Henrys changed all of that. I realized quickly that it made no sense to set up my second monitor because then I’d just be waiting forever for two things to load instead of one. To bridge the productivity gap, I spent a lot of time on the phone, which was probably irritating as hell for whoever I was talking to when the wind was howling.
While I spent a total of five days trying to work, my friend, Jane, spent her days doing what you’re supposed to be doing here if you’re not always crazy about fishing: hiking, enjoying the scenery, watching the clouds, and reading. At the end of each day, we had cocktails with Gary and Randy, while they told us about their day of fishing in glorious, Technicolor detail.
Jane, ever the witty of the two of us, quipped “Is that a sardine?” when we looked at their fishing photos. But truth be told, we were no match for their fishing productivity, with our fascinating stories of working, buying ice, and finding out the official elevation.
When the wind wasn’t howling, the mosquitos were fierce. They lurked in the shadows and wait for us to settle into bed. Then it was Pearl Harbor all over again. I swapped at an overzealous mosquito and managed graze my lip with my hand. Ah, the old, familiar taste of insect repellant. We can put a man on the moon, but…we can’t make an insect repellant that doesn’t taste like turpentine. Made me think of the old line:
“If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”
Sadly, the only thing that can take that taste out of my mouth is vodka. Too late for that.
At the end of our week at Henrys Lake, the final mosquito bite toll was 17. Gary caught a lot of fish, some days. And “camping” brings out the best in your friends-with-trailers. I found out that Jane is an über-camp cook, having made Thai food, paella, and other yummy things.
Randy makes a gin & tonic that, well, let’s just say one will do it.
I managed to get some work done, although, with hindsight, I have to admit that a “working vacation” is still working…and still stupid. I spent three glorious hours fishing on Saturday morning. I even caught a fish which, for me, is saying something.
The weather was calm that morning, so the mosquitos were abundant. But the scenery was still gorgeous. All of a sudden, the wind came up and it was time to get off of the water. I looked at my watch: 12:01. Yep, right on time.
Later that night, even buoyed with vodka, sitting in Randy and Jane’s deluxe trailer, can be a bit scary in 75 mph gusts.
Other than that, the weather was quite spectacular, especially compared to a year earlier, when Gary was there in hideous, freezing weather. It was that very cold and miserable experience that led to the purchase of said truck camper.
It was a good trip, although Gary managed to drop his phone to the bottom of Henrys Lake while netting a fish. Lesson learned. Our aging border collie mix, Henry, got to visit his namesake, Henrys Lake, and he seemed pretty excited about that, as you can see.
And our border collie, Claire? Well, she decided to hang out with us girls.
The night before we left, before the gin & tonics, we got the truck camper back on the truck in a record 39 minutes. I will mention, however, that about 20 minutes into it, our angle was particularly off and we made unplanned and scary contact between the truck and the camper, leaving a mild abrasion on the metal of the camper. We also lost several years of our lives during those moments, as Gary had to ensnare the truck from this dangerous predicament. Watching an unattached, 3400-pound truck camper shake and shudder can give a person religion.
Later, when Claire yeowled to go out at 2:30 am, I looked up at the glorious blanket of stars and thought about our little truck camper’s place in the cosmos. From there, I couldn’t see all of the thousands (millions?) of dollars’ worth of trailers and boats around me. I couldn’t see the satellite antennas on the Everest trailer. All I could see were the spectacular stars and constellations. And somewhere out there was the Space Station and more technology than any of us could have imagined fifty years ago.
As we hoisted ourselves up into the truck camper, Claire and I paused to consider how amazing it was that we had gotten the truck camper back onto the truck. There had been no high-tech, LASIK-based technology to help us. Nope. This is where science had been replaced, briefly, by religion. Or, more accurately, science had been replaced by swearing. Yep; it was a goddamned miracle.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.