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Our New and Improved Road Trip Machine

Hey guys! As Rebecca promised, we’re going to be sharing all about our six-week road trip, sans camper, across the Great Southwest. But first, I wanted to show off a little bit and show you the camping rig I built so we could camp in the back of the Tahoe!

Our New & Improved Road Trip Machine

Let me back up. When we took our road trip last fall, we started out tent camping, but after two weeks of breaking down and setting up that tent every.single.day., I decided I never wanted to do that again, and we spent the rest of the trip camping in the back of the truck. And we really liked it! We stayed warmer, felt safer, and slept sounder than we had in the tent. And the time savings in not setting up and breaking down the tent every day was awesome.

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One of the few issues we had that were frustrating was that we had to take EVERYTHING out of the back of the truck every night. Simple annoyance is one thing — but then we met the Monster Raccoons of the West Coast. Giant, dog-sized raccoons with no fear of God or man, who were smart enough (and strong enough) to get into just about every container we had, including locking ones and our cooler. So ultimately, we spent every night with the entirety of our belongings piled up to the ceiling in the front seat.

Soooo, when the trip was over, and I knew we were likely to do another similar adventure in the not-too-distant future, I started researching and brainstorming on how I could make the truck more comfortable, more usable, and with better storage. I found a ton of pickup and SUV campers online, and had fun assembling my favorite of all their ideas and builds. And what I ended up building worked out great!

the starting point.
The starting point.

So here’s what I started with: the empty back of the Tahoe. During my research and daydreaming, I developed a set of criteria the final project had to meet:

  • It had to be completely removable from the truck.
  • It had to allow us to use the back seats when we weren’t road tripping.
  • It had to be long enough for us to sleep comfortably. (I’m 6 foot, and Rebecca’s a few inches shorter.)
  • It had to have room for storage underneath the sleeping platform for our food, clothes, and camping gear.
  • It had to have plenty of headroom in the sleeping area — we weren’t trying to downgrade from the tent.
  • It had to have a built-in pull-out table.
  • It had to leave us access to the 12-volt ports in the back of the truck.
  • It had to leave us access to the hidden tire jack in the wall of the back of the truck.
  • And it had to look good!

So with a those criteria and lots of ideas, I put my build plans together.

Tahoe Camping Build Collage

Basically, what I came up with was a 4ft x 4ft box that would sit behind the back seats in the rear of the Tahoe (bottom right pic above) with modular panels sitting on top of it. Then, when it was time to go camping, we’d lay the seats down flat, and slide those platforms forward into that space, creating a 6-foot long sleeping platform (left picture above). It looked good on paper, at least!

So, one rainy Louisiana day at my parents’ new house, I assembled my materials and got to work. For those of you who may be curious, I used 1/2 inch plywood for the top and bottom of the platform, and 3/4 inch plywood for the supports. It’s held together with Gorilla Glue wood glue and a few different lengths of sheetrock screws. I have a pretty respectable power tool collection for a guy who lives in a camper, but it sure was nice to have access to my dad-the-professional-building-contractor’s tools for the day. This would have been a good bit more difficult without a table saw.

So here we go!

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I began by cutting out the base to size, which also gave me my measurements for the top of the platform. Then, I starting cutting my supports, and jigsawed out the space around the jack access (which I was VERY grateful I had done a few weeks later when I had to change a tire in the middle of the desert!). After a few attempts, it was pretty good! I then cut the other supports, and begin assembly…

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The plan was for the finished product to have two 4-foot long camping gear storage compartments on the left and right, and in the middle, room for a long low container to hold our food. Directly under the food compartment, you can see the thin space I’d left for my table, which I was very excited about. Once everything was squared up and attached, it was time for a dry fit …

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And it fit! Really well! Some might even say it fit…

like a glove

Once the table was assembled it was time to sand, stain, poly, and carpet!

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The stain came out a little darker than I wanted, but overall, it came out pretty good! And installed, it looked even better:

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Now we had a flat, carpeted area for sleeping, with tons of room for storage, both in the back …
PicMonkey Collage (3)

… and also on the sides! We used that space for our clothes bags on the trip, which worked out really well. 

With some new sleeping bags, our pillows, and our trusty Thermarest LuxuryMap mattresses we’d bought in the fall, we were ready to hit the road! The build successfully met all my criteria, and we were excited to give it a trial run.

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But before we hit the road, we ran into another challenge. We realized, since we were packing pretty heavy on this trip (to prepare for some wildly varied weather forecasts, as well as some backpacking) that we were about to run smack-dab back in to our old storage problem! We were going to have to pull big bins of STUFF in and out of the truck every night, and probably leave them outside, which we didn’t want to do.

However, my parents happened to still be in the middle of a giant purge as they moved into their new house, and discovered they still had an ancient cartop carrier that hadn’t been used in probably 15 years. Very kindly, they offered it to us!

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The famous Sears X-Cargo.

Now, as a lover of cool gear, I was a little torn. I love awesome camping rigs, and Thule racks and carriers, and all that sweet expensive stuff. However, having just spent literally thousands of dollars over Christmas on camper repairs, the price tag of “free” hit me just right — and Lord knows Rebecca and I love to breathe new life into old cars/trucks/apartments/campers/furniture/etc. So, we gratefully accepted, and got to work.

Now this thing was probably 25 years old, had spent most of its life in storage in unvented attics, and it definitely looked like it. The straps were faded and dryrotted, all the hardware was rusted, and the foam gasket had certainly seen better days.


PicMonkey Collage

However, with a sanding block, some WD40, a spray can of Plasti-Dip, new straps, and a rivet gun, as well as a some new weather stripping, I was able to fix those problems right up.

PicMonkey Collage (1)
Ooooooooh yeah.

However, there was still the problem of appearance — it looked like 1987 was back with a vengeance, and you were about to endure an 18-hour car ride with your siblings to go see your weird aunt. Since we had gotten the carrier for free, I figured it would be okay to splurge on some paint and rollers, and bring this bad boy into the 21st century.

PicMonkey Collage (4)

With a few coats of our much-beloved Glidden Gripper primer, and a few coats of a flat black Rustoleum paint, the X-cargo was looking ready for a new life of adventure!

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With our backpacks and winter gear safely stored up top, our sleeping bags and air mattresses already set up for crashing, and the cooler full, we were ready to hit the road on our Great Southwest Adventure!


Travel Update: St. Augustine & Panama City Beach, Florida

St. Augustine and Panama City Beach Florida - Our Streamlined Life

Hi friends! We’re checking in with another update on some of our recent travels. After leaving Savannah we were headed still further south, towards St. Augustine, Florida. I was excited as I had pretty clear memories of being there as a little girl 21 years ago!

Visiting St. Augustine in 1994 - Our Streamlined Life

Our campground, Anastasia State Park, was on a peninsula off the coast of St. Augustine. We drove through the old city and past the fort to get there — gorgeous views, although the roads were a little tight for the camper!

The campground looked like a tropical jungle, and the ocean was just a short walk from our campsite. Sadly I didn’t get to enjoy the beach because I had work to catch up on before meeting friends for dinner, but we did enjoy making a cute reptilian friend:

St. Augustine snapping turtle - Our Streamlined LIfe

It was a gorgeous Florida night as we we headed into St. Augustine to meet our friends. The night was breezy and balmy — perfect for walking around! We did a quick loop through the old city, and settled on Sangrias Tapas Bar & Restaurant. We ordered delicious burritos, tapas, and, of course, sangria! We had the whole restaurant to ourselves so we enjoyed relaxing and catching up with our friends before heading to Cafe del Hidalgo just around the corner for gelato and coffee.

Our evening in St. Augustine left both of us wishing we had more time to explore, but the next morning we were up bright and early to hit the road again. The weather was turning unpleasant, as you can see in the pictures I snapped of the Castillo de San Marcos on our way out.

Castillo de San Marcos - Our Streamlined LIfe

We had about six hours of driving ahead of us and were hoping to arrive in Panama City Beach before the threatened severe thunderstorms caught up with us. After our last experience driving in the rain, we weren’t anxious for a repeat! Fortunately the day passed quickly and we arrived at our campground just as the rain was beginning. Our site at St. Andrews State Park was just a little short (our trailer-butt is definitely up in that tree!) but we could see the lagoon through the trees. St. Andrews State Park Panama City Beach Florida - Our Streamlined LIfeEven though we would be spending four nights in Panama City Beach, the next morning we still had to pack up the camper, much to my chagrin. We had an appointment with an RV repair shop to address the plumbing issues we’d encountered at the beginning of the trip. One of the fun things about RV places is checking out other people’s rigs/camper palaces.

It's a palace, really - Our Streamlined Life

We actually ended up having to leave the camper overnight for the repairs to the underside, which meant we got to do a little car camping. (We did so quite comfortably: the weather was perfect, the bugs were minimal, and the showers at St. Andrews were super nice and very clean.) The plumbing issues turned out to be relatively minimal, but we were treated to a lovely view of the disgusting insulation that had been flooded during the leak.

So that's pretty gross - Our Streamlined Life

But enough about our camper drama! Panama City Beach was actually the penultimate destination of our southbound road trip: we were meeting Ryan’s family there for his brother’s senior-year football tournament. So our weekend involved a lot of this …

Go Patriots - Our Streamlined LIfe

… plenty of this …

Sunset on the Gulf - Our Streamlined LIfe

… only a little more of this than we would have liked …

Working at Panera - Our Streamlined LIfe

… and even an adorable sandman!

The sandman - Our Streamlined Life

Sunday morning we packed up the camper one more time … finally, Louisiana bound!

Three states in a day - Our Streamlined LIfe

Three states and six hours later we arrived at Ryan’s parents’ home where we’ll be spending about eight weeks. The camper is parked in their driveway so we have the best of both worlds: our own bed and our own stuff but we still get to spend the holidays with family.

The turtle house might be stationary for now, but we still have some exploring planned: New Orleans and Baton Rouge, here we come! And stay tuned for some fun posts on our camper renovations, life on the road, and more!

The Grand Finale: Days 38-42

At long last, we’d done it. We’d been to all the places we wanted to go. Now — it was time to go home, and the sooner the better. We were both pretty ready to be back in the camper and back in our own bed. We headed east from Colorado Springs, slowly watching the mountains disappear in the rearview mirror.

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We were headed back to Peoria to stay with Rebecca’s sister again, and had hazy dreams of of making the entire 16 hour drive in one day. Surprising exactly no one, that didn’t happen, but I was able to convince Rebecca to try just one more 2-star hotel (part of an ongoing conversation begun during this fiasco earlier in the trip). After showing her countless 4- and 5-star reviews of a tiny little Super 8 in a highway town in Macon, Missouri,  she agreed to be brave, and we were very pleasantly surprised: all the good reviews were true! Everyone was friendly, the room was clean, fresh, and well stocked, and most importantly, nice and cheap!

After a good night’s sleep, we knocked out the last few hours on the road, and spent a very relaxing afternoon and evening with her sister and her family. They took us to explore the Peoria waterfront, which was very pretty.

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Nephews are fun.

In fact, we had such a nice time on Sunday that we got lazy and decided to stay Monday as well, enjoy relaxing with Rebecca’s sisters and our nephew, and get another good night’s sleep in a real bed. Tuesday, though, was time to get back on the road, as I wanted to get back during the day on Wednesday.

It was cold and rainy most of the day, and we were yet again dissuaded from camping. However, we got lucky, and were able to snag a really nice 3-star hotel on Priceline for about $65. We got in at a reasonable time, and spent a very relaxing evening watching Southpaw with Jake Gyllenhaal.

After seeing the very reasonable prices on the leave-this-hanger-on-the-door-with-your-order-for-roomservice-breakfast card, we decided to go that route, and went to bed anticipating a nice hot breakfast delivered to our room. However, the next morning, when the time appointed for delivery had come and gone with no food in sight, Rebecca stuck her head out into the hall and discovered that our order card had never been picked up(!). She called down to the restaurant, and after explaining the situation, they comped us breakfast, and had it up to us within 10 minutes! We very much enjoyed our breakfast, in no small part due to the wonderfully low cost of free.

We got back on the road, and made it back to Harpers Ferry about 1pm — in the middle of a rainstorm. Despite carefully planning our trip back around getting in at midday to make sure we had time to move the camper back to our site and set it up before dark, it was much too muddy to move it. We ended spending the night in a cabin, which my boss was kind enough to let us stay in for free. It wasn’t the camper, but it we slept warm and dry, and even had room to let our wet clothes dry, so we were definitely grateful.

 

Aaaand Relax (Days 20 & 21)

It is hard to believe we left Virginia three weeks ago today! The past few days have been a welcome break from the road. It has been great to sleep in a real bed, and have something approaching a normal routine. I think we didn’t realize how tired we’ve been from all the driving, exploring, and sleeping on the ground we’ve been doing! We’ve been doing a little work, a little relaxing, a lot of eating, and spending plenty of quality time with Aunt Pam and Uncle Ted.

There have also been ample amounts of puppy snuggles:

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Another highlight was bottling wine with Uncle Ted. He had a large vat of his own 2013 Petit Verdot that needed to be bottled so we spent a couple of hours out in his workshop learning about the process and helping him bottle.

bottling wine with uncle ted

On the left you can see me in action corking a bottle. Top right is an up close of the wine corker. The bottle sits on the round black piece, and the cork fits in that little hole. As you press on the lever, the cork is compressed in the hole, tightly enough that the thin metal piece can press it right into the neck of the wine bottle. And, most importantly, the bottom right is the 25 beautiful bottles of Petit Verdot that came from our endeavors!

A Beautiful Day Boating in Port Townsend Bay (Day 19)

Today dawned clear and bright — a perfect day to go boating in Port Townsend Bay! After breakfast, Uncle Ted and I went out to the shop and got to work cleaning and prepping the boat. We swept and washed it, ran both the motors, checked the systems, and got it all hooked up to his truck (a Silverado 2500HD that I’m super jealous of).

Uncle Ted, hard at work prepping the boat.
Uncle Ted, hard at work prepping the boat.

We drove it down into town and got it launched. The girls pulled up, picnic lunch in hand, just as we were getting the boat into the water. We loaded them up, and off we went!

Rebecca, eager to get this show on the water!
Rebecca, eager to get this show on the water!
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I could get used to this.

It was an absolutely perfect day out on the water — breezy, mid-70s, and sunny. We cruised up past Fort Worden, where we were thinking of anchoring for our picnic, but the water was kind of choppy, so we turned around and headed across the bay over to Fort Flagler State Park.

We anchored there out of the wind, and had a wonderful lunch, just chatting and enjoying the sun and the breeze. My grandparents had visited earlier in the year, and my aunt and uncle had taken them for a boat picnic in the same spot, so that was kind of cool.

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Our wonderful hosts, Captain Ted and Aunt Pam.

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After we wrapped up lunch and took a bunch of pictures, we headed back to shore, and back to home base. Aunt Pam had to take the dogs to the groomer to prep them for their agility trials later in the week, so after helping Uncle Ted put the boat away, Rebecca and I spent a quiet afternoon writing and uploading and editing pictures. PicMonkey Collage

Once Aunt Pam got back, it was time for dinner and some BBC! I was introduced to Father Brown, which I’d actually started to read at one point at Rebecca’s suggestion. We watched the show, and it was great! However, after a long day at sea, we were all pretty tired, and I ended up drifting off somewhere in the second episode. Nice way to end a great day!