We had a free weekend and decided to go camping in Vermont! We recruited our friends, Jenny and Shaun, and their three pups to join us. Since it was last minute we figured we wouldn't find many open sites at campgrounds. We prefer more isolated camping anyway. We investigated primitive camping in Vermont and stumbled upon a list of several forest roads that have "campsites" ...basically an open space with a fire pit. Perfect. We chose Forest Road 35 in Pittsfield, Vermont because it sounded secluded and was near a brook which would be great for the dogs. And us.
We set out early Saturday morning and met our friends at the rest stop in Salem. It was a fairly uneventful ride. We utilized CBs along the way to coordinate bathroom breaks and gas stops. We got into Pittsfield, VT shortly after noon and turned onto Lower Michigan Rd. It started out as a regular dirt road with a few houses here and there and then became narrower and more like a trail. A road less traveled, if you will. We took this to be a good indicator that there probably wouldn't be a lot of other people on the road. The trailer did great even with the muddy potholes and ruts in the road. We eventually came upon a bridge. Unfortunately, there was a gate blocking it. At this point we decided we might as well make lunch because it was after 1pm and we were all quite hungry. We pulled the grill out of the trailer and the few things we needed to grill up some cheddar brats. Meanwhile, the dogs roamed free, swimming in the brook and frolicking in the grass and mud.
After our tummies were satisfied, we decided to head back out towards town. Over lunch, we had reiewed the map and found our error; we wanted to be on Upper Michigan Road, not Lower. We took Crossover Rd. to cross the brook and reach Upper Michigan Road. We saw a sign that said Forest Road 35 that confirmed we were on the right path this time. It wasn't long until we saw Green Mountain National Forest signs and began to see campsites. We were really hoping to get a site right next to the brook. Unfortunately the one that we had read about was occupied. We kept driving to see what else was open. We did see another site next to the water but there was a lady squatting next the the firepit. Literally squatting. No vehicle or tent was there. Just the lady, squatting. Shaun asked her if she was camping on that site and she responded that she was. We found it to be somewhat strange. But we moved on. After a good stretch of driving we found another site right next the water with open spots on each side of the road. Rob and I parked the trailer at the site while Shaun and Jenny continued on to scope out other open spaces. They continued until we lost radio contact. When they came back they reiterated that this was the best of the open sites so we set up camp. Rather, Shaun and Jenny set up camp. Rob and I just had to stabilize the trailer. It was so nice to park and not have to build the tent or make the bed. Instead we cracked open a beer and played with the pups.
After we were all settled, the ladies cruised back down the road a short distance to get some firewood from a neighbor who was selling it from the end of their driveway. Shaun and I stayed with the pups and parked our butts in our chairs on opposite sides of the trail. We sipped our beers and threw a frisbee at each other. When we'd miss, which was frequent, one of the dogs would fetch the frisbee for us, which was super convenient. We hardly had to move at all!
Jenny and I drove back towards town and gathered two bundles of firewood. When we went by the campsite that the lady had been squatting at we noted that the site was empty. On the way back in to camp however, there was a Subaru at the site and the squatting lady was now squatting in a different spot behind her (presumed) car at an adjacent site. So strange.
We got back to camp and found the men sitting and chatting while all the dogs were just laying around. It seemed like everyone was in full relaxation mode. I soon got to working cooking chicken and steak for tacos while Jenny got all of the fixings ready. Our kitchen setup worked wonderfully. And the tacos were delicious!
After we washed dishes and put everything away, Shaun set to work building us a fire. It's kind of his thing. If you recall from our previous overlanding adventures with Shaun, he built a fire every night. We let him have at it, and we always appreciate his efforts. This evening's fire was especially tough to ignite because the wood was all somewhat damp. He powered through, and soon enough we had a small, crackling pit of flame.
It seemed like a really long dusk for some reason, but eventually it started to get dark outside. We flicked on the rock lights on our trailer to help provide some ambient lighting away from the fire and to help us see our way around the site. Jenny busted out the 'mallows and grahams and chocolate before we'd had a chance to digest our delicious tacos. None of us were hungry but we ate smores anyways. We shared our beers and hard ciders, and argued over the pronunciation of "gose".
It began to drizzle, so we migrated temporarily to the awning, to stay dry. The rain let up shortly thereafter, and we all moved back to the fire. When it happened again, it didn't give up so quickly. We got cozy under the awning. Eventually, we were all feeling the effects of a long day, and were looking forward to a good night's sleep. We ensured everything was tucked into a place to stay dry that needed to be. Then, we brushed our teeth and snuggled up with Loki.
In the morning, we woke up not a moment before we were absolutely ready to. We checked the battery meter, which said our battery still had about 12.5V. We considered that it was disconnected from the truck around 2pm, and didn't really receive any direct sunlight after that, but the fridge ran all night, and the lights were on for a few hours. We're pretty content with the system performance; there was still plenty of life left in the battery as the sun was coming up.
Jenny cooked us up some awesome breakfast sandwiches, and we all had a round of cold-brewed coffees. We cleaned up the kitchen in short order, and then we spent the rest of the morning mostly standing around feeling awkward because we didn't have much to pack. We heckled Shaun and Jenny while they were dismantling their tent. And we played with the dogs, obvously. It was wonderful and relaxing and we loved it, but couldn't help feeling a bit odd, as it was so different than the normal packing-after-camping-in-the-rain that we're used to.
Once we were all packed and hitched up, and all our trash collected, we made our way back into downtown Pittsfield. If you want to call it that. We checked out the general stores, and got some beers and ciders that sounded good. We tossed them into the fridge to try out after we got home. Then we headed back the way we came.
As we approached route 93 on 89 near Concord, NH, Jenny radioed that we should divert from the highway to avoid southbound Sunday traffic. Good call Jenny! We took the scenic route through Bedford and got back onto the highway in Manchester. We caught about a mile of traffic, before things started moving freely again, which was not bad at all. The rest of our ride home was uneventful. We arrived home midafternoon with an exhausted puppy. He could barely get his butt up the 3 steps into the house while we unpacked the truck and tucked the trailer into the garage.
This trip was a fantastic first for our trailer, and was exactly what we were looking for. We found some minor things to work on on our trailer, but overall we couldn't be happier with its turnout. We love it.
It's been a while since we've given a status update. To be fair, we have been a little busy moving about the world. But we have not forgotten or given up on our trailer. In this episode, we install most of the electrical system.
Like everything else, we started with a need. In this case, it is a need to see our way about a campsite when we're setting up at night, relaxing around the fire, midnight pee runs, etc. We have headlamps, of course, and they contain white and red lights. We've found we use the red quite a bit more than we initially anticipated; it's great when you only need a little bit of visual aid after your eyes have adapted to the dark of night.
We wanted to incorporate that feature into our trailer, so we purchased two sets of rock lights. Rock lights are usually a few LEDs contained in a small housing, and their design intent is to be installed on a rock-crawling off road vehicle, near each wheel, to help light rough terrain for off roading at night. We purchased one set of four with white LEDs, and another set with red LEDs. We also purchased a 2-way light switch, so we can toggle between white and red with a single switch.
We thought that was going to be the tricky part of the wiring, and wanted to get that out of the way first. So once the testing proved successful, we moved our focus to the trailer's road lights. You know, brake lights and turn signals and all that. Since every trailer has them, we figured it would be simple. It was not.
We agreed that the trailer should have orange turn signals, separate from the brake lights. It is common for trailers to condense running lights, turn signals, and brake lights all into a single dual-filament bulb. Separating the turn signals out helps to reduce ambiguity of the signaling going on in the back of the trailer. It increases safety. It also increases the amount of parts and wiring required to make it all work. It was a little confusing at first, but we worked it out!
After the road lights harness was completed, with running lights, brake lights, turn signals, side markers front and rear, and reverse lights, we bundled it all up for installation. We borrowed our friend's truck, which is wired for a trailer connection, to test the harness and make sure everything works. We were pumped to find that everything worked according to the plan!
All the electrical demand we'll be creating needs a source. We made a power budget; conservative, but not unreasonable. We began shopping for a battery in the size range of 100Ah, somewhat larger than a typical car battery. We explored myriad options - two 6V batteries in series, two or more small 12V batteries in parallel, etc. We researched battery chemistries - lead acid, lithium polymer, absorbent glass mat, etc. We shopped around so many manufacturers and vendors. In parallel, we revisited a discussion we'd had previously about how we'd be recharging the battery. The tow vehicle can maintain a charge in a full battery with a small demand on it. We were concerned this would probably be insufficient, so rather than install solar panels at some unknown future date, we decided to bundle solar panels, a battery charger, and battery all together. We could be confident that all the components will play nice together since they were all packaged as a kit from a single supplier.
We installed the system monitor and a battery kill switch inside the sleeping area, in the headboard. The monitor shows us information like battery charge as a percentage of full, how much electricity we're using, how much power the solar panels are generating, etc. The kill switch disconnects the battery from the trailer electronics, but it keeps the solar charger connected to the battery. The charger can be easily destroyed and catch fire if it is disconnected from the battery while the solar panels are connected.
We also installed a switch for a pair of lights which will get installed in the ceiling, and a pair of USB outlets, for charging cell phones and whatnot. There is a spare switch spot, in case we think of something we want to add in the future.
After the components were mounted, we set about connecting them all together. This part was pretty straightforward, although complicated slightly because the cold weather makes a lot of the wires quite stiff. Getting them to go where we wanted was somewhat difficult.
With the help of a couple of space heaters in the garage, the wiring eventually began to cooperate and we got everything in its correct place. Stay tuned for our next episode: storage spaces!
That wonderful life-giving substance that is the bane of every homeowner's existence. Water gives, and it destroys. As such, we gave a lot of thought to how we would get water into the tank (that we installed in a previous episode), and how we would get it back out, as well as how we would assure that it won't destroy the trailer around it. There was a lot to consider. What materials would we use? Where would the plumbing go? How do we want to fill it, exactly? Do we want to rely on purification tablets? Would it store drinking water, or will we keep that elsewhere?
What we came up with is a solution that we're really happy with. And frankly, we're pretty pumped (haha!) to get to use it. In the near future, our use will mostly be relatively local state parks where potable water is easily accessible. However, we intend to eventually pull the trailer with us to some very remote areas where it's not. The trailer is quite small, so we were reluctant to give up storage space for drinking water. We imagined a scenario where we need drinking water and the only nearby source is a pond. We designed the plumbing in the trailer to work for us in this situation. Here's how.
We sourced a coarse sediment filter that is designed to be used inline with a garden hose. And we also picked up a pretty compact 50ft collapsible garden hose. We put the two together, and drop the filter into our dirty water source. Connect the other end to the inlet fitting on the trailer.
Next, we turn on our water pump in "suction" mode. This draws the water up through the hose and filter. Once it meets the trailer, it is passed through a much finer charcoal filter. The water goes through a maze of PEX plumbing to the pump and is then pushed into the tank. Bear in mind, it's rather difficult to photograph it all in one shot from the floor looking up.
Once the tank is full, the pump is turned off. We put the hose and filter away. Two three-way valves are switched, and the pump can be turned back on to build pressure in the supply lines. The pump is now in "normal" mode, and the sink and shower can be used as normal. Water will be drawn out of the tank, through the pump, and sent out to each point of use.
Here are some images of what it all looks like.
In parallel with the trailer frame fabrication, we ordered a custom axle from Redneck Trailer Supplies. It arrived right about the time we were ready for it, and I heaved a huge sigh of relief when it matched up perfectly to what we had made so far.
We had also bought 2,000lb leaf springs, U-bolts, and mounts from a friend who decided to go a different route with his trailer. Score! And we got a set of old Jeep wheels for free from another friend (we have lots, apparently!) who was ready to throw them away. Perfect! So of course, we had to bolt things together right away. Suddenly, it sort of looked like a trailer!
So, we tacked on the spring mounts to the frame. With the exception of tires, we’d built down as far as we could. It’s time to build upward!
These project tables were free so there's no guilt about totally destroying them! The white one we found in the woods on a Jeep adventure. Who leaves a table in the woods?! So as a bonus for cleaning up the environment, we got a free table! The other one...well we had to buy a house to get it. So it's either really expensive, or it was free. However you want to look at it.
Anyway, you can see some brackets on the frame that we haven't really talked about yet. It's tough keeping up pace with the writing, but also I kind of screwed them up. I've since fixed it, so we'll get there soon.
The tubing we recovered from the horse stalls at Rockingham Park is 1-1/2” square and 2” square about 1/8” wall steel. We don’t know how long it had been in service there for, but it had some light surface rust, as well as some patchy black paint. We devised the following process to clean up the tubes inside and out. First, a tube gets a bath in a rust remover product, Evapo-rust. It works reasonably well.
After a thorough rinse and drying, the ends get taped and the tube is filled with a primer designed for rusty metal surfaces (in case there was still some rust inside) and the primer is sloshed all around inside. The tape is removed from the tube ends and the excess primer is recovered for reuse. Then, the tube is left to dry for a day or two.
We addressed the remaining paint and rust on the outside of the tubes by using an abrasive wheel in the drill press.
This was of course a long process. But it gave us time to work out the design. So, by the time the tubes were ready for assembly, we were too. We laid out the ladder frame in accordance with the drawings we’d made and welded them up. Of course, the first one was in the wrong spot. Rocky start. But we caught it immediately and corrected it.
It hardly looks like anything now, but it was a lot of planning and effort to get us to this point! So much work has to go into defining our wants and our needs, deciding what we will actually install, where it will go and how it will all fit together. We had to consider multiple modes; over the road, it must be as small, light, and well-mannered as possible. Off road, it has to have ground clearance for obstacles, it must be sturdy to withstand a beating. In use, it has to be comfortable for cooking, cleaning, and sleeping. It has to be ergonomic, accessible, etc. And we had to figure all that out before we actually did anything that we wouldn't be able to undo. Hopefully this works!
Let’s begin with the idea. The conceptualization. No. Let’s start before that. Let us tell you about us. We love to camp. We are avid tenters. Not that we turn up our noses at trailerers or RVers or anything like that. It’s simply because our tent or hammocks are sufficient. We can throw everything we need (which isn’t much) into the back of our Jeep (which is tiny) on a Friday afternoon and disappear for a weekend pretty quickly.
That is just what we did this summer (2016). We had our first overlanding experience and it changed us. We had an absolute blast, of course. But there were a few purpose-built trailers travelling with us and that got gears turning in our heads. We could nearly eliminate setup and teardown times. The hammocks are great, but sometimes we have to get a little creative to set them up. We can put the tent up pretty quickly, but it’s never what I would describe as “fun” when we’re trying to do it in the dark. Additionally, we could keep a trailer packed with our gear and just hitch up and go. Lastly, keeping the gear in the trailer would move it out of the back of the vehicle, thus leaving more room for Loki to horse around or whatever he does back there.
We got home and decompressed and then started researching. What types of trailers did we like? What do we hate? What features do we want? What do we NEED? How much do we want to spend? Do we want to buy something already made? There were many angles. We looked at it in all sorts of ways. What do we intend to do with this thing? We went back and forth a lot on the two most common types of small trailers; a “storage box” with a rooftop tent, or a teardrop. Eventually we decided on a rooftop tent on a box. Then we changed our minds.
So, we set out to have a teardrop trailer. Build it or buy it? The two biggest strikes against buying a teardrop were price and unavailability of exactly what we were looking for. We agreed if we were going to spend upwards of $10,000 on a trailer, it better be what we want. So by this point we had seen more pictures of teardrops than we could count. We had a good idea of what has been done and we were starting to put our own twist on the typical designs.
To facilitate describing the finer points of the trailer design, I put pencil to paper. We measured the pieces of the puzzle that we already had. We pulled dimensions from the internet for things we wanted to add to our arsenal. I shuffled them around on paper until they all fit together nice and nice. Then we took two steps back and decided to shuffle everything up. We felt like the trailer was maybe a bit too tall, so we pulled everything down a bit.
So, we have come up with something somewhat unique, but it’s just what we want. We’ll have a queen size mattress, a grille, a fridge, a shower, and yes, even the kitchen sink! Support equipment includes a 20-gallon water tank and 30lb propane tank. We had to have good ground clearance, and we wanted it to be as short as possible (in length and height) to facilitate navigating tight trails. It must be beefy to handle the trails. It is an off-road trailer, after all.
So as we were working out the design, we started to acquire some parts we knew we’d need. We found a 12VDC/120VAC fridge/freezer on Craigslist for a song so of course we scooped that. We stumbled for a little bit trying to figure out where to get fabrication materials. It seemed like it was going to be fairly expensive. I was hesitant to buy materials until we had the design more developed. We came across another steal on Craigslist so we bought a bit more than we thought we’d need, which ended up being just enough. We got several lengths of square tubing reclaimed from the famous, historic, former Rockingham Park in Salem, NH. This would become our basic ladder frame for the trailer.
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins
We're just an adventure-loving couple with a puppy looking to share our stories with the world.