I Need a Suggestion Box

Well my friends, the days are slowly getting longer, it isn’t quite as cold, and I have more fur on my floor which means it’s almost time for Road Trip Season!

I have a few trips already (kind of) planned out but I’m looking for your suggestions.  It could be an awesome town, a great cafe, or the must-do hike.  Anything and everything you have I want to know but with one condition: it has to be in the contiguous United States and Canada.  As good as my little Corolla is, it doesn’t handle water crossings well.

If we visit a place you suggest, I’ll make sure you get a shout out.  Now if it’s a secret that you don’t want broadcast (and I get why that would be), send me an e-mail (3adventuredawgs@gmail.com).  We can go and keep the location on the down low.

I have been waiting to hit the road since last year and I cannot wait to see what suggestions you have for what is out there.

Cheers all.

P.S.  I couldn’t resist sharing some pictures of our trips over the past two seasons.

More Than a Safety Dance

I get asked, a LOT, if I’m scared to travel on my own with only my four-legged companions.  It never really occurred to me to be scared to travel.  I don’t think of myself as above-average in the bravery department and initially I had felt a degree of trepidation but that was about being on my own in case something happened, like some mysterious part in the car broke.  But I’ll tell you: if you want to feel like a total badass, get out on the road on your own.  There is something so empowering about being out there and having to be completely self-reliant to make you feel like you can take on the world.

Trust Your Gut

Your survival instinct has been around for a lot longer than you have been and has kept a weak and defenceless species alive, so when it’s telling you that something is wrong, trust it!  Take a second and figure out what may be wrong and if you still have that feeling in the pit of your gut, move on.  Yes you may miss something but there are so many people who say “I had a feeling and I ignored it…”

Don’t be an Ass on the Road

I credit the fact that I have never had any major catastrophes on diligent pre-planning and maintenance of the car.  In bad weather I slow down and keep lots of distance between the cars ahead of me.  Those two things will go a long way to keeping you safe on the road itself.

Watch Your Feet

If you go out for a hike, take care where you put your feet; a rolled ankle can be a minor inconvenience but if you lose your footing and cause serious damage, the consequences can be much more extreme.  I was once hiking through the Adirondacks on a leaf-covered trail.  Everything looked pretty good but the leaf cover camouflaged a small depression and when I was watching the dogs, I wasn’t watching my feet and rolled an ankle.  It wasn’t too bad but it was unpleasant.

Road Trip 2015-spring edition 036

There’s something out there

Dress for the weather, both wen you head out and what it could be and at least take a small snack with you.  I’m sure no one goes out planning to get lost but it does happen.  In fact studies have found that you’re more likely to get lost after you’ve been somewhere a few times.  It makes sense: when you first go somewhere, you’re paying total attention but once you get comfortable, the mind starts to get a bit lazy.  Next thing you know, you’re lost.  Carry a whistle.  And even though you may not get any cell service, bring your phone with you.  Some signals will go through and you can always use it as a flashlight or signalling device.

 

No Valuables

There is no need to wear ginormous diamond rings or expensive watches when you’re driving the roads so leave them safe at home.  Big sparklies can draw unwanted attention.  Same thing with having expensive things visible in the car.  And don’t flash stacks of cash.

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Have a plan in mind for what you will do in the event of a flat tire or car stops moving or you run out of gas.  Knowing what you will do in any situation reduces the anxiety of that unknown element.  When we were in Arizona, I had my eyes peeled for snakes and I had read up on care for snake bites.  Maybe a bit paranoid but I’d rather have that piece of mind.  The weirdest thing was seeing signs for poisonous snakes in Minnesota and Montana.

And because we were heading into the desert, I made sure I had a TON of water with me.  And I’m glad I did because we went through a lot of it.  Oddly we went through more when we were at Monument Rocks in Kansas.  But it was hooooooooot.

dsc05711

Monument Rocks in Kansas.

Do you have a daredevil dog?  Jack is fearless when it comes to heights and will walk to the very edge of sheer drop offs.  Once I realized that he gave zero F’s about heights, I kept him either on leash or next to me to keep him from taking an accidental tumble.

Mind Games

It’s not just car stuff to worry about.  Think about what it takes to make yourself a less than ideal target.  Have a plan of action to deal with people who get up in your space.  The dogs are the best body guards out there and I don’t worry about people getting close without me knowing about it.  And while the boys are less than intimidating, Piper more than makes up for it, especially when she fixates on something: her head goes up, her chest goes out, and she gets that intense Boxer stare that makes her look like she squints a little as her underbite somehow becomes even more pronounced.  Heck, it even makes me stop and do a double take.

If you’re going to be on your own, be prepared to take care of yourself.  Adopt the warrior mindset that nothing is going to stop you from going home safe.  Get the thought into your mind that you will bite, claw, kick your way through anyone and anything that tries to interfere with your safety.

I know a lot of people put their faith in pepper spray and stun guns.  For them I have two things to say: what are you going to do if it gets taken away, and have you ever experienced it?  Like so many other things, TV would have you believe that a spray or zap will drop a person in their tracks.  Reality unfortunately is far from TV.  Neither are the end all be all of safety.  Never mind the legality (depending on where you are).

Personally, when I’m walking towards the car I like to keep the key in a fist so that the metal part is sticking out between my fingers; this turns the key into something that would hurt.  I also keep lots of keys on a carabiner that’s big enough for me to fit my hand through.  That makes a good distraction if I smack someone upside the head with a mittful of keys.

The idea is to avoid being in that situation to begin with.  Look at everyone near you.  Make eye contact.  Walk with your head high because you are a badass explorer taming the road.  It also makes you look like less of a target and gives the impression that you know everyone’s face.  People up to nefarious purposes want the easy target so don’t be an easy target.

Part of not being an easy target is parking your car where it can be seen.  When possible, avoid parking near shrubs, trees, walls, anything that can provide cover for anyone who wants to lie in wait.

Think dirty.  Ask yourself what you would do if you wanted to sneak up on someone and do what you can to prevent it.

When I’m travelling with the dogs, we don’t spend much time in cities since it’s harder to maneuver with them and I can’t really explore shops since I’d have to tie them up outside and I always worry about tying them up outside.  I make sure I keep them in sight as much as possible.  I don’t like to drive much at night since the whole part of driving is to see as much as I can and unfamiliar cities are hard enough to navigate at the best of times, never mind when it’s dark.  That also keeps me out of sketchier parts of cities.

Someone at the Door

Hotels are relatively safe but if someone is knocking at your door there’s nothing wrong with asking who they are and if they say they’re with the hotel, have them wait until you confirm it with the front desk.  Keep the blinds drawn if you’re at ground level or if there’s a walkway that goes by your window.  And use every locking system available to you.

Find the Spot

When you’re camping, spot selection is highly personal but there is one thing to consider: if you’re close to people more people will see you.  If you’re far from people, there may be no one close enough to hear you if you call for help.

img_7663

Leo trying to figure out how to get in first.

Gas Makes Car Go

Nuff said.

Now I know there are TONS of other safety tips, some of which I have addresses in earlier posts.  Is there anything that you do to maintain your safety on the road?

Thank You

In a very short time span, I was notified that I had received 1000 likes, 100 follows, and it was the one year anniversary of starting this blog.  I.  Am.  STOKED.

I mean I had this crazy idea that I’d “get discovered” and someone would pay me to travel the world with my critters and eat all over the place and spend my days wandering the countryside.  But then reality set in.

It took me a little bit to think about what it is that I’m doing here.  I would look at the counter of people following along (side note: I don’t like the term followers) and wonder why it wasn’t growing.  Then I realized that I had to actually network which has never been my strong suit.

I thought that my success was measured by the little number on the side that showed how many people were having my little stories pop up on their readers.  For a bit, I thought about shutting it down because that number wasn’t really growing.

Then I actually looked a little bit deeper.  Even though I don’t have a ton of people who clicked that “follow” button, I saw that I have a very high proportion of people that I actually engage with and have dialogue with and interact with.  I may not be able to go to a company and say “Hey I have thousands of people who read what I write so give me something” but I feel that I have a much more meaningful relationship with the people who take the time out of their busy lives to read about what a woman from Ontario is going with her three dogs.  And that’s much more valuable and special than the people who mindlessly click in the “Like” button.

A sincere thank you to each and every one of you who reads about our adventures and I hope that you continue to travel with us as we explore the world…one road at a time.

IMG_6613

Piper’s all smiles.

IMG_7003

I think this is the look of pure bliss.

IMG_7050

Leo trying (and failing) to be coy.

“Blinkin! They’ve taken the castle!”

“I thought it felt a bit draughty.”

I couldn’t help a Mel Brooks reference.  So while you’re out galavanting around the world, what’s happening with your castle?   Hopefully this:

330

I just love this

If you like and trust your neighbours, you can let them know that you’re heading out for a bit or have someone house sit.  That’s a great option if you have pets or a lot of plants.  Just as a side note: make sure the person taking care of your plants isn’t me because I can kill just about anything green.

If you’re out and about in the winter, it may be worthwhile having someone come by to clear your driveway and walkways.  Freshly fallen snow is beautiful but if you’ve got the only house that has kept that freshly fallen look, it is kind of obvious.

If you spend a lot of time away from home, there are a few things you can do to prevent break-ins or to at least make your home a slightly less appealing target.  Start by increasing the natural surveillance.  That’s just a fancy way of saying “make your home more visible”, especially the access points like windows and doors.  Keep shrubs trimmed so they don’t obscure the doors and windows and if you’re a gardener, plant thorny plants like roses under windows.

Make sure all windows and doors are closed and locked.  Any sliding door or window can be secured with a simple dowel laid in the track.  If you’re worried about the glass being broken out, you can get a clear window film that will reinforce the glass.  The glass will still break but the film holds it together like the windshield of a car.

Strong locks are a good start but your lock is only as strong as the frame it’s attached to so if the frame is flimsy, get some hardware to reinforce it. Keeping curtains and blinds drawn means that outsiders can’t see if your home is a jackpot.  It may not keep them from breaking in, but it may reduce the odds.  If you live in an apartment, talk to property management about increasing the security of your door.  A window facing onto a fire escape is an obvious way to access the apartment so look at what options are available to make it more difficult.  Bars are a great idea but may violate the fire code.

If you have a surveillance system, make sure it’s running and set the footage to be saved for longer than you’ll be gone.  A few years ago that would have sounded crazy but now days you can get really good systems for really good prices.  If you’re in an apartment, there’s nothing stopping you from putting some kind of a camera in your own apartment.  I’d have one facing the door and camouflage it.  If you get a set, heck put those things everywhere.  Just make sure that whatever it’s saving to doesn’t get stolen.  That kind of defeats the purpose.

Keep valuables somewhere other than in the bedroom.  It’s a natural tendency to keep your most precious possessions in your inner sanctum which makes it the obvious target.  And if you keep things in a safe, evaluate how well your safe is hidden and secured.  If it’s just a couple of screws, that can be pried up and dealt with later.

Look into suspending services like internet, phone, and cable.  I mean that’s a lot to pay if you’re gone for weeks.

Unplug as many things as you can.  First, because even when their off a lot of electronics still draw on the power but also to prevent anything being damaged if there’s a power surge.

Have mail and any deliveries suspended.  Nothing says “nobody’s home” like a stack of flyers.  On a related note, either don’t put garbage bins out or get someone to bring them in.  If garbage day was Tuesday and it’s now Saturday and your bins are still at the curb, that’s another big clue that no one is home.  And when you do put your garbage out, break boxes down for high-end items like TV’s.  Walk through a neighbourhood on garbage day, especially after Christmas, and you can find out all kinds of things about what people have in their homes.

If you have an alarm system and it’s monitored, make sure the monitoring company has the information for a key holder that they can contact while you’re away and can check out the place if there is an alarm.  If an alarm does come in, it may be nothing or it may be something but I’m sure you’d rather have someone that’s close by that can check it out and arrange for any repairs that may be needed while you’re away.

Empty out the fridge as much as you can before you leave.  No one likes coming home to slimy produce.

It may seem obvious, but make sure bills are set up for payment before you leave.  And while you’re at it, let your credit card company know you’re going to be travelling so they don’t suspend your card thinking that it’s being fraudulently used.

If you have mouse traps down, pick them up.  Forget to do that once and you will never do it again.  Trust me on this one.

So what things do you do before leaving home?  I’m sure I’ve forgotten or never thought of some great tips.

I just had to throw in a few gratuitous travel pics…

Liebster Award

Untitled 2Imagine my surprise when I saw that I had been nominated for the Liebster Award by Matthew Wakelee.  His recent series of posts about his favourite National Parks certainly bumped a few higher up on my “have to visit” list.

The Liebster Award was created in 2011 to encourage bloggers to discover and promote new and emerging blogs.  So, a huge THANK YOU to Matthew: first for following along and secondly for the nomination.  It’s really appreciated.

If you are nominated to receive this award and if you accept you must write a post following the rules below:

•Post about the award on your blog

•Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog

•Answer their questions about yourself, feel free to add photos

•Nominate 5 – 10 people with fewer than 1000 followers, inform them via social media

•Write your own set of questions for your nominees

•Feel good about yourself for winning an award and passing it on

My responses to Matthew’s Questions

  1. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging because I had this crazy idea that folks might want to read about the trips that we have taken and the places that we had found.

2. What is your favorite place you’ve ever visited?

This is a really hard one.  I think if I had to pick a place, it would be Montana.  I’m itching to get back there again.  I’ve spent a lot of time in North Carolina and loved it.  And going to The Bahamas for my brother’s wedding was incredible.

174

A spot I will never forget in Montana.

IMG_6559

A stop to hike in the mountains in North Carolina.

IMG_6488

The standard steps in the sand photo in The Bahamas.

3.  What place is atop your bucket list?

Ireland but that one will have to be without the dogs.  I want to take them to Newfoundland just because I’ve never been.

4.  What is your dream job?

Getting paid to blog about travelling with my dogs of course 🙂

5.  What is your favorite book?

River Monsters by Jeremy Wade and Feasting on Asphalt: the River Run by Alton Brown are tied for first.

6.  What are your favorite things to do when you’re not blogging?

I run and hike with the dogs.  And I bake for humans and dogs.

7.  Do you travel with children?

I don’t have kids so that’s an easy one.

My nominees are:

  1.  Tails Around the Ranch
  2. Being Breanna
  3. Nuggets Drooling
  4. Traveling Flea Circus
  5. Marking Our Territory
  6. Handstands Around the World

 

My questions to the above nominees are:

  1. What is the best accidental discovery you’ve ever made?
  2. If money were no object, what would you do?
  3. Mountain or plain?
  4. What is your favourite drink?
  5. What is the mode of transportation that you prefer?
  6. Where is one place you’d that you’d recommend we visit?

 

To my nominees, if you want to participate I can’t wait to read your answers.  If not, it’s all good.

Cheers everyone.

Avoiding the Overlook Hotel

I’ve never seen the movie “The Shining” but even I know about the Overlook Hotel where the movie is set.  So here are my thoughts on staying in hotels with dogs.

On one hand, hotels offer many of the comforts of home.  I mean there’s running water, often a coffee machine and fridge, and even *gasp* TV!  What could possibly go wrong?  Well let me tell you…

I stopped at one motel that was supposedly a dog-friendly two-star.  It was barely a half star and there was a sign right at the front that said dogs weren’t allowed.  Fortunately the man at the front let me stay anyway.  Mostly because he did not seem to care what went on there.  That should have been the first sign of trouble.  This was one of my first road trips and I was exhausted so I didn’t look around before I unpacked and cracked into the bottle.  It was when I was sipping my drink that I actually looked at the room.  It was one of the worst motel rooms I have ever seen.  It was so bad that I called up Hotwire to complain.  Well wouldn’t you know that there were no other dog-friendly hotels or motels close by in anything close to the same price range.  This was one place that I was happy to leave but it did teach me a lot.

And then there’s the whole “pet friendly” label.  After some issues with a couple of hotels, I decided to do a bit of digging and called two major chains: Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn.  Both chains market themselves as being pet friendly but as I learned this past trip, there can be some fine print to go through.

So here’s how it works: each hotel is independently owned and in order to buy into the franchise, the owner has to accept pets at no additional cost but the size and number of pets is up to the owner.  When I asked more about it, the reason usually boils down to minimizing noise and damage caused by the animals.  I half expected it to be because of cleaning which is why there are some rooms specifically for pets or they put you in a smoking room.  But no; the main reason is because people have brought their dogs and the dogs just sit there and bark their heads off thereby irritating every other guest.  Or they leave for hours on end and the dog destroys the room.

The best way to avoid any pet-related drama?  Call before you book. You can’t even trust what’s on Expedia because I have seen quite a few times where there is conflicting information.  My favourite is “pets not allowed” and then you scroll down two lines and read “pets allowed”.  It’s the best way to avoid any surprises.  It took me a loooooooooong time to figure this one out.

Take a few minutes to read the reviews.  It doesn’t matter how nice a place is, people will still complain about it but read on to see if there’s a trend to the complaints.  Are these things that you care about?  If you have no intention on using the pool, don’t let that dissuade you from staying there if everything else sounds good.

While you’re reading the reviews, take a second to look at the area around the hotel.  Is this the kind of place that will have you worried about your car being there in the morning?  Or are there some good places to eat close enough that you won’t have to get back into the car?  Is it far from your route or is it setting you up for getting to your next stop?

My hotel routine is very similar to my camping routine: I go check in, declaring right off the bat that I have three dogs with me.  In most cases I probably could sneak them in but why bother?  I think every hotel has had some clause that they will charge a sizeable amount if you don’t declare your pets.  And since they have your credit card in hand, they could do it easily enough.  They will also have you sign a waiver that you will not leave the dogs alone in the room.  While I’m signing all the documents, I’ll ask the front staff if there are any good restaurants that they recommend that are not chains and preferably deliver.

Once we get our room, I’ll carry as much up to the room in one trip.  This is easy in the case of a motel when I could almost toss everything from the trunk into the room.  I’ve trained the dogs to stay inside when the door is open until I have told them that they can come outside.  Partly for the convenience but also for safety’s sake.  I’ll put a towel down on the floor where it’s tiled and fill up their water bowls so they can have a drink if they want.  As you can see from the photos, my dogs are very good with staying in hotels and will make themselves at home as soon as they walk in the door.

While they have their drinks, I look around the room to see if I’ll be loading the car up again.  One of the first things I do is pull back the sheet on a corner of the mattress that is closest to the wall and shine the light from my phone onto it.  This is the best way to look for bedbugs: they naturally scatter from the light and you’ll see them as little specks.  I have yet to find any in the hotels that I have stayed at.  And yes I do know what they look like so it’s not that I don’t know what to look for.

If it isn’t raining or too late or dark, we go for a walk and check out what’s in the vicinity.  You get a better appreciation for the area when you’re out on foot and it gives them a chance to sniff and stretch.  I don’t take any complicated routes and make sure that I know how to get back to the hotel.

Once we get back from our walk, I’ll pour out their food, then pour me a drink as I hop onto Yelp to find food.  If the front desk staff recommended something, that gets bumped towards the top of the list but I still read reviews before I decide.  If I go with delivery, it’s usually pizza and I’m OK with that since it’ll give me at least two meals and it travels very well.  There has been the odd time that I missed all of the restaurants (Strasborg I’m thinking about you) but that’s when I put my MacGyver skills to the test.

I don’t try to bring my camp stove inside because that would be just stupidly dangerous and by this time, I’m usually too tired to pack the pups up and cook out in the parking lot.  If the room comes with a coffee maker, then you are totally set for all kinds of things from instant oatmeal to ramen noodles.  Just put those in the carafe, add your water, and hit the go button.  If there’s a selection of tea bags you can add something to the basket where the coffee would go for a hint of flavour or drop the entire bag into the carafe for a stronger kick.  This is a lot harder if there’s no carafe but if you have anything that can fit (like the small pot from your stove kit or your stainless steel mug) then you’re in business.  You’ll just have to be careful if you’re using a metal container because it will get hot.  Sometimes I bring a plastic bowl with me and if the room has a microwave, then I’ll use that to prepare food.  With a selection of dried fruits, nuts, and a honey packet or one of those jam portions that always come with toast, you can make really good oatmeal.  Sounds a lot like the camping menu doesn’t it?

In the morning, we’ll go for a walk then when we get back to the room, I’ll pour out breakfast for the dogs as I plot out mine.  I’ll often try for a hotel with a complimentary breakfast because it saves me having to try and find one in the morning.  I mean, I’ll still look but it’s nice to have it as an option.  They often consist of waffles, cereals, yogurt, fruit, and muffins with vats of horrid coffee.  My go-to breakfast at this sort of breakfast offering is to toast up or make a couple of waffles then smear them with a couple of packets of peanut butter, smoosh a banana between them and voila: wafflewich!  If it’s a hotel that I’m eager to leave behind, I’ll have the room packed up and the dogs in the car before I make my wafflewich and go check out.  A quick run to the car and that place will be far behind by the time I’m done eating and looking for a coffee place.   If we are going to have a more leisurely start to our day, I’ll sneak out while the dogs are eating, pile up Mount Plate, then burn back to the room to eat.  I also grab a few extra things for the upcoming day’s travels, like some fruit or a granola bar

It’s when I’m stuffing my face that I usually settle on a route, making the most of the wifi while I can.  I’ll often do a little bit of reading before going to sleep but the real planning is done before we leave.  Then load up the dogs and gear, check out, and as the wifi fades, we head out onto the road.

IMG_4586

I don’t know why Leo always claims the pillow.

Staying in the Great Outdoors

You’ve been driving all day and you found an amazing area that is a perfect place to spend the night.  This is part of why I love freestyle road tripping because you may not have planned to stop at this campground but here it is and here you are and you need to sleep.  I’m going to outline how a camp stop usually works for us.  This is pretty consistent whether it’s a private campground or a state/provincial/national park.

Pick a spot:

You won’t be camping if there aren’t any spots so a stop at the office is the first thing.  If there are people working, you’ll know fairly quickly if there’s a site available.  Don’t be afraid to ask the staff member what spots they recommend.  There are places that may not look great on the map but when you actually get there, it’s pretty sweet.  Even though my dogs aren’t yappy I prefer the quieter places so I tell them right off the bat that’s what I’m after.  I don’t mind walking a bit farther to get places if it means I don’t have the water tap at the front of my site and can hear everyone coming for water at all hours (and the resultant need to pee all the time).

If the office is closed, a lot of campgrounds will have a self-service feature where you pick an available site, set up your camp, then deposit your money in a box with a permit.  I have a love/hate relationship with these.  I love being able to look at a site and see what’s around before settling.  But I hate having to go back to the front of the campground to deposit cash and then back to the site.  It’s not a big deal if the campground is small but if it’s a large campground, you’re back in the car.  If you are going to pick your site, make sure you read the map.  I was at a campground in Kansas and just skimmed over the site map.  As I drove around, I was positive that there had been more sites than the few trailer sites I was looking at.  I saw so many picnic tables and assumed they were all day sites since they didn’t have the permit posts.  Well later on I realized that they were indeed tent sites and I had missed out on primo spots.  Oh well.  We were only there to sleep and it was very quiet any way.

There some things you’ll have to consider:

Proximity to washrooms – do you have little ones that will need to make frequent visits?  Or if you’re like me and you have a bladder the size of a walnut then you’ll want to know how far the washroom is.  There are often pathways that act as shortcuts to the washrooms.  It’s nice to know if there is one that passes through your site so you won’t be surprised if you have a lot of rustling in the bushes.

Electrical hook-ups – these often come at a premium price but it may be worth it if you want to have power.

Playgrounds – If you have kids with you, you’ll likely want to be close and if you don’t then chances are you won’t.

Water taps – having one near your site is convenient but you will have a lot of traffic.  And the sound of running water at all hours.

Laundry/showers – I find that these buildings tend to be louder because they echo more but they usually get less traffic unless they are attached to the washrooms.

When I get to my spot, the first thing I do is let the dogs out of the car and put them on the tie-out.  I fill their bowls with water and lay out a blanket or towel for them before I do anything else.  Usually they sniff around, have a drink, and plop down to watch me.

Most sites have an area that has been used for the tent, and some even have a designated spot.  It’s important to pick up any rocks and debris and then figure out the slope of the site.  I sometimes use the tent sac, laying it out flat and then dribble some water to see which way it flows if the slope is not obvious.  Once that’s done, orient the tent with the highest point where your head will be.  Screw that up once and you’ll never mess it up again.

With the tent up, I first put in my sleeping pad and inflate it, putting it against the back.  Then the dog’s pad goes in and I cover that with the old sheet that I keep in the back seat of the car.  I tuck the sheet under my pad and bring it to the door before folding the excess back over.  It’s just one more layer of comfort for the dogs and protection for the floor.  Then I have to shoo Leo away since this is when he tries to sneak in as I bring my sleeping bag and their blankets inside.

Once the tent is set-up, we go for a walk around the campground.  First thing is to orient ourselves to the washroom and any other amenities available.  We’ll go for a hike if there are trails and time permitting, which gives us all a chance to stretch our legs.  Rarely, very rarely, we find a campground with an off-leash area and I let them run as long as they want to.

Once everyone is good and tired, we head back to our site.  I dish out their kibble and then turn my thoughts to my meal as I have a nip from the Road Trip Bottle (to toast our safe arrival of course).  For some reason I usually have left over pizza so I’ll often eat that by lantern light.  If there are no leftovers, then I set out my stove and will fix something.  This is where I’m thankful for the foodie tendencies that lead me to overpack food.  Most of the time I’ll make a pack of ramen noodles or noodle dish (think Sidekicks) and add some dried mushrooms or chicken or even beef jerky.  I always always always make sure to pick up any spilled kibble and put all the food and dishes back into the trunk of the car.  I NEVER bring any kind of food item into the tent even when we’re not in bear country.  It’s not a good habit to let yourself get into.

Then I will unzip the tent and try to hold back the tide of dogs that want to rush in before I’ve unclipped their leashes.  I leave the clips at the door so that when I wake up, I can unzip the door and clip the leashes while the door to the fly is still closed so they can’t bolt off.

Once I’ve changed into my sleeping clothes, I’ll have to push Piper and Leo both off of my sleeping bag and then try and keep Leo out of my sleeping bag and Piper from squeezing me off my pad.  By this time, Jack will have most of the blankets piled up underneath him as he just watches the spectacle.

IMG_7332

You didn’t want me to move did you?

The dogs are usually asleep before I am but they are quick to wake up if they hear something outside.  I usually sit up for a little bit and jot down any extra notes from the day’s travels or read a bit or plan out the route for the next day.  Not only will I have a lantern in the tent (either the small one from the ceiling or the big one next to me) but I’ll have my headlamp, cellphone, and pocket knife tucked in the pocket next to my head. I don’t keep the knife there so much for defence but in case I have to get out of the tent in a hurry; like if it gets blown over or in the off-chance a bear starts poking around.  Neither of those cases have happened but if I can be prepared, then I will be prepared.

IMG_6593

Tuckered out puppies.  Never mind Leo’s crazy eyes

At home, I will sleep in until the crack of noon but when we’re camping I’m often up before the sun.  I’ll take the dogs for a good long walk once it’s light enough to see where we’re going.  I’ll fill the dogs water bowls and pour out their food before I get my food going.  Breakfast for me is often oatmeal with whatever dried fruit and nuts tickle my fancy.  I’ll often boil a pot of water then use some of that for tea and dump a few pouches of instant oatmeal into what’s left.

Once our whole two dishes are washed, I’ll pack up camp which is the reverse of the set-up.  I usually take them for one last walk after the car is packed up unless it’s a campground that we are in a rush to get out of.  There have been a few that I was happy to see in my rearview that’s for sure.

IMG_7324

Getting comfy as they wait for me to finish.

img_7680

Camping on Mars (or Arizona).

img_7628

Morning in Arizona.

Think that staying in a hotel is a piece of cake?  My next post will have a few survival tactics that have come in handy and had to be learned the hard way.

Looking to “Ruff” it?

I love to camp.  I love being outside in nature and having the chance to explore the wilderness.  It’s also cheaper than a hotel so financially it helps on cross-country trips.  I’m lucky the dogs like to camp as much, if not more, than I do so I try to spend as many nights camping as possible.  The only times that we stay in a hotel is if the forecast is calling for rain or if the temperature looks like it’s going to drop too much for my delicate little ones.  Wet dogs in a small tent is something that I try to avoid as much as possible as well as frozen pup-sicles.  And there have been a few times when I haven’t been able to find a campground so we hotel by default.

So if camping is in the plan, here is some of the gear that you’ll want to pack.

img_7483

The trunk all packed up clockwise from top left: towel, sleeping bag, bins of food, safety kit, sleeping pad, tent and poles, poop bags, bug spray and sunblock, backpack, camping stove and fuel (in the bag), nalgene bottles, gas can, bag with ropes and spare leashes.

Tent:

You need to sleep somewhere.  There are so many options for tents these days that the only limit is your imagination and finances.  Most stores with a sporting section sell some kind of tent and you can get one for cheap if you just want something to use once a year but if you’re looking to use it often or in more rugged areas, I’d suggest going to an actual outdoor store.  I find that the quality is usually better and they often have some set up which means you can climb in and feel it out.  I once spent close to an hour crawling in and out of tents, laying down, and kneeling to see what they were like.  It’s one thing to read the base measurements but when you actually experience the size, you get a whole different sense of it.  If you go with friends it can be really fun (I’m serious about both trying it out and having a tent party in the store).

There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re going out to buy a tent or you have a few to choose from:

The number of people (and dogs) in your party – most tents will say how many people fit in the tent but I would suggest using that only as a guideline since that has everyone squished right next too each other and you may not want to get that close to your travel companions while you sleep.  It also does not account for any gear or other things you would keep in your tent.

The size of the people in your party – if you have someone that is very tall, make sure the tent is long enough to accommodate them with some space on either end to allow for the inevitable shift that always seems to happen overnight and so they are not pressed directly against the tent walls.

Duration in your tent (staying put or moving every day) – If you’ll be setting up your tent as a base of operations for days at a time, you’ll likely want something a bit more roomy than just a place to lay your head every night before packing back up.

Weather – While most tents are good for three seasons, if you’re heading out into the snow, you’ll want a tent that’s a bit more robust.

Ease of set-up – I remember the tents of my youth being heavy fabric and multi-piece tent poles that you had to assemble before several people had to work together to actually pitch the tent.  Most tents that I have seen lately have shock cord poles that snap together and allow a tent to be set up in no time.  I have seen some tents that only require you to throw them out and stake them down.  I’m a big believer in the less complicated the better.

Packed size/weight – if you’re just moving the tent in your car, there’s more leeway was far as size but if you’re heading into the back country, you’ll want the smallest and lightest tent you can find.  If you’ll be sharing with other people, you can divide the various components between you to share the load.

I have the Wanderer 2 from Mountain Equipment Co-op.  This is a two-person tent that has enough room for me and the three dogs with a little bit of extra space for my pack.  There are pockets on either side of both doors, a loop in the roof for a lantern, and loops to attach an extra storage sling.  The fly forms two vestibules over the doors which allows for extra storage.  Some tents have a footprint that acts as a base layer, adding an extra level of insulation and protection from the ground.  I usually use the footprint which provides a sort of floor in one vestibule which helps to reduce some of the dirt that the dogs track in.  I’ve had this tent for about six years and it still looks like new.  One of the best things about it is how easy it is to pitch by myself since the dogs aren’t very helpful.

058

Our site in Blue Mound State Park in Minnesota.

Sleeping bag/pads:

I recommend getting a sleeping bag that is rated for lower temperatures than you think you’ll encounter.  You can always unzip and hang parts of your body out but when you’re putting every article of clothing on just so you can sleep, it makes for a very unpleasant night.

Sleeping bag styles are highly personal and there are a lot of options out there.  I have several sleeping bags but my go-to is a synthetic down mummy bag.  The dogs don’t like this one so much because it doesn’t allow a lot of space for snuggling.  When we’re staying in an area that’s going to be warm for the duration of the trip, I have a larger rectangular sleeping bag.  Because it is bigger, I usually have at least one dog sharing the space with me which makes it even warmer.

I have an inflatable sleeping pad that I use for me and a foam sleeping pad that I put down for the dogs, mostly for their comfort but also to protect the floor of the tent from sharp nails.

Stove:

Stoves, like tents, can be as simple or as complicated as you like.  I only have one stove since I’ve only ever had to feed myself.  It is by a company called Trangia and what I like about it is how simple and compact it is.  The entire unit packs small and there are no parts that I have to worry about breaking.  It uses methylated spirits as fuel which is cheap and can be found anywhere.  All you do is pour some fuel into the fuel cup and light that.  A simmering ring fits on top of the cup that controls the temperature.  It’s quiet and foolproof.  And I can eat directly out of the cooking pot so there’s less dishes to do.  It’s a win-win situation.

table.jpg

Breakfast in Minnesota.  We had to use bottled water because the camp’s water was not drinkable when we were there.

Utensils and dishes:

If you’re going to be cooking, you’re going to need things to manipulate your food in the pot and get your food into your face hole.  I have a set of camping utensils that are light weight and have a clip to keep them together but I usually only break those out if I’m going in the back country when weight is a serious consideration.  I usually just grab a fork, spoon, and paring knife that I don’t mind if I lose or damage and put them in one of the food bins.  And I pack a folding spatula for cooking.

If you’re cooking for multiple people, you’re obviously going to want to bring at least one plate for everyone.  You can get deep plates that will do double duty as bowls as well.  I know that camping instantly brings up thoughts of metal dishes but if you have young ones with you, you may want to avoid metal as little fingers tend to forget about hot surfaces.

I would suggest packing one plate, one fork, one spoon, and one cup per person.  A bowl if you’ve planned for soup or cereal unless you’ve got the deep plate.  As far as knives, you can get by with one big knife that everyone uses to cut their food with if you don’t want to pack a knife for everyone.  I also like to pack light in the dish department because it makes clean up a bit easier.  I’ve found that if you bring it, you’re likely to use it.

Since some campgrounds don’t have a washing station, you’ll want to bring a basin of some sort to clean your dishes as well as biodegradable soap and a scrub of some kind.  If there is a designated cleaning area, please make sure you use it as it limits contamination and helps to protect wildlife.  Yes you may have to lug your stuff but imagine if the person who used the site before you dumped their dirty wash water within spitting distance of where you would be camping.  Food particles rot and that rot can smell and that smell can attract animals.  Need I say more?

If you’re in a place with no designated area, perhaps back country or public land, make sure you dump your wash water far from water sources and your tent.  If you’re not sure about proper back country etiquette, there are plenty of sites to do a bit of research.  And if you are, it may be a good refresher at the start of the season.

Hatchet:

Yes it’s good for the obvious chopping of wood but turn it over and you’ve got a hammer for driving tent pegs.  Scrape your wood and you’ve got tinder for your fire.  Heck it’s good in an emergency if you need to smash glass to help someone in an accident or cut branches for a splint which is why I keep my hatchet right at the front of my trunk for ease of access.

Lighter/Matches:

Why chop wood if you’re not going to light a fire?  I don’t usually have fires but there have been a few times when I’m glad I did.  There is something so soothing about sitting in the growing dusk with a fire crackling away.  And if you’re in a place with no cell service, it gives you something to do until bed time.  And you’ll need some source of ignition if you’re using a stove.

Lantern:

When it gets dark out, you’ll want some means to find your way around your site.  Or it can be a surrogate if you don’t start a fire.  There are even little ones that can be hung from the ceiling of a tent.  Lanterns aren’t strictly essential since you can use a flashlight for the same thing (which of course you have packed in the car) but I like being able to plunk it down on a table or in the tent and read or write out the adventures of the day.  And if you have people with you, can you beat it for a game of cards?

Tarps or screened tents:

If you’re going to be stationary for a bit, these are invaluable for covering your area in case of rain that will keep you huddled in your tent.

Other stuff:

A deck of cards is pretty much mandatory if there’s more than one person.  Flip flops for the shower.  Spare toilet paper because…well you never know.

IMG_7332

You didn’t want me to move did you?

Because this post got a bit long, I’ll do my camping routine in a separate post.