Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Picky Pioneering

You don't see too many of these. These were on the leg from Pine Bluff to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

You don’t see too many of these. These were on the leg from Pine Bluff to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Today was a short jaunt that turned otherwise, but in the end, I’m all set up in camp at Vedauwoo in the Medicine Bow National Forest, solar panels out and everything humming along. The cell data signal at my location is on-again-off-again at two out of five stars – and that’s with the amplifier –  but it works most of the time.

The day began with a drive to a Walmart in Cheyenne, made more interesting by having an incorrect address on their website. But, I made it there after some steering wheel gyrations and stocked up on fresh produce, eggs, bacon and so on. From there I keyed in the GPS coordinates generously volunteered by Flybiker. The impressive 3,000′ climb during the entire trip, plus a headwind, knocked the fuel display down to 8.0 MPG. Now I know what the title for the film High Plains Drifter refers to. There was a warning sign that the “Happy Jack Bridge” was out of commission until the 18th, but where was that? That was the exit I wanted, but where was this bridge?

Once I made it there, I found out that the bridge was the connector over I-80, and its sudden absence eliminated any chance of heading back east toward Vedauwoo. Oh well. What a great, wide trail! I was impressed that the GPS clicked everything off, and before long, I was at the coordinates, pulled off, and parked. Unfortunately, the site was problematic for the Defiant, being rough, modestly sloped, and not allowing an easy orientation for the solar panels. The location at the top of a hill magnified the wind, so I broke out the Aurora and explored just over three miles worth farther on.

No soap. One branch held a trailer, but the cattle guard at its start was beginning to disintegrate, opening up the first gap way too much for my taste. The main trail followed a long ridge, with various branches going off here and there to dive downward. A fifth-wheel trailer nestled into a nice hollow at the base of one, but beyond that, it got nasty. None of the branches seemed workable. The main trail itself was, apart from some washboard surface, a joy to behold. Its just that being along the top of a ridge in a very hilly area, everything sloped away from there on.

I finally stopped at the 3-mile mark when the trail wound down into dense forest, chopping off the likelihood of a Defiant-sized hole and making bicycle touring a potentially bad idea in wilderness. It had been one long glide downhill all the way, with a strong tailwind no less. Naturally, the slog back uphill was a time and battery-consuming ordeal. I had to cinch down my hat to keep it from blowing off! That’s rare. Back at the site, there was one spot nearby on a branch trail heading for Laramie, but it was located in the perfect place to capture the wind heading up the steep slope, and this was a nice day. No way I could guarantee I wouldn’t lose a panel if some actual weather blew in, much less be able to safely deploy the panels without damaging one. It’s like trying to hold a sail. Further exploration along that trail might turn up something somewhere behind a cattle fence, but there comes a time to fish or cut bait, and I aborted the mission at this point, and decided to head back to my Plan A scheduled stop at the Vedauwoo exit. Getting turned around was a little interesting, but I made it.

On my way out, this truck camper was very slowly lumbering up the trail, and I lucked into a service side trail that ran at an angle, and backed into it to let the camper by.

On my way out, this truck camper was very slowly lumbering up the trail, and I lucked into a service side trail that ran at an angle, and backed into it to let the camper by.

Watching this Chevy 2500 was entertaining, because even this modest camper puts the truck at its limit. You could see the bed and camper sway from side to side even though the cab stayed fairly steady over the numerous projecting rocks. The couple inside appeared concerned, not relaxed. The Mighty Furd would likely suffer the same fate with such a load, even with its high-GVWR option. Watching this thing wobble its way up confirmed that this approach is not for me.

Watching this Chevy 2500 was entertaining, because even this modest camper puts the truck at its limit. You could see the bed and camper sway from side to side even though the cab stayed fairly steady over the numerous projecting rocks. Bed flex! The couple inside appeared concerned, not relaxed. The Mighty Furd would likely suffer much the same fate with such a load, even with its high-GVWR option. Watching this thing wobble its way up confirmed that this approach is not for me.

Thanks to the bridge, I had to do that by first heading west toward Laramie, and that was a 6-mile jaunt, half of which was a 5% downhill grade. I got off at the first exit and turned around to grind back up the slope, a task made easier by what was now a strong tailwind. There is a nice little $10/night camp at Vedauwoo, no spaces of which will fit the Defiant, so what I do is to not make that turn into camp, and keep going straight. That drops you off of the civilized pavement onto the worst washboard dirt road you can imagine. So far, it’s the most violent I’ve encountered by far. Some washboard “smooths out” if you hit its perfect speed, say, 35 MPH. This one, no. It just makes the dashboard shudder in a way that asks, “Got any electrical problems yet? How about now?” So I crawled up it at a shuffling walking speed, bouncing in the seat and trying not to think of the trailer’s interior. I was initially concerned because a lot of the campsites were occupied. I have a best one, and there is one more fully usable one that I know of. Apart from that, the plentiful rest are for smaller, more tolerant rigs that don’t need solar orientation.

The bridge that is no longer a bridge.

The bridge that is no longer a bridge.

My preferred spot was empty, as it turns out, so I broke out a compass to orient the solar side, planted the trailer, and set up camp in the manner to which I am accustomed. Those panels get heavier every time I hoist them! I’ll hopefully be here until September 22, so if you have read my post for this area last year, ain’t gonna be a lot of newness this year!

Rancho Begley, for the time being.

Rancho Begley, for the time being.

She may be a pain to drag around and cater to, but she sure makes for an enjoyable stay. This is not "camping" by any stretch of the imagination. But it's comfortable and convenient.

She may be a pain to drag around and cater to, but she sure makes for an enjoyable stay. This is not “camping” by any stretch of the imagination. But, it’s comfortable and convenient.

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25 thoughts on “Picky Pioneering

  1. Glad you made it. Hope it will be a pleasant and uneventful summer for you. I’ll be driving through Cheyenne in a week on my way for an annual visit to daughter & family in Longmont, CO. I’ll wave as I go by. October will have me back in Florida for winter.

    • Well, I got this hill between me and I-80, but do wave anyway, when you get about two miles short of that exit. You never know, and other drivers nearby will think you’re nuts. You got some serious mileage percolating there!

  2. Enjoy your stay. I’m heading further south on September 20th.

  3. I was living in Vedauwoo in June! It has been my favorite place to stay thus far. So lovely!

    Although I learned a pitfall of van living there. An obnoxious guy pulled up into my campsite to launch his loud machines from. Timid me, I just kind of kept my mouth shut and hid. But when he returned, he found me cooking over my campfire and enjoying the not-so-lovely view of his dirty pickup, blocking my whole campsite.

    “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know you were camping here. I thought you were just enjoying the view.”

    Yeah, I drove in from out of state to enjoy the view you just blocked and disrupted. Thanks.

    I mean, what the heck? Camping here, dude!

    Now I have a little cheap tent I set up if I think I don’t look “camping” enough to be left alone. I still sleep in the van though. Much more comfortable than laying on the ground.

  4. Doug, may I ask why you don’t have at least some of your solar panels permanently installed on the trailer’s roof? I myself am planning to get at least one or 2 panels, or maybe even the portable suitcase setup…signed, she-who-knows-very-little-about-it

    • Yes, you may ask……. . . . 😉
      The short answer is that the old trailer’s aluminum roof is no longer supported underneath and is badly deformed, such that mounting panels to it would not be feasible. A fabricated roof rack has been suggested, but I do not have much confidence in how securely it can be mounted along the sides of the roof, or its cost value. Solar is one of those things that winds up as simple or complex as you want to make it. I recommend that you type “solar” into the little search box on the upper right, and begin at one end or the other end of the list that comes up. The system has evolved a bit over time from how it started – as an inoperative system! I would have roof-mounted if I could have, since lifting big 45# panels overhead in the wind is less fun than you’d think. The only plus is that in the winter when the sun is absurdly low in the sky, if the trailer’s nose is aimed WSW, those panels can still be angled to pump out more than enough electrons to avoid the slightest lifestyle readjustment. I’ve wanted to rotate each panel 90 degrees and permanently mount them on hinges in line along the roof edge, but finding worthy structure in the trailer’s sidewall limits the ability to positively lock them down/support their weight for highway travel.

      As nothing but opinion, most suitcase systems I’ve seen are very handy, highly adaptable, compact for storage, use components that range from garbage to mediocre, and are inordinately expensive per watt produced. You’re generally paying for convenience, not power or efficiency. If you’re going to be using cheap batteries and just need some power to make camping easier for a few weeks or months at a stretch, suitcase systems are great. If you are going for maximum battery service life or are using expensive high-performance AGMs, and/or have certain equipment that must be able to function whenever needed for years (like medical equipment), then the priority becomes reliability. Locating a suitcase with enough wattage and a quality charge controller that will baby the batteries can be a challenge. Then again, you can upgrade a low-end suitcase with a better controller if needed. This 100w Renogy unit seems decent, though it uses a separate slip-on carry bag. Renogy also has pages where you can fumble through some technical stuff to wind up with what will do the job for you. For any setup of any type, all you need to begin with is what you want to be able to do out there.

  5. Oh, and what is the approximate elevation at this site? Looks nice.

  6. Ohhhhh…..boy. That heavy truck camper is me only heavier (though on a much heavier truck). Fun!

    • Well, yeah, but if I recall, you built on top of a flatbed, which is much stiffer than factory beds. Still, keep an eye out in your mirrors when you’re on washboard roads, just in case your new home begins to lose trim pieces or something! 😉

      • That’s true. Flatbed surrounded by a 3″ angle iron support system. It does sway over sideways dips a bit, which I would like to figure out how to stop. Makes my heart race!

        • Well, when you figure it out, Parker, let me know! Until you can see popped welds or a permanent list to one side, it’s just the truck frame and flatbed doing their things. You probably wouldn’t like to watch the wings flex on an airliner, either, but it’s better that they do that than not. It’s the reed and the mighty oak thing, however unnerving. Only you have the best guess as to the effects on the house, but if the flatbed is what’s moving, that’s good. If you’re doing what you can with speed, that’s all you can do to slow down the forces involved on the house structure.

        • Well, when you figure it out, Parker, let me know! Until you can see popped welds or a permanent list to one side, it’s just the truck frame and flatbed doing their things. You probably wouldn’t like to watch the wings flex on an airliner, either, but it’s better that they do that than not. It’s the reed and the mighty oak thing, however unnerving. Only you have the best guess as to the effects on the house, but if the flatbed is what’s moving, that’s good. If you’re doing what you can with speed, that’s all you can do to slow down the forces involved on the house structure.

          • Huh. So, what you’re saying is that the structure moving due to its flatbed and angle iron base is not so much an issue vs the structure itself moving, independently. I know it’s built strong, so falling apart isn’t really a concern. I’d have to say actually tipping over is the thing that makes me go hmmm. Or shriek a little. Heh.

            • Yes. My money is on the frame rails as the main flexer, and that’s very common and okay. If the flatbed is homebuilt or pieced together in a local welding shop rather than commercially manufactured, flexing of its own could add in. If it happens to be staying flat while it rocks (not warping into a twist), you’re golden. There is that high CG thing, which exaggerates the rocking. It may take awhile before you learn to relax while driving it. It must feel right now as if you’re just five feet ahead of a doomsday machine that’s going to flop over and disintegrate when it hits a turn/slope/dip/sidewind it doesn’t like. Hopefully, that feeling will temper as you get more experience with it under your belt. If you do shriek, do it with dignity and discretion, for you proudly represent all of us. 😉

              • Lol! Yep, DDM is right. The flatbed is stock (as far as I know, it looked stock), and the weld is continuous and looks new. No way for me to know if there is any flexing of it since I’m in the cab sweating and possibly swearing, but I don’t think it is. Doesn’t sway a lot, but the sensation is definitely new to me!
                You’re a good guy to take time to chat about this.

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