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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Camper's Off: The Official Onset of Camping Deficit Disorder

I've mentioned before that our camping mode of transportation is an F250 truck with a Four Wheel Camper on the back. And I've mentioned before (see Overland) that we take it off at the end of the camping season.

Well, today was the day.

We needed to take it off to utilize the truck as a truck and also because we had to face the fact that we really won't be camping again for a while. We have a possible trip planned for the week between Christmas and New Years to Death Valley, but between now and then we've got fence boards, furniture and Christmas trees to haul.

It was a beautiful autumn day; the sun was shining, the birds were chirping and the camper looked forlorn, as if it knew we were up to something.

Mark getting ready to start the process.
It's quite a production; we live in an old house in an old neighborhood. The driveways and garages were not designed for the modern cars or the way we use them nowadays. When this house was new in 1926, I'm sure the builders assumed we'd only need room for one car--how would anyone be able to afford (or need) more than one? Our garage is detached and located in our backyard down a long single wide driveway socked between ours and our neighbor's house. There's an 8 foot fence separating the neighbor's side yard from our driveway, which makes the clearance pretty tight for a full size truck with a camper. There's only six inches of space on either side when it's backed through the gate, which necessitates walkie-talkies for driver and guide (good thing we took those Marshaling courses this year at Overland 2013.) And did I mention the brick chimney and gas meter thrown in to make the process extra fun?
The view down the driveway on a typical day.

First step is taking off the swing arms from the back bumper. They hold the extra spare tire and the gas cans; once the camper's in the backyard, we wouldn't be able to open the camper door if we left them on.

The gas canister swing arm assembly off the truck bumper
and on the front porch awaiting storage.
Notice this latest addition to the rig:
a gift from my brother Patrick who swears
we're ready for the zombie apocalypse.
The extra spare loose from it's moorings.

Then the camper needs to be detached from the bed of the truck. The turnbuckles get unscrewed from all four corners, and the electrical connections are unhooked. If there's any water left in the tank, it needs to be drained (to avoid drinking slimy green stuff on our first trip out in the spring.)

We pull out the free standing cable jacks we use to lift the camper off and put them in place so they're at the ready. The one advantage to having such a narrow area to back the truck is the camper always ends up in the same place--there are practically marks on the ground where it sits during the winter every year. When we bought the camper there was an option to have hydraulic corner jacks, but there's not quite enough room down the driveway for them to fit (unless we want to dig an eight inch groove out of the side of our fireplace, or perhaps "accidentally" back over our neighbor's fence...)

Equipment at the ready.

Then the real fun begins. First, we have to move our other two cars out of the driveway and prop the gates open as far as they will go. At one time, the fence was covered with an out of control vine that caught up in the camper top rail and side latches; we used to have to trim the vine before we could back down but thankfully it has since died and been replaced with a less invasive species.

The driveway in all it's narrow glory.

Mark is always the driver and I'm always the spotter (there's no real reason for this, it's just the way it's always been.) The trickiest part is passing the cement filled pole that protects the gas meter on the side of the house. Mark can't see it from his position, and it also happens to be where the fence starts up on the other side, so both side mirrors are folded in because--you guessed it--they don't fit down the driveway in the out position. This is all made even more exciting because the camper blocks the driver's view in the rear view mirror too, so Mark is driving by Braille and walkie-talkie instructions alone. (Want to test your marriage? Have the walkie-talkie batteries die in the middle of this procedure as they did on us one year.)
The truck starts it's journey. Notice the gas meter and heavy pole protecting it.

Through the gate, the narrowest part of the process.

Once down the driveway and through the gate, we set the jacks in place and start cranking, trying to raise it simultaneously on either side to keep it level. We use the ratchet sound of the crank gears to keep them even. When it's up about four inches above the bed, Mark pulls the truck out and down the driveway, lighter in the rear but a little sad all the same. The truck that is, not Mark. Well, Mark's sad, but I won't comment on his rear.

Cable jack in place.
We have to shim the jack stands too, as the condition of our driveway is less than ideal.

That leaves the camper wavering around in the air, the cable jacks bending under the weight and balancing precariously in the breeze. It was really unnerving the first few times we did it, and frankly, it still gives me the willies when the wind is blowing. We try to get it back to earth as soon as possible so we quickly place cement blocks at all four corners underneath the camper with a couple long boards lined up between them. These prop the camper up off the ground and allow circulation during the rainy season.
Camper in the air on bendy jacks. I think Mark is wiping a tear here. We'll let him have a moment...

Since the cement pad it sits on is almost as ancient as the house, we have to shim one or more corners up to make it level from side to side, and slightly at an angle front to back to allow rain water to run off the top. Our official safety test is to set it down and push on it: if it doesn't wiggle too bad we're good to go.
Leveling up the camper's winter foundation.

Mark wraps up the electrical connections to keep the damp out and we go through the dry goods area to check for expiration dates. We always keep some food, drinks and sundries in the camper because it doubles as our earthquake preparedness kit.

Electrical connection ready for winter rain.

The tailgate gets slapped back on the truck and we're ready for home improvement/holiday/moving season.
The tailgate gets reunited with the truck after spending 7 months in the patio.

It's always a sad day when the camper comes off; as often as we tell ourselves we could always put it back on and go out for the weekend, it hardly ever happens. We're usually town-bound until at least January, at which time we start planning a desert trip to alleviate the painful "Camping Deficit Disorder." (This syndrome is always experienced after eight weeks of eating too much rich food and not moving farther than the distance between the kitchen and the couch.)

So there you have it, the end of another successful camping year. I can't wait until our next trip, but I have a backlog of adventures I would like to write about so stay tuned. And if I haven't expressed it before to you individually, thank you all for sticking with me and reading this blog. I'd still write it if you didn't read, but it's much more fun when you do.  I appreciate the comments and encouragement and freely admit I would be a much sadder person without you.