Gearing Up

Over the next two months, we plan to drive the Big Red Dog over 8000 miles of mountains and deserts, go backpacking and camping in remote regions of national parks, and document the entire experience. To do this required a bit of investment to be properly equipped.

The Big Red Dog paid a visit to the neighborhood mechanic for a tune-up, fresh filters, and a general once-over. He determined that the front end was misaligned, so we went to a specialist to get that taken care of. We can’t spend endless hours driving around without a decent sound system, so the AM/FM radio got replaced by a cassette deck.

In order to make it easier to organize our stuff, and to maybe have a place to sleep if necessary, Obbie built a raised platform in the back of the truck, so that we could lay out a futon on the platform and store our stuff below it.

The platform runs the length of the truck, and it consists of three sections of plywood resting on a framework of two-by-fours wrapped around the wheel wells. Stuff that needs frequent and ready access will be stored under the section closest to the tailgate. Stuff that we want accessible – but not that often – rests between the wheels in the center compartment, and stuff we hope not to need much at all gets buried in the deepest compartment. And if we need to sleep in the middle of nowhere, we can just stop the truck, crawl into the back, and go to sleep on the futon above it all.

As we went shopping for “stuff”, we made a commitment to invest in value. Buying cheap stuff means having to replace it when it falls apart. The more durable stuff is more expensive, but it’s a much better value if you only need to buy it once. Quality equipment is also easy and more enjoyable to work with, while the cheap stuff has zippers that jam, velcro that doesn’t stick, and other annoyances.

Our existing camping gear won’t work for what we have planned. Obbie has a huge and well-built backpack from his hitchhiking days, but RoZ had no pack at all. Our tent is a cheap eight-by-eight-foot dome from a big-box store that’s starting to fall apart after less than a dozen uses. We have an air bed that weighs over ten pounds and takes a long time to inflate, and we might not have the wind for it at ten thousand feet. Our sleeping bags are little more than heavy quilts with zippers on them… heavy and bulky.

One day last week, we made both local outdoor stores very happy. Our new backpacking tent compresses to a tiny three-pound bundle (its only disadvantage: stakes in the ground are required, so it won’t “free stand”). We invested in a pair of lightweight sleeping bags (the zippers are on opposite sides, so they can be zipped together to enable cuddling), and a pair of self-inflating sleeping pads (plus a “couple kit” to attach them to each other, and a pair of chair frames to give us seating in the wilderness). RoZ chose a backpack fit for women that has a day pack attached to it for day trips.

Along with some upgraded clothing and footwear, we got our national park pass.  This $50 card and window sticker will get us into any national park in the USA for a year. Considering that some of the parks we plan to visit have $20 admission fees, this will pay for itself quickly.

We also invested in upgrading our documentary tools. For still photography, our 35mm SLR didn’t need upgrading, but we did replace our deteriorating point-and-shoot 35mm camera. We chose a digital video camera that also shoots respectable digital stills. It has a firewire connection to computer editing software, and will translate analog video from our old VHS tapes to digital.

Our old laptop doesn’t have a firewire port and it won’t run the video editing software, so we upgraded to one of the new G4 laptops that just came out. Since we’ll be living out of our truck for a while, we should have 12-volt adapters for the camcorder and the laptop. Hopefully, at the end of each day we’ll be able to edit that day’s videos into a little road report.

There are still a few items we need that we couldn’t find close to home. For some of them, we’re gonna bite the bullet and see if we can find them in mall-land. It’s too late to mail-order anything, so what we can’t find in the suburbs we’ll have to look for when we get to Boulder.

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