Why Tent It When You’ve Got a Car?

When we arrived in New Mexico it was already dark. We pulled into a camp that looked deserted, but at every turn the headlights would illuminate pods of tents clustered together.

I was a rookie. When I started firefighting, I was unaware that I could be “called out” on two to three week excursions with pieced together hand crews from around the area. This was my first roll down to the southwest, and I was terrified.  

“Does this look like a good place here?” My boss asked as he turned into an empty plot of ground and cut the engine.

The rest of the crew mumbled with indifference and filed out of the car. My heart was racing.

        To camp?

The rest of the group started to heave bags from the back of the truck onto the ground. They grabbed their gear and meandered to a place to situate their sleeping pads and bags.

        No tents?

 I found my stuff, spun in three circles like a dog, and decided the place I was standing was as good as any.

Pulling my sleeping bag up to my chin, I closed my eyes only to be startled awake by a clap of thunder. I must have slept through the beginning of the storm, because I watched from the ground as the rest of my crew scrambled like ants to set up their tents and rain flies—I was precious moments behind.

I considered myself a novice camper at best. I pulled my tent out of the bag, and stared at the parts with no idea how to begin.

        And the rain came down harder.

        I panicked.

Throwing all my stuff under the truck, I climbed into the cab side door without a blanket or a pillow and tried to fall asleep.

The next morning, I woke up sore, cold, and miserable. My clothes were damp and my back and neck were both cramped.

My crew made fun of me for sleeping in the truck. But their stuff (including their clothes) was drenched, and mine was only damp.

I started making it a habit. There were no rules against sleeping in the truck, it just wasn’t considered tough. I wasn’t trying to be tough. I was trying to be comfortable.

With my sleeping bag and pillow, the back seat wasn’t bad, and I never had to worry about what the weather was going to do. If it was a nice night, I’d roll down the windows to get a breeze and see the stars. If it was too cold or rainy, I slept peaceful and dry under the safety of the cab.

Thus began my obsession with car camping (which I narcissistically believe I discovered). I’ve since taken my SUV on many excursions, and my car camping life has hit an all time high with my discovery of the Notel mobile sleeper. It’s so easy to set up and I sleep like a baby. Plus, all my stuff can be stored underneath so I don’t have to worry about bears. If only the forest service had invested in the Notel mobile sleeper on my first firefighting trip. It would have saved me from a cold and miserable night of sleep!


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