Near Wild Northwest

Useful Items for an Active Life

Sprinter cabinets for the Blackberry Bushes, part 4

Shop NotesAlex MacLeodComment

We finished up the rest of the install on Sunday evening. 

NWNW Blackberry Bushes Sprinter - 50.jpg

The last accessory, the gooseneck reading light above, went in as the Blackberry Bushes were packing the van for tour.  I tightened the last screws and they hit the road.  I hope life on tour (ten weeks!) will be a lot more comfortable for them with all the improvements to the storage and electrical capabilities of the vehicle.  I'm looking forward to updates from the road.

Pre-order the Blackberry Bushes new album at Pledge Music, you won't regret it.  And follow them on tour through Facebook.  

Contact me if you're interested in getting some upgrades to your own Sprinter.  I love to see people get out in the world in style!

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 1

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 2

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 3





Sprinter cabinets for the Blackberry Bushes, part 3

Shop NotesAlex MacLeodComment

Install day!  Ben had a host of electrical components to install, starting in the engine compartment and finishing in the base cabinet.  I had to start cutting my way through body panels and headliners, and creating anchor points for securing the cabinets to the vehicle. 

Ben helped me bring all the LED wiring back to a single install point in the upper cabinet. 

I inserted threaded anchors as needed in the ceiling and walls to hold the upper and lower cabinets. 

I also cut in the final vents in the lower cabinet, to properly ventilate the refrigerator.  The cast aluminum vent covers came from Craftsman Vent Covers, and really looked great in the cabinet.  

I paused to install a Fan-tastic Fan in the ceiling as well, so all wired devices could get hooked up to the new electrical system.

By the end of the day on Friday the electrical systems were fully contained, and the cabinets were ready to be hung.  Ben did an amazing job on overall system design and installation.  Ben and I came back together Saturday morning to finish the job.

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 1

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 2

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 4

Sprinter cabinets for the Blackberry Bushes, part 2

Shop NotesAlex MacLeodComment

The first week of June arrived with some good and bad news.  In the good news column, the materials I needed to tackle the upper cabinet, and to finish off the lower, arrived in a timely fashion on Monday, June 1.  In the bad news column, Jakob had discovered that the van was in need of a major repair, and would be in the shop for much of the week.  It would delay their departure date for the tour, and prevent Ben, the electrical system designer/builder, and me from working on installation. We set our sights for Friday, June 5th, which meant I had much of the week to build the upper cabinet. 

I designed to cabinet using an extruded t-slot aluminum framework, known as 80/20. The t-slot lengths can be joined using a wide array of special fasteners, creating a rigid and lightweight skeleton for a cabinet system.  Once the material arrived, I had to cut it to length, tap (thread) holes to receive fasteners, and drill a bunch of access holes for tightening hidden fasteners.  Then I could assemble the framework.

I captured plywood panels in between the aluminum struts, then clad many of the surfaces with wood.  The cardboard template I had created during the design phase was used to produce all of the parts and pieces.

12 volt LED lights were attached to the bottom of the cabinet.  A 3/8" gap was created between the captured panels and the "floor" of the cabinet, which acted as a perfect wire chase for the LED wiring. 

The curved partitions and end panels were drawn from the cardboard template, designed to maximize storage against the curved roof panels of the Sprinter.  I produced a plywood template, then replicated the profile onto the cabinet pieces using a router.

A piece of 2.7mm plywood is bent and fastened on the back.  I was excited to add a surprising touch to the cabinet -- decorative wallpaper on the inside.  I had some of the paper I had used to do the ceiling of the Near Wild shop, and carefully cut and aligned panels to the inside of the cabinet. 

The upper cabinet was ready for installation in time for the Friday/Saturday work days.  The van came away from the mechanics shop Thursday night, and on Friday morning I loaded the cabinet and a bunch of tools into the CamperNV and headed for Ben's house.  It was time to make some permanent changes to the Blackberry Bushes Sprinter van.

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 1

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 3

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 4

Sprinter cabinets for the Blackberry Bushes, part 1

Shop NotesAlex MacLeodComment

Jakob reached out to me through a mutual friend.  He had a high-top Sprinter van that wanted some cabinets.  Jakob is the fiddler and band manager for a bluegrass band called the Blackberry Bushes Stringband, a hard-working Seattle band just finishing up a new album, and about to go on tour.  Like in a few weeks.  

It was a tight schedule for sure.  Jakob's friend Ben was designing and installing an auxiliary electrical system for the rig, and the three of us met for the first time on May 7th to talk about the project.

The van was a high top passenger model, currently sporting two removable benches.  A storage/bed situation had already been created in the back.  What was desired was a base cabinet to house an AC/DC refrigerator, as well as the new electrical components (batteries, isolator, charger, inverter, fusebox, etc).  Additional storage for personal items for the band was also desired, to declutter the van while in transit and generally improve livability.  The band didn't plan to do much cooking in the van -- the focus was on food storage (to keep eating-out costs down on the road), storage for personal belongings, and the ability to run/charge an array of personal electronic devices.   In addition to the cabinets and electrical, a fan for improving ventilation inside the van was desired, as well as replacing the second bench seat (removed to make room for the cabinets) with a single salvaged captain's chair.

Jakob was great to work with.  He had a set of important criteria he wanted to make sure were met, but he was really flexible and open to how those criteria were achieved.  He gave a lot of leeway to both Ben and I in selection of components and materials, adhering to some budget constraints.  This made it possible for design to progress pretty rapidly, as there wasn't a lot of back and forth on discrete material choices. 

We spent a lot of time working towards a buildable design for both cabinets.  Cardboard templates were extremely helpful to really nail down specific choices: a full cardboard floor layout for the base cabinet, and a profile template for the upper cabinet.

With strong templates, I was able to return to the shop and draw up a scaled construction plan, make my parts list, and start sourcing materials.

I spent a little time looking for recycled materials to use.  It's tough to choose recycled materials when you're under a time constraint, as many materials require a lot of adaptation to integrate into a design.  But at Ballard Re-Use I did manage to find, deep in a stack of salvaged cabinets and fixtures, a heavy desk from the University of Washington.  It was 1 1/4" thick, with a plastic laminate surface that looked like leather.  The edges were dinged up oak, but the overall area was enough to act as a countertop for the entire base cabinet.  And at $25 it was a steal.

Back at the shop, most of the materials in hand, I started in on the base cabinet. I started cutting materials on May 25th. 

The toekick under the cabinet ran over top of an existing floor heater in the van.  I wanted to provide a pathway for heat through the toekick, so routed in some ventilation slots.  I looked at using wood or steel grates, but they either looked too tinny (steel), or were too expensive (a cast aluminum product, which I ended up using sparingly elsewhere in the cabinet), or had too long a lead time for this particular project.  The routed slots ended up looking great, I think.

The cabinet had to accommodate a refrigerator, as well as some electrical outlets.  The refrigerator needed sufficient ventilation.  To solve for all of these requirements, I created a boxed partition on the end of the cabinet.  I routed ventilation slots in the underside of that partition, and later added a large vent opening.  The boxed partition created room for electronics, a pathway for ventilation, and added a nice bit of face frame to hold the trim for the refrigerator. 

Panels are 1/2" birch plywood, faced with 1/2" thick maple.

The salvaged top needed new edges, so I cut off the old edges and added 1/2" maple around three sides, mitered at the corners.  The back edge of the countertop had to follow the contours of the windows and structural columns of the van.  I created a scribe board to capture those contours, transferred them onto the countertop, and cut my way to a tight fitting line.  A layer of 1/2" closed cell foam would rest between the countertop and the window glass.

Jakob came over with the van on the morning of the May 29th.  We installed the cabinet temporarily, to allow him and the band to ride with it for a weekend gig and provide some feedback.  

The scribed edges turned out just perfectly.  Check out this fit!

The base cabinet left the shop for the weekend, bound for a Blackberry Bushes gig up in Roslyn, WA.  The band planned, at that point, to leave for tour on June 4.  Materials for the upper cabinet had still not arrived, and with the upcoming Memorial Day weekend would likely not show up until June 1.  Time was definitely running out!

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 2

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 3

Blackberry Bushes Sprinter, part 4

Camp cooking, cast iron, and the perfect charcoal chimney

Shop NotesAlex MacLeodComment

I love camp cooking, maybe because everything tastes better when camping so my reputation as a cook gets an easy boost when we cook on the go.  I have grown up using the classic Coleman stove, in a variety of forms, and I still do.  I really dislike the reliance on "disposable" fuel containers, however, that seems to dominate camp stove design these days.  I'd rather use the liquid fuel models, or hook up a larger setup to a refillable propane bottle.  

Better yet, if I'm slowing down and having a relaxed time in the outdoors, I love reaching for my dutch ovens -- cast iron lidded pots that harken back to chuck wagons on the cattle trail.  Cooking with a dutch oven, over live coals from the campfire or using charcoal briquettes, can really up your camp cooking game.  Spectacular stew? No sweat! Picture perfect pie? No problem! Best ever fresh bread? You bet!  It's amazing what you can produce with these handsome and sturdy pieces of cookware.  And given their weight, they are particularly well suited to vehicle-assisted camping, whether that's a canoe, a raft, or the compact CamperNV.

Unfortunately, the equipment commonly used to accomplish great dutch oven cooking seems well suited to large groups (like commercial rafting trips or Boy Scout jamborees), but not particularly well suited to a space-constrained camper.  So I started designing a right-sized set of gear for the CamperNV, to support deluxe dutch oven cooking on the road. 

A fire pan is a steel box in which dutch oven cooking is done.  It contains the coals, and provides an even and sturdy surface for the dutch oven.  In some of our national parks, or in some particularly dry conditions, open fires are not allowed.  Fire pans solve the problem of protecting the ground from hot coals and containing the fire from spreading.  A fire pan needs to stand up off the ground, should have sides that contain the coals, and should be strong enough and stable enough to support a dutch oven (or three) and coals.  Most commercial fire pans are quite large, measuring from 24 to 30 inches in length, and some 16 inches wide, which is a pretty large chunk of space to dedicate in the CamperNV.  The Near Wild Northwest fire pan will finish out at 14 inches long by 12 inches wide.  The legs pack away into the fire pan for travel.

The charcoal chimney is a real boon to cooking over charcoal.  It efficiently fires up charcoal briquettes, and eliminates the need for lighter fluid. However, commercial charcoal chimneys are predominately designed for backyard bar-b-que-ers. They are cylindrical and bulky, which means they take up a ton of space when packed away.  And they are often pretty flimsy, requiring replacement with some frequency.  The Near Wild Northwest charcoal chimney is a folding panel design.  Removable hinge pins allow the panels to be taken apart, which enable the entire chimney to lay flat inside the fire pan for travel. It's also sturdy, and it performs like a champ. 

I built first prototypes of the fire pan and chimney early this spring, and have used them on a few Northwest Adventures already.  Lessons learned?  I went a bit too heavy on materials - I can use lighter gauges of steel and still be more sturdily built than what I see in the market.  The size and shape, however, work perfectly, and the folding charcoal chimney was an instant hit.  In fact the prototype of the chimney is currently on the Colorado River for a 16 day float, getting the ultimate field test in the hands of a rafting group.  

Look for the finished product soon in the Near Wild Northwest store!

No windows? No problem!

Shop NotesAlex MacLeod2 Comments
It comes from the showroom all nice and sleek, but how are you gonna see the forest for the trees?  I mean steel panels?

It comes from the showroom all nice and sleek, but how are you gonna see the forest for the trees?  I mean steel panels?

The stock Nissan NV200 (both S and SV build packages) come as simple panel vans, with no windows in the sides or rear of the van.  While this offers a lot of appeal to contractors who have an interest in securing their tools and supplies in the back of the van, it's far less appealing for a camper.  Happily there are aftermarket windows available, and with the help of the internet I secured the six windows needed to completely kit out the CamperNV.  The next step was simple: start cutting holes in a perfectly good van. 

CamperNV adding windows

After getting over the anxiety of cutting into the vehicle, the rest is easy.  The panels are created with windows in mind, and the window kits come sized to perfectly fit into the stamped steel profiles.  I used power shears, hand shears, files, and a grinder to cut away the sheet metal and create the perfectly shaped window opening.  The side windows all come with an interior trim piece that uses screws to clamp the window in place, compressing a soft rubber seal in the process.  The rear windows are "glued" in place, using automotive urethane -- the same stuff that holds your car windshield.  It's super important to use the right materials for auto windows, both for function (high heat range, waterproofing, security) and safety. 

CamperNV adding windows 2
CamperNV adding windows 3
CamperNV adding windows 4

I haven't yet found a US supplier who offers an opening window for the NV200 -- all six of the windows are fixed.  For a camper van,having windows that open, even a little, would be pretty nice.  Given how compact the van is, however, the front windows provide a lot of ventilation, and having a sliding door open can provide even more.  I'm considering adding remote controls for the driver and passenger seat windows, allowing them to be opened/closed from somewhere in the rear of the camper.  I think doing so will add a large measure of convenience when camping out. 

From Shack to Shop: building a workspace for Near Wild Northwest

Shop NotesAlex MacLeodComment

With a goal of building useful items for active people in the Pacific Northwest, a suitable shop space was needed.  A small detached garage next to our house seemed ideal -- I certainly couldn't ask for a better commute!  But over the years it had become, like many sheds before it I'm sure, a bit of a dumping ground.  Cleaning it out, cleaning it up, and furnishing it for the work ahead was no small task.  I'm embarrassed it had gotten that bad, and I'm proud of what it's become.

NWNWShopBuild - 1.jpg

Pretty bad, huh?  The whole family pitched in to help dismantle this hoarder's paradise.  My daughter enjoyed finding some old shop journals - a welcome distraction from the dusty and dirty work of the day.

With everything it was time to lay in the groundwork for the new shop.  Quite literally.  The old floor was removed, and fine gravel was brought in to provide a level base for the new floor.  Leveled, compacted, and then covered with vapor barrier, the floor supports pressure treated "sleepers" on which 2x6 tongue and groove pine flooring was installed.  Wiring, insulation, sheetrock, wainscoting, paint, and a dramatic ceiling treatment turned the interior from a dumpy shed to a classy workspace. 

I wanted the shop to reflect the kind of work I do: creative but practical, comfortable and compact, artful and approachable.  I'm in love with the space.  There's more to do, always - more cabinets going in, storage for sheet goods, better lighting, etc.  But the shop is now a suitable home for the work of Near Wild Northwest.

The Pig Has Left the Building

Real ThingsAlex MacLeodComment

The pig that so recently haunted my bathtub has been completely, deliciously, exorcised.  

I'm happy to report that the pig roast was entirely successful.  It was a long, full day of activity that built steadily from the morning and reached a crescendo right on time, around 7:30pm, with a lingering, smoky afterglow that lasted till after midnight sometime.   None of the "what could go wrong" scenarios played out -- it was smooth sailing all the way through, in no small part due to the many helping hands throughout the day. 

Pig Chop

A Beautiful Butterfly

The pig was extricated from the tub and brought outside for the first of several indignities.  In order for the pig to lay flat on the grill (to allow for even cooking), the carcass needed to be butterflied.  To do so, the hip bones need to be sawed apart, and then the vertebrae must be split open along the length of the spine.  This whole operation feels like breaking the spine of a book.  It was accomplished with a bone saw, a heavy cleaver, and a hammer.

Pig Hammer

Sawing and hammering on the carcass of a pig in the front yard managed to draw the attention of my neighbors, who came by to find the pig laid out on the table getting salted, in repose resembling someone enjoying a day at the spa.  You can see that the fire barrel is already ablaze -- it took about two hours of burning to get the first load of embers produced for the pit.

Pig Spectators

Coal Factory

The steel barrel, modified with an opening at the bottom and a grate just above that, was a magnifiicently hot chamber of fire.  Maple and cherry rounds went in the top, glowing embers collected in the bottom. 

Pig Barrel

For the first charge of the pit, we poured a ring of embers around the outside perimeter, with a little heavier dose in each of the corners.  The tin trays, filled with water, are there to catch drippings, and to provide for some moisture throughout the roasting.

In went the pig, at 10:30 am, and down came the lid.  We tried to remove the lid as seldom as possible throughout the day.  We had an oven thermometer inside that we'd occasionally peek at to see how the pit was performing, but otherwise we kept the lid on.  The pit performed very well.  We were able to keep the temperature vacillating between 200 and 275 degrees.  We added a shovelful of embers into each of the corners, using access points on each end of the pit, about every 40-45 minutes.  

Pig Coals
Pig Oven
Pig Sparks

Rinse and repeat.  For six hours.  Time enough for some breakfast:  chanterelles on toast, and a homebrew pale ale.

Pig Breakfast

Six Hours Later

Mahogany, smoke, tantalizing -- after six hours of gentle roasting our pig hit our target temperature of 185 degrees.  The skin was a beautiful leathery color, juices flowing with every poke of the thermometer.  We were a couple of hours ahead of schedule, which was just fine.  We removed some coals from one end of the pit, shifted the pig down that way, and put a small amount of coals on the far end of the pit.  This held the temperature of the pit at about 150 degrees -- plenty hot to hold the pig without overcooking it. We finished preparing the yard and house for the party, which before too long was in full swing.

Pig Beer
Pig Peek
Pig Smoke

Pulling, Seasoning, Serving

Things started moving really fast now, and this was where lots of helping hands made a huge difference.  A couple of people pulled large pieces of the pig off the grill and into trays, where they started pulling meat from bone.  They used silicon gloves to protect their hands from the hot meat.  Meat came to a cutting board, where fat and lean, belly, ham, shoulder, were combined and chopped together.  The whole mass was then seasoned with apple cider vinegar, salt, cracked black pepper, dried red pepper flakes, and a little bit of sugar. 

Pig Pullapart
Pig Pals

We had plenty of rolls on hand, and our guests brought an intoxicating array of pickled goods, baked beans, salads, sides, and desserts to go along with the pork sandwiches.  How was the pork?  Amazing.  Moist, flavorful, kissed with smoke, and amplified by salt, acid, and peppers.  Topped with pickled cabbage and a few generous dashes of Frank's Hot Sauce

Why Do It?

Those are the details of the "how", and I'm sure that between you, me, and the internet you can build and execute your own plan for a whole pig roast.  But why do it?  There are obviously easier and less costly ways to get a sandwich (although you'd have to go a long way to find a better tasting sandwich). 

As I mentioned in a previous post, I left a tech job to try some new things.  One of the priorities driving that change is to spend more time in experiences that are rewarding, including connecting with the people I care most about.  The pig roast delivers on many fronts, not the least of which was providing a venue for spending time with my community of friends and family.  I have been hearing about a book released this year by Susan Pinker, a Canadian psychologist, called The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter.   I haven't yet read the book, but the premise resonates with me:  that our increasingly digital lifestyles diminish valuable in-person interactions -- interactions that are not only satisfying but critical to our health and well-being.  

So after a day of tending a fire with friends, of feasting and drinking, reconnecting and laughing, with music and the noise of a multitude of conversations pouring out of the house, we raised our glasses and I thanked everyone there -- my village -- for coming together.  There really is nothing more nourishing than being surrounded by the people you love.  And that's a great reason to roast a whole pig.  And it turns out a good bbq pork sandwich is pretty nourishing too.

Pig Party

Breaking Bad

Real ThingsAlex MacLeodComment
Pig and Fire

There is a dead pig in my bathtub.

I'm reminded of the opening sequence of "Breaking Bad," the television series that chronicles the life of Walter White in his transformation from mild mannered high school teacher to methamphetamine drug lord.  In the first moments of the show a large RV careens down a desert road.  We meet Walter, dressed only in his underwear and wearing a gas mask, as he swerves wildly from shoulder to shoulder.  Behind him the interior of the RV is a chaotic mess, but we can make out a couple of bodies, pools of some unsavory looking fluid, and broken glass.  The RV crashes into a ditch, Walter lurches out of the vehicle, and we can only think, "How on earth did this all start?"

Why is there a pig in my bathtub? I guess it's there because I left an enviable tech career some 40 days ago.  It's there because I'm marking a pretty large transition in my life by attempting to throw a whole-pig bbq for as many people as will come.  And no, I've never done this before -- the career hopping or the pig roasting -- so there is a distinct and uncomfortable possibility that, like Walter White, I'm going to end up in a ditch.  

This blog will focus on my search for more real things, which I'll explain in some detail later.  But for now I'm just going to share the preparations for the whole pig roast.  Some 75-80 people will arrive at my home tomorrow evening, and I sincerely hope to have at least adequately [safely] cooked South Carolina style bbq pork to serve them when they arrive. 

Get Inspired

I don't know what will put you into the mood to roast a pig, but for me I think it started when I read Michael Pollan's book Cooked.  Pollan explores cooking over fire, and does so with whole hog barbeque.  There are a lot of tantalizing details in the chapters on fire -- enough to inspire, but not quite enough to spell out start to finish instructions. 

The Plan for the Pit

I wanted to cook over wood, and had decided this meant an above-ground "pit", and a burn barrel for creating coals.  I found the simple schematic for the pit at Field and Stream online.  A good start, and it allowed me to build this thing:

Pig Roast Pit
Pig Pit


Gettin' the Wood In

Pollan describes well how to think about wood and cooking: 

...I began burning shamefully large quantities of wood, because I now understood that it was not the fire but the remains of the fire, the smouldering wood coals, that you really want to cook with.

To acquire shameful quantities of wood I shamelessly accepted donations:  cherry from John, some mixed orchard woods from Charmaine.  I cut up the woodpile languishing in the corner of my yard, and I filled in with a sixth of a cord of seasoned maple from a local fuel company.  This is the hustle required for the urban pit cook.

Pig Wood

Gettin' the Pig In

I have the good fortune of knowing David Pearlstein, author of the OinkMoo blog, and founder of Link Lab Artisan meats.  Which is all to say that David has connections to the world of healthy, fatty, happy pigs.  David ordered me a whole pig, 79 pounds dressed weight, from Kapowsin Farms.  Apparently chef Tom Douglas is all about Kapowsin pigs these days too.  In any case, it is this fine carcass that graces my bathtub at the moment. 

Making the Game Plan

The plan for tomorrow is an amalgam of instructions pulled from a variety of sources.  The internet is a wonder, providing an endless stream of information...which at some point results in at least subtle differences, if not outright contradictions.  So I picked a path through other people's experiences, not limited to these fine blog entries:  CaughtSmokinBBQIndirectHeatMausit, and GlobeTrotterDiaries.  With an eye towards serving food around 7pm, I'll get the fire started at 9am, bank coals at 10:30ish, and put the pig on directly.  I'm not brining or rubbing -- just letting the pig be the pig -- and I won't plan on flipping the critter during the many hours of roasting, but instead try to get it cooked through with indirect heat.  Once internal temp has reached 185 degrees or so, I'll pull the pig off, let it rest for a bit, then start pulling meat.  The skin, once separated from the meat, will go back on the grill to crisp up.  The meat will be chopped and combined (lean with fatty with some shards of skin), then seasoned with apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, some red pepper flakes. 

And that's it.  From there onto sandwhich rolls.  What could go wrong?

What Could Go Wrong

For starters the weather is supposed to be pretty crappy tomorrow.  This is Seattle, rain is what it is, but it may otherwise foul up the fire, the temperature of the oven, carving of pig, serving of pig, drinking while watching pig cook, etc.  My worst fears center around timing.  What if the pig is done really early?  Worse, what if the pig is done really late?  Or underdone?  Or scorched?  What if there's not enough?  Way too much?  Jesus what am I doing?!

I'd be curled up in the fetal position in my bathtub right now, Will Smith style, except there's a dead pig in my bathtub.

Yakima multi-modal adventuring

Hunt and GatherAlex MacLeodComment

September in the Northwest brings too many good things to cram into one weekend.  That didn't stop me from trying. 

My brother lives in nearby Yakima, a fruit-growing valley on the east side of the Cascade range, some 150 miles from Seattle.  He had arranged for the delivery of almost 800 pounds of apples and the use of an apple press, and our plan was to turn all of those apples into cider.  In exchange for the apples, we agreed to grind and mix about 80 pounds of pork sausage.  That's quite a deal for 800 pounds of apples.  Or at least I thought so as I headed east on I-90, Yakima bound. 


Since I was making the drive I figured I'd add a few opportunistic activities.  I loaded the canoe on top of the CamperNV for a fish and float down the Yakima River.  And I packed along my archery equipment, intent on hunting for deer in the Wenas Wildlife Area one morning.  With 20 gallons of cider capacity, archery, fishing, and canoeing equipment, along with sleeping bag/pads and clothes, the back of the CamperNV was a jumble.  At two weeks into ownership I hadn't done more than to put a roof rack on it to carry the canoe...and even that will come off once the pop top work gets started.  

But it turns out a cargo van was a pretty good asset for the weekend.  We loaded the cider press, attached firmly to a pallet, into the back of the CamperNV for transport to my brother's place.  You may notice that it's a beautiful antique apple press...hand cranked.  Remember those 800 pounds of apples?  

Tired arms, but we produced just over 40 gallons of cider.  There is nothing quite so vital as fresh cider from the press, and we probably drank over a gallon of it throughout the day of cranking away on that handle.  The bottled stuff was bound for more shelf-stable forms, however -- fermented with champagne yeast and turned into an adults-only beverage for later in the fall.

The next day we loaded the canoe and headed for the Yakima River.  The Yakima River, where it runs through the canyon from Ellensburg to Yakima, is one of Washington's most publicized fishing rivers.  So it's difficult to explain our complete inability to catch any fish.  But we had a good time, paddling through riffles and pools, pulling out now and again to fish a stretch or have a snack, and generally soaking up the sun.

Early the next morning my brother and drove up the Yakima River canyon road and legged it across the river and up into the foothills of the Wenas Wildlife Area, in search of deer.  We saw and stalked on beastie unsuccessfully.  But it was really a beautiful morning, with fantastic views, so it was impossible to feel badly about our hunting results. 

With 20 gallons of cider fermenting in the back of the CamperNV, a pretty good sunburn from a long day on the river, and sore arms and legs from cider pressing and hiking around, I had all the tell-tales of a great Northwest weekend.  And driving home always provides for some amazing viewpoints -- like the great view of Ellensburg from Vanderbuilt Gap, on Manastash Ridge.  Maybe you can cram it all in.

Ellensburg from I-82

Ellensburg from I-82

First Journey: the long road home

PNW RoadtripAlex MacLeodComment

On September 8th, 2014, I flew to Sacramento where I was met by a car salesman at the airport.  He drove me to Vacaville, where I completed the purchase of "patient zero" -- the first CamperNV. Nissan of Vacaville had great prices on the outgoing 2014 NV200 models, far better than I could find locally.  Plus, it gave me a great excuse for road trip.  What better way to start the CamperNV journey than tripping through the Redwoods and along the Pacific coast on Highway 101?

I stayed the first night with an old friend in San Ramon.  The next morning I swung through Berkeley and stopped in at Berkeley Surplus, where I found a sleeping bag and foam pads, a small flashlight, and a wool blanket.  With sleeping arrangements secured, I headed north on Highway 101.  

I had never been to the Redwoods before, and didn't realized that there are several Redwoods Parks along the California coastline.  I was headed for Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park for that night, but drove through The Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and Redwoods National Park along the way.  The Redwoods are truly magnificent, and I couldn't help but stop at various points along the way in a fruitless attempt to capture their enormity.

You can see a lot from behind the wheel.  These elk were right on the side of the road along one stretch, and assembled in a large paddock at the entrance to the Prairie Creek campground below.

I walked through the campground admiring the trees in the evening, then made camp in the back of the NV200.  Pretty simple accommodations on this trip, with no windows in the back of the cargo van, a rubber mat for a floor, and not much else.  But it's still amazing how comfortable it can be enclosed in the walls of the vehicle for the night.  The late-night conversations of the neighboring campsite didn't bother me a bit, no bugs to worry about, and a pretty cozy, if simple, setup.

The next morning I left pretty early, wanting to make a lot of miles towards home.  A fog clung to the meadows at the entrance of the campground, almost obscuring the large bull elk grazing in the paddock.  He was a pretty awesome sight.

I continued north along 101, on up into Oregon.  Along the way the highway offers stunning views in both directions:  coastal vistas to the left, rivers and mountains to the right.  

In Newport Oregon I made a little diversion in search of fresh oysters.  Oregon Oyster Farms operates on the Yaquina River.  It's a lovely setting, and I found the little retail counter open.  Unfortunately the water temperatures in the Yaquina were warm enough to disallow any fresh oyster sales.  So I picked up a goodly portion of fat smoked oysters for the road.  A note for next time -- be sure to plan a highway 101 trip during the cold months, to enjoy some fresh oysters down in Newport.

Northbound again, I started scouring the map for likely campgrounds along my intended route.  I found a reference to a rather obscure little campground in the hills above Otis, Oregon.  When I pulled in I was the only one there -- a little bit surreal.  The quietness of the campground was assisted by the moss-drenched landscape.  I found some lobster mushrooms while wandering a trail nearby.

I finished the drive the next day. Almost exactly 1000 miles from Vacaville to home.  The coastal highway is gorgeous, and the Redwoods are really only a two day drive from Seattle, with excellent camping along the way.  Once the CamperNV is ready, I'm excited to take my family back the way I came.