Into the Scamp

We’ve been nomads for a while now. We seem to follow good weather and good adventures around the west, working on the computer in most places as we go.

In 2014, we lived off our bikes, traveling north on the Continental Divide Trail. We shipped our laptops to post offices along the way. Even they were too heavy for the demanding trail.

In 2015, we spent most of the year living out of a minivan and a tent. We were able to see many new places and be semi-comfortable camping throughout. After bad weather or other adverse conditions, we’d look forward to staying with family or friends, a roof overhead. Occasionally, we missed having a home base, our own space. Being able to work effectively meant going to coffee shops or seeking shade/indoors in some way. Laptops get frustrating to use from camp chairs in the sun/wind/elements.

At the end of 2015, we took it a step further and bought a mobile domicile. The Scamp!

We debated between a number of options, from RVs to McSprinters to just continuing on with the minivan/tent (or bike!). In my opinion, there’s no ‘best’ option for mobile living. All have their positives and negatives, and what’s good also depends heavily on the style of mobile living you employ. That style is also hard to predict and tends to change over time.

So we didn’t agonize too long, but chose the fiberglass Scamp because it was cheap, simple, and provided all the amenities we were looking for. The fact that we didn’t need to buy a new vehicle was a bonus — the Sports Van would roll on.

It’s a 13′ trailer (including tongue) that has:

– a bed
– a table/bench suitable for two people to work on laptops
– a small fridge that runs on propane
– a deep cell battery and solar system to power LED lights, phones and laptops

Anything else (stove, heater, storage, etc) was just a bonus, and not really needed.

But now, could a lowly Sports Van really tow it?

AZT Jamboree at Starr Pass. Espresso shots and empanadas!

There were a few things to figure out first, like installing a hitch, wiring and tuning up the van. The used (2007) Scamp needed a few things like LED replacement lamps and a new battery, too.

Meanwhile, the AZT Jamboree fundraiser was moved at the last minute to Tucson Mountain Park due to rain. This is significant because the only ‘venue’ we could come up with for parking/riding/beering/camp fire-ing was a place called Snyder Hill.

Chad killing it climbing Golden Gate

Eszter and I hung out there long enough that we convinced ourselves it would be a suitable place to Scamp a night or two, as needed.

the first of many Scamp sunsets

Once we had a trailer hitch, we started conservatively, by towing the little trailer to the closest place we could, and all on pavement. Gilbert Ray campground would become a favorite place to Scamp, and our test trip went beautifully. We’d only planned a single night out, but we didn’t want to go home just yet.

So we pushed our luck, entering Synder Hill’s ruts with a tad too much confidence. The trailer’s jack dragged in the dirt and bent even further back. Ouch. At dusk, a little white dog appeared, scared and begging for food. By the end of the night, Eszter had the dog in her lap, and the dog had a name: Sparkles.

Sparkles would become a point of contention, a source of joy and warmth, and a source of major heartache, over the next months. Her arrival delayed us moving “full time” into the Scamp as we struggled to figure out what her story was, and what we would do with her.

The Sparkles story could fill an entire blog post, and is written up over on Eszter’s blog already. Suffice it to say, Sparkles won the dog lottery (as Eszter correctly puts it), ending up in a happy and loving home, with Eszter’s parents. We still get to visit her, and she doesn’t have to deal with the stresses of being a camp dog.

Scamp mods!

While Sparkles hung out in the yard of our tiny rental house, we continued making preparations to move into the Scamp. I had some years of accumulated stuff to go through and get rid of, including lecture notes and exams from grad school. It took some time to decide what got donated and what got trashed. How much, exactly, would fit in the trailer/van, and what did we really need? We didn’t really know.

Luckily we had Lee Blackwell and his shop at our disposal for further Scamp mods. The jack needed to be moved up (major design flaw in Scamps), and back. Our wiring harness needed to be tucked up out of the way, too. He also helped us put in a little bit more LED lighting. We were getting close.

We pulled the trailer out to Willow Springs for the 9th running of the Antelope Peak Challenge. It was a good crew, and I enjoyed riding the loop in the traditional direction (switched from the previous year).

Another beautiful Scamp sunset, this time with friends and a little camp fire nearby. The dream. We’re getting so close.

During APC, trackleaders was beginning the dive into sled dog season, or, the busy season. I still hadn’t transitioned to a fully mobile computer life. Somehow through all the previous years I’d held onto a giant desktop, that was lovely when fully set up, but a pain to haul around, and not Scamp-approved by any means.

Finding a suitable new laptop wasn’t too hard. Low power, fanless, direct DC charger, small and light. Would it be fast and capable enough to develop TopoFusion and run Trackleaders from? I wasn’t sure, but just like much of the decisions going into full mobile life, there was only one way to find out: try it.

It was a bit of a mental shift, but not too difficult. Luckily nothing I do these days is too (locally) resource intensive, so a laptop that’s well less than $1k does the job. Check another one off the box, we’re getting close!

Plans for Ole Pueblo were hard to settle on. I ended up watching Sparkles back in Tucson, and the Scamp stayed in town as well. I came up to cheer Ez and Alexis on with donuts, and to do the fuzzy math of lap times for them. They ended up taking the win! And Eszter had found a free ride to Boulder for her and Sparkles. Sparkles was bound for her new home, and we were now VERY close!

After spending some time trying to get Sparkles settled in (with some success), Eszter flew back to Tucson, and….

Full time Scamping, just outside of Tucson!

Everything fit with room to spare. But from our first camp we ended up making a trip or two to Goodwill and the community bike shop to donate more stuff. It didn’t take nearly as much effort to whittle it down as I thought.

The most common question we got, during this ~2 month period before we moved into the trailer, was some variant of: “That’s an awfully small trailer. How are you going to live in that?”

We thought it kind of a funny question, because in our mind it was an upgrade over living off the bikes, or out of a minivan and a tent. The Scamp was going to be luxurious, or so we thought. We didn’t really know, but we knew enough to have a good hunch.

The other common question was, “What’s your plan? How long are you going to live out of it?” The answer is that we don’t really know. We’ll stay in it for as long as it works, for as long as we enjoy it. It is true that though we’ve lived off bikes and out of cars, we’ve always returned to some kind of dwelling in the winter months and had a home base for part of the year. So striking off and going full time in a trailer was still an adventure in the unknown. And I don’t think we’d have it any other way.

More interesting and open questions, for us, were things like the following. Would the convenience and comfort of the trailer be worth the hassle of towing and the longer setup/takedown time? Tents sure keep things simple. Would the van be able to tow the trailer, plus gear, on highways at a decent speed? How about over steep mountain passes? Would having low clearance and 2WD be much of a limitation? Could we keep all our electronics charged, and could we both work using mobile data plans that didn’t cost an arm and a leg? Would the Scamp be comfortable enough that even in adverse conditions we wouldn’t go looking for shelter?

These questions, and more, were yet to be seen, as we starting Scamping around Southern AZ in the springtime. One thing was for certain: we were infinitely fortunate to both be in a place in our lives when the mobile life was not only possible, but desirable. So we put away any excuses, and went for it.

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