Scamping in AZ

We moved ‘full time’ into our little Scamp trailer at the end of February, 2016. All our belongings fit in the van/trailer, and we were officially rent-free and on the road. Wahoo!

How would it go? What would we learn? What unexpected challenges would there be? What places would we visit, what trails would we explore? Which sites would be good scamping vs bad scamping?

March was surprisingly warm in AZ, with temperatures in the upper 80’s common in Tucson. One unexpected challenge should have been obvious, but it wasn’t to me. The Scamp, with a total volume smaller than many cars, can heat up quickly.

I knew that if it sat in the AZ sun all day, it’d get hot. But it hadn’t really occurred to me that even in the shade, if the ambient temperature is 85 degrees, the best you’re going to do, by the end of the day, is, well, 85 degrees.

Luckily you can sit outside and in the shade, or even better, go ride or run when it’s hot.

But working in the Scamp, at 85+ degrees can be a little challenging. The Scamp does act as a barrier against the wilds of the outdoors, but it’s perhaps only a step above a tent, meaning you’re still subjected to elements like heat/sun, wind, and maybe even rain, in that it wakes you up and there isn’t all that much space to bring things out of the rain.

So one of our first moves was away from Tucson proper, which has very little shade, heading for higher country and hopefully some shade.

my nephew’s favorite bird, which he calls a “Lasagna Bunting”

We found plenty in the birders paradise of Patagonia. The giant oak (first pic) kept us nicely cool, and we were excited to explore our newfound interest in birding.

Beginner’s luck. We got photos of the much-sought-after elegant trogon!

Of course, the Arizona Trail rolls through Patagonia, not far from where we camped. The Canelos aren’t necessarily everyone’s favorite section, but I do enjoy riding them.

Eszter opted to avoid the uncertainty of hike-a-biking in the Canelos, instead going for 100% chance of hiking (well, running).

Since we ‘lived’ in the woods outside Patagonia, we had the time to go deeper and explore things that wouldn’t necessarily call for a visit if we just made a ‘trip’ there.

On one minor trail, we saw a pair of trogons and… a group of the elusive montezuma’s quail!

Forest lookout climb, from camp, and littered with perfectly ‘scott-sized’ (i.e. baby-sized) tabletop erosion jumps on the way down. Yes!

The giant oaks of Patagonia were wonderful for keeping us cool, but bad for generating solar power.

A question we sometimes get is about the “W” word — WORK. No, we didn’t save up a bunch of money in order to live out of the trailer. We’re not vacationing all the time. We need to bring money in, just like everyone else. So, how do we do that?

We’re fortunate to both be able to generate funds as long as we have a little cell service and can keep our laptops charged. Eszter writes articles, mostly website content. I play with SPOT dots on maps over at I also maintain and sell TopoFusion software. Actually it feels like I spend most of my ‘working hours’ answering emails, these days…

So far we’ve been pretty successful at living cheaply, which is even better than earning a lot of money. Yet, moving into the Scamp to live on the road wasn’t a scheme to save money. We did it because we wanted to travel, stay in places we love, and explore deeper. We loved the simplicity of it. It’s just a nice side bonus that it happens to be cheaper than living in a house (even factoring in the initial cost of the Scamp/setup). Even if it had been more expensive, we still would have done it.

An after-work ride on Brown Mtn, from camp.

Trackleaders forces many deadlines on me, given that races rarely get delayed — they start when they start. So I can’t put off things, especially on weekends. I need my laptop to stay somewhat charged, and that wasn’t completely happening in Patagonia.

We tend to operate on a mix of working in the Scamp and working at libraries/coffee shops. There are positives and negatives to both, so a mix seems to work best. We really like having the option to work comfortably at camp, so we can have car free days. But in Patagonia the coffee shop is fantastic, and we’d always walk away with fully charged laptops.

We knew we’d eventually need to figure out a way to generate more solar power, and a way to do that with the Scamp in the shade (and consequently, its rooftop solar panel also in the shade). But I think we were a little reluctant to figure that out so that we could justify a few nights out at Gilbert Ray in Tucson Mountain Park. It’s so nice out there, trail access is superb (Brown Mtn!) and we’d plug the Scamp in to charge the battery and everything else we could think of.

Starr Pass build day, from the east side? Sweet, short commute to work with Lee, Joan and some Ordinary Bikes riders.

this looks like I caused a lot of hike-a-bike, but it’s a mere fraction of the havoc I’ve wreaked on people’s cycling shoes over the years

We ‘planned’ Camp Tucson (meaning, keeping it more the less the same as previous years) without really thinking what that meant for Scamp life. The after-ride food part of it really lends itself to being situated in Tucson proper, not camping on the outskirts of town. Luckily the Scamp is small enough to fit in some yards, and Lee was amenable to some scamping in his.

Eszter was in Colorado, dog sitting Sparkles and nursing her parents’ older dog back to health, so she missed the Camp rides, but I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all.

March is perhaps the busiest month for trackleaders, with multiple week+ events going on throughout Alaska and the Yukon. My brain usually fries at some point, and a break is needed. At the same time, Lee and I were realizing that the fleeting beauty that is spring in the Gila Country was slipping us by.

We weren’t going to be able to experience it unless an emergency was called. Emergency Gila Bikepack!

I got lucky with all things server and Scott’s code related, as I dipped in and out of service out there, races still going on.

bikepacking some new Grand Enchantment Trail, with many opportunities to get our feet wet

I always assumed that we’d be able to take bikepack trips based out of the Scamp. Why not, it’s the perfect base camp, right?

Well, though our total possessions may be meager yet, they are still our possessions and would be a pain to replace. Once you have all your belongings in one mobile space, it can be a little disconcerting to leave it all, sitting there unattended.

I’ve tried to not let that be a factor, not let it prevent trips, but it is an issue.

For both the Emergency Trip and the subsequent, brilliant, GET trip with Lee, the Scamp simply sat in his yard in Tucson. No problem, this go-round.

Eszter was back after a couple weeks, and the Scamp rolled out again.

Hey look, it’s the elusive Cjell Mone’, rolling right near camp on his AZT ITT.

red racer snake, quick everyone draw their cameras!

A valid question for a wandering couple is, “what about community, friends?” If you’re not in one place all the time, does that make it hard to form lasting friendships and have a sense of community?

I suppose a case could be made for it being more challenging, but then I think it’s a challenge even if you live in one place, too. The truth is, it takes effort to be a part of a community, to feel like a part of one. It’s not something that just happens.

We’re lucky to be alive in the days of the internet and mobile data, not only because we can make a living while being mobile, but it is also easier to keep up with friends and arrange rides/camping through the wonders of, yes, “social media.” It isn’t perfect and I don’t think we have the community part of Scamp life nailed, either, but sometimes friends and rides do come together beautifully.

As March turned into April, we began to make preparations for the next phase of Scamp life — leaving Arizona! Scamping around AZ was a bit of an easier, trial run. Once we left, we wouldn’t have access to Lee’s array of tools and his know how, or his yard to Scamp in. We’d be without the benefit of the familiarity we have for so many places in Southern AZ. And though the minivan was towing the Scamp and all our junk around without too much issue, we hadn’t faced any big hills or mountain passes. Familiarity with places meant we hadn’t yet gotten ourselves into trouble trying to pull the scamp down a road we had no business on, forcing miles of trailer backing up or worse.

There was much to be excited about as the mercury climbed higher and the impetus to leave AZ was building.

April was lined up with a few big events, then we would hit the road.

First was a bikepacking trip with the Salsa crew, where we would guide them and they would launch a new bike (next post here on the diary, hopefully).

Then I was looking forward to getting the 2016 edition of the Arizona Trail Race off.

After the racers were rolling (err, hike-a-biking), our first order of business was to head to the Grand Canyon so Eszter could do a ‘little’ run across and back. Seen here, I’m picking her up from her Tucson Mountains Traverse. Half excuse to do a big adventure on foot, half ‘training’ for the canyon, it was a very nice linkup of trails.

So far so good. We were loving all the outdoor time, the ability to spend more time in places we love. And I loved sleeping ‘indoors’ while camping, with the window above our heads open, a cool breeze on the face to lull us to sleep. Ah, Scamp life.

3 comments to Scamping in AZ

  • Patrick McKiernan

    Scott, I know that this is going to sound crazy, but one of the “tricks” for staying cooler is to draw cool air from below the interior space and exhaust it out the roof. I’ve seen a simple solution that seems to work well for everyone that’s done it; use a hole saw to drill a 4″ or larger hole in the floor. Of course, pick the hole size based on what you can find to plug it when not in use. Not sure if you have a powered roof vent. I see the lid, but can’t tell if that’s powered. Powered would help.

    • Scott

      Interesting idea. Not sure how I feel about creating a hole in the floor. It would certainly give you the coolest shaded air, near the ground.

      We do have a powered fantastic fan. It does work really well if you only crack the window you’re sitting by and let it pull cool air through, right past you.

  • Randy Harris

    Scott, this may interest you… All in one package by newcomer SolPad. Solar panel, inverter, battery all in one unit.

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