I finally got a chance to take the van out for her first overnight camping trip. I decided to only book one night at a campground I'm very familiar with, assuming this would be a sort of "test run". I've camped in plenty of tents, but I'm new to this whole van life thing.
We rolled down to the NJ Pine Barrens just after noon. I had first dibs for the dog-friendly sites, and not surprisingly, didn't see another soul the entire time.
As soon as I got the dogs out to stretch, they started yodeling, so any plans I had of setting up were quickly dashed. I hooked them up and set out for a brief run, which accidentally turned into over six miles.
I've been limiting Blitz's runs, so I wasn't planning on doing more than four miles with him on the team. Somehow, I took a few wrong turns and our quick run became much longer. If you've never been to the Pine Barrens, you should know that it all looks exactly the same. It's taken me dozens of runs on a specific trail to recognize its features, so starting at a new spot threw it all off. Even with a working GPS, I couldn't quite figure out where we were.
We did make it back, of course. Blitz had no trouble and proceeded to dig a giant hole while the other dogs rested.
After our run, I attempted to put up a hacky awning I had thought up. The plan was to attach a tarp to the roof of the van using suction cup clips and to prop it up with 8' tent poles. This failed entirely; the suction cups would not stick to the van's roof at all. Aside from that, the tarp I bought off Amazon was utter crap. The grommets were on nylon webbing, which tore off immediately. I didn't even pull the tarp taut - just lifting it to the roof of the van made them tear away. I threw it in the trash and was thankful I didn't actually need overhead cover. I'll have to revisit the awning idea.
Winter camping has its downsides*. In other seasons, I tend to go to sleep after it gets dark and rise with the sun. Can't really do that at 5:00 PM. I built a fire and cooked up a veggie burger, but once I was out of wood, I decided to load into the van for the remainder of the night.
The dogs weren't too sure what to do. After a bit of shuffling around, I got each of them settled. Just like at home, Dexter, Denali, and Willow slept in the bed and Knox and Blitz slept beneath us.
The cold started to creep in around 7 or 8:00 PM, so I plugged in the little electric heater the van's original owner gave me. It helped, but not quite enough, so I used my propane camp stove to make tea. (Remember: ventilate if you cook inside a van or tent! Or you WILL die.) This warmed the van up enough to be comfortable while I read and avoided reality for a little while.
Sleeping in the van was surprisingly comfortable, if you consider being cramped between three dogs comfortable. Their warmth was welcomed, though. At one point I woke up spooning Willow, with her head tucked under my chin. (This is cute and totally not depressing or weird.)
My phone crapped out pretty early, since I wasn't charging it and the temperatures were low. The next morning I couldn't get it to stay on, so we set out for a brief run without any GPS to save us. I played it safe and managed four miles (like I had originally planned) by running a big square.
Once we got back to camp, I was eager to get back home, but Rover had other ideas. The condensation on the windows had frozen over night, and for whatever reason, the heat wouldn't turn on. Usually it kicks on when I start driving, but alas, I could not see to drive. My lazy desire to grab a Wawa breakfast sandwich was defeated, and I cooked up some eggs and coffee to defrost the ice.
Ultimately, the first overnight in the van went fairly well. There's definitely things I need to consider for the future, but overall, it was a nice little escape.
* LOL I know what you're thinking, what are the upsides of winter camping? Well, if you're not a dog musher, there are some other perks. Zero bugs, for one. And you pretty much have the entire woods to yourself. Because you're crazy and it's 25 degrees.