I’m sure it was already over 100°F/37°C when John and I tossed the last of the gear – and Bodhi, his Jack Russell Terrier – into the back seat and pulled away from his house that Friday morning. Despite being long term Phoenicians – and both driving trucks with AC issues – we were dripping with sweat and ready to get moving. This trip had been a long time coming and we were eager to get back to the “secret” campsite we’d stumbled upon a year earlier.
We made a quick stop at Four Peaks Brewery in north Scottsdale to fill the growlers. John, being an IPA man, went with their Short Hop, while I opted for the 8th Street Ale, a nice session beer. Coolers filled with ice and Rocinante’s fuel tank topped off with the cheap stuff, we made haste for the Beeline Highway via Fountain Hills.We were finally on our way.
No Fancy Gear
Much as we love reading about all the high quality, niche brand overlanding gear on Expedition Portal, neither of us really own any of it. We had no rooftop tent. No ARB lockers. Not even a Snowpeak coffee cup. We weren’t driving a Landy, Disco, or Rubicon, either. We were in Rocinante, my 1989 Mitsubishi Pajero (okay, Dodge Raider), with 207,000 miles on the clock, a DIY, rattle can Ralliart paint job on the doors, and 31″ BFG ATs on the tarmac.
I had my gear in one of those corporate-branded backpacks you get from your IT employer. You know the ones I’m talking about; slightly better quality than you had in high school, with a padded divider in the main compartment for a laptop and the company name embroidered on the outside. John had his in a pack I suspect was issued to him when he deployed to Iraq under the first President Bush.
My sleeping bag is a bright orange, Coleman jobber, rated to colder than I’ve seen in 13 years living in Phoenix. John’s was similar, I suppose, though while I would be sleeping on an Intex, inflatable pool float in a tent Micah was bringing, John would be tucking his bag into a nicer, Eno hammock hung between trees on the edge of the cliff.
No Exotic Location
No strangers to world travel – John’s time in the military landed him wherever his Lockheed C-130 Hercules was needed, and I like to visit fellow Mitsubishi enthusiasts overseas when I can – we often find ourselves here on ExPo, vicariously exploring the world from home thanks to the generosity of those more fortunate/prepared/bold. That said, even though I love the idea of living out of a vehicle as I travel the world, I don’t really want to live out of a vehicle as I travel the world. Still, we needed to get away from it all.
I can’t just give away our “secret” campsite, suffice to say the tire tracks right to it suggest it’s not much of a secret to anyone not scared of a little “Arizona pinstriping” down the sides of their trucks. Take Arizona State Route 87 (aka: the Beeline Highway) north out of Fountain Hills, past Payson, Pine, and Strawberry, make the obvious right turn onto FR300, Rim Road. That’s as close as I’ll get you, suffice to say you’ll know this spot when – and if – you see it.
The blue sky drops right down to the ground barely a few yards from anywhere you stand, and the cool, pine-scented breeze rushes up the face of the Mogollon Rim to greet you. Evergreen waves of Apache Sitgreaves Forest stretch out across the valley below, until you can no longer discern where forest ends and desert begins on one of the six or seven mountain ranges stacking up on the horizon. Oh, you’ll know it when – and, again, if – you see it. Only the rim of the Grand Canyon has made a greater impression on me here in Arizona. It’s one of the greatest perks of living in Arizona, and it’s only two hours from home.
Our plan? Drink craft beer, eat camp food, and come up with some kind of contest using the cheap slingshot and blowgun we’d bought on Amazon a couple weeks prior. This was a good thing, as Lance and Micah had such a craving for McDonald’s egg McMuffins five hours earlier, they neglected to drop an FRS radio on John’s porch on their way out of town so we could find them.
John and I made a wrong turn off the main road and drove nearly a dozen miles in the wrong direction before we gave up on his spotty Verizon Galaxy S3’s GPS signal and switched to my T-Mobile Nexus 5. Once we got closer to the pin on my cached Google map, we began trying every right turn that looked like it might get us where we wanted to be.
Finally, the trail narrowed, small oaks and pines crowding in on either side, and we came upon a single set of fresh, LT tire tracks. Their unassuming tread pattern suggesting a more compliant ride, I told John this had to be Lance’s F150. He asked me if it smelled like a street truck, too, but before he could make any further jokes about my tracking ability, here came Lance and Micah in said F150, driving back out to the main road to look for us.
We pulled into camp, let Bodhi out to run with Doc, Lance’s well-trained, GPS-equipped, Brittany, and unloaded the gear, starting with the beer. Chairs were unfolded, and Black Cherry Porter flowed like the obsidian nectar of the gods. We were finally free.
You Know What I’m Talking About
And if you don’t, you should. I could go on and on about how many times each of us took shots of Fireball for being worst shot with the blowgun, how we mostly just sat in camp enjoying the brilliance of this amazing little planet we ride through the galaxy, or how we turned out the lights and marveled at the visible Milky Way itself, but I won’t.
The point is this; the rat race has become largely unsatisfying. We thirst for meaning and seem to find it in the idea of adventure; seeking out new challenges, often with friends, exploring places far removed from the norm. But, can we be so satisfied on limited budgets and timelines? Yes. Yes we can.
Don’t let lack of budget or time hold you back. Find someplace out beyond the city lights where cell reception begins to fade. Get a couple good friends, some good food, and maybe a couple dogs, and find the adventure in your own backyard the first weekend you can.
It’s calling you now. Answer that call. You’ll be glad you did. And, if you’re driving through Pine, Arizona, on a Sunday afternoon, watch out for deer. (Stupid deer.)