Poptopping in Vedauwoo – Our First Trip with the New Aliner. Part 1.
Vedauwoo, Wyoming, Mountain West, USA
Last year at the 2004 24 Hours of Moab, K and I were introduced to the wonders of pop-up trailer camping. I had done the race in 2003, and resolved after to figure out a better camping system. Even though our team finished the race, there is a big difference between finishing, and finishing as a human. Our first race experience didn’t include a shared sleeping arrangement for K and I. She slept in the 4Runner, and I slept in a small tent. Four 15 mile laps, no shower, lots of smelly bike clothing, and a lap that started at 2 a.m. You can imagine that my wife wanted as little to do with me as possible. These issues disappeared during the 2004 race. I was more rested, we were able to sleep comfortably on the first night when the temperature plunged to the upper 30s, and I had my own “stink station” that K didn’t have to endure. Overall, it was very pleasant…which is saying a lot for camping in the desert.
So, after the success of the 2004 race, we began scheming on ways to get our hands on one of these beasts. We car camp mostly, and we tend to bring everything we can: bikes, dogs, tent, awning, fishing gear, telescope, an extensive kitchen, food and beer coolers…the list goes on and on. It got to the point that packing and repacking the truck seemed to be the object of the trip. We needed more room. After all, this is car camping. It’s a completely different vibe than backpacking, where our game is how little you can get away with for 5 days. Anyway, back to the trailer. I did a little research, and decided that the Aliner poptop was ideal for us. It’s light, roomy, designed for four season camping, and has a coolness factor of about 9.5. The coolness factor is key. After a little arm-twisting, groveling, and sticky-sweet persuasiveness, I was able to convince K that we could do this. I sold her on the idea that our camping experiences would transcend anything we had done up to that point. She was skeptical, but my track record on fun, innovative ways to spend our money is impeccable. This time was no exception.
We special ordered the Aliner Sportliner with only the features we wanted. This was a good idea at the time, but the five weeks of waiting for the thing to arrive got on our nerves, especially since spring along the Colorado Front Range is spectacular. As the weather got better and better, we got more and more antsy. It finally took an oath of poptop silence to settle us down. This worked well, and forced us to talk about other things, like where we were going for our first trip. A good compromise, I’d say. After many discussions, and multiple Colorado and Wyoming atlas consultations, we settled on Vedauwoo, Wyoming. We’ve camped there before, it’s less than 3 hours from our house, and is conveniently located between Cheyenne and Laramie. If anything bad happened, we would be close enough to civilization to deal with it. Also, we didn’t have anything emotionally invested in the trip, since it was just a regular weekend. If we wanted to end the experiment early, we could do so without worrying about wasting our vacation time. And last but not least, Vedauwoo in spring is unbelievable.
Vedauwoo is located in the Medicine Bow National Forest at an elevation of about 8,500 feet. The topography is the primary draw: spectacular rock formations dot a rolling landscape of pine and aspen forest. The granitic rocks are reminiscent of Joshua Tree National Park, and are one of the reasons I love the area. I spent my adolescence an hour and a half away from J-Tree, and learned to rock climb there. Not surprisingly, rock climbing at Vedauwoo is a primary draw for many visitors. What most people don’t realize is that the mountain biking is every bit as good, and as easy to access, as the rock climbing. Easy access has its virtues, as well as its negative facets, and we got the full experience on this trip.
We focused on bikes, dogs and the new poptop for this trip. We decided that we would leave late on Friday, camp for two days and return late on Sunday. There was a problem though. On Friday evening, K had a celebratory dinner to attend for a team she was involved in. I had Friday off, and spent it getting the poptop ready. I expected her to be home around 8:30. She actually got home around 9:30, and only a little bit tipsy. Grrrrr. After a short discussion, we were ready to leave at 10:30, and quickly loaded the dogs, bikes and toys. We got into Vedauwoo at 12:30, and quietly started to look for a place to park. As we were to find out, this is a more common occurrence than we thought.
With the help of an almost full moon, I found what looked like a nice flat spot on the edge of an aspen glen. The poptop sets up in less than a minute. No joke. We spent more time trying to back the trailer and level it than opening it up and emptying it. By 1:00 a.m., we were enjoying a couple of nice Imperial Pale Ales we had brought with us. Even though it was late (early?), I was still in shorts and a light fleece sweater. It was balmy, and the famous Wyoming wind was off bothering campers in some other part of the state. We kept laughing about the weather, the ease of setting up the campsite, how bright the night was, and how late a start we got. We walked around our immediate surroundings, and I spied what looked like some sweet single-track. Well, judging from the pies laying around, it was more like cow-track. Whatever. We headed back to the poptop and I put on a beanie, more for tradition than warmth.
We were talking and thinking about bed when we saw a car driving down the access road. They were driving fast, too fast, and turned suddenly when they saw the small access road we were camping on. We could hear the sliding as they tried to panic stop, and the crunch as the front quarter panel shattered. The front wheel had caught the small ditch on the side of the road, and the car was stuck. For a couple of minutes, they tried desperately to back out of the ditch. “They’re stuck, hon,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Just leave it alone,” K replied. “So you’re saying we should just sit here, drink some more beer, and do nothing? Right. I’m going to go see if they’re okay. Someone needs to pull them out of that ditch,” I said. As I walked up to the car, they killed the lights, and I saw the driver and passenger get out to survey the damage. The driver promptly got onto the phone (which had no service), and the passenger promptly finished her Bud Light.
I asked if everyone was okay. They answered yes. With my headlamp, I took a look at the carnage. They were stuck, the front right bumper was trashed, and the driver was freaking out. It looked like the car was still drivable though. I offered to pull them out. The driver kept saying, “my car is f*cked, my car is f*cked.” The passenger was trying to calm her down…kept offering her a beer…you know the things friends do for each other. As I went back over to our camp, I couldn’t help but think that they were really lucky. No one was hurt, and the damage wasn’t as bad as I thought. “Well? What’s going on?” K asked. “They’re stuck, they have no cell phone service, and they’ve been drinking, ” I said, as I pulled the tow rope out of the poptop and grabbed my keys. “Great, just great. Idiots,” K opined. I got into the truck and drove over to the scene of the crime.
“Idiots, right,” I thought. These were just a couple of kids out having a good time. I spent a ton of time in my youth driving in the middle of the night out in the middle of bum freaking desert for no particular reason. The difference is that I never crashed a car. Ok, wait. I’ve been a passenger in a vehicle that rolled in the middle of nowhere, but really, who hasn’t? The truck I was in was totaled, and we were lucky to be alive. Their car wasn’t even seriously damaged. Put on your big girl panties and deal with it. With the help of the driver, I got the truck positioned for the removal. As I started to rig the towrope, a third girl got out of the car. She promptly started to berate the driver. “It’s never going to work. We’re F*CKED!” Jeez. People are trying to sleep. It would have been more convincing if she hadn’t slurred her words. Anyway. Give it a chance. Granted, I’m just a skinny white guy with a Toyota, but I’ve got game. Shit, I made a camera bipod once out of two ski poles and a brilliant strap application, which by the way stunned the two engineers we were skiing with. It takes a special kind of mind to come up with a bipod on the spot like that. Next time, I’ll make a unipod, dammit.
Obviously, these young ladies had no idea who they were dealing with, since the driver decided to take a little ownership and help me with the tow rigging. After watching her fiddle with it for a about a minute, I asked her politely to step aside. “Hey, you know, I think your knot might work, but since I’m pulling you out, do you mind if I set this up?” Sure, sure. The second girl, working on her third Bud Light since the crash, backed me up. “Yeah, X, let him do it. You’re drunk anyway.” Girl number 3 decided to play the trump. “Great 21st birthday, X, you really are a great friend. I can’t believe you crashed the car. You almost killed us. Way to go.” And on it went. Finally the driver let loose with her own stream of slurred profanity. Alcohol fueled catfight at 2 a.m…one of those rare and amazing natural occurrences, like a crab migration or a phosphorescent tide. I half wished K was there to watch, and half wished I had brought my beer so I could settle in. Then I realized something. They were loud enough that 100 yards away was pretty much ringside. Hey, my beer. I need to get these girls pulled out and on their way so I can get back to what I was doing. I interrupted their argument, and asked the driver to get in and steer. Pulling the car out was strangely anticlimactic…it took me longer to convince them it would work than completing the act. Weird.
As I was untying the towrope, I noticed the plates for the first time. Nebraska. Suddenly, my dim understanding of the whole situation was a lot brighter. I interrupted the argument for what seemed like the fifth time, and asked them if they knew where they were. Oops. “Can you tell me where the interstate is?” “Aren’t we in Colorado?” You’re kidding me, right? I gave them a quick orientation, and explained how to get back out to I-80. They seemed skeptical, but I re-assured them. After a 15-point u-turn, they were on their way back to Husker land. As I drove back over to our campsite, I started to laugh. For some reason I kept expecting somebody to jump out of the aspen grove yelling “Ya’ll been redneck’d!!” at the top of their lungs. To top it all off, my chivalrous streak had trumped the obligatory juvenile chauvinist fantasy.
Picture it: three drunken college co-eds…one studly guy that rescued them…a poptop camper full of beer. Talk about every single guy’s dream. Then picture the wife, and hear the sound of fingernails trailing down a blackboard. To be absolutely truthful, I didn’t even think about the how I could capitalize on the situation. My entire motivation for helping them was selfish: I knew that the quicker I got them out, the sooner our camping experience would improve. I guess that fact, more than anything else, is an indicator of how far gone my twenties are. When I got back to the poptop, K kissed me and told me that was a good man. I thought that was a nice compliment. The night was still absolutely beautiful, and we had stocked up on good vibes. After a little more talking, we settled in for the most comfortable nights sleep we’ve ever had while camping.
We woke the next day at the crack of nine, and promptly made coffee. Since I hadn’t seen the area in daylight, I took the dogs for a little walk through the aspen and pine grove we had camped next to. After a short hike, I found another campsite. This one was more established, had better shade, and was off the main road a bit. I went back to the poptop and told K about it. She didn’t want to move, but after I showed the site to her, she was a believer. We didn’t even collapse the poptop. We just threw everything in, hooked it up, and slowly drove over to the new site. Neat! We had the camp moved and setup in about 30 minutes. The new site had a better fire ring, and a better view. The dogs liked it too, and helped K collect pine cones. After the previous night’s drama, it looked like we would be able to really relax and enjoy the great weather. We weren’t completely wrong.