The Prep, the Rig, and the Gear

I don’t know how many people reading this will be contemplating a long-haul trip of their own, but I thought that, for those who are, it might be useful to have the lowdown about what I packed and what I did and what I’ll do differently next time.

THE PREP

Make a list, and check it two hundred times (see Post #1, Seventeen Lists, and Yet I Have No Girth).

I am in possession of the rare (and adorable) combination of two not-entirely-compatible personality types, to wit, Control Freak and Complete Flake.  This combination of powers renders me obsessively compelled to make lists, pre-enact possible scenarios that might be encountered on the trip, and set up and break down camp like a marine disassembling and rebuilding a rifle, while at the same time harbouring a romantic idea of roaming the country all gypsy-like and carefree, with no agenda and no time-limit.  While Flake thinks this is going to be a fabulous adventure, Freak thinks of all the things that could possibly go wrong, and plans for every eventuality.

This is the obsessive’s advice:

–  Get trailer and truck serviced. (If you go to lovely Chris the trailer guy, you can listen to him tell you how mean you are for taking your horse on an extended road trip.)

–  Set up an e-fence enclosure on the front lawn.  Add a third line of tape because you’re not convinced your girl won’t scoff at two. Break it down. Set it up again.

–  Set up a high line and get horse used to it. Realize you have no mad knot-tying skillz. Resolve to do better.

–  Start adding cubes to diet, as one way to ensure a bit of water intake should horse be finicky about drinking. Realize that horse who drinks creek water, pond water, city water, rain water, and slurps muddy puddles is not likely to be finicky.

–  Start feeding hay soaked (see above).

–  Take horse on field trips just to reassure yourself that she is NOT like her mother and will not randomly decide that trailers are the devil, and that she will get on, every time.  Make the trailer the only place the really good treats happen. The only place.

–  Make a packing list for the horse, the camp, the dog, and you. Start two weeks before you go, and add to it daily.

–  Make a hard-copy handbook of the route and contacts and vet clinics and alternative accommodation along the way, in case you lose access to the internet. Acknowledge that adding Google Maps images when you have both TomTom and a built-in truck GPS is, well, control-freaky.

–  Get a second cell phone because you know Telus (your carrier) will suck in Northern Ontario, but Rogers (your new pay-as-you-go carrier) will not.

–  Write out detailed horse care information for the horses you are leaving behind. Plan for them getting sick and trying to die while you’re away. Demo the feeding routine to your trusty horse sitters.

–  Get Coggins done, print out a current vaccination certificate, and a copy of your provincial insurance.

–  Call or email prospective overnight hosts.

–  Get a second spare tire for the trailer.

THE RIG

2012:

The truck is a 2011 Toyota Tundra (4×4, with a 5.5 L V8 engine, a 1700 lb payload, and an 11,000 lb hauling capacity) with canopy.

The trailer is a 1995-ish bumper-pull insulated aluminum Sundowner slant-load step-up, bought new in around 2000, weighing approximately 1500 lbs. It has a collapsible tack storage space in the back, which I do not use for long-haul trips because when in place, the diminished space impinges on my horse’s ability to turn around freely, and makes her noticeably anxious, as opposed to when it is folded away to give her the entire space as an effective box stall. It’s been preferable to sacrifice the extra storage space in exchange for a relaxed and happy horse. It has a dressing room up front – alterations described below. It has an electric winch (with manual option – very handy when your awesome, snazzy electric winch stops working). I use equalizer bars when I’m hauling any great distance, even though I don’t bother with a single horse on short trips around home.

Wayde welded me a lightweight aluminum hay rack that bolts to the Thule bars on top of my canopy. It holds five bales of hay or about 12 bags of cubes. (The pic below reflects the fact that on Trip #1 I had ordered hay bale bags which, of course, arrived the day after I left, so I had to make do with a tarp until the bale bags got forwarded to me in Taber. So ghetto.)

The dressing room, which has a weird, irregularly angular shape and a footprint of something approaching 25 square feet, was transformed into my camper. It has a roof skylight vent and a screened window in the door. For the 2012 trip, Wayde welded a completely removable aluminum bed frame, with a plywood platform upon which I set a custom-cut foam mattress. The bed sat 20″ above the floor, which allowed ample room to store wine boxes, a small cooler, rubbermaid containers, and a portable RV/boat toilet. Wayde also fitted a fold-down aluminum shelf, which became the indoor cooking surface for my propane stove. Bridle hooks became hooks for coats and sweaters and caps, the upper blanket rail became a place to hang my propane lantern, and the lower rail became a place to hang my tea towel and Scooty’s raincoat. I added kitchen drawer/fridge dividers to the gutter that normally holds brushes and miscellany, and they held my cutlery, utensils, Aeropress coffee maker, etc. Wayde wired this “living quarters” with power to a wee RV fridge and to an inverter for me to use for plugging in my laptop.

In 2012, the truck powered/charged a battery that ran the fridge and inverter in the dressing room (= camper). There was a 12 to 15-ish Watt solar panel on the roof that charged the battery when the trailer was not being hauled (charged) by the truck.

2015 Updates: For the summer 2015 trip, Wayde added a fold-down table over the passenger-side trailer fender. I used this thing every time I camped, mainly for food prep and cooking. It was also a handy place to set my tiny portable herb garden so it could catch some sun.

IMG_4532I also got myself a HiTie, which was an awesome purchase. The HiTie offers an alternative to setting up a high line, and is an excellent piece of equipment to have when you’re camping in a place with no trees (e.g. the prairies) or in places where using trees to high line is forbidden (e.g. Ya Ha Tinda). As per my bale bags last time around, this was another last-minute purchase that Mr Wayde Andrews had to ship to me en route. I had it installed in Vernon.

 

IMG_4193

The final significant upgrade was a cute little awning made by Shady Boy in Vancouver. This fabric awning with fibreglass poles assembles in minutes, and stores in an unobtrusive compartment mounted on the trailer. Unfortunately, each time I used it, I had trouble fitting my poles firmly into their brackets (I’m not sure whether it was me, or the rig), and the not-quite-right seating probably contributed to the destruction of the awning in a not-very-strong wind. I’ve been dragging my heels sorting out repairs with the manufacturer – I’m hoping to get it fixed and made more user-friendly for me.

2016 Updates: For the summer 2016 trip, the ever-accommodating Mr Wayde Andrews pimped out my trailer, big time.

The original 12-15 Watt solar panel had proved itself to be utterly inadequate on the previous two trips. I’d been blaming some mysterious fault in the wiring for the fridge deficiencies, but, ultimately, it came down to a lack of power. I’d also gotten fed up with (1) the crappy accessibility provided by a small, top-loading fridge, (2) hauling things out of stacked Rubbermaid containers,  (3) the idiocy of having carpet as trailer flooring (seriously. People with horses have muddy boots, and also dogs. Who was the genius who had the brilliant idea that carpet would be the perfect flooring??), and (4) not having enough poatable water for a week’s worth of boondocking.

IMG_0335I threw down some laminate flooring over the carpeting, for a much more serviceable surface. Wayde wired up a couple of 75-Watt solar panels to two 6V deep cycle batteries that found themselves a home on a newly-constructed box that sits on the driver-side fender of the trailer (a box that has just enough extra space to hold the lead rope assembly for my HiTie),  and we added a fridge 3 times larger than the one I’d been working with.

He also raised the bed, and added shelving under and above the bed, and a built-in under-the-bed dog crate for The Worst Dog in the World. I added some command hooks, sewed up a new duvet cover and found a horsie doormat to match, and voilà: a much more user-friendly “living quarters”.

I also ordered a custom-made 130L water tank, one with a peaked top that could make the thing double as a saddle rack. (I’m not original enough to think of this on my own. The idea is from this tank.)

The Shady Boy canopy manufacturer wasn’t particularly helpful with regards to my broken canopy, so Wayde took it upon himself to repair the thing, and got it back in usable condition. I did need to modify it with tether lines and a jury-rigged pole to create a peak so that it could withstand wind and rain (without the gangster modifications, there is no way it would have serviced), but done up that way, the thing managed to stay intact in the face of some pretty insane winds.

IMG_1084 cropped

 

THE GEAR

On all of the trips, the entire bed of the truck was occupied by gear for the horse (minus, in 2012, one box of soap-making equipment and one flat of pear cider) and camping tools. In 2012, I also had two spare trailer tires back there.

In 2012, the back seat of the truck was occupied by veterinary gear, my guitar, my riding gear, Scooty food, my carry-on bag, and a deeply-buried suitcase full of clothes that would not be needed on the road. The front passenger seat was taken up by The Scoot’s dog bed, and the footwell was occupied by his airline kennel (needed for a plane trip later in the summer), which provided the perfect flat surface for his unspillable water bowl and food bowl. In subsequent years, the suitcase got replaced by a bin (far easier access), the guitar rode up front, and the larger and far more unmannerly dog rode in the back.

It would be boring beyond belief to list everything I brought for camping and hauling (if you seriously really want a camping list, I’ve added one here, but be forewarned: I bring so. much. shit.). Still, there are a few items that might be worth mentioning:

Assorted bungy cords – I used these to hold my camper/trailer doors open in insane winds, to hold my saddle bag closed when barbed wire ripped it to shit, to patch together my fender when it was destroyed by a tire blow-out, to secure buckets.

Bale bags – made handling hay sooo much easier. Way better on the hay rack than the totally lame and very irritating tarp. Kept bales on the rack reasonably dry, and kept the “in use” bale in the truck canopy manageable without getting hay freaking everywhere. (In the daily rain of 2016, the bale bags didn’t keep my hay cubes completely dry, but they sure helped).

Buckets – I had six of various sizes (manure bin sized down to little 8L buckets), and I used them all.

Cadaver Bags – these look like very large and extremely heavy-duty garbage bags, and they were great for holding manure at places that weren’t designed with horses in mind. At campgrounds, I’d clean the manure up from Pai’s e-fence enclosure, throw the bag in the back of the truck, and empty out the bag next time I was handy a manure pile. Sturdy enough to be reusable over and over again.

Fire starters – I am seriously useless at starting fires, and I really, really like a campfire. Fire starters save you from trying to siphon gas out of the tank to get the damn fire lit.

GPS – TomTom rules. Nuff said.

Hardware – oval screw links. Carabiners (looottts of carabiners). Ring bolts. Nails and screws.

Hose – a short length of hose is useful at places with awkward taps.

Ladder – I used it a lot for dealing with hay bales on the roof rack, and I also used it to secure my highline. It’s a 4-foot A.

Pelleted bedding – takes up way less space than do shavings. On the 2012 X-continent trip, I carried 4 15-17kg bags each way, and used 1 1/2 on the way West-East and 1 bag on the trip East-West (that’s 66 hours of pure driving time each way, i.e. not including stops). In 2016, I used a total of two bags over 5 weeks. Of that time, 15 days were spent on the road, with the longest day being 8 hours.

Phones – I had two cells with me on the 2012 and 2015 trips, one Telus (my usual phone) and one Rogers (booted up just for the trip). The cell service varies wildly across the country, and having two providers meant that on the road, I almost always had service (with the notable exception of the Endless Forests of Desolation up around Kapuskasing). For the 2016 trip, I just used my Telus phone.

Rags – for wiping things down and wiping crap up. They were an afterthought, but I used them every day.

Spare tires – I carried two trailer spares, and on the 2012 trip, I used them both.

Tools – Hammer; screwdriver; vice grips; Leatherman; tire pressure gauge; sturdy scissors; hatchet; measuring tape. Used them all.

Water canister – In 2012, I carried a 10L canister, but 15-20L would have been better. Was really useful around camp, and on the road when stopping for breaks at places that didn’t have ready access to water.

Wheel chock that doubles as a ramp – way easier for changing a tire than a jack is, if you have the kind of trailer with torsion axles rather than double spring axles. Piece of cake.

2015 Updates: For the summer 2015 trip, I added a few more pieces of gear. Since I was going to be doing a fair amount of solo riding, almost all of the additions were safety-related:

ACR ResQLink Personal Locator Beacon –  We had this thing already, mainly for boating. It’s a waterproof PLB that works worldwide. It offers one function, and one function only: press the button, and Search and Rescue comes. Super-reliable and highly rated.

Bear Spray – I don’t usually carry this on the trail on Vancouver Island (maybe I should), but I did when I was in the Rockies.

Garmin GPS – I had it with me on the trail, but actually didn’t really sort out how to use most of its features.

ID Tag – I had a tag engraved with Pai’s name, my name, and Wayde’s emergency contact numbers, and affixed it to her bridle.

Rolling Water tank – came in handy at a couple of the camps where water was at a distance from my set-up. The one I bought was a Reliance 30L Hydroroller, and it leaked from the first time I filled it. It wasn’t particularly stable on uneven ground (what other kind of ground are you going to encounter while camping?), and the handle was flimsy. I’ve since looked at reviews, and my experience seems to be common. Looks like Cabela’s no longer carries it – shocker.

2016 Updates: For the summer of 2016, I added yet more gear.

Spot: I have a PLB for emergencies, but it’s handy (and fun) to have the Spot as well, since it not only serves as a rescue beacon, but lets you send quick location messages and status updates to people at home.

130 L Water Tank: Doubles as a saddle rack. This one addition (this plus the skookum fridge/solar panel arrangement) made my life sooo much easier when it came to dry camping. I never came close to running out of water on a week-long boondock.

Camp Shower: Someone gave me one towards the end of my 2015 trip, and it was a thing of beauty. I highly recommend the flattish, Coleman type (heated water up like crazy) over the cubic, Reliance type (did not).

Camp Table: I like to cook like a grown-up, and I need a reasonable amount of “counter space” to do that. Some places don’t have picnic tables. My table cost $29.

More electric fencing: Having a lot of e-tape and a reasonable number of poles (I have metal step-in poles that are super sturdy and quick to put up) means you can make your horse a roomy paddock.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The Prep, the Rig, and the Gear”

  1. I am so glad you stopped a Hideaway horse camp so I could read your blog! We plan on doing this very thing next summer, but going from southern BC up to maybe McBride and over to Alberta, making a loop. Your blog is going to prove invaluable to us. Thank you for writing it.
    Toni

    • I’m so pleased it will be helpful! I’m thinking of making a summary page of camping spots one of these days, which would make the info easier to find 🙂 Happy trails!

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