Bishop – Lookout Mountain
Waypoints: Bishop, Druid Stones, Schat’s Bakery, Hot Creek Geological Area, Mammoth Lakes, Lake Mary, Lookout Mountain
Miles hiked: 6.2
Miles driven: 76.2
Break camp: 55 min
Make camp: 18 min
Camp type: Dispersed camping no services
Camp cost: $0
My plan had been to catch up on sleep but 5:30am found me awake and getting things togeher for a hike. I had picked out the short and strenuous Druid Stones hike just south of Bishop. I watched sun rise as climbing out of the Owens Valley.
I called my mom for part of the walk down and drive home. I stopped into the famous Schat’s Bakery for some cheeze bread. At the hotel room, Sara worked while I did laundry. I also opened the two experimental jars of olives I had started curing in December. I did a taste test against store bought Kalamatas. Jar 4 was still quite bitter because I had skipped the step of slicing into the olives before soaking them. Jar 2 was almost right but still bitter and needing more salt. After cleaning up, folding laundry, and checking out at 11, we drove across the parking lot to the hotel barbecue area to work for a bit. Around 12:40, I went to the car and cleared a spot for a curled up nap. Since I hadn’t given Sara a heads up, about 10 minutes after laying down, I woke to her opening the car door ready to leave.
We went back to Schat’s Bakery for a to go sandwich and cookie. I drove while Sara worked. We went to see Hot Creek Geological Site to eat our lunch.
The pools were robin egg blue with a bubbling vent.
We went for a short walk along the creek and saw many people fishing. Sara had fun with her cookie.
We continued up to Mammoth Lakes. While Sara tried to finish up the work week, I went into the NPS visitor center and got great recommendations of where to hike on snow that afternoon and to take the June Lake loop on the drive north.
Sara needed another hour to complete her work, and I went for the snow hike to Lake Mary. The road is closed to vehicles in winter but there is a public access corridor for walkers along side the resort cross country ski track. I had an alternating brisk walk / light jog to 8900’. The snow covered lake brightly reflected sunlight. It was a very gorgeous look into the mountains.
Back on the road, we grabbed firewood to accompany our plans to finally set up camp before dark! We took the Mammoth Scenic Loop aiming for camping. Our first destination was met with Road Closed signage. We continued down to 395 and a forest road continued off the other side. Sara wanted to check it out. She had her mind set on a camp site with a view, and we found it on the summit of Lookout Mountain.
The road up was rutty but passable with a bit of care because it was dry save for a few snowy spots near the top. We set up camp and prepared a fire. We then took lots of sun set photos and then had our fire.
This campsite was phenomenal, and both of us were looking forward to the next two days where Sara would be free to fully enjoy.
Bishop Volcanic Flats – Bishop
Waypoints: Bishop Volcanic Flats, Bishop
Miles hiked: 1.0
Miles driven: 7.3
Break camp: 15 min
Make camp: 30 min
Camp type: Hotel
Camp cost: $91.34
The strong windstorm and cold front made for a much chillier night. I woke around 4 and didn’t get back to sleep. I wound up cutting my phone on and off to take notes and even had service enough to research all the potential dog friendly options in Bishop for the start of the work day. Given that the day called for 20mph winds and highs in the 50’s, pet friendly patio seating didn’t appeal. We would have a few hours charge to potentially work from the car on our hot spot. From bed, I browsed for dog sitter options and dog friendly hotels. I watched the crescent moon rise and layered up with all the lightweight clothing I had available (most heavy jackets were in the rooftop bag). I then got up and fed beans. It was high winds and in the low 40’s. I had waited until a bit closer to sunrise to start walking, anticipating the cold winds would make for a less than leisurely walk. I shuffled down the road looking to get around the ridge and have a view of the light on the sierras. In a few moments, I saw white caps peeking over the ridge. The wind was hitting me directly once I was in the wide open table land and wide open views to the Sierras were the reward. After a lot of pictures, I hustled back to the car and grabbed the nice camera. I topped the ridge and took some more photos before getting back into bed to warm up.
We then broke camp, again doing as much from inside the car as we could. We headed into town, got Sara a coffee, and were able to check into the pet friendly Vagabond Inn just after 9am. We settled in, cleaned up and worked the day from our room with a Mountain View. Sara also watched a drug bust at a room across the parking lot. After the work day, we went to Kmart for a few car organization items. We went back to Upper Crust Pizza for pasta (it was next door to the inn). We watched a little tv and went to bed.
Alabama Hills – Bishop Volcanic Flats
Waypoints: Alabama Hills, Lone Pine Merry Go Round Restaurant, Big Pine Carrol’s Grocery, Schulman Grove Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Bishop Upper Crust Pizza, Bishop Volcanic Flats
Miles hiked: 6.5
Miles driven: 116.8
Break camp: 27 min
Make camp: 24 min
Camp type: Dispersed camping no services
Camp cost: $0
I woke to twilight again around 5:30. I grabbed my pre-made hiking bag and then fed Beans. I then took photos of the pre-dawn view at the car for a while as a crescent moon perched low in the sky.
I watched the sunrise color slide onto the Sierras through Mobius arch. I bounced around between a few photo locations.
After a while, I took the unnamed trail away from the parking area. A bird of prey glided low over the scrub. The view and lighting remained beautiful as I walked parallel to the mountain range. I wanted to stop and take photos often. This was balanced with the mosquito entourage that seemed to follow in my wake awaiting such an opportunity to prod me further.
I followed the trail a few miles until I met up with the road. On the mile or two road walk I typed up a bit of the log of previous 2 days and resurfaced the idea to make a spreadsheet to accompany the log in the same style as my hiking log.
Sara had just gotten out of the camper and had started making the bed when I arrived back from the 5.5 mile loop at 8:11am. We took the time to tighten roof straps for travel and headed into Lone Pine. No restaurants with patio seating opened until 11am. We parked in the shade and worked via hot spot in the car for an hour and a half. At 11, we moved to the patio of the Merry Go Restaurant and had a Chinese food buffet from the quaint 17 sided building. After lunch, we drove a short ways north to Big Pine. There in front of Carrol’s Grocery, we found a table next to the soda machine that had 2 outlets to charge our computers while working in the shade. By about 3:30pm, the sun had moved enough that we were no longer in the shade. We shortly thereafter wrapped up work and made a second run into the Grocery to pick up sandwich materials, 2 apples, and a box of cereal.
From there we headed up to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest! This place has been on my list of spots to visit for a few years. They are among the longest lived species of tree on earth (individual trees that are 5000+ years old). The extreme conditions of their habitat makes for a very short growing season. This results in slow growth of wood that is very dense and resinous, which makes it very resistant to fire and pests. It was 43 degrees and quite windy at Schulman Grove. Sara and Beans opted to enjoy the trees from the car while I took a quick jog of the Discovery trail. I definitely want to return here for a longer visit.
The wind had been picking up all afternoon as a cold front moved in. Overnight called for 30-40mph gusts in the valley and 70-80mph gusts at higher elevations. We had originally thought of camping at Grandview campground after the visit but given that it was at 8500′ elevation, we decided against. The view was quite grand. The sky looked a little ominous and it was a tad windy but absolutely worth the trip up. Our brakes got a bit hot on the long steep descent. We stopped to feed beans and take a few photos and gave them a chance to cool off.
We had picked out a destination of Sage Flat Campground to the west of Big Pine. On the drive down, we decided instead to head to Bishop for pizza. On the way into town, a police checkpoint had halted more than 40 tractor trailers that then lined the highway shoulder southbound. They were held from continuing out of town because of the strong winds. We continued on to our to go margherita pizza from Upper Crust Pizza, and I got a few items from the grocery next door while waiting. We picked out BLM lands just north of Bishop to camp for the night. GPS estimated a 10 minute trip out there, and we opted to drive over before eating the pizza. While it did take 10 minutes to arrive at the entrance, it took a total of 25 minutes until 8:15pm over a bumpy dirt road to arrive to an unoccupied site. We ate in the front seats and then set up camp. With the strong cold winds, we did as much of the arranging from inside the car as we could. The site we found was on the leeward side of a hill, which we hoped would reduce some of the wind. I did some writing and then went to sleep.
Next Post: Day 4
Point Mugu – Alabama Hills
Waypoints: Point Mugu, Oxnard Walmart, Oxnard Honey Cup Cafe, Thousand Oaks Apple, Hook Burger Simi Valley, Alabama Hills
Miles hiked: 5.2
Miles driven: 272.7
Break camp: 45 min
Make camp: 13 min
Camp type: Dispersed camping no services
Camp cost: $0
I woke up pre-dawn and went for a hike. I watched the crescent moon rise while an abundance of birds began their day. There was a prolonged sunrise color display over the jagged ridges of Boney Mountain Wilderness. I took many photos, did Wim Hof breathing exercises, and continued my climb to an ever improving view inland.
Nearing the top of my small loop, I could see both sunrise and, in the other direction, the ocean. I jogged down the fire road to the beach overlook and took more photos before descending back into camp.
Immediately on arriving back at 7:28am, I opened the trunk and started to slide the roof bag in under the shelf as Sara suggested the night before. She protested only because she was still trying to sleep there (though she had asked to leave early and get to a workable location asap…). Breaking camp involved a bit of shuffling and took 45 min of rearranging, dressing, and adjusting. We stopped in the day use area. It was cold so only I walked down to the beach underpass and watched the waves. The night before, I had killed my computer working in the car only to realize my computer chargers had both been boxed into our moving pod. The nearest option was Oxnard Walmart for a usb-c charger. We headed to a pet friendly coffee shop near the beach for breakfast and work. The new offbrand laptop charger was struggling to power my computer and was only slowing the battery loss while plugged in. Once it died, I left it charging next to Sara and took a 1 mile walk on the beach with a view of the Channel Islands. There were pebbles mixed in with the sand, and I was looking at Airbnb options for the night after the poor charging experience at the coffee shop. I took a few calls. We alternated between the shady and sunny outdoor seating where we could either be cold or hot. By the end of the working day, we were feeling a bit burnt and we headed to the Apple store in Thousand Oaks for a proper computer charger. We drove a little further to Hook Burger in Simi Valley to stop for dinner and sit out the rest of rush hour traffic.
After dinner we set our sights on Alabama Hills. It would be 3.5 hours away from our 6pm start, which is later than ideal for arrival but how could we not? A place as excellent as it was worth pressing on. Lighting is best there in the morning anyways, which made slowing down and watching sunset there the following day was less appealing than arriving late and getting a sunrise. We had struggled through the day to get enough power to our laptops in pet friendly locations. We are very familiar with making pet friendly (ie patio seating) work and with staying powered but not quite so much when layering the two. Fortunately, our Ford Escape has a standard 100v ac plug! I had always shied away from charging laptops in cars but at Sara’s insistence did more research to realize, we were good to go and can now recover laptop power while driving. We rolled onto Movie Flat Rd and began looking for a place to set up camp. I was a little timid in picking a spot and found fault with the first few (that the next day we recognized would have been more than fine). Part of the learning curve. We found one about a half mile past the main parking area to the Mobius Arch trail. Camp set up from 10:15-10:28, which included 7 min of partially strapping the black roof bag to the roof. We locked ourselves in for the night & then set the car alarm off at 10:32 with Sara’s assertion: “See just open the handle-” We got settled in and played 15 min of an audiobook, which I immediately passed out to and slept until pre-dawn. Sara let me know the next day she had a bit of trouble sleeping because the wind was shaking the car and roof bag straps that had only been partially secured.
Next Post: Day 3
Irvine – Point Mugu
Waypoints: Irvine, Point Mugu State Park
Miles hiked: 0
Miles driven: 100.7
Break camp: N/A
Make camp: 33 min
Camp type: Developed campground with water
Camp cost: $45
After working from home for the day, we loaded the car and turned in our keys! We have everything needed to live and work indefinitely from our SUV. I have 10’s of thousands of photos on my phone from thousands of miles hiking and the road trips surrounding them. I rarely have taken the time to sort them into something that can easily be reviewed or reflected on like I do with my mileage log. For my own records, I am shaping a day to day log of RV ramblings and will also share it here for any family or friends who care to follow along.
To provide context, I start here with an overly detailed overview of our gear. In our SUV, we have a sleeping platform, which is the $27 RV that I originally created for weekend trips. We have 2 blankets, 2 pillows, and a sheet set. We have a sun shade shelf to store light items above our legs while we sleep and to use as a counter when standing at the tailgate. We have a 2 gallon water jug with spout. We have 2 Tupperware bins for the floorboard (one has toiletries the other has pantry items). We have a 24 liter electric cooler that runs from a 12v plug. We each have one bag of clothing and one backpack. I have one track bag with hiking items. We have a small crate with non-food pantry items. And for the moment, we have miscellaneous items like the supplies for the yet to be completed curtain project, a few half gallon jars of olives from my self curing project in Irvine, and two other grocery bags of pantry items that remain to be paired down. We also have Beans’ spaceship carrier, which houses her food and supplies.
We also bought a rooftop car carrier to house non-daily items. This includes: my fully packed backpacking pack, Sara’s backpacking quilt for colder climates, snow chains, 4 pair of shoes, a few ziploc storage bags of extra clothing for Sara (including her clothes and snorkel for the Hawaii trip), jumper cables, a battery pack to jump a car, and I think that’s about it. At the trip outset, we loaded this in the car to increase fuel economy. It was loaded day 1 behind the passenger side because I had already packed blankets and such under the shelf.
Arrangement while driving is basically cooler behind the driver seat (for access by passenger), a pillow right in between the front seats for beans to sit when she is not in a lap, one food bag and non-food pantry items in reach of passenger, and all else piled in without obstructing the view out the rear windshield.
We made a pit stop for me to garden with my sister before leaving town. Sara ran a few final errands, including getting and installing heavy duty velcro to secure the shelf top onto the cross members. We had dinner while gardening. We drove straight to Point Mugu. We watched sunset from the highway in Malibu and arrived to our site at twilight.
Fee camping of $45/night is steep but it is secluded from most road noise yet still has the sound of waves crashing. It also has access to great trails. Camp set up took 33 minutes. This consisted of unloading everything to the picnic table and lots of digging for what was needed.
I packed a hiking track bag for the morning and got some snacks out. I added my clothes bag into the black roof bag, which was locked and left on the picnic table overnight. All other items were tucked into floorboards, shelf, or front seats. We talked trip logistics for a bit, planned to leave for town early to find a place with signal for work, and listened to 15 min of Folks this Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin as we fell asleep.
Next Post: Day 2
After using our $27 RV platform and $20 Mattress Topper for a few months worth of trips, we made time to tailor a better fit for our vehicle. Our sleeping platform is 73″ long, 40.5″ wide at foot & 47″ wide at torso level. The length and torso width are the correct dimensions for a full mattress. We had satisficed with the folded sides in the foot box on weekend trips.
We had considered custom ordered but never seemed to prioritize it.
We used a large roll of red paper (from the paint section of home depot) to make templates of our sleeping platform.
We then took those inside and laid them out on the mattress.
We then cut the mattress to size with an exacto knife.
We also flipped the mattress and carved a section of the foam out to seat over the center console with a slightly reduced bulge.
The finished product gives more foot room and makes taking the mattress in and out easier.
After using our $27 RV for nearly 1 year worth of weekend trips, we decided it was time for some upgrades. While our basic conversion functioned fine for short trips, storage and gear was far from optimized. There was always a good deal of digging for things and shuffling of goods.
I sketched out a plan to build an 8″ platform sleeping platform with sliding storage underneath. I thought it through about 50% as well as I should have and wound up at Home Depot picking out the materials. I had boards in the cart and was on the verge of setting that in motion when I hit a snag with my incomplete design. We put the wood all back & returned to drawing board that evening at home while we shaped our mattress to a custom fit.
In the already small sleeping quarters, we did not particularly want to sacrifice a substantial amount of our sitting room to permanent under platform storage.
We thought through other ways to get storage, including the idea of a roof top carrier. We realized the pinch point for storage was while sleeping. During the day while not using the sleeping platform, it was a massive cargo compartment with ample storage. While driving, we wanted the rear windshield clear. While sleeping, the area above our feet was unused and an ideal space for more storage.
I immediately started turning over the idea of a shelving system on vertical tracks that could be raised or lowered to an up or down position, which lead Sara to say that sounded complicated.
Simplicity was the savior again.
Sara suggested that the removable trunk sun shade was essentially the perfect height for a shelf and that it would have been perfect if the roll up shade had been built to hold weight.
The sun shade itself rolls into a bar, which is dropped into a 2” x 2” sturdy holder. The screen then pulls out like a projector a projector screen. It is extended beyond 2 “c” shaped mounts that face the tailgate. Two irregular shaped rubber tips fit in the mount and the force of the screen trying to retract towards the front of the car holds it in place. This later attachment point is weaker than the front and is not an ideal place for most other forms of attachment.
I took some measurements and made a plan for a shelf using the available sun shade attachment points.
The original plan consisted of a square 2×2 cut to length for the front cross piece and a dowel for the rear cross peice. I was thinking to bracket the dowel to the underside of shelf leaving the appropriate length extending beyond the shelf surface which could slide into the irregular mount and allow the shelf to rotate down to rest on the front cross piece. To keep the dowel from sliding out of the “c” mounts, I planned to attach a strip or two of scrap wood under the front edge of the shelf that would rest with an edge flush to the front of the front cross peice.
I then bought materials. Because the rear mounting brackets are lightweight, I wanted an appropriately lightweight piece of wood for the shelf by using one piece of 0.205″ x 23.75″ x 47.75″ plywood ($9.92). I had it cut to size in store. I also bought one 8′ x 2″ x 2″ to cut down at home for the front cross piece. I wound up using another piece of the same board for the rear cross member as well rather than the dowel. The “c” bracket needed a much more specific fit than a dowel. I made a mold of the “c” bracket using cling wrap over putty. I then carved down the tip of the rear 2 x 2 until it fit in the opening.
On our initial test trip, we used 3 big loops of painters tape to hold the 2 cross members together, and we have since upgraded to using to tie down straps for this.
The shelf then rested on top, which rattled much on gravel roads to the campground. This noise bothered Sara, and she came up with using heavy duty velcro to secure the shelf to the cross members in a fixed but removable way. I also wrapped the shelf in the roll of heavy duty paper to increase its longevity and prevent splinters from the unfinished plywood.
The shelf has been a great storage increaser ever since!
I made a sleeping platform that converts our Ford Escape into an RV using $27 of lumber. This incredibly cheap project is something you could complete in a single afternoon with almost no tools. The full materials, tools, and cuts lists are below.
The valuable simplicity of this setup is skipping the build of a permanent platform with storage underneath that is so common in van conversions. Simply get the wood required to make a flat surface. Ford owners can repeat exactly. Others can modify to fit the specific dimensions of their own SUV.
This removable platform makes a great crash pad for weekend trips to the wild without the commitment of a permanent conversion.
Estimated time to complete:
1-2 hours including drive time to get materials.
Two 48″x48″ pieces of 1/2″ MDF
Sleeping platform 73″ long, 40.5″ wide at foot & 47″ wide at torso level. Mid way up there is a half inch lip to cover the joint between the seats trunk floor. This 1/2″ lip meets flush with the 1/2″ MDF.
We were thinking of custom making a mattress to accommodate two. The day after the build, we stumbled into the idea of using a 4″ thick full sized mattress topper that we bought for $20. It is the perfect width at torso height and the sides of the foot area fold up slightly to fit. There is a slight bulge at top center where mattress sits on the center console but this is an unused part of the mattress when two are laying on each side. Sara opted for a yoga mat beneath her side to give a little more support.
This edition of the Ford Escape was a perfect choice for this conversion because the folded down rear seats lay down into an almost completely flat platform. After years of driving a truck with a camper shell, I was specifically checking for a sleepable space when searching for our SUV. I folded down the seats and laid in pretty much every SUV we considered buying at several different car dealerships. Whether you own an Escape or another model, I highly recommend configuring for in car camping.
Nearly free camper
Can easily fold away & use rear seats
Perfect for short trips & dispersed camping
Sleeping with windows open wouldn’t work as well in rainy or buggy areas
Sleeping gear fills a lot of storage space if not optimized properly
After building the platform the 13th and getting the mattress topper on the 14th, we loaded up the rig to test out on the 15th in the Mojave National Preserve. We packed our backpacking packs with quilts and clothes. We filled a cooler with food and grabbed 2 pillows. We hiked to the top of Kelso Dunes and camped out at the base. Woke to a beautiful view and had a nice second day in the desert.