Orian Hartviksen: Minus 15 and Truck Camping

Down a twisty mountain side logging route deep in the cold Canadian wilderness we find Orian Hartviksen and her husband camping for free in their Northern Lite 8-11. ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

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In her interview with Truck Camper Magazine, Orian Hartviksen describes camping overnight in their Northern Lite 8-11 in temperatures as low as -15 degrees Celsius.  At first blush that sounded very cold, but when we converted -15 degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit, we almost fell out of our chairs; 5 degrees Fahrenheit!  We haven’t experienced 5 degrees Fahrenheit in any situation, much less attempted to camp overnight in a truck camper in such frigid conditions.

The fact that the Hartviksens are able to camp comfortably in their Northern Lite 8-11 in temperatures that insanely cold is a real testament to the insulation properties of Northern Lite truck campers, and the bravery (or foolishness) of the Hartviksens.  Naturally we expect Orian and her husband burned their fare share of propane to survive these bitter temps, but it’s still an impressive feat.  What’s equally impressive is that their Ford diesel started up the next morning.

To kick off Ladies Week 2012, Orian shares her truck camping story, from how her and her husband became  truck campers, to their daring off-road and off-the-grid journeys down Canadian logging routes.  For two folks that only started truck camping two years ago, they sure jumped into the deep end quickly.

Put everything away.  Close all the windows and vents.  Pull up the rear step and check the turnbuckles.  Orian is about to put the truck into four wheel drive and take us past the pavement to where things get interesting.

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Above: Alf, Orian, and Poppy Hartviksen in Upper Arrow Lake, British Columbia

TCM: Tell us how you got into camping.

Orian: We spent many summers boating with our family and on our own on the west coast between Vancouver island and the mainland when we lived in Vancouver.  We also did a la little tent camping with our kids when they were young.  

In 2003, we moved to the Okanagan and ended up with a bunch of friends who went camping.  I was also involved in dragon boating and would camp at dragon boat festivals.  We were tenting on the ground and I would wake up sore and cold.  We're too old for that, so we decided we were going to get something more comfortable.

We started off with no idea of what we wanted.  Having mountains to the east and west of us, we wanted something rugged so we could to get into the mountains and the boondocking forestry campsites.  We are not fans of big RV parks.  

First we looked at Class B motorhomes, but the ceilings were too low for us.  I’m just under six feet tall and my husband is over six feet tall.  We also have a seventy pound chocolate lab that needs more floor space than the Class Bs offer.  

For a time we were all over the map trying to decide what we might get.  Then my son, who’s really into trucks, suggested we look into truck campers.

We spent months looking at different truck campers to find just the right fit for our particular needs.  We wanted a truck camper that would fit on a short box truck.  We needed it to be roomy enough for tall people, with a big bed, and a big refrigerator.  And we definitely wanted the camper to be within our truck’s stated payload.

By the time we were done our research, we had learned all about truck and camper matching, loading, and a myriad of other useful information.  We were able to custom order both our truck and camper new, and configured as desired.  As a result of our extensive research, we wouldn't change a thing about our original purchase two years later.

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TCM: After all that research, which truck camper did you eventually purchase?

Orian: We bought a Northern Lite 8-11.  Not only did we hear good things about Northern Lite, but we found good reviews of their campers as well.  Lucky for us, Northern Lite is just an hour and a half from where we live.  We went on a tour of the factory and saw how they are made.  Keith Donkin, General Manager of Northern Lite, gave us the tour.  As boaters, we appreciate the benefits of the molded fiberglass shell construction.  The Northern Lite has everything we wanted and it’s made really well too!    

TCM: It’s great that you were able to choose your camper first.  We always recommend that people choose their truck campers first, then calculate what that camper will weigh with their desired options, fully wet, with tie-downs, turnbuckles, likely suspension enhancement products, people weight, and cargo.  Once you have that total weight, you can purchase a truck with at least that much payload, preferably more.  How did you go about finding a suitable truck?

Orian: Truck Camper Magazine was invaluable in helping us to know exactly how to properly payload match our truck and camper.  When we visited the camper dealerships I was amazed when they told us that the truck we were purchasing could handle their heavy camper with slide.  They would say, “Oh sure, no problem”.  Because of Truck Camper Magazine, we knew better.

Now that I know all about camper matching, I know that the weight of your camper needs to include water, propane, batteries, people, and all your stuff.   The plate on the back of the camper reflects weight of camper before options, and nobody buys campers without options.  For example, I wouldn’t have a camper without an oven, back awning, and a Fantastic fan.  I added up all these options as we went along.

While we were researching our Northern Lite, we were looking at trucks.  About that time we found out that Ford was coming with a new diesel engine with better fuel milage.  We also liked the payload capacities of the Ford trucks and knew our rig would be payload matched.  The Northern Lite met all our requirements for camper matching.  That’s how we finally ended up in our truck and camper combination.

TCM: Since your rig was payload matched, did you need any suspension enhancement equipment?

Orian: We actually went a year without adding anything to the suspension, but found that our headlights a bit high and people were occasionally flashing at us at night.  A set of SuperSpring SumoSpring airless air bags helped with that.  And the SuperSpring Super SwayStops have helped with the minor sway we experience on ramps.

TCM: Do you drive the truck camper?

Orian: Yes, I do.  My daily driver is a Mini Cooper convertible, but I find our truck camper rig very easy to drive.  I like driving the truck.  It’s comfortable and I have never had an issue, other than I prefer not to drive the truck camper rig in cities.

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TCM: Tell us about your truck camping lifestyle.

Orian: We go on a lot of shorter trips to provincial parks and on established logging roads.  These logging roads are often steep and require four-wheel drive trucks.  On one such narrow road up the side of a steep hill I was leaning into husband and he said, “That’s not going to help”.  Those are the kinds of roads we go on.  We like to get to forestry sites that are very isolated.

We’ve stayed on Clifford Lake in the Plateau Lakes in the Similkameen and Upper Arrow Lake in the Kootenay area. 

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Above: Sugar Lake Forestry campground

We also visit the Sugar Lake forestry site east of Vernon.  It’s a cute little lake with campsites.  Those are the types of places we like to go.

We also don’t do a lot of camping in the summer.  We go out in the spring and fall.  We’ve been out -15 Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) at night.  With the Northern Lite’s construction, and propane heat, we stay warm.

TCM: With our new rig we’re really looking forward to more truck camping in remote areas that require four-wheel drive to reach.  How do you and your husband share the responsibilities of the camper?

Orian: I do most of the cargo loading, cargo unloading, and camper cleaning.  I fill the water tank, and my husband dumps the sewer.  I also help with winterizing and de-winterizing.  Both of us keep an eye on the camper systems and levels.

I am the planner in the family.  For our last big trip, we were drove through the United States to get to a reunion in Ontario.  Before the trip, I went to the state tourist websites and downloaded PDFs of maps and state park information.  I’m always using my iPhone to look things up.  I also plan how far we can go in a day.  Places always look closer on a map than they really are.

Finally, I keep a log.  When you have a boat, you have a ship’s log, so I’ve always kept a log while we travel in our camper. 

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Above: NATCOA Rally, Leavenworth, Washington

TCM: I see you were at the NATCOA (North American Truck Camper Owners Association) Fall Colors Caravan.  Tell us about NATCOA and the NATCOA rallies and caravans.  

Orian: We joined NATCOA to meet new people, have some fun, and learn more about truck campers.  When we were researching campers, one of the sites we found was the NATCOA forum.  I started using that for research.  

Then I found out that NATCOA has truck camper rallies.  NATCOA is based in Washington and British Columbia, which is nice because it’s close to us.  Shortly after we got our Northern Lite, they announced a caravan through the North Cascades that fall.  We thought it would be nice to join the caravan and meet truck camper people.  

We started with the caravan on the west side of the North Cascades Highway.  There were twenty-seven campers at one point.  It was wonderful!  We really enjoyed the caravan even though it rained most of the time, but that’s typical fall Northwest fall weather.  

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TCM: Was the Oregon Coast trip part of the NATCOA event?

Orian: That was a separate trip that we went on in November of 2011.  We took about two weeks and drove down to the coast.  We went to state parks and through the Columbia River Gorge.  

Our favorite spot had to be Harris beach on the south end of Oregon.  That was the most beautiful.  We stayed two nights and we just loved it.  Cape Lookout was also quite amazing.  There had been a storm the week before, so part of the parking lot was destroyed.  The folks at Cape Lookout thought they might eventually lose the whole spit.  

We also went down to the harbor in the Newport.  The seafood is to die for!   

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TCM: Sounds like a fantastic trip.  You also went on quite the trip through Michigan, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.

Orian: That was last fall when we went to Ontario for my husband’s fortieth college reunion.  It was eleven days one way and nine days coming back.  We did the tourist thing as best we could.  We went from Washington into Idaho and then Montana.  We visited Yellowstone National Park and then went north out of Yellowstone to the site of Custer’s Last Stand.  

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Then we followed I-90 east into the Black Hills and the Badlands.  We went to some of the caves there and continued east.  We went south under Chicago and then onto Ontario.

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When we came back, we crossed at Port Huron and then went up through Mackinaw in Michigan.  Then we went to the south shore of Lake Superior.  We had to visit Paul Bunyon in Minnesota, worked our way through Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and headed further west from there.

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TCM: Another amazing adventure.  You have your dog, Poppy, with you when you travel.  Does Poppy enjoy truck camping?  

Orian: She’s loves it!  She loves camping.  When we start packing up for a trip, she has to get in the truck and wait because she doesn’t want to be left behind.  We have a blanket for her from Costco that I added loops to, to hang from the headrest in the back seat.  We also put the dinette down at night for her so we don’t trip on her.  

She’s in the water when we’re near the water.  When it’s hot, we have the Fantastic Fan on and, with the solar panel, we don’t worry about it.  Unless it’s too warm outside, we can leave her in the camper with windows open and the Fantastic Fan running to keep her cool and comfortable.  We are very conscious of heat and don’t leave her in warm conditions.  

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We generally don’t go where we have to leave her alone.  In Yellowstone National Park, we couldn’t take her on hiking trails.  In that instance, she had to stay in the camper.  At Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, there was a herd of elk in grass at the campground.  The rangers had signs, “Do not leave pets unattended”.  Dogs have been hurt or killed by elk or other animals because they were tied up or in pens at the campgrounds in Yellowstone.  

Elk came through the campground while we were there.  They are big, gorgeous animals, but I wouldn’t want to get in their way or have our dog out.  In Yellowstone, Poppy could be walked around the town area or on the main roads.  There is the same rule about pets for all the national parks.

We like to go to forestry campgrounds where there are no rules about pets.  Most places it’s okay to have pets as long as they are on a leash.  In Oregon, dogs are even allowed on the beach.

TCM: We’ve had our cat Harley on the beach near the Golden Gate Bridge and in the Florida Keys.  He just looks at us like, “Why am I standing here?”  The beach is evidently not his thing.  Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you would like to add to your interview?

Orian: People always think of camping as a warm weather activity.  Our best camping has been in the spring and fall when campgrounds are quieter and even free.  Services are cut off, but the gates are open.  That’s the best time to go exploring.

ORIAN AND ALF HARTVIKSEN'S TRUCK CAMPER RIG
Truck: 2011 Ford F350 Lariat, crew cab, single rear wheel, short bed, 4x4, diesel
Camper: 2010 Northern Lite 8'11" Queen Classic, actually a cross between classic and special edition as it was custom ordered
Tie-downs and Turnbuckles: Torklift Fastguns
Suspension Enhancements: SuperSprings Sumo Springs, Super Sway Stops
Gear: 145 Watt Solar Panel, all LED interior lights, exterior hitch rack