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Off-Road Adventures

Comfort and the Beast

After hiking across the United States with her husband, Karen Clark discovered the comfort of a Hallmark K2 and the power of a Ford F350 beast.  Rock on.

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The idea of driving across the country is the often the stuff of dreams.  For many, it’s the ultimate road trip; an adventure of unlimited discovery and bucket list possibilities.

It seems incredible that the first people to drive across the United States did so over 111 years ago.  In 1903, Horatio Nelson Jackson, Sewall Crocker, and a goggle-wearing bulldog named “Bud” took a two-cylinder, twenty horse power Winton touring car from San Francisco to New York City.

Their car, nicknamed “Vermont” after Horatio’s home state, didn’t feature a roof, or a windshield.  The expedition reads like an endless series of flat tires, break downs, mishaps, and misdirections – but they made it.  Next time you find yourself complaining about something that happens on the road, think of Horatio, Sewall, and Bud driving on dirt roads, exposed to the weather, with nothing between them and the oncoming wind for over three-thousand miles.  Of course Bud probably loved every minute of it.

With a similar spirit of determination, another brave couple set out across the United States 107 years later.  In February of 2010, Karen and Jerry Clark set out from Cape Logan State Park in Delaware to hike the 5,058 mile American Discovery Trail.  They completed the system of trails and roads in sections finishing at Point Rayes National Seashore in California in 2012.

During their stroll across the states, the Clarks saw more campers than they could shake a hiking stick at.  That led them to their next adventure, a 2013 Hallmark K2 pop-up truck camper aptly named “Comfort”, and a 2013 Ford F350 even more aptly named, “Beast”.  Their next cross-country trip will forgo the far-reaching foot work, and follow the motorized inspiration set by Horatio, Sewall, and Bud.

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Above: Karen at Alberta Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

TCM: How did you get into truck camping?

Karen: My husband, Jerry, and I completed a multi-year, coast-to-coast hike in 2012.  We were backpacking on that trip, sleeping in a tent with three-quarter length pads, and cooking on a tiny backpacking stove on the dirt.

As we walked across the country, we saw lots of campers driving by.  One day Jerry saw a Komfort brand camper and said, “There goes comfort”.  He was referring to the heater, stove, refrigerator, fresh water, and bed they had in their camper.

When we completed our cross-country hike, we wanted to go back and see the places we missed.  We wanted to explore dirt roads, BLM, and national forest lands, but we didn’t want to rough it any more.  We wanted comfort.  We also wanted lots of windows, a stove, a refrigerator, a heater, and a bed.  That’s what led us to a Hallmark pop-up truck camper.  It had everything we wanted in a camper.

TCM: Obviously you wanted a pop-up truck camper to go off-road, but what led you to purchase a Hallmark?

Karen: When I was conducting my research, I looked at the pictures in the Truck Camper Magazine Buyers Guide and fell in love with the way Hallmarks look.  The whole camper has a great feel about it.  We love it.

TCM: Hallmark sells their truck campers factory direct.  You guys live in California.  Tell us about your experience working with Hallmark long distance.

Karen: Before I contacted Hallmark, I did a lot of online research and read quite a few articles on Truck Camper Magazine.  From everything I saw, people were very satisfied with their Hallmark campers.

Then I talked to Matt Ward at Hallmark and felt very comfortable with the Hallmark team.  Soon after we flew out to Denver from Oakland, visited the Hallmark factory, and spent the night in town.  The next day we ordered our camper.

I did a ton of research on matching a truck and camper.  Because I am a nurse, I am very safety oriented.  I wanted the weight of the camper, plus us and our gear, to be well within the payload capacity of the truck.  I wanted to feel confident that the truck would stop correctly when the brakes were applied.  I feel strongly about that.

Speaking of payload, I collect rocks on BLM lands.  The BLM allows people to collect up to twenty-five pounds of rocks per day for personal use.  I didn’t want to worry that my rock collecting would put us over the payload capacity of our truck.

At first we were going to buy a Ford F150 with the heavy-duty payload package.  Then we did the math, adding up the weight of the camper, water, batteries, propane, our stuff, and my potential rock finds.  That ruled out the Ford F150.

We also preferred a diesel truck.  We understood that a diesel engine would add a lot of weight to the truck and reduce the available payload, but we wanted the power and efficiency a diesel truck provides.

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Above: Their Hallmark K2 and Ford F-350 joining at the Hallmark factory

Finally, it became clear that going from a three-quarter ton to a one-ton truck was not a big difference in price and offered a substantial amount of payload capacity.  When we brought our Ford F350 truck to the Hallmark factory in Denver, Bill Ward, Owner of Hallmark, told us we did a great job picking our truck.

TCM: What model Hallmark did you choose, and how did you have it optioned?

Karen: We got a 2013 Hallmark K2.  We debated on getting the cassette toilet option, and we are 100% glad we did.  If we have to use the toilet at night, we don’t have to go outside.  That’s especially important when urban camping and driveway camping.  It’s super convenient.  Plus it’s an extra seat near the door, which is really useful for removing muddy shoes.  If anyone is debating the cassette toilet option, we’re totally glad we got one.

We are also glad we didn’t opt for the instant hot water heater.  When we’re going to use the outside shower, we just heat the water while we’re eating dinner.  It’s warm by the time we’re done.  The camper works well with a standard propane hot water heater.

We also love our 12-volt compressor refrigerator and solar panel.  The compressor refrigerator lets us arrive at a camp site and simply park without the intermediate step of insuring that we are level enough for the refrigerator to work.  And we have never run low on power despite multiple consecutive nights of dry camping.  We appreciate the convenience of transferring food from our garden and our house refrigerator to the camper refrigerator before a trip.  And we love eating healthy, familiar foods on the road.

We were originally concerned that the furnace might not make it warm enough in a pop-up camper.  In reality, we have to turn the furnace off because it gets too warm in the camper.  No one should worry about not being warm enough in a Hallmark.

We considered the north-south sleeping option, but we don’t find we are inconvenienced with the east-west sleeping.  It’s nice to have the cabover not be as long.

We are really happy with our camper.  We love the pop-up windows that go all the way around and the amount of storage space we have.  In the cabover sleeping area, we are high above the ground and can see everything.

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Above: Site 139 at Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

TCM: Tell us about picking up your camper and your trip back to California.

Karen: We drove the truck out from California and spent a day at Hallmark getting the camper installed.  Matt did a complete walk-through showing us every camper system and how it operates.  That night we camped at Boyd Lake State Park, which is close to Hallmark.  Everything went well.

The next day we were very fortunate to get a wonderful campsite at Rocky Mountain National Park.  A cancellation came up, and I think we got the best campsite in the campground.  We stayed in the park for three nights and then made our way home.

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Above: The road to Bullfrog Marina, Utah

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Above: Dispersed campsite they stayed at the night before driving the Burr Trail

TCM: That was lucky.  It looks like you got off-the-grid quite a bit on your trip back.  The Burr Trail looks amazing!

Karen: The Burr Trail is definitely the most scenic way to travel between Bullfrog and Boulder, Utah.  We started at the Bullfrog end and camped the night before on nearby BLM land.  Even though it’s an easy drive, we spent an entire day on the 67.4 mile trail and could easily have spent more time exploring the area.

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Above: A switchback on the Burr Trail, Utah

There were some cliff-side areas.  I’m actually afraid of cliffs.  At one point I got out of the truck and walked the switchbacks.  I do that often when there are cliffs.  That’s how I get through those cliff-side roads.

The Burr Trail was dry when we were there, making for simple driving.  If it rains, the Burr Trail could be impassable.  The rangers recommend waiting until the road dries out before driving.

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Above: The Burr Trail, Utah (click to enlarge)

Before we go on an off-road trip, I call the rangers and tell them where we’re going.  I ask them if there is anything that we need to know.  The rangers are always happy to help, and they’ll let you know about the conditions and dispersed camping opportunities.

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Above: The Burr Trail, Utah

We also visited the gigantic hot spring swimming pool at Glenwood Springs on our way home.  It’s an absolutely wonderful place to hang out, especially at night.

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Above: Bogan Flats Campground near Marble, Colorado

We also enjoyed Marble, Colorado.  It’s an incredible place south of Glenwood Springs.  If you’re into rocks, like I am, it’s a great town.  There are giant slabs of marble lying around town, and Marble’s only restaurant serves delicious barbecue.  The restaurant had a bin out front and asked for a donation if you wanted a piece of marble.  I put in a few dollars and got a little slab of rock.  The Marble Institute at the edge of town has several week long marble sculpting workshops every summer.  Novices and seasoned sculptors work side by side, releasing the inner spirit from giant slabs of marble.

We also camped in a casino parking lot on our trip back west.  I just Googled, “boondocking casinos” and found one that allowed camping.  It was in Sparks, Nevada, near Reno.  I called the casino to confirm.  That was our first time camping at a casino.

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Above: Jerry taking a nap at Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

TCM: You mentioned earlier in this interview that you, “completed a multi-year, coast-to-coast hike in 2012”.  Do you mean you walked across the United States?

Karen: In February of 2010, my husband and I took Amtrak to the East Coast and started our coast-to-coast hike.  We hiked the American Discovery Trail from Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware on the Atlantic to Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco on the Pacific.  We hiked through large cities and small towns, grasslands, national forests, and deserts.  We have an online journal for each year of our trip at www.trailjournals.com/karenandjerry .

TCM: Did you walk the whole way in one trip?

Karen: We actually did it over three years, leaving the trail for weddings, reunions, and the coldest parts of winter.  In 2010, we hiked from February to September and reached Kansas City, Missouri.  Between March and May 2011, we hiked from Kansas City to just outside of Denver where the snow in the Rockies stopped us.  We took the train home and stayed until September.  I had plantar fasciitis so we delayed returning to the trail until late August when we walked for 10 days before a blizzard stopped us again.  In 2012, we hiked from May until October, crossing the remainder of the Rockies and the Sierras and the desert in between.

TCM: Were you able to stay in a tent every night?

Karen: We slept in our tent between towns.  Most tent nights, we would wander off the road and find a semi-secluded place to pitch our tent.  In small towns with no motels, we would ask if we could sleep in the park or behind a restaurant if there was one.  When we were in a town with a motel, we slept in the motel.  We also stayed many nights in people’s homes.  Folks who live near the trail read hikers’ journals and then look for the hikers on the trail so they can offer dinner and breakfast, a bed, a chance to shower and do laundry.  Getting to know our fellow Americans was one of the best things about our hike.

TCM: Wow.  That’s an amazing story and experience.  What led you to do that?

Karen: We have always been backpackers.  In 2000, I read about the American Discovery Trail in our local newspaper.  I knew immediately that I wanted to hike it when we retired.  So, we did it!

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Above: Their Ford F350, aka the Beast, and Hallmark K2, aka Comfort

TCM: Those of us in the publishing business should be careful about what we print.  First a newspaper sends you walking across the country.  Then Truck Camper Magazine leads you to a Hallmark.  Speaking of your Hallmark, you named your rig, “Comfort and the Beast”.  Where did that name come from?

Karen: Our truck is big, so we call it the beast.  We originally wanted an F150 because an F350 seemed gigantic.  Our F350 is huge, but it’s what we needed.  Like I said earlier, I wanted comfort and the Hallmark gives us plenty of comfort.  That’s how our rig ended up with the name, “Comfort and the Beast.”

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Above: The Golden Gate Bridge, Marin RV Park, and AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, San Francisco, California

TCM: You use your camper for much more than boondocking and rock collecting.  Tell us about your different truck camping adventures.

Karen: We went to see a performance of, “A Christmas Carol” in San Francisco and took our camper along.  We found a place called Marin RV Park just outside of the city for $64 night, which is quite reasonable for the San Francisco area.  It’s a jewel and only nine-tenths of a mile to Larkspur Ferry or half a mile to catch a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Staying at that campground makes it affordable and easy to go to San Francisco.  The people are nice, it’s quiet, and the bathrooms are clean.  Driving in San Francisco can be stressful.  This allows us to go to San Francisco on an outing to experience the city without having to drive in the city.  We can camp the night before, enjoy the day in the city, and spend the night again before we head back home.  We go to San Francisco fairly frequently now to see a performance or a ball game, visit a museum, or just walk around in the different neighborhoods.  It’s a beautiful, walkable town.

We’ve also done some driveway camping.  We both lived in southern California and Jerry’s brother lives in Washington, so we know people along the entire West Coast.  It’s easier to park in someone’s driveway than to use a guest room.  There is no lugging stuff in and out, and you’ve got your home with you.

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Above: The Playground Reunion Group Photo

We’ve also been to a reunion and a wedding with our camper.  For the reunion, a house had been rented for everyone, but it was easier to stay in camper.  The house was not as roomy with the large group of people there.  Having our camper with us worked out perfectly.  We don’t have an indoor shower, so we went inside the house for that.  When we went to the wedding, we also driveway camped.  It is just easier and more comfortable to stay in our truck camper home.  Another plus was that our elevated cabover bed gave us a view of the ocean.

TCM: You wrote in your email that you even used your camper at the hospital.

Karen: We started out in October on a two-week trip across the Eastern Sierras into Nevada.  On the way back to the truck, on the second day of our trip, I fell and broke both bones in my forearm.

We arrived at the hospital and spent a few hours in the emergency room.  When we were in the hospital, we asked if we could park our camper in the parking lot that night.  They actually had an area designated for RVs with electrical outlets.  There was even another RV there that night as well.  This was at a hospital in Sacramento.

Staying that night at the hospital was good because I was feeling nauseous from the pain medication.  It was a long day, and we were able to regroup and start fresh in the morning.

TCM: I’m glad that worked out.  Since you guys are familiar with camping in California, do you have any other suggestions on where to camp?

Karen: For the coast of California, we primarily stay in state parks.  There are private RV parks, but we have not been to any yet.  For the rest of California, the State Parks and National Parks are the best bet, but in the high season, you have to reserve sites months ahead of time for the popular parks.  Although there are campgrounds that have first come, first served campsites available, you can’t depend on one being there when you need it.

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Above: MacKerricher State Beach (click to enlarge)

We really like MacKerricher State Park, which is north of Fort Bragg.  In the summer it can be hard to get a campsite, but you can usually drop in during the winter.  There are miles of beaches to walk, and you can walk into the town of Fort Bragg.  It’s only three miles away.  You can’t swim in that area of the ocean, but it’s good to walk the coast line and watch the waves and the sea birds.  You might even see a migrating whale.

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Above: Jerry at Pismo State Beach Campground, California

Pismo Beach on the central coast is really nice, and has two different campgrounds.  I recommend the north campground.  By accident, we went to the south campground once.  It’s a dune buggy area so it’s more crowded and there’s a lot of partying at night.  The north park has more trees, is more widely spaced, and is tranquil.  You can walk up the beach to the pier and go into town for clam chowder.  The Monarch Butterfly Grove at Pismo Beach is one of the largest monarch groves in the United States.

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Above: Tuttle Creek Campground, the road in Alabama Hills, and camping near Mount Whitney, California

The eastern side of the Sierras is a great place to camp.  We like Tuttle Creek, the BLM campground just west of Lone Pine.  The nearby Alabama Hills are wonderful.  You can follow the BLM self-guided Movie Road tour and see where movies were filmed decades ago.  Further north, Rock Creek Road climbs high into the Sierras and has a string of campgrounds.  Along the road, there are hiking opportunities.  We like the Little Lakes Valley Trail at the end of Rock Creek Road.  In the Eastern Sierras, you can drive into the mountains, park, and camp.  It’s an easy day hike to get into the high mountains.  It’s nice that you don’t have to hike long to get the flavor of the mountains.

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Above: Campground by the Lake in South Lake Take, California

We go to a campground in South Lake Tahoe called Campground by the Lake.  It’s owned by the city.  The campground is peaceful.  You can easily walk to the casinos on the Nevada side or just cross the street and walk along the lake.  Lake Tahoe is a fun urban area. You can get a nice meal out and go to the casino.  We go during the shoulder seasons to stay away from the crowds.

The Eastern Sierra has great hot springs.  Grover Hot Springs State Park and the private Keough Hot Springs near Bishop both have a year-round swimming pool and campground.

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Above: Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort, in northern California, Highway 88

In northern California, Highway 88 is a nice road that goes across the state from west to east.  Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort is a clean and comfortable place to camp.

We have only been to Lassen Volcanic National Park in the northern part of the state during the off season.  It’s a beautiful place with geothermal features and campgrounds.

We love the tranquility of Death Valley National Park.  We went there in March, and it was so peaceful.  The drive to the Racetrack is worth the drive.  Also go up to Scotty’s Castle.  The person we toured it with was great and made the experience worth the tour price.  It’s really interesting.  You need to pay attention to fuel before going into Death Valley because there are few fuel stations there.  When we were there, the one at Scotty’s Castle was closed.

Another drive worth taking is to Titus Canyon.  You have to drive out of Death Valley to get there.  It’s a one way road, which is good because you don’t have to worry about someone coming in the other direction.  In a few places I was uncomfortable, but that’s my issue with cliffs.  At first you are driving in the desert, and then you enter the canyon with walls on either side of you.  That’s when you go back down into Death Valley.  It’s absolutely stunning and well worth the drive.

TCM: That does sound interesting.  We loved Death Valley and would love to go back.  What’s next for you guys?

Karen: We haven’t yet decided on a 2014 long-distance trip.  We are  committed to a reunion at our house in mid-June and a wedding in Lone Pine, California at the end of September, so we are constrained a bit.

We have planned to go cross-country visiting the Badlands and exploring the roads in the northern part of the United States.  Then we’ll go into the Canadian Rockies and east to Niagara Falls and Nova Scotia.

We’ll make a loop and incorporate seeing family and friends from the American Discovery Trail in middle of the country.  I also have notes from our cross-country hike of rocks I want to go back and pick up.

TCM: You have rocks stashed from your hiking trip?

Karen: Yes I do.

We’re also hoping to do another trip to the southern part of the United States to visit family, going to the Smokies and the East Coast.  We’ll go to North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.

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Above: Matt, Debbie, and Bill Ward from Hallmark Campers

TCM: Is there anything you would like to add to your interview?

Karen: I just want to say that the people at Hallmark are great!  They are so easy to work with.  I love everything about them.  We feel like if there was anything ever wrong with our camper, they would make it work.  So far, everything has been great and has done what it’s supposed to do.

Truck: 2013 Ford F350, extended cab, long bed, single rear wheel, 4×4, diesel
Camper: 2013 Hallmark K2
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: Torklift
Jacks: Happijac
Suspension: Ford factory Camper Package on truck
Gear: Compressor refrigerator, 140 watt solar panel

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