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Off-Road Adventures

Off-Grid With The Kids

When long-time friends bought a pop-up Northstar for their family, Kristin and Brad Copeland were inspired to get their own.  First family rule: no electronics allowed.

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At Truck Camper Magazine, we have the amazing ability to see exactly what you’re doing.  For example, we can “see” that you’re on a computer, tablet, or smart phone.  You’re literally right in front of one of these devices – right now.  Isn’t that amazing?  We’re so smart.

Of course Truck Camper Magazine is online only, so there’s really no other way you could be reading this article.  Okay, you could have asked your nephew to print the article and send it to you in the mail.  In that case, we can “see” that you’re reading this article on a piece of paper.  Again, we are quite clever.

Taking a step back from all this silliness, it’s become quite evident that most of us are inextricably tied to our devices.  Go into any restaurant and you’ll find couples sitting across from one another, not talking, and clicking away on their smartphones.  Look again and you may notice their kids are doing much the same.  It’s a little out of control, and I am increasingly freaked out about where this society-wide trend is going.

Kristin and Brad Copeland’s story gives me hope.  As parents of two young daughters, they not only take their children truck camping in some of the most beautiful locations in the West, but they ban any and all electronic devices while camping.  No, they’re not Amish.  They’re just doing their best to make sure their kids aren’t swallowed whole by Apple or Samsung’s latest device.  These kids may not know it yet, but they are extremely lucky.

If you have young children in your life, perhaps you could take take a page from the Copeland’s family playbook.  Leave the devices off, and introduce the next generation to a little something we call nature.  With a geyser here, and a Moose there, and a rainbow after a thunderstorm, we may just pull a few more kids out of the web, and into the world.

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Above Left to Right: Kaitlyn, Kristin, Brad, and Karleigh Copeland

TCM: How did you and Brad get into truck camping?

Kristin: My grandparents had a truck camper and took my brother and I camping every once in awhile.  My parent’s idea of camping was a mint on the pillow and room service.  When Brad and I met, he introduced me to tent camping.

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Above: Kristin’s grandparents had a truck camper

Brad and I have long time friends, the Rowleys, that live in Mammoth, California.  Before we had kids, we went on long hikes and backpacking trips through the Sierras together.  Once the children were born, it was more challenging to go tent camping.

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Above: The Rowleys and the Copelands camping together – click to enlarge

When our friends got their Northstar pop-up truck camper, I fell in love with it.  There was a bed and a kitchen.  The truck camper made it much easier to go camping with the kids.  That’s when we started looking at a Northstar truck camper.

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Above: The XB bed gives the Copelands more room when camping

Our friends have one daughter so the dinette bed works great for them.  With two girls, we needed more room.  That’s when I saw that Northstar offered an extra pop-out bed, or XB option.

I was very lucky and found a Northstar with the XB option on Craigslist.  The first owner bought it new and only had it for a year.  We drove up to Oregon and bought the camper.  We have enjoyed every moment of owning the camper ever since.

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Above: The extra bunk closed (in driving position) and open – click to enlarge

TCM: How do you like the (XB) extra bunk?

Kristin: The extra bunk just folds out and then there’s a bar that pushes out the tent material.  Then we latch it into place and slide the cushion out.  That’s the bed.

The extra bunk also helps during the day because we put the sleeping bags, pillows, and our girls’ stuff in the tent and out of the way.  Then we have the dinette cleared off.

When we’re traveling, the tent material folds down and the extra bunk collapses down to flush with the wall.  We can sit in the dinette with the bunk room closed.

In a few years, the girls may be too big to sleep in the extra bunk.  By then they’ll want to sleep outside in a tent away from mom and dad.  They’ve actually already started doing just that.

Every year, on the last day of school, seven families from my daughter’s school get together.  We pick up the kids and go camping for five days at San Elijo State Beach.  It’s only forty-five minutes from our house.

After this past school year, we went to San Elijo State Beach and put a tent out for the kids.  They wanted to be with their friends.  They had a great time.

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Above: The tailgate step for easier access into the camper

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Above: The back porch Brad built for their Northstar TC650

TCM: Tell us about your back porch and step system.  Did you make that?

Kristin: Brad built the back porch out of scraps one night before went desert camping.  He’s like MacGyver.  He just got some two-by-fours and started building.  The porch has two arms that slide under the camper.  When we’re not using it, it’s removable.  With all the sand we pick up in the desert, it’s nice to have a place to clean off before going in the camper.

In the back, we use the hitch extension tray to store our barbecue, some milk crates full of wood, and an extra propane tank for the barbecue.

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Above: Silver Strand State Beach, California

TCM: Where are some of your favorite places to go truck camping?

Kristin: Some of our favorite places are San Elijo State Beach, Carlsbad State Beach, Doheny State Beach, and the Silver Strand State Beach, all of which are within an hour from our home.

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Above: San Elijo State Beach, California

Sometimes we put our camper on the truck at 8:00am go out to the beach.  We just hang out for the day and use the camper as a home base.  We put stuff in the refrigerator and make lunch and dinner, hang out, and drive home.  It’s our cabana for the day.

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Above: Hanging out at San Elijo State Beach, California

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Above: South Carlsbad State Beach, California

You have to book camping on the beaches here in California six months in advance.  At 8:00am the day the reservations open, you have to be on reserveamerica.com with the spot and dates picked out.  Then hit reserve until the website tells you that you have the spot.

Doheny State Beach and San Elijo State Beach are both like that.  We can sometimes find last minute cancelations at Silver Strand State Beach.  Going on day trips to those beaches with the camper is really nice.

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Above: Camping at Saline Valley with the Rowleys

Another place we go is Saline Valley, which is on the northern end of Death Valley.  We meet up with the Rowley family every year in Saline Valley, which is a treacherous trail.  It takes three hours of off-roading to reach the final destination.  Saline Valley also has hot springs, hiking trails, salt flats, old mining areas, and places to explore.

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Above: Camping at Imperial Valley Sand Dunes

Another favorite, a little further away, is the Imperial Valley Sand Dunes.  It’s more of a winter camping spot as it gets too hot in the summer.  We dry camp there.  It’s located in between San Diego and Arizona outside of El Centro.

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Above: ATVing at Imperial Valley Sand Dunes

There are sand dunes for as far as you can see at Imperial Valley Sand Dunes.  We take our ATV with us and the kids ride quads.  Brad’s family lives in Arizona outside of Phoenix, so we meet there and have a family gathering.  All the kids are riding quads.  It’s a fun family time.  That’s what camping should be about.

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Above: Camping with the ATVs at Imperial Sand Dunes

We had originally considered getting a little pop-up trailer, but we would have been limited to where we could go.  We also couldn’t tow anything with a trailer.  That’s why we decided to get the truck camper.  We can bring our desert toys with us or even rent jet skis.  Whatever toys you need, you can bring them with your truck camper.

Our friends just bought a trailer that’s twenty-six feet long.  They have to worry about what spot they’re going to get and if the trailer is going to fit.  We never worry about our limits.  If we can park a car there, we can park a truck camper.

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Above: Kayaking and canoeing at Mammoth Lakes, California

TCM: Tell us about your big trip in 2012.

Kristin: In August of 2012, we took a two week trip that made many family memories.  We first headed to Mammoth Lakes and then Yosemite National Park.  We saw such beautiful scenery.

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Above: The Copelands in Yosemite National Park, California

The scariest part of the trip was going through the tunnel heading into Yosemite Valley with our bikes on top of the camper.  Luckily, we made it through with inches to spare.

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Above: Limekiln State Park, California

From Yosemite, we headed to the coast of California.  Our first stop was Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park near Santa Cruz.  Then we drove south on Highway 1 through Big Sur to Limekiln State Park, which is another one of our favorites.  We hiked to the kilns and learned about the history of the former lime industry that nearly depleted the nearby Redwoods.  Then we continued to Hearst Castle where we camped at San Simeon Creek Campground.

There just wasn’t enough time to explore all there was in the park.  Montana de Oro State Park outside of San Luis Obispo is a state park that we hope to return to.  We continued down Highway 1 to Leo Carillo State Park in north Malibu which had amazing tide pools and tons of sand crabs for the girls to grab.  From there we headed south back to San Diego.

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Above: The Copelands store their bikes on their Northstar’s roof

TCM: How tall is your rig with the bikes?

Kristin: Our pop-up camper rig with the bikes loaded on the roof is twelve feet tall.  We figured we were shorter than the tour buses going through the tunnel at Yosemite.  We were holding our breath.  The tunnel in Yosemite arches so we drove down the middle.  We probably had a few inches to spare.

We did a lot of research on bringing bikes when we got our camper.  We have four bikes and we were going to put them all on the front.  We have seen truck camper rigs with bikes hanging on the back.

Even with the bikes loaded, our pop-up roof lifts easily.  We have to push a little bit, but once it gets going, it cranks up.  If we’re using the bikes, we’ll take them down before we crank up the roof.

In the pictures you’ll see we only have three bikes on the roof.  At the time those photos were taken our youngest wasn’t riding a bike yet.  We now have four and her bike goes in the camper.  The bikes are locked down on the roof so they don’t move, and we don’t notice the bikes when traveling.

TCM: You said that you used your camper as an extra room for Thanksgiving.  Who used the camper as an extra room?

Kristin: Actually, we did.  We went to Phoenix to visit my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s house.  They were having a lot of people over, so we just decided to bring our camper.  That worked out well.

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Above: A 100 watt solar panel was added to the Copeland’s Northstar TC650 XB

TCM: Have you made any additional modifications to the camper?

Kristin: Recently we added a 100 watt solar panel system.  We also added an ARB 12-volt refrigerator-freezer.  When you’re out in the hot desert, you can’t go to the store and buy ice.  Ice in a cooler melts and won’t keep food frozen.  The ARB 12-volt refrigerator-freezer allows us to bring ice and keep food frozen anywhere.

We were only able to get the 12-volt refrigerator-freezer after we got the solar panel system and had the power to keep it running.  Both the solar panel system and the 12-volt refrigerator-freezer work beautifully.  We keep the refrigerator-freezer outside when we’re camping.

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Above: Karleigh and Kaitlyn in the Mud Caves, Anza Borrego, California

TCM: What do your girls think about camping in the truck camper?

Kristin: They love camping!  Karleigh is ten and Kaitlyn is seven.  Every time we say we’re going camping, they look forward to it.  I’m going to enjoy these moments while I can.  Some day they are not going to want to hang out with mom and dad.

We normally have a rule.  They can only use electronics if we are on the freeway.  There are no electronics while we’re camping.  Everyone keeps asking if we’re going to get a television in our camper.  That is not what camping is about.

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Above: The girls can watch ladder golf from the Northstar’s XB skybox

When we’re truck camping, we enjoy playing ladder golf, Bananagrams, UNO, cards, and drawing and creating with paper, crayons, and colored pencils and pens.  We bring a REI roll top table that’s compact and fits under the bed where we also store the ladder golf.  The under bed storage area in the Northstar is very useful.

Our kids have also learned a lot about local animals and the environment from ranger presentations at the campgrounds.  Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite had a great campfire night and we learned about the history of the area with singing and storytelling.  If you have kids or grandkids, look into the ranger talks for kids.

TCM: What’s next for the Copeland family?

Kristin: Our next big trip will be up the northern California coast starting in Morrow Bay up to the Lost Coast trail and into Oregon.  Of course we also plan to go to Antelope canyon, Arches National Park, Zion National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.

I feel like we have just started with our truck camping.  We’ve only had our camper for about two years.  I’m just excited about where else we will go.  It’s always an adventure.

Truck: 2009 Ford F150, short bed, single rear wheel, crew cab, 4×4, gas
Camper: 2011 Northstar TC 650 XB
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: Homemade Straps
Suspension: Fox Shocks (front and rear), Airbags, Springs
Gear: Bike Rack, Porch, Road Armour bumpers (front and rear), Total Chaos upper control arm in front, and customized rock sliders to fit the truck and camper (these are welded directly to the frame of the truck with a tie-down point for the front of camper)

Do you go camping with your kids or grandkids like the Copelands do?  Please share your story.

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