Lifestyle Stories

Always Ready To Go

With a Wolf Creek 840, Leslie and Bob McMichael have assembled their ultimate go anytime rig for hunting, fishing, off-roading, running, and bicycling throughout the Northwest.  Then Bob puts on a kilt and breaks out the bagpipes.

Always Ready To Go Truck Camping

The process of researching, selecting, and assembling the right truck and camper for you can be overwhelming.  There are a ton of variables to nail down including truck preferences, camper layouts, truck and camper payload matching, your intended truck camping lifestyle, and possibly towing considerations.

Fortunately, Truck Camper Magazine has a plethora of articles and web tools to help you with this process.  The Newbie Corner, Buyers Guide, and Camper Chooser were all designed to get you to the right truck and camper for you as fast as possible.  We essentially created what we wish had existed when we out our first truck camper rig together 13 years ago.  Where was the Newbie Corner in 2004?

The final result is incredibly worthwhile.  As truck camper owners will tell you, having the right truck and camper rig assembled and ready to go at a moment’s notice is truly awesome.  When opportunity knocks, you can pack, load, and roll.  Some truck camper owners even keep their rigs packed and loaded all the time.  When free time happens, they simply hop in the truck and go.

Leslie and Bob McMichael have taken the spontaneous truck camping concept and ran with it – and biked with it, fished with it, and hunted with it.  The go anytime versatility of truck camping has literally transformed Leslie and Bob’s free time allowing them to take their hobbies, interests, and even side-hustles to the next level.  Did we mention Bob plays the bagpipes for weddings while using their truck camper?  That’s right, their Wolf Creek doubles as a mobile Highland kilt dressing room.

Camping Sun Valley Idaho

Above: Camping in Sun Valley, Idaho

TCM: Tell us about your camping experiences and lifestyle over the years.

Leslie: We both grew up tent camping in the 1960s and 1970s.  Bob was raised in Laguna Beach, California by his single mother, a public school art teacher and his stepdad, an electrical engineer.  They took him and his younger brother for extended car camping trips throughout the United States during summer.

I was raised in eastern Oregon.  In the summer we loaded up the station wagon and camped in the national forests near our home.  I did this maybe once or twice a summer with my parents and three siblings, plus all the stuff we needed; six heavy sleeping bags, a couple of canvas tents, coolers, food, stove, cooking gear, and clothes.

I always remember how much work my mom had to do getting everything and everyone ready for one overnight weekend camping trip.  It was just as much work unloading everything when we got home.  Those experiences, even though it was great our parents exposed us to the mountains, actually turned me off to car camping for awhile because it seemed like too much work.

When Bob and I met in our late thirties, we camped in the back of an old Toyota Four Runner with the seats folded down.  Two years later we got married, sold the Toyota, bought a full-sized pickup, and slept in the back of our pick-up bed with a shell.  It was spacious compared to the Toyota, but still not big enough for two people and a dog.

We outgrew that set-up and bought a pop-up trailer to pull with our pickup.  The pop-up trailer was okay, but we quickly learned that we didn’t like setting it up.  If it was dark and raining, it was not much fun.  Also, it wasn’t warm enough for the cold Idaho fall camping weather, even with the heater running.

Then we bought a used VW EuroVan pop-up camper.  It was great because it doubled as a vehicle to drive around town, and it was always ready for camping.  My childhood experiences of hating to go car camping were now over.

Except for perishable food, the van was always stocked with everything and ready to go at a moment’s notice.  We did some amazing trips in the van but, after a couple of years, we realized our style of camping was increasingly off paved roads.  The van didn’t have high enough clearance for where we wanted to go.  Sadly, we sold the EuroVan because of the clearance issue.

At that point we still had a full sized pick-up and we bought a travel trailer.  The travel trailer was fine until we became boat owners and found out that we couldn’t go camping with our boat.  We can tow both the trailer and the boat in Idaho, but double-towing is illegal in Oregon.

So that, combined with our interest in off-road exploration, led us to truck campers.  My brother-in-law had a pop-up truck camper.  We slept in it once and liked it.  From that experience, the mission was to find the perfect truck camper for us.

Headwaters Relay Montana

TCM: Did you have specific criteria for the perfect truck camper?

Leslie: I really wanted a hard side camper.  Like the EuroVan, I didn’t want any set-up.  I liked the idea of driving down the road and pulling over to have lunch, get a drink from the refrigerator, use the bathroom, or change clothes after a bicycle ride.

While researching truck campers, Bob discovered that our Ford F150 didn’t have enough payload capacity for most hard side truck campers.  To payload match the F150, we would have to buy a pop-up truck camper.

Bob researched the best pop-up truck camper that fit our criteria; lightweight with a bathroom.  He eventually found a used one on Craigslist.  We drove 500 miles to purchase it.  After buying the camper, bringing it home, and weighing it empty, we discovered that the seller had misled us about the dry weight.  The weight the seller quoted us was the base model weight without all the add-ons from the factory that she had installed.

For safety reasons, we didn’t feel comfortable driving around with the pop-up camper on our pick-up.  It was way overweight for the Ford F150.  We were sick about it and the seller wouldn’t take it back.  Live and learn.  We were stuck with it.  At this point we thought our only option was to get a new truck to haul it.  We bought a Ram 2500.

After buying the new pick-up, I told Bob that I wished we had bought a hard side camper in the first place.  We decided to sell the pop-up on Craigslist even though we’d only had it a month.  Luckily, it sold fairly quickly.

From that point the search was on for a hard side truck camper.  Bob liked Arctic Fox campers, but we couldn’t afford one.

Wolf Creek Step Into Camper

Above: Leslie and Bob’s Wolf Creek 840

After researching on Truck Camper Magazine, he found out that Northwood Manufacturing, the company that makes Arctic Fox, also made Wolf Creek campers.  We looked at the models and floor plans online and decided that the Wolf Creek 840 was perfect for us.

After being burnt buying the other camper on Craigslist, we decided to buy a new hard side truck camper and not deal with private parties.  We drove three hours to Thunder RV in LaGrande, Oregon to check it out.  I fell in love with the seating configuration and we bought it on the spot.

Loading and unloading the camper was a learning curve for us.  Bob can now do it in a matter of minutes.  We’ve been happy Wolf Creek owners and truck camper owners ever since.

Pyramid Lake Nevada Fishing Equipment

Above: The yellow storage step in the pictures is one of their modifications

TCM: Tell us about your storage step modification.

Leslie: Our truck camper is designed for a long or short bed truck.  We have it on a short bed, so we don’t have storage boxes on the outside of the camper.  We have additional things we want to store that we don’t want inside the camper.

Bob designed and made a heavy duty wooden box with no slip paint on the top that doubles as a step and storage.  I wanted stairs, and we wanted to limit how much stuff went in the camper.

Pyramid Lake Dogs Camper

The storage step Bob made goes up by the refrigerator when we’re traveling down the road.  There are two straps on the sides so we can lift it in and out.

When we look for a camp spot, we have to think about where the box is going to go.  We try to find a level surface so that it’s not wobbly.  As we get older, climbing may be harder to do when the camper is on the truck.  We’re still fairly athletic and can climb, but it will get harder.

Salmon River near Riggins Idaho hunting Chukar

Above: Salmon River near Riggins, Idaho hunting Chukar

TCM: What do you enjoy doing while truck camping?

Leslie: We enjoy fly fishing, upland bird hunting, bird watching, hiking, trail running, and road and mountain biking.  I’m a new Chukar Partridge bird hunter.  I’ve been going with Bob for ten years, but only to take photos for his blog Chukar Culture.  This year, I’ve been carrying my own shot gun.

Henrys Fork Of The Snake River In Eastern Idaho Rainbow Trout

Above: Henry’s Fork Of The Snake River In Eastern Idaho Rainbow Trout

Our favorite place to fish is Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in eastern Idaho.  Bob has been fly fishing since he was ten years old.  His dad taught him to fish.  He likes going back to Henry’s Fork every year.  It brings back good memories.  It’s a gorgeous part of Idaho.  The Henry’s Fork fish are hard to catch, but we enjoy the challenge.

Henry Fork Of The Snake River In Eastern Idaho Flyfishing Leslie

Above: Leslie fly fishing on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River

We like eastern Idaho because it’s close to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  Centennial Valley in Montana is an hour away.  That is also a really nice place.  There are so many amazing places to fly fish in Montana.  Idaho doesn’t have as many blue ribbon trout rivers as Montana does.

Missouri River Near Craig Montana

Above: Missouri River near Craig, Montana

One of our favorite Montana fly fishing spots is the Missouri River near Craig, Montana.  The pictures are from a very cold morning, but the best time to fish is during the morning hatch.  The camper is a great place to warm-up after a morning of fishing.

Pyramid Lake Lahontan Cutthroat Trout

Above: Pyramid Lake, Lahontan Cutthroat Trout

We also go to Pyramid Lake in Nevada to fish during spring break.  My husband is a public school teacher, so our vacations can only take place during school breaks.  The lake is famous for its Lahontan cutthroat trout.

Missouri River Near Craig Montana Gear

TCM: One of the pictures from the Missouri River in Montana shows all your gear around your camper.  Where do you store all that gear while you’re in transit?

Leslie: When we were deciding on which camper to buy, we really looked at storage.  In the Wolf Creek 840 there’s a bunk above the dinette where we store plastic bins.  We keep waders, boots, and some clothes in that area.

Salmon River Near Riggins Idaho Cooking

Above: The kitchen is in the back, which gives them a nice panoramic view.

When we were researching the 840, we also noticed that the bed had a north-south sleeping arrangement.  There are side wells where we could store a lot of stuff.  We’ve had bicycle wheels in there and duffle bags.  That’s a nice storage area.

Salmon River Near Riggins Idaho Leslie Relaxing Camper

We also like the panoramic view in the back of our camper.  When we’re sitting in dinette, it’s so nice to look out at our surroundings.

Salmon River Near Riggins Idaho Dogs Camper

Above: Even the dogs like the panoramic view out the back of the camper

TCM: Tell us about the dogs you take with you.  Are they hunting dogs?

Leslie: Yes, they are.  Our two Brittany bird dogs, Angus and Peat, go everywhere with us and like to hunt birds.  Angus, our older one is, ten-and-a-half years old.

Dogs Love Camping

He needs to be lifted up to the cabover bed in the camper.  We chose the layout of the camper inside specifically with them in mind.  The dinette set-up is perfect and comfortable for two people and two dogs.

Professional Highland Bagpiper

TCM: In the pictures you sent we see Bob bagpiping.  Tell us about that.

Leslie: The pictures are from a wedding in Sun Valley, Idaho.  Bob is a professional Highland bagpiper who performs at weddings and funerals.  Weddings are always in the summer and he plays in places like Sun Valley or McCall, Idaho at mountain resorts.

Sometimes they will pay him to play and give us a housing allowance, but we keep the money and stay in camper.  Most public school teachers have a summer job to make money.  We lived in Boise for several years and he gave bagpiping lessons and played at functions.

One of the selling points of getting a truck camper for Bob was being able to change into his bagpiping kilt and uniform when performing for weddings.   It takes a half hour for Bob to get his outfit on.  The camper is also a great place for him to stay out of the weather until his performance.

Before we had the camper, he would dress at home and then go into grocery store to use the bathroom or he would hide in the bushes to change his clothes.

Headwaters Relay Run

Above: Leslie in the Headwaters Relay

TCM: That could be uncomfortable.  How did you get involved with the Headwaters Relay, and what is that event all about?

Leslie: The Headwaters Relay is a three day, 232-mile, team running relay race through the mountains and valleys of southwest Montana.  The route is 98-percent on dirt and two-track roads revisiting the Lewis and Clark trail from Three Forks to Beaverhead Rock.  The relay ends at Hellroaring Creek, the ultimate source of the Missouri River.

The teams can have between five and ten runners.  We ran anywhere from three to ten miles at a time, and two legs per day.  My longest leg was six miles which was good for me because I’m not a runner.

Headwaters Relay Hanging Out

Above: Their camper was a great support vehicle

We took our truck camper as a support vehicle.  During the race, we traveled on some of the highest dirt roads in Montana.  We really put our truck and camper to the test.  It was super hot and the camper served as excellent shade between relay exchanges.

It was nice to have a place to sleep and use the bathroom.  It was an amazing endurance event that we had fun doing with our family and friends.

Beartooth Highway Bicycling

Above: Bicycling on the Beartooth Highway

TCM: In your email, you stated that you wanted to go on more supported bicycle trips with your truck camper.  Tell us about that.

Leslie: During the Headwaters relay, one of us drove while one of us ran.  For supported bicycle trips, someone drives while the other bikes.   We love to do that so that we don’t have to carry everything with us on our bike.  We take turns riding bikes in new areas and the other person can drive ahead and wait.  When you’re done riding, you jump in the camper and change clothes.  We would like to do more of that.

Beartooth Highway Bikes

The Beartooth Pass and Beartooth Highway on the Montana/Wyoming border is an amazing drive that should not to be missed.  We took turns riding our bikes on it while the other drove the truck.  At 10,947 feet above sea level, the pass is the highest paved road on the Wyoming/Montana border between Red Lodge and the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  It was gorgeous!  And amazing!

Beartooth Highway Scenery Brittany Spaniels

Above: Beartooth Highway Scenery

TCM: Are there any other places you would recommend to fellow truck campers?

Leslie: There are great fly fishing rivers in Montana, so that’s where we usually go in the summer.  There also lots of great towns in Montana like Great Falls, Butte, Missoula, Helena, Bozeman, Livingston, Ennis, and Dillon.  Good food and good beers can be found in all of them.

We can usually find campgrounds not far from these towns since they’re all near national forests.  When you can’t find a place, just ask the locals.  They’ll usually direct you to free places to camp that aren’t on maps.

Henrys Fork Of The Snake River In Eastern Idaho Flyfishing

Above: Fly fishing on Henry’s Fork of the Snake River

In Idaho, we like the Sawtooths near Stanley, Idaho and Island Park for fly fishing on Henry’s Fork.  In the summer, both can be very crowded.  Late September and early October are when the aspen trees are golden, so it is the best time to go.

In Oregon, the Wallowa Mountains and the loop that takes you through Baker City, LaGrande, Enterprise, Joseph, Halfway, Oregon and back to Baker City is good in the summer.  The road is closed in the early spring and winter.

While driving anywhere in the Pacific Northwest and Montana, we love detouring off the main highway and interstates to the old highways and roads.  By doing this we drive through tiny towns that we would otherwise miss.

Pyramid Lake In Nevada On Spring Break

Above: Pyramid Lake in Nevada

We love finding mountain roads with little traffic.  You do have to use your common sense and remember your GPS doesn’t always give you the easiest and safest route.  It may be shorter, but you could end up getting lost or stuck in the mud, especially in the wet spring or late fall.  National forests in the western United States have plenty of campgrounds and dispersed camping.

With a truck camper, especially hard sided ones that are tall, be careful of roads that aren’t used much.  Sometimes they have low hanging limbs on pine trees that can scratch and damage to the top of your camper.  Know your clearance and pay attention to bridges and trees.

We are both public land advocates and wildlife conservationists.  The West has amazing national forests, BLM lands, beautiful national parks and monuments.  We encourage everyone to go out and explore these areas and discover for themselves how important they are.  We hope these areas are preserved for future generations for camping, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation.

TCM: We absolutely agree.  What are your truck camping plans for the future?

Leslie: Because of Bob’s job as a high school teacher, we can only go truck camping on weekends until summer break.  We plan camping down near the Snake River on the Idaho/Oregon border and Salmon Rivers in Idaho for chukar hunting.  Depending on how much snow the area gets this winter, we might camp on weekends all winter.

Next summer we’ll go on more truck camping trips for fly fishing and hiking in Montana.  I’d like to do some supported bicycle trips around the Pacific Northwest.

Sometimes our travel plans are dictated by weddings Bob gets hired to play.  Most summer weddings are in mountain towns, which is perfect for us.

We are very spontaneous.  We often don’t decide what we are going to do until the last minute.  Who knows?  We’re usually up for anything.  That’s what’s great about having a truck camper.  It’s always ready to go.

TCM: A lot of us enjoy that ready to go versatility of a truck camper.  How do you make spontaneous travel work once you’re on the road?

Leslie: This past trip through Montana we didn’t always have day to day plans.  We would ask the locals about good places to fish, they would tell us, and we would go there.  When we were in Helena, Montana at a craft brew place, we asked the guy where we could camp and he said we could camp in his parking lot.  We wouldn’t have known that if we don’t talk to him.

By being spontaneous, you go to places that are not on a map.  We like to explore back roads and usually find ourselves driving down dirt or gravel roads to find that perfect secluded camp spot away from people.  That is one thing I’d like to encourage others to do.  With a truck camper you never know what’s going to happen.

Leslie and Bob McMichael’s Rig
Truck: 2015 Ram 2500, Extended Cab, 4×4, Gasoline, Single Rear Wheel, Short Bed
Camper: 2015 Wolf Creek 840
Tie-Downs and Turnbuckles: Torklift with Fast Gun Turnbuckles
Suspension: Firestone airbags- rear only
Gear: Custom bike rack for two bicycles

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