Adventure Stories

Weekend Warrior Rig Gets Away

Jake Kramer and Kate Cassidy had specific requirements for a truck and camper rig; a 7.3L Ford diesel truck, pop-up hard side camper, side-door floor plan to tow a trailer, and reliable off-road capabilities. The result is one heck of a flatbed Alaskan Camper. Come on Friday!

Weekend Warrior Camper Gets Away

Real life for most people between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five is weeks filled with work. Working Monday through Friday pays the bills, keeps food on the table, and builds and maintains a financial cushion for the expenses life throws at all of us. In addition, some people don’t want to retire preferring to keep the sense of purpose and identity they find with work. Either way, millions of people–including the team behind these electrons–work during the week and fit our truck camping in on the weekends and during national holidays. That’s life.

We probably don’t talk about it nearly enough, but truck camper rigs are perfect for weekend warriors. First, they’re compact. Folks who don’t contend with an HOA can have one ready to go at their house. Even if you have a pesky HOA, a pop-up camper can often fit into a garage.

Furthermore, truck campers are designed to go anywhere and camp anywhere. That means you don’t have to go to a campground, or have reservations at a campground, or pay the increasingly nutty prices of a campground. You just worked all week. When were you supposed to make those reservations? And why should you spend the money you worked so hard to earn just to take a break and have some fun? You don’t with a truck and camper.

Want to tow something? Tow it. Need to camp without hookups? No problem. Have an event to attend and stay the night? Pull in, park, and party. The versatility of truck camper ownership is vast and empowering. Often truck campers don’t fully appreciate exactly how their truck camper rig is going to transform their life until they have it for a while and think, “Wait, why couldn’t we just take the camper to your brother’s wedding?” And so it begins.

Jake Kramer and Kate Cassidy have a tricked-out 7.3L diesel Ford F-350 flatbed, and a stunning Alaskan side entry flatbed camper. This combination exudes all of the truck and camper capabilities we champion at TCM, and takes the off-road, off-grid options firmly into the Overland category. Living in western Pennsylvania, they use their set-up to explore the east, but go west whenever they can. As fellow East Coasters, we get that.

Get ready weekend warriors! Jake and Kate have an inspiring rig, story, and truck camping lifestyle that will have you talking on Tuesday night, researching Wednesday night, packing the rig Thursday night, and heading out Friday after work. It’s time to play.

Allegheny River Pennsylvania

Above: Jake and Kate paddling the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania

Where did your interest in camping begin?

Jake: For me, it all started when I went camping with my father. I think I was four or five the first time I remember going on an overnight trip in the woods. I was hooked after that.

As I grew up, I got into different ways of camping; kayak camping, ATV camping, and long-distance motorcycle camping. I still do those, but our truck camper is another avenue.

Alaskan Camper Gunnison River Colorado

Above: Their Alaskan Camper next to the Gunnison River in Colorado

Kate: I am very grateful that I grew up camping. We lived in the country, so it was, “go outside and entertain yourself”. My brothers and I loved the outdoors. When I was a kid my parents bought an old school bus and let us paint it however we wanted. It was very much like the Partridge family bus, and we loved taking it to their friend’s creek-side camp on the weekends.

When I was twenty-four, my brother and I went backpacking through Europe. The only way we could afford it was by camping. We packed up tents and camped across Europe for three to four months. It was affordable and I love camping.

After that, we decided to move to New Zealand. Again, my brother and I could only afford it by camping and backpacking. Within that trip, we raised money for a charity by walking the length of New Zealand. It was the longest time I have been consistently camping. We did not see anyone or get close to a town for ten days. That experience reaffirmed my love for camping.

Kate In New Zealand

Above: Kate backpacking the length of New Zealand

How did your interest in tent camping progress to a truck and camper rig?

Jake: When I got my driver’s license, I started to buy, modify, and upgrade different platforms. I spent as much time outdoors as possible, which inevitably involved camping.

I eventually decided to do a conversion on my own and purchased a Nissan NV 3500 van. That was my first vehicle dedicated to camping. I quickly learned the limitations of that platform and what I wanted out of this type of vehicle.

Next, I built out a Tacoma to get to hard-to-reach camping spots. I wanted to be able to boondock for long periods of time without needing to restock for supplies and bring my motorcycle. Soon it was clear that the lack of space and lack of power experienced in my Tacoma was not the right match for me.

That’s when I began searching for a truck, particularly a Ford F-350 with four wheel drive and a diesel engine. I found a 2002 after six months of research.

2002 Ford F 350 Extended Cab Diesel

Why did you want the 2002 Ford F-350 extended cab, long bed, 4×4, 7.3L diesel?

Jake: Ford madę the 7.3L diesel engine from the mid-1990s to 2003. It’s known for its reliability. They are commonly seen with over 500,000 miles on them. You still see them on the road.

I finally found one on the internet with 34,000 miles on it. It was almost new even though it was over 20 years old. It had a standard transmission. The automatic transmission was a common issue that would need to be addressed if the primary usage of the truck was hauling heavy loads. Many people would have to add cooling packages to make the automatic more reliable. It has no updated electronics of the newer vehicles. It was my dream truck.

A new truck wasn’t out of the question, but the $60,000 to $70,000 prices were. My truck was $35,000 with fees and taxes. It’s sought after with low miles in that condition. When I saw it posted, I didn’t think it was real. I wanted to get something older, take care of it, and make it last a long time.

I’m more of a YouTube mechanic. I won’t tear down the engine, but I will dive into simple things. Most of the mods on my truck were done myself.

Moab Utah Camping With Alaskan Camper

How did you decide you wanted a side-entry flatbed Alaskan Camper?

Jake: I didn’t want a big and heavy camper that hung off the back of the truck. I also don’t like the canvas sides of most pop-up campers. I wanted something compact that would work on the Ford F-350 and handle off-road terrain.

That’s when I read a Truck Camper Magazine article about the new Alaskan flatbed side entry model that was going to Overland Expo West. The flatbed Alaskan Camper checked all my boxes. That article sold it for me, and I ordered the camper.

Tail Of The Dragon North Carolina

Above: Riding Tail Of The Dragon in North Carolina

Why did you want a flatbed Alaskan?

Jake: I needed the side door. Motorcycle riding is one of my favorite pastimes, so having a rear-entry camper with a motorcycle trailer wasn’t going to work. We would have to climb around the motorcycle every time we entered or exited. The flatbed floor plan with the side door also opens up a lot of room. We’re never in each other’s way. It’s more like a T inside. The amount of space and storage were important points for me.

“You are talking to the people who run Alaskan. If you need an answer, they have a ton of experience and can answer questions.”

You are on the East Coast and ordered a camper in Washington state. How did you go through the design process?

Jake: There was a lot of anticipation, but the team at Alaskan was great. Whenever I called, I talked to Bryan or Dorrie. There was no call center. You are talking to the people who run Alaskan. If you need an answer, they have a ton of experience and can answer questions. Even for my nit-picky questions, they had answers. They also sent me pictures and examples.

For the design process, I used their website, videos, and online resources. I read about the products they are putting in their campers. They also had a design worksheet, with a, b, or c, and explanations that this will work with this, but not this. A lot of it was with their guidance.

2002 Ford F 350 With Alaskan Camper

Where did you get your flatbed from?

Jake: There’s a company called Protech that’s forty-five minutes south of Alaskan. Alaskan had been working with them for many years, so I knew that everything would match up. I went back and forth with Protech to design it the way I wanted. They made sure it would be compatible with the camper specs. They sent me 3D renderings before it was done. I made changes throughout the process like adding storage on the outside and the headache rack.

My dad and I had my truck finished the night before we had to leave to head west and, at the time, my sister lived in Washington. We put my dad’s truck on a car hauler trailer on a Friday and road-tripped across the country. I dropped my truck at Protech, met the team at Alaskan, and used my dad’s truck to help my sister move back east. We loaded up the car hauler trailer and her car with her stuff. I flew home and my dad and sister drove back.

2002 Ford F 350 Extended Cab With Upgrades

You made some significant modifications to your truck. Tell us about what you did.

Jake: When I bought it, my truck was a completely stock Ford. Since then I have changed it a lot. As I periodically changed items on the truck, I sold the original parts to help fund the project including the interior, bed, wheels, and bumpers.

The truck has the standard 6-speed manual transmission that had the old-school bench seat. I’m a tall guy and most vehicle seats aren’t made for taller people. I found Sheel-Mann seats. They are made by a German seat company that manufactures a particular product that is specifically for taller individuals. I pulled out the bench and now we have two super comfortable captain’s chairs.

I also wanted a center console for maps and other things. I also put Dynomat down on the entire cab. The older diesels are loud. Dynomat helps to quiet the cabin.

2002 Ford F 350 Extended Cab New Seats And Storage

Then, I pulled the rear seats out and built a platform out of birch and Rhino Lined it. It has storage for tools, a generator, and things I don’t want outside. There’s also a second refrigerator in the back seat. When driving, making lunch or getting drinks is easy because it’s right behind us. The refrigerator is also a secondary space for food storage.

I added a separate battery bank with a DC-DC charger. That’s exclusively for the second refrigerator and does not drain the camper batteries. The refrigerator will run for two days on that battery. If needed, I also carry a portable solar panel that lays over the windshield to charge the secondary battery.

Did you fly back when your truck and Alaskan were completed?

Jake: Dorrie from Alaskan went and picked up my truck when it was done at Protech and took it to Alaskan. Then, I flew into Washington, got a rental car, met with the Alaskan team, got my camper, and drove to Telluride, Colorado for a friend’s wedding.

It was rushed from Washington to Telluride. I didn’t allow for enough time. We got to the wedding an hour before it started and changed in the camper at a state park.

It was a month from dropping off the truck to picking up with the camper. Alaskan had it completed a week before I arrived.

Telluride Colorado Alaskan Camper

Above: Exploring near Telluride, Colorado

That’s a lot of time to fly out, go to a wedding, and drive back home. Are you able to work from the road?

Jake: Kate bartends, so she has a flexible schedule. She’s been with the same company for a long time. My jobs have been sales-related, so they are also flexible.

I try to line up our truck camping trips with vacation days and holidays to get more time off. Typically, we’ll take five days off. When there are holidays, like Easter, we may get up to nine days off. We also live in our camper when we rent out our house as an Airbnb.

“Whenever someone rents our house, we just move into the camper.”

That’s an interesting idea. So, when your house rents through Airbnb, you move into your truck and camper?

Jake: Yes. Kate and I used our Alaskan rig as an auxiliary home all last summer. We are close to a venue for concerts. There is nowhere close by for a hotel and there’s only one campground. Renting out our house has been a hit. Whenever someone rents our house, we just move into the camper.

Slippery Rock Pennsylvania Alaskan Camper

We’re never home in the summer. We want to be out and do things when the weather is good. Why not have our house make money when we’re not there?

Kate: And the camper allows for a comfortable transition.

Jake: One of the photos is labeled Slippery Rock. That’s at Kate’s parents’ farm. We can always camp there when our house is being rented. My dad also has eight acres beside our house.

Moab Utah Pano

It must have been luxurious to go from backpacking and tenting to a truck camper.

Kate: Cooking a meal inside and having a variety of cold drinks has been a luxury. Both of us are aware of how great it is and how luxurious it feels when we’re in the wilderness. We took our Alaskan out a few weeks ago. It was rainy and cold outside and we were inside warm and dry.

Jake: When we were in Moab, it was almost 100 degrees. Having a nice place to be with a cold drink was a whole new world.

Kate: We have been spoiled by our adventures with our Alaskan. Driving cross-country, we enjoyed the amenities during our off-grid adventures.

Jake View From Inside Their Alaskan

I love that picture of you at the Gunnison River with the view out the back. I also like the photo out the window in Moab. You’ve been to some awesome camping spots. How do you find places to camp?

Kate: We found the Gunnison River spot (above) by accident. It was on our way to Telluride. The Moab photo (below) was from a lovely secluded campsite we stayed in for four days. We saw no one. There were 360-degree views from our camper. The mountains, contrast of colors, and stars were phenomenal.

Utah View Out The Window

Jake: I had ridden there in my side-by-side two years before we camped there. I was a little familiar with the area and thought our truck could handle it. Kate had never been on that kind of terrain. It was way different with a truck camper, but we made it. When we camp, we try to get as remote as possible.

Kate: I was a nervous passenger going down that road, but I knew that Jake knew what he was doing. The truck proved to be capable of what we put her through.

Alaskan Popped Up Moab Utah

Beyond amazing remote campsites, what do you enjoy doing with your rig?

Jake: We like to reconnect with nature and attend music festivals. We also enjoy hiking, mountain biking, motorcycle riding, side-by-side and ATV riding, bird watching, and skiing.

You live on the East Coast, but you’ve only mentioned places out west. Have you camped on the east coast?

Kate: Yes, there are gems on the east coast. Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County, Pennsylvania is incredible for stars. Cooks Forest State Park in Leeper, Pennsylvania is a place I’d recommend for weekend warriors.

Jake: Deep Creek Lake in Maryland is nice.

Kate: Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio has tons of waterfalls.

Jake: In West Virginia, we’ve gone to New River Gorge National Park. In Pennsylvania, there’s Ohiopyle State Park. There’s a music festival every year in Ohio at Nelson Ledges that we’ve attended. We’ve also camped in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.

I’m in love with the West Coast. If I can get out there, I go. The stars are incredible and it’s so remote. The east coast is challenging, but there are places to camp.

Hammock relaxing in Moab Utah

We have some fantastic East Coast destination stories in our Travel The USA section, but’s hard to argue with the allure of the West. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Kate: We’ve learned that our camper can be used for a variety of things. If you’re a weekend warrior and not sure what you want to do, you can take it to events that friends are having, and you don’t have to drive home afterward. You can enjoy a concert and you’re right there when you want to go to sleep. You can use it as a changing room when you attend a wedding. We just rented out our house for the holidays and had Christmas in our camper. There are many reasons to own a truck and camper.

“Life is too short. My advice is to go out and enjoy the outdoors with whatever rig you have.”

Jake: Every travel blogger and camper I follow says that you don’t need the best equipment; just go out and do it. That’s the truth. Life is too short. My advice is to go out and enjoy the outdoors with whatever rig you have.

Jake and Kate’s Rig
Truck: 2002 Ford F-350 extended cab, long bed, 4×4, diesel
Camper: 2023 Alaskan Camper flatbed model
Tie-Downs and Turnbuckles: Bolted to truck
Suspension: Bilstein shocks, airlift airbags, lift kit


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