Heigh-ho the Maery-o, Van Camping We Will Go

My dog and I on van camping trip

Van Camping Preparation

When I began planning my van camping trip, the weather was not what I typically seek for outdoor playtime. The temperatures didn’t look so bad (between 50 and 65 degrees (F)); it was the prediction of rain and high winds that made me frown. 

But if you wait for perfect weather in Minnesota in October, you likely won’t go anywhere, I told myself. Life is too short and time too precious to wait for conditions to be perfect, for my van to be perfect, for me to be perfect, before I take a step forward.

As I prepared to head out, Steve researched national forest campground options. None of them took reservations, so I needed several choices in case my first stops were full. There are rustic sites with zero amenities and they’re free, and there are pay sites with pit toilets, water, and garbage removal, plus a campsite picnic table and fire ring. I didn’t need those things, but I still wanted the security of having them available.

I’ve been trying to stretch the boundaries of what is comfortable for me. That was challenging before COVID-19. Now there’s another layer to dig through to what feels safe. But to remain within such confines is like being locked up in a small room with padded walls. Not that I know what THAT’s like… 

The Journey

I wanted to go further north than our last camping trip. I forgot that meant a five-hour drive versus three hours. But there was a great deal of eye-candy with the colorful leaves, the view of Lake Superior, and the occasional rock walls and shores we drove by. Seeing the leaves in their full regalia of color was one reason I wanted to make the trip.

Devil Track Lake Campground

Foggy morning, Devil Track Lake

The first campground Latte and I went to was on Devil Track Lake. Only one of the sixteen campsites has campers in it, so I had my pick of the rest. I chose a spot that was set far back from the road and surrounded by trees. I could see the lake through the woods, and there was a path down to the shore. 

Devil Track Lake is a poor translation of the original Ojibwe name, Manido bimadagakowini zibi, which more accurately translates as Spirits walking place on the ice river. The Ojibwe name suggests there is something supernatural about the lake, the river it connects to, and its winter covering of ice.1 I don’t know about supernatural but the lake was eerily beautiful, thanks in part to the clouds, rain, and fog, but also because of the frequent rounds of coyote song echoing off in the distance.

Cloud and tree reflections, Devil Track Lake

There was a hiking trail that sounded interesting about 4 miles from the campground, but the drizzle stopped me from pursuing that idea. Latte and I made do with several daily walks down the road and around the campground sites. It didn’t help that I had hurt both my left knee and my lower back before I went camping and wasn’t feeling very adventurous. 

My dog, sitting by the lake

Van Camping Setup

I put a tarp on the ground and another one draped over my van’s open back doors as our rain and mud protection. It was pretty cozy under there; me cooking over my butane stove while sitting on my camp chair, while Latte curled up on her bed. The shelves Steve made for the back of the van made everything convenient to grab and put together a meal. I’m hoping to find an actual canopy I can install on my van’s roof and extend out to have a little more protected space to move around. 

A couple quick Latte sketches (quick because she repositions herself frequently).

I could comfortably sit, write, and draw in my journal or read a book. Unfortunately, a rather cheeky red squirrel kept invading the picnic table and rifling through my dirty dishes as I tried to relax and enjoy my coffee. We had many a picnic table showdown, with me staring at the little bugger, waving my hands, and shooing him away, to which he responded with a look that said, Make me, old lady, before he finally ran up a tree and vigorously cussed me out. 

Latte spent much of her time in her dog jacket, curled into a ball on her platform bed. The platform bed was a fresh addition to our camping gear to keep Latte off the dirt (or mud). Because of a manufacturing issue, the bed almost didn’t go with us, but Steve fixed the problem, and Latte and I were ever so grateful.

NOTE: When a manufacturer creates a video of a woman quickly slapping something together—the message being if a woman can do it, you can too—be suspicious!  

Try Something, Learn Something, Change Something—Repeat

I’m not sure whether Latte enjoyed our time away. When we arrived home, she had a very exuberant zoom-zoom session around the house and up and over our bed, followed by another speed-demon romp around the backyard. Perhaps the time cooped up in the van was a bit much for her. Maybe instead of one big drive to get to our spot and then back home, I could break the trip into two camping stops. Something else to ponder…

Every time I go van camping, I learn a little more about what works and what doesn’t, which I expect is the way it is with most endeavors. We never truly arrive. And I find that comforting. If you stop learning and growing, adjusting and changing, I expect that means you’re dead. Although, perhaps such things continue on the other side. I certainly hope so.

Early morning on Devil Track Lake

1The information about the Ojibwe name for Devil Track Lake came from The Cook County Minnesota Genealogy and History site.

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