The urge to get out and explore new places lives within all of us, it just depends on when that feeling takes control. Some people get settled into jobs and lifestyles that allow for riding bikes and eventually they have the means to take off with friends for bike trips. Then there are those whose childhood dreams point them in a different direction. As Janis Joplin once said, “Get off your butt and feel things,” I would say mountain bikers couldn’t agree more.
I recently caught up with my friend, Will Castle, who has called his 1998 GMC Savana 1500 home for last three years. With five cross country road trips, the van has brought him to biking destinations that people only dream of. We met up at his friend’s campground where Will parked his van and I parked our 1968 Shasta Compact Trailer. Although I was only able to travel in the trailer for just shy of 2 months, like Will, it still provided me the freedom to get out and see some places I’ve drooled over on magazine covers since I was a kid. Over cooking some meals together we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of our travel rigs.
When talking about our vehicles something that came up was how stealth a van can be. With its original owner being a radio station, Will’s van isn’t completely decked out for camping, which means it doesn’t say “Winnebago Camper Van” on it, or have any extraneous windows that make it look like a camper van. “The van doesn’t shout, ‘I’m camping here,’” Will said explaining the benefit of being able to blend in and park in various places. This is definitely a perk when parking in a more populated area, also because it’s more maneuverable on city streets.
Another criteria for us was the coziness of both vehicles. Both “homes” carry queen size beds that fold up providing space to fit four people at a small table. Although this function exists we both agreed we could get lazy putting the bed up everyday. A big benefit of the trailer was having this space, but also having the ability to stand up while putting on clothes and cooking. In the van you can’t stand, which is definitely something to consider especially if you plan to spend a lot of time in the “house.”
The major benefit of the trailer comes with staying in places for extended periods of time. We didn’t actually spend more than 5 days in a place, but even in that amount of time it was evident how easy things became. We could detach the trailer and leave it while we took off for the day to bike. In the event that we were camped out at the trail head, it was still nice to have the car for grocery errands and other mini day adventures.
When it comes to traction I think both vehicles may be at a loss. The two-wheel drive van can become a beached whale when slippery mountainous conditions are present. We were fortunate to never have driven in conditions like that with the trailer, but assume we would be in a similar situation. Another consideration between both vehicles is driving over rough terrain. Most of the camping we found was on tame forest roads, but we could see rowdier terrain being an issue. Where a van would navigate over the crud, the trailer may bottom out.
With everything said both rigs have the feeling of home. The trailer made sense for us because my girlfriend and I were sharing the space, so we needed places for all of our gear. A van’s ability to negotiate tighter areas and blend in sounds pretty appealing. However, we were content with the ability to take off for the day in the car and have space to store all of our needs. The benefit with both options is the opportunity they give us to explore new places and cultures surrounding the mountain bike scene scattered across the country.