The first thing we booked on our trip wasn’t the flights. Or the first country. Or any hotels.
It was this – a tent on a jeep.
I read about it last winter in the FT and, once we’d decided in January to go on this trip, booked it for one week in August. This was fortunate as the owner of the jeep says “I could have booked this week 10 times over – there is a lot of demand for this.”
So what is it?
It is a Jeep Wrangler with a fold-out tent attached to the roof and a portable kitchen unit placed in the back, plus various extras to make a week of camping go smoothly such as huge spare water and petrol cannisters, a table and chairs, in-built chopping board, a stove and an incredible MSR water heater. A huge amount of thought has gone into the design and the kit inside.
We first struck eyes on it from 100 metres away in a garage in Vancouver. The tent was up (to show us around it) and it seemed quite tiny. The reaction from the family was: “Are we all going to fit in that?”
The Check In
The owner gathers us around and starts with the most important piece of information. We were expecting a lecture on bears or fire or propane gas, but instead the discussion is about whether to wave or not at other Jeep drivers. It seems that “camping with a Jeep is a thing over here”, perhaps like VW vans back at home, and we were oblivious to this. We just thought it looked cool and the kids would find it exciting. We are not disappointed – it is cool.
It seemed surprisingly easy to put up (you fold it up and the tent is ready made) and put down and suddenly we set off.
The first night
It felt amazing, taking this huge chunk of camping-heaven metal out of the garage and onto the Vancouver highway. The driving position is elevated and the breaking distance needs to be HUGE – this vehicle feels like an HGV. We stopped off for supplies at Walmart where they might not share the store’s layout among all their staff.
‘Excuse me, do you sell beer?’
‘Yes, its in aisle 9.’
‘Really, I’m sure I’ve just walked up and that aisle and its just coke and sodas. Do you sell beer?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Do you sell any alcohol?’
‘I don’t know. Perhaps you could ask the help desk.’
Perhaps it was my accent.
It turns out that many big supermarkets don’t sell beer; instead you need a Liquor Store which is so vehement in its support of booze that they don’t sell any soft drinks or water. Go figure.
The ferry is a dream and the camping week really starts as we leave the mainland. The water is flatter than glass and we sneak through the gaps between several islands to reach Swartz Bay, which is the terminal nearest the capital of Victoria. The girls are blown about in the wind but it is roasting hot, nobody minds.
We lose our fight against the light. We reach French Beach, our first campsite on the south west coast at 9pm just as dark is falling and so our first solo handling of the tent and cooking is in the dark. Quickly we have to learn; quickly we realise what green and novice campers we are. Pasta pesto with cheese, some warm lager and happy campers. The tent has a mattress built in, so once you add in the sleeping bags and pillows it is fairly comfortable.
Do we all fit in? Well, with some debate and give-and-take. We opt for the ‘four shoulders in a row’ configuration on our first night and it doesn’t work. We also opt to put our bodies over the jeep, rather than over the half of the tent which is supported by the ladder.
We are more preoccupied with bears than tents or sleep or personal hygiene. We don’t see any on our first night, but the fear is there and the adrenalin makes sleep harder……
What will the week have in store?
Anyone interesting in hiring this jeep and touring British Columbia, the company is Hastings Overland and the owner is Maxwell.