When the coronavirus outbreak struck, correspondent Andy Cochrane sought refuge from the proverbial storm in an unusual way: by getting away from it all in an Airstream Basecamp X. The following is how and why he did it — and the gear that made it easier.
When I picked up my Airstream Basecamp X at the dealer in Denver, I wondered how the next two months would play out. As someone who’s been a nomad for five years, I’ve learned to sit with unforeseeable futures and messy circumstances — but the COVID-19 pandemic amplified these feelings a hundred-fold. Trying to predict the future felt futile.
So I resigned myself to follow a few general rules: live in the slow lane, social distance as much as possible…and spend time in the mountains.
After quarantining for three months with my parents in Minnesota, I was lured out of hiding by an email from Airstream. As an outdoor writer, I’ve seen my fair share of ridiculous offers, and at first glance, this one felt too good to be true. Two months, sans obligations, to test a brand new trailer? Suuuure. I’d dreamed of having a mobile office/kitchen/bedroom to travel with in my years of living out of my truck, but this seemed hard to believe.
Yet, subsequent correspondence proved the offer was real — so a few weeks later, I was preparing for a summer on the road, Airstream-style. Feeling a bit like Will Smith in I Am Legend, I pulled out of the dealership and headed west on I-70 with the Basecamp in tow. Leaving the city and climbing the pass into the Front Range, I watched my Tacoma’s revs rise as the truck tried to battle the weight. Whether I liked it or not, my life was about to move a little slower.
The Airstream Basecamp: small, but mighty
The Basecamp is Airstream’s lightest and smallest model; it’s great for people on the go, but less so for larger families who need more space. That said, I found the inside feels much larger than it looks from the outside; I rarely felt cramped. The trailer has all the amenities needed to keep you comfortable on a multi-week trip, including a mid-sized fridge, stovetop, sink, and a bathroom with a shower. It’s simple and easy to use, which fits my lifestyle well.
I tested a 16-foot model with the “X” upgrades, which include beefier tires, rock protectors, and a 3-inch lift, all of which helped me go a bit further down dirt roads. At 2,600 pounds, the Basecamp is towable for most SUVs and trucks, including my 230-horsepower Tacoma. I averaged 4 mpg less than I normally did while pulling the Airstream — which, considering I had my entire life behind me, I didn’t feel too bad about.
The biggest drawbacks to the Basecamp are a general lack of storage — there’s enough for weekenders, but life would be challenging for longer trips and multi-sport adventures — and the hassle of the bed conversion. The bed mechanism design could use some improvements. It was a hassle every night, swapping from ‘office’ mode to ‘bed’ mode. Oh, and then there’s the price tag: at more than $40,000, the Basecamp X is far more expensive than its competitors in the small camping trailer space.
When plugged into shore power (at a campground, for example), you have access to an air conditioner, a microwave, and a slew of power outlets. When “boondocking” in places that are more remote, the battery is charged by rooftop solar panels; that proides enough juice to charge small electronics, but not enough for things like the A/C. I learned to balance the two, bouncing between national forest campsites and small RV parks.
8,000 miles and two months in an Airstream?
Starting in Colorado, I drove west through Utah and Nevada for about a week before meeting up with friends in northern California for some runs, hikes, and swims — all at a safe distance, of course. From there I headed north, spending time in Oregon and Washington, before completing the northern portion of the loop through Idaho, Montana, and Idaho. The full route was close to 8,000 miles, broken up with 2-3 day-long stops along the way.
I avoided cities and skipped meals with people, instead linking up with friend for adventures — biking, running, working out, etc. Still, I felt lucky for what I was able to do: explore Mount Hood, Olympic National Park, the North Cascades, the Tetons and elsewhere, while so many Americans were stuck at home.
By the end of the two months, I was happy — yet exhausted. Trying to work remotely, stay healthy, and grasp the rapid changes rolling through the world was a lot to juggle. Two months living out of this aluminum trailer was a real gift, but also just a stopgap. Ready for a reset and a few less gas station coffees, I dropped off the Airstream, wondering who would enjoy it next.
The gear you need for Basecamp living
The right gear makes Airstream-life even more enjoyable, adventurous, and safe. Here are my top picks.
Less is often more, and that mentality comes to life in this lightweight, wide-mouth insulated bottle, great for both hot and cold drinks. The 24-oz Trail Series fits in my cup holder, my bike water bottle cage, and my backpack sleeve, making it good for whatever mischief I’m up to.
An electric powered gravel bike with almost enough suspension to be a light mountain bike, the Topstone Neo is perfect for backcountry trails and accessing new places. I used the bike every other day — riding for fun, exercising my dog and doing many multi-sport adventures.
With limited space and a large desire to maximize time outside, this packraft became one of my best friends. I prefer the Wolverine over other models because it’s durable and more maneuverable, making it good for anything you can throw at it.
I bought this luxury bed to coax my pup Bea into our new aluminum digs, and the trick worked flawlessly. After five years together, she gets skeptical when I get excited; in lieu of dog treats, this comfortable dog bed makes her feel right at home.
Wanting something light yet reliable to cook with, I brought along my collection of camping pots from MSR. Easy to clean and easy to stow, these pots worked great on the stovetop and on a handful of camping trips I went on during the two months in the Airstream.
When working off-grid, I employed my Yeti 1400 to keep my laptop and camera charged through a full day of work — or three. I’ve used this battery block for almost three years with only minor issues. It’s simple and reliable, and helped make my Airstream adventure better.
I suppose some Airstreamers will make a proper bed with sheets every night, but that’s not my style. I slept in the Riff most nights, which is soft and comfortable and packs away easily during the day. The down bag makes it easy to roll over and sleep on your side, which is crucial for me.
Whether I was driving into a sunset (cliché intended) or exploring outside, these shades were one of my go-to pairs. Polarized, durable, and made from bio-based resin, you can’t really go wrong with sunglasses from Costa.
When a product hasn’t significantly changed in multiple decades you can bet it’s pretty good. The Actik, one of the top headlamps out there, is stubbornly reliable, offers 350 lumens of light and has a variety of brightness levels. I rarely use anything else.
Because I’m a professional dabbler, I need a watch that can do just about everything, including helping me not get lost. The Fenix does all that, providing accurate stats, a map of just about any trail I found and a long-lasting battery to get me through a few misadventures.
I intended to write this blurb about the Mango and Almond bar, but I’d be selling my pantry short if I did so. I equally love the Chipotle Lime Seed snacks. I add the wild sockeye salmon to many of my meals for bonus protein. I enjoy the Long Root Pale Ale on a frequent basis. Recently I’ve been experimenting with the Aji Molido spice, too. Frankly, you really can’t go wrong with Patagonia Provisions.
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