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Adventure, Alpine / December 11, 2016

Making the everyman’s adventure-mobile

Written by: Eric Hockman

I can hear the waves crashing on the coastline a few hundred feet below where I’m parked. Doing a half sit-up from laying flat on my back, I peer out across the empty parking spaces. Underneath a streetlight at the end of the block, I see two men in a parked tow truck. 

I wonder if they’re there for me. I wish I had some window covers, so I could stay hidden and get some much-needed rest.

Situations like this one, experienced during my travels around the country, inspired the adventure-ready rig I drive now. I’ve built some simple creature comforts into the back of an old Tacoma, and some features that allow me to sleep unnoticed in an urban environment.

My setup allows me to more effectively organize the gear I tote along on my various adventures, and opens the door to trips I would otherwise never take.

 

At the drawing board

Long before I even touched a tool, I took to the internet for inspiration. I checked out all kinds of setups—everything from basic lofted platforms stuffed with gear beneath to custom roller bearing drawers meticulously organized with everything a dirtbag could ever need.

Each person’s setup is customized to their needs, and their plans are not typically published. So I broke out my notepad, my pencil, and cup after cup of coffee to draw up some crude blueprints of my own.

 

Behind every successful project, there's a good cup of coffee (or seven).

I knew I didn’t want a permanent fixture, as I sometimes need an empty truck bed. I’d need something that would fit tight enough to hold gear in place on rocky roads, but that I could remove if need be.

This, I figured, could be achieved by building the frame to fit snugly between the front of the bed and the tailgate as well as narrowly between the wheel wells.

I knew that some gear would inevitably hold full time residency beneath the lofted platform, so I’d need some compartmentalized storage. Rather than sliding boards into the factory supplied slots of the bedliner and creating voided spaces, I figured a freestanding structure would utilize every square inch of storage beneath the surface.

 

Building the dream

My end goal was pretty simple: I wanted something that would help keep my gear organized and make it easier to take quick overnight journeys. But just building a lofted platform in the back of my Tacoma proved to be a journey of its own.

The old adage “measure twice, cut once” didn’t really apply. Instead, the process consisted of measuring, cutting, test fitting, scratching my head with occasional bewilderment, then repeating the process. Assembling the freshly cut pieces of pine scented lumber one by one, the framework began to take shape.

 

I opted to leave one of the long compartments open for larger gear, so a low-profile drawer was needed to keep smaller items from shifting during travel. After smashing my fingers twice with a hammer, I used the distressed wood from a dismantled shipping pallet to build a basic sliding drawer.

It looked great. But after months of use, I found some room for improvement. Though the panels and drawers could be removed from the truck bed, I had to remove the topper to do so. This wasn’t ideal—it would be much better to pull the panels straight out the back of the truck.

A friend and I cut large blocks of wood from the stout support beams to lighten the load to a more manageable weight, in turn giving the finished frame a truly custom look. We added a set of continuous hinges to the top platform, which allowed the edges to be folded up. Most importantly, the entire system could now be removed through the tailgate. 

Privacy, please

Though overnight parking is legal in plenty of places, sleeping overnight in a vehicle is not. So after a few uneasy nights, I decided to add some window covers for privacy.

I wanted the covers the hug the windows tightly, but I also needed an easy way to install and remove them.

 

When in doubt, call mom.

A perfect match: Duck canvas is thin, durable, and (most importantly) opaque.

After a little more head scratching and research, I found some industrial grade boat cover snaps that could be installed around the metal window frames in the topper and along the edges of the covers. I then sourced a durable duck canvas, drew up some templates, and enlisted my mother to help with the finishing stitch work.

I spent many hours installing the snaps one by one, but the window covers ultimately came out exactly as I’d hoped. Finally, I had no more worry of being exposed and towed away in the late hours of the night.

The dream achieved

This lofted sleep system has opened the door to many new adventures. I’ve taken it on weeknight microadventures after work hours, and on cross-country road trips (with unparalleled gear organization).

In the winter, I’ve spent sub-zero nights in the back with a sleeping pad and bag in order to get some early morning splitboard turns. In the summer, the canvas shades add additional sun protection and give me the opportunity to sneak in extra evening trail rides and nights spent on top of the occasional high mountain pass.

While living down by the beach in the Tacoma may be a thing of the past, I surely do appreciate the privacy and ability to covertly pull into an urban area without raising any red flags of my presence for the night. Now let’s just hope the tow truck driver doesn’t spot me crawling in and out of the rear hatch window.

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about the author

Eric Hockman

From epic backcountry journeys on the mountain bike to splitboarding tours through snow-covered peaks, Eric constantly craves what’s just around the bend. A professional ski tuner and cycling mechanic by trade, he now works for a local cycling company in Golden, where he takes off on the weekends and maxes out his vacation schedule, seeking adventures around the mountains of Colorado and other regions of the country.

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