Dream Road: The Beauty of Rooftop-Tent Camping

Rooftop tent camping in Virgin, Utah. Photo :: Hailey Elise

words :: Hailey Elise. 

I used to dream of vacations—my mind wandering as I squirrelled away days off from work, saved images of white sand to my phone, and pre-purchased enough bikinis for every single day I’d be away. I would plan, cram, and rush to the airport, barely making the flight that would whisk me off to the two-week highlight of my year. Camping was never one of my vacation dreams. It was something to be done with friends on a weekend—go get right pissed up, and start pining for a fresh shower after day one. Camping decorated the summer months and was undoubtedly fun, but it could never be that trip away to a far-off place that I coveted.

The author in her natural habitat. Photo :: Ollie Jones

And at any rate, after a typical weekend in the BC bush I was lucky to make home in one piece. Camping for me was a Canadian Tire tent with burn holes. And I’d often forget to bring a chair (or sometimes even a meal), but on one of these trips—unprepared and half-awake—my camping experience changed forever.

I had rolled home that morning at 5:00 a.m. after a big night out. The weather was fine and plans had been made by someone so I hopped in a truck with a bartender from Tapley’s and ventured off into the wilderness. Ollie, a friend of a friend, arrived with speakers in hand and smile on face; and he rode a bike like I’d never seen before. It was love at first sight. Sorry, Tapley’s guy.

article continues below
Pseuta shipwreck, Haida Gwaii. Arrived after a three-day drive along the beach. Photo :: Hailey Elise

Our relationship started in the woods. And like many broke Whistler kids, we began heading out as often and as cheaply as we could. Some Annie’s Mac and Cheese, a single sleeping bag between us and our bikes were all we needed to enjoy being part of Mother Nature’s something bigger. Soon cameras started joining us as faithful sidekicks, and capturing the journey gave purpose to seeking out new places within driving distance.

I love camp cooking and have recently even managed a number of month-long trips with just a single burner. Get creative and plan ahead, it’s really mind-blowing how little you end up needing to be comfortable. Photo :: Ollie Jones

The distances started small and our ability to be self-sufficient was poor at best, but something had changed for me, camping had changed. I learned that apparently you need to drink more water each day than what’s in a single Nalgene bottle—and sausages for breakfast, lunch and dinner won’t do wonders for your digestive system.

With each successive (and sometimes unsuccessful) trip, Ollie and I built on what we needed to be self-sufficient in our vehicle. Trial, error and plain ol’ necessity lead the way. We upgraded to a roof-top tent after experiencing literal ants in our pants during 21-days of ground tenting. Nearly starving because the riding was too good to leave helped us figure out that a small fridge in our vehicle meant we could avoid civilization for as many meals as can be fit inside. And guess what? A water filter can solve that single Nalgene problem, providing we camped near a water source.

And the night sky is your turn down. Photo :: Hailey Elise
After discovering it yourself, is there anything as rad as sharing a new trail with your closest pals? Matt Dennison and Jason Lucas. Photo :: Hailey Elise

The trips got longer and we ventured further. With a rooftop home and a fridge, a 22-hour drive seemed like no big deal and we’d find ourselves saying things like, “let’s get a bunch of gas and go here!” with a finger pointing to the corner of some map or a beautiful image on a screen. Our backyard grew from our community to the whole province, and then to entire countries. We drove north to Haida Gwaii, zigzagged across the United States, and even down through Mexico. It became a challenge to figure out what we needed to survive for life on the road and then problem-solve accordingly. And let me tell you, there are problems—vehicle, bike, and body—but that’s all part of the adventure.

“I hopped in a truck with a bartender from Tapley’s and ventured off into the wilderness. Ollie, a friend of a friend, arrived with speakers in hand and smile on face; and he rode a bike like I’d never seen before. It was love at first sight. Sorry, Tapley’s guy.”

Then there is camping with your lover. They say travelling with someone is the best test of a relationship, but living out of your vehicle and in a tent ups the ante even more. You find out what love’s made of when there’s no bathroom for hundreds of kilometres (and hasn’t been for a week—forget wanting to get down and dirty after a few days of that).

The benefits of camping in solitude. Even showering takes on a new form. Photo:: Hailey Elise

Because guess what? Camping means you’re dirty, really dirty, but in place of the comforts and luxuries of those other “vacations,” camping creates trust, security, and an intimacy that can only be discovered after long hours alone on the road, in the wild, and in pursuit of mystery and adventure.

Unexpected camping spots courtesy of backroads maps. Photo:: Hailey Elise

Over the course of our thousands of hours on the road or in the tent, Ollie and I have learned that lost or found, broken or put-together, hungry or full, there’s no one else we’d rather share it all with. Because when it’s all said and done, looking over at your person and getting to relive the journey is its own special sort of magic.

When you have your own accommodation, food, and entertainment with you everywhere you go, the world becomes a tangle of paths beckoning to be explored. Instead of planning a flight and connections, these days I’m researching where forest service roads lead, learning how to fix a tie rod should it break, and developing recipes that can be cooked on a one-burner stove.

Early morning on base camp. Photo:: Hailey Elise

In the old days, I never considered camping an equivalent to sandy beaches, plane rides and foreign languages. But I’ve learned it can provide all of that and more—a chance to learn and explore, to test yourself and discover the world by being right there in it every step or wheel rotation of the way. There’s a vacation waiting every time you step outside your house, and your vehicle is the ticket to take you there. —ML


Glamping: A brief history of the finer side of sleeping on the dirt


One thought on “Dream Road: The Beauty of Rooftop-Tent Camping

  1. Beautifully written and illustrated Hailey and Ollie – the real adventurers that keep on showing us what life can be like if only we dare to step out of the bubble, take a breath and open our eyes for a few days. Thank you

Comments are closed.