Camping At Catalina State Park

Second adventure: My Honda Element “camper” camping this time was to see how comfortable I would be sleeping with my bicycle and that gear also packed into the back area of the car. Plus, I wanted to determine if the additional thermamest I added did provide more cushioning under me for my sleeping comfort. So off I went to Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, AZ.

I arrived in the late afternoon, walked to other campgrounds for RV’s and see the park layout, checked out the very clean restroom and shower building, walked the bridle trail to other hiking trails, talked with bicyclists who pedaled in, and then set up my sleeping area in my car for the night. I added a 3/4 length thermamest to my bed padding since the last time sleeping out the bed reminded me of the very hard ones I slept on when in China! 

After eating my dinner and talking with my neighbor who kindly offered their chili, I walked up the ridge behind my car overlooking our campground. As I looked down on the vehicles, in this no water or electricity per site and/or tenting area, I had to chuckle as I searched for where my car “camper” was located. My Honda Element was dwarfed by the vans and trailers, all self-contained vehicles. Across the campground most tents were in a grassy area. Since I was not setting up a tent and wanted to park near my picnic table this was my best spot.

A few of us were standing on the ridge as we watched the sunset. People always find my story interesting in how I sleep in the back part of my car, even with a bicycle, and still can pack all my gear in the car too. The sunset was beautiful and we all stayed awhile and talked. The group of eight were from northern Arizona and pleasant people.

Camping always has its challenges, but the good news: my sleeping area was more comfortable with the additional Thermarest layer and I can also use it in my tent when I sleep there. Being outdoors all day with no protection from the wind left me truly wind-blown! I was glad it was not raining, but I could not keep my stove’s flame efficient in the wind. Fortunately I had other food needing no cooking to eat for breakfast. 

Most fascinating observation: at the top of the ridge there was a huge rock to sit on, yet one could not miss the perfectly-ground hole in it. I believe grain was ground in this hole at some point in time.

Next camping trip, working with my new stove and an idea I will try out for doing my laundry while driving! Hmmm… wonder which direction I will go next? Plus, I would like to sleep in my tent too so it seems it will be to a location or two where I will spend sometime, maybe birding also! Are you taking advantage of the outdoors? I hope you can!

Conversion of Honda Element to Camper

I love my Honda Element! I also love putting my bicycle inside the car. I enjoy tent camping, but there are times I need to roll out of my sleeping bag and hit the road right away to see birds as they wake up and take-off in flight. So, I decided I needed a bed in the back of my Honda Element. This would allow me to sleep in my vehicle and in the early morning simply move myself to behind the steering wheel and drive to a birding spot. No packing up of a tent, etc.

With forty hours of my labor, about $150.00 of materials and help from my ACE Hardware neighborhood store employees, I accomplished building a bed and other touches while also leaving space for my bicycle! I saw many conversion kits more luxurious than what I needed or could afford, and I thought I have time to build this since we are still in our Covid-19 pandemic days/months/year? (I know many of you could build all this faster, but I learned so much while doing this!)

The most useful resource was at ethanmaurice.com He built a larger bed and cabinet in his Honda Element, more than what I needed, but he had some super suggestions.

Here is the back of my car totally empty.

Tools/materials I used for this project: 

hand saw, drill, leveler, tape measure, screwdriver, paint brush, box cutter, scissors, pencil, permanent marker, ratchet, measuring tape, safety glasses and yardstick. 

I used a step stool and/or my car’s tailgate when I needed to saw some wood. The ACE Hardware employee’s cut my lumber per my instructions so I did not need a radial saw or jigsaw. Huge help from those guys!

Materials I bought for this project:

4 x 8 foot x 1/2 inch plywood, 4 x 4 x 8 foot lumber, various screws, various hinges, nails, sandpaper, polyurethane coating, paint thinner, shims, wood filler, pipe insulation, mosquito netting.

I started with drawing my bed design details on a cardboard bicycle box I collected from a local bicycle shop. With box cutter, I cut out the shape and put the pieces in the car to see if all will fit as I wish. I then calculated the height of the bed and what number of legs I wanted.

I brought my cardboard cut-outs and leg lengths to ACE Hardware where I bought my lumber. Abraham, Danny and I drew the template onto the wood and Abraham sawed away! Two bed pieces and 6 legs. Eventually I did place the legs in slightly different positions from my initial plan, but all went well.

Here are photos of the bed looking in from the rear:

Securing the bicycle was an issue because it was sliding around when I drove. My usual bike mount was to large for this project so I created my own. Since taking the photo, I have built a more secure base.

My other idea was that the top third of the bed frame would flip, with hinges, over the back portion. When I use the car at other times I wanted to be able to put items right behind the driver’s seat. Photos here of the top third and then flipped over so I could store items right behind my seat other times when not needing the bed.

I need to say, I have a few wood-working skills, but have learned much in the past from my dad and my volunteer time building homes with Habitat for Humanity in New York, Arizona and Poland. The most important: always re-measure and check measurements before anyone cuts anything! I had to-do lists for everything. I had daily plans in my notebook. I learned the importance of pre-drilling holes for screws. I know now polyurethane needs at least 24 hours to gas-off because I was under its effects when driving the car the next day. Definitely should not have been in an enclosed car! Chunkier screws were good, but a bit to long … so I learned how to file down their tip. And for nails that were to long, ACE Hardware employee cut the nails to the length I needed! Safety glasses were always important even when sanding wood! Finally I discovered, some of my best thinking was at 10pm.

Final touches: a kitchen shelf off the bed platform and mosquito netting on back when nights are hot. With the shelf, I used removable hinges so I can take the folding kitchen shelf off. Hinges, wow! what a learning curve to get all to move or slide properly, but it is done! I slide my milk crate out to create a level tabletop. In that crate will be my stove and all utensils and pots, etc for cooking or organizing a meal.

I do not have a sun roof with this model Honda Element, so I needed to think of a way to get air into the car for hot nights and me sleeping on the bed. While there was no rush to get it done now, since it is currently the winter season, I decided to repurpose mosquito netting used on a child’s stroller. Using the netting and 4 toggles, here is what I created for the upper half of the tailgate area:

This has been quite a project! Now I am ready to figure out what containers and supplies to pack. My ensolite pad, thermarest and pillow will go on top of the bed platform. This will allow me to either use them when sleeping in the car or easily drag them into my tent when sleeping there. Everything else will be stored underneath. 

Cannot wait to get out on the road!

Note: my next Honda Element will have an electric engine, a back area floor surface that is not so slippery and a sun roof. I keep hoping the reason Honda has not continued making this vehicle is they are working on an electric version of this vehicle! Time will tell!