While I don’t exactly want it to happen again, I’ve learned a lot of neat things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. And since my main motivation in life is to learn stuff, I often find good things come from minor “disasters” like this. I typically learn quite a lot.
One unexpected discovery — Living under a tarp is not so bad!
As it happened, the first few days after my roof mysteriously vanished somewhere on the freeway north of Sedona (a vortex had something to do with it, I’m sure ;-D ), I slept in the tent. Besides building another solar panel to replace the one I lost, my first priority project was to find a sturdy way to install a tarp in place of the missing roof before the thunderstorms arrived.
You can see what I came up with in the video. I thought it was pretty clever for a quick fix. It not only stays put during freeway driving, but easily folds back giving my temporary "indoor” solar panel a view of the sun and opening the cabin up to the sunshine and fresh scent of ponderosa pine trees. (Did you know they smell like caramel vanilla macchiatos?)
But beyond just keeping the rain out of the cabin, I didn’t expect to actually like sleeping under tarp!
If you think about it — as I obviously didn’t, until I could no longer ignore it — sleeping under a tarp is the same as sleeping under a tent. Do you like sleeping under a tent? I do! I only wish sometimes that I had easier access to my stove and my electricity and my food and books, etc. Well, now I do! I’m also surrounded by a fortress of 7-foot walls that provide a reasonably good amount of discouragement to those larger nighttime predators who wouldn’t make the high jump team.
Disadvantages of a Tarp Roof: It’s a little colder at night and hotter in the day, because it doesn’t insulate as well as a styrofoam-core roof. It’s noisier when you park close to the freeway or to a caravan full of party-kids. And you just know it’s going to rip any day now.
Advantages of a Tarp Roof: It insulates as well as a tent — maybe better. It can fold back easily, like a “convertible”. It’s rainproof and pretty easy to knock the rain off, as long as there’s not too much. It’s wicked cheap to replace -- for the price of a good DIY roof that will require regular repainting, you could replace your heavy duty tarp 5-20 times for the same price. And if you’re careful, a heavy duty tarp can last quite a while before quick fixes of duct tape no longer do the job.
Based on my experience living under a tarp, I actually would highly recommend trying a good heavy-duty tarp for a roof while you’re in the build-and-test stage of your DIY camper project. Just build your walls, tarp the top, and get out there and camp!
That’s actually what I did when I first built my camper. I finished the cabin on Day 1, tarped the roof, and then day camped around the area while planning the details of my roof, getting used to the space, figuring out where the skylight should go, noting where I needed to make sure I had extra headroom… all that stuff that is really difficult to plan in advance, when you have no idea what it’ll be like.
Remember… It’s about camping! If you enjoy camping in a tent, but just want a little more than a tent offers, then there’s no reason to get your ego caught up in “wood shop class” worrying what your teacher would think. Just build something. Then enjoy a weekend or two camping up a storm, and then re-plan and correct anything you think could have been better. If it all falls down the moment you hit the gravel, then 1) you haven’t tested enough around the driveway!, and 2) NOW YOU’RE REALLY CAMPING! So enjoy yourself. Unpack the tent, throw your “ruins” on the campfire, and toast some marshmallows. 🙂
A view you just can't get from a popup roof!