Beach Camping in Galveston: A Happy Disaster…

“…But, it’s so small.”

I had barely pulled it out.  We hadn’t even had a chance to get it up yet.

“Is it supposed to be this small?  It doesn’t look like it’s going to be big enough.”

Talk about a bad way to start what is supposed to be a fun, romantic Valentine’s Weekend trip.  Merelyn had to work on Valentine’s Day so we had planned to go camping on the beach near Galveston the weekend before Valentine’s Day.  I had grabbed a few things from home and brought them to Texas for the trip.  She’s moved around so much the last few years that she didn’t really know where any of her camping gear actually was.

Preparing for the trip back in Phoenix, I had gone through my shelves of gear and looked for stuff I could take to Texas and, potentially, leave there for future use.  I knew we needed a stove, so I grabbed my spare JetBoil and packed it.  I also grabbed a small, unused tent from the bottom shelf and tossed it in the box with some other assorted items (including her new backpack and hydration system).

This is where the problems started (entirely MY fault).  I don’t know where this tent came from.  It has been sitting on the bottom shelf of my gear storage for years.  I’m not even exactly sure how long it’s been there.  I figured this made it the perfect candidate for a take-and-leave tent for a simple beach camping trip.  Also, for some reason, I never opened up my JetBoil before packing it.  I’m not sure what I was thinking.

The plan was to bring some basics out to the beach, build a fire and cook a nice dinner.  We were looking forward to enjoying a beautiful quiet sunset together and an evening under a big Texas night sky.  We would spend our Valentine’s Trip comfortably curled up together near the fire enjoying a quiet night alone.

The plan began unraveling early when I realized the JetBoil I brought was just the container…no stove.  And, apparently, you can’t buy  “just the stove” part of a JetBoil from retailers.  So our pre-trip trip to REI ended with us buying the Pocket Stove and a Kettle so we could actually have hot water.  Further complicating things is that neither one of us had a sleeping bag.  I didn’t bring one because I had expected she would have one we could share as a blanket.  Instead, we had to pack a bunch of blankets in hopes that it wouldn’t get too cold.  We still pushed forward with our plan, we made some food, brought some basic supplies and packed the car for an overnight trip.  Even with these stumbling blocks, we were still excited.

Merelyn on the beach...We got a late start the morning we left.  REI took longer than expected which pushed us even later.  Then traffic was stalled on the freeway due to a semi-truck getting itself wedged into the overpass (seriously, he was pinned between the upper and lower decks of the interchange!).  By the time we got to Galveston we were starving.  It was the weekend before Mardi-Gras and Galveston was buzzing with festivities.  Finding lunch and getting through Galveston took longer than expected and by the time we got to a piece of beach we could camp on it was almost sunset.

Not only was darkness approaching fast but it was windy…..damn windy.  Stupid windy.  Let’s-go-home-because-this-is-going-to-suck windy.

Pushing headlong into disaster, we found a place to park (you can drive and park on the beaches in Texas….weird), unpacked our stuff and as Merelyn bundled up and set off to capture some last minute pictures of the sunset I set to work building a fire.  Then we set up the tent…

“Why is it so small?  Are we both supposed to fit in that?”

WTF is this??  What the hell kind of second-rate, miniature, child-sized tent did I bring?  This was supposed to be a 3-person tent!  But unless your names were Grumpy, Dopey and Doc there was no way you’re squeezing 3 people into that tiny bubble of a tent!

“Is the air mattress even going to fit in that?”

Nope.  There’s no way in HELL the queen sized, inflatable mattress we brought is going to fit in that.  But I guess that won’t matter much since we also never charged the pump to blow up the air mattress!  So even when we crammed it into the tent, it got about half-full before the pump gave out.

We did our best with it though.  As I worked on building a solid fire, dug into the sand with a high wind-break around it, Merelyn built us a nest in the tiny little Hobbit-tent.  We folded the air mattress over on itself so even half-full it still gave us some cushion.  We piled sheets, blankets and extra clothing on top to give us as much insulation as we could muster.  Then we unpacked our food and cooked dinner as we sat in front of the fire.

Even with all our challenges, we were still in pretty good spirits and taking it all in good humor.  We had a fantastic dinner of fire-roasted vegetables and grilled-cheese sandwiches (see the post about the cooking iron).  Even as the wind picked up we ate, drank, laughed and had a great time together.

That night turned out to be a record mid-February low for Galveston.  Winds gusted up to 50 MPH.  Even using the car as a wind-break we still felt our minuscule shelter being buffeted about by the howling winds.  We slept off-and-on finding it difficult to get any real sleep in the wind and the cold.

But all of it – the record cold, the lack of blankets, the under-filled mattress, the ridiculously inadequate square-footage of the tent – in the end, added up to this: I got to spend my Valentine’s Trip outdoors, with my Dream Girl curled up in my arms next to me.  That (and some fantastic grilled-cheese) made this an amazing trip I will always remember.

Sunset at Galveston Beach Texas...

Gear Review: Pocket Stove and Ketalist…

On my most recent trip to Texas, my fiancé and I decided we’d like to go beach camping near Galveston.  I packed a few camping supplies I thought we’d need including an old tent I never use (another story) and one of my extra JetBoil cooking systems.  Once in Texas, we discovered that I only brought the cup portion of the JetBoil…not the stove.  Unfortunately, you can’t buy “just the stove” at retail stores and so we were stuck looking at alternatives for being able to cook.

So at the Houston REI, while I nervously debated buying a brand new JetBoil for the trip, Merelyn found the Original Pocket Stove from Esbit.  At only $10.50 (versus at least $100 for a new JetBoil) it sounded like a halfway decent idea.  For this trip, we really just needed a little something to boil water since we were going to cook our dinner over a campfire (see mini-review at the end of this post).  I, of course, jumped at the opportunity to try out a new piece of gear…especially inexpensive gear!  We bought the Pocket Stove for $10.50 and even though it comes with 6 fuel tabs, we bought an extra pack of solid fuel tabs for $6.25.  Total investment was well under $20 for a stove and 18 fuel tabs (supposedly enough to cook for 3 hours).

The Pocket Stove is basically a small, folding metal stand that will support a cooking receptacle about 1.5″ above the fuel tab.  There are two cooking positions depending on conditions and how focused you want the flame.  It weighs in at about 3.25 ounces without the fuel and, when closed, the stove stores up to 6 fuel tabs inside.  According to the box, the solid fuel works well at any elevation and boasts a boil time of 8 minutes in most conditions.  The REI website specs actually list average boil time at 14 minutes which is probably closer to the truth.

We also purchased the Halulite Ketalist nested kettle and cooking system for boiling our water over the Pocket Stove.  The Ketalist was $34.95 at the Houston REI and comes with a hard-anodized aluminum kettle, two small plastic bowls (one with an insulated sleeve and drinking lid) and a spork.  The total weight is about 11 ounces and is made for backpacking.  I would consider more of a car-camping product because of it’s size.

We set up camp on the beach outside of Galveston and, as it was incredibly windy, I dug out a firepit and built up a wall around it to try to block out some of the wind.  It worked well enough for me to be able to set up the Pocket Stove and light one of the fuel tabs.  I filled the kettle with about two cups of water and set it on the stove.  After 8 minutes, we still didn’t have boiling water.  After about 12 minutes the fuel tab had burned out and we still didn’t have boiling water.  I tested the water and it was plenty hot enough for cocoa, coffee or oatmeal but not boiling.  I wanted it to boil!  I lit another fuel tab and let it run it’s course.  We never did get the water to boil using the Pocket Stove.  I reasoned, after the fact, that if I were to burn two fuel tabs at once I could probably generate the heat I needed to get the water boiling but never had the chance to try it.

I was able to put the kettle on the campfire later that night and got the boiling water I wanted pretty quick.  The kettle worked well and was kind of nice to have.  The wind had really picked up and it had become pretty cold so I made some nice hot tea to take to bed with me.  All in all, I like the concept of the Pocket Stove…it’s a very simple design and it works, somewhat.  If I had limited space and time to wait for hot water, I’d use it again.  The Kettle will probably become a regular addition to our car camping trips, I just don’t see it going backpacking with me anytime soon.

BONUS REVIEW:

Camp Chef Cooking Iron

picture from REI website...

Car camping affords you many luxury items that would normally be too heavy, too big or too awkward to take backpacking.  Large comfortable tents (not something we had), blow up air mattress with powered pump, huge jugs of clean water, etc.  While we were at REI preparing for the trip we came across one such luxury item that we couldn’t pass up.  The Camp Chef Cooking Iron is a cast iron sandwich grilling contraption for making grilled cheese sandwiches (or any number of other things).  It folds open allowing you to put buttered bread on either side of the irons and then fill it with cheese, meat, veggies, etc.  Then carefully fold it back together, lock the arms in place and lay it over the campfire.  You will want to flip it a couple of times so it doesn’t burn one side of the sandwich, but the result is fantastic!!  We had some amazing grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner that night along with some vegetables we pre-marinated and wrapped in foil to toss into the fire.  The sandwiches were nice and crispy on the outside, but the bread was still soft inside and the cheese melted beautifully.  At $17, I would totally recommend grabbing a couple of these to toss into the car for your next outing….or just keep them for cooking in the back yard!