Earlier today, guided by a cobbled-together plan consisting of basic knowledge, general guidance and personal perseverance, I ventured eastward from Portland, Oregon through the shadow of the Mt. Hood National Forest. After an hour or so winding through old-growth redwoods, I rather abruptly emerged onto the straw-colored expanse of high desert. Windows down, I caught the whiff of woodsmoke even before catching sight of the mounting haze that had visited often on this trip. Though I hadn’t encountered a live burn at this point, distant wildfires have a persistent way of making their presence known.

When I heard that an old friend was having her MINIvan professionally outfitted for camping, I was intrigued—about the mechanics and the motivation. So when fate found me both 2000 miles from my home and 20 miles from hers within weeks of her taking delivery of her shiny new coach, I was determined to find a time to camp together. She was equally excited. So as the sun began to descend on a warm September evening, we headed out of the city and into the forest.