Five Days Paddling in the Swamp

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We took the Cricket for its first long weekend camping trip to one of our favorite places, Merchant’s Millpond State Park, in Gates County, NC. The main attraction is an old millpond that has grown into a cypress-tupelo swamp. We went in late April at peak warbler migration, and had some good paddling and great birding. Plus snakes.

I was hoping to learn how long I could run the TAXA Cricket on battery power with the usual load: Dometic 40 liter refrigerator, the LED lighting system, the Truma propane furnace/water heater, and charging various devices using the USB outlets. We have a dual battery setup with a pair of Type 24 80 amp hour marine/RV batteries. Since the park has no hookups, and we’d be there for four nights, it was a good test.

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We were planning to leave early Thursday morning, but the weather forecast made us rethink that plan, and we hustled to leave right after lunch on Wednesday. That got us to the park in time to set up the camper and make some dinner. Here’s a photo of the camper with the kayaks on our 4Runner – good thing the camper isn’t any taller than the tow vehicle. With the full load of camping and paddling gear, but dry tanks, the Cricket handled very well on the highway. We got about 15.5 mpg on this trip, on mostly level interstate. The Cricket normally trims about 2 mpg off our 19 mpg average, so the rest was from the kayaks.

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There are about 20 campsites at the park, all level back-in sites with gravel driveways and no hookups. Most of them have a fair amount of privacy. There is one bath house with showers and bathrooms, and there are water spigots located along the road.

I used a 5-gallon water container to fill the fresh water tank in the Cricket. It takes 15 gallons, so I made several trips. That gave us hot and cold water for washing dishes, cleaning up, brushing teeth, etc. We drank and cooked with bottled water. There is a small water pump that pulls water from the tank and pressurizes the plumbing system.

We had a lovely 8 hour paddle on Thursday, heading up Bennett’s Creek to an area with thousand-year-old cypress trees. We were able to find a small island where we could land the kayaks for lunch and restroom breaks, making such a long day possible.

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The weather on Friday turned out to be just as bad as predicted, so we went for a short birding hike down to the dam from the campsite, then drove to the small Colonial town of Edenton for lunch. Edenton is a like a tiny Williamsburg, with Colonial architecture and restored buildings, but also a functioning downtown area with shops and restaurants. We had a terrific lunch at The Governor’s Pub.

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We had severe thunderstorms heading back to the park, and several more overnight, though we were spared the tornadoes that hit elsewhere. The Cricket handled the weather quite well, though the tarp that TAXA sells for it is less than ideal. Rigged as directed, the heavy flap that is supposed to seal the gap with the camper doesn’t do so. It also collects water in large bulges no matter how I set it up, so I was up several times that night pushing the water out before it ripped. I tried rigging it to get better coverage, but we ended up buying a different tarp and will report back when we use it next month.

No matter, we hung out inside and played a little music.

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You can see in this photo the interior space and how crucial it is to be organized. We use a 2-inch memory foam pad, which adds a lot of comfort but also takes up a lot of room. It’s rolled up in the fitted sheet at the rear of the seating area. We can slide it around to get inside the underbed storage, at least when the bed is not made. Up top you can see our quilt and pillows in the bungee net, and the stuff we use during the day is just laying on the bed. At the bottom right is the Dometic 40 liter refrigerator — it looks like a medium sized cooler, but it has a small compressor and so far has been very good at keeping a steady internal temperature. On the floor in the middle is the connector for the table support. The banjo is a Deering Goodtime open backed banjo played clawhammer style.

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Above is a view of the Cricket from the front, taken late in the evening in between thunderstorms. Another issue with the stock tarp is that it doesn’t cover the open door, so we end up closing the door when it’s raining hard. That has an effect on ventilation inside. Note that we have a small outdoor carpet, and a 4-foot folding table that we use as an outdoor kitchen in good weather. There is a 12 volt outlet on the side of the Cricket under the folding table, so we can move the fridge outside into the kitchen.

So how long did the batteries last? All weekend and then some. With the fridge set to 37F, the Truma making hot water, the LED lights on as needed, and charging devices overnight, our voltmeter was down to 12.1v as we packed up on Sunday morning (it starts at 12.6v.) I’m comfortable letting it go to 11.4v before recharging, and my battery expert tells me I can go as low as 10.5 in a pinch (but then I have to turn off the batteries and get them to a charger.) Given this experience I will have no qualms going for as much as a week or even more without worrying about hookups or solar panels.

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Here’s a nice view of the interior showing the excellent headroom and all the natural light coming in the windows on a sunny day. The table is in position and all the canvas windows are unzipped.

We thought we’d go home Saturday, but the weather was incredible — clear blue skies, cooler temperatures. So we went for a 3 hour paddle instead, then had a pleasant dinner in camp. The campground – which had been almost entirely empty the previous three nights – was now full, but it still didn’t feel crowded.

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When we got home Sunday afternoon, I planned to clean out all the tanks with fresh water. At that point the water pump failed. I went through the various troubleshooting steps and couldn’t get it working. (Later I would do all the steps again, then take it to the dealer for a new water pump under warranty. I’ve seen several posts on the owners’ Facebook group about similar issues with the pump.)

On our next trip we’ll take the Cricket to a small music festival.

 

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