On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal ~by Adam Bergstrasser

The Bergstrasser Family

On A Dime Adventure is so very thrilled to have our first guest blog post and it deserves a teeny-tiny back story. We noticed fellow traveler, Adam Bergstrasser generously sharing some of his tips via our Facebook page and as a result, I asked if he’d be open to guest posting. Adam enthusiastically agreed but with the disclaimer that he’d not blogged before so his work might benefit from a possible creative edit. Well, here it is completely untouched because we found it to be perfect. Enjoy the blend of practical advice, coupled with the story of a family that figured out the spirit of On A Dime living long before I ever started my journey. My only addition is the title as I figured Adam would be  too humble to have come up with the one I thought he deserved.

So now without further adieu, meet the Bergstrassers.  ~Teri

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal

by Adam Bergstrasser

I’ve always loved the outdoors. When I was a child, my parents often took me camping at a lake outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma. As a teenager I began backpacking and camping in the mountains of New Mexico. I could never afford fancy gear, so most of my stuff came from friends and garage sales. I didn’t care. It was never about having the “right” gear, it was the act of getting away from town and into the wild that I loved.

When I met my wife twenty years ago, I was excited about introducing her to my outdoor world; minimalist camping, long treks, and amazing vistas. I quickly realized that if I wanted to continue this lifestyle, I needed to invest in a few creature comforts. On one payday, I bought a lantern. On another, a folding table. Soon we were packing a minivan to the rafters with all kinds of crazy stuff for each trip, but hey… we were camping! When gas was a buck a gallon, it was something we could afford to do as often as we liked. We took half a dozen mini-vacations each year to the mountains around Albuquerque. It was what we did. It defined our family.

Then I let life intrude. Making money became more important to me than quality time, and I chased construction projects around three different states. I worked seventy hours a week. We took an occasional scenic drive, but the camping gear gathered dust. I became homesick and dissatisfied. One evening in Austin, I came home and told my wife, “Baby… I want to go home.” We talked about the quality of life we wanted for ourselves and our three daughters, and decided that time together outweighed whatever we could buy them with more money. That was a hard decision. I took a 50% pay cut to move back to Albuquerque. It was a very difficult adjustment, but I pictured a time filled with camping trips. Singing around a fire. S’mores. Lots of pictures. Lots of memories for my daughters to carry with them for a lifetime.

When our savings account was almost empty, my wife handed me our last $800 and said, “Go buy us a camper.” She’s so smart. I’d wanted one for years. That 1977 Coleman pop-up saved us. We began camping again and really enjoying it. After a couple years we traded up for a new(er) 1988 pop-up, and proceeded to drag it all over the West. Life was good.

Over the last eight years, we’ve been to some amazing places. We’ve seen sights that I’m sure people pay a lot of money for, and we’ve done it on a very tight budget. How? I’ve used two keys: research and the government. Before every one of our “big” trips, I spend hours, days, sometimes weeks online. I look for the most scenic routes, the most interesting roadside attractions, and the biggest waterfalls. And I key in on all of the properties that I own. That’s right. Public property. National Forests. National Parks. BLM land. It’s my vacation secret. Everywhere we’ve been, I’ve been able to find a place to stay for between zero and thirty dollars a night. It doesn’t matter if you own a nice new camper or a $10 yard sale tent, you can stay at an incredibly beautiful campsite on public lands for free or close to it.

To be honest, I’m not much of a people person. When I camp, I want to be as far away from other folks as possible, so most of our trips are to primitive sites in the National Forests in New Mexico or Colorado. No facilities, no neighbors, and total peace. I even take a trip or two by myself every year. I’ve realized, though, that not everyone is as antisocial as I am. I’ve also realized that some of the best places in nature just happen to have a lot of other people appreciating them, too. If it was up to me, I would just go backpacking, but there are other people making this trip with me. My daughters love little mountain towns with lots of tourist shops. My wife likes waterfalls and showers (which, I learned quickly, are NOT the same thing). So I tailor our trips accordingly. Some wilderness hikes for dad, some tourist towns for the girls, lots of waterfalls for my love, and always with hot showers nearby.

Sure, you can pay a lot of money to stay in a nice hotel or cabin, but did you know that the Forest Service rents out the most amazing mountain cabins all over the West? Yup. They’re so cool. Look it up:

Did you know that for $80 a year you can buy a pass that gets you and everyone in your car into all kinds of federal and state lands for free?

AND all of these places are on a map:

You might have to haul your own water. You might have to sleep on a bunk and use an outhouse. You might have an encounter with wildlife… But here’s the key, the secret, the amazing truth: THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE MEMORIES! Your kids may not remember another plane flight, another vacation lodge, another trip… but they will DEFINITELY remember that time you burned your eyebrows off trying to start a fire (not that I recommend this)! They will remember that night the tent collapsed around you in a rainstorm. They will remember standing under a massive sandstone arch after a long hike in Utah. They will remember every wild deer, waterfall, and quirky roadside store. Last time I checked, all these things are free.

Sometimes I know I could do a better job as a husband and father. Sometimes I wonder if my choices are the best. But several times a year, I sit by a fire with my family, after a day filled with amazing sights and adventures that I was able to bring my family on because I researched and studied hard. I was very careful with my money. I took advantage of all the free things I could find along the way. I feel full. I feel peaceful. I feel complete. I never, ever, miss or regret giving up chasing a buck. I am super dad.
Happy camping!
-Adam Bergstrasser

Please feel free to “like”/share to Facebook and/or Tweet.

10 Tips For Cold Weather Camping

Teri Clifton’s collection of humorous/sentimental essays, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO, is now available on Amazon!!

Camping in warm weather is lovely and requires little more than a tent and sleeping bag but for those venturing out in chillier weather, a few tricks can make the experience a sublime one rather than a shiver one. *Extra info about gear we’ve used can be found in our permanent camping section.

1) Tent – Truly most any tent will suffice as long as you are not knee deep in snow or truly in extreme temperatures, however, bring or purchase tent stakes and secure your casa down to the ground to minimize unwanted breeze.

2) Sleeping Bag & Mat – This one is important if you chill constantly (I do!) Easy-peasy fix, look at the rating. I’m fine with a 20 degree rated bag that I purchased from REI. Mine is a mummy bag but I will confess that turning over and keeping the head area straight can be a tad irritating so consider this when making a purchase. If you are trying out cold weather camping and borrowing gear is possible – do it – or check into renting. If you embrace sleeping in the wild, go ahead and invest in your bag – mine is like sleeping in a cloud and I am grateful every time I use it. *Zip-together sleeping bags are great for couples. Inflatable mats keep the cold from your body and truly make a big difference but if you are not ready to commit to that cost, place a folded blanket under you for extra warmth and padding.

3) Stove – This is a little tidbit that can make a frigid morning divine. I place my backpacker stove right outside my tent with water and instant coffee at the ready. When I wake I simply lean out and fire up the stove (it is located away from and outside the tent, NOT INSIDE THE TENT). My coffee is made quickly and then I drink it in my sleeping bag, in the tent, if it is too cold to consider drinking it outside.

4) Hand/Foot Warmers – These are a few bucks and I found them on clearance last year in the spring and stocked up. Grab them and pack them in, you will be thrilled, especially when drifting off to sleep sans icicle toes.

5) Pre-cook – This is so important when considering how much longer it can take to create food when your hands are freezing and dealing with water is tear-inducing. I pre-make potatoes with olive oil, seasonings, kale, peppers, and onion in the oven and then pack it up in ziploks. This makes for an easy heat/fry in a skillet rather than cooking from scratch. I also add eggs and make a protein rich, pan scramble for breakfast. Most foods can be pre-cooked and stashed in a cooler and this strategy keeps fingers from frost bite.

6) Stocking Cap/Hat – Some people don’t realize you can double up hats and it will double up warmth. I wear a snug stocking cap and then a mukluk brand hat that ties over the stocking cap. Toasty!

7) Leggings – These are for guys also and I can vouch for the fact that we did not disown cousin Andy when he wore a Jolly Green Giant pair repeatedly for years on camping trips. On A Dime style leggings (used) can be found for a song at thrift stores and for anyone recoiling… two words, washing machine. I have 3 pairs that are all used, in excellent shape, and cost me next to nothing.

8) Fireside – We’ve all envisioned hanging around the campfire while roasting marshmallows and then had reality crash in as we hovered over the fire while plotting with our fellow a campers a way to create a fire ring that we could stand in the center of so our backs would quit freezing. Well, there is an easier solution IF YOU ARE CAREFUL. I place my sleeping bag in my chair and get in, HOWEVER, again I reiterate that you must stay back a little as you do not want errant sparks connecting with your bag. This is obviously not a good suggestion in cases of any wind.

9) Hike – This solution to chill can be a no-brainer. If you get cold, get moving. Night hike a bit in advance of bed to take the chill off before hunkering down in your sleeping bag and get up in the morning and get moving as you will immediately warm up.

10) Car Camp – In any scenario where the cold just gets to be too much, if you have a sleep-amenable car, use it. I drive a teeny Hyundai Accent and slept in it for 5 days recently while in rainy, high elevation as the car was warm and a piece of cake to camp in. A HUGE discovery, if possible, park with your front end slightly elevated. When you lay your front seat back, the incline will work with you to angle the seat flat. I felt like I was sleeping in a bed when I figured this out. If you have the luxury of a back area to sleep in, consider a portable mattress that inflates with a cigarette lighter.

Cold weather camping isn’t for everyone but I am here to tell you that I have awakened to gentle snow and a steaming mug of coffee and felt that there was no better place on earth to be. And I have left at sunrise to hike a bit and seen sites that brought home to me the meaning of the word “awe”. Go ahead, try some camping this fall or maybe even winter and let us know if you come up with any tricks as we are grateful for the community information share.

*Try Gear Trade for deals on whatever it is you are in need of. We do not realize any gain from you using their products or visiting their site and we absolutely appreciate hearing of your experience as we are careful about what we recommend.

Feel free to “like”/share to Facebook and/or Tweet. We’re always grateful.

The On A Dime Gang Rides Again

The On A Dime Gang rides again? Well, maybe not but I liked the sound of that title so we’re sticking with it. Today, after a couple of readers wondered who made up the motley crew that is On A Dime, I thought I’d give a little transparent (embellished) overview so here we go.

View the direction of Shasta
Teri PCT at Shasta

In Los Angeles – Teri (me) is an ornithologist with a penchant for churning her own butter…. right. I had to look up ornithologist and as for butter, yep, I eat the real deal, salted and straight from Trader Joes.

We’ll start again but, warning, it’s not going to be as fun as an ornithologist.

I (Teri) am an overachieving underachiever  and truly have only come to embrace my “jack of all trades, master of none” psyche in the past year. What this means is that I know where I should be in my life, according to the world at large. I should be a teacher or a nurse or a therapist or a financial analyst (ok, THAT one is hilarious from someone who took 3 attempts to pass Algebra!). Anyway, I finally came to the conclusion that I have zero interest in any of those things and that left me with a tiny amount of what it is that does float my boat. A book, a story, a trail, and a tiny house. In short, I stumbled into a life I am falling in love with by failing miserably at a lot of endeavors I thought made sense and damned if the failing didn’t turn out to be incredible luck. I  found myself looking around and seeing people in my world that were not excited about going to work and not enthusiastic about life, rather they were plagued by physical ailments, emotional baggage, and financial sport (the constant state of coveting more).

So, what prompted On A Dime, which I launched in Feb. 2014 – isn’t “launched” a great word, like we had a marching band and speech by Louis C.K. – sorry, what prompted the site was that the people I came to envy and wanted to be like were the people seeking peace, tranquility, and answers on the road or on the trail. The kind of people  sleeping in tents in the woods. I launched 😉 the site and simultaneously accepted and embraced the fact that I make very little money and I committed to funding the travel by purchasing my clothing strictly used and from thrift stores, practicing minimalism, and eschewing expensive pastimes. I believe that people look just as amazing in hand-me-downs as designer clothes and that stunningly beautiful feelings create stunningly beautiful individuals.

Finally, I now am lucky to know that the best part of On A Dime is when readers share their favorite cost-friendly places and when I hear that someone ventured out and discovered the great outdoors. While I wish it had not taken me 40 years to go adventuring, I am grateful that I found the trail when I did. Better late than never!

And now for the other cast of characters which I will keep a little shorter as they are all overachievers so their bios require less fancy footwork. 😉

Scott & Teri PCH
Scott & Teri Pacific Coast Highway

In Oklahoma – “My Guy” (Scott McEwen) – The reason I refer to him most often as “my guy” is because he is a pretty humble guy and I think he enjoys remaining out of the spotlight, however, he is most certainly the tech half of the team and, as an air traffic control FAA Academy supervisor, On A Dime is in adept hands which allows us to fly high.

The Motley Crew consists of:

Stunning scenery
Andy Bonura in Yosemite

Andy Bonura – My cousin Andy (aka the beard), a wildly talented free-lance photographer/editor, can be difficult to locate as he divides his time between his new home with his even more adventurous mountain biking partner, Carolyn in Colorado and their journeys into the mountains to tear it up. He’s climbed Mt. Whitney too many times to count and run a 50 mile race in New Zealand as well as traversed the backcountry all over Yosemite. His bottomless optimism counters any whiners (cough, cough) and the crew is grateful when he is leading.

17 miles of stunning scenery
Lani 17 miles of stunning scenery

Lani Smith – We’ll keep Lani’s story short as she is not even aware she’s about to be outed. She’s an extraordinary cook of exotic fare and a true free spirit. When she’s not sussing out the latest musical talent in her backyard of Topanga Canyon she can be found rolling into Teri’s car, no questions asked. She simply tosses her pack on her back, grabs some of Portland’s VooDoo Donuts, and starts trekking; she proves invaluable with her super ability to sniff out the best diners as well as annoying with her ability to sniff out the most arduous hikes.

On A Dime Kids:

Lex & Jules
Lexie & Jules

Lexie, a former teacher in France and current curatorial administrator for Los Angeles County Museum Of Art is a Los Angeles resident and an expert on couchsurfing. She has traveled extensively both in the US and abroad and never lets cost derail her. She meets fascinating people all over the world and believes that avoiding the tour-group comfort zone of fellow travelers from your own back yard is the truest way to experience another culture. Her article on Couchsurfing for On A Dime is still one of our most popular posts and almost as welcome an addition as her new Dutch partner Jules, an enthusiastic trekker who has biked all of Italy’s peaks and visited more countries than can be counted on two hands. Lexie and Jules met when they struck up a conversation on a train in Europe, not a surprise, and it’s certain that their future journeys will continue to be filled with the unexpected.


Maddie is a college student in Lake Tahoe, CA as well as both a backcountry Yosemite guide (summer) and snowboard instructor (winter). She is currently pursuing her EMT so if you are hurt in the wilderness, she just might save your bacon but don’t count on her saving you any bacon.

Stop off at Lone Pine Lake right before entering the Mount Whitney permit zone
Waverly at the stop off at Lone Pine Lake right before entering the Mount Whitney permit zone

Waverly is a biology major at San Luis Obispo, CA and enjoys backpacking, surfing, and snowboarding. She blew this mom away when she saved all of her money for an entire year, working three jobs, and went trekking all over Europe, through seven countries in seven weeks. She camped, stayed in hostels, and couchsurfed, a true On A Dime kid.

Mom:Noah 2
Noah Horseshoe Meadows

Noah is a high school junior and while he is not a passionate hiker, he absolutely jumps when he hears of a camping trip, especially one where his camera can be positioned to capture stars or he believes there is a possibility of tarantulas and rattlesnakes. His cunning during a horrendous lightning storm on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was appreciated by his brave (hysterical) mom.

Hammock time
Bree & Amanda Hammock time

There are many other On A Dime joiners (sometimes victims) and I’d be remiss in not giving them a shout-out so… Bree and Amanda, your cooking and cleaning skills for the old fogies will continue to be appreciated so long as you also continue to not make us feel lame when we (we would be me) are lame and whine for Epsom salts.

And to you, the adventurers out there who have joined the On A Dime community and inspired us, I cannot thank you enough! You have brought excitement and joy to our trail and we feel it. Keep on trekking and rock on and please share with us your stories, we love hearing them!!

Feel free to “like”/share to Facebook. Grateful. <3