Winding up the switchbacks to 7,000 feet, I was reminded how much I love high-altitude Arizona. We were heading into the Mule Mountains for an overnighter and, with the desert heat and tire dust drifting off behind us, we were bound for a lovely evening.
I live in mile-high Bisbee, Arizona. Sterling, my boyfriend, and I own a vintage motel down here; it’s a little gem of an outpost in a funky old mining town just north of the Mexican border. We’re surrounded by epic wilderness on all sides and hardly a week goes by without a camping trip or dirt ride out into the high desert.
There’s no better way to get a touch of adventure in the midst of the busy week than gathering a couple good friends, loading up the fridge, and hitting the trail for an overnight foray into the wilderness. I call these sorts of trips One-Tank Adventures and they’re perfect for shaking up routines and testing out new gear. When our friends, Ryan and Nima, rolled into mile-high Bisbee, Arizona on their cross country motorcycle trip, we did just that.
Ryan and Nima are working their way across the country on an ambitious overland trip. They set off from Los Angeles on their motorbikes over a month ago and have the intention of traveling through all 50 states. When they landed here in Bisbee, they were in need of hot showers and a handful of days in one location to catch their breath.
We overlanders have a passion for adventure. Sometimes we have grand journeys that take us across continents and other times we’re seizing the brief weekend just to keep our passion kindled. Sterling and I are both avid travelers. But, now that we have the motel, we are often on the receiving end for folks on the road. We get out regularly for a couple weeks at a time, but frequently we ae sharing our little corner of the world with the wonderful travelers that truly appreciate it.
With our friends in town, it just made sense to show off the surrounding Mule Mountains. Once Nima and Ryan had shaken the dust off from the first leg of their journey, the road was calling once again. The plan was to head into the mountains outside the perimeter of the city at the end of the workday and return before any of us had to be back on the clock. That’s the joy of the One-Tank Adventure; we all need a little dose of carpe diem every now and again.
I loaded up the van with food, drinks, and supplies. I stocked a Dometic CFX3 35 with an overnighter’s worth of fresh veggies and cold beverages, plugged the fridge into one of the DC ports, and hit the trail. The van would be the support vehicle for Ryan, on his Triumph Scrambler XC, and Nima, who was rolling on a Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled.
The van always seems luxurious to me after years of spartan motorcycle travel. It’s a Quigley 4×4 Chevy Express 2500 that Sterling bought used in 2016. He has done some stellar interior upgrades to the original build over the years and taking it on One-Tank Adventures and multi-week trips is a regular practice for us. It has an extra-comfy custom bed, hand-built kitchen, solar galore, and ample storage. It is almost old enough to qualify for vintage plates and runs like a champ.
Ryan and Nima hopped on their bikes. Sterling and I drove the van. And we meandered out of town into the mountains on the forest roads. The Mules are part of the Madrean Sky Islands region and have a climate unique to this stretch of the northern Sierra Madres. The days consist of sandals, t-shirts, and mesh riding gear. Evenings cool down enough to draw everyone in close to the fire, even during summer months.
To those who haven’t been here, Arizona might seem like a vast swath of sand and saguaro, but this junction of Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts is truly unique. Between the altitude and the biodiversity, it seems a far cry from the typical desert landscape. Climbing upward, the cacti and creosote give way to juniper and scrubby oak and our little posse pulled into camp just as the golden hours of evening set in.
Driving out to camp, the Dometic CFX3 35 fridge sat neatly on the floor of the van and was stocked full of all the temperature sensitive food and drinks for the evening. The fridge has an indestructible feel to it, perfect for rugged overland journeys. I alway travel with a string of Revel camp lights and the fridge was particularly useful as a step stool while stringing the lights along the roof rack of the van. We set up a simple camp, gathered some firewood, and eased into happy hour with frosty beers and perfectly chilled chardonnay.
If you’ve ever been camping with me, you’d know that I have a thing for five-star trail food. Nothing makes me happier than sharing perfectly seared steaks under a starry sky and crafting bold flavors rather than bland camp food. That night’s dinner consisted of curried cauliflower with couscous, spinach, and a charcuterie board appetizer to kick it off.
Gathering the ingredients for my appetizer spread, I reached into the CFX3 for olives and feta. The lengthwise-hinged lid and clean, straight lines of the fridge’s interior give it a much roomier feel than what its 36-liter capacity suggests (that’s the equivalent of 50 12-ounce cans, for those of you on a liquid diet). Even stocked full with dinner and drinks for the four of us, there was still plenty of room to spare after.
Dometic’s CFX3 line comes in six sizes, each equally well designed and suited to a variety of travel needs. This CFX3 35 is the perfect size for our weekend escape and is a welcome upgrade from a cooler full of melting ice. The interior of the 35 is divided into two spaces. The shallower storage shelf makes clever use of interior space above the CFX3’s super-efficient compressor. The deep main area was especially impressive, considering that I could store my re-corked wine bottle upright.
We devoured the charcuterie board with the sun creeping behind the mountains and it was time to dig into the fridge again and prep for dinner. I fully believe that everything tastes better when you’re camping, but the cauliflower curry I had planned holds its own indoors or out.
One of the secrets to eating great on the trail is prepping your food ahead of time. Portioning out the couscous and spinach saves cooler space and makes trailside cooking a breeze. For the curried cauliflower recipe, I chopped and seasoned the cauliflower and tossed it into a freezer bag full of olive oil and spices to marinate. I cooked everything on our classic Coleman two-burner stove built into the van kitchen. The heaping platefuls of curried goodness paired perfectly with a round of mint mojitos and a few extra juniper branches tossed on the fire.
Now, I’m no stranger to Dometic’s line of powered coolers. We’ve been running a CF 50 in the van for years. I’ve been beyond thrilled with its performance, capacity, and efficiency. However, the CFX3 takes things to the next level with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, app integration, and a slick digital display. Before setting out on our overnight culinary adventure, I downloaded the CFX3 app and was monitoring the cooler’s temperature via a seamless bluetooth connection in moments.
Whether controlling it via the app or color display, the CFX3 features temperature settings down to -7° Fahrenheit, suitable for keeping your filets deep-frozen. I set it at 34° to keep the spinach crisp and the IPAs properly icy. The thermostat held steady during the countless openings and closings during dinner prep. At one point the app even gave me a gentle reminder on my phone that I left the lid open to sip chardonnay by the fire for a little too long.
I should note that we run a fairly robust solar bank in the van. So, I wasn’t remotely concerned about the draw of the fridge. But the CFX3 series has three levels of battery protection to help ensure that your One-Tank Adventure doesn’t become a jumper-cable rescue mission.
With the fire fully stoked and dinner served, we spent the rest of our starry evening sipping our drinks and sharing stories under the waxing sliver of a moon. We were appreciating the sweet simplicity of a well-fed night and perfect mountain air. Occasionally, during a pause in the conversation, I would overhear the gentle whirr of the Dometic keeping my chardonnay at cellar temperature.
Return to Bisbee
After our overnighter on the mountain, Nima and Ryan would motor east into New Mexico, then north to dodge the impending summer, and beyond that, wherever the road may take them. They call their road trip project “Shifting Fears.” The premise of their journey is to push their comfort zones, explore the boundaries of their experience, and connect with the world in a deeper way.
Sterling and I would return to Bisbee and put in a couple days of work at the motel. Then we’d don our riding gear and head out for a long weekend on our BMW GSs. Our journey is different right now and feels more rooted than that of our freewheeling friends.
We overlanders have a passion for adventure. We traverse the unexplored landscapes to test our limits and those of our gear. We seek to experience new cultures, vistas, and terrains. We often find ourselves toeing the line of comfort, finding delight in the simplest things, and rolling with the challenges in pursuit of the next great horizon.
Whether on extended epic journeys or slipping away for fly-by-night nano adventures, we travel because that’s what makes us come alive. What’s most important is that we’re out there doing it, seizing the moments, sleeping under the stars, doing tire repair on unmarked roads, sharing meals around the campfire, and always planning the next adventure.
And smart fridges like the Dometic CFX3 35 make those enlivening adventures even more enjoyable.
Curried Cauliflower with Couscous and Spinach
1 large head cauliflower, chopped
1 cup pearled couscous
½ yellow onion, diced
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbsp curry powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Baby spinach, to garnish
Before you head out:
Put cauliflower, onion, garlic, olive oil, curry powder, and other spices in a large ziplock bag. Knead thoroughly and let marinate until dinner time.
Bring 1½ cups water to boil. Add couscous and salt to taste. Return to a boil and simmer until soft, about 15 minutes.
Heat large skillet with lid over medium high heat. Add cauliflower mixture and cover, shaking often. Cook covered until soft, about 20 minutes.
Prepare serving plate(s) with a bed of spinach, layer with couscous and cauliflower. Finish with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.
Header image credit: Ryan McBoyle