2017 Summer Trip Countdown

The 2017 Summer Trip is just around the corner. I feel a bit more prepared this year compared to the past. Attempting to learn and improve, I have made the following changes with the preparation this year:

(1) Not waiting until the last minute to pack. My clothes duffel is practically complete. I’ve picked through the large storage areas under the main bed and the bunks, getting rid of items not needed. Hitch up and ready to go.

(2) Doing campsite research ahead of time and then being ready to make reservations when sites are first available. Camping at a national park campground is almost always preferable. The price is right and the location puts you near where you want to be. When making a campground reservation you need to know what sites can fit your RV (the smaller the RV, the more sites that are available). Using Google Maps for a bit of reconnaissance helps me take the campground map and figure out which site will work best. Come reservation time, you need to be ready. Most national park’s book their campsites 6 months out… to the day. Usually the reservation window opens at 10am eastern and if you want that dream campsite on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then you need to click the book button at exactly 10am.

(3) I took a course in how to offroad using my 4 wheel drive. I have an offroad capable vehicle but have been hesitant to go on the national park’s 4×4 roads because of my lack of knowledge. A few weeks back, Sarah and I headed to a offroad park for a 4×4 101 class. I was able to learn about all the capabilities of my vehicle as well as my limitations as a driver. I was amazed at the terrain that my vehicle could handle and feel much more confident in adventuring on 4×4 roads in the national parks.

(4) Pre-execution checks. Maintenance at the RV dealership where I purchased my travel trailer is becoming problematic. They have proved themselves untrustworthy with their ability to do basic tasks, despite my willingness to pay for it. I have to start doing most the maintenance myself. Before the big trip, I was able to take the trailer on a few weekend camping trips to make sure everything is working.

(5) Less books. I read all the time. On past trips, I’ve packed a milk crate worth of hardcover books. Piles of guide books had surround my bed. Christa said, “Why don’t you use your Kindle?” Besides the fact that I prefer the advantages of a hardcover book (no power required, easy to bookmark, highly portable). Well, I’m going Kindle for this summer. That should easily save about 25lbs of weight and space.

(6) Bluetooth adapter for travel trailer sound system. I saw a recommendations for a bluetooth adapter to connect an iPod to a trailer’s sound system. In the past I have used a simple patch cable. That was often a pain due to the case my iPod is in, it was hard to get the plug seated properly. Then I relied on a playlist shuffle and preset volume to carry the day. Now with the bluetooth adapter I can keep the iPod with me and adjust what is playing on the fly. The only downside is the battery life of the bluetooth adapter. When it runs out of juice, your done.

(7) Practice cooking. Easily one of my biggest summer trip failings is my inability to throw together decent dinners. Usually it will not take much to convince me to make dinner plans at the national park’s dining concessions. I consistently underestimate the time involved in dinner meal preparation. Therefore, I have been trying to practice cooking some basic dinner meals that I will be able to reproduce while at the campsite.

Mid-America RV Show

We went to the Mid-America RV Show in Bartle Hall at the Kansas City Convention Center. All kinds of RVs, from micro light travel trailers to million dollar buses.

I enjoyed looking at the Class A motorhomes. These are the size of a Greyhound bus. Inside, the enmities are breathtaking. Washer/dryer. Walk in closet. Full-sized shower. Tile. Everything made me think of what the presidential suite in an upscale Las Vegas hotel would look like.

Our ideal RV is a travel trailer:
– not longer than 25′
– has two axles
– bunk beds
– queen sized bed
– slide out for the dinning area

Picking an RV is definitely a matter of trade offs. It all comes down to what you want to be able to do with your RV. Live in it full-time? Spend the winters in Florida? Attend NASCAR races? Visit the in-laws? Right now, our goal is to have an RV to support summer camping trips to national parks.

Camping in national parks generates a number of requirements:

(1) limitations in length. Most national parks have relatively small campsites. If the campground has larger sites, they tend to be few in number…. maybe only one or two. Greyhound buses are off the list. Campsite options open up with a trailer under 25′ in length.

(2) no hook-ups. No electricity. No water connections. The trailer needs to be able to dry camp (or boondock) for a week.

(3) for touring the actual park, there can be limitations in vehicle size. Again, no Greyhound bus. It makes life a lot easier to leave a travel trailer at the campsite when touring a park then trying to maneuver around even a Class C motorhome and find a parking spot.

I have my own requirements:
(1) RV storage. We can use the storage lot at our local military base which is steeply discounted. This comes with size restrictions. If we get a longer RV that could force us to store off post, generating a significant increase in our current storage fees.

(2) Using my current vehicle as the tow vehicle limits me to only travel trailers. The tow vehicle can pull a bit over 8000 lbs but it would be best to limit the weight to only 2/3 of that capacity.

(3) The wheelbase of the tow vehicle is 112″ (9’4″). When researching on the internet, the general rule that you find is that for a wheel base of 110″ you can tow a 20′ trailer. For every additional 4″ to that wheel base, you can add one additional foot. Others say that by adding a weight distribution hitch and sway control, the general rule can be bent to a certain degree. Our current travel trailer is 21’8″. Using our weight distribution hitch and sway control, there have been no issues. Another important factor that is mentioned is the actual weight of the tow vehicle (heavier being better). The tow vehicle weighs in at 5765 lbs. (about 500lbs heavier than my old Toyota Tundra). I feel that I could comfortably pull a trailer that was slightly longer than what we currently have (up to 24′).

(4) I would feel safer pulling a trailer with two axles. If a blowout occurs on one of the trailer tires, I believe it would be easier to minimize the issues inherent with a blowout if there were another set of tires. With only one axle, if you loose a tire I think you could anticipate significant axle damage (at a minimum).

There is the option of getting a larger tow vehicle. A larger tow vehicle would generally allow for a longer travel trailer. Dedicating a pick-up to haul a fifth wheel is another option. However, I am currently happy with my tow vehicle and want to remain in the limits of the vehicles capabilities.

So.. what is wrong with our current trailer? Honestly, what we now have works fine. Two draw backs of our current travel trailer (2014 Coachmen Clipper 17BH) are (1) the bed size and orientation and (2) the small space for the dinning table. Generally – the space gets tight inside if all four of us are in there.

Here are some possible candidates to replace the Clipper 17BH:

Rockwood Mini Lite 2306 (23’7″)
201BHXL Cruise Lite FS Edition (23’7″)
Keystone Bullet Crossfire 2070BH (23’10”)

All of these models use a Murphy bed for the master bed which allows for side access. During the day, the bed is pulled to a vertical position leaving a coach underneath. This opens a great deal of room inside the trailer. All these models also have two axles and significantly larger refrigerators.

Summer Roadtrip: Preparation

We completed our second preparatory camping trip out to Perry Lake last Saturday. It was just a one-nighter but allowed us to accomplish what we needed to as well as get home before an approaching storm hits.

We used the travel trailer in a form which is called “boondocking” were we are untethered to outside water or electrical lines. Water was not too much of an issue. When we pulled up on our campsite, I connected my hose and filled our fresh water tank. The travel trailer has a water pump that can be turned on/off and pumps water through the water system when a tap is turned on (kitchen sink, shower, or toilet).

When the travel trailer is not connected to electricity, the refrigerator runs off the propane tank. I had the refrigerator running off propane since Wednesday and its consumption of propane was minimal. I feel confident that we will not have any issues keeping the refrigerator going.

Not being connected to electricity also means the on-board batteries are being used. I have two 6-volt golf cart-style batteries that seem to be doing a good job. I initially wanted to use four but there was not enough room for a battery box to hold all four. The two seem to be pulling their weight. Now that I have switched to LED lights inside the trailer, lighting isn’t going to be my number one consumer of power. The water pump does pull quite a bit off juice.

To mitigate the power consumption that I will be dealing with I have a 180 watt solar panel. The travel trailer is pre-wired for a Zamp solar panel and that is what I went with. Setting up the panel is very straight forward. The panel folds in half for storage and comes with a slim, protective case. To set it up, the panel is unlatched, folded out, and has legs that can be set up to prop the panel up. Built in to the panel (on the back) is the charging device that gives a read out of the battery’s charge level and the where the panel is in the charging process.

Other items that I have they may draw on my battery power are the girls mini-laptops. The trailer has a 12v cigarette plug above the kitchen counter. I have a small DC to AC inverter that can plug in to this and be used to charge the laptops. However, I think I am going to limit charging these during daylight periods when I have the solar panel plugged in. This should help lessen the big drain the inverter puts on the battery.

The trailer has an awning that is attached to one side which offers nice shade as well as relief from rain. Part of what I wanted to test was having the awning open and setting up a small table with my Coleman stove on it, all under the awning. This capability would be good to have in case it is raining and I want to use the Coleman. Fortunately this all worked well. Another thing I wanted to test was the awning was to attach a weighted stabilizer to both extended ends of the awning. When there is any significant wind, the awning tends to shift around a bit. For a weight, I used a 5 gallon water bag and bungee cords connected to the top ends of either side of the awning. This worked and the awning moved very little despite a fair amount of wind.

Cooking – This continues to be a challenge with me. When the XYL is not with us, I am the head chef. I have had some success with aluminum foil meals. Specifically chicken and vegetables packed into and rolled in foil. I think the key is to turn them about every five minutes, checking the temperature with a meat thermometer after 20-25 minutes. When I am at a location that offers electrical hookups, I will be able to use the microwave.

Packing – I had each of the girls (and myself) use military duffel bags (that have zippers added to them down the center of the bag). That seemed to work well and generally kept everything inside the trailer tidy.

Prep before bed – Before I actually crawl into bed for the night, I need to have all my clothes for the next laid out and ready to go.

Shipshape & Bristol Fashion

Last week the Tundra got a make over. Besides the normal oil change, tire rotation, and alignment I had the drive belt replaced, repairs made to the front axle seal, a CV boot, the top brake light, and one of the license plate lights. The brakes are good. The vibration in the driver’s side mirror is fixed. The Tundra is up to 111k miles but is still going strong.

The travel trailer is done with it’s (second) service. The leak behind the toilet (a bad valve) is fixed. A bad stabilizer jack has been replaced. Brakes adjusted.

Tomorrow we will start packing her up for this weekend.