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Summary: What I learned this summer

While this was intended to be a six-week trip, this 20-day excursion crammed a lot in. Here are a few things I learned on this, and previous, trips.

  • Be flexible.
  • Well-maintained and cleaned pit toilets are not that bad.
  • Solar panels and absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries on a trailer are the best thing ever. Quiet and take care of themselves.
    • I brought a 1,000-watt Honda generator (and  a gas tank) and only used it twice to make toast and run a coffee-maker twice at a campground without electric hook-up. i can live w/o toast, and make coffee in a cone. Maybe I would have needed it on the Oregon Coast…
      • There are not enough jumbo Ziploc bags in the world to put around a gas tank and generator to prevent gas smell from getting in your car.
  • Reservations are overrated.
    • Get a good campground book, or the AllStay app.
    • On weekends, stay away from the most popular parks.
    • For a good walk-in site in a popular park, get there early. Like maybe 10am.
    • Call ahead to the park office(s) to get a feel for whether it’s a busy day.
    • On short notice, go to popular parks when fair-weather campers cancel due to a less-than-ideal forecast.
  • If you have a self-contained trailer, boondocking on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands can be amazing. And cheap. And a little scary, if you haven’t done your homework. So do your homework.
  • Campground hosts are great. And friendly. They know the good hikes, the best spots, and the best way to stay in one. If you want to stay in their campground, ask them a few questions the day before about how to get one of the walk-in sites (if any).
  • In a pinch, Walmart camping is not that bad. Ask at the Walmart (or call ahead) to be sure it’s OK. Don’t put your awning out, you’re just there to sleep. Buy a few things.Twice on my trip, it was a godsend to just have a place to pull over to sleep.
  • People who camp all have interesting stories. Talk to them. Wave when you drive by. The deeper off the beaten track you encounter campers, the more likely they are to be friendly and helpful.
  • Assume the best of people until proven otherwise.
  • Everyone loves Airstreams. The usually want a tour, wonder what year it is, and how much they cost (not necessarily in that order).
  • Do not leave your awning up when you leave.
    • You will make mistakes and/or do something stupid. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Move on.
  • Faucets can work their way on in transit. Always turn off your water pump when not in use. This is a hard-learned lesson…
  • Invite an old friend (or brother) to join you on part of the trip.
  • Pack a good rain coat.
  • Keeping speed down below 65 really helps with mileage.
  • Going faster over a rutted dirt road seems easier on the car and trailer.
  • No matter how many tools you bring, you will need the one you didn’t. So don’t over over-pack tools. I’ll write a blog-post later with what I bring, but…
    • 52 cents worth of screws will fix a broken fridge door.
    • Duct tape counts as a “tool” and there’s always room for it.
    • Check your tire pressure regularly. I’ve had a blow-out. It’s not pretty.
    • You will never need any spare part you bring.
  • Anything that can vibrate loose, will. Especially in a single-axle trailer. Screws. Doors. Door catches. Ovens. Gas fittings. Look around and catch them before it’s too late. If you find a screw on the floor, it probably came off something.
  • Pack your fridge carefully. Heavy items on the bottom. Don’t weigh down the door compartments more than you need to. Everything falls/rolls to its lowest point.
  • You can make Jell-O in the morning, and even in a moving trailer, it will be firm in a few hours.
  • There are some surprisingly beautiful state parks out there. Try them.
  • There are some surprisingly awful state parks out there. Avoid them (see AllStay app).
  • Pennsylvania roads are the worst.
  • Rest Stops get scary after dark. So, avoid driving after dark.
    • Assume everyone at a rest stop after 10pm is a prostitute.
    • Truckers would rather pee next to their truck than walk fifty yards to the bathrooms.
  • Eat/Stop before you get hungry/tired. By the time you need to eat/stop, there will be no place to do it.
  • In most cases, use gearing (not brakes) to lower your speed on downward mountain slopes.
    • Don’t let others rush you. Smile and wave as they pass you. You’re on vacation, towing a cool trailer.
  • Even if you’re driving cross-country, you will see some of the same people at rest-stops and gas stations in multiple states. Be nice to them.
  • Be flexible.


At the end of my 2012 summer trailering adventure, I thought it would be interesting to post a summary of expenses for the 28-day trip.

On that trip:

8,266 miles
16.4 average MPG (2010 VW Touareg TDI)
Cost of gas: $2,098
Total camping fees: $442 (Average: $15.79/night)

This year (20-day trip):

6,216 miles
16.9 average MPG ((2014 VW Touareg TDI)
Cost of gas: $947.46
Total camping fees: $225 (Average: $11.25/night)

$21  7/5: Barkcamp State Park (Belmont, OH)
$10  7/6: Airstream Factory “Terraport” (Jackson Center, OH)
$0    7/7: Walmart (Marshfield, MO)
$12  7/8: Red Rock Canyon State Park (Hinton, OK)
$29  7/9: Palo Duro Canyon State Park (TX)
$0    7/10: Lake Holloman Campground (NM)
$16  7/11-7/12: Holy Ghost Campground, Santa Fe National Forest
$40  7/13-7/16: Black Canyon Campground, Santa Fe National Forest
$38  7/17-7/18: South Mineral Campground,CO
$44  7/19-7/20: Bogan Flats Campground.CO
$15  7/21: Big Bend Campground, UT
$0   7/22: Walmart (Junction City, KS)
$0   7/23: Airstream Factory “Terraport” (Jackson Center, OH)

Day 20: Game Over

590 miles
33.3mpg
Home (Delaware): $0 

Arrived at Airstream in Jackson Center, OH after sunset last night and got one of the last sites in the Terraport Since I need to leave the trailer for a least a month, everything must get unpacked and put in the car: food, towels, clothes, Huggy Pillow…  As I said in an my blog post from my trip here nearly three weeks ago. the Terraport overlooks the waiting room to the Airstream hospital.  It’s a chamber of horrors full of your worst travel nightmares. Click on the spooky link below and take a little tour with me.

Ow. Owie. Ow. So much hail. Ow. Ouchie. These two were on the same. Trailer. So sad. But apparently, Airstream is going to make it all better,

Some injuries are so heinous, they cover them in plastic. Looks like an Eddie Bauer edition was rear-ended..

In comparison, I feel silly bringing my damage here. But I do have a “Bugs of Kansas” collage to contribute to the horror show. Also suitable for a county fair.

So, I bid farewell to “Appllo 19″, leaving her in capable hands. She’ll wait in line here until late August. 

Meanwhile, without 4,000 pounds missing behind the Touareg, 590 miles go by at 33.3mpg, and I still have a quarter tank when I get home.  Maybe this has something to do with it. 

And Tim has his final “Big Mc” (v. Big Mac) sandwich* of this trip. 

*Our name for Tim’s patented triple-decker PB&J

Next post: A summary of the trip, numbers, and things I learned.

Day 19: Back to the mothership

760 miles
17mpg
Airstream HQ, Jackson Center, OH: $0 (this time, it’s in for service)

Awoke at the Junction City Walmart to a beautiful Kansas sunrise. “Attention shoppers: Camping is not always glamping”.

Here is my expert use of twine and bungee cords for the 1,500-mile trip. 

Very sophisticated. Right?

Warning: If you’re taking I-70 through Illinois be aware that virtually every bridge is being replaced, and they are down to one lane, or they take you to an off-ramp thru-way. Good for them. Pennsylvania needs a similar overhaul.

But, we made it to the mothership intact. The worst part of these 12-hour driving days was losing an hour crossing a time zone each day…  

In two days, we left this:

DSC_0650

To be in Ohio:

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Tomorrow, I leave “Apollo 19″ in expert hands, and continue to Maryland to drop off Tim, then home to Delaware.

Day 18: U-Turn

824 miles
16.7mpg
Walmart (Junction City, KS): $0

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”  -Mike Tyson

While we were touring Arches and Canyonlands National Park, there was a “weather event” at Big Bend Campground. It was hot and calm when we left, and cool and calm when we returned at 8pm.  In between, we could see rain clouds from the overlooks of the parks we visited. We left this:  We returned to this:  What’s wrong with this picture? Right – the awning is destroyed, and the upper arms  of a super-strong Zip-Dee awning have been ripped out of the trailer. I know, I know. Why did I leave the awning up when I left? I was tired. It was hot. It was calm. I should know better.

Our biker tenting camping neighbors from Kansas say it sounded like a tornado (and they should know). It even blew out the wheel chocks.  The awning arms were held in my two screws and a rivet.  Not anymore. But they put up a good fight and bent before they let go.  (They should be straight, except for that little 45-degree angle at the big end)

I can’t imagine how high those winds must have been. Well, now what?

I could press on. 6,000 more miles. Hoping the awning, without its locking fasteners at both ends, wouldn’t unfurl on the highway.

I could take it to one of the few Airstream dealers further West. Wait for the insurance adjuster, and parts, another adjuster, then the shop to likely replace most of the passenger side aluminum. During the repairs, would I camp in it? And months later, when I’m home, and there’s a leak or a gap, or the awning doesn’t line up, I can call them. And they’ll say “Yes, we stand behind our work. Just bring it in”. Right. It’s just a 3,000 mile drive.

And don’t forget, I need to get my brother Tim to Reno, NV by Friday.

Or… After some thought, and a few sips of vodka tonic, it came to me. If you’ve been following the blog, you know I’ve had the trip of a lifetime. BLM boon-docking, camping in breathtaking State and National Forests. Route 66 kitsch. My first camping week with my brother since we were teens.

Would it be so bad if I cut my losses, and took “Apollo 19″ back to the mothership, my first stop on this trip: the Airstream Factory in Jackson City, OH.

   It’s 1600 miles from Moab, UT. With my brother’s help driving, I could be there in two long days. And I could drop him home in MD on the third.

Yes, I’ll need to get in line and it’ll sit on the lot until late August. But what better place to address the replaced body panels than where it was made? If I ever sell it, I can say it had damage, but was lovingly fixed and tested by white-smocked factory workers right where it was made.

We left the canyon this morning and headed east.  So I’m writing this from the passenger seat, heading East on I-70 in Colorado. We have a lot of driving ahead. It was a great trip. No regrets. Now, I’ll work on flight and car reservations to reclaim the last week or two of the trip. I’ll be home for a few days to mow the lawn. Oh, and I’ve used so many pit toilets over the past two weeks, I’ll need to retrain myself to flush a toilet. Sorry.  

Guest Blogger Tim: East Creek Trail

This special blog post is written by my younger brother Tim. He’s always liked to conquer tall things.  

+++++++++

I feel highly honored that my brother, Dan, has allowed (guilted) me to adorn his travel blog with a guest posting. I’ll try not to tarnish his well-earned reputation for informative and sarcastic reporting.

After checking into our campsite at Bogan Flats, one of our friendly neighbors dropped by to chat and provided me a guidebook of local hikes. I seem to have a penchant for pushing my body to its limit, so I looked for a hike rated extremely difficult and found one to my liking. The more difficult the hike usually means dramatic views, more wildlife, and less humans…exactly what I usually look for.
The East Creek trail, beginning in Redstone, CO, fit the bill perfectly with a 12-mile round trip and 5,000 feet of elevation gain (could have avoided 2 miles and 600 feet of climbing, but Dan forbid me to take his precious VW up a 4wd road to the trailhead). I asked Dan to come, but he mumbled something about not being 25 anymore. The high point and turnaround was at a pass above 12,000ft in the Maroon Bells and offered jaw-dropping views of the surrounding peaks.   

 Here’s the road Dan made me walk to the trailhead.  

Here are some photos coming up the valley and the hike up.  

  
    
    
    
    
    

I spooked some elk on the way up.

 
Our dad always included flower pictures in his roll of backpacking slides, which we begged him to fast-forward through. Here are some for your enjoyment.

  
  
It was a spectacular day I will never forget. I truly enjoy the solitude and scenery usually only reachable through long, strenuous hikes. If it was easy everybody would do it. Thank you, Dan, for making it possible.

Day 17: Canyonlands Bonus

Not satisfied to merely see one national park today, we left Arches national Park and headed to Canyonlands.

And we’re so glad we did.

This isn’t even in the park:


But this is. 

Day 17: Arches NP

220 miles
18.7mpg
Big Bend Campground: $15

I’m really glad I filled up with water at the campsite in Colorado, because despite the brown swollen rivers, spigots around here are few and far between. 

But isn’t it beautiful?

Left Marble, CO in the rain. Lots of rain.

Stopped in Palisades, CO at Clark Family Orchards for peaches, but the rain prevented a more in depth tour of Grand Junction.

Utah beckoned with sunnier skies. 

And even wider vistas. 

Soon, we were nearing Moab. 

Decided to camp here, near Arches NP, at Big Bend Campground. Yeah, it’s hot, but by the time we return for dinner, it’ll cool down. 

We unhooked, and left to explore Arches NP. I camped in Capitol Reef NP in 2012, but Arches is a whole ‘nother level. 

    

The stormy skies didn’t hurt, either.

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