Back when we were younger, we transitioned from tents to sleeping in trucks and, especially, vans. This was nothing fancier than a mattress in the back of the vehicle. Cooking was outside on camp stoves, a bathroom nearby was required (or at least preferred), and showers were often heated (or not) by the sun. It saved us the trouble of setting up and taking down a tent and rain was less of an issue. (I don’t like setting up and taking down tents in the rain.) We usually travelled without reservations even in the summer, could sleep nearly anywhere (parking lot, rest area, National Forest Campground with small sites), and could (and did) stop pretty much anywhere we wanted along the way.
As much as we loved that life, adding a cat and large dog made a van way too small. Trips are much longer since we’re no longer limited to a week or three of vacation. And having an inside bathroom is just much nicer for most of us as we get older. We purchased a small, inexpensive fifth-wheel five years before I retired and enjoyed the comforts of a bathroom and kitchen on our vacation trips and learned what we would want in a retirement fifth-wheel.
Annie, the fifth-wheel we bought when I retired, has been wonderful for most of our winter traveling. We’ve spent up to five weeks parked near our daughter, and enjoyed many week-long stays at parks and campgrounds, exploring the areas nearby. But, especially in summer and fall, we’ve missed the freedom to just go anywhere. In particular, getting a site big enough for the fifth-wheel + truck without reservations months in advance can be extremely difficult during the summer in state and national parks. We can’t fit the fifth-wheel many places in the mountains (most national forest campgrounds are out). And ad-hoc stops along the route are often difficult or impossible, since there is often no convenient place to park the truck + fifth-wheel combination. It’s also a problem with the animals, since we can’t leave them in the truck if it’s warm, and so the only option becomes opening up the slides in the fifth-wheel to give the dog room, further limiting our options.
Thus, two years ago, we bought our truck camper Belle to supplement our fifth-wheel for just those sorts of trips. Although we have not used Belle quite as much as we wanted due to medical and family emergencies the last two years, we really enjoyed the freedom it gave us for the months that we traveled in it. We mostly stopped where we wanted along the way, including just parking on side streets. It was easy to throw the animals in back when we did something without them. We spent nearly a month traveling in mid-summer without a single advance reservation, including through Grand Teton National Park. We had flexibility plus the luxury of a bed, bath and kitchen. Pretty awesome.
Every RV is a compromise, and there were some annoyances. While nothing that’s about 25′ long is going to be as spacious as 55′ of truck and fifth-wheel, there were a few things that were particularly annoying. We were pretty much always falling over the dog, because even with the truck camper’s slide out there is very limited floor space for a 90 lb. dog to lie down in. Fitting the dog and the cat (with a litter box) and us in the camper was especially challenging. The bathroom was a bit tight for me at 6’2″. None of these issues prevented us from enjoying our trips, but they have kept me looking at other options.
Knowing what we now know – that we do indeed still love the freedom of the smaller RV, and some of the pain points of the truck camper – I would occasionally scour the internet for alternatives to our current set-up. Still-larger truck campers might work, but would require both a larger truck and different camper. I looked at class C’s and class A’s. I occasionally dragged Oma to look at RVs that might be interesting.
We looked at small class A’s that were (maybe) big enough to replace the fifth-wheel while (maybe) being small enough to not require a toad for some trips. We looked at medium-sized class C’s that had similar compromises and generally lower quality. And we looked at smaller Sprinter-based class C’s and B+’s that could replace the truck camper but not necessarily the fifth-wheel.
Sprinter-based motorhomes have the advantage of being diesel and getting relatively good fuel mileage (around 15 mpg for a class C). They suffer most from low OCCC (cargo weight capacity). Some of them have only a few hundred pounds of capacity with a full tank of water (enough only for a driver and passenger but no clothes, dishes, food – nothing else!), although other models have more reasonable amounts of cargo capacity.
Southern Arizona is snowbird paradise and has no shortage of motorhomes on RV dealer lots. So as Oma mentioned in our last post, we decided to check out some more motorhomes on yet another RV dealer’s lot.
To be continued ….