A Midsummer Adventure – July 2017

Last summer (2017) we took a nearly month-long trip to the west coast in the truck camper. We unfortunately had to cut it short due to a family emergency. Between the family issue and other priorities, the blog post and pictures from our trip did not get completed last year. Hopefully better late than never, here is last summer’s trip.

Since our trip to Washington got foiled last summer (last summer being 2016 when Opa unexpectedly needed minor surgery), we thought we’d give it another try this July. We wanted to try out the truck camper and see if it would give us more options for easier travel, smaller campsites and mountain roads. We got the camper all packed up and ready to go on July 4th. Woohoo! We exercised our freedom to wander the US following our whims and fancies hoping to reach the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. No reservations and no real deadlines.

We left on July 4th. The weather was hot and uncomfortable but we were driving in a nice big air conditioned truck. We decided that we would want to stay someplace with electricity for the night so we could run the air conditioner in the camper. We made it to Blue Earth, Minnesota the first night where we found inexpensive camping with electricity at the county fair grounds. There were a few other campers when we pulled in. The sites were grassy and had a picnic table and electricity. There was a beautiful walking path behind our site which we enjoyed. I didn’t see if there were available bathrooms, but I was happy using our own. Great start to our trip. The next morning we were able to get off to a relaxing start and back on the road.

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RV Shopping

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.

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On the road again

Finally! After more than a month and a half of being stuck at home, we’re back on the road. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I have more weeks of healing before my wound is fully closed (estimates range from ten days to more than a month). So we’re adjusting our plans … again.

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Destination: Washington (DC)

Did we say we were going to Washington? And you thought we meant Washington state (perhaps jumping to that conclusion from the maps we included)? Really, we meant Washington DC. You must have misunderstood us.

Okay, so maybe the plan was to go west until we hit the ocean. Six weeks of antibiotics and a minor surgery later, that plan is no longer viable. It would be late September by the time we make it to Washington state, and October on the northwest coast and in the mountains is getting pretty iffy weather-wise, especially with the truck camper (not as well insulated and pretty cramped on crummy days).

Time for plan B.

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Beautiful Grand Marais

We left Duluth and headed up the North Shore to meet with friends. I love the North Shore! There is so much beauty along this stretch, views of Lake Superior, waterfalls, trails, unique rock formations, campgrounds, all waiting for one to behold. I have been visiting this area since my childhood and have had many wonderful kayak adventures along this coastline.  Because Opa was not feeling well, we decided to head straight up to our reserved campsite in Grand Marais. We will have to come back this way again before we head west anyway, and then we’ll take our time and mosey through all the beautiful sights then.

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Wisconsin Excel Summer Gathering

After we had purchased our Excel, we thought it would be nice to join the WI Excel group. A year later, we were finally able to meet up with them for a summer outing in Duluth, Minnesota at the Indian Head Campground. Since we were planning a trip out to Washington, we decided to make this our starting point.

Although everything was extremely well planned and organized, it is still hard to be newbies and not know what to expect or how we will fit in. We felt a little awkward to begin with coming in with a truck camper instead of our Excel. But everybody was very welcoming and accommodating. And since Excels RVs are no longer being made, campers needing new rigs are buying other models. Those are called SOB’s (an RV term that officially means “Some Other Brand,” but of course you never know when it might mean something else also). Since we were in the truck camper and had our dog and cat along, we preferred to leave the animals at the campground, and we were graciously allowed to hitch rides with the others for the group activities.

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Beginning Our 2016 Summer Adventure

Finally, made it out today! Got up at about 6:30 a.m. but it still took four hours to finish getting the last bits packed and the house closed up. I can’t believe that we stuffed everything from our (not full) house refrigerator/freezer into the truck camper refrigerator/freezer. And then of course, cleaned the house fridge out so the ants don’t move in. Oh, it would be so much easier being full time (I didn’t just say that!) It was 92 degrees at home when we left. We drove for a leisurely 5 hours with a nice lunch stop along the grass at a Travel Plaza, and made it into our campsite at Lake Wissota State Park in Wisconsin by 3:30. The temperature on our truck said it was now 71 degrees. Much better!

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Destination: Washington

Our travel plans this summer / fall are to head back out to the west coast again, this time focusing on Washington instead of Oregon. And we’ll be taking the truck camper, not the fifth-wheel.

We’ll be starting by meeting the local Excel fifth-wheel group at a summer outing. (Not sure what the reaction of the Excel group will be when meet them for the first time, not in our Excel, but in our truck camper.) From there, we’re meeting friends in Grand Marais. After that, we have only one commitment, a solar and small inverter install in Oregon.

The entire rest of the trip is mostly unplanned. We will definitely hit the Olympic pennisula. We also expect to go through the Cascades in Washington, including Mt. Rainer and Mt. St. Helens.

If we feel like staying on the road, we'll head south as the weather gets colder. Who knows where we might end up?
If we feel like staying on the road, we’ll head south as the weather gets colder. Who knows where we might end up?

Beyond that, it really depends on how we feel and what the weather does. The truck camper is definitely not as comfortable as the fifth-wheel, so we may decide to head home after a couple of months. On the other hand, if we’re still enjoying ourselves, we may work our way to the south, following decent weather, and not come home until Thanksgiving. It’s great to have that flexibility.

Meet Belle, our new Truck Camper

We picked up Belle in Michigan. The dealership did a nice job with the walk-through and fixed several minor issues before we took possession. They also made backing the truck under the camper seem doable, although the real test will come when we do it on our own.

Although Arctic Fox truck campers are pretty well-made (for an RV), it has been a bit jarring to be back to the standard RV stuff  – locks that don’t like keys, tank levels that might be accurate to the nearest 20 gallons, rv parts that are cheap, and so on. We’ve gotten spoiled with the Excel and were taking its higher-quality for granted.

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Annie’s Little Sister

Apparently one camper is not enough.

Last year in the Sierras and Cascades, and especially around the National Parks, we found ourselves reflecting fondly on our twenty years of van camping, where we could go and camp nearly anywhere with a decent road. National Park campgrounds, National Forest campgrounds … whatever. We had also passed by some places that looked interesting but required heading down unknown roads that might not have parking or even turning space for our fifth wheel. Some people are more adventurous than us, but we’re reluctant to head down roads with the fifth-wheel that we might have to back out of for miles. Throughout the last two-thirds of the trip, we discussed the possibility of adding a truck camper to our rv stable, but did not seriously pursue it.

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