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November 3, 2012

How Far Should You Tow In One Day

Truck with camper connected

Truck with camper connected

Truck with camper connected

The first time I towed the camper was from American RV in Maryville, TN where it was in storage to our first campground in Pigeon Forge, TN on 8/28/2012. It was about 30 miles. Most of which was on 321 through Wears Valley with a couple of switchbacks, no shoulder, etc. A perfect storm for a first time camper tower.

A little history about me. I was active duty Air Force for about 13 years as an aircraft mechanic. Part of that job involved towing airplanes, and support equipment. So, I’m not a newbie to towing, but when towing an airplane we had a team of people to make sure wingtips were clear, we also had an open flight line with no oncoming traffic.

Thankfully, I had a great friend with me, Louis Caldwell. He has been a huge help in the process of Charlie and I getting our first camper. When I had camper questions, I’d go to him or our neighbor, Rick Gates, who has also been a huge wealth of information. I’m sure Louis and Rick are glad that we’re finally in a camper instead of still nagging them with questions. LOL!

Other than cutting some turns too tight, we made it through Wears Valley and to King’s Holly Haven RV Park without incident. It took me about 3 times to back in to our spot before the camper was situated correctly, but it was a good experience.

By this time we had already planned our next trip and booked our campsite. We were going to Coastal GA RV Resort in Brunswick, GA. It was right off of I-95 so very convenient for me having little experience. On 10/1/2012, we headed out of Pigeon Forge for Brunswick, GA. A 465 mile trip that would take us about 8 hours. Remember my drive for a day, live for a month motto? Well, driving a car for 8 hours is VERY different than towing a camper for 8 hours. Big newbie mistake. One we’ll never make again. When driving a car, you can set cruise and just sort of go. Not so when towing a camper. The speed I felt most comfortable towing was between 55mph and 60mph. Anything over 60mph I felt like the camper was pushing me. I’d much rather the truck pull than be pushed. The slower speed resulted in better gas mileage though. We averaged 12 mpg for that trip. I had really only expected 10 mpg. When trucks pass you they kind of blow you all over the road. And because of this, you’re ‘driving’ the entire time. No cruise control because you’ve gotta let off the gas when the trucks pass to make it a little easier on you. 10 hours later, white knuckled, and having to fill up once next to all the big rigs at a pilot gas station, we made it to Brunswick, GA.

Almost immediately the next day I mapped out our next destination which was a month away. It was 200 miles, about 4 hours. Perfect. I’m happy to say we made that drive from Brunswick, GA to Kissimmee, FL on 11/1/2012 in about 4 hours and without having to pull over for gas. The drive was relatively easy with the exception of a few idiot drivers in Orlando.

As my friends Louis and Rick both said, just go slow. And that’s what we did. We took our time. People made their way around me, and we made it in one piece. It worked out for everyone.

So, future trips will probably not be longer than 4 hours (ish) at a time. I’m even thinking about taking a state 4 lane road on the next adventure vs. the interstate. Less traffic, less big rigs, slower speeds. I think I’d be happy with that….we’ll see.

October 19, 2012

RV Shopping

main-bedroom

RV ShoppingBefore buying our camper, we did a TON of research. Which was better fifth wheel, travel trailer, motor home, etc. The truth of the matter is, you just need to buy what’s right for you. That’s what it’ll really boil down to.

Don’t worry that a certain percentage of RV owners prefer one over the other. The one they own fits their needs so that’s why they have a preference.

After at least a year of searching campers online we finally went to a dealership to actually put our hands on some. We went to Camping World in east Knoxville. They had a ton of used campers on their lot all unlocked and without salesmen crawling the place. How refreshing. We could look at our own pace, see models, layouts, designs, prices, and everything else we needed to see before talking with a salesman. I’m liking this no pressure approach.

Our first day at Camping World we must walked through 30 campers. Pointing out things we liked, and disliked. We left probably a little more puzzled than we expected. There are so many brands, layouts, and designs, but you’ll know it when you see the right one.

We went back a couple of months later to walk through again. We walked through many more, but didn’t find the one that was quite right.

In the meantime, we’ve been searching online. Pictures are great, video is even better, but there’s nothing like seeing things in person.

We went to Camping World in south Knoxville because we had seen a camper online that we felt fit our needs. We looked at the camper, liked it, and went to seek out a sales person. We found a sales person and told him what we were doing and why we were interested in the camper we found online. He asked us questions about our needs, etc. and offered to show us a few before we made a final decision. After walking through about 10 more campers, we went to the one we wanted. He looked at it, looked at the price and said, let me show you one more. We walked a few campers down and into the one we ended up purchasing. It was almost everything we wanted. I say almost because it’s a little longer than I would’ve liked. And that’s only because I’ve never towed a camper before. Now that I’ve towed it a couple of times and it’s got the office in the back, I’ll deal with the extra 3 feet. I wanted a camper that wasn’t longer than 30 feet and this one has an overall length of about 33 feet.

It met all of the requirements we had listed. It was a little more than we had planned on spending, but it was brand new, had a 2 year warranty so it was worth going over budget. With all of the campers we had looked at online and in person, this one is the one.

My suggestion when you’re searching, don’t buy the first one you see. Take your time. Research and ask questions. There are TONS of online communities that focus on RVing. I’ve found that everyone is very friendly and willing to help.

October 19, 2012

RVs and Guns

Sig Sauer P226
Sig Sauer P226

Sig Sauer P226 – Charlies Firearm

In May of 2012, we took a conceal carry class so we can legally carry a gun. Knowing that we’re going to be traveling, it can’t hurt to have a firearm with us, maybe not on our person, but at least in the camper. Our Tennessee carry permit has reciprocity in 38 states. When we go through the states where our permits are not recognized or handguns are illegal, I haven’t figured out yet what we’ll do, but we want to obey the law so I’ll have to research that before our adventure out west.

Being space conscious my brother recommended a gun cleaning kit. It’s small, lightweight, and does the job. Otis Professional Pistol Cleaning System

Before leaving Pigeon Forge, we use to fire our guns at the Sevier Indoor Shooting Range. Now we’ll have to find ranges on the road to stay in practice. Ironically enough, our first stop on the road was Brunswick, GA. The deep south. No indoor firing range. I suppose everyone here has land outside the city limits where they don’t need a range since they have their own. : ) Only a guess though.

October 18, 2012

Everything is $300

everything-is-300-dollars

everything-is-300-dollarsDuring our search for the perfect RV, I had done mounds of research to figure out exactly what sort of supplies we needed.  There are several sites out there that suggest what you’ll need so I took the most mentioned items from those lists and compiled my own.

Having never even spent the night in a camper before I was soaking this stuff up like a sponge.  And if you know me, I’d rather be over prepared than under prepared.  But I had to contain myself because having too much stuff now could become a burden.

First and foremost, you have to think lightweight.  So you really need to think about the stuff you absolutely need.  That’s my mindset while shopping.


The grand total for this order was right around:  $300.
Now we’ve got the necessary supplies, it’s time to look at proper towing equipment.

Yep, the towing equipment cost right around $300 as well. 2 orders = $600. : (

Our rainy day fund is quickly depleting and we haven’t even started yet. Crap, I’m getting nervous. Our move out date is quickly approaching.

Now for the other stuff:

  • Now the truck seems to be cranking rather slow. Bad batteries. 2 batteries were just under $300.
  • I took the truck where our RV was stored to get the towing equipment installed. This way they could do the leveling, and everything else they needed on the spot. I caught a break. It was only $200. : )
  • The silverware we had at home was too heavy, our plates were too heavy, etc. So we had to buy something more lightweight. Our towels were too big, our bed sheets were for a king size bed and camper has a queen. It was sort of like we were starting over…..$300
  • Our existing LCD TV’s were too big at at 42″ so we had to get a 32″ LCD…$300
  • How do we get our mail while on the road? My RV Mail. $200 per year if you’re a Passport America member. We joined up for the savings. My RV Mail works GREAT!
  • The cats and dog needed their shots and all their meds before we left…..$300.


With the items listed above and other miscellaneous items we’ve purchased, we’ve probably spent close to $2,000. Ouch!

Long story short, by day 3 in the camper after we were settled, one of my first thoughts were why didn’t we do this sooner. If you’ve been pondering the thought of going mobile, save up, get your stuff in order, and do it. You won’t regret it.

October 17, 2012

How It All Began, Pt. 1

Gatlinburg Trail – Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Brian and the RV

My first time with all the RV equipment

Back in 2006 I worked for the National Park Service and got transferred from Gulf Islands National Seashore to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We left a year round warm climate for a climate that has all four seasons. I’m not fond of winter, but could deal with it because the area was beautiful, I got a pay raise for the move, and loved my job.

Moving to east Tennessee was like coming home for me. Having grown up in west Tennessee I remember many vacations to the Great Smoky Mountains as a kid. Although the area had grown immensly since my last visit, we were ready to explore and call east Tennessee home.

Sugar Maple in full Fall Colors - Pigeon Forge Tennessee

Sugar Maple in full Fall Colors – Pigeon Forge Tennessee

We initially had trouble finding a long term place to rent. Most of the places in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are overnight cabin rentals. We finally found a home in a new neighborhood that was in our budget. We signed a 1 year lease and moved in. Issues with the owner happened almost immediately. Knocking on the door and trying to come in before we could get to the door, constant calling to see if the builder had completed the minor items on his punch list, etc. Looking at Tennessee law, we could get out of the lease if need be, so we started house hunting. We didn’t really have intentions of buying a house, but were sort of left with no other choice. We ended up buying a brand new house 2 doors down from where we were renting. We had already met the neighbors and felt comfortable in this neighborhood so we wanted to stay.

In June of 2006 we closed on our house and moved in, got out of the lease from the rental, and started our lives in Pigeon Forge, TN.

Our neighbors up the street were retired out of Cincinnati and had chosen Pigeon Forge to live because of the location. They had family in Ohio, North Carolina, and they wintered in Florida. Wintered in Florida? I was curious so inquired more. Turns out they had owned several RVs in the past, travel trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes. They had a fifth wheel stored in Florida and would go down in early December and come back in early April avoiding the coldest of weather snaps in the mountains.

Wintering in Florida sounded really nice, but with my job requiring me to be on site it was an idea we would have to put off until retirement, but could do some beginners research just to see if it’s something we should consider further.

In October of 2006, my boss from my part time job managing web sites, servers, email, etc. offered me a full time position. He knew I worked for the federal government full time and had to compete with their salary/benefits in order to bring me on board. He gave me a great offer, I accepted, and started working from home or whereever I had an internet connection. My wife was already working for him full time. So now, wintering in Florida would be possible and the idea of us having an RV was born.

Gatlinburg Trail - Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg Trail – Gatlinburg, Tennessee

We hadn’t really been in the mountains long enough to want to leave and after having spent our first winter there, it wasn’t really that bad. Only about 6 weeks of needing a heavy coat, less than 2 feet of snow, and no real tourists to speak of during this time made us feel like we had the whole city to ourselves. At this point we saw no reason to buy something we didn’t ‘need’ and would only use for a few months out of the year. The idea of having an RV was put on the back burner.

In 2008 we started traveling heavy for work going to conference after conference. We were very mobile during this time, but it was REALLY nice to get home to our animals and sleep in our own bed. In November of 2009 some friends we had made in our industry had a home in Los Angeles. They were going to be away for 1 year in Europe opening a European division for the company they worked. They told us if we wanted to head out to LA and stay in their house for the winter, to go for it…

Enjoyed a fantastic Diner with Hui Tam and her Husband David.  A must do when in Los Angeles!

Enjoyed a fantastic Dinner at Hae Jang Chon Korean BBQ with Hui Tam and her husband David. A must do when in Los Angeles!

all we would have to pay is utilities. On 12/12/2009, we headed to LA. We packed up 1 big suitcase, our laptops, 2 dogs and 1 cat and hit the road. We stayed in LA for just over 4 months and loved it. This made us realize that we could actually stay long term in a place as long as we had internet. The idea of having an RV was back on.

Read Part 2
October 16, 2012

How It All Began, Pt. 2

our belongings
Ford 6.4L Super Duty Truck

Our Ford 6.4L Super Duty Truck

I started researching trucks. Living in Tennessee, we’re not short on friends who have all kinds of truck advice. My idea was to buy a truck that would pull whatever RV we wanted to buy. I didn’t want the truck to be my limiting factor, even if we decided on something light that an F-150 would pull. I read forum after forum, post after post. I narrowed it down to an F-250 made between 2000 and the first half of 2003 to get the 7.3L Diesel. I did a ton of window shopping on eBay, autotrader.com, etc. At this point, we’re paying off other things and setting some money aside so a truck purchase wasn’t urgent. I could wait for the best deal.

About a year went by and I hadn’t bought a truck yet. Turns out Charlie wasn’t too keen on living in an RV. WHAT?! Our idea of living in an RV was fading. We talked, she was afraid of what people would think, she quickly got over that and the idea of having an RV was back on.

We both started window shopping online for RV’s. We initially set a budget of $15,000 for the RV and $15,000 for the truck. We looked at picture after picture online. Finally, we went to Camping World to put our hands on an RV. We really liked what we saw. We just had to find the right one for us. We weren’t tied to the idea of getting a fifth wheel or travel trailer so if we found one or the other that fit our budget and our needs, we would be fine. We did look at motorhomes, and a good used one starts around $40,000. My thoughts were that if we did this and didn’t like it, we’re stuck with a $40,000 vehicle. If we bought a truck and a trailer, and didn’t like it, we could still drive the truck and go camping on the weekends or something.

2011 Ice Storm... Too Cold for Us.. TIme to Move On

2011 Ice Storm… Too Cold for Us.. Time to Move On

Time passed another winter came. The temp outside was 8 degrees one day. 8 degrees?!?! It was all our heater could do to keep the house at 65. These cold snaps were enough for me and Charlie so we stepped up or game and decided that would be our last winter in Pigeon Forge.


Summer of 2012 came and we were RV shopping. We found the camper we wanted. Finally. One we both agreed on. It’s a Zinger ZT32QB. A 32′ travel trailer. A litle longer than I wanted, but because it’s got an office in the back, I’ll deal with it when towing/backing, etc. Guess what? We don’t have a truck yet so the dealership made it part of the deal to tow it to storage for us at no cost. We did go over budget on the camper by $5,000.

floorplan

It cost us $20k, but is brand new and has a 2 year warranty. In my opinion, it was worth going over budget to get a new camper that had exactly what we wanted/needed.

Guess what? It’s now time to start truck shopping. The 7.3L diesel that I wanted had gone up in price because of the reliability and demand. More truck research told me to stay away from any Ford with the 6.0L diesel. So, I filtered results to show 2008 F-250s with the 6.4L diesel. I found one after about a month at a Ford dealership in Knoxville. At the time a 2003 7.3L would’ve cost somewhere around $19k. I got my 2008 6.4L diesel, 2 wheel drive extended cab long wheel base for $22,800. Again, over budget, but conditions had changed and getting a truck that’s 5 years newer, lower mileage (60,000 and on a diesel, that’s nothing), and a 3 year warranty was worth it to me.

our belongings

All of our possessions at the time of our move into the RV..

What were we going to do with our house? Rent it out, let it sit empty, or furnish it to become an overnight rental. Long story short, a previous neighbor called me out of the blue wanting to move back to Pigeon Forge and asked if I knew of any places to rent. Wow….things are falling in place. She ended up signing a 2 year lease. It couldn’t have worked out better. She wanted stability and we knew she would take care of our place.

Prior to finding a truck we were making things happen with the household items we wanted to purge. We donated a TON of stuff to animal rescue places for them to sell to raise money to help their dogs. We sold other stuff, donated more stuff, etc. We went through our things more and more to find out what we really didn’t need.

It was SUPER LIBERATING to get rid of stuff we didn’t need or use. We’re down to bare bones right now and it’s nice. Very few extras. We have about 10 containers stored in our basement of family heirlooms/memorabilia that we choose to keep and then about  500 lbs of cargo in the camper including clothes, our computer equipment, food, and other necessary things.

That’s it.

That’s all we’ve got.

It’s awesome!