Achievement Unlocked: Towing

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to Ruby, our new-to-us Toyota Tundra. We took Ruby on her first camping expedition last weekend; I’ll post about that next week. Even though we have owned a travel trailer since 2014, I have never driven while towing. Even though I know this puts a heavy burden on my husband, just the idea of driving while towing has always freaked me out and sent my anxiety level through the roof.

When we purchased my husband’s Toyota Tacoma in 2015 I wasn’t sure I would ever get used to driving it; it felt so much bigger than my Highlander. So, of course, I expected driving the Tundra (which is huge) be be an even bigger adjustment. However, much to my surprise, I actually love driving Ruby. I was apparently born to drive a big honkin’ truck. Who knew? So, on our trip home I decided I’d give towing a try and… I did it! I know that may seem like nothing to many of you but since traffic/driving is one of the biggest triggers for my anxieties, for me it’s a Really Big Deal and I’m proud of myself. I didn’t drive for long, only about twenty miles on a two-lane road between two small towns but now that I have done it once, I know I can do it again and for a longer stretch.

There’s no stopping me now, y’all!

Vintage style camper trailer and camping scene

The End of an Era

In January 2006 my husband and I traded in our Dodge Caravan on a 2005 Toyota Highlander. The Caravan had served us well while were were chauffeuring around growing teenage boys (two of our own and oodles of their friends). However, by 2006, most of those boys had their driver’s licenses and most of our chauffeuring days were behind us. We needed a vehicle big enough to haul the four of us when our boys were with us but not too big for just the two of us. After much research and several test drives of various vehicles we settled on the Highlander. Our choice turned out to be a good one. Our Highlander, named Bonnie, safely carried my husband on several work trips from Georgia to San Antonio and back not to mention our daily commutes to work, vacations, and the Great Road Trip of 2019. However, as of January 30, 2021, Bonnie has gone on to a new home with our daughter-in-law. Even though Bonnie is now fifteen years old and has a little over than 207,000 miles on her I have no doubt that with good routine maintenance she still has several years of life left in her.

Bonnie, sporting her stickers from our various travels

Why has Bonnie gone to a new home? Well, as of January 26, 2021 we are what I swore we would never be – a two truck family. (I really need to stop using the word “never” – I think I’ve already done all of the things I swore I would never do.) We already had a Toyota Tacoma. My husband has owned many trucks over the years, most of which I hated. We bought his 2006 Tacoma used in 2015. It was such a relief to finally have a truck that I wasn’t afraid to ride in or drive. We were able to use the Tacoma to tow our RPOD 180 and its tow package is the only reason we were able to upgrade to our Flagstaff Micro Lite 21FBRS without purchasing a bigger tow vehicle.

So, if we could tow with our current truck why did we invest in a bigger truck now? My husband does the driving when we’re towing and I know that towing with his Tacoma makes him nervous, even knowing that we’re not even at the upper end of its tow capability. We have towed in mountainous areas and the Tacoma does fine, it just doesn’t have a lot of power to spare. Recently, I became aware that the Tacoma’s stopping capability while towing worried him. Our retirement plans included at least one road trip every year. The pandemic cancelled our planned trip for 2020 but we are planning to try again this Fall. (Hopefully we will be able to receive COVID vaccines by then.) So, we decided to go ahead and make the investment. Since our two Toyotas have been good to us, a Toyota Tundra was the next logical step for us. Researching trucks did nothing but reinforce this choice. So, we went for a test drive and came home with a new truck. Well, a new-to-us truck. Ruby the Big Red Truck is a 2018 model.

Meet Ruby, the big red truck

My husband has already taken the Tundra and the travel trailer out for a short drive so he could get the hitch configured properly. He came home very happy with the way the Ruby handled both while towing and stopping during the outing. Now I have two goals:

  1. Get used to driving a much larger vehicle.
  2. Start doing some of the driving when we’re towing the camper

Traffic/driving are two of the biggest triggers for my anxieties but I refuse to let my anxieties rule me so, I can do this. Right? Wish me luck!

Review: Moccasin Creek State Park

This is the first of the reviews I will post regarding the various campgrounds/parks we visit. I’m not going be rewarding a star rating or anything like that. I’m just going to post my thoughts on the park, pros/cons, etc.

Moccasin Creek State Park is located in the mountains of Rabun county in north Georgia. The park is bordered on three sides by Hwy 197 and on the fourth by Lake Burton. First impressions are important and, when we entered the park, my first thought was “Wow. This place is small. I don’t like it.” The website lists the size of the park as 32 acres; I’m not sure what is included in that acreage but the actual area for campsites is nowhere near that large. Even so, the park features 53 campsites.

Small “falls” on the stream in the park

One of the most important things to me when camping is the layout of the campsites. Are they shaded? (Shade is an important consideration here in the South – especially in the summer.) Are they on top of each other or is there a little space in between sites? Our campsite was on the outer loop for which I was thankful. I don’t like feeling crowded, especially when camping. If we had been in the inner section, I would have probably been ready to leave the next day. Being on the outer loop meant that our campsite backed up to the road but that wasn’t a problem; Hwy 197 is a two lane “country” road and is hardly a beehive of activity.

In spite of my initial dislike of the park, it grew on me a little over our visit. Moccasin Creek is a really pretty park. A small stream flows down one side of the park and there are swings and benches scattered around where you can sit and commune with nature. Normally, it would have been possible to rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard; however, this is 2020 and rentals were not available due to COVID restrictions. Fortunately, no special equipment is needed to view Hemlock Falls and it’s an easy hike from the park.

Hemlock Falls

If you get twitchy without easy access to cell service at all times, brace yourselves. Verizon is our service provider and our signal strength was virtually non-existent at the park. However, there are a few towns within easy driving distance where signal strength is better.

Overall, while pretty enough, Moccasin Creek is not a park we plan to revisit.

Have you been to Moccasin Creek? If so, what did you think?

The Evolution of a Couple’s Camper – Part 3

I meant to post this earlier but I got lazy after our summer road trip. What can I say? The fact that this series even has a Part 3 is evidence that my husband and I cannot be trusted to simply “look” at travel trailers.

We had Gypsy, our RPOD 180, and everything was fine. There was only one minor inconvenience we felt might need to be addressed in a few years. Like many smaller travel trailers both our RPOD 177 and the 180 had east/west beds meaning that the head of the bed touched one wall, the foot the other, and the third side pressed against the front wall of the camper. This caused two problems: First, if the person sleeping on the inside (me) had to get up in the middle of the night I either had to crawl over my husband sleeping peacefully on the outside or wake him up, neither of which were ideal situations. Second, making the bed in a small travel trailer with an east/west oriented mattress is nothing short of an Olympic event. We discussed the eventual need to upgrade to a travel trailer with a north/south bed as we aged; a north/south bed would allow access from both sides, negating the whole crawling over/waking up scenario. But, I assumed that decision was still several years away. Silly me.

One day my husband announced that he had been looking online at campers with a north/south bed and had found one he thought we should check out: a Flagstaff Micro Lite 21FBRS. (The Rockwood Mini Lite equivalent is the 2109s. Rockwoods and Flagstaffs are manufactured at the same plant. The 2109s and 21FBRS floorplans are identical; only the decals and fabrics are different.) One of the local RV dealers had a couple in stock so, we stopped by to take a look and the rest is history.

The 21FBRS had everything we had talked about wanting in our future travel trailer and more. Instead of a dinette it has a love seat with a free-standing table that stores when not in use freeing up valuable floor space. The table can also be used outside. (Removing the dinette and replacing it with a loveseat/freestanding table is one of the frequent modifications made by RPOD owners.) It had the north/south bed described above, the shower has an actual sliding door instead of a shower curtain, a full-sized RV refrigerator/freezer (instead of the college dorm sized unit in our RPOD), a three-burner stove, an oven, a microwave, a double-sink and more storage than we ever dreamed possible.

Image from http://www.campersinn.com

When we made the move from our RPOD 177 to our 180, we didn’t do the sort of due diligence we should have. We only looked at the 180 before making our purchase. We were determined to not make the same “mistake” again. This time we spent a ridiculous amount of time researching a variety of travel trailers by a number of manufacturers and traveled to several different dealers (one in another state) to make absolutely sure we would be getting everything we wanted. The only model other than the 21FBRS that we considered was the Flagstaff 21DS. I loved this model. It had a U-shaped dinette where I could spread out with my laptop while my hubby lounged on the loveseat. (The bed is a murphy bed.) As much as I loved the 21DS, it had a few significant drawbacks. First, due to the murphy bed it was heavier than the 21FBRS and it didn’t have the pass-through meaning the loss of a lot of exterior storage. There was also less interior storage. However, the deciding factor was that, with the slide in, the 21DS is not a functional camper, the 21FBRS is. With the slide in, the bed, loveseat, and bathroom in the 21FBRS are still accessible, a definite plus when traveling.

In spite of all of the research, and as much as we loved the 21FBRS we didn’t think we would be able to make the move simply because of the weight – we didn’t want to have to upgrade to a larger tow vehicle. Then, we discovered that my husband’s 2006 Toyota Tacoma (bought used in 2015) came with a tow package capable of hauling over 6000 pounds, a good 2000 more than needed. So, earlier this year we sold our RPOD 180 and purchased a new Flagstaff 21FBRS which we named Serenity after the ship in the short-lived sci-fi series Firefly.

We both love Serenity but it has been a big adjustment. Towing a larger (22 foot), heavier trailer has been a little nerve-wracking for both of us. (My hat is off to those of you who tow fifth wheels around like it’s no big deal. You have my utmost respect.) However, after a recent trip to the mountains and a few steep, winding roads we now know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Paco (the Tacoma) is more than up to the task. We also had to invest in new mirrors for the truck in order to be able to see around the wider camper.

We’re looking forward to many years of adventure with this travel trailer – and I’ve told my husband he’s not allowed to look at any more. We obviously have no willpower and I don’t want to go through this process again anytime soon. It’s exhausting, LOL!

The Evolution of a Couple’s Camper – Part 2

In my last post I introduced you to Hope, an RPOD 177 and our first travel trailer. As we were in the thick of elder care, our ability to travel was limited but we did make trips as our schedule allowed – mostly to state parks within a 3-4 hour drive from home. We were complete newbies but with each trip we became a little more comfortable with the process of towing, setting up, etc. Backing the camper? Not so much. Backing a travel trailer into a camp site is a test for even the strongest of marriages. (I’m only sort of joking.)

We knew going in that Hope would not be our “forever” camper. We knew that as we age and get to travel more and for longer periods of time that we would want to upgrade to something a little larger. So, we used our time with Hope to determine what changes/improvements we would like to have on our next travel trailer.

First on the list was more storage. It’s a given that storage in a small travel trailer is going to be at a premium. But, all travel trailers are not created equal. It’s worth taking the time to check out models made by different manufacturers before making your final selection. Hope had a full pass-through on the exterior for storage of chocks, chairs, etc. but interior storage was pretty much non-existent. Trips more than 2-3 days in length required a lot of creativity and more than a little frustration for the storage of food and clothing.

Second was a dry bath. The wet bath on a 177 is tiny and there is a pretty healthy step up/down to get in and out. My husband was already starting to have problems with his knees so we knew there was a good chance that that step was going to cause problems over time. Yes, most campgrounds have bath houses but if you are boondocking where there are no facilities (or if the campground facilities are just nasty) a decent bath is nice to have.

In late 2016 my husband said that he thought we should check out the RPOD 180 – it was slightly larger and had a dry bath. So, we made the trek to one of our local dealers to do a walk-through and it was basically love at first sight. The 180 was a couple of feet longer than our 177 and had more storage for both food and clothes. It also had a three piece dry bath (vanity/sink, toilet, and an actual shower). So, we put the 180 on our wish list. Several months later when the price dropped prior to the release of the 2018 models we took the plunge. My only regret is that we decided to trade-in our 177 instead of selling it outright. Yes, the trade-in was a lot less hassle but we would have gotten much more for it had we sold it. Ah, hindsight!

Meet our RPOD 180, eventually named Gypsy. (It was a lot harder to name this one.)

RPOD 2017 floor plan image from RVUSA.com via Google

In addition to the increased storage and dry bath, there were a few other improvements as well. The interior colors of our 180 were much lighter than those on our 177. Entering the 177 was like entering a cave. The walls, floors, and upholstery were all varying shades of brown. Even with all of the blinds open and lights on it was just dark. Gypsy also had awning as opposed to the “rdome” that came with Hope. A lot of Podders love the rdome because it adds a screened-in room to the exterior of the pod. However, the set-up/tear-down process is not for the faint of heart. The push-button awning is more our style. I was also excited about the blue exterior on Gypsy. (The older models were green, which is my least favorite color.)

The 180 was a couple of feet longer than our 177 and weighed about 400 pounds more which meant we could no longer tow with our Toyota Highlander. Fortunately, my husband had replaced his clunker truck with a 2006 Toyota Tacoma which had more than enough power to tow the 180.

Of course, our adventures don’t end there. Stay tuned for Part 3!

The Evolution of a Couple’s Camper – Part 1

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My husband and I come from vastly different backgrounds. One of the biggest differences was that his family traveled, mine didn’t. His parents owned an RV and would hit the road for two or three weeks every summer and my husband frequently expressed a desire to do the same. Initially, I wasn’t sold on the plan. In my mind, the cost of an RV plus the insurance, etc. would more than offset any savings achieved. But, over time, I gradually came around to his way of thinking and we began dreaming of “someday” owning a small travel trailer – the RPOD by Forest River seemed a perfect fit for our needs.

Our someday arrived much earlier than expected when we found an RPOD 177 for sale by owner in the parking lot of a local pawn shop in 2014. After much discussion (spontaneity is not a strong point for either of us) we contacted the owner and set up a meeting to tour the camper. Honestly, it was almost too good to be true – it was the travel trailer version of the little old lady who only drove it on Sundays. The owner, an elderly man, bought the camper for he and his wife to stay in on his trips to his hunting club. However, his wife developed Alzheimer’s and passed away. No longer having a need for the trailer, he decided to sell – they had never even used it. It still wrenches my heart when I think about it. We agreed to a price and the camper became ours.

RPOD 177 Floor Plan. Image from RVUSA.com via Google

The 177 was the perfect size for two people with all of the necessities and none of the frills. And, for those rare occasions in which we might have guests, the dinette converted to an extra bed. What more could we need? Its small size also meant we could tow it with our existing Toyota Highlander – a definite plus as neither of us was interested in upgrading to a larger tow vehicle.

Once the purchase was complete, the next step was to name our camper. (Yes, we name our vehicles.) We named her Hope. At that point in our lives we were overwhelmed with full-time jobs and taking care of three elderly parents. We knew we might not get to travel much for a while but we needed some hope in our lives and Hope the RPOD became the physical embodiment of that much needed trait. She was quite forgiving of our newbie mistakes as we began our forays into the camping world. (We bounced the trailer off the hitch THREE times before learning to quadruple-check to make sure the hitch was properly secured.)

We also discovered a wonderful community of other RPOD owners when we joined the R-Pod Owners Facebook group. The group members have been a tremendous source of information and encouragement. If you own an RPOD and aren’t a member of the group, I highly encourage you to join ASAP. Oh, and we also learned that naming your RPOD is a Really Big Deal not to be taken lightly.

Stay tuned for The Evolution of a Couple’s Camper – Part 2.

What was I thinking?

What was I thinking? I already have a blog at isabellanorse.com. (I’m a romance writer and Isabella Norse is my not-so-secret pen name.) But, I wanted a place to write about the random things that catch my interest. So, this is where I will post random musings such as video game reviews, my impressions of the various campgrounds we visit, and things that make me smile (such as pictures of kitty toes).

After all, life is about the journey and not the destination. I hope you’ll join me for the trip – after all, we shouldn’t do life alone!