Monday, May 28, 2007

Boondocking: Some Of My Experiences

I'm not gonna go too in-depth on this post, just give you some idea of where I'm coming from. Later, I intend to post more in-depth articles about some of my boondocking experiences, but for now I just want to briefly describe an RV I have and what we did with it.
I've always been a tent camper and, other than occasionally boondocking in a van or Jeep Wagoneer, had never had a camping vehicle per se. In fact, my wife and I were returning from a camping trip when I spotted the RV for sale. It was a 1978 Mobile Traveller class C motorhome, built on a Dodge 1-ton van chassis. 18' overall length, 360 cid V8, TF727 tranny, Dana 70 with 4.10s, single rear wheels. It ran and drove fine and was in good condition, but the interior was trashed and was absolute bottom of the line anyway. The only things it had were a 12VDC/115VAC fridge, a porta-potty (without even its own room) and a single-basin sink with no tanks, for campground hookup only. I had been thinking about getting some sort of camping vehicle for boondocking on our trips out west, and this fit the bill. The price was right, so we bought it.
I had a slide-in camper for a pickup truck. It was pretty much a basket case structurally, and I didn't have a pickup big enough to haul it anyway, but unlike the RV, it was loaded, with all the goodies except an air conditioner. I had bought it (cheaply, of course) for the appliances, and to use in the interim as a radio shack. So I stripped the RV, then I stripped the slide-in and put the good appliances in the RV. There was a gas/electric fridge (a Swedish Dometic, the best), a 4-burner with oven gas range, a twin-basin sink, 55 gallon water tank, 12V water pump, gas water heater, gas furnace, Thetford recirculating toilet (just the thing for desert use), a fiberglass shower stall, and a few other things. I built a whole new interior in the RV, including an actual bathroom, out of 2x4s, 2x2s and plywood. I added a small window air conditioner in the back wall, 8 Trojan T105 golf cart batteries, and a Trace 2500 watt inverter with built-in 120 amp battery charger. No generator, because we were gonna be driving a lot and could charge the batteries with the alternator while driving, and occasionally spend a night at a campground with hookups if needed to recharge the batteries.
We made a few local boondocking trips to unregulated campsites on the shore of a large nearby lake, then a serious shakedown trip to Lake Superior, before undertaking the trip we had in mind when we bought the thing: a Western trip!
So my wife and myself, and her two teenage daughters headed for South Dakota first. We camped on the Missouri River a couple of nights, then in the Black Hills a couple of nights before heading into Wyoming. The first night in Wyoming we camped at a tiny campsite in the woods, pretty far down what can best be described as a jeep trail. No hookups, of course. This was what we came for!
We did pretty much the same thing every night across Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, back into Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and a few more states; almost 5000 miles total. It was a great time.
BTW, this trip was undertaken in July. The vehicle air conditioner didn't work but the window unit in back did. We drove with all the windows open, and slept in air-conditioned comfort, powered by the battery bank, every night.
A few quick words about the refrigerator, though: it would actually have been better to have left the all electric fridge (a Norcold, btw) installed rather than swapping in the Dometic gas fridge. Gas/electric refrigerators use a heating strip when running on electricity, which is inefficient. They are ok if you are living fulltime in your rig and want to run them on propane, and stay in one spot for long periods of time. But for the type of travel we were doing, driving for a few hours every day, the all electric, compressor type fridge would have probably been better. I have used that all electric fridge many times and still occasionally use it to this day. My only problem with it is that it is quite noisy when camping out in the boonies where it is quiet. The gas/electric absorption fridge doesn't make any noise, but it costs more to operate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, they don't call me FARAWAYRAY For nothing.I have a ford 21' rv that I live in a lot. I have stopped driving a lot because of the price of gas, but usually I travel out to the sunny coast of Southern the summer to get out from under the searing heat of Las Vegas. This year wasn't hot enough to run away from only 105 on the hot days. I can relate to the trials of traveling in an old R.V. sure beats getting your rent jacked up by 300%. I paint signs just about everywhere I stop for money. But, I think the years of sturges, the grand canyon, and the beach is just about over, too bad, I HATE lving in houses.