2016 – A Year of RV Travels in the National Parks

When 2016 burst upon us last year, our only goal for the year was to take our RV to the Canadian Rockies. As it turned out, on the way there and again on the way back, our year of full-time RV travels took us to a slew of National Parks.

Lake Louise in Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

By mid-year, we had visited so many that we gathered all of our National Parks adventures from our nearly 10 years of travels onto one page:

National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites Travel Adventures

We always keep a list of our most recent posts at this link (under “Latest” in the menu bar). But we also wanted to share our yearlong journey from 2016 on one page for RVers and other travelers who would like to follow in our path.

Arches National Park Utah

Arches National Park, Utah

Living as we do is a dream come true for us, and we began the year with some reflections on what it takes to live the dream. We were in Phoenix, Arizona, to ring in the new year where we enjoyed some wonderful encounters with wild (feral) parrots that take up residence in the saguaro cacti.

Peach faced lovebird parrot saguaro cactus Scottsdale Arizona

A peach faced lovebird perches on a saguaro cactus in Phoenix, Arizona.

From Phoenix we made our way to Quartzsite, Arizona, the RV gathering place.

Quartzsite Arizona RV boondocking in the desert

Quartzsite, Arizona, is the RV Gathering Place each winter

The Quartzsite RV Show was in full swing in this crazy truck stop town where the name of the game is “Anything Goes.”

Quartzsite Desert RV Boondockging AZ

Sunrise in the Arizona desert in Quartzsite

From Quartzsite we headed east to Tucson, Arizona, where the historic part of town is filled with wonderful old adobe doorways.

Adobe door in Historic Tucson district Arizona

Historic Old Town Tucson in Arizona

We visited the beautiful Xavier Mission in Tucson which evokes the days of the Spanish explorers.

Front San Xavier del Bac Mission Tucson Arizona

San Xavier Mission, Tucson, Arizona.

We found even more ancient history among Saguaro National Park’s ancient Indian petroglyphs. This was our first National Park visit of the year, and we discovered wonderful native Arizona animals in their habitats at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum there as well.

Arizona Sonoran Desert Musuem Tucson Mountain Lion

A mountain lion at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

Despite being February, temps suddenly hit 90+ degrees in Tucson, so we began our trek north, stopping in Sedona, Arizona, to ride our bikes on the Bell Rock Pathway and hike The Crack at Wet Beaver Creek.

Mountain Bikers Bell Rock Pathway Sedona Arizona

The Bell Rock Pathway is an easy hike or bike ride in Sedona’s quintessential red rock scenery

We took in some sunsets under stormy skies.

Cathedral Rock at sunset Sedona Arizona

Sunset peeks through brooding skies at Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona

In early March, we witnessed another stunning sunset and sunrise at Horseshoe Bend Overlook near Page, Arizona and explored Lees Ferry and Marble Canyon nearby.

Horseshoe Bend Sunset Arizona

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Paria Riffle and Paria Beach Lees Ferry Arizona

The Paria Riffle at Lees Ferry, Arizona

The ancient Indian ruins at Navajo National Monument and Monument Valley beckoned, and we learned about the proposed (and staggeringly massive) Bears Ears National Monument. For the next few weeks we would travel in and around the land area that would become Bears Ears National Monument by year’s end.

Ruins at Navajo National Monument Arizona

Betatakin cliff dwelling ruins at Navajo National Monument.

At Valley of the Gods and Goosenecks State Park, we were swept us up in the otherworldly red rock beauty of southern Utah.

Valley of the Gods Utah Scenic Drive

Valley of the Gods, Utah.

It was only mid-March, so a surprise snowstorm at Newspaper Rock wasn’t really a surprise.

Ancient Indian Petroglyphs Newspaper Rock Utah Mixture

A few of the hundres of petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock in Utah

Southern Utah is peppered with stunning scenery and National Parks, and our eyes were popping as we hiked the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands National Park Needles District Utah

Canyonlands National Park – Needles District.

We took in Moab’s gorgeous snowcapped mountain views and visited Arches National Park.

Double Arch Arches National Park Utah

Double Arch in Arches National Park Utah

Nearby, we witnessed a stunning sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park, a spit of land that is embraced by the much bigger Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park where we enjoyed brilliant night skies.

Dead Horse Point State Park Utah Before Dawn

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

It was now April, and it was warm enough to take our trailer further north through southeastern Idaho’s picturesque mountains and farmland.

RV travel trailer on bridge Salmon Idaho

RVing Idaho’s back roads on the Salmon River.

We traveled along US-93 following the Salmon River through Challis and Salmon, Idaho.

RV roadtrip through southeastern Idaho mountains

Idaho in early Spring

Driving up through the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, we watched a herd of elk cross the highway in front of us.

Elk crossing road Bitterroot Valley Montana

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We had a chance to sample a little cowboy life and cattle ranching too.

Riding horses in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana

Savoring the views of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley on horseback.

In Phillipsburg, Montana we discovered a sweet town that’s been dubbed one of “America’s Prettiest Painted Places.”

Philipsburg Montana main street

Philipsburg, Montana, one of “America’s Prettiest Painted Places.”

Early May found us on the western side of Montana’s Glacier National Park before the park was really open for the season. Placid Lake McDonald shimmered lovely reflections.

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park RV travel

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

Crossing into British Columbia, Canada, we had finally arrived in the Canadian Rockies. We were blown away by the casual attitude of the big horn sheep who wander all over the roads in and around Kootenay National Park.

Big horn sheep crossing a road in British Columbia

Big Horn Sheep just outside Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada

Kootenay National Park gave us glimpses of bears nibbling Spring’s earliest treats, but our arrival at Lake Louise was when we began to feel like we were in the heart of the Rockies!

Lake Louise in Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

We took several trips up and down the southern half of the Icefields Parkway, a scenic drive like no other.

Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

We were stunned by the majesty of the towering snowcapped mountains all around us in Banff National Park.

Rental RV Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Canada Rocky Mountains

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

On the Icefields Parkway, which included a stop at royal blue Peyto Lake, we felt like we were driving on a highway right across the pages of a brochure for the Alps.

Peyto Lake Icefields Parkway Banff National Park Alberta Canad

Peyto Lake in Banff National Park is an incredibly vivid royal blue.

In contrast, we reached picture perfect Moraine Lake in Banff National Park by bicycle, and we had it almost to ourselves because the road to it was still closed for the season.

Moraine Lake Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Canada has four National Parks that are adjacent to each other in the heart of the country’s best Rocky Mountain scenery, split between the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. On our trip to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, we bumped into the fabulous waterfall at Natural Bridge.

Natural Bridge Yoho National Park British Columbia Canada Rocky Mountains

Natural Bridge surprised us on our way to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada.

Emerald Lake Yoho National Park Alberta Canada

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada

Banff, Alberta, has been a resort town since its inception, and we met an inspiring pair of young artists at the historic hotel in town.

Banff Alberta Canada and Cascade Mountain Canadian Rockies

Banff, Alberta, Canada

It was late May by now, and we celebrated our 9th anniversary of full-time travel by splashing around in the outdoor hot springs that bring a touch of summer to Canada’s snowy Rockies year round.

Banff Upper Hot Springs Alberta Canada

Banff Upper Hot Springs, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Visiting Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park and spending some time in the outdoorsy town of Canmore rounded out our visits to this part of the Canadian Rockies.

Snow Icefields Parkway Jasper National Park Alberta Canada

Beautiful patterns of snow on the mountains near the Columbia Ice Fields.

But there was still more to come with a scenic drive through jaw-dropping Kananaskis Country, where some of the 1988 Winter Olympic events were held.

Sunrise Kananaskis Country Canadian Rockies

Dawn in Kananaskis Country.

Dropping south from there, we visited Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada’s sweet little sister to Montana’s Glacier National Park.

Horseback riders Waterton Lakes National Parks Canada

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Waterton Lakes National Park is a beautiful jewel in Canada’s National Park system. Taking the Waterton Shoreline Cruise on a historic ship to the southern side of the lake in Montana gave us even more incredible views.

Waterton Shoreline Cruise Waterton Lakes National Park Canada

Waterton Shoreline Cruise in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada

We were now well into June, yet when we arrived in Saint Mary on the east side of Glacier National Park, we were surprised to learn that the Going to the Sun Road that traverses the Park was just opening!

Happy camper Glacier National Park Montana

Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana.

The heat of the summer was on in full force by the 4th of July, and after all those National Parks we were ready to spend some time in quiet, less visited communities. We found just that in pretty Libby, Montana, where we spent happy days watching eagles and hummingbirds.

Lake Koocanusa at sunset Libby Montana

Sunset in Libby, Montana

We met some special travelers while we were there: a lady who had traveled cross country by horse for many years and a couple sightseeing by bicycle.

Bernice Ende on 28,000 mile long horse back ride

Long Rider Bernice, and her beloved mares Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit.

Nearby, we visited Kootenai Falls and Ross Creek Cedars, Montana’s answer to California’s sequoias.

Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area and Kootenai Falls MT RV trip

Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area, Montana

As we dropped down along the back roads of Idaho, we visited the charming small towns of Sandpoint, Moscow and McCall.

RV Trip from Sandpoint Idaho to Moscow and McCall on the Little Salmon River

Idaho’s back roads

What an absolute delight it was to find a summer beach town in the middle of Idaho’s mountains perched on Payette Lake.

Payette Lake shore near Legacy Park McCall Idaho

McCall, Idaho, is a fantastic beach town!!

Unfortunately, the summer months in America’s west always bring huge wildfires, and we soon found ourselves dodging fires and smoke. We had planned to spend several weeks in beloved Sun Valley Idaho, but were chased away by smoke.

Dashing far down south, we landed in Cedar City, Utah, where we witnessed a most moving event: the release of a golden eagle in honor of America’s First Responders.

Golden eagle release Cedar City Utah Southwest Wildlife Foundation

A rehabilitated Golden Eagle flies to freedom, honoring America’s First Responders.

Just like the Banff area in the Canadian Rockies, we were once again situated in a sea of National Parks. Cedar Breaks National Monument is a lesser known gem in the area, but it is Bryce Canyon National Park that really knocked our socks off (as it always does, no matter how many times we see it).

Photography at Bryce Canyon National Park Inspiration Point Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

After walking along the Rim Trail with our eyes popping, we then explored special parts of Bryce Canyon we’d never visited before.

Navajo Loop Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Hiking down into the hoodoos in Bryce National Park, Utah.

We hiked the Fairyland Trail and took our bikes on the newly extended Bryce Canyon Bike Trail.

Windows Fairyland Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

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We even discovered a year-round waterfall in the Park.

Mossy Cave Trail Waterfall Mossy Cave Trail Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Bryce Canyon’s Waterfall.

Mother Nature was in grand form while we were there, letting loose several August hail storms that pelted the area, but rainbows appeared and the sun shone as we wandered among the thousand year old bristlecone pine trees at Rainbow Point.

Bristlecone Pine Shadow Rainbow Point Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

A bristlecone plays with its shadow

Satiated with red rock scenery, we were ready for some fall color, so we spent much of September crossing Utah from west to east. Scenic Byway 12 is a stunning drive, and we stopped along the way to do the wonderful Lower Calf Creek Falls hike.

Sunshine waterfall Lower Calf Creek Falls Grand Staircase Escalante Utah

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Utah.

A little further on, we drove between the towering cliff walls of the Burr Trail.

Red rocks Burr Trail Scenic Byway 12 Utah

Burr Trail, Utah.

Arriving in Colorado in late September, we drove the fabulous San Juan Skyway through the dazzling fall color.

Motorcycle in fall colors San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains

Fall colors on the San Juan Skyway, Colorado

A surprise snow storm turned the world into a spectacular landscape filled with orange and yellow and a dusting of snow.

Golden aspen and pine trees San Juan Skyway Colorado Rocky Mountains fall foliage

A dusting of September snow on Colorado’s San Juan Skyway.

Life in an RV is cold when it snows, so we quickly dropped to Durango at the south end of the San Juan Skyway to enjoy a Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Horse and carriage Durango Colorado

Durango, Colorado, is the perfect setting for a Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Heading west across northern Arizona, we drove alongside the Vermillion Cliffs where we took a peek at the “Cliff Dwellers” roadside stop.

02 761 RV travel Vermillion Cliffs National Monument Arizona

Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Our “National Parks” travel theme was so well established by now that we just had to make a quickie stop at Grand Canyon’s North Rim to do both day and night photography.

View from deck Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim Arizona

Tourists on the cozy back deck of the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge in Arizona.

Milky Way at the Grand Canyon North Rim Arizona

Full moon and the Milky Way at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim!

Then we continued on to the majestic scenery of Zion National Park.

Virgin River Zion Canyon Zion National Park Utah RV trip

Zion National Park, Utah

Exploring an area in Zion National Park that we hadn’t visited before, we did a hike into the autumn colors of Kolob Canyons on Taylor Creek Trail.

Autumn Leaves Kolob Canyons Zion National Park Utah

Zion National Park’s Kolob Canyons in Utah.

November and December saw us flitting between Arizona, California and San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico as we made several visits to our dentist and spent time socializing with friends.

Fabulous year of RV travels

What a fabulous year of RV travels!!
Moab, Utah

During 2016 we published quite a few non-travel posts as well. The links are below:

RV Tips, Tricks and Tech Topics:

Truck Related Topics:

RV Warranty & Repairs:

Lifestyle:

Product Reviews:

Dental Care on the Road:

Mexico’s Gold Coast:

OUR TRAVELS IN PREVIOUS YEARS

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A Visit to the Dentist in Mexico

Dentistry is really expensive these days, and RVers that make their way south in the wintertime can take advantage of the good quality dental care that is available just over the border in Mexico.

The November/December 2016 issue of Escapees Magazine features our article about some of the great experiences we have had with dentists in Mexico just across the border from Yuma, Arizona, in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico.

Mexican Dentistry Escapees Magazine Nov-Dec 2016

Escapees Magazine Nov-Dec 2016
Article by: Emily and Mark Fagan

Escapees has posted the article on their website at this link:

The Affordable Alternative of Mexican Dentistry

Our dentist, Dr. Sergio Bernal, is a general practitioner in San Luis Rio Colorado just over the border from San Luis, Arizona (south of Yuma).

Last year he coordinated and oversaw a root canal I had done in a tooth that already had a crown on it (described in detail here).

Eight years ago, Dr. Bernal put a porcelain crown on a baby tooth of Mark’s that had never fallen out. It was an exccellent crown and very easy procedure.

The crown was fabricated by the lab and ready to be installed within 18 hours of us arriving at Dr. Bernal’s office for the very first time. It fit perfectly and cost just $130.

Mark always said it was the best crown in his mouth.

Unfortunately, the baby tooth under this crown came loose this past October, and Mark was suddenly in a lot of pain. He needed another solution.

Ironically, this happened just as the issue of Escapees Magazine with our article about Mexican dental care was being mailed out to Escapees members.

Because we lived on our sailboat in Mexico for the better part of four years, we have enjoyed top notch dental care all over Mexico, from the Arizona border to the beautiful Bays of Huatulco very near the Guatemala border.

We have always been very satisfied with both the dental care and the price.

With Mark’s tooth aching, we dashed to Yuma and then zipped across the border from San Luis, Arizona, to San Luis, Mexico, on our bikes (you can learn more about doing this as well as walking over the border in our blog post about Mexican dental care here).

Even though dental care in Mexico is excellent, the upscale frills that Americans are accustomed to are not necessarily a part of the deal.

For starters, dentistry in Mexico is usually handled on a walk-in basis rather than making an appointment in advance.

Some people have read my writings about dentists in Mexico and have tried to find these dentists on the internet. Well, most Mexican dentists don’t bother with the expense of setting up a website, as they rely more on word of mouth and patients showing up at the door when they need care.

So, we got psyched up for a day of dentistry, rode the 1/2 block from the border to Dr. Bernal’s office, leaned our bikes against the wall and peered in the door. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there.

Rather than wait, we decided to ride over to visit the endodontist, Dr. Horacio Avila, who had done such an excellent job on my root canal last year. I needed to see him for a follow-up on my root canal anyway, and we figured he might have some thoughts about Mark’s aching baby tooth. We each took a quick turn in his dentist’s chair and looked at our x-rays with him on his computer screen on the wall.

My root canal was doing great, but Mark’s situation was more complex. The adult tooth was present but was lying sideways, which meant there was no option for an implant. Instead, Dr. Avila felt he probably needed a bridge.

Mexican dentist San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Mark and Dr. Avila check out his tooth on an x-ray.

Being an endontontist and not a general practice dentist, bridges are not his line of work. So, he handed us the x-rays and sent us on our way.

The bill for our five x-rays at Dr. Avila’s office was $50.

We biked back to Dr. Bernal’s office and found he had returned from his errands and was happy to see us.

Mark got in his dentist chair, and Dr. Bernal had a look at his tooth and Dr. Avila’s x-rays. Of course, Dr. Bernal has an x-ray machine too, but there was no need to duplicate the x-rays. He agreed that an implant was out and that a bridge was probably the best way to go.

He pulled Mark’s tiny baby tooth out of his mouth with a quick yank and explained that a bridge involves grinding down the two adjacent teeth, putting crowns on them, and then suspending a false tooth in between. Egads!!

Sadly, the two teeth on either side of Mark’s (now absent) baby tooth were 100% healthy. Mark felt really badly about grinding those teeth down to support two crowns and suspend a false tooth in between.

Dr. Bernal scratched his head for a while and studied Mark’s teeth for a while and then suggested he consider a different option: grinding a tiny channel on the back side of each of the two healthy teeth and suspending a false tooth in between on wings that were inserted and glued into the channels.

This sounded intriguing.

He suggested that Mark try a temporary solution like that and see how it felt before committing to a permanent solution. So, we hung around San Luis for about three hours while Dr. Bernal’s lab technician across the street fabricated a plastic temporary tooth. In the middle of the afternoon, Dr. Bernal inserted it and off we went back over the border.

He charged us $20 total for all of his work and the lab’s work.

Mexican Dentist San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Dr. Bernal goes over Mark’s options with him.

Mark liked the idea of being able to keep his healthy teeth mostly intact and not crown them, so we returned a few weeks later to get the permanent work done. Again, we showed up unannounced around 8:00 in the morning, and by late afternoon Dr. Bernal’s technician had fabricated a permanent false tooth with wings and Dr. Bernal had prepped Mark’s teeth and installed it.

The cost: $250.

Mark absolutely loves this tooth. He’s had it for a few months now and doesn’t even notice it’s there. It chews fine, looks fine, and the teeth on either side of it are totally intact except for a tiny indent in each one to support the wings of the false tooth. A retired dentist friend of ours said similar dental work in the US would have cost over $1,000.

Besides the high quality workmanship and low cost, the best thing about all of this was the back-and-forth conversation we were able to have with Dr. Bernal. Rather than the brusque manner of many dentists, he took the time to consider other options besides a bridge and to listen to our concerns about destroying two perfectly good teeth. I was in the room with Mark the whole time, and I liked the feeling that we were participants in Mark’s dental care rather than being just recipients.

Next door to Dr. Bernal’s office there is a hair cutting salon. Both times we visited Dr. Bernal, we dropped in on the hair cutting salon to get haircuts. The most delightful stylist named Amber works there, and for just $3 for men and $5 for women, she does a great job.

To find her shop: as you walk into the alcove where Dr. Bernal’s office is, the hair salon is on the right side before his office. For both of us, these have been the bests haircut we’ve had in over a year!

Barber next to Mexican dentist San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Next to Dr. Bernal’s office there is a great little hair cutting place.

Getting a haircut in San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Amber gives me a haircut

Another thing that’s great about going to Mexico for dental care — besides receiving excellent care at a fraction of American prices — is that it’s an excuse to enjoy a daytrip to another culture and eat some really wonderful Mexican food.

In San Luis there is an absolutely fantastic restaurant called El Parianchi that serves incredible food, complete with fun entertainment. We’ve now eaten several lunches there and a breakfast too, and we have loved the experience every single time.

El Parianchi Meal San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

The first course of a feast for two for $13 (pancakes and omelette not shown) at El Parianchi restaurant.

We’ve gotten to know several of the waiters as well as the harpist, Elias. Mexicans enjoy listening to folk songs played by various kinds of musicians while dining, and the harp music adds a special something to the ambiance at El Parianchi.

Mexican restaurant El Parianchi San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Elias entertains us with his harp.

El Parianchi also has a stash of huge sombreros, and sometimes the waiters bring them out and put them on their guests as a gag. We ended up wearing these crazy hats on one of our visits for my root canal last year (see this post). On one of our visits this year, a group celebrating a 26th birthday ended up in the hats right behind us!

People in sombrero hats El Parianchi Restaurant San Luis Rio Colorado Mexico

Sombreros for everyone at the birthday party!

For lots more details about dental care in Mexico, including directions to our dentists’ offices, check out this link:

Mexican Dentists – Finding Affordable Dental Care in Mexico

Basic info for our primary care dentist. He’ll set you up with specialists in town as needed:

Dr. Sergio Bernal

Call him directly from the US by dialing this number: 011 52 653 534 6651
Address: First St. #118-9 San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico

Open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 9-2, Sunday 9-11

For first timers, walk 100 yards from the border to Dr. Bernal’s office (detailed directions at this link), and then take $2-$3 cabs to visit other dental specialists, if needed, and be sure to enjoy a meal at El Parianchi! Here is a map showing the locations we visited:

Locations of Dr. Bernal’s Office, El Parianchi Restaurant and Dr. Avila’s Office – Interactive Google Maps

On the above map, the locations are labeled as:

  • Dr. Bernal = “Calle 1 115”
  • Dr. Avila = GPS 32.477776,-114.766224 (Calle 13 & Madero)
  • El Parianchi is in between them at Calle 10 & Captain Carlos Calles

When we crossed the border for our first visit with Dr. Bernal this past October, we were alarmed to see a huge group of illegal immigrants waiting to cross into the US. On our return visit a month later, Mexican authorities had removed them from the sidewalks and placed them in shelters. The sidewalks near the border were empty as they always had been before.

So how do you get hooked up with a good dentist in Mexico?

We first heard about Dr. Bernal from fellow Escapees members at the Escapees Kofa RV Park in Yuma. For new RVers, we highly recommend joining Escapees RV Club, as it is little tidbits like getting the name and address of a trusted Mexican dentist that are the unsung benefits of being part of this club.

Escapees is known for its fabulous magazine, its many member parks, its discounts on RV parks across the country, its workcamping job board, its massive database of boondocking locations, its bootcamp training for new RVers and its incredible mail forwarding service and RV advocacy work.

But sometimes it is the little things that are passed on member to member, like dentist and doctor referrals, that make the club particularly helpful for folks living on the road in their RV. Lots of people go RVing, but there is a comaraderie among Escapees members that is unique.

To learn a little more about the unusual history of Escapees, check out our links:

If you think you might want to join Escapees RV Club, you can become a member at the link below…and if you mention that you heard about Escapees from this blog, Roads Less Traveled, they will put a little something in our tip jar as a thank you (and thank YOU!!):

Join Escapees

We’ve been members since 2008!!

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Power Inverters – Exeltech’s Pure Sine Wave Excellence

An inverter, sometimes called a “power inverter,” is a piece of electronic gear that converts DC power to AC power, and it is what enables RVers to use regular household appliances in an RV without hookups to an RV park power pedestal relying on a generator.

The September/October 2016 issue of Escapees Magazine features our detailed article about inverters: what they are, how they are sized, what flavors they come in and how to wire one into an RV.

Power inverter for an RV - an Exeltech XPX 2000 watt inverter

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For RVers who enjoy dry camping in public campgrounds or boondocking on public land, an inverter is the key piece of the puzzle that gives their RV traditional 110 volt AC power — like the power in the wall outlets of a house — without plugging the RV into a power pedestal at an RV park or a noisy gas-hungry generator.

WHAT IS AN INVERTER?

For beginning RVers, it is easy to confuse a converter with an inverter, because the words are so much alike. The difference is actually very straight forward:

  • A converter converts the 110 volt AC power coming out of a wall outlet, RV park power pedestal or generator into 12 volt DC power, and charges the RV’s 12 volt battery bank.
  • An inverter converts the batteries’ 12 volt DC power into 110 volt AC power so household appliances like the TV, blender, microwave and vacuum can run.
Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter living off the grid in an RV

Our “house” inverter – an Exeltech XPX 2000 watt inverter.

RV FACTORY INSTALLED CONVERTERS

Most trailers and some smaller motorhomes come with a factory installed converter. Frequently, these factory installed converters are inexpensive units that are not multi-stage chargers. So, for RVers who want to dry camp a lot and keep their batteries in tip-top shape, or charge them up efficiently with a generator while dry camping, it is a good idea to replace the factory installed converter with a better quality converter (we did).

More info on upgrading an RV power converter here: Converters and Inverters in an RV

RV FACTORY INSTALLED INVERTERS and INVERTER/CHARGERS

A few high end trailers and most higher end motorhomes come with a factory installed inverter.

In many cases, especially high end trailers, the inverter is dedicated to powering a residential refrigerator that runs exclusively off of 110 volt AC power (unlike an RV refrigerator that can run on propane). The inverter is there so the fridge can continue to run off the batteries while the rig is being driven from one RV park to another without a connection to 110 volt AC electricity. This inverter is sized to support the refrigerator and is not intended to be used for any other purpose in the rig.

So, for most trailer owners that want to do a lot of camping without hookups, an inverter is an extra piece of gear that must be installed.

In contrast, many higher end motorhomes come with a factory installed inverter/charger that can do two things: 1) provide the RV with household 110 volt AC power at the wall outlets via the batteries while dry camping and 2) charge the batteries when the RV is getting its 110 volt AC power from an RV park power pedestal or a generator. These inverter/chargers essentially do the work of both a converter (charging the batteries from shore power) and an inverter (providing AC power via the batteries while dry camping).

So, for folks with a higher end motorhome, an inverter is usually already installed in the motorhome at the factory in the form of an inverter/charger, and it does not need to be added later. However, it may not be a pure sine wave inverter (see below).

INVERTER SIZES

Inverters come in all shapes and sizes and all price ranges too, from little biddy ones that cost a few bucks to big beefy ones that cost a few thousand dollars.

They are rated by the number of watts they can produce. Small ones that can charge a pair of two-way radios or a toothbrush are in the 150 watt range. Huge ones that can run a microwave and hair dryer are in the 3,000 watt range.

  • Small inverters (400 watts or less) can be plugged into a cigarette lighter style DC outlet in the rig. Mark has one that he uses for his electric razor every morning.
  • Larger inverters (500 watts are more) must be wired directly to the batteries and require stout wires that are as short in length as possible.

Our RV has a “house” inverter that is 2,000 watts. It can run our microwave and hair dryer and vacuum comfortably (we don’t run those appliances all at the same time, however, as that would overload it). Our small portable inverter lives in our bedroom and gets used for a few minutes every day before we head downstairs:

RV power inverter with electric razo

Mark uses this small inverter to power his electric razor every morning!

MODIFIED SINE WAVE vs. PURE SINE WAVE INVERTERS

Inverters also come in two flavors:

Modified sine wave inverters are cheaper than pure sine wave inverters and are the most common type of inverter sold in auto parts stores, Walmart and truck stops. Many inverter/chargers on the market are modified sine wave inverters.

Our sailboat came with a 2,500 watt inverter/charger that produced a modifed sine wave. It was wired into the boat’s wall outlets, including the microwave outlet. We used this inverter when we wanted to run the microwave but not for anything else (we preferred using a pure sine wave inverter instead).

Some vehicles now ship with an inverter installed in the dashboard. Our truck has a small modified sine wave inverter in the dashboard, and I use it all the time to plug in our MiFi Jetpack and get an internet signal for my laptop as we drive.

Exeltech XP 1100 Inverter

Our first pure sine wave inverter: an Exeltech XP 1100 watt inverter. We keep it now as a backup.

WIRING AN INVERTER INTO AN RV – DC SIDE

As mentioned above, small inverters can plug into a DC outlet in the RV wall (these outlets look like the old cigarette lighters found in cars).

Large inverters must be wired directly to the batteries. The wire gauge must be very heavy duty battery cable and short to support the big DC currents that will flow through it. If possible, the length should be less than four feet. A wire gauge chart gives the correct gauge of wire to use for the current that will flow and the length the wire will be.

To determine the maximum possible DC current that might flow through these wires, simply divide the maximum wattage the inverter is rated for by the lowest voltage the inverter can operate at. In our case, we divided our inverter’s maximum 2,000 watts by the minimum 10.5 volts it will operate at before it shuts off. This yields 190 amps DC. Our cable connecting our inverter to the batteries is 2 feet long. So the proper wire size is 2/0 gauge (“double ought”) and can be purchased here: High quality Ancor Battery Cable.

Heavy duty battery cable on Exeltech XPX 2000 inverter in an RV

We used 2/0 Gauge Ancor Battery Cable to wire the DC side of our inverter.

WIRING AN INVERTER INTO AN RV – AC SIDE

All inverters have at least one household style female 110 volt AC outlet. Usually they have two. These outlets look like ordinary household wall outlets.

One very simple way to wire the AC side of the inverter is to plug an appliance directly into it, for instance, plug the power cord of the TV into the inverter. We did this with a 300 watt inverter and our 19″ TV in our first trailer. The inverter was plugged into a DC outlet on the trailer’s wall, and the TV was plugged into the inverter right behind where it sat on our countertop.

If you want to plug more than two appliances into the inverter at once, then plugging a power strip into one or both of the inverter’s AC outlets is one way to go. We did this on our sailboat. We had a 600 watt pure sine wave inverter on the boat. Plugged into one of the inverter’s AC outlets, we had a power strip supporting our TV and DVD player. Plugged into the other AC outlet, we had a power strip supporting everything else: two-way radios, toothbrush, and laptop charging cords and camera battery chargers.

Exeltech XPX 2000 inverter and Trojan Reliant AGM Batteries in an RV

Our inverter is placed as close to the batteries as possible by being suspended above them.

Obviously, you have to be careful not to run too many things at once, or they will overload the inverter. Most inverters will shut down when overloaded or sound a beeping alarm if your appliances demand more from it than it can give. We ran into that a lot when we lived on our portable inverter for a few days while our house inverter was being repaired.

A more sophisticated way to wire an inverter’s AC side so it supplies power to all the wall outlets in the RV is to wire it into the rig’s AC wiring using a transfer switch.

WHICH INVERTER TO BUY for a BIG INSTALLATION?

Because we live off the grid and never plug our RV into a power pedestal (we’ve lived this way for nine years and hope to do so for many more), we rely on our trailer’s house inverter to run all of the AC appliances we own, every single day.

For this reason, we invested in the highest quality inverter we could find on the market: an Exeltech XP 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter. This is a very pricey unit, but it is our sole source of AC power day in and day out. It is the brand that was selected for both the American and Russian sides of the International Space Station, and its signal is pure enough to run extremely sensitive medical equipment.

Exeltech power inverter manufacturing

We visited the Exeltech manufacturing plant in Texas and saw first-hand how meticulously these inverters are made and tested prior to shipping.

Exeltech is a family run company with electrical engineering PhDs heading up their R&D department. All manufacturing is done in-house at their headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. They have phenomenal tech support and an excellent warranty.

When our beautiful new Exeltech XP 2000 inverter was inadvertently blown up by a welding snafu at a trailer suspension shop during our trailer’s suspension overhual (the plastic sheathing on a bundle of AC wires got melted onto the trailer’s frame, bonding the wires to the frame and creating an electrical short — ouch), they got it repaired and back to us very quickly.

And thanks to our RV warranty, our failing suspension was rebuilt completely at no cost to us, and has worked flawlessly for 12 months now.

Power inverter

This high quality Exeltech inverter is a serious piece of electronic gear!

Many RVers like the Magnum brand of inverters. These inverters have a built-in transfer switch which makes them easy to wire into the RV’s AC wiring system.

There are many other brands on the market from Schneider Electric / Xantrex to Go Power, Power Bright and others. If you are going to dry camp a lot, then installing a high quality and expensive pure sine wave inverter makes sense. But if you are going to dry camp for just a few days, week or month here and there, then a cheaper one may make more sense.

MORE INFO ABOUT INVERTERS and SOLAR POWER

All of this info and more is covered detail in our feature article in this month’s Escapees Magazine. We also have loads of other info about inverters, converters right here on our website. Links to our many RV electricity related articles are at the bottom of this page.

ESCAPEES MAGAZINE and RV CLUB

RV Power Inverters

Inverters – AC Power from DC Batteries
Escapees Magazine Sep/Oct 2016
By Emily Fagan

Our five page article on inverters in this month’s issue of Escapees Magazine is typical of the kind of detailed technical articles the magazine publishes.

I have been publishing articles like this in Escapees Magazine since 2008, and I have written about anything and everything we’ve learned in our full-time RVing lives, from solar power to photography to batteries to the importance of fulfillling our dreams.

What makes Escapees Magazine unique is that it is written by RVers for RVers.

The magazine article topics come from real life experiences that RVers have encountered in their lives on the road.

Just as my article in this issue of Escapees Magazine is about what we’ve learned about inverters since we started RVing (and believe me, back in 2007, I was the one asking trailer salesmen what the difference was between inverters and converters, and I got some wacky, wild and very wrong answers!), other RVers write articles for Escapees Magazine about things they have learned.

When I sat down to read the September/October issue, I was impressed — as I am with every issue — by the quality of both the articles and the presentation.

Besides including some cool travel articles about RVing Alaska via the Alaska Marina Highway ferry system, and visiting the Very Large Array that listens to the cosmos in New Mexico, and traveling on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi, this issue has two wonderful profiles of full-time RVers doing intriguing things as part of their RV lifestyle.

RV by ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway

RV Alaska by Ferry!
Escapees Magazine Sep/Oct 2016

One article this month is about a full-time RVer who lives in an Airstream trailer and has dedicated himself to ensuring that the original silkscreen art prints created by the WPA artists in the 1930’s for the National Parks remain in the public domain, owned by the NPS rather than private collectors. It is a fascinating tale, written by Rene Agredano who has been full-timing since 2007 and writes the very informative blog Live, Work, Dream, a terrific resource for anyone who wants to learn the ins and outs of work camping.

Another article this month shares the stories of three very long term (10+ years) full-time RVers who have flourished as artists on the road. One RVer/artist specializes in watercolors and has held many exhibitions of her work around the country. Another RVer/artist discovered the fun craft of decorating gourds and teaches classes at her home RV park. A third RVer/artist has self-published a photojournal about her travels specifically for her grandchildren. This insipring Escapees Magazine article is written by full-time RVer Sandra Haven who shares the same home base RV park as the artists.

There is also a detailed article written by a lawyer on what it takes to establish a legal domicile and register to vote when you’re a full-time RVer without a sticks-and-bricks home built on a foundation that stays in one place.

These kinds of articles aren’t found in most RV industry publications!

Full-time RV traveler artist

RVers take their art on the road
Escapees Magazine Sep/Oct 2016

And what’s neat for would-be writers and photographers who are Escapees RV Club members is that the magazine’s editorial staff is always eager for new material from members…click here!.

Escapees Magazine is just a tiny part of the overall Escapees RV Club, however.

Founded by full-time RVing pioneers Joe and Kay Peterson, the Escapees Club strives to serve the varied interests of all RVers and to alert RVers to changes in government policies or the RV industry itself that might affect us as consumers of RVs, RV and camping products and RV overnight accommodations.

They also work as tireless advocates on behalf of all RVers at both the local and national levels.

RVers BootCamp at Escapees RV Club

RVers BootCamp – A training program for new RVers

One of the most interesting articles in this month’s magazine alerts members to corporate consolidations in the industry that will affect our choices as RV consumers in years to come. It also reveals that the Escapees advocacy group is investigating possible changes at the Bureau of Land Management that will affect RVers ability to use their RVs on BLM land nationwide.

In addition to the magazine, the Club offers discounts for RV parks, regional chapter groups, national rallies, bootcamp training programs for new RVers, and assisted living for retired RVers who are ready to hang up their keys but not ready to give up living in their RV.

One of the most charming articles in this month’s magazine is about Nedra, a woman in her mid-80’s who was once an avid RVer but now lives at CARE, the Escapees assisted living facility in Livingston Texas. I had the good fortune to meet Nedra when we visited the Escapees headquarters at Rainbow’s End, and she took me on a fun tour of the CARE facilities. Escapees is like a big extended family, and it was very heartwarming to see her story in this month’s issue.

We’ve been members of Escapees RV Club since 2008 and highly recommend joining if you are a current or future RVer, whether you plan to travel full-time or just occasionally. Supporting their advocacy work benefits everyone who owns an RV and ensures we consumers and hobbyists have a voice in this very large industry.

You can join Escapees (or Xscapers, the branch of Escapees dedicated to younger, working age RVers) here:

Join Escapees RV Club

If you mention this blog, Roads Less Traveled, when you join, they put a little something in our tip jar. We began recommending Escapees RV Club to our readers eight years ago, and this friendly gesture from Escapees is a brand new development in the last few months. So, this is not a sales pitch from us to earn tips, by any means. We simply believe in the work Escapees RV Club does to support RV consumers and hobbyists and hope you do too!

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SOLAR POWER OVERVIEW and TUTORIAL

BATTERIES and BATTERY CHARGING SYSTEMS

LIVING ON 12 VOLTS

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How to Heat an RV in Cold Weather and Winter Snow Storms

Heating an RV in cold weather during the winter, especially in a snow storm, is quite different than heating a house, and it often requires utilizing different kinds of heaters and a little creativity too.

RV camping and travel in snow in winter

Is that SNOW??!! We sure didn’t expect THAT!!!

A few weeks ago, at the end of September, we woke up to find ourselves in a beautiful snowstorm at 10,000′ elevation in Colorado.

We had to pull out all the stops to make sure we were cozy warm in our RV even though overnight lows were in the 20’s and daytime highs didn’t get out of the 40’s for a week.

Bikes on RV bike rack in snow in winter

We looked out our back window and saw snow covering our bikes!

The first order of business was to go outside and build a snowman, and Mark got right to it.

Winter RV tips for staying warm in cold weather

It’s snowing!!! Let’s make a snowman!!!

While he’s busy getting that snowman together, I wanted to share with you the strategies we’ve used for heating our RV without electrical hookups, because we use different heating appliances in different situations.

For “cool” conditions, like December and February in the Arizona desert or May in the Canadian Rockies, when lows are in the 30’s, keeping our buggy warm is a cinch with our blue flame vent-free propane heater that Mark installed back in 2008.

But in in “extreme” conditions, like this recent snowstorm on a mountaintop in Colorado, we use a different strategy and rely more on our RV furnace that was factory installed in our trailer.

We have tried different strategies in very cold weather at very high altitudes like this in the past, and this most recent cold spell was our most comfortable, despite the wet gloppy mess of snowy covered jackets, hats, mittens and boots and the sullen gray skies that persisted for several days. So, we seem to have gotten it right this time.

Of course, “lows in the 20’s” is far from “extreme” for North Americans living in houses with central heating, but it definitely feels extreme when living in an RV off the grid. In reality, RVs are most comfortable in temperatures that stay above freezing.

Winter RVing in the snow

The snowman gets sticks for his arms…

Even though high end RVs are marketed as being “four season” coaches, boasting high R-factors in the walls, ceiling and floor, you just can’t compare 1.5″ styrofoam walls that have a thin layer of gelcoat and wallpaper board to a residential house wall that’s made of 3.5″ fiberglass insulation covered with a half-inch of drywall, half-inch of plywood, Tyvek and exterior siding.

Besides the skimpy walls, we find that the RV windows are the biggest reasons for the poor insulation. The metal window frames are extremely cold to the touch when temps outside are in the 20’s, and all that metal around our many windows conducts the cold right into the rig.

Some folks like to have thermopane (dual pane) RV windows, but if moisture gets between the two panes, which can happen more easily in an RV that rattles down the road all the time than in a house that stands still on its foundation, the moisture is likely to remain there permanently, no matter what the weather does outside or how many years go by.

RV windows don’t seal all that well either. Our top quality, four season fifth wheel trailer is downright drafty inside, with a definite breeze that can, at times, flutter a tissue by the “escape” windows. You don’t notice it so much when it is 70 degrees both outside and inside with no wind blowing. But when it is a blustery18 degrees outside and we are trying to heat the rig to 65 degrees inside, the breeze by those windows is a shock.

The microwave vent is another drafty spot, and if the wind is howling outside and blowing directly on that wall of the RV, it blows right into the kitchen through the vent holes on the top of the microwave. One solution for that, of course, is to tape over the vent on the outside of the rig and not use the microwave for the duration of the cold snap (we haven’t done that, however).

Winter RV trip in the snow

The snowman gets a hat!

So, in our experience, keeping an RV and everything in it toasty warm when it is snowing out can require a little creativity.

Back in our house living days in snow country, we would set the thermostat to our preferred indoor temperature and keep it there 24/7, perhaps raising it slightly at the breakfast and dinner hours and lowering it slightly while we were at work or asleep.

When a blizzard blows into our RV lifestyle nowadays, we can have that kind of stable heat in our rig if we plug into shorepower with access to unlimited electricity. Portable electric heaters can back up the RV furnace, and RVs that have an air conditioner with a heat pump can use that (ours doesn’t).

We have a portable electric ceramic heater for just such an emergency where going to an RV park and plugging in is our best line of defense for weathering a storm.

However, it is possible to stay warm without hookups, even when it starts snowing.

RV in snow in winter

What fun!!

We rely on our vent-free propane heater for 95% of our heat year round. These little heaters use propane very efficiently, don’t need any electricity to run, and can be installed in an RV permanently to run off the RV’s propane tanks.

There are also handy portable models that can be stored in a closet when not in use and then placed anywhere in the rig where you want a little heat. These run on disposable propane bottles, so it isn’t necessary to plumb the heater to the RV’s big propane tanks.

Animal tracks in the winter snow

We found fresh animal tracks in the snow.

We have a detailed article describing the different kinds of vent-free propane heaters on the market, the pros and cons of each type and the type of heat they generate, plus a step-by-step guide for how to install one in an RV at this link:

How to Install a Vent-free Propane Heater in an RV

These heaters heat the rig amazingly quickly. We find that our 20k BTU blue flame heater warms our rig at a rate of about one degree every two minutes. So, in twenty minutes we can warm up our home by 10 degrees, and in an hour we can raise the inside temp by 30 degrees.

The best part is that we can hover over it and warm our hands, bodies and clothes, just like standing in front of a woodstove or fireplace. We do that a LOT and totally love our little heater for the terrific blast of instant hot air it provides!!!

How to heat an RV in winter and cold weather

When you’re chilled, there’s nothing like hovering over this heater!

We use our blue flame heater year round, and we have used it at elevations ranging from sea level to 10,000′.

This past year we traveled primarily in cold places where overnight lows were in the 30’s and 40’s. We went north through Utah, Idaho and Montana in March and April and spent May and early June in the Canadian Rockies. Consequently, we saw quite a bit of snow and hail, and during those months we used our heater almost every day.

Aspen and pine trees in winter snow

The snow in Colorado fell for hours and gave us a beautiful winter wonderland — in September!

Colorful aspens in winter snow storm with pine tree

Fall colors with snow – Magic!

We thawed out in July long enough to get overheated and write a blog post: “How to Beat the Heat in an RV.” Then it was back to the high elevations of Utah and Colorado in mid-August where we saw more hail and overnight lows in 30’s once again.

Our vent-free blue flame heater has been keeping us warm during all four seasons like this since Mark installed it in 2008!!

Snowy road with aspen for an RV in winter

.

Snowy road in winter

It was really cold, but it was so beautiful we didn’t mind!!

The basic difference between an RV furnace and a vent-free propane heater is this:

  • RV furnace – Uses a lot of electricity, uses propane inefficiently, brings fresh air into the rig (because it’s vented)
  • Vent-free propane heater – Doesn’t use electricity, burns propane efficiently, uses up oxygen in the RV

So each has its place under certain circumstances. In a nutshell:

— The ventless propane heater is awesome as long as there is sufficient oxygen for it to run. We like to use it in the mornings and evenings, and since we are in and out of the rig a lot, there is a lot of air exchange inside our RV from opening and closing the front door all day long as well as from all the drafts and breezes that blow in the RV windows and microwave vent.

— The RV furnace is best for other scenarios: in cases where there is a risk of the water pipes freezing (the hot air ducts keep the basement and water lines warm), at very high elevations in extreme cold, and at night, because it is vented and continually circulates the air in the rig. The RV furnace is very loud and tends to wake us up at night, however, so we don’t use it overnight very often.

So, we use our vent-free blue flame heater for 95% of our RV heating, and we turn to our RV furnace on rare occasions.

Aspen and pine trees in snow in winter

Fall colors and snow — a gorgeous combinations!

Dodge pickup truck covered in winter snow

This snowfall was definitely sticking around a while!

Vented vs. Ventless Propane Heaters and Propane RV Stoves & Ovens – Safety Concerns

An RV furnace is a vented system, meaning that it releases warm, moist air from inside the RV to the outside, and it brings cold air from outside to the inside of the rig. This makes it very inefficient in its use of propane, because it is essentially heating the outdoors as well as the indoors. Put your hands by the RV furnace vent outside, and they will get nice and warm and a bit damp too!

While RV furnaces are safely vented yet very inefficient, vent-free gas heaters are very efficient and are required by law to have an automatic shutoff when the available oxygen goes below a certain threshold (there is a built-in sensor that triggers the shut-off). We know when ours is about to shut off because the flame begins to sputter and make noise. Once it has shut itself off, it won’t turn on again until we air out the RV a little by opening the door or windows for a while.

Ironically, propane RV stoves and ovens are not required to shut off automatically when the available oxygen is depleted. To me, this makes them inherently quite a bit more dangerous than vent-free propane heaters.

Of course, an RV fitted with propane tanks is basically a rolling bomb, so it’s a very unsafe place to call home (I say this with a smile, because we wouldn’t trade our 9 years on the road for anything)!

Every time we have seen our blue flame heater shut itself off (probably 30+ times), the RV stove and/or oven has kept right on a-cookin’ without any hint that our supply of oxygen inside the rig was running out. We could easily have baked something in our factory installed propane RV oven and simmered something on our factory installed propane RV stove for hours while camped at 10,000′ with no inkling that the oxygen in our rig had dipped below safe levels!

Winter snow on RV steps

Welcome home…. Brrrrr!

Which Heater is Best Under Which Conditions?

For most of this year as we traveled in cold country, the lowest temperatures we saw were in the low to mid 30’s overnight. Daytime highs were in the mid-60’s to mid-70’s. These kinds of conditions are very similar to what we see in the southwestern deserts in the winter months (except January, which can be colder). These conditions are ideal for a vent-free propane heater.

We usually run our vent-free propane heater every morning until the rig is 60 to 75 degrees inside (depending on our mood) and then again in the evening if the temperature inside has dipped below 65. If the windows have fogged up from condensation (about 5% of the time, usually only in the winter), we run the RV furnace too to help dry the air out.

In general, we don’t heat our RV overnight in this kind of climate. We prefer to bundle up with down comforters instead. If we do run the heat at night, we use the RV furnace and set it to 50 degrees. If outdoor temps drop into the 30’s overnight, the RV furnace will come on once or twice in the pre-dawn hours.

Golden aspen in snow in winter

Golden aspen leaves in snow.

Ironically, if the outside temps dip really low — into the 20’s or teens — and daytime highs don’t get much past 50 degrees, then the RV furnace will start coming on before midnight and will come on every hour for 15-20 minutes as it struggles to keep the rig at 50 degrees.

Since we are light sleepers, this is extremely annoying. So, at the times we would want to run the RV furnace most — overnight when it’s really cold — we opt not to!

On overnights that we don’t heat the rig, when we wake up in the morning our bedroom is around 10-12 degrees warmer than the outside air (bedroom door closed all night) and our living area is around 5-7 degrees warmer than the outside air.

It is routine for us to wake up to temps in our trailer that are between 37 and 42 degrees. For us, that is a small price to pay for living off the grid, however, for many RVers it is good reason to get electric hookups and have more substantial and consistent heat in the rig overnight.

Aspen covered with snow in winter

The colors of Fall in Colorado.

There is a lot of debate about whether you can operate a ventless propane heater at high elevations. By the time we got caught in that September snow storm in Colorado two weeks ago, we had been living at elevations between 8,000′ and 10,000′ for 5 straight weeks, running our vent-free propane blue flame heater every morning and evening without a hitch.

Along with many weeks spent heating our rig at high elevations in previous years, including 8 weeks or so at 6,000′ or higher this past spring, our 5 weeks at 8 to 10 thousand feet this fall kind of proved the point for us: it’s no problem to run a vent-free propane heater at high altitudes in cool weather.

But in sub-freezing overnight temperatures and daytime highs in the 40’s under stormy skies at 10,000′ elevation, we’ve found a vent-free propane heater is best used in combination with the RV furnace.

Bikes on back of RV in snow

Well, we won’t be biking any time soon!!

Until the the snowstorm came to our mountaintop spot in the Colorado Rockies at 10,000′, we hadn’t been using the RV furnace at all. But once the temps dropped to the 20’s (lows) to 40’s (highs) at that elevation, we couldn’t rely on our blue flame heater exclusively any more and had to change our heating strategy for three reasons.

1) There is less available oxygen at 10,000′ than at lower elevations, and once the oxygen in the rig dipped below a certain level, the blue flame heater would shut itself off automatically. Because it was so cold outside, we weren’t thrilled about opening the windows and doors to let in more air just so we could turn on the blue flame heater again. It was time to use the RV furnace.

2) Our RV roof and ladder — along with our solar panels — was covered with snow and ice. Mark wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement to climb up there to clear off the solar panels, and I wasn’t about to get up on that slippery roof either. So, our batteries were no longer getting charged by the sun and wouldn’t have enough juice to run the RV furnace.

3) Vent-free propane heaters emit a lot of moisture. We had just had several days of torrential rain, and everything in our rig was wet. Our shower was filled with raincoats and rain hats hung up to dry, our boots and socks were wet and muddy by the door, our pants were wet and hanging in the bathroom and our bath towels refused to dry. While our blue flame vent-free heater would exacerbate the moisture problem, our RV furnace would help dry out the air inside our buggy.

Doing all these things gave us a nice dry and toasty warm environment to live in during this cold spell in snowy conditions at 10,000 feet.

To implement this heating strategy, we did two things. We stocked up on gasoline and propane and ran our Yamaha 2400i generator and RV furnace a lot. Sometimes we also ran the blue flame heater alongside the furnace.

Yamaha generator in bed of pickup truck in snow

Our Yamaha generator got a good hard workout for over a week.

The generator ensured that the batteries got fully charged. Because we were running our RV furnace so much, which burned up lots of electricity, the batteries were being depleted much faster than normal. So, not only did we need the generator because the solar panels were snoozing under the snow and ice, we also needed it because of running the RV furnace.

RV in snow in winter

A few weeks prior we had been roasting in the summer heat. What a crazy life we live in this RV!!

In general, we ran the RV furnace every morning until the rig was 65 degrees inside and then ran it on and off during the day and in the evening. If the air wasn’t too moist, we also ran blue flame vent-free heater alongside the furnace to warm things up faster. The vent-free propane heater never shut itself off, so the RV furnace was doing its job of circulating the air.

Golden aspen in snow by pond in winter

Getting creative heating our RV made it possible to enjoy views like this as it snowed.

Using the RV furnace also lessened the possibility of the water pipes freezing. The heater is ducted through the belly of the rig, and the warm air passing through the ducts helps warm the nearby water and sewer pipes. If the temps had gotten below 20 degrees, we would have run the RV furnace once or twice overnight as well just to be sure no ice formed in the pipes.

If we had had brilliantly sunny days every day, we may or may not have needed the generator. Our 490 watt solar panel array may have been able to charge the batteries fully, despite the additional load from the RV furnace.

Also, we probably wouldn’t have needed to use the RV furnace so much because the sun would have warmed up our rig and dried it out a bit during the day.

See how flexible and variable all this is??!!

Colorado fall colors after winter snow

This is why we came to Colorado at this season… Wow!!!

We have descended out of the clouds now and have been living at elevations between 5,000′ and 6,500′ for the past few weeks. The RV furnace is back on vacation and our trusty blue flame heater has taken over all the RV heating duties. Our generator is on break for another 6 months or year, and the shore power cord is buried somewhere in the basement once again.

RV in winter snow staying warm in cold weather

Snug as a bug in a rug!!

If you are going to be using your RV in cold weather this winter, we have another post full of tips for keeping warm that you might enjoy:

How to Stay WARM in an RV – Winter RVing Survival Tips

And if you think a vent-free propane heater is something you’d like to get, have a look at our detailed article that discusses the different types of heaters and shows how we installed ours:

Vent-free Propane Heaters (Catalytic, Infrared and Blue Flame) PLUS How to Install One in an RV

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Internet & Phone Communications for RV Living – A Minimalist Solution!

How do you stay in touch when living on the road full-time in an RV? What kind of internet access is best? Which phone plans make the most sense for a full-time RVer? These are some of the questions that RVers face, and there is a huge array of solutions for every need and lifestyle.

Note: This post was updated in September, 2016, to reflect new offerings from Verizon

The gurus on this topic are unquestionably Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of Technomadia. They have written a fantastic book about the internet for RVers and also created an online community dedicated to mobile internet issues (more about those excellent resources here).

Because we have taken an unconventional route with our own communications solution (as we tend to do with our traveling lifestyle in general), I thought a few notes here might be useful.

What, No Phone?! How Can You DO THAT?!

After several decades of being “on call” in our professions, bound to our customers by electronic leashes, we ditched our cell phones when we started traveling full-time in 2007. In large part, this was a money-savings tactic, but in some ways it was a small act of defiance against a world that is increasingly held in electronic bondage.

We have managed just fine without a phone since we started traveling full-time.  We’ve been able to meet up with friends at appointed hours, find our way to remote and stunning locations without a GPS-enabled electronic map. We’ve even bought and sold large assets like our sailboat and truck, all without a phone.

If you are looking to shave a few dollars off your full-time RVing budget, or if you are just curious how this is possible, here’s what we do.

Internet Access – Verizon MiFi Jetpack

Verizon MiFi Jetpack 6620L

Verizon MiFi Jetpack 6620L

We have a Verizon MiFi 6620L Jetpack hotspot that is the basis of all our communications. It operates on the Verizon cell phone towers, has a cell phone number itself, provides password protected WiFi inside and near the rig, and can theoretically support 15 devices connected to the internet.

A little back-story on this MiFi jetpack — For three years we had a Verizon MiFi 4620 jetpack, but in October, 2014, its tiny charging receptacle broke and it could no longer get charged. Mark tried to nurse it back to life by soldering its lifeless receptacle to the charger permanently, but the problem was internal and it was dead.

MiFi Jetpack Charger solder repair

We tried soldering wires from the MiFi to its charger, but it still wouldn’t charge.

That older jetpack always had problems charging and holding a charge. It could theoretically support up to five devices, but we found our two laptops frequently maxed out its battery, even when it was plugged in and charging, and we sometimes ran the battery down faster than it could charge itself on its charger!

For those that have an older MiFi and haven’t yet upgraded to the MiFi 6620L, this new jetpack has a bigger battery and holds a charge better than the 4620L did.

However, it also has the annoying habit of falling asleep when nothing is happening between you and the internet. For us to resume using the internet after a period of doing nothing, we have to wake it up manually by tapping on its power button. Then the computer has to reconnect to the MiFi.

Some reviews claim that this new jetpack provides a better internet signal than the old one, but in all honesty, it seems about the same. So, the only real difference we can see is in the size of the battery.

Verizon 24GB (XXL) Talk/Text/Data Plan – Usage and Flexibility

As of September, 2016, our MiFi Jetpack is tied to a 24 GB talk/text/data plan with Verizon. When we first got our Jetpack in 2012, we were able to get by with a 3GB data-only plan until I moved this website to WordPress. Then our data usage instantly jumped to 6GB per month.

Over the next three years we gradually increased our plan by 2GB increments until it was 20 GB per month (data only). After a year at that level, we took advantage of the new Verizon plans being offered in the fall of 2016 and got a 24 GB plan talk/text/data plan for less money!

Note: We do not use the talk/text feature of this plan because we don’t have a cell phone. However, we signed up for the 24 GB talk/text/data plan because it is cheaper than our former 20 GB data-only plan and it has several key benefits…

This new 24 GB talk/text/data plan has three huge advantages over our old 20 GB data-only plan:

  • Carryover of unused data from one month to the next
  • The fee for the Jetpack itself is just $10 instead of $20
  • There is no surcharge for using the Jetpack in Canada or Mexico (see below)

How cool is that?

Verizon Talk Text Data Plans

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Changing Plans? Cut to the Chase & Call Verizon!

I always dread calling Verizon (I had terrible experiences with them with a fleet of corproate phones in the mid-1990’s), but in recent years, I’ve found that talking to their sales people has always helped us find a better deal than if I just poked around on their website.

We have changed our plan six times since we first got our Jetpack in 2012, and we have put it on hold or taken it off hold five or six times, and each time we have done it over the phone and been really surprised at how helpful our salesperson has been!

Saving Data by Using Free WiFi Signals

When we want to save data on our plan, we put off our big download operations, like operating systems upgrades that download as much as 1.5 GB of data at once, for when we have access to a free WiFi signal at a library or coffee shop or elsewhere.

We also use Clipgrab on free WiFi signals to download videos so we can watch them from our laptop hard drives later.

Verizon MiFi Jetpack – International Use

The new Verizon talk/text/data plans now allow you to use the MiFi Jetpack in both Canada and Mexico — if you get a 16GB (XL) plan or larger — without paying a surcharge. Using our MiFi Jetpack came in very handy during our travels to the Canadian Rockies in the summer of 2016.

At that time, our old Verizon data-only plan charged us $2 per day for the privilege/convenience of using our Jetpack in Canada. So, for six weeks of RV travel in Canada, we paid a $90 surcharge on top of our usual Verizon bill. At the time that seemed like a pretty good deal, because the year before, in 2015, when we traveled in Nova Scotia, the MiFi Jetpack wouldn’t work in Canada at all, and we had to rely on free WiFi signals the whole time we were in Canada!!

With our new XXL 24GB plan, there is no surcharge at all for using our Jetpack in either Mexico or Canada. That’s even better! Yay!! (And what a godsend that would have been during our sailing cruise of Mexico!).

Internet access in the Gulf of Tehuantepec Mexico

Internet access on a boat at sea in a foreign country is a trip!
Here I hold up my laptop to get a much needed internet weather report while crossing Mexico’s notorious Gulf of Tehuantepec.
It took 21 minutes to download a 604 KB file!!

Putting a Verizon Data Plan on Hold

One handy aspect of Verizon’s plans is that you can put them on hold. We used this feature a lot when we spent months at a time sailing in Mexico because Verizon didn’t offer Mexico access for Jetpacks back in those days.

Seasonal RV travelers may find this comes in handy, as they may not want to use the MiFi Jetpack when they are at home and not out traveling in their RV.

You can put the plan on hold for up to 90 days, at no charge. If you call in again before 90 days is up, you can put it on hold for another 90 days, and so on, indefinitely.

All the days that you put the plan on hold get tacked onto the end of your contract. So, for us, a two year contract took nearly three years to fulfill. When you decide to resume the contract, a simple phone call is all it takes and you are back online immediately. There is a nominal charge for re-instating the contract.

Phone Access – Skype

We use a Skype account for all of our phone needs. Skype is best known for making it possible to make free video calls between people who have Skype accounts. Similar to Apple’s FaceTime, this is a fun way to communicate. It also requires a pretty strong internet signal. If the call begins to falter due to a sketchy internet connection, turning off the video will often perk it back up again.

Skype Image

That’s not generally how we use Skype, however. Instead, we use it to call people on their cell phones and land lines. For $2.99 a month we have an annual subscription service with Skype to call any cell phone or landline in the US or Canada for unlimited minutes. These are outbound phone calls only.

To receive incoming calls requires another step: For $2.50 a month, Skype assigned a phone number to our account that accepts voicemail and appears on our friends’ phones when we call them. Skype sends us an email when a new voicemail comes in. If we are on our computer and it is connected to the internet, we receive incoming phone calls just like a regular phone (the computer’s speaker rings, and you click a button to pick up the call). Skype has an app for mobile devices too, so you can do all this with a tablet, iPad or iPod too.

If you don’t sign up for that service, Skype calls will come into your friends’ phones with a mystifying number that is unrecognizable. We did this for four years, and it was okay. It was a little awkward not having a call-back number when calling a business, but we let them know that we checked our email frequently, and most companies were happy to get back to us via email instead of a phone call. Our friends eventually knew that if a weird number came in on their phone, it was probably us calling!

Tricks for Making Skype Calls

Skype is pretty good for phone calls, but the connection is not always perfect. We’ve gotten used to tipping our MacBook Pro laptops so the microphone is a little closer to our mouths than when it’s down in our lap. The person on the other end is on speaker phone, which can be nice for calling family and friends, if they don’t mind. However, when making an important call to a company, using earbuds makes it easier to hear the other person and takes them off speaker phone if you are in a somewhat public place.

In general, our internet download speed is faster and better than our upload speed, and this affects Skype. Oftentimes, we can hear the person on the other end of the phone much better than they can hear us. One way to improve things is to make sure only one device is on the internet via the MiFi jetpack.  So, if Mark wants to make a call, I have to do something local on my laptop and stop using the internet, and vice versa.

It’s also important that no other internet applications are running on the computer that is making the call. That means turning off the email application, shutting down all browsers and quitting out of anything else that might unexpectedly access the internet and disrupt the phone call.

Wilson Booster – Getting More from our Internet Signal – Kinda

We use a Wilson Sleek 4G Cell Phone Booster which we have permanently mounted in a cabinet alongside a cigarette lighter outlet.

This connects to a Wilson 800/1900 Magnet Mount Antenna. This combo works okay, however, these signal boosters do much more for 4G signals than they do for 3G signals, and we have 3G signals quite a bit of the time.  One note: according to Wilson, the number of bars on the MiFi unit doesn’t necessarily increase even though the signal is improved by the booster. A fun way to see how fast your internet signal is and to keep track of the speeds in different places is to use SpeedTest.Net.

Wilson Antenna on fifth wheel slideout

The higher the antenna, the better.

The folks at Wilson told us it was very important to have the antenna sitting on a piece of metal for grounding purposes, so we bought their suction cup mounted Accessory Kit for Grounding. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a good place to mount the antenna with this suction cup plate because the wires are so short. Someday Mark might replace our outside (and rarely used) radio antenna with the Wilson antenna, but we haven’t done that yet.

Wilson also told us that simply placing the antenna on a 5″ x 5″ sheet of ferrous metal would do the trick, and we searched around for something and discovered our cast iron skillet fit the bill.

We did tests with the antenna to see how much having a grounding plate seemed to matter. We placed the antenna near the ceiling above our slide-out without a metallic plate under it, then set it on our big frying pan on our kitchen counter, and lastly set it on the roof of our truck.

Wilson Antenna on a frying pan

It’s “grounded” as per Wilson’s recommendation, but the signal isn’t as good this low down.

We found having the antenna higher in the air near the ceiling above our slide-out was much more important than placing it on metal.

Although we used this booster a fair bit in 2014 and 2015, we haven’t used it at all in 2016, and we haven’t missed it!

Internet Portability – Driving Tactics and Electronic Maps

Siri — ahhhh. Although we don’t have an iAnything, I am in love with the little Apple genie, Siri, who lives inside iPhones and iPads. However, after lots of soul searching about whether Siri’s companionship would make me happier in our travels, so far I’ve decided that it wouldn’t.

Instead, I get to be Mark’s Siri as he drives, and that’s not a bad gig. He does all the driving in our family (I did almost all the helmsman duty on our boat, so it’s pretty fair). To help out with the RV navigation, I bring the MiFi jetpack and laptop with me into the truck’s passenger’s seat, and I use Google Maps to figure out where we’re going. I don’t get the nifty icon that shows me where we are, so sometimes I have some frantic moments trying to deduce our exact location, but once I’ve got it, I call out the instructions for how to get from here to there.

Our 2016 Ram 3500 truck has a factory installed dash-mounted GPS, but it user friendliness pales by comparison.

So, the overall functionality of a smartphone or tablet is there for us on the road, it’s just a whole lot more clunky.

Using a SmartPhone or Tablet as a Hotspot and More

When our Mifi Jetpack died, I thought the only solution was to get another one. Not so. I have since learned that we could have taken the SIM card out of our old jetpack and put it into a glistening new iPad. We wouldn’t have had to sign up for another 2 years with Verizon when we replaced our dead MiFi jetpack either (which we did when we upgraded to the new MiFi jetpack), since our contract was tied to the SIM card. We could have simply continued on our old plan until it ran out four months later and then reassessed our situation.

Internet Access Resources for RVers

Mobile Internet Handbook for RVers

The Internet Bible for RVers

For us — for now — we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing since it works just fine. In all likelihood, however, our simplistic and minimalistic methods are not getting you fired up with excitement.

As I mentioned above, the Mobile Internet Handbook (available on Kindle and in Paperback) by Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard is the most thorough resource available and is an absolute necessity for anyone that wants to get technical on the road. Prior to starting their full-time RV adventures, Chris was a mobile technology expert, working as Director of Competitive Analysis for Palm and PalmSource (the companies behind the Palm Pilot and Treo). He studied every aspect of mobile phone and tablet technologies and is using that expertise to help RVers today.

The detail this book goes to is staggering. From explaining nationwide versus regional cellular data carriers to getting into the nitty gritty of what “roaming” is all about, and what hotspots and routers really are, to discussing cellular frequency bands and the all important topic of security, this book covers it all.

What’s better, Chris and Cherie continue the discussion and keep it current at their RV Mobile Internet Resource Center, with an accompanying public Facebook discussion group. They are also keeping a list of RV internet strategy blog posts that describe various real-life technology setups that RVers are using. They even offer personal advising sessions where you can find out what the best solution is for your unique situation.

Of course, all of this technology is changing daily. When we started RVing full-time in 2007, we got by with pay phone cards and free WiFi at coffee shops. We were unaware in those days (although we had our suspicions) that cell phones weren’t nearly as smart as their progeny would soon be, and we had no idea just how far the industry would come.

In just a few scant years everything has changed, and who knows where the future will take us!

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Long Ride Travel by Horse and Bicycle!

July 2016 – One of the best things about our traveling lifestyle is having a chance to meet some of the really unusual and inspiring people who are out there traveling and seeing the world.

There are many ways to get out of the house and away from convention to start a life on the road exploring, and because we are out and about ourselves, we’ve bumped into some fascinating folks who have taken an approach to travel that is nothing like our own. Each one, in their own way, is having an adventure that is truly extraordinary.

Long Ride Lady with horses in Montana

Traveling full-time by RV is cool, but how about doing it by horse?!

On the 4th of July we stopped in Troy, Montana, way up in the northwest corner of the state near Idaho and Canada, so we could enjoy their “Old Fashioned” small town Independence Day celebration with a parade and a car show.

Troy Montana 4th of July Parade

The 4th of July parade kicks off in Troy, Montana!

The parade was terrific. There were lots of fire trucks and sirens and honking of horns, and tons of candy was thrown out on the ground for the kids to scramble after.

Little girl at 4th of July Parade Troy Montana

Little kids were diving for candy all over the place!

We joined a sizable throng lining the highway (which had been temporarily shut down for the parade), and we cheered everyone on.

Troy Montana 4th of July Parade Car Show

Now there’s a sweet ride!

Near the end of the parade, some horses went by. One in particular caught our eye. A petite woman in a very broad brimmed hat sat astride a horse, and she held the reins for a second horse that she had in tow. The second horse was carrying saddle bags and had a large sign on its back that said:

Lady Long Rider. 12 Years. 28,000 Miles. Today ends 8,000 mile Coast to Coast Journey.

Long Ride Lady Bernice Ende 28000 miles 12 years

28,000 miles…by horse?? Wow!

Holy Smokes!! Who was this gal and what was her story??

In a few seconds she was gone down the road, along with the rest of the equestrian part of the parade, and we were caught up once again in watching the kids dive for candy and cheering the floats that went by.

Later that evening, as we went through our photos from the day, we both stopped at our pics of this unusual “lady long rider” and wondered again what her story was.

The next day, when we were driving on a back road near the town of Libby, we were both completely shocked when we looked up the road and saw the Lady Long Rider walking towards us with her two horses, right down the middle of the road.

What luck! We pulled over and jumped out to talk to her.

Long Ride Lady Bernice Ende in Montana

The Lady Long Rider paused for a few minutes to chat with us and answer our flood of questions about her life.

She smiled warmly and began telling us about her journey as her horses took advantage of the moment and started doing some serious grazing in the tall grass.

Norwegian Fjord Horse

Her two beautiful Norwegian Fjord horses passed the time grazing while their mistress talked to us.

Her name was Bernice Ende, and we found out she has been traveling alone with her horses since 2005. She has covered 28,000 miles all together, criss-crossing the US and Canada several times. Her two horses, Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit, are both Norwegian Fjord horses. They are steady, strong and mellow horses that are ideal for this kind of long distance journey.

Bernice Ende Long Ride Lady with horses in Montana

We had a wonderfully low key encounter on a little used road.

Raised on a Minnesota dairy farm, and trained as a classical ballet dancer, she enjoyed a twenty-five year career as a ballet dance teacher that included teaching stints from San Francisco to Montana. After retiring from teaching, she struck out on a 2,000 mile Long Ride at age 50 with her first horse, Pride, to see a bit of the world. She hasn’t looked back since.

Her story touched me deeply, because much of it paralleled my own journey, with my performing arts figure skating background and my own powerful middle-aged yearning to seek adventure on the open road.

Like me, Bernice was raised by a strong, colorful mother who, along with her four aunts, inspired her with their independent and brave spirits. She says her mom “sought to change the world through education, the arts, science and…adventure,” and she instilled in Bernice an insatiable curiosity to find out what lies over the horizon.

Long Ride Lady Bernice Ende with horses in Montana

Bernice has been traveling with her horses since 2005.

She carries everything she needs on her horses, and she told us she hasn’t slept in a bed in a house since 2008. Totally self-sufficient, she even shoes her horses herself! We were amused to discover she lives without a cell phone too, just as we do.

She has dealt with adversity and faced some scary experiences, but the twinkle in her eye gave away her total love of this lifestyle.

“I cried the day I left and cried for weeks until fatigue finally broke the fear into tiny digestible  pieces. I eventually found a life that tantalized and called to me, a life that suited me. I remember thinking, ‘How will I ever return to a normal life?’ Well, I guess I never did.”

Her long rides have taken her all over North America on treks ranging from 2,000 to 8,000 miles and lasting from a few months to a few years, always bringing her back to Montana for a little R&R between trips.

Boots and packs on a long ride on a horse

Everything she and the horses need, from clothes and food to boots and shoes, is carried in packs.

We were both astonished to hear her story unfold. When Bernice started traveling, although she had ridden horses her whole life, and had even galloped around standing on her bareback horse at age 8, she knew little about long riding. Like so many brand new full-time travelers, she had much to learn.

She has ridden these long rides with several different horses. One of her most beloved horses, named Honor, died in a tragic corral accident that nearly ended her horseback travels. But she persevered and was encouraged and supported by newfound friends along the way, and she resumed her travels with another eager and willing horse named Hart who carried her for 8,000 miles before retiring at age 18.

Bernice Ende on 28,000 mile long horse back ride

Bernice, and her special mares Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit.

As we chatted, Bernice’s two mares munched the grass around us. She introduced us to each of them, but they were content to let us chat with each other while they got a quickie mid-morning snack and ignored the conversation.

Bernice’s little traveling trio was once a quartet that included her faithful companion Claire Dog. Named after Clara of the “(Not Quite) Nutcracker” performances her ballet classes put on, but with a much more unruly personality than her namesake, Claire Dog accompanied her mistress for 7,000 miles on her own four paws (sometimes wearing leather doggie moccasins) and then rode in a doggie box atop a horse for another 12,000 miles.

Sadly, Claire Dog left this earth last year at age 16, but Bernice herself shows no signs of slowing down or ending her travels.

Horses with Bernice Ende the Long Ride Lady in Montana

Bernice lets the horses know that snack time is over.

After spending a little time back in her cabin, which has been cared for by a friend in her very long absence, she will be out on another Long Ride to the eastern states soon.

One of her reasons for her Long Ride is to encourage women’s leadership. She visited Seneca Falls, New York, the birthplace for the women’s rights movement, and she has been invited to speak at Harvard University as well as at several women’s colleges in the eastern states. So, in her next tour she will travel to these campuses on her way to the Appalachian Mountains and the Smokies.

Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit with Bernice Ende in Montana

This trio will be walking and riding the eastern states very soon.

Our jaws were still agape long after Bernice had gathered her horses together and begun making her way down the road once again.

We had forgotten to ask her how far she was going that day or where she planned to stay that night. But she had told us she never plans ahead too much, and she camps much as we do, finding out-of-the-way places on public land.

Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit and Bernice Ende on Long Ride in Montana

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Adventure travelers come in all shapes and sizes, and just a few hours after seeing Bernice disappear down the road, we bumped into a pair of cyclists who have been touring for 3,000 to 4,000 miles each summer for the past five years. This couple had pitched their tent near us, and when I saw their cycling shorts hanging out on a line, I had to go over and find out more.

Rupert and Cyndy long distance cycling on bikes

Our Luxury Mobile makes a fine backdrop for these two rugged cyclists and their touring bikes.

Their names were Rupert and Cyndy, and it turned out that they had ridden with some of the same bike clubs and on some of the same long distance bike tours as we had back about ten or fifteen years ago, and we knew quite a few of the same people and cycling routes. What a small world!

For this summer, Rupert and Cyndy had decided to do multiple “loop tours” in western Montana, rather than riding in a straight line from one destination to another or doing a single big loop from home. So far they had covered about 1,000 miles around east and west Glacier National Park, up into Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park and around Whitefish, Montana.

Rupert and Cyndy long distance bike riding cyclists

Rupert and Cyndy have about 18,000 miles of international self-supported
bike touring under their wheels.

Like Bernice, Rupert and Cyndy are very experienced in their mode of travel. They have done about 18,000 miles of self-supported bicycle tours all over the world. They have ridden all around the western states, up and over the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, all through Maine and New Hampshire and into Nova Scotia and even in Newfoundland. They’ve ridden throughout the Canadian Rockies, including two trips along the breathtaking Icefileds Parkway.

They’ve also ridden their bikes overseas, touring both the north and south islands of New Zealand and cycling all over Italy.

Perhaps the most fun surprise for me, though, was discovering that Cyndy studied ballet for 13 years and had a 30 year career as a gymnastics instructor. What are the odds of meeting two such similar women as Cyndy and Bernice within hours in one day?

Long Distance Cycling

The rainy forecast didn’t daunt these two as they set out to ride 60 miles or so to their next stop.

Rupert and Cyndy often take advantage of a wonderful website for cyclists, WarmShowers.org, where folks that wish to host traveling cyclists can make their home available to them and where cyclists looking for a place to pitch their tent and take a warm shower can find one.

They have hosted lots and lots of cyclists from all over the world at their home, and during their cycling tours they have been hosted many times as well. They’ve found it’s a really rewarding way to travel.

They sipped a cup of coffee with us at our campsite before they left and then headed out for the day’s 60 mile ride to their next destination. Like Bernice, they weren’t sure exactly where they would bed down that night, but they talked with excitement about the travel adventures that lay ahead, and they couldn’t wait to hit the road and get started.

18 721 Long distance cycling

There are many ways to travel, and our truck and trailer and sailboat have given us some beautiful experiences over the last nine years. But it is a thrill to cross paths with other travelers who are voyaging long distances for extended periods of time via very different means.

I’m not sure I could be a Long Rider or a long distance self-supported touring cyclist, but what a joy it was to chat with these travelers and hear about their lives on the road. In the end, though, as our conversations flowed and we found our common bonds, it seemed that the most significant journey we had all taken in our many years of travel was not to one particular destination or another but was the journey within that happens when you leave convention behind and follow the rhythm of your own heart.

As Bernice wrote on her website after six years of travel:

“I think with each ride I grow a deeper appreciation for others, for the country I live in, and for the animals that willingly travel with me… Now, with nearly 17,000 miles under my saddle, I am beginning to know what long riding is about….A never ending education. A reminder that the most important thing about traveling from A to B is what is in between.”

There are links for Bernice’s website, Long Riding and Long Distance Cycling below.

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How to Beat the Heat in an RV

There are a lot of ways to beat the heat in summertime when you’re traveling in an RV. The most obvious is simply to head to a cool place when a heat wave hits. Afterall, your home has wheels!

How to Beat the Heat in an RV

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But there are other things you can do to prevent the sun from baking the interior of your home, even if you don’t have electrical hookups to run the air conditioner. And if it does get unbearably sultry, and you do need to run the A/C from a portable gas generator, there are some tricks we’ve learned to make it possible…

GO SOMEWHERE COOL – In the MOUNTAINS, FAR NORTH and/or NEAR WATER

Cooler places are located either in high elevations, and/or up north, and/or by a big body of water — the ocean or a lake.

This may seem simplistic, but places in the eastern states like Acadia National Park in Maine, where you might get out on a boat, or the White Mountains in New Hampshire where you might catch a cool train ride to the top, are good bets.

Moraine Lake Rocky Mountains in Canada

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park is a cool place, even mid-summer.

In the west, the key to temperature is elevation. Many folks who are new to the western states are surprised to find out that there can be a 20 degree difference in temperature between two places that are just 150 miles apart.

For instance, Phoenix, Arizona (1,100′ elevation), is 20 degrees hotter than Flagstaff, Arizona (6,900′ elevation). And the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (9,000′ elevation), (about 200 miles further away) can easily be another 10 degrees cooler than that.

Likewise, Stanley, Idaho is about 15 degrees cooler than Boise, Idaho. It is just a few hours north but is 3,500′ higher up.

In Utah, Zion National Park (3000′ elevation) is 10 degrees hotter than Bryce National Park (9,000′ elevation), and if that’s still a little toasty, a run up to Cedar Breaks National Monument (10,000′ elevation) will be just a bit cooler still.

RV in mountains and trees

Camping near trees in the mountains is pretty cool!

Generally, you can’t go wrong in the Rocky Mountains, and a trip to Ouray, Colorado (7,700′), or Banff National Park in Canada will definitely be much cooler than most other places when a heat wave buries North America.

Similarly, the coasts enjoy wonderfully cool sea breezes. The whole west coast, from San Diego to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington is much much cooler than the communities that lie directly inland (over the coastal mountains), 150 miles from the coast.

Go to the beach to stay cool in summer

Life is definitely cool at the beach (Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint, Idaho)!

Bandon, Oregon, on the Pacific coast is 15 degrees cooler than Bend, Oregon, which is in the inland desert, baking away behind the range of coastal mountains that stop the flow of cool air coming in from the Pacific.

If the ocean isn’t easily accessible, spending time near a big lake can do the trick.

Play in the water to stay cool in summer

Want to get cool? Find your inner child and play in the water with a toy wagon.

Large lakes offer “sea breezes” in the afternoons, and many lakeside towns have fantastic waterfronts, like Seneca Falls, New York, in the Finger Lakes, and McCall, Idaho, on Payette Lake.

GO SOMEWHERE COOL IN TOWN

The worst part of the day is the late afternoon and evening, and that’s a great time to get out of the rig. A late afternoon or early evening outdoor picnic under a shady tree in a place with a breeze or cool grassy lawn will work wonders. A trip to the air conditioned library or bookstore with a little cafe inside can be a delightful change of pace.

A hot afternoon is a perfect time to take in a matinee at the local cinema. If the laundromat is air conditioned, the heat of the afternoon might be the time to get that chore done, or if your laundry is already clean, doing the week’s grocery shopping could give you an hour or two of air conditioned respite at the supermarket.

HOW TO RUN a 15K BTU RV AIR CONDITIONER with a YAMAHA 2400i GENERATOR

Sometimes, it’s just too darned hot to survive without air conditioning, and in that case it’s really nice to turn it on.

We boondock every night, and we have just 490 watts of solar power on our RV roof and 434 amp-hours of battery capacity in the basement.

Yamaha 2400i portable gas generator for RV

Our generator gets a good workout a few times a year running our 15k BTU air conditioner.

Dometic RV Air Conditioner 15k BTU

This RV roof AC unit takes some oomph to run!

So, the only way we can get air conditioning in our trailer is to drag out our Yamaha 2400i gas generator and set it up to run our Coleman 15,000 BTU air conditioner.

Some folks say this can’t be done, but we’ve been doing it for years.

We use a variety of adapters to plug the generator into the shore power outlet on the outside of the rig.

To get from the 15 amp outlet on the generator to our shore power outlet on the outside of our trailer, we could use one adapter plus the shore power cord:

50 amp Female to 15 amp Male dogbone adapter

15 amp Male to 50 amp Female dogbone adapter (15 amp Male plugs into generator)

50 amp 125 : 250 volt RV shore power cord

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord (50 amp Male plugs into dogbone above)

However, when we first bought our trailer, we stayed at an RV park that had a 30 amp pedestal that didn’t match our 50 amp shore power cord, so we had to buy an adapter. Making good use of that adapter with our generator now, we use two adapters plus our shore power cord when we connect to the generator:

30 amp Female to 15 amp Male dogbone adapter

15 amp Male to 30 amp Female dogbone adapter
(15 amp Male plugs into generator)

50 amp Female to 30 amp Male RV dogbone adapter

30 amp Male to 50 amp Female to RV dogbone adapter
(30 amp Male plugs into previous dogbone)

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord
(50 amp Male plugs into previous dogbone)

When the generator is powering the RV this way, the generator supplies power to the converter inside the trailer (or inverter/charger), which charges the batteries as efficiently as possible using a multi-stage charging algorithm (if the converter or inverter/charger is a “smart” charger).

Our 2400 watt generator is able to power our 15K BTU air conditioner just fine. However it sometimes takes a little coaxing to get it to fire up because there is a big spike when the air conditioner’s compressor first turns on. Over the years, we’ve learned that the trick to persuading it to run is the following:

  1. Run the generator for a few minutes with no load and make sure it is warmed up
    (also make sure the hot water heater and fridge are set to “gas” and no other electrical appliances are running)
  2. On the air/heat control unit, set the Fan button to High On
  3. Set the System button to Fan and let it run for a few minutes
  4. Set the System button to Cool and listen to the compressor come on
Coleman RV air conditioning control unit

Make sure the genny is warm and let it power the fan on high for a while first… THEN switch on the A/C.

Sta-Bil Gas stabilizer

Keeps the gas in the genny fresh

If the last step trips the breaker on the generator, set the System button back to Off, restart the generator and try again.

On a few occasions it has taken us 2-3 tries to get the air conditioner going. However, most of the time it fires up on the first try.

We always run it for 4-6 hours when we turn it on, and it purrs along just fine. However, we run the air conditioning just a few days each year. The rest of the time we stay cool using other means.

To keep the gas in the generator (and in the gas can) fresh and to ensure quick starts after storage and to prevent gumming and varnish, Mark puts the stabilizer Sta-Bil Gas stabilizer in the gas.

POSITION THE RV
— BIGGEST WINDOWS FACE NORTH and SMALLEST WINDOWS FACE WEST

The toughest time of day is the afternoon when the sun is in the southwest and western sky and is slowly baking the RV. Sometimes it seems to take forever for the sun to set while everything inside the rig quietly fries!

No matter what the wall and roof insulation R-factor is for an RV, the windows are where all the heat comes in. So, keeping them shaded as much as possible throughout the day makes all the difference in the world.

Every rig has a different arrangement of windows, but if you can position the biggest ones to face north or east and the smallest ones (or the wall with no windows if you have one) towards the west and southwest, the difference to the interior temperature will be astonishing.

If there is a way to block the afternoon sun entirely by parking next to shade trees or a building, that is even better.

SET UP THE RV AWNING

Even if the awning will only shade a small part of the RV’s walls and windows for a few hours of the day, this is still helpful! When an RV wall gets hot, you can feel the warmth on the inside of the rig. And you can especially feel it in the cabinets. There’s nothing like a hot bottle of olive oil in the kitchen pantry!

Shade from RV awning

Even though it’s shading just one small window, the awning is keeping the whole wall cool.

Modern rigs have wonderful powered awnings, but ours is the old fashioned manual crank type of awning. The other day we heard two RVers complaining about how putting these old awnings out was really difficult and was a two man job.

It’s actually not that bad, and Mark does it by himself in just a few minutes. Here are the steps:

How to set up RV awning - loosen handle

1. Unscrew the knob on the back of each awning arm.

How to set up RV awning - undo clip

2. Open the clip right above the knob on each awning arm

How to set up RV awning - use tool to lower lever

3. Use the awning tool to open the lever on the roller

How to set up RV awning - lower lever

4. Pull down on the lever to open it.

How to set up RV awning - lever in lowered position

The roller lever is now in the down position.

How to set up RV awning - hook awning loop

5. Use the awning tool to pull out the awning by grabbing the webbing loop

How to set up RV awning - pull awning out

6. Pull the awning part way out with the awning tool

How to set up RV awning - lower awning completely

7. Grab the webbing and pull the awning out the rest of the way

How to set up RV awning - Close RV door handle

8. Close the RV door handle to get it out of the way

How to set up RV awning - Pull awning arm out

9. Slide out the awning arm in its track

How to set up RV awning - Tighten down awning arm

10. Pushing down on the awning arm to keep the canvas taught, tighten the knob.

How to set up RV awning - Tighten down other awning arm

Do this on both sides

How to set up RV awning - Raise awning

11. Open the big awning handle to raise the awning up.

If it looks like it might rain, position one side of the awning a little lower than the other so the water will drain off of the awning.

When Mark closes up the awning for travel, he puts velcro straps around the arms to keep them from accidentally opening as we travel.

Another neat awning trick is to get an awning shade extension that drops from the edge of the awning to the ground. This provides shade from touching the rig even when the sun is at a low angle.

INSULATE THE WINDOWS and HATCHES INSIDE

The day/night shades in most RVs are great for reducing sunshine in the rig, but do little for eliminating the heat that pours in through the glass and metal frame.

RV window in summer heat

Pulling down our night shades doesn’t block much direct sunlight.

We cut Reflectix, which is a bubble wrap kind of aluminum foil that comes in a huge roll, to fit each window (a pair of scissors is all you need). We labeled each piece for the window it fits into.

Reflectix rolled up to keep RV cool in summer

Reflectix picks up where RV insulation leaves off…

We raise the RV’s day/night shades, press the piece of Reflectix against the window, and then lower the shade to hold the Reflectix in place.

RV window in summer heat with Reflectix

A layer of Reflectix behind the shade blocks all the sun!

RV Vent Insulator

When leaving the trailer, we close the hatches
and put vent insulators in them.

In our big rear window we jam a pillow under the large piece of Reflectix to hold it up. Otherwise it would drop to the floor.

If we are going to leave the rig for a while, we close all the windows and put an RV Vent Insulator in each of the roof vents. It is amazing to come home after many hours of running around to find that the rig is still fairly cool inside.

However, if we are planning to stay home, we don’t like to live in a tomb, so we have another strategy using fans and open windows that allows us to have some ambient light coming in…

STAY COOL WITH FANS

We rely on two different types of fans to stay cool.

Vent Fans

We have a Fan-tastic Vent Fan in two of our trailer’s four roof hatches. These are designed to push a maximum amount of air in or out of the rig. We set them to push the air out of the rig, and then we open the windows on the shaded side of the trailer to let the cool air from outside come in.

Fan-tastic Fan in RV hatch

Fan-tastic Fan in an RV hatch

If we were to replace our Fan-tastic Fans, or if we wanted to upgrade another hatch to one of these or a similar type of vent fan, we would choose a very simple model that does just the basics.

Our Fan-tastic Fans are whiz-bang models with remote control, rain-sensing, auto-opening, auto-closing, slicing and dicing and who knows what else. Unfortunately, they have minds of their own, and they won’t listen to reason.

They auto open and auto close at the weirdest times, they don’t necessarily know when it’s raining, and they make it impossible for the mechanically challenged (ahem…me) to turn them on or off or to open and close them. There are way too many buttons that do way too many different things.

Also, Mark has had to rebuild various parts of both of these fans, and by the colorful flow of expletives I heard him let loose on these jobs, I would gather that it was not easy.

Portable Fans

While vent fans help move fresh air through the rig by forcing hot air out the vents and pulling cool air in through the windows, portable fans are a godsend to aim right at you when you start reaching the boiling point.

We have a standalone, portable 12 volt Fan-tastic Endless Breeze Fan (and DC extension cord) so we can move it around the rig.

Fan-tastic Endless Breeze Fan

A 12 volt fan may seem necessary, but…

We got this fan in Quartzsite one year for our (not yet purchased) sailboat and we’ve used it a lot in the years since then. But it is extremely noisy. Forget trying to sleep with it running nearby! It’s also kind of silly to spend so much money on a 12 volt fan when a smaller and quieter 120 volt fan will do just as good a job, if not better, for a fraction of the cost. All you need is an inverter.

Portable fan in RV to keep cool

…A small, quiet, cheap portable fan will run on an inverter just fine!

Our little portable fan is terrific, but there are lots of portable fans in all kinds of styles that are just as good.

MAKE ICY DRINKS!

Last of all, there’s nothing that can cool down your body temp like an ice cold drink. A smoothie in a blender tastes wonderful and can bring your core temp down quite a bit. We make ice using old fashioned ice cube trays in our freezer, and we use a few cubes and frozen fruit in our smoothies to ensure they are as cold as possible.

Our Osterizer blender draws 1000 watts, which is well within the limit for our 2,000 watt pure sine wave inverter.

Osterizer blender and frozen berries for smoothie to keep cool in RV in summer

Smoothie time – Get cool with lots of ice and frozen fruit!!

Those are a few of our tips for surviving the dog days of summer in our RV without hookups. It can take a little finagling and strategy, but these things have kept us cool in our trailer for ten summers now!

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Full-time RV Pioneer & Escapees RV Club Co-Founder: Kay Peterson

The July/August of Escapees Magazine features a lengthy article I wrote about Kay Peterson, the co-founder of Escapees RV Club and a pioneer in the full-time RV lifestyle in the 1970’s. Writing this really fun article followed a truly inspiring personal visit that Mark and I enjoyed with Kay last fall

Escapees Magazine Cover Jul-Aug 2016 Photo by Mark Fagan

Escapees Magazine — July/August 2016
Cover Photo by Mark Fagan

Like many new SKPs (the Escapees RV Club nickname for the word “Escapees”), our first real evidence of being members was in receiving and reading the bi-monthly Club magazine, Escapees Magazine.

We knew little else about the club when we joined, but when I saw the first issue of the thick magazine, I was struck by two things: the artistic cover photo and the very first article inside called “Thoughts for the Road” written by Kay Peterson.

As the months went by and more issues arrived, I was always very taken by the images on the cover of the magazine, and I couldn’t help but sit right down and read Kay Peterson’s opening essay immediately.

She always spoke of the importance of pursuing your dreams, of taking chances, of overcoming your fear of the unknown and of following your own heart.

She seemed to be speaking right to us, because those topics were hot on our minds as we discovered true independence and freedom in our first few months and years on the road.

After decades of living a conventional lifetsyle, we’d struck out on our own in a little travel trailer and we were loving every minute of it.

“Everyone should do this!” we kept saying to each other. “What’s holding them back?”

And then we’d read Kay’s latest installment, and she’d remind us that too often people are held back by fear. They want to wait for a “better time” in their lives to chase their dreams, a time when they have more money, or more time, or fewer responsibilities.

I was astonished that this RV club magazine would dive right into these weighty, philosophical topics, and that Kay would keep persisting, gently prodding us to think about the important things in life. Who was she, where had she come from, and what had her life been like? I wondered.

Full-time RV pioneer and Escapees RV Club Founder Kay Peterson

.

At that time, we had no idea what the Escapees RV Club was all about beyond the magazine. We aren’t joiners or “club” people, and we had started RVing full-time to get away, not to become part of a social group. But the quality of the magazine and those intriguing opening essays that Kay wrote touched us both.

The images on the cover of Escapees Magazine were always beautiful, and the articles inside had a different thrust than other RV magazines we subscribed to that focused on RV reviews, product reviews and info about RV gear. Escapees Magazine had a lot of that stuff too, but it also went into detail about the unusual things that affect people who live on the road in their RVs full-time or for months on end.

Escapees Magazine Covers

Escapees Magazine is different than other RV magazines

I felt an affinity with Kay Peterson right from the get-go, but when she mentioned in one of her essays that she’d gotten her start as a writer when she sent an article to Woodall’s Trailer Travel Magazine and that they responded by publishing it and sending her a check for $75, I was blown away. I had just sent an aritcle to Escapees Magazine about Goblin Valley, Utah, right in time for the Halloween issue, and they had responded by publishing it and sending me a check for $75!

Kay’s writing, her philosophy of life, and the essence of her message stayed with me, and as I wrote more and more, on this blog and elsewhere, I often felt her influence in the back of my mind. She is a generation ahead of me in age, and she was like a guide and mentor, even though we had never met.

Mark and I finally had an opportunity to meet Kay last fall when we were in Texas, and what a fabulous experience that was.

Kay Peterson and Emily Fagan full-time RVers

I was thrilled to be able to chat with Kay Peterson

She was warm, animated and downright charismatic as she told the two of us her life story. She has lived an incredible life, going through lots of twists and turns and bumps in the road on her way to many impressive achievements, and her intriguing journey continues to this day.

As soon as she greeted us, I had to smile at hearing her light Boston accent. That accent is near and dear to my heart, because I grew up there, and even though I don’t have the accent and can’t mimic it, whenever I hear it spoken authentically (not the Hollywood version), it sounds like home.

What was much more surprising, though, was to find out that she got her nurse’s training in the 1940’s in the exact same hospital where members of my family had been born and died in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As it turned out, Kay and I had grown up at the same end of town!

I was also fascinated to learn that back in her day, the student nurses lived in dormitories at the hospital while they were in nursing school.

Full-time RV pioneer Kay Peterson and Emily Fagan

We found we had a lot in common!

For most of us born after the Great Depression and World War II, the events of the 1930’s and 40’s exist only in faded black and white photos and jittery newsreels. Even though, for me and Mark, the war ended just 10-15 years before we were born, about the same distance back as 9/11 is today, it is impossible for us to understand what life was really like back then.

But as Kay described her childhood and youth to us, that era suddenly came to life in vivid color. She came of age as the war was ending, and her young adulthood was intricately tied to and shaped by the events around her.

It’s easy to take society’s changes from the Women’s Liberation movement for granted now. Having forgotten just how much the world has changed in the past 65 years, Mark and I were both very affected by the movie Philomena, which is about a young woman who was forced to live in a Catholic home for unwed mothers and give up her baby for adoption in Ireland in the 1950’s. But as we listened to Kay’s story, we were shocked to hear that tale told again, but this time in the 1940’s in America.

Likewise, we have always known that tuberculosis is a terrible disease, but we had no idea that until the vaccine for it was developed and made available, patients were isolated from society in institutions to prevent spreading it further. Most didn’t make it out alive, but Kay did.

Hearing Kay’s tales of her past, we not only saw how perseverance and optimism can lead to a fulfilling and rich life, as happened for her, but we got a history lesson as well.

Escapees RV Club founder Kay Peterson with Emily Fagan

I scribbled notes furiously but was captivated when I read her autobiography later!

Kay tells her life story in riveting detail in her book, Beating the Odds, published in 2013. After Mark and I spent several hours listening to her story in person during the course of two different visits, we absolutely devoured her book. It is an inspiring tale of overcoming and becoming that we couldn’t put down.

Kay faced many brutal hardships, from poverty to an abusive husband, and she struggled against many agonizing obstacles in her early years, including a life threatening disease, but she never lost her belief that life could be better.

A turning point came for her when her beloved grandmother died and she realized, while going through her belongings, that this woman she had always adored had lived more timidly than bravely and had died without ever allowing herself to be bold enough to insist on living her dreams. At that moment, Kay vowed never to fall prey to fear like that herself.

Escapees RV Club Sharing the RV Lifestyle

Kay and her husband Joe created the Escapees RV Club in 1978

Upon meeting Joe Peterson, she found her soulmate, and the two of them began to make history together when, at age 43, they joined the tiny ranks of people who were living in their RVs full-time in the 1970’s. Joe had the ideal mobile occupation as a “tramp” electrician, and in a few short years, she became a writer for both Woodall’s Trailer Travel Magazine and the Snowbird Newsletter.

These writing gigs led to her starting an RV journal of her own, which ultimately became Escapees Magazine. From that came the founding of the Escapees RV Club in 1978. The rest is history, as Escapees RV Club has grown in all kinds of creative ways since its inception.

But the most fascinating thing for me is that Kay Peterson has grown too.

Besides co-founding Escapees RV Club, overseeing the development of an outstanding RV magazine, and creating the first of its kind assisted living center for RVers (Escapees CARE or Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees), she has published a slew of books, including the first book ever written about full-time RVing, called Home Is Where You Park It. This bible for full-timers was in print for 22 years until its last edition came off the presses in 1999.

Her fifteen years of full-time RV travels with Joe ultimately whetted their appetities for more travel adventures and led them further afield to explorations that took them overseas to Europe, Africa, Australia, Fiji and other exotic destinations.

A few years back, when she was in her mid-80’s, she mentioned in her Escapees Magazine column that she was now pursuing a dream she had held since her youth but had never made a top priority: writing a novel.

Never one for mere pipe dreams, in 2013, she published 13 Days in Africa, a novel that was inspired by her own safaris in Africa. This novel was so well received that she sat down and wrote another, and this past winter, on her 89th birthday, she published the sequel called The Elephant Bond.

Escapees RV Club Rainbow's End RV Park

The Escapees headquarters campus in Livingston, Texas, is so extensive they offer tours on a trolley bus!!

Dramatic and poignant, her novels draw from all of her life experiences and are compelling dramas. Kay was not quite finished discovering the stories behind her characters after the second novel, however, so she is planning to turn this pair of novels, whose stories now span three continents, into a trilogy, with the publication of a third novel in the series on her agenda now!

Escapees RV Club CARE Center for Retired RVers

Escapees CARE (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees)
Kay’s proudest accomplishment, and one which took extraordinary patience and fortitude!

At the moment, however, she is attending the Escapade RV rally in Essex Junction, Vermont (held July 21-23 in 2016), and lots of lucky Escapees members are having a chance to meet her in person and listen to her wisdom at the rally.

For those who have a dream — whether it’s a travel dream or lifestyle dream or something totally different — Kay stands out as one of those rare mentors who not only made their dreams a priority and made them come true, but who has consistently reached out to those around her and encouraged them to pursue their dreams as well.

I highly recommend reading Kay’s autobiography, Beating the Odds, and her book of essays, Chasing Rainbows.

The essays are drawn from over three decades of her inspirational Escapees Magazine articles. She offers many pearls of wisdom and gems of hope that are great reminders of how important it is not to let life pass us by.

Two of my favorite Kay Peterson quotes:

If you don’t fulfill your dreams now, when will you?

__________

Some of us prefer to live 365 days in a year crammed with as many experiences as possible.
Others are content to live the same day 365 times in a row.

In addition, I highly recommend that all RVers, especially those who use their RV for extended travel, join Escapees RV Club, even the “non-joiners” and non-club folk like ourselves.

Of the many things that Escapees RV Club is involved in — a myriad of overnight parking options (from free sites to site ownership), an online RVers forum, RV rallies, RV education, an RV weighing program, assisted living for RVers, and a massive mail forwarding outfit — the RV advocacy work they do benefits everyone who owns an RV and is well worth supporting.

US Mail truck Escapees RV Club Headquarters Livingston Texas

This US Mail semi tractor trailer full of RVers’ mail pulls up at Escapees HQ in Texas EVERY DAY!!

The cost to join is minimal but the impact that a large, cohesive group can have on the rights of RVers is enormous. Besides, the magazine is excellent. You can join here:

Join Escapees RV Club

If you happen to join, we’d appreciate it if you’d let them know you heard about Escapees from this blog, Roads Less Traveled, as they will put a little something in our tip jar. This might sound shallow or self-serving, but the truth is that we have spent years recommending Escapees to other RVers and did so long before Escapees even knew we had a tip jar!

Full-time RV Pioneer Escapees Founder Kay Peterson with Mark and Emily Fagan

What a special time this was – Mark, Kay and me.

Also, for any Escapee with a camera or a flare for words, Escapees Magazine is always looking for photos and articles from members.

Mark’s cover photo in the July/August issue (at the top of this page) is a classic example of how a beautiful photograph taken with an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera can end up on the cover.

When he saw a Class C motorhome reflecting in his mirror in our truck, he grabbed the shot with the closest camera he could put his hands on, which turned out to be a cheap one he’d gotten years ago. We both then tried to improve upon his image with our fancy cameras, but gosh darn it, that little point-and-shoot got the best photo of them all.

So there it is, proof positive that sometimes the best way to go is just to jump in and do it, whatever “it” is, regardless of your gear or preparation, because that first impression and rush of enthusiasm may give you the biggest return.

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One Ton Towing Machines and 75 Years of Trailer Life

The July 2016 issue of Trailer Life Magazine is featuring our article about what it takes for a One Ton Truck to be a true heavy duty towing machine. We are incredibly proud to have been asked to write this article about diesel trucks for Trailer Life, and especially that it appears in this month’s very special edition: Trailer Life’s 75th Anniversary Issue.

Trailer Life Magazine Choosing a Truck for Heavy Duty Towing

Trailer Life Magazine – July 2016
Article by: Emily Fagan. Photos by Mark & Emily Fagan
You can read the article here: One Ton Towing Machines

Trailer Life Magazine has been reviewing trucks and giving readers insights and pointers for towing trailers since 1941. As they note on the cover, Trailer Life is “North America’s oldest and most-read magazine for RV enthusiasts.”

Besides our 7 page article about selecting a diesel pickup truck for towing a heavy trailer, this issue looks back at 75 years of RV history and has some wonderful articles on the evolution of RVing.

2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually truck in Valley of the Gods Utah

Trucks and trailers have gone through a huge evolution in the past 75 years!

From the Bowlus Road Chief aluminum sided trailers that resembled an upside down boat and inspired the Airstream, to the Shasta trailers that my hubby Mark remembers from his boyhood camping days with his family, to the iconic Winnebago bread box motorhomes with the big “W” on the side that we still see people driving all over the country, this issue of Trailer Life takes us back in time.

1937 Bowlus Road Chief

A 1937 Bowlus Road Chief — precursor to the Airstream Trailer!

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer – Mark camped in one of these as a kid!

In this issue, they also talk about the resurgence of interest in retro trailers — we see so many retro trailers on the road as we travel! — and they also have a biographical article about the “Godfather” of Trailer Life Magazine, Art Rouse.

1950 Chevy and 1947 Tear Drop Trailer

We spotted a 1950 Chevy and 1947 Tear Drop Trailer in Sun Valley Idaho

1959 Streamline Trailer

We met up with owners/restorers of a 1959 Streamline Trailer in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

It is really exciting for our contribution about 2016 diesel trucks to be published this month right alongside such a fun and detailed retrospective look at the RV industry’s history.

Americans — and the world — have taken to RV living in trailers and motorhomes with great gusto for many years. We first got a true feeling for this long history when we visited the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in the heart of the RV industry — Elkhart, Indiana — back when we traveled through that area in 2010.

A Visit to the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum

Besides being able to go into the museum library and peruse yellowed copies of Trailer Life, Escapees Magazine and Motorhome Magazine, as well as many others, from decades ago (the advertisements are hilarious and say so much about American culture in each era!), we also took a walk back in time along their winding indoor “Road Back in Time” exhibit. This took us past and through small and classic RVs from every decade.

RV-MH Hall of Fame Museum Road Back in Time

The “Road Back in Time” at the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in Elkhart, Indiana

Some of the craziest and earliest trailers of nearly 100 years ago were just a canvas tent on wheels (some even had wooden wheels!). The museum also displays Mae West’s House Car and other exotics, as well as a few Shasta, Mallard and Coachmen trailers and Winnebago motorhomes from the 50’s to the 70’s.

1967 19' Winnebegao Motor Home

a 19′ 1967 Winnebegao Motorhome on the “Road Back in Time”

But the cool thing is to see these oldies-but-goodies out on the road and still in use as we travel, and to meet people who have bought brand new retro style trailers too. You can get the old fashioned look but have all brand new appliances with the latest technology. How fun!

Modern retro trailer RV

We had a chance to peek inside a brand new retro-style trailer in City of Rocks. NM – Wonderful!

Retro trailer RV

This fantastic retro trailer was pulled by a Honda Element… perfect!

Trailer Life Magazine has been celebrating their 75th anniversary all year long with some really intriguing online articles about the RV industry’s history. Here a link to a few delightful ones:

75 Years of Trailer Life – Online Article Index

For anyone contemplating the RV life or currently enjoying it, Trailer Life Magazine fills a special educational and inspirational niche. It is available both as a glossy print magazine and in digital form online.

After being subscribers ourselves for many years, we began publishing travel destination and technical features in their pages a few years ago (a sampling can be read here), and we still find something new and valuable in every issue. You can subscribe to Trailer Life’s print magazine or digital edition here:

Subscribe to Trailer Life Magazine

We love vintage trailers and get such a kick out of seeing them on the road. We’ve had a few fun enounters with owners of special trailers who have lovingly restored them:

As for buying a big ol’ truck to tow a modern monster fifth wheel trailer, there are some important things to take into account, as not all One Ton trucks are created equal, by a long shot. We talk about a few of those “must have” features in this blog post:

What to Look For When Choosing a Truck for Heavy Duty Towing – Tips for Truck Buyers

There are also quite a few other articles about trucks and towing on this blog as well:

Blog posts about trucks and trailer towing:

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Choosing a Tripod – Sunwayfoto Tripod & Ball Head Review

Selfie mania has taken the world by storm, and in our travels we are no exception.

Selfie photo taken with a bear

Mark gets a selfie with a bear. Wow!

And selfie sticks are all the rage at every scenic overlook we go to.

Selfie sticks and camera tripod

The gear of choice in the National Parks is the selfie stick!

But there is a better way to hold a camera still, especially a big DSLR: a good quality tripod and ball head!

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with XB-52DL ballhead and PNL-D810R bracket

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod and XB-52 Ballhead

Photography has become a major part of our lives and travels, and as our skills have improved, we have upgraded our camera equipment as well. In the following link we outline all of the gear we use, from cameras and lenses to accessories like flashes and tripods to software for post-processing (as well as explaining how we organize our photos), and we also provide links to all the resources we’ve used to learn how to take photos:

Photography Gear, Tips and Resources

Tripods – Cheap vs. Expensive

It is said that as a photographer improves, his or her biggest equipment concern goes from getting the right camera body to buying the most appropriate lenses to finding the best tripod. We are working our way along this progression, and soon after Mark purchased his Nikon D810 camera a few months ago, he began casting about to find a suitable tripod for it.

Mark’s old tripod / ball head combo was too flimsy to support the D810 properly, and it wasn’t all that easy to use. He decided on the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head sitting on the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod legs with an optional DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp.

Because we have a lot of readers who are seeking to improve their photography as they travel, just like we are, we wanted to share our experiences with this new tripod kit.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp atop an XB-52 Ballhead
all sitting on a Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod

When we first became interested in photography, we couldn’t understand why tripods could be as cheap as $29 or as much as $1,500. But we have learned since then that the price/performance trade-off is very simple, and it all boils down to three things:

  • Sturdiness
  • Overall weight
  • Ease of use

Cheap tripods take precious time to set up, can be difficult to position the camera correctly to get the image you want, don’t necessarily hold the camera perfectly still (and sometimes even let it droop a little after you’ve got everything in place), and are often too short to put the camera at eye level. Expensive tripods do all those things with ease, and they are lightweight enough to carry comfortably.

When is a tripod handy to use? Whenever the shutter speed is so slow that hand-holding the camera will make the whole image blurry because your hand moves while taking the photo.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head T2C240C Tripod PNL-810R L-Bracket Review-2

With a tripod, flowing water can be made to look silky smooth.

We use ours all the time for low light photography (sunrise and sunset), for night photography (shooting starry nights and the Milky Way), for long shutter speeds to reveal movement, like the flow of waterfalls, and for time-lapse sequences that show movement in a video format, like fast moving clouds and changing light.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with DDC-60 Quick Release Clamp

The Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head is rated to support a whopping 132 lbs., far more than other comparable tripod ball heads.

Like most budding photographers, we’ve frittered away lots of good money on cheap tripods as we’ve learned these lessons. After all, when you’ve broken the bank buying a camera and lenses, who wants to dig deeper in their pockets to get a decent tripod?

As is his way, Mark did an exhaustive search with a few criteria in mind for what he wanted in his new tripod. It had to be:

  • Stable enough to hold the camera with our longest lens, which is a Tamron 150-600mm 
  • The ball head had to be strong enough that the camera wouldn’t droop after it was tightened 
  • The tripod legs had to be carbon fiber (i.e., strong and lightweight)
  • He didn’t want it to spend all our savings on it
Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

An excellent value.

In the end he settled on the Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head. This is a Chinese brand that is not particularly well known in the US yet, and is competing against the much more expensive brands like Gitzo.

Sunwayfoto – Quality Camera Gear at a Good Price

Mark began looking into the Sunwayfoto brand because we both used their L-Brackets on our Nikon D610 cameras and Mark now uses the Sunwafoto PNL-D810R L-Bracket on his new Nikon D810. We liked the craftsmanship of our L-brackets, and when we discovered Sunwayfoto makes tripods and ball heads, their tripod kits seemed worthy of a closer look.

Side note: an L-Bracket is a handy piece of gear that mounts on the camera so the camera can be slipped onto the tripod easily. Because the bracket is an L-shape, the camera can be switched from a landscape orientation to a portrait orientation quickly and easily.

PNL-D810R Bracket for Nikon D810 camera

The Sunwafoto PNL-D810R L-bracket mounts on the camera to simplify the use of a tripod.

Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R mounted on Nikon D810 camera

Nikon D810 camera with Sunwafoto L-bracket attached.

Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R mounted on Nikon D810 camera

The L-bracket gets screwed into the bottom of the camera.

What’s neat about the Sunwayfoto L-brackets is that they fit the camera body perfectly, even when the plastic cover protecting the camera’s LCD display is in place. L-brackets made by other manufacturers don’t always fit properly when the plastic LCD protector is on. The Sunwayfoto L-brackets also provide lots of room to plug optional cables (like an external microphone) into the left side of the camera.

Sunwayfoto XB-52 “Low Profile” Ball Head

Getting a good, solid and easy to use ball head was the most important criteria for Mark’s new tripod. The Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head is the biggest of Sunwayfoto’s ball head offerings, and it is truly unbelievable in craftsmanship and strength. It is beautifully machined and anodized from a solid piece of aluminum. It also has a geared locking mechanism that claims a Max Load of 132 lbs (60 kg)! That is 82 more pounds than top-of-the-line Really Right Stuff’s largest ball head.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead for camera tripod

Sunwayfot XB-52DL Ballhead

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL camera ballhead

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead

When locked down, the camera does not budge on this ball head. Even when carrying the tripod on his shoulder, Mark has found the camera doesn’t droop like it did with his old tripod setup.

Carrying Sunway T2C40C Tripod with XB52-DL and Nikon D610 camera

The ballhead holds the camera securely when walking around with the tripod on your shoulder.

The large locking knob on this ball head is made from solid metal and has an excellent feel to it. There is no rubber to wear out or come loose.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead Adjustment Knob

There are two adjustment knobs for the ball,
a large outer knob and a smaller inner dial.

There are two knobs for adjusting the position of the camera, a larger knob for gross adjustments and a fine tuning dial within that knob that lets you set precisely how easily (loosely) the camera swivels on the ball head.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead Fine Tuning Knob

The smaller knob fine-tunes how easily the camera flops around on the ball when it is loose. The larger one tightens it down.

There are also two notches on the ball head body to allow the camera either to be dropped extra far forward (for images aimed towards the ground) or to be tilted sideways (for portrait oriented images).

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead notches

There are two notches that allow the camera to be dropped down, rather than just a single one like many ball heads.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead notches for camera angles

The notches in the ballhead allow the camera to be faced down.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead notch points camera down

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The notches for setting up a portrait orientation are handy if you don’t want to use an L-bracket.

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead PNL-D810R bracket and T2C40C Tripod

The notches allow the camera to be flopped on its side for a portrait shot.

We prefer using an L-bracket and not using the ball head notches for portrait shots because of the inherent stability of placing the camera on the top of the tripod for portrait orientations instead of having it hang off the side.

Nikon D810 camera landscape mode on Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R and XB-52DL ballhead

Using an L-bracket gives the option of either a
landscape orientation…

Nikon D810 camera portrait mode on Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R and XB-52DL ballhead

…or portrait orientation
Here the camera is on top of the tripod and not flopped to the side in one of the notches, a more balanced and secure setup.

For the weight conscious, the Sunwayfoto XB-44 ball head is slightly smaller and lighter than the XB-52 but can still support a whopping 88 lbs. It weighs just 483 grams as compared to the 685 grams of the bigger ballhead, a difference of over 7 ounces (nearly half a pound), which some folks would find makes a difference on a long hike.

“Quick Release” or “Lever Release” Clamps

One of the best things about the XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head is the fast action of the quick release. Simply flip the quick release lever open and slip the camera into the Arca Swiss compatible slot and then close the lever, and you are ready to go.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

The Sunwayfoto quick release clamp makes it super easy to lock the camera in position.

Note that the Sunwayfoto XB-52 ball head without the “DL” suffix does not have a quick release clamp.

I was so impressed by Mark’s new tripod ball head, and especially the quick release mechanism, that I got one too. It replaced the Benro V2 ball head that had come with my Benro Travel Angel II tripod. The Benro ball head had a knob that had to be unscrewed and screwed back in each time the camera was mounted or dismounted on the tripod, something that got to be a real pain when I wanted to switch between portrait and landscape orientations quickly. It is also not nearly as finely crafted.

Like Mark, I absolutely LOVE the XB-52DL ball head. Even though it is almost 13 ounces heavier than my old Benro ball head, I find it is fast and easy and precise and worth the few extra ounces of carrying weight on a long hike. My tripod can still be strapped onto my Camelback H.A.W.G. hydration pack for those long days of hiking where I want 100 ounces of water along with a second lens, assorted filters, spare battery and SD cards.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head on Benro Travel Angel II Tripod Legs carried on a Camelback H.A.W.G

The ultlra strong Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head fits comfortably on my Benro tripod legs and can be carried easily with my Camelbak H.A.W.G. hydration pack.

The quick release clamp locking lever has three positions: Open (right), Center, and Closed (left). There is a slide-lock on the lever so you can’t accidentally bump it and risk having your camera fall off the tripod.

The knob opposite the quick release clamp is used to fine-tune the tension, or grip, on the clamp holding the camera’s L-bracket in place. This is an important knob if you have more than one camera body and L-bracket (or other Arca Swiss style plate), because the widths vary ever so slightly.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

In the “open” position, the camera slips onto the plate.
The knob (top) adjusts the grip on the camera’s L-bracket or plate

When the lever is in the Center position, the locking mechanism is half open and allows the camera to slide from left to right within the range of the stops on the L-Bracket, but is still secure so the camera won’t slide out and fall to the ground.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

In the “center” position the camera can be slid from side to side on the plate without falling off.

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with XB-52DL ballhead and PNL-D810R bracket

The camera can be slid about an inch to the left and right while everything else remains in place on the tripod.

When the lever is opened all the way, the camera can be removed for handheld shooting or for switching to the other orientation (portrait or landscape) quickly.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Mark likes to do panorama shots, so he opted to replace the quick release clamp (or “Lever Release”) plate that comes with the XB-52DL ball head with the DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp instead, because it has a bubble level that indicates whether the series of shots are going to be level with the horizon or are going so go sailing off on some kind of crazy diagonal, ruining the final, stitched image.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Lever Release clamp bubble level and tension knob

The optional DDC-60LR lever release has a bubble level which helps with stitching multiple images into one panorama shot.

This is another finely made product that not only makes mounting the camera on the tripod a snap and makes switching from landscape to portrait (with an L-bracket) an absolute breeze, but provides a mechanism for leveling as well.

The primary difference between this quick release clamp and the one that comes with the XB-52DL ball head is that the knob opposite the quick release clamp that is used to adjust the grip tension on the camera’s L-bracket (or other Arca Swiss style plate) is no longer there. It has been replaced by the bubble level. In the absence of this knob, there is a small dial on the plate for adjusting the grip tension instead.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Lever Release clamp bubble level and tension knob

The fine tuning grip tension knob is now a dial on the plate itself.

There is a spring that sits against the dial to hold it in place once you set it to your liking. Mark found the spring was a bit loose and the dial would turn a little on its own until he put a drop of Blue Loctite on the threads. In hindsight, he’s found that this has made it difficult to adjust the tension.

Another subtle difference between the Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Lever Release Clamp and the one that comes with the XB-52DL ball head is that the open/closed positions of the quick release lever can be reversed (for left handed people). Simply place the lever in the center position, pull it out slightly, and rotate it. Then the open and closed positions will be in the opposite directions (left to open and right to close).

Our overall impression is that the quick release clamp that comes with the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head is easier to work with than the DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp because the grip tension adjustment is done with a knob rather than a tiny dial. However, it also has a minor limitation, for those who want to stitch together lots of images for panoramas, that it doesn’t have a bubble level.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod

The tripod legs Mark chose are the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod legs. This tripod is a thing of beauty, with 8 layers of woven carbon fiber and a one piece CNC machined main structure.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod legs

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod has carbon fiber legs.

The leg joints on this tripod have longer (40mm) friction tubes in them than are found on most comparable tripods, which makes a sturdier connection between the leg joints when they are extended. The tripod is rated at a max load of 12KG or 26.5 lbs. which isn’t the beefiest tripod out there, but the legs seem solid enough for the Nikon D810 and big Tamron 150-600 lens.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod leg joints

The legs extend and retract by rotating a knob at each joint.

The only drawback is that the tripod is only 52.5” tall (without the center column extended). Once the XB-52 ball head is attached, it stands 56” high, which is a few inches taller than Mark’s older tripod setup and is almost at eye level for him (he would love for it to be just a few inches taller!).

Another improvement would be to have some foam on at least one of the legs for carrying in cold weather, although foam might start to deteriorate over time, and this tripod looks like it will last a long time.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with Nikon D810 camera

The tripod is just about at eye level for Mark, but not quite.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod also has a very innovative (patented) leg pivot mechanism. Instead of the typical hex head screw attachment to connect the legs, there is a connector which has a special anti-twisting boss design on one screw head while the other side screws into it with a torx type connecting screw (the Torx wrench is included with the tripod). This prevents the screws from twisting and loosening up inside the leg attachment as the legs are pivoted and moved back and forth to set up. Most Tripods legs need to be tightened frequently with two hex style wrenches.

Mark found that after using this tripod for about a month he actually needed to tighten those screws a bit. He removed the screws and put a drop of Blue Loctite on the threads which helped.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod and XB-52DL ballhead

There are torx screws to keep the leg joints at the top stiff.

One neat feature of the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod is that the rubber feet on the bottoms of the legs can be unscrewed and removed to expose corrosion resistant Titanium spikes. These spikes plant the tripod firmly in loose conditions. Some of the other hardware used in this tripod is also made of Titanium, which very impressive indeed!

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod titanium feet covers

The rubber feet at the bottom of the tripod legs can be unscrewed.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod titanium feet

Underneath the rubber protection booties, the tripod has titanium points for gripping loose soil.

The center column of the tripod can be removed and replaced with the included short column so you can splay the legs out all the way out for close-to-the-ground macro photography.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod without center column for macro photography

The center column is removable to allow for close-up photography
that is low to the ground.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod also comes with a spring hook that can be put on the bottom of either the long or short center column tube to help weight it down in windy conditions. Mark likes to hang his gear bag on it to keep his pack off of the ground and help steady the tripod.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with gear bag suspended

You can hang your gear bag on the center hook to weight the tripod down.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod comes packed in a high quality padded carry bag that has carry straps that can be attached to it for hiking. The kit even includes a nice lens cleaning cloth (a cleaning cloth is also provided with the Sunwayfoto XB ball heads).

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod in padded carrying case

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod comes with a good quality
padded carrying case.

Sunwayfoto T2C240C Tripod Review

The tripod carrying case has both a shoulder strap and a carrying handle as well as several pockets for small items like spare memory cards and battery.

Sunwayfoto is continuing to perfect their design of this tripod. When it was first introduced, it had only one anti-twist slot or groove in each of the legs, which made it prone to rotating and breaking. This resulted in some unfavorable online reviews of the tripod. The design has been upgraded and now has 2 slots in each leg. 

If you are in the market for a quality tripod kit, the Sunwayfoto ball heads, quick release clamps, L-brackets and tripod legs are a good bang for the buck. All of these are mix-and-match, so if you already have tripod legs you like, as I did, you can simply upgrade the ball head and/or the quick release clamp. Or, go all out like Mark did, and get the whole darn kit!

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head T2C240C Tripod PNL-810R L-Bracket Review

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Happy shooting!!

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