Triple Tow or Toy Hauler? How to RV Full-time with a RZR?

We have spent the last two years going back and forth about whether to move into a new fifth wheel trailer or a new toy hauler as we look forward to our second dozen years of non-stop travel and full-time RV living. We’ve been to tons of dealerships and did a bunch of toy hauler factory tours in the Elkhart area of Indiana as well as in Missouri and Oklahoma (there’s more about those tours is in the 2nd half of this article).

Triple tow Dodge Ram 3500 dually 36' fifth wheel and Polaris RZR on utility trailer-min

The Train

Right now we are in the testing phase of toting our Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on a 5′ x 10′ utility trailer in a triple-tow configuration (sometimes called a double-tow) behind our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck and 2007 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer.

Triple-tow fifth wheel RV with Polaris RZR side-by-side UTV-min

Another view of The Train

As I’ve mentioned a few times over the past few months since we started this experiment, triple towing is working out a whole lot better that we expected!

This may be in large part because the utility trailer is only 5′ wide compared to the 8′ width of our fifth wheel trailer, so even on a tight U-turn, the wheels on the fifth wheel carve a tighter turn than the wheels on the utility trailer. So, if there’s something we don’t want to roll over or hit, the vehicle at risk is the fifth wheel, just as it has always been!

The utility trailer just cruises along behind. It’s a little caboose!

When we’re triple towing we notice a lot more chucking action than when we don’t have out caboose connected. This is due to the accordion and jerking action of the three vehicles moving apart and back together as they rumble down the road. It’s not a violent sensation, but we can definitely feel it.

Gas station with RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’ve been to a few gas stations… yikes!

We have been to several gas stations fully hooked up as The Train. Even though The Train is quite long and winds up curved far behind us as we turn in to the pump, as long as the gas station is large enough and there aren’t too many customers, it all works out.

Gas station with RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

That RZR sure is a long ways from the pump!

We have also been to several RV dump stations with The Train, and again, as long as the approach and exit to the dump station aren’t too narrow or laid out in a tight turn, we can align the fifth wheel sewer hose and other goodies with the RV dump station while the truck and utility trailer sit in a curve ahead of and behind the dump station sewer.

RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’ve been to a few RV dump stations.

RV dump station with triple tow Polaris RZR behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’re okay dumping our tanks as long as it’s fairly long!

We set up the utility trailer with a spare tire and tire cover just in case that trailer gets a blowout. At this point we don’t have a backup camera to watch the utility trailer while we’re towing. That may come in the future but will take some research as we figure out which model and where to place the monitor in the already full cockpit of the truck.

Unfortunately the utility trailer is too small to carry our bikes as well. A 12′ long trailer would be long enough, but our RZR came with this trailer so it’s a natural starting point. So, for the moment, we have left the bikes behind at a friend’s house.

Triple tow Polaris RZR 900 behind fifth wheel trailer-min

We’re leaving the bikes out of the equation for the moment.

When loading the RZR onto the utility trailer, Mark drives the RZR’s front wheels flush up against the front of the trailer which leaves enough room behind it for two 5 gallon gas tanks lashed down on the utility trailer.

Triple tow Polaris RZR 900 behind fifth wheel trailer-min

With the wheels flush against the front railing there’s room for two 5 gallon gas tanks in back.

Before hitching up The Train the very first time, we had to sort out the different heights between the tongue of the utility trailer and the hitch receiver on the back end of the fifth wheel.

Our fifth wheel trailer now sits some 6 to 8 inches higher than it did when we first bought it. After our fifth wheel got a desperately needed suspension overhaul when the suspension failed (blog post here), the fifth wheel sat higher than it had originally. Then, when we installed the MORryde SRE4000 equalizers, it sat even higher.

This is awesome for those pesky gas station ramps and other sharp dips in the road that are so steep they cause the back end of the fifth wheel trailer to drag on the asphalt. It’s also great for bumping over washes and other things on gnarly dirt roads.

However, all that good drag-avoidance stuff got thrown out the window with the decision to triple tow!

The utility trailer has 15″ tires and sits quite low, and in order to keep that trailer relatively flat instead of nose-up while towing, we had to put a 10″ drop hitch mount on the fifth wheel trailer’s hitch receiver to reach down to the utility trailer’s level.

Fifth wheel trailer triple tow 10 drop to bumper trailer-min

We needed a 10″ drop hitch mount to reach down to the utility trailer

We use a receiver hitch tightener to eliminate any possible rattling in the connection between the receiver hitch and the hitch mount, and an electric plug ensures the lights on the utility trailer are powered and light up at night as well as when Mark hits the brakes.

Trailer light connection and hitch receiver tightener for triple tow fifth wheel and bumper pull trailer-min

The hitch tightener keeps things from rattling and the electric plug lights up the lights on the utility trailer

If you stand behind The Train at night and have someone tap the brakes in the truck, it’s quite a light show because not only do the lights on the fifth wheel light up, but the ones on the utility trailer do too. We almost never tow at night but it’s good to know The Train is so visible on dark and stormy travel days.

RV in rainbow stormy skies Glacier National Park Montana

It was a dark and stormy morning…

We’re really glad we decided to jump in with both feet and buy a RZR before we figured out how to transport it because there is nothing like hands-on experience to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

This is also why we always encourage new would-be full-time RVers who haven’t owned an RV before to get a cheap and small RV and go have some fun before investing big bucks in a full-time rolling home.

The biggest surprise we’d never thought of before is that it is super handy to have a utility trailer to tote the RZR behind our truck when we’re going to a trailhead that is a long distance from our campsite.

Dually truck Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition and utility trailer-min

There’s an advantage to being able to tow the RZR to a distant trailhead.

Although our RZR can go 70 mph and is licensed for the road, driving it on the highway is not what we got it for. We’d rather drive 25 or 50 miles to a trailhead in the comfort of our truck and then arrive with the RZR gas tank full of gas so we can enjoy our off-road adventures without worrying about carrying spare gas.

The RZR has a 10 gallon fuel tank and gets about 15 mpg. So far, none of our adventures has been more than about 40 miles, so we don’t foresee a need to carry gas with us on the RZR any time soon.

At the end of a day of off-road adventure, after the sun has set, we find it’s much safer to drive our truck on the highway than to be out there in a little open air buggy that sits a lot lower on the road than most cars and trucks.

Utility trailer ramp down to load Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

The RZR rolls on and off the trailer ramp.

Lastly, we’ve wanted to ensure that Buddy loves the RZR. For us and our lifestyle there’s no reason to own a RZR if our puppy doesn’t want to come along. We’ve integrated him into our lives so he doesn’t spend any time in our fifth wheel by himself. If we’re going to have RZR adventures, he’s going to be a part of them.

When we’re in the RZR, Buddy sits on my lap. I don’t want to go more than about 35 mph with him sitting in there. He’s not too keen on the loud noise of the RZR engine on the highway and of vehicles passing us, and I have to say, neither am I.

His favorite thing riding in the RZR is to sniff the air when we’re off-road, watch for rabbits, and to stare down at the dirt road going by just below RZR door. All that is lots of fun at 10-15 mph, our typical dirt road speed.

Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on utility trailer-min

Mark has mastered driving the 56″ wide RZR onto the 60″ wide trailer!

We have a B&W Stow & Go hitch on the back of our truck, and the utility trailer hitches up to the truck very easily. After one or two tries loading the RZR, Mark has figured out how to align it so it drives in without rubbing the wheels on the railings at all even though the railings are 60″ apart and the RZR is about 56″ wide.

Ready to tow Polaris RZR 900 on utility trailer behind Dodge dually Ram truck-min

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When we arrive at a trailhead, Mark drops the ramp door of the utility trailer, hops in the RZR, and backs it down the ramp. The driver’s door on the RZR swings out above the railing on the utility trailer, so he can get in and out of the RZR easily when it’s on its trailer.

Preparing to tow Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS edition towed on utility trailer behind dually truck-min

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Dodge Ram dually tows Polaris RZR on trailer-min

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Unloading Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS edition off of trailer-min

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The RZR came with a windshield, roof and a fancy stereo that the previous owner had installed, and this XC EPS edition of the RZR 900 includes upgraded wheels, wider fender flares, a hitch receiver and the Polaris Ride Command navigation system.

However, the trunk is just a shallow open area at the back, not the best place to store stuff if you don’t want it to get dirty.

We tossed around ideas and finally bought a Lifetime 55 quart cooler that sits very nicely on an old welcome mat in the back of the RZR. It is lashed down to keep it in place.

Lifetime cooler used as trunk for Polaris RZR 900-min

We use a Lifetime 55 quart cooler for easy flip-top trunk system.

What we love about this cooler is that we can keep all the little essentials we always want with us — emergency water, toolbag, flat repair & spare air kit, first aid kit — in the bottom of it at all times, and we can throw things like jackets, hats, cameras and snacks on top as we need them for each ride.

The flip top lid makes it super easy to access everything in the cooler, and it has an excellent seal when it is closed which keeps everything inside dust free. We’ve also put a long shank padlock on the cooler to keep the less determined thieves out. Of course, anyone that really wanted that cooler and its contents could simply carry it away.

Another great feature of the cooler is that the things in the bottom of it don’t get overly hot. The engine sits right below the RZR’s trunk area, but since this little “portable trunk” is actually a cooler, there’s lots of insulation between the contents of the cooler and the engine below.

You can see a hilarious video of a grizzly bear trying to get into one of these coolers here.

We’ve found that the multi-use trails that allow motorized vehicles are not only lots of fun for riding but are also great for running and hiking too. Sometimes Buddy and I hop out to run while Mark drives.

Unlike yours truly, Buddy can easily keep up with the RZR and loves chasing it at top speed. But after he’s done a 5 minute mile with some surges to 3 minute mile pace thrown in, he’s usually ready to ride again, and he happily jumps back in.

Dog and Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

Need a ride?

Dog approaches Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

Come on in!

Dog jumps in Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

Easy!

We’ve experimented with quite a few scenarios for arriving at a campsite and unhitching the bits and pieces of The Train.

The utility trailer has to be hitched up to something — either the truck or the fifth wheel trailer — in order to drive the RZR on or off of it. Otherwise, once the RZR wheels roll on or off the ramp the tongue of the utility trailer will fly up in the air.

So, at campsites where we want to use the utility trailer with the truck to take the RZR somewhere, we have to move the utility trailer from its caboose position at the end of The Train to a place where it can be hitched to the truck, and then we reverse its location before we leave.

We can move the utility trailer around small distances by pushing or pulling it ourselves. However, if the RZR is on the trailer, neither is going anywhere until the utility trailer gets hitched to either the truck or fifth wheel.

The RZR has a hitch receiver on it, and we purchased a ball mount for it, so the RZR can tow the utility trailer around if needed. This is handy in small campsites since the big long bed dually truck isn’t very maneuverable in tight spaces.

Tow Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on utility trailer-min

Luckily the RZR can also do the job of towing the utility trailer, if needed.

Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition towed on utility trailer-min

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Again, we learned a few things that we hadn’t thought of before.

First, although it seemed daunting to back the fifth wheel to the utility trailer to hitch it on when it’s already got the RZR loaded on it, it’s not all that bad. Using our two-way radios as Mark backs up the fifth wheel and I stand at the tongue of the utility trailer, and then using our feet to shove the tongue of the utility trailer the final inch or two, we can get it done quite easily.

Second, if the utility trailer is already hitched to the fifth wheel but is at an angle to the fiver and not aligned straight behind it, there is a lot of lateral force on the fifth wheel’s stabilizing jacks and the front landing legs when the RZR drives onto the trailer.

If the utility trailer is aligned with the fifth wheel, the fiver takes the impact much better (I’ve stood inside the fifth wheel and felt it both ways!).

Strap down Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition on uility trailer-min

Mark has sorted out how best to tie down the RZR on the utility trailer.

Close trailer ramp door for Polaris RZR 900 XC EPS Edition-min

The ramp door folds up.

We are liking this triple towing thing and may stick with it. We’ll see. If we do, then our new home search will be focused on conventional fifth wheel trailers rather than fifth wheel toy haulers.

There are pros and cons to both conventional fifth wheels and toy hauler fifth wheels. Here are a few we’ve come up with:

Conventional 5th Wheel Toy Hauler 5th Wheel
More Living Space Less Living Space
More Closet Space Less Closet Space
More Cabinets Fewer Cabinets
Bigger Kitchen Smaller Kitchen
Recliners + Sofa + Dining Table Pick any two
Generally, bed in slide w/ windows each side Generally, bed not in slide & window on one side & small wardrobe on other
Modest fresh water (60-90 gal) Huge fresh water (100-150 gal)
No gas tanks (onboard generator propane) Two gas tanks for toy & onboard generator
Outside RZR Storage Enclosed RZR Storage
Outside Bikes Enclosed Bikes
Porta-bote or inflatable kayak possible Porta-bote AND tandem inflatable kayak possible
Workbench on truck tailgate Workbench/toolbox in the Garage
No Porch/deck (except KZ 382MBQ) Back Deck AND Possible Side Patio (always includes 2nd bath)
Tow RZR to trailhead behind truck Drive RZR on highways to trailhead
Triple tow not legal in some states Always a legal beagle
Can travel w/o caboose Full length toy hauler is always with you (47′ in some cases!)

TRAILER LIFE ARTICLE – SHORTCUT to TOY LAND!

The March issue of Trailer Life Magazine features an article I wrote surveying some of the 2019 offerings in the toy hauler market. I chose four different toy haulers to highlight in that article and included another dozen models in the lineup.

Our personal favorites for sheer innovation and cleverness and/or ruggedness are the Aluminum Toy Hauler fifth wheel and the Keystone Raptor 427.

Aluminum Toyhauler Company (ATC) has been making stackable car haulers for the high end racing car set for ages. They build an incredibly strong and durable toy hauler. Unfortunately, they don’t have any models with slide-outs yet, but their toy haulers are built like tanks and can haul 9,700 lbs. of stuff in a trailer that has a GVWR of 21,000 lbs. Unbelievable!

The Keystone Raptor 427 is a fabulous new entry into the garage-under-the-master-bed style of toy hauler. Montana and Grand Design have these floor plans too: the Montana High Country 380TH and Grand Design Momentum 376TH (and formerly the Grand Design Solitude 374TH which was discontinued a few months ago).

I included the Montana 380TH in my full-time fifth wheel article in Trailer Life Magazine that appeared in the October 2017 issue.

All of these manufacturers place the bedroom in the rear of the trailer and put a small garage big enough for bikes or a motorcycle under the bed itself. A workbench could fit in this garage. The bed above the garage raises and lowers if you need full standing height in the garage.

Montana and Grand Design place the kitchen in the middle of the rig. Montana has a beautiful open L-shaped kitchen with counters along two walls, a style that I like, and Grand Design has an island kitchen that is very popular. Both put the living room in the fifth wheel overhang.

The clever idea in the Raptor 427 is that the kitchen, which doesn’t need vaulted ceilings, is smartly placed in the part of the trailer where high ceilings can’t exist: the fifth wheel overhang. I don’t know what the headroom is there, probably around 6′ 4″ or higher, but it was more than sufficient for cooking, dining and even entertaining a cocktail party or buffet crowd! And there’s a window in the front cap so you can see out in all directions.

The kitchen is truly vast, and there is a side-by-side dinette for two that overlooks the living room. We just loved the design. For us, though, it’s too long a trailer since we’d have to tow our RZR behind (it’s 44′ long), and we’d prefer hydraulic slides to cable slides in the bigger slide-outs. Our two hydraulic slide mechanisms and single worm-gear electric slide mechanism on our current trailer have pushed our slides in or out an estimated 2,000 times so far.

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 3-min

The Keystone Raptor 427 has an immense kitchen in the front of the trailer.

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 6-min

The counter space is incredible (although I could do without the purple lights)

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel view into Living Room from Kitchen-min

Seating for two overlooking the rest of the trailer – very cool!

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 7-min

Opposing loveseats in the slides plus dual recliners facing the TV (not seen in this pic).

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel front kitchen 4-min

Looking back up into the kitchen above the recliners

Keystone Raptor 427 toy hauler fifth wheel ramp door-min

The bike or motorcycle sized garage is under the bed. The ceiling raises and lowers.

You can read my article discussing the various toy haulers on the Trailer Life website here: Shortcut to Toyland with 16 Great Fivers

The March issue of Trailer Life happens to include two other articles of mine with photos by both of us: a feature article about RVing in the Canadian Rockies and my back page column about lovely Maroon Bells in Colorado!

If you are new to RVing, Trailer Life is a good magazine to subscribe to. If you are a motorhome person, the sister publication Motorhome Magazine (which also features our work from time to time), is another excellent magazine.

Another outstanding RV magazine and RV advocacy group and discount camping membership club and mail forwarding service, among many other things, is Escapees RV Club which we highly recommend joining.

IMPRESSIONS from VISITING the TOY HAULER FACTORIES

When were in Elkhart, Indiana, last fall (2018), we visited several RV manufacturing plants. We hadn’t done a factory tour in Elkhart since the spring of 2009 when the industry was in the midst of collapse.

The consolidation in the RV industry since the beginning of the recession of 2008 has been staggering and has whittled the list of RV manufacturers down to three conglomerates: Thor, Forest River and Winnebago. It has also reduced the list of major component suppliers down to two, Lippert Components and Furrion. Mom-and-pop shops making fifth wheel trailers independently of these conglomerates like Aluminum Toy Hauler, New Horizons and Space Craft and smaller component suppliers like MORryde are exceedingly rare.

The fraternity of talent at the top of the RV industry is very close knit and goes back many decades. If you follow the mergers and acquisitions back to the 1960s and 70s, the same names appear over and over in the executive suites of each company. The brothers who founded Keystone together with another executive who oversaw its huge growth sold it to Thor which itself was the result of the acquisition of failing Airstream from Beatrice Foods. After the three held top executive positions at Thor, these three men went on to found Grand Design and oversee its growth and sale to Winnebago. One of the partners sat on the Board of Directors over at Lippert Components, and after the sale to Winnebago another of the partners left the RV industry to start a pontoon boat company in partnership with Lippert Components.

The advantage to the rise of the conglomerates is wonderful economies of scale, but the flip side for the brands under these corporate umbrellas is the loss of the wild frontier style innovation that made early RVs so fun and funky as well as the forced adoption of quality standards that may not match the standards these brands had back when they were independent companies.

A Dishwasher = “That True Residential Feel”

Perhaps the most shocking thing for us was to discover how few people in the RV industry actually own and use RVs. I asked the general manager of one brand and a national sales rep of another what kind of RVs they owned, and the answers were, “I’m too busy to vacation in an RV” and “My wife likes hotels.”

This lack of personal RV experience has caused a disconnect between the manufacturers and their customers’ needs.

A perfect example was when a top executive at one brand told me that full-timers want a true residential feel to their fifth wheels, so every unit in his line of full-timer fifth wheels would be shipped with a dishwasher in it starting in 2019.

Now, of course, lots of full-timers want a dishwasher in their RV, but a lot of full-timers don’t want one.

Another executive at a different company told me, “Well, the dishwasher is a great place to store your dishes in an RV.”

It is? I’m not keen on mixing my clean and dirty dishes in the same storage place!

A National Sales Rep proudly showed me the outdoor kitchen on his toy hauler. He was so excited about it when he pulled it out, “Emily, you’re going to love this!” But when he pulled it out, it came to shoulder level on me. I’m 5′ 4″. I raised my arm and made a stirring motion with my hand in front of my chin and said, “I can’t cook like this.” He was crestfallen.

I began asking the executives we were meeting how they get their feedback from customers, and it seemed that they rely on a combination of the orders placed by the dealership buyers and by talking to people at trade shows.

So, it turned out that because 95% of the units of the one brand had been ordered with dishwashers in 2018, it was obvious there was a massive demand for dishwashers. So that’s why all units will have dishwashers going forward.

Similarly, since the sales rep with the outdoor kitchen had seen only grins and enthusiasm when he showed it to folks dropping by the booth at trade shows, he thought his outdoor kitchen was something his customers loved.

Ironically, doesn’t it make sense for dealers to put predominantly fully decked out units on their lots to show customers what can be ordered? And when you’re gallivanting around at an RV trade show and having a ball dancing in and out of tons of brand new units, are you really going to tell that smiling and friendly sales guy that his outdoor kitchen would never work for you?

The takeaway we got from all this is not to be shy and to find out who the buyer is at your local dealership and to tell them what you like and don’t like about the units on their lot. It seems that the closest the residents of the RV manufacturers’ executive suites come to their customers is the contact they have with the folks ordering their units in their dealer network.

ESCAPEES RV CLUB and WINNEBAGO

Fortunately and fabulously, Escapees RV Club and Winnebago have begun working together to get real feedback from real RVers into the design process. This project is in its earliest phase right now, but the emails I’ve received from Escapees about it are very encouraging. It is because of this kind of innovative and forward thinking at Escapees that we keep recommending our readers join Escapees. (They give us a tip if you mention “Roads Less Traveled” when you sign up, but we’d recommend them anyway!).

Founded by Kay and Joe Peterson, Escapees RV Club has been led by three generations of family members who have spent years on the road living in their RVs. They are the real deal when it comes to understanding the RV lifestyle.

TRAILERS BUILT by the AMISH

On a completely different note, some folks feel that a trailer built by Amish hands is of better quality than one made by other hands. It certainly makes for great marketing, especially for the companies that are in the heart of Amish country and employ lots of Amish people. We saw Amish workers in some of the plants, both men and women, but we didn’t see how their work could be substantially different than the work done by anyone else on the same assembly line.

Amish buggy at Open Range RV factory-min

The Amish really do work at the RV factories. They do the same jobs as other assembly line workers.

The factory workers are given jobs to do and are told how to do them. The quality standards and aseembly techniques are determined by corporate goals in areas like profitability, target market share, and unit build time to completion.

While a conscientious individual might put tremendous thought and care into a backyard project at their own home, the work they do on the assembly line at their job for an employer will be done the way management demands and not necessarily in a way that they would choose for their own personal project at home.

Before I tell you, take a quick guess at how long it takes to build a 44′ toy hauler fifth wheel. A month? A week?

At the Raptor plant we were told it takes 3 days. At the KZ plant it is 2.5 days. They have a ton of hands working simultaneously, and they all get the job done as quickly as possible.

INDEPENDENT MANUFACTURERS – ATC, Sundowner, Luxe, Space Craft, New Horizons

Independent RV manufacturing plants like ATC and Sundowner (another new entrant into the toy hauler market coming frome the horse trailer industry) take a few days longer to build their units than the bigger mass market brands. This partly because fewer people work on each trailer at a time, and partly because they start from scratch and build their own frames, doors and ramps rather than buying a ready-made frame, door and ramp.

Both ATC and Sundowner looked appealing to us, and we toured each plant. ATC is near Elkhart in Nappannee and Sundowner is in Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, without any slideouts we couldn’t fit our lives and belongings into an ATC fifth wheel toy hauler, and although the Sundowner toy haulers are an aerodynamic two feet shorter than standard fifth wheel toy haulers and are built with a fifth wheel gooseneck hitch which makes a fabulouos connection to the truck and completely frees up the truck bed when you’re not towing, they are also built with a very small bedroom because of the short gooseneck overhang.

However, for folks who have other lifestyle needs than ours, both the ATC and Sundowner deserve a good long look as they are sturdy, well built and rugged trailers that can be modestly customized on order and that have an intermediate price point between the mass market trailers and the high end custom units (New Horizons, Luxe and Space Craft). We visited Luxe and went to Space Craft a second time but will get into that in another post.

ALTERNATE SUPPLIERS – MORryde, Dexter

I mentioned the RV parts manufacturer MORryde, and as we studied toy haulers it seemed to us that there are two components in toy haulers these days where the MORryde version is superior to the competition: the ramp door and the stairs. Likewise, the Dexter brand of axles is considered to be superior to the competition (although the axle brand is a moot point if you plan to upgrade to the MORryde IS suspension which replaces the axles completely).

When our second factory-installed axle failed on our current trailer after our first axle failed and was replaced under our extended warranty, we replaced both axles with Dexter brand at our own expense (not under warranty) and have been very pleased.

So, in our evaluation of toy haulers during our own personal search for ourselves, the brands we focused on came with these MORryde and Dexter components. Generally, if a brand doesn’t specify in its marketing literature that it has a MORryde or Dexer branded component, then it doesn’t have it. There is marketing value in advertising that your trailer includes these brands, and the RV manufacturers call it out in their literature.

One of the side benefits (or disadvantages, depending on your point of view) of massive industry consolidation is that a hugely dominant parts supplier can strong arm its customers into buying its products by bundling them or offering other perks as part of the deal, something like: “If you buy our doors and windows we’ll throw in our stairs for free,” or “If you buy our stairs and ramp door we’ll warranty the frame for three years.”

MORryde Zero-G Ramp Door

Check out this video comparing the deployment of the MORryde Zero-G ramp door and the Lippert ramp door:

MORryde StepAbove

We like the old fashioned flip down front stairs on our fifth wheel, but that design is antiquated these days. The MORryde stairs called the “StepAbove” deploy easily.

FINAL TID-BITS

One of the interesting fallouts from the wholesale decimation of the RV industry that began in 2008 and went on until 2013 or so is that the smaller companies that survived the downturn did so because they engaged in some true soul searching and revised their self-image.

The folks at B&W Trailer Hitches began making farm fencing, and they had enough cash flow to pay their employees to work for the town where they are headquartered, providing groundskeeping and other municipal services. This not only kept everyone employed but it heightened their pride in their town and their loyalty to their company. Amazing and very smart. The folks at MORryde also branched out into non-RVing related products in a similar way.

The management at ATC took a long hard look at how to motivate their assembly line workers to make the best product possible. Rather than providing incentives based on the number of units produced, which is a common metric, they offered incentives that focused on quality control and reducing mistakes and system failures. ATC has the longest and deepest warranty of all the fifth wheel toy hauler manufacturers.

PHEW — THAT WAS LONG!

We’ve got more thoughts to share as we ponder this fork in our less traveled road. At the moment we’re leaning towards a new traditional fifth wheel trailer because the triple-towing seems okay, but who knows what the coming months will bring as we travel further afield and encounter a wider variety of situations with our rig.

Stay tuned!!

Triple tow Dodge Ram 3500 dually 36' fifth wheel and Polaris RZR on utility trailer-min

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Coffee Kiosks of the West

February 2019 – One of our favorite sightings in our RV travels is the cute little coffee kiosks and coffee huts we find tucked into parking lots and standing on street corners all around the West. As America’s quest for the perfect cuppa joe has become more refined and exotic over the years, these adorable little coffee pit stops have been sprouting all over the place.

Coffee Kiosks of the West-min

Drive-up (and walk-up) coffee kiosks can be found all over the American West!

When we got to Oregon a few years back they were everywhere. And no wonder. Starbucks is headquartered in Washington, and it seems that America’s demand for fancy, fluffy coffee spreads out from there!

de la Bean Coffee Shack Bend Oregon-min

De La Bean Coffee in Bend, Oregon

Some of the little coffee kiosks serve more than just coffee too.

Hot shots and smoothies coffee kiosk Oregon-min

Hot Shots and Smoothies in Oregon

As we’ve taken our RV from one small town to another we’fve found that many of these cute coffee joints are marked by a big “Espresso” flag flying out front.

Java Rock coffee shop Terrebonne Oregon-min

Java Rock Coffee Shop, Terrebonne Oregon

Along with bearing whimsical names, many of these coffee kiosks have all kinds of amusing displays and props too.

Blue Banana Coffee Shop Lostine Oregon-min

Blue Banana Coffee Shop in Lostine, Oregon

These coffee shacks are usually simple little buildings, just big enough for a barista or two inside, and they often have an inviting porch or patio area decorated with flowers out front.

Coffee Corral Baker City Oregon-min

Coffee Corral in Baker City Oregon

Java Rock coffee shack Terrebonne Oregon-min

Java Rock in Terrebonne, Oregon

Besides being cute and serving great coffee, what I love about these little coffee kiosks is that they are all mom-and-pop shops.

Rather than being part of an impersonal international corporate behemoth, they are locally run and the owners have often put everything they own on the line to try to make their venture a success.

Bare Naked Beans now Cricket Flat Coffee Elgin Oregon-min

Bare Naked Beans (now called Cricket Flat Coffee) in Elgin, Oregon

When I visited one coffee kiosk a very little girl appeared at the window to take my order. Her mom was busy with another customer, and she was helping out.

I hung around a while afterwards to enjoy my coffee, and the mom told me this was the perfect enterprise for her. She could walk to work, she was with her two small children all day long, and she was building a business at the same time.

Longhorn Espresso coffee shack Enterprise Oregon-min

Longhorn Espresso in Enterprise, Oregon

Coffee Depot Redmond Oregon-min

Coffee Depot in Redmond, Oregon

One of the first coffee kiosks we ever encountered was Wicked Brew in Moab, Utah. We discovered it before we began RVing, and it was so neat to see it was still going strong years later when we returned to visit the area with our fifth wheel.

This classy little coffee hut serves each cup with a chocolate covered coffee bean perched on the lid!

Wicked Brew Espresso Moab Utah-min

Wicked Brew Espresso in Moab, Utah

This past summer we came across a lot of little coffee kiosks in Montana. From the Beartooth Highway to the Bitterroot Valley to the towns near Glacier National Park, we tasted lots of delicious brews from these fun little drive-up coffee shacks.

Beartooth Beanery Coffee Shop Columbus Montana-min

Beartooth Beanery in Columbus, Montana

Hungry Horse Espresso Columbia Falls Montana-min

Hungry Horse Espresso in Columbia Falls Montana

Espresso kiosk Bitterroot Valley Montana-min

Espresso kiosk in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana

Usually, these coffee kiosks are drive-thru shacks with windows on both sides of the building.

Coffee Kiosk in Douglas Wyoming-min

Drivers pulled up at both sides in Douglas, Wyoming

However, we often walk up to them instead. It only took two or three walk-ups for Buddy to realize that the smell of coffee, the sound of the milk being steamed, and a patient wait at a window might add up to a doggie treat!

Now he sits expectantly looking up at the window and licking his lips.

City Brew Coffee Red Lodge Montana-min

City Brew Coffee in Red Lodge Montana

Although the frequency of coffee kiosks diminishes as you go east and south from the Pacific Northwest, they are still plentiful in Wyoming.

Dry Bean Coffee Shed Ranchester Wyoming-min

Dry Bean Coffee Shed in Ranchester, Wyoming

The lively town of Cody, Wyoming, sports several!

Rocky Mountain Mudd Espresso Cody Wyoming coffee shop-min

Rocky Mountain Mudd Espresso in Cody, Wyoming

At Rawhide Coffee in Cody, Wyoming, Buddy decided to do the ordering for us.

Rawhide Coffee Cody Wyoming-min

Rawhide Coffee in Cody, Wyoming

He’s a smart little guy, and he knew this clever stunt could win him two doggie treats instead of just one!

Puppy orders coffee at Rawhide Coffee in Cody Wyoming-min

Buddy puts in his order.

On our first trip through Newcastle, Wyoming, we visited the Kaffee Klatsch several times, so we were looking forward to a return trip the next year. But the Kaffee Klatsch wasn’t there any more! After a brief hunt around town we found it in a new location.

The owner explained that they owned the building but leased the land it sat on. Happily, the new location has made their business grow exponentially. How cool is that?!

We don’t have a photo of that shop, but we do have a few others from South Dakota.

Pony Expresso Belle Fourche South Dakota-min

Pony Expresso in Belle Fourche, South Dakota

Coffee Kiosk Hot Springs South Dakota-min

Hot Springs Coffee Kiosk in Hot Springs, South Dakota

Of course some of our favorite coffee shops are in ordinary buildings. One is the Calamity Jane Coffee Shop in Custer, South Dakota, where we’ve spent many mornings sipping a latte, munching a muffin and chatting with the owners, Jim and Deb.

This enterprising couple had a camera shop in this location for many years. Deb is a photographer, and Custer is located in a popular tourist area surrounded by tons of gorgeous scenery and almost-tame wild animals to photograph.

Calamity Jane Coffee Shop Custer South Dakota-min

Mark and owner Jim ham it up at Calamity Jane Coffee Shop & Winery in Custer, South Dakota

But the rise of the internet and digital photography n eput and to film sales and retail camera sales at their shop. Rather than throw in the towel, they thought about what modern day tourists are looking for when they come to a small historic town, and they realized gourmet coffee would be the perfect thing.

The addition of a wine tasting room out back and a huge wine selection was another clever idea, and their store is as busy as can be.

Calamity Jane Coffee Shop Custer South Dakota-min

This former camera shop is now thriving as a coffee shop and winery in downtown Custer, South Dakota.

East of the Dakotas the little coffee huts disappear for the most part, but that doesn’t mean great coffee can’t be found. In the small town of St. Ignace in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula of Michigan we came across Harbor Hope Coffee.

Calamity Jane Coffee Shop Custer South Dakota-min

Harbor Hope Coffee Shop in St. Ignace, Michigan.

This unusual coffee shop is home to a church group that gathers to worship in the back of the shop each week, and the profits from the coffee sales go to charitable causes. We were astonished to hear the volunteer barista tell us the story behind this unique coffee shop, but what made Buddy’s ears really perk up was when she ased, “Does your puppy want a puppaccino?”

A what?

She grabbed a whipped cream dispenser from the fridge, filled a small bowl with homemade whipped cream and put it on the floor in front of Buddy.

He went crazy!! I have never seen him lap up a bowl of anything so quickly. He got it on his whiskers and all over his muzzle.

The next day, the moment we parked in front of Harbor Hope Coffee Buddy just about jumped through the window to get inside. I knew I was addicted to hazlenut lattes, but Buddy was absolutely bonkers over puppaccinos!

Puppy eats a puppaccino at Harbor Hope Coffee St. Ignace Michigan-min

Buddy tastes his first puppaccino. Yum!

Unfortunately, although dogs are warmly welcomed at most coffee kiosks and they are usually offered a treat to boot, some coffee shops with inside seating have strict rules for dogs relating to food service and unexpected visits from the Health Inspector.

So, Buddy has learned that not every “Open” sign at a coffee shop is actually an invitation for his four paws to head in.

Puppy waits outside coffee shop in Alamagordo New Mexico-min

Sometimes our four-legged friend has to wait outside.

In Wisconsin he had to wait outside several coffee shops. Fortunately, he is a patient pup.

Puppy waits for coffee Bayfield Wisconsin Lake Superior-min

Buddy watches my every move through a crack in the front door.

At one coffee shop there was a bucket of chalk outside, so we marked his special waiting spot.

Puppy waits outside coffee shop Bayfield Wisconsin-min

This time he got a specially marked spot to wait on outside.

In Hot Springs, South Dakota, before Buddy joined us, we found another shop with a bucket of chalk outside, so we added a bit of sidewalk art there too!

Happy RV Travels-min

Have fun in your travels and thanks for reading!

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Dog’s Life – Buddy’s Got It Covered!

While I’ve been typing away during this past year to bring you a glimpse of our travels on America’s less traveled roads, roaming about with a little pup in tow, I had no idea that Buddy was working on his own pet project for his canine RVing friends.

Dog's RV Life Magazine - Buddy's Got It Covered

Buddy explains to Mark what it’s like to live a Dog’s Life!

I thought he was just licking his paws over there or maybe surfing the web for better dog treats. I had no idea that he’d created a popular dog magazine…!

Puppy publishes magazine on a laptop-min

K9 Publishing by Puppy Chow

It turns out that for the past year our friend Bob (a PhotoShop and photography expert) has been working with our little Buddy (whom he affectionately calls Puppy Chow), and together they have created quite a library of magazines for RVing pups and their owners.

I had seen the first issue last year and had shared it on the blog post where I introduced our new furry roommate:

Dogs RV Life Magazine Dec 2017-min

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Since then I’ve seen a few of these unusual magazine covers float by every once in a while, but I didn’t realize just how many there were until recently when I noticed there was quite a collection.

For a change of pace from our ordinary blogging fare, here are a few covers from these fun magazines. Hopefully they’ll put a smile on your face today!

Dog's RV Life Magazine Feb 2018-min

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Each issue reflected a bit of what was happening in our lives at the time, so when Camping World brought a camera crew out to make a video about our RV lifestyle, that special event was highlighted…

Dog's RV Life Magazine March 2018-min

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Dog's RV Life Magazine April 2018-min

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Dog's RV Life Magazine May 2018-min

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Dog's RV Life Magazine July 2018-min

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When we got out into the snow-capped mountains and had some wintry feeling spring mornings where we could see our breath in the air before we got out of bed, that unique tid-bit of RV life made it onto the cover…

Dog's RV Life Magazine October 2018-min

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Buddy’s mouth was too small to grasp a baseball at first, but when he grew a little bigger he could hang onto a baseball in his teeth just fine. This was just in time, too, because he’d found one under a tree near our campsite…

Dog's RV Life Magazine November 2018-min

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Dog's RV Life Magazine February 2019-min

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Despite spending a lot of months in very buggy places last year, we avoided getting too bitten until we got to Missouri where Buddy got four tick bites in a week and I got one too! Apparently, after that bout with those nasty little biters, Buddy came up with some tips for avoiding them…

Dog's RV Life Magazine March 2019-min

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Now, “Dog’s Life” isn’t the only publishing project that Buddy and Bob have been working on. They’ve put together a few other periodicals too, from “Trailer Dog” to “Gun Dog” to our very own Roads Less Traveled magazine.

The first “Trailer Dog” issue came out when Buddy was very young just shortly after he’d found a very old dead bird and made a meal of it…only to have the meal come right back up again a few minutes later…

Trailer Dog Magazine February 2018 -min

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Gun Dog Magazine October 2018-min

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Gun Dog Magazine September 2018-min

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The movie reviews were lots of fun, and we were especially tickled when Buddy reviewed the all time classic, “Old Yeller.”

Road Less Traveled February 2019-min

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Roads Less Traveled February 2019-min

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The arrival of our new RZR made the cover (yay!)…and Buddy solved a very important mystery that has been puzzling a lot of folks!

Road Less Traveled March 2019-min

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Road Less Traveled March 2019-min

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Road Less Traveled March 2019-min

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And that’s it for today from the Buddy-and-Bob K9 Publishing team. Hopefully they’ll keep ’em coming!

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Polaris RZR 900 XC – A New Ride and A New Chapter in our Travels!

January 2019 – For the last two years we’ve been pondering the idea of getting a side-by-side UTV. When we were visitng Custer, South Dakota, it seemed that everybody got around town in their UTV, and we had a blast at a SXS Jamboree in southern Utah where we test drove several models from a few different manufacturers.

Buzzing around in a little off-road buggy seemed like such a fun thing to do!

What luck that on Christmas this year Santa loaded a pretty one onto his sleigh for us and delivered it to our friend’s house where we were staying.

Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC UTV with fifth wheel trailer RV-min

Wow! A fun new ride!

It is a 2017 Polaris 900 EPS XC edition, and it is as cute as a button.

Driving a Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC UTV-min

Yippee!

Ever since we got inspired by the idea of exploring remote back country roads with a Polaris RZR (“razor”) 18 months ago, we’ve both been exhilarated by the idea of getting out into nature further and deeper than we can on foot or on our bikes.

At the same time, we’ve also been a bit daunted by the prospect of replacing our ordinary fifth wheel trailer with a toy hauler!

Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC Edition lakeside-min

The Polaris RZR 900 XC Edition is a small and sporty two-seater side-by-side.

For the last year and a half we have researched toy haulers endlessly, studying each and every brand in depth online, making spreadsheets comparing the features, and traipsing through dozens of units all across the country. (if you’re currently searching for a new rig, I know you are smiling and nodding at this. It’s quite a process!).

I even had the good fortune of being assigned the task of writing an article about toy haulers for Trailer Life Magazine in which I discussed some of the things to look for and reviewed a few of the current offerings in the market (this lengthy article will appear in the March issue of Trailer Life).

And when we were in the RV capital of the world around Elkhart, Indiana, last fall, we visited several toy hauler manufacturing plants.

Keystone Raptor manufacturing plant outdoor lot-min

Raptor and Carbon toy haulers lined up at the Keystone manufacturing plant in Goshen, Indiana.

But we hadn’t pulled the trigger to trade in our fiver for a toy hauler yet because, well, we didn’t have a RZR yet!

We kinda had a chicken-and-egg problem on our hands.

What do you get first, the toy hauler or the toy? If you live in an RV full-time, how can you haul a toy without a toy hauler? But if you go all in and get both at once, what happens if, after all that, you then find out you’re not really into the whole RZR thing?

What if — gasp — the DOG doesn’t like riding in an off-road buggy?

Cool Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC Edition side by side UTV

All smiles now!

We were going through the familiar throes of simultaneously dreaming and doubting, an experience so many people go through as they plan a major change in their life — like taking the plunge to live and travel in an RV full-time.

There was a lot of expense involved in making such a change, and a lot of upheaval and a bit of risk too.

Off-road in a Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC-min

Mark looks pretty comfy and happy behind that wheel!

We dreamed of the fun times we’d have seeing scenery we just can’t reach any other way. Everywhere we’d traveled for the last 18 months we’d asked ourselves if we would have seen more with a side-by-side, and almost everywhere we went the answer was Yes.

In Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains we saw people driving off on dirt trails with their UTVs loaded down with gear, and they didn’t return for three days. Who knows what they saw out there, but the grins on their faces were ear to ear when they came back.

We dreamed that maybe a little backcountry buggy would take us to places in the hinterlands where we could pitch a tent and be set up in a fabulous spot to photograph the sunrise and sunset without having to trek in or out for a bunch of miles in the dark. It could be the gateway to little getaways!

Saguaro cacti in Arizona-min

The RZR takes us far into Arizona’s outback!

But we also worried about making the change to living in a toy hauler.

If we went to the trouble of setting up a new toy hauler the way we’d like it with solar power and vent-free propane heat and disc brakes, what would we do if after a year or so we we found we didn’t use the toy enough to warrant the big garage and smaller living space a toy hauler would squeeze us into?

On the other hand, a garage might open up some fabulous possibilities.

We might be able to get another porta-bote like we had with our sailboat and putt-putt across serene lakes and rivers. We’d be able to haul the bikes in the garage instead of hanging them precariously off the back of the trailer. And Mark might be able to have a small workbench rather than digging out his tools from the basement and laying them across the tailgate of the pickup for every project.

And we’d have a back porch and possibly a side patio deck too! How totally cool would that be?!

Road Warrior toy hauler with side patio deck-min

Some toy haulers, like this Road Warrior, have side patio decks. Cool!

And then the doubts would set in again.

What would it be like to tow a gargantuan 42′ or 44′ toy hauler like so many of them are these days? Gosh, we struggle at gas stations as it is with a 36′ fifth wheel. Would we ever be able to fuel the truck when we were hitched up if we were towing such a beast?

It certainly didn’t help that every time we went to an RV dealer to look at a particular brand of toy hauler, we’d eventually wander over to the luxury fifth wheels and fall in love with one of those instead!

Cactus in a cactus-min

Trying to see the woods for the trees…

Round and round our conversations would go, from optimism to pessimism and back again as we weighed the pros and cons of turning our lives upside down to accommodate a little off-road vehicle we weren’t sure about!

We contemplated renting a UTV to try it out, but few places rent out the Polaris models we were interested in, and most have been used and abused and aren’t outfitted beyond bare bones. The price of a rental was usually around $350 a day in the most scenic places, so it wouldn’t take many rental days to take a big chunk out of the price of buying one!

Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC Edition UTV at the lake-min

Most of the rentals we found were pricey and not models we’d want to buy.

We felt immense empathy with our many readers who have contacted us over the years asking for input into their decisions related to going full-time.

I’ve always advised folks to tip-toe into the full-time RV lifestyle so they are confident and happy each step of the way: Get a cheap small rig, use it a lot, and talk to full-timers you meet while you’re out exploring in this little rig. And THEN take the plunge to commit to full-timing once you’ve gotten some real miles and adventures under your belt.

Truck Polaris RZR UTV and utility trailer-min

First trip to the trails.

And it was finally listening to this common sense advice that helped us begin to navigate our dilemma.

We realized that our first step was to figure out if a side-by-side would be fun or not and to find out how Buddy would react to it. He’d gone through a period of not wanting to get into the truck, and we didn’t want to make a huge investment of time, effort and money to move into a toy hauler if we couldn’t take him with us on our RZR outings.

So, with that in mind, we put the toy hauler decision on hold and focused on getting a RZR. We figured that even if we ended up selling it at a loss after a few months, it would be a far cheaper and better way to evaluate it than doing a series of rentals.

We found a barely used Polaris 900 XC on Craiglist that came with a small utility trailer, and we decided we’ll just triple tow it behind our current fifth wheel for a while and not travel long distances until we’ve made a final decision to get a toy hauler or stay with a regular fiver.

Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC UTV being loaded onto a utility trailer-min

It’s a tight squeeze back onto the utility trailer but Mark handles it like a pro.

There’s a ton of fabulous sounding forest roads and trails to explore with a UTV in the southwest, and if we tow just a little and stay in each spot for a while, we can get some hands-on experience and make an informed long term decision about what our next rig will be.

Happy camper in a Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC UTV-min

What a cool ride!

Our first trips have been a total blast! We have run around in the Arizona desert out by Wickenburg and Lake Pleasant, and we have loved every minute of it. The scenery is classic, pristine Sonoran desert scenery, and with each bend in the road the views of saguaro cacti and mountains get better.

Saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona-min

Desert scenery far from paved roads.

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Lake Pleasant Sonoran Desert scenery-min

Desert meets water at Lake Pleasant.

Perhaps best of all, it turns out our little Buddy is a RZR Dog.

Puppy and Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC UTV-min

Buddy has chased down the RZR a few times!

He seems to really enjoy being out on the trails despite the noise and the bumpiness of the ride. He has even chased the RZR at a full gallop a few times when Mark was driving it around, and then he hopped in for a ride.

Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC UTV with puppy-min

He likes it!

Driving a Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC UTV

It’s a two-seater, but two in one seat is okay too.

So, with the start of 2019 we’re starting a new chapter in our travels. Who knows where it will lead, but it has been a thrill so far.

Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC Edition UTV

Adventure beckons

With any luck we’ll be brining you lots of beautiful images from remote spots down some special trails. And someday we’ll be trading our Hitchhiker for a new rig, possibly a toy hauler!

Happy campers in a Polaris RZR 900 EPS XC Edition UTV

A happy trio in our new ride.

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2018 RV Travels – The Year of the Dog

When we rang in 2018 on New Year’s Day last year, we had been traveling full-time for over ten years, and our traveling lifestyle and methods were a well oiled machine. We had lots more travel adventures planned for the future, but we figured they’d be similar to what we’ve been doing for over a decade involving two people, several cameras, a bunch of lenses and a rolling or floating home.

And then we unexpectedly became the owners of a puppy, and our lives were turned upside down!

RV travel with a dog 2018 RVing trip recap summary

2018 RV travels – The Year of the Dog!

We didn’t know at the time that in the Chinese calendar 2018 was the Year of the Dog, but we soon discovered that in our own personal calendar that’s exactly what was going on!

Our sweet little puppy, Buddy, stole our hearts. He also stole a bunch of our living space and a lot of our time, but we were happy to give those things up because he was so dear.

The Christmas Puppy-min

Buddy goes from Pound Puppy to Travel Pup!

Suddenly, we were emptying our shelves and closets to make room for bags of dog food. In no time at all we’d acquired 100 lbs. of dog food to feed our 20 lb. dog!

And everywhere we turned we were stumbling over little dog toys. Not only did Buddy have an indoor toy box full of toys he’d received from friends and his indulgent owners, but he also had an outdoor toy box full of treasures he’d found on his own during our walks, from balls to sandals to sticks and gloves.

Puppy Chow our little Buddy Dog-min

Adorable Puppy Chow with the first toy he found.

Suddenly our time was no longer entirely our own either. Not only did we need to make time for energetic walks with our puppy morning and night and monitor his nature calls, but every so often a little furry face would pop up in front of us wanting to play.

Playing with puppy-min

Let’s play tug!

All of this took quite a bit of getting used to, so we began 2018 by sticking around central Arizona and not traveling too far. At Lake Pleasant and Canyon Lake we got into a rhythm of twice daily walks and training sessions to teach Buddy some basic manners. He proved to be an eager and fast learner.

This was good because in early February we had the extraordinary experience of spending three full days working with a video team to create a video for Camping World’s “RVing is for Everyone” ad campaign.

As part of the video shoot we took Buddy on the fun Dolly Steamboat excursion on Canyon Lake, and we walked all around the Superstition Mountain Museum and the Goldfield Ghost Town near Lost Dutchman State Park.

Dolly Steamboat ride Canyon Lake Arizona-min

The Dolly Steamboat ride is a fun excursion on Canyon Lake in the Sonoran Desert.

Puppy in outhouse Goldfield Ghost Town Apache Junction Arizona-min

Buddy peeks out of the outhouse at Goldfield Ghost Town.

Buddy was a trooper through all the commotion of endless re-takes in front of the camera, even though he was just a few months old. The producers didn’t give him a speaking role, but there’s no question he was the star of the show.

We returned to Lake Pleasant to chill a bit after all the excitement of being part of a professional video shoot, and then we headed west to the Colorado River on the Arizona/California border.

Puppy jumps for joy Colorado River Arizona-min

Buddy jumps for joy near the Colorado River in Arizona.

As we traveled north along the California side of the Colorado River, Buddy met his first wild burros. One came right up to the truck window to say hello!

Puppy and burro Lake Havasu Arizona-min

On the Colorado River Buddy saw wild burros for the first time.

We continued north along Lake Mead in Nevada where we explored some beautiful red rock outcroppings.

Climbing red rocks Lake Mead Nevada-min

Red rocks are fun to look at but even more fun to climb.

Continuing north into Utah, we drove the eye-popping Scenic Highway 24 through Capitol Reef National Park. This is an “All American Scenic Drive” that is a definite “must do” for all RVers!

Red rock views Scenic Highway 24 Utah-min

Utah’s Scenic Byway 24 is one America’s best scenic drives.

Going north from there, we came to the fabulous red rocks of Goblin Valley State Park where crazy hoodoos fill a valley and kids of all ages and furriness love to play.

Goblin Valley Utah red rock views-min

At Goblin Valley the cliffs were multi-colored and the hoodoos were a hoot.

It was early April, and as we continued our northward progress through Utah we soon encountered snow and ice in the mountains at Strawberry Reservoir. This is a summertime hot spot, but we loved the stillness and peace of the pre-season.

Strawberry Reservoir ice melt in Utah-min

Strawberry Reservoir is a popular summer getaway, but we loved the quiet of the ice and snow.

In the village of Wanship, Utah, we made a turn in town and suddenly found ourselves right in front of Escapod Teardrop Trailers. This small shop turns out terrific, rugged off-road teardrop trailers, and we got an impromptu and inspiring look at a few.

Escapod Teardrop Trailer in Utah-min

If you want to get off-road in a rugged teardrop trailer, Escapod has a rig for you!

We continued to press north past Salt Lake City and visited several small lakes and reservoirs that oozed a fairy tale charm when blanketed with a layer of snow.

Snowy hillsides Mantua Utah-min

We saw fairytale landscapes in northern Utah after a dusting of spring snow.

Buddy had his first taste of snow and left his little paw prints on our stairs.

Paw prints in snow from puppy in Utah-min

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Bear Lake, located in the north end of Utah, is known for its inviting vivid blue water and is lovingly nicknamed “The Caribbean of the Rockies.” In mid-April it was way too cold for swimming, but with few campers wanting to brave the wintry air at the water’s edge, we were able to watch the wildlife and enjoy the lake in solitude undisturbed.

Loon at Bear Lake Utah in Spring-min

A loon shakes out his feathers on Bear Lake in Utah.

Seagull mirror reflection-min

Bear Lake, Utah.

Glassy water at Bear Lake Utah with puppy-min

It was cold at Bear Lake in Spring, but it was wonderfully quiet too.

We headed north and east for a while along wonderful back roads in Wyoming. Winter wasn’t exactly over in this neck of the woods, and as we climbed over mountain passes storms threatened.

Snowcappe mountain pass in Wyoming in Spring-min

The Wyoming mountain passes were a little forbidding.

When we pointed our trailer west again, we found sunshine at lovely Keyhole Reservoir where Buddy posed amid the evergreens and craggy rocks. Mark snapped a pic of him that won a small jackpot in a photo contest a few months later!

Beautiful dog in the trees-min

Buddy is faster than a speeding bullet and leaps tall bushes with a single bound…
At a quieter and more statuesque moment, Mark took this image and won a photo contest!

We then continued west into Montana to hook up with vacationing family. We explored the National Bison Range and the historic St. Ignatius mission church and enjoyed several outdoor eateries along the way.

Happy campers in the wildflowers and mountains of Montana-min

The National Bison Range in Montana is known for bison, but we loved the flowers!

The gorgeous east side of Glacier National Park was a glorious next stop with views of soaring jagged peaks, clear blue alpine lakes, and a cool historic lodge.

Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier National Park Montana-min

Glacier Park Lodge at Many Glacier on the east side of Glacier National Park.

Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier National Park Montana-min

What a spot!

It was early June and the Going to the Sun Road was still closed because of icy and avalanche conditions at the peak of Logan Pass. So, we drove, walked and wandered all around the eastern parts of Glacier National Park, especially spectacular Many Glacier, and we took endless photos of wildflowers in front of a snowcapped mountain backdrop.

Wildflowers and mountain views in East Glacier National Park Montana-min

Wildflowers and snowcapped mountains are a great combo!

Our original goal for the year had been to visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan over the summer, so we began moving east and a bit south with an eventual arrival there in mind. We visited tiny Choteau, Great Falls and Harlowton in Montana. On the way we were surprised to find ourselves near an Amish community when we turned at Eddie’s Corner.

Amish buggy trots through Eddie's Corner Montana-min

We came across an Amish community in rural Montana.

We love small towns, and the town of Red Lodge, Montana, charmed us with its main street full of cute shops and bistros. Buddy was particularly fond of the store, “Lewis and Bark’s Outpost.”

Lewis and Barks Outpost in Red Lodge Montana-min

The canine explorers that were left out of the history books: Lewis and Bark.

Red Lodge sits at one end of the jaw-dropping Beartooth Scenic Highway, and we drove it several times. Our mouths hung open in awe every single time. It was mid-June and the vast mountain-scapes were still covered with beautiful patterns of snow.

Beartooth Scenic Highway view in Spring-min

The Beartooth Scenic Highway is stunning.

Beartooth Highway vistas in Wyoming in Spring-min

If you don’t mind cold nights, early Spring is an incredible time to drive the Beartooth Highway.

The Beartooth Scenic Highway is another of those “must do” trips for all RVers, and seeing it before the snow melts is wonderful.

Happy campers on the Beartooth Highway vistas in Wyoming-min

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By now we were pretty used to having a dog in our lives. Oddly, it seemed as though Buddy had always been with us, and whenever we’d chat about memories of different places we’d have to remind ourselves he hadn’t been with us then. So strange! It seemed only natural now to have all three of us together all the time and for me to look over and see his fuzzy face next to Mark’s in the truck.

Puppy watches the scenery on the highway in our RV-min

We were getting used to having a canine companion.

The Beartooth Scenic Highway crosses from Montana into Wyoming, and from there the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway branches off. This is yet another “must do” for RVers (we were so lucky to hit so many “must do” spots in 2018).

We drove the exquisite Chief Joseph Scenic Highway several times, and in our explorations we came across groves of wildflowers that were like nothing we’d ever seen. Flowers of every color were in the peak of bloom. It was a photographer’s dream.

Extraordinary wildflowers Chief Joseph Highway Wyoming-min

The wildflowers on Chief Joseph Highway were the best we’ve ever seen.

The views on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway were dramatic as the road climbed and fell and swooped around the mountains. One morning we got up before sunrise so we could catch the pink light at an overlook at dawn.

Chief Joseph Highway views in Wyoming at Dawn-min

Dawn on the Chief joseph Highway in Wyoming

The Chief Joseph Highway is anchored at its south end by the town of Cody, Wyoming, an ideal spot to spend the 4th of July. Cody celebrated Independence day with so much gusto that there were parades on three consecutive mornings! If you’re looking for a fun place to spend the 4th of July, Cody is a great one (as is Custer, South Dakota!).

Gatling gun 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming

Cody, Wyoming, brought out the big guns for the 4th of July parade!

Puppy in American Flag bandana-min

Patriotic Pup.

After all the cold weather in the mountains of Wyoming and Montana, it was quite a shock to visit Big Horn Canyon which is a lot lower in elevation and very hot in mid-July. But the red rocks were spectacular in the early morning light, ideal for a photo shoot.

Bighorn Canyon at sunrise in Montana-min

Family photography outings became the norm. Buddy loves it when he sees us grab our tripods and head out the door!

Red rock lake views in Big Horn Canyon Montana-min

Bighorn Canyon lit up beautifully in the early morning light.

In the heat of mid-July we kept looking at the map and the various routes that might take us from Wyoming to Lake Superior, but the temps in those places were scorching. We decided to wait for cooler temps rather than burning our toes hop-scotching across the country. A stop in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains and Lake DeSmet gave us some fun photo ops and a slight respite from the heat.

Puppy at the lake in Big Horn Mountains at sunrise-min

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Sunrise at the lake in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming-min

Trotting down a dirt road in the Big Horns!

Moving east and north into South Dakota, we explored some badland areas in the prairie (not the famous Badlands National Park which we’d visited the year before). In the tiny hamlet of Buffalo, South Dakota, we watched the Soap Box Derby races over Labor Day Weekend. Little kids rolled down a small hill in wheeled contraptions of all kinds amid whoops and hollers from parents and friends.

Soap box derby races in Buffalo Souh Dakota-min

The Soap Box Derby in Buffalo, South Dakota, was a unique Labor Day event.

Just over the border in North Dakota we stopped at Roosevelt National Park with plans to do some extended exploring.

The greeter they’ve hired at the Visitors Center is the wild bovine kind with big horns and a thick furry neck. What a surprise it was to see him on duty as cars and trucks rolled in and out of the parking area!

Bison greeter at Roosevelt National Park visitors center in North Dakota-min

The greeter at Roosevelt National Park had hooves and horns!

By now it was mid-September and the temps had cooled sufficiently between our neck of the woods and Lake Superior to make a dash for it. Seeing the leaves changing color at Roosevelt National Park, we worried we might miss the show in Michigan if we didn’t leave soon, so we decided to save that National Park for a future visit and hustled across the top of the country.

At Walker, Minnesota, we pulled into town on the weekend of their Ethnic Festival. This is a town that has a festival every weekend it isn’t snowing — and even a few when it is — so it’s a good one to add to any itinerary since you’ll be swept up in a celelbration no matter when you go.

What fun it was to see and hear real alpen horns being played by two women in Scandinavian garb!

Alpen horns at Walker Minnesota Ethnic Festival and Parade-min

The mellow tones of alpenhorns were a highlight of the Walker, MN, Ethnic Festival.

We finally landed on the shores of Lake Superior at charming little Cornucopia, Wisconsin. Big sailboats and little kayaks bobbed in the water.

Kayaks and sailboats on Lake Superior at Cornucopia Wisconsin-min

Cornucopia, WIsconsin, is a tiny piece of heaven on Lake Superior.

In our new travels-with-dog we’d discovered that dogs are as particular about their friends as people are. Buddy loves dogs his age and size, and even though we’d met hundreds of different dogs all across the country, few were a matching size, age and temperament for a lasting friendship. On the docks of the marina at Cornucopia, Buddy found a soulmate in the resident pup, and they tore all over the place in a rolling heap of happy puppiness.

Lakeshore Drive along Lake Superior is a beautiful scenic drive, and we stopped at all the pretty towns along the way. Bayfield, Wisconsin, was particularly enchanting in the early morning hours of a blustery day. But it was an accidental upside down photo of Buddy reflected in a puddle that stood out for us as a favorite pic from Bayfield.

Buddy in the Sky with Diamonds at Bayfield Wisconsin on Lake Superior-min

Buddy in the Sky with DIamonds.

With any new place we travel to, we always arrive with some preconceptions of what it will look like and be like. These usually prove false in one way or another, and the Upper Peninsula shoreline of Lake Superior in Michigan was no exception.

In the waterfront town of Ontonagon we strolled the beach at sunset and got some wonderful photos of the sun setting. This was one of our first Lake Superior shoreside stops in the U.P., and we assumed we’d have afternoons and evenings like that every day for the next few weeks. So, we glanced at our photos and shrugged that we would do so much better in the coming days.

Well, Mother Nature had other plans, and that was the last we saw of sunrises and sunsets for the next few weeks. What a wonderful life lesson was reinforced as we looked back at that evening on the beach: always treasure the moment you are in right now!

Sunset on Lake Superior in Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Sunset on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We thought we’d have a dozen sunsets like this!

Despite dreary cold weather, we saw lots of stunning beauty in the U.P. The area is dotted with ponds and small lakes, and we caught the leaves changing color in many spots.

Fall color at Worm Lake in Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Fall color at Worm Lake, Michigan (Upper Peninsula).

Buddy was loving the lush grass that grows everywhere east of the mountain states, and having a few leaves in the pics added a colorful touch!

Puppy in fall leaves Michigan-min

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This area is known for the little meat pies that were beloved by Cornish miners across the pond a century ago. Yummy “pasties” were sold everywhere in the U.P., and we ate quite a few. It was fun to warm up the cold, damp interior of our trailer by popping one of these meat pies in the oven to heat it up!

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has dozens, maybe hundreds, of waterfalls, and a few are quite famous, for good reason. Taquamenon Falls is a true beauty, and the upper part of Bond Falls is a favorite among photographers.

Taquamenon Falls in Michigan Upper Peninsula in autumn-min

Taquamenon Falls, Michigan (Upper Peninsula).

Happy campers at Bond Falls in Michigan's Upper Peninsula-min

Bond Falls, Michigan (Upper Peninsula)

At the bottom of Michigan’s U.P., just before crossing into the Lower Peninsula, we took a ferry out to Mackinac Island. This special island never took to motorized vehicle travel, and everything is done by horse and buggy or by bicycle. We had a ball watching the carriages and flat bed trailers being towed down the street by teams of horses.

Horse and buggy on Mackinac Island Michigan-min

Macinac Island, Michigan

Down in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan we stopped in at Metamora-Hadley State Park. All of the state park campgrounds in Michigan — and many throughout the midwest — entice folks to go camping even when it’s cold and wet in October by hosting fabulous Halloween events. We arrived on a Sunday morning, and not only was every campsite full but each one was decorated to the hilt with ghosts and goblins and witches and pumpkins.

Halloween at Metamora Campground in Michigan-min

Halloween is a big deal and a fun time at many midwestern state park campgrounds.

It was mid-October and high time to start dropping south. But first we visited Elkhart, Indiana, and the surrounding towns of Goshen, Shipshewana and Nappanee that are all home to the RV industry manufacturers. This area is fascinating for its long history as the heart and home of all things RV, and the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum was a highlight of our stay.

Visiting the RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart Indiana-min

The RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum offers a fascinating glimpse of the RV and Manufactured Home industry.

Trailer Life Magazine page from 1937-min

The antique trailers were fun to see in the museum, but I loved turning the pages of old issues of Trailer Life from 80 years ago.

We made a few pit-stops on our way south and west from Indiana, but we were on a mission to get to a place that was warm and dry so we could thaw out a little and regroup.

At that point, as we looked back at our year of travel to date, it felt as though we had made two big journeys — one from Arizona up through Utah into Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota, and a second one along Lake Superior and down through the midwest. It had been an outstanding year, but we were absolutely pooped.

Buddy was affected too. He had loved being in our truck early in our travels and had happily sat between us as we drove. But the weeks of long 150+ mile days in stressful rainy driving conditions on scary busy roads that made our tempers rise each time we got lost (which was about every hour or so), wore on him as well as us. Suddenly, he developed an outright shivering fear of the truck.

So we spent several weeks in the beautiful state parks of New Mexico, hiking every day, soaking in the sunshine, and leaving the truck parked.

Sunset in New Mexico - Fire in the sky-min

We finally slowed down and caught our breath in Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in New Mexico.

Moonrise over Alamagordo New Mexico-min copy-min

By the light of a silvery moon.

Inching our way from New Mexico to Arizona, and driving short distances and staying for a week or two in each spot, we slowly recovered and Buddy grew to like the truck again.

When we arrived in Phoenix he was beside himself with excitement as he saw the people and homes he had known as a young puppy. We were very surprised to find he not only remembered them all but was thrilled to be back.

Before we’d left Arizona the previous winter, Buddy had become best friends with our friend’s pup named Mason. Mason was a rescue dog too. Whereas Buddy had been left in “a box of puppies” at the Animal Welfare League in downtown Phoenix, Mason had been dumped in the desert on Table Mesa Road north of Phoenix as a puppy and left to fend for himself. Somehow he’d survived, despite being an ideal coyote snack, although he was in very tough shape when we was found hiding from the rain under some debris.

He and Buddy took to each other the moment they met last year. It was truly love at first sight — or sniff.

This year, as we drove to a parking spot on the street by Mason’s house, both dogs went crazy before they even saw each other, Mason in his fenced yard (he couldn’t see us arriving!) and Buddy in our truck (he’d only visited a few times last year!). How did they know?

After 8 months apart, the two dogs picked up right where they left off in a happy tussle of fur and paws rolling around with each other and running across the grass.

Puppies play with a ball-min

Buddy became best friends with Mason in the beginning of 2018.

Puppies play with a rope toy-min

The dynamic duo didn’t miss a beat when they met again at the end of 2018.

Like all travelers, Buddy has learned the wonders of seeing new things and meeting new friends. But he has also learned how heartwarming it is to return to a favorite place and be back with loved ones.

As for us, we have learned that traveling with a dog has its complications, but there’s nothing like living with a little fur person who is absolutely thrilled to jump out of bed each morning and is unabashedly happy to be alive each and every day.

Happy campers in Custer South Dakota-min

2018 was a great year.

HAPPY TRAILS and HAPPY TAILS in 2019!!

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How We Got a Puppy

Puppy Chow – Is There a DOG Living in our RV?

TRAVEL RECAPS from PREVIOUS YEARS:

An Overview of Our First 10 Years of Full-time Travel + Reflections after 9 Years!

Summaries of Each Year on the Road - All of our travel posts in chronological order:

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(Mostly) chronological list of our travel articles from 2018:

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Merry Christmas and Thank You for a Great Year!

As the final mad-dash sprint for the holidays begins, we want to take a moment to wish you the most wonderful and Merry Christmas, from our home to yours.

Merry Christmas from Our House to Yours

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And we want to thank you for joining us in our travels and on our many scenic drives and quiet walks through the woods this past year.

Path through the woods-min

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When we were lucky enough to walk right into a gorgeous sunset, we took an extra moment to enjoy it, knowing you’d appreciate our pics and would savor the moment with us.

Enjoying the sunset on a quiet road-min

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We hope our journey has given you some pause for reflection.

Reflection of mountain and fall colors in a river-min

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Sometimes it’s only when you step back a bit that you discover you’re living right next to a pot of gold!

Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow-min

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Or that the spark of the Divine is just behind you.

Sun breaking through clouds with fifth wheel RV-min

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At those times it’s good to step outside the box for a closer look.

The heavens open up with sunshine-min

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We hope that when storm clouds have gathered we’ve helped you see the light within.

Mountains shrouded in clouds-min

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And that you’ve soared to the peaks high above the clouds.

Soaring mountains above the clouds-min

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Afterall, every cloud has a silver lining, and on closer inspection sometimes that lining turns out to be pink.

Pink cloud over an RV fifth wheel at sunset-min

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In our travels we’re often blessed with chance encounters.

Surprise encounter between puppy and mountain bike-min

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For those who have recognized us on the trail or in the campground or at the dump station, thank you for taking the time to stop and chat. We treasure making new friends in unexpected places.

Puppy and cows meet-min

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We hope we’ve helped bring out the vibrant colors radiating from even the most drab landscapes.

colorful barrel cactus in the desert-min

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And that we’ve shown that life’s sweetest beauty often lies right at our feet in the sand.

Beautiful wildflowers in Arizona desert sand-min

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We hope that your innermost desires and dreams have been able to take root this year, no matter how impossible they might have seemed at the start.

gnarled tree roots in a desert wash

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And we hope you have the tenacity to hang onto those precious dreams and believe in yourself and them, no matter what.

Tenacious tree clings to river-min

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There’s a lot of beauty out there waiting to be seen and experienced by eager travelers.

Stormy mountains at sunset-min

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Thank you for joining us on our journey, and have a special and memorable Christmas. We hope your life is touched by magic in 2019.

Rays of sunsine in the clouds-min

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On Living the Dream:

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101 MORE Great RV Gift Ideas for RVers, Campers & Outdoor Lovers!

The other day when we were at a hardware store we heard Christmas music playing. Yikes! The holidays are on their way and it’s time to start finding meaningful gifts for our loved ones.

The fun thing about buying for RVers is that there are so many super cute RV themed goodies out there!

Last year I wrote the blog post “50 RV Gifts” which was chock full of wonderful suggestions for gifts. This year I’ve done a little more digging and put together a lineup of 101 more great RV gift ideas for you. Click on any image or text link to see more detailed info about each one.

Many of these items are things we use in our day-to-day RV lifestyle and others are things that look enticing and have received great reviews and might end up in our RV sometime soon!

The first one is special to us because it is a 2019 Arizona wall calendar that features a gorgeous photo Mark took in Canyon de Chelly. His photo appears both on the cover of the calendar and on the January page.

We often choose the places we want to visit based on photos we have seen, so what better way to get inspired for next year’s RV travels than to flip through a book of beautiful photos from the National Parks. National Geographic’s National Parks Illustrated History is a good one, as is the book Treasured Lands – An Odyssey Through the National Parks.

If you are looking for travel tips for visiting the National Parks, the Fodor’s Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West is a excellent.

One of our favorite things in our RV travels is enjoying the many stunning scenic drives that zig-zag all over the country. To find out where the best scenic roads are, check out National Geographic’s Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways.

There are 120 more spectacular road trips in the book The Most Scenic Drives in America.

Gorgeous coffee table books are wonderful, but if you want to share the experience and get inspired over popcorn with your life partner, how about watching the Ken Burns video, “The National Parks – America’s Best Idea (download)” (DVD).

As long as you and your sweetie are plopped down in front of the TV, you might get a kick out of some old westerns. After we’d been traveling the west for a while we began noticing that we recognized the locations where many westerns were filmed, and it’s great fun to guess and then check the credits or the internet after watching the movie to see if you got it right!

We especially love the old John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns, and these two collections have many of our all-time favorites: the John Wayne Western Collection and the Clint Eastwood Collection and Double Feature combo.

We love to have low lighting in the rig when we’re watching a movie at night or to give the rig a romantic and relaxing atmosphere. We’ve had a set of flameless LED wax candles for many years now, and we love them.

A cute welcome mat at the door is a delightful way to welcome guests into your rolling home or to put a smile on your face when you come home from a day of errands.

If you’re in your RV for the holidays, one lovely way to decorate for the season is with a small tabletop battery operated Christmas tree.

If you don’t want to store a tree during the rest of the year, then a small vintage trailer that lights up and plays music might be a nice choice.

For RVers who have a regular size tree, a sweet RV Christmas ornament will bring back memories of happy times on the road.

A throw pillow or two on your couch or bed can make your rolling home even more homey. If you swap out just the pillowcase on a single pillow you can rotate the decorations so they don’t get old.

Next time you take a shower, why not dry off with a Happy Camper towel??!!

And when you’re ready for bed, you can slip into a soft set of “RV There Yet?” pajamas for women or camping PJs for men.

As the winter nights get cold, how nice to snuggle up with a unique camper-under-the-moon throw blanket (comes in various sizes).

Or wrap the fuzzy side of a throw blanket close around you as you drift into dreams of hitting the road in a cool retro RV.

If you spend winters in your RV, no matter where you are in the country there will be some chilly nights. Nothing beats a down comforter for staying toasty warm under the covers!

We’ve got lots of tips for staying warm in an RV over the winter (check them out here, here and here).

One of the simplest tips for RVs that don’t have a winterizing option on the screen door is to cover the door’s screens with a shrink-wrap film. This transforms the door from delivering icy blasts of cold air to bringing in the warm sunshine without a frosty bite, and it takes just an hour to install (step-by-step instructions with photos here).

A vent-free propane heater can heat your rig in minutes. If you’re intimidated by the process of installing one, a portable Mr. Buddy heater will deliver just as much heat as one that’s permanently installed without being connected to the RV’s gas lines.

Tips for how to install a vent-free propane heater here.

Fortunately, we have our own very special Mr. Buddy to cuddle with under the blankets. He’s a great little portable heater!

Puppy cuddles up in a blanket-min

Our own little portable Mr. Buddy heater 🙂

If you’re outfitting a new-to-you RV, you can transform the interior on a cold blustery night with a blue flame fireplace. Rather than an industrial looking blue flame in a metal box, this fireplace comes complete with logs, yellow flames that deliver a lot of heat, and a pretty wooden mantel.

Friends of ours installed the arched propane fireplace insert without the wooden mantel in their 2005 Alpenlite fifth wheel and then trimmed it out with ceramic tile. This created a wonderfully cozy and inviting addition to their living space!

We will definitely do this if we ever get another rig. One tip: install the fireplace insert so it sticks out about 3″ or so from anything above it like cabinets or a TV. Heat rises straight up, so just a few inches is enough to keep the blue flame heater from heating anything above it, but if you install the insert so the front of it is flush with the cabinetry above, the cabinets will get warm.

More about vent-free propane heaters here.

And, of course, the simplest way to add the romance of a fireplace to your RV is to play the Fireplace DVD on your TV. Whenever we do this, we find that the person sitting closest to the TV gets warm on that side. There’s something about those pretty flames and crackling log noises…

No matter how you heat your RV or house in the winter, you’ll be reaching for sweaters and sweatshirts when Jack Frost comes around. Here’s a fun sweatshirt for your sweetie.

She might want to peel off the sweatshirt sitting around a toasty campfire. But, of course, what happens at the campfire stays at the campfire!

And if you’re out and about in sunny places and need a good cover, there’s a Happy Camper ballcap for you!

A wonderful stocking stuffer for your best gal might be a pair of RV earrings or here’s another style here.

Or a cell phone ring holder (just as long she’s not married to her phone!).

Now, when you’re out RVing with the family, you can prevent any unexpected rainy days from dampening the experience if you bring along the National Parks edition of Monopoly.

If the rain persists and you’re stuck in the RV for a long time, another game, Trekking the National Parks, would also be a welcome diversion.

For kids (and kids at heart) who love coloring, a National Parks Coloring Book is a nice way to get to know a little about all the different Parks (there are others here and here).

And for anyone doing the National Parks Junior Ranger program (kids or adults!), the Junior Ranger Activity Book could be a nice complement to the National Parks program.

Parents who read aloud to their little ones or that are helping young readers learn to read will love the book “A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee.

While the kids are busy playing games, coloring and reading, the baker in the family might pop some freshly made cookies out of the oven. How nice to have an oven mitt and pot holder specially made for RVers.

And whoever gets dish washing duty will enjoy the job a lot more if there’s a cute RV dish drying mat to lay the dishes on!

One kitchen goodie we LOVE and have had ever since we cruised Mexico on our sailboat is a set of Magma Nesting Cookware. These pots and pans fit neatly inside of each other and are heavy and durable. They are ideal in any kitchen where shelf space is at a premium, from vans to Class C’s to truck campers to teardrop trailers to popup tent trailers.

Another kitchen gadget we use every day is our Melitta pour-over filter cone and paper filters. I’ve been making coffee this way for 45 years. Simply place the filter cone on top of your coffee mug, boil water in a kettle and pour the water over the grounds in the filter and let it dribble into the cup below.

It makes a gourmet cup in minutes, the cleanup is a cinch, it takes up minimal storage space, and it doesn’t require electricity to operate.

Once you hit the road again after the holidays are over, the navigator in the family will appreciate the 2019 Rand McNally Road Atlas (we have several of these from various years!).

If you will be taking your RV over any mountain passes, both the navigator AND the driver will appreciate the Mountain Directories for RV and Truck Drivers. There are two volumes (for East and West), and we have turned to these books dozens of times before tackling a mountain pass.

Every pass is described in detail for traversing it in both directions, so you’ll know ahead of time what the grades will be and for how many miles and also how sharp the hairpin turns will be as well (i.e., 15 mph curves, 25 mph curves, etc.). Once you “know” what an 8% grade for 3 miles feels like or how your RV (and you) react to navigating a 10 mph uphill turn, these books will be immensely helpful in route planning.

Here are some tips for driving an RV in the mountains too.

Another trip planning tool we use a lot are the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer map books. Each one lists the highlights and hot spots in every state in an easy summary form, and the various public land borders are clearly marked.

We have one of these atlas books for every state we’ve visited. Another similar atlas series is by Benchmark and we have a few of those too!

A nice combination of travel destination ideas and RV maintenance tips and new RV reviews can be found in Trailer Life Magazine and Motorhome Magazine. I’ve been fortunate to have had many articles appear in both magazines, and a subscription can make a nice gift (we’ve given several over the years!).

Most full-time and seasonal RVers belong to Escapees RV Club, and a one-year membership makes a great gift.

Membership includes an excellent bi-monthly magazine that is written by RVers for RVers. There are also a myriad of other terrific offerings, from discounts on camping to Bootcamps for new RVers to webinars and an online RV University to elder care for RVers who have hung up their keys to a division dedicated to Gen-X and Millenial RVers to mail forwarding services and many RV campsite ownership possibilities.

We’ve been members since 2008. If you decide to join (here), please let them know “Roads Less Traveled” sent you!

If you love to write, as I do, as soon as you start adventuring you will want to begin recording all you’ve seen and done. And even though typing is faster than handwriting for a lot of us, taking a moment at the end of each day to make a few notes with pen on paper is very rewarding.

There are several excellent Camper’s Journals, Camping Log Books and RVing Journals available:

Even if you’re not a writer, it’s nice to have a visual display of the places you’ve visited, and an RV state sticker map is a fun thing to put on the RV door or wall.

While it’s fun to tick off where you’ve been and what you’ve seen, the essence of RVing to many is simply living in the moment and enjoying the blessings of life without responsibility or even accountability. Where better way to do that than in a hammock strung between two trees in your campsite?!

We met a fellow a few weeks ago who has a hammock in the garage of his toy hauler. He loves to open the ramp door to a beautiful view somewhere and swing quietly til he falls asleep.

Swinging in a hammock is also a great way to enjoy the wildlife that wanders in and out of a campsite, and hanging up a bird feeder or putting out a shallow tray of water is a good way to lure the critters in.

We love hanging a hummingbird feeder on the RV window vy our dining table. It attaches to the window with suction cups and we can sit inside and watch the antics of the hummers as they come and go at the feeder.

A simple solution of 1 part regular table sugar (no the fancy stuff) to 4 parts water makes a perfect nectar for these little acrobats.

If the antics of the hummers isn’t entertaining enough, then a game of Corn Hole will keep the folks at your campsite and even the folks at the neighbor’s occupied.

If you want to dress up your campsite, an RV themed tablecloth is a nice way to add some class to the picnic table.

And a pretty patio mat extends your outdoor space a lot. This 8 x 20 mat is a neat dimension that runs much of the length of the RV.

An outdoor grill is an absolute must for every RV, and there are dozens to choose from.

We still use the modest little “Sidekick” grill that came with our popup tent trailer. It is designed to be hung on an RV wall if you install the hanging bracket, or to stand up off the ground. Mark has barbecued many an outstanding meal on this grill and it’s still going strong after 13 years of very frequent use!

If you hang around outside a lot at night, it’s nice to have a lantern to hang in a tree or on the RV awning brackets. A battery operated Coleman LED lantern or solar powered lantern is a great way to go.

When we first started boondocking, we used kerosene lamps rather than burn precious electricity with our RV’s interior lighting. Hanging one or two of these lanterns inside at night would have been a whole lot brighter!

Many gadgets like this lantern are battery operated. Have you tried rechargeable batteries yet? In the last year or so we’ve switched to rechargeable batteries rather than buying new batteries each time the old ones run down, and we like them a lot.

Getting out in an RV is all about enjoying the outdoors, and a fun and romantic way to savor the fresh air and great views in some remote spot is with a picnic. There are lots of fancy picnic baskets on the market, but how about a picnic basket that is built into a backpack so you can hike with it comfortably, hands free?!

We use 100 oz. hydration packs when we do longer hikes, and we’ve like packs that hold a big camera, a tripod hung on the outside, and a light jacket and snacks. The Camelbak Fourteener series are great packs for this purpose.

Good quality hiking shoes are also important and we get new ones every year. We’ve both been wearing Oboz hiking shoes for the last few years and Mark loves his waterproof Oboz boots. He found them especially handy when we were trudging around in the rain and mud in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula recently to photograph the fall colors.

One of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors is kayaking on a lake or river. The Hobie inflatable kayaks are FABULOUS and they can be rolled up and put away in an RV storage compartment.

Our Hobie inflatable tandem was a blast in both our RV and sailing lifestyles.

The beauty of these kayaks is that if you find yourself up a creek without a paddle it doesn’t matter: the kayak is driven by foot pedals and a rudder at the back.

This means you cruise along about twice as fast as an ordinary kayak totally hands free, and you can use your binoculars or camera as you go. (Read my full review here).

We also found that ours was as stable as a rock. I could stand up in it and wax the hull of our sailboat!

If your sweetie is a kayaker who dreams of the ideal ride, this is a gift he or she will love.

A while ago we bought a kit of cordless power tools by Rigid that included an impact driver and power drill.

Mark uses the impact driver for removing and replacing a wheel’s lug nuts on a flat tire (and we’ve had lots), and we both use the cordless drill to raise and lower our stabilizing jacks every time we set up or break down camp.

Rigid makes a lot of other tools that are all operated on the same lithium-ion battery packs as these two drills, and we recently got their little portable cordless vacuum cleaner. What a fantastic little vacuum! Because we now live with a puppy who hasn’t yet learned to wipe his paws when he comes in the door, I use this vacuum in the main living area almost every day.

The vacuum takes a bit more power than the drills, so we also bought an upgraded battery pack that has 5 amp-hours of capacity rather than the standard 1.5 ah. Even vaccuming as frequently as as I do, this big battery pack requires charging just once a month or so.

We highly recommend the Rigid kit even though it is considered a second tier brand. Dewalt has a similar kit too.

Another little “around the house” gadget we rely on a lot is our two-way radio set.

We use these to back up the trailer and also to find each other when we go on photo shoots. It also helps us stay in touch when one of us goes on a hike or walks the dog without the other.

Obviously, cell phones do this too, but these radios work everywhere we go regardless of cell tower proximity. We have the “36 mile” GMRS two-way radios which usually have excellent reception up to about 3 miles.

There are lots of great stocking stuffers for RVers, and one is a Leatherman tool that has a million tools neatly folded into a small pocket-sized package. Mark has the Leatherman Surge tool here:

Mark always carries a pocket knife too, and he has a collection of Gerber knives in drawers throughout our trailer as well as in his pocket! These are two of his favorites: Gerber Freeman Guide Drop Point and the tiny Gerber Ultralight.

He recently picked up another pocket knife made by Leatherman that is his latest favorite, the Leatherman Crater C33LX. It has a serrated edge and a caribiner that can attach the knife to a beltloop or keychain. The caribiner can also serve as an all important bottle opener come Beer Time!

Mark’s pockets are always brimming with goodies, and besides a pocket knife he usually carries a flashlight too. He likes the Lumintop brand and now has five different Lumintop LED flashlights and loves them all.

We’ve written detailed reviews of some of their models (the 4000 lumen tactical light here and two pocket flashlights here).

Here are two more, the Lumintop ODF30C 3500 lumen flashlight and the Lumintop AA 2.0 pocket flashlight.

Getting our heads out of the tool box and back out into nature, another outstanding gift that says “I love you” in a most heartfelt way is a brand new DSLR camera.

Nikons are the best rated DLSRs these days and the Nikon D3500 is an outstanding camera to start with. The Nikon D3500 kit that comes with two lenses is a great value.

If your sweetie already has a great camera, a fabulous gift that he or she will LOVE is the Hoodman Loupe.

This little device shrouds the image on the back of the camera so you can see the picture well in any light, and the optics are adjustable so no matter how good or poor your vision is, you can adjust it so the image is tack sharp.

We rely on our Hoodman Loupes to ensure that our images are in focus, our composition is what we want, and the exposure is correct.

Another wonderful gift for someone who loves photography is a high quality tripod. The Benro Travel Angel II tripod is light and easy to set up and has worked well for me, especially hiking, for several years. An easy-to-use tripod makes it possible to blur waterfalls and to take photos of the Milky Way and is also a wonderful tool for taking selfies.

The photographer in your life might also really enjoy some books that explain the nitty gritty about how to take beautiful photos.

Three books that have taught us a lot are Brenda Tharpe’s Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography, Tim Fitzharris’ Landscape Photography and Steve Perry’s Secrets to Stunning Wildlife Photography.

We’ve got loads more tips for learning how to take great photos here.

Sometimes the best way to get really beautiful photos of nature is to camp right out in it for long periods of time.

If your spouse has been pressing you to upgrade your RV with solar power so you can boondock for a while but you’ve felt a bit overwhelmed by the complexity or the cost of installing a system, a folding solar power suitcase can provide a lot of charging capacity and give you some excellent hands-on experience without requiring a scary big financial commitment or a search for an installer. And you can always sell the solar power suitcase at a later date. Other models are here and here.

If you’re ready to invest in a “full-time” solar power solution, the major components will be these four things:

This is essentially what has powered our lives every day for 11 years, and we have loads of articles on this website about solar power (here) and batteries (here)).

Getting up on the roof to do things like install solar panels is fine with the built-in RV roof ladder. However, we also use a secondary lightweight telescoping aluminum ladder so we can reach the highest parts of the exterior walls and the front cap since those spots are all out of reach of the built-in ladder.

This ladder can be set up in a jiffy, is stable, and can be folded up to fit in a small storage space!

Our puppy Buddy just came over to see what I was up to on my laptop here, and he wanted me to add a few things for our furry readers. One is a Happy Camper dog shirt with a vintage RV on it. The RV window is a heart!

Another is his favorite dog food. He loves the Orijen and Acana brands, and Regional Red is his all-time favorite.

Put a paw over your eyes so you don’t see the price, but do read the ingredients. I honestly think this stuff should be served under glass on a linen tablecloth…

Last is a set of rubber whistler balls. These rugged, flexible balls can withstand any amount of chewing and have small holes in the sides that make them whistle as they fly.

We hope these pics and links have given you some fresh new ideas of special things to give your loved ones.

Anything you put in your shopping cart right after clicking a link here (even if you end up doing some searching to find something else) results in a small commission to us at no cost to you, a win-win all around. Thank you!!

If you’re still searching for that ideal gift for someone special, check out these 50 Great RV Gifts here!

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Lessons Learned in the Full-time RV Lifestyle – Tips & Ideas!

May 2018 – We have been traveling full-time for eleven years now. I don’t know where those years have gone, but every single day has been a blessing, and every year has brought us many incredible moments of discovery. And we don’t see an end in sight!

The May/June 2018 issue of Escapees Magazine features an article I wrote about some of the lessons we’ve learned in all our years on the road and at sea. Following our hearts into a life of travel has expanded our horizons and deepened our souls in ways that never would have been possible if we’d stayed home.

Lessons Learned in the Full-time RV life Escapees Magazine March-April 2018-min

“Reflections on 11 Years of Full-time RVing – Lessons Learned!”
Escapees Magazine, May/June 2018, by Emily Fagan

Launching a full-time traveling lifestyle brings a lot of self-discovery right from the get go. Downsizing a lifetime of stuff to fit into an RV is an overwhelming yet liberating purge. You take a few important possessions with you and head on down the road.

Walking down a country road in the RV life-min

With a stick in his mouth (one of his most important possessions) Buddy trots on down a country road.

Then you drive off into the great beyond and marvel that you did it, that you’re free, that you’re on the road to a fabulous new life of adventure.

RV fifth wheel trailer driving in Utah red rocks-min

Towing our trailer through Utah’s red rock country to some great adventures.

After the thrill of the Big Escape, you might pause for a moment and look around a little and double check that you did the right thing.

Puppy looks at fifth wheel trailer RV-min

That’s it? My house and all my worldly possessions are in there?! Wow!!

But absolutely every aspect of life is suddenly a total thrill. Just making a meal, whether you barbecue it on the cool little grill or bake it in the nifty Easy Bake RV Oven or fry it up on the tiny three burner stove, cooking and eating at home are suddenly very exotic. Playing House takes on a wonderful new meaning. And you play and play and play.

Barbecuing burgers in the full-time RV lifestyle-min

Grilling burgers in a beautiful brand new backyard is very cool.

Suddenly, the distractions of the old conventional life are gone and you fill your time with simple pursuits that work well in a mobile lifestyle. You can’t go to the same gym everyday, and sometimes you get lost trying to find the grocery store in a new town, but the quiet pleasures of life at home take on a special new meaning.

Hobbies you never had time for in the past become treasured parts of the day-to-day routine.

Living in a fifth wheel trailer RV full-time-min

Mark has learned to play dozens of his favorite songs since we started traveling full-time.

While zipping from place to place, you take in all you can manage to absorb. You discover how little history you actually learned in school and you find small towns you’ve never heard of in states you know only by name that suddenly take on a fabulous familiarity and vitality.

You meet the locals, learn a little of their past and the history of their area, and you ponder what it would have been like to grow up in that community or to live there now.

Mural painting of Antlers Hotel in historic Newcastle Wyoming-min

A mural on a building in Newcastle, Wyoming, shows what the main street looked like a century or more ago.

Antlers Hotel in Newcastle Wyoming-min

Here is the same Antler’s Hotel and neighboring buildings today.

After a while you realize that you’ve got to stop and smell the flowers every so often. You’ve been rushing through your travels with such an excited zeal that you realize you’re missing stuff.

You slow down and begin to soak it all in. You realize you’re living a life, not just a lifestyle, and you begin to savor the in between moments.

Early spring flowers in South Dakota-min

Signs of Spring!

We found just such a moment while driving on the Interstate near Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is known for many marvelous things, a world class mansion on a billionaire family’s estate to name just one, but we will forever remember the field of thigh high flowers we saw on the side of the highway. It was a photographer’s paradise.

How exciting to have one of our many photos from that afternoon appear on the cover of the March/April 2018 issue of Escapees Magazine.

Escapees Magazine Cover Mar-Apr 2018-min

Escapees Magazine, March/April 2018
Cover photo by Emily Fagan

One of the great things we’ve learned in our travels that I didn’t mention in my Reflections & Lessons Learned article in the May issue of Escapees Magazine is what this lifestyle has taught us about nature and the heavens.

We have stood in awe and photographed hundreds of stunning sunrises and sunsets and dozens of single and double rainbows during our traveling years. And we’ve gotten up in the wee hours to photograph the Milky Way or get a timelapse video of it marching across the sky. We now know a lot about these celestial events, when and how they occur and how best to observe and capture them with a camera.

Fifth wheel trailer RV camping next to a rainbow-min

We noticed the light getting really eerie while camped in Wyoming, and then we saw a rainbow!

Rainbow and puppy with fifth wheel RV trailer at sunset-min

A slight change in perspective made for a whole different look.

We’ve also learned that Nature doesn’t rush things and you have to be patient and let its wonders reveal themselves at their own pace. And sometimes the transformation in the sky is really worth the wait.

Gorgeous sunset over fifth wheel trailer RV-min

An hour after the rainbow faded, the sky looked like this!

Pink sunset over fifth wheel trailer RV-min

Twenty minutes later it looked like this!

As Robert Frost described it 102 years ago, we’ve “taken the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” We’ve found that, for us, the back roads and byways always offer a fresh perspective, and sometimes the road itself is unusual.

Red asphalt highway in Wyoming-min

In Wyoming some roads have red asphalt, giving drivers a fantastic mix of blue sky, green grass and red roads.

Perhaps the most valuable thing about embarking on an unusual lifestyle like RVing full-time is the opportunity it offers for reflection. After the excitement of making dinner in a mini-kitchen on a three burner stove has worn off, it is natural to ponder just why you are living this way and whether you are really “living the dream” you anticipated.

Puppy catches his reflection in a pond-min

Full-time RVing offers a chance for self-reflection.

It is common, after a few years, for full-time RVers to find themselves at a turning point. After seeing the major National Parks and visiting a bunch of states and meeting lots of other cool RVers along the way, it is only natural to grind to a halt and ask, “What now?”

Some people find this troubling — it’s scary that their dream lifestyle might need tweaking — but I think it should be celebrated as a graduation. The first round of dreams has been fulfilled. What could be more satisfying than that? Now the next round of dreams can be conjured up and chased down!

Several very popular RV bloggers who have been at this full-time RV lifestyle business for a long time have transitioned recently to new modes of travel or to living in distant and far flung locations.

For excited future full-time RVers, reading and watching these transitions taking place may be unsettling because their mentors are leaving the lifestyle they are about to begin. Years ago, when we had been on our boat in Mexico for about 8 months, I received a plaintive one-line email from a reader: “When are you going back to your RV?”

But part of the joy of transforming your life by giving up a solid foundation to live in a home on wheels is that it opens your heart to opportunities for even bigger transformations down the road.

For full-time RVers who feel like they are living under stormy skies or are feeling a little boxed in by repetitious patterns or feel a little lost between the woods and the trees, there’s no harm and no shame in admitting their dreams have changed and possibly gotten bigger and more ambitious.

Using the full-time RVing lifestyle as a stepping stone to other wonderful and exotic lifestyles is almost to be expected and is one of the great reasons to give it a try.

Storm clouds ofver fifth wheel RV in South Dakota-min

Storm clouds form over our trailer in South Dakota.

However, it can be hard when you’ve committed yourself with all your heart to RVing full-time to step back and say, “Wait! This isn’t exactly what I want.” And it’s especially difficult with the intense personal comparisons and voyeurism provoked by social media and blogging. A weird kind of peer pressure creeps in.

When it comes to pursuing your dreams, it really doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks or how your life compares to theirs because it’s not about them. It’s about you.

A photographer who lives an extraordinary traveling life, David Morrow, has posted two videos that are quite profound. The first is the impact on his life of quitting social media (he had followers in the tens of thousands on many platforms). The second is his daily morning ritual for exploring and reaffirming his life’s dreams.

These videos spoke to me because they parallel my own experiences. Perhaps they will speak to you too (links for them are in the reference section at the end of the page).

RV fifth wheel trailer boondocking in Utah-min

Feeling boxed in? We tucked our trailer into an alcove of red rock columns in Utah.

I’ve been reading Open Your Mind to Prosperity by Catherine Ponder, and she talks about how to set yourself up for success, whether for prosperity in terms of money or prosperity in terms of having exhilarating life experiences. One point she drives home with vigor is the importance of making room in your life for your future riches by letting go of and releasing anything from your past that isn’t fundamental to the future you desire.

It’s easy to see how this advice can help future full-time RVers, since part of the transition into full-time RVing is the Enormous Downsizing Project that has to be completed (yikes!). However, full-timing is not a static activity, and as full-timers flow through the lifestyle, tweaking and perfecting it and making it their own, the same idea applies: Achieving your dreams depends on releasing aspects of the past that aren’t propelling you forward to the future you want.

While online communications tend to compress deep emotional experiences to a few words here and there, getting together in person with kindred spriits, and talking at length around the campfire or over a morning coffee can really help get the creative juices flowing, whether you are pondering where to travel next or are curious about workamping opportunities or wonder if others have been through similar experiences in the full-time RV lifestyle as you have.

RV boondocking in the woods in a fifth wheel trailer-min

Can’t see the woods for the trees?

Ever since its founding by Joe and Kay Peterson, Escapees RV Club has specialized in bringing people together who have like interests. All Escapees are RVers, either current, past or future, and the Club encourages get togethers. From going to an RV gathering at a National Rally (Escapade #58 is this week in Sedalia, Missouri) to attending one of the many lively Xscapers Convergences for RVers (South Dakota, Colorado, Oregon, Michigan and Georgia are all on the schedule) to seeing the Best of Ireland (June 13-19, no RVs involved) Escapees offers well organized traveling adventures of all kinds to bring members together.

There are also regional chapters of Escapees across the country, and these groups hold their own local gatherings.

Escapees also has Birds of a Feather groups (BOFs) that bring together people that share all kinds of unusual hobbies and interests. These groups are where you can find fellow RVers interested in Geology, Computers, Line or Square Dancing, providing assistance at natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, Photography, Prospecting, Quilting, Woodcarving or Worldwide Travel.

There is even a Birds of a Feather group for RVers who love to camp in the nude and another for Friends of Bill. And, of course, if the BOF for your particular interest doesn’t exist, you can always start one.

It is no surprise that Escapees RV Club has an affinity for rainbows. Occasionally clouds of not-total-happiness end up forming for some folks who jump into the RV lifestyle, and the Escapees RV Club offers a gazillion ways for RVers to connect with each other and share their common experiences.

Double rainbow over fifth wheel RV trailer-min

A double rainbow formed over our fifth wheel after a terrific afternoon rain storm.

If you are interested in RVing and haven’t yet joined Escapees, it is a very intriguing club with a million sticks in the campfire. Everything described here is just a fraction of what Escapees RV Club is all about. They do incredible advocacy work for RVers, are the biggest mail forwarding company out there, have discounts on RV parks and even have a sub-group that maintains the biggest boondocking database around.

You can join (or ask questions) by calling 888-757-2582. Or you can click here: Join Escapees RV Club

If you mention our blog, Roads Less Traveled, when you join, Escapees puts a little something in our tip jar. This is not why we do it — we recommended the club long before they started doing this — but we sure appreciate it!

Double rainbow over fifth wheel RV trailer-min

Happy campers after 11 years on the road and at sea.
Here we’re perched on a train car in a city park in Custer, SD

Spending what is now a significant chunk of our lives not knowing where we’ll be sleeping next has been a fabulous and life altering experience for us. Not only did we love the early days when simply living in an RV was an exotic thrill, but we have loved the exploration of the world around us and the journey we’ve taken within.

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Links to some of the offerings at Escapees RV Club:

David Morrow Videos – Great food for thought:

Related posts:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.   New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff and check out our GEAR STORE!!

Camping World Video Shoot — RVing is for Everyone!

April 2018 – A few weeks ago we had the extraordinary experience of creating a video with a professional video production crew for Camping World as part of their new YouTube campaign, “RVing is for Everyone.”

Isaac Aaron Video crew Camping World RVing is for Everyone with Mark and Emily-min

We spent an exhilarating three days with the Isaac Aaron Media crew shooting for Camping World.

The casting call came out of the blue, and we weren’t sure what to expect.

It turned out to be three very thrilling, very long and very full days of quasi-acting and interviews that resulted in a beautiful and inspiring five and a half minute video that captures the spirit of our RV life perfectly. The video is included at the end of this article.

The video crew, Isaac Aaron Media, was a team of five who flew out from North Carolina to join us in Arizona. We suggested a few places where we could film in the Phoenix area, and they took it from there to decide on the camping locations and tourist attractions for filming.

Isaac Aaron Media Camping World RVing is for Everyone video shoot-min

Isaac Aaron led the team filming us

Isaac Aaron and his wife Jessica Piche are the founders and owners of Isaac Aaron Media. Their skilled camera crew were videographers Justin, Byron and Ben.

These guys know quite a bit about the RVing life. Isaac and Jessica own a motorhome, and Justin renovated and lived in a vintage travel trailer for over a year.

Isaac Aaron Video crew Justin for Camping World RVing is for Everyone with Mark and Emily-min

“Rolling!” Justin renovated and lived in a vintage travel trailer.

Byron was seeing the West in depth for the first time and loving every minute of it. He handled all the mobile video work during the shoot, carrying a camera on a cool gimbal system and walking around (often backward!) to give the video movement.

Isaac Aaron Media Byron RVing is for Everyone for Camping World-min

Byron’s mobile setup created cool effects

They wanted to shoot some of the video at Canyon Lake Marina and RV Park. When we posted our article about staying there last month, some readers were surprised we had camped there, since — lovely as it is — it is not the kind of place we ever camp at.

But when the video crew arrived, it was clear that the scenery would work really well for the images they wanted of us enjoying the RV life.

As soon as the crew unloaded their gear at our campsite, Byron headed out to the big grassy area behind our trailer and on down to the lake to begin getting scenery shots.

Video shoot for Camping World RVing is for Everyone-min

Byron filmed the pretty scenery at Canyon Lake Marina and RV Park.

The crew told us to just “do whatever you always do.” We had been playing with our new puppy, Buddy, in the grass, so we continued doing that. Suddenly, there were three cameras on us from different angles, and the video shoot had begun.

The entire video was unscripted. However, the director, Jessica, had a clear idea in her mind of what the team was creating. She asked us to walk over to a picnic table and sit down and admire the view as the crew filmed us.

She wanted the video to be authentic, and I had explained to her that we are photographers and that what we do in our RV life is take photos all day every day. She was fine with that. So, as the crew shot video of us, we took still images of everything around us!

I put Buddy up on a rock to get a photo of him with Canyon Lake in the background. As I clicked off a series of images, the video cameras rolled. Afterwards, when Jessica was going through the video footage, she emailed me with wonder, “How did you get Buddy to stay still on the rock like that?” I don’t know. I just put him there, said “Stay!” and he stared back at me while I took his portrait!

Movie star puppy Camping World video RVing is for Everyone-min

Buddy happily poses for me on a rock.

As we were goofing off by the shore, Mark got the idea to lure the resident flock of ducks over to us. These ducks know human actions well, so even though he didn’t have any bread for them, when he tossed a few pebbles in the water they came right over. And the video cameras rolled!

To show the nuts and bolts of the RV life, the crew wanted a few sequences of us breaking down and/or setting up camp. So, they asked us to pack up the trailer and do all the things involved in getting hitched up just like we normally do.

Cameras were on both of us as we folded up our camping chairs, and then cameras were on me as I washed the dishes and packed up the interior and cameras were on Mark as he mounted the bikes on the bike rack and put away the patio mat.

Video RVing is for Everyone Camping World with Mark & Emily-min

The video crew shot scenes of us packing up our rig.

The Apache Trail (Route 88 from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake), is one of the most stunning scenic drives in Arizona, and the plan was to capture images of us towing the trailer on this incredible winding road between Canyon Lake and Lost Dutchman State Park.

Until Mark and I drove the Apache Trail out to Canyon Lake a few days prior to the camera crew’s arrival, none of us had realized that the entire road was under construction, complete with cones in the road and big machinery working. Much of the road had been stripped of asphalt and was dirt too!

We would never advise driving a big rig on the Apache Trail without scouting it first, even when it is paved and free of construction crews, because there are tight switchbacks and lots of 15 mph turns with sheer drop-offs and no guard rail. Fortunately, Mark and I both know the road very well because we used to race our bicycles on it years ago!

We hopped in the truck to begin towing our trailer and suddenly discovered there was a video camera hanging from our rearview mirror! Any swearing at the challenging road conditions or crazy drivers would be caught on film (ahem, some of it may have been!).

Dashboard video camera RVing is for Everyone Camping World-min

We got in our truck to find a video camera mounted on our rear view mirror!

The video crew had hired a photography location scout, Alan Benoit, to help them with finding locations to shoot and to give them advice on where the best turnouts would be along the Apache Trail so they could to set up their cameras to capture our rig driving by. He gave them all kinds of pointers and also drove ahead of us in his own car so he could open up a gap in front of us and ensure there would be no cars ahead of us as the video cameras rolled.

The video team fanned out to different locations along the route to catch us at various bends and curves in the road, and we got a kick out of seeing them as we drove past.

Camping World RVing is for Everyone Isaac Aaron Media of Mark and Emily-min

Byron gets a shot of us rolling by in our rig.

The Apache Trail between Lost Dutchman and Canyon Lake is about 11 miles long, so we pulled over a few times to allow the video crew to drive ahead and get set up in new positions to wait for us. We had radios for communication between all the vehicles because there isn’t any cell service out there!

Once the video crew had captured a bunch of scenes of us driving, including going under one of the trestle bridges on the route, we unhitched and dropped the trailer off in a pullout so we could all drive back to Tortilla Flat for lunch. Tortilla Flat is a very popular restaurant offering both indoor and outdoor seating and live music most afternoons.

Lunch break Camping World RVing is for Everyone video of Mark and Emily-min

We check the menus at Tortilla Flat, a fun western themed restaurant on the Apache Trail.

Tortilla Flat has a funky vibe and there’s an old toilet seat hanging up on the porch where you can get a framed selfie.

Just another pretty face movie star puppy-min

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After lunch we went down to the docks to go on the Dolly Steamboat Cruise on Canyon Lake. This is a beautiful and peaceful excursion that takes you out onto Canyon Lake and into the Sonoran Desert by way of the dammed up Salt River.

Dolly Steamboat Cruise for Camping World RVing is for Everyone video shoot-min

We were filmed boarding the Dolly Steamboat before our memorable cruise on Canyon Lake.

Once all the passengers were aboard the boat, the video crew filmed us walking down the dock and giving our tickets to the captain. I’m not sure what the other passengers thought as they watched us do the ticket buying scene a couple of times. Fortunately, it was a quiet Sunday afternoon and no one was in a rush.

I suspect most folks thought it was a bit of a hoot to have a professional camera crew aboard, and there were smiles of recognition, probably from RVers camping in the area, when we explained it was a video shoot for Camping World.

Dolly Steamboat captain Camping World RVing is for Everyone video by Isaac Aaron-min

Byron films us greeting Captain Jasion and giving hime our tickets.

The video team had brought a drone, and they flew it from the deck of the Dolly Steamboat. While everyone on the boat oohed and aahhed at the stunning desert canyon views around us, the drone flew higher and higher above us. Then, after having it zoom around the lake, the crew brought it back to the boat. Jessica reached out to grab it out of the air as it hovered above the deck.

Catching drone for Camping World RVing is for Everyone video-min

Jessica caught the drone after it circled the Dolly Steamboat from high above the lake.

We had had quite a day, and we were all totally pooped as we drove our trailer on the last stretch of the Apache Trail to Lost Dutchman Campground. We all hit the sack early.

Puppy sleeping on RV couch-min

Phew! It’s hard work being a movie star!

Before sunrise the next morning, Buddy suddenly sat up and gave a muffled woof when he heard activity right outside our trailer. We opened the blinds to see the video crew moving around in the pitch dark with headlamps on their heads. They were setting up a timelapse video of our rig silhouetted against the sunrise that would soon begin.

We quickly got dressed and ran outside with our own cameras to capture the pretty pink sky as it slowly began to brighten.

We were all very fortunate that Mother Nature gave us such a beautiful light show and that no one had stayed in the campsite next to ours. This gave the crew plenty of room for their gear and an unobstructed view of our trailer. We stayed at Lost Dutchman for the next three nights after that, and not only was there never as nice a sunrise again but we had neighbors in that campsite every night!

Sunrise Camping World video shoot RVing is for Everyone-min

The video crew was at our campsite setting up a time lapse video before sunrise.

After bolting some breakfast, we were off to the Superstition Mountain Museum for more filming. The museum docent gave the crew pointers on what the highlights were and where the best photo ops might be as we strolled the grounds to view the artifacts from the historic gold mining days.

Isaac Aaron Media Crew at Superstition Mountain Museum Arizona-min

At Superstition Mountain Museum the video crew got tips on where the best photo ops would be.

Making a video involves a lot of waiting around while the crew sets up and breaks down their video gear, and there’s also a lot of repeated movements as each scene is shot a few times. It is trying for people, but is potentially even more challenging for puppies.

Buddy was only four months old and we had had him for only five weeks, but he had been amazing so far. No matter where we asked him to walk or sit, he went along with the flow. Best of all, the guys in the crew loved him, and he quickly became the star of the show.

Puppy becomes an RV movie star-min

Isaac gets a close-up of Buddy.

The Superstition Mountain Museum is a treasure trove of history, and we walked and walked and walked all around the extensive grounds for several hours. Cameras were on us at all times.

As we’d gaze at something or pass through a doorway, we’d suddenly be asked, “Could you do that again?” Some scenes were set up more deliberately, and we had to wait for those classic commands: “Rolling… Action!” The first few times we started on “Rolling!” rather than “Action!” Such rookies!!

After a few hours, Jessica found a spot for us to sit for an interview. The crew used a reflective foil to get the lighting on our faces just right. In addition to answering questions about the tourist attractions. we also answered questions about why we had become full-time RVers, what life had been like for us before we began living this way, and what we loved most about the RV lifestyle.

We spoke from the heart, and she let us go on at length on some topics when we had a lot to say.

Camping World RVing is for Everyone Interview with Mark and Emily-min

The team checked the cameras and lighting before Jessica interviewed us at the Superstition Mountain Museum.

Of course, there was room for bloopers too, and we fell into the same funny trap that several other couples had.

The theme of the Camping World video series is “RVing is for Everyone,” but when asked about our RV experiences, we naturally talked about them in terms of being full-time RVers, not seasonal RVers or vacationers. So, at one point, after describing the wonders and thrills of downsizing out of our house and running away to live in an RV, Mark blurted out, “Of course, it’s not for everyone!”

Isaac chuckled and said, “We’ve heard that before, and what you probably mean is that full-time RVing isn’t for everyone!”

We had lunch all together at the western themed Mammoth Steakhouse & Saloon at Goldfield Ghost Town next door and then went back to our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park where the video crew got set up for us to do some hiking.

There was a nice hiking trail that led towards the Superstition Mountains right from the back of our campsite, so once the camera gear was ready, off we went with Buddy bounding along while the video cameras rolled!

Video shoot hiking at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona

We hiked the trail behind our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park.

After our hike, when we came back to the campsite we suddenly noticed the Red Baron bi-plane soaring overhead doing somersaults in the sky. What a perfect photo op, and how typical of our lifestyle that something unexpected and fun zoomed into our lives at just the right moment. Mark and I simultaneously swung our cameras towards the sky.

Red Baron airplane does loops in the sky-min

The Red Baron is a popular ride in the Scottsdale/Mesa area, and Mark got this beautiful shot.

Red Baron airplane circles above us-min

We love shooting shoulder to shoulder because we always get different images. Here’s mine.

Gradually the shadows got longer and then the sky began to get orange. Everyone lined up to get a photo of the sunset around a gangly saguaro cactus that was in a campsite across the street.

Lost Dutchman State Park Camping World Video Shoot with Mark and Emily-min

Back at our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park we all got ready for a sunset shot.

RVing is for Everyone Camping World Video shoot with Mark and Emily-min

As the sun went down the cameras went up.

Sunset at Lost Dutchman State Park Campground in Arizona-min

An orange glow around a saguaro cactus in the next campsite.

We had all been up since before dawn, and now it was dark again. The video crew left and we crashed in our camper, totally exhausted!

The next morning we all met at Goldfield Ghost Town about a mile away from Lost Dutchman State Park. This tourist attraction is very similar to the Superstition Mountain Museum with lots of paths that wander between antique buildings from the gold mining days.

Camping World RVing is for Everyone Mark and Emily Isaac Aaron Media crew at Superstition Mountains-min

Bright and early the next morning, we all gathered at Goldfield Ghost Town for another day of shooting.

There is a little train that circles the property that was definitely worth a quick video clip.

RVing is for Everyone Camping World video shoot with Mark Emily-min

Ben caught the train on video just as it came around the bend and tooted its horn.

Goldfield Ghost Town is full of fabulous photo ops, and Mark and I had fun just roaming around taking photos. Shooting high or shooting low our creative juices flowed. And the camera crew was there to catch it all.

Scene for Camping World RVing is for Everyone created by Isaac Aaron Video-min

I set up my own shot while the video crew takes theirs!

Mark got a photo of the front of the jail, and we laughed as we read the jailhouse rules posted out front, joking that they sounded a bit like the rules for video actors:

No Complaining, No Profanity, No Loud Talk, Two Visits to the Outhouse Daily, Meals—Beans, Bread and Water.

Well, our meals at the area restaurants had actually been quite delicious!!

Jailhouse Rules Goldfield Ghost Town video for Camping World-min

These rules applied to more than just the jail house!

Mark took a quick trip to the outhouse and Buddy peaked through the outhouse window. They didn’t know that the video cameras were on them even then!

Puppy looks out moon window-min

The video crew caught this moment too.

Goldfield Ghost Town has a Bordello on the second floor of one building, and there’s a neat metal winding staircase leading up to it. The video crew loved that staircase, and we walked up and down it quite a few times as the cameras rolled. Buddy negotiated the stairs really well, and Mark and I got lots of great pics from the top.

Bordello staircase Goldfield Ghost Town Camping World RV video shoot-min

We wound up and down the staircase to the Bordello on the second floor several times!

Goldfield Ghost Town for Camping World RVing is for Everyone created by Isaac Aaron Video-min

The view from the top of the stairs was pretty great!

It was hot and dry walking around Goldfield, and at one point we snuck Buddy off to a spigot on the side of a building to get a sip of water. He was such a little trooper though. A quick rest in the shade and he was as good as new again and ready for more filming by an antique tractor.

Puppy movie star waiting for the next shot-min

Being filmed from sunrise onward wore us all down, but some shade and a drink revived us.

Byron of Isaac Aaron Media for Camping World RVing is for Everyone-min

We had fun playing tourist, and the video crew didn’t miss a moment.

After quite a few hours of shooting we all took a break and then reconvened at our Lost Dutchman campsite once again. Soon, it was time for our main interview which became the voiceover narrative for most of the video.

The Superstition Mountains were lit up behind our campsite in glorious fashion, but getting our faces lit without us being blinded by the sun and without my head casting a shadow across Mark’s face proved tricky. We messed with the chairs and the foil reflector quite a bit and finally got everything set up just right.

Set up for Camping World RVing is for Everyone video shoot at RV campsite in Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona-min

Back at our campsite the crew worked hard to get the best lighting possible for our final interview when the Superstitions lit up at the golden hour before sunset.

The questions were excellent, and we had a chance to express a little of our philosophy of how important it is to pay attention to your dreams, to nurture them and to fulfill them. Mark signed off with a fantastic quote, and when we were finally silent, a hush fell on everyone.

Speaking about the importance of pursuing your dreams and making them come true had swept us all into a spell. We feel so fortunate to live this way, and I suspect the crew was lost in thought pondering their own dreams too.

Coming back to reality, they asked us for one more quickie shot. The sun was setting fast, but we hopped on our bikes for a final scene of us riding around the campground loop.

At last we all gathered at the back of our trailer so I could capture an image of us all together saying that famous Hollywood line: “That’s a wrap!”

Camping World RVing is for Everyone Isaac Aaron Video with Mark and Emily-min

“And that’s a wrap!”

DELETED SCENES – Oh yes, there were quite a few!

Of course, no movie would be complete with our a track of deleted scenes. After three full days of three or four cameras going most of the time, the video crew had hours and hours of video to sift through. Most of it had to end up on the editing room floor, of course, because the final video would be less than six minutes long.

One of the more unusual deleted scenes was at the Superstition Mountain Museum chapel where we discovered a statue of Elvis inside!

Superstition Mountain Museum Camping World RVing is for Everyone Isaac Aaron Video-min

We walked in the chapel to find Elvis, but the scene didn’t make the cut.

We spent several hours on the last day doing a detailed tour of our rig. We showed every corner of our little abode and explained how and why we set it up as we have and why we chose this particular floorplan as our rolling home ten years ago.

We’ve decorated the walls with post cards from some of the National Parks and National Monuments we’ve visited, and the only original piece of furniture we still have is the dining table. So, there was a lot to talk about and see.

The best part of this RV interior sequence was when one of the guys asked Mark offhand what he would normally be doing “right about now” when we started showing off the kitchen. “I’d be getting a beer!” He joked. They said he should go ahead and do just that!

So, they did a full sequence of him reaching into the fridge and pulling out a beer, then reaching into the freezer for a chilled pint glass, and then pouring himself an ice cold yummy beer. He hammed it up a bit and it was very cute.

RVing is for Everyone Camping World video shoot with Mark and Emily-min

We did a detailed tour of our rig, and Mark had fun doing several takes of getting a beer from the fridge!

At Goldfield Ghost town there are several souvenir shops, and we went to two of them and picked out and purchased some goodies. Jessica suggested we buy some salsa, so we set up a scene where we scanned the shelves for locally made salsas and then chose one. The idea was that we would take the salsa back to the trailer later and do a scene where we were eating chips with it.

We ran out of time before we could shoot the scene of us eating the salsa in the trailer, but we sure did enjoy it a few days later!

Camping World RVing is for Everyone with Mark and Emily Isaac Aaron Media crew-min

We were filmed buying salsa at a tourist shop with plans to film us enjoying it later.

We also did a scene where we looked over some handmade soaps and picked out a bar of soap to purchase. Again, the whole sequence involved admiring and the picking out the soap and then, in a different scene, going to the register and paying for it.

The clerk was very cooperative, and the other tourists waited patiently outside the store for us to finish since there was barely enough room for us and a few cameras. In fact, for some of it the cameras were outside the store and shooting in.

During our interview later we talked about how in the full-time RV life you have to be selective about buying souvenirs and make sure they are consumable or else you’ll end up with a rig full of stuff!

Deleted scene Camping World RVing is for Everyone video by Isaac Aaron Video-min

We also chose a homemade soap as a consumable souvenir to take home.

There was also a scene where I showed some of the articles I’ve written in the RVing and sailing industry magazines and talked about how important writing and photography have become in our day-to-day lives. This has been a totally unexpected dream-come-true since we began traveling nearly 11 years ago.

But there were only so many seconds of footage that could be included!

Trailer Life Magazine Roads to Adventure Bedazzled in Banff by Emily Fagan-min

I talked a little about how fulfilling it has been to write for the RVing and sailing magazines, including my back page Trailer Life column.

After the whole video shoot was over, the crew went on to make some other videos in Arizona while we collapsed in our trailer and reflected with awe on what had just happened to us.

What a totally cool and special experience it was to be movie stars for three days!

Thank you, Camping World, for this unique opportunity, and kudos to Isaac Aaron Media for producing a beautifully crafted video.

RV sunrise Camping World RVing is for Everyone video shoot-min

Although we are full-timers — which is not for everyone — RVing definitely IS for everyone.
We loved weekends in our popup tent trailer years ago as much as we love full-timing in our fiver now.

Here’s the video — Enjoy!!

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Puppy Chow – Is There A Dog Living In Our RV ???

Christmas in our household included a very special gift this year.

Puppy love

Puppy love.

It wasn’t a gift to us or from us, but on Christmas Eve, as we were hanging around with our granddaughters in front of the Christmas tree at their house, they suddenly announced: “We’re getting another dog! For Christmas!!”

Puppy Dog in the RV lifestyle-min

The Christmas Pup.

They already had two dogs, but earlier that day they had seen a little puppy at the Humane Society, and they had fallen in love with him.

Puppy Dog and RV life-min

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And he was going to be moving in!

Puppy Dog playing in the yard-min

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At the moment he was doing the rounds with their mom being introduced to friends and family, but a few hours later he arrived at his new home.

Puppy dog plays in yard-min

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I have to confess, I’ve never been a dog person.

When I was four years old a very large dog with big paws and a huge mouth full of teeth knocked me down. He was playing, but I was terrified. Ever since then I’ve been an avowed cat person and bird person.

But when this little pup walked into the living room late on Christmas Eve, something in his spirit spoke to me.

Dog and RV travel-min

You see, I don’t like dogs.

I picked him up and he was surprisingly calm and self-contained. He didn’t quiver and he didn’t struggle to get out of my arms.

Portrait of a Dog as a Young Pup-min

Portrait of a Dog as a Young Pup.

Over the next few days he got to know the other two dogs in the household, a part-papillon and a chihuahua. The results were mixed.

Puppy dog tests his paw in a puddle by our RV-min

Puppy discovers his reflection in a puddle.

Slipper and puppy dog-min

Peek-a-boo!

The little pup was so cute, Mark and I couldn’t stop taking pics of him. Friends and family who are accustomed to receiving emails from us of pretty landscapes started getting inundated with photos of this puppy!

Puppy dog trots on the hiking trail-min

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He had been given a variety of names, but none of them had stuck.

The Humane Society had called him Perry, and he had arrived on Christmas Eve with two possible names, Miller and Bailey. The votes were evenly split between the two.

Our friend Bob who is a wiz with with Photoshop put the pup on the cover of a book that he thought the dog could write if he spent some time traveling with us. After seeing all the shots of him jumping in the grass he had anointed him Skippy.

Book about puppy Skippy-min

It would be a bestseller.

We were enchanted with the puppy. He was as sweet as could be. As I ticked down my list of reasons I didn’t like dogs — they bark, they jump on you, they drool all over, they lick you incessantly, they pant, they shed, they chew things, they smell yucky — I realized he didn’t have any of those traits.

He was silent and observant. He was extremely calm. In fact, he was eerily catlike. He liked to sit like a cat and he even rubbed his paws on his face like a cat.

He also had a very cute floppy ear.

Puppy dog portrait with floppy ear-min

Even the vet loved his floppy ear.

Puppy in the grass-min

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He was so quiet he would go for several days without barking. He wouldn’t make much of a watch dog like that, but he looked good posing as one.

Puppy dog on the doormat-min

The Watchdog.

One day we took a family trip to Cave Creek, north of Phoenix. We had a ball playing around with the western themed photo cutouts around town.

Puppy dog in Cave Creek Arizona-min

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The Humane Society had said the pup was an Australian Shepherd, and we thought maybe there was some short haired Border Collie in him too. The vet thought there might be some terrier. Whatever his heritage, he likes to herd the people around him, and he sure knows how to sprint.

Puppy dog plays with ball in backyard-min

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Running puppy dog with ball-min

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Running puppy dog with ball-min

This little guy can sprint!

He had just a little tiny battery, though, and after a few wild sprints he was done. You could throw the ball or his rope toy all you wanted and he would just lie there and watch.

Puppy dog on his back-min

All done running.

Sometimes he was such an adorable little angel Mark would call him Puppy Chow.

Our friend Bob was loving our pics and he put him on the cover of a magazine too.

Puppy Chow Dog's Life Magazine Cover

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We were visiting with a family whose dad is a city cop, and one day he took a big group of us — kids and adults — to see the precinct police station.

There were three dogs and ten people along for the trip, and while we were all busy staring at the interrogation room and learning a little about police life in a big city, the pup suddenly felt Nature’s call.

Unbeknownst to any of us, he sneaked off to a corner to take care of business.

RV life and puppy dog-min

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We left in high spirits, but a few hours later our friend got a call from the police chief. “One of the dogs you brought in today left something behind!” The other two dogs had been on leashes, so all fingers pointed at the puppy.

Oh dear. Now our little buddy was a Wanted Pup.

Puppy Dog Wanted Poster-min

Dead or alive!

We took a few hikes on the beautiful trails around Phoenix, and the puppy was amazing. He trotted right along and greeted everyone on the trail with a happy wagging tail and a friendly sniff.

Hiking and RVing with a puppy dog-min

He’s a great little hiker!

Mark has been a dog lover all his life, and I’ve often heard tales of his beautiful Afghan Hound, Hoover, that he’d raised with his kids.

As a little boy, though, he had begged his parents for a dog, preferably a real boy’s dog like Lassie. His mom wouldn’t dream of it, but finally she relented and the family got a dog — a French Poodle. This was great for his sisters, but it wasn’t the dog Mark had dreamed of playing with.

As he hugged the little pup one day, he said to me, “If only this dog had come into my life 50 years ago!”

Since three dogs was a bit of a crowd in the puppy’s new household, Mark offered that the pup could stay with us in our rig for a few nights while we were there.

Frankly, I think he just wanted more snuggle time with the pup!

RV welcome home to puppy dog-min

An extra special welcome home.

The puppy was supposed to be returned to the family that weekend, but the few nights with us stretched into a week, and then to two weeks. By then the kids were back in school and it was time for us to leave the city and start traveling again.

RVing with a puppy dog-min

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We had joked that the dog should be called “Loaner,” because he was supposed to be on loan. But we began to call our little buddy “Buddy.”

He looked very cute when he sat in my chair in the trailer.

RVing with a dog-min

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It was winter and our trailer was often very chilly in the morning. Sometimes when he yawned first thing in the morning we could see his breath. Not surprisingly, he liked to snuggle up.

Puppy dog in an RV recliner-min

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Puppy dog in a blanket in an RV-min

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Somehow he would end up in bed with us too. I mean, who can resist?!

Puppy dog in bed in an RV-min

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Another thing that amazed me about Buddy was that not only did he never bark or jump up on people or drool, but he never shed his fur. We could pet him and bathe him and comb out his fur, and not one hair would come off.

“He’s the ideal dog!” I would say to Mark as I wondered to myself what I meant by that.

He adapted extremely well to RV life on a test run to a camping area at Lake Pleasant. There was a lot for a young puppy to see at the lake.

Puppy dog checks the view out the RV window at the lake-min

“What’s out there?”

He’d sit on the water’s edge and watch the water lap the shore.

Puppy dog sitting at the lake-min

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Whenever he went to down to the water the ducks would swim over to him and check him out.

Puppy dog and duck at the lake-min

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As we fell head over heels in love with this little puppy, we thought long and hard about how a dog would impact our lives.

The grandkids were fine with Buddy becoming a traveling dog, and they encouraged us to keep him because they felt he’d be happiest with us out camping and hiking.

But it’s a huge commitment to set aside 15 years of your life to care for an animal. We’d both done that years ago and we had both sworn off of pets for good.

For the last ten years we’ve been blessed to live our lives focused entirely on ticking things off our lifelong bucket list. But owning a dog wasn’t even on the list!

Needless to say, we had many long conversations and more than a few sleepless nights. And we read every essay on the “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan’s website and downloaded every video of his that we could find.

Puppy with a floppy ear-min

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In no time we realized Buddy had been with us for a month!

As time passed we noticed he had grown up quite a bit. His floppy ear didn’t flop over any more and he started losing his baby teeth. We found seven of his baby teeth in four days! And he grew an inch or two in each direction and gained a few pounds.

But he was still an angel.

RV dog life puppy sits in RV doorway-min

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Perhaps the coolest thing was taking him out on the hiking trails. He loved it and we loved having him along.

Puppy dog hikes the hiking trail-min

He’s a happy pooch on the trail.

When we got out into the desert near Quartzsite, Buddy really came into his own and sealed his fate in our lives and our hearts.

We took him through the massively crowded Quartzsite RV show where his view was a sea of shoes and legs and knees — with the occasional German Shepherd’s or pitbull’s nose thrown in — and he was as calm and cool as a cucumber.

Even better, we took him off his leash whenever we were at our campsite, and he stuck close by, hanging out on the patio mat with his chew sticks and rubber ball and patiently waiting to be let in or let out like a cat. And, like a cat, sometimes he’d go out only to come right back in again.

Puppy dog and RV life-min

Buddy may be part Aussie, but he’s also part cat.

Who knows how this will all turn out, but sometimes life takes funny twists and turns. And if we’ve learned anything in our time on this planet so far, it’s that the biggest blessings in life come to us of their own accord, unbidden and unexpected, moved by a hand greater than our own.

RV boondocking in the Arizona desert camping

Our little buggy now has a pup inside!

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