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.

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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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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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RV Roof Repair – Rubber Roof Patch + Holding Tank Vent Cap Replacement!

We recently repaired some rips and tears in our RV’s rubber roof, and we also replaced the roof vent cap for our trailer’s black wastewater holding tank. These are easy projects for anyone to do. This article shows the steps we followed to complete these repairs.

RV Roof Repair patching a rubber roof and replacing a black water tank vent cap

RV Roof Repairs — Patching a rubber roof and replacing a black water tank vent cap

We were in a hurry as we tackled these jobs because a days-long rain storm threatened to begin at any moment. Also, our “ten year” RV rubber roof is now nearly twelve years old, so it is overdue for replacement. With these things in mind, our goals were speed of installation and watertightness that would hold for a few months.

In this article we’ll point out the few shortcuts we took just in case you ripped your RV roof or knocked a holding tank vent cap off when your rig was years out from needing a new roof!

RV Holding Tank Vent Cap Replacement

We boondock all the time, and this kind of travel takes our trailer into some gnarly situations where it gets scraped by tree branches on the exterior walls and roof. The sidewalls of our rig bear the tell-tale pin-stripe scars from tree branches, and our RV roof, well, the tallest items have taken the brunt of the damage.

The black wastewater holding tank vent pipe has a cap on it to keep rain and creatures out, but ours got sheared right off when we accidentally dragged on an unforgiving tree branch.

The first task in the repair was to remove the screws holding the cap onto the roof. These were easy to locate because there was a dollop of Dicor Lap Sealant covering each one.

RV black tank roof vent broken-min

The black tank vent cap was knocked off by low hanging tree branches.
In this photo Mark has already removed a few screws that attach the cap flange to the roof.

The next task was to lift the entire vent cap flange off of the black tank vent pipe.

Remove the old vent cap flange

Remove the old vent cap flange

This revealed the black tank vent pipe. A small piece of the top of the black tank vent pipe had broken off, but the damage was merely cosmetic. The new black tank vent cap would cover it.

The next step was to clear away the old Dicor Lap Sealant that formed a ring around the old black tank vent cap so the roof was smooth instead of having a crusty ring of old sealant.

RV black tank roof vent removed and waiting for new replacement-min

Scrape away old Dicor Lap Sealant

The key to this RV roof repair is making sure the new black tank vent cap has a watertight seal with the roof so there won’t be any leaks. A generous spread of Dicor Lap Sealant does the trick. It comes in a tube and is applied with a caulk gun. Before placing it in the caulk gun, Mark clipped off the tip so the Lap Sealant could flow out.

Remove tip of Dicor Lap Sealant tube-min

Prepare new tube of Dicor Lap Sealant and then lay a thick layer around the vent pipe.

Then he spread a thick bead of Dicor Lap Sealant around the vent where the screws would attach the cap, and then screwed in the screws.

Screwing an RV black tank roof vent onto a fifth wheel trailer roof-min

Screw the new vent cap onto the roof.

A final screw went into the top of the cap. The old black tank vent cap may not have had this screw right from the factory, and that may be why it was knocked off so easily. We don’t know because we never looked at the old cap that closely!

RV black tank roof vent-min

Be sure to screw the cap itself onto the base.

Then Mark spread generous bead of Dicor Lap Sealant around the outside of the vent cap, leaving a nice dollop on each screw head, including the one on the top of the cap.

Sealing the RV black tank roof vent with Dicor Lap Sealant-min

Put a thick layer of Dicor Lap Sealant around the base with a dollop on each screw head.

Here’s how it looked a few months after the job was completed. If you’ve been wondering about the wire next to the vent, it is the cable that connects our four solar panels together in series on our roof.

RV roof black tank vent repair completed-min

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Down on the ground far below us, our little project supervisor wondered how it was all going.

Project supervisor for RV rubber roof repair-min

The project supervisor asks how the vent cap replacement is going.

RV Rubber Roof Repair Patch

Our other RV roof repair was to fix a tear in the thin rubber sheet that covers our RV’s roof.

This job is so quick to do that the first time Mark did it in a location on the roof of one of our slide-outs, I didn’t even know he had started the job when he bounded in the door announcing he had just finished it.

“But I wanted to take pics!” I said.

“Ya gotta be faster next time!” He joked.

So, this time around, when I heard him mumble something about fixing a tear in the roof, I jumped up and ran for my camera and made sure I followed him up the ladder right away so I wouldn’t miss anything.

Tear in RV rubber roof needs repair-min

As rubber roofs age, they become more and more susceptible to rips and tears from low lying branches and other obstacles dragging as you drive underneath.

All that is needed to patch an RV rubber roof is a cleanser that can clean the crud off the roof around the tear, some scissors and some repair tape.

The preferred repair tape is EternaBond Tape. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a roll with us and there were no RV supply stores within 100 miles or so. But the local hardware store carried Flex Tape, and that worked just fine.

Tools needed for RV rubber roof repair-min

Applying a patch requires just a cleanser, some patch tape and scissors.

Mark cleaned the area throughly so the tape would stick well. He used a glass cleaner to cut any grease.

Clean the RV roof tear area before repairing-min

Clean the area thoroughly so the new patch tape will adhere well.

Wipe down RV roof tear before repair-min

Wipe off the cleanser.

Then he felt under the torn area to see if there was any lumpy debris in there. Sure enough, he pulled out a twig!

Check for debris under rip in RV roof_-min

Check to be sure nothing is lodged under the rubber roofing material.

Twig found under RV rubber roof tear-min

A twig was hiding under there!

This was a serious tear, but once he got the wound cleaned up it was ready to for a field dressing.

Rubber RV roof tear ready for a patch-min

The thin rubber roofing sheet is all that protects the underlying plywood from the elements.

RV roof tear ready for a patch-min

All cleaned up and ready for the patch.

He cut a piece of Flex Tape big enough to cover the tear. Then he pressed it in place, first with his hands and then with the back of his scissors.

Place patch on RV roof tear-min

Cut a piece of tape that is generously wider than the tear.

Press patch on tear in rubber RV roof-min

Press the patch into place.

Seal the Patch repair of RV rubber roof tear-min

Seal it and make sure there are no air bubbles by pressing something flat on it.

As an aside, Mark really likes these heavy duty Fiskar shears. They have a wire cutting notch on the back and they come with a sheath and a clip for hanging them from a belt loop.

Patch repair of RV rubber roof tear completed-min

Done! If we weren’t hurrying, the corners would be rounded and the tape wouldn’t rest on the old Dicor.

So, the job was done in just a few minutes.

A better way to cut the patch is to round the corners so they aren’t inclined to peel up. Also, sizing the patch so it is attached only to the rubber roofing material and not the lap sealant on the front cap would have been a better technique. But, as I said, rain was on its way in a few moments and a new roof was on its way in a few months.

Here is a pic from the other roof patch he did on the roof of one of the slide-outs several months ago.

RV roof repair for torn RV rubber roof-min

Another patch about 6 months after completion on the roof of one of our slide-outs.

Not long afterwards, the wild rain storm rolled in. Fortunately, the RV roof repairs were good and we were snug and dry in our trailer.

Puppy looks at a stunning sunset-min

The project supervisor was satisfied with the work, and we were warm and dry when the rains came.

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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:

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    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!!

    SunwayFoto Gimbal Head Review – Catching Birds in Flight!

    One of the coolest tools in our arsenal of photography gear is the Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head for our tripod.

    SunwayFoto GH-01 Gimbal Head Tamron 150-600 mm lens Nikon D500 camera-min

    SunwayFoto GH-01 Gimbal Head with Tamron 150-600 mm lens mounted on the gimbal and Nikon D810 camera affixed to the lens.

    We first saw a gimbal head in action last year on the Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park, South Dakota, when we were photographing prairie dogs alongside professional wildlife photographer Steve Perry. As Mark and I both struggled to get our tripods positioned properly so we could follow these little guys scampering in and out of their burrows, Steve effortlessly swung his mammoth lens all around, while keeping it under perfect control, and he captured great shots.

    We decided then and there that if we were going to use long telephoto lenses to capture images of distant birds and four legged critters, then we had to get gimbal heads for our tripods.

    Photography with the Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600 lens-min

    The Sunwayfoto gimbal head makes it easy to maneuver a long lens.

    With an ordinary ballhead, the camera can rotate in every direction, but the part that pivots is just a small ball. A big ungainly lens is hard to control on a small ball, and it is a bit like having the tail wagging the dog.

    With a gimbal head, the lens is held very securely in place on the tripod and the movement of the camera and lens in every direction is smooth and easily controlled via three different knobs.

    We decided to go with the gimbal head from Sunwayfoto because we have been extremely happy with our other Sunwayfoto camera gear. We use the SunwayFoto TC240 C tripod and both the Sunwayfoto XB-52 ballhead and Sunwayfoto XB-44 ballhead. And we use their L-brackets on every camera (an L-bracket allows you to switch the camera between portrait and landscape orientation on a tripod).

    As with the Sunwayfoto ballheads, L-brackets and tripod legs we use, the machining is very high quality on the Sunwayfoto GH-01 gimbal head. One of the things that sets it apart from more expensive but better known gimbal heads is that it is made of carbon fiber rather than aluminum.

    Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head-min

    The Arca Swiss foot on the collar of a long telephoto lens fits into the plate on the gimbal head.

    Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head review-min

    There are three knobs to control the movement in three dimensions.

    Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head-min

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    Another thing that sets the Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head apart from more expensive units is that it comes with a canvas suitcase with foam cutouts inside to protect the two components. It is really nice to have a good place to store the gimbal head when it’s not in use.

    Suitcase for Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head-min

    The SunwayFoto GH-01 gimbal head comes in a convenient suitcase.

    Suitcase layout Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head-min

    The two components of the gimbal head are protected by foam.

    The Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head is made up of two parts that fit together.

    Two parts Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head-min

    There are two parts to the SunwayFoto GH-01 gimbal head.

    Assembly Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head-min

    The plate supporting the lens slides up and down.

    In addition to being able to swing the gimbal around in any direction smoothly and easily, one of the best things about using a gimbal head rather than a conventional ballhead is that you can set it up so the camera and lens are perfectly balanced, even in an odd position.

    For instance, the camera can be aimed at a branch in a tree where a bird is sitting, and even without tightening everything down super hard, you can take your hands off the camera and it will stay in that position.

    Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head with Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600 lens-min

    The beauty of the SunwayFoto gimbal head is that the camera and lens move freely, and if there is slight tension on each knob, the camera will stay in place.

    Likewise, if the camera is pointed at some baby big horn sheep cavorting at the bottom of the hill, the camera can be aimed in that direction and left that way.

    Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head with Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600-min

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    When the Arca Swiss foot on the lens collar is attached to the gimbal head, the collar can be loosened slightly to add another degree of flexibility. Simply rotate the camera within the loosened lens collar to switch between landscape and portrait images. Everything else stays put.

    Portrait Orientation Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head Nikon D500 Tamron 150-600 lens-min

    By loosening the collar on the long lens, it is easy to switch between portrait and landscape orientations simply by rotating the camera.

    The most enjoyable way to use a gimbal head is to find a quiet spot where there is some wildlife roaming around and just sit and wait. When something interesting happens, swing the camera to follow the action and click away.

    We had a lot of fun with our gimbal heads recently while we were camping lakeside in Utah. We watched loons and cormorants, ducks and seagulls doing their thing out on the water.

    Photography fun Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head Nikon D500 Tamron 150-600 lens-min

    Mark waits for the action on the lake.

    One afternoon the water was like glass, and Mark got some fabulous photos of a seagull coming in for a landing and then taking off. The gimbal head made it easy to follow the gull’s movements and capture the reflections with great clarity.

    Reflection of seagull on water photographed with SunwayFoto GH-01 Gimbal Head-min

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    Seagull reflection photography with SunwayFoto GH-01 Gimbal Head-min

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    Water landing seagull photography with SunwayFoto GH-01 Gimbal Head-min

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    Takeoff from mirror water seagull photography with SunwayFoto GH-01 Gimbal Head-min

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    There are several brands of gimbal heads on the market, some for nearly $600 and others for as little as $200. The Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head delivers top quality engineering and construction at a reasonable price and is available at Amazon for about $390.

    SunwayFoto GH-01 Gimbal Head Tamron 150-600 mm lens Nikon D810 camera closeup-min

    The SunwayFoto gimbal head has been a fabulous addition to our arsenal of camera gear!

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    Where to buy the Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head:

    Sunwayfoto GH-01 Gimbal Head at Amazon

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    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

    .

    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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    MORryde SRE 4000 Installation & Review – Smooth Trailer Towing

    The MORryde SRE 4000 is a fabulous replacement for the standard equalizer used in most trailer leaf spring based suspension systems. We recently replaced our fifth wheel trailer’s equalizer with a MORryde SRE 4000, and what a difference this has made when we tow on bumpy roads!

    MorRyde SRE 4000 Trailer Suspension Installation and Review

    MorRyde SRE 4000 Trailer Suspension Installation and Review

    We have had our 14,500 lb. 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer for over ten years, and during that time we have replaced the leaf springs, the shock absorbers and the equalizer with beefier components than the ones that were installed at the factory. We also cut the hangers off the frame and placed them at a slightly wider spacing when the tires threatened to touch each other due to a failure within the suspension system (blog post about all that here).

    Our leaf springs are now Rockwell American leaf springs made in America from American steel. In addition to switching brands, we upgraded our leaf springs from the factory installed 7,000 lb leaf springs to 8,000 lb springs.

    These wonderful upgrades meant we no longer had a problem with sagging leaf springs or a faulty suspension system, but the ride inside the trailer had become very harsh. It was now routine for us to find things in total disarray inside our trailer after towing it down even modestly bumpy roads.

    MorRyde SRE 4000 installation and review-min

    The MORryde SRE 4000 includes equalizer and wet bolts (heavy duty shackles) for each axle.

    After arriving at a new campsite we’ve found our sconce lights dangling and we’ve had several light bulbs on our ceiling fan shatter all over the floor.

    We keep some books in a cabinet in the far back of the trailer, above the rear window, and that cabinet was always a total disaster whenever we unhitched. Books and pamphlets and maps would be toppled all over each other.

    In another rear cabinet in the trailer I keep a pocket flashlight and a chapstick, among other things, and darned if those two items didn’t always roll away and disappear under a pile of camera cleaning supplies every time we towed the trailer.

    We had to be super careful opening our RV refrigerator door, because bunches of things would fall out onto the floor.

    We have a few battery operated LED lights mounted under cabinets with Velcro, and they invariably would fall onto the counter tops. And from longstanding habit we tend to leave our place mats on our dining table, and they would always be on the floor when we arrived anywhere.

    Mark’s tools down in the Man Cave? Oh my. We won’t even talk about that mess with all those tool boxes tipped over on their sides.

    MorRyde SRE 4000 installation and review-min

    Here’s another look at the components of this system: MORryde SRE 4000 and heavy duty shackles

    We had resigned ourselves to fixing a disaster every time we parked and set up camp, but it sure was frustrating.

    Then Mark started reading up on the MORryde SRE 4000. MORryde is well known among RVers for their patented IS (Independent Suspension) system which is an axle-less rubber based system that doesn’t involve leaf springs at all. These are standard on the upscale New Horizons fifth wheels, and they are a pricey but popular upgrade with many RVers who have replaced their factory installed leaf spring suspension with the MORrydes IS suspension on their fifth wheel trailers.

    However, the MORryde SRE 4000 simply replaces the equalizer in a leaf spring suspension system and leaves the rest of the system intact, including the leaf springs, axles and shock absorbers. Rather than having a boomerang shaped piece of steel (an equalizer) that rocks back and forth between the two axles’ leaf springs, the MORryde SRE 4000 adds a rubber component that provides 4 inches of travel. So, not only does it rock back and forth, but it absorbs the bumps.

    Replacement of trailer equalizer with Morryde SRE 4000-min

    The MORryde SRE 4000 replaces the above equalizer and bolt assembly that sits between the hanger at the top and the two sets of leaf springs on either side.

    We decided that this seemed like a really neat solution to our problem, so we headed over to Rucker Trailer Works in Mesa, Arizona, to have the MORryde SRE 4000 installed.

    Rucker Trailer Works has worked on our trailer before. They aligned the frame and rehung the hangers to laser-point perfection after our initial suspension replacement at another shop. They have been in business for decades and they are true trailer experts. We would trust them with our trailer any day of the week and will eagerly return to them for any work we need in the future.

    If we had known about them at the time, we would have gone to them for our electric over hydraulic disc brake conversion, and they also would have been our initial choice when we had our failing suspension replaced.

    Rucker Trailer Works Mor-ryde SRE 4000 installation-min

    Rucker Trailer Works in Mesa, Arizona, did a superior job.

    We got set up in a bay and three mechanics quickly got to work.

    Fifth wheel trailer ready for Morryde SRE 4000-min

    We parked our buggy (a 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel) in one of the work bays.

    Our new puppy, Buddy, wanted to be the Project Supervisor. But he had been caught sleeping on the job when we did our RV screen door upgrades a few weeks ago. So, he reluctantly went away to take a nap in the truck while the experts did the installation.

    MORryde SRE 4000 review and installation-min

    Our new puppy, Buddy, wanted to be the Supervisor but he napped in the truck instead.

    The first step was to remove the wheels and jack the trailer up with floor jacks, placing the jacks under the frame.

    Remove 5th wheel trailer wheels for MORryde SRE 4000 installation-min

    First things first: jack up the trailer and remove the wheels.

    Once the trailer wheels were off the ground, additional jacks were slid beneath the axles to support them. This was an important step because the project would involve disconnecting and reconnecting one of the points where the axles are attached to the trailer via the leaf springs.

    There are five attachment points on each side of the trailer between the axles and the frame. Three of these attachment points are the hangers. The hangers connect the endpoints of the leaf springs: one at each of the two the outer endpoints and one in the middle supporting both leaf springs via the equalizer. The other two axle/frame attachment points are the two shock absorbers.

    When the equalizer is removed, each leaf spring loses one attachment point to the frame. That is, each leaf spring ends up connected to the frame by only one hanger at one end while the other end is left dangling where the equalizer used to be. As each leaf spring drops, the shock absorbers could also be stretched open and possibly damaged. Also, it’s much easier to line up the bolt holes when installing the MORryde SRE 4000 if the axles are supported!

    Therefore, jacks were positioned beneath the axles to hold the axles in place during the job.

    This “after” pic shows the five connection points between the trailer frame and the axles.
    The axles must be supported when the center attachment point is removed during this job.

    Because we have electric over hydraulic disc brakes on our trailer (an upgrade we highly recommend to anyone with a large fifth wheel trailer), the disc brake calipers were removed and set aside with the hydraulic lines still intact and attached.

    Fifth wheel trailer disc brake rotor and caliper-min

    Because we upgraded our trailer to disc brakes, the brake calipers had to be removed temporarily.

    Fifth wheel trailer disc brake with caliper removed-min

    The disc brake calipers were set aside with the hydraulic line still attached & intact.

    The equalizer was now at a crazy angle because the trailer was raised up on jacks.

    Fifth wheel trailer equalizer replaced by Morryde SRE 4000-min

    The old equalizer is cocked because the trailer is on jacks and the weight is off the wheels

    The bolt holding the equalizer to the hanger was removed, and then the bolts holding the equalizer to the leaf springs were removed.

    Remove 5th wheel trailer equalizer to install Mor-Ryde SRE4000-min

    The bolt holding the equalizer to the hanger was removed.

    Bolts removed from fifth wheel trailer equalizer to install MorRyde SRE4000-min

    Next, the bolts holding the equalizer to the leaf springs needed to be removed.

    These were not the original factory-installed bolts. They were wet bolts that we had had installed when our suspension was replaced a while back.

    Wet bolts and equalizer from fifth wheel trailer-min

    The old equalizer and bolt assemblies.

    To our surprise, the mechanics discovered that the one of the equalizers was damaged. The top hole had started elongating and the brass bushing had broken. We were both astonished because we had towed our trailer only 7,500 miles since the equalizer had been installed. Our trailer weighs in at its GVWR and is not excessively heavy.

    Damaged Dexter equalizer removed from fifth wheel trailer-min

    One of the equalizers was already damaged after just 7,500 miles of towing.

    Damaged Dexter equalizer removed from fifth wheel trailer suspension-min

    The top hole had elongated and the bronze bushing had broken.

    As we pondered how this damage could have happened, we remembered one particularly nasty road we had driven down this past year. It was a 3 mile long stretch of miserably rutted dirt road that took us 45 minutes to cover. At the end of it we noticed that the top equalizer bolt was hanging halfway out because the nut had worked its way off.

    You can read about the details and see Mark’s incredibly ingenious solution to get us back on the road in this post: Trailer Suspension Nuts & Bolts – One Nut From Disaster!

    Here’s a pic from that scary moment many miles from nowhere:

    Bolt falling out of equalizer in fifth wheel trailer suspension-min

    Last year, after driving for 45 minutes on the nastiest dirt road we’ve ever been on, Mark noticed the bolt holding the equalizer to trailer frame was working its way out. This may be what caused the damage to the equalizer that we saw during the MORryde SRE 4000 installation.

    Past damage behind us, the next step was to hang the MORryde SRE 4000 on the leaf spring hanger.

    MorRyde SRE 4000 installation on fifth wheel trailer frame hanger-min

    The MORryde SRE 4000 was suspended by a bolt at the top.

    Prior to tightening the bolt, the mechanic used a C-clamp to tighten the hanger arms and hold the MORryde SRE 4000 in place.

    MorRyde SRE 4000 installation on fifth wheel trailer frame hanger-min

    A C-clamp held the MORryde SRE 4000 in place

    Then the C-clamp was removed and the MORryde SRE 4000 was centered between the leaf springs.

    Position MorRyde SRE 4000 on fifth wheel trailer frame hanger with disc brake caliper removed-min

    The MORryde SRE 4000 was bolted onto the hanger.

    Fifth wheel trailer suspension with disc brakes and MorRyde SRE 4000-min

    The MORryde SRE 4000 was suspended from the hanger.

    MorRyde SRE 4000 and fifth wheel trailer leaf springs-min

    Looking good.

    The next step was to install the heavy duty shackles (or “wet bolts”) on either side of the MORryde SRE 4000, first bolting together one side and then the other.

    Leaf springs attached to Mor-Ryde SRE 4000 on fifth wheel trailer suspension-min

    A new wet bolt assembly attached the MORryde SRE 4000 to one leaf spring.

    MorRyde SRE 4000 installed on fifth wheel trailer hanger and leaf spring suspension-min

    Now it was fully bolted on to the hanger at the top and to both leaf springs on either side.

    And that was it! Of course, the process had to be repeated on the other side of the trailer.

    The mechanic held up the equalizer to show where it had been.

    Comparing fifth wheel trailer equalizer and MorRyde SRE 4000-min

    For comparison, here’s where the equalizer used to be.

    The next step — after admiring how the MORryde SRE 4000 looked between the leaf springs — was to reattach the disc brake calipers, mount the wheels and lower the jacks until the trailer was standing on its own wheels once again.

    MorRyde SRE 4000 installed on fifth wheel trailer leaf spring suspension-min

    The disc brake calipers were reattached.

    Reinstall wheels on fifth wheel trailer after MorRyde SRE4000 installation-min

    The wheels were mounted back on.

    Finished installation MorRyde SRE4000 equalizer-min

    The jacks were removed and the trailer stood back up on its own wheels.

    We crawled underneath to have a look at the new MORryde SRE 4000 from the insides of the wheels.

    MOR-ryde SRE 4000 seen from beneath a fifth wheel trailer-min

    View from under the trailer looking at the back side.

    One of the things we were curious about was whether the MORryde SRE 4000 would raise or lower our trailer. We often travel on dirt roads and tow our trailer through washes, and we prefer it to be quite high off the ground. Even driving up or down a short ramp into or out of a gas station can cause havoc at the back end of the trailer. A few years ago when our trailer still stood at its original factory height, we left a deep 50′ long scrape in an insanely sloped parking lot in Boone, North Carolina.

    We measured the trailer height off the ground both before and after the MORryde SRE 4000 installation and were pleased that it raised the trailer over an inch, from 28 5/8 inches to 29 7/8 inches. Woo hoo!

    Trailer height before installation of MOR-ryde SRE 4000-min

    BEFORE the installation the measurement was 28 5/8 inches.

    Trailer height after installation of MOR-ryde SRE 4000-min

    AFTER the installation the measurement was 29 7/8 inches, 1.25 inches higher.

    We have towed our trailer a few hundred miles since the installation, and quite a few of those miles have been on both bumpy paved roads where we were going 35 mph or so and on miserably rutted dirt roads where we were going 10 mph or less.

    The first thing we noticed is that we were chucking around a lot less in the cab of the truck. So often in the past it seemed like the tail was wagging the dog, so to speak, and the trailer’s bouncing was making the truck bounce too. We have a Demco Glide-Ride fifth wheel pin box, which reduces the fore-and-aft movement of the trailer, but we were still being thrown around in the truck by the motion of the trailer.

    But it is the difference inside the trailer that is most remarkable. We have been truly astonished each time we’ve gone inside the trailer to find everything is still intact. The books on the back bookshelf miraculously stay put. I haven’t lost that chapstick or that flashlight since the day the MORryde SRE 4000 was installed. And today, when we drove several miles on one of the rockiest and pot-hole filled dirt roads we’ve been on in ages, I was stunned to see that the placemats were still on the table when we arrived and the LED lights were still happily hanging under the cabinets.

    Buddy was also excited that the water in his water dish was all still inside the bowl and hadn’t spilled out all over the sink.

    He was also excited when we visited the parts shop at Rucker Trailer Works and scoped out what they had on their shelf: Buddy Wheel Bearing Protectors!!

    Bearing Buddy wheel bearing protector-min

    Buddy didn’t get to supervise, but he found a product he really liked in the Rucker Trailer Works shop!

    If you are tired of cleaning up the mess every time you set up camp, look into the MORryde SRE 4000. We were actually a little skeptical about how much this system would improve our ride, and we merely hoped for a little less turmoil in the trailer. But we are absolutely delighted that it truly smoothed out the ride, enough so that things in the bumpiest part of the trailer — the far rear end — now stay in place.

    Also, this smoother ride will help our trailer and everything in it last a little longer. With less jiggling and outright bouncing going on, there will be less wear and tear on every component in the trailer from the walls to the windows and cabinets to all the appliances that were never intended to withstand endless jolts and shocks.

    In addition, our more delicate belongings, from our camera gear to our laptops and external hard drives, along with everything else we’ve put into the trailer will be much happier and less prone to breakage with our new smooth ride.

    For RVers visiting Arizona, Rucker Trailer Works is a great choice (website here). We were back on the road in less than two hours. MORryde also does installations at their facility in Indiana (website here), and we found out they do electric over hydraulic disc brake conversions there as well, so you can get two excellent upgrades done at once!

    Buying the MORryde SRE 4000

    The MORryde SRE 4000 can be purchased with or without a steel crossmember (“X-Factor Performance Crossmember”) that goes between the two leaf spring hangers to eliminate flex. Our trailer already had a crossmember that was welded onto the frame when our suspension was upgraded, so we got the unit that doesn’t include it. The difference in the part numbers is that the unit with the crossmember has an “X” at the end of the part number.

    Also, you must measure the distance between the axles (the wheelbase) to determine whether you need the 33″ or the 35″ version of the product. We needed the 33″ version.

    Lastly, the heavy duty shackle wet bolt kit is sold separately.

    More Info:

    Other blog posts about our fifth wheel trailer suspension:

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    RV Screen Door Modifications & Upgrades

    We have recently made two upgrades to our RV screen door. Combined with our annual screen door shrink-wrapping project (explained here), that makes for three easy DIY RV screen door modifications we’ve done. Who knew you could do so much to a silly screen door??

    RV Screen Door Modifications and Upgrades

    RV Screen Door Modifications and Upgrades

    INSTALLING A GRAB RAIL ON AN RV SCREEN DOOR

    Although we’ve been in and out of our RV door countless thousands of times over the last decade of traveling full-time, we had never installed one of those handy grab handles that crosses the door’s mid-section. Until this week!

    Grabbing the screen door when it’s being whipped out of your hands by the wind is nearly impossible without one of these grab bars, and when we saw one of these handles on a friend’s fifth wheel trailer, we just had to have one.

    Our screen door is 24″ wide (skinny by today’s standards) but these handles are variable in length. The instructions that came with the handle involved drawing templates and other complicated things, so Mark went with his instincts and got it mounted just fine. Here’s what he did:

    First, after holding the handle up to the door at various heights to decide where to mount it, he drilled a hole in the RV screen door frame and then screwed one end of the handle into the door frame.

    Drill hole in RV screen door to install the door handle-min

    Drill a hole in the door frame to hold the handle in place.

    Attach RV screen door handle to the screen door frame-min

    Screw the handle to the door with just one screw at first.

    Then he held the handle in place on the other side of the door frame and put a level on it to ensure it was level. Then he used a fine pointed Sharpie pen to mark the location on the door where the handle would be screwed in.

    Position the RV screen door handle on the RV screen door frame-min

    Position the other end of the handle so it is level and mark the door frame where the hole must be drilled.

    The grab handle expands and contracts to fit the width of various RV screen doors, so he adjusted both ends of it to get it to the proper width and also have an equal amount of the aluminum center part extending into the two plastic ends (rather than having it shoved far into one plastic end and barely dangling in the other).

    Once he had it positioned correctly, he marked the aluminum center part with a pencil mark at each end where the plastic ends would be permanently screwed in.

    Expand RV screen door handle and mark the proper width on it with a pencil-min

    Expand the handle and center the aluminum centerpiece between the ends. Then mark the aluminum with a pencil.

    Expand RV screen door handle and mark the proper width on it with a pencil-min

    The handle can be extended and retracted, so this step centers the aluminum between the ends and marks where the ends should be permanently positioned.

    Then he unscrewed the one screw that was holding the handle to the door frame and removed the handle from the frame so he could screw in the two handle ends.

    On the back of each plastic end of the handle there is a pre-drilled hole so the plastic ends can be screwed to the aluminum center piece.

    Hole drilled in RV screen door handle-min

    On the back of the handle each plastic end has a hole in it.

    With the aluminum piece in the proper position according to the pencil marks he had made, he drilled a hole in the aluminum and then screwed the plastic end piece on. He did this at each end. Now the handle was fixed at the proper length to span the width of our door.

    Installing an RV door screen handle-min

    Drill the aluminum strip so the end cap can be screwed into it permanently.

    Next, he drilled a hole in the door frame where he had made the mark with the fine pointed Sharpie.

    Drill hole in RV screen door frame to support the RV screen door handle-min

    Drill the hole in the frame where you put the Sharpie mark.

    Then he screwed the handle to the door frame and then repeated the process for the lower hole on each side.

    Screw the RV screen door handle into the RV screen door frame-min

    Screw the handle onto the door frame.

    Screw hole in RV screen door fram to install RV screen door handle-min

    There are upper and lower holes in each endcap.

    RV screen door handle screwed onto frame-min

    Done!

    We’re really happy with this new grab handle. It strengthens the flimsy door a bit and is great to grab onto when opening and closing the door!

    RV screen door handle installed on RV screen door-min

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    RV screen door with handle and plexiglass protector installed-min

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    Goodies needed to install a grab handle on an RV screen door:

    INSTALLING A PLEXIGLASS PROTECTOR ON AN RV SCREEN DOOR

    The other mini-project we did recently on our RV screen door was to replace the lower shrink-wrap film with a sheet of 1/8″ plexiglass.

    We recently acquired an adorable puppy, and all it took was one swipe of his paw at the door to rip the shrink-wrap film we’d had on there for months.

    So Mark got a big sheet of 1/8″ clear plexiglass and cut it to fit the screen door.

    Of course, Buddy insisted on supervising this project.

    RV screen door handle installation supervisor-min

    The back of this chair says “Supervisor.”

    Mark used a straight edge and a utility razor blade to score the plexiglass. Then he bent it along the edge of a table to snap it.

    Then he took short strips of industrial strength velcro tape and placed the hooked half on the plexiglass and the matching fuzzy half on the door frame so the hooks wouldn’t grab things as we go in and out of the door when we remove the plexiglass later.

    RV screen door plexiglass protection-min

    The lower half of the door has a clear plexiglass sheet mounted on the frame with velcro. You can see our patio reflected in it. Hey, where’s the Supervisor?!

    Velcro attaches plexiglass sheet to RV screen door-min

    Cut short strips of velcro and put the matching halves on the plexiglass and door frame.

    The beauty of using velcro to mount the plexiglass on the door frame is that once the warm weather of summer rolls around we can remove it and let the cool breezes flow through the door. Or, perhaps we’ll just leave it up in case Buddy decides to paw at the screen. We can remove the shrink-wrap from the upper half of the door and enjoy the cool breezes up there and leave the plexiglass on the bottom to protect the screen from the mighty Watch Dog.

    RV screen door with RV screen door handle and plexiglass installed-min

    Ta Da! Our original shrink-wrap is still on the top half, the nifty grab handle is in the middle and the puppy-proof plexiglass is on the bottom half.

    In hindsight, rather than shrink-wrapping an RV screen door for cold weather, another option would be to use plexiglass sheets and velcro. Certainly the installation each Fall would be a lot easier. Or, drill holes in the corners of the plexiglass and use sheet metal screws to attach it to the door. Every Spring and Fall the plexiglass could be screwed to or unscrewed from the door frame. However, the plexiglass sheets would have to be stored somewhere during the warm season…

    Puppy chow our RV dog Buddy

    When the project was finished the Supervisor reappeared.

    Dog looks out the RV screen door-min

    Buddy loves his new plexiglass window in the door!

    Goodies needed to install a plexiglass protector on an RV screen door:

    The details of our screen door shrink-wrapping are shown here:

    How To Shrink-wrap An RV Screen Door

    Goodies needed to shrink-wrap an RV Screen Door:

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