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 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.
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.
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.
The Arca Swiss foot on the collar of a long telephoto lens fits into the plate on the gimbal head.
There are three knobs to control the movement in three dimensions.
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.
The SunwayFoto GH-01 gimbal head comes in a convenient suitcase.
The two components of the gimbal head are protected by foam.
There are two parts to the SunwayFoto GH-01 gimbal head.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!!
We spoke from the heart, and she let us go on at length on some topics when we had a lot to say.
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!
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.
The Red Baron is a popular ride in the Scottsdale/Mesa area, and Mark got this beautiful shot.
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.
Back at our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park we all got ready for a sunset shot.
As the sun went down the cameras went up.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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!
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.
We wound up and down the staircase to the Bordello on the second floor several times!
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.
Being filmed from sunrise onward wore us all down, but some shade and a drink revived us.
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.
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!”
“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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rucker Trailer Works in Mesa, Arizona, did a superior job.
We got set up in a bay and three mechanics quickly got to work.
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.
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.
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.
Because we upgraded our trailer to disc brakes, the brake calipers had to be removed temporarily.
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.
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.
The bolt holding the equalizer to the hanger was removed.
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.
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.
One of the equalizers was already damaged after just 7,500 miles of towing.
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.
Here’s a pic from that scary moment many miles from nowhere:
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.
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.
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.
The MORryde SRE 4000 was bolted onto the hanger.
The MORryde SRE 4000 was suspended from the hanger.
A new wet bolt assembly attached the MORryde SRE 4000 to one leaf spring.
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.
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.
The disc brake calipers were reattached.
The wheels were mounted back on.
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.
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!
BEFORE the installation the measurement was 28 5/8 inches.
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!!
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.
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.
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 a hole in the door frame to hold the handle in place.
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 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 the handle and center the aluminum centerpiece between the ends. Then mark the aluminum with a pencil.
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.
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.
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 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 handle onto the door frame.
There are upper and lower holes in each endcap.
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!
Goodies needed to install a grab handle on an RV screen door:
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.
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?!
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.
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…
When the project was finished the Supervisor reappeared.
Buddy loves his new plexiglass window in the door!
Goodies needed to install a plexiglass protector on an RV screen door:
Repacking the wheel bearings is an important annual maintenance task for a fifth wheel trailer, especially one that is lived in full-time like ours. This is also a good time to inspect the bearings and brakes.
The first step is to jack up the trailer and remove the wheels.
After jacking up the trailer, remove the wheels.
A few years ago we did a disk brake conversion on our fifth wheel trailer, upgrading from the factory installed electric drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disk brakes (you can read the details about what was involved in doing this phenomenal and highly recommended upgrade here). So, behind each of our wheels is the disk brake rotor and brake caliper.
Inspect the rotor and disc brake pads.
The first step for repacking the wheel bearings was to remove the brake caliper and inspect the brake pads and check out the braking surface on the rotor. All looked good. Then the brake caliper was moved out of the way.
Next, the grease cap and cotter pin were removed. Then the castle nut holding the bearings and the disk rotor in place was unscrewed. Gently pulling the rotor out about an inch and then pushing it back in released the outer bearing so it could be removed. Then the rotor was pulled off the axle spindle which revealed the inner bearing, allowing it to be slid off the axle spindle.
Remove the cotter pin and castle nut, then the inner and outer wheel bearings and then pull the rotor off the axle spindle.
The axle spindle is full of grease.
Using shop towels, the grease was wiped off the axle spindle.
Wipe the old grease off the axle spindle.
The inner and outer bearings, D-shaped spindle washer, castle nut and grease cap were then wiped clean of grease.
Wipe off and inspect the outer and inner bearings, the D-shaped spindle washer, the castle nut and the grease cap.
It turned out that one of our wheel bearings was slightly scored, showing early signs of wear. We decided to replace it. Wheel bearings come in a bearing and race assembly, so the race would be replaced too.
Finding worn parts before they become a problem is one of the reasons that greasing the wheel bearings is an important annual task. Even if a trailer has EZ-Lube bearings, it is still important to remove the bearings periodically to inspect them so they can be replaced before they fail on the road.
One of our wheel bearings showed signs of wear — light scoring marks on each bearing.
First, the grease needed to be removed from the inside of the hub. It was scraped out and then wiped out with a shop towel.
Remove the old grease from the rotor.
After scraping the grease out, wipe the area down with a shop cloth.
Then the old race was knocked out and the new race was set in place.
Knock out the old bearing race.
Set the new race in place.
The race was lightly tapped in place to make sure it was square. Then, using a race setter, the race was tapped securely into place.
Tap in the new race.
Next, the rotor with the greased inner bearing was mounted back on the spindle.
Place the rotor back on the axle spindle.
Newly greased bearings and spindle.
Then the castle nut was screwed on and hand-tightened.
Hand-tighten the castle nut.
Adjust the castle nut.
A new cotter pin was put in place and bent over to hold everything securely.
Christmas in our household included a very special gift this year.
It wasn’t a gift to us or from us, but on Christmas Eve, as we were hanging around with our granddaughters in front of the Christmas tree at their house, they suddenly announced: “We’re getting another dog! For Christmas!!”
The Christmas Pup.
They already had two dogs, but earlier that day they had seen a little puppy at the Humane Society, and they had fallen in love with him.
And he was going to be moving in!
At the moment he was doing the rounds with their mom being introduced to friends and family, but a few hours later he arrived at his new home.
I have to confess, I’ve never been a dog person.
When I was four years old a very large dog with big paws and a huge mouth full of teeth knocked me down. He was playing, but I was terrified. Ever since then I’ve been an avowed cat person and bird person.
But when this little pup walked into the living room late on Christmas Eve, something in his spirit spoke to me.
You see, I don’t like dogs.
I picked him up and he was surprisingly calm and self-contained. He didn’t quiver and he didn’t struggle to get out of my arms.
Portrait of a Dog as a Young Pup.
Over the next few days he got to know the other two dogs in the household, a part-papillon and a chihuahua. The results were mixed.
Puppy discovers his reflection in a puddle.
The little pup was so cute, Mark and I couldn’t stop taking pics of him. Friends and family who are accustomed to receiving emails from us of pretty landscapes started getting inundated with photos of this puppy!
He had been given a variety of names, but none of them had stuck.
The Humane Society had called him Perry, and he had arrived on Christmas Eve with two possible names, Miller and Bailey. The votes were evenly split between the two.
Our friend Bob who is a wiz with with Photoshop put the pup on the cover of a book that he thought the dog could write if he spent some time with traveling with us. After seeing all the shots of him jumping in the grass he had anointed him Skippy.
It would be a bestseller.
We were enchanted with the puppy. He was as sweet as could be. As I ticked down my list of reasons I didn’t like dogs — they bark, they jump on you, they drool all over, they lick you incessantly, they pant, they shed, they chew things, they smell yucky — I realized he didn’t have any of those traits.
He was silent and observant. He was extremely calm. In fact, he was eerily catlike. He liked to sit like a cat and he even rubbed his paws on his face like a cat.
He also had a very cute floppy ear.
Even the vet loved his floppy ear.
He was so quiet he would go for several days without barking. He wouldn’t make much of a watch dog like that, but he looked good posing as one.
One day we took a family trip to Cave Creek, north of Phoenix. We had a ball playing around with the western themed photo cutouts around town.
The Humane Society had said the pup was an Australian Shepherd, and we thought maybe there was some short haired Border Collie in him too. The vet thought there might be some terrier. Whatever his heritage, he likes to herd the people around him, and he sure knows how to sprint.
This little guy can sprint!
He had just a little tiny battery, though, and after a few wild sprints he was done. You could throw the ball or his rope toy all you wanted and he would just lie there and watch.
All done running.
Sometimes he was such an adorable little angel Mark would call him Puppy Chow.
Our friend Bob was loving our pics and he put him on the cover of a magazine too.
We were visiting with a family whose dad is a city cop, and one day he took a big group of us — kids and adults — to see the precinct police station.
There were three dogs and ten people along for the trip, and while we were all busy staring at the interrogation room and learning a little about police life in a big city, the pup suddenly felt Nature’s call.
Unbeknownst to any of us, he sneaked off to a corner to take care of business.
We left in high spirits, but a few hours later our friend got a call from the police chief. “One of the dogs you brought in today left something behind!” The other two dogs had been on leashes, so all fingers pointed at the puppy.
Oh dear. Now our little buddy was a Wanted Pup.
Dead or alive!
We took a few hikes on the beautiful trails around Phoenix, and the puppy was amazing. He trotted right along and greeted everyone on the trail with a happy wagging tail and a friendly sniff.
He’s a great little hiker!
Mark has been a dog lover all his life, and I’ve often heard tales of his beautiful Afghan Hound, Hoover, that he’d raised with his kids.
As a little boy, though, he had begged his parents for a dog, preferably a real boy’s dog like Lassie. His mom wouldn’t dream of it, but finally she relented and the family got a dog — a French Poodle. This was great for his sisters, but it wasn’t the dog Mark had dreamed of playing with.
As he hugged the little pup one day, he said to me, “If only this dog had come into my life 50 years ago!”
Since three dogs was a bit of a crowd in the puppy’s new household, Mark offered that the pup could stay with us in our rig for a few nights while we were there.
Frankly, I think he just wanted more snuggle time with the pup!
An extra special welcome home.
The puppy was supposed to be returned to the family that weekend, but the few nights with us stretched into a week, and then to two weeks. By then the kids were back in school and it was time for us to leave the city and start traveling again.
We had joked that the dog should be called “Loaner,” because he was supposed to be on loan. But we began to call our little buddy “Buddy.”
He looked very cute when he sat in my chair in the trailer.
It was winter and our trailer was often very chilly in the morning. Sometimes when he yawned first thing in the morning we could see his breath. Not surprisingly, he liked to snuggle up.
Somehow he would end up in bed with us too. I mean, who can resist?!
Another thing that amazed me about Buddy was that not only did he never bark or jump up on people or drool, but he never shed his fur. We could pet him and bathe him and comb out his fur, and not one hair would come off.
“He’s the ideal dog!” I would say to Mark as I wondered to myself what I meant by that.
He adapted extremely well to RV life on a test run to a camping area at Lake Pleasant. There was a lot for a young puppy to see at the lake.
“What’s out there?”
He’d sit on the water’s edge and watch the water lap the shore.
Whenever he went to down to the water the ducks would swim over to him and check him out.
As we fell head over heels in love with this little puppy, we thought long and hard about how a dog would impact our lives.
The grandkids were fine with Buddy becoming a traveling dog, and they encouraged us to keep him because they felt he’d be happiest with us out camping and hiking.
But it’s a huge commitment to set aside 15 years of your life to care for an animal. We’d both done that years ago and we had both sworn off of pets for good.
For the last ten years we’ve been blessed to live our lives focused entirely on ticking things off our lifelong bucket list. But owning a dog wasn’t even on the list!
Needless to say, we had many long conversations and more than a few sleepless nights. And we read every essay on the “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan’s website and downloaded every video of his that we could find.
In no time we realized Buddy had been with us for a month!
As time passed we noticed he had grown up quite a bit. His floppy ear didn’t flop over any more and he started losing his baby teeth. We found seven of his baby teeth in four days! And he grew an inch or two in each direction and gained a few pounds.
But he was still an angel.
Perhaps the coolest thing was taking him out on the hiking trails. He loved it and we loved having him along.
He’s a happy pooch on the trail.
When we got out into the desert near Quartzsite, Buddy really came into his own and sealed his fate in our lives and our hearts.
We took him through the massively crowded Quartzsite RV show where his view was a sea of shoes and legs and knees — with the occasional German Shepherd’s or pitbull’s nose thrown in — and he was as calm and cool as a cucumber.
Even better, we took him off his leash whenever we were at our campsite, and he stuck close by, hanging out on the patio mat with his chew sticks and rubber ball and patiently waiting to be let in or let out like a cat. And, like a cat, sometimes he’d go out only to come right back in again.
Buddy may be part Aussie, but he’s also part cat.
Who knows how this will all turn out, but sometimes life takes funny twists and turns. And if we’ve learned anything in our time on this planet so far, it’s that the biggest blessings in life come to us of their own accord, unbidden and unexpected, moved by a hand greater than our own.
While we shoveled snow off our solar panels and struggled with overnight temps in the teens during that Colorado snow storm (indoor temps that weren’t much better!), we learned a few more things about how to boondock in a snow storm when overnight temps drop into the teens, and we wrote them up in another wintry blog post:
We ended up in a snow storm again this past spring when we were camped in Los Alamos National Forest in New Mexico and the white stuff began to fall.
In New Mexico we looked out our back window and saw snow quickly piling up on our bikes!
This gave us a few more insights into camping in snowy weather, and we put together an article for Escapees Magazine with various tips we’ve found useful for camping in the cold. It was published in the January/February 2018 issue of Escapees Magazine.
“Camping in the Cold” in Escapees Magazine Jan/Feb, 2018 Text by: Emily Fagan. Photos by: Mark and Emily Fagan
Although it sounds silly, perhaps the biggest tip is simply to avoid places where temperatures might drop below freezing and where it might snow. In the wintertime this means heading south (Florida, California and Arizona are good and generally snow-free choices), and in the shoulder seasons it means staying away from far northern latitudes and high mountains.
Well, we won’t be wearing shorts today!
As I write this in January, 2018, we’ve had several weeks of temps in the mid to high 70s in the Arizona deserts, hardly winter weather at all! Yet much of the rest of the country has been bitterly cold.
Of course, it’s impossible to know ahead of time whether the southwest or Florida will be warmer. It seems that almost every winter one or the other is blissfully summery while the other is steeped in frigid misery, so it’s not that easy to choose an itinerary that guarantees winter warmth. When you find yourself in a blizzard, you just have to enjoy it. For us, as soon as it starts snowing, we run outside to play and take photos!
The snow was coming down hard in New Mexico last spring!
We had to wipe down our cameras every minute or so!
Another good idea is to take advantage of the snow and chill your beer while you play. Whenever we are in New Mexico we hunt down Alien Ale wherever we can find it, and during our stay in snowy Los Alamos National Forest we cooled down a few beers in the snow in the bed of our truck!
Our Alien Ales got nicely chilled in the snow.
Once inside the RV, all that wet, snowy and sometimes muddy clothing has to go somewhere to dry. We hang ours in the shower on a spring loaded curtain rod where it can drip freely.
Wet, wet, wet!
But aside from romping in the snow, drinking ice cold beer, and warming up next to our vent-free propane heater when we come inside, it is dealing with cold nights that is the biggest challenge. For RVers that get hookups, there are many options for heating an RV with unlimited electrical power. But for those who boondock all the time and live on solar power like we do, electrical power must be conserved, especially if the daytime skies are overcast.
Our vent-free propane heater is a blessing during the day because it throws off incredible warmth without using any electricity. However, we don’t run it overnight, and our factory installed RV furnace is so loud it tends to wake us up every time it turns on, which can be every half hour when temps dip into the teens.
Lots of blankets and a good quality heavy down blanket solves the problem under the sheets, and in the morning a combination of our vent-free propane heater and RV furnace bring the indoor temp up 20 degrees higher within a half an hour.
Here are pics of our clock thermometer during our worst case ever of early morning cold temps in our buggy. This happened earlier this year at Sand Hollow State Park in Utah in October:
When we first opened our eyes one morning at Utah’s Sand Hollow State Park, the temp was 30.6 degrees in the rig (lower right)!
36 minutes later the rig had warmed up to 52 degrees…NOW we could get out of bed! (or maybe we slept in another 20 minutes while the rig warmed up some more!)
Escapees RV Club’s magazine offers loads of wonderful tips and insights every other month, and we’ve been publishing articles in its pages for ten years now. One of the best things about this unique RV magazine is that most of the articles are written by club members who are sharing tips that they have learned in their own RV travels.
From beginning RVers learning the ropes to seasoned RVers sharing things they’ve learned over decades of involvement in the lifestyle, real life experiences are at the heart of each article.
For RVers that have a dream of becoming a published writer, joining Escapees and then submitting a tip or two to the magazine is a wonderful way to see your work in print. Escapees Magazine also features a member photo section in each issue with a theme, and we’ve had a ball prowling through our old photos to find fun images that fit the theme of the month.
Solar panels don’t work too well when they’re buried under snow!
Escapees RV Club is much more than just a magazine, however, and we have been astonished over our years of membership to see how doggedly the club leadership stays on top of the changing times, evolving the Club’s offerings to ensure an ever increasing value for all its members.
There are several different kinds of RV parks under the Escapees umbrella offering short and long term rentals as well as ownership. Many other affiliate parks discount their fees as much as 50% to SKPs (Escapees members). Escapees members can also join the Days End Directory which has the biggest database of boondocking locations out there.
Since the concept of boondocking is highly valued by Escapees RV Club, it is possible to dry camp at any of the Escapees parks very inexpensively. When we visited Escapees headquarters at Rainbow’s End in Livingston, Texas (near Houston) a few years back, we stayed in Dry Camp A for just $5 a night.
Classic Texas deluge rainstorms turned Dry Camp A into Wet Camp A very quickly, but we just ducked inside to tour the phenomenal mail sorting facility for Escapees’ mail forwarding clients. This facility is so large it employs 20 people full-time and a semi-tractor trailer full of mail pulls up everyday. It even has its own zip code!
That’s better, clear of snow, but prolonged cloudy skies will make the solar panels relatively ineffective. We have many pages of articles about solar power here.
Escapees co-founders Kay and Joe Peterson were a very unusual couple who jumped into the full-time RV lifestyle when they were in their early 40s. Working as a licensed traveling “tramp” electrician, Joe found work all over America. They and their younger kids lived in both Airstream and Avion travel trailers, and at one point they even put the kids in their own suite in a truck camper in the bed of their truck! (Read more about Kay Peterson’s remarkable life here).
Neither Kay nor Joe is with us any longer, but in recent years Escapees has reached out to younger RVers with their Xscapers program, and they have expanded their offerings for all RVers in many ways. Not only are there multi-day RV Bootcamp programs where new RVers can attend seminars and learn from seasoned pros (the next one is February 2-4, 2018, outside Phoenix, Arizona), but they now have a Webinar series and an RVers Online University full of fabulous courses on every imagineable RVing topic.
We sure didn’t expect snow, but what fun it was!
Escapees doesn’t stop at just RVing. They also offer many intriguing organized outings. Escapade is a big rally that brings together Escapees friends, both old and new (the next Escapade is May 27-June 1, 2018 in Sedalia, Missouri). Another type of organized travel adventure, SKP Hops, takes members by RV, cruise ship and/or plane to destinations in all corners of the world.
Escapees is also very active in advocacy work for all RVers, whether they are members or not, making sure that our concerns and needs are supported at both the state and federal level.
Escapees also addresses issues facing RVers that no other organization tackles. From offering an assisted living facility at Rainbow’s End so RVers can remain in their rigs after they hang up their keys, to offering information about choosing a domicile state and acquiring health insurance, to doing a very thorough weighing of your RV (wheel by wheel) in a program called Smartweigh, the folks at Escapees are extremely creative in providing information and support for RVers of all shapes and sizes, ages and interests.
What to do with the snow on the roof? Mark built a snowman…
We have been Escapees members since 2008, and we highly recommend it to everyone who owns (or dreams of owning) an RV. You can join by calling 888-757-2582 or clicking the link below. If you mention our blog, Roads Less Traveled, when you sign up, the good folks at Escapees will put a little something in our tip jar, a win-win-win for you, Escapees and us!
The cost is $39.95 per year and includes the magazine subscription, but if you think you’re going to be enjoying the RV lifestyle for a while, you might consider a Lifetime membership which will pay for itself in less than 6 years.
Winter RV Wonderland.
To read our Escapees Magazine article about cold weather camping, visit the following link:
This page contains links to all the articles we’ve written about the RV lifestyle, from what it costs to live in an RV to finding jobs, working and work camping on the road, to living off the grid and boondocking in an RV, to dealing with crises and major repairs while traveling, to the logistics and planning necessary to become a full-time RVer, to interviews with long-term full-time travelers we’ve met along the way, to choosing an RV, to describing what it’s like to RV full-time, to our discovery of what it actually means — and what it really takes — to “live the dream.”
From the costs of RVing to handling major repairs on the road, to living off the grid, to making money, to discovering what it really means to “live the dream,” all of our RV lifestyle tips articles are here on this page.
Spending most of our nights camping on America’s beautiful public land, we have become much more aware of its precious nature and the complexities involved in satisfying all the stakeholders who have an agenda for how it is best used and managed.
This page contains links to all the articles we’ve written about our favorite RV tech tips and that describe the many RV upgrades and modifications we’ve done to our rig. In addition, there are articles full of important RV maintenance tips as well as suggestions for things to consider when choosing and buying an RV.
From little RV maintenance tech tips to big RV upgrades, the article links are all on this page!
Ever since we began this website back in 2008 (after being on the road RVing full-time for a year), we have written lots of articles that are chock full of the many RV tech tips we’ve learned along the way.
Below you’ll find all the article links, grouped by subject, to make it easy for you to peruse our online library of RV tech tips, RV maintenance tips, modification ideas and RV upgrades.
Is there a special RVer in your life who’d appreciate a tool or an appliance or other RV gift for your life on the road — perhaps a memento of your RVing adventures together? Or do you have an RV you love that deserves a little holiday gift wrapped with a bow?
We have our own list of “must have” RV goodies, and we’ve seen some super cute RV related gifts in our travels, and this inspired me to do a little digging online to see if there might be more. Oh my, if you look hard enough there’s a treasure trove out there!
I had a blast “window shopping” — here’s a list of a few things I found.
If something appeals to you, click on the image or the link in the text above it to find out all the details.
For starters, does your beloved RV welcome you home with a cute little mat by the door? Here’s a wonderful RV welcome mat:
Ya gotta hang your keys up somewhere, and what better place for the motorhome and car keys than on a cute motorhome key hook? If your beloved RV is a trailer and not a motorhome, there’s a fun trailer keyhook for you too:
If you’re a bit shy about putting your name out in front of your rig, maybe just let the neighbors know where the party is with this “It’s 5:00 Somewhere” flag!
Let the neighbors know where the party is!
Speaking of parties, if yours tend to involve a little wine, then you might find a set of picnic wine glass and bottle holders to be just the thing. Simply shove them in the ground near your camp chairs and your wine will be safe from tipping over.
No spills by the campfire!
For some folks, the stems on wine glasses are a little cumbersome in the RVing life. If you want to go stemless, there are some very cute etched wine glasses made especially for those RVers who are wine drinkers with a camping problem or who are just happy campers:
One day, when she put the sandwich she made him in his lunch box, she wrapped it in a US road map!
A good quality road atlas can drop a broad hint and comes in very handy for planning and hitting the road.
Once you’ve been out having fun in your RV, whether you’ve been traveling for a week or for a year or more, you’ll want to keep a record of all your adventures.
I still cherish the journal I hand wrote (and hand decorated with glued-in photos) of our travels in our popup tent trailer.
Here’s a specially made camping journal with categories and prompts to remind you of all the things you’ll want to remember later:
A Camping and RV Travel Journal.
Lots of people wear their hearts on their sleeve, and some go so far as to wear their passions on the fronts of their shirts! Here are a few fun t-shirts (available in men’s and women’s sizes and a rainbow of colors).
Getting back to those special memories that we all create on the road, one fun way to memorialize a particularly special travel moment is to frame a photo of it in a picture frame shaped like an RV. Whether your rolling home requires a motorhome picture frame or a trailer picture frame, there’s a cool one for you:
A picture frame for that memorable moment from your RV adventures.
The trailer version.
Okay, okay, enough of the cutesy RV decorated stuff. How about some practical things that will give your life on the road a little zing and isn’t something you’re likely to find at the local camping store?
First on our list of “must haves” in our RV lifestyle is a set of two-way radios. We use these radios to help us back up and park the trailer, to communicate when hiking in glorious remote locations, and when we get separated in Walmart too. No cell phone reception needed!
We have had Midland 36-mile radios since we started in 2007 and wouldn’t RV without them.
Another “must have” in our lives is a great massage, and one super easy way to get one is with a good quality percussion massager. We’ve tried many brands over the years as we’ve recovered from various sports injuries, and this Brookstone massager is our hand-down favorite. There’s nothing like soothing those stiff muscles after a long drive!
Kinked up from a long day of driving (or hiking)? Here’s our fix!
We bought these pots and pans for our boat and still use them every day.
The whole set fits into one pot!
Oh goodness, we’re back in the RV galley again, but there are so many cute things out there to dress it up a bit. How about a set of RV decorated dishes, each with a unique (and inviting) camping scene?!
Cordless drill and impact driver set. We have this exact set and it gets a lot of use!
Of course, the way to measure the difficulty of any RV repair job is by how many beers it takes to complete. Whether it’s a one beer job or a two beer job (or, heaven forbid, more!), the job goes much better if the beer is cold right to the last drop. Mark LOVES his Yeti beer koozie and uses it every day!
For the beer drinker with a camping problem! Cold to the last drop…
But Yeti is the name of the cooler game these days, and when we were camped with a bunch of ATV/UTV toy hauler folks recently, we were amazed to watch them all pack their side-by-side Polarises with Yeti soft-sided portable coolers before they headed out for a day on the trails.
We saw lots of these getting loaded on Polaris UTVs in a toy hauler crowd!
If you’ve got kids or friends over at your campsite, and you’re looking for fun things to do, a party game might fill the bill. Corn Hole and Ring Toss are portable and easy to set up.
Something fun to do at the campsite besides sit around the campfire!
Ring toss game.
For families that get stuck indoors on a rainy day, a fun way for the kids to get some laughs and learn a little at the same time is to play the game Mad Libs. I saw this in a gift shop recently and remembered loving it as a kid, and I couldn’t resist buying it for my grandkids for Christmas (shhhh… don’t tell them!).
If they haven’t learned the difference between a noun and a verb at school yet (and lord knows what the schools are teaching these days), this game makes it fun and easy to learn!
Wondering if the kids/grandkids are learning anything in school? This is a fun (and funny) indoor rainy day word game.
We love to hang a hummingbird feeder from our RV, and we have a special one that mounts on our window with a suction cup mount. It’s a blast to sit inside and watch the crazy antics of these tiny birds as they duke it out with each other at the feeder. For anyone who enjoys photography, this kind of feeder is a hoot (blog posts about our humming bird experiences here and here).
We hang a hummingbird feeder on our RV window with a suction cup mount.
One of the very best deals right now is the Nikon D7200, an “intermediate” level camera. It’s been out a while, so it has come down in price, but it is the fifth the highest rated camera for landscape (dynamic range), rating below two pro Nikon cameras, a Hasselblad medium format camera and a Pentax (see here).
November / December is the best time to buy a new camera.
And last of all, whether you’re going to celebrate Christmas in your RV living room or in the living room of a stickbuilt home, why not decorate your Christmas tree with a little RV love?! There are lots of RV Christmas ornaments available including this motorhome ornament and this trailer ornament.
A motorhome Christmas tree ornament.
A trailer Christmas tree ornament.
I know it’s early to think about the holidays, and I was a little shocked to pass the fully stocked Christmas shelves at the back of Walmart yesterday, but I’m sure these goodies would be appreciated by your beloved RV (and/or by your beloved RVer) any time of the year.
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