Our RV awning is 11 years old now, and the canvas fabric recently tore at the top and bottom. RV awnings are a pain in every respect (except for the wonderful shade they offer), and we knew we were in for a challenging DIY repair if we tried to do it ourselves.
Fixing an RV awning is a job for at least two people, preferably three or four for certain parts of the job, and it’s easiest if someone in the group has done it before because it can be a little tricky.
Oh no! Time for new RV awning fabric!
We were traveling through Rapid City, South Dakota, and recent hail storms had made a mess of many RVs and RV dealerships all around the area. Only one of the local RV dealerships and repair shops could get us in within the week, so we were thrilled when we backed into a bay at Jack’s Campers.
Fortunately, they had the fabric for a 17′ Dometic Sunchaser awning in stock, an old manual model that is not installed on new RVs any more. Luckily, there must be enough oldies-but-goodies on the road these days that Jack’s Campers stocks them.
We got into position at Jack’s Campers in Rapid City, South Dakota.
We called our RV Extended Warranty folks, Wholesale Warranties, to find out if this awning failure would qualify for reimbursement under our warranty plan.
In the end, the whole RV awning repair job ended up costing $444 out of pocket, most of that being for the new fabric, and it took the guys at Jack’s Campers just 45 minutes to do it.
The first step was to remove the awning arms and roller from the sidewall of our fifth wheel. They unrolled the fabric about a foot and unscrewed the mounting brackets that attached the awning arms to the side of the trailer.
First, remove the awning arms from the sidewalls of the trailer.
There was putty in the awning fabric track where the mounting bracket had been, so this had to be removed with a flathead screwdriver.
There was some putty in the awning track, so it was removed with a flathead screwdriver.
Next, two guys slid the awning fabric off of the awning track on the RV wall and marched the whole thing into the workshop and rested it on some saw horses.
Two mechanics walked the awning out of the track on the trailer.
Once in the shop the awning was laid across some saw horses.
Manually operated RV awnings have a spring inside the roller mechanism (a “torsion assembly“) for rolling up the fabric. At one end of the roller there is a locking mechanism to keep the spring inside the roller tight so the fabric doesn’t unroll. This locking mechanism became important when the new fabric was installed to get the spring tensioned correctly inside the roller.
The right arm of the awning has a locking mechanism which keeps the fabric from rolling off the roller.
At the opposite end of the roller there was no locking mechanism. The bolt holding the awning arm to the roller at the non-locking end was removed and the arm was pulled off. The arm at the locking end of the roller remained attached throughout the job.
Remove the awning arm from the non-locking end of the roller.
Awning arm removed.
Then the rivets on the endcap were drilled out and the torsion assembly was pulled out.
The fabric was positioned so it went all the way to the locking end of the awning. At the opposite end a set screw was screwed in to prevent the fabric from sliding off the track.
Make sure the awning fabric has been slid all the way to the locking end of the roller.
Put a set screw at the non-locking end of the fabric so it doesn’t slide off the track.
The new fabric was laid out so it could be rolled onto the roller. Then a vice grip was used to turn the spring between 15 and 18 times to get the right spring tension.
New awning fabric is in place.
Use vice grips to rotate the spring 15 to 18 times to ge the right spring tension.
Then the awning arm was reattached to the roller with a bolt.
Bolt on the awning arm.
Awning arm (non-locking end) is reattached.
Back at the trailer, the awning track was sprayed with heavy duty silicone.
Out at the trailer spray the awning track with silicone.
Then the new awning fabric was loosely wrapped around the roller and the whole thing was marched outside to the trailer.
Four guys assisted in wrapping the new awning fabric around the roller a few times.
The awning is taken out to the trailer.
Our little project supervisor, Buddy, had been watching all the goings on through open big shop door from a safe distance out by the trailer. When the awning and its new fabric were brought out to the trailer, he backed up as far as he could into the parking lot to give the guys room to work!
Using ladders and reaching overhead, four guys maneuvered the awning fabric into the track on the trailer and slid it all the way to the front end of the track. This is where having lots of hands can help.
The awning fabric is slid along the track on the side of the trailer.
After installing the awning on the trailer, the mechanics noticed that the two feet that held the bottoms of the two awning arms had each developed hairline cracks. So, they replaced each foot.
The feet of both awning arms had developed small cracks, so they were replaced.
The last step was to test the awning by rolling it all the way out and then all the way in again.
Test the awning to make sure it rolls all the way out and all the way in again.
Ta Da!! A job well done. The whole project took 45 minutes from start to finish.
Now that we’ve seen how a manual RV awning gets installed, Mark is confident he could do it without going to an RV repair shop as long as he had some extra hands for sliding the awning fabric on/off the trailer awning track and on/off the roller track.
Side note: If you have a manual awning, it is really important that you use some kind of velcro straps or bungee cords wrapped around the awning arms as extra security to keep the awning from accidentally opening while you are traveling.
Our photo above doesn’t show them, but we have used these awning straps ever since we bought the trailer.
August 2018 – We absolutely love our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually truck, and we recently installed an Amp’d Throttle Booster on it. This small electronic unit decreases the occasional throttle lag you feel when you depress the accelerator pedal by increasing the throttle sensitivity and responsiveness.
Amp’d Throttle Booster Installation and Review
On older vehicles the accelerator was connected to the carburetor with a cable, providing a physical connection between the action of your foot depressing the accelerator and fuel flowing to the engine to make the vehicle go faster. On newer vehicles electronic signals do the job instead, and occasionally there is a slight lag between depressing the accelerator and fuel flowing to the engine. This is sometimes referred to as a “dead pedal” kind of sensation, and it can be a little frustrating to hit the gas and not have the vehicle jump in response right away.
The Amp’d Throttle Booster allows you to increase the throttle sensitivity by slightly raising the voltage. There are three sensitivity settings along with a Stock setting that doesn’t increase the voltage at all.
Edge Amp’d Throttle Booster
The Amp’d Throttle Booster core unit
The Amp’d Throttle Booster is a small product that comes in two parts: the booster unit itself and a wiring harness.
The harness assembly has three ends:
One end that connects to a selector switch that gets mounted on the dashboard (labeled “A” in the photo).
One end that connects to the booster (“B”).
One end that has a Y connection that connects to two points under the dashboard (“C”).
The wiring harness has three ends. A = Dashboard mounted selector switch B = Connects to the Amp’d Throttle Booster unit C = Both connectors connect under the dashboard.
The installation took 17 minutes, but allow a little bit more for reading the manual, etc!
The first step was to connect the pair of connectors at the Y end of the wiring harness to the corresponding connectors under the dashboard. These two connectors are keyed, so you can’t connect them backwards or accidentally plug them into the wrong spots.
Working under the dashboard was a tight fit, so I have a link to the Amp’d Throttle Booster manual at the end of this article to give you the nitty gritty about each connector and where it is positioned under the dashboard both for the Ram trucks and for other brands and model years.
First connect one of the two ends of the Y on the wiring harness to the corresponding connector under the dashboard.
Connect the second of the two connectors at the Y end of the wiring harness under the dashboard.
Both connectors are in place (only one is visible).
It’s tight under there but the connectors are keyed to make it easier.
We got the kit that includes the dashboard mounted selector switch. If you don’t buy this external switch there is a switch right on the circuit board inside the Amp’d Throttle Booster unit that has two sensitivity settings, Low and High.
Regardless of whether you get the dashboard mounted selector switch or rely on the circuit board switch instead, the next step is to set up the Amp’d Throttle Booster so it can learn the throttle response of your truck’s accelerator.
To begin this learning sequence (and to access the circuit board’s selector switch), simply unscrew the outer casing.
Access the Amp’d Throttle Booster circuit board and go through the Learn sequence by removing the outer casing.
The red arrow shows the location of the circuit board selector switch. It is set to Stock (Off).
Then attach the wiring assembly to the connector on the Amp’d Throttle Booster unit and follow the sequence of steps given in the manual to enable the throttle booster to learn the throttle response of the truck’s accelerator (this involves depressing the accelerator pedal a few times and monitoring some LED flashing lights on the circuit board).
Plug the wiring harness into the connector on the Amp’d Throttle Booster unit.
Then mount the selector switch on the dashboard. One handy location is on the plastic tab at the bottom of the dashboard that holds the dashboard in place. Simply remove the existing screw, position the mounting bracket and screw it back in.
Mount the selector switch on the dashboard and tidy up the wiring harness with tie wraps before tucking it under the dashboard.
Once it’s mounted, tuck the harness assembly and the Amp’d Throttle Booster unit up under the dashboard and secure them in place with zip-ties.
Finished. The selector switch is easy for the driver to reach.
After the installation of the Amp’d Throttle Booster, Mark tested it with the truck in Park. He put the selector switch to Stock (Off) and revved the engine. The he did the same thing at each of the three settings: Low (50% sensitivity increase), Medium (75% increase) and High (100% increase). At each increased setting the engine responded faster to his foot depressing the accelerator pedal — as expected.
Mark has been driving with the Amp’d Throttle Booster installed on the truck for the last 5,000 miles, and he’s found he likes it best at the High setting (100% increase) which is where he keeps it set all the time.
He finds he notices the improvement a lot when passing people and also when driving in the mountains as well as when he’s in stop-and-go traffic.
Without the booster he sometimes finds that on a steep incline or when “gassing it” for whatever reason, he’ll depress the accelerator and then have a moment or two of no response from the engine before it kicks in. With the booster on High, the truck reacts and accelerates much more quickly.
We also have an Edge Juice with Attitude engine tuner on the truck, and Mark finds that the two work together well. He puts the engine tuner in Level 2 (Towing) and leaves it there most of the time. This improves the engine’s power when it’s towing our trailer.
Whenever we’re going to be driving the truck without the trailer attached for a long drive or for a few days of in-town driving, then he puts the tuner in Level 1 (Economy). This improves the fuel economy significantly.
Our truck has about 35,000 miles on it now, and we’ve owned it for two and a half years . For anyone wondering how many miles they might drive in the full-time RV lifestyle, there you have it — we’ve averaged 14,000 miles a year since January 2016, about half of that towing our trailer and half of that driving without our trailer hitched up.
July 2018 – We have been floating around northern Wyoming and the Black Hills of South Dakota for the past few weeks, an area that is prone to wild hail storms. The other day, while we were away from the trailer in town, a horrific hail storm came through our campsite and wreaked havoc on our RV roof.
Will these gathering storm clouds dump hail on us?
We didn’t know this was happening while we were gallivanting around town, sipping lattes, running errands and chatting with the locals. It was nice there!
But we got a hint about what had happened (that we didn’t understand at first) as we drove back to our campsite when we saw a fifth wheel trailer going by us on the highway with a wildly flapping tarp strapped down over its roof.
When we got back to our trailer we noticed some large clumps of ice in the grass and began to wonder.
At least half an hour or more after the storm ended, big chunks of hail were still on the ground.
We’ve been through hail storms before, most notably at Bryce Canyon and at Cedar Breaks National Monument, but the hail has always been about the size of a pea. Even at that, the thunderous sound on the trailer roof is astonishing.
But this time, considering the storm must have ended at least 30 minutes or even an hour or more before we got back to the trailer (the ground wasn’t very wet), these ice chunks were still pretty big despite melting fast. Suddenly it hit us, “Uh oh. Are the solar panels okay?” Mark quickly climbed up on the roof to find out.
As he yelled, “Oh, WOW!” from the rooftop I noticed that another storm was darkening the sky and was on its way.
Mark surveys the hail damage on our roof while another storm threatens…
Not only were the RV roof vent dome lids broken in multiple places but the fan blades above the screens had been broken off too!
Not only did the lid get broken but some 12 volt fan blades broke too!
The other vent fared no better!
Interestingly, our two Fantastic Fan RV roof vents were still 100% intact and sustained no damage. That’s an especially good thing because they are over our bed and over our recliners which would have all gotten soaked.
We had little time to puzzle over it all because another storm was on its way and would be dumping either rain or hail or both on us again momentarily. If we didn’t fix the vents in the next 10 minutes or so, our shower and toilet room would get drenched inside once again. That wouldn’t be a disaster, but who would want to sop up the mess twice?
Mark surveyed the damage and decided the best way to fix the RV roof vents for the short term — until we could get some replacement RV roof vents — was to tape them up with Gorilla tape.
A quickie repair job with Gorilla Tape was enough to withstand a few more violent storms!
The storm arrived with a vengeance and we were pelted with rain. Then another two storms passed over us in the next 12 hours. Not much hail fell, but one storm pounded us with a deluge of rain for over two hours.
As I clicked the shutter on this eerie landscape I saw a flash of lightning through the view finder. What luck!
Gorilla tape is amazing stuff, and not one drop of water leaked through the broken roof vents in all that rain. So, if you’re ever in a bind like this, it doesn’t hurt to have a roll of Gorilla Tape on hand!
We debated whether to file an insurance claim, but the cost of this repair would barely meet our deductible. We also debated whether to try using our RV extended warranty since it had worked so well for us in the past when we needed some truly major equipment replacements (axle, fridge, suspension, toilet and plumbing). But warranties cover system failures, not accidents or acts of God (like hail).
So, this would be a DIY job without any outside financial assistance.
The next day we picked up two replacement RV roof vents (Ventline V2094 units by Dexter) at a local RV dealership and parts store. We didn’t get there until the afternoon, and we were amazed to find that there had been a run on RV roof vents that morning. They had just one left. The other had to be brought in from a partner store in the next town!
We also picked up a bunch of tubes of Dicor Lap Sealant, and then Mark got out the tools needed for the job and went to work.
Tools for the job: Screwdrivers, drill, wire cutters and a knee pad. Not shown: a caulk gun.
First, he used a flathead screwdriver to get the old Dicor Lap Sealant off of all the screw heads holding the damaged roof vent to the roof of the trailer.
First, scrape off the old Dicor Lap Sealant to reveal the screw heads.
All the screws are #2 square heads.
Unscrew the screws using a #2 square drill bit in a cordless drill.
Then he used the flathead screwdriver to remove the Dicor Lap Sealant from the top of the RV roof vent flange.
Scrape the Dicor Lap Sealant off the flange so the RV roof vent can be removed.
The old RV roof vent was now ready to be pulled off of the roof all together. However, the wires for its 12 volt fan were still attached, so he clipped those off with diagonal cutting pliers.
The old RV roof vent is ready to be removed except for the 12 volt fan wires.
Cut the wires leaving plenty of wire remaining for the new RV roof installation.
At last the old RV roof vent was completely removed leaving just the gaping hole into our shower stall below.
Ready for the new RV roof vent.
The next step was to prep the new RV roof vent for installation. Mark unrolled some putty tape, which is sticky on both sides, and pressed it onto the bottom side of the flange of the new RV roof vent. Then he cut it to the proper length and peeled off the protective strip to expose the sticky part.
Place strips of putty tape on the bottom side of the flanges on the roof vent. This is double sided sticky tape.
Cut the tape.
Remove the protective strip to expose the sticky side of the putty tape.
At the end there was a tiny gap in one corner. He rolled a small bit of the putty tape into a ball and pressed it into the gap.
If you end up with a gap, ball up a little putty tape and press it in the gap.
One of the interesting things about these RV roof vents is that the lids are flexible. Our old ones were heavily scraped from going under low hanging branches (as you can see in the first pictures of the broken vents near the top of this article), and they are designed to flex when something presses on them.
We didn’t want to demonstrate this with the new RV roof vents, but Mark pushed his shoe into the old vent so you could see. Obviously, the lid is weakened by the taped up holes, but it still has huge amount of flex to it.
The dome lids on these RV roof vents are very flexible which helps when you hit low hanging branches.
The next task was to get the RV roof vent installed on our trailer roof. We often pass things up to and down from the roof via the slide-out next to our front steps. This is much easier than climbing the ladder with one hand while holding something in the other.
The new RV roof vent goes up on the roof.
The Ventline RV roof vents had embossed labels showing how to orient them on the roof. The idea is to install the RV roof vent so it opens to the rear of the RV. That way, if you accidentally leave it open and drive off, the hinges won’t be fighting 65 mph winds on the highway that could rip the lid off.
Be sure to orient the RV roof vent so it opens towards the back of the rig.
It says “Vehicle Front” with an arrow. You may need to feel around to find the lettering!
The new RV roof vent is in position.
Before securing the RV roof vent in place, Mark wired up the 12 volt fan. First he made a note of which color pairs had been wired together before and then cut off the crimp-on barrel connectors from each pair of wires. Then he used wire strippers to strip off a little bit of the outer casing of each wire to reveal the copper strands inside. Some errant strands were sticking out of the group so he he twisted all the copper strands together.
Note how the fan is wired, remove the existing barrel connectors and strip the casing from the wires.
Twist all the strands so no stray ones stick out.
After doing this to all four wires he twisted the two pairs of wires together and screwed on new wire nuts.
Twist the pairs of wires together and screw on the wire nut.
The last squeeze.
At this point he turned on the 12 volt fan just to be sure that it not only was wired correctly but also rotated in the right direction to exhaust air out of the RV. If he’d reversed the pairs of wires by accident, the fan would have run backwards, forcing air into the RV instead of exhausting it out.
Test the fan to be sure it turns on and spins in the right direction.
Then he tucked the wires in and closed the lid so he could screw it onto the RV roof.
Then tuck the wires in and position the RV roof vent so the screw holes line up.
Then, to ensure the RV roof vent would seal evenly on all sides, he placed all the screws in their positions around the edges of the vent and screwed them in using a star pattern in the same way that lug nuts get tightened when changing a tire.
After placing all the screws in the holes, use a star pattern to screw them in evenly.
The next task was to cover all the screws with a thick layer of Dicor Lap Sealant. Mark had tackled this project in the early morning so he wouldn’t have to sweat it out on the RV roof at midday, but this meant the Lap Sealant was still quite cold and wouldn’t flow well. So, he took a break and left the tubes of Lap Sealant out in the sun to warm up for a while.
Dicor Lap Sealant has to flow, so make sure it is warm enough that it will flow smoothly.
When the Lap Sealant was finally warm enough to flow, he clipped off the end of a Dicor Lap Sealant tube and set it in his caulk gun. He wryly joked with me that if you don’t invest in a quality caulk gun at the outset, you’ll keep throwing them out until you do!
Cut the end off the Lap Sealant tube and place it in the caulk gun.
Then he flowed the Lap Sealant along the edges of the RV roof vent flange, flowing a little over each screw head as he went. It took almost two tubes of Dicor Lap Sealant per RV roof vent.
Flow the Lap Sealant along the flange and over each screw head.
And Ta Da — he was finished!
This installation project took about 45 minutes per roof vent.
Our old RV roof vents had been installed at the NuWa factory in 2007 when our trailer was built, and they had worked flawlessly right up until this hail storm in 2018.
We were intrigued to discover that the old RV roof vents had been tinted a dark shade. The new ones were pure white, and what a difference that made inside! The first time I used the toilet room I opened the door and wondered why the light was on because it was so bright!
These lighter colored RV roof vents may let in a lot more heat, but vent insulators can help with that on the hottest days.
One RV roof vent finished and one to go. After that, time for a beer!
Mark did some other RV roof repairs while he was up there, but I’ll save those projects for a future article!
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.
“Reflections on 11 Years of Full-time RVing – Lessons Learned!” Escapees Magazine, May/June 2018, by Emily Fagan
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.
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.
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.
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.
A mural on a building in Newcastle, Wyoming, shows what the main street looked like a century or more ago.
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.
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, 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.
We noticed the light getting really eerie while camped in Wyoming, and then we saw a rainbow!
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.
An hour after the rainbow faded, the sky looked like this!
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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 Escapes 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!
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
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 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.