6-Month Equipment Review

In addition to the more philosophical thoughts about our trip so far I thought I’d post some more practical ones and talk about the “mobile home” we bought to make this trip a reality.  We currently live in a 30’ 2005 Rockwood fifth wheel bunkhouse trailer and pull it with a 2002 Chevy crew cab 2-wheel drive shortbox truck equipped with an 8.1L gas engine & 5 speed Allison transmission.

Trailer
The decision / evaluating / shopping process for our “home for a year” was a long one.  We visited dealers, looked at floorplans, and shopped eBay and Craigslist.  One bit of advice we had early on was just to buy something and get on the road, because you’re almost sure to get it wrong the first time and need to change. 

I’m happy to report that’s not the case for us.  Between the bunkhouse floorplan and our furniture modifications our trailer has suited us perfectly so far.  Sure, there are always wish-lists (dedicated office) but in reality the fact that we have four adult-size bodies in a 30’ trailer and have made it work is nothing short of amazing.  Sure, there are times we wait to use the bathroom. And yes, there are times when we are in each other’s way.  And - oh yea - there are times I wish our master bedroom had more than a curtain.  And yes, there have been repairs and modifications needed. That all would be the case with any RV. 

We are not equipped with a generator and it’s tough to justify the expense of one at this point in the trip.  We can overnight on the battery if need be and I just don’t see us doing any more long-term boondocking than that, since I need to stay connected for work. 

We’ve gone 6 days on a tank of fresh water at a site without water hookups which will suffice. 

Our storage compartments aren’t crammed full so we’re not hurting for storage.

We did lose the oven part of our convection / microwave combo unit, so far this is the only significant loss of functionality and we’re able to make do with other cooking methods. 

The size at just over 30’ long has been great.  We are pretty nimble, able to fit in older campsites not designed for the size of modern rigs with all their slideouts etc.  We can pull a u-turn on a 3-lane road. 

Ultimately - it’s home. After a long day away (or horrible 10 day hotel stays) I’m always happy to walk back in and settle into my chair or my bed.

Truck
The other big decision was around what we would use to tow the trailer.  What brand & model of truck and should it be gas or diesel and 2wd or 4wd?  We looked.  A lot.  And during the looking process our reliable daily driver died.  Unbelievably an online friend lent us a car to get by but we still felt under the gun to get a truck purchased.  Our big constraint was price - we had a budget to buy something outright and wanted to stick with that to avoid further debt. 

That budget was too small to get the diesel / 4WD truck I really wanted (and that everyone. else. has. ;).  We found our current truck and while we were happy with the low mileage and ultra-clean rust body I still couldn’t help feel like I had really settled for less than I was going to be happy with.

Know what?  It’s been fine.  There have only been two times 4WD would have been nice - on the Outer Banks of NC where you can drive on the beach, and after we got in our accident and I had to spend $50 for a tow truck driver to pull me 20 feet.  Other than that I don’t believe I have so much as spun a tire trying to get the trailer in or out of a spot.

Fuel-wise we’ve gotten anywhere from as low s 6 MPG to just over 10 MPG, but I’ve talked to a number of diesel owners who weren’t getting but a 1 or 2 miles more per gallon so I’m feeling pretty good about that I also appreciate being able to hear my spotters while backing into a spot and not having to look too hard for fuel when needed.  The only downfall of this truck is it’s 26 gallon capacity which makes for a short range, but the upside is even when I pay too much for gas it’s not like I bought 80 gallons worth.

The 8.1L motor has been impressive with the grades it can pull without downshifting, and so far I’ve only had one hill (an 8% climb out of El Paso TX) that I couldn’t accelerate up but was still able to maintain 45-50 MPH.  The engine does go through oil but from reading around it’s normal for the 8.1L.  We’ve tried to get oil changes at roughly every 3K miles, but it’s tough to be exact when you are moving all the time.  The Allison transmission temperature hardly budges under load and is usually under 200 degrees.  The only time I’ve seen it warmer was on a 94 degree day with the winds against us. So far I haven’t even added transmission fluid.  We just kicked over 100K miles though so I’ll look into getting the transmission fully serviced soon.

All in all, from the air compressor, to the toolbox to the back up lights, to the trailer furniture changes & mattress changes, I don’t think there is anything we did that I would consider a waste. It’s all been valuable. 

The biggest challenge equipment-wise was having to move the bikes from the rear of the trailer to the top of the truck because they were getting shaken off the rear of the trailer.  Other than the initial purchase cost (and that we can’t cover the bikes up to get them out of the elements) the Yakima rack has worked well.  Data and I can load/unload the bikes in about 20 minutes.  They actually took longer to stow on the rear of the trailer.

Internet/Technology
The other big practical aspect of our trip has been internet access.  Our current setup of Cradlepoint Router, PepWave Surf Mini wi-fi repeater, and Millenicom 3G card has been pretty reliable.  RV park wi-fi has not so we have depended on the 3G more than I had hoped.  It was nice to get an email from Millenicom around Christmas saying that they had bumped our bandwidth to 20GB.  So far we’ve only been in one or two places where it didn’t get a decent connection.  I’m hoping that continues to be the case, if not we’ll investigate another 3G card running on the Sprint network or get out in search of free wi-fi more.

I’ve yet to install the external 3G antenna - mostly because it will involve drilling a hole in the trailer exterior, I don’t have a ladder with me, and I really haven’t felt the need for it.  We bought a 10’ USB cable that allows us to place the 3G card in a slideout window and that’s been a workable approach. 

I recently watched a neighbor setup a satellite dish for internet connectivity, and hope I don’t need to go there. The dish looked large and awkward, and he had to secure it down with a number of rocks due to the wind.  Mid-day he was moving it all, I’m assuming it wasn’t getting a good connection where he had it. 

Overall?

I’m quite pleased with our setup.  There have been challenges and fixes needed but nothing (other than the repair required as a result of our highway accident) nothing I’d consider significant.  I’m not sure it’s the right setup if we decided to ditch our stick-house and go full time, but I think we could possibly get another year out of it if need be.

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