After the official Xscapers Convergence in Redmond, OR concludes on August 26, the unofficial post-convergence convergence runs in nearby Sisters, OR, for another almost two weeks. During that time I drive to Ashland, OR to visit a dear friend, try paddle boarding for the first time, attend a concert in Bend, and spend the rest of my days working, and many of my evenings hanging out with my fellow RVers. Over those two weeks, people leave one by one to strike back out on their own adventures. By September 8th, I’m the last Xscaper remaining in Sisters.
Sept 9, Sunday
It’s been a while since I’ve had a really long drive, and I find I’m looking forward to it. I get hitched up good and early. It’s a bright sunny day and not too hot – good travel weather.
I head through Bend and onto 20 going east. It’s my first time on this road, which adds that element of newness and adventure that makes a long drive more enjoyable. Not that the views are that inspiring. Long stretches of dry, sage-dotted plains sit between low brown mountains. Here and there agricultural fields add some interest.
But it gets better in the afternoon. Near the tiny town of Juntura, 20 follows a creek through a canyon for a while, which makes for a twistier but prettier drive.
I arrive at the Home Depot in Ontario, OR near 6:30 Mountain Time, I’ve switched time zones. I go in and ask permission to spend the night. “Yes, you can stay. Security might come knocking. If they do, tell them Tammy said it was alright.”
No one knocks, but I spend parts of the evening teary-eyed.
It turns out Ontario grows a lot of onions, and the harvest must be on. I hear trucks rumbling past, and get hit by waves of onion smell periodically, which makes my eyes itchy. Good thing I don’t live here!
I wake up in a Walmart parking lot in Burley, ID. Yesterday was a shorter driving day and I got some work done. Today will be longer again. I get back on I84 and before long am in Utah. It’s warmer today, but Bertha continues to perform marvelously. I feel grateful yet again that the coolant issue was just a leaky hose.
At some point I pull into a rest stop, and laugh when I see what’s on the side of the semi parked next to me. Bertha and Cas always get lost in the crowd in RV parks and rest stops given their diminutive size.
Approaching the Ogden area, I wonder what the driving will be like. On maps it looks pretty built up and I wonder if traffic will be a pain, but it really isn’t bad. Past Ogden I continue on 84 and then 80. Along here are some pretty red bluffs that just scream ‘Utah’, and I enjoy them as I continue on my steady eastward march.
I spend tonight at Phillips RV Park in Evanston, WY – it’s time again to take care of my tanks. It’s a cute park, well shaded by trees that are just starting to show their fall colors. Most sites are pull-throughs, the bathrooms and showers are well kept. It’s pretty pricey during the busy season, but less so now that it’s after labor day.
Where am I going?
That’s the question I find myself asking this morning, after waking up from the unfamiliar sounds of a RV park. It’s been a while since I stayed in one.
Obviously I’m headed to Colorado to pick up my teardrop, but the details are still fuzzy. Where do I camp until it’s ready? My good friend Kelly is boondocking near Leadville which is about two hours outside of Denver, and she says the color is really getting good up there. But Leadville is where Bertha had her Breakdown of 2016, and now she’s even older than she was then. Do I really want to to push her by towing Cas to the highest elevation incorporated town in the lower 48?
I could also boondocking in southern Wyoming not far from where I25 turns south towards Denver. It would be easier to get to. But there wouldn’t be autumn leaves or a friend there.
In the end, my heart says Leadville. And objectively speaking, Bertha has been doing very well the past couple days, so I estimate the chances of something going horribly wrong are pretty slim.
I point Bertha east on I80, and then turn south on 789, which becomes 13 across the border in Colorado. It’s another Walmart tonight, this one in Craig. I go to sleep early, knowing tomorrow will be a more challenging driving day.
Google Maps and I have a love-hate relationship at times. Instead of taking me along 40 to Steamboat Springs, and then south on 131, it decides that I should take the shortcut along a tiny road labeled 27 that cuts out Steamboat Springs. It’s narrow, and winding with many sharp curves. It wouldn’t have been too bad, except that I end up behind a flatbed hauling hay which probably really shouldn’t have been on this road. It takes much of the road at 20 mph or less, and having to put on the brakes that much (yes I was already in second gear) makes me nervous. But both of us get spat out at the other end into the tiny town of Oak Creek intact.
Fortunately that’s the hardest part of the drive. 131 gets curvy coming up to I70 at Wolcott, but I hardly notice with all the beautiful Aspen trees to distract me. Kelly wasn’t kidding, this is the perfect time to be here. I stop at a pullout along I70 to eat lunch, and then take the final leg of the journey south along 24 to Leadville.
24 also has it’s squiggly sections and there’s a lot of climbing, Leadville is over 10,000 feet. All along here stands of Aspen are turning yellow and orange, it’s a riot of color. Even if something happens to the truck, seeing this is worth it. I was in the Rockies for autumn in 2016, but since Bertha was in the shop for three weeks getting fixed, I was pretty limited in what I could see.
Bertha never shows any signs of distress. And here I think is where the beauty of an overpowered tow vehicle really shines. Newbies to RVing often want to get away with as little tow vehicle as they can for their trailer or 5th wheel, figuring that a smaller tow vehicle will cost less, be cheaper to maintain, and get better gas mileage. What they don’t realize is the amount of wear and tear towing puts on a vehicle.
If you’re using your RV just for vacations and weekends, you might get away with a marginal tow vehicle. But if you’re full-timing, those miles add up. Bertha is rated to tow 6,500 lbs, and Cas weighs about 3,500. Bertha rolls over to 191,000 miles while on the road today, and she’s still pretty reliable. Meanwhile, another friend of mine has a tow vehicle rated to pull 6,200 lbs, and his trailer weighs 5,700 lbs. He’s been full-timing for three years now, and his tow vehicle is having significant problems with only 90,000 miles on it – he says that it just wasn’t made to handle something as heavy as his trailer for an extended period of time.
I go into tow vehicle selection more in my book Solo Full-time RVing On A Budget, but here’s a basic metric to follow. Whatever your vehicle owners manual says is the max tow rating, don’t buy a trailer that will weigh more than 80% of that number when loaded. And if you’re going to be full-timing, 70% or less is better. So for example, if Bertha’s max tow rating is 6,500, 70% is 4,550 lbs. If you’re full-timing, expect to have 1,000 lbs of weight per adult total in gear, food, water, etc. So for me as a single person going full-timing, I wouldn’t want to buy a trailer that weighed any more than 3,550 lbs dry. Cas weighs less that that fully loaded, which gives me more peace of mind when towing over mountains.
The bottom line here is, no one who full-times ever wishes they had less tow vehicle. But plenty wish they had more.
Around 2 pm I arrive in Leadville, Bertha cruising along without issues and Cas following dutifully behind. Helloooo autumn! I’m looking forward to hitting the trails around here.
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