The Dream Trip, Revised

Thanks to 2020 being… well, 2020, we’ve had to revise our road trip plans.

Thanks to 2020’s endless barrage of bad news and terrible events, we’ve had to modify our plans for our cross-country road trip. This isn’t actually that much of a surprise – we’d figured that something might come up and planned for alternatives.

With the forest fires raging across the West coast of the US (and the poor air quality that such fires produce), we had to change our plans. After studying the extent of the fires and monitoring air quality maps, we decided we’d still go as far as Colorado, but not any further (with the possible exception of a quick jaunt over the border to Utah for Arches National Park).

So, I’m still going to get to see my mountains – and to drive my car over the continental divide (something that excites me in the way that only nerdy things can), but we won’t make it to California or to see the giant Redwoods. With all the smoke and haze from the fires, we probably wouldn’t have a very nice view anyway – to say nothing of the fact that both my wife and I are sensitive to poor air quality.

On the plus side, our revised itinerary takes us around the state of Colorado, which means shorter driving times between destinations. We’ll also be able to take it a little bit easier, since our destinations are closer together (within 1 state rather than across multiple). We’ll also be able to take in a bit more of the scenery – including a couple of scenic byways that we’re planning to take, which wouldn’t have been feasible with our previous itinerary since we were mainly driving to get to our next stop as quickly as possible.

We’ll still have a long 3 days of driving just to get out west (and again when we go home), but we’ll be taking turns driving so it won’t be too bad. It’s also possible we may end up finishing our trip slightly early, which means we could again take a more relaxed route home.

That said, everything else is still good for our trip – the buns have their sitter, we’ve packed most of our stuff, and my car is ready to go.

I don’t know how much downtime I’ll have each day back in the camper to update this blog, but I will be taking my camera (of course) and will try to post updates on the trip if I can – if not here, then at least on my Twitter, and then I’ll do a wrap-up post when we get back.

We’re still ready to change plans again in case anything else happens, or if conditions change along the way, but fingers crossed that we’ll be able to get where we want to go and see what we want to see.

Using a Mercedes GLK 250 as a tow vehicle

I’ve always tried to make sure I use my vehicles as more than just transportation – making use of the “utility” in “sport utility vehicle” – and that goes for my current vehicle (the Keithmobile-E, a 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250) as well.

I somehow imagine that not many people use their Mercedes SUVs for much other than driving around and maybe pulling a boat or something similar – but not me!

I’ve filled the back of my GLK 250 to the roof with bags of mulch and soil (with my cargo protector in place, of course), I’ve carried large items on my roof rack, and of course I’ve towed my fair share of trailers.

The trailers I tow are mainly U-Haul utility/cargo trailers, though I’ve made use of their full capacity – hauling all kinds of things, like mulch, soil, gravel, and other heavy things. I’ve also used some of their bigger enclosed trailers for carrying furniture long distances (enclosed to protect things from the weather). And the biggest thing I towed was a huge platform trailer with a small excavator on it.

All that said, the GLK is not exactly the ideal tow vehicle – although it can pull 3500 pounds, its low tongue weight rating makes it hard sometimes to make use of that full capacity. Because the GLK is a fairly heavy vehicle on its own (around 4200 pounds curb weight), and it doesn’t have heavy-duty suspension, it’s cargo carrying capacity is somewhat limited.

That heavy weight also impacts its braking capacity – the GLK can brake fine on its own, but add a trailer and stopping distances increase quite a bit.

Also, the GLK has a fairly short wheelbase, which isn’t always ideal when towing – especially if the trailer is on the longer side.

Finally, although I have the factory tow package (which includes the 7-pin connector), the GLK is not wired for a brake controller, so adding a hard-wired one would be very involved. (Though these days there are wireless brake controllers, which is a nice compromise – and one I’ll be using with the camper trailer I’m renting this fall.)

Still, despite these shortcomings, the GLK isn’t an awful tow vehicle (it’s actually rated to tow quite a bit more in Europe due to different standards), and all things considered I’m happy to have these limitation for the other benefits it gives me (comfortable ride, small size that fits in my garage, good fuel economy, etc.).

However, the ultimate test will be the roughly 6,000 mile road trip I plan to take this fall while towing a teardrop camping trailer – so once that’s done, I’ll report back as to how the GLK really works (or doesn’t work) as a tow vehicle. Stay tuned!

The Dream is Real

It’s happening! We were able to arrange for the rental of the small camper trailer that we wanted, and so our cross-country road-trip plans are go!

Of course, all this is subject to change as situations change – but we have backup plans. If heading out west as we originally planned isn’t possible (or safe), we may end up going somewhere closer – maybe just up north into the Adirondacks of NY, or maybe even up to Acadia National Park in Maine. Or, worst case, there’s plenty of parks right here in NJ. (Though our overall goal is to go somewhere new.)

Still, it’s exciting to think about. This sort of trip has been on my bucket list for ages – and although it’s not quite the full “around the entire country” trip I dreamed of, it’s pretty close.

We’ll be taking a teardrop style camper trailer – one of the bigger ones, a NuCamp T@B 320 CS-S with a wet bath (so, toilet & shower in one unit) and the hinged back with outdoor galley.

We’re planning on mainly staying at RV parks with full hookups for power, water, and sewer – no boondocking for us, I think. We’re not quite ready for that. Though I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of trying a night or two, if we find someplace.

Because of world circumstances, we are staying very flexible with our plans – we basically are going to “wing it” the whole way, with the exception of the one big National Park we’re planning on visiting. There are plenty of campsites and RV parks along the route we’ve chosen, so we’re reasonably confident that we can find someplace wherever we are.

For the first half (and more likely 2/3) of the trip, we’re basically just going to be trying to cover as much distance as possible – getting out of the Northeast and across the Midwest (I was born in the Midwest; I know what it’s like). Once we get to Colorado and the mountains, that’s where the real fun will begin!

I’ve only been among the Canadian Rockies before, and have spent almost no time in the Western states (aside from one trip I did down to the desert Southwest – to the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas). So the whole area is somewhat foreign to me – I’ve previously only seen it from the air as I flew over. But I’ve always been enamored of the landscapes of the West – perhaps because they are so different from the gentle rolling hills and forests of the East. But whatever the reason, I look forward to seeing them… and seeing them from my own car! Nothing quite brings home the vastness of the world as driving across it – and I am always eager for new perspectives.

Still, this trip is a ways off yet, so I will keep planning and preparing as I can, and hope for the best!

The Dream Trip

Thinking about my dream trip – a road trip across the USA

Recently my wife and I have started thinking about a trip to Yosemite Park in California for later in the year (along with a few other stops – assuming that Covid will be more under control by then). But with caution still needed, we’re not flying – that’s still completely out of the question – so we’re thinking of driving. And to keep our interactions with people to a minimum, we’re thinking of renting a camper trailer and staying at campgrounds along the way.

Doing a cross-country road trip in my own car has been a dream of mine since pretty much ever since I learned to drive.

But the realities of the trip are, as usual, not as simple as I would like.

Problem 1: Planning a route

First is the simple planning of the trip itself – some 2,700 miles one way. We have to decide where we’ll stop, how long we’ll have to drive each day, and so forth.

In better times we probably would’ve flown out west and rented a car, or failing that, we would’ve stayed in hotels each night as we went along. But in the current environment, that’s not exactly feasible (or wise). So we’ll be staying more or less to ourselves in our camper… which brings us to the next difficulty.

Problem 2: Finding the Right Camper

When it comes to picking a camper trailer, there are a number of constraints on us:

  1. Weight – although the Keithmobile is a diesel with plenty of pulling power, it is still a small-ish SUV with only a Class II hitch (max trailer weight 3,500 pounds) and a maximum tongue weight of 280 pounds.
  2. Amenities – given that we’re trying to limit our interactions with other people, we need to be fairly self-contained… which means we need a camper with a bathroom & shower.
  3. Availability – the type of trailer that meets these constraints isn’t very common around here (ironically, they are much more common out west where we’re headed).

These limitations unfortunately rule out a lot of rather nice trailers. For example, we had started to look at a nice Airstream Basecamp 16′ trailer – very stylish, with everything you’d need for just 2 people and nothing you don’t. However, the tongue weight for this trailer was some 410 pounds (as it turns out, many camper trailers are very forward-heavy and have high tongue weights relative to their overall weight).

However, in the end we did manage to find a nice little “teardrop” style camper trailer that has a combination bathroom/shower. It’s on the bigger end of teardrop style campers, but it’s light enough that my car can pull it without too much trouble (it is well within both the weight limit and the tongue weight limit) while still being comfortable for us both and more than just “a bed on wheels” (as many of the littlest camper trailers are).

So with all that, it looks like we may be heading out for a big road trip in the early fall (again, assuming the Covid situation doesn’t get worse). The Keithmobile will face its biggest challenge – doing something like 6,000 miles of driving in 2 1/2 weeks, all while pulling a trailer. (It’ll be interesting to see what kind of mileage I end up getting!)

Assuming we can go, it should be a very exciting trip!

Thoughts Amid 2020

Well, here we are, midway through 2020 – a year I did not expect to be writing about, but 2020 has turned out to be the year that keeps on giving – but in a bad way.

I used to think the Internet was the greatest invention of mankind – that it would erase barriers to communication, bring people together, and spread knowledge to all.

I was wrong.

What I’ve seen instead is that new barriers to communication have been erected, people have been driven apart (or brought together, but only in hate), and instead of knowledge, propaganda, messages of hate, and outright lies have been spread instead. Even the very idea of “truth” has become questioned, as we doubt (or are told to doubt) the sources of information.

Technology was supposed to be the triumph of mankind – something that would eliminate barriers and advance us all towards a better future, a tool we could use against the forces of death, disease, and disaster to protect ourselves, extend our lives, and make us all happier. But instead we have turned that tool against ourselves, selfishly withholding it from some under a misguided thought that sharing it would somehow diminish our own share.

Sometimes I wonder if we invented the Internet too soon – that we, both as individuals and as a society, were not ready, not advanced enough, grown enough, wise enough to handle the power that it gave us.

Pandora’s box is open though, and there’s no way to undo what has been released into the world. All we can do is either fight one another to hide under the lid, or use what remains – hope – and go fight the demons of our own doing.

What’s been done cannot be undone, but we can stop it from going further. And unless we want to spend the rest of our lives cowering in fear of the monsters we created and released, we must stop it.