Brian will be the first to tell me this is not REAL camping. And I agree. As kids, my family camped A LOT, first in tents, then in a pop-up. The pop-up, comparatively, was a luxury with its heater and sink. But this van is like a 5-star resort. Not only is there a heater, but we actually have air-conditioning, a refrigerator and a bathroom for gosh sakes.
I’m not sleeping on paper-thin foam or a ½” thick, leaky air mattress; I don’t need to worry about raccoons rummaging around our tent and eating all the oatmeal cookies; We’re not heating up rocks and wrapping them in newspaper to keep our sleeping bags warm; I don’t have to put up with fabric walls that rain on me at the slightest touch; I can actually sleep at night unafraid of a bear clawing through the thin cloth. And we don’t actually NEED to cook hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire since we have a stove… but we did. ‘Cause that’s what you do when you go camping.
But before we get to the camping, we need to pick up the van. There were a couple minor items we noticed on Monday that needed fixing. The rear door latch was missing, the bathroom door was broken, plus they needed to detail it, etc. So, 2 days to prep should work out. Our walk-through was scheduled at 9am Thursday. Turns out the van had more issues than the dealer want to deal with, so they brought another identical van over from a sister company, one that had not been in an RV show. But it hadn’t been prepped; they’d just received it the night before.
So when we arrived, ten mechanics were crawling all over our van, furiously prepping. Adding water, propane, gas, washing, vacuuming, charging, etc. We finalized financials instead, while they completed their checklist. 3 hours later, they were ready. Our service rep went through each and every system with us, thoroughly. No stone was unturned, no question unanswered. He was great. What we assumed would take about an hour took another 3 hours! But we didn’t care, we were floored that they took so much time and attention to detail.
We learned the new van’s TV had an annoying line though the screen, plus the cab floor carpet & front blackout shades were missing. We had them touch up a scratch and repatriate carpet, shades and the good TV from the other van.
Our salesman noticed us sitting in the lobby waiting for the rest of the walk-through items to be fixed. He felt bad we were still there at 3:30pm. “What do you need for the van? Anything specific?” I had been eyeing his stainless steel Yeti mug he claimed would hold ice for 2 straight days. Hmmm, that would be awesome for my Starbucks iced tea habit and Brian’s coffee. We got two gigantic ones-perfect for a trenti-sized iced tea. A $90 value. Oh, and 3 folding chairs.
A Disturbance in the Force
At 4pm, finally, we drive off in our new van to a nearby Dick’s Sporting Goods to look for sleeping bags. Almost immediately, we (Brian) hears a noise. Brian HATES unnatural noises. Detests them. He hears things I never do and gets so irritated when I don’t know what he is talking about. Whether on the boat or in our truck, they drive him crazy…I mean CRAZY. He will go to ALL manner of lengths to stop them…occasionally so disturbed as to climb on other people’s vacant boats to tie off a wayward, clanging halyard. (Now, you just don’t go climbing aboard OPB willy nilly, it must be a dire emergency. Either the boat is in danger, ooooor that loud, tink, tink, tinking line is severely damaging the mast… now that deserves a climb-aboard.)
“You hear that?” “What?” (I don’t.) “That noise.” “What noise?” We wait for it again. “THAT!” “Oh, yeah, I hear it.” (I actually DO hear it, I’m not trying to placate him…this time.) “What is it?” “Dunno.” The noise is a metallic, rolling sound. Like a ball bearing or a socket. I get up while Brian is driving to source the annoyance. I open cabinets; they are completely empty. It stops when we turn left, rolls again when we turn right. We switch spots. I start driving donuts in the mall parking lot.
Some loose object is rolling around in the 2 inch dead space below the overhead cabinet base and above the recessed lighting panel where the wiring is located. Of course, there is no way to get in there, no access panel. So, the VERY first day we own it, within the first 5 miles, we now need to fix something. Oh goody. Brian’s first van project. But he’ll just have to ignore it until we can get to Atlanta to use his dad’s tools.
Headed to The Hoffmaster
The next morning we drive Winndigo to P.J. Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon, along the wind-swept shores of Lake Michigan. (The entire time, that THING is rolling around. Brian is ecstatic.) We navigate the complex call-in system of after-hours campground check-ins. Luckily, my dad is an expert and had already scoped out our spots.
Let me just say this right now…Thank God we had a heater. Had we built the van we would not have installed a heater, at least not initially. We’re supposed to go camping in summer weather, not freezing temps. For our initiation night in the van it was 28 degrees! 28! But the Truma heater was the bomb. We kept toasty warm all night long.
Despite the cold, our 2-night camping experience was a success. The beds are super-comfy, far superior to usual camper mattresses. The fridge holds pizza leftovers perfectly. And the stove worked great for making coffee in our new $6 teapot. Then someone asked, “Why didn’t you just use the microwave?” Our brows wrinkle, lips pursed. Huh. Didn’t even occur to us. We ALWAYS make coffee using a teapot on the boat. Microwaves are foreign objects. We forgot we even had it! Score!
Overnighting at CB
A week after our first camping test, we traveled our final leg to Atlanta, staying overnight at a Cracker Barrel in Kentucky. Who knew that many Cracker Barrels, Walmarts, casinos and other places allow RVs to stay overnight… for free! While a bit strange the first time, our stay was uneventful; the parking lot was quiet with about 4 other RVs spending the night. Our blackout curtains work great. The next morning, we got up, had breakfast at CB and headed out early. Easy. $120 saved on hotel. Let’s see, we have to do how many more nights before we make up the cost of the van? Mmm… let’s not go there.
Project#1: Extracting the Annoyance
At Brian’s dad’s house, we finally do the first project: find that rolly thingy. Brian uses a powerful magnet to determine its metallic-ness and how far he can move it. Not far, there appears to be structural baffles inside the dead space. He drills a 3” hole inside the cabinet, just barely missing nicking a bunch of wires. Out comes a beat-up driver bit extension. Thanks, Winnebago. You could have at least given us a new one for our troubles. He screws a blank light-switch faceplate over the hole.
Project#2: Leaky Roof
Two days before our flight back to San Carlos, we discovered a roof leak. Van project #2 within the first two weeks….mmm…not a great sign. We are extremely lucky it had rained for 3 days straight and we noticed the leak before we took off and left it there for 6 months. This should be covered by warranty, but when we call the Atlanta Camping World for service, they say they’ll call us back…and then don’t until several hours later. By then, Brian had already gone to an RV dealer to get roof caulk…no time to loose. He gooped the crap out of the AC unit, we hopped on our flight the next morning and hoped for the best. It hasn’t leaked yet!
All in all, we are satisfied with our purchase and are looking forward to really using the Hell out of it next summer. Most of all, we can escape the torrid humidity of San Carlos, see some sights and visit people along the way.