2020 COVID RV Trip Out West

2020, the year of COVID. So much has changed at this point. Our vacation plans for 2020 certainly didn’t include renting a big ass RV and driving it across the country and back. But as COVID swooped in and crushed the cruise industry, canceled our cruise, and ruined the majority of dive destinations by way of limited inter-country travel, that’s exactly what happened.

Out west is amazing. I’ve seen parts of it on two previous motorcycle trips. Both times I’ve been in awe of the beauty and magnificence of it all. I lack the vocabulary to properly describe what’s out there. You just have to see it for yourself and photos simply do not do it justice. Claudine experienced this on our trips to Europe. You can describe the Alps, you can take photos of the Alps but until you’re there, breathing the air and looking up (or down) across them you just don’t “Get It”. That was the motivation for this trip. To share that awe with her and Matthew. Doing it by motorcycle was out of the question. We had talked about flying out, renting a car, and driving around but COVID made that problematic. While I understand travel isn’t horrible and there are hotel rooms are available, we wanted to be 100% self-sufficient. What better way to do that than with a big Class A RV that can support you self-contained for days at a time?

At this point, I will focus on our trip, how I planned it, where we visited, and share some stunning photos. I’ll put together another post on the RV we used for the job, how I came to that decision, where I found it, what worked, and what didn’t.

I had 11 workdays of vacation (two weeks and a day) to maximize. I picked up the RV on Friday, August 7th, drove it to our house where we packed it for an early departure on Saturday the 8th of August, traveling out west in a southern to northern loop (more on that later) returning home on Saturday the 22nd to unpack before returning the RV on Sunday the 23rd. 17 days, 16 nights with the RV and/or traveling provided us with the sampling of “Out West”.

Having done it twice on the motorcycle there were places I knew we wanted to see. Pikes Peak and Beartooth Pass speak to me so they were must-haves. Sadly the latter wouldn’t make it on the trip since we weren’t going to be close enough with a rental car at hand and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take a 36 foot RV over Beartooth. Not that it can’t be done, but it’s not my RV.

I had started to plan the trip north to south but realized that would put us in the Black Hills during the 2020 Sturgis Rally. I don’t have anything against Sturgis or my fellow bikers who choose to ride Harleys, but where masses like that are gathered, well, that’s just not for me. Plus the point of this trip was not to mingle with millions of people amid COVID. So I planned it backward (to me).

Our route looked like this.

I used a couple of very useful apps to plan. The first of which was RVParky.com and you can see the entire itinerary here including addresses for parks and where we stayed. RV Parky is particularly useful to call out places you can stay in an RV, even if that stay is a Walmart parking lot that permits overnight parking. Since we were in a self-contained Class A, we assumed we’d probably spend one or two nights on the cheap this way. Turns out we didn’t need too. As I was planning our trip, I made only one reservation and that was night number 1. The entire trip was tentative and subject to change based upon weather, or if we decided we just wanted to stay somewhere longer.

RVparky has both a website and an app (which really only loads the website). But it was extremely handy. The reviews were often dated, and links to websites for a lot of parks were bad. But you could generally find them without too much trouble.

The other application that I stumbled on thanks to brilliant google adwords targeted marketing. You know, when you start looking for cars or RV’s on the internet and then all you see on the internet are RV and Car ads. Yeah that. Was:

HarvestHosts.com

All it took to hook me was a 15% off coupon code. For $79 you’re a member and can request to park or stay overnight at any of their hosts. These are generally wineries, breweries, museums, or farms. The idea is that in exchange for letting you park there you’ll patronize their wares (wine/beer/farm). You’re supposed to be self-contained, no hookups, but we found that some did offer electric hookups for a fee.

On our first night (1 on the map), we stayed at Arcadian Moon Winery just east of Kansas City. We got there early enough to order pizza and a bottle of wine. We’re wine snobs and prefer big bold Cabs and Reds Blends. Most midwestern wineries focus on sweet wines which are not our thing. I bought a bottle of their darkest red and it was OK, but it wasn’t awesome (for our tastes). Their pizza was amazing though and I’d definitely go back or stop again if I was in the area.

Free parking (with purchase of wine and food), but we would have had to eat anyway. 🙂

Continue reading “2020 COVID RV Trip Out West”

16 Days and 14 Nights in a Class A RV

This post/article is a piggy back to my article on our two week RV trip out west which you can read about here if you didn’t already. This article will focus on the RV itself, how well it worked for the task at hand, and what I would change if I could do it all over again.

2015 Fleetwood Southwind 36L

The RV we used was a 2015 Fleetwood Southwind 36L stats here via rvusa.com.

MSRP: $144,549
Fuel Type: Gas
Ford F53 Chassis / Ford Triton V10 (Gas) 362-hp and 457 lb-ft of torque, with fords dependable TorqShift five-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, plus Tow/Haul capability.
140 cubic feet of inside storage (cabinets. cupboards, closets, under-seat/bed, etc.)
118 cubic feet of outside storage. The brochures mention pass-through storage but I didn’t see that, although there were some full length ‘slots’ in the rearmost and middlemost slots.

The 36L has the following floorplan:

That’s right 1 and a half baths!

I’ll talk more about what was awesome about this and what was less awesome about this later.

Finding a rental and executing it.

When we were planning for our epic vacation I talked to numerous folks about what type of RV we should take. Everyone pushed us towards a Class A over a Class C for comfort, a step up in build quality, and most importantly noise level, especially for mountain travel. Apparently the doghouses (the area between the driver/passenger seat that covers the engine) aren’t as quiet, especially when you’re grinding up a mountain, or holding the engine back in low gear. I’ve driven many vans so I knew what they were talking about. Ideally, a diesel pusher with the engine and all associated noise in the back is best.

I started my rental search on rvshare.com as well as outdoorsy.com about 2 and a half months before the trip. Kind of last-minute actually. Both are great owner rental sites. I didn’t want to drive an RV USA billboard across the country and back. I wanted to look and feel like an owner, and rent an RV that was *hopefully* cleaner, and likely more cared for than a fleet rental RV. Mor than the vanity that that sounds like, I wanted an RV that the owner knew about and could tell me, it does this well, that well, doesn’t do this well. Over someone who would just hand me the keys. and say “Good Luck, Have Fun!”.

My initial selection was a diesel pusher in Cincinnati. I think I interviewed the owners more than they interviewed me. We talked about the trip, our desire/need to be 100% self-sufficient for boon-docking (the act of parking an RV anywhere legal without hookups). He totally got that. We talked about the route, mountain passes, roads, etc. We agreed on the deal but his RV was in the shop getting a ride enhancement kit, plus he was headed out-west 2 weeks before us and we’d be cutting it close. Then it happened, when he picked up his RV from the suspension work other things weren’t working, he wasn’t comfortable I’d have a trouble-free trip. So I started looking again. (We’ve kept in touch and I will rein that RV next).

I talked to a number of Class A owners, and asking to take their $100k+ RV across the country and back over two weeks is a big ask. Mileage is what kills the value in RV’s and I’m asking some of these folks who have less than 20k miles on their RV in some cases, to let me put 25% of the mileage on the vehicle. I’m paying for that of course, but If they could rent it to someone for 7 days that’s simply going to drive it 300 miles (150 miles to a campground, park it for a week, and drive it back), that seems more lucrative and simply a better rental strategy.

Surprisingly, most folks weren’t really all that concerned with our ability to drive one. While I’ve driven some big things in my life including a 40 foot UHaul, and a box truck back in the day, I had no REAL RV experience and I was clearly jumping into the deep end. It looks very intimidating, more mostly because you’re driving something that potentially costs more than our house to replace, but at the end of the day, it just wasn’t that bad (more on that later).

Renting from rvshare/outdoorsy…

Continue reading “16 Days and 14 Nights in a Class A RV”