Join Date: Dec 2008
Re: Full Time Living.
I don't use this forum a lot but if you do a search for my posts some insight on my lifestyle will be found. But really trying to describe a "lifestyle" is a rather large task. I am going to attempt to copy my Roadtrip Report from 2008 here. I choose 2008 because thats when I began full timing in my Escape 17. I was not sure this window would hold the entire report but it did. I hope y'all will find it interesting.
WESTERN STATES ROAD TRIP 2008
Since I began my life as a full-timer (RV live-in) in 2004, I have only spent two winters in Kentucky. The first because I was waiting for delivery of my van, the second because of an injury, but I have since vowed never again. So this year I headed to Florida for as much time as possible before I had to travel all the way to British Columbia to get my new travel trailer. I had always expected wintertime Florida to be over-run with snowbirds, old people who probably should not be driving, and other unpleasant stereotypes. Turns out they were all there but not as bad as I expected, but then I did not get as far south as the snowbirds usually go to roost. From a previous trip to Florida in 2003 I knew there was some good mountain biking, and Florida does have great canoeing, so this is what I hoped to find. I rode at Pine Log State Forest near Ebro, Munson Hills near Tallahassee and Santos MTB Park near Ocala. The last was the best; trails ranged from wide, easy family trails to tight and technical with rocks, bridges, ladders, etc, even a free-ride section for the gravity obsessed types. While I was there I got to spectate a free-ride competition. Having watched the videos for years it was a real eye-opener to watch these guys in person. Canoeing was good as I had hoped for and I paddled several spring fed crystal clear rivers including the famous Suwannee.
I was not looking forward to crossing the continent in the dead of winter, but I had made a commitment to accept delivery of my new Escape 17 travel trailer at the factory in Chilliwack, British Columbia in early February. The trip west went well until getting snow bound in Southeastern Idaho for a couple of days, but the worst was encountered east of Seattle in a high pass on I-90 that was closed due to avalanche threats. Rumors were flying on the CB radio; closure may last 2 hours, or 24 hours or even the rest of the winter. I decided to get off the highway and look for a place to camp and luckily found a small campground that was not only open but had recently plowed out a couple of sites as they were expecting some snowmobilers for the weekend. I had gotten settled in and my dog Kyla had found a couple of local dogs to romp in the 6 feet of snow that all but buried the campground when I heard the CB radio report the highway would reopen within the hour. Rather than risk not getting to the factory before another weekend passed, I rejoined the waiting vehicles. Soon DOT opened the gate to hundreds of trucks and cars all in a hurry to get to or through Seattle. Down we went through heavy snow and 6” of slush on the roadway, but as we descended the snow turned to rain and the highway was melting off. I continued west to Seattle, then north on I-5 in bumper-to-bumper 5 o’clock traffic, the whole experience a real white-knuckle ride. At Escape Trailer there was a delay in a wire transfer of funds so I spent two nights in their ice and snow filled parking lot in my new trailer. I was pleasantly surprised to find the border crossing no problem and quickly made tracks south for warmer climes.
Not far below Portland I headed west for the coast and continued south on Highway 1 camping in several great Oregon State Parks very near the beach. Oregon has done a great job of preserving its coast from development with State Parks every few miles, although not all are open to camping, there are still lots of good sites available, at least in the off season. The weather was unseasonably warm and dry so we took many beach walks, enjoyed fantastic sunsets most evenings and shot lots of photos. When we crossed into California the state park costs really jumped, doubled or more and services were reduced, so we turned inland again and headed for my sister’s place in Tulare. After a brief visit with family, new tires on the van, and larger wheels/tires on the trailer we headed to the Mojave hoping for serious sunshine and found it beyond Barstow, or “Barstool” as we used to call it back in the 70’s. Continuing southeast we found increasing temps and lot’s of snowbirds, especially around Quartzite, AZ. Crossing into New Mexico I stopped and explored White Sands National Monument. This place is phenomenal, pure white sugar sand everywhere, piled so high it looks like some kind of storage area, but it’s all natural. The wind was blowing hard making it difficult to get out in the sand so I reluctantly left but do plan to visit more thoroughly some day. Continued east through super-sized Texas, damn it’s a wide state! Finally free of Texas I stopped at Lake Bastineau State Park east of Shreveport, Louisiana. Pleasant surprise, they recognize the Federal Golden Age Passport and give half off on the camping price. This was the first time I found a state park that accepted the GAP. This was one of the better state parks I have visited as they can range from very poor to excellent. I spent several days there paddling through the cypress forests. There were some interesting mountain biking trails in the park but I had left my bike home when I went west this time, but when I went up to the park office to re-register I noticed they had some bikes for rent. I tried to rent one but they could not find they key to free them from the rack, apparently not a popular option in early March. Later the ranger came by and apologized about the key and offered me a free ride. As I had never mountain biked in Louisiana I went up and got a bike to cross off one more state from my list (now at 42). Until I got the bike in hand I had not noticed they were really pieces of junk… heavy Wal-mart specials, single speeds, coaster brakes, bald tires, etc, but they did have two wheels and rolled, sort of. I did four miles on this beast and it may have been the hardest ride I ever did, so I was glad to return this bike to the rack. The trail really was pretty good, but next time on MY bike.
Upon leaving Lake Bastineau I headed north and back to Kentucky, with the temperature dropping steadily. Shortly after getting home a late winter storm hit with 6” of snow and 20 degree temps. Fortunately the weather returned to more seasonal temps soon.
I test drove several new 4X4’s before deciding on a Toyota FJ Cruiser, taking delivery on March 14. I devoted most of the spring attempting to sell my van and after several near misses finally sold it on June 20 to a guy from Boulder, Colorado. During this time I spent a lot of money on the FJ for additions to make it more suitable for off-roading, bigger tires, winch, bumper, skid plates, lift kit, lights and much more. I wanted to give it a serious test so I signed up for the Toyota Land Cruiser Association (TLCA) event at Tellico, called the Great Smoky Mountain Trail Ride, held in May. It had been a long time since I have done any serious “wheeling”, so it was pretty challenging for me, but as I kept to the more moderate trails we (the FJ and I) survived pretty well. Somehow my dog and I got separated for a few anxious hours but some friendly ATV’ers found and returned her to me.
After a late start this year I finally headed west on July 9 to spend my fifth summer in the Rockies. I had earlier signed up for another TLCA event, this time in Deadwood, South Dakota. This wheeling gathering is called the Black Hills Cruiser Classic and is 4 days in the canyons and mountains of the Black Hills. There was something different here as the trails were a lot harder on my rig, though they did not seem significantly more difficult. Probably just my driving, but I ended up with major damage to the rock sliders and other low-slung parts. After the run I drove south to a new shop called Bumpit Offroad in Greely, Colorado where we did some serious metal work and got everything back in order. Just in time too as next up was another 4X4 event in Leadville, Colorado called All-4-Fun Week. This may be the oldest continuous event of this type in the country as this was their 42nd annual. First day of wheeling was on easy but very scenic trails nearby. Next up was Chinaman’s Gulch which was a darn serious challenge for me. No damage was done but I confess it may have been more luck and good spotting, than driver skill. The rest of the week was a mix of moderate trails, some very high scenic passes (highest point was 13,200 ft), with a few hard spots now and then to make you feel like you really earned the amazing views. The week closed with the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race. Two friends from Kentucky, Steve Wilson and Steve Beckett, had raced last year and both finished, which is quite an accomplishment for this very difficult high altitude race. This year was not so good for them as Beckett was injured prior to the race and could not start, while Wilson was enjoying a good race until a spectator stepped out in front of him, causing a crash and he was unable to continue.
So far this narrative may suggest I have given up mountain biking, but that is not so. Leaving Leadville I went down to Buena Vista, Salida and Poncha Springs areas and rode nearly every day when the weather allowed. I again rode one of the coolest trails of all; the Rainbow Trail which is part of the famous Monarch Crest Trail.
Heading over Monarch Pass I continued west to Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado, where I had some more modifications done to the FJ Cruiser. I also rented a kayak and paddled the Colorado River, one of those things I have always wanted to do, and now crossed off my life’s list. Clarification needed here; I am not talking about the Grand Canyon, which may need to be in another life. It was still hot in the valley so I went up to Grand Mesa to find cooler temperatures. This high plateau is one of my favorite places in Colorado and also the destination of another 4X4 event called End Over Summer. The first day was dry and the trails were just right with a good mixture of scenic and challenging stuff, but the rest of the weekend was a wash-out. I stayed on in Grand Mesa for about 2 weeks, paddling the many lakes, hiking, including the superb Crag Crest trail, and riding my bike.
I have been searching for the perfect boat for a man and dog and had it in my mind that a cataraft might be answer, so I drove down to Aztec, New Mexico to look at a Jack’s Plastic Welding boats and demoed one for several days, but finally decided the slow to rig time would not work for me. Turned around and went back north for more shop work, this time on the trailer, then back to Grand Mesa (yes, I really like it there). T stayed for several days hiking, riding and wheeling in the fall weather. Then back to the valley, and summer weather again.
While searching the WEB I learned of a 4X4 trip on the Kokopelli Trail put on by Woody Swearingen and the Toyota Trail Team coming up in late September. The trip was already filled up but it has been my experience that there is usually a last minute cancellation, so with high hopes I drove over to their meeting point motel, and very lucky for me there was a cancelation. I had to rush around getting supplies, food, beer, etc but was ready to go when they gathered the next morning in Fruita. There were 14 rigs, one Tacoma, an FZJ-100 and the rest all well equipped FJ Cruisers. We hit the dirt at the Loma exit, aired down and began the trail. I expected little more than desert dirt/rock roads, but was pleasantly surprised to find some challenges among the dirt and dust; really tight sections between boulders and steep drops that had potential for serious body damage (none done). One of the highlights of this trip was the steep and ledgy climb to “Top-of-the-World”. This is one of the neatest views of the many I have visited: a big overhung rock slab that you can drive to the very edge of and check out the 1000 foot drop just in front of your bumper. From here you’re looking at a 360 degree panorama of canyons, cliffs and mountains, all in various shades of red, brown, tan and pink. Another challenging spot was the descent called Rose Garden Hill which had most of us on three wheels, or even two at one point or another. After a big closing party on Friday evening we descended into Moab for fuel and lunch, and some went wheeling on the tough trails around Moab, but most were just worn out after four days on the trail and headed home, which for a few was a darn long drive; California, Wisconsin, Georgia, Missouri, among others.
Bill Burke’s 4-Wheeling America offers expedition trips in many areas in the west, and I had been considering running one, but the cost seemed out of line with my budget. However I had so much fun on the Kokopelli Expedition that I decided to sign up for another multi-day trip. This trip is called Hole-in-the-Rock which explores portions of a historic wagon train route in SE Utah as well as some trails in Canyonlands National Park. Another strong reason to do this trip was to learn from the master, as Bill Burke is widely recognized as one of the top 4X4 instructors in the world. Six rigs met in Hall’s Crossing on the shore of magnificent Lake Powell; two each of Land Rover, Jeep and Toyota. The first 2 ½ days were spent on the slickrock of HIR, which in a few spots was very difficult, mostly due to narrow trail with steep drop-offs. Occasionally we were really shaking our heads in awe at the thought that the Mormons took 83 wagons through here in the winter of 1879-80. Their trip was expected to take 6 weeks and it actually took over 6 months. Fortunately we did it in just a few days but then we only drove a small portion of their trail. The side hill described previously was mostly the result of the Mormons blasting narrow benches into the rock for passages. Modern 4X4’s are pretty narrow but apparently not as slim as the old prairie schooners. Having run about 60 miles of slickrock we returned to the pavement and went up into the mountains to an area called the Bear’s Ears at an altitude of around 8000 feet. My 5 year old sleeping bag is getting pretty thin in places and with night time temperature now well below freezing I was quite uncomfortable, but the sun was quick to warm things up each morning. Thursday was spent exploring the nearby Dark Canyon wilderness. Yes, you read that right as Dark Canyon has a corridor open to OHV’s right through its center, a very unusual, but very welcome arrangement. Friday was spent traversing Beef Basin then on into Canyonlands with all its strange rock formations, especially in the Needles District. The final challenge of the trip was Elephant Hill. Having read about this place back in the late 60’s in Four Wheeler Magazine I really had an impression of what to expect, so reality was somewhat of a letdown. There are two switchbacks that are so tight they require one to back up, but the only hard part of this was visibility as the sun was low on dusty glass. It seems the Park Service has concreted in the hardest spots making the climb and descent fairly easy. In fact an FJ Cruiser towing a small GI trailer had run the hill just in front of us and reported having no problems. Now back on the pavement we raced sundown to Newspaper Rock where we said our goodbyes. Strong bonds are often formed when nine people spend five days together in such a challenging and beautiful environment. All expressed hope we might meet and wheel some trail together in the future.
It was getting into late October and time to head back east again. But I had heard about some amazing singletrack mountain bike trails near Gallup, New Mexico so a southern detour was in order. I drove down through a very remote section of far western Colorado on Highway 141. This took me through the small town of Gateway which was recently purchased by the owner of the Discovery Channel and turned into a fancy resort. I think I might have liked the town immensely before the makeover. I arrived in Gallup and after a few false leads found the highly touted trails. I spent the night camping at the trailhead and rode about 16 miles of the Zuni Trail system. It was good, but a lot was under construction, rough and hard to follow, so I hope to try it again someday when completed.
Continuing east I was surprised to see fuel prices dropping radically. I paid $2.10 for fuel in Oklahoma while just a week earlier I had paid $4.20 in Halls Crossing. Of course at the time of this writing it is now down to $1.35 but not expected to stay there, but it is a wonderful break for many Americans struggling to make ends meet. I arrived back in my home base in Grand Rivers, Kentucky on October 27, having driven 8242 miles over 115 days. This was the shortest of my annual road trips but with fuel averaging around $3.75 it was more than enough for my wallet.
The FJ Cruiser and Escape trailer proved to be a good setup for my travels. The FJ averaged about 12 mpg while towing which was significantly better than my Tundra/Jayco combo used in 2004, which delivered a miserable 7 mpg towing. My Sportsmobile did a little better at mileage but with the high cost of diesel fuel was less efficient. Despite lots of brush “pin stripes” and one blown shock the FJ has been as reliable as a Swiss watch.
A website for FJ Cruiser owners (fjcruiserforums.com) had announced a run in NE Alabama on December 6-7 so I drove down to enjoy 2 days of steep hills with slick mud and some serious rocks with several folks from the Smokey Mountain Cruisers and others from as far away as South Florida.
Several medical appointments in November and December kept me in Kentucky longer than desired. Winter had set in with a vengeance when we got hit with a severe winter storm with high wind, temps in the 20’s and 1.5” of freezing rain/sleet. Decided to stay on for two events; my daughter gave birth to a baby girl Alexis (my second grandchild) on December 19 and Christmas. Finally I got free and headed south on December 30 with Florida sunshine on my mind.
Alan “Ace” Brown
December 31, 2008
Grand Rivers, KY
Alan "Ace" Brown
2008 Escape 17
2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser