Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: St. Paul, Minnesota
Trailer: 2014 Escape 21 -- The Skylark. Towed by a 2014 Highlander
The Skylark comes home -- impressions of our new 21
This is a long post. Skip it if you are pressed for time, or think the author is long winded.
On Sept. 19, we left St. Paul to deliver our 17b 'lark' to Fox Hunt, and to pick up our new 21 in Chilliwack. I have posted a few pictures on the "its friday" and "Back Window" threads. I am also going to post a few photos of the interior in a separate post. But thought I would post a few thoughts for your edification and enlightenment....
The Trip to the west Coast
On the way out we were pulling a 17b trailer. Aside from a short trip in July, it was our first experience towing with the Highlander. I had taken the car to Burnsville Hitch to have a prodigy 2 brake controller installed, and to have them change the position of the ball on the stinger since the hitch receptacle is about 6" higher on the Highlander than it was on the Sienna which was our previous tow vehicle. Since they couldn't get the ball at exactly the right height, I opted to have it about 1" down rather than 2" up. Also, I don't have any experience setting up weight distribution hitches. Toyota says that with the Highlander any trailer less than 5000 lbs doesn't need a WDH, but I opted to use the bars anyhow. I did decrease the number of free links in the bar chains from 3 to 2. Not sure if all that was strictly according to Hoyle, but in any event, it worked well. Just like when we used the Sienna, the trailer didn't have any sway or bounce. We had 1.5 days of very strong head wind going across western ND and Eastern MT. Our worst gas mileage on the way out was for about 120 miles between Bismarck and Belfield ND. We got about 10.5 MPG. But if you think a head wind is bad with a trailer, try riding a bicycle into a 49 MPH wind. Overall, we averaged 15.6 MPG on the way to Olympia. We met Fox Hunt on Tuesday afternoon, and turned over the trailer, giving as much orientation as I could remember. I keep thinking there are things I forgot to tell here, but fortunately we have this forum which really is a good source of information.
Picking up the trailer
The transition from Olympia to Chilliwack was a bit crazy. We had limited the amount of stuff we bought because we knew that we would have a day and a half with no trailer. Still, the car was packed to the proverbial gills, and anytime I opened the rear hatch, things spilled out. When we checked in at the Best Western in Chilliwack, we briefly met Bill and Mary. We didn't talk much since I was tired and I assumed we would see them the next day at ETI, but we missed them there. So maybe we can see you at a Midwest Escape rally next year.
We stopped briefly at ETI to see the trailer on Weds. even though we knew we couldn't pick it up until the next day. ETI is sure a humming place. It seems much busier than when we picked up the Lark in 2012. Folks were polishing trailers, and we only got a brief peek because a nice lady needed to get into the trailer to give it a final cleaning. And it shows in the end product-- when we picked up the Lark, there were a few piles of sawdust here and there. Nothing serious or unexpected, but you could see that it was recently constructed. When we picked up the Skylark, the cupboards and cabinets were spotless.
We arrived back at ETI bright and early the next morning to show Reace where we wanted all the Umbra hooks and the mounts for the TV. Even though we already had a trailer, we had also scheduled an orientation session with Rhonda. Rhonda seems to have a lot of RV experience, and was more than able to answer all our questions. I have watched the video several times and spent north of 100 nights in the Lark, but I was happy we spent the time getting re-oriented. There are enough different things about the two trailers that we still took over an hour going through it. I have heard that not every mfg or dealer gives an orientation, which is kind of surprising to me. I wouldn't like it if some one turned over a bunch of manuals to me with just a "good luck..."
Dennis set up the Andersen Hitch while we were getting settled. Then we finished up the paper work and were off to meet Dennis at Sumas. Getting back into the US took us a bit of time. Maybe because I picked the wrong lane, maybe because I looked suspicious. but it was after 1:00 by the time we had the trailer hitched up. We immediately drove to the Target in Burlington so that we could buy some of the stuff we knew we would need, but left at home because of space considerations. Also we had to transfer all the "stuff" from the Highlander to the trailer so that we could take a deep breath in the car without having the "door ajar" light come on. It was an hour in Target and another hour in the parking lot moving things and trying to get them arranged. Overall, this was successful, even though we didn't find Murphy-the-Dog's treats until we were almost home.
We did drop off the MN flag, and Dennis promised us that he would put it up. I suppose I should have gotten a photo.
The Trip Home
We spent the first four nights at North Whidby RV Park, just across from Deception Point State Park. We read a review of Deception State Park that said it was really tight, and someone had trouble maneuvering their 21' trailer in it. Since I was just getting used to a 4 foot longer trailer, It seemed wise to opt for something with a bit more space. The park was nice. clean showers and restrooms. Only complaint was that the WIFI seemed a bit flakey and there was a user id and pass code needed for each device that wanted to use it. I was always losing the little card with the pass code on it. We spent a bit of time exploring Whidby Island, admiring the Navy Jets that flew overhead. But mostly we chose that spot because it was close enough to go back to Escape on Monday if there was anything wrong (there wasn't) and because it was close to Camping World, Home Depot, etc. If we needed anything. We made two trips to Camping World for some sewer equipment, and the infamous rugs, one trip to Home Depot for a couple of tools, some storage bins, and some batteries, one to Bed, Bath and Beyond for back rest pillows, and one to Best Buy for a DVD player. It is amazing how much "stuff" there is. The nice thing about the 21 is that there is lots of room, but an old bike touring adage is that the amount of "stuff" expands to fill the amount of space available. That will probably be true here. But I think the overall strategy of camping at or near a place where you can get lots of supplies makes good sense.
One the way home we did one Harvest Host stop, at an apple orchard just north of Wenatchee, WA on the Columbia River. We really enjoyed it, and hope to do a lot more Harvest Host camping in the future, especially at wineries. We spent a couple of days in Peachland sampling Canadian wine and watching Salmon run. Then off to Lake Louise and Banff for a few more days of camping and sight seeing. We managed to hit Glacier on the last week that Apgar campground was open. Then inched our way across MT so that we could make a family reunion in Dickenson, ND last weekend. Lots of good things to see. Overall, we had nice weather, with daytime temps in the 50s to low 70s, night time temps in the high 20s to 40's. I like seeing these places in the fall because the crowds and the mosquitos are mostly gone (can't imagine Banff in the high season).
We used the propane furnace when boon docking and a pelonis cube furnace when hooked up. There was a bit of condensation in the trailer on cold nights, so we will be getting some hydro vent mesh. But overall, the trailer was nice and cozy. The furnace seems quieter than the one in the 17, but that could be because it is further away from the bed, or maybe the Dometic digital thermostat works better. We didn't use the AC, but we did turn it on to see if it works. It is quieter too.
Comments about the Skylark and Towing.
The first thing we noticed about the 21 is that it seems very spacious. There were some mornings on Whidby when it was very foggy so we just sat in the trailer. Really easy for two of us to be comfortable in the big dinette. We had always left the 17b rear dinette made up as a bed, so we only had the small dinette in the front. It feels good to turn sideways and stretch one's legs out.
The fit and finish of the trailer is at least as good as the one on the 17b. I was a bit concerned that quality would suffer a bit since ETI is turning out so many more trailers. But that isn't the case at all, and I was worrying needlessly.
I have a better understanding now of the problems with the fridge. AS you can see from above, we weren't camping in hot weather, but we had to keep the fridge on 4-5 bars to keep an acceptable temperature. We didn't have a fridge fan, and there wasn't much in the fridge, but we could see the temp rise a couple of degrees when we opened the door. By the time we got home 3 weeks later, the freezer needed defrosting. The freezer temp had been stuck at 10-15 degrees for the last week, and I think the frost on the fins was the problem.
Like some others, I forgot to tell ETI to run the wire for the cellular antenna to the front. I will snake that up there next spring. I would like to have it close to the front of the trailer because maybe it will improve cell reception in the car as well.
My Jensen AWM975 was defective. It wouldn't eject DVDs. I contacted Amazon, and there was a replacement waiting for me when I got home. ETI installed the radio, and did a nicer job than the previous trailer. All the cords were nicely secured and zip tied. On the other hand, I found that the radio antenna had come out of its connection (no wonder the reception wasn't better!), so that got fixed too.
Lindy and I are both vertically challenged, and I was worried about seeing out the back windows when sitting at the dinette. That isn't a problem. We see out just fine. On the other hand, we need stools to put our feet on when sitting at the table. I am thinking of making a 4" platform for under the table. I could probably even put storage under it. If I had to do it over again, I would ask ETI to raise the floor under the dinette. The cushions can stay where they are, just need a few less inches to the floor.
On the way home we went through two tanks of propane. We used more propane in the 21 than we ever did in the 17. Probably because it was chilly, and because it is a bigger trailer to heat. Also, we did more cooking inside, but my guess is that heat is the big consumer of propane.
I hadn't planned on getting an Andersen Hitch, but after re-reading the reviews I decided to give it a try. Lindy really likes driving the car with it. She says it feels smoother. I find it hard to compare because we have never towed this trailer with anything else. We never had any issues with the 17, but it is a smaller trailer. Anyhow, we thought the trailer towed well, was easy to back into back in spaces, and there was never a hint of sway, even on very windy days even when passed by semis at high speed. I don't think the Andersen is any more complicated than the WDH that Escape uses. Different, but no more complex. It is certainly easier to store when you are unhitched. Just drop it in the front storage box. We used ladder hooks on the 17, but they always managed to migrate to the least accessible place just when i wanted them the most.
After the recent thread about towing a 21 with a Highlander, which was in progress as we were heading to the coast, Lindy was really concerned about our choice of tow vehicle. We chose a Highlander after talking to RickM and a couple of other folks who use a Highlander to tow a 21. I also looked at some discussions where folks were towing a 21 with other vehicles that have a 5000lb towing capacity. We needn't have worried. We went up several passes, crossed the continental divide 3 times on the way home, and basically spent two weeks in the Canadian and Montana Rockies. We didn't have any problems, and I didn't feel like we were straining the engine. I did sometimes gear down, both going uphill and down hill. Admittedly, none of these were much over 6000 feet, and I think the steepest grades were only 7 or 8 percent. But so far, at least we are fine. Probably the toughest day was driving across ND (again) with a strong side/head wind. . The avg miles per gallon dropped to 15.3 on the last day. Before that, the avg MPG coming home was 15.8, mostly through the mountains, but it includes some miles without the trailer as we went exploring here and there. I may change my mind in the future, but so far I am pleased with the Highlander. My only complaint is that storage capacity is (as one friend of mine said) "deceptively small". I can't put two bikes in it upright. But I knew that when I bought it
I lurk on FGRV, a couple of other forums, and my impression is that when one poses a question like "Is it ok to tow X trailer with Y vehicle?" it is a bit like putting a fire hydrant in a dog park. Every dog has their opinion and is willing express it. but I pay most attention to those who have experience with the actual combination in question. Other viewpoints may be valid, but nothing beats real world experience.
Well, that is more than enough enlightenment for all of you. Look for interior photos tomorrow.