Having just completed our longest Dory trip to date, I wanted to sum up some of our initial impressions over what worked particularly well, what we’re still pondering, and what fell into the “not so much” category. These are in no particular order, but came up as highlights as we reflected on the trip as a whole. And overall, I must say I think we were extremely well provisioned for an extended time out.
For us, “Long Trip” means: 2 months (6/13-8/12), 9,274 miles, 37 campgrounds, 19 states, 2 provinces, 2 countries, 2 languages. We broke personal records in: length of time on the road, length of time in one campsite (7 nights), number of one night stands in a row (9), and certainly number of Bison spotted (same is true for motorcycles). Here’s a wrap up of our post summer opinions.
Loosey Goosey Planning
This comes in as number 1 on our list of things that exceeded expectation. Really, we only reserved campsites ahead of time for rallies, where we needed to be sure we had a site for a specific time and for a longer stay. I think doing it this way accomplishes a couple of things. First off, it makes the pre-trip planning much easier. But more than that, it builds in flexibility to adjust your route based on information you get along the way. For example, had I mapped the whole thing out ahead of time, I might not have chosen a return path through Ontario, and that turned out to be one of my favorite areas.
The caveat that comes with this is to be very prepared to stay in weird places if need be. There’s always somewhere to stay for the night, but it might not be the most scenic. We almost always lucked out with really nice sites in state or provincial parks. There weren’t always hookups though, so hot weather narrowed the choices to mostly independent places or KOAs. We got in the habit of always filling the fresh water tank, just in case.
Allstays is a must have app for this kind of traveling, and it really helps to have the non-driver doing the research and phone calling on the road. If I were a single traveler, this would all have been much, much harder. Allstays works without cell service pretty well too.
We probably gave as many “tours” of these chairs as we did Dory. They are super comfortable and easy to set up and take down. They store down into nice, small, light packages that don’t take up much room in the car. We have officially ditched all other chairs. They’re expensive, but worth it. There was a safety recall on some of them, but we checked and ours are fine. The enjoyment factor we get out of these has actually changed our behavior in terms of how much time we spend outside. The only downside is that now we need to think more about insect repelling.
There’s been a lot said in the Altoistes group about these rugs, but I’m going to go ahead and say more. I really love these. The color adds to the overall attractiveness of the inside and I can’t say enough about how great they are at hiding dirt. For two solid months we did very little in the way of cleaning the floor. We shook out the piece that is by the door maybe once a week, and I think we shook out all of the pieces like twice. I never felt sand or dirt on my feet because all of it falls through the little loops. We dropped stuff on it and weren’t terribly careful about tracking stuff in. Once we got home, I took the pieces out and gave them a good hose down. The water coming off the stuff was brown and filthy. After that, they were good as new. Again, pricey but well worth it.
This is more an endorsement for having some kind of little 12v fan in the bedroom area, rather than a specific brand recommendation. I do like this little fan because it’s super quiet and uses very little battery power. In fact, we’re not quite sure how it works. I have it plugged in to our USB all the time and it only seems to draw power to recharge its battery when it’s not running. The power draw is less than .3 amps, so it’s pretty efficient. Anyway, having any kind of fan there can really make a difference when it’s hot and you don’t have hookups for AC. I think I might have actually died in Arches without this little guy, so I’m giving it a thumbs up.
This is something that has been under appreciated and taken for granted because we’ve had it from the very beginning. It’s really nice though to have filtered water all the time. We got into a system of filling and rotating water bottles on the upper shelf of the fridge. That shelf stays very cold, even on the lowest setting, so the water was always nice and refreshingly cool.
We got a water bag that we use to fill the pitcher and just lash it to the top with a Velcro strap. An important modification was the addition of one of those really big rubber bands all around the top opening, so that it forms a gasket when the top is on. That, plus the lashing with the Velcro strap, prevents water that hasn’t yet filtered down into the bottom from sloshing all over the place. It only took us three years of sloshing and wiping to figure that out.
This is proably our most mundane recommendation, but man, these frozen skillet dinners make cooking so easy. We can fit three in the freezer and that was about the right time span for shopping trips anyway. Walmart, yes I’m gonna say it because I am not pretentious, has the best selection. There are nice Bertoli pasta dishes and some good ones from P.F. Chang’s. Lots of them have frozen veggies thrown into the mix and we found them to be quite tasty with minimal prep and cleanup. The P.F. Chang’s dinners worked nicely with (we’re in full disclosure mode here) Minute Rice. Does it help at all that it was brown Minute Rice? No? Whatever. It worked for us. We have a little Thermos that we use for the Minute Rice because boiling water in a kettle and pouring it in works slightly faster and uses less propane than cooking rice on the stovetop. Which is nice when it’s already hot. And, as always, the Magma frying pan worked like a champ.
Baking Soda and Bleach Crystals
I do a sponge cloth “swooshy” of the water in the back of the shower basin before each time we pack up and move, so the bathroom normally stays pretty clean. Using a spritzer bottle with some kind of citrus based cleaner, I spray everywhere, and this mostly keeps things nice and fresh. However, for extended traveling, I found that when a little more is needed for either the floor or the toilet, Baking Soda works great. The bleach crystals were a new experiment to see if it would work on the grey tank when it started getting smelly. It did. And I like the idea of carrying dried crystals rather than liquid bleach for multiple reasons. Every once in a while, or if we notice smelly grey water dumps, I’ll pour what looks like about a Tablespoon down the shower drain and/or sink drain. I just run a little water to wash it down and that seems to do the trick. Bonus if I can time it so there’s already some grey water in there and we have to travel a little to the next dump, so it can slosh around.
This is also something we take for granted, but since Richard replaced the factory solar controller with a Sun Saver Duo, we really haven’t had to worry about charging the coffee machine battery. I realize most of you do not have a 12v standalone battery powered Italian espresso machine, but my point is, if you did have something you wanted to power with a standalone battery, this system works well to keep things charged. We do have a backup charger on hand that we can use when we have hookups, but we really only did this once or twice the whole trip. Nice.
While I’m not necessarily endorsing the specific brand name here, I will say that having something like this (or a weBoost) has been very helpful in multiple situations. Since Richard had to work during this trip, the expenditure was justifiable, as was the time and effort put into figuring out how to mount the antenna on a pole. So far, using two pieces of aluminum conduit, joined together by a standard connector, has given us enough height to be able to grab a signal even when the phones say “no service.” Of course, there are places where “no service” means just that, and no booster will help. But for most situations, we were able to boost to 3-4 bars of something, even from nothing to LTE. That’s enough for mail, or a phone call, or web access. It’s also not that time consuming to put up and take down. I’ve got strategically placed Command Hooks to route the cable, which runs through the back window. The cable fits even when the window is closed and in the “ventilation” lock position, which is good, both for security and in the event of rain.
Port Side Keder Rail
This was a good upgrade. Already, we’ve tried out hanging a piece of Aluminet or using the Pahaque Visor, and we can tell there is a difference in interior temperature getting that sunny side shaded. In fact, I like the Visor even though I don’t have the correct pole set up yet. I may have to end up getting another to go for the full Dumbo look when all we’re after is shade. Anyway, having that rail there really helps.
Fixing the Fridge Noise
This is Richard’s favorite thing right now. For three years, he has been complaining that the fridge was noisy. For three years I have blown him off saying it’s “normal.” It wasn’t. When we told Frederic Pratte about the rattle, he immediately knew there was something missing, or broken, behind the fridge to hold the compressor coils in place. It is totally silent now. Sorry, Sweetie.
This was, hands down, the most frustrating part of the whole trip. I have to admit, keeping up with the blog on the road was hard. At home, it is super easy and part of my Sunday routine after we get back. But this summer, I spent lots of time re-examining why I do this because there was a strong pull to give up. I’ll say this though: I always appreciate having done it, later. Yes, it’s my own public travel journal, and it’s how I look back and remember our trips. But it is also a resource and we find ourselves looking things up and like having it all there. And of course, I enjoy sharing it out, especially because I personally got so much out of reading other blogs, like RouteAlto80.blogspot.ca. It helps me feel connected to friends when we’re far away and I’d like to think it offers helpful information from time to time. Truly, those people who told me they appreciated the blog kept me going more than any other factor.
So I knew I wanted to keep it up. And I knew that if I didn’t write it down in pretty close to real time, it would be overwhelming and forgotten later. What I tried to do was just keep current on the writing part first and foremost. This was something that was supposed to be possible in the WordPress iPad app when there is no service and you are working offline. I even verified with tech support before we left. They were wrong, it is not. So sometimes I had enough service to connect and do the writing, sometimes I wrote in a note and pasted later, and sometimes I thought I had enough service, but it hadn’t saved, then it crashed, and I ended up losing stuff. Arf.
The photos are a whole other thing. You really need WiFi and/or an unlimited service plan to upload those. And no matter what, it’s going to be time consuming. I sort of settled on using iPhone hot spots to upload just enough pictures to tell the story. I then organized all the rest into albums on my iPhone so I would be able to find them after we got home. That part worked ok, but does not work unless there is enough service to get the pictures to WordPress. And that only happened sometimes.
What I want Richard to invent and make a million dollars from, is a truly offline version of WordPress, where I could create drafts on an iPad or laptop, don’t care what, that have a couple of pictures placed and formatted and ready to upload when I have WiFi. Then I could more easily do the formatted posts in real time, save, and upload sporadically along the way. That was what I thought I’d be able to do and it was absolutely not the case. If someone knows something I’m not understanding, please post a comment! By the way, all the photos are now uploaded. Home WiFi rocks.
Just nope. They are so pretty and have little fake flickering flames that reflect off the ceiling. But they do not get along with 100+ degrees. So sad.
I am reasonably happy with the Romance Package 2.0 LED string lights, and even added a set of blue string lights in the bathroom that can be set to blink or pulsate. Like a Disco. A bathroom disco.
General Delivery from Amazon
Richard gets all excited about the idea of general delivery, so we had several things sent after we left home. Anything mailed from a USPS post office works great (thanks Caz & Steve for mailing checks and re-issued credit cards after ours got compromised and cancelled). Things sent from Amazon usually go through UPS or FedEx and neither of those will deliver to a post office. Luckily, the box of 100 Kustom Koozies we had made got redirected to a FedEx warehouse in a location not far from the Colorado Altogather. Just good to know in the future that this doesn’t work as well as we thought it would.
We are pretty sure we’re giving up on the BAL, even with its nice pizza box storage solution. Thing is, we only ever use it in situations the Anderson Leveler can’t handle, so like really unlevel sites where you have to crank up the BAL to its highest position. This is really hard to do and Richard hates it. It is also apparently not how you are supposed to use the BAL because ours ultimately started to bend at the part of the frame that holds the giant screw thingy in place. After talking to them on the phone, they were sort of willing to replace it, but cautioned us against using it this way. So, if that’s the case, we really would not ever want to use it. Plus it’s big and heavy and awkward. And, I mean, so am I, but since the BAL is an optional member of the camping party, we’re thinking it’s out for good. If it comes down to being that tippy, we’ll just aim the downhill side so the shower water drains properly and not worry so much about whether round things roll off the table.
Maybe it’s good to have some kind of unattainable goal. Like it keeps you motivated and prevents boredom. Of all the many options out there for shade/rain/privacy/bug protection, no combination has yet spoken to me as the perfect solution. We have a Pahaque “front arc style” awning, which is great. I really do like it a lot. Its best use is privacy screening and shade. It does both of those things really well. For us, it has worked pretty well for rain too, especially with the addition of the center pole. The downsides are that it’s not super easy to put up or take down and it really blocks the view out the side windows. Also, I was in the middle of trying to make it bug proof. I think if I ordered or made a skirt to block off the underside of the trailer, it would be close to bug proof. At least, as close as is reasonable to expect. But there’s still the set up/take down/block view. And wind. Nothing is going to do well in the wind. We put up our awning a total of two times this trip, each time was at a rally with a stay of at least three nights. One of those times I had to take it down because of wind. And did I use the bug netting either of those times? No. Instead, I got bitten.
So that leads me to thinking I should get a standalone thing, like a Clam or easy up canopy thing, that is detached so it doesn’t block views and is quick to put up/take down as soon as there’s wind. But honestly, that leads me to “Meh” because I don’t really have the urge to go over and sit inside a screen house. I guess I’ll just stick with the Pahaque awning, and now the Visor, for shade or privacy. So far, I like the Visor because it does not block views and is pretty quick. Granted, I don’t yet have the correct pole setup, so I’ll report back after we’ve used it properly for a while. I could order an “old style” SC awning, but, beyond punching another hole in some Awning Frequent Purchasers Club card, it doesn’t really get me anything I don’t already have. Maybe if that could be ordered with bug netting, I’d get excited. Or maybe I need to keep working on the Permathrin clothes instead.
And that’s a wrap for now on things that stood out for one reason or another this summer. There are things we value more highly (Techimpex, rear projection system), but I’ve talked about those a lot already. I hope to never stop tweaking things though, because that is all part of the fun!