July 07, 2019

Deciding to Camper

userBy Steve Dildine user1 Comment

We literally spent years debating about whether or not we should jump on the Go RVing bandwagon. Considering everything from a giant fifth wheel to pop up tents, we have seen it all. In an effort to save you some time (even years), Steve put together a series of posts that explains why we chose campering as our preferred style of recreational vehicle. Up first in the series–Why a Truck Camper & Why a Lance 850. Take it away Steve!

My Camping Evolution

I grew up in western Washington near the base of Mt. Rainier where the forests are thick and water is plentiful. Every summer that I can remember my family would coordinate a camping trip over a long weekend and into the hills we would go, usually alongside a river. We slept in tents, ate food cooked on a Coleman stove or over a fire, swam in the river, and sat around the campsite listening to music coming out of a D-cell battery powered radio. We always stayed at campgrounds that didn’t have any fees, which also meant they were on the primitive side and there weren’t many other campers nearby. We didn’t go on hiking trails or go exploring in the woods, so to help me burn off energy and keep me from getting bored I remember always bringing my bicycle. As an only child, that bicycle was instrumental in keeping me entertained and giving my parents a break. Most often times we would go on these camping trips with other family members, so I would have cousins to play with, or sometimes a friend would come along. So when I think of camping, I always come back to these memories, not of RV’s and campgrounds with amenities. The only time I spent in an RV prior to the purchase of our own was when I was nine years old, and I went on a two week trip to Yellowstone National Park with my great-grandparents in their travel trailer. So when my wife and I decided to start camping with our kids I of course defaulted to how I grew up camping as a kid.

Our Family's Camping Evolution

We had some great trips sleeping under the stars in our tent and introducing the kids to delicious but nutrient void S’mores. We really enjoy getting away from some of the mainstream campgrounds to get a little better taste of the undisturbed outdoors. We prefer to go deeper into the forest where modern conveniences such as cell service aren’t available. We explored the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests of the Blue Mountains, the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest near the base of Mount. St. Helens, and even made a stop in the Rocky Mountains on our way to a cabin rental in Bozeman, Montana. With that being said, I don’t think my wife really ever slept at night due to fears of being a late night snack for some wilderness creature, the ground is much more forgiving on your joints when you are a kid, and going into town for lunch or miscellaneous needs can be interesting and slightly uncomfortable when you haven’t showered in three or more days and have been wearing the same clothes for just as long. Also, spring and fall bring with it uncertain weather, and there’s no guarantee you won’t get caught in a summer thunderstorm. We used to talk about how there was no need for a big RV, but we slowly started to convince ourselves that maybe it would be an idea worth exploring.

We told ourselves we could extend the camping season and our range; no more fears of being eaten as we would have a hard exterior with a locking door; and no more hygiene insecurities as we would have a bathroom with a shower. So we started looking, and researching, reading reviews, and watching YouTube videos owners had posted giving their opinions on what the best model and amenities are. As my wife had posted in her Why a Camper blog, we nearly sold ourselves on a giant fifth wheel that made our first apartment look like a shoe box. We were warned not to look at the big RV’s first because once you see that amount of space you automatically start to see smaller units as unlivable, at least with any sense of comfort. Going from that to a smaller trailer and working our way down to even smaller truck campers can make you feel claustrophobic. We lost all sense of what we truly intended to do with the camper and became focused on space and all the bells and whistles. We forced ourselves to take a step back, and really think about the places we wanted to take this new home away from home. We went back and forth between fifth wheels and travel trailers for months, actually years. We even took a tour of the Outdoors RV manufacturing plant in La Grande, Oregon. We both knew that an RV was in our future, we just weren’t sure of which type or size. However, at that time we also didn’t have a vehicle that could handle towing/hauling whichever RV we did settle on. We had an unfortunate issue with a relatively new vehicle that inevitably we said goodbye to, and hello to a Ford F350, more details on the truck in a later segment.

Decision Time

We continued camping out of the truck for another couple of years, and my wife had her packing system perfected. We also continued our RV conversations over those couple of years to the point of exhaustion: why have a gas guzzling one-ton pickup built to work and not give it a job to do? So we went over the pros and cons one final time, reviewed the budget for the hundredth time, and inked our names to a new Lance 850 truck camper. Why the truck camper? Accessibility. It’s like carrying a backpack along a trail except in this backpack you find all the comforts of home. We can get into those smaller campgrounds that are tent only; we can turn around if that forest road is a dead end or we hit a roadblock; tight turns and other traffic hazards of travel trailers are all but erased from our list of potential problems. What about the smaller space? Once you step back and give yourself some time to desensitize yourself from walking through those bigger RV’s and focus on what you are really going to use it for, the space issue fades away. Our thought process is to use it as a home base, a place to stay warm and dry when the weather takes a turn, a space to wash off and feel refreshed after a long day of activities, and to recreate and live outside of it, not to live in it. We bought new over used as my wife and I both purchase for the long term and wanted to fill it with our own memories as well as maintain and care for it appropriately.

We went with the Lance brand after researching their building methods, quality control, and customer reviews both good and bad. We made our purchase at Hill’s RV in Yakima, Washington after several discussions with owners Dwight and Mike Hill. I gave them my build sheet and they gave the best price with zero pressure to buy. In fact, I took their quote and shopped dealers all over the northwest for a better deal. Nobody could meet or beat their offer, so I called back to place my order with Dwight and he said he already sent my build sheet into the factory to be built and that if I hadn’t came back to buy it somebody else surely would have. Their service has also been exceptional. We had a small issue with the bathroom skylight leaking about a month after taking it home, and they had it fixed that weekend. To give a frame of reference, some dealerships have a significant wait time for warranty repair work. They have also been great about helping me understand some of the systems as well as troubleshooting over the phone.

Nailed it!

It’s been a year since making that purchase and we have gone on some amazing trips. We spent over 40 nights in our camper covering thousands of miles across five states. Traversing mountain tops, river valleys, and fields of farmland in between, we have been able to explore the back roads and see some beautiful landscapes. Could all of this have been done the old fashioned way, absolutely. But not having to worry about so many variables whether for your own comfort and satisfaction or that of a young family is incalculable. To say that we are happy with our decision is an understatement. With all the back and forth, indecisiveness, and second guessing to the point we almost talked ourselves out of the whole idea, it reminds me of when College GameDay was in Pullman last fall for the game against the Oregon Ducks. In the intro, Rece Davis exclaimed, “What took us so long!?” (Disclaimer: We should probably mention that we are Cougs, and that references to Pullman will pop up often.)