Spending 5 years on the road is a big step. Here's how we're getting started.
They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
My bug for travel was ignited as a child by National Geographic, but most recently it was Teton Sport's weekly HikerChat program that really gelled everything for us. Here were tons of people who hiked, biked, traveled, and took amazing pictures all over the world.
With a lot of encouragement from great people at Teton Sports, Seven Cycles,Tubbs Snowshoes, JPFreek, and Leave No Trace, we started to spread out from our little niche and explore. I hiked and biked the Arizona Trail. With my wife's help I biked from México to Canada.
But now it's time for us to finally take that big first step!
Part 1: The Plan
In the beginning, there was The Plan.
People always talk about 5 year plans, so my wife and I gave this one a lot of thought. We enjoyed taking trips together, seeing the wonders of nature. We just never felt we had enough time to get the most out of the stunning locations we visited. Many of my best shots have required hours and hours of waiting on light, and often re-visiting the same locations from different approaches to find the best angle.
Our goal is to spend five years adventuring together: photographing the wondrous landscapes we encounter, enjoying a leisurely pace. We'll be on the road long enough to see pretty much all of North America. This seems like a reasonable amount of time to expect our gear to last, and enough time to really be able to see what's out there.
We decided to focus on what we'd need to set up a long-term home on the road. Initially going with a hub-and-spoke arrangement around our home in Arizona, then later with chained destinations reaching ever further afield.
It was time to kick the moss off.
Part 2: The Rig
The 1900RD trailer waiting patiently
There are as many ways to travel as there are people. For us, however, we wanted something that would give us a solid base camp when we were far from home. Our first major adventures were based on bikes, Jeeps, and tents. We wanted something a bit more stable. I love bikepacking on my Seven Sola, but it's hard to actually get any work done. It's also a bit hard to be taken seriously when you look that rough around the edges.
Every RV/travel book waxes eloquent about the author's chosen rig. I'm going to spare you all that, and leap right to our checklist.
• Private toilet
• Able to be hauled behind a moderate vehicle
• Capable of accessing most major trailheads
You can find a lot of options for this, and I could certainly spend hours discussing our various efforts to find something. We researched a lot of trailers, RVs, 5th wheels, campers, and even rooftop tent options before we settled on the Keystone Bullet Ultralite 1900RD (3D walkthrough at the link). This unit is very small, but has a great feeling of interior space that wasn't offered in some larger models. It has no pushouts to break. Simplicity and function over gadgets. It is also very light and well within the tow/hitch rating for a wide variety of vehicles.
We assembled a top-10 list of models and visited all the local dealer lots to check out our initial choices and everything even similar. Our main limiting factors were just our cost and weight budget - other than that, we kept our minds open.
I can't recommend that enough. If you're not sure what you want, go visit a huge RV lot. You can walk through hundreds of models in a weekend, and you might be amazed about what you find you like/dislike. Some of the models that looked great on paper rubbed me the wrong way in person, and some of the specific features I would now consider vital weren't even obvious to me before.
For example, the panoramic seating arrangement became a must-have. The picture window with the two side windows provide natural light throughout the entire interior. It also opened the possibility of an amazing view. Many models have dark interiors and didn't appeal to us.
We upgraded the unit with 200w of roof-top solar, a well-rated 100ah AGM battery, top weight-rated tires, and a weight distribution hitch to improve safety. We'll soon upgrade the tow vehicle with a brake controller and transmission cooler (since we couldn't get our hands on a manual transmission).
2007 FJ 1st Trip
For the tow vehicle, we chose to use a 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser. It can tow 5,000 lbs with a 500 lbs tongue weight, gets around 20 MPG (unhitched), and has a great deal of interior space. We wanted something similar to our Jeep Wrangler, but able to tow a decent amount.
The trailer we bought fit well within the comfortable ratings for the FJ Cruiser, and with a few minor modifications (7 pin trailer adapter, brake controller, and transmission cooler), the truck should do a great job.
First Time Out
Everyone asks about gear lists - so here's our starting list. Be warned, we're completely new to this, so we'll update this list later to comment on it. I've provided Amazon links (from which we get a tiny benefit)
We found that we had to order items even in a very snowbird-friendly area. I was pretty surprised by the poor selection (and high price) in the local/big-box stores.
• Battery: http://amzn.to/2nReQf9
• Weight distributing hitch: http://amzn.to/2so07g7
• 4-way lug wrench: http://amzn.to/2EYxFqu
• Drill bit adapter for levelers: http://amzn.to/2CximQj
• Cordless drill: http://amzn.to/2Fkf9GM
• Surge protector: http://amzn.to/2BEVUb2 (this one has potential rain issues, I'll update on it)
• Sewer hose: http://amzn.to/2Cdf88P
• Sewer hose support: http://amzn.to/2sKe34y
• Clean water hose: http://amzn.to/2EYr6nQ
• Clean water hose pressure regulator: http://amzn.to/2sMACp2
• Clean water filter: http://amzn.to/2EWq9fv
• Leveling blocks: http://amzn.to/2ohAOYZ
• Wheel chocks: http://amzn.to/2HxB6To
• Torpedo Level: http://amzn.to/2HAU3o7 (vital, the fridge can't tolerate operating on a slope)
• 50 amp to 30 amp adapter http://amzn.to/2sKhbgO
• RV Queen sheets: http://amzn.to/2EQWc0G
• Foam topper: http://amzn.to/2CxRLlZ
• Non-electric coffee maker: http://amzn.to/2okhQ2W
• For DVDs we're transferring them to clamshells: http://amzn.to/2EWZRdb since network heavy options like Netflix and Amazon Prime are less than ideal long-term over 4G/LTE. I looked into moving them to pure digital storage, but that's a legally risky move as a US resident.