Category Archives: Outdoors

Home away from home

As I’ve previously posted, in the Spring of 2015 my wife and I decided to purchase a camper. In the process I did a lot of research about the towing capability of our 4Runner and the realities of owning and towing a travel trailer and simply want to add to the information that is available. There are a fair number of 4Runners in the world and it was very helpful to gain some insight from others experience by reading posts on various blogs and forums, especially http://www.toyota-4runner.org/, the place for all things 4Runner.

My wife and I camped in tents together when we were younger but as time passed my wife was less and less enamored with camping in tents so it faded away for some years. I continued to camp on many canoe trips and of course numerous Boy Scout camps when I was a Scout in addition to all of the time with my sons over the years. We have reached the stage where the kids are well on their way to being on their own so it seemed like time for my wife and I to renew camping together. We love the outdoors but sleeping in a tent gets a bit old. So we decided to get a camper to solve that problem.

Now the question was what kind of camper. There are a lot of types of campers in all shapes and sizes. We knew we didn’t want a motorhome for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was cost.  A fifth wheel wasn’t possible as we don’t own a vehicle to tow it and it would be bigger and more expensive than we needed for just the two of us. We knew we’d be towing something and given that our tow vehicle is a 2008 Toyota 4Runner V6 that left pop-ups, hard side folding campers, and travel trailers. We ruled out pop-ups and hard side folding campers as they are too small. So given our interests, budget, and towing capacity we started to look for a medium size travel trailer. Given a towing capacity of 5000 pounds for a V6 4Runner I knew we’d need to be at or less than 4000 pounds to stay below the 80% of tow capacity rule of thumb.

Thankfully here in Wisconsin we are swimming in RV dealers. There are literally 5 dealers within 20 miles of our home. The closest one was Roskopf’s RV Center so we paid them a visit to see what they had in travel trailers. As with most dealers they have a lot of campers. We went through a number of them but to large extent it was sort of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, most everything was either too small or too big but after a bit of looking we found the one that was just right, a 2015 Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB. We purchased the camper from Roskopf’s and were very pleased with the experience. Brian Roskopf provides great customer service and definitely goes the extra mile to take care of his customers.

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB

Starcraft AR-ONE 18QB and Toyota 4Runner (V6)

With a trailer largely selected there were some towing options to sort out. The hitch that is on a V6 4Runner is a Weight Carrying (WC) hitch. A Weight Distribution (WD) hitch is on V8 4Runners as they have greater towing capacity. The reason you might want a WD hitch is so that you can use a Weight Distribution Hitch with the trailer. You can’t use a WD hitch with the WC hitch. The trailer weighs 2885 pounds empty and the GVWR is 3750 pounds so that kept us below the 80% of towing capacity rule of thumb. The question was did I want to go to a WD hitch or stay with the WC hitch. I did a bunch of research , spoke to friends with travel trailers and WD hitches, and spoke to our RV dealer and it seemed as if the consensus was that changing the WC hitch on the truck out for a WD hitch and adding a WD hitch to the trailer was probably more than was required for the size of trailer and towing capacity. So we have been using the WC hitch though I have added a Curt Sway Control kit. I’m going to add a Firestone Ride Rite Air Helper Spring Kit this summer to level the truck off a bit. The hitch drops about 2 inches when the trailer is attached (empty tanks.)

Curt Sway Control kit installed

Curt Sway Control kit installed

With this setup the trailer tows very well. No hair raising moments when semi trucks pass you on the interstate. The trailer happily settles in at or near freeway speeds and cruises along. Depending upon conditions the mileage on the truck drops 5-7 MPG when towing the trailer. Our favorite place to camp is a 180 mile round trip from home. We typically get around 14-15 MPG towing the trailer. The worst has been 11.5 MPG on a trip in which the outbound portion was a particularly windy day with strong quartering head winds all the way to camp. That was a long drive. The brake controller that I chose is the Tekonsha P3 and I use Tow-N-See towing mirrors.

Tekonsha P3 brake controller

Tekonsha P3 brake controller

Starcraft figured out a way to pack a lot of useful features and comfort into an 18 foot travel trailer.

18QB interior - front

18QB interior – front

18QB interior - rear

18QB interior – rear

18QB bathroom

18QB bathroom

Happy Camper

Happy Camper

As we’ve always had an electrical hook-up we’ve not boondocked with it yet so I can’t say how long the house battery lasts. I have ran tests with an ammeter to get a sense for all of the loads in the camper. All of the lights inside and out are LED. Here are my measurements:

Device Current (Amps)
Everything off 0.020 A
Furnace 4.5 A
Water Pump 6.5 A
Water Heater 0.8 A
Outside Light 0.5 A
Bedroom light 0.5 A
Bed light 0.3 A
Sink light 0.3 A
Table light 0.5 A
Switched inside lights (2) 0.72 A
Radio 0.26 A

The camper comes with one house battery (group 24, marine crank @ 80 F: 795 A, Cold Crank @ 0 F: 550 A, Reserve Capacity: 140 A) and at some point I plan to add a second battery and a portable solar panel and charge controller once we do go “off the grid.” Tank capacity works out to 5 days. The fresh is 26 gallons, gray is 15, and black is 9. If we go into camp with a full freshwater tank, gray empty, and black with some content due to starting the toilet we can go for 5 days with each of us showering each day, using the toilet (though we will use the campground toilets on occasion), and washing dishes at least twice a day. At the end of five days black and gray indicate that they are full and fresh indicates 1/3 (the granularity of the display for the tank monitors is in thirds.) In terms of LP, through all of last camping season we used about one-half of a 40 pound tank. We typically run the refrigerator on LP for the drive to camp and then switch it to electric. We used the heat a bit late in the Fall and the stove on occasion and of course the water heater is LP and that ran a fair amount each trip.

We camped 23 days last year and are very happy with this camper. It is just the right size for two people and has just the right amount of creature comforts. You can enjoy the outdoors and have a nice place to retire to at the end of the day or wait out a rainy day.

EAA 2014

We went to EAA this year largely drawn by the fact that the Thunderbirds were going to be there.  While we’ve attended EAA a number of times over the years we’d always done it by parking somewhere that is usually a fair distance away and walking around all day.  On a typical day in the summer this makes for a very long and hot day.  This year we went with our good friend Dave.  Dave does EAA right in that he takes his 20-some odd foot camper there and sets it up for most of the week.  This provides a basecamp from which to work.  We parked in the campground parking lot and took shuttle buses to and from the main area of the event.  Dave’s camp gave us a very nice place to take a break at mid-day.  This is the way to go at EAA!

 

Dawn, Ben, and I

Dawn, Ben, and I

Ben, Dave, and I watching the Thunderbirds

Ben, Dave, and I watching the Thunderbirds

Ben with C-17

Ben with C-17

Ben and I in the Warbirds area

Ben and I in the Warbirds area

Ben, Dave, and I by the Gee Bee

Ben, Dave, and I by the Gee Bee

 

Ben at Bear Paw Scout Camp

Ben went to Summer Camp this year at Bear Paw Scout Camp.  For the first part of the week the weather was hot and humid but a cold front rolled through early in the evening on Tuesday and the rest of the week was perfect summer camp weather.

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At Bear Paw Rock

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Ben and his friend John at breakfast

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Ben and I with the Bear Paw Bear

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Campfire

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Home away from Home

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Best Camp Breakfast – Lucky Charms!

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Ben and John in their tent

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When all else fails there is still PB&J to fall back on

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Rifle shooting

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Pizza at camp

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Shooting blackpowder rifle

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Evening flags

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Shiny new medals – Ben earned his Pro-Marksman, Marksman, and Marksman First Class medals

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Ben and John

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Forestry merit badge class

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Ben and Mr. Britt

Squirrel Feeder

Squirrel Feeder

It chewed a hole through the lid of the bird seed bucket after someone left it out overnight.

Fishing 2011

Here are some pictures of an ice fishing trip on Big Cedar Lake with the boys and some friends:

Benjamin

 

Dominic

Ben with a whopper!

Dominic drilling another hole

And then later in the Spring on Pike Lake:

Ben fishing on Pike Lake

 

Dominic on Pike Lake

Dominic with a whopper!

 

Trip out West – Fall 2008

In the fall of 2008 my family took a trip out West via Amtrak.  Yes, we took the train from Milwaukee to Chicago and then from Chicago to Salt Lake City (The California Zephyr.)  Something on the order of 34 hours on a train.  It was a nice way to travel and the kids got to watch the changes in our countries geography along the way.  We really enjoyed traveling by train.  It is so much more relaxing than what passes for air travel today.

In Salt Lake City we rented a minivan and drove down to southern Utah and northern Arizona to take our kids to our favorite places.   We spent several days on The North Rim (staying in a cabin on the rim), then went to Zion, Bryce, and finally Arches in Moab.

Here are some pictures:

Entering The North Rim

At the Coconino Overlook on the North Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon

In The Narrows at Zion

My sons and I well up The Narrows in Zion

Rim-to-Rim

In October of 1998 I did a Rim-to-Rim hike thru Grand Canyon with a group of friends.  It was an outstanding trip.  Easily the best trip I’ve ever done.

Since we chose to hike from the North Rim to the South Rim we met at the South Rim and took a bus to the North Rim.  It was a long bus ride.  Something on the order of 350 miles if I recall correctly.   There is a whole lot of nothing along that drive.  That’s actually ok with me,  it’s just striking how you can drive for such a distance and see nothing but the occasional Navajo home with the traditional hogan beside it.

Once we got to the North Rim we spent the night in a couple of rustic cabins on the rim and made our final preparations for the trip.

We got to the trailhead of the North Kaibab trail at around 6:00am to start the day’s hike.  Our plan was to hike in to Phantom Ranch on day one, stay down at Phantom Ranch for day two, and then hike out to the South Rim on day three.   We had accommodations in the bunkhouses at Phantom Ranch so we only had to pack our clothing, sleeping bags, and of course lots of water.

Ready to go - North Kaibab Trail

Me at the trailhead

It’s a 14.5 mile trip from the start of the North Kaibab trail to Phantom Ranch.  You descend over one mile most of which is accomplished in approximately the first third of the trip.  The picture below is me late in the afternoon hiking in The Box.  It’s a narrow section of Bright Angel Canyon.  You walk on the trail beside Bright Angel Creek.  Because the walls of the canyon are so high and steep and it was late in the afternoon when I got there it was cool and shady and a nice change from the heat of the previous hours.  When we left the North Rim it was very cool (approximately 40 degrees F) but as we descended it got warmer and warmer until once we reached Cottonwood Campground it was very hot and time to strip off layers to shorts and T-shirts.

In The Box

The total trip down took me about 12 hours.  I was in no hurry and thoroughly enjoyed the day.  My friend Tim and I agreed that we weren’t going to stop until we reached the Colorado River so we continued past Phantom Ranch down to the river.  Once we got there we dropped our packs, took off our boots, and waded in.  The water was intensely cold but refreshing after the long day of walking.  I would not have liked to go in any further than you see in the picture though as the water was so very cold that I would have likely gone into cardiac arrest.  Phantom Ranch is 87.7 river miles below Glen Canyon Dam.  The water temperature is in the low to mid 40’s (degrees F).  This is simply amazing when you consider how hot it gets in the Inner Gorge.

Done

The next day we just relaxed and roamed about the general area of Phantom Ranch.  Here is a picture of Tim, Jeff, Tony, and I.

At Phantom Ranch