Whether you are living full time in your RV or doing just vacation travels at this point, one thing remains a constant. How to keep organized, how to fit “what you need” into a small space, how to maintain the organization you do set up.
Notice I said “what you need” NOT what you “want”. It is a hard pill to swallow- especially for those of us who have surrounded ourselves with tons of mementoes, family heirlooms, and “things” that seem to make us feel whole, cozy and satisfied in our sticks n’ bricks abodes.
My mind has been slowly but surely turning itself into preparing for that “full time mode” earnestly for at least the last 2 years. I think my grown children are still in shock that I could go from a 3000 sq ft home ( + huge storage barn) chocked with antiques, clutter and an overabundance of stuff collected for over 40 yrs of my adult life- to having all our stuff currently in a 1 bedroom 725 sq. ft. apartment!
I can credit the Marie Kondo and her KonMari method of dealing with tidying for increasing my mindfulness of living simply and with what you need rather than what you think you need/want. It becomes easier and easier to get rid of our “stuff” so it can bring pleasure, usefulness and joy to a new owner and move us ever closer to our ultimate goal of only owning what we can carry on our 8 wheels (trailer + truck) .
Am I there yet? Oh no, to be sure–when I just look around our tiny downsized apartment. We still have too much but at least right now, most of it is organized and up for sale online, or in totes marked “donate”. I try to donate a bag of clothes and/or a carton of items each week.
SO LET’S GET INTO SOME BASICS!
Some key basics of downsizing and living small that I have gathered over the past few years from fellow RVers, research and just plain living are these:
(1) Everything has a place to be stored and MUST be returned to that place immediately after use. Translation-—No more piles to be put away later– and everyone in the household must buy into this behavior!
TIP! Below is what I have done to ensure that each of us put back items used back to where they “live” for future use. Labels have especially helped remind us both what goes where! I use easy to remove green painters tape on these fabric bins (with metal frames to with hold their shape well-from Bed Bath & Beyond) this way if contents or uses change, I can easily replace with new tape labels and the painters tape does not leave any residual stickiness (at least not yet!).
(2) When at all possible items- especially in the kitchen and closet should have at LEAST 2 purposes/uses.Translation—- be creative, learn to do without to find ways to repurpose what you have rather than be lulled into marketing ploys to buy the next new gadget for your kitchen. You do not need half of the kitchen gadgets that Camping World tries to tell you that you do!
Rubbermaid waffle style shelf liner 6″ squares make great pads between dishes to prevent rattling BUT they also make great jar opening grips!
Our foldable, lidded storage ottoman’s are perfect shoes while the other holds my patio solar lights, picnic table cloth and string lights that we use each time we set camp. They are right by the door for easy access but also double as extra seating inside or outside (can hold up to 250# each) and pulled over to the sofa make great footrests or to hold a tray of snacks during happy hours indoors! Hey, great– that is at least 3 uses! Amazon link to see the ones we have. We have the charcoal grey.
A roll up dish draining rack makes a perfect extra countertop space during meal prep or plate set up. This is truly one of the best pieces of equipment we have bought in the past 8 years of RVing. I use it at least 2-3 times per DAY!
(3) Size Matters! Be aware of the sheer size of some items. Will they fit into your RV cabinets or drawers? Things might fit fine into a sticks n’ bricks kitchen cabinet or closets- but RV cabinets and closets are much smaller, often have curved back walls (like our Avions!) Translation—-Look for things that collapse, things that can nest into each other, smaller versions of household items, things are that a lower height on one end so they conform to the curve of your roof- magazine storage bins are a great example of these-just flip them around so the short side is towards your outside roof wall in those upper cabinets!
TIP: Here is a link to a great set of collapsible food storage containers that I use. I use them also as bowls per say to whip up things like tunafish, egg salad, etc. too! IMPORTANT NOTE: Square and rectangular storage containers fit far better ( than round bowls) and efficiently in refrigerator shelfs and storage cupboards!
(4) A Great Storage Idea for your Bathroom! Perhaps one of the hardest area of our Avion to store stuff in has been our bathroom. It is a side bath and therefore narrow and without the storage closet and cabinets we had in our rear-bath ’73 Avion. Our undersink cabinet has a lot of plumbing challenges, the shelve heights cannot handle normal sied bottles of shampoo, mouthwash, etc. and the vanity to the right where the hamper once had been also presents its challenges and certainly does not make items easy to get to (I store reserves of T-paper, paper towels and shopping bags when lifting up the hamper lid on the counter)
Recently, I happened upon a collapsible mesh toy storage hanging system at my local dollar store. It seemed the perfect thing to hang from our clothing rod in our shower to keep everyday toiletries, shampoos, etc. handy and in easy reach. After using it now on a 2 week trip–it has been great! Here is an amazon link to similar to what I purchased (for $3 at my dollar store!) Mine has all three openings on the same side so check out your own local dollar stores first!
(5) Become more mindful of what you use every time you go camping….AND even more importantly what you don’t!Translation—-start a bag or box of items you find you are not using—and during each camping trip put at least a few things in there to put out at your site with a FREE marked on the carton, or donate them to a local charity. Obviously the same goes for clothing- layering is the name of the game!
Hope this little article has given you some helpful tips and inspiration! Below–I have put many of our regularly used items into a helpful shared list I created on Amazon several years ago. The link is below to find that list! (note, this is not a sponsored store, we do not get any residual from any purchases you make- its there to purely be helpful!)
CLICK THIS LINK TO OUR RESOURCES PAGE, THEN SCROLL DOWN JUST A LITTLE TO FIND OUR Amazon LIST LINK!
Lets face it, you can have a great route planned, your RV all geared up, food stocked, LP topped off, campground reservations made BUT
BUT!!!! if your ride is uncomfortable, unsafe or not helping you with towing along the way—the TRIP CAN BE UNCOMFORTABLE, UNSAFE AND COULD END IN DISASTER for you, your truck and your beloved RV!
We purchased our 2011 GMC 2500 HD Denali Crew Cap truck in 2018. It had just under 28K miles and in super condition. It is a 4×4, 6 Liter gas engine with a 6-speed transmission and a 4.10 rear axle. Here is a promo video of it when it was being sold by the dealership we bought it from. It was a search on CARFAX that finally landed us our “Merlin”– so nicknamed because it was magical how our “must have list” of truck features was finally found….albeit in New Jersey! So after calling them and putting down a small refundable “on hold” deposit with a CC, we made an overnight trip to NJ from our home in upstate NY traveling 5.5 hours to arrive as soon as the dealership had opened that morning.
OVERVIEW OF UPGRADES & SYSTEMS WE HAVE IMPLEMENTED SINCE PURCHASE:(Below this list we go into each upgrade in more detail with photos, etc.)
Installed Sumo Springs Front & Rear Bump Stops, Bilstien Shocks and SuperSprings Low Leveling Metal Springs on the rear to assist with suspension and overall handling.
Installed ROCKSTAR Rear Mud Flap System to prevent rock chipping of trailer
Installed DECKED Storage System in Truck Bed to increase storage capacity
Installed Front Grill Guard to prevent excessive damage to grill and engine in case of accident or wildlife damage (affectionately called our “Moose Guard”- we live in the Adirondacks!)
Installed Class 2 Hitch Receiver to hold spare tire or front storage flat rack on the front
Installed WEATHERTECH Interior Mats to maintain carpet
Installed Window Film in Cap to provide privacy and security of stored items or if using for overnight sleeping
Purchased and use the TST brand, 507 model TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System)
Purchased and use the GARMIN RV specific GPS system
Removed our back seat, covered back panel still utilizing the seat hooks and use bungy straps to secure items we use at every camp set up (other than boondock 1 nighters at Walmart, etc.)
Still to be done before we go full time in Spring/Summer 2023: Installing a Meckman 400 AMP Alternator(to recharge our Lithium Ion Battleborn Battery system as we are driving)
LET’S GET INTO THE “WEEDS” OF THE DETAILS! we have included “where to buy” links where possible. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions you have on any of the information we have in this post!
SUMO SPRINGS, BILSTIEN SHOCKS & SUPERSPRINGS INSTALL TO SUSPENSION:
Why? We improved the ride and alleviated any “squatting” of our truck by adding additional suspension aids.
What? The old/original bump stops were old and very rough. Sumu springs have a dampening cushioning effect which takes the rough ride out of the vehicle because they are open foam and they engage softly and become firmer with weight- hence a better ride when your truck is heavy and towing a heavy trailer. We installed them front and rear. We then added the SuperSprings to the rear. They mount to the leaf springs on the back of the truck. These add support and weight carrying capacity to the leaf springs. This helps alleviate the “squat” to the truck when hooking up our Avion travel trailer. Use the link above to view the product and see a company video about these Supersprings and their application and purpose.
2. ROCKSTAR MUD FLAP INSTALLATION:
Why? After taking a long trip from our home in eastern upstate NY to MI we found a plethora of super small rock chips in the front of the 73 Avion we owned then. They happened literally the last 15 minutes of the trip. We had to go through a road construction zone where the crew was milling up the road- we were going less than 15 mph when it happened! Now with these mud flaps we get far less mud, grime, and rock chips on our precious Avion (we now own an ’87 and use a Hensley hitch which is different than the GenY hitch in photos shown)
What? We got lucky that our local auto detailer (who had rehabbed our Avion rock guard and spare tire cover) had this ROCKSTAR mud flap system for sale in his shop- so no shipping fees! He was ready to retire it from the showroom since it was a few years old. We got it for less than half the going price for the same guard system. This is the full bumper type that is installed, not just flaps screwed on. The system CAN be completely slid off and removed if desired but it is very heavy and awkward for one person to do. We have it installed by sliding it over our 2.5″ hitch receiver which a 2″ hitch insert in it-the guard is fastened to that insert and locks in place. Besides…we think it looks pretty jazzy!
Considering installing mud flaps? Please read our more in depth article that covers installation tips, etc. Read more….
We cannot say enough about this system. Yes, it is pricey, and we also paid to have it installed professionally by our local auto detailer. But we have found over and over again it is a lifesaver. It has actually increased our bed storage capacity since it covers over the wheel wells making a flat surface area to allow for more large storage totes. It’s flat surface can now even fit a double sized air mattress easily to do overnight sleeping in the truck bed very easily and comfortably- + added bonus, you are not laying on metal truck bed. The 2 full slide out drawers serve as awesome, double LARGE tool boxes-easy to pull out and access everything easily and within sight. Kevin recently purchased some of the DECKED tool boxes that are made to fit inside, this is an option but not necessary. Previously, he used other canvas tool bags, tool cases, etc. before this just fine. These drawers negates the need to have multiple tool kits packed in the truck cab or loosely flying around the storage with other RV gear. Your tools are all in one place and always quickly available-which for us is key!
Another plus of this system for security purposes, is that anyone looking into your truck bed through the windows will only see a floor. They will not see any tools (which tend to be eye candy for many). You really cannot tell that there is a DECKED system installed since the tailgate covers the drawers completely. There are also two small, easy access storage compartments on either side end of the floor top. We keep bungies, flares and other safety equipment in them for easy access.
Hey…it even has a built in bottle cap opener in the center!
4. & 5. INSTALLED FRONT GRILL “MOOSE” GUARD & HITCH RECEIVER FOR OUR SPARE TIRE:
Why? We have seen way too many front grills demolished by deer & moose hits and vehicle accidents. We live in the NY Adirondacks afterall! We also know that our full time RV life will include many areas where there are very large moose, caribou, deer, bison, etc. as well as crazy drivers.
What? In order to better protect our truck’s major asset—its engine and grill–we installed this beefy grill guard 3 years ago. We did have to remove the factory tow hooks off the front to do the install, but the grill guard has built in hooks on its beefy frame. Because the guard was heavy enough steel, we had a local welder install a hitch receiver on the front so we can now put our spare tire mount on the front. We will carry our bikes on back of the Avion. We actually have found the weight added by the grill guard and the spare tire has helped to equalize our our truck’s weight distribution especially when hooked up to the Avion and its tongue weight.
Bonus! This front grill guard also makes a dandy beach towel drying rack!
Here is a link to one we found that is very similar to ours on Amazon
6. Installed WEATHERTECH interior mats
Why? Let’s face it, as RVers we spend a lot of time in our vehicles in all sorts of weather, juggling all sorts of drinks, snacks and foodstuffs while plying the highways and byways of our country.
What? Our local auto detailer loves us! We purchased these from them as well after carefully reviewing a whole lot of online sources and reviews. These mats are molded and custom fitted to this model year-they fit perfect, do not slide around and are so easy to remove to hose off. They protect our carpet from dirt, grime, stains, mud, snow, ice, etc. Once we go full time in Spring 2023 this truck will be our home, this will be our everyday, only vehicle. We want to do the best we can to maintain its condition and cleanliness.
We installed this film early on after purchasing our truck. We used household window privacy film purchased at Lowes. It was very easy to use and install. We have found that since the side slide windows have built in screens- we have not been able to install it there as the screening is unable to be removed easily. We thought this was going to be an issue however, now that we have put in our big black totes (with yellow tops from Lowes/Home Depot) they essentially block any views in from these side windows. What you see is black tote side- so hence not really an issue anymore. To date we have only covered the two odd sized large side windows in film for privacy when/if we sleep in the bed overnight or to provide some security of goods we have in the back. We have NOT covered the back window yet because we still keep some totes out of the bed and can use the rear view mirror in cab to view rear when not hitched up. Once we go full time and the back truck bed is fully loaded we may also install a limo film over all the windows.
Link to Lowes- the actual film we used. There are many other great design options available. Just be aware some are more transparent than others which may not give you the privacy you may want.
Note- even though this is sold as household window film we have had excellent results using it in our truck bed cap. It has held up well, no fading, peeling or failure due to swings in weather temperatures, etc.
8. TST Brand, Model 507- TIRE PRESSURE MONITORING SYSTEM
Another key safety factor (has saved our butts twice in just the last 2 yrs) is getting a Tire Pressure Monitoring System. We have installed the monitors on BOTH our Truck AND our Avion Travel Trailer. Some only install on their trailer. In our opinion that is insufficient, as evidence by, on a trip out to Indiana from upstate NY we got a signal our rear passenger side truck tire was losing air. As it turns out, the valve stem had gone bad. It was 9 PM at night and luckily we were on an interstate highway that had a large truck stop and the shop is open essentially 24/7 to assist truckers. We limped in before our tire became too flat to travel-thanks to the TPMS warning! It was fixed in less than 15 minutes and we were on our way.
Here is a great vendor (TechnoRV) that we have purchased other equipment from. The link below is a current model, similar to what we have but with some improved features:
Note- When we purchase new tires (we do at least every 5 yrs regardless of miles or condition) we will then order a new, current model TPMS system and we will be purchasing the type of sensors that are “internal sensors” that are mounted inside the rims, then the new tires are mounted and balanced-making the sensors less susceptible to weather conditions, with more longevity and less maintenance.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE:If you purchase the type of sensors that mount on the tire valve stems–Due to the extra weight that the actual screw on monitors make onto valve stems it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you switch out stock valve stems(rubber/plastic which even over time crack and degrade due to weather, sun, salt, etc.) with metal valve stems. It is not a big deal but will greatly enhance the longevity of the system all around.
Presently, we remove our sensors after every camping season and store in our house since we store our trailer over the winter months. We replace with new batteries in each sensor at least every other year to ensure they are fresh and sufficiently charged. The monitor sensors come with a little locking clip that is used when they are put on and removed- this prevents theft for the most part. Our system is about 4 years old now and we may replace with a newer bluetooth wireless type before going full time- but ours is working fine. We have run the wire cable in the cab of our truck and Kevin prefers to keep it on his side of the dash when driving- I am responsible for the GPS and monitoring road grades, etc. on my side of the dash.
*You can also opt to have the sensors actually installed inside your tires if preferred. Currently, we like having the option to take them off in winter months when trailer is not in use for right now but may do the internal application once we go full time. Afterall, you should be replacing your tires every 5 years anyway.
9. GARMIN GPS SYSTEM ( OR OTHER GPS SYSTEMS)
We happen to have a Garmin GPS RV System- there are multiple screen sizes available now . It is about 4 years old and hopefully newer models have better voice command and display features. For our needs it works for now. We will tell you we do not always rely solely on this system and Luise will often be running her Google Map directions on her cell phone simultaneously especially when in more urban areas where it is easier to use the search feature quickly. Please do NOT rely solely on Google Maps when towing your RV! An RV GPS is programable to your trailer’s height, length, weight and width and the routing will steer you onto roads you can do. We live in the northeast where there are lots of old bridges and tunnels with weight limits and low heights from RR overpasses, etc. Google will send you down a virtual rabbit hole!
We have found our model of Garmin is very POOR in the audio command module. “She” rarely understands our most basic commands by voice and it is extremely frustrating (hence using Google on cell phone instead to ask quick search functions). This model Garmin also really in our opinion requires a passenger to use while on a trip. There are many times where Luise will need to scroll through settings to find things we are looking for and also to toggle between showing map and the split screen of Map/Road Grade features if we are on exceptionally hilly/mountainous terrain. Our model is one that handles truck/RV settings. This is very important! You must preset the parameters for your trailers height, weight, width, and length in order to have the system run best and safely for your towing needs.
*The grade feature really came in handy on our trip on the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkways through the Shenandoah Mountains in 2021. Using the grade setting showing gives you some very good advance notice of when there will be significant climbing or downward grades allowing some preparation. Plus its really fun to see just how high in elevation you are at any given point on your trip!
On the second photo above you will see where we are using the setting that shows a photo image of an exit ramp driving view which we really like especially when coming up on multiple lane intersections or ramps. It gives the driver a clear vision of which lane you should plan to be in. It is nice when this works, but not all exits have been photographed to show this feature in our experience. When a photo is not available, a closeup of the exit ramp or intersection in graphic form will show up on that right side of screen.
Below is a good photo showing the road grade & elevation visual on the right side of the screen. You have the ability to spread out this graph based on how far in advance you want to see it by miles. We have it condensed so what you are seeing is probably the next 10-15 miles (yes, we went from over 5K elevation with a peak grade of 21% grade to a low of 1700′ elevation of 3% grade with a few mountain peaks in between on the Blue Ridge Parkway!)
10. RECAPTURING SOME STORAGE IN TRUCK CAB- REMOVING REAR SEATS
Removing our back crew cab split bench seats are a bit of a consternation for us. On one hand we would like them to transport grandkids when/if they camp with us or taking guests with us into town, etc. on a day trip. In truth, those occasions are very rare and we suspect that once we go full time, it may only happen a couple times a year. In reality, gaining some amazing storage back there that is super easily accessible on a daily basis has won out- at least for now. We removed the split seats (may put one back in since we typically will only have one grandchild at a time camping with us). Along the back wall of the truck cab, Kevin installed a 1/4″ sheet of luan type board sheet to encase the back but allowed the U shaped bench seat hooks (that hold the seats in place) and these are what we use to hook bungy cords to. Stored in this space we can put items that we use a nearly every 2+ night camp. This includes; our 2 folding recliners, 2 everyday chairs, a folding table, our large cooler and a small cooler for drinks, a first aid and emergency roadside kit and bag of snacks for the roadtrip. We have found it very handy to have this space available- especially if we have set up camp and/or plan to be away from camp for the day, or it starts to pour rain and we want to get our chairs and small Weber gas grill inside and under cover quickly! (Has happened many times!) Once camp is set up and this above equipment is set outside, this space in the truck also provides a great place for us to store our Ebikes folded up safe and sound.
Campground Review: We traveled to this FAM camp enroute to the annual Silver Avion Fellowship Rally in Elkhart, Indiana from our home state of NY in July 2022. We had never been to the site before, reviews were full of pro’s and con’s but we had decided we wanted to experience as many FAM camps as possible on our travels.
Why FAM CAMPS? FAM camps provide added security (you must go through gate checks and have specific military clearances to get onto the bases), and they often have gas stations, commissaries and exchanges where groceries and other goods can be purchased easily and sometimes less expensively too. Cost wise, they are typically on par or a little less than area private campgrounds- but sadly they often offer far less amenities along with that lower price.
Access and the Area: We did have to venture slightly out of our normal interstate highway route to reach this campground. RT 11 was a beautifully maintained and constructed highway and a true pleasure to drive compared to I-90! As far as what is in the area…not much. We did do a day trip ride to the nearest Amish community of Mesopotamia which boasts a cute historic general store, vintage gas station still in operation, town green and huge handmade horse and buggy sculpture- but nothing else. That was about a 50 minute ride through farm country. We also went south through Youngstown to visit the Magic Tree Pub which was a great restaurant featuring an amazing on site baked huge pretzel and a variety of hearty dips. It was worth the trip!
The Base Itself: The base itself is an Air Reserve Base, quite small and by far the smallest one we have seen. There are NO services to speak of on base as one would expect. No Commissary, No Exchange, NO onsite gas stations. Just a very small quick mart of sorts that was even very limited compared to off base ones. They did not even sell bagged ice. There were no barber shops on base, we had to go to a local mall about 20 minutes away.
Reservation Staff: The gentleman running the FAM camp was certainly personable enough and did well with pre arrival communications, etc.. He was friendly and efficient.
Base Gate: Using main gate, there is a visitor check in building to the direct right. Our recommendation is to pull forward into the right hand lane of the gate as if you were going through. But stop! The visitor check in building has a very small parking lot and not good for RVs to turn around in to get back out to the gate entrance. Our guard allowed us to park our rig there so we were not blocking the other entrance lane. We walked through the fence gate to the right to the check in building to get our ID check and credentials printed. Kevin’s is easy as he has his military credentials, I have to get special paper pass which must be on my person at all times and shown each time with his military pass if you come and go off the base. All good and off we went to the campground itself AFTER checking in with the FAM Camp staff office. They will give you the base pass to be kept in your vehicle windshield as well. Parking to get into the FAM camp office is BAD! Thankfully we arrived when the parking lot opposite his office building was pretty empty and we were able to navigate around in it and park and get back out. There is no shoulder to park on the road and no where by the FAM camp office building near the main gate to park either. Read the instructions sent to you in an email about checking into the FAMcamp office.
The CAMPGROUND PRO’s:
Rate: Our Stay was at a rate of $15 per night for FHU asphalt paved site, pull through. Super cheap for FHU. All services worked fine, decent water pressure, no issues with power or sewer.
Onsite Bath House: at the end of the FAM camp as you approach the sites so not super close but easy quick walk. Super clean, air conditioned, newer building for sure. Showers were clean, private and well maintained. There is a small library shelf as you enter the building- what is there is what folks have left and it was very minimal. There is a dumpster at the rear end of the campground near the metal storage building.
Quiet & Friendly: with the exception of one plane leaving at about 8:30 AM our last morning we heard nothing from the base airplanes, etc. As soon as we arrived we did have two different folks come up who where walking their dogs. They were chatty and friendly and welcomed us. Others waved from their rigs over the course of our stay. This camp is used by DOD civilian contractors as well as military. Some clearly are there for long stays, one camper had a cover on it.
The campsite area itself:
No Useable Patio: The site itself where the RV is was paved but the “patio” is nothing more than chunked up road debris rubble full of asphalt chunks (sharp), gravel and sand. It was horrible and even with our small patio rug down I could feel the chunks of asphalt through my sandals-even after I had (by hand) thrown a lot of the larger chunks to the side. There were some areas of grass along the site but that was not the designated patio areas.
No picnic tables, no grills or fire pits (do not think the latter are allowed anyway)
Camp host?? It appeared the first pull through site MAY have been a camp host as evidenced by permanent looking structures, on ground large heavy blow up pool, a 28+ foot boat (covered up) on their pull through drive and lots of stuff all over the grassy area and asphalt pull through. We did not see or was greeted by a host. We did see one fellow on a golf cart drive around 1 time during our stay but he did not stop, wave or anything. Interestingly the rules of the campground specifically call out NOTHING is to be placed on the grass at the campsites. Ha ha.
Lack of Privacy: The pull through sites are close together. The back in sites have a little more room and grass around them. There are no trees, no bushes, no landscaping. You are essentially camping in an open parking lot.
No base services/amenities: As previously mentioned above, there are no other services on the base, no commissary, no exchange, no barber, no gas, not even bagged ice. No pool, movie theater, etc. like larger bases may have.
Would we stay again? Quite frankly, no we would not unless there was some very compelling reason we had to be directly in this area. There are way more FAM camps that offer more-even if you pay a higher premium to camp.
We are members of the national RV club called “Escapee’s”. This year, their national rally was held at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon, TN. We have been members of the club for 4 years and had yet to get to attend one of these rallies since they have been out west and with Luise working up until Jan 2020 we could not get the needed time off to attend.
This time, on the east coast albeit 994 miles away we made the decision to go despite crazy gas prices ranging from $4.40 to 5.00 per gallon! Were we nuts? Probably, but now that we have the time to travel for 4 weeks at a clip—the event would be fun and we built in a return to our beloved Smoky Mountain National Park and a swing through PA, Amish Country OH, Mammoth Cave, KY and WV which we had stops we wanted to see. * We will be publishing specific reviews on each of the campgrounds we stayed at in the future so be on the look out for these and subscribe to our blog so you get notifications of all new articles and reviews! Thanks!
Here is a breakdown of our total trip costs, miles driven, gas consumption and all those other costs of the trip if you wish to see it. TRIP COST SUMMARY
OUR TRIP ITINERARY:
JUNE 1, 2022– leave mid afternoon, pit stop at the Seneca-Iroquois Museum in Salamanca, NY for a visit then late evening Boondock Kanona Rest Area on RT 86 Westbound in Bath, NY. Wilkins RV center is just across the highway. Good overnight stop. Link to info on rest area.
JUNE 5-6: 3 nights @ Timbercrest Campground, Walnut Creek, OH (OH Amish Country) Fun Shopping, Ft. Laurens Historic Site, zoar historic village. Not much to campground for price. We loved the Amish food grocery shop at Walnut Creek and the Sugar Valley Meat Market was awesome! Location of campground was good, but would stay elsewhere in future as there are more options in the area with better facilities/shade/walkable to shops, etc. More to see on a future trip for sure! Campground Link.
JUNE 9-11: 3 nights@ Wilmington Thousand Trails (TT) Campground, Wilmington, OH. We are TT members so stay for FHU was free. Great pool and hot tub! Visited the Airstream Museum and Factory TOUR and Store, nice! Originally planned to visit Cincinnati but concerns over parking our large truck and over 1 hr drive changed our minds. Huge flea market down the road on Sat/Sun. was great with indoor and outdoor stalls, 100’s of them! Great campground, site # 24 was perfection! (PS- if you can stay at Wright-Patterson FAM camp, the Airstream museum is also easy day trip from there too-we just ran out of time!)Campground Link and the Airstream Museum Link. The Factory tour is worth the time, about 2 hours and well done. Research the schedules though as some days its only one time per day so you want to time your visit appropriately.
JUNE 12-18: 6 nights@ Mammoth Cave NPS Campground, Mammoth Cave, KY. Amazing and perfect site #93 with FHU (91 & 93 are only FHUs) , concrete pad and patio, convenient to all. Day tripped to Nolin State Park Reservoir for swimming. Did Extended Historic Cave Tour which is a must do! Love the little town of Horse Cave. Visited National Cave Museum and the Hidden River Cave in Horse Cave, both worth the visit. Beautiful area!! Campground link
JUNE 19-24: 5 nights@ ESCAPADE RALLY hosted by national Escapee’s RV club, Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon, TN. Very close to Nashville but not our gig, so we kept primarily busy with attending seminars, meeting fellow members, social activities, live music and many sponsored happy hours by RV manufacturers, trade show and more. Never heard of the Escapee’s RV club? Check out these benefits and join our new specialty “Birds of a Feather” group (BoF) of Escapee members just for Vintage & Classic RVs (RVs 25 yrs or older). Kevin and I just started it after the rally and it has been sanctioned by the national board of directors of the club! You must be an Escapee member to join the VC-BoF.
JUNE 24-25: 2 nights @ Ripplin’ Waters RV Campground, Sevierville, TN Right on the main access road to all that is Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville. We really enjoyed our ride through the famous Cade’s cove, had a Black Bear Encounter in the Cove and did a mountaintop drive for about 11 miles on a one way mountain ridge route-never saw another vehicle. Near the campground is a Flea market just down the road on weekends, the Veteran’s Store in Pigeon Forge on the strip is a must do for any Vets, dined out at Tony Gore’s BBQ (probably walkable from campground) and rested from rally. Enjoyed their pool. Probably would not stay there again though since there are many other options in the area. We were at site 43. Campground Link
JUNE 26-29: 3 nights@ Campfire Lodgings, Ashville, NC. Beautiful mountain top edge site #2. Site #4 or 5 are best for sunset views but they also have a wonderful social gathering area with benches and chairs so all can get best view of sunsets each night. We enjoyed ooohing and ahhhing with fellow campers! FHU with concrete pad and patio. Pricey but worth it. Convenient to Biltmore and downtown Ashville is about 15 minutes away-which is very artsy, great restaurants, shops, galleries. No other campground amenities but nice very private bath facilities with showers, and nice laundry. Will stay again for sure! Steep one way access road to get to mountain top location- no early entry! Campground link.
JUNE 30: Boondock, Walmart along RT 81 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Yeah we could finally put WV on our state travel map as having overnighted in the state. PS the 1 state rest area in WV on RT 81 is very small, busy and noisy. Go another few more miles and find this Walmart right off the highway and park broadside near the tree buffer at far end of the parking lot. Tons of walkable restaurants in adjacent parking lots. We have bookmarked this Walmart for future stays if passing through.
JULY 1: Long day, 9 hours of driving home (see our note about being flexible with travel plans below) with a pit stop at Cabela’s in Hamburg, PA our usual stop (and sometimes boondock stop). Not nearly as good as it used to be, since they were bought out by Bass Pro Shop they have reduced their footprint with no in house restaurant, the discount “cave” is gone that had great finds sometimes and their inventory is reduced, no more little cabins outside, kayaks galore, etc. its too bad really. But we still like the stop AND they still do have a dump station and rinse out if you need it. There is also a Camping World just across the street a bit for any needed supplies in their store. We chugged it home and were pulling in by the evening hours.
Total miles driven (by Kevin- bless him! I do drive on interstates when the traffic is lighter- this trip the traffic was horrible!) 3287 Miles
Total Gallons of Gas: 368 Fuel Cost: $1636.38 Average of $4.44 per gallon (southern states definitely cheaper- KY being the cheapest)
Reminder…..For more details on our overall cost categories including food, activities, dine out, camping fees, see the link to document summary above.
Map of our Trip: (we use RV Trip Wizard for our planning and love it.)
What did we learn along the way?
The highways are super busydespite super high gas prices! We cannot wait till full retirement and hitting the roads west of the Mississippi River!
We definitely like to stay 3 nights at any one campground if there is any thing remotely interesting to do in the area. It gives you the chance to unwind from driving, at least one solid day of exploring and then a day to putter, clean and prep for new adventure.
If a campground has a pool AND hot tub it is definitely worth the extra miles or cost to enjoy especially if you have been doing a lot of long driving days. Serves as a great sub for a shower too!
The use of arear view camera to see what is going on behind you is really important, especially on the east coast where traffic is so nuts.
Truckers in the south head into rest areas earlyin the day and do not leave till late morning. Get to a rest area early if you want a spot but try to find something other than truck stops- there are a lot of trucks these days that need those spots more than you do!
We will be purchasing a plug in cooler before too long. What we had to spend on bagged ice was ridiculous, about $150 for the month…..melted into water!
When camping in 98 degree heat and 90% humidity, in an open field (our rally) be sure you have put Reflectics on the windows, run a dehumidifier and keep your AC running on low all the time and kick it up to high when you are in the rig.
Be flexible with your travel plans. Originally we planned to head to Huntsville, AL and the US Space & Rocket Museum/Campground but this would have been a one way down and back between our Rally and NC campgrounds and so due to gas expense we cancelled it and booked into Sevierville a day earlier instead. Ditto, due to some maintenance issues on our RV that were needed before our trip in mid July to IN we cancelled stays over at Natural Bridge KOA in VA, Caledonia SP and Hershey TT in PA on the way home. Kevin drove a 9 hr day but with breaks to stretch was not that bad. Our original plans were not to be home until July 3. You need to be flexible with travel!
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We always appreciate your feedback too so please leave a comment, or perhaps you have other info for any of these stops or locations we visited that would help future travelers!
A useful quick guide to getting support from fellow Avion Owners !
In this article:
Tips for finding and using online Facebook and other Avion Owner Forums,
6 Basic Tips for New-to-You Avion Owners,
Links to Avion Rally Event Sites,
Resource lists including a printable “check list” for setting up to camp and preparing to tow your Avion.
At the end of this article we have a great downloadable/PDF document we are happy to share with you- “Our Avion TAKE OFF & LANDING Camp list”. We have also includes links to Avion Facebook and Rally Event groups and also links to several of our other blog posts and videos to help you out on your new journey as an Avion owner!
The great news is, you have taken the first step to buy what we all concur is one of the most iconic designs and best made campers ever–AN AVION!
Of course, owners of other vintage campers will tell you theirs is the best- we have to politely disagree! LOL.
We know it can feel pretty overwhelming!
Where to start?
What questions to ask and to who?
It’s not like you can call up an Avion Dealership anymore right? (click hereto see what we feel is one of the best and most up to date articles on the Avion History. The article is published by the non profit national vintage trailer/RV club called The Tin Can Tourists (TCT)- which by the way you should join, its very cheap ($25 p/yr/2022) and the club hosts rallies around the USA and has great resource info, newsletters, etc.) There were 18 Avion’s at the TCT Michigan Rally in 2019!
How to determine just what needs fixing and what does not?
Are there ways to connect to other Avion owners with experience?
What is super important is that you have purchased an Avion and there is a huge Avion Family out there rooting for you and there to help! If you are also brand new to the world of RVing and camping- we definitely have your back! There…do you feel better already? Hope so!
DID YOU KNOW?
We AVION OWNERS rock!!
SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE: oh yeah!!!! We are SOCIAL! 🙂
There are no less than 5 online Facebook Pages solely dedicated toAvion travel tips, repairs, buy/sell forum and general owner share pages? Hey there is even a FB Avion owners group to exchange Christmas & Holiday Cards with each other! There are Avion Rally groups too!
YES! and each of them has some overlap but each has its own purpose too—so we suggest you ask to join ALL of them. I have posted the links to each of them at the end of this article.(sneaky huh…I want you to read on first!)
AVION INSIDER TIP: while each of the Facebook group pages do have their own generalized specific purpose- sometimes you may have a post that is worth sharing/posting on all the FB pages- that’s OK, but my personal recommendation is to use that “broadcasted ” share sparingly. WHY? well most of us Avion owners do belong to all of the FB groups so if we start seeing every one of your posts like 4 times in our feed we may start to tune you out a bit. So, in my opinion, be selective.
If you have something to sell, put it on the sell page group first.
If you have a repair question, post on the repair/restoration page first- wait for answers, if none after a week- then go ahead and post on the two Avion owners group pages to cast a bigger net.
if you have some great travel tips, campgrounds or general info to share- post it on one of the “owners” themed pages
An exception to all this is if a piece of info you have is “time sensitive” for example a new rally announcement, or rally registration reminders or God forbid you are traveling and stuck with a breakdown–you should definitely should be broadcasted on all pages!
Here is a great example of the above:
TRUE STORY! In 2018 Kevin and I were doing just a nice Sunday drive just over the border into western VT from where we live. We decided to check out some campgrounds for future stays. Lo and behold one had a wrecked Avion in its back storage yard. It had an intact rock guard and we wanted a spare!! I posted out on all four FB pages from the campground parking lot in VT asking fellow Avion owners if a rock guard from an 84 would fit our 73? Within 3 minutes I had folks responding that it would! We borrowed tools from the campground owner and drove away with our spare rock guard treasure!
Again, just my opinion to be selective on what you post where. I think it better supports each of the group pages in their own right to exist if you post questions etc. on the Facebook page that best suits your question or information-however, some Avion owners do choose to put 90% of their general posts on all the page groups-and that works for them so its ok by me too! We’re all easy to get along with!
REMEMBER—WE ALL HAVE BEEN NEW, FIRST TIME AVION OWNERS AT SOME POINT!
Based on a plethora of posts made by fellow Avion owners who have all been in your shoes (a brand new owner) at one time or another here is a short list of what we have seen as recurring tips, suggestions and worthwhile bits of info for brand new Avion owners!
6 BASIC TIPS TO GET YOU STARTED:
(1) Take your time!!!! Do not rush to completely gut the inside and start from scratch. Live with the interior a little (unless totally ruined by mold or deconstructed already). Mr. Clean Magic Sponges, Awesome Spray Cleaner (at dollar stores) are great for cleaning interior walls and ceilings. Howard’s Restor-A-Finish is excellent for reviving cabinetry.
We have seen so many people go for the complete gut job only to run out of steam, money or time and have to forfeit their RV dreams and sell their now gutted rig (less of a resale market!)
(2) If you do decide to gut the inside of the trailer, put the cabinets, etc up for resale on one of the facebook sites and/or on Ebay! There are 1000’s of fellow Avion owners always in the market for Avion parts, door handles, locks, windows, hinges, and hardware-no matter how small and insignificant it may seem all are in demand. Cabinet trims, lights, cabinet pulls, louvered doors, sinks, tub bases, mirrors, etc. all have a chance at a new life in someone else’s Avion. Please try to recycle rather than take it to the dump. These items are NOT made today and many are irreplaceable!
(3) Give your baby a bath-But Do It Right! You know how good you feel when stepping out of the shower or after a nice warm tub bath! Your Avion will feel the same! BUT—there are definite do’s and don’t to bathing an anodized all aluminum body camper! Once your Avion is clean you will have a better idea of condition. Please listen to our instructional podcast first before doing your first wash down!
(4) Secure from the Top Down! Just like a sticks ‘n bricks home, your roof condition and ongoing roof maintenance is vital to the longevity of your Avion. First on your agenda of “to do list”, after a first bath, should be repairing all the exterior (side and roof) seams, and ensuring that the roof seams, places where vents, A/C, etc are on the roof also have good seals to prevent water penetration in between your exterior and wood interior.
(5) Install a Deadbolt Lock NOW! Time after time we see the tragedy of a door swinging open while and Avion is being towed or camped in a super windy location. Reminder, these doors are not being made anymore! The old, original Bargman locks are nice but they do NOT provide enough security to keep latched. Avion’s have a certain amount of flexing of the aluminum body that happens when being towed. We and many other strongly recommend installing a deadbolt lock in ADDITION to your door handle lock. We also bungy cord ours It is safer for you when camping inside and certainly safer for your door when trailer is being towed.
(6) Reseal and Secure Window Seals if Cracked, Missing or Falling Off! Just like the exterior seams, the windows in many Avion’s that have not been maintained properly have seals that have failed. Many times, the seals have pulled away from the corners and where spliced. This is another major area where leaks happen. On a priority list, windows rank right up there with exterior side and roof seam repairs. It can feel daunting to do, but with practice, it can be done in a couple weekends. Good news is, once they are redone, you should not have to muss with them for at least 5-8 years or more!
Read our blog post on how to do, tips, resources for where to get materials to replace the seals.
As promised, here are valuable links just for you!
Below is our “Take Off & Landing” Checklist. You can download and print it out to carry with you too! Bear in mind, depending on the specific equipment you may have – some of the steps we outline may be a bit different. Use this checklist as a general guide to help you practice the art of setting up a camp and breaking down your camp and hitting to road accordingly.
ONLINE FORUM PAGES:There are a couple of active online FB forums that have great resources and people in them. Just another platform to look for answers and post questions! See we are all in it to win it and help! these are by subscription, so you will need to ask to join!
SilverAvion.com(I believe this is a static site now but has excellent resource material and links to manuals for various years, etc.)
DEDICATED AVION FACEBOOK PAGES:
Use the simple search of “Avion trailers” on social media and you will be amazed! here are some that we belong to and comment in fairly regularly on Facebook: (note, most if not all of these are monitored very well and do require you request to join)
These are facebook group sites so again, ask to join. Many of us travel to these rallies from all over the USA. You can be a member of for example the Texas group but live in NY (like us!) Avioner’s know how to have fun, learn together and break bread—so come to a rally!! Check out our post on the Indiana Rally we have attended for years now! Read more….
One of the first things anyone says when they visit us in our Avion is how “homey” it feels, comfortable, cozy and not sterile like many “off the lot” modern RV’s today.
Often, the next question we get is…
“it must take you a long time [when setting up camp] to put out all of these décor items (some would say clutter or chachkies! ) and knickknacks and then store them all away again”.
Actually—no! Everything you see in our coach stays in place where it is displayed. I do not have to move anything except dish soap bottle on the kitchen counter, our authentic cuckoo clock, and the soap dispenser in the bathroom!
In the photo above you will see I have opted to keep the upper and lower curtain rails in place and just have narrower side curtains. These curtains are wide enough to create privacy for the curved front windows when the center pull down shade does the rest at night. Notice I use the bottom curtain rail to store some things during travel time too! ( I DO take down the white vintage ’70’s swag lamp and it sits in the left corner of the front counter when we roll down the road)
HERE IS A QUICK LIST OF TIPS & PRODUCTSI USE TO KEEP THINGS IN PLACE IN YOUR RV—EVEN WHEN TOWING DOWN THE ROAD!
A 6″ wide shelf behind the sofa creates a great storage space with metal framed fabric bins!
The photo above shows three of the five storage bins I purchased at Bed, Bath & Beyond in 2021. They have a wire frame for durability and are perfect for storing those things that we use routinely when traveling including: TV and other remotes, LED lanterns and flashlights, Binoculars, Travel Journal, Travel brochures, etc. and a vase of artificial flowers I often put outdoors on our dining table. We are still able to pull out our jack knife sofa when we have guests staying over. * I left about 5″ in between two of the bins. This is where I tend to put my beverage water bottle or travel mug of coffee when relaxing on the sofa when we are set up at camp. Source, 2021
Using forms of “anchor” putty’s to hold things in place are perfect for RVs. Read on to read ‘my reviews’ on three products I have used.
The photo slideshow above shows various items in our RV we leave out and do not move during towing. Things like a ceramic beer stein with flowers that sits on our front kitchen counter, our mid-century modern looking table organizer (link) with a vintage 70’s table lamp and other items set in place. In our bathroom, my mother’s china cup and saucer- now a home for a gnome sits on our bathroom vanity and back in the living room/salon even our faux “stag head clock” in our living room–all stay out and stay put every day we travel.
We have clocked multiple trips over 3000 miles each, up mountains of 17-24% grade roads to 5K elevations (and back down) as well as dirt roads, washboard roads and surviving way too many roads with pot holes and frost heaves!
Review of THREE putty brands I have used: and my recommendation!
Quake Hold (Museum Putty)
This is my “GO TO” product! It is great and what I have used successfully on the ceramic beer stein, the gnome in the tea cup, the dinette table shelf organizer and our faux (plastic but very real looking) stag head wall clock. I also put this behind each corner of any framed pictures I put up on picture hooks. It keeps the pictures level and keeps them from potentially swinging and marring stained walls or wallboard.
Pro’s: Terrific holding power, re-useable, no smell, no staining on walls. Holds up well under all interior temperature conditions we have been in so far (-10 to 95 degrees). It allows you to remove items from their hold by twisting and pulling at the same time. You will truly be impressed by how secure it makes things and how hard you have to twist/pull to release its hold. I have not had any issues with its color staining any surfaces.
Con’s: it is a light off-white in color )they call it “neutral”- so it is not completely invisible when used under items. You can see this from my photos as little white stuff sticking out from underneath Honestly, it is really hardly noticeable. Through trial and error I have found the best holding power is when you allow some of the putty to be on the outside of the edge of your item as well as underneath for those items that sit on flat surfaces. For framed photos, etc. held vertically you do not need to do that. I simply put pea sized blobs under each frame corner.
Rock N’ Roll Clear Gel Putty
As the packaging says, this GEL is really only for glass and china type stuff. They do also now make a putty similar to Quake hold but I prefer the quality of Quake Hold better. I have tried this Rock N Roll Gel and found it does not hold as well as the Quake Hold. Also a real ‘con’ is that this stuff MELTS when your rig gets hot inside (aka if you are away for the day not using AC/or when stored at home when not camping and temps rise above 80 degrees. Source* (*note, this is not where I purchased from so I cannot validate reputation of online source)
Pro’s: it is clear, highly pliable. Does work well on glass or mirror items (not sure how many of us have crystal figurines on display in our RV’s though)
Con’s:It melts when temp inside RV gets hot. It melted and puddled under some items on our dinette table. Does not do well on vertical applications in my experience. (yes, I tried to use it behind corners on picture frames, only to find it melting and running down my wall one summer day!- ugh) Because of its propensity to melt, I no longer recommend this for RV use.
Museum Putty Wax
I have used this on a variety of surfaces from metal to wood to ceramic and it does work but I find it not as convenient as the white putty Quake Hold above- nor does it have the same holding power for heavier things, especially those made of wood and/or sticking to a wood surface.
Pro’s: it is somewhat clearer and less conspicuous when used than Quake Hold putty. It does a decent job of holding not too heavy items. Somewhat easier to twist/pull items you need to reposition. Does not stain finishes.
Con’s: Due to its consistency, I find it harder to get out a blog from the container- I use a bottle cap with its serrated edges to dig into the container to get out sufficient for use. It is simply too hard to dig any out with your fingers. It is a wax base and therefore may also have a tendency to melt in hotter environments. For this reason I would not recommend a vertical application either. In my experience it does not work well on wood items but works ok on plastic, ceramic and glass.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST….WHAT TO DO WITH “RUN-AWAY” PAPER TOWELS!
How many times have you opened the door of your RV after a day of travel to find your paper towels have unrolled and are strewn across your kitchen floor?
These ARE THE ANSWER!
Viva Paper towels do cost a little more but they will not unroll after a day of road travel. They are also darn good paper towels and very absorbent so in truth you will use less overall. We currently have this vertical paper towel holder but in our old ’73, 28 foot LaGrande model we had a traditional horizontal holder above the counter and we never had unrolled paper towels with Viva brand– AND I did road test others like store brands and Scott’s brand and other name brands and none did the job of staying on the roll on the road!
PARTING TIPS….. FOR HANGING PHOTOS, FRAMED ART, ETC and other WALL DECOR ITEMS:
Most folks already know that 3M stick on hooks are a Godsend for RVers. We use them all the time!
BUT I have found that if you really want pictures or things of any weight like barometers, framed art, etc. I use these stick on Velcro strips. Specifically, the type that have the lock-n-grip type, not the traditional type that has soft fuzzy on one side and teeth on the other. I use the heavy duty type of Velcro that have teeth which interlock when put together. I always purchase the one that is rated for heavier than my item really is. These work really well and so far (knock on wood) I have found that I can also peel off the Velcro strip I may have secured to our Avion wall board since it is a vinyl composite board, not paper applied to wood. I have also used the Command Brand similar type too on less heavy hanging items, apply as directed.
DISCLAIMER: As with all the products we have discussed here, it is best you test out products first. For wall applications, your interior walls may have had some sort of after market application that could make it different than ours. Please don’t send me a bill for any broken item! [smiling]
Well, that is my review of keeping things in place! We all love to have a homey feel in our home on wheels! Hope you have found this little article helpful!
Let us know what types of tricks/products you have found help with this issue! To be sure, a simple search on Amazon nets many companies touting great sticking power of their putty’s and other products.
Please visit our YOUTube Channel and please subscribe! We have great videos on many topics from renovations, tips, other favorite gadgets, as well as travel videos and campground reviews. We appreciate your support of our efforts to help others along the way!
If you are like us you are always looking to maximize storage spaces on your RV.
In our 1987 32S Avion we have a gaucho style sofa. This pulls forward and then down to create essentially a double sized bed for guests. It is original to the trailer, but was fully reupholstered by the previous owner in about 2018. As you can see from the photo above, we do keep a quilted sofa cover on it not only to protect from our dog (sadly Reddy died in Dec 2020) but also, grandkids and us spilling something since the fabric is a similar color to the grey throw and plain so it will show any and all stains, etc. I don’t know if it was scotch guarded and do not want to take the chance it was not! This was a cover we already had from our other 73 Avion. Our 87 sofa is a bit longer.
In early Spring 2021 Kevin had the brainstorm that we could expand the under sofa storage by elevating the frame of the sofa. We would also gain the benefit of the sofa being a little higher so as we age, it would be easier to get up from sitting on it. Not that it was super low but any little bit helps once arthritis sets in!
Another reason for this project was that I found it very hard, and downright uncomfortable to try to have to kneel on or straddle that flip down solid upholstered sofa skirt panel when trying to get things out from under the sofa. It was so in the way! The skirt panel had the hinges and sat off the floor by at least nearly 2″ so that also reduced the height of what I could fit under there—and get out! See next photo below if we have you totally confused on what we are talking about here!
EASY STEPS to our Project:
(1) Unscrew the flip down front padded sofa skirt panel and remove floor mounted hinges, hardware. We decided not reuse this after completing our project. You could, I suppose opt to make either (a.) a new flip down panel out of wood then upholster with sofa material and reinstall the flip down hinges or (b.) add an extension board to the top of the existing flip down panel somehow and support it and then recover it all so it looks like one piece. We opted to make a fabric pleated sofa skirt that simply velcro’s across the front of the sofa and hangs to the floor. Since the fabric skirt weighs less than that original panel it’s another win!
(2) Unbolt and get sofa out of the way. TIP- we recommend NOT trying to get the sofa completely out of the rig due to narrowness of the entry door. This thing is heavy and bulky AND honestly the project went so fast, it would have probably taken us longer to maneuver the sofa out of the door than the entire project took! So leave it just tipped forward and out of the way. NOTE- we left the panel nearest refrig in place on the side of the sofa end. See more on this later.
NOTE we have carpet tile flooring done by previous owner. The brownish linoleum you see is original to the trailer when manufactured.
(3) Use this time to clean up, check water and waste connections and apply steel wool around pipe openings to ward of mice and other crawling critters from entering your living space! Note– we still have the original grey water piping for our fresh water to kitchen sink. As of this post, we have purchased all materials to change everything out to PEX plastic piping and that is on the to do list for Spring 2022- ha ha so the sofa will have to come out again to the middle of the living room!
(4) Cut 6 blocks of 2×4 wood (2 for each mounting- laying on their side for a total elevated height of 3″) to a size sufficient to carry the floor mount sofa hardware to be rebolted back in. Kevin fastened the 1st wood block layer in by itself using the old holes left in the floor as guides so they would be in the correct position. He used 2 1/4″, #10 heavy duty wood screws. He predrilled all holes in 2x4s to avoid any possible splitting. He then mounted the second layer of the blocks directly on top of the first layer, and used 3 1/4″ #10 wood screws to mount it to the lower layer. Be sure you know where those first screws are so you don’t try to screw down on top of them!
NOTE- we had LEFT the panel (bottom right corner of photo below it can be seen) at the tongue side of the original sofa in place since we hoped it would still work to hide that open end of the sofa. And it did!
***This is also a good time to put some small, low wood “stops” mounted into the floor just in front of your water pipes to prevent anything stored under the sofa to get hooked on or that could push back the water tubing. We held off doing this until we install our PEX system and will know exactly where the tubes will lie.
(5) Put the sofa back in place and re-screw it down in all locations. NOTE- since now the crossmember support arm no longer hit the wood box along back, we put a 4×4 in underneath it, clamped it to the 4×4 with a “U” and secured the 4×4 to the wood box by toenailing (screwing) it in with more wood screws. We did not want to put holes into the sidewall of the trailer. It is very secure. Considering when we unbolted the sofa to begin with, this cross member had never been secured- we figure its more secure now!
(6) Load in the totes! I tried various combinations of totes to find just the right mix for what we store under here. Your needs may be different but I store the following under our sofa: our Dyson Vacuum, totes with table cloths, Set of Sheets for sofa bed, multiple exterior solar light strands, swim floaty rafts, our cuckoo clock for traveling time, citronella table candles, and our Avion spare parts tote. It a lot of stuff but its all in various totes that fit like a puzzle. With the extension height of an additional 3″ I was able to now lay two totes on top of each other. I prefer totes because it is far easier to pull out a tote than to have to reach under to pull out each separate item. Also being in totes there is less concern over something hooking onto and tugging at or pushing against the water piping that lays along the bottom of the sidewall.
In the photo below where you can see I now have a blue lidded and white lidded tote—I could only fit ONE of them before this project. Essentially we have doubled our storage space under our sofa!
Additional Comments & Notes:
As much as we would have preferred that the previous owner had carpeted completely under the sofa, actually we have found that even that little 1/4″ lip transition from the linoleum to the carpet aids in keeping the tote bottoms very well in place even during travel. If you do not have that carpet lip, you may want to install a 1/8″ or 1/4″ strip of molding flush to the floor in between the sofa support blocks. This will help keep totes in place during travel.
I did find after a few trips that attaching an elastic bungy cord from one leg support (behind the sofa skirt) to the other was necessary to keep the higher tier of my totes from sliding out during travel. This has solved that issue completely.
We found that the sticky back velcro we tried first to hold the new fabric skirt on did not hold up well enough during travel or “leg traffic” from us using the couch. I will have to secure the velcro either by sewing it on or by using a glue to adhere, letting it dry with clamps to ensure a good seal. In the meantime, what I did was extended the length of the quilted sofa cover we use making it longer in the front and that covers 90% of the opening and really is working fine for now.
Kevin and I are not tall, we have pant inseams of 30″ (a.k.a short legs) and we have found that the raised height of our sofa is extremely comfortable for us. Our feet just touch the floor now and it feels more relaxing on our legs. If you are a taller person you may find raising your sofa could make your muscles relax even more! We also find that as we age getting up and down from the sofa will be even easier as arthritis no doubt will kick in.
BEST TIP OF THE DAY! I should mention that at some point one of the owners of our trailer put a full shelf behind our sofa. It is simply attached with 4 angle braces screwed into the sidewall and it about 4″ wide. We would be lost without this shelf and store all sorts of things there. I have found wire framed fabric bins at Bed, Bath and Beyond that fit there perfectly and keep things organized. We also have one magazine storage holder (sits mostly behind our curtain) there for travel books, brochures and maps when currently on a trip, then the bins hold things like our battery lantern, binoculars, a plant, a container for our TV remote and other small misc items. One bin is open for me to set a mug or cup in while reclining on the sofa! The change in height of our sofa had no impact on the usefulness of this shelf and we highly recommend you install one during this project while the sofa is out! It runs the entire length of the sofa back.
Sorry I do not have a photo of the sofa back in form with the pleated skirt attached. I will try to get that done in spring when our RV is out of winter storage and update this post when available.
Hope you enjoyed this project article. If you decide to undertake this project we would LOVE to hear from you and see your photos! Please feel free to leave us any comments on this project- we love to hear from our subscribers!
Anyone who has an Avion (or Airstream for that matter) knows that the clearance underneath these silver babies is less than optimal and can really cause issues especially trying to do boondocking or dispersed camping-which is something we plan to do a lot of once we are full timing starting in 2023. We found in our 28′ we had issues, but it was even more pronounced in our 32′ since our tail end extends that much further back from the tire axels.
At times we were even limited as to what gas stations, parking lots or even campsites because of the “dip” from street to lot/site. NO MORE!
After lengthy research, discussion with people who have installed it and with Technicians at MORryde and then more research we decided to take the big plunge and have the MORryde Independent Suspension System AND Kodiak (7K lb) hydraulic disc brakes installed on our 1987, 32S model Avion. This decision is not for the faint hearted and a huge investment (just over $7K total for axels/suspension/Kodiak Disc brakes as of this post in Fall 2021) and this does not include the new 8 Lug tires and rims we needed to get for the hydraulic brake install we wanted.
Anyone who has the original MORryde suspensions on their Avion’s (late 60s into late 70s) knows that the center rubber sheer spring that hangs down (encased in steel) in between your tandem tires takes a ton of the impact from road travel and it is certainly touted as one of the best suspension systems that Avion installed back in the day and any travel trailer can have. We loved it on our ’73 and missed it once we started traveling with our ’87. This new version from MORryde, called their “I.S.” (Independent Suspension) system basically replicates that type of system from the older Avion’s WITH ONE HUGE DIFFERENCE!
We now have that 70’s type of MORryde Rubber Sheer Spring on EACH OF OUR TIRES! The results is a super smooth ride, less wear and tear on the trailer frame–and with new axels and all these new components there is piece of mind that we will not likely have problems with axel failure/breakage and have a hard time trying to find the correct old “split axels- the Dexter Adjust-a-ride” we did have.
If you think about your suspension like we do, it is the foundation of your “house”. It needs to be strong, in good working order and built to last. Our Avion is our home (full time starting in 17 months, 3 days, 2 hours, 29 seconds but who is counting right??) and we want a strong foundation for the tens of thousands of miles we plan to do each year with her over some pretty challenging terrains.
For the sake of brevity, we will list PRO’s and CON’s of our experience, the system and the end results. In the end, would we do it again? yes, but read on!!
PRO’s to our process-products-end result:
Increased our ground clearance from 8.5″ (at low point of old axels) to over 15″. No more worries about getting off road, into gas stations or parking lots. Our rear side frame and front tongue frame sit at right around 26″. NO more worrying about dips into parking lots from the street or uphill grades from street.
The MORryde website has excellent information and videos. And phone calls in advance to their tech folks were very helpful in our decision making to go with the IS versus the 3000 or 4000 systems. Your Avion may benefit from the other systems and worth inquiring about!
The Kodiak Hydraulic Disc brakes are game changers! Wow! what stopping power and peace of mind. So different than electric brakes! Makes braking of the trailer feel totally “as one” with our tow vehicle. No more grabbing, no more concerns on long down or uphill travels. These are beefy! Just the new brake system alone was worth the install!
All new axels, rotors and all brake components so less chance of failure or need to hunt down vintage parts to fit/work. We like having a new, rocksteady foundation under our trailer.
During install process we were able to examine the trailer frame since belly pan was removed (we had not done that prior) to see it was in excellent condition- even our Tech was super impressed with quality and condition of this 34 yr old frame!
MORryde allows you to park the night before your appointment in their lot outside garage, then once install commences you are allowed back onto your “elevated rig” after the day shift is done. This saves on hotel costs– our install took 2.5 days.
The MORryde Service center staff are very good. The Tech and Service Manager listened to our questions, were responsive to our concerns and talked us through the process as it was happening in real time. (BTW we were the first vintage trailer to get an IS install) They also gave us a tour of the entire facility so we could see these IS systems being fabricated on site.
We knew what our costs would be before they started and this was all reviewed with us in advance. There was no type of upselling or gimmicks. The products stand on their own and we really feel their shop labor rates were very fair.
The Tech you get is assigned to your rig from start to finish and are highly skilled and trained. They are very professional, the shop is clean, well managed and everyone is super friendly. (well you are spending a bundle too!)
The waiting area during the day is stocked with goodies, drinks, etc. and very comfortable with overstuffed sofas and with WIFI and rest rooms. You can also order and get a complimentary lunch from several area restaurants who delivers to the MORryde office. No charge to you- we did Panera both days.
To their credit, when an issue was relayed from us back to MORryde they made good on sending out new parts at their cost and covered the labor costs in a refund to us to have this correction done locally at a shop we found near to us. Kudos out to Adirondack Truck of Queensbury!
CON’s to our process-product and end result
We did not know that the rig was going to be lifted SO high. Originally we were told up by 4-6″ and we were fine with that. Then as install progressed we were told it changed to 7-8″. We now have a full 11.5″ from top of our tire to top inside of wheel well. Looks odd because all of us are used to seeing our low lying, stealth to the ground rigs. To counter this somewhat we have purchased Fender Flares (aftermarket bought at Bontragers near Elkhart) to install by riveting on the exterior of the well lip to help mitigate the space visually. We will temporarily remove the track you see below that we riveted on to slide our Zipdee Tire Shades into, then will rivet the fender flares on using the same rivet holes and refasten the tire shade track over top of this once again. Due to the curvature of the wheel well opening (at approx. 1 pm and 11 pm locations) we are going to have to apply small sheets of anodized alluminum from behind to fill in those gaps. Not an ideal fix, but its the best we have come up with. If you have another idea please let us know!
Our frame, (measured at front and rear frame on tail before it rises upward) now sits at 26″ above the ground. Before this install it was approximately 18″. This height has resulted in perhaps a lessening of the aerodynamic nature of the Avion design. However on our trips since we have not encountered any issues with this even on highways with winds and Semi trucks zooming by- but we also use a Hensley hitch which certainly is a big help and have a high top cap on our pick up which deflects wind.
No pre install weigh in like video’s said they would do. When we watched the MORryde videos during our decision making process we really liked the fact that part of the process included weighing your rig so that the correct sheer springs weight range would be installed. We know our trailer is street side heavy due to Corian countertops and all appliance on that side. We had hoped this weighing step and install to account for this would solve any undo stress on one side of the axels/tires. Needless to say when we arrived we were told they no longer do that weighing part of the process. We were not happy with that explaining again we knew we were heavier on one side and in the end (keep reading full story) it would have saved a lot of angst as a result.
We were not made aware that our specific I.S. axels were going to be wider than our original ones. We were told this is due to the necessary deflection needed for the tires to toe out or in independently we now had our tires extending out about 2.5-3″ outside of the wheel well! We question the need for this still. Was it really because this is the standard length for modern RV’s and what their shop is set up to make? This was a total surprise to us and not a happy one . We did not realize it until the entire install was complete. It really changed the look of the trailer profile. Hence another reason to purchase the aftermarket tandem aluminum fender flares at about $75 each. We have added another project to our list to rivet these in place after removing our tire shade track and replacing it over top the fender flares (a project just completed). ** The tires extending past our sidewall profile also can mean more damage should a tire fail, and certainly without the fender flare, way more road grime, water from wet roads, mud etc. spewing onto our vintage aluminum skin trailer body.
“Houston we have a problem!” On our trip back to upstate NY (Lake George area) from Elkhart, IN- this is a 780 mile trip of all highways we found at our pit stops that some of our interior decor, drawers, gear, and equipment that NEVER had bounced around or shifted before was now doing just that! Wait a minute!!!!!!
We were supposed to have a smoother ride, not a bumpier one! We also noticed porpoising (rocking nose down to nose up) of our trailer when hitting even slight road seam bumps that we had not seen before. Houston!!???? another issue!
Not all communications via email were responded to in what we feel was a timely manner by MORryde staff, especially with our issue after install was brought to their attention. We do recognize that Covid-19 certainly had a part in this as did some staffing changes at MORryde. We know everyone is busy but waiting weeks for a reply is not appropriate in this tech age. Once a reply was gotten, we were instructed what measurements we needed to do and send to them. With this information, MorRyde determined that indeed the WRONG SHEER SPRINGS had been installed *Yup, that weight thing again”- Avion’s are heavy!!-they are not the cardboard box trailers produced today. Even though we had given them our weight parameters…someone obviously did not compute this correctly from the get go. So what was happening was that the #2 Sheer springs originally put on at the shop were insufficient to carry our weight and were causing the axels to bottom out when hitting even mild to medium bumps in the roadways-trashing our trailer inside and pounding on our frame unnecessarily on that first trip.
Sheer Spring REDO! With new #3 sheer springs in hand, you can see the big difference in size! See photo below. We had to take another day off from work and had a local shop (Adirondack Truck on Big Boom Rd, Queensbury- who were great!) take out the springs from our install and replace with these beefier ones. We are very happy to report a 2.5 hr trip two days later on our next camping adventure proved we had no more jostling, drawers were shut, gear not strewn about–so issue appears to be solved and the ride is smooth as we had hoped for and been promised. Needless to say, the issue we had caused us undo stress wondering what on earth we spent all this money for? Did we ruin the quintessential look of our Avion only to have a bumpier ride? In the end…the ride is better, the clearance is better and we have the peace of mind of a very strong foundation (suspension) and a new braking system second to none!
Final thoughts read below…..
For those who wish to see some of the quick video footage we took during the install process here you go!
Welding of new brackets to support axels. Video link
New axels with highlight on the Kodiak Disc Brake system. Video Link
Our Tech, Matt doing the welding of first axel onto frame. Video link
Closer look at streetside axels after being welded to frame. Video link
Balancing and aligning our new tires on axels-Hunter System. Video link
In summary...it was a stressful project from start to finish. We were under the gun to have our house batteries relocated before we left for Elkhart, then a 780 mile trip out there. We did not get our Avion into the shop until 2pm on first day of appointment, ended up being there 2.5 days and missed two days with fellow Avioners at our SAF rally. We were shocked by the resulting height of the trailer and over extended tires past our sidewalls. AND, the saga did not stop and we had to have our sheer springs replaced within a month due to a size miscalculation on their part of which they did send us the correct replacements and covered labor. But all is well now and we are happy!
In the end…we have a super rugged, solid foundation to our home and now we have an AVION OVERLANDER® rig now….and that is the beginning of a new story!
PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOG SO …You can stay tuned so you can see the debut of a new separate off grid adventure blog from us with a separate, additional URL at AvionOverlander.com that will only focus on off-grid, off road- boondock and dispersed camping adventures, tips and more—coming in 2023 when we hit the road full time and do a lot of boondocking and off road/off grid adventures! (not to worry thePewterPalace.com will not be going away and will continue to be the repository for our campground reviews, regular trips, projects, tips and more!)
As always, if you have any questions, want more measurements, etc. please do not hesitate to reach out to us at any time via direct email to PewterPalace87@gmail.com!
Many first time Avion owners wonder what the big (normally black but sometimes red) numbers mean on one of the front side and back side panels of their Avion! These are NOT your VIN#!!
These are member numbers from a prior owner of your trailer, who back in the day joined the official Avion “Travelcade Club” which conducted all sizes of Avion exclusive rallies (some as big as 2000 trailers!!) around the USA and also conducted escorted caravan tours all over the USA ….even to Alaska!
Here are some examples of these numbers on ours and other trailers! ***If you have one on yours please share a photo of it to us so we can add it to this slideshow! (we have a link to a source to order #s and unit sets at end of this post!)
If you have a “ghost” number, meaning the vinyl numbers are no longer there but due to fade, etc. you can see these aprox 3″ high numbers that was the Member’s number- you are half way there! It is NOT unique to that trailer, it belonged to the Member themselves. As we all know, and Kevin and I are examples of this, the first Avion you buy may not be the LAST Avion you buy! So by having the Travelcade # assigned to the Member, versus the trailer, you can “move” your number to your next Avion!
Having the original Travelcade Club numbers on a vintage trailer is cache and special! In our opinion, and many others share the same feeling—you SHOULD RETAIN THEM and preserve them for nostalgia purposes. Some will note, the trailer may even fetch a higher resale amount if it has the original numbers–even though we know they were not issued to you since you may be the 3,rd, 4th or 8th owner of that particular trailer.
There are Avion owners who have the originally published member annual rosters and with a little patience on your part, they can assist in helping you find out who the Travelcade member was, where they lived at the time, etc. Its kinda fun to know that part of your trailer’s history back decades! To have assistance to look up your numbers go to one of the Avion owners facebook pages, and post preferably a photo of your numbers or ghost image. The folks with the books will see it and reach out to you if they find something! (Avion owners are good folks, and generous to the core!)
Our 1973, 28 Foot LaGrande Avion we owned from 2016-2020 did have to original Travelcade member #s and we were very proud of them. Below is a photo of our ’73 with our numbers 14229.
Sadly our current (and forever) 1987, 32S model owners during the days the club was in operation never joined, so we do not have any on our rig.
YOU HAVE OPTIONS-—if you have a ghost number showing you can order a new set of those numbers and apply them. Sometimes there was also a “state unit” identified underneath the numbers. I have posted a link below to a reputable source for new replacement numbers.
If your rig NEVER had numbers, you technically can, if you wish – create your own, perhaps personalized to something that connects to you. The Travelcade Club no longer exists (died out in the 90s once Fleetwood took over the company and phased out the Avions), so technically you are ok to create something new. ******You may wish to contact one of the folks who own the old registries to see if that # sequence was already used. If it was an assigned number you may want to go with something different, or at least honor that original member and know the # history to share with others. BELOW I HAVE A LINK TO WHERE TO ORDER NEW NUMBER AND STATE UNIT SETS!
Here are some other pictures of the Travelcade Club paraphernalia and other memorabilia! Please visit our other blog articles that go into more depth about the Travelcade club and also other emblems you may find on the outside of your Avion!
NEW!!!! GREAT RESOURCE FOR HAVING REPLICA TRAVELCADE NUMBERS MADE UP FOR YOUR TRAILER! See link below. We know folks who have ordered from this Ebay store and have been very pleased.
We hope this information helps! If you have any questions or need resources for other Avion trailer items please check our Resource page! We do our best to keep links current and we apologize up front if a link is broken or no longer exists…the world is constantly evolving and its hard to keep up sometimes!
If you haven’t already please subscribe to our blog Www.thepewterpalace.com and our YouTube channel! We appreciate it!
Be well!! From Kevin and Luisa Contact us at PewterPalace87@gmail.com
[Buckle your seatbelt, this is a long post but can be done in segments!]
Originally our 2021 “big trip” of the summer was going to begin by crossing over the border to Toronto, Canada and proceeding in a leisurely path west along the Canadian highways and byways reaching the “mitten” of Michigan- The Upper Peninsula and then heading south to join up with fellow Avioner’s in Elkhart, Indiana for the annual SAF rally.
The lingering Covid 19 and the pandemic restrictions of travel crossing borders and prohibition to enter Canada put a total kabash on all that. We had to cancel reservations and rethink our plans.
Answer! Let’s go South and experience the Shenandoah’s and Smoky Mountains! I have always said to Kevin, give me campsites with views of water or mountains- preferably both….and my heart sings and my soul rejoices. So in mid December 2020 we switched plans…..South we go instead of North!
PRIMARY GOALS: We would do a 3-week adventure with the goal of driving the entire length of the Skyline Drive (toll to get on), the Blue Ridge Parkway and end up at one of our “national bucket list of European-themed USA towns”–Helen, Georgia which boasted a Bavarian/German theme and set in a mountain setting.
SECONDARY GOALS: in planning this trip we also had some important secondary goals we wanted to accomplish.
(1) Stay at a minimum of one Military Base FAM/TRAVEL camps. I will do a separate blog post about this program in the future and link it back here.There are specific classifications of military or former military that can use these parks. They are not open to the general public.
(2) Stay at as many National Park (NPS) Campgrounds and State Campgrounds as possible to save $$ and see how our 32 foot travel trailer will be in these eastern seaboard, and older campgrounds.
(3) Stay at an Army Corps of Engineer Campground to see what they are like.
(4) Use Luise’s recently obtainedNational Park Service Senior Lifetime Access Pass to its fullest advantage to save $$ on park entrance and campground fees. (Mission accomplished!—you can get as soon as you turn 62)
(5) Use our new subscription to RV Trip Wizard to do the planning, routing and travel assistance. (see my notes later on how we felt this went for this type of trip)
Let’s start with the planning portion. While we are still recreational campers (not full time living yet!) and the constraints of a start and end date- planning is important to get your desired trip in within the time you have been granted vacation from work. I retired at the end of 2020 but Kevin is still working full time (bless his heart).
We had purchased a subscription to RV Trip Wizard thinking this would be the be all-end all to our planning needs. We based this on fabulous multiple reviews from bloggers we follow, fellow travelers, etc.
“The Bad/Ugly” What we found out, or rather I found out was that RV Trip Wizard likes highways….not scenic byways. It constantly tried to route me off of the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway! I tried applying the “avoid highway” setting but that did not work because some of our trip needed highways/intertstates to get from point A to point B.
“The Fix” so what I ended up having to do was to create a Part A, Part B and Part C of our trip—each with its own unique trip plan and had to save each of them seperately. This way I could segment out and use interstates when desired, or the avoid highway mode when needed for the byways and back roads we wanted. It was VERY time consuming, tedious and not at all what I had hoped the program could do. I am totally sure if you are choosing to do long trips using major highways that the software will be fabulous as it does offer a lot of nice features.
“What the Program DID do Well!” there were pluses to using RV Trip Wizard though. That included a great pin point locator of campgrounds along our route with many filters we could apply as desired e.g. National, state, private campgrounds, things nearby to see, gas station locations, etc.
In the end, although I had printed out each PART on paper (yeah about 23 pages worth) I never used one of the sheets nor did we trust to use it as our GPS- so we resorted to our Garmin RV which is also only so-so. Published paper maps from the NPS and state tourism bureaus worked in tandem with our GPS- we only took a wrong way twice!
BTW— We booked 95% of our campground reservations by January 15, 2021 ( for a May 28 departure date) so we would assure ourselves places to stay! Booking this far ahead is critical in our opinion if you have a larger rig like ours, are somewhat picky what type of site you want. You can always cancel a reservation but these days with the glut of RVers on the road- do not wait to make early reservations if you have specific destinations in mind.
SO ONTO OUR TRIP! ….WHEW! Thought we would never get there!
PART ONE- NY, PA TO VA & onto THE SKYLINE DRIVE
SECTION 1 Plan- leave home Thursday, May 28 and drive to first overnight- boondock (about 6 hrs) at Cabella’s in Hamburg, PA.LINK This is a frequent boondock for us because we avoid NYC and RT 95 completely. We prefer to loop through PA going out to Harrisburg and then south. Although the roads in PA have been in perpetual construction mode since the early 90’s we still find this route preferable to going through lower NYS, NJ and MD along RT 95-especially when towing a trailer!
ON TO VIRGINIA….FORT BELVOIR ARMY BASE- TRAVEL CAMP!As I mentioned above, thanks to Kevin’s Army service and discharge classification (there are only specific ones allowed) we are able to use these FAM or Travel camps as they are called which are right on a military base (all branches of service) and in many cases RVers are granted use of the PX the Commissary and other on base services. The rates to stay are not necessarily cheaper than the rack rate at nearby private campgrounds, but the security is outstanding, you know you are only camped next to other military folks, and the use of the other base services like pool, hair salons, gyms, etc. granted at some bases is really nice. PLUS..in this case WE CAMPED RIGHT ALONG THE POTOMAC RIVER AND A 1/2 HOUR FROM WASHINGTON DC! CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO ON THE TRAVEL CAMP.
(we will do a complete campground review in the future, watch for the link!)
Our timing for over Memorial Day to be at Fort Belvoir was in hindsight not perfect. DC was a mob scene and most of the museums in DC that we had not already seen where still closed or on severe limited pre-reservation timed entry passes due to Covid-19 still. It was a bummer, but we did spend a great full day at nearby (about 35 min drive) in Fredericksburg, VA. This is a colonial town with tons of history, historic buildings, great restaurants and shopping. We enjoyed a great “German lunch” at Deutschland Downtown and had fun touring some of the historic buildings. Worth the day trip in our opinion.
OH…and did I mention there is a huge IKEA store about 15 minutes from the campground. Yup…dropped some coinage there too another day!
SECTION 2–NEXT STOP- ONTO THE SKYLINE DRIVE TO LURAY, VA
We stayed four nights at Fort Belvoir, in VA then drove essentially west to pick up the Skyline Drive just south of the town of Front Royal (we will cross paths with Front Royal on our way home too!) It was an easy drive west and Front Royal is a good place to GAS UP before starting the Skyline Drive. There is only ONE GAS STATION ON THE SKYLINE DRIVE at Big Meadows (Byrd Visitor Center) which is about a halfway point. PLAN YOUR VISIT……
**Fee to enter the DRIVE is $30 unless you have a NPS (National Park Service) Pass. I have a Senior Lifetime Access Pass so we were FREE!
–Info about Senior Lifetime Access Pass (you must be at least 62 years young!) ....Here
PRO-NOTE– if you show up after 5 PM or before 9 AM to the entry gates at any of the four entries to the DRIVE you will most likely get in for free and see a note that says….”please pay when you exit” . This, is at least the case right now, with staffing stressed to the max in part due to Covid 19 and previous years drastic funding reductions to National Parks. Be a good doobie…and pay when you leave! They need the $$!
** BE SURE TO GET THE OFFICIAL SKYLINE DRIVE MAP! You will need it as there is little to NO CELL SIGNAL for most of the drive and the map gives you mile markers, locations and services at rest areas and key sites to not miss.
** if you have a CD player in your car or available, the first NPS visitor center ( Dickey Ridge) southbound on the Skyline Drive sells a really nice auto tour CD that narrates what you are seeing as you drive along, allows you to pause it for stops and gives you background history of areas you are passing through. Worth the small cost in our opinion. Sorry…they do not have an app…and with no cell signal-not gonna work anyway! LOL
As soon as you enter the Skyline Drive you will see it is a tad winding in spots, but not too bad and there are TONS of SCENIC PULL OFFS on both sides of the road. The roadway is one lane south (our direction) and one lane north. All rest areas with/without services are accessible from both directions. That being said:
“there were many scenic pull offs that clearly were intended to visit when traveling northbound. We were traveling southbound and with our total length of 56 feet—we passed by some because the pull out was on a blind turn or there were too many vehicles already there, making it tough for us to easily get in and out. “
Best time to do pull offs is earlier in the morning. You will find the traffic lightest then too. There are no street lights, so when it gets dark…it is DARK- we recommend NOT doing the DRIVE in the dark due to wildlife, winding blind turns and narrow roadways. (there are no guardrails, no shoulders). We were traveling through on the first full week of June, 2021 and the traffic was very, very light. We were surprised and often had no one within any eyeshot of us for miles. There were many times where we felt we were the only ones left in the world!
We found the Skyline Drive to be a beautiful and very relaxing drive. the drive includes going through lush woodlands, and riding atop the mountains, slicing through carved out divides and circling around the midline of 4000 foot high mountains. No semi-trucks, no commercial vehicles, no billboards, just wooded wilderness, beautiful vistas and lots of “oh wow!”, “amazing” and “look how far we can see!”. It was enchanting and exhilarating at the same time!
Next stop….LURAY JellystoneCampground & Luray Caverns!
We picked Luray Jellystone Campground because it was easy off the SD (Skyline Drive) and had quick access to gas, the caverns, downtown shopping, etc. **There are ONLY FOUR entrances onto the SD so planning where to camp overnight you should factor that in so you are not spending a lot of time traveling back roads to get to a campground if you are only spending a night or two and hopping back onto the SD.
I will not go into detail here on this campground here. Suffice it to say, it was a typical Jellystone. Lots of kids, families with golf carts, sites were ok but nothing out of the ordinary. Please read our campground review for the good, bad and ugly details.
We stayed there two nights, mid week. Would we stay there again? probably only if we had the grandsons with us.
We LOVED Luray Caverns and their “add-on at no charge” other attractions in their complex. Just minutes from the campground on the same highway too. We arrived just as it was opening (I think we were ticket #4 & 5) so it was nice and cool. No worries…inside the Caverns is beautifully tepid cool all the time- a great place to go on a scorcher summer day! Plan to spend the day there is a lot to see and do from the caverns to the Heritage Museum to the Antique Auto Museum and the Toy Museum (not so great, a little tired and forgotten) and for an additional fee, a tree tops ropes course.
Get there early to have the cave nearly to yourself to stroll!
Just new within the past year, the caverns has gone completely NO STAIRS! They built and extensive ramp with easy grade to access the main entrance and all of the pathways through the caverns are all ramps or easy paths with sturdy handrails. This is a wonderful thing! They are very proud of this accessibility feature and rightly so!
There is a very RV FRIENDLY pull-through Gas station right at the foot of their huge parking lot. Plenty of room for RV parking if you get there in the morning!
When in Luray, take a few more minutes to visit COOTER’S GARAGE and the DUKES OF HAZZARD MUSEUM -owned by Ben Jones an original cast member! It’s just west by a few minutes from the Luray Caverns (on same highway). Its a great stop, we missed on our southbound route, so we caught it going back up north on our return trip. Easy access off of Interstate 81 that northbound or southbound direction too! There is no charge to enter the museum, but they have a nice small gift shop attached that you will want to purchase something to support their efforts. I purchased some locally made jam.
There is RV parking to the east side of their parking lot. We got there just before closing and so the parking lot was virtually empty mid week. The cafe unfortunately has very odd and limited hours so do not count on a bite to eat there. The museum is great with tons of memorabilia and actual cars (or some repro’s) used in the TV show. Dating ourselves, watched it regularly! The gift shop also has DoH stuff to purchase to show you remember when……Daisy Duke was America’s heartthrob!
PRO-NOTE: Even if you have to get there after hours, you can still see these cars as well as others like the ones used in the show displayed outside 24/7!
SECTION 3- BACK ONTO THE SKYLINE DRIVE TO LOFT MOUNTAIN!
We hopped back onto the Skyline Drive (SD) after spending 2 nights at Luray Jellystone. The drive continued to keep us in awe with beautiful scenery, the occasional deer spotting and amazing woodland vistas. The NPS rest areas are excellent, some with snack bars and all with gift shops (of course!) and clean restrooms, 24/7 maps to take, hiking maps, etc. There is usually at least one NPS Ranger during (9-4 pm) who can also answer specific questions about hikes, natural wonders, wildlife, etc.
Below is SKYLAND rest area which also features a restaurant, grab n go snack bar, gift shop and what appear to be beautiful lodging cabins that have spectacular private balconies overlooking the valley to the west. They were doing construction on the exterior to add we believe a large outside dining deck to the restaurant area. Restaurant has limited hours. If you are not camping, or want a night of blissful luxury you may want to book a stay! One of the most beautiful rest areas, however the bathrooms i the rest area itself were down a very large flight of stairs. really?? I must have missed the main floor ones! Check out the link here…
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MILE MARKERS!Skyland is Mile Marker 45, Loft Mountain is Mile Marker (MM) 80. (reminder, below you will see Big Meadow Visitor Center on the map below my fingers a bit. This is the ONLY GAS/DIESEL station on the entire 105 miles of the Skyline Drive! Top off or Gas Up here!
This does not sound like much of a trek, but when there is an awesome view from pull offs along the way and you stop to take pictures and drool….it can take a while believe me! Plus remember…the speed limit on the SD is 35 MPH and that is all you want to go anyway so you do not miss anything or anyone (like a deer or bear!)We did 25-30mph most of the time.
LOFT MOUNTAIN NPS CAMPGROUND
LOFT MOUNTAIN was our first National Park Service campground experience. I had used online booking, reviewed online sites that show photos of the actual sites and thought this would be a good fit. We were Site # F165. Non electric, no services site….which is all they have ANYWAY! I booked this in late December and there were already limited sites available so book early! We stayed 2 nights and rate was $15 per night but with my Senior NPS pass (see above for link) it was HALF PRICE…A WHOPPING $15 FOR TWO NIGHTS OF DRY CAMPING on top of a mountain with deer out our door and spectacular sunsets!
Be sure if you do camp at Loft Mountain campground that you take one of the several paths to the Amphitheater to watch the sunsets!You may get lucky like we did and see Elk literally 5 feet from you on the path! Sadly, again due to Covid restrictions/ and we think low staffing again, there were no programs scheduled at the outdoor theater but we understand there normally would be nature talks, music bands, solo musicians, etc. at least on weekends. We were there June 4-6, 2021.
Below are photos of our campsite itself in the Loop F, site # 165. We would try for other sites next time. This site is fine for a trailer under 28 feet due to the curve and the very un-levelness (is that a word?) of the site. Our power jack barely had enough pole to level us. Thank goodness we had the large red Anderson Jack Block to secure us in place. Even with this, I had nightmares of us falling off our block, and dreamt of a bear using our trailer as a scratching post and knocking us off our “perch”. (read that story “Mr MaGee Goes Camping” to my grandsons once too many times I think!)
While at Loft Mountain on our first full day we did a day ride (no trailer in tow) to Staunton, VA using the southern most entry point to the SD which is ROCKFISH GAP. We wanted to have a nice lunch at another highly rated German restaurant, The Edelweiss. You are getting the theme here about our culinary preferences aren’t you!? ** let us know if there is a super good German restaurant where you live or travel—we would love to check it out!
We also did some walking around the campground looking at sights (including views, deer and elk) but did not do any of the many hikes off of here due to my arthritic knee acting up. We would definitely recommend this restaurant if you are on the SD or doing Interstate 81 as it is right off of there as well. Just use Google!
So this will end our PART 1 from our 2021 Summer 3-Week trip over the Shenandoah Mountains and the Shenandoah National Park. Thank you for taking the ride with us! Here I am pointing to my Shenandoah National Park sticker on our 1987 Avion travel trailer we affectionately call “The Pewter Palace”!
Part 2 will include the Blue Ridge Parkway beginning in Rockfish Gap, through the rest of the Shenandoah National Park and Blue Ridge Mountain Range and on into the Smoky Mountain National Park.
Be well, travel safe, slow down and enjoy the journey!
Sincerely, Kevin & Luisa Sherman
Adventures with a Vintage Avion Luxury Coach Camper