More 5th Wheels

Today Cristy and I drove to a near by RV dealership who carry Grand Design RVs.  We wanted to check on the build quality in their latest models.  I also wanted to check out their newest model.

Solitude 310GK

While we had really liked the 344GK from my previous blog posting we decided that the dinette being on the driver’s side of the coach was not what we wanted.   We prefer the dinette on the passenger side.  This is the side of the coach which, when you are parked, becomes your “front yard”.  With the dinette on the driver’s side you overlook your neighbor’s “front yard”.  It makes for somewhat a lack of privacy.  We are also less enthralled with the small desk of the 344GK.  If we wanted to add a desk we could do so in the 310GK by removing the rear couch.  The dinette could also make for quite a useable desk.  The 310GK is also somewhat shorter which makes it easier to tow and maneuver.

Solitude 390RK

The Solitude 390RK is the newest model to roll out of Grand Design’s doors.  From the standpoint of livability this one suits us best.  Dual his and her bathroom sinks and a HUGE rear kitchen are what really appeals to us.  The kitchen has an amazing amount of counter space; almost as much as my current house.  There is also a lot of cabinet space in the kitchen.  Not to mention the HUGE under kitchen storage bay.  The only drawback is the length; almost 42 feet long.  Anyone can learn to tow a trailer this long but it does limit your destinations.  We would be pretty much limited to newer RV resorts.

At this point all I can say is that I’m glad we have more time to decide!

5th Wheel Comparisons

Right now we are considering a few different 5th wheel floor plans from a few different manufacturers.  I’ll list them here and what we like and don’t like about them.  Our tastes are changing and so the floor plans we are entertaining are also changing.  I’m glad we still have several years to consider all our options before we commit.

Solitude 344GKR

UVW 12600 lbs
Carrying Capacity 4200
Hitch Weight1 2500 lbs
GVWR 16800 lbs
Length2 36′ 11″

So what do I like about this unit?

I like the shorter length at 37 feet.  Not too big, not too cramped inside.  It has generous kitchen counter space and huge basement storage.  It has a place for a washer and dryer and most of all, it has a desk.  Cristy loves to study and would love to have a desk to do her reading, do bills, a place to put the laptop, etc.  I also love the huge cargo carrying capacity; over 2 tons!  One detail that I really do appreciate is the telescoping TV in the living room.  It can retract behind a cabinet when not in use thus revealing a window making it more light and open inside.

So what do I NOT like about this unit?

The bathroom sink and counter space are somewhat cramped.  And it’s a little weird having the dinette on the driver side of the coach.  Traditionally they are on the passenger side.  It’s not a deal-killer, it’s just weird.  The pantry is also a bit shallower than other Solitude models and doesn’t have the pull out drawers as in the other pantries.  That’s pretty much all I don’t like.  That’s why this one is near the top of the list.

Montana 3561RL

 

Shipping Weight 13071
Carrying Capacity 3429
Hitch 2560
GVWR 16500
Length 38′ 5″

What do I like about this unit?

Well, in short, the desk.  This model has what they call an “executive desk” in the rear living area.  It is incorporated into the TV cabinet such that the TV can be used for a large computer monitor.  This is something Montana has done in several of their models for several years.  I’m happy to see it back.  I also like that it has a somewhat larger bathroom sink and counter than the above Solitude model.  Also the washer/dryer closet is somewhat larger and square with the closet rather than angled as in other manufacturers.  It also has a more standard floor plan layout.

2020 Keystone MONTANA 3561RL2020 Keystone MONTANA 3561RL

What do I NOT like about this unit?

I haven’t been in one.  I really need to check out Montana’s build quality.  I have also heard dubious reports of Keystone’s product support.  Some manufacturers go out of their way to make sure you get repairs and parts in a timely manner, I have not heard of this happening with Keystone.  They are more “traditional” in their support model.  I’ll have to learn more about them.  It’s also slightly larger than the Solitude and carries slightly less cargo.  Not a huge deal but still something I think about.

Vilano 385RD

385RD Floorplan

  • GVWR : 18,500
  • Dry Weight : 15,100 *
  • Cargo Carrying : 3,400
  • Length : 42′ 4″
  • PIN Weight : 3,500

What do I like about this unit?

This coach has better color schemes, better furniture, and better interior design.  The Franklin couches and recliners are SO comfortable.  There is a lot of counter space in the kitchen.  We like the well laid out bathroom.  I also like the telescoping TV in the living room that retracts to reveal another window.  I’m not a fan of the “TV wall” that some 5th wheels have.  I really like the open feel of this one.  I also love the HUGE storage space and pull out storage tray under the living room.  If you look at the floor plan above, the area under the living room is ALL storage.

What do I NOT like about this unit?

Frankly, the construction seems like it could be a little better.  The walls sound very hollow and cheap when I knock on them.  It doesn’t come with dual pane windows.  Much is made about how the cabinets are all built at the factory.  Frankly the cabinets seem somewhat cheaply made.  Not bad but I think they could be better.  On other coaches the drawers are very solid and firm as compared to the Vilano where they feel light and shaky.

So where do we stand?

At this point it’s still hard to beat the quality of Grand Design units.  We’re certainly going to keep our eye on the other coaches we listed here but when it comes down to build quality, cargo carrying capacity, and even tank capacities, Grand Design still comes in at the top.

Awesome Day

Flight to Columbia

It’s one of those days that I need to keep me going.  It started out early and COLD!  My flying buddy Jordan texted me last night and asked if I wanted to go on a quick flight the next morning.  Just a quick 30 minute flight up to Columbia (O22) and back to Oakdale (O27).  I had plans to drive up to Sacramento with Cristy but I had a feeling that I could fly with Jordan and be back home before Cristy even had breakfast.  Turns out, that was the case.

I met up with Jordan out at the airport around 6:00am or so.  We got the airplane ready (trying not to shiver too much in the predawn twilight). We squeezed ourselves into our little Cessna 152 and were taxiing out to take off just as the sun was starting to peek above the Sierras.

 

It was a beautiful flight up to Columbia.  Nothing would be open when we got there but that wasn’t the point.  Whenever I fly, and this morning was no exception, the destination is always secondary to the journey.  The journey IS the destination.

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As I said it is a quick flight up to Columbia from Oakdale.  It’s the “mountain airport” in our back yard.  It took about 30 minutes to fly up there.  No small feat as we were flying almost directly into the sun.   The airport is very difficult to locate as it sits in the shadow of a hill and is hard to spot during these early mornings until you are right on top of it.  However, Jordan demonstrated his piloting prowess and got us in and down in one piece.

As I thought everything was closed when we got there.  It was only about 7:30am and they hadn’t opened up the FBO yet.

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We piled back into the plane and headed back down to Oakdale.  Yours truly was the pilot in command for the return leg of the trip.  We scampered skyward and followed the lava flows from Columbia back down to Knights Ferry and then back home to Oakdale.  I entered on a left crosswind and made a fairly decent landing.  It was an awesome way to start the day.

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Pilot Life

LaMesa RV

After the flight I headed back home and picked Cristy up and we drove up to Sacramento.  The reason for our trip was to check out some 5th wheel trailers at LaMesa RV.  On the way up I stopped off at Meeks RV in Acampo to pick up some repair parts for my Lance 1995 travel trailer.  They were minor nuts and bolts, easily repairable and no need to take the whole trailer in.

The 5th wheels we wanted to see at LaMesa are a new brand that just came to my notice called Vanleigh.  They are manufactured by Tiffin, the famous motor coach manufacturer.  We have been looking at them online and liked what we saw but we wanted to see what the build quality was like.  While we originally went up to look at the Vanleigh Pinecrest models, once we saw them we were underwhelmed by the build quality.  We looked at the next model up the Vilano series and found them much more to our liking.  We ended up liking one of their larger models the best and this kind of surprised us.

385RD Logo

385RD

385RD Floorplan

385RD

We’ve always looked at rear living models but none were laid out this way.  We also really liked the HUGE (YUUUGE) rear storage bay.

I wouldn’t want to put really heavy items back there but it would be great for bulky items.  I also wish the build quality was slightly better.  I understand them wanting to use really light materials but it gave the overall feel of the unit a chintzy feel.  Overall the interior looked great and they paid attention to a lot of details that other manufacturers miss.  I’m not sure this has changed our mind away from the Grand Design units but we did change our mind about one thing though; we’re not going to limit ourselves on the size of the trailer.  If it’s 40 feet, then it’s 40 feet.  Smaller would be better but it’s not a deal-killer anymore.

In my next blog post I’ll do a comparison of the 5th wheel models we are considering at the moment and why.

 

Saturday Flight To Willows

It’s been a month since I’ve flown.  I spent the last two weeks working and the three prior to that traveling with my wife in our travel trailer.  After so long the sky was calling and I had to answer.  I decided a nice cross country was in order.  My destination was one I used to stop at quite often years ago.  When I flew up into Oregon in my old Aeronca Champ, I would stop for fuel at Willows-Glenn Airport.  They also had a nice cafe on the field called Nancy’s.  I decided that I needed a nice breakfast from Nancy’s so off to Willows I flew.

The air was super smooth this morning.  Fall in California’s Central Valley always brings calm hazy air.  Today was the very definition of that.  After I reached my cruising altitude of 3000 feet I leveled off, trimmed the airplane for level flight, and didn’t have to touch the yoke again until I was entering the pattern at Willows.  All that was needed to make course corrections was just very light pressure on the rudders.

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I flew northwest towards Davis, Ca, then turned due north towards Willows.

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The approach and landing at Willows were both super easy as there was no wind.

I landed, tied down the airplane, and walked through the airport gate to Nancy’s.

Nancy’s is kind of an old school diner.  Lots of pictures on the wall of aircraft and pilots.  Most of them have gone west.  I asked the waitress what I should get.  I wanted the kind of breakfast that when I told people I went to Nancy’s, they’d ask “Oh!  Did you get the … ???”  What should that be. She suggested their ham.  I am so glad she did!

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After eating more than I should have I took a walk around the airport.  Not much to see but I did run across one interesting little tidbit.  The airport beacon (the flashing red and green light that help pilots find the airport at night) is made from an old airmail beacon.  If you’ll recall I visited the Western New Mexico Aviation Heritage Museum where they have an entire museum dedicated to the airmail beacons.  It was really cool to see one still around and in use.

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After such a big breakfast I was wondering if the airplane could even get me off the ground.  But the takeoff and climbout were uneventful.  An hour and change later I was landing back at Oakdale.  All in all it was a great Saturday and a great flight!

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Trip To Hardin – Wrap Up

We are finally home after our partially successful trip to Hardin Missouri.  I say partially because we didn’t make it to Hardin.  I say successful because it was a fun memorable trip.  Not only did I get to cross some items off my bucket list and see some sites we never would have seen had we gone to Hardin, but we learned some things about our RV’ing style.

What I learned

  • We like RV parks
    Although I had planned to stay in some state parks along the way, and boondock at some Harvest Hosts, we really enjoyed the social aspects and easy of life at the RV parks.  You have unlimited electricity, water, and sewer.  It made life just that much easier and less “camp-like”.
  • We need a bigger trailer
    Duh.  If we’re going to do this full time, we will need a bigger trailer to live in.  We saw the exact unit we wanted camped right across the street from us at Distant Drums RV Resort.  When I talked to the gentleman who owned it the next morning I asked him what he did NOT like about the unit.  He said he wished he had bought the higher end unit rather than the middle of the line unit he had.  Good to know.
  • It’s all uphill
    I say this only slightly tongue in cheek; no matter which direction you drive in Arizona and New Mexico, it will be uphill.  If it’s not uphill it will be against the wind.
  • Never enough horsepower
    See the previous bullet point.  As a result, no matter what size trailer you get, make sure you get the maximum amount of horsepower you can to tow it.  You can’t have too much.  Especially with AZ an NM’s 75 MPH speed limit.  For ALL vehicles.  They don’t limit the speed of commercial trucks like they do in California.
  • Never too many plans
    I had a plan A, B, and C.  And when plan C fell through I came up with a plan D.  Always be flexible in your travels.  You never know what the weather is going to do.
  • Reservations never hurt
    One thing I didn’t take into account was the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  As a result for a month or more leading up to and a month after all RV resorts in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe area had special “Fiesta Rates”.  In some case almost 50% higher than their normal rates.  And most parks did not have space.
  • Keep travel days short
    I found that when I planned for 4 hour travel days, they usually became over 5 hour travel days.  That’s.  Too.  Long.   In the future I’m only going to plan for three hours of travel.  Any more than that and it’s too fatiguing.  Plus you have time to do life once you arrive at your destination; laundry, email, bills, etc.
  • Travel less, stay longer
    Our next trip will be a short drive, and then a week’s stay.  Moving every couple of days is very tiring.
  • Keep track of time
    The days began to blur together.  We’re going to put a calendar in the trailer and mark off the days so we know what day it is and when we need to be where.  It was easy to forget.

That’s about it.  The last thing we found out is that we could very easily adapt to this lifestyle.  Cristy was somewhat worried to begin with but after about a week and a half she really began to enjoy herself.  If we could stay at our destinations longer she would absolutely love it.  I’m counting on that.

Oh, and we finally came up with a name for our trailer:

Little House on the Highway

 

Trip To Hardin – Day 22

Travel Day

This was just a travel day and not much to write about.  Other than the steep 6-8% uphill grade from Camp Verde 30 miles north up to Flagstaff.  It went better than I thought.  The truck performed better than I thought it would.  We stopped off in Kingman to make lunch in the trailer and then after lunch continued on to Needles to stay in the same park as before, Desert View RV Park.  We spent the afternoon catching up on phone calls and I took a much needed nap.  Then dinner, TV, and bed.