Friday, June 24, 2011

As Easy As One, Two, Three

Our third year at the Ward's in Dale and something has changed
When we went through the process of choosing our popup camper years ago, we attended several RV shows. You see what RV manufactures offered as their newest innovations to woo potential buyers. Even after we purchased our popup we didn't stop attending RV shows or observing what other vacationers like us were using. Maybe it's an RVer thing, this "the grass is greener" obsession, although, we've noticed the same behavior with boat and car owners who also continue to attend annual manufacturer shows. So it wasn't surprising that our obsession with RV shows also didn't end with the purchase of our KZ Spree.
During our two years of wandering we kept track of our experiences along with those of other full-timers. We witnessed all manner of RV's that folks like us had chosen for their road abodes. Travel trailers similar to ours, fifth wheels, and motor coaches seemed to be the predominant groupings, each with their own subset of variations. Many pluses and minuses to consider. We kept track of our likes and dislikes.

Parking this year at the Ward's "Snug-Inn" was challenging
Our continued interest in RVs and the RV industry in general remained justified. After all, as was stated in our first blog entry in May 2009, part of our RV experiment was to determine if a nomadic lifestyle would suit us. And now, two years after we began, the short answer is yes. We have found our vagabond existence to be mostly agreeable. And we offer as proof that we have managed not to kill each other while living in what some have viewed as a confined space.
Once we concluded to continue our wheeled wandering, the decision then became in what kind of an RV would we continue? Our current trailer, despite a few shortcomings, really was fine. But if we were to continue we also realized a bit more space would be welcome along with more creature comforts. This was after all, our home. Still, whatever we chose had to allow us to remain mobile enough to access the more out of the way destinations we've come to appreciate.
When it came down to it, the decision about what RV style to choose from wasn't all that complicated. A large Class A motor home would be, well, too large. Besides being high maintenance and overly expensive, they would require towing a second vehicle for transportation wherever we parked. The same held true for the smaller Class C motor homes. The latest travel trailers on the market did not offer floor plans that felt comfortable so we opted for what many full-timers use, a fifth wheel.

New GMC parked at Marge's home (Carol's sister)
As with most decisions in life, there are consequences. Ripple effects. We understood that choosing a fifth wheel would require a different truck. One with a diesel engine. That immediately ruled out our trusty Toyota Tundra and Toyota in general as they do not make a diesel powered truck for the U.S. market. That left the big three: Dodge, Ford and GM (Chevy and GMC).
Suffice to say there were no lack of opinions among our RVing friends as to which breed to choose. On our way back to WI from TX we stopped in Tucson, AZ for a month (subject of a future blog post). We used part of our time in Tucson to visit truck dealers, an enlightening adventure. As with our RVing friends, sales people also had their opinions as to which brand would best serve our needs. Balanced against industry reports, truck magazine reviews and our personal inspections, we settled on a GMC 2500HD which we purchased at Quebedeaux GMC/Buick (great customer service!). Step one of our three step process was accomplished. After matching our KZ's hitch system to the GMC and acquiring enough 'break-in miles' we headed back to WI with an eye to buying a fifth wheel.
As much as we respected and trusted the terrific customer service we had received at Kings Campers  in Wausau, where we had purchased our KZ Spree, sadly, they did not handle the Carriage brand, the company we had eventually chosen. In our search for a reputable Carriage dealer our good friends and neighbors from TX, Gayle and Harvey, suggested the small family owned Keepers RV Center in Mankato, MN where they had recently purchased their new Carriage Cameo. We targeted Mankato on our way back to WI where we pleasantly discovered the folks at Keepers to be most agreeable. As luck would have it they had in stock the very Carriage Cameo model (34SB3) we sought with most of the options we wanted in stock. We placed a down payment to hold the RV. Step two now complete, we continued on to WI to run our plan past our financial advisers to ensure we were not overstepping our financial resources.
Our KZ Spree and new Cameo 35SB3
A few weeks later, and with a green light to proceed, we returned to Keepers to trade our beloved KZ Spree. The whole process to transfer our belongings, have a fifth wheel hitch installed in the truck bed, and do a walk-through of our new Cameo took less than two full days. By late morning of the second day we were hitched up and on the road to Carol's sister's home on Lake Wisconsin near Merrimac, our three step plan now complete. So how is it working out for us? What new and different? And what do we miss about our KZ?
desk with electric fireplace
Most noticeable was the hitching process. The Blue Ox Sway Pro system we had used with our Spree had never failed us but it did require more physical steps and parts. Leveling the KZ was always a bit of a challenge even though we had become quite proficient. Leveling the Cameo by comparison was a breeze using the built-in Big Foot landing gear. The Big Foot's "Auto" control button levels the rig automatically via four hydraulic jacks in just a few minutes. No more hand cranking and no more bubble levels!

recliners and larger rear windows
sleeper sofa and coffee table
The "basement" space below the bedroom is far roomier and convenient for storing/accessing outdoor chairs, tables, the portable grill, water hoses, etc. Many of these items formerly resided in the bed of the truck which now, with the installation of the Curt fifth wheel hitch, no longer fit. Additional storage beneath the rear of the Cameo accommodates our luggage when not in use along with other less used items.
Storage in the living areas is also improved. The raised bedroom, now part of a slide out, has a large closet for all our hanging clothes now located in one place. There's a six-drawer dresser. The bed, now a full-sized queen, offers more space to walk around along with easier mattress access for making the bed (always a struggle in the KZ). Two more nearby closets boast space for laundry, linens and cleaning supplies. The bathroom, also raised, is now a separate room (in the KZ we had to walk through it to get to the bedroom). While smaller it still offers plenty of storage space.

view toward dining area
view from dining area
The dining/living area is more roomy with two large slide outs (the KZ had just one). All four dining table chairs fit comfortably around the table (which now can extend when a table leaf is inserted). A sleeper sofa utilizes a real mattress as opposed to an inflatable one. A coffee table with a raised top function, two large recliners with lamp table, more electric outlets, and more wall space for our artwork compliment the areas. There's a fireplace (electric) next to a built-in desk. And the rig has a built-in vacuum system.

hallway to upper level and bedroom (bathroom door immediate right)
The kitchen is where the pinch for space is noticeable. Fifth wheels by design have much higher ceilings, thus, the cabinets are now much taller. This necessitates more frequent use of a step-stool to reach the new heights. On the other hand, the higher ceilings accommodate a ceiling fan. Gone is the large food pantry we loved in the KZ (so deep that a flashlight was required to see to the back). New and different challenges on how to store food stuffs and cooking utensils but the fridge has two more cubic feet of storage.

bathroom cabinets and shower

KZ knew how to build a travel trailer well, but the build quality and finish of the Cameo is superior. It has four seasons insulation, hidden hinges on all cabinets, hardware that is more familiar in "real" houses and overall, at least to our eyes, a much more tastefully decorated interior.
The KZ footprint was shorter by three feet so perhaps we're comparing apples to oranges. But while the KZ was shorter, the use of a fifth wheel hitch actually shortened the overall combined length of the truck when connected to the Cameo. The Cameo's height is significantly higher (12' 8" versus KZ's 10' 10") which makes for greater drag when towing although with the GMC we haven't noticed any difference in gas mileage. If anything the GMC is slightly better even with its significant increase in power and low end torque. Of course we have to be even more mindful of pulling into gas stations with low overhangs...

The Cameo has more outside surface area to clean but the attached roof ladder makes for easier roof access. Its window design does not allow for windows to open as fully (horizontally side-to-side) as the KZ did but the design allows for more opportunities to leave them open when it rains.
Currently we're parked at Todd and Cindy Ward's home in Dale, WI. Our third visit in as many years. Centrally located to friends, family and all the other appointments we have, the Ward's are most gracious hosts. Cindy's dad, Lyle, added a 30amp plug so we could run our air conditioner (although this spring has been cooler than normal).
We anticipate that with this new setup we should have a another five years on the road (health willing) before we will have to decide if we wish to continue. In the meantime we look forward to more grand adventures in a space more suited to our lifestyle.

"How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use!"
 - Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses"

1 comment:

  1. "Good idea." Even though we were unable to experience the first setup, your descriptions and comparisons favor the new changes. We were pleased to see the fireplace! You'll laugh aloud when you see what we've had to resort to in an effort to stay connected to our past life and fulfill our sensory needs. We're looking forward to seeing you Wednesday evening. Great looking home and truck.

    Raven and Michael