Friday, June 14, 2019

How Ruben Rolls: the 8,000-Mile Tiny Trailer "Maiden Voyage"

Bears in the Wild

"I have wanted a travel trailer for a while, and I was considering a larger Winnebago Micro Minnie or something like an R-Pod.  I even visited a couple dealers but dreaded another monthly payment. The RTTC Grizzly was the perfect answer. What was going to be my down payment would just about pay for the whole trailer."

"So excited! Dropping this in the mail today. After a year of lurking, sending in my order for a new Grizzly!"

And this is the story about how Ruben G. Soto rolled from April 26 through May 25, over 8,200 miles and through twenty-one states, from California to North Carolina, to pick up his Rustic Trails Teardrop Grizzly camper.

Sequoia Nat'l Park
"I followed the owners’ group for a while and decided this was the solution I needed. Enough room for me and my dog and more interior space than a traditional teardrop while keeping a sleek retro style. I thought about having it shipped, but how could I pass up on driving cross country! I started planning a route and making reservations long before I put down my deposit."

Ruben isn't the kind of person who takes off on a quest to "find himself" or to discover some spiritual revelation, although "there's nothing wrong with people doing that." He's quite happy in life and was just looking for a new experience. "I took this solo trip because I knew this was a beautiful country and I wanted to see more of it." He didn't really travel alone, though; rather, he traveled with the memory of his brother, who passed away a year and a half ago while waiting for a heart transplant. "On [my brother's] bucket list and something that we would have done had he gotten out of the hospital was a cross country road trip. I took his spirit with me on this trip, and I know he was looking down and enjoying it."

The trip turned out to be a beautiful "before and after" story of Ruben sleeping in tents, of rain, of Ruben sleeping in his truck cab, and finally of Ruben sleeping in his brand-spanking new tiny trailer. He breaks his odyssey into three segments: "The West," "Midwest Storms," and "Trailer Fun," saying that "each area was so unique and enjoyable that a full book on each stop couldn’t do it justice."

How Ruben rolled: the northern route heading out to NC; the southern on the return to CA

The Western Segment

The Western segment passed through the states of California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, exploring beautiful forest (Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park) to desert (the Loneliest Road in America, Arches National Park and Moab scenic areas, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park). Lots of wide open spaces and long roads were the outstanding qualities of this leg of the trip.

The Arches

Ruben hadn’t camped in Colorado before, and both the camping and driving experiences were amazing. He started at Colorado National Monument and the famous Rim Rock Drive with its canyon views and climbing curves. "It was the first time I saw bighorn sheep. From there I went to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with pinon trees and the namesake canyon cut by the Gunnison River. This was the cheapest campsite at four dollars a night – half price because the water was still turned off for the winter.  I couldn’t miss the chance to drive the Million Dollar Highway and went as far as Silverton. It’s a small mountain town with one paved road but a small local cafĂ© serving a delicious hot breakfast."

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado

One spot that Ruben plans to visit again is Arches National Park, where he was able to tent camp high and dry, surrounded by beauty. "I did a few hikes there, and the sights were awe inspiring. I could have easily stayed there for a week. The campground was in a great location with the sites away from most of the general traffic of the park, and my site was facing beautiful rock formations with visiting wildlife (deer, birds, and lizards)."

Silverton, Colorado

As if there couldn’t be more, Ruben also went to the Great Sand Dunes National Park "that looks like a desert landscape right next to snowcapped mountains." His last stop in the state was Manitou Springs outside Colorado Springs and a drive up Pikes Peak. "I felt the thin air at the summit with the cold, biting wind while looking down at civilization from 14,000 feet up."

Great Sand Dunes

The Midwest Storms Segment

The Midwest was where Ruben experienced the most rain: Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. Yes, some of these states aren't Midwest, but the rain was the unifying factor for this segment. In Kansas he hit a huge storm "with roaring thunder and lightning." He didn't take as many photographs of this segment or of the rainy terrain because he was focusing more on the drive and the miles. "I did kind of rush through because I didn't stay anywhere more than one night in this segment and I didn't leave myself a lot of time to explore."

Rain in Kansas

"The weather made for a few challenging days. One of the more disappointing moments of the trip was the last four nights before reaching Maryland. Each night it rained, and I absolutely did not want to have to pack up a wet tent, so I didn’t set it up. Instead I slept in my truck. Thankfully it is plenty big with room to lie on the seat almost flat. One of the downsides was that the rain hitting the metal roof often woke me up early or kept me awake so I didn’t sleep very well those nights. I feel a little bad complaining about the weather, seeing as how it is so much worse right now, but that was definitely the most challenging part of the trip."
The Trailer Fun Segment

The trailer segment was so varied that Ruben feels it really could be almost five groups on its own as he traveled through North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California on his way home. "From the beautiful Blue Ridge to the rolling Kentucky Bluegrass to the Hot Springs of Arkansas to Route 66 to the Grand Canyon to the Mojave and San Bernardino Mountains in California," it was an experience of varied geography and history, all of which Ruben rolled through with his brand new tiny trailer.

Maker's Mark Distillery

"I became a bit of a bourbon drinker about ten years ago after a work trip to Louisville. Though I had long been a whiskey drinker, it was this trip that exposed me more to the all-American spirit, and I soon changed my habits. While there I also learned about the “bourbon trail” and the all the distilleries in Kentucky. Since then, I knew that if I ever made it back that way, I would have to visit at least one. So when planning the trip, I made sure two distilleries were on the list (originally three, but I cut one out so I could ensure plenty of time at the other two)."

Maker's Mark, one of Ruben's favorite stops

"It is a beautiful campus facility across several barn-like buildings all painted in a matching black and red motif among soft, rolling acres of perfect green grass and broad shady trees. There’s even a small creek running through. Learning and seeing the process from grain to bottle was fun and inspiring. The fermenting room was humid, warm, and had a delicious smell that was maybe a combination of beer and oatmeal with a touch of sweetness. I think even non-whiskey drinkers would enjoy this tour. If I hadn’t already spent so much on souvenirs, I probably would have had lunch at their on-site restaurant that tempted me with farm-fresh food and of course, a bourbon-based specialty cocktail menu. I would love to visit some of the distilleries I missed and definitely make a return trip to Maker’s."
Lakeside beauty reflecting off the windows at Tompkins Bend Campground, Arkansas. "This was one of those stops where I could have stayed a few days and been perfectly happy. The ranger when checking me in complimented my site choice (I basically had my pick since I reserved it the day the reservation window opened six months earlier) and was genuinely disappointed that I was only going to be there one night. I understood why."

One highlight for Ruben on his trip home was getting to visit his alma mater. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2002 and hadn't been back since. "It brought back so many memories to be able to walk the campus again and even catch up with my old roommate."

University of Oklahoma

Traveling home, Ruben had plenty of miles and pavement to get used to pulling his new rig. "Route 66 was fun. I was definitely not a purist by staying on the road the whole time and portions are merged with I-40." Ruben enjoyed going through old towns, even just to drive through. If he hadn't been on a schedule, he  could have "spent ages exploring some of these towns."

Tucumcari, New Mexico

Ruben found the roads maintained fairly well, no worse than others. "Yes, of course, there are potholes here and there, but I did not get the feeling of abandonment or anything. Route 66 cuts through the Texas panhandle, and most of it is just I-40 with only a few towns where Route 66 separates off then merges back on." He did drive Route 66, but it was also a lot of Interstate driving. He did make a point of driving through Amarillo, from off the Interstate.

Unexpected snow at the Grand Canyon

Arriving at the Grand Canyon, Ruben stayed there for two nights.  He had never been, "and it was a great visit staying at Mather Campground. Booking early really pays off since I am still new to towing and wanted to get a pull through spot with the door facing the campsite." I didn't go down into the canyon, but I walked the South Rim Trail from the main visitor center to the village. I loved the El Tovar where I had a small lunch at the bar with a cocktail made with whiskey from a local distillery. I took the shuttle to Hermit's Rest and on the way out of the park visited Desert View Watchtower."

How the RTTC Grizzly Rolled

"The Grizzly trailer was fantastic. Everything went smoothly from the pick up at RTTC headquarters to driving hundreds of miles in one day." Even when Ruben missed a turn and had to make a U-turn, he knew he could make it with the small trailer.

"I am still not fully comfortable with backing up, but my truck came with a trailer back-up assist system that has made it so much easier." Before he set up the system at the first campground, he spent easily twenty minutes just getting both wheels of the trailer and the four wheels of his truck on the asphalt pad at the campsite.  He still ended up with everything parked skewed, but he was done and just put it in park and called it a night.

The trailer was perfect for Ruben during the couple of nights it rained or was just cold. "I didn’t have to even consider sleeping the in truck like some nights before I got the trailer and didn’t have to deal with packing myself into a sleeping bag. It even snowed overnight once, and I woke up to a winter wonderland in late May." He felt bad for the tent campers with their setup covered in the fresh powder, but didn't mind that he was able to easily hook up and drive off.
"The days I had driving the trailer home also reinforced that I have made the right decision for me by choosing a trailer without a kitchen that takes up space inside or in a hatch. I love cooking outside as part of the camping experience and without a kitchen taking up space, I have more room in the trailer to get ready, sleep, work on the computer, or just read. There were simple things about a trailer that brought more joy to the experience. In the rain I could crack the window a bit, hear the calming taps of the drops on the lake while sitting on a comfortable sofa curled up with a book. You can’t do that in a tent."

"While crossing the country was absolutely beautiful, it also was a reminder to me about how much I have right in my own state," Ruben says. "I started with the largest trees in the world and ended in the driest desert in the nation. [California] holds part of the legendary Route 66 and lakeside mountain retreats. I’m looking forward to a quick getaway, taking the Grizzly to an oceanside beach campground with my dog."

Eight thousand plus miles, and now Ruben is a happy camper in his tiny trailer, just waiting for his next adventure. "I do see how people can spend months on the road at a time and maybe when I retire (in 25-30 years haha) I could see myself doing something like that (though maybe in a slightly larger rig). I think the trip lived up to everything I was looking for. I had lots of opportunity to see great sights, visit eleven National Parks, eat tasty food along the way and just be in nature." As long as Ruben is pulling his "tiny trailer" teardrop, it sounds like singer Nat King Cole's advice applies to any road Ruben rides:
Well, if you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way
Take the highway that's the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

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  1. How exciting a adventure you had. Next year my husband & I will be doing a USA tour with our Mypod trailer; being pulled with our Harley Davidson Trike. Can't wait to see what kind of adventure we have. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It sounds like your adventure will be wonderful also. Have a wonderful adventure! Pulling your trailer with your Harley will be a real experience! Be sure to share photos.

  2. I just bought a teardrop from a farmer who had it for 8 years and now I'm in the process of making it fit for me as I want to plan a 90 day outing to some of the spots you traveled. I enjoyed your dialog about your 8,000 mile trip and will make sure I taste the bourbon. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Ruben showed us how to have fun while accomplishing a task--in his case getting his tiny trailer from the East coast to the West. Be sure to post photos of your trip when you take off!

  3. Amazing adventure and a story well told. Thanks Tom. A couple of my favorite photos of the year posted on the Rustic Trail Teardrops Camper Owners group were the ones posted by Ruben of Route 66. I sure wish he would post more pictures of his grand adventure.

    1. Yes, you can tell Ruben is "visually literate." Some of his photos are iconic.

  4. Wow! Just the kind of thing I'd love to do!

    1. Yes, Ruben really caught the wave with this trip.

  5. Love this! In a couple years I plan to retire, take my teardrop and just go wherever I want.
    Thanks Ruben for sharing your journey.

    1. Sometimes the best thing we need is a good example of someone just getting out there and doing it!

  6. Wonderful! And great photos too, he has inspired me, again.