Friday, October 25, 2019

To the Carolinas and Back, the Tiny Trailer Numbers

tiny trailer camping
Rest stop in Illinois on the way home--20 big rigs and the Green Goddess
First, I have to apologize because I've discovered that numbers aren't screamingly important to me. I mean, emotionally, I don't need to know all the numerical facts regarding my recent three-week trip from SE Iowa to the Carolinas and back. However, looking at the numbers does provide me with another angle for analyzing and understanding my journey, and can help me make determinations about how to become a better traveler. Fortunately, I did keep a journal for cash expenses, and it's pretty nigh impossible to travel using gps without having distances thrown at you--or being able to go back at a later date and find a route and mileage number pretty close to your actual route. So here goes!


As hard as it is to believe (even for me), I forgot to set the odometer or to write down my mileage both at the beginning of my trip out and for the beginning of my trip back. I just had other things on my mind, and I had a pretty good idea of the distances: around 850 miles from my home to Pilot Mountain, North Carolina; around 250 miles from Pilot Mountain to Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina; and a little less than 1,200 miles from HBSP back to home, depending on the specific route I chose. That adds up to approximately 2,300 of travel. I began the trip with an average of 18.1 miles per gallon and ended with 17.6. I think the drop wasn't so much because of the miles on the road but because the new addition was mountain travel. I passed through eleven states for this trip, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. For some of those states, I believe I just nipped a corner, an in and out.

Pilot Mountain, North Carolina
Pilot Mountain, NC

My more studied approximations, after having traveled the distance, is a total of 2,600 miles, which includes some micro traveling for food, lodging, and just general running around. It also includes the fact that my navigator took me on several voyages into the backwoods and along urban freeways--that is to say, not always the shortest route but sometimes the "fastest." The main weakness of navigation systems that I can see, having traveled a lot of unfamiliar country now with gps guidance, is that the fastest or shortest route is not always the easiest route. It seems that gps navigating systems have a difficult time figuring Aristotle's "golden middle way," that comfortable space in the middle between extremes. "Fastest" and "shortest" are quantifiable concepts; however, easiest route is not quantifiable, although I suppose quantifiable parameters could be assigned in programming--traffic, road quality, elevation change. Easiest, though, is a much more slippery concept, and that's not even considering that easy will not be the same for everyone. 


The total cost for gasoline for this trip was $437.58. As I mentioned earlier, my mpg average started at 18.1 dropped to 17.6 by the end of the trip. My tow vehicle is a 2018 Nissan Pathfinder with a V6. The steepest grades I experienced were 9%, and that was when heading north out of Harrison Bay State Park, in the Smoky Mountains. My RTTC Polar Bear weighs 1,450 pounds empty, and the Pathfinder had plenty of power for towing. On freeways, I generally drove between 60-65 mph, often at 62 mph. On the steepest, longest pull in the Smoky Mountains, I dropped the transmission out of overdrive and dropped the cruise speed down to 50 to ease the load on the engine. The Pathfinder came with a tow package, and I'm very happy with how the car performed.

Campground Costs

The overall cost of campgrounds for my trip is $832.59. I also include here (but not in the campground total) $75.23 for one night in an EconoLodge motel room for when my trailer was getting its new roof. The least expensive campground was Harrison Bay State Park in Tennessee, which totaled out to $20.48 for one night, including a senior discount. The most expensive campground was South Carolina's Huntington Beach State Park. At $65 per night, five nights totaled out at $357.50. The roadside overnight campgrounds all averaged between $30-45 per night. 

This road trip included a time schedule. I had a set date to deliver my camper to Rustic Trails Teardrop Campers to have a new roof installed. The weekend for the RTTC 2019 get-together at Huntington Beach State Park established my second deadline, and just wanting to get home and not dilly-dally formed my third time schedule. 

My trip out was a straight shot of overnighters, and the campgrounds all near freeways. My experience with these is that they were quick, clean, and convenient, although there was some difference between the mom-and-pop campgrounds and KOA-type establishments, mainly that the mom-and-pop establishments were a tad bit more "rustic" but also about a third more inexpensive than the KOAs.

A boy enjoying the warm Atlantic waters at Huntington Beach State Park, SC. Tiny trailer camping
A boy enjoying the warm Atlantic waters at Huntington Beach State Park, SC

I had a week to blow before arriving at Huntington Beach, so I spent four nights in a little private campground in the Pilot Mountain area. It provided the most basic facilities of the entire trip, but the campground was clean. It was actually my favorite of the trip, perfect for my tiny trailer. Camping among the trees is just the way to go for me, but it's also hard to beat the South Carolina ocean experience at Huntington Beach. On my way south to HBSP, I spent two nights in a KOA in Lumberton, NC. What can I say about this stay? The cleanest, newest bathrooms I've seen in a campground--and private, "family bathrooms," at that. And the sights and sounds of the freeway about a hundred yards away. Most of the campgrounds on the trip home were private and most "campers," it seemed to me, were semi-permanent retirees or construction workers.

State campgrounds are hard to beat in that the focus is on the natural environment, and the two I stayed at were really the best in overall experience. If my wife and I someday repeat this trip, we'll try to increase the stays at state parks, both in how many we camp at and how long we camp there. If I had been willing and able to take more time on this trip and to drive more miles, I could have relaxed more at state parks. It's a good thing for me to keep in mind. 


I packed quite a bit of food on the trip, so I didn't have to buy much. Ice cost about $22 for three weeks, and I still had a good ice load arriving home. Food costs were $105.42, which included fresh vegetable and apples. That total also included some Subway sandwiches, Taco Bell burritos, and McDonald's french fries that I bought along the way and during my overnight in the motel. I enjoyed steaming fresh vegetables and learning how to cook without setting up the whole camp kitchen. 

One of the best aspects of traveling with a camper is the ability to cook my own food and not change my diet. I think this keeps me more healthy. Sleeping in my own bed and eating my own food--yeah, I like that.

Last Thoughts

What I learned about tiny trailer travel while on this trip deals with time awareness. I always knew I'd get back home eventually, but after a while I just began thinking more in the moment, whether it was negotiating my way through Atlanta freeway traffic or rolling along interminable, slow winding Appalachian backroads. I began narrowing my focus more on the needs of the day to get to tomorrow. Perhaps that sounds strange, but I think it's probably characteristic of road trips. I know that for even small bicycle tours, even overnighters, the focus narrows to "let's get up this hill" or "set up the tent and lie down for a bit." The constant movement of driving, rolling down the highway, and the constant need to be attentive to the details that make the trip safe focus the attention. The selective use of some muscles and not others while driving is a constant reminder that I'm on the road and not on my usual varied daily activity schedule. After a while, the routine of quick camp stops, gas stations,  and miles and miles of asphalt--after a while, I just had to find the joy in the moment. Music and NPR programs helped. My next long trip will be with my wife, and then we can chat and enjoy being together, which helps the miles flow by.

I've discovered I'm a guy who prefers camping over driving. I guess I've always known that, actually. I've also discovered that I can travel on down that road, on and on, even though it's not my favorite activity. We can't always have total control over what we have to do, though. The secret is in being able to find the bliss in whatever we do, and that bliss, of course, is inside of us, not outside. So what am I working towards? Drop-dead gorgeous campsites and bulletproof bliss inside! Camp on, Tommy!

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  1. Funny about campgrounds. It is sometimes the ones you don't expect much out of that are the best experiences. This past summer I did some "tow and go" for a few nights on the Blue Ridge and Skyline Drive. I loved every part of that part of camping. Love the group camping and the quiet campsite tucked into the hills. It is all good.

  2. I read comments about the free campgrounds or "dispersed" camping out in the West. Not much of that here in Iowa or the Midwest in general. Mostly it's just campgrounds--city, county, state, and private. And you're right, it's not always obvious which ones are the best. I have discovered, though, that I'm not one of those folks that thinks driving all day is just the greatest.