Saturday, May 1, 2021

Airstream Basecamp Shakedown Camping Trip Journal

A simple camp at Jefferson County Park Campground, Iowa

I'm a new Airstream Basecamp 16 owner, having picked up our Basecamp three days before Christmas last year. We managed to take the trailer out twice during the winter for a two-nighter and a one-nighter, but those quick trips were local and with the rig still winterized. Those trips and some planning time while the trailer was in the driveway allowed my wife and me to outfit the camper and get some good ideas of what the Basecamp experience would be.

We weren't new to trailer camping, having owned and camped in an RTTC Polar Bear "standy" tiny trailer for three years; however the "Green Goddess" was a simple trailer, wired for 15 amps and having no plumbing features. It was a great trailer that provided wonderful adventures and memories, but it was a tiny trailer, not a little trailer, a small but significant difference. Moving into the Basecamp was quite a revelation, even with our winter camping ventures. Room for both of us to stand and move around! A kitchen and refrigerator! There was a learning curve with the new Basecamp, and the winter and driveway camping allowed me to become accustomed to the electrical and heating and cooking systems. I learned to punch the Truma heater panel icons and dial in my heating needs. We cooked a few times on the propane stove, and set up the toaster oven and Instant Pot. We experimented with the bed set-up and realized what works best and easiest for one or two people. (I can sleep easily on the half-bed; the two of us use the full bed when together.)

However, we had never used all the trailer's functions before, especially the water systems: toilet, shower, and sink. It was time for a full-on shakedown to make sure all systems worked. When I learned that our local county park--four miles from our house--was opening up two weeks early, it was time to take the baby out for a spin and see what she could do. 

Day 1, Monday, April 26, Arrival

Today and tomorrow will be hot for April in Iowa, in the mid 80s. I was in no rush to get to Jefferson County Campground. My wife Sandy and I had cruised the campground on Sunday and seen that there were plenty of spaces. Besides getting the Basecamp stocked, I also had some house and garden chores to finish. It was in the afternoon that I seriously finished packing and hitching up.

Prior to hitching up, I decided I wanted to add some water to the trailer's fresh water tank, just to see how that went while still at home. I unwound the new drinking water hose, attached the Camco filter, and filled the tank to about sixty percent. My only moment during the process was at the beginning, really, when I had to figure out that the water tank cap on the trailer doesn't unscrew; it's one of those that you twist half a turn and then lift off. I did realize toward the last that I had not shut off the fresh water tank drain ("What's that water down there beneath the trailer?"), so I closed that and added a bit more water. The tank filled easily, and my main final challenge was getting that new hose wrapped back up so that it would fit in the storage area above the propane tanks.

The campsite I chose was close to the children's playground in case our grandkids came. It turned out that they didn't, but I was entertained by a local preschool class arriving. I didn't have to level the camper, which is always frosting on the cake, and since I arrived just before the preschool kids, I didn't have to worry about dodging children as I backed in. Since it was a hot day, I was able to play around with the air conditioner for the first time. It worked well, even if it was a bit noisy--but, honestly, what ac isn't? I filled up the fresh water tank from the camp spigot and then rested till the evening cooled.

Day 2, Tuesday, April 27

My task this morning was to discover why our water system wasn't producing hot water. Because I was new to self-sufficient trailers, I had taken the Basecamp to a local dealer to have it de-winterized, the (non-Airstream) dealership agreeing to walk me through the steps. The process was easier than I had anticipated, but the technician had not de-winterized a Basecamp before, so it was a process of following water lines and discovery for both of us. He flushed the antifreeze from the lines and said I was good to go. I learned from his instruction and our discussion, but I did want a shakedown camping trip because I also knew that he was working with a new rig. As it turned out, my caution was justified--no hot water.

One Facebook Basecamp group discussion had mentioned that the best way to get hot water for a shower was to turn the hot water tank heater control to "Boost" on the Truma control panel. I didn't want to do that, though, until I was sure that the hot water tank was open and full of water. I didn't want to be boost-heating an empty water tank. 

I decided to watch again a YouTube video where Basecamp owner Dan Moller explains how to winterize his 2018 rig ("How to Winterize an Airstream Basecamp 2018"). I figured that I could follow the process step by step and determine if the valves were all in their proper settings for the full use of the water system. What I found out was that the valves were correctly set for filling the hot water heater tank. However, one valve was open that should have been closed, the bypass valve after the hot water tank that allow the hot and cold water to mix, which was used during the winterizing process of filling the pipes with RV anti-freeze. I closed the bypass, set the heating tank to "Boost," and twenty minutes later checked the hot water at the kitchen sink. Success! Feeling very handy, I set the water heater to the "Eco" setting and decided my work was done for the day. As far as I understood, the Basecamp was now fully functional, and all I had to do was to become more familiar with the systems.

Driving home (the Basecamp still at the campground), I parked the tow vehicle in the garage, since I would be returning to camp on my bicycle. Our children had had some car difficulties, and we were loaning them our second car. I was leaving our Nissan Pathfinder for my wife, and I'd be adventure cycling back and forth from camp to house every day. 

I cooked myself a wonderful lunch of fresh garden asparagus at home, piddled around in the garden, watering more since it was another hot day. After lunch, I had eaten a small piece of chocolate cake for dessert, and for some reason it hadn't agreed with me. Perhaps it was the heaviness of the cake and the heat of the day. Who knows? When I got ready to ride my bicycle back to camp, it was about three o'clock and windy. For some reason, I had no strength and was looking forward to just getting back to camp, turning on the air conditioner, and resting.

Back at camp, I ended up lying in bed, wondering if I was going to throw up, and sure enough, I experienced three "events" within the next hour and a half. Then I napped for a bit and woke up feeling that I was past the unpleasantness but still needing some quiet time. Luckily, I was alone in the trailer, so I decided to fill Sandy in on my trails and tribulations the next morning. That way she wouldn't have to worry, and I could just stay in camp and rest. Looking back on the experience, I can say that it seemed that my body was saying, "You want a shakedown? I'll give you a shakedown!" 

Day 3, Wednesday, April 28

Wednesday was a day of rain, forecast to arrive in the afternoon. Since I had forgotten to bring my rain gear, I elected to ride my bike to the house in the morning when it was cloudy but not storming. I arrived prior to the rain and planted some spinach in the garden. So far this week, I've planted potatoes and spinach, probably a bit late for each, but we'll see. 

Garden fresh

I had another great lunch of fresh asparagus and then headed back to camp. And if you've been waiting for this moment--yes, the rain hit! As I was leaving, I saw the rain beginning to fall, so I headed back inside the house and geared up for rainy weather--rain pants, jacket, and hood. Rain was falling, but I was dry because of the gear I had from my bicycle camping days. About halfway to camp, though, the weather really hit, a deluge. I was glad I had chosen to ride to the campground on paved roads rather than the bike trail, much cleaner! 

My boots were waterproof, mostly. My rain gear worked well-mostly--which is normal for bicycle riding in heavy rain. Since it wasn't extremely cold, I was enjoying myself. Riding a bicycle in the rain is always a noteworthy experience, each sense so activated with the sight, sound, smell, and touch of the rain. I've never felt sleepy while riding in the rain. 

"Rain Shower"

I arrived at camp at probably the heaviest rain of the day. My Topeak Trunkbag rear panniers (with rain cover) were full of some extras I was packing, and by the time I unloaded, I couldn't have been any more wet than if I were standing in a shower. I just walked straight into the Basecamp's shower and took off my rain gear there, hanging it up to dry. Now with water outside and inside, not able to open the roof vent because of the driving rain, I broke out the tiny Pro Breeze dehumidifier to help with the moisture. 

Using our toaster oven for a baked potato dinner

I dried out, rested, read, and baked a potato for dinner--baked potato, butter, salt and pepper, and sprouts from home and arugula from the garden. Here's to say that the trailer doesn't leak. After looking over the proof of the book I've just written, RTTC Bears in the Wild, I went to bed in my snug little trailer, looking forward to finishing a good mystery I'd been reading. Peaceful dreams, Tom.

Day 4, Thursday, April 29

Since I had the trailer up and running, I decided to have the day be "cook in camp day." For breakfast, I scrambled an egg and made myself a breakfast burrito, tucking eggs and sprouts into a tortilla. That was an easy meal, and I was able to use the inside propane stove. I also received a pleasant reminder of how easy it is to clean a cast iron skillet. I washed the dishes outside and then spent the rest of the morning writing up my handwritten journal notes. 

My day of cooking continued on with lunch, which I decided to cook using our Instant Pot pressure cooker. I whipped together a vegetable pilaf, using tri-color rice, vegetables I had pre-cut at home prior to the trip, and nuts and raisins. It's a simple meal, and half a bouillon cube, Herbs de Provence, a little oil, and salt make for a flavorful one-pot meal. Today I didn't add tofu because I planned to have some for dinner. My wife cooks a similar meal but makes it a fish stew by adding more water and, of course, fish. The Instant Pot is a handy cooking device for a little trailer. I used the table outside, though, because the day was so nice. 

Like breakfast, I washed the dishes outside. Being used to washing dishes in camp using the "three-station" set-up of washtub, rinse tub, and drainer, the inside sink in the Basecamp feels pretty cramped. Also, outside I can use our induction burner to heat water for washing, thereby not draining the fresh water tank or filling up the holding tank. Since this was a shakedown trip, though, I promised myself to use the inside sink for dinner dishes at least once during the trip.

A simple meal

I wanted to shake up my shakedown a bit, so for dinner I decided to steam fresh asparagus from home on the inside propane stove in order to find out how steamy the interior became. Because of the pleasant seventy degree day, I was able to steam the veggies with the side door open and the ceiling fan on high--kind of cheating the "test," but I can report that we passed with flying colors! After dinner I kept my promise, washing the dishes in the kitchen sink. There was plenty of hot water, of which I didn't skimp because I want to make sure the black water tank is at least seventy-five percent full for tomorrow's dump station emptying experience (my first). One thing I did discover--when closing the sink lid, make sure that the on/off water spigot valve is turned downward. I had left it facing up (the hot area), and when the lid closed, it turned the water back on. I couldn't figure out why the water pump kept chugging and then peeked in the sink and saw the water running.

Besides cooking more in the Basecamp today, I had promised myself to use the shower. Therefore, after arriving back at camp in the late afternoon from my time at home, I took a shower. During the cold weather, I had added a turn-off switch for the showerhead (YOO MEE shut-off valve), but it turns out that the 2021 model Basecamps have an on-and-off button on the showerhead, so I'll probably remove the added valve, although it isn't hurting anything, I suppose. The shower began with my heading to the Truma console, selecting "Boost" for the water temperature, and then waiting twenty minutes. I'll save you the shower details except to say that I took a quick "Navy" rinse, soap, and rinse shower, stopping the water flow between steps. Although there was some fiddling with the hot and cold to get the right temperature, I can definitely say the process was easy and will probably get easier with more experience.

Day 5, Friday, April 30, Departure

It was a beautiful morning for heading back home, the sky clear and the air fresh and clean. I didn't have much packing to do since I hadn't set up the "visor" awning. Today my only shakedown item was to flush the black tank, my first time. Securing everything on the inside of the trailer, I turned off the Truma heat, water heater, and set the electric option to the 700-watt electric setting. One last inside console task was to pump enough water to the black tank so that it was at least seventy-five percent full. That done, I hooked up and drove to the campground's dump station. I had watched a You-Tube video by Basecamp owner David Waldrip, which illustrated the process.

I didn't really think flushing the black tank would be that big of a deal, and I was right. The steps are few and straightforward. Since this was my first time, though, I double-checked each step before proceeding to the next because any error I made could be messy! First I hooked the new elbow to the new dump hose. Then I hooked the hose to the flush pipe on the trailer, checking that twice. I was ready to open the trailer's drain valve but first got my five-gallon bucket out and filled it with water. With the elbow in the dump station drain, I opened the flush valve, and out drained the blackwater. After the tank emptied, I lifted the drain hose, noodling toward the elbow, and was surprised that there was still quite a bit of blackwater in the flexible pipe. It had looked like a straight downhill run. 

Having completed the basic flush, I packed the five-gallon bucket of water into the trailer and dumped it down the toilet to flush the tank and line, as I had been told at our RV One owner orientation in Des Moines. Then I repeated the five-gallon bucket step again, just because I felt like it. That done, I disassembled the drain hose, starting at the trailer, and then flushed water down the pipe to the elbow and station drain. Plugging the tube ends and rinsing the elbow, I put everything away. Removing my plastic gloves, I sprayed my hands with my covid alcohol spray (seemed like a good idea) and then wiped them again with a hand wipe. My last dump station task was to add some more water and powder to the black tank, according to my brand's instructions. The whole dump station process for the Basecamp was no more difficult than cleaning our little Camco portable water toilet--just a on larger scale. 

My last shakedown task I'll do at home--putting up the Basecamp's visor awning. (From what I've read, I will probably be considering a larger awning option at some later date.) After having mounted the awning visor, I will have utilized all of the Basecamp's systems except our new Zamp 230-watt solar suitcase. I'll do that on a different trip.

I have a few final comments about what I've realized from this shakedown trip. Remember, I'm new to any trailer system other than plugging in an extension cord, so please realize I'm working on a beginner's level.

  • The larger space in the "little" trailer, rather than a "tiny" trailer, makes a real difference when weather keeps you inside. I'm sure this will be even more true with two people. 
  • I'll have to keep an eye on the refrigerator temperature, making sure it doesn't rise above 40 degrees or drop below freezing. The thermometer I bought will really help. ("How Necessary Is a Thermometer for Camping?") The trickiest times will be travel or sudden weather changes. During travel, the trailer might get much hotter or colder than usual.
  • Many of the habits I've adopted from tiny trailer camping will help keep me from filling up the blackwater holding tank too quickly. I like washing the dishes outside, for instance. Having camped with no trailer plumbing for years, I've learned to be conservative with water consumption.
  • Sleeping at an angle with only the bed put up half-bed is okay for just me, but I think setting up the full bed will be the norm when my wife and I camp together.
  • I found putting the kitchen-side table up in the morning and putting it away at night was much like setting up my tiny trailer's living space--table top strapped to the side bench and the leg just stuck under the bed for easy access in the morning.
  • I've decided it's just prudent to turn off the water pump when leaving for the day or when traveling. If a water line breaks while I'm away, then it won't activate the pump. 
  • I need to keep a list of small warranty items for a run to the Airstream dealership sometime this season. For instance, during the heavy rain, I noticed a drip of water leaking from the kitchen door lock, about once every ten seconds, indicating the door locking mechanism isn't completely waterproof. Over time, that might have an impact on the door's integrity. Also, I noticed that the rear hatch door hook has one screw that won't tighten. It will need to be replaced, possibly with a bigger screw.
Truthfully, the more we use the Basecamp, the more possibilities we see for greater efficiency and economy. And as Basecamp owners have said, I'm going to have to get used to answering questions and letting folks poke their heads into the camper. Even early in the camping season this trip, three groups of campground hikers stopped for questions and a gawk. The Basecamp's kind of a retro rocket ship, hearkening to the classic past and the space age future at the same time. Maybe I should use  Google Maps for the route to Mars and then have Jules Verne ride shotgun as my navigator. That would be quite an adventure, and wildly and weirdly enough, it doesn't seem impossible!

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  1. Sounds like you had a fun and productive shakedown. Plus fresh asparagus. Can't go wrong!

    1. Trying to balance garden (home) time and camping (road) time can be a little tricky, but it's possible!

  2. I have an Aliner Ascape, and we average 2 or 3 tours of the camper every time we take it out. And that was last year in peak COVID. I joke that Aliner should be paying me as I've probably sold a couple of campers for them.

    1. One woman interested in the Basecamp had never heard of the Airstream brand before. She said she really liked it and would look into it. I didn't talk sticker price with her but figured she could discover her that for herself. I also got a lot of comments and lookers when I owned my tiny trailer, the Green Goddess.