Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Rustic Trails Tiny Trailer Travelin' Man Travelogue, Part 1, Winter (January, February, March)

"Woke to an ice-encrusted camper and dismally cold temps." Emerald Isle, North Carolina
"D-Day (Departure day) has arrived [January 7, 2022]. All the waiting, planning and preparing are behind us as we leave our good friends Alex and Tavia’s house. Finley ever watchful in the backseat could sense it, that feeling of excitement and trepidation that courses through us as we start a new adventure. First stop was the CAT scales to make sure we were legally within the weight capacity of both the truck and camper. Had we packed too much? Probably. Had we forgotten anything? Probably but too late now we are on the way!! CAT scales said we were a bit porky but within specs so as the French say 'on y va!'"

Thus Allan Finlay begins his great epic Western travel adventure--by traveling east through North Carolina, visiting and overnighting at a couple of wineries, and finally landing at Oregon Inlet Campground on the Cape Hatteras Seashore. "This is where our journey really begins in my mind and though I have not yet dipped my toes into the frigid Atlantic Ocean, I will before we leave to head west.  Once you leave the commercial Nags Head region and head south the true Outer Banks reveals itself.  A line of sleepy villages dot this narrow island all the way down to Hatteras." 

Dipping toes in the Atlantic Ocean before heading west to the Pacific? Makes sense to me. After all, it's a tradition for bicyclists traveling across the USA. Allan, the RTTC Travelin' Man, and Finley, the Blue Heeler doggie, were officially on their way, off to adventure; and I was officially beginning my researching adventure of documenting their adventure--from Allan's blog, A Bloke and a Blue; from his Facebook Rustic Trail Teardrtops and Friends group page posts, and from a few email responses from questions I sent Allan after doing my research. 

Allan Finley describes himself as "a Brit who has been living in the US for over 35 years and although I've traveled to many parts of the country for business during that time, I'm not sure I've seen the real America." After nine months on American roads (and still driving), it's an easy guess to say that he's got a lot better idea about the American open spaces. His Blue Heeler, Finley, seems like the ideal traveling companion--a dog that likes "walks on the beach, treats, hikes in the mountains, belly rubs, chasing squirrels and more treats."

Little did Allan know that his first season, starting his trip at the beginning of the year, would be a real breaking-in experience! The weather turned more wintry when he arrived by ferry at Ocracoke Island. "Our first 1,000 miles has been full of adventure and challenges. Our time on Ocracoke Island was accompanied by a sand storm, frigid temps and gale force winds. It was interesting to see how the local villagers dealt with all this. To my surprise, nothing changed. There was no run on bread and milk at the grocery store, the school stayed open and even the crabbers went to work. Complete normality, it made me chuckle to think about the sheer terror and angst that would have pervaded the folks back home should such an event be forecast. A hardy bunch these Ocracokers!" 

An ice storm transforms the landscape
Changing up his itinerary a bit because of weather, Allan headed for Emerald Isle, where he hit an ice storm. (See this article's lead photo.) Allan and Finley held up well, though, in their tiny camper. "Throughout these extreme weather events I'm happy to report that our sturdy little Rustic Trail camper has kept us warm and dry and very comfortable indeed. I now know that all the research into various teardrop camper manufacturers was time well spent and I feel that I made the right choice for Finley and me." That right choice was a Kodiak Stealth tiny trailer built by Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers of Pilot Knob, North Carolina. With interior dimensions of 5x5x10 feet, this tiny camper is RTTC's best selling model.

Allan had a propane heater, a solar system, and a refrigerator installed during the build of his camper. The heater, a Propex HS2000 model, is thermostatically controlled and works well, "just sipping both propane and dc power," Allan says. The heater works on a heat exchanger principle, so all the inlet and exhaust gases are external to the camper, making it very safe, with no CO2 inside the camper.

Allan's tow vehicle is a 2021 Ford Ranger, rated to pull 7,500 pounds so his fully loaded weight of 2,400 pounds isn't an issue. Allan relates that the truck has had zero issues "pulling the camper over hill and dale and our overall average file consumption has been 18.2 mpg over about 20,000 miles."

Living the warm(er) life at Carolina Beach SP
Warmer fifty-degree weather awaited the Bloke and the Blue when they pulled in at Carolina Beach State Park, still in North Carolina, where they found the sites "nicely tucked back in the trees with quite good separation between them." Still traveling south, Allan summed up his North Carolina experience as follows: "Our journey down the coast of North Carolina has certainly been an adventure punctuated by the whims of the barometer. Ice, snow, wind and rain along with cloudless days of glorious sun have been our companions. I’m not sure what it is about the ocean, a fire or the night sky that captures my attention, holding me rapt and feeding my daydreams. It is something elemental, visceral even, that connects with the soul." 

Solar panels raised to catch the winter sun
After days of gray skies and no sunshine, sunny skies allowed Allan to come to some conclusions regarding his solar power set-up for the camper. Even with cloudy winter skies, his solar power had worked well. His battery had lasted five days with virtually no sun, about what he'd expected. Allan was pleased with that. He deployed the solar panels, "and for those that need convincing, I was reading just 205 watts coming in with the panels flat on the roof and 365 watts when raised," particularly important during winter months when the sun is lower in the sky and there are fewer hours of daylight.

"Big Oak": 335 years old, 155' spread, 70' tall, trunk 22' circ.
Traveling further south, the road led to Georgia, where Allan's itinerary included interesting and historical stops and pleasant (and warm) camping spots. He hoped Georgia would have more pleasant experiences, and she did not disappoint. "Our first stop for the night was a charming pecan farm called Terra Firma. Unfortunately their pecan trees produced nuts biennially and this was a fallow year. Still we enjoyed walking through the forest and orchard and Finley was able to say hello to the horses." They also stopped in Thomasville to visit the Big Oak, a Live Oak tree of great longevity, being 335 years old. Respecter of antiquity and dignity, Allan explains his (and Finley, the Blue Heeler's) interaction with Big Oak: "In deference to Big Oak’s celebrity, I did not let Finley, you know, be Finley, and so he had to be satisfied with some nondescript tyre." 

This completes the saga of Allan Finlay's "winter" leg of his travels--travels which he intends to continue for 2-3 years. When asked what obstacles or glitches he had to work out on this first leg of his adventure, Finlay thought that was a good question. "The first obstacle for me was learning to back the trailer up without jackknifing!! The second was getting used to bowing and not banging my head [on the shorter doorway].  After that I honestly did not have any issues adapting to the camper. I come from a backpacking background, so the camper actually felt very luxurious.  One of the most important things I learned was just how much my rig could take in terms of rough territory.  We tend to camp far from the madding crowd, often taking very rough roads to find a campsite.  During the first few months I also honed my technique for finding just the right campsite using a variety of maps and apps."

After a week in Florida, the travelers were ready to begin their trek to the West. Longer vistas and warmer weather were ahead as the trip continued, but these travelers had gotten down their routine and were now seasoned travelers. Part 2 of this travelogue will be the trip to the West during the spring. If you haven't already done so, follow this blog to receive email updates about new articles.

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