This is the final installment of my two-part interview with full-time RV’er and extreme boondocking expert, Bryan Appleby (aka bka0712 on the Internet forums). Part one of this fascinating and informative interview can be found by clicking here.
Mike: Some may question your choice in choosing a truck camper over a motorhome or a toy hauler to full-time in. What would you say to them?
Bryan: When I first decided to buy an RV and go full-time, I thought it would be in a 5th Wheel. But after looking at several, I was totally turned off with their excessive size and lack of maneuverability. Motorhomes and van conversions were discarded due to the fact they didn’t conform to my “two use rule of backpacking.” I wanted something I could switch out if I decided to upgrade or use my tow vehicle when I got off-road. Plus, my Ford F-550 gives me a proven equipment, frame, and 4×4 suspension standard that you can’t get with other RVs (EarthRoamer starts with an F-550 for this reason, too). The serviceability of a Ford, in the areas where I travel, was a big plus, too. For repairs and maintenance, my truck is engineered to be lifted off the frame to enable work on the driveline. You can’t do this with other RVs! The off-road clearances for the aforementioned RVs just wasn’t there either. So when you take into consideration the modifications I was able to do to my F-550, that I would not be able to do on a motorhome or van conversion (like propane, water tanks and storage and higher tongue weight rating), it was an easy decision for me.
Mike: When you were talking about your solar power system earlier, you mentioned how your solar upgrade was life changing. Will you share with us why that was?
Bryan: Reflecting back to the beginning of my full-timing adventure, I realize now I had it really tough those first two years. So much so, that knowing what I know now, I might have just given up. There were a number of factors that put me there, including a naïve approach in determining my daily power needs. I was running my generator two to three hours a day, much more than I wanted to do to maintain my batteries. I soon found myself seeking out public libraries and picnic shelters for their electrical outlets to plug my laptop into. Something had to change and giving up was not one of them. Fortunately, solar power proved to be the solution for me, though it took me several years and a phased approach to reach the point where I currently am. I was also fortunate that I had several individuals who advised me. I now have a 1,200+ watt solar power system that meets my needs for all four seasons. The stress of having enough power to meet my needs is no longer there. Now I only use my generator on cloudy or snowy days to keep my batteries topped off. So as you can see, solar power has been life changing for me.
Mike: What things have you learned as a full-timer that have enabled you to extend your boondocking stays in remote areas?
Bryan: While I had set my original goals to living off-the-grid, I soon found I wanted to go even further. I wasn’t satisfied with going out for only a week or two, but wanted to extend that time to a month or two. This is what I call extreme boondocking. When I first started out, the best advice I received from other truck camper owners was to go out and do test runs even if it is in your own driveway. From this I learned to identify things that will impact where you can or cannot stay longer. Here are some specific things I have learned:
- Water: Carry additional water in separate water vessels and have the ability to transfer this water to your camper, easily (I average 17 gallons a week). Also, when available, use other water sources for non-potable needs such as bathing and washing clothes (yes, I wash my clothes while boondocking with a three-bucket method).
- Propane: Carry enough Propane to cover the length of your stay, plus some emergency volume (I average 250 gallons a year).
- Food: Experiment with preparing food that can be made with bulk ingredients; grains, pasta, cereals and many items available on your grocery shelves, like foil tuna and chicken, as well as canned goods. By repackaging fish and salmon and freezing them in your RV fridge, they will take the shape of your RV Fridge, thus saving room for more (I average $150 a month for food).
- Power: Determine what your main source will be, either AC or DC. Build upon one or both. I have two solar power systems, one on my camper, the other on my trailer, that handle the AC and DC loads separately. I also have two generators, a Honda EU3000iS and a Cummins Onan RV QG 2500.
- Clothes: Keep things simple. Carry clothes that meet all of your needs for that particular season. One issue for me is that I full-time, so I need to carry clothes with me for four seasons and for all of the outdoor activities I partake in. Having the capability of washing clothes while boondocking helps make up for carrying lots of clothes, as well as clothes that can be washed and dried easier.
|Drying laundry in the Mojave Desert.|
|Closeup of Bryan’s Ford F-550, Service Body, and Lance 1191 truck camper.|
|Winter boondocking in Yellowstone National Park.|
Mike: Do you have any tips for our readers on how to locate great boondocking spots?
- Don’t be afraid to ask. When visiting a new town or park, ask the locals if there are any locations in the area where you can camp off-the-grid. Police, fire stations, ranger stations, and small town post office employees have proven to be my best sources for information.
- Use your friends on the Internet RV forums. Many are more than happy to share some ideas and places where they have stayed. Start a bookmark on your computer or road atlas, as I do by state, even if you aren’t going there, yet. Your website, Mike, has been a great boondocking source for me many times.
- Use your eyes as you drive along your route and start evaluating locations, even if you aren’t ready to stop for a few hours. Make it a game just like when you were kid and playing “Slug Bug” with your
sister. With this, you will sharpen your skills in determining what does and does not work for you and your RV.
- Having a “get around” vehicle is a great asset. Whether you’re near a populated area or out in the “boonies,” park your RV in a secure area and explore on your motorcycle or in your toad. This is a great way to find those hard-to-find boondocking locations.
- Google or use other satellite services is one of my favorite search tools. I use this
often, scouting where lakes and rivers have access points and meadows
for me to get to.
Mike: Those were some great tips, Bryan. Do you have any similar tips for “stealth” camping in urban areas?
Bryan: As I travel, I’m often traveling through and stopping in populated areas. This is part of the full-timing experience and having good stealth camping skills is equally important, especially when shopping or visiting friends or family. Wal-Mart’s are popular places to camp overnight, but have you ever considered where these are located? Often in areas ripe for stealth camping. By just exploring around you will find empty gravel lots and long empty curbs where you can pull-in and park overnight. I’ve also learned that people are very territorial about the curb space in front of their homes, but could care less about the ends of streets. Often there is adequate curb space here. Knowing the rules for parking are also a plus: your wheels must be within 12 inches of a curb, more than 15 to 20 feet from a fixture (which includes driveways, mail boxes, and fire hydrants) and 50 feet from an intersection. Keep all signs you are in your camper to a minimum; use only necessary lighting, black out curtains or lower blinds. Keep radios and TV volumes to a minimum. Do your shopping in the evening and then seek and stealth camp after 8:00pm. Leave early the next morning.
Mike: If you don’t mind me asking, how much does it cost you per month to be a full-timer?
Bryan: In all honesty, this should be the first question you ask yourself. Nobody wants to quit or fail, so establishing a budget was important for me. My original budget is much the same now as it was when I first started. A few things have changed. I had anticipated using campgrounds more, but that soon was thrown out the window! Also, not expecting the fuel costs to go up more than a $1 a gallon my first year was a surprise. Also, the cost of health care continues to increase. I set my mind to living for less than what it would cost me to pay for a mortgage or apartment. I did this because if I were to leave the road (What?! Am I crazy!!?) I’d still pay out the same amount of money for lodging and living expenses, so why not just live on that fixed cost? I do, as my monthly budget (after health care/insurance/cell/Internet/sat TV are deleted) is approximately $750 a month for food, fuel, and entertainment. This figure was what my housing cost was prior to going on the road. The reality, I’m still living in a place, but my scenery changes frequently outside my windows!
|Boondocking at Teter Rock near Matfield Green, Kansas.|
|Kayaking in Yellowstone National Park.|
|Grizzly bear near Bryan’s campsite in Yellowstone NP.|
Mike: Do you have any favorite places or states where you like to explore?
Bryan: Absolutely! What might come as a surprise to you is that my favorite state to visit is Kansas. I wish more people saw the Kansas I know, beyond the interstate highways. I have also spent considerable time backpacking through Yellowstone National Park. Every year I go back. In fact, I was there just a few days ago. I also love the Eastern Sierras and the Rocky Mountains as well as the Sonora, Mojave and Chihuahuan Deserts.
Mike: Have you experienced any noteworthy run-ins with wildlife?
Bryan: Actually, yes. I’ve had several run-ins with all kinds of wildlife, including grizzly bears. One of these was while solo kayaking at a back country lake in Yellowstone (permit required and hand portage only), I came around a peninsula into a cove and saw a grizzly sow, with cubs, in front of me on the embankment. I was so surprised I reached for my camera in the pocket of my PFD and completely forgot about the forward momentum that was carrying my kayak towards her. The grizzly sow became enraged and false charged towards me, coming to a dust throwing halt at the edge of the water. I somehow reacted by turning my kayak away with my foot mounted rudder controls. I am talking about just a few yards between the two of us and her cubs before I realized my stupid lack of priorities.
The other time occurred while I was hiking up from a trail head in Yellowstone (I have spent 40 continuous years working, backpacking, and visiting this park). I had rounded a bend and found a grizzly bear occupying the trail directly in front of me. I stopped and started backing up until I was back around onto the aforementioned trail. Turning, I skedaddled back down the trail to my camper. I opened the door and grabbed my camera. Suddenly, I noticed the grizzly following behind me, down the trail from which I had just retreated. I stood behind another car parked at the trail head as I watched it walk up to my camper, pausing in front of my now opened door (in my hurry I forgot to shut it). I could see my dog sitting at the top of the stairs as the grizzly took a look at him. The bear soon turned, ambled across the trail head parking area and then across the road and into the forest, much to the pleasure of the passing tourists armed with cameras.
Mike: Your photography is very impressive, Bryan. If somebody wanted to contact you about your photography, or wanted to talk to you more about your extreme boondocking, what would be the best way to contact you?
Bryan: That is very kind of you, Mike. Thank you! While I am far from the level of a professional photographer, I have had some remarkable success with some of my work being published. I have a Facebook Photography Page titled, A Wanderer’s Photography, or you could contact me at my email address: [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from anyone.
|Closeup of a Canadian Thistle and a ladybug.|
|Thanksgiving Day sunset near Dodge City, Kansas.|
|Claret-Cup Barrel Cactus flowers in full bloom.|
Mike: What meals do you typically eat as a full-time RV’er?
Bryan: It has been no secret to my family and friends that many could starve to death hanging around with me. I don’t eat on a regular schedule and don’t have snacks with me. I enjoy ending the day with watching a sunset while eating dinner. What is a typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner look like? For me, when available, I eat eggs, cereal (cold or hot depending on the season) for breakfast. Lunch is often a sandwich, apple or almonds in a pack, as most days I am long gone from camp at this time of day. Dinner often finds me outside with one of my grills (propane or charcoal) cooking up a dinner of vegetables with salmon or chicken. I don’t eat very much red meat. I can usually carry enough foodstuffs to last six to eight weeks.
Mike: Do you have any other hobbies or interests as they relate to the great outdoors?
Bryan: My greatest interest is just that, the outdoors. I enjoy reading and often am found hiking to some location, just to set up and read a book. I love documenting the small details of the outdoors through my photography. It’s great to spend time with friends, enjoying riding one of my motorcycles, hiking, kayaking, cross-country skiing or just simply watching a sunrise or sunset. It’s not unusual for me to have my clock set to ring and remind me that it’s “sunset time,” then the dog and I pause for a moment and just take in the wonderful show at the end of the day.
Mike: Thanks for taking the time to talk, Bryan. You’re definitely living the dream. Do you have any closing advice?
Bryan: Yes, I do. Don’t delay taking the time to enjoy life away from work. Just spend that time with family, friends or maybe just sitting and watching the sun set for those few minutes. You can bet I will be out there doing just that for what I hope is for many years to come.