If you enjoyed my recent interview with Extreme Truck Camper (XTC) expert, Jeff Reynolds, then you’ll enjoy this interview with another XTC enthusiast, Alex Blasingame. Known as “c.traveler2” on the Internet forums, Alex has been exploring the back roads of the inter-mountain west since 2002. He is 62 years old, has been married to his wife, Julie, for 12 years, and currently works full-time as a Stationary Engineer for the state of California and part-time as a heating and air conditioning contractor. Alex will soon be retiring after which he and his wife plan on dedicating even more time to camping and exploring.
Mike: Thanks for taking the time to talk, Alex. How long have you been RV’ing?
Alex: Well, I’ve had two separate periods of RV’ing in my life. About 30 years ago I owned a 24 foot Rockwood travel trailer. The trailer didn’t get much use in the two years I owned it, so I sold it. Our current RV time has been about 12 years.
Mike: What truck camper do you presently own and why did you choose it?
Alex: We own a 2002 Lance 815 which we bought new in 2002. After suffering a bone-chilling night tent camping in a campground back in 2001, we decided we had enough with sleeping on the ground. So we started a one-year search for a different way to camp. We looked at all kinds of RVs including motorhomes. In the end, we chose a Lance 815 which we found at a local RV show in Pomona, CA. It also happened to be their showroom model. We also liked that Lance was a local manufacturing company for service reasons in case anything was wrong with it.
Mike: With your love for exploring off-road, why did you decide on a hard-side truck camper rather than a pop-up?
Alex: Being able to just open the door and walk inside without having to raise the roof was something we really liked. Pop-ups also have a canvas strip that has to be dealt with while raising and closing the roof and the pop-ups we saw at the time were of poor quality.
Mike: What modifications have you made to your truck camper to make it more off-road and boondocking friendly?
Alex: First thing I did was to replace my 4×2 drive truck with a 4×4 drive truck. This was the most costly modification I made. Cabinet dividers were also installed in the camper to prevent items like dishes and glass from being thrown about while driving off-road. A couple of years ago I had installed an 85 watt solar panel to help keep my batteries charged. The Lance 815 has an over head cabinet above the dining table that folds down for extra storage. We use plastic storage bins up there for extra tools, clothes and linens. I recently removed the roof top air conditioner to reduce topside weight. This has made a big difference off-road. One of my last mods was swapping out my old propane refrigerator for a Dometic CR1110 12 volt compressor refrigerator.
|Alex and Julie entering the Tuweep Area of the Grand Canyon.|
|Alex on a steep decent on the White Rim Trail, UT.|
|Alex on the Mojave 4×4 Road, CA.|
Mike: It seems like the 12 volt compressor refrigerators are becoming more popular with those who like to boondock. How do you like yours and how easy was it to install?
Alex: Its made a big difference in our boondocking. It’s great having a refrigerator that’s always a steady 34 degrees inside, even when it’s plus 100 degrees outside. The install was pretty simple and only took about four hours. Doing the research for a replacement refrigerator actually took a lot longer than doing the install. It took some effort to find a compressor refrigerator that could not only fit in the existing cabinet cavity, but also fit through the camper door. Since the install, I’ve upgraded the refrigerator wiring from 8 gauge to 4 gauge and installed an Interstate 4D 1300 heavy-duty Marine/RV battery.
Mike: What pickup truck do you presently use to haul your truck camper?
Alex: Our current truck is a Ford F-250 extra cab, long bed with the 6.0L Powerstroke turbo diesel. I’ve always preferred Fords. As a kid, my Dad had a Ford truck that he beat without mercy. It would just keep running. Because of the way my Dad had treated his Ford, I grew up believing that they are very durable, so I also bought one. My Ford has served me well in all of my back country adventures.
Mike: Why did you decide on buying a diesel?
Alex: The choice of going with a diesel was new to me and very frankly was a roll of the dice with Ford’s 6.0L diesel being so new and an unknown. Nevertheless, I’ve been very happy with the reliability of the 6.0L PSD. Having a high RPM diesel has proven a big benefit when climbing steep grades. Just a quick note, the 2007 F-250 6.0L diesel isn’t the first one that I’ve owned. In 2003 I bought my first one and, yes, it was the 6.0L PSD.
Mike: I had good luck with the Ford 6.0L PSD, too. What aftermarket modifications have you made to your truck to enable it to go off-road?
Alex: Two big things that I learned from Jeff Reynolds was to get the rear spring to engage as soon as possible and to correctly deflate the truck’s tires for off-road use. To engage the rear springs sooner, I fabricated a couple overload posts with the help from my friend, Dave. These posts not only provide a higher rear departure angle, but they also provide a much better ride off-road.
One of the things that Ford trucks are famous for is their frame flex. Trying to lessen the effects of this flex is difficult. There were many times when I was off-road that the cab would slap the overhead of my camper. To correct this, I built a plywood platform that raised the camper about 4.5 inches. I also incorporated two drawers with sliding trays into the platform for extra storage and for tools. The platform not only has eliminated all cab slapping, but it has also reduced wind noise on the highway which was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. I’ve also decided to install an extra overload spring on the rear. I believe that this will help reduce side-to-side sway and will improve the rear departure angle.
I used to have air bags on the truck, but I removed them. Air bags are counterproductive to off-road travel and greatly increase side-to-side bouncing.
|Alex stretching his legs during an XTC run.|
|Alex and Julie relaxing on the Grand Canyon North Rim.|
|Alex’s plywood platform for hauling his truck camper.|
Mike: What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run when driving off-road.
Alex: I presently have BF Goodrich All Terrain 285/R70-17E tires on the Ford stock chrome steel rims. The BF Goodrich tires have proven themselves a good and durable tire for off-road use. It took some time to find a pressure setting that worked well with my rig. As Jeff Reynolds would say, “get those tires to work as part of the suspension.” I’ve discovered that between 35 and 40 psi works best
for my rig during off-road travels.
Mike: You’re also a big boondocking enthusiast. What advice would give to those who are boondocking for the first time?
Alex: For your first boondocking outing pick a place that is easy. The RV.NET Truck Camper Forum is a great place to ask experienced boondockers about places where you can camp. Be prepared for emergencies as much as possible. Have a couple Motorola FRS Radios if traveling in a group and stay close. Also, bring a camera. You never know when you’re going to need it or when you’re going to want to take pictures.
Mike: What is the scariest incident you’ve experienced during your adventures?
Alex: That would have to be the flash flood we were caught in south of Grants, NM back in July 2004. A microburst had struck the Narrows area and the South Narrows campground where we were camped quickly began to fill up with water. Within minutes the water was nearly up to the windows of my truck. Fortunately, another RV’er was able to call 911 on his cell phone and soon rescue crews were on their way to help evacuate everyone from the campground. We were fortunate to get out alive. Not only was the water chest high and fast flowing, but it was also icy cold from the rain and hail. I couldn’t even feel my feet and one of the rescuers had to be treated for Hypothermia. The funny thing is, when we first arrived we stopped at the El Malpais Ranger Station and asked about the storm and the potential for flooding. They told us that flooding wasn’t a problem. This was the first time that this BLM run campground had ever flooded out!
Mike: Wow, that’s crazy. I’m glad you and your wife made it through without harm. Did your truck and camper suffer any permanent damage?
Alex: Yes. My brand new 2003 Ford F-250 (26,000 miles) was a total loss ($36,000). The electrical systems were completely shorted out and ruined and the interior smelled like a damp, moldy basement. The only loss in the Lance camper was the inverter and the food in the camper. The camper itself suffered no permanent damage, not even mold. With the help of my brother, Martin, we hauled the camper back to Southern California using my old 1984 Chevy half-ton.
|Alex’s truck and camper engulfed in a New Mexico flash flood.|
|Hugging a steep cliff on the White Rim Trail, UT.|
|Alex on the famous White Rim Trail.|
Mike: Do you have any favorite trails or roads you like to explore?
Alex: I don’t have a favorite trail right now, but as far as roads go Utah Route 12 is my favorite. You can go from desert geology to high mountain forests along this roadway with endless spur trails to explore.
Mike: I absolutely agree with you on Utah Route 12. Which trail thus far has posed the biggest challenge?
Alex: That would have to be the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky region). Julie and I recently came back from the trail and we were able to complete the entire drive for the first time. We were unable to complete the drive on our three previous attempts because the Green River side had been wiped out by floods. With this trail, weather is the most important factor in completing it. If the Green River side happens to get flooded out, it’s a long way back to get out. As for the trail itself, negotiating the Hardscrabble switchbacks is probably the most challenging part. In some places the switchbacks are very steep and narrow and require your full attention. During our last trip, we discovered that we had cell phone service (Verizon) in several spots. This was a pleasant surprise since on previous trips we had none.
Mike: The White Rim Trail is at the top of my bucket list. What advice would you give to those who are tackling the trail for the first time?
Alex: Have your fuel tank as full as possible in case you have to come back out the way you came in. Bring plenty of water, even during the cooler weather. You can easily get dehydrated in the high desert. Stay on top of the weather reports. Take your time on this trail. If you try to speed your way through the only thing you’ll do is tear up your rig and not enjoy the journey.
If you have air bags lose the pressure and get those rear springs engaged. You’ll also want to lower your tire pressures for better traction and for a better ride. For those with larger rigs great care must be taken. In some places my rig didn’t have much room to get by and the departure angle in some places is very sharp. Because of this I recommend taking nothing than 20 feet long, nothing more than 11 feet tall, and nothing more than 90 inches wide. If you’re tackling the trail in a truck camper, remove the rear jacks to improve your departure angle.
Mike: Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?
Alex: I’ve been doing photography for several years, but nothing really serious until I got my SLR camera and a GoPro portable video camera. I’ve entered the Truck Camper Magazine calendar contest every year since it started and I’ve had to step up my photographic skills in order to compete. I recently picked up a small telescope and now I have to learn how to use it. The places where we truck camper owners go to boondock are great for stargazing.
Mike: Do you have any final advice for our readers?
Alex: Use the great websites that are out there for information on truck campers such as the RV.NET Truck Camper Forum, this blog, the Wander the West website, and Truck Camper Magazine. Don’t be afraid to ask questions thinking you’ll appear foolish or stupid. The answer could get you out of a difficult situation or even save your life. But most of all get out there and enjoy your rig and explore. Travel while you can.