Truck Camper Adventure is proud to present another interview with a full-timing couple, Lonnie and Guntars Asmanis-Graham. The couple met in New York City about six years ago, where they were both living. At the time, Lonnie was studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology, while Guntars, who hails from Latvia, was working as a male model. After getting married and living several years in Brooklyn, the nature-loving couple decided to leave their established life in the city and travel the country full-time, mostly to slow down and get away from the hectic pace of living in the big city. Neither had extensively traveled in the U.S. before, which was something that they both really wanted to do. The best way to do that, they figured, was to do it on the road. Guntars now works remotely as a web developer, while Lonnie runs the couples’ social media accounts, organizes and plans all trips, and maintains the truck and camper. The couple is currently located in Washington state.
Thanks, for taking the time to talk with us. How long have you two been full-timing in your truck camper?
Lonnie: We officially set off in September 2017, so we’ve been at it for over a year and a half! We’ve put almost 28,000 miles on our truck so far.
Do you travel with any pets?
Lonnie: Yes, we have a Toy Australian Shepherd named Wayne. He’s a great adventure buddy and bonus security system. He loves riding in the car and going for hikes, so this trip has been a dream come true for him. He’s probably one of the most well-traveled dogs out there at this point!
Can you tell us about your truck camper and why you chose that particular make and model?
Lonnie: I think to properly answer your question, we should first mention that when we began our research on potential RVs for this trip, we had no idea what we were looking for. Truck campers weren’t even on our radar since they’re not very common in the Northeast. On top of that, we didn’t even own a truck! However, our search was quickly narrowed down by our need for a 4×4 capable rig. We decided on a truck camper because we wanted something bigger than a van, yet smaller than a Class A or even Class C RV. We also wanted a separate truck and camper to be able to use the truck on its own but didn’t want to tow anything. Set up on a 4×4 pickup truck, a truck camper was the perfect solution for us.
We ended up choosing a NuCamp Cirrus 820, which we purchased new in 2017. We looked at nearly every truck camper on the market and could not get past the countless interiors that felt like they came straight from 1980! To this day, we’re baffled by all of the new campers rolling off the line with dark and dated interiors. Cirrus was the only manufacturer, at least for truck campers, that seemed to be embracing modern interior design. This was probably the number one deciding factor for us. We also really enjoyed the functional layout, large windows, and extremely spacious cab-over area, which features a true queen-size bed with a north-south orientation.
We also had to account for the fact that we’d be full-timing in the camper, in all weather conditions, so we needed a four-season camper. We also knew we needed a wet-bath. Having a full bathroom was at the top of our must-have list since we’re often camping without any facilities nearby. To accommodate living off-grid, we also appreciated the Cirrus 820’s larger than average holding tanks. We also appreciate the two batteries, two 20-pound propane tanks, and the factory option for solar power—which we went with.
What modifications, if any, have you made to your truck camper?
Lonnie: We nearly completely re-hauled the electrical system in our camper. We cannot believe that an inverter does not come standard in this camper—because in every other way, it is extremely boondocking capable! So, to be able to use our 120-volt outlets off-grid, to power things like our laptops, camera, satellite internet, etc., we installed a Morningstar 300 watt SureSine inverter and an automatic transfer switch for convenience. We also upgraded the wires that run from the battery, inverter, and distribution box to a thicker gauge—from 8 AWG to 4 AWG. Our next improvement regarding our electrical system will be an upgrade to lithium batteries!
We decided to remove the air conditioner since we never used it, due to its large power draw, but also to give us more space on the roof for another solar panel. We now have two 160-watt Zamp solar panels which generate 50 to 100 amp hours on any given day. In place of the air conditioner, we installed a MaxxFan Deluxe which we love. It also lets in light, whereas the air conditioner did not. Another factory option that we went with is the roof-rack, which is where we store our internet satellite dish.
As far as interior aesthetic mods go, we have made quite a few changes. In the kitchen, we replaced the tiny sink and faucet combo with a more functional, residential sized sink and pull-out faucet. In the dinette, we replaced the white laminate dining tabletop with a custom-made Walnut butcher block. We also reupholstered the cushions with a more attractive and comfortable plaid wool fabric and a cognac colored faux-leather backing. Above the dining table, we removed the tiny light fixture—which wasn’t even centered with the table—and replaced it with an industrial style hanging pendant that provides much more illumination than the OEM light.
We’ve also mounted wire storage baskets and hooks throughout the camper for additional storage. We removed the mesh storage pocket in bathroom and replaced it with two wall-mounted stainless-steel baskets to maximize wall storage in that small space. We also mounted a paper-towel holder under the kitchen cabinet. These upgrades have really made the camper feel like ours. It’s our home so we wanted it to reflect us as well as be functional and comfortable for full-time living.
Is it true that your dad did most of the remodeling work in the camper?
Lonnie: Yeah, he and Guntars worked together on most of it all! I did the upholstery though. And we had a local countertop maker custom create the walnut butcher block tabletop. Guntars did all of the electrical upgrades and replacement of the air conditioner with the fan.
What are your favorite features of the camper? What do you like best about the Cirrus 820?
Lonnie: With so many mods, it may seem like we aren’t entirely happy with our camper, but that’s not true. We really do love and appreciate many things about our Cirrus 820. We believe that the only thing better for us would be to build a custom camper on a flat-bed truck! As far as our favorite features go, we’ve already mentioned our love of the modern aesthetic, so besides that, we really love the over-head window in the bedroom. It is so wonderful to wake up every morning to an ever-changing view. At night, it’s great for star-gazing. The Reico Titan jacks are also a really welcome feature, we’re constantly on the move so having a remote control, electric system helps us set-up and break-down camp in a snap! We also love the Alde heater, minus a few negatives. We’ll tell you that the public’s favorite feature of the camper is the diamond plate bumper. It’s what we always get comments on! It is very attractive—and functional.
We’re big fans of the Cirrus truck camper lineup as well. Have you had any problems with the camper?
Lonnie: Only a few. One of the major design flaws is the fold-up bathroom sink. We appreciate the idea behind a fold-up sink, but the sink does not drain properly, sometimes not at all. If there is a bit of water left in the bowl and you fold it up, the water leaks out of the bottom, all over the place. It’s a mess. There’s a Facebook group for Cirrus owners and we all have the same issue. One brave soul took his sink off of the wall to investigate, finding very insufficient plumbing. First, there is no P-trap. On top of that, the drain line measures just 3/4-inch and drains upward. It’s no wonder it doesn’t work! Our next major project is to re-do the bathroom, starting with ripping out that sink and opting for a small corner sink. We’re also going to replace the flat mirror with a medicine cabinet, as well as add some much-needed counter space.
We find the microwave to be a pretty useless feature unless you’re an avid microwave user. We love cooking fresh meals from scratch, so we never use it—it’s currently serving as extra food storage for us. We hope to remove it someday soon and just add more cabinet space with a vent hood and an LED light.
What are your thoughts on the Alde water heater furnace? Is it as quiet and efficient as they say?
Lonnie: The Alde system is great overall, especially compared to the alternative furnace heater that most campers have. It provides a nice, slow heat up, and YES, it is so quiet. The only sound you’ll hear is a slight gurgling of the glycol as it moves from the reservoir tank in the closet to the radiators. We have run into several issues with the system, though. We’ve had to replace the glycol several times over just a few months due to it purging itself twice. Since putting this issue out onto the Internet, several people told us that our outlet temperature was set too high. We haven’t had the problem since! I do wish that NuCamp educated their dealers and therefore their customers better on the Alde system because it is a fairly new system to the North American RV market.
Another issue, on NuCamp’s part, is the location of the Alde’s thermostat. It is right above the stove, so it reacts to the heat from cooking, making it difficult to regulate the temperature inside. We do plan to install a sensor that will read the temperature from a different part of the camper. The radiators are also questionably placed. There’s a huge one under the sink, but none in the dinette. So, our cleaning supplies are staying nice and toasty, but we aren’t when we’re sitting at the table! It also uses quite a bit of propane when we’re off-grid in cold temperatures, and sometimes doesn’t even work at all in the cold. The propane tanks malfunction in freezing temperatures, so the interface reads gas-failure even if we have full tanks. In this situation, the system keeps running the glycol through the lines, even though it’s not drawing propane to heat, wasting precious battery power. It draws about 2 amps, so it is fairly energy hungry. Overall, we are happy with it, though. It also provides a substantial amount of very hot water when you need it, enough for a 10-minute shower!
What about the Froli Modular Sleep System? How do you like it?
Lonnie: We’re quite disappointed in the Froli system, only because it failed us. Not too long ago, after a few months of winter camping, we discovered mold under our mattress, so much so that we had to toss the OEM mattress and buy a new one. We will say, the mold wasn’t necessarily Froli’s fault, but the fault of NuCamp designers. With the discovery of the mold, we investigated why we were experiencing so much condensation under the mattress, even with Froli’s allowance of air-flow and our own diligence of regularly combating moisture in the camper. We found that the camper itself is not well-insulated in the floor of the cabover. We noticed that the condensation was actually forming along the lines of where the aluminum frame is inside the floor—meaning these frames are not insulated like the surrounding areas. We plan to place some insulation panels under the mattress to hopefully alleviate this issue.
Let’s talk about the truck. Can you tell us more about it? Are you under or over the truck’s GVWR?
Lonnie: The truck is a 2015 GMC Sierra Denali 3500HD. We are about 200 pounds under the truck’s GVWR, so we’re cutting it pretty close! We know this isn’t ideal, but the truck handles perfectly under the weight. In fact, it handles better with the camper on than off. We have no issues with steering or stabilization. We’re extremely happy with our choice in truck and would recommend it to anyone.
Did you need to make any modifications to your truck’s suspension to haul your camper?
Lonnie: No, none at all. Everything is stock, save for our tires. We just replaced the factory standard Michelin All-Terrain tires with the Cooper Discoverer AT3 XLT, which were recommended by you, Mike. We highly recommend these tires as well—they’re quiet and smooth on the highway with excellent performance off-road as well! Right after we had them installed, we had a run in with mud on a challenging mountain road and were extremely impressed with how they handled it.
Do you have any regrets in any of your choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?
Lonnie: Yes, our number one regret is going with the HappiJac tie-down system versus TorkLift. In our initial research of truck campers we kept seeing Torklift as the industry best for tie-downs and we planned to go with their system. However, our dealer suggested that we go with HappiJac, stating that the system is just as good but less expensive. We didn’t know enough about either to have any authority on it so we trusted them. Well, as you’re probably aware, the HappiJac system attaches to the bumper as well as a steel plate that is drilled into the front of your truck bed. Bumpers are not what they used to be. In newer trucks, they’re mainly for show and cannot hold any substantial weight. This is probably okay for campers much lighter than ours.
We’re big fans of the Torklift Talon Tie-Down system for that very reason. So what happened with your HappiJac tie-down system?
Lonnie: We were in the Florida Keys, driving down a street to the beach. This was a few months after Hurricane Irma had hit the area, so all of the street signs were down, including one that we later found to be a warning for a speed bump. Well, since there was no warning, we didn’t see the speed bump in time and hit it at 30 mph. The whole camper jumped up in the bed, then slammed back down. The rear turnbuckles pulled up and off the bumper, the bed plate pulled forward and back, the truck’s shark-fin satellite radio antenna gouged into the cabover, smashing it—which left a nice sized gouge in the camper. Our turnbuckles completely flew off, into the road. A man chased us down and brought them back to us. We replaced our truck’s antenna immediately but otherwise, we still have a totaled bumper and truck bed.
We’re not entirely blaming HappiJac since we did have the accident, but we do believe Torklift’s Tie-Down system could’ve handled that situation without totaling our rear end. Torklift’s turnbuckles are spring loaded, which might’ve been enough to save us… but who’s to say! We do not believe HappiJac should claim to support campers of this weight and we told them as much. We were very disappointed in how their customer service team handled our concerns. They went the route of blaming us then ignoring us completely. It just doesn’t make sense to attach a 4,200-pound camper to a bumper on today’s trucks—unless heavily modified. We’d love to switch to Torklift, but we haven’t even repaired the truck yet, so we probably should do that first.
What is your favorite truck or truck camper mod or piece of gear that you like to take with you?
Lonnie: It’s not exactly related to our truck camper, but without our satellite internet set-up, we wouldn’t be able to do this full-time. We could attempt to rely on cellular devices exclusively, but it would seriously limit where we are able to camp. For anyone wondering, we have a commercial account with HughesNet which is similar to the residential accounts but allows us to set-up anywhere within the coverage zone, as often as we want. The satellite is pretty cumbersome though—it’s a 1-meter dish that weighs 35 pounds. The whole set-up weighs close to 100 pounds, including the tripod and ballast. We do also have a Verizon Jetpack, as well as our phones, that we use in areas with LTE service but the satellite has opened so many possibilities for where we can stay.
We also could not live without our water filters. We purchased a dual-filter system to filter all of the water that comes into the camper. It gives you invaluable piece of mind when you’re using different water sources all of the time.
What has been your biggest challenge full-timing in your truck camper so far?
Lonnie: Probably figuring out the logistics of it all. It’s not as romantic and carefree as some accounts on Instagram make it out to be! You have to carefully plan everything out in advance—from where you’re staying that night to when your next propane fill-up is.
Related to that, it’s pretty inconvenient to not have a permanent mailing address on the road. Our mail is currently being sent to my parents house. They then send the mail to us periodically when we can pick it up at UPS or FEDEX—but that requires special advanced planning and not all locations provide pick-up service. Recently, we used General Delivery, a service provided by USPS, to receive packages at the Post Office. Not all Post Offices offer it, though, and it requires special formatting for labels, so be sure to call your local Post Office for those specifics! We used General Delivery to receive something in Big Bend National Park, though, so that was cool. And free! It was very jarring to go from an ultra-convenient city like New York, where everything you could ever need or want is at your fingertips almost instantly—to life on the road, where you’re lucky when you have all of your basics for survival. It has been worth it though!
Do you have any tips on how to stay organized?
Lonnie: That’s such a great question. Organization in a tiny living space, like a truck camper, is key. The best tip we can give is to make sure that everything has a home. That way, it’s very easy to tidy up quickly and efficiently. That’s why we have so many baskets and bins, it gives us a place that we can just toss stuff into. Hooks are also a really easy way to maximize small spaces and keep them neat at the same time. We have hooks all over the place!
Another tip that might seem obvious, is to not have an excess of stuff. Living minimally is not only freeing, but it also prevents clutter. If you only own what you need, you won’t feel cramped. It’s also important to purge your belongings every so often. It’s easy to accumulate stuff but hard to find a place to store it, so get rid of the non-essentials.
How long do you typically stay in any one location?
Lonnie: We typically travel twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday. Guntars works most of the week so we have to be stationary on those days. If we’re in a really cool area, like any national park, we usually stay for a week or as long as our supplies last!
What kind of mileage are you getting with your rig?
Lonnie: We average 9.2 miles per gallon. We max out our fuel-economy at around 45 mph but we prefer to cruise at 65 mph so that takes a toll on the efficiency.
You’ve boondocked in a lot of cool places. How do you find them? Word of mouth? Google Earth? Instagram?
Lonnie: The AllStays app has been an indispensable resource for us when researching cool places to camp! It’s always the first place we check when looking for our next campsite. Not only does it provide information on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and national forest land that you can camp on, but it also shows campgrounds for state and national parks. It lists the amenities that these places provide, as well. From there, we find more detailed information about potential spots from the specific agency websites. The USDA Forest Service website is the ultimate resource for National Forest camping since it provides up-to-date information on conditions, open seasons, water availability, fees, vehicle restrictions, and more. We also use freecampsites.net to find awesome boondocking spots because the best ones are usually free!
What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
Lonnie: As we mentioned before, we have the Cooper Discoverer AT3 XLT in size LT265/70R18. With the camper loaded, we maintain 65 psi for the front tires and 80 psi for the back.
Have you done any off-roading with your truck camper rig? If, yes, tell us about a few.
Lonnie: Yes! We love going off-road, because that’s where all of the best camping is! Of course, we aren’t rock-crawling, but we get pretty adventurous for such a large rig. Our favorite off-road adventures include beaches and dunes! We’ve had some pretty amazing trips to Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, Lake Powell in Utah, and Elephant Butte State Park in New Mexico. We’re able to go where all of the other RVs can’t when it comes to sand—further down the beaches, over the dunes, in the deep sand, to get to those pristine and secluded spots that provide total solitude. We have gotten stuck in the sand several times, but it’s nothing a bit of digging and some leveling blocks for traction can’t fix.
What emergency prep gear do you typically take with you?
Lonnie: We have all of the typical emergency gear that any RV’er should have: a fire extinguisher, flares, road triangles, jumper cables (very handy when we kill the starter battery by using the truck’s WiFi for too long and need to jump-start from the backup battery), truck jack, tire pressure gauge, snow/ice scraper, first aid kit, back-up food and water, a robust tool kit, cordless drill, portable USB charger, clothes for any weather condition, flashlight, headlamp, and lantern, tape of every kind, back-up glycol for the Alde, an excess amount of Lynx leveling blocks, and a few items for self-defense. We also subscribe to Onstar, in case of any emergencies. Always better safe than sorry!
What has been the most worrisome or scariest moment you’ve experienced in your travels?
Lonnie: We were boondocking on some very desolate BLM land in southern Arizona. The place had a strange feeling about it, but we chalked it up to us just feeling uneasy about the total isolation of the area. But the next morning, I took Wayne out and found my flip flops mangled, but in the strangest way. The top plastic part of both the flip flops were sliced off cleanly and nowhere to be found! We looked everywhere. The bottom part of the flip flops were exactly where I left them on our doormat. We then did some research on the history of the area and learned that someone had been murdered there just a few months earlier! The police found a head in a bucket inside another man’s camper. And apparently, the victim was camping there in his truck camper when he died. Not saying that the flip-flops were beheaded by the same person, but needless to say, we got out of there pretty quickly.
Tell us about some of your favorite places where you’ve visited so far?
Lonnie: Every time we visit a new national park, it goes on the list of favorite places! They’re national parks for a reason, no doubt! Some of our absolute favorites so far are the Shenandoah Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains, Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, Grand Canyon (of course!), Bryce Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier.
In Rocky Mountain National Park, we had a really fun time taking the camper up the famous Trail Ridge Road on the day that it opened up for the season. We took it all the way to the highest point—12,193 feet—and were immediately hit by a crazy lighting and snow storm. Being the highest paved road in Colorado, coupled with little to no guard rails, it was a white knuckle drive but so worth it!
Most recently, we visited North Cascades National Park and wow—it is stunning! These parks—their vistas, wildlife, and vast, untamed wilderness truly take our breath away every time. Our goal is to visit every national park in the continental U.S. so we have a lot more to check off the list before we’re finished! We’re collecting patches from each park and sticking them on our fridge.
What foods do you like to eat as a full-timers?
Lonnie: Most people assume that we’re always eating out at restaurants since our kitchen is pretty small, but we actually cook nearly all of our meals in the camper. Our kitchen in NYC wasn’t very large either so we’re used to it! We do treat ourselves to the occasional meal out, especially on driving days, but cooking is something we both really enjoy doing. A major exception though, is when we drive through a city—we make a point to visit at least one vegan restaurant. We will travel anywhere for some good vegan food.
Subscribing to a vegan lifestyle used to be fairly difficult and inconvenient, but these days you can find vegan options in just about every grocery store. We do make special trips to stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts to stock up on the good stuff (like Beyond Meat burgers and sausage). Whole Foods has actually become super convenient for us ever since Amazon bought them out—we make Amazon orders to the in-store lockers and pick them up on our shopping trips.
Do you have a website and/or social media channels that our readers can follow?
Lonnie: Yes! We’re most active on Instagram and YouTube. You can follow us on Instagram @wheresgunnie and our YouTube channel. Our latest video gives a tour and review of our rig, for anyone interested! We really love the community that we’ve found on social media of other full-time travelers, so we’re always looking for more friends to join us on there! It was a great resource for us when we were researching pre-trip and now we enjoy providing advice and recommendations for others! It’s really helpful to talk to seasoned travelers if you’re thinking about embarking on a similar journey.
Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?
Lonnie: We love exploring all of the places we visit, so hiking is something we do regularly! Wayne can’t get enough either. When researching where to go next, we make sure there are good hiking trails in the area. We recommend the AllTrails app to research trails—it has been an invaluable resource for us! We’ve also made a hobby out of identifying trees in the areas we visit. We have field guides for different regions of the country. It’s a really fun and relaxing way to get to know your surroundings.