Truck Camper Adventure is proud to present this interview with Rich and Liz Turner. The couple got married in January 2018 and immediately moved from Colorado to Tennessee. Rich works for Amazon.com as an operations manager, while Liz attends school full-time and works part-time in a hospital. After several months the couple realized that they were in the prime of their lives to travel. That’s where the idea of getting a truck camper came in. Originally, the couple planned on doing a one-month trip, but after some planning, they realized that this wouldn’t be long enough. At that point they decided that since neither one of them was attached to their jobs, they might as well make it a long trip, then start fresh after they returned. You can follow Rich and Liz on Instagram under the name thewanderingwaldo.
Thanks, guys, for taking the time to do this. How long have you been full-timing?
Rich: To be perfectly honest, we didn’t plan on full-timing. Liz works in the medical field and I work in field operations. Almost simultaneously, we approached a point in both of our careers that allowed for a lengthy adventure before addressing some needed career changes. Our journey began July 8, 2018 and will likely continue into the fall.
Can you tell us about your truck camper and why you chose that particular make and model?
Rich: After several weeks of researching weights, space requirements, and layouts, we decided on the Lance 865. Three key factors attracted us to this model: the Atwood heating system ensuring efficiency and tank heating, the four-season package, and the roomy wet-bath.
What mods have you made to your truck camper?
Rich: We added a 1,500 watt inverter that is capable of powering our Keurig and laptop, and charging our drone batteries.
Do you use solar power or a generator to keep your truck camper’s batteries topped off?
Rich: We have a 95 watt solar panel that keeps our one battery topped off. We would like to add a second battery to the mix, but we haven’t gotten around to that modification just yet. As for capacity, we can run our Fantastic Fan throughout the night, but it ends up using about 40 percent of our battery.
Can you tell us about more about your truck?
Rich: We bought our 2005 Dodge Ram 2500 4×4 several years ago, due to the Cummins diesel having an indisputable reputation for long-hauling. The transmission leave something to be desired in their stock form, but an aftermarket torque converter and valve body can pretty much leave you with a motor-drivetrain combination that can carry the payload and haul additional weight through some pretty aggressive mountain passes.
Have you made any modifications to your truck’s suspension?
Rich: To handle the weight and high center-of-gravity payload, we installed four KYB 565105 and 565018 MonoMax Gas Shocks. For stability, we added a much-needed rear swaybar, front steering brace, rear airbags, and rear StableLoad. The combination produced a very stable platform significantly reducing porpoising, sway and body roll.
Do you have any regrets in your choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?
Rich: Our list of regrets is pretty small thus far. About 2,500 miles into the trip, we began to notice a few things that were either unnecessary or unusable. Ex: An electric mini-kettle we brought ended up using more wattage than we ever expected. Our 1,500 watt inverter was the third inverter we tried to handle the kettle’s load. As it turns out, our kettle was drawing 1,700 watts, so we settled for a Keurig K-35 which draws 1,450 watts.
Have you made any mistakes relating to truck camper life that would help our readers?
Rich: We have had some close calls (i.e. One time, we adjusted the rig at a campsite in Montana, but forgot to bring in the awning. Inches away from a 25-foot Pine that would have ripped it clean off, we stopped (not because we remembered the awning, but due to sheer luck!)
What kind of mileage are you getting hauling your truck camper?
Rich: With the camper alone, we average 14.5 mpg. With the trailer in tow (3,000 pounds), we average between 11.5 and 13.5 mpg depending on the terrain. Overall, we’ve averaged 12.5 for the 3,500 miles thus far. We experience a decent mileage suffrage (approximately 2 mpg) from the meaty tires, but love the look and the clearance they provide. Additionally, greater payload tolerances accompany these larger tires.
What tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?
Rich: We are running Wildpeak AT3W, Load Range E, 315/70R17. They have a max gross psi of 65 which is what we run full-time since our camper places us at max payload for the truck. It doesn’t create a harsh ride and keeps the tires as cool as possible on the hot pavement. We keep an IR thermometer and occasionally zap the tires to max sure they are heating evenly and we have a distributed weight.
Do you have any favorite places or trails you like to hike? What was the most difficult and challenging?
Rich: Our hiking has been limited to some of the more traffic’d areas such as Hidden Lake trail at Glacier National Park. These hikes tend to be fairly easy, although they had some snow in some parts of it. For these parts, we wished we had packed our Yaktrax, but instead we left them in our truck. As we progress into the Yukon territory and Alaska, our hiking experiences will definitely increase.
What are the challenges living in a truck camper?
Rich: Besides the very tight space, we have had difficulty finding the right place for everything we need to store. We end up shifting things around constantly, trying to find the best spot. We’re also recently married, so it’s even trickier to be in such a small space with someone you just started living with, but we seem to be making it work.
You’ve dry camped in a lot of places. How do you find them?
Rich: Most of our nights have been drycamping, to limit our spending, and so far we haven’t had many issues (knock on wood). We gravitate towards places like Cabela’s and truck stops, if we are not near a national park where we can stop. Our typical approach has been to call the stores, such as Cabela’s and Bass Pro, and ask if they allow overnight parking.
Where do you typically get your potable water?
Rich: The last couple times we filled up happened to be from the spigot at an auto parts store where we were picking up a few items. We simply asked the clerk, and they were completely fine with it. Other than that, a few gas stations have had potable water.
Have you done any off-roading with your truck camper rig?
Rich: One of the main reasons we bought a truck camper without slides was to have the capability to off-road and not worry about torqueing or pinching slides. To date, our off-roading has been limited to gravel roads and a few but unimpressive creek crossings. One thing to note, however, is with a rear sway-bar, we have to be relatively careful or disconnect one end of it before requiring too much axle flexing.
What emergency preparedness gear do you take with you?
Rich: For medical emergencies, we built a two-tear shelf that we mounted in place of the back seat where we keep our first aid kit. For vehicle issues, we have a Warn 16.5ti winch, two 18-foot chains, tire repair kits, two full-size spares, and a 5-gallon Jerry can for auxiliary fuel. Besides this, we installed a 2.5-gallon auxiliary air tank that is supplied by an engine mounted electric air compressor.
That’s a good list. What’s the most worrisome or scariest moment you’ve experienced during your travels?
Rich: Significant and prolonged grades have provided a few moments of stress for us on this trip. Albeit the load is definitely within the range and capability of the truck, some conditions are out of our control. In two instances (Mount Rushmore, South Dakota and Homestake Pass just outside of Butte, Montana), we encountered construction and accompanying 25 mph (low-second gear) speeds at the foot of climbs. It was nearly impossible to get into the ideal 45 to 55 mph, third gear climb profile that allows for sufficient airflow and prevent overheating. Oh by the way, in both instances it was between 90 and 100 degrees out. In both instances, we approached uncomfortable temperatures and stressed over the next (hopeful) pull off with space for our rig. Stuck on the side of a mountain with blown head gaskets, cracked heads, blow turbo, or stripped transmission has probably been our biggest fear to date.
Have you had any concerns for safety on your current trip?
Rich: Both of us are naturally cautious, so we have made it a point to travel during the day and settle in for the night fairly early in the evening. We have not had any issues that caused concern for safety.
Have you had any notable run-ins with wildlife?
Rich: We haven’t had anything other than the occasional deer run out in front of us. The closest occurrence was still a good 100 yards out. We expect an increase in wildlife encounters as we enter Alaska.
Tell us about some of your favorite places you’ve visited so far?
Rich: Our favorite places just so happen to be the ones we got stuck in due to truck problems. We were stuck in Kalispell, Montana for a week, and Alberta, Canada for a week. These places were by far the most beautiful, and had the most impressive mountains. On top of that we also ended up meeting some great people in both places who took us in while our truck was out of commission.
What foods do you like to eat when you’re out exploring?
Rich: We keep our food pretty simple, and easy to make. We prepped a large container of oatmeal, and cracked eggs into a Nalgene bottle (for space-saving in the fridge), and this has been perfect for our mornings. Lunch typically consists of sandwiches, and dinner switches from potatoes and chili, to salads and stir fry’s. We also carry a snack bag in our truck with granola bars, and other easy to grab snacks for when we go on impromptu hikes.
Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?
Rich: Fishing and hiking are probably the two biggest ones. Fishing has been tough because were hesitant to buy a fishing license if we only plan on staying a day. Hiking has been easier as we’re constantly in beautiful areas.
Do you have any advice for those thinking about buying a truck camper and boondocking?
Rich: The best piece of advice may be to be sure you take the whole rig out for a few test runs. We took our camper out twice before setting off on our journey, and realized how much we actually needed for this trip. Unfortunately due to time constraints, we were unable to pull the trailer with ATV during the trial runs, which would have been helpful in knowing how to best store everything in the trailer. We ended up making several stops during our first few days on the road, to rearrange things, and have our most used items easily accessible.
I have full timed twice and have been RVing since the 70’s and the most versatile dingy I have found is a flat towed Jeep TJ…..it is well suited for beaches, forests, deserts and very large and crowded cities. It will expand your daily exploring range in all weather to about a 200 mile radius as it can be driven on or off public roads. It can also be used if your RV is being repaired or maintained and it can be disconnected and driven independently if there is a need to reduce the load on the RV or if you are on snow or ice.
I also prefer a portable generator for cost and simplicity and it can be stored in the Jeep.
In Alaska they have a great salutation….” I hope to see you down the trail “.
It’s a good sign that younger couples like Rich and Liz are thinking outside the box and doing some traveling early, and not waiting until they are on their last legs. The ‘period of adjustment’ when taking on full timing can be daunting, especially in a camper as cramped and storage free as the 865. My only suggestion to those wanting to follow in their footsteps is to spend a lot more time researching the truck and the camper, going through every move, climb, and position to make sure you can live with it. It takes time to sift through the layers of information to find out what is true for you. One thing to find out, before you leave, is what you are planning to take that you can live without; then jettison. When you are young you can travel lean and hungry feeling no discomfort. During middle age, you want to take all your worldly goods along. As you approach the age of enlightenment, you find you don’t need all that stuff and the jettisoning begins again in earnest.