Boot camp is designed to tear civilians down and build them back up as soldiers and sailors who take lawful orders and execute on them. Bonnie worked on A-10 Thunderbolts in the Air Force while I rode around on a submarine in the U.S. Navy so we are both familiar with the challenges of going through military boot camp. Our recent purchase of a 28 foot long Airstream travel trailer was the beginning of what we called our “Airstream Boot Camp” !!!
Tow Vehicle – the first major challenge of Airstream Boot Camp was to ensure we had a tow vehicle large enough to pull a 7,600 pound travel trailer. I had purchased a Subaru Cross Trek in 2015 and loved driving it because of excellent handling, versatility, and great gas mileage. I traded the Subaru in on a 2017 Dodge Ram 1500 truck that was rated to tow 10,800 pounds. This truck is huge compared to what I was used to driving and handled like a tank in our parking garage so we are calling it “The Beast”. I got better at parking “The Beast” but couldn’t easily fit in compact parking spots any longer. One night, I misjudged clearance between the truck and a parking garage column and scratched the heck out of the driver side rear fender guard while parking it.
Airstream 101 – this was the official start of Airstream Boot Camp !!! We arrived at Colonial Airstream in Lakewood, NJ on April 9th and immediately started their orientation program for new owners. They walked us through us all of the Airstream travel trailer systems – 120VAC power, 12VDC power, heat pumps, furnace, stove, refrigerator, propane tanks, water pump, water tanks, solar inverter, leveling, and a lot more. Colonial recommended that we camp out overnight at their dealership to ensure we understood how all the systems worked and could ask additional questions the next day. The propane furnace worked great at keeping us warm and prevented our water tanks from freezing during a bitter cold night spent in New Jersey. The next day, the great staff at Colonial Airstream stepped us through hooking up a weight distributed hitch which is used to connect “The Beast” to our new Airstream for towing it. Neither one of us had any experience with towing boats, travel trailers, or anything else so we practiced hitching and unhitching the trailer to the truck. The hitch was lubricated with axle grease so we needed a container to store the hitch in the back of the truck when not in use. Check out my first attempt at using a plastic container to hold a 55 pound hitch – I literally picked up the container and the hitch ripped right through the plastic. It’s a good thing that my foot wasn’t directly under the container or else the hitch would have landed on my foot and broken it. We checked some Airstream forums and ended up buying a double-walled cooler to safely store the hitch in the back of our truck.
Towing the Airstream – the wonderful staff at Colonial Airstream sent us on our way the next afternoon – all trained up and ready to go. The truck is 19 feet long and the Airstream is 28 feet long so together our entire rig is 47 feet in length. This presents a whole new driving experience because you must be able to swing wide on turns or else you risk blowing a tire on the corner curb or worse. My wife, Bonnie, is a great navigator but she was not prepared for the task of plotting a good route for towing a brand new 47 foot long caravan. Within 5 minutes of leaving the dealership, we were pulling the Airstream through narrow streets in a downtown area as local schools were letting out for the day. This meant a lot of traffic with tight turns and heavy congestion which can be difficult to handle when you haven’t driven more than 5 miles towing anything !!! We made it through the downtown area without any incident and arrived at our first campground site called Turkey Swamp Park.
Turkey Swamp Park – is a great county park in Freehold, NJ which we pulled our Airstream into for a couple of days of “practice camping”. The park had just opened for the season and there was only a couple of other RV’s camping there besides us. We managed to pull our trailer into the assigned camp site and successfully leveled it, hooked up electric and water (no sewer hookup) without any major problems. The park was beautiful but the temperature was freezing cold at night and not much warmer during the day. Here is a little slide show of the park:
The Good – we met with Bonnie’s sister (Sue), brother-in-law (Dave), and niece (Valerie) at Turkey Swamp park and gave them a tour of our new rig. Later that evening, we enjoyed a nice family dinner together at a nearby Mexican restaurant.
More Good – we left Turkey Swamp Park in New Jersey and headed to Fredericksburg, PA for a visit with our daughter, Aja Korzi, and her family. The weather was still cold and it rained just about every day but the sun popped out and gave us a warm beautiful day at Aja’s house on Saturday (April 14th). We had a nice visit with our family for a couple of days and I enjoyed throwing the football with my Grandson, Mason Collins.
The Bad & The Ugly – Our first trip had some rough spots such as the time we realized that you cannot easily fit into a regular gas station bay to refuel the truck when towing the 28 foot Airstream behind us. So, we had to identify truck stops that had long pull through bays for fueling up gasoline vehicles too. We made the mistake of twice pulling into a diesel truck fuel lane and found ourselves trapped behind an 18 wheeler who pulled just far enough forward to let the truck behind him fuel while he went into the truck stop for a break. Apparently, this is a normal practice for truck drivers when refueling but for us it meant we had to wait until the truck driver was done eating, showering, or using the bathroom before he moved his truck. As you can see below, I did not find this situation “amusing” but had no choice but to wait and learn from this mistake.
By the way, we almost took out a gas pump during another refueling attempt while towing because of another error in judgement on my part. I truly believed there was enough room to fit both the truck and Airstream into a particular gas pump bay but I didn’t swing in at wide enough of an angle. Luckily, that morning we had both taken practice turns backing up the truck with the Airstream in tow. I had to quickly back the Airstream up and turn wide enough to clear the gas pump – lesson learned on trying to fit an Airstream into regular a gas station bay….
Bull Run State Park – we started heading back down south and stopped for a few days at Bull Run State Park in Manassas, VA. This park was very well maintained and we hiked through a nearby flood plain forest where fields of “Blue Bells” plants were in full bloom along the Bull Run River. We visited my sister, Renae Shandel, who is severely disabled by mental illness (schizophrenia) and took her out to dinner and then some shopping for new clothes and shoes. Renae resides at a nice assisted living facility, called Birmingham Green, and we are very grateful that she is well taken care of by dedicated staff who work there.
Claytor Lake State Park – this was another awesome park in Virginia that was right off of interstate I-81. The lake was incredible and our camp site was the widest and most level we had experienced so far which means it was the best type of site. We were only able to reserve one night there because a fishing tournament was scheduled over the weekend and all available camp sites were booked. We definitely want to come back to this park and hang out for several days…
Heading Home – we had successfully completed our Airstream “Boot Camp” course and headed back home to Charlotte, NC. Of course, we had beautiful weather on the way home and stopped at a KOA campground in Ft. Mill, SC to prepare our rig for storage. Bonnie cleaned out the inside of the Airstream while I focused on cleaning the outside. This included emptying all of our water tanks. Our Airstream travel trailer has three water tanks – Fresh (39 gallons), Grey (37 Gallons), & Black (39 Gallons). The Fresh water tank is used to store clean water for use when not connected to a camp ground water supply. The Grey water tank stores all used water from sinks and the shower while the Black water tank holds toilet waste water. I was assigned the job of dumping the Black water tank and then the Grey water tank after that. The only time you can run into a smelly problem is when the sewer hose isn’t securely connected while dumping your tanks or you didn’t do a good job of flushing out the sewer hose after use. I am now fully certified at dumping the water tanks on our Airstream and my lovely wife will most likely want me to keep that job ;0)
What’s Next – we are taking two trips up north to attend college graduations during the month of May. Both of our nieces (Sophie & Valerie Neuhaus) are graduating from college – one in Springfield, MA and the other in Montclair, NJ. Sophie Neuhaus earned her Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree while Valerie Neuhaus completed her Bachelor’s of Sociology degree and obtained advanced K-6 teaching certifications. We are very proud of these two intelligent young ladies and their accomplishments. Stay tuned for more posts as we capture interesting moments while traveling in May…. Will Bonnie take the wheel and tow the Airstream? What routes will we take when traveling across the country? Working on mapping out the “Big Adventure”, a year long trip around the country.