Hey! We’re Caroline and Erin, and this is our Chinook.
Our house on wheels!
We bought our 1976 Toyota Chinook last Thanksgiving. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. When we started looking at motorhomes, we hadn’t either. The DMV refers to it as a ‘House Car.’ It’s a four speed manual transmission built on an old light Toyota truck body and then outfitted with a pop-up camper (that’s the Chinook part). It has a bed that breaks down into a bench seat, a mini fridge, a heater and a sink. It does not have a bathroom but we realized after a camping trip outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee, that one of the secrets to a healthy and long-lasting marriage is probably investing in a portable toilet (more on that later, perhaps).
Checking under the hood right before we bought her.
One man’s trash is another woman’s treasure? Right? Right??
We, of course, bought it. And we rejoiced when, unlike our other motorhome, it actually made it home without needing a tow. (You can sense our low expectations here, can you not?) The previous owner went back to his Thanksgiving football games and turkey and we carefully, gingerly, I dare say, crawled home over a couple mountains to get back to our home in Asheville.
After we bought it, it required a ton of work before we actually took it anywhere. Once the Chinook made it up the Northeastern Seaboard this summer, we knew she was ready for her next adventure: a four month road trip out west. Here’s what you need to know about prepping your adventure mobile for extended time on the road:
STEP 1: Do your homework and purchase the right RV for you.
Buying our Chinook was part impulse, part destiny. We’d fallen in love with another Toyota motorhome that we subsequently purchased and then sold within short order. Her name was “Peaches” and while we loved her, she was rotten. To the core. A money pit if there ever was one. We sold her for a loss a few months after purchasing her and had barely recovered from the experience when Chinook suddenly entered the picture. I like to think she was waiting for us the whole time. We did a lot more research on our second RV than we did on the first one and I think it helped us avoid another mistake. Take your RV for a test drive and get on the forums and learn what people are saying about it. Consider renting one if that’s possible to see whether or not you even like it. Get down on your hands and knees and look under the vehicle, under the hood, all around and try to learn as much about it as you can before you commit to it. The owner/dealer might think you’re a pain but it could save you from a lot of heartache down the road.
Oh and though you see a ton of awesome adventure-mobiles on social media, you ultimately have to pick the one that feels best to you and falls within your budget. If a truck camper feels like you, go for it. If a bus suits your needs, go for it. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box and do something a little different though. A Mercedes van looked awesome to us and we both lust after the vintage VW van but neither were in our budgets. We get some odd looks and comments about our Chinook but it ultimately feels right to us and that’s what’s most important because we’re the ones actually living out of it.
STEP 2: Get to know your vehicle.
This means spending lots of quality time in it. (As if you needed an excuse for an adventure.) Seriously though, if you don’t have any experiences with your RV, you won’t know what kinds of tweaks you’ll need to make to the setup feel like home. We made the mistake of getting our RV outfitted with a gas regulator for our Coleman cookstove before we’d actually cooked in it. It cost a pretty penny and we belatedly came to the realization that we don’t actually want to cook indoors. I mean, it kind of defeats the purpose of camping. Learn from our mistake and take it out several times before you invest money in it.
STEP 3: Get to know your local mechanic.
Progress is messy and slow!
If you have an older vehicle like we do, having a person that you trust to work on your RV is essential. Even if you don’t have something from the 1970’s like we do, you might want to consider establishing a relationship with a shop or a person so that they become familiar with your rig and are able to help you out whether it’s regular maintenance or getting you set up to go across the country.
STEP 4: Come to an agreement on needs vs. wants.
Luckily for us, this was pretty easy because we tend to think a lot alike about this sort of thing. If you’re traveling solo, this will be pretty easy, too. If you traveling with someone else though, figure out what you’re actually going to need versus. When you’re living in 50 square feet of space or so you might just realize that life is simpler with just two pairs of shoes (hiking and running) instead of five.
STEP 5: Save up for a rainy day.
We’ve had our Chinook in the shop so many times we’ve lost count. In fact we recently received a letter from AAA saying that though we are Gold Member Customers and that they value our business, we get one more phone call and then they are “done”. It should come as no surprise that there will be surprises. Try to take the sting out of it by having a little money socked away.
STEP 6: Make time to actually have fun in it!
On assignment again near the Forks of Ivy River, NC
It can be easy to get bogged down in the day to day but planning an adventure might just be what the doctor ordered. Seriously. On more than one occasion we’ve raced to get our work done and are feeling stressed as we’re loading up the RV but then about 20 minute down the road with the windows rolled down and the wind in our hair we’ve all but forgotten the daily grind. Planning doesn’t make it boring, it just makes it more likely to happen. Go for it, trust me.
Why am I telling you all this? Because we’re currently prepping our Chinook for a four month trip out west. We’re leaving Asheville in mid-October and our first stop is actually north of us – Washington, DC. We’re going to shoot a wedding and then we’re pointing that old tapered hood on our gal west. Destinations include cities such as Cleveland, Madison, Sioux Falls, Missoula, Spokane, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco to name a few and as many National Parks as we can handle. We’ll be stopping at as many Hipcamp sites as possible, too, doing some scouting, interviewing hosts and meeting up with other field scouts whenever we can.
We’re hoping to put our knowledge of road life to the test but I’m sure we’re going to learn a whole lot more than we can even imagine about ourselves, each other and the world at large.
Look for us, will ya? And say hey if you happen to see us on the side of the road or at a site near you!
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In addition to being Hipcamp Field Scouts Erin and Caroline are freelance web designers, photographers and writers who are based in Asheville, North Carolina. Follow their adventures at @e.mcgrady + @carolineperdue and their blog Authentic Asheville.