Gord Borg (If you would like to read more about our travels, please visit www.rvretirementtravel.com.)
RV travelling is one of the most rewarding experiences that a couple can do in their golden years.
Lynda and I have been travelling in an RV for several years, and we are always planning and anticipating our next adventure.
Our favorite adventure is our annual early spring trek south to the warm sunshine of the southwest desert. Christmas is over, and our children and grandchildren have left us to go back to school and work. The house seems a little quiet after the holidays, so we start planning our first adventure of the new year.
This article is about how to haul your big boy toys. I am not talking about the kind of toys that fit in a toy box, well, maybe the box on your pickup. But I’m talking big boy toys, the type that burns fuel.
On our first trip south before retirement, probably 20+ years ago, we didn’t consider taking toys with us. We travelled in our motorhome, with no car behind (toad). Back then, towing a car was not as popular as it is today. We only had time to explore a couple of the southwestern states, as it was only a three-week tour.
During that trip, we got the itch to spend time RV travelling. In fact, my plan was to travel south every year at least for a couple of months once we had retired.
After retirement, the first trip was great, except that the only activity we were equipped to enjoy was hiking or riding our bicycles. That was great, but I realized that if we were going to dry camp or boondock for more than a week, I would need other things to keep me busy. Lynda has her hobbies to keep her occupied. She quilts, sews and reads. I am not much of a reader, and as far as quilting and sewing go, hum, not so much. During this first tour south, I paid close attention to all the different rigs people were using to bring their riding toys along.
RVers use many different configurations to bring their toys along. You may see small box trailers containing some kind of ATV, and maybe an upside down boat on an elevated steel frame.
Other RVers may tow a flatbed trailer that comes in all different lengths. On these flatbeds, you may see boats, ATVs, dirt bikes, sand buggies, Jeeps, anything you can imagine.
The most interesting trailer you may see has an elevated deck with a boat or some lightweight toy on the top level. The upper deck is an elevator controlled by a 12-volt winch with pulleys to hoist the toy high enough so that the lower deck could be usable for other stuff.
Some RVers tow a pickup with an ATV, or some other toy in the box.
On occasion, you will see a trailer being towed behind another trailer. This is legal in some states and provinces, but not in all. Check the laws of the states or provinces on your route before you head out. Another interesting arrangement is a one or two-wheeled trailer with the deck rigidly attached to the tow trailer’s frame (not swivel ball). Idaho Tote is one brand. These are also not legal in all areas.
One of the better alternatives is the toy hauler trailer. The small version is a travel trailer with a rear loading ramp that doubles as a fold-up door. Inside, where the toys are parked while travelling, there is usually a system that enables the bed or beds and furniture to folded up against the wall or ceiling, awaiting set up after the toys are removed. These trailers are probably great for weekend camping as the living area can be small, but not that convenient for long-term RVing.
The larger version is the fifth wheel toy hauler, which works very well. The disadvantage of these large rigs can be the weight, as a large truck is needed to tow these large units safely. Always check your vehicles manual for towing and hauling limitations. Also, some states and provinces require a special endorsement on your driver’s licence. This may mean taking a driving course.
Even though there seems to be many solutions for the issue of hauling your toys, most are not perfect. Generally, a compromise of some sort is necessary, unless, however, you have deep pockets and are willing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on the perfect set-up.
The Perfect Solution
On one of our first trips south, we boondocked (dry camped in the desert) near Quartzsite, Arizona. Lynda and I were sitting in our lawn chairs enjoying a warm afternoon, with our favorite summertime beverage, when the ultimate rig pulled into a vacant spot near our camp. It was a newer 40-foot diesel pusher towing a trailer that seemed longer than the motorhome, with triple axles. Wow, it was the ultimate. Being the considerate person I am, I waited for the couple in the motorhome to disembark, and I wandered over to say “Hi”. I was itching to see what my new neighbour had in the trailer. I introduced myself, and asked what he was hauling. He started to describe the interior, but maybe my tongue hanging out and my glazed over eyes told him that I needed to see inside.
I hope I can remember all the toys he had! Let’s see, there was a two up ATV, a side by side, a small aluminum boat on a trailer, a flatbed trailer strapped to the inside wall to transport the ATV in case there was a destination down the highway to ride from, a Jeep SUV for trips to town or sightseeing, and many other smaller less important items. Our new friends, Mike and Janet, had every toy they needed to make their boondocking experience perfect. The boat was obviously for another stop on their tour. Of course, they had a full solar panel system on board.
Mike and Janet, and Lynda and I became friends. Although Lynda and I only had our bicycles at the time and could not tour with our new friends on ATVs, we shared several happy hours and meals.
One of the best experiences of RVing is meeting other RVers, enjoying social times around the campfire, or chatting over morning coffee. Lynda and I have been fortunate enough to meet many interesting characters, and develop several long-lasting friendships on our RV travels.
After that first retirement trip, I knew we needed a way to bring our toys. We had a motorhome, so the easy solution was to buy a cargo trailer.
On our next tour south, we were well equipped. The cargo trailer contained 2 quads, 2 bicycles, my street motorbike, and many other smaller necessities. The cargo trailer worked great; it kept everything clean and dry, and doubled as a garage when parked. The motorbike was handy, and we didn’t need to break camp if we needed a few groceries, unlike previous trips.
I could hop on my motorcycle and head to town for supplies as long as we didn’t need too much. I could only fit 1 dozen beer in each saddle bag, but I only got away with that once! Apparently the beer was not the most important item on the list.
An Unexpected Problem
My Dad always said if it has tires and burns fuel, at some point you’re going to have troubles. That wasn’t his exact words, but you get the idea. Outside Palm Springs on Highway I-10, a spark plug blew out of the engine block in our motorhome. The engine was a trident V-10 and I just had a tune-up done before we left home, including replacing the spark plugs. The repair facility that was performing the repairs suggested the spark plug that blew was over torqued. I contacted the shop at home that had done the initial work, and relayed the comments from the repair facility in Palm Springs. They conceded to pay for half the repair bill of $1,000. We have Roadside Assistance, so it cost zero dollars to have our motorhome towed to the repair shop.
After this expensive mishap, I did some investigation into this type of engine to see if this was a ‘one off’ issue, or a problem with this engine. A problem with the engine was my conclusion. So by my calculations, $1,000 times 9 = $9,000. Even though this beautiful Class A motorhome had only about 60,000 miles on it, it was time for it to go.
We bought a new 36-foot travel trailer with 2 slides. We already own a 1-ton diesel pickup, so this was a good fit. It pulls our new trailer with ease, and gives us a vehicle to use. You are probably wondering about the toys. Well, I had been thinking about this issue for a while. I put the bicycles on a rack on the bumper of the trailer, and I have the pick-up box for an ATV. But that’s only one toy. What about the rest? A snowmobile deck was the answer. The deck is supported with aluminium supports that elevate the deck above the sides of the truck box. It extends to an 8-foot wide deck with enough room for 2 toys and storage under the deck.
On our first trip south with the new trailer and one ATV plus one street bike, we had one problem. The ramps that came with the snowmobile deck were too steep to ride the motorbike up onto the deck. I built more ramps to lessen the slope. I was still a bit chicken to ride the motorbike up the ramp onto the deck, and I was having nightmares. So was Lynda. We decided to winch the motorbike up the ramps onto the deck. Lynda was afraid, as was I, that an accident would take place. Before this happened, we decided to leave the motorcycle at home. We now haul 2 ATVs on the deck, problem solved. ATVs handle the ramp very well, especially if I park next to an elevated bank to lessen the slope of the ramps.
There is another solution to this problem that is becoming popular. People are leaving their toys, and even their whole set-up, in the south. They fly south and pick up their rig from storage. I’m not sure what the cost would be, but I’m thinking pricey. However, there is the fuel savings to help offset the cost.
So as you can see, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to have your toys with you while you are travelling in your RV.