How far can I go?

One of the first questions I asked before our trip was “how far can I go?” I have noticed that on longer road trips in an automobile, no matter how much I would speed I would always average 60 MPH. The Unicorn RV weighs 7x what an average automobile weighs, so my open question to the RV’ing community was “how far can I go?”

The consensus I found was 200 miles per day was what most full-time RV’ers drive. There were retired couples who would stop driving at 2:00 PM, no matter how many (or little) miles they would drive. Other people would drive 600 miles in a day to get across the country then slow their travel down significantly. Diesel, 5th Wheel, Class C RV, everyone reported do not push yourself and try to enjoy yourself.

After 11 months on the road, I can finally answer the question “how far can I go?” The answer is about 400 miles per day, but I really recommend under 200 miles per days. I sampled some of the data I had collected and found that our average miles per hour (mph) was 45, no matter the distance or roadway. We relocated the RV 77 times over our trip; the average drive between locations was 158 miles. The most we moved in a single relocation was 492 miles, and the least we moved was 20 miles.

I will readily admit I still do not have a good grasp on why we only averaged 45 MPH, but I can offer some empirical reasons why:

  1. Toddlers Need Breaks – Having a 2 year old and a 4-year-old means stopping or slowing down often. There would be potty breaks, diaper breaks, kids have fits breaks, and food stops. It was rare that we could go for two hours without stopping at least once.
  2. Driver Needs Breaks – It is no secret; I have a tiny bladder, so I would need to stop often much to the annoyance of Jen. In addition, driving the Unicorn RV through rough terrain or rough weather I would need a few minutes to relax and calm down. An example was driving down a 9500 ft. mountain, about halfway down I pulled over to enjoy the view and loosen up my knuckles from the steering wheel.
  3. Gas / Propane Stops – Unicorn RV has a 75-gallon tank, we would normally fill up 50 gallons per stop. Filling up 50 gallons of gas takes a while, and you have to maneuver into a gas station and make sure you can easily exit after topped off. Filing propane required a gas station employee to fill the tank; it was not uncommon to wait 10-20 minutes, which slows your overall speed.
  4. Hills – Surprisingly hills did not cause a large amount of delay, unless you were very mountainous areas like Montana where you would spend 10 minutes climbing a mountain at 35 MPH.
  5. Construction – Rarely did road construction affect our driving, unless we were forced into a single lane with cones on both sides of the road.
  6. Weather – The hardest weather element to deal with on the drive was wind. If wind speeds were above 20 MPH we would have to lower our road speed 10 MPH or the Unicorn would become too unstable to drive.
  7. Supplies – We tried not to put together supply missions and relocations together, but sometimes to visit Costco, Whole Foods, or another specialty store it would be necessary to stop.
  8. Corners – You know those yellow warning signs on corners, you know that say 25 MPH ahead. In a car, you may ignore it and take the corner at 40 MPH without a problem. If you do not obey them, your passengers will not enjoy the corner. Slowing down for these advisories makes everyone happy in the RV, but slows down your overall speed.

If you are considering doing a large RV trip and need someone to answer the question “How far can I go?”, let me be the first to tell you that 500 miles per day is the absolute most you should do in a single day. You should reserve 500 miles per day for relocation trips and limit how many you do; if you do, you will miss huge portions of your trip. My recommendation is stick to 120 miles per day; it works out to about three hours of driving. When you do relocate, spend some time enjoying your new “home” before jumping into another relocation drive.

Missoula, MT – Walmart

Our final night on the road was at the Missoula Walmart parking lot. We had made a spontaneous decision to leave Yellowstone in the evening instead of first thing in the morning and try to get back to Seattle as quickly as possible. It was nearly 800 miles between Yellowstone and Seattle, a drive we knew would be unable to complete in a single day. After we set the girls up with movies, we hit the road at 4:00 PM with the intention of driving as long as possible and stopping somewhere for the night.

After joining Interstate 90 in Bozeman, MT, I pushed the gas pedal down and headed West as quickly as possible. 230 miles later and nearly five hours later we pulled into the Missoula Walmart parking lot. There was a big sign indicating that the city of Missoula prohibited RV parking/camping in the Walmart parking lot, but the eight other RVs in the parking lot with their satellite dishes pointing to sky told me otherwise.

Throwing caution into the wind, we parked the RV near the garden section. Jen put the girls into PJs and I went inside to pick up a few supplies for our drive the next day. When I returned to the RV, the girls were tucked in bed, as was Jen. It was just after 1:00 AM, so we were all desperate for some sleep.

Unfortunately, the noise in the Walmart parking lot was high and by the time, our alarms went off at 6:30 AM I doubt either Jen or me slept more than 3 hours. I set the alarm for so early so we that we could drive straight through to Seattle. There was nearly 500 miles of pavement ahead for us; it would take nearly ten hours to complete the drive.

Staying in the Walmart was free, if you ignore the supplies that we bought, and a very important milestone. This was our first time we stayed at a Walmart, ever. If you speak to other RV’ers, you find out that that almost everyone stays at Walmart. I have a dislike of Walmart, the company, the store, so staying at Walmart felt “dirty” to me. This time, it made sense. There is a KOA in Missoula, which we love, but I did not want to pay $35+ for a six-hour stay.

I am sure we will stay in a Walmart parking lot again in the future. They obviously have no hookups, but are good places to stop if you just need a quick laydown as you transit.

Would I recommend this park? No. Would we come back? No.

Stats:

  • Utilization: I would venture to say the parking lot had too many RVs in it.
  • Hookups: None
  • WiFi: None
  • Cellular Data:
    • AT&T – 4 bars of 4G and worked reliably
    • Verizon – 4 bars of LTE and worked reliably

Trip Mileage

We bought the Unicorn RV in April, 2013 with 11,000 miles on the odometer in Turlock, CA and finished our trip in Snohomish, WA with 24,848 miles on the odometer. The trip brought us across 27 US states and left us all with many memories.

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Over the 11 months that we were on the road, we averaged 1017.25 miles per month. The most we drove in a month was our final month on the road, where we drove 2902 miles from Freehold, NJ to Snohomish, WA – coast-to-coast. The least we drove was our trip up the East coast of Florida where we ended up staying at a few campgrounds for extended periods.

Month Mileage Trip Routing
June 2013 1015 Gilroy, CA -> Snohomish, WA
July 2013 0 Snohomish, WA
August 2013 636 Snohomish, WA -> Polson, MT
September 2013 1301 Polson, MT -> Wenatchee, WA -> Baker City, OR
October 2013 1355 Baker City, OR -> Prescott, AZ
November 2013 1090 Prescott, AZ -> Austin, TX
December 2013 922 Austin, TX -> Tallahassee, FL
January 2014 767 Tallahassee, FL -> Key Largo, FL
February 2014 470 Key Largo, FL -> St. Augustine, FL
March 2014 1059 St. Augustine, FL -> College Park, MD
April 2014 690 College Park, MD -> Freehlold, NJ -> Millersburg, OH
May 2014 2902 Millersburg, OH -> Snohomish, WA

Feeling Gassy #5 – Final Edition

This is the final installment of the Feeling Gassy series. It has been almost two months since the last post, Feeling Gassy #4 – 10K Edition on March 29th. After 13,848 miles of driving the Unicorn RV around the US, we pulled into our new home in Washington (again). We have driven 3704 miles since our last post, which included a month stopover in New Jersey and our expedited return trip to Washington.

As we drove West we continued to find winter, which means we had to fill up the propane a few times. Unfortunately, the gauge for our propane tank is questionable and the availability of propane has meant we would fill the tank more often. In the past eight weeks, we have filled up propane five times which is well above our average of every three to four weeks.

The final tally for fuel expenses on our trip is $7605.96 and $758.20 for propane. This averages $691.45 per month for gas and $68.93 per month for propane over our 11-month adventure.

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Gas Breakdown

Number of Fill Ups: 46 (12 fill ups since March 29th, 2014)

Miles Per Gallon

Maximum: 7.43 MPG (09/15 – 09/18/2013 — Driving between Bozeman, MT and Missoula, MT on I-90; only one major mountain pass; no Toad) – Unchanged

Minimum: 4.81 MPG (11/08 – 11/11/2013 — Driving between Phoenix, AZ and Lordsburg, NM on I-20; I was driving with a heavy foot and the generator was running the Air Conditioner; Toad attached) – Unchanged

Average: 6.25 (down from 6.30 as noted in Feeling Gassy #4 – 10K Edition)

Gallons Per Fill Up (US Gallons)

Most: 69.73 US Gallons (11/08/2013 – Driving between Prescott, AZ and Eloy, AZ; misjudged the distance and the MPG so pulled in on fumes) – Unchanged

Least: 13.71 US Gallons (01/08/2014 – Emergency fill up near Inglis, FL @ $3.65 per gallon, underestimated remainder of fuel and availability of gas stations in Central Florida; did not fill the tank as $3.65 per gallon was $0.40 more than we had seen in major cities) – Unchanged

Average: 48.28 US Gallons

Total: 2220.65 US Gallons

Distance Between Fill-Ups

Max: 488 Miles

Least: 44 Miles

Average: 300.84

Time Between Fill-Ups

Maximum: 73 Days

Minimum: 0 Day (Stopped for Gas in Inglis, FL and filled the tank in Chiefland, FL) – Unchanged

Average: 8.93 Days (down from 10.45 Days as noted in Feeling Gassy #4 – 10K Edition)

Total Cost of Fill Up (US $)

Maximum: $236.34 (69.53 gallons at $3.399 per gallon in Goldsboro, NC … almost on fumes) – Unchanged

Minimum: $50.00 (Emergency fill-up in Inglis, FL; paid outrageous $3.65 per gallon) – Unchanged

average: $165.35 (up from $162.68 Days as noted in Feeling Gassy #4 – 10K Edition)

Total: $7605.96 (US Federal Taxes Paid: $1106.75)

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Propane Breakdown

Number of Fill Ups: 17 (5 fill ups since March 29th, 2014)

Gallons Per Fill Up (US Gallons)

Maximum: 20.33 US Gallons

Minimum: 6.00 US Gallons

Average: 13.28 US Gallons (down from 14.79 US Gallons as noted in Feeling Gassy #4 – 10K Edition)

Total: 225.68 US Gallons

Time Between Fill-Ups

Maximum: 37 days

Minimum: 6 days

Average: 14.38 Days (up from 16.09 days as noted in Feeling Gassy #4 – 10K Edition)

Total Cost of Fill Up (US $)

Maximum: $69.30 (04/18/2014 – Freehold, NJ)

Minimum: $22.50 (01/19/2014 – Orlando, FL)

average: $44.60

Total: $758.20

Detour: National Elk Refuge, Jackson Hole, WY

Monday morning before work, we drove around Jackson Hole, WY exploring. I took a drive down one of the city roads and drove towards a mountain (there are many mountains around Jackson Hole). As I drove down the road, it looked like it dead-ended at the base of the mountain. We drove all the way down before realizing to our left was the National Elk Refuge and there was a dirt road heading out of town, into the National Elk Refuge.

Unclear if we were breaking federal laws by entering, we saw a few ‘welcome’ signs and assumed what we are doing would not put us in jail. About a mile down the gravel road, there is a small cabin known as the Miller Cabin, which was beautiful. It was this cabin and the surrounding 2000 acres of land are what were given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which became the refuge.

We drove down the road a bit further and stopped when a group of mountain goats was crossing the road. They clearly knew about cars, but did not seem to care and slowly crossed the road to the rest of the herd. I presume they were starting their morning with some fresh grass for breakfast on the hill.

As we continued to drive, we saw a coyote, a number of skeletons, which interested Evelyn, and of course a huge swath of protected lands that were beautiful. The road forked and we headed up the hills, climbing about 4 miles up a mountain to Curtis Campground, which is 6600 ft. (400 ft. more than Jackson Hole). It is a primitive campground, with beautiful views of the valley. If I could bring the Unicorn RV up there, I would have in a heartbeat … but alas, it is just too big of a RV.

We drove down the mountain after Curtis Campground, deciding not to climb up the mountain further. It was a shame we did not see any Elk herds, but we did see plenty of wildlife to keep the girls excited. If you are here, find National Elk Refuge Road at the end of Broadway, and spend an hour exploring the less populated regions.

Driving Through Wyoming

We spent nearly a week driving through South Dakota, so we were already prepared for the wide-open spaces of Wyoming. What we were not prepared for was that Wyoming is nothing more than a 97,814 sq. mi wide-open space. Unlike South Dakota, we would be driving 450 miles across the state in just two days, Saturday May 17th and Sunday May 18th. South Dakota felt like a metropolis to us after spending only a few hours in Wyoming.

After leaving Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, we crossed into Wyoming on Highway 16 near Newcastle, WY. Our end goal for Saturday was Casper, WY and we would be driving 170 miles across the most barren part of the state, we only passed through three towns:

  • Newcastle, WY – Population 3,532
  • Wright, WY – Population 1,807
  • Midwest, WY – Population 404

The most interesting town we passed through was Wright, WY that was created solely for supporting the Black Thunder Coal Mine, which produces 100 million tons of coal per year, nearly 10% of all US coal production. We drove through the town, by mistake instead of the highway, and it is a very planned community. Most of the houses are tidy, but the schools and municipal buildings are immaculate and new. There are no brand name grocery stores in town, no fast food and no real commercial district. There is a truck stop and a Subway restaurant, there are a few bars next to the highways, and the only grocery store we could find was Don’s Supermarket, which looked very utilitarian. I imagine Wright, WY is a company town and there is not very many businesses that are ‘free market’.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, many miles of unused, wide vast sections of land. We eventually pulled into our RV campground just outside Casper, WY in Bar Nunn, WY. Even being 5 miles outside of Casper, you could not really tell you were near a city. As we pulled off the exist, there was a dilapidated strip club, Northern Dreams, which looks like it has seen better days and is having its own Northern Dream.

Sunday morning we left Casper, WY and headed towards Jackson Hole, WY along Highway 26. Only 5 miles outside of Casper, WY, the rolling vastness resumed. We passed through a few ‘towns’ with enough residents whose names could barely fill a single sheet of paper before arriving in Riverton, WY which is the ninth biggest city in Wyoming at a staggering, 10,867 population. After leaving Riverton, the next major town we would see would be Dubois, WY with a population of 971. It was nearly 1.5 hours between the two cities, a very common occurrence.

We eventually crossed over the Togwotee Pass at 9584 feet, which is also the Continental Divide for North America. The roads were lonely and the climb was slow, the Unicorn RV is not a hill climber and will routinely slowdown to 45 mph on sharp inclines with the Jeep attached. I eventually stopped the RV on the way up, to give me a small break and to let the Unicorn RV relax its mechanical being. After clearing the pass, we entered into Jackson Hole with a beautiful view of the Grand Teton Mountains.

If all of this sounds like complaining, it is not. I did not truly understand how vast a state could be and was overwhelmed as a crossed through. We enjoyed the two days of driving across the great state of Wyoming; it is amazing to see the earth change as you pass through the state. If you want to truly explore a state, get off the Interstate and onto one of the many state highways. You will see some amazing things.

Casper, WY – Casper KOA

As we drove across Wyoming on our way to Casper, I received a phone call from an unknown number. I didn’t answer it but later on I listened to the voicemail and it was the Casper KOA telling me that I didn’t show up for my reservation and to give them a call. We were only an hour away and the cell phone reception was not very good, so I decided to deal with it once we arrived. My major concern would be if the campground was full, but a) it was mid-May and b) it was in Casper, Wyoming where I doubted there would be a space crunch.

We arrived at the Casper KOA at 2:00 PM and found the office was closed, so I found one of the slips free spaces. I started to pull around the office building when a woman wearing a KOA shirt was standing there looking very confused. She flagged me down and I stopped, she was very rude in asking what I was doing. I told her I was pulling into space #13 and she told me I was going the wrong way. I looked around and she told me, rudely, I should have followed the provided map. I told her I would be careful and pull into the designated space.

I drove slowly to the space, pulled into the space without an issue, and came to a stop. The woman walked over to my window, told me to come see her when the office re-opens at 4:00 PM to deal with the registration mess, and walked away. She saw Leona and cracked a big smile, so I told Jen I would be ‘borrowing’ Leona when I went to talk about the registration mess.

After exploring Casper, I returned to the KOA office. I told her that I accidentally had booked a site in both Mount Rushmore and Casper without realizing it, I did not intend to stay in Casper the night before and I was sorry for the confusion. She told me that she would charge me for both Friday and Saturday nights, because I was a no-show. I pleaded with her, used Leona’s charm, and in the end she would not budge. She told me that someone else could have used that spot last night.

I asked her point blank, “Was your campground full last night?” She paused, stunned by my question and then responded “well… no.” I asked her if she could just slide the reservation forward and forgive the oversight, I was staying in a KOA the night before 200+ miles away. She said no and I realized at this point no amount of charm from Leona could melt her fridged stance on the topic. I knew I wasn’t going to win the battle when she started to talk down to me about how there are these things “planners” that I can use to track my registrations, in a very condescending tone.

I gave up, it was only $37.62 and while it was my fault, it is annoying the KOA website does not alert you to conflicting registrations. I was annoyed, such a simple mistake that I had only done twice before and both times the campgrounds completely understood. If the campground was full and they had to turn away business, I understand, but the Casper KOA was only half full the night we stayed.

Now… the campground itself was nothing special. It was a gravel parking lot, no grass, tight spaces, and not too many amenities. I took Echo to the dog walk, which was a 10 ft. x 20 ft. fenced in space with gravel. The dog walk fence was 7 ft. tall and felt claustrophobic; Echo did not leave my side until we decided to leave the space. The playground looked shabby and under maintained as well and I did not let the girls play on it.

Our space had water, sewer, and electric. There was a cheap plastic picnic table and a small tree, who looked to be clinging to the life in the hard Casper weather. Although close to the Interstate, there was not much road noise at night because the Interstate is not heavily trafficked. There is a set of PO Boxes behind the RV campground for the city of Bar Nunn, WY that probably has 800+ mailboxes that had lots of traffic in the evening.

All in all this is a very basic KOA. If you need a place to stop as you pass through, this KOA will be good. As you read, I do not think the ownership will provide you rock star customer experience though.

Would I recommend this park? No. Would we come back? No.

Stats:

  • Utilization: Approximately 50% of the spaces were used during our stay.
  • Hookups: 50 AMP, 30 AMP, 20 AMP electricity, water and sewer.
  • WiFi: Sluggish
  • Cellular Data:
    • AT&T – 4 bars of 4G and worked reliably
    • Verizon – 4 bars of LTE and worked reliably