Tony & Peggy Barthel - StressLess Campers

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We’re Tony & Peggy Barthel and we’re working to help you be a StressLess Camper.

Getting back into the campground

Getting back into the campground

Buying my new Rig

I decided it was time to get back on the road.

It’d been three years since John passed away, which, added the two years of caring for him, made it five years since the last RV adventure. Our last trip had been a wonderful six-week wander – Idaho, Yellowstone, onward to the Back Hills of South Dakota, then home via the Tetons of Wyoming.

I loved our 22 foot Nash trailer, yet when we were in Oregon we had checked out and pretty much decided on buying a new Nash, because, as John pointed out, while I loved the one we had, he was the one who got to fix all the little and large things that were starting to go wrong. Shortly after we got home from our trip we sold the trailer with plans to buy the new one in the spring.

But that was never to be. John was diagnosed with ALS that winter. The two saddest and most difficult years of my life had thus begun.

Now three years after his death, I took a big breath and decided it is time to start RVing again. Lots of women were doing it on their own, so why not me? After all John and I had spent over 25 years camping in one thing or another. We started in a John-remodeled van, graduated to a tent trailer, then a small, unreliable and funky small trailer, and finally to the much-loved 22 foot Nash. While scary to think about RV’ing alone, I knew if I didn’t’ try, I’d always wonder if I could do it and enjoy it again. So I took the leap.

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I was very clear on what I did and did not want. I wanted a slightly smaller trailer that would accommodate me and Elmo the dog, with room for an occasional traveling companion. I required adequate storage, actual drawers, a medicine cabinet, a shower that did not require one to sit on the toilet to bathe, and a bed that I didn’t have to make up every night in order to go to sleep in it. Add in an electric awning, electric jack, good-sized water storage tanks, lots of under trailer storage and I’d be a happy camper. And so the quest began.

I went to numerous RV shows and dealerships locally and within 100 miles or so. I literally looked at over 100 trailers and in the process met varied sales “associates”, some of whom were helpful and polite, or some rude and dismissive sexists, and others who didn’t take a woman shopping by herself very seriously. More than once I had to stop a fast moving salesman, ask him to slow down, listen to what I wanted, or if he was too busy to please let me know and I’d be happy to quite bothering him, and go elsewhere. Often before we even looked at anything, I’d get the “Well little lady, what are you going to pull it with?” “Well sir, not my Camry, it really depends on what I buy.” If he listened, he found that I knew quite a lot and then a mutually beneficial conversation could be had.

One thing that made me really crazy is, unlike with cars, an RV dealer will only do warranty work on the trailers that they sell. But I was fortunate, the trailer I decided to buy was actually the first one I looked at and it was at my local dealership. And they were also courteous, patient, and polite, quite lovely to deal with.

Linda’s camper all set up for adventure.

Linda’s camper all set up for adventure.

Now all I had to do was find the best vehicle to pull it. I will spare you the repeat of good and poor sales adventures. While I was pretty knowledgeable about my trailer requirements, vehicle shopping was an entirely different situation. Vehicle purchasing had been John’s domain, my primary input being color and upholstery. I was starting at ground zero. I knew how much the trailer I wanted to buy weighed, but that was about it. I have so much gratitude to my village: the friends, neighbors, sales folks, and strangers, who took the time to answer the myriad of questions I asked and re-asked as I tried to figure out what I needed to know to make a good decision. I often show my gratitude with a plateful of cookies, so I did quite a bit of baking during this adventure! What a learning curve – interestingly I found it quite fun to be thinking and learning about brand new-to-me things and talking car-talk. It was like stimulating a whole new part of my brain. Quite satisfying.

It finally came time to DECIDE! I ended up buying a GMC Canyon 4x4 diesel, the 4x4/diesel part I am sure of which was a result of “channeling” John – he was a built-to-last/brick shit house kinda guy and I think that and his love of researching things managed to rub off on me during this whole endeavor.

FINALLY I bought my trailer, the Springdale 179. Ah but the fun and learning curves continue, sometimes joyfully, some times in tears. Coming up: Hooking up, backing up, remodeling, my first big trip batteries and more.

Hooking Up

I was pleasantly surprised at how well I’ve done hooking up my trailer, now know as Nellie. Apparently I’d been paying more attention than I’d realized as I watched John do it all those years. Of course, I didn’t have the advantage of all my, to me, completely clear hand signals telling him how to back up the truck this way and that and only so far back etc. to get the ball under the coupling. No, that has been happily replaced by the modern convenience of a back-up camera on the truck. It’s been a God-send in more ways than one, the first being able to back right up to and under the ball coupling.

Once again channeling John, I got the sway bars/weight distribution system for my rig. And amazingly, I set it up the very first time just like I knew what I was doing. While the bars are a bit heavy and sometimes have a mind of their own when trying to take them out, generally it’s no problem.

No, the problem was the hitch. It weighs a ton. Well maybe not quite a ton, but it’s dang heavy. Using all my focus, attention, and thoughtful body mechanics, I could JUST barely lift it from the trailer storage bin, just barely carry it from the trailer to the truck, then unceremoniously drop it on the ground so I could take a breath, then take another breath, align it and me, then just barely lift it, and finally get it into the slot. Then get to repeat the same struggle on its way back from truck to the trailer. I’m in good shape, but I’m also 70 years old and these maneuvers had me concerned. Throw my back out and this adventure is over. So back to my research and village of friends to help me try to solve this problem. Aluminum hitch? No too soft to hold the sway bars. Aluminum with air shocks? No, losing the weigh distribution and sway support not a good idea. Titanium? Doesn’t exist. What then!!

My dear handyman and I huddled and came up with the idea – mobile hitch cart. We (ha! We?! – no He) modified one of my camp tables with some old wheels he had in his barn. The combined height matched the hitch storage spot on Nellie. So I slide (grunt) the hitch on to the rolling table, roll it over to the truck. Then taking a big centering breath, lined up the hitch with the slot, and voila! slowly lower and slide it into place. Works great. So that problem addressed, now all I have to do is learn how to back up.

Guest blogger Linda Francis describes getting back in the campground after the loss of her spouse.

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