Camper Mechanicals and Traveling with Nostradamus

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A few years back, I had the opportunity to do some consulting work a few hours away in Wisconsin.  Given it was a fairly long distance, I swapped vehicles with Sarah in order to drive the Toyota Prius. On the way back, I mistakenly assumed I could either get farther or find a gas station and found myself in a bit of a predicament. The Prius has a computer function that estimates the remaining distance you can drive without running out of gas and I watched in panic as the fuel allocation figures quickly dropped from “10 miles remaining” to “0 miles remaining” with not a gas station in sight.  I felt I was living on borrowed time as I coasted off of the highway to save fuel and looked for a gas station in a downslope direction. I ended up making it and ultimately was able to go almost 10 miles further than the car had originally indicated. This little exercise reinforced two little understandings I had already begun to realize about the world:

  1. Most manufacturers build “dummy proofing” into most of what they create because of idiots like me will….well…be idiots a good chunk of the time.
  2. One doesn’t learn their limits until they get closer to them. I now know that there’s some “wiggle room” the miles remaining indicator in the car.  Why should anyone spend more time at a gas station than they need to?  Let’s just say I’m not the kind of person who refills the tank once it hits ½ full.

The above is relevant and this little blog should hopefully come full circle.  We left Iceland after 6 days of traveling the island onto Stockholm, Sweden. We stayed at a hotel in the middle of the old section of the city. Nice people, great waterfronts, and very beautiful on many levels.  Things that kinda surprised me included the high level of bike riders, how “white” (Caucasian) the city was, and culture/style that was evident in the city.

After three nights there we flew to Duesseldorf, Germany. Duesseldorf was more industrial, far more culturally and ethnically diverse, and more subdued than Iceland or Sweden.  As Sarah mentioned in her post, I went to a barber for the first time in 20 years in Duesseldorf and gotta say…didn’t hate the experience.

Duesseldorf was the destination city as we were able to find the most inexpensive Camper (RV) from there vs. other European cities when we began researching travel via a Camper vs. other modes of transportation/lodging.  Not only did our financial analysis suggest that it would be more cost effective than train/bus/car and hotel/Air B&B, but we also liked the idea of keeping our schedule flexible. I’m tracking all of our costs, so we’ll see how it pans out.

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We left Duesseldorf in the camper and headed Northwest to Amsterdam.  There we spent the first night about two hours NE of Duesseldorf.  It was us and another eight or so campers who all appeared to be 20-30 years our seniors. That observation wasn’t the only one. I also realized that while our camper was relatively new with only 13,720 km on the odometer when we started, it also was relatively odd looking when comparing our camper “package” to others.  Ours appears to be as high as it is long as if there were a second floor to it. In reality, there is a false floor in it that houses all of the mechanical systems that other models seem to be far more efficient at concealing in the design.

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This is my first time driving/using a RV Camper and we received a fairly extensive overview of the systems when we picked it up, but one really doesn’t know how to use it until they use it. Here’s what I now know after a 1,000 km of driving and seven nights sleeping in our squished guppy car:

  • It’s a Fiat, diesel, 6 speed. It drives well up to 120 km/h (about 73 mph), but anything higher than that and it starts shimmying like riding a skateboard/snowboard at an excessive speed. This would be fine in the U.S., but it can be a bit a bit unnerving when a BMW or Mercedes clips by at 200 + km/h and you have to hold the wheel tighter like they just gave you a shove as they passed.
  • Aside from fuel level, you also have to keep a regular eye on fresh water levels, grey water (water used from sinks and showers), brown water (yep, water used from the toilet), and propane tank levels (used as back-up for the fridge and stove).
  • There is a stove (propane), fridge (electricity and propane powered), and a hot water heater (propane), many lights and only one outlet.
  • Best option for power is to plug the Camper in at Camper parks as all systems (less propane for stove/hot water) comes from the outlet. The fridge can be maintained with propane if electricity from the vehicles battery/engine is off or not able to plug in somewhere.  Also, I believe lights can be used for a good while off of the vehicle’s battery if in a remote location.

(Sarah hack – so we still have a lot to learn about using this machine!)

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Sarah and I had a “disagreement” one early a.m. in Amsterdam as we (collective we) failed to add fresh water into the tank the night before and found ourselves with only 1 bar out of 5 bars on the digital screen for the fresh water supply. When we picked up the vehicle there were only 4 bars worth of fresh water and we had only used 2 bars up until the previous night, leaving us with 2 bars.  Somehow through the evening, we dropped to only 1 bar, which apparently took us to defcon 1 at 7 a.m. The water tank holds 100 liters (approximately 25 gallons) and I figured we still had at least 5 gallons of water and assumed that would be more than enough for Sarah and possibly both Max and me to shower. Sarah though (knew) differently. (Sarah hacking Jeff’s blog here – maybe because we can get three showers out of the larger top bar, but only one out of the second bar. By the time we get to one bar, very little water!)

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Back to my intro paragraph about fuel levels….I’m of the belief that as we learn the quirks of this large marshmallow straddled on a Fiat frame, it’s best to error early on when we have resources nearby (water, waste disposal, etc.) and figure out what the bars and indicators really mean.  Not so much the same for my lovely wife who is apparently aspiring to be the second coming of Nostradamus. She was absolutely certain that 1 bar of water on the indicator meant the water would stop once she got her hair lathered up in the shower. Needless to say for any of you who know Sarah and/or me….Nostradamus 1 – Jeff 0.

Consequently, we shuttered up the vehicle (windows, cords unplugged, gas off, etc.) and drove the 30 meters to the water fill-up station at dawn’s first light. It’s funny. I knew we’d have some rough patches while traveling, but never would I have imagined issues over the adequate level of fresh water in the camper. Aside from that and some navigation that has taken us down streets where the Giant-Marshmallow-on-a-Fiat-Frame shouldn’t go, it’s been relatively smooth sailing after our first week in the Camper. I’m quite certain things will only get more interesting as we travel out of Germany and further South through countries where the roads and campsites are a bit less predictable, but glad we have The Netherlands and Germany under our belts, and a common understanding that 1 bar on the water tank = no water. (Sarah hacking again – better safe than sorry is all I have to say! Better safe than sorry. I’m a big fan of planning ahead to avoid stress!)

 

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8 thoughts on “Camper Mechanicals and Traveling with Nostradamus

  1. The little marshmallow looks like a fabulous way to travel – especially now that you’re on your way to figuring out all the ins and outs of the bars;) You just may all have to go with greasy hair more often;)

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  2. Jeff, I really love your commentary. Be here, now! I hope everyone is keeping a good sense of humor and realize life is complicated and nothing really matters other than you are all on a great adventure. I enjoy your contribution to the blog,
    Steve

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  3. “One doesn’t learn their limits until they get closer to them”

    Isn’t that the truth! Some limits are flexible and can be reestablished once reached, but perhaps when it comes to water bars and clean hair, this theory is better left untested.

    If you’re heading south into France, consider a stop in Saint-Remy-de-Provence. It’s the birthplace of Nostradamus! Beautiful area.

    Another great post, Sarah hacks and all.

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  4. Jeff; You may claim to not be able to write well, but I think your missives are pretty darn good. Sarah and Max do well too. Sorry not to have commented sooner, but have these trips back and forth to Rochester to make. Tomorrow starts the last four days. Love to you all and keep on adventuring. Denis

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