January 2009 trip plan

In the run-up to Christmas, a lot of tasks and projects have been shunted aside, but one item that remains prominently on our list is our next Airstream trip.  We have been looking forward to a few weeks of travel ever since we arrived in Tucson (an event which marked the end of our full-time travels).

The plan has always been to head to California and then roam around.  Primarily, that’s because in the bottom of the winter the weather conditions limit our travel.  From past experience we know that southern California, all of coastal California, and low deserts are generally reliable place to go, but even those places can have very chilly nights.  It’s also important to keep elevation in mind at all times, since — as I’ve said many times — weather out west is determined by altitude, not latitude.

That means we won’t be heading to Flagstaff (7000 ft), or for that matter, anywhere in northern Arizona, northern New Mexico, the Sierra Nevadas and other mountain ranges.  This time of year we even have to be careful about highway passes that exceed 4000 feet, since they can be snowed in while other parts of the road are sunny and warm.  Because of the need to stay low, our favorite spots in the west during winter are Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego, coastal Rt 1, the Sacramento Valley, and Death Valley.  Oregon is decent along the coast too, but we won’t be going that far north this time.

The trip “plan,” such as it is, loosely calls for visiting most of those spots over a 3-4 week period.  As always, we are winging it on most of the details, but we do have a few definite stops that will be the framework for the trip.  The only reservation we’ve made is for Anza-Borrego, because winter is peak season.  That particular stay was booked last July.

The Airstream is sitting ready to go, with only a few things left to be packed and checked before departure.  Since our arrival I’ve had a lot of time to take care of wear and tear from our last long trip, and there was quite a list.  The Armada needed a pair of exhaust manifolds (they seem to crack every 30k miles, the only significant maintenance problem we’ve encountered with this vehicle, but fortunately I got an extended warranty which covered them). The Armada also needed a new set of tires, oil change, some minor body work, and a thorough cleaning.

The Airstream needed a repair to the power converter, new axles, one replacement brake assembly, a new toilet seal kit, and a tire.  All of that has been done, and the rig has been test-towed, so we can head back out with complete confidence in our equipment.  There is a lingering leak somewhere around the stove vent, but since it’s impossible to work on the Airstream’s roof while it is parked in our carport, I plan to bring a tube of caulk and some tools with me, and deal with it sometime on the road.  We won’t see much rain, if any, in the southern California desert, but San Diego is another story…

Our friend “Tucson Terry” commented that we are now like everyone else, planning and looking forward to our next trip.  It’s true.  It’s not a bad thing, either.  There’s a certain excitement in anticipating a great tour.  Planning it and dreaming about it really is half the fun.  I felt the same sensation even when full-timing, because there were always low points where we were mostly parked and waiting for the next major stop.

One very pleasant change since the last time we traveled is of course the startling drop in fuel cost.  In our final month of full-timing, fuel was so expensive that we heavily curtailed our driving distances.  In Utah, we paid as much as $4.54 per gallon, and at one point we were elated to find a gas station on an Indian reservation that was “only” $3.80 per gallon.  Even though we needed less than 1/3 of a tank, we filled up to take advantage of the low price.

Those were the days of $80-100  fillups.  Yesterday  I filled up the Armada for $26.88.  It seemed almost like cheating.  But since this multi-week tour will cover 7-9 stops and at least 2,000 miles, I’ll take the discount.  We’ll save about $500 compared to fuel prices just three months ago.

Since we can afford to go a little further, and make more stops, this trip will be heavily oriented to seeing friends we made while we were on the road.  Every stop we have in mind will involve someone who befriended us along the way, and with whom we share some special memories.  I suppose this could be viewed as a trip of reminisces, but really it’s about continuing to make new memories.  I doubt we’ll spend a lot of time looking backward, and for sure we will try to explore some new territory as we go.  For benefit of our friends in the Revenue Service, let me point out that we also have numerous business-related stops along the way.

While we are traveling, I may resume daily or near-daily blogging.  This is as much for my benefit as for anyone who is interested, because if I don’t keep a journal I’ll forget what we did.  Those of you who have been deprived of photos in this blog can rejoice because no doubt my camera will get heavy use. (I only hope it keeps working — it’s showing signs of age lately.  It would be nice if Santa brought me a new Nikon D90, but I forgot to put it on my wish list.)  The trip begins December 28.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine