Archive for the ‘Interstate motorhome’ Category

Sleepless ferret time

Monday, July 28th, 2014

I left off in the last blog about halfway through my 10 day trip in the Airstream Interstate. … and then, silence. That’s because I got back from the trip and immediately launched into a couple projects atop my day job of being the Airstream Life magazine Editor & Publisher, not the least of which was to write a guidebook about the Airstream Interstate.

Writing a guidebook is not really such a bad job, unless you, for reasons that cannot be fully explained here, have a deadline to complete the entire thing in three weeks. Then it’s an exercise to see how long you can stand to (in the words of Hunter S Thompson) work like a sleepless ferret, and still produce readable prose.

Not only readable, but accurate. These days, in the era of e-books, anyone can be a publisher, and sadly there are a lot of guidebooks available now that lack reliability and comprehensiveness. So I spent the last three weeks gorging on information and attempting to become expert on the intricacies of the Interstate motorhome, while typing out pages as quickly as I could.

So my blog stories of the Interstate trip suffered, but the good news is that I finished the first draft of the book last night. It’s off to my illustrator, and then I’ll run it past a few folks at Airstream and Airstream dealerships for fact-checking.  With luck, the ebook can be out in September. It will probably run about 80 pages long in the final version. I’m just glad it’s off my desk and out of my head, so I can think like a normal person for a while.

I owe you a conclusion to the blog series I started.  After I finished coastal Route 1 I headed up to spent a couple of nights in friendly driveways in the Silicon Valley area. I have a few friends up there, and one of them had a nice long fenced-in driveway in Los Altos that was just perfect.

After that I took the inland (101) route back to the Murphy Auto Museum Oxnard and spent the Fourth of July having dinner in Malibu with a friend.  I’ve never been to Malibu before, but now that I’ve had a chance to see some of the spectacle there (lots of elaborate parties going on, and the people-watching was fantastic) it’s possible we’ll make another visit as a family someday.

On Saturday the fifth I took the Airstream down the coast to San Pedro (where the cruise ships depart Los Angeles) to meet some other folks. I got there a little early, so I found a spot in a Home Depot parking lot where a Mexican food truck was making quesadillas, and had a casual lunch in the Interstate under the shade of some trees. At this point I was feeling completely at ease with the motorhome; we were a team of urban explorers willing to go anywhere.

Tom M, a friend and blog reader, wrote in to ask:

- Was there anyplace that it was too big to park?

Well, yes, you can’t fit a 25-foot motorhome just anywhere. Some friends I wanted to visit in Sunnyvale CA had a driveway that was less than 25 feet long, and HOA rules about “oversized vehicles” being parked overnight on the street, so I stayed in Los Altos and they picked me up. But in Veterans Memorial Park in Monterey CA, there was a rule supposedly prohibiting vehicles over 23 feet or so.  Half a dozen white box “Cruise America” rental motorhomes were camped there, all much longer than the limit, so I found a campsite that fit the Interstate and spent a peaceful night. Otherwise, I took it just about everywhere I wanted.

- Was it a hassle to pack-everything-up when you wanted to take day trips from the campsite?

Not for me, but then I was traveling light & solo. You can’t really spread out a lot in a B-van, so getting ready to break camp was mostly a matter of doing the dishes and tossing a few things into cabinets. I was usually ready to go in less than 10 minutes. Your mileage may vary.

The portability of the machine was its best feature, at least to a guy who has spent the last nine years in a rig 53 feet long. I took every opportunity to park it in places I’d never go with our 30-foot trailer, including parallel-parking on the street in Santa Barbara, pull-outs along California Route 1 and Tucson’s Catalina Highway (pictured below), grocery store parking lots, and undersized campsites.

 

Perhaps my favorite stop was on the coast north of Malibu at Point Mugu. I would have spent the day there if I didn’t have an appointment later that day…

Airstream Interstate at Pt Mugu CA

After finishing business in Los Angeles, it was time to head toward home. My conundrum was where to stay.  All week I’d been wrestling with this: toward the coast it was pleasantly cool but the holiday travelers had everything booked up in advance, while inland I’d find plenty of uncrowded places to stay–all of which would be scorching hot. So leaving Los Angeles was bittersweet.

I finally opted for heat, but with a compromise.  North of Palm Springs is the Morongo Casino, which offers free overnight RV parking. Being a little higher in altitude and not quite as far into the Coachella Valley it was not terribly hot (by my standards) which meant a night around 80 degrees. It wasn’t practical to run the generator all night for air conditioning, so I just lived with it.

The next day was my torture test for the Interstate. Seven hours of driving through 100+ degree temperatures, at 75 MPH most of the way, including a 1000 ft climb where the road signs say to turn off the air conditioning or risk overheating.  The Interstate was impressive, and I got 16.0 MPG despite the fast drive. It was too hot in the back, where the dash A/C couldn’t reach, so at one point I ran the generator and the ceiling air just to see what would happen. (It worked fairly well.)

I spent one night at home in Tucson, then took a day to drive up to the peak of the Santa Catalina Mountains to get caught in a thunderstorm, then drove the Interstate to a meeting in town (again no trouble parking) and finally spent the night in Casa Grande AZ before dropping the motorhome off in Scottsdale in the morning. Total: 1,600 miles of driving in ten days.

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I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  This was a fun trip. People who drive these things really have an interesting range of opportunities available to them. Obviously you give up a lot in terms of space, but on the other hand you get a lot of flexibility.

In fact, I’m hoping to get another shot at it later. Airstream is bringing out a new B-van in September, to be called “Grand Tour,” and it is supposed to be more camper-ish (less seating, more space for living).  I want to get my hands on it. That’s going to be difficult for a while, since production will probably be limited and I expect demand to be high.

Now that the Interstate trip is over, and the book is mostly done, what’s next? Tomorrow I fly back to Vermont to be reunited with my family, and in a week or so we’ll start the next adventure, our 3,000 mile trip back to Arizona, via Ontario.

 

An ideal TBM vehicle

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Traveling in the Airstream Interstate turned out to be a good TBM*  adventure. I recommend it.

(* = Temporary Bachelor Man)

As a solo travel vehicle, it’s pretty roomy.  I didn’t need all the nine seating positions, but during the course of the trip I managed to try all of them out anyway.  In the evening I could watch a movie on the Blu-Ray player from one of the seats in the second row, or from the bedroom/rear couch in the back.  Sometimes I’d swivel the front passenger seat around and use it as my workstation with the dining table.  Other times, like when I was parked at the beach, I’d put my feet up on one seat in the back (don’t tell Airstream I did this with their loaner) while sitting on the opposite seat, to read a book.  When the bed was set up, I had the equivalent of a King all to myself.

Being TBM my plan was to move fast and travel light, if you can call having five tons of vehicle “light”.  What I mean is that I stocked the fridge with only a few essentials, slept in a sleeping bag rather than setting up the bed nightly with sheets, and moved every day.  I wasn’t going to be living in the Interstate like a full-timer, but I intended to use every system on the rig that I could, because there were four major goals to the trip:

1. Learn how the Interstate works, for a book I’m working on.

2. Gather information and photos for an article for The Star, the Mercedes-Benz Club of America (which will appear in the Sept/Oct issue).

3. Build up a stock photo library for future Airstream Life articles.

4.  Cover a lot of miles to get plenty of driving experience.

But driving around aimlessly is no fun, so I set a goal to get up to the Silicon Valley area to see some friends, taking the scenic coastal Route 1 highway to get there. This turned out to be a great decision.  The last time we did that highway was with the 30-foot Safari in tow, and it was one of the most memorable drives we’ve ever done. With a 25-foot motorhome, it was even easier.

Grant me a moment for a minor car review here:  The Mercedes Sprinter is an awesome basis for a motorhome.  Considering its bulk, it handles remarkably well, accelerates and brakes well, gets good fuel economy (on diesel), and is really easy to drive.  Anyone with decent driving skills would have no trouble taking it on a curvy, hilly, occasionally intimidating road like California Route 1.  And I really liked the fact that I could pull over in any of the small dirt spaces alongside the highway to stop and take pictures.  So I did that a lot.

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The weather along this road is pretty changeable, thanks to fog banks that reside just offshore.  When the fog was away, it was generally about 80 degrees.  When the fog crept in, suddenly it would be as low as 55 degrees.  I liked that.  In one day I got dozens of shots for my photo library, with radically different scenery.

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In Monterey I found a public parking lot with dedicated RV spaces for “RVs up to 25 feet”. Well guess what, mine was 25 feet, so I plunked myself down next to the harbor for a day just to listen to the water sounds while catching up on some work.  Monterey even provided free public wifi, and a short walk away at Fisherman’s Wharf I was able to get a nice salmon sandwich for lunch and listen to the sea lions bellowing for a while.  If they hadn’t had a “no overnight sleeping” ordinance I probably would have never left.

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This was where the size of the Interstate really worked for me.  Not only was it easy to navigate downtown Monterey, but I was able to squeeze into a little city park at the top of a hill for the night.  The park is too small for most travel trailers and it didn’t take reservations, so by just showing up I actually scored a nice campsite for a night despite the masses of holiday campers elsewhere.

The next day I didn’t have as much luck.  I made sure to dump and fill before leaving the campground because I knew I might not get another campground for a while.  Sure enough, I finished the coastal drive as far as Big Sur, but every campground along the route was full.  Eventually I ended up at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which also had a “CAMPGROUND FULL” sign.  From prior experience I knew that despite the sign it pays to ask, and sure enough they had an overflow area where I was allowed to stay for the night.  It wasn’t a deal, since I had to pay the same rate as a campsite ($35) for what amounted to a parking space in a neglect asphalt lot, but given that it was July 1 in Big Sur, it was lucky to get anything at all.

No problem, this gave me another chance to experience boondocking in the Interstate.  I was getting to know this machine pretty well, and even starting to feel a little pride of ownership (except that it would only be mine for a few more days).  At this point I’d figured out all the key stuff: the efficient way to take a shower using the hand-held showerhead in the wet bath; where things fit best in the refrigerator; how to convert from seats to bed in less than a minute; how to change lanes in traffic without crushing somebody in a Mini; which outlets were powered by the inverter, etc.  But I never did figure out what that hammer was for …

Cool day in a cool van

Monday, June 30th, 2014

My goal for the Interstate was to try to find its natural place in the world, in other words to see what it was best at doing.  Having pulled a 30-foot Airstream travel trailer all over southern California, I had the opportunity to compare experiences and go where the big trailer couldn’t.

There was a problem with this great plan, however.  June 28, my first day, was also the first day of a holiday week.  In my part of the world people don’t begin celebrating July 4 until at least July 2, but the Californians apparently feel differently.  They crowded every available campsite from San Diego to San Francisco for the entire week and I discovered my chances of getting a nice spot anywhere near the ocean were virtually nil.

Had I not had several years of experience at finding alternative overnight stops, I might have given up right then and headed inland to the scorching desert.  No problem getting campsites in places where the temperature is running 110 degrees or so. But I wanted to experience the coast, so it was time to call on every resource I had.

My Saturday night stop was easy.  I just stayed parked at the Murphy Auto Museum overnight.  I hadn’t planned to spend the first night without hookups, but it seemed like a good chance to test all the Interstate’s systems.  Sunday morning I took a drive up to Ojai, then wandered down to Santa Barbara on country roads past orchards and ranches, staying off Hwy 101 for as long as possible.  That’s one of the nice things about the Interstate compared to a travel trailer.  I didn’t have any hesitation about trying narrow, winding road that might eventually force me to make a U-turn.  Twenty-five feet of motorhome isn’t exactly compact, but it’s a breeze to turn around compared to 53 feet of truck and trailer.

In Santa Barbara I got my first tank of diesel.  Turns out the Interstate has the same fuel capacity and slightly better fuel economy than my GL320, so it was a familiar experience, and not nearly as traumatic as I had feared it might be.  At the fuel station I got the first of many inquiries about the Interstate.  This is not a stealthy vehicle. People can’t help but notice it, and quite a lot of them will ask questions or even hint for an interior tour.  I ended up giving 15-20 tours over the course of ten days.  People want to know what it costs and what fuel economy it gets, and then they are often amazed to find that it has a full bathroom with shower.

A little further up the road I saw a sign for El Capitan Beach State Park and decided to drop in there, just to park in the day-use area for a while.

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For $9 I had this spot for the entire day, and it was a truly beautiful day.  I opened all the windows, broke out a cold drink and a snack and a book, and settled in for a while.  I could hear people walking by and saying, “That’s a cool van!” and similar comments.  With the blackout windows and the day/night shades in “day” position, they couldn’t tell I was in there.

Later, when I felt like company, I slid out the big side door and got a spontaneous visitor about every twenty minutes.  One guy claimed the Interstate cost $300,000.  Another was so excited he went back to get his wife and kids for a second tour.  One woman got in, then gave me a look that said Uh-oh, I just got in a van with a strange man, but stayed for the tour anyway and then got her husband and friends. Lots of people took photos of themselves next to it.untitled

I couldn’t spend the night here, so I wandered further up the coast on the PCH, ending up in Buellton.  There’s a good RV park there that I figured was far enough inland to maybe have a site available, and that turned out to be a good guess.  $63 with taxes reminded me that I was indeed in California.

Interstate day 2 map

Well, I needed a chance to hook up and try out all those systems too.  The full hookup site gave me a chance to try the fancy new macerator dump that the Interstate uses (no more stinky slinky) and I was favorably impressed with the neatness of the system.  I found a small water leak coming from the rig but it turned out to be just a dripping P&T valve on the water heater.  That’s an overpressure protection valve, and it’s a common issue that is easily rectified, but I just let it drip because it’s not significant and I didn’t expect to be using the water heater much.

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This evening I tested the video system by playing a movie on the Blu-ray DVD and both LCD TVs.  With a Bose active noise-cancellation headset plugged into the headphone jacks (by the second row seats), I couldn’t hear a thing from outside nor the vent fan humming above my head, and I got totally immersed in the movie.  This Interstate experience was starting to feel very decadent, especially compared to the two weeks I just spent on a motorcycle. I was beginning to think that after ten days it might be hard to give the thing back.

Hi, ho, silver Interstate!

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

After the motorcycle trip in Quebec I only had a week to get ready for the next trip.  I don’t expect you to sympathize with me, if you like to travel. Having to rush around and re-pack between exciting trips is the way I would be happy to spend the rest of my life.

Really, re-packing is easy and takes little time, especially since I had months of advance knowledge of the trips.  The important tasks have to do with family and work. My wife is always my partner in travel even when I’m traveling without her, but if we have been apart it’s a high priority to spend some time together.  You can only connect so much via email, phone, and the occasional video chat. It’s just as important to share a dinner, or go grocery shopping, or any other routine thing.  The same goes for my teenage daughter, who probably noticed I was gone but was too busy to worry about it.  Even if she didn’t pine my absence, the comfortable assurance that comes with sharing day-to-day life can’t be replaced any other way that I know of.

It was especially important in this case, because I was gone for nearly two weeks and now I’m embarking on another trip that will have me away for a month. After years of trying, Airstream and I finally managed to coordinate the loan of an Airstream Interstate touring coach. I’m going to take it from Los Angeles and get to know it as intimately as possible, over a period of 10 days.

I flew from Vermont to Los Angeles on June 27 and spent an uninteresting night at an airport hotel before being picked up by Victor, who is currently the finance guy at Airstream of Los Angeles.  Victor is a 19-year Airstreamer and has apparently been a fan of Airstream Life magazine for years, so we had a lot to talk about on the hour-long drive over to San Gabriel in morning traffic.  I got a quick tour of the impressive Airstream of LA facilities with Wes Nave, General Manager, and then a ten-minute walk-thru of the Interstate’s systems with one of their service guys, and they handed me the keys and wished me luck.

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I have to admit I was a bit stunned.  This moment had been years in the making.  The Interstate was standing there, ten feet tall and 25 feet long, gleaming in metallic silver paint, with the big Mercedes logo on the front and AIRSTREAM on the sides and back.  It looked confident and expensive, and it is—$150,000 worth of German automotive engineering and American RV design layered together.  I’ve driven some expensive rigs and pride myself on being able to drive just about anything, but with the keys in my hand for 10 days—no questions asked—it took a moment before I gathered myself enough to actually climb into the driver’s seat.

I was feeling like a total newbie.  The Airstream motorhomes are really nothing like the travel trailers that I know so well.  My head was spinning with thirty or forty details that the service tech had just run through with me, and which were all rapidly departing.  Where’s that switch for the power awning, and the hidden 12 volt outlet?  What are the six or so steps for setting up the bed, again? Where is the propane fill?  At one point he had shown me where the vehicle registration was, but a few days later I realized I had no idea where it went.  (I didn’t find it until Day 10, when my friend Rob showed me the hidden dash compartment.  Good thing I didn’t get pulled over at any point.)

Even worse, somebody had kept the Owners Manuals, so I didn’t have any help from Mercedes-Benz or Airstream (at least in print) figuring out the systems.  But I didn’t actually mind this because most new owners don’t read the manuals anyway, and so my experience would be closer to that of the average person.

Because this was a “media” loaner, the PR people had outfitted the Airstream with a bunch of “camping” equipment, which was nice but made me chuckle a few times.  The flashlight, dish soap, sponge, towels, tank deodorizer, and bed linens were great.  The hammer, 300-pack of paper plates, jumper cables, and massive frying pan—not as much.  The frying pan was about twice the size of the two tiny burners on the SMEV stove, and the automotive reporters who typically take this media loaner out aren’t generally going to be cooking beans over a campfire.  You don’t really need jumper cables since (if the starter battery is dead) you can press a button on the dash to use the coach’s auxiliary battery for extra juice.  I don’t know what the hammer was for.

I was actually pleased that the Interstate came with a few basics, because I knew I would need to get stuff for the rig right away, and at least my list was shorter by about six items.  But going to the grocery store seemed like a dull way to start the trip, and soon afternoon traffic would be building up, so if I was going to get out of LA County easily, it was better to make tracks now and shop later.

Eighty-five miles of stop and go traffic from San Gabriel to Oxnard taught me a few things.  That Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500 EXT chassis is really sweet. Airstream ordered it with a bunch of premium options including suspension upgrades and a bunch of neat safety items (like lane-keeping assistance).  It’s really easy to drive, and the 6-cylinder diesel is super-torquey.  Most importantly, it has great brakes.  I learned that over and over as I worked down the Ventura Freeway.

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My first stop was at the Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard.  My friend David Neel runs the place, and he had invited me to bring my ’68 Caravel to join in a special weekend vintage trailer show.  He was a bit surprised when I showed up in a 2015 Airstream Interstate motorhome, but since Airstream of LA had helped sponsor the event     we rolled the Interstate right into the middle of a bunch of 1960s Shastas, and I spent the rest of the afternoon showing it to everyone.

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Well, that’s not all I did.  David gave me a tour of his museum (small, but lots of fun, open weekends only, $9 admission), and of course I checked out some very cool rigs outside in the show.  The big star was this rare GM Futureliner, and there was also a sweet 1949 Greyhound bus converted by a boat builder into an RV in the late 1950s.

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That evening, David offered me the keys to the museum’s 1984 Maserati Quattroporte III, to go do my grocery shopping.  Sheesh.  With great reluctance (ha!) I took the keys and had a very fun evening driving a Maserati to Wal-Mart, and then to meet David’s family in Oxnard for sushi.  What a rough day.  First Airstream gives me their top-of-the-line touring coach, and now I get a Maserati to run my errands in.

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To be honest about my tribulations, David did mention that the car had $20 worth of gas in it, which in California is less than five gallons, and it is a Maserati (did I mention that already?) so it was iffy how far I’d get on that amount of fuel.  But hey, if I had to put another twenty bucks to cruise the 101 in southern California on a beautiful evening, it was going to be well worth it.

Feeling sorry for me yet?

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine