This year, nearly 600,000 Canadians will buy a new RV. It’s a record high, and many of those will be new additions to the 14 per cent of Canadian households who own one already. The great outdoors is a great place to be, but the last time I went camping it was in a leaky tent and I came home with a sunburn, permanently wet feet and a merit badge.
This summer, with some help from a GMC Sierra and a rented travel trailer, it was time to take this long weekend on the road. To see what I, my wife, and my dog were missing out on at the campground.
Nova Scotia is home to some of the best beaches and swimming in all of Canada, as long as you’re OK with a bit of a chill in the water. Even here, though, finding a place to stay on that water can be tough. If you’re looking for a hotel, cabin, or B&B, that is. If you’re looking for a campground, the choices are near endless. Lakes, oceans, rivers, sandy beaches, long mud tides, and views where you swear you can see to Europe are all just a phone call away. After looking at the Airbnb map and the list of Campgrounds, and then looking at the number of cases of you know what, staying in our own portable home sounded like an amazing idea. It had a great pet policy, too.
If your only experience with an RV is Cousin Eddie’s tenement on wheels or the ill-fated adventures of Robin Williams in the film RV – which happened to be one of the DVD choices in this trailer – then things have come a long way.
Even in this small 25-foot trailer, there was loads of room. A shower and commode with enough room for this person who rarely fits into compact crossovers. A full kitchen with a four-burner propane stove and microwave. And a slide-out section that gave us more than enough room to walk around in the middle. Oh, and air conditioning. When was the last time you saw a tent with A/C?
I’ve towed plenty of big things before, ranging from a car on a trailer behind a crossover to a 35,000 lb anvil made of concrete, but this is the first time I was nervous about it. Nova Scotia has narrow back roads and my gallant Clydesdale, a GMC Sierra 1500, didn’t have any of the approximately 9,000 camera angles GMC offers on loaded rigs.
There was also the black water tank. The sewer connection to the trailer, which I would have to dump before unhooking and heading home. I’ve got a good selection of hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves these days, so I figured I would have it covered.
GMC has added a handy label to the doorframe of its latest-generation trucks. Instead of flipping through owner manuals and online guides, you look at the sticker and it tells you what YOUR truck is capable of towing. The max was 8,900 lbs. I had a 6,300 lb trailer, 30 lbs of propane, and about a third of a tank of drinking water, meaning I would be giving the 2.7-litre turbo four a workout, but wouldn’t be close to the limit.
Some 30 L/100 km. That’s what I averaged with a camper on the back of this Sierra. That 2.7-litre makes boatloads of torque, but it takes plenty of fuel to do it. Left in cruise control, the engine was working hard at high r.p.m., but once I shut that off, the revs stayed below 3,000 r.p.m. on even the steepest hills. This truck is quite efficient empty, so the consumption’s probably not a big deal for a few weekends a year.
An RV trailer doesn’t tow like a car, an enclosed trailer, or even a giant anvil. It’s a massive box, with almost no considerations paid to aerodynamics, and that’s how it behaves. I had weight distribution bars – which somehow use magic to shift load from the rear of the truck to the front – but it was still moving in the wind. And sending my nose to the sky over bumps until things settled down.
Everything was fine when we arrived at the campground. Just ignore the family of seven across the driveway, where the five kids, mom, and dad were all eagerly watching me get ready to reverse this 60-feet-plus of recreational freedom into a space.
Turns out I actually would have had it on the first try, but I didn’t understand how large the campsite was, or how far I could be from the power post. I thought I needed to be closer, and that took five more attempts while I sawed the wheel back and forth and tried to narrow down exactly where the pivot point of the trailer was.
Hooking up was simple once I found the power cord (a flap in the center at the rear) and the clean water hose (hiding in a storage compartment). The hard part was the auto-leveling jacks. Three hours of YouTube troubleshooting and I was no further ahead on getting the right-rear jack to move.
So instead, I used physics. I dropped the nose of the trailer to the ground, put blocks as tall as I could under the rear, and raised the nose until the misbehaving jack was pressed firmly into said blocks. Perfectly level, as long as you don’t drop anything spherical.
By this time, my wife and my dog had gotten tired of waiting for me (and listening to my cursing) and had gone for a walk. That’s just another benefit of camping, it’s quick and easy to walk half a kilometre away from the idiot who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
After the leveling, though, you’re done. Power’s on, beds made, fridge is already stocked. If it’s your own camper and not a rental, your clothes are probably already in the drawers. This is luxury travel!
We arrived late because driving everywhere well under the limit takes longer than you think it does. And because of all of that time trying to make the jacks work, so we didn’t do much more that first night. We did cook a frozen local pizza in the oven (since the nearest delivery was 40 km away), which was pretty handy.
The next morning, I was surprised by how accommodating the shower was. And how good the water pressure was. Thankfully, the campground showers were 50 cents for four minutes; and while not exactly the level of the bathroom in Trainspotting, they weren’t quite what you’d want to find yourself bathing in.
Unseasonably warm temperatures on the Northumberland Straight were tempered by cool breezes from the water, while the ocean water (which Straight-area tourism ads love to call “the warmest north of Virginia as though that’s some sort of superlative”) was, as usual, frigid. You know it’s cold when your dog won’t come in even for a treat or a fetch.
It’s hard to imagine much that’s more relaxing than laying on the beach and listening to the dull roar of the waves while there is not another soul around you. You don’t realize just how much you need it until you’ve experienced it. Did I mention that keeping lots of sunblock on hand is an excellent idea?
Seasonal residents, the smart people who leave their camper at one site all summer long, had it made. They brought personal watercraft, kayaks, and floating palaces to sit on and relax in the water. Or to let your kids jump all over until one frightens all of the rest with fake cries of a fin in the water.
Sitting on the beach then driving down the road to sit on a different beach, followed by a meal at the best-looking seafood place we could find was our entire weekend, and with WiFi that needed a fresh sign-in hourly, most of it was also spent device-free. The campground had weekend activities like Bingo for the kids and live music on Saturday night for the grown-ups who were largely (by the sound of it) still kids at heart. Best of all, quiet time started at midnight, so the thin walls (that were more insulating than I had expected) weren’t taxed by early-morning revelling around campfires.
Sunday morning brought the task I had been loathing since the day I had booked the rental trailer. Time to empty the dreaded tank underneath. The one that was full of, well, nothing pleasant. With gloves and sanitizer ready, it was actually a simple task. Run the hose to the black tank, make sure it’s not trying to flow uphill, and open the valve. When it stops emptying, open the grey tank and everything flushes out.
The tow home was uneventful, for me at least. The guy two sites over managed to take out his site’s power pole while pulling out, and that’s probably going to be expensive. Having a home behind you on the road is pretty handy when it comes to things like having a kitchen and fridge wherever you decide is a great place to break for lunch. And having a bathroom with you at all times.
Towing your own small hotel isn’t the most cost-effective way to travel – unless you have a particularly large family – but it let us get to places we couldn’t have stayed at otherwise. It also made the trip more comfortable for everyone who wasn’t driving. It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular pastime, though I might rent one a touch smaller next time and make the trip an easier one.