“OK, so let me get this straight,” said the Innkeeper – well, strictly speaking he was a shopkeeper, but we won’t let little details like that get in the way of a good story – “you three strangers have travelled far from a Kingdom in the East.”
“Er, yes, we’re from the United Kingdom, just outside London actually.”
“And you have arrived here on Christmas Eve in the middle of a terrible storm seeking shelter and lodging?” he was beginning to sound more and more sceptical.
“Sort of just a place to park up really, we won’t be any bother.”
“Well there’s no rooms here, but you can stay for as long as you like in the stable, er, carpark I mean.” And so began threeinavan’s first Christmas on the road…
We had actually been aiming to spend Christmas Day at Fenton Lake State Park in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains, a spot that is apparently incredibly scenic, great for fishing and of passing fame as a filming location in the 1967 film The Man Who Fell to Earth. However, as we passed the birthplace of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos the snow had started falling and grown increasingly heavy as we gained height travelling through the Valles Caldera National Preserve. It was one of those difficult situations, with the weather being not quite bad enough to turn back, but clearly getting increasingly more serious the further we pushed on and the more height we gained. Eventually we realised that we probably wouldn’t make it to Lake Fenton, and even if we did there was a real chance that we wouldn’t be able to make it back out again. Turning back we remembered seeing a small building standing almost alone next to the road some miles back, and that is what brought us to Amanda’s Jemez Mountain Country Store an hour or so before it closed on Christmas Eve.
As things turned out we had an amazing white Christmas Day, which started with a long forest walk with bright blue skies above and fresh powdery snow under foot. For the rest of the day the van kept us warm and snug, and of course there was no shortage of food, cheese, wine and port on the table and the traditional Christmas film Die Hard on the TV. We managed to drive out of Jemez on Boxing Day during a break in the weather and within hours found ourselves a couple of thousand feet lower in desert and sunshine. Albeit unplanned, we think our first vanlife Christmas can be called a success… I wonder where we’ll be next year?
So after nearly two full weeks on the road we are writing this post sitting beside a lovely lake in the far West of Texas. So far we have been pushing reasonable miles each day and, with the exception of the Smokies, only staying for one night at each location. From now on the pace should drop as we start to get into the real target of the US leg of our trip - the great National Parks. We plan on spending much more time enjoying the outdoors, trekking and camping wild as well as in the van. There are a few day-trips left to tick off the list down here on the way, not least a trip to Roswell for some alien spotting!
Just arrived back from dropping the van off at the port in Hamburg. Check out this short little video detailing some of the preparations and the journey to get it ready to sail to Baltimore.
The new van got its first major outing last week with a short trip to Dartmoor National Park in Devon. We've been to Dartmoor many times, and the weather and terrain are usually best described as 'challenging', but amazingly this time we were greeted by blue skies and sunshine. Despite the excellent conditions the temperature stayed relatively low though, so it turned out to be perfect conditions to test the power systems on the van - cold enough to need to run most of the major systems, but sunny enough to test the charging capacity of the two solar cells mounted on the roof.
Dartmoor is also one of the few remaining areas in the UK where wild-camping is permitted, so if you want to get away from it all and enjoy some challenging walks and back-to-basics camping in a remote and quiet setting it is definitely worth a visit.
The first thing we've noticed about the Carthago is how easy it is to live with. On paper it is only slightly larger than the Fleurette was, but internally this extra space makes a huge difference, and combined with the extra room created by the liner-for-two layout makes for about as spacious and comfortable a living area as you could wish for. The upgraded GVW is also useful, giving a maximum permitted mass of 4800kg, although it did come as a bit of a surprise how quickly this extra payload is used up.
We have also already noticed the benefit of upgrading the power system to include three 80 Ah batteries (for a total of 240Ah) and two solar panels on the roof delivering up to 140W of power. During our winter adventures we couldn't remain stationary for more than two nights without the habitation batteries running low, and lacked a sufficiently powerful generator to recharge them once they did. Last week however even after five days and four nights stationary the batteries were still virtually full even without running up our new Champion generator that we purchased for longer trips away.
Dartmoor was a great shakedown for the Carthago and although there were one or two minor niggles these should be easily fixed over the coming weeks. Moreover, we had a great week walking and exploring the National Park in the type of weather you rarely see in August never mind March. Although it is slightly harder to get to than some of the UK's other National Parks and wilderness areas the benefit is that, once you get there, there tends to be fewer people and crowds with whom to share the space. Overall a big thumbs up for both Dartmoor and the Carthago!
Learn more about Dartmoor National Park here: www.visitdartmoor.co.uk
It's been an exciting start to the year! The latest and biggest news is that we have finally decided that 2019 is the year we will start this great adventure we've been talking about for years. There is still a lot of planning to do, so we won't be going anywhere for a while yet, but now that the decision is made we can start putting the pieces of this puzzle together in earnest. The first of which is the vehicle...
So on a rainy Friday morning last we week we took a drive up to Go European Motorhomes in Gailey to collect the latest member of the Ted family - a 2019 Carthago Liner-for-Two. We've admired the Carthago brand for a while, and love the concept of this particular model - a vehicle with standard motorhome size and appointments, but with only two-berths, ideal for people like us who know they will only ever travel two-up (or three if you include Taylo). We were extremely lucky that GoEuropean happened to have one of these vehicles in stock and available for immediate delivery.
It has taken us a while to finally decide on a vehicle type, layout and specification that we want to use for our trip. Ultimately we used a fairly simple metric to navigate the various compromises inherent in such a choice: select the vehicle that will be least compromised for 90% of what you expect to be doing in it. So whereas we loved the idea of having a go-anywhere ruggedised and completely self-sufficient vehicle like an Actionmobil or an Earthroamer, in truth for our travels these vehicles would be wildly over-spec'ed as off-road vehicles and less spacious and more expensive than what we will be needing most of the time. The equation would be different if we were going to somewhere like, say, Africa, but as we see the majority of our travels being in North America (at least initially) we have settled on something that will give us all we need to happily explore that part of the world.
Obviously there will be much more to follow as we get to know this vehicle and discover what works and what doesn't, so watch out for some updates and doubtless a video or two. For now though, we just want to say a big thank you to Dan and Dave at Go European, who are genuine experts at what they do and made the whole process very straightforward and enjoyable - there was even a bottle of something nice to celebrate thrown in! If you are looking for a new motorhome we couldn't recommend them highly enough (link at the bottom of the post).
As a sidebar, it is interesting to note that there is sometimes another option for owners whose current motorhome can be driven on a standard car license but who want more payload without having to switch vehicles. The base platform for many European motorhomes is usually an HGV - Fiat Ducato, Mercedes Sprinter or suchlike. The Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) or Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) is often 'plated down' to 3500kg, which enables these vehicles to be driven by someone holding only a basic car license, which was the case on our Fleurette. If you have an HGV license already it is possible to have your vehicle re-plated to its actual GVW thereby giving an instant uplift in payload. Often this is just a paperwork exercise, but could also involve inspection and/or modification of some of the running gear. Either way, it can be a cost-effective alternative to buying a new motorhome.
It's been a great Autumn in the UK this year so we decided to take advantage of the unusually mild weather and take Ted a little ways off the beaten track and explore some of the more remote spots in the UK. From the Pembrokeshire Coast to the Brecon Beacons, and on up to the Peak District and Northumberland we've been able to enjoy some great days out in areas that would be much more crowded during the summer months. We even managed a short hop over to Ireland and Northern Ireland and a fantastic day hiking in the Mourne Mountains.
Check out our review of Ted Two during our first long trip on the Gear Reviews page now.
Summer 2018 and Ted Two's first big trip. We originally set out with the idea that we could drive to the Arctic Circle and back in two weeks. I guess the first thing we learned was that Scandinavia is big. Really big. Maps just don't do it justice, so rather than spending two weeks driving as fast as we could we quickly changed our plans and instead spent a really enjoyable time exploring the lakes and forests between Gothenburg and Stockholm. Enjoy the video.