With soo much to look forward to this spring, it makes the winter months drag by!! This is especially true for Rick who is counting the days left for work!!!
Since our maiden voyage with the new RV, we have been in preparation/transition mode for our full time RV journey. We took the RV back down to the dealership for them to winterize it and work on the "TO DO" list from our walk thru. We have been working with the dealership and Grand Design over the last couple months to ensure everything will be ready come April.
We have also been making some purchases as well as selling things. We have been selling some items we no longer use on the FB Buy, Sell, Trade's and Ebay. We also hosted both our families Christmas parties this year and they identified the holiday items they wanted. I was like a notetaker, making sure I logged all the items. Once Christmas was over, we packaged everything up for each person. Happy to report I only have two bins of misc. items left for a rummage sale and/or Goodwill.
It almost seems like there is more coming in than there is going out. Christmas this year was all about what we will need on the road. It was not as hard this year to think of what to get each other or what to put on lists for others. I will do a post for those items, with links, for those interested.
We also sold our Outback camper, rather quickly. We posted it on Craig's List first as well as the local FB Buy, Sell, Trade's. We were selling it with most everything in it, so it was ready to go. We had a couple general inquiries and then we received a text from a couple on a Saturday that wanted to come look at it the following day. They came out Sunday and spent an hour or so with RIck, walking through it, asking questions about camping in general and asking about our upcoming transition. They then said they were going to think about it and call us, but did mention that they were very interested. Well, in less than 30 minutes they called back and wanted to take it. They came back with a deposit to put down and we arranged for them to come back in two weeks to help Rick winterize it so they understood how to do it. They are an older couple who had a pop up several years back when they camped with their kids and now they would like to take their grandchildren camping. They were sooo excited to get back into camping and really liked the camper since it had bunk beds. We have stored the camper for them since they did not have a place lined up and they will be picking it up in April. We even gave them all sorts of information on state campgrounds we have been to and the best sites at each. It is good to see the camper going to a family who is going to take good care of it and is excited to get back into camping.
With getting the RV earlier than expected, we decided to take it out on our last scheduled camping trip for the year at Astico County Park. We love this county park and the sites are wide open and long so we knew we could fit the RV in there. It would be a great first trip to get used to the new set up and we were only 45 minutes from home if we forgot something.
Well as luck would have it, the weather was less than agreeable and it rained Friday and Saturday. We arrived and had to set up in the rain. What we did not realize is that the power cord is at the mid-front of the RV and the electric hook up is at the rear of the site. The 50 amp cord was not long enough to reach and we did not have a second cord to extend with. (Note to self-order more cord) Also, since the 50 amp pedestal is at the rear of the site, we could not back up any further. We then decided to back it in on an angle to back up far enough to connect and also miss backing into the pedestal. For those not used to handing a 50 amp electric cord, it is VERY heavy. So pulling that around in the cold rain was not a fun experience. We were also hooking up our Progressive electric management system for the first time in the rain and now dark. Well, all went well and no one was electrocuted. We did plan ahead and made sure everyone had raincoats, blankets and plenty of rugs to hold wet shoes, so that made it a bit more bearable for 4 people jammed into this new little place trying to get acquainted with everything for the first time. One thing that was an added bonus was the fireplace. It really kept it cozy inside and the ambiance was comforting.
Another thing we really like is the steps. You can see above that they go all the way to the ground and have adjustable legs for uneven ground. This makes it a very stable climb without the bounce of regular camper stairs. For those that know me, stable stairs with skid pads will hopefully help to alleviate some of my accident prone falls!
Even though we weren't able to get out alot and hike like we love to at Astico in the fall, we did have a great time playing games inside and watching movies by the fire. We were certainly able to get acquainted with the interior and who knew we could seat 7 folks in the dining area playing games?!?!
Sunday was dry and we were able to hook up and dump the tanks at the dump station without any issues. I would call this a successful maiden voyage!
With the truck purchase behind us and Rick happily driving it every day to and from work and adjusting quite well to the bigger wheel base, our focus turned back to the 5th wheel. We knew that preliminary research led us to the Grand Design Solitude 375res, but we wanted to ensure we were making the right choice in not only the RV but the company. With this being our only home and the fact it had wheels, we wanted to ensure we felt good about the company, the quality of the product and the service after the sale. It is a huge chunk of change and we wanted to make the best investment right, NOT a rolling money pit!
So, what better way to do this than to go to the company's manufacturing facility?!?!?! Grand Design welcomes factory tours and we were lucky enough to get on a tour of the Solitude line in July. We spent a day down in Shipshewana, IN enjoying the Amish folks and spent the following day at the Grand Design factory in MIddlebury, IN. The tour was very good and I recommend it to anyone looking into purchasing an RV. Our tour guide Justin was very thorough and was patent with all of our questions. Believe me, we asked alot!!! He was also honest when he did not know something but promised to get answers. We saw the Solitude from every angle at every stage of build, up close. This really helps as an owner to understand where all of your internal workings are and how it was constructed as you contemplate future upgrades. After about an hour and a half, we felt that we made the right choice. We also got to meet the infamous Bill Martin. For those that are not Grand Design owners on the Grand Design FB blog page, Bill is Grand Design social media, solver of all problems, extraordinaire! Bill is another reason we feel confident about our decision to go with Grand Design. He has been extremely responsive and helpful to the FB group of owners and attends rallies as well to meet and talk with owners. He is a great representative for the company and an example of what every company should strive for in customer service! (More on what Bill did for us in a bit. )
So having the tour and then meeting Bill, how can the day get any better? Well how about the co-founder and president of Grand Design, Don Clark, coming over to greet all of us. Wow! He talked with all of us (12) for awhile in the lobby and then invited us up to the boardroom to talk further. Knock me over with a feather...what company president takes over an hour out of his day to do that??? No topic was off the table. We asked the hard questions about recent axle issues and what they were doing about it. We asked about the recent acquisition by Winnebago. We felt he answered honestly and really wanted to hear what we all had to say. So do you think we bought a Grand Design Solitude? Umm, you betcha!
Riding the high of just coming from the factory, we started looking around to see if, by chance, there was a dealer out there that had the model we were looking for with the options we wanted. Unfortunately our search turned up nothing. We then happened across a blog post where someone else was looking for the best place to buy a Solitude was and there was a salesperson responding that they would not be beat on price, even for ordering an RV. We decided to see what he could do for us. We knew we had the local RV dealership that we had visited several times that we could compare with. We messaged him with what we were looking for and he came back with a crazy low price. Rick then started talking with our local Burlington RV dealership and after the dust settled, they would meet their price and store the RV for us over the winter free of charge!
We ordered our 5th wheel on August 26th with the options we were looking for. We did end up adding a generator and we are sure glad we did. We were told that the factory is at about a 3 month lead time, which we were fine with since we really weren't looking to use it until 2018. A week later we got a call that Grand Design was going to be adding our 5th wheel order to the next production line which starts at the end of the week! AWESOME!!! We got ahold of Bill Martin to see if by chance he could take a picture of our baby coming together and sure enough, he delivered.
Bill also called and went over some updates for the 2018 model they would implementing in our RV such as the integrated bathroom sink, storage box in steps to living room and supposedly a secret storage in the top of the bedroom dresser. We have yet to validate that one but would be cool!
With seeing those pictures we knew we were close to delivery and on September 30th we went to pick her up. We spent several hours there completing paperwork, getting a tour of the service facility and completing our PDI walk thru. I am sure that they have other walk thru's that go much quicker but not ours! Not because we need alot of education on how to use the different systems but more so because we went over it with a fine tooth comb. It is going to be our house and this is our opportunity to ensure everything, and I mean everything works and that we identify anything that needs to be addressed. Rick was on the roof and underneath it and everywhere in between. The staff was very patient with us and we documented the list of items to be addressed while it is there for the winter. It was then time to hook her up and take her home. Now we have pulled a camper before but something that is over 13 ft tall and 41 ft long is a whole other story!
We brought her home and it was amazing how well the truck did pulling that behemoth. We pulled onto the front lawn so we could transfer our gear out of the old camper into the new one.
Here are some initial pictures on the inside. We will take more once we get it back after the winter and have set it up for full time. If you remember from the previous post that showed the floor plan, the living room area is elevated from the kitchen/dining as is the bathroom and bedroom. In this picture, I am standing in the living room looking down at the kitchen. The door in the middle is the pantry. The refrigerator and stove on the left side are in a slide that comes in, and on the opposite side, there is a dinette that is also in a slide. The very right side are the stairs going up to the bathroom and bedroom. I love the stainless 70/30 split sink with the pull out sprayer faucet. The island also has a bunch of drawers and under sink storage.
This picture is standing in the kitchen looking up to the living room. The living room is windows all around with two opposing couches that fold out to beds and then two theater recliner seats with massage and heat. Oooh, they are soo comfy. In the forefront you can see the dining area to the left. This also has large windows all around. It also has the only carpet in the RV. To the left is a nice hutch that has the ability to hang another TV or a computer monitor.
This is up in the living room area. Yes, that is a fireplace. It throws off alot of heat and works well to take the chill out without running the furnace. We can also have it on without heat and change the surrounding colors. The TV is called a televator as it can be raised or lowered. Each window has room darkening shades to make it nice and dark. Above the TV is the radio/CD/DVD player with surround sound in the cabinet. In the forefront is one of the other additions for 2018. The silver rectangle is on each side of the theater seats and are trays for setting drinks or snacks. They swivel in or out, sorta like airplane trays. You can also pull them out and store them if you don't want to use them. I bought a 5 x 7 area rug to make it more homey.
This last picture is the bedroom. At the top of the picture, you see it has a AC that runs on sort of a race track system throughout the rv with the other AC to keep the entire coach cool. The queen bed is in a slide and has little windows on each side and one above the headboard. We bought a cool mountain scene cling on for the above the bed window since it does not open. We will put that on in spring and share pictures with you then. We saw a fellow Solitude owner do that and it really looks cool with the light coming in through it. If you see at the end of the bed under the comforter, there is a handle. This pulls out a padded bench to sit on and if you open that padded lid, there is storage underneath. So far I have used it as a clothes hamper. The glass closet doors slide open to reveal a really large, almost walk in, closet that has shelving for clothes and shoes, along with plenty of room for hanging clothes. Off to the right of that is another 1 door closet that can house a washer/dryer but we will use that as storage, probably Rick's closet! LOL
Well there you have it, a sneak peak of the inside. I will share more pictures in spring when we have it all moved in and ready to go full time.
So now that we have an idea of which 5th wheel we will be pulling, our research and discussions turned to a truck to pull it. We joined the Grand Design, Full Time RV and 5th Wheel Facebook groups to learn as much as we could from others on which trucks and setups they are using. As for the debate of brands between Ford, GMC and Dodge, I am happy to report that the debate is still alive and well. The answers and reasons behind those answers boil down to individual brand devotion in my humble opinion.
So with brand set aside, we started focusing on what we were going to be doing and where we were going to be going with the RV and truck. We definitely have a desire to boondock, which for those that do not camp alot, means that we would want to camp in places outside of a campground without any hookups to electric, etc. The idea of having space to ourselves in the desert or in front of a mountain range by a babbling brook really gets us excited! Plus the idea of most of those boondocking areas being federal land that is free...free is for me!! This meant possibly driving down dirt roads, some sand, etc. We will also be venturing into the mountains and will need a robust, beefy truck to get our home there. Basically, we want to travel to every corner of this great nation and beyond, so we needed a truck that was going to get us there. After alot of research, we knew that a full ton, diesel dually truck would be the best option.
In early 2017 we went test driving each brand super duty trucks. (Insert heart palpitations here of how much a beast like this would cost!) Rick has always been a Ford fan (and for the most part, owner), so there was probably a bit of an edge there. We took an F350 for a test drive and I was amazed at how smooth the ride was. I guess in my mind it would have rode more like a big diesel semi. Not at all! It was also quiet and did not have the telltale diesel noise upon acceleration. Huh, nice, ok, a potential contender.
Next was a GMC 3500. We had a GMC 1500 truck several years ago and we liked it. Well unfortunately that was not the case in the 3500. It certainly sounded like a diesel and the seats were not as comfortable, which, if we are going to be in this truck alot, that would be a big deal. We walked away with an overall feeling of mehhhh.
Next up was a Dodge that Rick went and test drove by himself and immediately ruled it out. It was a rough ride and he just did not care for it. After researching the specs of each, coupled with the test drives and Ricks overall preference; a Ford F350 it will be.
Since we would most likely have to buy close to or brand new on the RV to get the floor plan we wanted, my hope was we could luck out with a great used truck with an even greater price. Plus, it is only February 2017 and the full time lifestyle wasn't coming into play until summer 2018. We have lots of time to look and find a used truck at a really good deal. I think the idea of a new toy, I mean truck (LOL), was too strong and RIck began looking around. I am sure he will say that he just wanted to start getting reference points on what used trucks were going for, but hey, if you put the thought out there to a man that they will need to get a big, beefy (love that word!) truck at some point for next year...well that is a challenge accepted and the game is on... NOW!
Rick started looking online querying several local dealerships and national car selling sites. Looking for the F350 with dually option and other options we wanted for towing, the available inventory out there on the lot was slim pickings. Oh no, please do not tell me we need to go new again!!! No, no, no! That would eat in significantly to our budget and made me very nervous.
Then one day Rick happened upon a used truck dealer near to where he worked in Fond du lac, WI...Lenz Truck Center. This place was seriously a truck palace with over 500 trucks to choose from. After narrowing it down to a F350, there were a couple on the lot that might fit the bill. Rick stopped after work one night and talked with them about what he was looking for and they said they had one that they thought really might meet all of his requirements, however they couldn't show it to him because it was at a Ford dealer in Plymouth having a US dash put in to replace the Canadian one. You may think I am kidding but this is a real thing! They had to swap out kilometers and liters for miles and gallons to sell it in the US. You see this truck was from Canada and it was used a very short time, perhaps never left the Canadian Ford lot and was then taken to the auto auction in Michigan. It was a 2017 F350 Lariat with all the options, except sunroof and auto start with VERY low miles. Our theory is that they may have not been able to sell it and the incentive in Canada is high to auction off new inventory before the new year inventory comes out so they can replenish with new year vehicles. Unable to resist the urge to check it out before someone else grabbed it, we drove to the Plymouth Ford dealer where it was being serviced to check it out. Yup, it'll do pig! Really nice truck with a tuxedo black (dual black) paint job. This truck was set for towing with the Ford ultimate camera package, 5th wheel prep package, engine break, and tire pressure monitoring for truck and trailer...to name the more important options. BUT, the best part, it was at an unbelievable price! It was mean't to be right???
We brought the vehicle home in early April and had a couple things we wanted to outfit it with to make it our own. We ended up purchasing the Extang Trifecta Tonneau Cover. We had previously had this on our F150 and really liked it. We also did the research to ensure it would clear the 5th wheel hitch so we didn't need to take it out to close up the bed. We then decided on getting some F350 Stainless Steel Tailgate Letting Inserts to give the back end some splash.
Finally, we decided on the B&W Companion hitch that would use the already installed Ford puck system. We really like how this installed and works. Pretty straight forward.
Rick has really enjoyed getting used to driving the new truck and pulling it with our travel trailer prior to pulling a big 5th wheel. Although, people in campgrounds must think it is overkill to pull the little trailer with this!
Up next...The Big Purchases... The Final (and Biggest) Purchase
Now that we have a financial plan and budget in place for this lifestyle and some other questions answered, our focus turned to what type of RV we would purchase. Let me tell you, there are a ton of options out there and no one can decide which one will be right for you, except YOU!
Things that need to be taken into consideration and our thoughts on each:
1. Type of RV- This could range from a Class A diesel pusher, 5th wheel, Class C, travel trailer or a smaller travel trailer or truck camper. We knew this would be our only home at this time. We would be selling the house, so all our belongings would be with us. Therefore, we needed some space. This narrowed down our choices to a larger travel trailer (bumper pull), 5th wheel or Class A. We quickly ruled out a larger travel trailer because to get something with storage it would be quite long and it would make more sense to us to consider a 5th wheel where some of the length is over the bed of the truck. Now the decision of 5th wheel or Class A. After much research and discussion, we decided that going the way of a 5th wheel made sense for us for a couple reasons. We liked the idea that if, or should I say when, the RV would need service, we still have a vehicle to drive. Vice versa, when the truck needs servicing we would not have our entire house in the shop. We could have a vehicle to tow behind the Class A but we really did not want to tow that length or have that added expense. We also liked layouts of some of the 5th wheels we have seen at the RV shows over the years and just felt drawn to those. Besides, it was a good excuse for Rick to get a new truck! :-)
2. Brand of 5th wheel- We did alot of research here. We wanted to ensure that the brand we went with not only had a good layout, quality product, but we also wanted to make sure they stood behind their product with good customer service. Since we would be living in this full time, we also wanted to make sure that being full time would not void the warranty. I will leave out all of the hand wringing details here, but after a visit to the Grand Design factory for a tour of the model we were interested in and following the Grand Design owners Facebook group, we were sold. It is inevitable that an RV is going to need service at some point with all of that shaking, rattling and rolling that happens as you move on down the road but what sealed it for us is that Grand Design really stands behind their product and makes it right. We read soo many stories of customers having issues and the Grand Design social media rep jumping in to help, day or night, weekday or weekend. We cannot say enough about all of the questions they answered for us, especially the tough ones! I'll go into more detail on a future post of our visit to the factory.
3. Model/Floorplan- We really took a liking to the Solitude line that Grand Design offered. We wanted to make sure that the layout did not feel like one big tunnel and that it had slide outs to expand the inner living space. We also liked the idea of separate space should we have visitors or we just need to go to our own corners for awhile. I also wanted to try to keep it under 40 feet so we would be able to fit into more campgrounds since many things I was reading, that seemed to be a concern to some. We kept coming back to a new floorplan they started offering in 2017 and once we saw it in person, we just knew it was the one for us. The Solitude 375RES was going to be our new home!
It was a bit overwhelming, once you see it in person, that we were gonna pull this big pig, our home, down the road!! Nothing to take lightly.
We really liked that the living room and the bedroom had stairs going up to them. This created the feeling of separate areas as well as opening the bottom of the RV up to basement storage. If you see off to the left, there is a slide out tray in the back of the RV, which has amazing storage. We could hang kayaks in there or even consider a golf cart with a fold down canopy...and this isn't even a toy hauler! So this model met our need for storage and seperate areas, HOWEVER, it did not meet my want for something under 40 ft. This baby comes in at 41'4". Ok, close enough I guess.
4. Options- Since this was going to be our home and we would be traveling the country, we knew we wanted to experience more than just 70 degrees every day. We both really like fall, the leaves changing and the crisp cool air. That meant we would want to make sure we had good insulation and protection against the elements. For this reason, we decided we wanted to make the upfront investment in dual pane windows. This is not something that dealers normally order on their inventory for their lots. We also wanted to ensure that the tanks had heat blankets to protect from freezing in the event we are caught with temps below freezing. Geez, with the crazy weather, seeing snow/ice in Texas, we knew it was a wise investment even if we tried to follow the 70 degree weather. Another option we would like is a heat pump on the main AC. This would allow us to take the chill out of the RV when hooked to electric rather than run the propane furnace as that can get costly. We also wanted to have a traditional type RV refrigerator, albeit a bigger one, so that we could camp without hookups. So, a couple options, but important ones for us.
5. New or used- Everyone knows that be it a car or RV, it starts to depreciate the second you drive it off the lot. This point alone really pushed me to want to buy used. Besides, you let the first owner work out all the bugs as well! Ya, well, since this floor plan rolled out in 2017, in order for us to buy used, we would really need to find that needle in the haystack. We watched for several months and there just wasn't anything, especially with the options we were looking for. Ughhh, ok new, but this meant that Rick needed to pull out all the stops and use his finest negotiating skills to get us the best deal possible so we don't loose our shirts and through us off budget. More on that later.
So, now that we narrowed our RV choice to a 5th wheel, and a big one at that, how are we going to get that behemoth from point A to point B??? Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Big Purchases.
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