The journey of a lifetime begins with, well, a single thought

He might be crazy

I’ll get this out of the way first: I’m not a big camping guy. Tents, roughing it, all the trappings that come with it. Don’t like it. Our neighbors are planning out the annual trip to a nearby lake and my poor wife is still trying to get me to agree to go, but I simply don’t want to. It’s a pain, it’s uncomfortable, I sleep for shit, getting up to (without failure) visit the restroom in the wee hours is annoying, it’s hot and humid and insecty then transitions to cold at night. The appeal escapes me, aside from visiting with friends. But I’ve got a lovely outdoor fireplace at my house where I can invite those same people then, when done, go back into my comfy house and sleep in my comfy bed.

I think that’s part of the reason Cat thinks body snatchers have been at work, forcibly removing my normal consciousness and inserting this madman who is so excited about getting an RV into the form she’s used to living with. And yes, it does seem to be a bit of a cognitive departure at its root. But only superficially. Now I get to do all of the positive aspects of camping and then go right back into my amazing home away from home when it’s time for bed or relaxation. Win win!

A single seed

Running the 2014 Charlotte Spartan Sprint
Running the 2014 Charlotte Spartan Sprint

I run Spartan Races. I like running them. I run most of the ones within easy driving distance from our house. I’ve strongly considered expanding the radius I’m willing to go, but that becomes a bit more challenging. My girls almost always accompany me, which means dragging them farther away. It means more time, more hotel costs. But that started a thought.

“It would be pretty fun to travel around the country and do races all over the place.”

That was the seed. I’ve mulled that over for months, daydreaming and wondering. The RV was a natural choice. Drive from place to place, see a new place every week or two, we’d tow a car to get to the venue and come back to the RV when all was done. Enjoy what the area had to offer and pick up and go when we wanted.

It’s not ideal or even reasonable at this point in our lives though. We’re employed. We have a 12-year-old in the public school system and no intention of or desire to home-school. But in 6 or so years, when Julia is in college, maybe then we could do something like it.

All of this was internal. One day I turned to Cat and said “You know what I’ve been thinking about for the future? Traveling around in an RV, at least part time.” Once she recovered her wits from shock she was quite enthusiastically in favor of it. We both thought about it quite a lot and the idea grew and flourished.

We had a meeting with our financial planner earlier this year and presented our new idea for the future, and hoped to solicit his advice on how best to save to make this idea happen. He’s a great guy, very conservative and sober and we suspected he’d have good advice on how to go about this and, perhaps, rein in our enthusiasm a bit. Fat chance. Turns out he had traveled around in a fifth wheel for 10 years with his family, so he was completely on-board and was the first to seriously recommend that we not wait until Julia was gone but get the show on the road and build some memories.

We’re doing this, huh?

With that, our future became a lot more immediate. Why wait for Julia to go to college? She’d probably have fun, too. Even more importantly, why wait for retirement? I want to do this while we’re able-bodied, while we can really do everything we want to do. There’s a bit of my parents’ experiences seeping in, too, I admit. They did wait until retirement and it didn’t work out for them. I don’t want to take that chance.

I find myself incredibly grateful that we’re in a position to do this at our age, but it’s an immense amount of luck and at least a bit of planning and saving that got us here. We didn’t buy the fanciest house, we don’t have car payments, we don’t go crazy with a lot of things. Add in the incredible amount of luck at having good employment in a thriving field, building up savings while we were DINKs, and other random things and suddenly all this is actually possible. How amazing is that? Very, very grateful.

We’ve run the gamut, from travel trailers to fifth wheels to class C motorhomes to class A motorhomes, back and forth, up and down. Pros and cons, sane and insane. While in Orlando this spring we visited an RV dealership and saw a fifth wheel that opened our eyes in a lot of ways. We were at the fifth wheel stage for quite a while! Among the problems:

  • I don’t care for trucks. The thought of traveling around the country driving a pickup truck is not appealing.
  • Adding in the price of the truck capable of towing the kind of fifth wheel we wanted added up to a class A motorhome.
  • When we do eventually take the cats with us, travel becomes difficult. They can’t stay by themselves in the moving fifth wheel and they’d be miserable in the cab of the truck.
  • To reach anywhere in the fifth wheel, we have to pull off. Yes, you’re not supposed to be moving around a moving motorhome but at least it’s an option.

I always pictured a class A. When I daydreamed it wasn’t of a fifth wheel or even a class C. A class A is how I always imagined us.

So which one?

We did a lot of research and at least narrowed down a manufacturer: Tiffin. Are they perfect? No. Do people have problems with them? Sometimes. Are there lemons? Sure. I’m just hopeful that our luck holds and we get a good one. They exist. People love their Tiffins. They also love that the company stands behind their products when they do have problems. That counts for a lot.

We thought we had a floorplan picked out, a diesel model (which I wanted at the time) in the Allegro Breeze line. There was a dealer 2 hours away that had one, so we visited and explored it and left with a feeling that it was the one. But as time went on I realized that it wasn’t ideal and that we were excusing too much for the amount of money.

  • It was short inside.
  • The seating wasn’t very comfortable.
  • There was no room in the bedroom to move around and especially change.
  • There wasn’t a ton of storage.
  • The sleep areas, aside from the main bedroom, weren’t comfortable or even numerous enough.

We’d kind of said, “yeah, it’s not perfect but it’ll work.” For the amount of money they wanted for it, I realized “it’ll work” wasn’t good enough. So we rebooted the search, adjusting the priorities and goals.

A 2014 model year Tiffin Allegro 35QBA that we test drove and loved. Very similar to what ours will end up like, including colors.
A 2014 model year Tiffin Allegro 35QBA that we test drove and loved. Very similar to what ours will end up like, including colors.

We soon found the right model for our needs. The Allegro Open Road 35QBA.

  • It’s larger than the Breeze was, both in length as well as height.
  • It has 4 opposing slides, two in front and two in back. This makes the living areas much more spacious when at campsites. There’s actually room in the bedroom now! The living room feels like an upscale apartment.
  • There are two bunk beds so Julia can easily travel with a friend. If we decide to keep it once Julia no longer travels with us, we can convert the bunk space into a dedicated work area so I can work remotely from the RV and go longer part-time.
  • The couch pulls out into a queen size blow up mattress so we can have even more folks with us.

It has only one negative versus the Breeze as it’s not diesel. It’s a gas model built on a Ford F53 chassis. I think for our short- to medium-term usage pattern this should be a reasonable compromise. We’re not going to be putting thousands of miles on it per year. If we do decide to part-time later we can jump that bridge and either upgrade or live with it.

Now we just had to find one.

We quickly located a 2014 from a private seller about 2 hours away (it’s the one in the photo, actually). After a few phone calls we decided to visit and see it in person. We were really impressed. It was perfect! This was definitely the one. He took us out, then let me drive it both on country roads as well as I-85, then I backed it into his driveway with no problems. That gave us a much-needed confidence boost. We could do this!

After getting home and running the numbers I made an offer but we couldn’t come to an agreement. The main problem is owners tend to value their coaches more than the market makes reasonable. This was a prime example. It was in great condition, granted. But I’d done my homework on deals and dealerships, I knew the MSRP, and I knew the approximate price someone should have been able to negotiate for that model last year. Does that mean that’s the deal he got? No. But if you can get it somewhere it pretty much sets the expectation. His asking price was actually more than he should have paid for it new. The deal just didn’t make sense for us. I’m sure he’ll get someone to buy it and I have no animosity toward him since I’m sure he has a loan to pay off, but it’s not my job to make up for the less-than-ideal deal he accepted or eat his depreciation.

I despaired a wee bit — these aren’t the most numerous coaches in the world — but widened the search. I located a 2015 model that was about perfect at a dealership in Louisiana but that was a bit more than we really wanted to spend. After hemming and hawing, Cat finally weighed in and said “you work hard, you deserve this, go do it.” I made an offer and it was accepted!

Second (and new) thoughts

I wasn’t happy yet though, really, but I felt my hands were pretty tied. Problem was, I really didn’t care for the dealer. Sure, I didn’t have to care for the dealer, but I was nervous that the deal would find new complications as it went on. A further problem was that the supply of 2015 models was running out and the 2016s weren’t out yet. I’d seen mention on some forums of two dealers in particular that were both well-regarded and provided very good deals, they just didn’t have any 35QBAs for sale.

“Well, what about ordering a 2016?”

Hmm. We never really considered ordering one, or even really targeting a new one. We didn’t want to take the depreciation hit for one thing. We also wanted the original owners to deal with the initial issues on the RV since they’re almost universal. We could get one for less money and with the bugs ironed out. Didn’t work out that way, though.

Why not, let’s try this. I called both of the dealerships I’d seen mentioned, Davis RV in Memphis and Sherman RV in Mississippi, and asked them to quote a bid for a 2016 outfitted the way we wanted it. They didn’t even have the official price sheets from Tiffin yet, so they estimated the prices based on a rumored increase. I left work the day I asked nervous and without too much hope. Imagine my surprise when they both came in within spitting distance of the accepted offer I made on the 2015! I was so relieved! I immediately wrote and told the dealer I was going a different direction.

The following day after only a little back and forth I accepted the bid from Davis, starting our adventure. Shortly thereafter the official price list came in and, another surprise, the official prices ended up lowering our final price. Make no mistake, it’s still more than we originally set out to spend. But, all things considered, I’m more than pleased with how it ended up. We dealt with a dealer that was pleasant (Sherman and Davis both were, frankly) and I’ve heard that they deliver all the way through the process.

What now?

Our order is real!
Our order is real!

Now we wait. I called Tiffin Friday to find out our production schedule but it isn’t available just yet. I’ll try again this Friday. Supposedly it’s about an 8 to 10 week process. As part of that process, we have the ability to travel to Red Bay, Alabama to watch the RV being built which I hope to take advantage of. Not only to check on things and have an extra opportunity to catch problems early but just to see it go from a bare chassis to our new, completed home away from home. After that, it’ll get delivered to Davis RV in Memphis where we’ll take delivery.

Right now we plan to make a vacation out of it, making our way back to Raleigh over several days, stopping near Knoxville at a nice RV resort and getting acquainted with it. Then? Well, I’ve already got 7 campgrounds booked through November and might add another to fill a time gap. There are two Spartan Races I’m signed up for that I’ve booked campgrounds nearby to make good on my wish to travel to them. We’ve made Thanksgiving plans to go to Myrtle Beach and stay at a (frankly enormous) campground. It’s the start.

All from that one thought.

5 Comments on “The journey of a lifetime begins with, well, a single thought

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