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Old 03-13-2008, 09:57 AM   #1
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Location: Austin, Tx.
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Default 6 month Family Adventure; Things we should know

My family is planning on taking a 6 month trip through the western states and up to Alaska using a TM. We have only tent camped in the past. We have two kids (5 and 8).
What things should we know or plan for especially concerning using the TM as our base camp? Our TV is a 05 Toyota Tundra w/tonneau.
We will be traveling around 20k miles and will put up and break down the TM 35-60 times during the trip. We will stay mostly in National Parks but not exclusively. Our kids are very outdoor oriented and I suspect we will be doing some camping without electricity and maybe water.

Based on the information on this site we plan on doing the following thus far:
- Buy two batteries (Haven't decided yet between 6v and 12v.)
- Consider a generator (which size?) or a solar system.
- Carry a couple of potable water containers in truck. (How many depends on the TM water tank size, 20 vs. 40 gallon.)
- Not sure about a good refrigeration solution; probably use TM refrig. + one ice chest. Can the whole TM refrig. be used as a freezer? We have friends who do this with their pop-up.
- What extra hoses/cables should we have.
- We will be carrying 4 bikes. Is it ok to carry them on the back via a receiver hitch and rack? (We have kayaks too but they will probably stay at home.)
- We will have a little Buddy heater for add on heat.
- Are there specific things I should be prepared for concerning the TM systems?
- Are there specific mods. I should consider for such a long trip?

thanks for your help
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Old 03-13-2008, 11:03 AM   #2
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My perspective may be a little different than what you are asking but:

Medical/dental info for everyone, doctor names, phone numbers, list of vaccines that are current, prescription information, etc.

Whistle on a lanyard around the neck for the kids with proper instructions on how to use it if they get lost, stay in one place, blow whistle 3 times. We all know that we can keep an eye on the kids, but it is still amazing how far they can wander off in 5 minutes.

To answer your specific questions.:

Batteries, I use two group 24s but will replace them with 2 group 27s when they fail. With my swing tongue that is the most I can add. Trojan T105 6volt batteries are too tall for my TM. If I use my furnace then I need to charge the batteries once a day for about an hour or so. If I do not use the furnace then I can charge every other day. Every day that you drive you will be charging the batteries while towing, assuming your TV charge system is fully operational. I recommend you test that it will charge the TM batteries while towing. Some people have found that the charge wire is undersized.

I would get a generator instead of solar. Solar only works in the sun. Generators work as long as you have fuel. Generator is cheaper to purchase. Solar is cheaper in the long run because it has no fuel cost. If you drive every other day and do not use the furnace then you might not need a generator at all, but that is rather iffy. To charge the batteries a 1000 watt generator is big enough. If you want to run a microwave oven or other heavy electrical appliances then you probably need 2000 watts. I doubt that you will need to run air conditioning. To run the a/c may require 3000 watts.

For water planning purposes, I plan on 5 gallons of water per person per day. That is with good but not great conservation. Navy shower every other day and a sponge bath in between. I carry over 100 feet of water hose but that is so I can reach a faucet in a campground that is not near my site. You can probably get water every time you pack up to move. It depends on how long you will stay in one spot. I also carry a pair of 3 gallon collapsible water containers for transporting water from a faucet too far away for my hoses to reach.

I have never heard of anyone using the fridge as a freezer, but I can tell you that I can freeze lettuce and tomatoes in mine. You still need a way to carry milk, eggs and other things you do not want to freeze. Dry ice is another option. I have carried frozen meat in a cooler for 2 weeks easily. But you would need to replenish the dry ice along the way and that may not always be possible.

Personally, I would not use the Little Buddy Heater when we were asleep. I trust my on board furnace because it is vented to the outside. If you expect it to be cold enough to be using the heater a lot get a pair of swim noodles to stuff up into the space on the outside bottom of the read bed to block the draft. I also increased the snugness of the rear upper shell to the lower shell because I had a draft behind the closet.

When I go hiking I take my backpacking PUR HIKER water pump. This allows me to safely drink the water in creeks. I can take a group out all day and we always have cold water to drink and don't have to carry it. In a pinch I could use it to fill my TM 40 gallon tank from a creek.
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Old 03-13-2008, 11:21 AM   #3
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Wow! Great trip! I can't answer all of the questions, but let me hit a few. By the way, have you searched the board for the word Alaska?

Two batteries? Good idea. Try to get trolling motor batteries - they are much better for the application than car batteries, and also better than combination motor-starting / deep cycle / marine batteries. There seem to be a minor capacity advantage for 6-volt batteries over 12-volt batteries of the same size, but it is not overwhelming. The key either way is to get all the size you can handle. The advantage of 12-volt batteries is that they can be used independently if needed. You can charge one in your truck while the other powers your TM, for example. Or, if one gets physically damaged / destroyed through some mishap, you simply remove it and keep on truckin'. With 6-volt batteries you can't do that.

Generator? Size? First question - do you foresee the need to use the air conditioner? The interior of Alaska in the summer can occasionally get kind of steamy, I'm told. If you want to use the air conditioner, you will probably need a generator rated at 2500 watts. Some of our members have the Honda EU2000i, which is a nice generator, and for some of them (but not all), it will start the airco. But for some of them it won't. If you don't want to use the airco, then a much smaller generator will do. The Honda EU1000i is more than sufficient to charge batteries, and to run almost any shore-power device. If you buy a generator, you will OF COURSE buy a quiet one, right?

Solar? It has the advantage that it will charge batteries while you drive, assuming the sun is out. It has the disadvantage that it won't charge under cloud cover. I don't know what the usual sky condition will be in this part of the worlds in this season.

Refrigeration. Running the refrig on propane is fine while you are stopped, but while you are moving, you'll want to run it on 12-volt DC supplied by the truck or the solar. A Tundra will send enough electricity back to the trailer to run the refrig - not all vehicles will. I don't believe that the entire TM refrig will reliably maintain below-freezing temps. If you need more freezer space (as opposed to simple cooler space), you might search this forum for Engel. That's one brand of refrig/freezer that will freeze, and others are mentioned in the thread. Prepare for sticker shock.

Four bikes on the back of the TM? Experience here seems to say that two bikes works, but some folks have not had good luck with four. Again, use the advanced Search tool on "bicycles".

Specific mods? You didn't say what year your TM is, but if it is old enough to have square wheel wells, you should retrofit round ones. Again, use the Search tool. And I would install some good heavy truck-type mud flaps just behind the TM wheels. If a tire blows, the chunks can destroy the sewer connections and the gray water tank. Even if the tire that blows is on the other side, it can do damage to the underside of the TM. Oh, and a readily-accessible hydraulic jack is nice.

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Old 03-13-2008, 04:29 PM   #4
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We are also planning a trip to Alaska. I don't have enough experience to say anything about modifications, but this might help you plan which ones you need. First get a copy of the Milepost book. It starts at the US border and shows all the different routes mile by mile through Canada to Alaska. It will show distances between campgrounds, number of sites, and hook ups if any. It even tells where there are places to pull off the road to see views. There are maps included for planning purposes and advice on when to go. Pick the right times, or certain things will not be open. This book is recommended by almost everyone that has driven to Alaska. Secondly, you will be at so many places with so much to see that it is sometimes difficult to determine if the attraction is as advertised, or if you will be disappointed in the money and time you spent. I have found that IMHO that the AAA tour books match what I consider worthwhile places to visit at their "GEM" attractions. They also give a minimum time that you should spend at the attraction, its cost, phone numbers for reservations, hours of operation, etc. I hope this helps with your planning, and good luck with your trip.
Bill and Jane
2003 3124 KS, 2007 Tundra 4X4 TRD
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Old 03-13-2008, 06:27 PM   #5
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Having experienced tire problems on my TM I would definitely get a second spare wheel/tire if going to Alaska. You could have problems and get caught where you could not easily get tires and/or the price would be very steep.

If you buy a unit without the lift kit I would also install it. I did this on my 2004 3124KS and it is a very easy task.

I hope that you will keep us posted on your Alaska travels. It might encourage some of the rest of us to take such a trip.

The best to you on this adventure.

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Old 03-13-2008, 07:29 PM   #6
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First, become a member of this forum so you can use all itís features. Itís worth every penny. Second, do as SCBillandJane suggests and get a copy of the milepost, I canít imagine making the trip north without it. You will find many beautiful campgrounds along the way but many are without full hookupís so, Iíd recommend a blue tote, especially with four of you on board. I cut a short piece of flex hose to use for filling and emptying. Run a search of this forum and youíll find many good ideas on what size is best for you and different ways to carry it. I donít have A/C but I still use a Honda 2000, I figure as long as Iím Watching TV, recharging batteries or using the microwave, I may as will be heating the water too. Saves on propane.
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Old 03-14-2008, 05:56 PM   #7
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Default Cold Nights

That sounds like an exciting adventure, and your kids will remember it forever.

We do a lot of camping in the western states, almost all of it dry, and I agree completely with the excellent advice that has already been posted. I do have one comment/concern that hasn't been brought up yet:

You are correct that you will want a supplemental heater, but I'm not sure that a Little Buddy will work at high altitude. Although they are more expensive, there are some high-altitude catalytic heaters that may be a better option if you are going to camp above 7,000 feet. PM me if you want brands and prices.

Good luck, and have a great time!
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Old 03-14-2008, 06:52 PM   #8
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Lots of good advice. IMO tires are the weak point. Watch that tire pressure and keep it at 50psi though I don't know what model you have. Buy a small compressor like a TruckAir or get a "real" one like a Sun Quickair or Viair. I went to 15" wheel and higher load tires. I don't know which model you have though. Um, take tools to change a tire. The Toyota lug wrench won't fit a TM.

Take lots of spare nuts and bolts in both sheet metal and mech thread too along with basic hand tools. Most people don't take their TM off pavement like I do (there are a few here though). I've broken the pin on a release lever because it wasn't properly spot welded from the factory. I had a nut and bolt that fit perfect to reattach it on the trail. Without that I'd have had a loose shell a would be able to close the TM. Other stuff has come loose but nothing serious at all.

I use my Yamaha 2400 generator extremely rarely. If it is hot enough for AC I'm usually at a hookup anyway. You don't need much generator to fill the batteries. 30A @ 12V is 3A @120V. Get a small one if you are inclined to buy. Auto parts stores often sell small portable ones for a couple hundred. Even at 30ah recharge it would take 6 hours to fill up deep cycle batteries. Keep that in mind! The 6V batteries are great but I'd go with 12V deep cycle ones to replace them. Redunancy. My truck charges the TM nicely on the road! I turn off the headlights to reduce strain on the alternator. I think I have a 55A. Take plenty of fuses for the 30A battery main. I swapped mine to a circuit breaker as the fuse holder would get really hot.

You have two propane tanks? They last a couple weeks in cold weather and forever in hot. PV has been tempting but for the trips I do the batteries last or I'm running something off the generator to recharge them.

Water lasts if you don't take showers and are careful dishwashing. I'm used to camping for 10 days with a five gallon jug. FYI In an emergency if you are out of water there is 6 gallons in the water heater that can be drained into a container using the outside drain. It can't be pumped out.

Yea I've set my fridge to high and froze stuff in it. That'll only happen on propane and maybe AC. 12V isn't strong enough.

If you will be in hook up sites most of the time then you have little to worry about for water, sewer and power. You can run the water heater on AC too and save propane though it uses very little anyway.

Four bikes will swing back there. Strap em down good and back to the bumper corners. Kids bikes are heavy! We carry two "light" bikes and a kiddie trailer and you know they are back there. The rack is heavy too.

You'll want a fresh water hose with a regulator, A slinky hose (I use a though I carry the slinky too)

Alaska is beautiful. I've spent time in Glenn Allen and Anchorage. Enjoy the TM. Last weekend we went tent camping for the first time in a year and now with our second child, a nine month old.

The road was a bit too severe to take the TM so we left it at home. Sheesh we missed the TM. Tent camping with two little kids is really tough.
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Old 03-14-2008, 08:27 PM   #9
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Thanks for all of the great inputs.
- We have the milepost book and also a book on Alaska Camping by the Churches which is also very good.
- We haven't bought the TM yet. It is between a 2006 3023 and new 2008 3124KB. We were looking for something much older and less expensive but we are up to the date when we wanted to leave so we have to bite the bullet and get one of these guys this weekend.
- We will get a small generator as we will be camping in areas without power in a lot of cases.
- The 3023 and 3124KB have 15' wheels. Is it still desirable to add a lift kit or is this for added clearance for "rougher" terrain?
- We have a cheap inverter ofr using/charging computers and camera batteries. Would any of you recommend a different solution?
- Hopefully with your inputs we will keep the "Hard Knocks" learning to a minimum.
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Old 03-14-2008, 09:16 PM   #10
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We've made that run and I suggest some sort of cover for the front of your TM. You will likely be on a lot of gravel roads and no manner of mud-flap will stop gravel from peppering the front shell. You can re-paint the A-frame and propane tanks but gravel damage to the shell is forever.
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