Prepping: The Bug-Out Motorhome (part 1)

We’re coming up to the time of year when people begin to unload motorhomes – cheap.  Fair-weather RV’ers look at depreciation and the cost of insurance and maintenance in winter.  Best deals?  Likely after deer season.  First week of January, or shortly after in many states.

I have been watching the prices of them closely for about three-years now, and it has turned into one of my favorite time-wasters.  Both minute’s worth, lol.

Let’s drop back to the high-level view of bugging-out first:

If you’re going to have a “bug-out” vehicle of any kind, you need to think through a ton of variables:

  • What will it cost?  Capital up front, payments, insurance, and maintenance.
  • Where will you go?  Do you have a piece of recreational property in the woods somewhere that allows you to park something on it?
  • Trailer or Motorhome?  There are pluses and minuses to each.
  • What’s your endurance?  No, not as in testosterone…we’re talking days, weeks, months, or years?
  • If TEOTWAWKI doesn’t happen, would you buy it anyway?

Let me give you several “use cases.”

Cases #1 and Case #2:  A Home or Two – But Still Flexible

We have some friends who live out west.  They have two marvelous homes, no debt, and they love to camp.  So, for them, their “winter home” is where it’s very, very, hot and tons of golf.  But the “summer home” is in the mountains.  But, here’s the thing:  They both like camping.  So, they have a brand new 19-foot teardrop shape pop-up.  the kind where the (aerodynamic back) pops up so they can  cook.  Toss in their Seniors National Parks Pass and they’re good to go.

Couple #2:  He’s retired military and she’s a senior healthcare practitioner (PhD) type.  They have a 19-foot (older) fiberglass bumper-pull of the more “traditional – boxy” type.  Again, they love it.  Ham radio aboard, plenty of room for another couple of bunk as when the kids come home to visit.  Plus, being retired .mil, there are some neat campgrounds for retired veterans.

Toss in some of the most beautiful scenery up in the high mountains along the Oregon Cascade’s eastern slopes, but not too far from a Native American casino/resort, and it has total practicality for them.

Notice that in both these cases, the people involved like camping and they get out and do it as often as it practical.  What, given fires, storms, weather, seasons, and so on.

For these people, a simple bumper-pull is a nice combination:  It will give them the room they need, a place to have a bug-out kick tossed if need be, while at the same time remaining “inside the lines” in terms of vehicles and other costs.

Case #3:  Retired but Mobile

Before he passed away, Elaine’s late father was super-pleased with his fifth-wheel set-up.  He and his wife spent winters in the Phoenix area and then moved back to their truck-farm in the Sammamish Valley between Kirkland and Redmond.

The good news was the fifth-wheel was much larger (complete with stuffed recliner) and a very serviceable kitchen.  The fifth wheels tend to be more suitable for “plug and play” camping but the line begins to blur.  You plug in a septic line, a drinking water-safe hose for a water supply and plug in a 20 or 30-amp power cord.  Now, you’re in something much more akin to a portable hotel room.

The ability to disconnect the trailer is a real plus:  The fifth-wheel give much heavier towing capacity.  And the truck can be disconnected without too much trouble for local tourism, shopping, and whatnot. Downside: Budget $70K for a new diesel pickup with dualies plus the cost of the fifth-wheel.

In their case, they were able to find a nice “camping” spot in Phoenix’s environments and they were never without a social life since “snowbirds” tend to flock together.  Caravanning up to Washington in the spring (March’ish) and then back south again in late September.

But the main feature of their plan was it was resilient for them.  As Elaine’s dad aged, the truck was easy enough to get to medical appointments.  Since they didn’t have a lot of “stuff” in their lives, it was pretty much self-contained.  And in terms of long-term sufficiency, the “truck farm” out in the Sammamish Valley with its greenhouses and so on, was a treasure trove of eats about four months out of the year.

Motorhomes:  The Alternative to Trailers

All of the trailer options appeal because they allow for a non-trailer vehicle when traveling.  But, there’s a lot more “monkey motion” associated with that; especially hooking up the trailer and lights, brakes and so forth.

A Motorhome gets around those problems being an all-in-one unit.  They come in several types, mainly the “Class B” units which are basically the front portion of a commercial van, on the back of which a large camper/housing unit has been bolted on.  Class C motorhomes usually have a bed over the cab and are often built on light truck frames and are usually more pricey but roomier than Class B rigs.

The higher-priced rides are called  “Class A” coaches and these have everything on a single level. 

YMMV:  A 40 foot heavy Class A diesel pusher may get 6 MPH, while a light Class B might get 15 MPG (with rosary beads and a tailwind) on a good downhill run.

Engines in the back are usually diesels (“pushers”) while the front-engine models tend toward big truck V-10 power.

While the coach is moving (though not recommended) you can walk from the passenger seat back to the bedroom, stop at the bathroom along the way, wash-up, make sandwiches and change position with the driver at the next traffic light if desired.

Rinse and repeat for 50,000 miles.

When you show up in a “camp ground” it’s little different than a fifth wheel.  Make sure to get a back-up camera.  Automatic “levelers” are nice additions, not to mention a 5 kilowatt generator is you tend to go “roughing it” and want to be part of the “scene” at Quartzite, for example.  Quartzite, Arizona, we’re told is to RV’ers what Burning Man is to others.

The Strategic Discussion

Right up front, Elaine and I don’t have a motorhome or trailer because of personal histories.  Remember, I lived for a whole damn decade on a 40-foot sailboat.  Living “small” has somewhat lost its appeal to me.

Elaine’s history has included a lot of real, hard-life adventures.  Being out on the rodeo circuit for a couple of years and then being up in the Cedar Mountain Utah area punching in water wells.  There, she became a very good gas welder, but she hated raising infants in the woods and doing diapers in a cold-running river in off seasons.

Still, there are a few circumstances where some kind of mobile “home” might be of interest.  We tried to come up with use cases, but there aren’t that many (for us):

  • Maybe when  someone comes to visit we could offer them a trailer, fifth-wheel, or motorhome to stay in rather than the current gym/guestroom.  Still, been 9-months since the last house guest.  People are all young and busy and we’re old folks.
  • In terms of bugging out?  We would be hard-pressed to find a better survival platform than what we have here.  Any trailer of motorhome would need a large solar panel/power plan, carry around scratch-gardening equipment, have stored protein and carbs in abundance, not to mention plentiful wildlife and a way to (politely put) “harvest it.”  Out “harvesting equipment” in a motorhome might put us under suspicion of being “t”-word type, even though we’re not.  We think in terms of “profile.”
  • In order for us to get to the “do” side of this project, we would need a place to go…and that means shopping for a hunk of land with resources and little in the way of other people – or government – to interfere.
  • We’d also need a good source of water, trees for ham radio antennas, decent soil…you know the shopping list if you’ve thought through was a societal breakdown could encompass.

Then there are the “mechanical” gotchas.  How much gasoline or diesel can you haul?  Do you have a safe way to get 1,000 miles without stopping for food, water, or fuel?

There’s an old boating world saying:  “All boats are a compromise.”  Well, the same thing is true with motorhomes and trailers.  So, before we could go out and actually put this on our “do” list, we’d need to come up with the basics:

  1. A place to go.  We could probably write a check for 20-acres on some kind of river or year-round stream.  I assume you have looked at and been land shopping?
  2. Prices are coming up for land nationally, but again, when you are looking at land remember when high season is.  We have been following upland Arizona land and home prices in Payson, Prescott, and Sedona, not to mention Slow Low.
  3. Ask on any recreational land:  “Can I get my trailer/RV/fifth-wheel on it and leveled?  When I do, is there a septic dump, fresh water, and a pole to pull power from?”
  4. How about the longer-term?  Can you build a small patio (keeps the dirt down inside!), put up a cooking shelter?  Screen that in so it’s bug-proof?  Build a fireplace/cooking pit or (yum!) a pizza oven?
  5. Food is  the second problem (after drinking water):  Is there protein around?  In cattle country, can you buy a head for from a neighbor?  (Will that be gold or silver, sir?)  Wild turkeys exist in much of the south, but takes time and ammo…will you have either?  Think your family could live off your fishing skills for a few years?  Hunting skills?  And how much ammo did you have stored at this place?  Cached to as to be undetectable and weatherproofed?
  6. Do you have the gear to live there – year-round?
  7. And does your bug-out plan have the range to get there non-stop?

All of these are pretty damn hard questions.  The first step if to have relatives in a city less than 300 miles away and always have a car that has 3/4th’s of a tank of gas aboard.  Less than that, and you’re exposed enroute.  Bank card machines may not always be functioning.

Then there’s communications, routing, back-up maps because if social order breakdown ever comes, once commercial planes are grounded, GPS may scale-back to extreme excursions of Selective Availability.

As should be coming into focus, there is a hell of a lot more to “preparing a bug-out plan” than simply throwing a few clothes, random food and a bottle of water in the car and heading out.

It’s more like the detailed – down to day-by-day planning – that goes into making a ocean-going sailboat ready to take off on a ’round the world trip.

I haven’t done the “RV thing.”  But, I have done the prepping the offshore boat…and the thought processes are nearly identical.

I’ve also done the serious camping thing.  Speaking of which…The “nut doesn’t fall far from the tree,” they say about children.

Next weekend, my son George II is doing a solo 75-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail from Snoqualmie Pass up to Stevens Pass in Washington State.  As I’ve counseled him:  Take your time on the prepping side…do it right because there’s no 7-11’s up there on the trail.

It gets a laugh.  He regularly goes out “snow camping” in the mountains in winter, snowshoeing in 10-15 miles to abandoned townsites in the mountains.  He knows the prepping drill well.

Again, and above all, whether you’re bugging out or just planning for the remote possibility of a triggering-event, there’s nothing like communications.  G 2 studies terrain maps, knows where water and people are and can find them using a handheld sighting compass.  He carrier carries two cell phones, a SatPhone, and a separate GPS from what’s in the phones.  Plus  waterproofed map pages, and yeah, some bear-spray and other more…er….efficacious gear.

This is how the real, no-bullshit, mindset runs.  It’s why some people can do extraordinary things.  G2 has 500 plus skydive jumps and is one more night jump from his class D ticket.  That takes focus and prepping, too.  While others die along the path in life, sometimes almost within earshot of help, G2 will prevail.

Prepping is a Mindset

Prepping is not (pardon this) dick measuring.  it’s knowledge, practice, and more knowledge and practice…

If you want to read the single best book on the prepping mindset ever,  I promised to throw in some books from my reading list so you could have some solid material besides my lifetime of experience to draw on.

Louis L’ Amour’s book –  the tale of an American airman walking all the way across Soviet Russia during the Cold War is about as real as it gets. Last of the Breed: A Novel.  May sound outlandish, but L’ Amour captures the mindset and the steely grit it takes to prevail. You’re too busy?  Try  Last of the Breed as an Unabridged audio book.  More money, but time is what, pahdnah?

Whether it’s prepping, or trading, prevailing in Life comes down to fitness of mind, an unbending attitude, and complete and utter faith in yourself  to survive and thrive.

SEALs aren’t dangerous for raw physical power.  It’s how they think and how they punch through the mental barriers…that’s what you need.

For a lighter-weight read, get-started with The Simple Secrets of Mental Training: How to Build Mental Toughness and Train Your Brain for Success for $3-bucks on Kindle.  If $3-bucks for a quick read is too much, go back to the “average” class where you belong.

Real DOERS don’t have time for distractions like hours on social.  There’s a whole real world to conquer.  And so we do that instead.

You will get a taste for mental toughness (taken a cold shower latterly…or ever?), but the nitty-gritty of frostbite and trapping to eat?   Not so much if you don’t real L Amour.

Part 2 of this next Sunday!

Write when you’re serious,

24 thoughts on “Prepping: The Bug-Out Motorhome (part 1)”

  1. Cheers for G2. My wife has hiked all of that trail up to Stevens Pass. Her father, Bill Longwell, was a notable trail builder and hiker in the northern Cascades. Meticulously logged over fifty thousand miles in that area and on up to Canada. Many stories. Lived in Fall City, an high school teacher in Renton, using the summer explorations to clear his mind! Your son may hear his name along the way. Courage! d-

  2. Don’t forget about mushrooms,not as high in protein, but we find edible mushrooms year around and here in Ky. spring water and wild mushrooms abound…. If I’m not particularly fond of some wild food I know I will be if I’m starving.

  3. Ever since the 1985 comedy with Albert Brooks, Lost In America, I have desired to own a motor home. Now that movie didn’t end well for Brooks, but the idea of the open road, discovering America, Canada, Mexico and beyond in a Motor Home fascinates me to this day. I really like the idea of traveling around the continents meeting like minded folks thousands of miles separated from the daily grind…and believe me…as you get older, it becomes more and more a grind.

    Being in my 60’s, it’s possibly getting closer to reality than not these days. Your post today, just got me a step closer.

    • Unlike boats, a motorhome is a good family of shared with close friends/neighbors kind of project. Spreads costs out. Since the costs are year-round and vacations are not, this kind of family timesharing really works.
      (I would do that MAYBE if I had any friends, lol…)

  4. What we did: We purchased a 2001, used 32′ Class A Motorhome, and here is the catch. With another family. The price was $11,000/2. So, we invested $5,500 plus fees. They carry the insurance, we do the maintenance. We split costs of any repairs, like new thermostat (someone hung on it and broke it off the wall), a/c repair, new tires, etc. This has worked great for ALL of us because NONE of us are able to be in it full time. We combined have taken it all over the West, including California, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, and its traveled to South Texas to the beach (parked it on the beach). When we make long trips, the first overnight stay is always at a Walmart and the last night is at a Walmart for free. We also each leave it the way we got it, so we don’t have to clean up after each other. We haul our motorcycles, but we can haul a car, golf carts, and mopeds, etc. It gets 6 – 8+/ mpg. When we do the math, driving the motorhome, is cheaper than driving a car and staying in hotels. Yes, we stop and make our own meals, bring our grill, when we stay in campsites/rv parks, get the both of all worlds. :) It will go 700+/- miles on a tank, but we stop and fill up at 600. Yes, it is used as a guest house. I am a big believer in having your friends spread out across the country in 500 mile increments, this way, no matter where YOU are, they are just a tank of gas away. There are good deals everywhere; and if you just have to sell, then take it to the thriving oil towns, people really need places to live and they will buy it.

    • P.S. When you do this, purchase with like-minded ‘folks’. They already have a bug-out spread 125 miles from ours. When you go RV’g, you meet people from all over. This is an asset. You can make friends all across the country. You can leap frog to them in a time of need. Leap frog across the U.S., when and if you need. Your site would also offer this safe refuge to them in their time of need.

  5. I’ve been watching prices too. I can pick up a 24-28 foot camp trailer for anywhere from 2k to 10K. Some of the 2K choices are crap, but some have been really nice. We are considering buying some rural property and parking the camper on it. Would give us a vacation spot that we could gradually prep up. Just need to decide how far away to park it.

    • I can add to your post. We have noticed that there are FOUR sets of families which have done the same thing. Bought a quarter to half acre (no, you don’t have to have a huge plot – the lots are going for $7k or under), put a storage building on it (or bought it with one), put in a septic & well, put a concrete pad, and viola, a new bug-out home, for not much. Some of them also put a cover over the RV. One of them, has a very nice motor home, others are modest, one actually has a small single wide, which looks a little bigger than a tiny home, but more spacious than the RV. All of them have found a way to go rural, part-time or full-time, I call them bug out row. They all have gardens, and porches, and it’s scenic, and relaxing, too. They own it; no lot rent to pay, and low property taxes on what’s fixed. Fortunately, they are outside of a small town with like-minded people. So, your idea, Kimberly, is a good one, whether you have neighbors or not. Just waking up is like taking a vacation, it gets better from there.

      • We are living in a new state and starting over. We are also thinking about putting a cover over the camper. Probably twice the width and length. It will provide a decent outdoor space in bad weather and keep the snow away from the door. I had friends in California with a manufactured home. They built a pitched roof on posts to cover the home as soon as it was installed. Probably one of the only homes in the area that didn’t have leaks 20 years later. My biggest problem is the state I am in. It’s very populated, I have to go quite a distance to get away from people, and always over a bridge to get there. I live right next to the river, and the unpopulated areas are on the other side. I’m looking for at least 5 acres. I need a forest to manage for wood heat, and room for livestock, should I ever decide (or need) to make it a permanent home. There are lots like that for 10 to 15K, I just have to be sure of water, like George mentioned. Lots of decisions to make! :)

  6. “a brand new 198-foot teardrop shape pop-up”??? Must have been a custom job!
    Anyway, my 2 cents worth on RVing comes from being the ad agency for 3 big RV dealers a while back. Accrued miles on a motorhome are much different than a passenger vehicle….if it’s a gas rig 60K and it’ll need an overhaul; however a diesel pusher can go 200K; if I were in the market, I’d look for a used 40ft Newmar Mountain Aire Cummings diesel pusher with 2 slides. Some even come with a washer/dryer! Amish cabinetry too!

  7. The Last of the Breed is an incredible tail of sheer desperation, and cunning. A real good read! I read it decades ago and still remember it. I think a great prepping plan is to have enough like minded people to create a Vietnam style “Fire base”. In a total SHTF scenario it will definitely be a day to day existence, no matter where your at. It will be more like survivor island with finality. Like Motor Home as Guest Room too.

  8. George, my wife and I piggybacked (delivering used trucks one on back of another)for over six months after we first got married. Really tested our new marriage, but in our case, just made us love one another more. But what we observed 1st negative, that Class A motor homes always take second to a broken truck in the the large truck repair shops. I think they want to get the guy back on the road who uses his rig to make his living. 2nd negative, all your belongings are kind of open to the truck shop, and they’re certainly not the cleanest place in the world.They have to be able to get to the drivers seat. 3rd negative, while that drivetrain is being repaired you’re going to have to stay in a hotel.
    Not the case with a fifth wheel. RV centers usually are much cleaner, and they strive to be quick at getting your RV going again. And if your towing vehicle needs repair, you have a place to stay while it’s repaired. Also, forgot to mention, most truck shops charge an increased hourly rate on motor homes. Back in 2000 they were charging $25-35 more per hour. It’s usually posted in plain site back in the shop area.

  9. This topic reminds me of an unfulfilled dream of mine – which will remind just that – of driving up the AlCan highway through Canada to Alaska . . . for me the ‘deep forest’ and the sea are close to ‘heaven’. Sigh . . .
    One would have to some kind of rig to sleep and fix food in, and carry equipment . . .

  10. What about mobile solar power in an RV scenario? Is that even practical? The panels and frame would need to be small enough to store inside the camper and easy enough to set up and strike it quickly when it’s time to move. Batteries optional.

      • Yep, been finding that out on my new solar well pump vs. the one we’ve had for a few years. Panels vary in ability to produce quite a bit. The new one almost has to have the Sun shining directly on its 2 panels to get a good flow going while the old one pumps all day with one panel receiving varying angles of sunlight on a single panel putting out a little less wattage than the new ones together. Well depths are similar, too.

  11. Food for thought. The missing choice is the truck camper, aka pickup camper. If you have a good fullsize pickup, you can put the thing on the back and go anywhere, and park easily. The best ones have a retractable top to lower the CG, and built in jacks. You can go somewhere and lower it to the ground so your truck is now free for other things. There’s no extra mandatory insurance or registration either. If you have a high or heavy camper, a dually is best. It’s a good excuse to get a diesel truck, since mileage matters. Of course, you can also tow a boat or anything else on a trailer.

    BTW, with any kind of RV or camper, it’s very important to have a “snow roof” to park it under. Sun, wind, rain and snow do a job on these things when parked outside uncovered.

    • For anyone over 50, crawling in and out was an instant fail. My son’s ex gf kives in a low ceiling van – her “rooms” in her home are her gym, and the dr.’s office where she works.
      difference? Age 26

      • Mom and Dad had one for a while. The ceiling was 6’6″ and rose to 6’10’ before one got to the cab-over bed. ‘Had tri-power furnace/water heater and ‘frig, too. Fancy stuff for the 1960s…

  12. My family and i have many decades of experience with RV lifestyles. Some added thoughts to the great points above:

    If you buy a “4 seasons” RV, with more insulation, and the water system inside the insulation, you can reduce energy consumption a lot. We camped in a national forest at 10000 feet, with nighttime temps below freezing and daytime as high as 75. The body heat from 3 humans kept it warm enough that each morning Mom ran the gas central heater for 5 minutes to take the chill off, on battery power. With gas stove, and dual power frig, recharging the battery from the tow vehicle and solar, we could have been comfy without resupply of propane for a month or two. With a 250 gallon fixed propane tank, plus solar, one could posibly go years without outside utilities, especially cooking outside. In blazing hot weather, the propane generator is priceless. Runs the ac plus microwave, big screen tv etc. The key is that rv places with hookups can cost as much as cheap hotels, or more than airb&b. But propane is pretty cheap. If you have insulation.

    One of my dream projects for retirement is to buy a used trailer, gut it, and build a sustainable dwelling out of it, with composting toilet, rainwater collection, superinsulation, solar and perhaps wind power, a tiny propane generator by one of the great outfits like Yamah or Subaru, for battery charging and backup/nighttime ac, and, perhaps, some mobile farming stuff for fresh veggies. Maybe even eggs. Remember that sprouting seeds allows for supernutritious fresh greens fo years, with perhaps 50 pounds of seed.

    Be aware that generators have a tough time starting conventional ac motors, but not dc motors. The first company to offer an 800 watt air conditioner for RVs with a dc (inverter) motor will kill the competion, because tiny generators could run it on tiny amounts of fuel and solar. And 1000 btu of cooling goes far an a small well insulated space. The better mini splits already have this ability, but likely are too flimsy for towing. I also wonder if adding a string of capacitors would overcome the hard start problem with generators? Not my area.

    • Interesting. ‘Could possibly start a DC motor on a transmission, or with a clutch (like vehicle A/C compressors.) The problem with A/C compressor motors is they have to overcome the compressor’s back-pressure, quickly, and a high-torque A/C motor (capacitive-start for the big’uns) is the easiest way to do so.

  13. With older trailers, be they bumper pulled or 5th wheels (and even Class A’s), the rubber membrane roof should be one of your foremost concerns.

    Those roofs, while good, are only solid for 10 to 12 years before needing replacement (less if they are in the direct sun all the time in say Arizona)… and it is a two person two full weekends job to replace them yourself (between 60 to 100 labor hours). The cost of the materials are only about $1000-$1500 or so for a 30 footer, but to have a shop do it at their shop rates? think in terms of the Labor Cost being in the $7000 and up range I have heard of some Class A’s where the roof ended up costing $12,000 plus!! (yes you can sometimes find an out of the way person or small shop that will do it for $4000-$5000 plus materials but that takes some doing and quality might be a bit iffy).

    It is the roof issue that causes older trailers and fifth wheels that are otherwise in almost new condition to have extremely low resale values. Add $8000 – $10,000 to the cost of the used unit just to get a new roof on it and suddenly you can understand why the pricing of even a pristine older unit is so low.

    Traveled many thousands of miles with a 30′ pull behind bunk house model when the kids were young, but once the roof started to go it was time to virtually give it away even though everything in it still worked perfectly. I didn’t have the time to replace the roof myself and it definitely wasn’t worth paying a shop what it would have cost to put a new roof on it.

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