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Author Topic: Vehicle choices for field trips - car & trailer?  (Read 60902 times)
Lust4Life
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« on: September 24, 2006, 07:04:28 AM »
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In light of the recent dramatic increase in fuel costs, and betting that it has not really ended, I would like to hear what others are using when they take off on landscape photo shoots lasting 2 to 5 weeks.

I'm currently driving a 2006 Ford F-250 crew cab 4x4 diesel towing a 22' Airstream Safari.  This is a great combination for comfort and campgrounds are substantially cheaper than hotels and get me closer to my subject matter.  But as far as keeping the fuel cost down of a long trip it's terrible.  Get about 10-11 mpg towing and 14 not towing (And yes, Ford has checked out my truck and says I'm getting the mileage that the vehicle was designed to get.).

Thus, a planned trip from Atlanta to Seattle would be about 5300 miles round trip, costing about $1,300 round trip in fuel if the average price for diesel runs about $2.90/gal.

I've been looking at the Toyota FJ Cruiser 4x4 and thinking of it towing a light camper (must have heat and A/C) but something like a small HiLo or other type of trailer with "hard sides".  (I prefer the hard sided trailers for the advantage of better protection of any gear left in the trailer - Coleman type fabric sides are just too easy to get into with a pocket knife.)  

Seems like the lost comfort in the much smaller trailer would be balanced with the fuel savings, thus I'll take off on more trips.  

I've talked with several folks locally that own the new FJ and I'm hearing they are getting 20-22 on the highway and about 16 around the city.  Figure towing a small camper it should get about 15 on the highway.  Thus on a trip to Seattle there would be a fuel savings of over $406.

This is enough savings to add up to a decent amount if a chap is taking 6 to 7 trips a year of any distance.


Due to the fuel cost I'm being forced to re-think my current approach.  So, some questions to resolve:
1.  Towing a trailer or using hotels, etc.
2.  If towing, what trailers have worked well for diverse climates - pop up; Airstream style; truck campers; etc.
3.  If towing, what tow vehicle and fuel mpg are you getting?  Burn regular fuel?
4.  Lenght of trip you usually take?
5.  Vehicle - 2 wheel drive or have you found it necessary to pay the premium for four wheel drive.

6.  Recommeded light weight campers that you have found to meet your needs.

In short, I like to hear what others are doing to control our costs when we take off on 2-5 week USA landscape adventures.

I've added an Excel spreadsheet that I use to plan trips and project expenses - let me know if you have any improvement to suggest.

Thanks,
Jack

http://www.shadowsdancing.com
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Lester
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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2006, 12:01:56 PM »
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Let me see, you are thinking about getting a Toyota FJ Cruiser and a smaller camper and you saving over $406 on your trip to Seattle. I ask, where is the saving? It does cost money to buy a Toyota FJ and a smaller camper. Are you just thinking about saving money on Gas only and not the cost ot the Toyota FJ and smaller camper? Even if you trade in your Ford and Airstream, you will still cost money on the trade. I think it is better just to keep the Ford combination and use trade money for gas, unless it is a equal trade and it does not cost you anything.




Quote
In light of the recent dramatic increase in fuel costs, and betting that it has not really ended, I would like to hear what others are using when they take off on landscape photo shoots lasting 2 to 5 weeks.

I'm currently driving a 2006 Ford F-250 crew cab 4x4 diesel towing a 22' Airstream Safari.  This is a great combination for comfort and campgrounds are substantially cheaper than hotels and get me closer to my subject matter.  But as far as keeping the fuel cost down of a long trip it's terrible.  Get about 10-11 mpg towing and 14 not towing (And yes, Ford has checked out my truck and says I'm getting the mileage that the vehicle was designed to get.).

Thus, a planned trip from Atlanta to Seattle would be about 5300 miles round trip, costing about $1,300 round trip in fuel if the average price for diesel runs about $2.90/gal.

I've been looking at the Toyota FJ Cruiser 4x4 and thinking of it towing a light camper (must have heat and A/C) but something like a small HiLo or other type of trailer with "hard sides".  (I prefer the hard sided trailers for the advantage of better protection of any gear left in the trailer - Coleman type fabric sides are just too easy to get into with a pocket knife.) 

Seems like the lost comfort in the much smaller trailer would be balanced with the fuel savings, thus I'll take off on more trips. 

I've talked with several folks locally that own the new FJ and I'm hearing they are getting 20-22 on the highway and about 16 around the city.  Figure towing a small camper it should get about 15 on the highway.  Thus on a trip to Seattle there would be a fuel savings of over $406.

This is enough savings to add up to a decent amount if a chap is taking 6 to 7 trips a year of any distance.
Due to the fuel cost I'm being forced to re-think my current approach.  So, some questions to resolve:
1.  Towing a trailer or using hotels, etc.
2.  If towing, what trailers have worked well for diverse climates - pop up; Airstream style; truck campers; etc.
3.  If towing, what tow vehicle and fuel mpg are you getting?  Burn regular fuel?
4.  Lenght of trip you usually take?
5.  Vehicle - 2 wheel drive or have you found it necessary to pay the premium for four wheel drive.

6.  Recommeded light weight campers that you have found to meet your needs.

In short, I like to hear what others are doing to control our costs when we take off on 2-5 week USA landscape adventures.

I've added an Excel spreadsheet that I use to plan trips and project expenses - let me know if you have any improvement to suggest.

Thanks,
Jack

http://www.shadowsdancing.com
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tsjanik
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« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2006, 01:47:35 PM »
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This would be my solution:

http://www.sportsmobile.com/2_rb-50-sr.html
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Ben Rubinstein
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« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2006, 09:01:31 AM »
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You Americans are funny!

Here in the UK we are paying 0.95 per liter and no sign whatsoever of it going down.

Given how legistlation is going through at present the govenment driven by even more greed in the name of the enviroment is thinking of adjusting tax so that 4X4's will have to pay approximately 1000 of road tax a year compared to 200 at present.

Enjoy it while you can and shoot enviromentalists on sight!  
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Jay Kaplan
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« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2006, 11:17:55 AM »
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It is my understanding the the Toyota FJ requires premium gasoline. Have you compared the cost differetial between diesel and premium?

Also, what would be the trade-in value of both the Ford and Airstream vs the new acquisiton costs for the proposed combination?
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Lust4Life
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« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2006, 07:17:51 AM »
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Lester,

The example of the savings on the trip to Seattle is just one of the 6 long trips I have planned for the coming year (2-4 weeks each).  Thus, the cumulative savings over a year is what I'm considering, not a single trip.

Additionally I do several short 4 day weekend trips when ever I can - as in this coming weekend I'm headed to drive/shoot the route from Ashville, NC to Knoxville, TN, camping in route.

Additionally, frequently I will get up early in the morning and drive into the north GA mountains and drive for hours down National Forest and state gravel roads searching out sites to photograph.  Thus the need for 4x4 - some of these roads are really rough.  I've been getting down them with the F-250 but it's just tight in so many places, and the cost of fuel is very high.  Took the truck into Ford yesterday to have the check it out; 16.9 actual on the highway with no load and 13 at best in the city per their computer used on the truck in actual driving conditions.  I'd like better.  Put the Airstream behind it and the impact on the mileage is poor at best.

If I was using it as a Snow Birder and driving to FL and staying in one place for the winter I'd not seek better.  Well, that's not what I'm doing.

My point of this thread was to learn what others who take off for 3-5 week trips several times a year are doing to address the escalation cost of these trips.

***************

Tsnajik - your suggestion is appreciated.  I have looked at these and find I have not been able to fit in the drivers for for any of the 4 or 5 models I've looked at - I'm about 6' 5" - leg room just not made for me.  I'll keep looking.  I've also been trying to locate someone who actually has one to see what their mileage has been.  

Big problem with these type of vehicle is their bulk - poor on gravel forest roads and when I head to Euray, CO and drive the trails there.  FJ with a small camper (ALiner) would be far better and far less costly.

***************
Jake,

Unfortunately you are right on the "suggested Premium".  But I have spoken to three dealership service managers and four owners of the FJ.  All report that what is being used is the middle grade of fuel rather than the premium with no problems.  Right now in my area of Atlanta (far north side) the diesel is running 2.70/gal and mid grade gas is running 2.23/gal.  

But what is concerning me is that of the four owners I've spoken to their mileage on the highway is quite varied - one reported 18 while others are reporting 20-21.  Probably differrent driving styles.

***************

Appreciate comments and looking for more actual solutions that others in like circumstances are using.

Jack
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jimhuber
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« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2006, 08:56:22 AM »
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I've done the arithmetic, too, and most of the cost of producing my art isn't the paper & ink, the mats & frames, or even the bodies & lenses; it's the travel cost. I loathe air travel due to the "security" hassles, so I've also chosen ground transportation. My preferred solution has been hotels and a touring motorcycle getting 40 to 50 miles per (US) gallon, with a range of 280 to 350 miles:

Honda ST1300

If I need more "stuff", I can add a trailer for very little extra fuel cost:

Uni-Go trailer

The vehicle cost reduces expenses quite a lot, too: $15k for the bike plus accessories comes to 15 cents per mile over 100k miles. Total maintenance, including tires, comes to 6 cents per mile, and fuel is 8 cents or less per mile depending on price (about 5 cents right now). At 25 to 30 cents per mile total operating cost I can rent a lot of hotel rooms without blowing my budget.

My guess is your total operating cost is around 60 to 80 cents per mile.

Some have looked at this in the past and then asked, "But how far can you possibly ride a motorcycle in a day?" Typical for me when using interstates is 1,000 to 1,200 miles per day maximum, though I've stretched that beyond 1,500 in a pinch with good planning. That will get me darn near anywhere in North America in three days, most places in two.
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jdemott
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« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2006, 10:32:44 AM »
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Jack, I will be interested to learn what solution you finally settle on.  Obviously, there are compromises to be made with every potential solution.

The FJ is a nice looking vehicle.  One possible reason for the disparity in reported MPG is that the mileage will vary depending on whether you buy a 2WD or 4WD--Toyota offers both, with 2WD getting significantly better mileage.
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John DeMott
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« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2006, 08:11:02 PM »
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Jack:

I assume you looked at the 4x4 vehicles at http://www.sportsmobile.com/4_4x4sports.html
They would certainly take you to most places.  My neighbor has a Dodge Strider (diesel) modified by Winnebago :                                                                                                                http://www.winnebagoind.com/products/winnebago/view/

He reports 20-22 mpg and he is also 6'5" and has no difficulty.  If you want to tow a trailer it will cost you in gas, there is no solution to that.  I'm cheap, I drive a Subaru (or Nissan Pathfinder if required) and use a tent.  

Tom
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Anon E. Mouse
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« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2006, 12:13:27 AM »
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Here is what I do. I use public transportation. There is not a wilderness area in the country I can't get to using a train or a bus.

Since most of my camp sites are miles from any road, I use a tent. I carry that on my back with my other supplies. After setting up camp, I take day trips from that location to photograph. Food and water is not an issue as I can get them from the mountain huts at the camp sites. And since I don't have to return to a particular vehicle, I am able to cross a mountain range and leave from the other side.

If I had to get a vehicle, I would get something like a Toyota Carolla. That could transport me, my wife, and my gear very easily AND get reasonable mileage. It can also navigate any road I would use. I still would have to hike to a camp ground, but my tent would fit in the car.
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Hank
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« Reply #10 on: September 28, 2006, 09:45:58 AM »
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Call it pragmatism, but my "solution" is to stay longer at each destination, thereby cutting costs per day and limiting the ground I try to cover on a trip.  On the measurable side, more time in any location usually results in much better photos than whirlwind tours.  We also are downsizing what we tow, limiting our search now to trailers less than 20'.

For quick trips we rely on lightweight vehicles and tent camping to help cut costs.  

In either case, we minimize driving while on location, both by staying as close as possible to featured areas and walking/biking/public transport where available and suitable.

Factor in savings on hotels, restaurant meals, and fuel prices for towing/driving and RV still aren't bad at all, especially when minimizing driving as I describe.  If fuel costs are up a buck and my mileage is cut in half, we're still less than an extra $50 on most driving days.  That's pretty easy to recover via savings on meals and room, compared to driving a tiny fuel saver.  

Yeah sure, you can camp from a small rig, but we still manage to find excuses to stay in hotels and eat out every few days, if for no other reason than to avoid cooking, dishwashing and dining outdoors in the dark and to slip in a hot shower now and then.
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John Camp
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« Reply #11 on: September 28, 2006, 11:01:25 AM »
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I travel a lot in a 4x4. I've looked at the FJ Cruiser and it's basically the Toyota version of the Hummer -- it looks neat, but it's a waste of time. It's based on the 4Runner, and you won't get much better mileage than the 4Runner -- the MSN website says the FJ gets 16-19 (city/highway) and that's a dream. I have the Lexus version of the 4Runner (the GX 470) and I get about 15mpg all-around. That's what I would expect you to get from the FJ. Consumer Reports says that the FJ sightlines are restricted front and back, and it has very small windows. Also, it's recommended that you use only premium fuel. It's also smaller inside that the standard 4Runner.

In my research on really practical vehicles for this kind of thing, the vehicles that always come out on top are the Toyota, Mazda and Dodge mini-vans and the Subarus; with the vans you can get everything inside; with the Subarus, you can pull a small trailer. Of course, some people refuse on aesthetic grounds to drive a minivan, so your mileage may vary...

The problem with full-sized vans is that you are actually just buying another pick-up, and you get the same bad mileage. If you buy a long wheel-base Dodge mini-van, and are willing to do a certain amount of work (but not too much, really -- you can get everything you need at Home Depot) you can build racks inside that carry a large amount of equipment, and still leave space in the middle for a custom futon (which most many futon shops can make for you.) Along with a camping stove and either a 12-volt plug-in icebox (available at many big outdoor sports store), you can get quite comfortable overnight in the van. You can also get inverters from any car place to run computers, recharge batteries, etc. (The 4Runner versions mostly come with built-in AC power.) I've never measured them exactly, but I go muskie fishing with a friend who drives a Dodge minivan, and you can lay 8-foot muskie rods flat on the floor, with room left over; so sleeping flat is not a problem, if you can find a flat place to park. We use his van (rather than my 4x4) for fishing because it has so much more space; and we've never really been in danger of being stuck, even when we've gone on some pretty bad backwoods tracks. He pulls a boat trailer with it, with a small boat. However, there are places I would go with the GX470 that would be impossible with a van, because of the center road clearance.

Those huge custom sport van conversions I would expect to get ~ 10 miles per gallon, and they can cost upwards of $60,000.

Big pickups with travel trailers never make financial sense, although I understand that some people like the travel-trailer culture. But a travel trailer will cost you tens of thousands, and you can still find motels where you can stay overnight for $50. That's 200 nights for $10,000, and you only have to come up with $50 at a time...I understand that sometimes it's best to stay overnight at a spot so you can get the camera out at first light, but for those occasions, bagging out in the back of the van would work fine. I actually sleep on the ground, and carry a tent, air mattress and sleeping bag with me. No problem.
 
JC
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2006, 11:34:49 AM »
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For location work as a landscape photographer, IMHO nothing beats a van.  Mini or maxi, it's the most cost-effective, photo-effective combination of transportation and accommodation.  I can't begin to list the incredible locations I *awakened at*, all because I choose to travel in a 1988 Astro.   Last time I looked - 320,000 kms, $0.10 per km at about $.90 per liter fuel cost.

Motels just don't cut it.  They're too far from the pictures.    
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Jay Kaplan
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« Reply #13 on: September 28, 2006, 03:41:32 PM »
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If all wheel or 4 wheel drive is desirable, then consider the Chrysler brand of MiniVans. I believe the Dodge and Chrysler MiniVans can still be ordered with 4 wheel drive. No you don't get the ground clearance of a SUV but you still have the pulling power and the security of 4 wheel drive.
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Larry C. Price
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« Reply #14 on: September 28, 2006, 05:18:45 PM »
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Once upon a time, I pulled out the calculator to "run the numbers" on a Ford F250 hauling around a small cab-over camper.  The beauty was that one could easily camp on location and eliminate night after night of chasing reservations and cheap motels (read Motel 6) often far from the pictures.  The downside was the MPG costs.  A lot of my friends now drive smaller 4X4 pickups (better MPG) with larger shells and simply hone their system to camp on location.  Michael Lewis, a Colorado photographer, has a raised platform in his Toyota truck bed that contains slide out cabinets so he can always keep his camping gear and equipment stored and ready to go.  His truck gets good mileage and he can go anywhere.  Personally, I find doing the same thing out of my Volvo XC with roof rack makes sense.  I can get to most photo sites and the roof rack is organized to hold my camping gear, food and clothes.  I like to camp a few nights then decompress and reorganize in a motel.  This system keeps me going for an easy week or two and is economical.  Too bad the old Syncro VW campers are so rare.  I had one years ago and let it go--mistake.  There was nothing like that vehicle for comfort and easy setup.  BTW, when I say "camp" I mean minimal--bivy sack, sleeping bag, camp chair, simple alcohol stove, one pot and utensil.  I can pull up to a site, set up camp, eat and be asleep in half and hour.  I typically wake well before dawn, hike, shoot, hike back when the light is gone, then head for breakfast at some small-town diner.  Sublime!

Larry C. Price
www.pricephotograpy.com
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John Camp
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« Reply #15 on: September 29, 2006, 02:34:49 PM »
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For location work as a landscape photographer, IMHO nothing beats a van.  <snip>Tongue
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If all wheel or 4 wheel drive is desirable, then consider the Chrysler brand of MiniVans. I believe the Dodge and Chrysler MiniVans can still be ordered with 4 wheel drive. No you don't get the ground clearance of a SUV but you still have the pulling power and the security of 4 wheel drive.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=78188\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Both Chrysler and Toyota minivans are available with 4-wheel (all-wheel) drive. They don't have much less space than a full-sized van, but they're built on lighter frames, usually the manufacturer's mid-sized car frame (rather than a truck frame.) The Chrysler claims 27mpg on the highway, although I would expect 22-23 would be closer to right. If I were traveling alone, and way into the out-back, I would be reluctant to take a big 4-wheel drive anywhere I couldn't go easily with a minivan. The fact is, that'd be really rough country, and it's not that hard to get even a truck stuck...When we can't get somewhere in a minivan, I take that as God's way of telling me either to walk, or to turn around. 8-)

Coming into town today I saw a guy in a minivan pulling a boat with a 40-horse engine on the back -- probably a 17-footer...

JC
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biggoolies
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« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2006, 02:49:07 PM »
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Just to educate you all about the difference between 4wd and Awd may change your mind.

http://www.4x4abc.com/4WD101/awd.html
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dobson
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« Reply #17 on: October 06, 2006, 04:46:29 PM »
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There is not a wilderness area in the country I can't get to using a train or a bus.

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Really? I'm not sure that I've been to a winderness area accessible by public transport. I tend to hitch rides if I'm really desperate.

On to the OP: I personally am very comfortable in a tent and comfortable sleeping bag. Plus it has the flexiblility of staying places that don't have trailer sites or even parking, (usually these are the best places for photos too).
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nigeldh
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« Reply #18 on: October 06, 2006, 09:50:42 PM »
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Jack,

How about reversing it - get a motor home and pull a jeep or similar vehicle. A recent issue of US News and World Report had an article on motor homes. And there are a number of books on how to buy a used motor home.

You can get used motor homes for a fraction of their new cost. A short wheel base 4x4 is much better for rough track driving. Again, you can get a used one. You might even want to add an ATV or trail bike or mountain bike to extend your off road reach.

On the americanrvrentals.com site, they seem to have a lot of good info.
"I recently saw a toy trailer with two dirt bikes, two Personal Water Crafts, a dune buggy (toad) and an Ultra-Lite Aircraft on board."

nigel
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #19 on: October 07, 2006, 12:12:36 AM »
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<snip> Too bad the old Syncro VW campers are so rare.  I had one years ago and let it go--mistake.  There was nothing like that vehicle for comfort and easy setup.    I typically wake well before dawn, hike, shoot, hike back when the light is gone, then head for breakfast at some small-town diner.  Sublime!

Larry C. Price
www.pricephotograpy.com
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Sublime is exactly the right word.  Your tactics match mine exactly.

The Asstro has served me well.  I can't afford a Dodge Sprinter (the PERFECT solution) so until then, it has to be this:
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