Day One – Departure

More photos here.

We were on the road around 8am starting a two-day journey to the Badlands of South Dakota. Could have made it in a day, probably, but I wanted to start easy. We’re hauling a hell of a lot more stuff than my test runs. Upside: the rig is more stable laden with all our crap (and properly inflated trailer tires). Didn’t notice an appreciable range reduction, though I’ve stopped doing thorough calcs now. What will be will be. 

Our only real sightseeing today was the Quebec 01 Missile Alert Facility outside of Chugwater, Wyoming. It’s not a missile silo, per se, but it was part of the United States’ Cold War-era nuclear arsenal command and control. (And yet only decommissioned in 2005.) Spartan like a college dormitory and yet outfitted with a pool table, a nice kitchen, an 8-track music deck, and other amenities. Weird to think of young soldiers passing the time there — sinking billiard balls, enjoying some tunes — while the keys to launch ICBM’s that would annihilate 20 million people were in the same facility.

Some small snafus on the journey. We were blocked in while charging by someone who parked and left their vehicle. (This happens at gas stations too, of course.) Through a stroke of sheer luck we found out that the owner of the car was a line chef inside an Olive Garden across the parking lot. So, we ate at Olive Garden while the manager tried to figure out which of his employees drove the blocking car. “Eat at Olive Garden” (blech) was absolutely not on my trip itinerary, certainly not on Father’s Day, but this trip is all about rolling with the punches. Upside: my father loved Olive Garden. The more over-the-top the theming of any commercial establishment (think Rainforest Cafe) the better, for him.  So, happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Staying tonight at the first of many different KOA campgrounds (excuse me, kampgrounds). This one is not quite the low-grade MAGA rally the girls were hoping for, though that certainly awaits us. We played a round of 9 holes at a decrepit mini golf facility. Left the dog alone in the trailer for 10 minutes where he ripped into and devoured an entire bag’s worth of hot dog buns. So, yeah, basically everything going as planned.

The real hack for travelers towing RV’s with electric vehicles is hooking into the electrical connections at campground sites meant to power motorhomes but using it to refill your vehicle battery. Technically this isn’t allowed (it’s in the campground fine print), but it absolutely works. Basically Level 2 charging overnight. And if you bring a splitter, as I have, you can continue to power the RV too. This is admittedly the “easy” part of the EV charging odyssey. More on this to come.

We’re winding down and prepping for our visit to the Black Hills Institute tomorrow by watching Dinosaur 13, the story of (and at least one of several contested perspectives concerning) the legal/criminal drama behind the T. Rex fossil known as Sue. 

Black Hills-bound shortly after sun-up.

The Ampcamper: An RV Adventure

I’m about to depart for three weeks towing a 30-year-old RV trailer with an electric vehicle up and down the Rocky Mountains and into various national parks, off grid. With me will be my teenage daughter and niece and a fairly large dog. Surely something will go wrong.

I had been digitizing old family media for a few years after my father passed away when I stumbled upon a unique photo — actually a 35mm slide because projected slides were social media in the late 70’s. It depicted a map and had clearly been drawn on. After a little sleuthing I determined it was the route my family took in a motorhome we owned for a few years on a three-week trip which came to be known thereafter as “the three-week trip”.

My father loved that motorhome. I think it was as close as he could get to his fantasy of being a cross-country big rig truck driver, role-playing Convoy. I recall very little of the sites or destinations we visited in that thing, but I do remember being inside what seemed a massive vehicle to young me. So on finding the map I knew I had to recreate at least a part of the journey at some point. Well, that point is now.

Starting point: Denver. My father’s original route is the thin red line above and we pretty quickly determined that actually recreating the trip (which swung all the way out to the Pacific Northwest and down the west coast) would take up most of the summer. How ol’ dad pulled this off in three weeks including transiting the northern plans to/from Chicago I have no idea.

So our upcoming route basically breaks down into thirds: Black Hills/Badlands, Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone. We pick up my dad’s route along I-90 west and then again at Yellowstone. Glacier itself is a bit of a detour (which I want to see for obvious reasons), so we’re not being overly faithful to the original, though we are trying to at least stop at some of the places he’s circled on the map. Why, for instance, Big Timber, Montana? No clue. But we’re gonna find out or at least make up a reason we think he circled it.

The second challenge was finding a vehicle. RV envy is real, especially when you have friends who’ve done it just right. I considered renting a big motorhome to recreate my childhood experience, but maybe (I wondered) the reason I have no recollection of actually seeing sights from those trips is because we couldn’t actually park that beast anywhere desirable? With some previous experience visiting national parks and kooky Americana I knew that vehicle flexibility was key. So we settled on a trailer-towing arrangement so that we can unhitch and tool around as needed. But what to tow?

It’s good to have outdoorsy friends, especially close friends you’ve known since rooming together in college. And this is how I have come into the temporary possession of the glorious Colorado flag-themed (handpainted!) 1993 Sunline camper trailer above. There are no bells and whistles on this thing whatsoever and it is kinda falling apart, but it works and tows like a dream. Much more on our home-away-from-home in posts as we hit the road.

OK so, how to tow? I have been driving an electric vehicle for several years and have come to love the national Tesla charging network (though not so much the company’s leader). So why not make this odyssey needlessly (more) complex and attempt to haul a two-ton trailer on electrons alone? I did a few test runs and the range impact is basically exactly what you’d expect from an internal combustion engine: 43.3 % average reduction in range, 55.6 % average reduction in efficiency. Conservatively that means 175 miles of range per full charge. The colored polygons on the map above show roughly how far we can go from major destinations on a charge. (The tribulations of charging with a trailer, especially in the EV infrastructure wasteland of Wyoming and Montana, will get its own post.)

I’ll post as regularly as I can once we depart with some special features including what it is like to outfit this quasi-futurist jalopy with a CB radio. Everything will be cataloged at with updates at Instagram and Bluesky.

If anyone reading this lives around the route or has recommendations what to see, hit us up!

Here’s a full map and itinerary spreadsheet.

10 days and counting …