When wanderlust touches us, we think how nice it would be to sell the house, buy an RV and take off to see the rest of North America. With our basic possessions packed in the vehicle, we could go wherever we wanted, stop whenever we wanted and still feel as if we were home at the end of each day.
However, our rational selves wonder how practical this fantasy might be. Last month, courtesy of Winnebago Industries, we took the opportunity to make our first foray into the wonderful world of RVing. Winnebago had just introduced its 2012 View and offered us a taste.
The View is basically a self-propelled, well-appointed efficiency apartment out of the Winnebago design book, mounted on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis with excellent performance and reasonable mileage.
If you’ve ever wondered whether the RV lifestyle might be a nice travel option for you, with a convenient self-contained getaway vehicle to explore Western nature and history, this is what we learned: The experience was much easier and less complicated than we thought it would be, and we were quite comfortable with both driving and spending time in our “Sprinnebago,” as Genie christened it.
We also learned that RV parks along our coastline (our choices were from Mendocino to Big Sur) book up quickly in the summer. Our getaway choices narrowed once we learned the vehicle was to be retrieved at the Pan Pacific RV Center in Morgan Hill (www.panpacificrv.com). We reserved a full-hookup space at the Marina Dunes RV Park (www.marinadunesrv.com), just 7 miles north of Monterey, adjacent to Marina Dunes Natural Preserves along Highway 1. It’s an uncrowded, protected seashore area that we’ve always wanted to explore.
As first time RVers, we felt being close to the RV center and close to home covered us for any eventuality. Happily, our experience was pleasant and fun, and we can now understand why families, as well as empty nesters, often opt for a vehicle like this rather than a second or third car.
The Winnebago View 24M we drove lists at $115,000. Our model included an all-important slide-out couch/dinette area that gave us good floor space. Tucked inside the “house” were accessories including HDTV/entertainment center, air conditioning/heat pump, 3.6-kilowatt generator, interior upgrade including fold-away sofa sleeper, convertible ultraleather dinette, rotating cab seats, cab-over bunk, water purifier, electric patio awning and satellite radio. We were impressed.
Nothing was difficult or confusing. Our 45-minute new-owner walkthrough at the RV center showed us how to manage the combo propane/electric/battery systems; deal with the fresh water reservoir, water pump and two waste tanks; use the galley and bathroom appliances; and operate the slide out and awning that convert a highway vehicle into a pleasant little cottage by the sea.
The Sprinter driving aspects were familiar, because the cockpit is standard to all Sprinter vehicles, and the diesel engine is the familiar Mercedes-Benz 3-liter 188-horsepower turbodiesel (a nice feature – any M-B technician can work on it).
With healthy torque, the vehicle is more than capable of climbing hills and merging into highway traffic, and is rated to tow a 5,000-pound trailer or small car. Fuel efficiency (with new clean-diesel-emissions technology) is estimated at approximately 15 mpg.
Driving the Sprinter on the highway is vastly different from driving an automobile or even a large SUV. The Sprinter chassis provides a comfortable and confident ride, but its size and shape must be kept in mind. Even though our RV was short (24 feet) by RV standards, it was still tall and flat-sided, and therefore sensitive to crosswinds and pavement irregularities. As long as one stays within a sensible 55-60 mph speed limit – it is legally a truck, after all – and maintains full driving attention, handling isn’t a problem. The steering and braking response quickly become second nature. With the rearview camera and small turning radius, the vehicle is quite maneuverable.
Arriving at the RV park, we needed only a few minutes to back into our space and make the three hookups – electrical, fresh water and sewage – that are provided at a full-service RV campground. With the slide out and awning opened, and a little time in the fully equipped galley (spacious fridge and freezer, two-burner stove, sizable sink and good table and counter space), we soon had dinner prepared.
Afterwards, we opted for an evening walk up and over the dunes to the water, topped off with s’mores prepared in the firepit in our cozy little camping space. Had it been raining, we could have watched a movie on the complete entertainment system. The sofa converted easily into a double bed with an inflatable mattress; it was a restful night as we were lulled to sleep by sound of the ocean waves.
The next day, with my computer plugged into the 110v plug convenient to the dinette and connected to the RV park’s WiFi network, I worked on writing assignments while Genie went bird-watching on the beach.
That evening we took a taxi into Monterey for dinner. For local transportation, our campsite neighbors, all well-seasoned at RV traveling, either opted for towing a small utility car or renting cars where they were likely to need local transportation. Others simply planned their trips around their RV vehicle, departing early in the morning, parking at the tourist site they were visiting, then heading out for the next campground in the late afternoon.
The nice thing about this version of RVing is that the support systems (water, electricity, etc.) on our vehicle allow one to stay “off the grid” at campgrounds that don’t offer hookups (or don’t have any available). The generator, refrigerator, air conditioner and stove run on propane, and everything else runs off batteries, so you’ve got all the comforts of home. The fresh water tank and the two waste tanks are adequate for three days, and the waste tank can be emptied at a park or RV store dump station in approximately 15 minutes with nothing particularly distasteful to contend with.
Friends of ours who grew up with an RV similar to this one say they treasure the memories of family vacations, because they could be so spontaneous in their travels. They could visit anything that interested them, stopping for a few hours here and there, and then be on their way, totally free of having to search for restaurants and motels, and free of carrying luggage into “someone else’s bedroom” every night.
On the other hand, our fellow travelers at Marina Dunes RV Park did acknowledge that RVing is not for everyone. For those who prefer freshly laundered linens, a bed that doesn’t have to be folded away daily and room service, life “on the road” won’t satisfy. However, if you are adventurous, love meeting new people and visting new places, and want to try the RV lifestyle, you can be sure that Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Iowa-bred Winnebago Industries are producing reliable vehicles with well-appointed living quarters that will satisfy your wanderlust.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.