I recently became an empty nester and was looking for a change in my life that would maximize my time left on this great planet. So I sold my house, bought a Ford F-350, an Arctic Fox 990 truck camper, and hit the road. This is the story of my adventures with travel, photography, and RV tips designed around living the boondocker lifestyle.
In The Beginning
In the spring of 2017, I was living in the beautiful Bitterroot Mountains of Montana and had just taken a job in Denver. I signed up for a two weeks on shift as an air ambulance pilot and two weeks off schedule that made the 12-hour drive doable. My daughter finally had made her decision to attend Montana State University in the fall. Not having any family ties in the Bitterroot Valley and being single, I decided my life was a ripe for a major change.
After being a homeowner for almost a decade I was really getting tired of mowing the lawn, moving sprinklers, and plumbing. As I would work on my property, I would often look at the Bitterroot Mountains and dream about being in the woods having fun. I asked myself if doing home improvement projects was really how I wanted to spend the remaining days I had on earth. The answer was a resounding “NO”!
My job in Denver includes the use of a company apartment during my two week, work shift. That left two weeks a month that I needed someplace to stay and buying or renting property in Denver was way out of the question due to the skyrocketing housing market.
I decided that the RV lifestyle would provide me a home for the two weeks I wasn’t at work and provide the tools to have fun.
After growing up on a ranch in Northern Montana, I immediately knew I would not enjoy an RV that was so big that it was hard to drive in traffic or an RV that required it to be towed. I had spent my youth driving big equipment and knew that too big or a trailer took the fun right out of life. Having “Fun” was the goal.
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I did not want to have to buy an RV and a driver vehicle or stow my RV while at work in Denver. As I started to look at my options for RV’s it quickly became clear that a truck camper would fit all my needs.
I could easily drive a truck camper in traffic, not have to store the camper while at work, be able to quickly remove the camper if necessary, and obtain access to boondockable country. A truck camper was the RV of choice, but first I had to sell my house in Montana.
Finally on September 1st, after a crappy, home inspection report from a home inspector that didn’t know which end of the hammer to smack a nail delayed by plans several months, my house sold. I had enough money from the sale to buy a truck and camper. A decade of home improvements paid off, well sort of. If I factored in my time, cost of products, and lost time having fun, I came out way behind. However, the shackles of owning a home were behind me and my boondocking life style was about to begin.
While I was waiting for my house to sell I had plenty of time to research truck and camper options. I knew I didn’t want a dually truck due to issues maneuvering in traffic, but since this camper was going to be my home, I wanted as large a camper as a I could afford and would work with a single rear tire and full sized box.
Picking A Truck
To get the biggest camper that would work with a single, rear tire it quickly became clear that I would need a one-ton truck. That narrowed me down to a F-350 Ford or 3500 series in the Dodge or Chevy truck lines.
After driving several one-ton, single, rear tired trucks I was very impressed with the F-350. I had never owned a Ford before. I actually sold a 1995 Dodge 1500 just a month before selling my home and loved that truck, but I was not impressed with the Dodge 3500 ride.
Everyone has a different opinion about which truck is the best and I believe any of the big three trucks would have worked just fine for my boondocking goals. What I liked about the F-350 is the ride, high ratings for the Power Stroke engine, and great ratings for Ford trucks.
Picking A Camper
Now that I had decided upon a truck I needed a camper. Since I was planning on living in the camper at least half the time and launching from Denver, I quickly came to the realization that I needed a four-season camper. Being able to boondock in all seasons narrowed the camper choices down dramatically. There are a lot of two and three season camper choices, but only a few four-season camper manufacturers.
After pouring through all kinds of articles and reports about different manufacturers and models of four-season campers, I narrowed my choice down to the Arctic Fox 990. Just like debating the best type of truck, I am sure we could debate the best camper until the cows come home. After exhaustive research the Arctic Fox 990 seemed like the perfect fit for my boondocking goals.
The Arctic Fox 990 is about as big a camper as a person would want to go with a single, rear tire, one-ton truck. In the Arctic Fox line there are several larger models, but they would require a dually truck. Being able to move easily in traffic and in the outdoors is important to me.
Be sure to check your truck’s gross vehicle weight and select a camper that your truck can easily handle. A good dealer will not sell you more camper than your truck can handle. Nor would you want more camper than your truck can handle. The F-350 with a Power Stroke engine is a perfect fit for the Arctic Fox 990. Be sure to do your homework before purchasing a truck and camper combination.
Where To Purchase Your Camper
After deciding on an Arctic Fox 990 I had to decide where to buy it. There really wasn’t much of a used market for this model in the United States, so buying a new camper was pretty much my only option.
Colorado has a stiff sales tax, but doesn’t require a truck camper to be licensed. There are only nine states that require a truck camper to be licensed. Dodging sales tax helped me decide that Montana or Oregon were the best states to purchase my camper. The Arctic Fox 990 is made in Oregon. After contacting multiple dealers it quickly became apparent that driving to Oregon would save me $2,000 in shipping costs plus savings on sales tax. Starting my boondocking adventures on the Oregon coast would not be a bad thing.
Before purchasing your camper be sure to contact all the available dealers and scour the used market. There was a considerable difference in prices between dealers of the Arctic Fox 990. However, most of the dealers did not have any Arctic Fox 990’s in stock and where waiting for new units to arrive from the factory. Several of the dealers already had their ordered units sold. In this high demand type of market it is very had to get dealers to come down on price.
Never! Ever leave your camera at home. When I left Denver to pickup my truck camper I thought I would be too busy to take any photographs, so I left my camera gear in Denver to reduce clutter. However, after picking up my camper I headed straight for the Oregon Coast to start my first boondocking adventure and had several days to take photos.
Lesson learned. I normally take my camera everywhere with me, but this time I slipped up. The Oregon Coast is one of the most amazing places on earth to shoot, so leaving my camera gear behind was a super stupid idea.
One way to ensure you will always take your camera with you every time you leave the house is to pack your camera gear in an easy to move bag or pack. Normally, I leave my camera attached to my tripod and have a backpack filled with lenses, filters, batteries, etc. My pack is filled with gear that will cover every spectrum of photography that I could possibly encounter. My backpack is filled with more gear than I would take on a trip involving a commercial airline flight, but it does not hold all of my gear.
What you want to include in your mobile, camera gear bag will be up to you, but here is what is in my backpack. I use a backpack because I can easily sling it on my back and have my hands free to carry my camera attached to my tripod.
Camera backpack contents:
- 105mm Macro lens. A 28-300mm lens is attached to my camera and between the two lenses I pretty much have every possible shooting situation covered. Link to a great article about the 28-300mm lens: http://thethrillsociety.com/photography-tips-the-best-all-purpose-lens/
- Spare camera battery.
- GoPro with spare batteries.
- Small, spray bottle to add water droplets to the subject if needed.
- Knee pads. Link to great article about knee pads: http://thethrillsociety.com/why-knee-pads-are-the-photographers-best-friend/
- Plastic bags. Link to a great article about plastic bags: http://thethrillsociety.com/plastic-bags-dont-leave-home-without-one/
- Small lens cleaning kit.
- Filters: Adjustable ND filter and a pack of various graduated filters.
- Manual flash with extra batteries.
I add or subtract gear based on a predicted shooting scenario, but this is my base gear. I do not use this backpack for anything else other than possible photography trips. I purposely keep the pack light for mobility. You never know what type of shooting situation you might get yourself into. Link to a great article about click and run photography: http://thethrillsociety.com/click-and-run-photography-adventures/
After picking up my Arctic Fox 990 from Junction City, Oregon I headed to Target to outfit my camper with essentials and then beelined it for the Oregon Coast. I realize these camp grounds are not true boondocking destinations, but I had zero, RV boondocking experience and wanted to easy into the process as well as be able to use all the features of my new camper. I purposely wanted full hookups to gain experience with all the systems of my camper.
Nehalem Bay State Park
Located right next to Manzanita, Oregon offers beautiful, full hookup, camping spots literally a Frisbee toss away from the Pacific Ocean. The campsites are nestled behind a sand dune that provides a nice windbreak from the strong, ocean winds. There are running water toilets and showers available as well.
Just a short hike over the sand dunes from the campground are miles of pristine, sandy beach to walk and explore. Nehalem Bay is the perfect place to watch the sunset, while sipping an adult beverage. Be sure to take a trip into Manzanita for shopping, El Trio Loco Dos for authentic Mexican food, MacGregor’s Whisky Bar, and The Winery at Manzanita.
For more information about Nehalem Bay State Park check out: http://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=142
Barview Jetty County Campground
Barview Jetty Campground is owned by Tillamook County and is a massive campground offering a variety of camping experiences. The full hookup sites are in the center of the campground and are placed right next to each other. If I camped at Barview Jetty again I would select one of the more secluded tenting sites and forgo full hookups.
Depending on where your camping site is located in this massive campground dictates the walking distance to the beach. Heading north along the coast offers a mile or more of pristine sandy beach. Heading south along the coast offers a large, rock jetty, hence the name, that offers cool views of fishing boats and a small bay.
Right outside the entrance to Barview Jetty County Campground is a small, general store offering a variety of homemade foods and convenience items. There was also a Mexican food truck that offered great quesadillas.
For more information about Barview Jetty County Campground check out: http://www.co.tillamook.or.us/gov/parks/campgrounds.htm
Tillamook Cheese Factory and Visitor’s Center
Heading south down Highway 101 you will drive right past the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Be sure to stop in and sample free cheese, get a massive ice cream cone, and stock up on excellent eats for your boondocking adventures.
For more information check out: https://www.tillamook.com/
Tillamook Air Museum
Continuing south along the Oregon Coast Highway will take you right past the Tillamook Air Museum that boasts the largest, clear-span wooden structure in the world that used to house WW2 blimps. Along with the sheer awesomeness of the hanger you will be treated to a nice static aircraft display, and an incredible WW2 model display.
For more information about Tillamook Air Museum check out: http://www.tillamookair.com/
Cape Lookout State Park
South of Tillamook country down Highway 101 is Cape Lookout State Park. The drive into the campground is beyond description through beautiful trees with occasional glimpses of the coast.
I stayed two days at this campground because it is simply amazing. The campground offers full hookups, tent sites, and is nestled nicely in the trees. The camping sites are a bit close together, but the scenery in and around the campground is stunning.
The ocean is literally right over a small sand dune and offers incredible views of the rugged Oregon Coastline. A great trail through the trees and along the coastline starts right at the campground. Plan on spending a few days at this campground.
For more information about Cape Lookout State Park check out: http://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=134
Unfortunately it was time to start heading back to Denver with my new camper. I left the coast and started heading for Bend, Oregon. The drive from Cape Lookout State Park to Salem, Oregon and on Highway 22 to Bend, Oregon is scenic and a real treat. I wished I would have had more time to explore this stretch of beautiful country. Perhaps a great place for another boondocking adventure.
Link Creek Campground – Suttle Lake
Link Creek Campground provided my first true boondocking experience. Technically I was in a campground, but there were no hookups and the water was cutoff for the winter. Link Creek offers camping on beautiful Suttle Lake and the option to rent a Yurt. I was told by a neighbor camper that the fishing is excellent at the lake. The campground is in pine trees and offers several hiking trails.
For more information about Link Creek Campground check out: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/deschutes/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=38622&actid=29
Thank you for joining me on my first boondocking adventure and please stop back in a couple of weeks and learn with me as I learn how to boondock like a boss!