One year ago we picked up our camper - a 2020 Aliner Grand Ascape Plus. This is probably not news, unless this is your first visit to this corner of the Internet. 41 nights of camping later seems like a good time to look back at the last year.
First, the summer and fall of 2020 sucked a lot less for us because of Journey. We named the camper Journey. Journey Ascape. Get it? If you are my age and don’t get that, we probably can’t be friends. I’m sorry, but those are the rules. Anyway, back to the camper. We camped 30-ish nights last year, mostly staying in Virginia, but we did venture out of state twice into NC. I was reading stories on Twitter about people who hadn’t left their 400 sq. foot NYC apartment in weeks, and we were taking off every other weekend to hang out in the woods around the campfire and go hiking.
Yes, I was incredibly fortunate in that I had a job that wasn’t negatively impacted last year, and I worked from home anyway, so very little changed in that regard over 2020. Nobody in my house caught as much as a cold last year. It wasn’t like our pandemic was a party, but it was a much less miserable than it could have been, and on camping weekends it was downright fun.
I had been lusting for an Aliner Aframe for years, and did not know the Ascape existed until I went to Aliner’s website to look at the current Aframe lineup in March 2020. I absolutely would buy the Ascape again. We had the water pump replaced under warranty, otherwise it’s been just fine. It’s the perfect size for two people. It has all the stuff you want in a camper - 3-way fridge, microwave, stove, sink, hot water heater, cassette toilet, large bed, ac and heat. It’s only 1700 lbs. dry and tows easily behind our 2012 Ford Edge. The Edge easily maintains 65 mph through the Appalachian Mountains, and I get 14 MPG towing in the mountains and 16 MPG when towing east to the beach. We’ve camped in brutal 95F heat and the AC cools the camper to comfortable in less than 20 minutes and has no trouble keeping it there. It’s small enough that a $25 wall wart space heater easily keeps the camper comfortable in colder weather, meaning we don’t use our propane when shore power is available.
Negatives? It’s pretty close to a perfectly designed 14 foot tiny trailer. It’s not a nap friendly camper as the bench seats are too narrow to nap on, and you have to choose between the bed and the table. But I’d need a bigger trailer to have separate dining and sleeping areas. It’s got a large storage area under the cushions at the front of the trailer, but it’s a PITA to get to as usually bedding, pillows, etc. are stuffed under there during the day. Easier access to that storage would be nice. Draining the hot water heater requires a socket wrench to remove the plug, although it’s on the side and not under the camper, which is nice. And the gray water drain is so low to the ground due to the camper size that getting it to drain at most dump stations is an issue. I’ve stopped trying. I drain it into a 5-gallon container, then dump the container in the drain. It’s an 11 gallon tank, so only takes two cycles. The cassette toilet is super simple to deal with. Pull out the 5 gallon black water tank via an outside door and drain it into a toilet or dump station.
Owning the camper has changed how I drive, which I did not expect. When towing I don’t exceed 65 mph, so I camp in the right lane, set the cruise if not in the mountains, and go. It makes for a stress less driving experience as I’m not constantly changing lanes to pass, get back in the right lane, etc. I’ve noticed lately when driving without towing, I’m often just going 70 in the right lane, not the 78 that was my norm pre-camper. Minimizing lane changes reduces risk and stress. Or maybe I’m just older and not in as much of a rush.
If you buy a camper, do not buy all the stuff immediately. Camp a few times, borrowing all you can from home prior to investing in camping stuff. When the camper is new, you don’t know what you don’t know. We probably spent a few hundred bucks on accessories that we didn’t like or need and have since abandoned or replaced. Things not to skimp on include camp chairs, get good ones that will last, and a cooler. You don’t need a Yeti. The Igloo Marine Extreme is about $60 and delivers 80% of the performance of a Yeti. Also buy a hitch lock and a wheel boot and use both anytime parked and not hitched. RV thefts are way up. We have customized the interior of the camper a bit with additional storage, curtains, and wall art.
Another neat thing about the Ascape is that I can fit into a lot of campsites the folks with living rooms on wheels can’t use. It’ll fit in the parking area for most tent sites in a state park or commercial campground. This is especially helpful now as campgrounds are solidly booked across the country. I suspect (hope) that with the pandemic fading as a threat and life returning to normal, many new campers will return to their Holiday Inns. If you are looking to buy, this fall/winter could be a buyers market.
And finally, the camper has completely changed our future plans. Pre-camper the goal for years has been to move to the beach. Now we are thinking mountains. I researched moving west but between access to healthcare, cost of living etc. no city out west checks the boxes quite like Richmond and points east do. So we are looking around at Appalachian mountain towns that might make a nice home. My completely objective spreadsheet suggests Salem VA is our top location, with Roanoke and Asheville also in the mix. We’ll be researching and visiting over the next year, although staying in Richmond is certainly an option as being 90 minutes from the Ocean and the mountains is not a bad thing at all.