RV Life – Year One – Winter

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
A navigational beacon for ancient travelers, Picacho Peak.

Known for its mild winter climate, the desert southwest offers sanctuary from the bitter cold.

Snowbirds come here for the weather, but there’s so much more.



Cool nights, warm days, sunshine and low humidity are just a few of the human-friendly perks one can find in the desert southwest during the winter months. With conditions like that, it’s no wonder snowbirds flock here by the thousands every year. We joined this annual migration of warm-weather-seekers for our first RV winter in December 2017, parking the rig near the tiny town of Picacho, Arizona.

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Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
The peak reflects sunrise colors, glowing red-orange in the morning.

The Picacho Peak RV Resort is an age 55-plus campground conveniently located right off Interstate 10, about 40 miles north of Tucson.

The uniquely-shaped Picacho Peak rises 1,500 feet above the valley floor, reaching nearly 5,000 feet above sea level.

Campers enjoy an up-close and personal view of the prominent spire less than a mile away to the west.

Just down the road is the entrance to Picacho Peak State Park, where nature trails wind up the peak to reveal Arizona’s beautiful distance. The area is known for its unique geology, diverse desert flora, and historical significance. The peak’s distinctive shape has been used as a traveler’s landmark for ages. One of the earliest known recordings was by the famous Anza Expedition of the 1770s, when Juan Bautista passed through the area leading 300 colonists to the San Francisco Bay area.

We were quite surprised to learn that a Civil War battle occurred here. I never knew that the war had made it this far west, but the April 15, 1862 event is commemorated with plaques and memorials inside the park. Apparently, the Confederates were attempting to expand westward by occupying Tucson and the surrounding area. When Union troops from California rallied to stop them, they clashed at Picacho Peak.

We had barely started our RV winter in Arizona when my employer had another assignment for me. I would not be moving the RV this time because the assignment was in Europe! I was asked to travel to Warsaw, Poland for another customer site visit. Procter & Gamble operates a plant on the north side of the city in a suburb called Targowek.

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Since this was my first-ever opportunity to travel overseas, I decided to bring Cheri along. This was a 3-week trip, so we had an RV learning lesson on how to properly store and secure the rig while we were away. We flew out of Tucson International on New Year’s Day, 2018 for the 23-hour journey.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
The Warsaw city skyline contrasts a modern vibe against a Communist past.

This was a busy working trip, so we didn’t have many opportunities to explore.

Besides that it was January, and Warsaw is near the 52nd Parallel North, so it was quite cold!

Alaska and central Canada are also at 52-degrees north longitude, so you can probably imagine the climate.

We stayed indoors most of the time, but both of us got sick with a chest cold anyway!

We had at least one mild weekend to get out for a few hours. My local contact at the Targowek plant, Ewa, pronounced “Ay-Vah”, graciously volunteered to show us the Old Town and drove us around the city to a few points of interest. We also ventured out by ourselves one cold and windy Saturday to see the Warsaw Uprising Museum. That was a very moving and sobering experience.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
This Vegas reproduction of a classic Italian fountain is pretty convincing.

Long before we ever knew about the Poland trip, we made plans for a Las Vegas weekend in January.

It was my birthday month, and Vegas is a short 1-hour flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor.

We were back on a plane just a few days after returning from Poland!

We enjoyed a nice stay at the Venetian, explored the Vegas strip, and Sands Avenue.

We took an Uber ride out to see the famous Pawn Stars store and enjoyed our first taste of Wahlburgers.

By the time we arrived back at the RV in Picacho we had logged over 15,000 miles of travel since November!

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The range of February temperatures in southern Arizona made for some interesting days at the campground. At sunrise, it was typically a brisk 35-45 degrees. I usually started the day with warm clothing, a jacket, and running the furnace. By mid-morning the heater was off and I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt with the windows open to enjoy a mild 65–75 degrees. By the time mid-afternoon rolled around, the windows were closed, fans were oscillating, and the air conditioner was running! It was like 3 seasons in one day!

There were several days where temperatures reached well into the upper-80s, so we often found ourselves enjoying the resort swimming pool. A soak in the hot tub followed by a quick air dry in the warm sun was an amazing feeling.

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Aerial entertainment was a frequent thing in Picacho. Besides looking up at the towering Picacho Peak, I saw some amazing aircraft roar overhead. Two Air Force bases are close by; Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, and Luke AFB in Phoenix, so there were all kinds of impressive machines flying by the mountain nearly every day.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
F-16s like this one passed by Picacho Peak regularly. Photo by Pixabay.

We explored many area attractions through the months of February and March. Some of our favorites include …

  • Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
  • Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
  • Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
  • Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
  • Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
  • Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
  • Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
  • Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
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If you’ve been following my articles about the RV Life, then you probably know about the 2 major equipment malfunctions we experienced with our 2017 Keystone Laredo Travel Trailer.

So it was top of mind when we, once again, had to take the Laredo in for service. We dropped it off at the Tucson Camping World and went down the road to Brooklyn’s Beer & Burger for a fantastic lunch. As we sat there discussing our frustrations with Keystone, we noticed an RV store conveniently located right across the street with a beautiful rig for sale parked right out front.

Why not?” we asked.

We had some time to waste waiting for Camping World to call, so we walked across the street to the Freedom RV store to check out their inventory. A sales rep approached and we told him what we had in mind. We hopped on the golf cart and he took us to a brand new 2018 Prime Time Crusader. It was a perfect fit. After a long conversation in the customer lounge, we agreed it was time to walk away from the troubled Laredo.

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What Did We Get?

  • Dedicated Office Space:  There was a kids bunkroom that could be reconfigured as my own office area. This was a big selling point for us. I had been using the kitchen table as my work desk, which was not very comfortable and required Cheri to watch TV using headphones while I worked in the main living area.
  • More Storage:  The storage compartments were larger, and there were more of them. We could organize our gear into a much better configuration.
  • Bigger Closets:  Not only were the bedroom closets more spacious, there was an extra one in the office. The office could also serve as my own dressing area and mini-man-cave, allowing Cheri more personal space for her wardrobe in the main bedroom.
  • Better Floor Plan:  The floor plan was more spacious and laid out in a more efficient manner. The signature shape of a fifth wheel allows for higher ceilings on the inside. This was an amazing upgrade for a man of my size, 6 feet 3 and over 300 lbs. I bumped my head, knees, elbows, and toes inside the Laredo every day, so I was ecstatic about the extra body clearance I would be getting.
  • Improved Leveling System:  The Crusader had a 6-point leveling system that provided a more stable set-point than the Laredo. This allowed for a significant reduction in trailer motion when moving around inside the unit. It simply worked better too, because the Laredo system was prone to errors during the leveling cycle.
Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
The main living area inside the new Crusader. Lots of elbow room!

With these benefits came a big caveat. This Crusader model was a fifth wheel, but my truck was equipped for a travel trailer.

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On the Plus Side

  • Towing Stability:  I had experienced a few scary moments pulling the travel trailer that I knew would go away, or at least be significantly reduced, with a fifth wheel. Trailer sway and porpoise-effect are 2 sensations that can startle even an experienced RV’er. With the pin weight of the trailer resting on the bumper, these two effects are amplified on a windy day or when rolling over some uneven highway surface. With a fifth wheel, the weight rests on the bed of the truck where these motions are more easily absorbed into the truck frame and rear axle, providing a much smoother and safer ride. See, RV Life – What Kind of RV?
  • Hooking Up for Travel:  Even though I had figured out a good procedure for connecting the ball and hitch and engaging the weight distribution bars on the travel trailer, it still took a lot more time and effort than I liked. With a fifth wheel, I can simply back into the king pin and the jaws will engage on their own. This is a much simpler and faster procedure to get hooked up and ready to roll on travel day.

On the Minus Side

  • Truck Configuration:  There was an expensive list of equipment changes required in order to make the switch to a 5th Wheel.
  • Hitch:  The most important change was installing a fifth wheel hitch. We went with the B&W Companion Model.
  • Truck Topper:  I had an A.R.E. TW Series shell topper on the truck, but with the Crusader it would have to come off. I found a local truck accessory company in Tucson that took the topper off my hands for $1500. I applied that towards a new Roll-n-Lock M Series roll top cover.
  • Bikes:  With the truck bed now occupied by the large hitch, I had to find a solution for our 2 bicycles. I went with a heavy-duty Curt Cargo Carrier for the trailer bumper, adding a Mount-n-Lock Safety Strut system.

The financial hit to make these changes was high. Also, as with most vehicles, depreciation in the first year is significant, so there was some negative equity from the Laredo that carried over to the new loan. Overall, it was worth it to us for the improvements we got.

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
Travel trailer versus 5th wheel. A clear difference.

After sorting out the details with the trade and the new truck configuration, we pulled the Laredo to the Freedom RV lot and parked alongside the Crusader.

We spent the day transferring our things and stayed the night on-property.

We pulled the new rig back to our spot in Picacho the next day. The towing experience was a very noticeable improvement over the Laredo.

We set-up camp again and organized our new home on wheels. We were quite happy with our improved living arrangement … until we noticed that the refrigerator was not staying cold. After using it all weekend and checking it several times while on-property at Freedom RV, the brand-new fridge failed. We could hardly believe this was happening after all we had just gone through to get out of that hunk-of-junk Laredo!

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We called Freedom RV and they sent out a mobile tech right away. They confirmed that the compressor was defective and we would need to replace the entire refrigerator! To make matters worse, this was not simply a replacement part that was readily available anywhere as inventory. A factory order had to be placed directly with the manufacturer, Furrion, which could take weeks! We were scheduled to leave Picacho in just 2 more weeks, so we were stressing.

We explained the situation to the campground office and they graciously agreed to extend our stay indefinitely. They also allowed us to use the clubhouse refrigerator, even giving us a key to the building so we could store our food and access it as needed.

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The people at Freedom RV went to bat for us too, pestering Furrion until they shipped the new unit in just 2 weeks. They brought the fridge to us, along with a mobile repair crew, and completed the swap on site. It was quite an ordeal for them to remove doors, panels, and various parts in order to squeeze the unit through the small RV entry door, but they got it done in just a few hours.

It was late March and Spring was on the way, so we packed up the new rig and started the long journey back to Tennessee.

Before and After

Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - The Maiden Voyage
The Laredo rig, April 2017.
Eye of the Beholder - RV Life - Year One - Winter
The Crusader rig, March 2018.

The refrigerator ordeal delayed our departure by a week. Fortunately, the other campgrounds adjusted our reservations accordingly. We also made up some time by extending the drive through the weekend. We were back on plan when we arrived in Oklahoma City.

Year Two of the RV Life was about to launch!

Psalm 32:7-8

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Steve Coryell