For over twenty-five years, school teachers, Eckhart and Linda Franz have been exploring the back roads, waterways, and parks of North America. And you thought the students had fun on summer break.
In May of 1972, Alice Cooper unleashed a hard rock anthem every kid knew by heart, “School’s out for summer!” Just thinking of that chorus is enough to make grown men shout, “Heck yeah!”, run to their cars, and peel away with the windows down and stereo blasting. There’s nothing like the feeling of the last day of school.
What many of us didn’t consider is how our teachers were thinking exactly the same thing. The teachers may have kept their cool a little better, but they were no less excited to get out of school and start their summer vacations. I’d like to think they waited until they were just out of sight of school grounds, and then peeled out, windows down, and stereo blasting. See you next year kids! Muh-ha-ha-ha!
Eckhart and Linda Franz are probably smiling ear to ear reading this introduction. As teachers, they probably would only change one detail – the car. Where their fellow educators were probably flooring it in Toyota Corollas, Honda Civics, and Ford Fiestas, they were heading for the mountains and lakes in their 2006 Chevy 3500 and 2005 Adventurer 90FWS truck camper.
Bye bye blackboard. Hello boondocking!
Above: Clayton, Eckhart, Linda and Tara
TCM: How were you first introduced to truck camping?
Eckhart: Both Linda and I had parents who owned truck campers while we were growing up. My parents did an annual trip from Calgary, Alberta to Kaleden, British Columbia in a Chevy truck with an eight foot camper. Linda’s parents also had a Chevy truck, but with a nine foot camper. They went on a variety of trips in British Columbia and into the United States.
When Linda and I first married, we camped in a tent. In 1990, we decided to travel across Canada. We bought a Toyota LE van and, with my father-in-law’s help, built a frame in the van that we could sleep on and store our clothes, food, and cooking gear under. The van worked great for our first extended camping adventure.
Above: Their 1992 Isuzu Space Cab pickup and 1990 Slumber Queen truck camper
Our son was born July of 1992 and, by the next spring, we had purchased a 1992 Isuzu Space Cab pickup and a 1972 Okanagan truck camper. The camper had moisture damage and I had to reframe the overhang and do some other minor changes. We used that camper for over ten years.
We then bought my in-law’s Slumber Queen truck camper when they decided to stop camping. In the ten years to that point, we did a lot of camping with them and explored many places in British Columbia camping mostly in provincial parks. Both children loved camping and enjoyed having their grandparents with them. Getting to sleep with their grandparents in their camper was a special treat.
Above: The Franz’s Adventurer 90FWS at Tombstone Mountain, Yukon
TCM: How did you end up getting an Adventurer 90FWS?
Eckhart: In 2006, we decided that we would like to take the family across Canada the following year. We needed a larger truck as our fourteen year old, 6′, son no longer fit in the back of the Space Cab. After checking a number of import trucks, we calculated that none of them had the payload capacity to carry our camper. That’s when we started looking into full-size trucks.
We ended up buying a 2006 Chevy Silverado 3500. The deciding factor was that it had the more comfortable rear seats than Dodge and Ford. I went for the diesel as I planned to own the vehicle for a long time. I also went with the single rear wheel as we were starting to explore more back roads and did not want a dual rear wheel truck.
Above: The trip to Newfoundland
We ended up needing a new camper as our Slumber Queen was too small and would not fit on the new truck. We had a limited budget since we had just bought a new truck. Looking at rental return campers, we liked the layout of the 2005 Adventurer 90FWS.
Above: Athabasca Icefield, located in the Canadian Rockies – click to enlarge
My wife and I are both teachers and we have the summers off. Having a truck camper has allowed us to get away and explore many parts of the provinces in Canada and parts of the northern United States over extended periods of time.
Above: Eckhart on the roof, you can see the two-by-fours laid parallel to the truck camper near his feet – click to enlarge
TCM: How do you load and secure the canoes and kayaks on your camper roof?
Eckhart: The first mod I made to the Adventurer was adding a ladder and roof rack for our canoes and kayaks. I mounted four 14-foot two-by-fours laid parallel to the truck camper over the roof rack and secured them to the roof rack. The kayaks ride on top of the three two-by-fours on left side. The canoe goes on the roof rack next to a two-by-four on the right side.
If there are two people, it’s not that big of a deal to get a canoe on the roof. If my wife is with me, I stay on the roof, grab the canoe, and pull it up. If my daughter is with me, she goes up on the roof and I lift the canoe up to her.
Above: Their Cedar Strip canoe – click to enlarge
One of our canoes is a Cedar Strip. My father-in-law built that for us. It is 56 pounds so it’s easy to get up on the roof. Our fiberglass canoe is 65 pounds.
Above: Their kayaks are fairly light and easier to put on the roof
The kayaks were purchased from COSTCO and are fairly light. I can put the kayaks up myself because they’re only about 40 pounds. I place the hook of a tie-down strap into handle of the kayak, stand the kayak vertical to the camper against the ladder, climb up, and then pull them up.
One of the canoes and the two kayaks travel with us 90% of the time.
Above: Linda and Clayton, Bowron Lake Provincial Park, northern British Columbia, Canada
TCM: What are the best places you have kayaked or canoed?
Eckhart: Bowron Lake Provincial Park is situated on the western slopes of the Cariboo Mountain Range. The world-renowned canoe circuit encompasses a 116 kilometers chain of lakes, waterways and connecting portages.
We explored Bowron Lake with two canoes when our children were twelve and ten. It takes six or more days, so you need to leave the comforts of the camper and camp in a tent, but it is well worth it. You also need to make reservations, or take your chances on getting on the lake.
Above: 10-Mile Bay, Forest Service Road on the west side of Harrison Lake, British Columbia – click to enlarge
There’s a place called Duffy Lake outside of Kamloops that we like because my wife can be on the lake while my son, daughter and I go off on the motorcycles.
Above: Mable Lake Provincial Park, near Lumby, British-Columbia
British Columbia has hundreds of recreational sites that are located in out of the way places and do not offer any services. We will stay up to a week at some of these sites. We prefer camping areas that are not overcrowded.
Above: Motorcycles up front (left) and bicycles up front – click to enlarge
TCM: How do you bring your motorcycles with you?
Eckhart: I bought a trailer made from a Nissan truck bed to haul our motorcycles and carry fuel. My son and I like to trail ride on our motorcycles.
I can also carry four bicycles up front, or put my motorbike on my front hitch carrier. There’s a ramp that attaches to the front and the back. It’s easy to get it off or on.
My first concern with having the motorbike on the front was airflow for the truck. Fortunately, my motorbike does not affect the truck’s cooling. It does interfere with the passenger’s side visibility. Some of the pictures I sent you are taken as we are traveling, and my wife is taking pictures from the passenger’s seat.
Above: Eckhart has modified the front rack for his motorbike – click to enlarge
The motorbike does get in the way of the headlights cutting the amount of light they project and does block the high beams. I want to add a set of headlights to the motorcycle carrier so that I will have better lighting in front of the motorbike. In the meantime, I don’t travel at night.
I have modified the front rack so it doesn’t rock and twist. It has been on some rough roads, and has been fine. It’s better having the motorcycle up front because it does not get covered in mud. In Alaska, the back of our camper was black and the front was clean. I saw other campers on the road that had the bicycles attached to the back and they were caked in mud.
Above: Riding the Salt Flats in Utah – click to enlarge
TCM: Tell us about taking your motorcycle along.
Eckhart: If it’s just Linda and I, we take a canoe, a kayak, and one of my motorcycles. We use the motorcycle to explore once we have set up camp. A motorcycle is great in the national parks as it is not hard to find parking and the view while driving is not obscured. I will also use the motorcycle to go explore trails and back roads.
In Utah, I rode the Salt Flats, headed into the backcountry behind Bryce Canyon, rode the Elephant Hill trail, and tried numerous other motorcycle trails. We also used the bike to get around the national parks in Utah. While other people were struggling to find parking, we just found a space off to the side to park.
Above: Exploring the National Parks in Utah – click to enlarge
On our trip to Alaska I used the motorcycle to get into the backcountry wherever I could and we used it together to explore Fairbanks and Anchorage. In Inuvik we used the motorbike to get to the golf course for a round under the Midnight Sun. Locally we have camped on Quadra Island and used the motorbike to explore the island and the neighboring island, Cortes Island. Having the motorbike allowed us to be first on the ferry, bypassing the line up of vehicles, and also allowed us to be first off the ferry. Many RVs got left behind and had to wait hours for the next ferry.
Above: Even though they’re teachers, truck camping is not just for summer – click to enlarge
Our truck camper is our home away from home. The camper allows us to stay in the wilderness where we can fish, take pictures, hike, canoe, kayak, mountain bike, or motorbike.
Above: Driving on the Campbell Highway – click to enlarge
TCM: We have never been to the Yukon or Northwest Territories in a truck camper. Where would you suggest we go?
Eckhart: We did the Campbell Highway (gravel), to the North Klondike Highway (paved) up to Dawson and then the Dempster Highway (gravel) to Inuvik. We then headed back to Dawson and over the Top of the World Highway through the most northern border crossing into Alaska. The Campbell Highway has many campsites on numerous lakes. Faro is also a neat little town along the Campbell Highway with a Par 3 golf course that runs through the town.
The Yukon has territorial campgrounds that are very scenic for ten dollars a night. They provide you with firewood and have excellent lakes for canoeing. Sadly we did not do a lot of canoeing because of the weather. I’d like to go back and explore that region again.
The Dempster Highway is one of our favorite drives. By 2016, you are supposed to be able to drive the Dempster Highway all the way to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean.
Above: Traveling through Newfoundland – click to enlarge
We are also planning to go back to Newfoundland as it is like no other place we have traveled in North America. I would explore any provincial, territorial, state, national forest or national park as they all have something special to see.
Above: Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area – click to enlarge
TCM: You and your son had quite the experience last December at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Eckhart: Yes, we did. My son and I did a trip down to the Oregon dunes just before Christmas last year. He calls the trip, “A great adventure”. We took turns driving, which was nice as I usually do all the driving. On our way to Florence, the road washed out just before the sea caves and we had to drive an extra 400 miles to get around the washout. While riding on the dunes outside Florence, Clayton hit a patch of quicksand and went over the handlebars. He was not hurt, but it did take some time to extract the bike.
On the Coos Bay sand dunes, I blew the rear hub on my motorcycle just as it was becoming dusk. We decided to stick together and take turns riding the other bike out as the sand was too soft to double on. It soon became dark and a sand storm started.
After four hours we made it back to camp. That night neither of us slept that well as we both were thinking how were we getting the other bike out. The next morning the campground host said to drop the camper and air down and we would have no issues getting to the bike.
We dropped the camper and drove to the entrance to the dunes near were we left the bike. We had no issues driving on the sand and getting the bike. Most of the recovery time was spent airing down to 19 psi and back up to 80 psi. This Christmas he is hoping to do the trip again.
Above: The adventure on the dunes and recovery – click to enlarge
At twenty-one and twenty-three, both kids are grown. Lately, it’s just been my wife and I who go truck camping, but I have gone on trips with both my son and daughter. When my daughter turned nineteen we did a whirlwind trip to Idaho together as she only had nine days before she started her first full-time job. We had a great time and it was a good break for us.
My sister also uses our truck and camper. She is into horses, dressage and jumping, so she has borrowed my truck with camper to pull her horse trailer to training camps where she stays for a week or more. She is not into camping, but does find our truck camper comfortable and pulling her trailer is a breeze with the setup.
Above: Widgeon Creek is at the south west end of Pitt Lake, British Columbia. From the parking boat lunch area at Pitt Lake you cross the lake and head up the creek.
TCM: Other than possibly going back to Oregon this Christmas, what are your future truck camping plans?
Eckhart: For Spring break I would like to go back to Utah and meet up with a group of TW200 riders and explore the Moab area. During the summer I would like to take Linda and spend more time exploring Idaho and then canoe the Bowron lakes again. When we retire, I would like to start exploring the southern states, return to Newfoundland, and spend six months exploring Australia via truck camper.
I would also like to downsize our current rig and get a Hallmark Cuchura pop-up truck camper. We have gone down to the factory and have had the tour, now we just need the Canadian dollar to rebound. Our current camper is over 12.5′ high with the canoe on top and restricts how far we can get off the beaten path.
My wife and I have used our truck camper to explore North America and stay with family for extended periods of time. As teachers, the summers are the best time to be on the road. So far, eight weeks has been the longest time we’ve been out and have found truck camps the ideal way to get out there and see the country.
Truck: 2006 Chevrolet Silverado 3500, Crew Cab, Long Bed, Single Rear Wheel, 4×4, Diesel with Edge Evolution tuner
Camper: 2005 Adventurer 90 FWS with many mods including electric Happijacs, side awning, two six volt batteries with auto water system, LED interior light and Fantastic Fan
Tie-Downs and Turnbuckles: Fraserway generic tie-downs and Torklift turnbuckles
Suspension: Timbren SES and KYB Monomax on rear axle
Gear: Front Hitch on truck for bicycle or motorcycle carrier and a roof rack on camper for canoes and kayaks