Mike Church: Author, Adventurer, and Truck Camper
- March 21, 2011
- - By Angela White
Mike and Terri Church have published seven RV travel books including Mexico, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, and Europe. Guess what type of RV they have?
Imagine this; a husband and wife team traveling in a truck camper and writing about their adventures for a living. Now who could possibly pull that off?
Fourteen years ago, Mike and Terri Church set out to travel the United States, Mexico, and Europe. Somewhere along the way, they fell in love with the traveling lifestyle and decided to try to make it a living. Their plans didn’t initially go as they had hoped but, through hard work, determination, and an obvious talent for writing and publishing, Mike and Terri found success.
Today, seven books and many updated editions later, they live full-time in their Adventurer 90FWS spending their winters in Mexico and exploring the continental United States, Canada, and Alaska during the summer. It’s a dream come true. It’s also an incredible amount of effort to research, compile, write, and publish each book. The Church’s certainly earn their wonderful lifestyle and we, as fellow truck campers, benefit tremendously from their accomplishments.
TCM: According to your website, you’ve been camping since the 1990’s. Have you always been traveling in a truck camper?
Mike: Yes, we’ve full-timed since 1992. We started with a thirty-four foot Class A Fleetwood Bounder. Then we traveled in Europe with a Volkswagon camper van. When we came back from Europe, we realized that the Bounder was too big for our needs and we bought a Class B van. It was a Ford F150 van that had been converted by Xplorer for camping use.
We were in the van for four or five years. Meanwhile, in Europe we had a small Class C Mercedes that was a very old converted delivery van. When we came back to the States full-time, we decided to get a twenty-eight foot Bigfoot Class C. We converted the back bedroom area into an office.
Since we average 25,000 miles each year we were wearing the Class C out so fast that we decided to get a pick-up camper for our frequent trips to Alaska and Mexico. We bought an Adventurer 810WS that was one of Fraserway’s rental units. It had been used for three years when we bought it. We had it on same pick-up we have now and used it for five years until we bought our current camper. Incidentally, the Bigfoot hasn’t had much use since we bought the pick-up camper. We just enjoy traveling in the camper more.
TCM: That’s an amazing number of different rigs. What is your current camper?
Mike: We have an Adventurer 90FWS. A couple years ago we were up at the Fraserway Snowbird show in Abbotsford, British Columbia, saw the 90FWS, liked the layout and interior, and bought it. With 160,000 miles on our truck we may change it out within a few years, but the camper will probably be our home for quite a while.
TCM: With all of your different RV experiences, what brings you back to a truck camper?
Mike: We have found our truck campers to be considerably more convenient, economical, versatile, and fun to drive than any of the other RVs we’ve owned. Truck campers also fit our lifestyle. We often stay in a campgrounds for only one night, then move on to the next destination. We seldom stay anywhere for more than two or three days so roadworthiness is a lot more important to us than a lot of interior room.
We spend a lot of time around people in big rigs and they often ask us how we can full-time in such a small camping vehicle. Our theory is that any RV is a compromise. If you’re staying at a place for two or three months you may want a fifth wheel or a big coach, but if you’re on the road you want the smallest possible rig. A truck camper is the best compromise for us.
TCM: Do you have a permanent residence that you return to, or are you full-time truck campers?
Mike: We do have a lot in an RV park in Arizona. We use that for about two weeks in the Spring and two weeks the Fall. While we’re there we move into our Bigfoot motorhome for a couple of weeks. We take the camper off the truck, check things out, pull everything out and only put back what we need, recharge the batteries in the bed, and take care of other necessary maintenance. Then, we’re off on the road again in our truck camper.
In the Winter we usually travel in Mexico. In the Summer, we’re normally in the Northwest or Alaska. Having the place in Arizona lets us carry only the clothes and gear we need, and the rest get’s stored until we need it again.
TCM: That’s interesting. Between the camper and Class C you’re definitely full-timers. Isn’t a truck camper a little tight for living full-time?
Mike: We find our camper to be just right space wise. We have lived in smaller rigs. Truck campers have a surprising amount of space, much more than a Class B van. They have a huge bed, there’s a good place to sit, and a place to cook. We have basically the same appliances in our camper that we do in our Class C motorhome.
TCM: How did your profession of travel writing begin?
Mike: It started a lot the same way yours did. We were accountants and decided to take a year off, so we bought a big RV and hit the road. As you might imagine, we weren’t ready to go back to an office job after a year on the road. We had visited Mexico and wanted to go to Europe.
We spent a year in Europe and that’s when we started to think about writing. There are very few actual RV guide books. There are campground guides, but what we could never find was a guide book, like a Lonely Planet for RVers that included destination information, but also campground descriptions. We decided to write RV guidebooks to good RV destinations, books that described what to do and see, where to stay, and how to really enjoy your visit.
TCM: What was your first book?
Mike: We started the Mexico books first. During the Winters of 1993, 1994, and 1995 we did all the research and then went back to Europe the Spring of 1995. We planned to finish writing the book while we were there. The second week we were in Europe, the Volkswagen was broken into and the Mexico notes were stolen as well as our computers and backups. We had nothing left, so we said, “Let’s start on the Europe book since we’re here for another six months.”
So, technically our Europe book was first. It took several more trips to Europe before it was finished. It went through three editions but is now out of print although later we wrote another Europe book for short camping visits. That one is still in print.
Next was our Mexico book. Since we had lost all of our notes we had to completely re-research that book. The delay was probably a good thing because we’re sure the book turned out better than it would have if we’d written it first.
I was raised in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Homer, so the Alaska book was next. That one was easier for us to write and it’s now one of our most popular books.
Later we did another Mexico book for just the Baja Peninsula, as well as Pacific Northwest and Southwest books. By now we’ve done multiple editions of each of these books. I’ll send you a listing of the books we have in print now. Maybe you can post it with this interview.
TCM: After all of the places you’ve visited, what places do you enjoy visiting again and again in your truck camper?
Mike: Mexico and Alaska are favorites.
Mexico offers amazing variety. Most people who take RVs to Mexico go down the west coast to Mazatlán or Puerto Vallarta where the roads are good, the campgrounds have sites suitable for big rigs, and the weather and beaches are great. But with smaller rigs it’s also easy to visit more remote areas farther south along the coast, not to mention the Colonial interior, the Chiapas jungles and ruins, and the Yucatan. Pick-up campers work really well for those places. Mexico has some great roads, but tolls can be expensive in a bigger rig. In a pick-up camper without dual rear wheels the tolls are the same as a car.
You can travel Alaska in a big rig. The truth is that the Alaska Highway is in great shape and you don’t have to drive on back roads. But with a pickup camper you don’t hesitate to drive those back roads, and you can have a real adventure visiting Prudhoe Bay, Inuvik, or McCarthy and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. It also won’t break your budget to ride the ferry to see Southeast Alaska, Cordova, or Kodiak.
We like all of the places we write about and that’s a good thing since several of our books are in their fourth or even fifth editions. Even after visiting multiple times there’s always lots to do. We like to hike, drive off-road, go birding, kayak, and take photographs. We like the outdoors, so we like places that are fairly remote, but we also like visiting the cities and that’s easy to do with a camper if you have the right information.
TCM: Do you visit every place and campground that you write about in your books?
Mike: We do, but we don’t necessarily spend the night every time we visit. We talk to campground management, look at the facilities, and talk to people staying in them. We do stay in a campground every night and after eighteen years we have stayed in most of the campgrounds at one time or another and we have a very good idea of the advantages and disadvantages of each place.
We also get huge amount of feedback from other RVers. We go to major RV shows each year. We have a booth and do talks about how to travel to the places we write about. We’ll have dozens of people visit the booth talking about places they’ve gone in Mexico, Alaska, the Southwest, and the Northwest.
Our Alaska and Mexico books feature all of the campgrounds in those areas. With our Northwest and Southwest books, it’s different. We look at destinations we feel are most interesting to RVers, and the related campgrounds. That selection process is one of the most important features of the books. It keeps people unfamiliar with an area from wasting valuable time and fuel.
The Southwest is easy with the National Parks, plus the desert boondocking areas and snowbird roosts. The Northwest is harder. For instance, what are the good destinations in Eastern Oregon or in Central British Columbia? There’s great stuff out there that’s not promoted. People who use our books are often visitors from other regions, but many are residents who want to know what else is available near where they live. Our books give locals new ideas for weekends and short trips.
RVers all have different backgrounds and interests. Some are full timers, some are weekenders, and some people have kids and some do not. When writing the books we have our diverse readers in mind, as there are so many different types of RVers.
TCM: You mentioned that you enjoy kayaking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities. How do you find room to carry all the gear you need for those things?
Mike: Well, our truck has a crew cab so the back seat is what our RVing friends call basement storage. In addition, we often flat tow a Jeep Wrangler. The kayaks go on top of that and overnight tenting gear is in the back. The Jeep works great for exploring rugged back-country roads and we enjoy a few weeks of tent camping each year.
TCM: Have you ever had a campground deny you access because you were in a truck camper?
Mike: You bet. It happens. Some of the long term, seasonal places have limits on heights and ages of rigs, or they say no truck campers. Campground managers use restrictions for many reasons. We find it’s pretty easy to find alternatives, and our books help point those out.
TCM: It would be great if you could share the list of campgrounds that don’t allow campers so we can avoid them. Tell us about the process of writing the books. Do you write them on the road? And how long to they take to write?
Mike: The first book for an area is the hardest because you have to figure everything out and you have to visit and see all the sights. It usually takes at least two seasons to research that first book.
The actual writing of the first book generally takes us about four months with the two of us working seven days a week, for long hours. And that’s after most of the actual campground write-ups and maps have been completed while we’re in the campground-visit stage. The second time through is faster. We still need to visit everywhere, but we know where we’re going, and we can keep up with the writing as we go.
Once we have all of our research completed, and most of the writing, we sit in one place for a month and a half to pull it together and get it to the printer. Some of the locations where we’ve done this: are La Paz on the Baja Peninsula; Prince George, British Columbia; Skagway, Alaska; Paris, France, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It takes about 2,000 to 3,000 hours of writing time for each book. Both of us are working, so we split it up. Terri does the maps, the formatting, and design. I do the most of the writing, but not all of it.
TCM: Do you feel like you’re always working because you live and work in your camper and write about travel? How do you separate yourself from your work?
Mike: During a book-writing year we are always working. Every day we drive, visit campgrounds, and write; but we enjoy what we’re doing and it’s okay. We enjoy revisiting places because we’re writing about interesting destinations.
We write books in cycles. For example, we rewrite the Mexico book every four years but we visit every year. This year wasn’t a book writing year so we also studied Spanish and went birding. It’s been a relaxing year. Even so, we visited all of the most-visited campgrounds in Mexico and posted update information for our books on our website – www.rollinghomes.com. After this winter we go back to work full-time on several other books.
TCM: How do you decide when to refresh a book?
Mike: Over time we have learned what the optimum life cycle is for each of our books. It depends upon how much things change and economical sizes for print runs.
TCM: How do you sell your books? Do you ship them out yourselves?
Mike: For a few years we tried to sell the books ourselves but we decided that our time was better spent researching and writing. Standing in line at the post office wasn’t very productive.
We have a distributor in Chicago, so our books are on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble and Borders stores. The distributor takes care of inventory, selling the books, and sending them out. We do sell our books at RV shows, which we do about four or five times a year.
TCM: What shows do you attend? It would be fun to see your presentations.
Mike: We always go to the Good Sam show that’s called, “The Rally”. The Escapees used to have two big rallies, but now they just do one a year and we’re always there. Up in the Vancouver, British Columbia area, Fraserway has a Fall Snowbird show every year. They put us on a stage and we talk several times a day about traveling in the Southwest or Mexico. We also do some of the FMCA shows.
TCM: Do you have any suggestions for a truck camper owner who is inspired by your work and wants to document their travels?
Mike: The biggest change in the RV lifestyle while we’ve been RVing is electronics and communications. You can now take hundreds of pictures, store them all, and have them with you all of the time. Computers let you keep a journal and organize your data. Everybody now seems to have a blog and that lets you share information with other people. Blogs are a great way to show friends where you are and what you’ve seen. Keeping a blog also helps you remember your trips.
TCM: Being on the road, do you miss having a regular house and seeing family and friends all the time?
Mike: In Mexico, there is a community of people we see year after year. In the United States, our community is the Escapees group. You meet friends on the road all the time. We have never felt the desire to have a fixed residence. Everywhere we go we know someone. The lifestyle is a lot of fun and rewarding.
We don’t want to ever give it up. We’ll be doing this for the next fifteen years, health permitting. We think about that, and we watch our health. We run and we’re in good shape. We do our medical stuff in Mexico where it’s affordable. It’s important for us to continue to get around and work hard. It’s hard for us to imagine retiring and doing nothing.
TCM: Is there anything we didn’t ask about that you would like included with your interview?
Mike: After all of the different types of RVs we’ve had, an important reason we decided on a truck camper was the cost. We really feel the pick-up camper allows us to keep costs down. We drive a lot of miles, and we think being able to separate the truck and camper allows us to keep our costs down.
If the truck gets too many miles, it can be replaced. We can also upgrade campers and not change our pick-up. If you’ve ever had a big RV, you know that maintenance can be difficult, and pick-ups are easy.
You want to keep life as simple as you can. Complicated large RVs can require a lot of maintenance and repairs. With our two truck campers we’ve never had a serious maintenance item. That’s keeping life simple.
We really like the truck camping lifestyle. And we like to let other people know about it. This interview is a good way to do that.
TCM: Thanks Mike. You’re truly living the dream. Please keep in touch and let us know when you update your books or publish new ones.
Mike: I will. It’s been great talking with you. I’m sure we’ll meet you along the road somewhere soon.
To check out Mike and Terri Church's books, visit their website at www.rollinghomes.com.
|MIKE AND TERRI CHURCH'S TRUCK CAMPER RIG|
|Truck: 2004 Chevrolet 2500 HD, crew cab, single rear wheel, long bed, 4x2, diesel|
|Camper: 2009 Adventurer 90FWS|
|Tie-downs and Turnbuckles: Happijacs, Fraserway system of chains and turnbuckles|
Suspension Enhancements: N/A
|Gear: Upgraded tires|