After surviving the loss of his wife of fifty-three years, Dan McKinnon picked himself up, bought a pop-up truck camper, and set out across the country. The road magic followed.
Dan McKinnon has one of the best truck camping road magic stories we’ve ever heard, and that’s just the Spokane part of his cross country trip. Chances are if Dan hadn’t left Florida in his truck camper, some wonderful and important things would never have happened. Can life change just by stepping into your truck and hitting the road in a truck camper? As you’re about to read, it sure can.
TCM: After being in a travel trailer, why did you choose a pop-up truck camper?
Dan: My wife and I started with a travel trailer in 2003 and put about 20,000 miles on it. My wife passed away in February of 2011. I later sold the trailer because I didn’t want to pull it by myself. Eventually the travel bug got back in me, so I started researching what could I do by myself. A truck camper suited that idea.
I like the fuel savings a pop-up truck camper can offer. Without the camper loaded, my Chevy 2500 gets about fourteen to fifteen miles per gallon. On my 11,000 mile cross-country trip, with the Palomino loaded, I averaged 12.2 miles per gallon. I think that’s decent, especially when I compare that with the eight to nine miles per gallon I averaged with the travel trailer.
The rig is much more aerodynamic with the pop-up truck camper. Being seventy-six years old, with no marriage plans after fifty-three years of being married already, the pop-up truck camper is great for just me. There’s plenty of room.
TCM: You talked about making a truck camper packing list when you emailed us a few months ago. Where did that list come from and how did it work out?
Dan: The truck camper packing list is a variation of the packing list we used for the travel trailer. I still packed too much. There’s a great storage space under the bed and I filled it up with clothes. After eleven weeks there were still clothes that I packed but hadn’t worn. If I do a long trip again, I will certainly take less clothing. I forgot what cold weather was like, so I did end up having to purchase some warmer things with the highlight being an electric blanket.
I am more limited in space with the pop-up truck camper, but I can pull into any store parking lot and get what I need. With the travel trailer, there was always a question about where I could pull in to get gas, or which grocery story I could go to. And I always had to park far out in the lot. Those problems are history now that I have a pop-up truck camper. I love it.
TCM: I saw the picture of your RoadID bracelet. Tell us about RoadID.
Dan: RoadID was advertising when I was watching the Tour de France and the other bicycle road races in Europe. My son, Lance, said, “You need ID if you’re traveling by yourself”. The RoadID bracelet I have has my name, my son’s name and a phone number. It also has a 800 phone number and a serial number and an ID number, which allows one to enter their website.
I entered my medical history into the RoadID website including the medications I’m on. If something were to happen to me, the hospitals would know about my medical history through RoadID. You cut it to fit the diameter of your wrist, and it snaps on and off.
It’s definitely good for people traveling by themselves. If I was in an accident, or go hiking and fall and get knocked out, no one is going to know who I am. It’s very beneficial for safety.
Above: Dan starting his journey out west; day two of his ten week adventure
Above: Avenue of the Giants, Redwood National Park, California
TCM: Tell us about your recent cross country trip.
Dan: The trip was great! I went 11,250 miles in ten weeks. I originally planned to spend more time in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, but it was too hot in the desert states so I did a rocket run to get to California.
Then I went to the Pacific Northwest and into Canada. When I returned to the states, I traveled through northern Montana, North Dakota, and Wisconsin before returning to Canada north of Lake Superior. Then I went into New York and over to New Hampshire.
Above: Staying in his son’s driveway is a huge advantage of having a truck camper
My other son lives in New Hampshire, so I stopped to see him and his family and the leaves were starting to change. Driving south, I went to Washington DC to see some old friends.
Above: The Blue Ridge Parkway
Then I came down the Blue Ridge Parkway where I met a couple from Quebec in a small RV. We kept running into each other for like three to four campgrounds, so we got to know each other. You meet some neat people while you’re traveling.
Above: Family and friends Dan met along the way
TCM: You sure do. What was the main focus of your trip?
Dan: I had a two focuses; traveling, and visiting with family and friends. My wife’s uncle lives in Los Angeles and just turned ninety years old. I spent time with him, his two sons, and their families. He is in fairly decent health, but he lives on the West Coast, so I wanted to see him.
I used to live in the San Francisco area. My younger son was twelve or thirteen when we left. He actually decided to fly out from Orlando during my trip and meet me. We went around San Francisco, down to Santa Cruz, and then back to Pleasanton where we used to live. We saw old friends there. Then it was a slow creep up the coast to Spokane, Washington.
Above: Dan’s high school buddies in Washington
TCM: What brought you go to Spokane?
Dan: It’s where I grew up. Many years ago I tried to contact a high school buddy. We were super, super close. I moved to Los Angeles to go to college, and I didn’t know where he went.
On classmates.com I corresponded with a gal I graduated with and she said Walt never went to the reunions. She said there was a name like his in the phone book so I blindly called the number and left a message, “Are you the Walt Jones who went to North Central High School?” He called back and it was him, so we started emailing back and forth.
We hadn’t seen each other in fifty-eight years. We found out Kathy, his old girlfriend from high school, was back in town. After about two days of begging, I got him to call her. The three of us met at Starbucks one morning. After that they started dating and now they are going to get married. It was all because we got together. Hilarious! His wife died of ovarian cancer like mine did. He seemed kind of lost and now he is going to get married.
TCM: That’s possibly the best road magic story we’ve ever heard! Clearly your trip was meant to be. Were there any challenges along the way?
Dan: Sometimes it got lonely out there. I missed my co-pilot, my wife but I knew she was with me in spirit. I would talk to my GPS when I saw something beautiful. It would have been nice to have someone traveling with me.
I initially thought it was going to be a challenge to crank up the pop-up roof, but that became easy after a few days. With the top down on my Palomino, I can’t open the back door. But I learned that I could raise the roof a few inches and get in enough to fix a sandwich or other things for lunch. On the California coast, I would sit in my chair at a vista point, eat lunch, and read a book and at times, even a short nap.
Above: Camping with his son, Lance, during his short stay in San Francisco
TCM: You said that your son flew out from Orlando, Florida to meet you in San Francisco. What did he think of the truck camper?
Dan: He loved it. He flew out on a Wednesday and flew back on a Sunday. He has miles on his credit card from being in real estate. I wish he could have stayed longer. We had a great time and he got to see some of his old friends and his old soccer coach.
Above: Camping on the Oregon Coast
TCM: After your trip, are there any places you would recommend to other truck campers?
Dan: I would recommend the California and Oregon coasts. I also loved the Banff in Alberta, Canada. It started snowing while I was there.
I went to where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean and then up in Canada on the west side of the continental divide where the Columbia River is born. I went from one end of the river to the other.
I lived in San Francisco for ten years and love the coast of California, but I honestly think the Oregon coast was prettier. The only negative part of the US 1 Coast Highway is that there are lots of bicycle riders in the summer and road is narrow. Sometimes it’s also hilly and windy, so one has to be careful.
Above: Jenner Beach, California
TCM: California can be an expensive place to camp. It sounds like you found some good boondocking sites, especially on the coast.
Dan: On the whole trip, I never called ahead for campground reservations like we needed to with the travel trailer. I just pulled into a campground and asked for a camping spot, and since the camper doesn’t take up much space, I sometimes got a special price. I only hit one state park in northern California that was full.
There was a great boondocking spot north of San Francisco at Jenner Beach. The rest area had a boat ramp and visitor center with ten parking places. I parked there for the night, and never had an issue.
Above: Vista Point boondocking spot, San Francisco, California
When you’re going south to north on the Golden Gate Bridge, as soon as you go over the bridge, there’s an exit that says, “Vista Point”. The vista point has a lot of parking and you can stay for eight hours. At night, it’s gorgeous. You can look across the bay to San Francisco with the lights and the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s where my son and I camped.
There’s a website I use, freecampsites.net, where you can put in the name of a city and it will tell you the free campsites in the area. They listed the vista point. It costs a little bit to join the website, but it’s well worth it. If you submit an update or new campsite they add a month onto your membership. I used that site and also stayed in Walmart and Target parking lots. I also found some Federal campgrounds and roadside areas where I could spend the night.
Above: Springfest Music Festival
TCM: That’s a good deal, especially if the information is accurate. You go to music festivals every October and March with your truck camper. Tell us about them.
Dan: I started going to music festivals by myself in 1999 and tent camped on the ground. I decided I was too old for that.
Once we got the travel trailer, I started camping at the same music festivals every year and met more people. There is a group of us, along with my son and I, who all camp together. There are three or four stages and you can’t see and hear everything, so we all pick and choose things we want to go to. Everyone is on their own, but we’re there together and share food and have campfires together. It starts Thursday afternoon and ends Sunday night.
Tonight I’m actually going to a benefit concert in Tampa. I called and asked if I could spend the night in their parking lot with my truck camper after the concert ends and they said yes. My truck camper is great for short trips.
My son in Orlando has a couple parties every year with a band and lots of friends. I stay in the camper and go to bed when I want to. I don’t have to worry about anyone else. I read in Truck Camper Magazine that you can go visit people in a truck camper and not put people out, so I can spend the night with my own bed, toilet, stove, and refrigerator.
I can pack up my truck camper within a few hours and be off somewhere. If I ever have to evacuate from a hurricane, my truck camper is ready to go. The travel trailer was always in storage, but my truck camper is in the driveway all the time. I have a beat up Toyota that I drive everywhere, so my truck camper can stay on the truck.
TCM: What’s your next planned truck camping adventure?
Dan: I want to go into Utah and Wyoming next summer. I would also like to get back to Maine and Nova Scotia again. I’m trying to trace my dad’s side of the family, and I think they’re from there. I love that area.
|DAN MCKINNON’S TRUCK CAMPER RIG|
|Truck: 2004 Chevy Silverado 2500HD, extended cab, single rear wheel, short bed, 4×2, gas|
|Camper:2011 Palomino Bronco 1251|
|Tie-downs and Turnbuckles: Generic brand|
|Suspension Enhancements: N/A|
|Gear: Took back seat out, and put in second battery|