With his Ford F150 EcoBoost and Four Wheel Camper Keystone pop-up camper, Mark explores nature from coast-to-coast, working from the road as he travels.
For better or for worse, the internet has been mainstream in our culture for about fifteen years. Today it is commonplace to find people who work all day long on computers via the world wide web. Some of these “digital” workers are lucky enough to work from home leaving the rigors of daily commuting and mind-numbing office politics behind. Add to this new reality the emergence of wireless internet and widespread 3G and 4G cellular internet availability, and the idea of fixed office seems so 20th century.
So if you can work from anywhere, why not work from anywhere?
Meet Mark Marano, digital worker. His latest gadget isn’t a smartphone, a fancy tablet, or the latest app. It’s a truck camper.
Above: Oregon near Cape Kiwanda State Park
TCM: How did you get into truck camping?
Mark: Before I started looking at RVs, I had taken about ten tenting trips. During those experiences, I began thinking it would be nice to have an RV that would always be set up and ready to go.
Deciding what I wanted was a long process. When I was first looking, I had very little money saved and was hoping to find something used. I even considered buying a van and converting it into an RV. Whatever I got, it needed to be usable as a daily driver, fit into normal parking spaces, and yet offer all the usual RV amenities including a toilet and sink.
During my research, I came across Class A and Class B motorhomes that featured the Sprinter chassis, but they were very expensive. Eventually, I started looking at trucks, an idea that I liked. I had never owned a truck before, or any four-wheel drive vehicle for that matter, but I was excited about the possibility of going off-road.
At the Tampa RV Show in 2010, I met Gordon and explored the Lance Campers on display. After our conversation, I started reading Truck Camper Magazine and got a good feel for the truck camping lifestyle and the different types of campers available. Before that, I didn’t even know pop-up truck campers existed.
Over the following year, I continued my research and looked at more options. Eventually, I narrowed my choice down to a Four Wheel Camper. Specifically, a Four Wheel Camper Keystone and Ford F150 EcoBoost rig met all my criteria; excellent daily driver, all of the RV amenities needed, and off-road performance.
When I sat in a Four Wheel Camper Keystone at Xtreme Campers in North Carolina, it felt right. It was spacious and I could see myself camping in it. That was it.
Above: Dunedin Causeway, Florida
TCM: How did you decide on the Ford F150 EcoBoost?
Mark: I wanted a new truck. I didn’t want to worry about the condition of a used truck. I was up in Illinois at the time and didn’t know how well-used trucks would have been treated by their previous owners, especially in the long winters and around a very busy major city. The Ford F150 EcoBoost offered me the long bed, fuel economy, features, and payload I was looking for. I also like driving the Ford F150 EcoBoost as a daily driver. It rides much more smoothly, like a car, than other trucks I’ve driven or ridden in.
Above: A road near Sebring, Florida (had to dig out the front tires, the sand was still wet and deep from raining the night before)
The Ford F150 EcoBoost and Four Wheel Camper Keystone rig handles really well. I drove the truck for about 1,750 miles before loading the camper. As of now, there are over 27,000 miles on the truck. It’s a wonderful combination and the truck has plenty of power for going uphill on steep grades. It also performs well off-road including rocky roads, but I don’t have much to compare this to. It’s my first truck camper rig.
Above: Click picture to enlarge
TCM: Have you made any modifications to your truck or camper?
Mark: I removed the back seats in the truck. That wasn’t difficult once I found where the hidden latch was holding them in. With the back seats removed, I built a custom bracket mount to hold a folding bike. Next to the bracket mount, I built a flat platform to hold my suitcases and gear.
In the camper, I had Mike at Xtreme Campers remove the cassette toilet and install a dry marine-grade compost toilet from Nature’s Head. A compost toilet uses no water and lasts longer than a cassette toilet. It also separates the liquids from the solids. You periodically dump the liquid and peat moss decomposes the solids. There’s a built-in fan and a vent to vent odors to the outside. I have actually gone two to three weeks full-time before dumping the compost toilet solids.
When ordering the camper, I had Mike order a custom hatch for my Four Wheel Camper for my time-lapse photography.
He fabricated custom tripod mounts for the roof so I can mount my camera and leave it running for a long time-lapse photography shot overnight or while driving.
I’ve also carefully placed a tripod directly on the roof or solar panels. Even with twenty and thirty mile per hour wind gusts, the tripod didn’t blow over. I did that a few times in the national parks and forests where there were good landscapes and stars filled the sky.
Most of the stuff I have on my Keystone were factory options, like solar and a twelve-volt compressor-style refrigerator that’s better for efficiency. Four Wheel Campers put in the wiring for the solar panels and Mike mounted high power solar panels. I also had him add a sine wave power inverter so I can have 120-volt power for my electronics. Finally, Mike ran plumbing to go out to under the bumper from the sink that normally goes out to a hole that pours off the side of the camper.
Above: Schnebly Hill Rd, Sedona, Arizona
TCM: Have you been happy with the fuel economy of the F150 EcoBoost?
Mark: I was hoping for better than 20 miles per gallon with the camper loaded, but I haven’t quite hit that mark. Since I’ve had the camper on the truck, the overall average has been right around 17 miles per gallon in all conditions and terrain. Without a headwind, the rig can reach into the twenties on flat terrain if I stay under 55 miles per hour.
Above: Mark’s trip out is with the orange stars and his trip back is the red line.
TCM: Tell us about your first long-distance trip.
Mark: My first long-distance trip with the truck camper was just over ten weeks. After the summer of 2012, I left Chicago and drove West.
Before setting out, I purchased a campground package so I knew ahead of time many of the places I was going to camp. I used the campgrounds as stopping points and to refill with water and do laundry. In the end, I stayed in campgrounds twenty-six nights of the trip. The rest of the time I was exploring national parks and the coast.
I made a map showing my journey. The stars mark my route west and the first year of having the truck camper. I spent a lot of time exploring Washington and Oregon before reaching California five weeks after leaving Chicago. I love nature and nature photography so the national parks and national forests were a top priority. I also visited friends along the way.
TCM: What were your favorite places on your trip?
Mark: My favorite places were Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Redwoods National Park, and Sequoia National Park. The unique rock formations and colors in Grand Canyon and Bryce were amazing. The Redwoods are stunning and dwarfed my truck in the photos. The Pacific coast was also breathtaking.
I just love waking up with nature. I camped on the side of the road in quiet places. I slept under the stars. My truck camper rig gives me the freedom to be out there for extended periods of time. It’s my mini-home on wheels. I can stay almost anywhere I want without limitations.
Above: Morrow Mountain State Park, Albemarle, North Carolina
TCM: Did you ever have trouble finding places to camp for the night?
Mark: Sometimes. I didn’t do much planning except for when booking a campground earlier that day or the day before, so usually had to go looking for places while on the road. I’d like to stay exploring and enjoying the beautiful light of sunset though finding discrete spots to camp while driving through unfamiliar places in the dark wasn’t exactly the easiest. I had little to no wireless signal in a lot of places which meant I had no map data or GPS on my phone. Early on I had a bit of anxiety in finding places where I felt safe to camp though after going night after night undisturbed I became more comfortable. Most of the time, I would stay far away from cities and towns, preferably in a very natural place.
Above: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
I’d usually try to find a spot to stop just before dark, though that didn’t exactly happen in Yellowstone National Park. I was exploring Yellowstone all day and finally made it to the last major spot I wanted to see just after it got dark, Old Faithful. I must have just missed it as I waited over an hour for it to go off. It was freezing cold outside. In fact it was the coldest night I had yet experienced on the trip. I really didn’t feel like driving and trying to find a spot to sleep for the night. So I just camped in the parking lot space that I left my truck at while waiting for the geyser; something you’re not supposed to do there. To keep things low profile, I slept on the roll over couch and didn’t pop-up the roof. I had also seen buffalo walking around one of the adjoining lots so keeping the camper top down was the wise choice.
That night I had only one blanket with me because my bedding was under the roof on the overcab bed. I should have popped up the roof and retrieved more blankets, but I didn’t think I’d need them with the heater on. About an hour or two before dawn, the propane ran out and the heater kept clicking every so often and blowing cold air while trying to ignite. It was the first time the propane tank ran out since I got the camper. I’ll never forget how cold that was. I was shivering while trying to fall back asleep until daybreak. Overnight and during early morning, it was in the low twenties. I worried a little about it being too cold, thinking that it’d freeze the plumbing in the camper, so started driving and headed to lower elevation as soon as it got light out. Although I didn’t always find a place to camp before dark, especially with the days getting shorter in the autumn months, I tried to whenever possible.
TCM: How did you manage to work while traveling?
Mark: As long as I have a mobile phone signal, I can get internet and work on the road. I worked on my website and web application development during the trip. My photography is mostly for fun, though I have exhibited my work and sold it in galleries.
Above: First night camping in High Point, North Carolina
TCM: What are your truck camping plans for 2013?
Mark: I’m going on some small trips in Florida including Everglades National Park and maybe the Keys. When it’s warmer I will drive up to Maine. I also want to explore Kentucky and Tennessee on the way back. I missed those two states on my way to Chicago last year. After this trip, I will have visited every state in the United States except for Hawaii and Alaska with my truck camper.
I love the ability my truck camper gives me to reach remote areas and explore the beauty of nature. Not enough people get out there and see what the world was like before man built roads and cities. It’s really a beautiful and inspirational experience to see what the natural world is like, and also to realize how much man has done to alter it.
Above: Crossing Teton Pass, 10% grade at nearly 1.6-mile elevation, Teton National Forest
It’s all about freedom. You can see these amazing places in pictures, but you don’t really know what they’re like until you’re actually there and can spend time exploring them. If you have a truck camper, you can find a place on a map, and go see it. You have all the basics with you to live pretty comfortably while on or off the road. All you need on your journey is gas, water, and food.
While full-timing for over 13,000 miles in ten weeks would have been a little more comfortable with a larger shower, it was well worth the experience and I’m excited to get back on the road again later this year. Even though I went to every state west of the Mississippi on my last trip, there are so many places I still want to check out on a future trip out west. Next time, I’ll probably go when it’s warmer out and the days are longer.
Above: Tahoe National Forest
I’d like to encourage as many people as possible who are thinking about exploring the country to really listen to their heart’s desire to travel and to get on the road sooner than later. There are so many different ways to make your dreams of traveling real, and there is so much to see and do. If you desire it enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. I spent way too much time researching and analyzing all the possibilities, but you don’t need to. Go with what feels right to you and you’ll enjoy the experience. You can always make modifications to what you get or upgrade later. The most important part is getting out there on the road. Journeying across the country can be quite a life-changing experience.
Part of why I went on such a long journey, with no set intention of returning on or by a specific date, or at all, was to see if it could be done and what it would be like to live life on the road, making the land my home. Although I created some minor challenges for myself in the beginning, those were easily overcome with time, patience, and experience. Full-timing in a truck camper is absolutely possible and can be a blast. I feel a truck camper is one of the best ways to explore the national parks, forests, and seashores. After a camera, it’s a landscape photographer’s best tool.
Above: South Dakota (near Fort Pierre National Grassland)
In the past, I used to imagine how amazing it would be to stay in some of the beautiful spots I’ve found throughout the country. With a truck camper, it’s possible to stay pretty much anywhere you desire, and quite comfortably. It opens up your world to so many new places that you may have never known existed.
Get out there and explore, enjoy the adventure, and follow your dreams!
Mark Marano’s Rig
Truck: 2011 Ford F-150 XLT Ecoboost, long bed, super cab, 4×4, single rear wheel, heavy-duty package
Camper: 2011 Four Wheel Keystone
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: bolted straight to the bed
Gear: Bike rack in the beginning (took off because I was not fitting in parking spots), now have hitch extension with step from Harbor Freight Tools (rear parking sensors still work)