Dean, Kim, J.C., Hunter, and Madelyn Geisenhaver climbed aboard their Lance 1030 for a cross-country family trip through the West none of them will ever forget.
We met the Geisenhaver family at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Truck Camper Rally this past April. When Dean and Kim Geisenhaver told us about taking their three children on a four week cross-country trip in a Lance 1030, Angela and I had the same reaction, “Wow”! Our second reaction was also the same; we had to get their story in Truck Camper Magazine.
Above: Madelyn, Dean, Kim, J.C., and Hunter Geisenhaver
TCM: How did your family get into truck camping?
Dean: My grandfather had a truck camper and a 1968 Chevy camper special truck. I have wonderful memories of hunting, camping, and riding in the cabover.
Kim and I went tent camping before we had kids. Then we moved to a pop-up trailer. We really enjoyed the trailer, but we needed something that would work at a snowcross track, and also let us pull a snowmobile trailer. That’s when we started looking at truck campers.
We eventually bought a 2001 Lance 820, a small hard-side truck camper that we found used. The Lance worked for us. We liked camping in the winter, and the Lance had heat and heated holding tanks. We also took trips in the summer, on the weekends, and for vacations.
When we got pregnant with our third child, we knew we couldn’t have five people in an eight foot Lance, so we sold it. We were without a camper for a year.
Then we actually bought a thirty-one foot travel trailer with a bunkhouse, figuring that’s what we had to do. We had that trailer for two years and enjoyed it for summer vacations, but that’s all we could use it for. That bothered us.
Above: Winter Camping in Michigan
That’s when we sold the trailer and found the Lance 1030, in March of 2009.
Kim: We couldn’t use the travel trailer like we use the truck camper. It was a pain in the neck to take the big trailer somewhere. You didn’t want to just take it out for the weekend like we do with our truck camper.
Above: The Geisenhavers with their Lance 1030 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
TCM: When did you decide to take your family on a long distance truck camping trip?
Dean: A big trip was always in the plans. That was the main reason for the truck camper. To make sure the truck camper would work for the five of us on a long trip, we started taking weekend trips. Then we took a twelve day trip to the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That’s when we knew the 1030 would work well for us on a cross-country trip.
Kim: We typically camp in forest areas. The camper is fully self contained, and that’s good for the Upper Peninsula. There are lots of state and national forest areas up there and there aren’t many camping amenities.
TCM: How did you plan for the cross-country trip?
Dean: I started with a map of the USA with the national parks on it. We started drawing a line from Michigan with a southern route, then to Colorado, the Rocky Mountains, and the Grand Canyon. The only reservations we had were for the campground at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Then, we wanted to head west, then south and then back around.
We had dots on the map for each place we wanted to go and figured we’d spend a couple days in each place. We winged it from there. I had never traveled west, so this was exciting. This was the first time for everyone.
Kim: The kids were at the right age to remember and enjoy the trip. We started saving and put money in a special savings account. It was mainly tax return money. Dean’s boss okayed the time off and then we started setting plans in stone. Dean worked a year and a half straight for the time off work.
We started our budget figuring diesel might be at five dollars a gallon and we would drive so many miles. From there we came up with a number for what we would spend in fuel. We would stay places for cheap and cook in the camper. Really, we did a lot of the same things we do for our home budget.
Dean: I didn’t want to cut it short, so I planned for four weeks off work. I have been in construction my whole life and never had paid vacation time until I went to work at Michigan State University. I just saved my vacation time until I had enough for four weeks off.
My colleagues were as excited as I was and offered to help take my calls while I was gone. I put a slide show of photos together for my co-workers when I got back. For the first week and a half to two weeks, I’d get up and answer emails and make phone calls. By the time a week and a half went by, my co-workers were handing things, and I was stress free. That hasn’t happened in years.
TCM: After you had your route planned, how did you schedule your trip so you would be able to return inside of four weeks.
Dean: With our only reservations being the Grand Canyon, we figured how much time it would take us to get there from Michigan. We spent eight to ten hours a day on the road. The kids got along great. While we were driving, they would sleep, read, play games, and sing. Every time we stopped was a new adventure and had something new to see. Everyone was excited because of the the anticipation of it all.
TCM: How did you count states on your camper map?
JC: Our rule was if we wanted to count the state, we had to sleep in it. On our trip there were eleven states that we slept in. We spent twenty-six days on the road.
Kim: We keep a camper log book. We traveled 6,959.4 miles. We took photographs of the odometer before we left and then again when we got back. In our camper log book we write who was with us, what we did, and what the weather was like. It brings the memories back. Otherwise you forget some of the trips and stops.
Dean: I’ll also add modifications I do to the camper in the camper log book.
TCM: Five people in a non-slide camper is truly amazing. How did that work out?
Dean: I thought it would be tight and that we would have issues, but that never happened. The 1030 has the bunk over the dinette. Hunter, our middle son, would sleep on the bunk. JC and Madelyn slept in the dinette converted into the bottom bunk bed. Hunter and Madelyn even slept up on the bunk one night.
By the time we left for the cross-country trip, camping in the Lance 1030 was routine for us as we had camped at the Upper Peninsula or at our house. We all knew how to set things up and tear things down. We all knew how it would work for eating, and the way the table was configured in the 1030 so that all five of us could get around it.
The boys have gotten big so we were shoulder to shoulder during the trip. We are lucky that everyone gets along.
TCM: How did you fit the clothes and supplies for five people?
Kim: On either side of the bed are two cabinets at the head of the bed. Dean and I each had one side. Dean also put in shelves above the windows on either side of the bed. We had sweatshirts for everyone up there.
The kids’ clothes went in stacking bins in the wardrobe closet. We had a hanging shoe organizer that hung on the clothes rod, and could go in vertical.
Each of our kids had two cubbies with socks, underwear, and toiletries. For jackets, I put command hooks inside the cabinet doors. We also had extra food on the shelf next to the refrigerator. We made good use of the Lance’s slide-out pantry. We used the television cabinet above the sink for storage. Dean mounted a flat panel television where one of the cabinet doors was before.
We also had the rule that, unless clothes were dirty, you wear them twice, especially shorts. We had a flexible hamper that sat in the shower with a mesh bag in it. We’d fill one to capacity, close it, and put it up on top the camper’s roof rack in a waterproof storage bag. Then we would fill the next one. Our clean clothes lasted about ten days. Then we would stop and do laundry.
Dean: We planned for a thirty day trip and figured we would stop and do laundry twice during the trip. We had clothing for ten days and then everything was fresh again. We would set up at laundry mat and the kids would watch a movie. We would make dinner, and hang out for a little bit. I think about the mechanical stuff and Kim thinks more about the organizational stuff.
Kim: Before the trip, I precooked food and froze it because I knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time for cooking. We would pack crumbled beef and add sloppy joe mix or taco mix. Stuff like that worked really well. We figured meals would need to be quick and easy to make.
Dean: That worked for first two weeks and then we’d go to the store and get stuff for four to five days. We went to a nice restaurant three or four times.
Kim: We went to iHop for Madelyn’s birthday breakfast. We punched in iHop on the iPad and we were within a few miles of an iHop. Then we went into Yellowstone National Park.
Dean: For Kim’s birthday, we picked a nice authentic Mexican restaurant.
The biggest dinner out for the whole trip was in San Francisco. We were staying at Half Moon Bay and our nephew, who lives out there, took us into San Francisco for the evening.
Kim: Hunter saw this place called Pier 23 on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”. It’s known for crab. Hunter wanted to go there if he went to San Francisco. It was an adventure.
Dean: I slid the bill over to the boys and told them it was their allowance for next three months.
TCM: How about having enough fresh water, holding tanks, and battery life? Did any of that come into play with all of you using the camper at once?
Dean: It does become an issue when we boondock for extended period of time in one area, but it wasn’t an issue on our cross-country trip.
Out west it is much more RV friendly. There are dump stations at rest stations. In Iowa we found free dump stations in towns. Every third day we could find a place easily. We have to watch our propane levels more carefully in the winter for our generator and heat, but the two tanks in the 1030 did well on the cross-country trip.
Kim: In the Upper Peninsula, when we’re closer to home, we use a shower enclosure that Dean made. It’s for an outside shower. We have a deck that folds up that we can put on the ground. Instead of the grey water tank filling, we shower outside. We also use foaming soap so we don’t need as much water to rinse when we wash our hands. There are also state parks nearby and we use their dump stations.
TCM: After your long trip, how do you feel about truck camping?
JC: I just like going everywhere and being able to the travel all over the place.
Hunter: It’s all about being able to go anywhere you want. We can stay in a parking lot, or anywhere. We don’t have to worry about having a big space.
Madelyn: I just like seeing things like the Grand Canyon, and the the mountains. We went hiking and we saw a bear in Kings Canyon.
TCM: What were some of your favorite places on your long trip?
JC: My favorite has to be Sequoia because of the huge trees. We even bought a Sequoia in a bottle, but we couldn’t get it to stay alive when we got it back home.
Above: Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota
Hunter: All of the places were all great. I liked the national parks, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. I liked it all. It was all too amazing to chose one.
Above: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Madelyn: I liked Yellowstone and Old Faithful.
Kim: The north rim of the Grand Canyon was a highlight for me. I enjoyed hiking along the rim and going out on the point with the kids.
Above: The Geisenhavers in Rocky Mountain National Park
Dean: Sequoia and Kings Canyon were absolutely majestic. It just seemed that we were on our own most of the time. It was great seeing the bear real close in Kings Canyon. I loved being close to the river and hearing that all night. In Rocky Mountain National Park, we saw the snow and elk in the summer. It’s hard to pick one favorite place or experience.
In California, we went on a train ride and then panned for gold. The guy was about to leave, but he stayed and did a private thing for the kids after hours. For ten dollars, he showed them how to pan for gold and they got five to six dollars of gold.
Half Moon Bay was also neat. We stayed a few nights. It was a parking lot on the Pacific Ocean and $70 a night. Are you kidding me? We had the best time. There was another Lance truck camper in front of us, and we hung out with them. They had a nice campfire. There was a jetty and the kids tried to catch crabs. I’ll probably never get back there again. Really, for that experience, it was a bargain.
TCM: I also see that you went to the Lance factory in Lancaster, California. Did you go on a tour?
Dean: We were passing through that area so I emailed Lance. It was neat and we got a tour of the parts and repair shop. They only do factory tours on certain days so you need to contact them ahead. I got some neat pictures of our rig next to the Lance sign.
Above: Geisenhavers at Kings Canyon, Madelyn and Hunter at the Grand Canyon, and the family at Devils Tower
TCM: Were there any places you didn’t get to go to on your trip?
Madelyn: I want to go back to the Grand Canyon and go into the Grand Canyon.
JC: Any national park we didn’t stop at, I’d like to visit.
Dean: I’d like to go back to Grand Canyon, Arches, and Zion.
Craters of the Moon surprised us. We were awe struck. You don’t see a lot of rock and lava around here.
TCM: What advice you would give to other people who are traveling as families in a truck camper?
Kim: Originally, we were looking at motorhomes, but then started looking at the cost of motorhome. We would have to register another vehicle, have another license plate, maintain another engine, and own another set of wheels. It was much cheaper and easier to go with a truck camper and put it on the back of the truck that we already had.
We thought about our camping lifestyle and realized we are outside most of the time. We are mainly in the camper to sleep, so we don’t need that much room.
Our truck camper is more versatile than a motorhome or trailer. Wherever we can take the truck, we can go in our truck camper. You can’t do that with a travel trailer. We’ve been to parades, and the ballpark. When we had the travel trailer, we really couldn’t wait to get back to the truck camper. Our truck camper can just do so much more for us.
Dean: During the five months between our two campers I felt lost because the camper wasn’t there. We couldn’t jump in and go.
Camping is my escape from work and everything else. We have three kids and we do very well in our truck camper because they’ve been raised to take care of each other and respect each other’s space.
I was sweating the price of diesel, but realized that five years down the road we’ll never remember the price we paid. It will be the memories we had with our family. Our trip was only a year ago and I can’t tell you how much we spent on fuel, but I can tell you where we were and what we saw.
TCM: Since your big trip, you upgraded your truck camper to a Lance 1131. Did you even consider changing to another, possibly much larger, RV type?
Kim: We like the versatility of a truck camper. We take it to ball games, parades, go to the park for the day, have our own rest room, and don’t have to use porta-johns. Wherever we can park our truck, we have our camper.
Dean: We didn’t outgrow the 1030. It was just twelve years old and needed more care and maintenance than I have time. I want to camp more, and maintain my camper less.
We had the best adventures as a family in the 1030. We even made money when we sold it, even with the money I put into it. It was just time to upgrade.
We wanted the Lance 1131. In 2008, we stopped at a truck camper dealership, walked through a Lance 1131, and were in awe at how roomy it was. We thought, “Someday, that will happen, someday”. Now we have one. We bought it used and we will keep it in good shape.
Kim: We knew what we wanted. When we sold the 1030, we wanted the 1131.
TCM: Do you have any upcoming trips?
Dean: We have a short window between baseball and football. We are planning a week to ten days in the Upper Peninsula. We have explored the west side. This time we’ll check out the east and north. We have weekend trips planned with friends. Whatever pops up, we’re ready to go with our truck camper.
Kim: We probably won’t make any reservations for our Upper Peninsula vacation. We’ll just head north, and stay where we find.
Truck: 2004 Chevy 2500, extended cab, single rear wheel, long bed, diesel, 4×4
Camper: 2000 Lance 1030
Truck: 2005 Chevy 3500, crew cab, dually, long bed, diesel, 4×4
Camper: 2008 Lance 1131
Tie-Downs/Turnbuckles: Happijac tie-downs, Torklift turnbuckles
Suspension: Airlift airbags with auto air controller, Torklift overloads
Gear: Cumulator tank for the water tank, 1131 took the heating system out of the basement and redid ductwork, had since December 2011