Just when you thought a tour around the United States in a truck camper sounded like a big deal, along comes Brad Christ on his tour of Central and South America. We were very excited when we heard about Brad’s adventure and emailed him a list of questions to answer when he found an internet connection.
Several weeks went by, but the wait was well worth it. And for dessert, there are some amazing pictures throughout this story. They’re unbelievable. Thank you Brad for taking the time to answer our questions and for going on what has to be one of the most inspiring adventures we’ve covered so far. Enjoy the rest of your adventure and come home safe.
TCM: Tell us about yourselves and what brought you to truck camping?
Brad: What brought us to truck camping was a series of unusual events. LJ and I had just gotten engaged. She sold her house in New Jersey and I sold my house in Maryland so we could purchase a home together in Maryland. LJ left her job to come to Maryland when we suddenly came to the realization we had no mortgage to pay, no children, and nothing stopping us from traveling.
I had always dreamed of driving the Pan-American Highway to the island of Tierra del Fuego at the tip of Argentina and LJ loved the idea of exploring Central and South America. I was able to obtain a one-year leave of absence from my employer and so the idea for our North America–Central America–South America (NACASA) Expedition was born.
Since we no longer had homes to live in, we needed to get on the road as quickly as possible. I am an avid motorcyclist with some desert racing experience and originally pitched the concept of making this trip on a large BMW-expedition-motorcycle, but LJ had the common sense to quickly veto that idea. She agreed overland travel would allow us an opportunity to see places where tour companies did not normally travel and so we decided to purchase a Recreational Vehicle. Our decision to use a truck camper came about after we scoured the RV dealers in the USA and realized there were no readily available diesel four-wheel drive campers built for the rigors of the routes we planned to travel.
TCM: What are you doing with a truck camper in South America?
Brad: Since elementary school, I have often daydreamed while looking at maps of North, Central & South America and wondered what it was like for those early adventurers who traveled on foot, by horse, and by boat during the early exploration of the American continents. I wanted to experience the feeling of exploring new places and cultures, so we set out in our truck camper for South America.
TCM: Tell us about your truck camper. How did you come to put together this unique combination?
Brad: Although adventure-expedition-campers seem to vary in size, the general consensus seems to be that the vehicle should be no longer than 28 feet, no taller than 11.5 feet, and no wider than 8 feet.
We considered importing a German camper since the Germans are known for building amazing heavy duty 4×4 campers for world exploration, however we did not have time to deal with importation restrictions, emission variances, and street licensing issues in the short one-month time period we had to put together our trip.
We looked at a used Mercedes Unimog, but quickly determined these incredible vehicles were better suited to applications that did not require highway driving. A truck camper seemed like the perfect size and had all the amenities LJ wanted, including a separate shower and toilet, a microwave oven, satellite dish, flat screen TV and DVD player.
The slide-out living room provided lots of additional living space. We checked around with experienced RVers and everyone said very good things about the design and build quality of the Lance products. When I began to calculate the weight of the winch, spare parts, tools, extra diesel and water cans, clothing, bicycles and all the assorted gear we wanted to bring, it was quickly apparent we would need a very large truck to haul the camper. There were really only two choices: the Ford F550 or the Chevrolet Kodiak.
We could not find a suitable Ford F550 that was immediately available, but did locate a new 2005 Chevrolet Kodiak diesel 4×4 flatbed at Randy Marion Chevrolet in Mooresville, North Carolina. I purchased the truck over the phone and then rode my BMW motorcycle to North Carolina, put the motorcycle on the Kodiak’s flatbed, and drove it back home in one day. Shortly thereafter, the dealership dropped off a new 2006 Lance 1191 in my mother’s driveway.
Of course, the flatbed Kodiak and the Lance Camper were not immediately compatible. Two of my close buddies, Tommy Popp and Luis Aveleryra, immediately volunteered their time and amazing mechanical talents for the project. On a blistering hot day, we all worked together to detach the heavy flatbed and then Luis did a masterful job of shortening the flatbed 1.5 feet using his plasma cutter and MIG welder so the flatbed was the proper length for the Lance camper.
Over the next few days, I built a special cradle in the flatbed for the Lance Camper to slide into. After mating the camper to the truck, all our spare time over the next few weeks was spent installing an air compressor, five-gallon volume tank, winch and heavy duty winch bumper, theft alarm, seat covers, security console, and bicycle rack. Tommy was very skilled in wiring and did a professional job to make sure all the electrical connections were sealed against water and protected from vibration.
Shortly thereafter, the crew at Hagerstown Metal Fabricators helped out on short notice by fabricating and installing the diamond plate utility boxes. In less than a month, we had created a very rugged, but comfortable home for LJ and me to live in for the 11-month trip.
We had so little time to prepare for the trip that we never actually spent a night in our truck camper until the first night of the trip. In retrospect, the first several days on the road were amusing because we had to keep reading the owner’s manual to determine how to do simple things like activating the generator, turning on the hot water heater, and dumping the water tanks.
TCM: Where have you gone? Where are you going?
Brad: In October 2006, we left New Jersey and headed to San Francisco by way of Atlanta. From California, we drove to the tip of Baja, Mexico. We then took a ferry across the Sea of Cortez to the west coast of Mexico. We crossed the central mountains to the east coast of Mexico and then drove through the Yucatan peninsula. From there we meandered through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. In Colon, Panama we loaded the truck camper onto a ship and six days later it arrived in Lima, Peru.