Four States, Four Bikes, and One Yellow Travato – Chapter Two

Well, if you’re reading “Chapter 2”, then “Chapter 1” couldn’t have been that bad.  Now it’s on to:

Chapter 2:  Nebraska has a National Forest?

It seems that any time we want to head east in our RV, the fates conspire to force us to drive the entire width of Nebraska on I-80.  OK.  Maybe it’s not the fates.  Maybe it’s just Google Maps.  And Garmin.  And Magellan.   And Tom-Tom.  And Waze.

Seriously.  Any time we’ve mapped out a way to an Eastern destination, the first step is always “Get on I-80 East and drive one bazillion miles.”  Try it yourself and see. Salt Lake City to Forest City, Iowa: Drive across Nebraska on I-80. Salt Lake City to Ypsilanti, Michigan: Drive across Nebraska on I-80. Salt Lake City to Louisville, Kentucky: Drive across Nebraska on I-80. Salt Lake City to Cleveland! Atlanta! TAMPA FREAKING FLORIDA! Drive across Nebaska on I-80.

Last month, when we were planning a trip back to Forest City, Iowa to visit with our Winnebagan friends, I was very determined not to drive all the way across Nebraska on I-80.  So, like any good 21st century explorer, I started by looking at Google Maps, and looking for something that looked “interesting”.

Of course, “interesting” is hard to tell from a 4 inch map.

Of course, “interesting” is hard to tell from a 4 inch map.

Maybe it’s because I’m an RVer, but when looking at a map like this, I tend to equate “green” with “interesting” and so I gravitate towards the green areas. There weren’t too many of them between Salt Lake and Forest City, but the green splotches in the northwest corner of Nebraska got my attention. Zooming in, I saw it was the Nebraska National Forest.

Wait… They have forests in Nebraska?? Who knew?! Maybe it’s because the only thing I’ve seen of Nebraska is I-80 (about 35 times), but I just assumed all of Nebraska looked about like this

This actually is Nebraska.

This actually is Nebraska.

But as I turned on “Earth” view and looked closer, I could see it really was a forest. So I took a bird’s eye tour of the forest for a while and picked what I thought looked like a good boondocking spot.

Well honey, it looked good on the Google Earth…

Well honey, it looked good on the Google Earth…

Now, I had no idea if the spot was interesting, infested with mosquitoes, or even accessible with our non-4WD Travato. Didn’t matter. That’s where I wanted to go.

Now one thing I could tell right away was that there were about 10 miles or so of dirt roads to get into this place. So immediately, I knew we wouldn’t be riding our road bikes. But we do have what we affectionately refer to as our “crap bikes”. Mine is a 45 pound mountain bike I got off the local want ads for $20, and Stef’s is a non-suspension hybrid bike she got back when she was in college. These seemed perfect for the Nebraska National Forest.

So we resolved to bring them. This meant that bikes outnumbered people on this trip by 2:1. Our hyper-expensive road bikes rode inside, and the “crap bikes” rode out on the Fiamma bike rack. We’d never traveled with four bikes before. This would be fun.

But before we headed off into the wilds of the Nebraska National Forest, we had an errand to run. When I sold Das Bus, her new owners didn’t want the extra set of Sprinter rims I had. So I had been listing them on eBay and they had finally sold earlier that week – to someone in Laramie, Wyoming. By sufficiently contorting our trip, I realized I could drop the rims off in Laramie and save about $80 in UPS shipping charges. The buyer agreed, and our plan was hatched.

But of course, things never quite work out smoothly with us. For one thing, we’re pretty much always late.  (I blame Stef.)  We always have the best intentions of starting early and driving during the day, but it never happens. So when we rolled into Laramie, it was about 11:30pm. The fellow who bought the wheels told us to just leave them on his porch. But when you’re doing that close to midnight, it’s really hard not to look… criminal…

Oh, nothing officer. Just dropping off some suspicious large packages in the middle of the night...

Oh, nothing officer. Just dropping off some suspicious large packages in the middle of the night…

We managed not to get arrested, and headed to our four-star accommodations at the Laramie Wal-Mart for the night.

Not an awful place to camp.

Not an awful place to camp.

The next morning when we got up (late, as always), I would have been content to just swallow an energy bar and hit the road, but Stef insists on feeding me “healthy food” with “real ingredients.” (Imagine me saying that in a nasal-ly voice and making exaggerated sarcastic air quotes.)  So I had to eat this instead.

I think it’s oatmeal with chia seeds, toasted coconut, and blueberries or something. Because this is what I get when I ask for Froot Loops.

I think it’s oatmeal with chia seeds, toasted coconut, and blueberries or something. Because this is what I get when I ask for Froot Loops.

Well after that, it was off to the Nebraska National Forest, which is near Chadron, Nebraska. Apparently, the city was founded by two guys, Chad, and Ron. Ron technically arrived first. They initially couldn’t agree on the name but eventually Chad won because “Ronchad” sounds even sillier than Chadron.*

*None of that is true.

Anyway, once you get to Ronchad, “you go out past the fur museum and take a right on the dirt road. Then take another right down another dirt road that you probably won’t see.” Those were the actual directions I was given by a local. I wondered exactly how to turn down a road I didn’t see, but we headed on down past the fur museum anyway.

As it turns out, the dirt roads weren’t that bad. The first one was a piece of cake. And the second one started out like this:

Nebraska Dirt Road 1

And then turned into this

Nebraska Dirt Road 2

And finally, we arrived at this:

Well, this doesn’t suck.

Well, this doesn’t suck.

It might be a small thing, but I was totally stoked that we actually got to spend the night at a place I just picked off of Google Earth. If we had any doubts about the ground clearance of our Travato, they were unfounded – at least for this trip. And we really couldn’t have done it with any bigger RV than a Class B. This place was quiet, and awesome.

It was also a great place to set out for some mountain biking – which was pretty much the first thing Stef and I did after landing there.   We rode on some terrain that looked very much Nebraska-y:

Stef in Nebraska

And we found ourselves in some places that were very much not Nebraska looking.

James and Stef in Nebraska

And we found a snake, whereupon Stef was very glad that I didn’t have a stick, because, well, poking things with a stick is just in my DNA.

My head is cut off because Stef is working the camera, and she's afraid of snakes.

My head is cut off because Stef is working the camera, and she’s afraid of snakes.

After a day of riding, we headed back to Lance, showered up, and made Chinese food. It was a very incongruent dining choice, I know. It should have been grilled meats of some sort, but hey, whatever.

Loading Up Crap Bikes

And after a very peaceful night in the middle of the forest, we awoke – late – and broke camp (which consisted of starting Lance’s engine) and took our four bikes towards our third state, which we’ll cover in Chapter 3.

But really... we hated to leave.

But really… we hated to leave.

James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling certified coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he's also an IT consultant.

    11 thoughts on “Four States, Four Bikes, and One Yellow Travato – Chapter Two

    1. gavin

      Love the back end of your “59gx” concept Travato. Your high 44″ clearance is ideal to store the bikes/toys internally under the bed. It also appears to increase clothes/cabinet storage.
      Awaiting the video on the composting toilet to determine if I go that route in the future. I feel a shortcoming of the B’s is their limited liquid storage and the composting toilet helps significantly with that if a black water tank can be converted to gray water. I also believe the emptying of the composting toilet may be a more pleasant task than handling the hose of the black water tank. Await your opinion on the comparison of the emptying tasks. Another advantage of the composting toilet is that it makes your scientific videos of fully emptying the black water tank academic. Clogging of the black water tank may no longer be an issue!
      Hopefully Winnie makes your well thought out concepts options on the Travato.

      1. James - Post author

        I know some of our improvements have made it into the mainstream Travatos. (Travati? Travatae?) The running boards, for example, are now a listed option.
        The composting toilet DOES help out a lot with water management in a B. Both fresh and waste.
        It’s not for everyone though. I’ll just have to explain in the video… whenever we get around to making it.

    2. Shari Froemming

      I am just reading this blog post now…I live in Omaha Nebraska and didn’t know we (Nebraska) had a forest! Good to know. We mostly have cornfields! LOL We are getting a Unity in April…and can’t wait! But I am headed to Salt Lake next week and hoping I see Lance driving down the street! I will wave!

      1. Stefany

        Too funny you didn’t know about Nebraska’s National Forest, lol! Now I feel less bad about us not knowing it existed. So excited for you and your new Unity! James and I are currently in Tucson, and sadly won’t be in SLC as you drive by and wave. Another time, let us know…we can do an RV meet-up!

    3. richard

      I have a 2015 promaster 2500 136 gas v6 driving in flat south fla. carrying my festool carpenter stuff, getting 19-24 on highway 60 in right lane 22-24mpg steady 40 mph 28-33 mpg a/c on vs a/c off. have added vantech roof racks, also 14×14 rv roof vent. train horn underneath to get those texters moving when the light turns green. double passenger seat for my sons.

    4. Bob

      How’s the dust penetration of the coach on those dirt/gravel road drives?
      A Sprinter usually turns into a big dust bin inside. At least the 2 we’ve had do…

      1. James - Post author

        We had quite a bit of dust around the door seals on the outside, but it didn’t seem that much of it got in. A little, but not too bad. Took me forever to get the dust out of the bike rack, ladder, roof bits, etc. And I’m still not sure I got rid of all the dust…

    5. Teri Lee

      I’ve had a small class C for 4 1/2 years and have been looking at the Travato since it came out. I found you blog while searching for reviews. I’m wondering about mountain driving, I’ve read that the van withhout the . RV conversion has a hard time. Does the 2016 Travato still have, a shower pump. I have read all the data on Winnebago website and they don’t mention this odd feature. I’m starting to read your blog post archives and maybe you have already written about this.

      1. James - Post author

        Well, we just about can’t leave town without climbing a mountain of some sort. We’ve not had any problems.
        Yes, the 2016 Travato 59G does still have the shower pump. Ours is unique, in that it pumps to the former black tank, but in the standard edition, it still pumps to the grey tank.
        The only real problem with it is that the filters tend to clog, but Winnebago has added a “first stage” filter in the shower itself in later models. If you keep up on that one, it really minimizes problems.

    6. James Wood

      Nice update!

      Will you be discussing some more about your Travato and how it’s working out for you?

      How does the Truma work? Does it store hot water or is it an on-demand unit? Can it provide enough hot water for a shower when only on electric?

      How is the composting toilet working out? It seemed like in an earlier post, you were not thrilled with it. Are you using the original black tank as additional grey water storage, or is there and empty space where the black tank would have been?

      Has your fuel economy improved with the breaking-in of the engine? How many miles have you accumulated? How impressed are you with the Chrysler/Fiat parts of the unit, like the drivetrain and suspension?

      Keep up the good work!

      1. James - Post author

        Well of course, we’ll be posting more about our Travato.
        We’re hoping to put up a Truma video in November. But as of now, it’s been a non-story. Haven’t much needed the heat… yet.
        The Composting Toilet video is the one that everyone is waiting for. It’s also on our production schedule now. But quickly, we’re arrived at equilibrium with our toilet for now. Winnebago plumbed the former black tank to hold the shower water.
        Fuel economy has gotten slightly better, but I’m still mystified at the east-coasters who can get 17+ mpg. I just don’t see that.


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