Searching for Level Camps and Epic Rides: Volume 2

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It dawned on me as I was reading through Volume 1, that I’m outnumbered by males here in the RV… both animate and inanimate.


Mel, Lance, George; all “males” and all lumped into the Team James camp. They’re my little pack of mixed blessings; adding both color and challenge to life on the road.

Examples of My Life With Team James:

  • Mel – My stomach is not the place for your 3 AM bath.
  • James – 3 AM is not the time to laugh about Mel’s bath.
  • George – Escape attempts!
  • Lance – Very needy and insistent about his oil changes.  Seriously – he nags us.  Every. Time. We. Start. The. Van.
  • Lance and James – Frequent bathing together at roadside spray-gun-car washy things – and using this as an opportunity to freak out Mel by squirting at him.
  • Mel and James – What the heck is this game “bitey cat” and why can’t you leave me out of it?
  • James and George – insisting on what seems to me dangerous arm-wrestling every time we set up or break down camp.



I will say this. Life with the Team James crew is never boring.

On the Team Stef side of our RV adventures, I have Lucy, my “female” bike. She’s not on James’ radar so she’s more of an extension of me, and I just love everything about her… like how she causes me no exasperation.

And how she shares all my greatest escapades with me. We’re bonded, me and Lucy. Plus she’s super pretty:


When I left off from Volume 1, we had just finished our stint at an RV resort south of Phoenix; the one where I compacted my spine 2” from the 65 miles of BAH-BAMs.

But! After that, things improved.


Campground #5: Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona

James says Catalina State Park has been his favorite campground thus far. Me, I’m Sweden. I loved all the state and regional parks equally.

There’s a ton of great hiking at Catalina, and we especially enjoyed hiking to some ruins.

Although these were more ruined than your typical ruins. They mostly just looked like piles of rocks.

Thank goodness for the interpretive signs.

Catalina Park has an excellent location, northeast of Tucson in the gorgeous foothills. It has a deceptively remote feel, being just a mile or so from a huge shopping area and some restaurants.

We swung in Best Buy one evening and bought me a new keyboard for my iPad Pro. That’s what I’m typing on right now!

Yay for deceptively remote camping spots!!!


We did a 50+ mile ride out from Catalina, and get this. We did this without encountering a single car… all thanks to Tucson’s amazing network of paved bike trails:

Not a road… a bike path! (Although in Europe this would be a highway… HA!)

Kudos to the city of Tucson for the investment in a safe-cycling and commuting infrastructure, the FitRV gives you two thumbs up. Well, four actually.

If you’re ever in Tucson, look up “The Loop”. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s my Strava details on this ride. Click the image below and you’ll see my ride pictures and a route map:


Park #6: Agua Caliente Park (not a campground!)


This park was our base camp for Tucson’s most famous road ride, Mount Lemmon, but overnighting isn’t allowed here. The park was a delightful find…a strange and wonderful oasis in the middle of the desert, a great place for a picnic lunch down by the water’s edge.


As for cycling up Mount Lemmon, it’s one of those cycling bucket list climbs: 30-ish miles of 6% relentless uphill. Which is why I bailed, and James did this one alone.

Okay, okay, that’s not why I bailed.

I actually wanted to do this ride. I bailed because I was hardly able to walk. Embarrassing to admit being a personal trainer, but there you go. Besides the biking, there’d been campsite resistance bands, HIITs, and of course, running, and I was overtrained. I know my limitations…and that day climbing a mountain wasn’t in the cards. So, I stayed back and did some hobbling about the park while James tackled the mountain all by his lonesome.

Here’s James’ Strava details on his ride; click the picture below to go to his Strava:

The route up Mt Lemmon goes like this:

BOTTOM: Sweat, sun, and cactus

TOP: Shivering, snow, and skiers

Everything was going great on James’ ride until on his way back down, where he suffered a sidewall blowout. Not even the new tubeless tire setup could handle it, and he was flat. So flat that a roadside repair was out of the question.

Adding to the fun, he was out of cell range.

Eventually, a nice couple from Chicago took pity on him and drove him down the mountain. So if you’re reading nice Chicago couple…THANKS! Some good karma is coming your way.

But anyways, riding a climb and then not getting the descent is like spending the day baking your favorite pie and then not getting a piece.

Luckily he had Mel to console him.  This is how Mel shows empathy – he sits on you.  At least we like to think it’s empathy… but he is a cat.

While James wallowed, I started making calls to find a bike shop willing to do a last minute tire replacement. Fortunately, the nice folks at Trek Tucson answered the phone and agreed to stay late and replace his tire. One more reason to love Tucson for cycling! So, at the end of the day, we were fully functional again, and ready to roll to our next destination.


Campground #7: Kartchner Caverns State Park:


With the flat tire setting us back, we rolled in to Kartchner Caverns State Park late… so once again it was pitch black fun detaching Trailer George and setting up camp.

We certainly don’t plan to arrive at campsites after dark, it just happens with alarming regularity.

Setting up camp at Kartchner. Or was this one Lake Pleasant? Or… well heck who knows?

It would be great if I could blame it on shorter winter days, except it happens all summer, too.

The sites at Kartchner are spacious, but SURPRISE! We had that unlevel issue again:

We did have to move to a different spot during our stay since other people good at planning beat us to making reservations, but that worked to our advantage as spot #2 was wayyy better.

Kartchner Caverns State Park is right off Hwy 90, a four-lane road that runs north to south from I-10 almost all the way to the Mexican border before veering east. So, road biking out of there you’ve got two choices:

1. North on Hwy 90, about 10 miles to I-10.
2. South on Hwy 90, however long you’d like.


The speed limit on Hwy 90 is 65mph, but since the shoulders are wide and in great shape it’s a comfortable ride and traffic isn’t distressing at all. The only downside is it’s pretty flat and not terribly challenging. And since I’d missed riding the day before, I wasn’t interested in spending hours on easy and flat. So! I stayed back to torture myself on the trainer, and let James ride out alone. His ride is linked here:

One of the many reasons we got George was so we could travel with our Cycleops Hammer smart trainer. I’ve been putting up various pictures on social media of us riding the trainer at the campsite and have been getting lots of ribbing for it.

What are you doing riding in place! Go for a real ride!

Which cracks me up. Because there’s riding, and then there’s training. You fellow cycling addicts know what I’m talking about.

Smart training is a more efficient way to build your cycling fitness. Everything is controlled. You’re not stopping at lights or corners, or coasting on downhills, or having tailwinds push you along. Your intensity is more condensed, which creates an effective training response in a shorter amount of time. Plus, as hard as trainer workouts are, I love that post-ride satisfied feeling. I kicked butt! I’m a super-cycling she-beast!

And something about doing that as we’re camped somewhere lovely, with stunning views all around and the opportunity for clandestine people-watching, well the whole experience is a fitnessy pleasure for me.


It’s a freak cold spell where we are today (high of 30 degrees F and gloom) so we’re not feeling the ride itch today. I’ve been sitting here in my cold-weather running gear, another of my fitnessy pleasures, and I’m signing off for now to step out of the van for the first time all day.

It’s time to go make today an awesome high-five worthy kind of day!!!




After 15 years as an educator in both the public K-12 setting and the University level in Special Physical Education, Stef made the leap to her true passion… the fitness world. She’s currently a personal trainer and wellness coach specializing in seniors, medical conditions, and injuries. Stef loves running, cycling, and being “Mugga” to her two favorite mini-humans — Punky and Marshmallow. ❤️

    31 thoughts on “Searching for Level Camps and Epic Rides: Volume 2

    1. Lisa Wagner

      Mel & Grace…our outdoor cat, Grace, does not like to travel in the truck when we go camping with our Chalet trailer…but ok when we get to the campsite setup, and we can take her on a leashed walk. We are thinking of buying an Era 170A just for her (the Gracemobile). I look forward to your video post on Mel experiences and mods for your Travato for our Gracie.

      1. Stefany - Post author

        I have heard from many RV cat owners that their cats hate driving in cars/trucks, but are perfectly content rolling along in the RV. We’ve gotten Mel good with cars too at this point, but I’m betting Grace will love the Gracemobile! Love that you’re buying an RV for your cat. That sounds like something we would do too HA! Funny, just yesterday we were joking about all the expense and effort of Mel, “but he was free!” These little sneaky beasts enter our lives, steal our hearts, and before you know it, you’re buying them RVs.

    2. JL

      Hi Stef and James, I see you’re at the RV show in my neck of the woods. I don’t do social media, so I’m going to post some ride suggestions here. First, big old NOPE to riding on FL roads. People can’t drive here; it’s scary enough in a car! Get thee to a paved trail…

      Paved Rail-Trails (starred items are trails for serious, uninterrupted miles):

      UPPER TAMPA BAY TRAIL – Green oasis in Tampa chaos. About 15 miles.

      PINELLAS TRAIL – 40+ mile urban trail. Check out historic downtown Dunedin, Hammock Park, and Dunedin Causeway/Honeymoon Island (causeway busy with walker/joggers but great views). Some safety issues on more urban parts of trail (such as areas in St. Pete), so read up on which areas to avoid

      *STARKEY PARK & LOWER PART OF SUNCOAST TRAIL – Starkey Park trail connects to Suncoast Trail (40+ miles), which is located along Suncoast Highway. Lower portion will be noisier, flatter but good for getting in safe miles. Note: water stations on Suncoast often empty; plan accordingly.

      *UPPER PART OF SUNCOAST TRAIL – Hernando and Citrus counties are where this 40+-mile trail gets quieter, more rural, and hilly (hilly for FL, not the Rockies). Put in at the Rte 50 trailhead (located at southern end of bike bridge) and head north for hills (there is also one good hill just south). Rte 50 to Citrus terminus and back: 25-mile roundtrip. Note: Rte 50 Trailhead is last water as you head north.

      *WITHLACOOCHEE TRAIL – My all-time favorite and one of the best in FL, 46 miles through rural areas and small towns. Recommended 50-mile roundtrip ride: Ridge Manor Trailhead (near Interstate 75) in Hernando County, north through Floral City (Ferris Groves – fruit and citrus stand), to historic downtown Inverness (Motor City Pasta for salads). For 70-mile roundtrip, head 10 miles north to Central Ridge District Park (tiny sign indicates turnoff). Park has facilities, but fountain water is pure lime. Fill up elsewhere. Learned the hard way.

        1. Stefany - Post author

          Thanks JL! Glad you put these here instead of Facebook where they’ll get lost to us over time. When we go back next year, I’ll be referring to this list! Appreciate it! xoxo

      1. James

        We’re planning a video of our “cat tips”.
        Getting the cat to cooperate in *filming* the video is somewhat of a challenge…
        We don’t have a timetable for the video, but it is in the works.

    3. Eric


      How’s the hitch holding up? There’s discussion on FB, as you know, about weaknesses in the design wrt how it mounts to our extended vans.

      1. James

        Our hitch is holding up just fine!
        After getting the trailer, and before hitting the road, I went to a local custom hitch maker and had them add some supports to the standard Curt hitch.
        No issues thus far, and I don’t anticipate any.

    4. David

      Just love you guys! Your checklist in 2015 on what a rv should pass helped us decide to purchase a 2017 59K Travato. And James’ list of tools reside inside of “Travis”. You both provide the industry an incredible insight to the now and future getting them out of the dreary past. You and Russ Garfin are forward thinkers thinking outside the box and not affraid to innovate. You are leading the way to better rv experiences and adding some “green” to the formula. Happy New Year and stay healthy. We need you guys out there.

      1. James

        That’s so cool that we helped you join the Travato family!
        I have to confess, I finally bought a cheap cordless drill/driver to keep in Lance. That’s not on the tool list! (Guess I should update it.)

    5. Sandra Thornberry

      You guys always have so much fun! I love the addition of George, the trailer. It seems like this has made your life in an RV much easier. I always tell people to read. your. blog! There is a wealth of information that applies to any size RV. I’m all stoked to try the parks around Tucson, as those “bike” roads are to die for! I would enjoy seeing a travelling cat video. Maybe you should title it, Mobility, thy name is Mel.

      1. Stefany - Post author

        LOL Sandra! Well big thank you for sending RVers our way…though I think it does take a certain sense of humor to be able to handle us in larger doses. Clearly you have it. And we’ve been kicking around a Mel video idea! Really would like to do that…we’re currently working on getting Mel to remember his lines.

    6. sonoma charred

      WoW. This blog was found in just the nick of time. I’m sitting in Sonoma County, CA counting the days until I fly to Iowa to take delivery of the Revel next week. I’ve been waiting since October 12. Exactly 4 days after my house turned to ash in that massive Tubbs Firestorm I got on the phone and put in my order. It sure would have been more convenient to pick one up in California….but I do feel fortunate that I am getting mine in January instead of the usual March/April delivery. This coach will be my primary residence for some time, until I decide where to rebuild or relocate. And the CAT! I am so stoked you have Mel with you. My cat, Fatboy aka Mr. Kitty, went missing along with @ 300 other felines in this town the night of the fire.Very sad. Anyway, cheers to new adventures and finding myself a traveling cat.

      1. Stefany - Post author

        Oh my, I’ve got chills. YOU are incredible. Through all that devastation you’re just freshly looking back at, you write with hope and optimism. Inspiring. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, but I’m going to take a page from your book and look forward with you. A NEW REVEL! Lucky girl. Go join the 2nd Revel group…the one titled “Revel Owners and Wannabes”. My friend Sue helps moderate it and she’s going full-time in her Revel, too. She’s experienced and actually teaches workshops on RVing, so will be a great contact and support network for you! And I do hope you’ll keep us posted on your new life adventures. Here’s hoping 2018 is kind to you and you get your new adventure cat very soon! xoxo

        1. sonoma charred

          I’m on it! Thanks for the heads up to the groups. I may be in need of some sisterhood out there. And, I will keep in touch! I just may run into you on the road, as the Southwest will be one of my home bases for awhile.
          Thanks so much for the compassion and support. Barbara

    7. Alain

      30 degrees in a dry climate!!! Come on Stef, are you a wuss??? It was minus 30 here over the weekend (ok, -30 C, so ONLY -22 F LOL). Plus the wind chill…

      So I am sitting by the fireplace contemplating buying a fat bike…with studded tires. But no way I’m gonna ride it at -30.

      1. Stefany - Post author

        Ahem, Alain. Are you kidding with this wuss stuff? OF COURSE I’M A WUSS! You’ve been following us for years now and know my propensity for complaining and whining. As for you up there in the freezing Canadian tundra, I’m pretty sure you must be part alien (or polar bear?) to tolerate that. Plus I’d likely instantly die if I had to experience minus 30 Celsius. Because, as we’ve established, I’m a wuss. 😉 xoxo

    8. Skip Lauderbaugh


      Another flat tire on your bike…?? Even with your new tubeless tires ? You have had some pretty bad luck lately – I’m not keeping count but it seems like you have been getting a flat about every other ride ? I think you are due for several years of flat free riding.

      1. James

        Since going tubeless, I’ve had exactly this one flat. Slicing through the sidewall would have killed any tire, tubes or not. This is no more the fault of the tubeless tires than it would be if I crashed my bike into a wall and they got damaged and went flat.

        But yes, I seem to average about a flat per ride lately. The difference is, with tubeless tires, *the flats fix themselves* most of the time, and I don’t have to stop riding. If I were still running tubes, I would have gone through about 10 tubes and 10 CO2 cartridges so far this trip, and about an hour or more of time changing tubes.

        So yeah… I hear you. I think it’s time for some flat-free riding!

    9. Mike and Audrey

      Hello Stef and James,
      We really enjoyed reading about this trip. The tubeless tires seem like they are more trouble and not worth the cost?
      Can you tell us how you rigged up Mel’s litter box. Know you are a perfectionist
      and it must be a well thought. job. In a larger coach with a basement I thought about making a opening to a basement compartment with a small exhaust fan to the outside.and easy access to clean on the outside.
      OK James how did you do it in such a small space?
      We love your very informative reviews and you two are a great team.
      Safe travels.

      1. James

        You’ve gotten the wrong impression about the tubeless setup. The flat I had would have killed any tire – tubes or not. There was no repairing it, and that had nothing to do with tubes and everything to do with the big gash clear through the sidewall.

        You may be disappointed in our litter box setup. We just got a top-entry litter box, the CleverCat, and set it in the aisle where we usually keep our bikes (since the bikes are in the trailer this trip). We’re thinking about a video all about how we RV with a cat. We’re not experts by any means, but we’re learning fast!

        1. Mike and Audrey

          Thanks James
          OK on the tubeless tires. I will keep checking on your success with them.
          Yes you did disappoint me on the litter box placement…..LOL but I know you will re engineer and perfect the best place in your van.
          On a sad note Jan 1st our precious Lucy crossed the Rainbow Bridge and earned her wing. Not sure we will repeat this loss but we will be interested in your learning curve.
          Love your videos!

        2. Stefany - Post author

          Awww, Mike and Audrey, our condolences on Lucy. Makes me sad, there’s just no replacing a pet. They have a way of sneaking into our hearts over the years, and we grow to love them more than most of the humans we encounter in our lives.

          We’ll continue to perfect the art of “Traveling With Cat,” you can be sure. Much of it is trial, error, and training. Mel training us, I mean. LOL! xoxo

    10. Ted

      Funny how while you guys head east…… almost everybody else is trying to go west to get warmer. Lots of reports of frozen water pipes and falling iguana’s all the way from Florida through Texas. Just watch out out for I10 heading towards Las Cruces. There’s a long section of highway right when you enter New Mexico that is so bumpy it feels like the contractor spread the asphalt on the road with a peanut butter knife.

      Amazing how Mel just disappeared into the dry grass. Be cautious, we had to pull lots of prickly things off of our dog’s paws everywhere we stopped in Arizona and New Mexico. I look forwards to you visiting any of your old stomping grounds from your days as an Albuquerque girl.

      1. Stefany - Post author

        Good point about prickly things!!! We’ve been lucky so far, but we’re pretty green at this RVing-With-Cat business. When we were in Austin the city was in its coldest spell in years, and we kept chuckling how the city seemed to be in an uproar about it…posting warnings everywhere about pipes! Dress warm! Hard freezes! Dangerous temps! And the lowest it got while we were there was +20F, lol!

    11. John Thorpe

      Hi Guys,
      Great campgrounds and nice rides. I like the Loop, I will have to put it on my bucket list. Stefany, 30 degrees; spring time temps for walking.
      We are walking in 12 degrees and four layers of clothing. Now that is a work out.

      Happy New Year from the North East.

      1. Stefany - Post author

        LOL! Yikes, 12 degrees beats the cold spell we just had down here. The good news: you do burn a few more calories exercising in extreme temps, as your body has to work harder to regulate itself. So keep those winter walks coming!!! xoxo


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