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Old 05-27-2017, 06:33 AM   #101
Join Date: May 2011
Location: Salida, CO
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We definitely have had some run ins with aspens and pines. No matter how careful we are, we still get some Colorado pinstriping.
On one trip to Saugauche Creek in the Rio Grande National Forest, we had to back track 45 miles to get 3/4 of a mile forward to our destination. A pole saw would have taken care of the overhanging snag.
I've added a limb guard to protect the rear skylight and will eventually add one to the front.

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Old 05-27-2017, 09:46 AM   #102
Join Date: Dec 2015
Posts: 91
Originally Posted by TomH View Post
Thanks for the updates, Snowy. We are getting the tall roof and will travel all over the 49 continental states as well as Canada. I am now a little worried about hitting foliage. You are in CO, right? Were most of these problems in the lower aspen groves or conifers a bit higher?
Hi Tom. We're actually in TX, but generally head to cooler regions when it comes to road trips. Threat of foliage comes from several places as far as I can tell (and I would happily refer you to someone who actually lives in the area for better info!):

1. Weather. During high winds, especially at the beginning of a 'season' (if there really are seasons), vulnerable trees will be weeded out and come down. Additionally, early after such windy events, you do not benefit from all the others who may go before you and clear the trails. That said, here it was in May and we were thwarted in the national forest outside Westcliffe, CO by flooded creeks due to snow melt rather than fallen trees.  I would say immediate weather trumps all else in relevance, so check with locals on known closures and look at the forecast before heading someplace questionable.

2. Species. Indeed, it seemed the small to mid-size Aspens were most prone to coming down altogether on this last trip. The Ponderosa Pine’s would lose branches, but not fall down. However, we experienced a major wind storm on the previous trip to Medano pass (60mph winds) that took down a lot of very large, but dead trees as well.

3. Population. It seems you can count on locals to clear the road for their own purposes, commensurate with their need to use that road. When on forest roads that lead to people’s homes, for example, they are going to tend to their own needs by clearing the roads. On the other hand, when branching off on an antiquated logging road that nobody else cares about, you’ll be on your own.

Again, I don’t want to represent myself as an authority on this, but it seems like packing a chainsaw would be advisable if you intend to go out in the woods on less maintained roads. The need is infrequent enough for me, and space at a premium, that I don’t want to pack my large one, but I have even considered whether one of those electric ones would be worth having. For now, we just have a large and sharp folding pruning saw for true emergencies (like getting trapped on Medano pass). Also, in case you didn’t catch my info on that trip, I was able to maneuver most of the fallen trees out of the way with a tow strap. A receiver hitch with shackle and tow strap, or rope and pulley, or even winch, will make this a lot less tedious.

One other note on the chainsaw. If you are spending extended times in national forests, and like camp fires, this is very handy to harvest firewood on the fly. All the campers we saw in ID seemed to carry chainsaws, and we would frequently see nicely cut firewood around some of the existing fire rings we would run across.

Have a great trip! We hope to make it up through Canada to Alaska at some point. I have very fond memories of the Valleys in BC and also the Canadian Rockies around Banff and Jasper. 


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Old 05-28-2017, 09:13 PM   #103
Join Date: Jul 2016
Location: Alaska
Posts: 66
Hey Snowy - thanks for the update in post 98. I have a child and can't see this working without the pop top. Especially if we have another.

I'll have to review your heating but what was the outside temps when you were still able to keep 40 inside? Also, how much snow was the most you had? We usually have powdery snow where I am so cleaning it off shouldn't be too bad but the most I know the better.

Any other insights for cold weather scenarios? I'll also have to review your electrical. I saw someone going with Lithium and that seems like an expensive upgrade, but one worth it's cost since solar is not viable half the year up here.

Another reason we want to do this is because it is juts a pain sometimes to setup and break down a tent. Especially if the weather is less than optimal. After thinking about it and your post, the reality is it is probably just as time consuming to setup and break down the Sportsmobile, except hopefully a little drier. Comments about that? Have you had to setup and or break down in the rain? If stuff was wet, what was the next setup like?
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Old 05-28-2017, 09:59 PM   #104
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Thanks tneur and snowy both. When we had the log home and woodland garden, I used an electric pole saw a lot. Since I am going to have a large lithium house battery, maybe for the trips into forested areas I should take one. It comes off the pole easily and is lightweight. It takes time, but it can cut significant diameter fall.

As far as campfires, I was an active boy scout and later a professional wilderness guide for some years. I got tired of the smoke (have asthma now) the smutty pots/pans, and the long time it took to cook vs. a little stove.
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Old 05-29-2017, 11:37 AM   #105
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Location: San Francisco Bay Area
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Fitz's Reflections on Snowy's EXCELLENT Observations

Snowy and I picked up our rigs in Austin within a week of each other. In fact, he met us our first night after picking up the van and helped me go through all of the systems on a HOT Austin evening! Thanks again Snowy! To date we have 51 nights and just over 13K miles on Flint.

I have inserted a few comments in Snowy's Post #98 text below:

Originally Posted by snowy View Post
Just got back from ~2week trip through CO, WY, and a bit of ID, and UT. Retrospective on various use cases and layouts now that we have ~17K miles and over 30 nights in Lola, including fall, winter, spring and summer conditions:

1. The sideways-facing couch seating intended for use when carrying 4-10 people causes most people to be car sick after any degree of bumps or twisties. Fail. The problem is, I still couldn’t go with the front-facing couch like Fitz did because I wanted both a) a sleep space for myself longer than the width of the van (which required a longer couch/bed running fore-aft rather than left-right), AND b) the kitchen option and bath option, which could only be accommodate by the shorter length couch on the passenger side. See early posts on this thread for picture of the asymmetric couch layout and various use cases described. In the end, given the intersection of our requirements, I wouldn’t change this. I just wanted to share with others the disappointing surprise that people can’t all be expected to sit facing sideways in a moving vehicle without getting car sick.

Fitz: Grandson #1 has been securely strapped into his car seat in Flint's forward-facing rear seat on several occasions with no issues, in fact we are looking forward to doing the same with Grandson #2 who is due within the month! We don't use the rear seat much for adults, but it has functioned fine on the few occasions we have used it. I have sat there, the view is fine but the padding in the seat cushion is a bit lacking after an hour or so, something to give consideration to if you are planning on this seat getting a lot of use.

2. I had a lot of people tell me ahead of time that the bathroom option on such a small space would not be worth it. Maybe not for them, but for us, this has turned out to be space well spent. Particularly since we do a lot of ‘dry camping’ (no other restrooms for miles), AND we like the cooler weather (i.e., sub-freezing), this gets used a lot. Those pre-dawn calls from a toastie sleeping bag can happily be answered, and, to be a bit crass, there is not any ‘holding’ of bowels that often occurs when starting off on a trip and avoiding going to the bathroom because it is not pleasant. Regarding the benefits over a porta-potti under the couch, I couldn’t say for sure, but having the facility ‘at the ready’ works for us. We keep large laundry bags in there for dirty clothes too, that slide out when in use and stay out of the way the rest of the time.

Fitz: We are very happy with the porta-potti in the cabinet, but we travel with two people who have been together a long time.

3. The pop-top:
a. It is indeed nice for the extra headroom at camp. It has a very definite effect on perception of overall space too, making the 144” wheel base not feel nearly so cramped when the top is up even though it is a different axis. So far, we have not had any problems at all with the pop top, fabric, screens, motor, or anything else related to it.
b. Cold weather is a problem though. If up in temps below freezing and it snows, the snow packs in with the fabric making closing difficult, and it’s tough to sweep it out at the height of the sprinter. If below freezing and it rains, it can ice up on the outside. In our cases this has never been a real issue. If minor icing, it does not impact anything. If major icing, sharp slaps from the inside break it out as it casts away from the van. The fabric gets real stiff and requires a bit of care when collapsing, but it never stopped working. Something to consider though.
c. Regarding insulation, it clearly does little to retain heat in the van, but the only comparison in my mind would be with a high roof/no penthouse option and I can’t say just how much better it would be with hard top. I assume better, but don’t know how much. With the diesel heater, we have not had problems keeping it at 40' inside.
d. If it were only to be for the wife and I, and not including the daughter anymore, I would consider skipping the penthouse in favor of the high roof – BUT – see next observation on vehicle height first!
e. The lower roof option, free of roof racks, A/C units, vents, etc., has made the difference in our ability to do a trail on more than one occasion. The vehicle is pretty tall compared to an SUV or Jeep, and it is very square too, meaning that the full height protrudes up and out at the furthest possible reaches. On any angles (and trails seem to have zero flats so it is always an angle of some sort), we find we’re blazing new trail in the brush overhead. On the fresh cut fallen trees we seem to run across a lot in CO, they seem to be cut by local SUV and Jeep owners, not Sprinter owners, so they don’t bother clearing much higher than their own vehicles. May not matter to many, but sharing our real-world observations. A high roof Sprint could not have done two of the unpaved roads we just did in this past couple of weeks, let alone one with the A/C on top.

Fitz: We have had the pop-top troubles that Snowy refers to. One of the bolts that attaches the cross members failed early on, this caused a diversion in travels to Fresno when new for repairs, plus we later had to replace one of the actuators when the pair of them got too far out of sync. With these issues I still have nothing but good to say about having the PH, as it really opens up the space when raised. The other thing we have found is that with just the two of us we typically remove the PH bed when traveling, the added headroom with the PH down is great! I am 6' and I can easily move around inside with just a bit of a slouch. As far as snow, we don't have near the experience that Snowy has. We have slept in the snow a couple of times but we left the top down and the heater on and have nothing but good to say about that configuration. The lowest temps we have experienced have been in the low 20's and we left the thermostat in the low 50's at night and slept very comfortably.

4. On a related note, we have been considering a permanent mount ladder on the side to facilitate roof access. No way we would do this now. The thing would just catch branches or be ripped off the van. Only place would be back of van, but that is pretty busy back there with the aluminess rear bumper, spare, and box. 

Fitz: I will be adding the Van Compass ladder on the side soon (less protrusion than the Aluminess) and will report back on it. I am getting ready to add a roller on the back cross bar so I can load my canoe and having access to the roof is critical to the way I plan to load the boat.

5. Got lots of questions on tires/wheels. Still very happy with my choices. I get a slight rub in the front when turning under compression, but I can usually avoid this and it does not appear to be doing any real damage when it happens so I am glad for the extra ground clearance. I will try to post pics of where it does rub though for those interested.

Fitz: Standing by for the pictures. Is the rub on the front? If so, the question on my mind is: will the added clearance provided by the Aluminess winch bumper take care of it?

6. Engine. This is my first diesel. I am happy with the engine so far. We did two different 10% road grades in CO on this past trip, and, while I did have to have it floored, I was able to sustain speed limits when few others on the road could (even regular cars). Not sure we could pull a trailer(!), but we were heavily laden with water, canned foods, fuel, spare fuel, etc., and I found this quite acceptable. The one unhappy surprise was how remarkably little power the engine has when cold. Not rocket science and not a complaint, just sharing an observation for those as naïve as me. When the temp is 40’ outside (too warm for the factory engine pre-heater to kick on), the engine starts fine but could not even go up a driveway. We found ourselves in a very embarrassing situation one morning, rolling out of parking spot in the morning, only to be stuck in front of traffic utterly unable to move up a slight incline for nearly 5 excruciating minutes of revving the engine to about 2,500 RPM’s to get it warmed up. Not a failing, just a lesson on ‘how to’. Always warm your diesel up before trying to use it!

Fitz: Ditto, had a similar experience (without the traffic) when leaving a lake-side campsite early one cold morning. There was no way Flint was going to climb that hill until the engine warmed up, it came as quite a surprise when it first happened.

Getting about 16mpg over this last trip of ~3600 miles, including 3 engine-preheat cycles, and about 20hrs of the diesel heater drawing from the same source of fuel. I could see the mileage drop sharply when we got on the Interstates going 80mph though. I am guessing it is over 17mpg if you take out that 1,200 miles and just count speeds under 70 (but including mountains).

Fitz: Ditto, 16 mpg overall. No complaints.

7. Awning. Much the same observations as above. Take it in at night if there is any chance of snow! PITA to brush off and won't pack up right until you thaw it out. Already broke one foot, and one knuckle at top. This is not really a complaint about the Fiama - rather a word of advice for others to treat it gently. We caught some branches (one comical discovery at gas station 100 miles away from where we would have picked it up), but it was mounted firmly to van and endured well. It was nice during day when snowing to keep snow from getting in sliding door as we went in/out, but we paid price later when realizing how hard it would be to close it later. Would consider not getting this option if you are going to be heavy into trails and run the risk of it catching on things, or are planning on it for snow. It has been great for rain and sun though, and personally I like having it so far. Just not quite as obvious a purchase as I thought up front.

Fitz: No awning, haven't once felt the need for it, thus don't miss it. But we don't stay in one place for very long, I can see that we might want it if we stayed put more often.

Sorry if I already posted some of this. It was really the discovery of snow gumming up the ability to close penthouse and awning that we discovered on this past 2 week trip.

Ironically, I still haven't done trip with 3 people, or solo (the scenarios I thought would be most common). Planning on doing these in the next month or so though, at least for short trips.

Also to another comment Snowy made in Post #99. We have been in and out of 4wd many times and with never a problem. My guess is that most people who post with complaints (many on some of the other Forums) don't simply read the manual and follow the instructions. It is as simple as Snowy says.

Great comments Snowy! Looking forward to seeing you again and really comparing notes!
“Flint” - 2016 SMB Sprinter 4x4 144" RB 150S w/ PH
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Old 05-29-2017, 12:28 PM   #106
Join Date: Jul 2016
Location: Alaska
Posts: 66
Thanks for adding Fitz!
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Old 06-02-2017, 01:02 PM   #107
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Location: Denver, CO
Posts: 242
Originally Posted by TomH View Post
Thanks for the updates, Snowy. We are getting the tall roof and will travel all over the 49 continental states as well as Canada. I am now a little worried about hitting foliage. You are in CO, right? Were most of these problems in the lower aspen groves or conifers a bit higher?
We're in CO - and the foliage cover is more a function of the trail rather than geographic location. A less used trail high in the alpine can have scrub brush growing into the trail, and a lower alpine forest can have limbs growing into the trail.

We have a tail van and will have a rack and AC on the roof. We're getting a small electric chainsaw for cutting storm fall and low-hanging limbs that may impede our progress. These chainsaws are less than a hundred bucks and only weight 6 lbs. My wife will just sit on the roof cutting our way through trails if we need to.
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Old 06-02-2017, 06:49 PM   #108
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Originally Posted by Wrinkledpants View Post
My wife will just sit on the roof cutting our way through trails if we need to.
OH MY. My wife is not that adventurous. She backpacked with me when we were young, but I don't think I'll be able to convince her of this!
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Old 06-07-2017, 07:55 PM   #109
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Join Date: Nov 2016
Location: Pacific Coast, USA
Posts: 198
Great info! Thanks for posting. Since my van will be a DIY job, its nice to learn what works before hand. The inside of the van is raw at the moment, and I have made good use of the gear from my rock climbing bag. Made a rear loft to store gear using 1-inch tubular webbing and stringing it back and forth through the side holes in the roof supports. Works well. Also using a five gallon bucket with a pool noodle and plastic trash bag for a John, and another bucket with screw on lid for excrement storage till we can dump.

Definitely need to get some insulation going. As far as tops, its nice not having one when on the road or navigating trails, but probably looking to get a fixed top of some sorts, likely one just tall enough to stand up under.

New owner:
2017 Chevy 3500 Express (windowless cargo van with 6.0 V-8 gas engine), Quigley 4x4, and Quigley 3-inch lift, with Bilstien shock option. -Ordered November 2016 through local dealer, drove it home May 2017. Recently all murdered out with Weldtech Designs rock sliders; Aluminess bumpers, roof rack, tire carrier, ladder & cargo box!
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Old 06-18-2017, 12:08 PM   #110
Join Date: Dec 2015
Posts: 91
Fitz, thanks for chiming in.

TomH and Wrinkledpants, you convinced me that the electric chain saw is worth it when traveling into heavily wooded trails.


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