We are wrapping up our first big test of our new-ish camper van, overnighting at the deserted Castle Rocks State Park in remote southeastern Idaho as we make our way to the Portland Oregon area. This is the time of year when we close up (and winterize) our summer cottages at Keuka Lake and begin our wanderings.

Our van parked in Limon CO Our van parked in Limon CO

The first leg of the adventure was grueling as we departed Keuka with our Tesla and van and drove to Florida to leave the car with my sister for the winter season. Combining some of our longest driving days (10+ hours on day one as we drove to Richmond VA) with the requirement that we both always be driving wasn’t such a great idea. We charged the Tesla about every two hours giving us routine breaks, but they never felt long enough to feel rested. Meeting old friends for dinner made the long day worthwhile, and that night we did our usual “no, we don’t need a bedroom, we’ll be just fine sleeping in the van” routine.

Two days later we made it to Melbourne FL, just in time to meet my sister, nieces, and grand-nieces for a viewing of the Taylor Swift Eras concert movie. It was so good, and a small consolation for not seeing her live on the tour. Much cuteness abounded as the girls young and old joined others down by the screen to dance and socialize during the movie.

Julie and I play a game at a Harvest Host brewery Julie and I play a game at a Harvest Host brewery

I deep cleaned the Tesla for Jennifer and we organized the van for our long journey from the east coast of Florida to Oregon. We were smarter about this plan though, limiting our daily drive time to about 6 hours and having several days under 4. On the way to our first milestone of Oklahoma City we stayed in a mix of Harvest Hosts (a brewery with noisy nighttime trains) and state / federal campgrounds. Julie and I are enjoying finding golf courses along the way and walking nine holes. Plus I usually work some practice time in.

OKC was a great stop as usual, this time moving indoors to stay with Julie’s brother Dave. Good thing too as a cold front hit us hard, greeting us with freezing temperatures and driving rain on our day of departure. Thankfully we fully winterized the water systems in Arkansas the night before arriving in OKC. The next few nights would be our first true test of the cold weather systems in the van, with our first stop a buffalo ranch in central Colorado where the temperatures dropped to about 10 deg F. The furnace in the Storyteller runs off the same diesel tank as the van engine, so as long as we keep the van fueled up we never need fear a lack of juice. It helps that we swapped the stock fuel tank for a 47 gallon aftermarket option. This presents its own challenges though: the fuel gauge in the van gets wonky at times. Here’s a typical interaction with the gauge:

  1. We fully fuel up the van.
  2. The gauge will still hold its level from before the fuel-up for a period of time. As we drive, it gradually settles on full.
  3. It will hold the full position until we’ve consumed 10-15 gallons of fuel.
  4. It will then linger in the middle position for another 15 gallons or so.
  5. We don’t like to see it get below this position, so we always fuel up by this point.

As we made our way from Arkansas to Oklahoma, shortly after a fuel stop (maybe an hour?) the gauge went to empty and an indicator light went on that it was on reserve fuel. This understandably freaked us out and we soon stopped to fill up again. We put in about 7 gallons or so, hoping that after a van restart the gauge would correct itself. No joy, and we repeated this process a few more times. Our concern isn’t running out of fuel, it is this: the furnace might not operate if it thinks the fuel tank is running low. Wouldn’t be good to drain the fuel tank and not be able to drive away from a remote location, right?

It was at this point that we started using the Fuelly app to start tracking in detail our fuel fill-ups and odometer settings. A good move anyway because we’ve wondered what our fuel efficiency is (answer: about 12-13 MPG). Fortunately, by the time we arrived in OKC the fuel gauge returned to “normal” operation.

Hiking in Medicine Bow NF on our way to Sinclair WY Hiking in Medicine Bow NF on our way to Sinclair WY

Returning to our cold overnight in Colorado, the system worked perfectly. We are figuring out the right settings for overnighting, and for now it seems like about 62 is the right setting. The window coverings help insulate the van (the van frame has sheep’s wool in it) and are used on the really cold nights. Since the Colorado night we had a similar might near Sinclair Wyoming at the fabulous (and free) Dugway BLM site, then a Harvest Host overnight at a golf course near Ogden Utah. We continue to tweak the systems and find little organizational optimizations (e.g., an improvised toothbrush holder that we installed in the shower bay) to improve the experience.