Trippin’ to Mormon Lake
High on my list of things to see is another round of the Overland Expo West, taking place May 20-22 in Mormon Lake, AZ. Since Mormon Lake is not that far from Williams and Flagstaff, they’ve been on the receiving end of the same rainfall I’d gotten in Williams. Last year, the Expo took place in a mudpit, and it actually snowed one night. Fortunately, this year promises drier weather and temps in the high 60s, which is good for me because the sun here pops the perceived temperatures into the 70s. This year won’t be without challenge to the vendors however, since the first two days should net winds approaching 30 MPH. That ought to test the mettle of the canopies and display boards.
They have classes on just about anything you can think of related to overlanding, from navigation, equipment choices and use, to extricating your rig out of bad trail conditions. I might sign up for something sometime, but considering the cost, I want to experience a year of fumbling on my own just to get familiar with the specific problems that the Intrepid presents. There are far too many different classes to even come close to taking them all, so I need to find out what peculiarities a 10,000-pound honker displays on the kind of trail work I gravitate toward. Why take a class on winching techniques when you don’t have a winch, and why work on using traction boards when I’m not dead sure just what I’ll encounter in the Southwest’s dreaded Monsoon Season? Yep, mud, but traction boards also double as bridging devices for lighter vehicles, and don’t work for that when vehicle weights go up. There have been plans to bring out a single design strong enough to withstand the Mighty Furd’s bulk, and I’ll be checking progress from that vendor while I’m there.
Don’t count on heavy coverage of this year’s event by me, since I don’t have much interest in duplicating what I posted a year ago at the 2015 event. I don’t think there’s much difference from year to year. I’ll be there and post something, but I don’t know what yet. Maybe a shot of a canopy tumbling down an aisle.
The rather quick trip to get here went uneventfully enough on I-40, and I stopped at a Safeway in Flagstaff to provision up. I tried to use my iPhone to get me to the nearest laundromat, and Flagstaff is just jam-packed enough that I never saw it. Putting the address in my GPS didn’t help, so I went for the next closest, which was less than a mile away in the old downtown section. That was a mistake in its own way, since traffic, narrow streets and an absence of off-street parking swept me right past it without even seeing it. Thunderstorms were moving in, so I cut my losses and headed for Mormon Lake. The RV park in Mormon Lake has a decent and inexpensive laundry room right next to the showers and bathrooms. I refilled the camper’s water tank there too, at 10 cents a gallon.
The Expo people were just beginning to set up at the RV Park entrance, which I hadn’t expected until Thursday. Nearly all of the event’s workers and attendees pack into an open camping area, which they like to do because well, normal people are social animals. At the end of each day, they cook, make new friends or locate old ones, sit around the campfires, have happy hours, swap baldfaced lies about their adventures, describe what broke, watch the dogs fight over stolen food, and just generally have a grand old time. And nobody gets much sleep because of the noise. I unfortunately don’t do too well in such highly social situations, and for me it’s just too close to jamming into a common RV park, albeit with much more interesting individuals. Then there’s usually the matter of leaving, which in past years has occasionally involved deep mud and tow straps, as well as vehicles trapped in place by other vehicles.
For me, there’s the event and then a return to the relatively quiet solitude of a nearby trail up a mountain in the Coconino forest. Last year, lugging the 26′ Defiant TT, I think I pretty much had my pick of the campsites along that trail. Arriving on the same day this year, not so much. I was surprised to find all of the lower campsites occupado, and next to where I had perched the Mighty Defiant was a nice little travel trailer with a bright yellow generator sitting nearby. Pass. It’s a rocky climb, and recent rains made engaging 4WD mandatory if’n I was to keep going, which I did. The “off-road”-biased Coopers are not mudders, and given the slow speed required by the rocks, the treads quickly filled with mud.
I made it to the top though, which presented a flat mudfest, and managed to turn around and make my way back down to an “eh, this’ll do” site out of earshot of the generator. I counted the site a success, as well as an initial bump in my learning curve of what the overloaded Super Duty can do. The goal is to not discover the hard way what it can’t do. After all, no winch, no traction boards, no nothing except my astounding driving skills. Sure.
The only drawback of the site is that, like most of the sites on this trail, tall trees will take their toll on solar power, as will overcast skies for the next few days. Thanks to the cheap but balky Outback solar controller, I won’t be able to deploy the 200 watts of ground panels I’m carrying. That will probably have to wait until my return to Wellton in November before I can adapt the wiring a little and replace it with a proper Morningstar controller. Sure, the 400Ah capacity of my battery pack can tide me over for awhile, but sooner or later, they need a decent recharge, and 360 watts of touch-and-go sunlight is not the best way to do it reliably.
My plan is to once again break out the Evelo Aurora e-bike for getting to the show and back, and perhaps cart one of the camper’s two propane canisters to the RV park when it goes empty. After re-provisioning in Flagstaff a week from now, the plan is to return and stay long enough to see a sanctioned steer-roping event the following weekend. Life is hard. By then, time will grow short and the trip to Illinois and family will commence in some fashion or other.
By the way, while still in Williams yesterday after another luxuriant shower at Love’s Truck Stop, a guy in a newish Chevy van with two solar panels on its roof came over at the gas pumps and started asking about the Four Wheel Grandby. It seems he was missing being able to stand up straight, and he asked about the headroom, which is like 6-1/2 feet. He said he was considering moving to a pop-up, and asked about what I’d sunk into the Mighty Intrepid. Assuming that he was asking about costs sans mods, I told him that the Grandby cost me almost $22K, and he didn’t flinch. (The stripped shell model starts at less than half that.) The Ford F-250 diesel in 2008 had cost me $44K, which did cause him to flinch. But he balked at the cost of having a high-top installed on his van, which let me know that it wasn’t just about an aching back.
He asked,” Would this work on a 1500?”
I started thinking about all the Toyota Tacomas and all the smaller mid-size trucks that peg their specs merely from adding a bare camper. “Yep, but you’d probably need to add support to the rear suspension – no wait, I take that back.” I’d just updated myself on the new aluminum-bodied F-150 the day before, and told him that, properly-configured, a current F-150 could now match my old F-250 for load carrying capacity, even with the extra weight of a 4×4 drivetrain, and get better mileage than I was getting, to boot. Since he appeared to be a Chevy guy, I added that Chevy almost certainly offered a similar load rating in some way or other.
“What about the diesel?” he asked, as if wanting to know if it wasn’t necessary.
“It’s overkill,” I told him. “This is 6.4 liters, and a smaller one would be better, or you could run gas just fine. These are made for towing heavy trailers, which I used to do. If all you have is the camper, it just isn’t needed.”
He breathed a sigh of relief and left.
As is my want, I later mulled over that conversation on the ride to Flagstaff and thought of all the things I coulda/shoulda added but didn’t have the time or presence of mind. In 2008, the 6.4 diesel was a $6,000 option, and it’s more now of course. Yeah, they can outlast a gas engine in the long run, but most folks don’t keep them long enough to be able to benefit from that, and in the meantime, they require a maintenance regimen more strict and costly than a gas engine.
In my case, the diesel imposes a 400-pound weight penalty that’s removed directly from the cargo-carrying capacity, which is a major reason why I’m bumping past my truck’s 10,00-pound GVWR in spite of having a lightweight camper. The bare truck, with diesel, 4×4, stronger frame and such, weighs so much by itself that it seriously eats into how much extra weight it can carry. Sure, a large twin-turbo diesel’s torque is a muscular combination, but that power becomes useful only with greater weights than the rolling chassis can support. It’s configured for heavy towing, with only a modest load in the bed.
In contrast, the current F-150 is a lighter construction overall, then substitutes aluminum where steel serves no functional purpose – apart from being perceived as more manly. Its maximum GVWR is “only” 7,850 pounds, but the thing weighs so much less bare that cargo capacity can stay large. Whatever you remove from the vehicle can be added in cargo. Since its springs don’t have to deal with an extra 2,300 pounds of vehicle hardware, they can be softer than my model, making the ride less violent. Tip in the lighter bulk of a naturally aspirated 5-liter V8 or Ford’s twin-turbo V6 3.5 liter, and pile on the cargo.
Although I can’t recommend turbocharged engines for vehicles you plan to keep long enough to run into the ground – turbos do fail and need replacing – I found the turbo version motors to be particularly interesting. This gets geeky, so if you’re not interested, this is the end of the article for you, right here. The rest is for gearheads only. If you’re a Chevy or Dodge fan, reading on is optional because, well, I’ve researched only Fords, and who cares? This is more of a revelation to me on how bizarrely pumped up power and chassis ratings have become since I bought my Ford, which in turn represented a major bump up in what had gone before it.
For reference, the Mighty Furd’s twin-turbo diesel is rated at 350 horsepower and 650 foot-pounds of torque at 2,000 RPM. In it’s day, that used to be a lot. For a lightweight camper, that’s overkill. They can’t win a drag race because they must short-shift and can’t take advantage of gear ratios, but the prodigious torque at low RPM makes steep mountain climbs a yawner. They just do it. If I’m not mistaken, my truck is rated at 2,460 pounds payload and 12,500 pounds towing, which is limited by the hitch receiver rather than the powertrain. Fifth-wheel ratings go up to 16,000 pounds, if I recall correctly.
Also for reference, in 2008 Ford offered an “Option Code A627” that pumped payload up to 2,337 pounds in the standard cab 4×4, dropping to 1,542 pounds in the SuperCab (extended cab). The towing limit was 9,500 pounds, and this relied on a drag-racing, bad mileage 4.10 axle, along with bigger springs, shocks, radiator, a reinforced frame, stiffer steel wheels, and an oil cooler. Its 5.4L engine in 4×4 trim also required a 36 gallon fuel tank option, for obvious reasons. Nowadays, the options to get those capabilities have fewer trade-offs.
Ford now offers a second series of miniscule “Ecoboost” 2.7-liter gas engine in the F-150 that, thanks to turbos and variable cam timing (which is now common), pumps out 325 HP, and 375 ft-lbs of torque at 3,000 RPM. That’s certainly enough for a camper such as the big Grandby, and if you can keep your foot off the gas pedal, offers a much more workable fuel mileage than my rig. City/highway ratings are 18/23, while in practice, mine seems to be 10/14 but, like me, you do need to keep those turbos from dumping buckets of fuel into it. Note that all fuel mileage ratings listed here and below do not necessarily take into account shorter axle ratios required for boosting towing ratings. The short-cab 4×4 version is rated at a maximum 2,110 lbs payload and can tow 8,400 pounds. Given the Grandby’s base weight of 1,200 pounds, this payload rating should do nicely.
Their little 3.5-liter Ecoboost offers 365 HP and 420 ft-lbs of torque at 2,500 RPM, which in the old days would place it firmly in big-block territory. That combination of high-RPM horsepower and low-RPM torque actually makes it their most capable combo available, putting payload in the 4×4 standard-cab version at an amazing 3,010 pounds, and towing at 11,800-12,000 pounds depending on the wheel rims chosen. Notice that payload number, which is over 500 pounds more than I have as a 4×4, and in an F-150 no less. Fuel mileage ratings at 16/22 aren’t much worse than the 2.7 motor. This motor’s specs make it obvious that it’s tuned for hauling, not drag racing, with torque at a low 2,500 RPM as the indicator and a max RPM lower than any other engine in the lineup, 5,000 RPM. It’s a grade-climber in the same spirit of my 6.4L diesel.
The naturally-aspirated version of the 3.5L drops power to real-world levels of 282 HP and 253 ft-lbs of torque at a more typical 4250 RPM. A severely dropped payload at 1,660 pounds might be partially related to engine weight, but overall is a mystery to me. Towing similarly drops to 7,400 pounds. I personally wouldn’t pick this version for a Four Wheel-style camper because of the payload limitations, unless the cost savings plus the cost of adding rear air bags somehow made it a fabulous deal and I knew exactly what components limited that spec. A 17/23 fuel mileage rating brings nothing to the table compared to others, since the lower outputs mean more throttle use overall.
Their naturally-aspirated 5.0L V8 offers a workable long-term, “low cost” workhorse option, with 385 HP and a respectable 387 ft-lbs of torque at 3,850 RPM. A max payload at 3,040 more than matches the 3.5 Eco boost, while towing ability is capped at a still-commendable 11,100 of trailer in a 4×4 standard cab. A fuel mileage rating of 15/21 is livable for a V8 of this size. The comparatively low stress of a non-turbo engine means fewer repairs in the long run, if that’s your bag.
The unfortunate part of all these F-150s, when optioned similarly to my 2008 F-250 XLT, is that they probably all cost more new today than my truck did then. Surprise. The only consolation is that all engines are offered on the lowly base XL model, making the only ratings limitations come in with what wheel size options are limited to that model. It pays to go over options with accompanying ratings as carefully as possible.
As Forrest Gump said, “That’s all I have to say about that.”