R-Pod’s First Voyage

Mount Magazine Cameron Bluff Campground

Mount Magazine Cameron Bluff Campground

For our first R-Pod voyage, we drove the short 60-miles to Mount Magazine State Park. The Pod was a joy to pull up AR 309 to the mountaintop. Entering the visitor center, I couldn’t help but notice the trailhead I would be walking the next morning. I was looking forward to customizing a loop route linking three separate trails for my trail guide.

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The next morning, Hike-dog and I headed back to the visitor center for a nice hike. We started out on the Will Apple’s Road Trail with low expectations because of the “road” in the name. This old roadbed that was used in the 1800s to transport produce down the mountain turned out to be the perfect beginning for the day. It was a level trail for warming up early in the morning before tackling rougher paths.

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We took the spur off of Will Apple’s Road to see a small pool that would have held a strong attraction for Hiker later in the day when she was thirsty. A small concrete footing was poured a few feet away which may have held a pump at one time. Creeks were dry, but this little concrete pool held water, so a small spring or seep must be located up the rocky drainage.

We quickly arrived at the Mount Magazine Horse Camp, a great place to park if you’re hiking Bear Hollow. We quickened the pace as we entered this beautiful hollow. The trail skirts the upper ridge and eventually comes to some nice overlooks. We decided to hang out at Inspiration Point for a while at sunrise. As the sun came up Bear Hollow filled with clouds. You could see them moving up the valley.

A hazy sunrise

A hazy sunrise

Looking up the hollow to Sunrise Point from Inspiration Point.

Looking up the hollow to Sunrise Point from Inspiration Point.

After enjoying Bear Hollow, we arrived at Benefield Picnic Area. Along the way, you pass a grave marker that reminds you of how common it was to lose a child before modern medicine.

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Benjamin Benefield had a large homestead on top of the mountain.  Hiker acted as if Mr. Benefield built this little pond just for her. We heard some nice frog songs around the edges.

Benefield Pond

Benefield Pond

Eventually, the trail came alongside a bluff line overlooking the Petit Jean River Valley. On this morning, the valley was filled with clouds, but still beautiful. We continued around our customized loop and ended the day back at the visitor center. We were both thirsty and ready for a nap. It was a wonderful day, and I was already planning my next trip to Mount Magazine.

Petit Jean River Valley

Petit Jean River Valley

After a nap it was time to satisfy a couple of healthy appetites and plan the following day’s hikes!

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Temperatures were so mild that we didn’t use the air conditioner on our second night on the mountain. I must brag on Hiker-dog. She sleeps in a wire crate next to our trailer and doesn’t bark or disturb fellow campers through the night.

We thought of the pullout as a negative while shopping, but have decided that it creates enough additional space that it is worth the extra weight. This 16-foot camper is a comfortable little tent on wheels for two.

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A Tent on Wheels?

My home on the trail after lessons learned (all under 32 pounds).

On the right is my home on the trail after years of lessons learned (all under 32 pounds).

My first experience with backpacking was a disaster. My pack was too heavy. My shoes were too tight. Temperatures were too high, and mosquitoes were swarming. I loved backpacking and was hooked! I continue to backpack now, twenty years later, and continue to learn with every trip.

Why would a backpacker who prefers ultra-light travel want what I’ve sometimes called with a smirk, “a tent on wheels?”  I’ll answer this question later.

Before I started backpacking, I purchased a pack, sleeping bag, tent, and camp stove. I use none of those original items today even though they’re still intact. Knowing what I now know, I would have bought a different piece of equipment in every case.

Purchasing the wrong tent on wheels (or travel trailer) would be an expensive mistake. My wife and I planned a trip to Buffalo Point and rented a camper trailer from a local dealer. They were great to work with and provided us with a Dutchmen Kodiak 24-foot unit that weighed about 4000 pounds. The interior was very nice, and the air conditioner worked well, an important feature in July. It was the perfect camper trailer because it offered everything we could want at a size and weight we “could” tow.

Dutchmen Kodiak 24-foot

Dutchmen Kodiak 24-foot

From our three nights at Buffalo Point, we knew we wanted a lighter camper. Just because you can pull it doesn’t mean you should. As in backpacking, lighter is better but involves some trade-offs (or sacrifices). We determined what was essential for us.

1. A flush toilet and shower

2. A bed and dinette area that are separate and can be left set up, allowing one of us to take a nap while the other reads or writes at the dinette.

3. A weight limit of 3000 pounds and length limit of 20-feet. These were arbitrary numbers but gave some guidance.

4. That we tow the RV with our present vehicle (Jeep Grand Cherokee) since I plan to drive it for several more years.

While not essential, we liked fiberglass exteriors for durability and resistance to hail damage. We also liked a fiberglass roof better than a rubber roof if we had a choice.

What were we willing to sacrifice?

1. We were willing to go with a much smaller bathroom.

2. We didn’t need an oven but wanted to be sure we had a microwave and a stovetop burner.

After enjoying our rental experience, visiting with campers at Buffalo Point, walking through many travel trailers, and reading reviews, we began to lean toward the Forest River RPod. The R-179 floor plan with its spacious kitchen (by RV standards) and a separate dinette and bed best met our needs. The dry weight was around 2700 pounds. The length was 16-feet (20 with the hitch).

We located a dealer with an R-179 in stock and were impressed after walking through, crawling under, and generally kicking the tires. We reached a good price and made the purchase a few days later. Working with the knowledgeable folks at the dealership got us off to a safe start with our little trailer.

RPod 179

RPod 179

While pulling the travel trailer home, my Jeep purred “thank you.” I realized no extended mirrors would be needed and liked being able to view the rear wheels for reference when turning or staying centered in my lane.

Why a tent on wheels?

I love backpacking and will continue to do extended outings, but also enjoy day hiking. A travel trailer will increase our flexibility in getting to the trails we want to explore. We like the idea of having a comfortable base camp at the end of the day. My wife loves being out in nature and doing day hikes, but is not into backpacking. I love being with my wife and having time to visit in the evening and enjoy meals together. It’s also nice to have a secure and dry location for a camera and computer when reviewing trails.

We’re looking forward to some trips into Missouri soon and welcome any recommendations on day hiking locations as well as RV parks. We’re new at this, so suggestions and advice about RV camping are welcome!

Check out this tiny combined toilet shower. “Navy showers” are recommended, so you don’t use up the 6-gallon hot water tank. You can see the bed that remains set up beyond the bathroom.

Toilet and shower

Toilet and shower

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We were surprised at how much space the single pull-out adds. The dinette and refrigerator are housed in the pull-out.

Dinette and kitchen.

Dinette and kitchen.

Hopefully, my next pictures will be on location at Lake Fort Smith State Park. The scene below was from a couple of months ago 0.2 mile from the campground.

Shepherd Spring Waterfall

Shepherd Spring Waterfall

Looking forward to winter and some multi-night backpacking trips with my 32-pound n0-wheels load. Still a backpacker at heart! I’m just a backpacker with one tent on wheels.