Tag: Northstar 850sc

Heading West: The Great American Road Trip Commences

Jon and I souped our truck and finally put the Northstar 850 SC slide in camper on top. It took two days to pack everything we own (I thought not much, but after cramming everything into every little crevice, it turns out we have a lot of crap) and finally hit the road.

Jon and I getting ready to hit the road in our Northstar Camper
Jon and I getting ready to hit the road in our Northstar Camper

We started traveling west from Chicago on I-80 with one destination in mind: The Northstar Camper factory in Waterloo, Iowa.

I’ve traveled the world over and have had lofty destinations like Sydney, Bangkok, Honolulu, San Francisco. Waterloo, Iowa was the first stop on our list, and honestly it didn’t sound like much. The idea was to shoot straight through Iowa and Nebraska and just hit up the Rockies. But as usual, travel offers you unexpected delightful surprises.

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We made an appointment to meet with Rex, a co-owner of Northstar, so that he could help us iron out the finer details of our camper since our dealer had zero experiences with our model.

After 5 hours of driving through boring Illinois, we arrived in Waterloo. We pulled into the Northstar Factory, and Rex greeted us with open arms.

He immediately grabbed a forklift to move other models of slide in campers out of the way and made us his first priority. The minute we got out of the car, he started caulking the roof, nailing in loose bits and firing off very useful pieces of information.

As it turns out, Northstar operates a very family-oriented business out of a smallish warehouse off a country road in Iowa. Rex, the co-owner recalled growing up on that very block.

“The carnival would roll into town and my dad was friends with the carnies. They would set up a ride in the parking lot and we’d eat hot dogs and funnel cakes and just have good old-fashioned fun,” Rex said. “Then they’d show us their RVs.”

The RV culture is alive and well in the USA. I always chalked RVers up to be bored, retired people, but once you get an RV and start going places, you realize how many awesome wanderers are really out there. A lifelong passion for building campers for lovers of RVs was born in Rex at a young age.

Rex took 2 hours out of his day to show us how to use our awning, the fridge, power system, stove, hot water heater, furnace, toilet and water system. Where we had left a valve open in the water system, he plugged it up and filled us up with 40 gallons of water with a wink of the eye. His 21-year-old cat slunk around the workshop, drinking our drained (clean) water off the floor. Meeting with Rex was like visiting an uncle: He told us stories of the road, gave us tried and true tips and even gave us an awesome alternate route to Colorado along US 30 (runs parallel to I-80, but has those small little towns to stop off at along the way).

He told us that over 40 percent of his business is overseas, with a huge interest in Australia. I recalled fondly the beautiful, wild landscapes of Australia when I was backpacking last year. One day maybe we can take our Northstar down under and really live off the grid!

After Rex fixed us up, we walked around a bit and saw the different models of Northstar campers being built. It was a really neat, home-grown production facility epitomized by sincerity and quality.

So many campers, so little time!
So many campers, so little time!

I’m very happy with our purchase and would recommend anyone to get a Northstar Camper. Also, if you have the time and you’re heading west like us, stop by and talk to Rex. He will give you all the pointers you need in the world. After all, he built the thing!

After stopping in Waterloo, Jon and I head south to Cedar Rapids and then continued on our journey west on 30. We stopped in Tama for dinner, a very small farmer town in rural Iowa before making camp at Outback Campground on top of a hill.

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It was a fun day full of unexpected surprises. The best feeling is the open road. Although we only finished one day on the road, we already realized the best plan is no plan. When leaving the factory, we asked Rex how much we owed him for his time. He said those golden words:

“Just get out of here and have some fun. Consider this a great start to a great trip.”

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If you are interested in Northstar Campers, visit their website at http://northstarcampers.com/

Finding the perfect vessel

It’s official: I have itchy feet.

The only thing that makes my feet even itchier is being in a relationship with a guy who loves to travel too. At the drop of a hat, we can see ourselves anywhere at anytime. We both are aware of our freedom and the excitement associated with the open road.

Jon and I are both living in Chicago in our studio apartment. It’s a nice neighborhood and we both have good jobs. We go out to eat, get dressed up and relax just like any other normal people do.

But after a few months of hibernation after Hawaii, we both put on a few extra pounds and missed our Vitamin D. I have become increasingly burned out with work, as well as him. There’s nothing quite as exhausting as working as a server in the restaurant industry 5-6 days a week, 8 hours a day. Dealing with people in general is exhausting. Most days, we like to come home from work and just zone out.

I know this is not my personality. I typically enjoy talking to and meeting new people. But when people start talking AT you, it becomes tiring, mentally and physically.

In any case, Jon thought of an idea which I think is a good one and we’re going to try it out together. The traveling couple.

Since both of us work jobs in the hospitality industry, our schedules are pretty flexible. The industry is almost always looking for help considering the transient nature of the business. Both Jon and I have wandering attention spans and get burned out quickly. Plus, we very much enjoy leisure time.

Since our time together, we average about 3 months of work and 1 month off. This gives us enough time to save money for our next “jaunt.” I enjoy the change of scenery, and most of all, I enjoy that sweet month off.

We decided that instead of getting ourselves into a lease, furnishing a place and making a life every where we land, to instead be turtles and live with our house on our back.

For that reason, we spent weeks searching for the perfect vessel.

The romantic idea in which we put into fruition is that we would like to travel and be free agents. We want to be able to go wherever, whenever, within reason.

Both of us have never seen many parts of the United States, Canada or Mexico. So we decided on an extended road trip. This trip will be comprised of work and play. It’s going to start off with camping around various places in the United States for a few weeks, possibly a month. We are going to blow off some steam, camp, fish, hike, and reconnect.

From there, with the help of websites like www.CoolWorks.com and www.WorkingCouples.com, we plan to find seasonal work, preferably jobs that offer employee housing (many of them do), as our perfect vessel can be lived in, but is a bit tight for full-time usage. If we had to, we could, as it’s fully functional.

About our setup

The per-requisites for our vessel became clearer as our dream unfolded. This was our wishlist:

Something small

Has to be relatively stealthy (We want to off road and “boondock” meaning going off the grid for a week at a time)

Good on gas mileage (HUGE!)

Must be attached to or BE and everyday vehicle (We were looking for a Vanagon, but those are very hard to find in the Midwest!)

Affordable (Under 10K)

Relatively new with good resale value

Must have cooking space, shower and toilet,self-sustainable

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As we looked, we discovered the RV world. We looked at and test drove Class A, Class B and Class C motor homes. We popped our heads in pop-ups and considered just roughing it in the back of a van with camping gear. Until we found what we were looking for.

We stopped by the Airstream dealer one afternoon on a whim, as a previous lead that day didn’t pan out. Then we saw it:

Our 2006 Northstar 850 SC Truck Camper!
Our 2006 Northstar 850 SC Truck Camper!

This camper is perfect for many reasons. It was within budget, a relatively decent year (2006), had one previous owner who took immaculate care of it and had every basic amenity we needed. PLUS, it looks stealthy enough on the back of a truck, is completely self-sustaining and would allow us to live in it for weeks, maybe even months at a time. Not only that, but if we ever wanted to, we can leave the camper behind and take our “every day” vehicle, the truck, out for a spin when need be.

Here is an overall view of the layout:

Kitchen, toilet/shower combo, dining area, bed. What else do you need?
Kitchen, toilet/shower combo, dining area, bed. What else do you need?

The inside of spacious enough. When it’s traveling, you fold it down, but when it’s time to get in and live a little, you crank up the ceiling, or pop it up, for extra head space. The unit also has an outdoor awning so we could set up a barbeque and some chairs for a nice evening under the stars.

I tried to capture a few photos, not all of them great. I’ll be updating more with time, but here are some preliminary ones:

From the outside looking in. Notice the awesome USA stickers. I want to fill that thing OUT!
From the outside looking in. Notice the awesome USA stickers. I want to fill that thing OUT!

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Jon checking out the storage under the bed
Jon checking out the storage under the bed
The toilet/shower combo.
The toilet/shower combo.
Hello, new lifestyle
Hello, new lifestyle

In any case, there are many new things to learn with this new lifestyle. Jon and I are studying up about waste removal, water tank capacity, electricity and power. It’s definitely going to be a learning curve, but a very fun one, I think!

We purchased a Ford F250 3/4 ton truck with 4 wheel drive and an off road package. The vehicle is used, a 2004, with about 150,000 miles on it. It has a 6.5 foot bed and extended cab for extra storage space (hello charcoal grill!) Pictures of that and the complete, put together vehicle soon to come.

I am excited for this journey on the open road. The only plan now is to head west. We both love the idea of a week or two of remote camping and hiking in Colorado (and places along the way) before trying to find some work. Oh yeah, and hot springs. We both want to find some hot springs. Shouldn’t be too bad, right?

Good times ahead, me thinks
Good times ahead, me thinks