Browsed by
Category: Equipment

Campervan Trial

Campervan Trial

What to do…
I was looking for some adventuring options – boating, ferry rides, cruising, car camping – and such, when I settled on RV-ing. At least it’s something that can be tried out at relatively low cost and risk. There are several companies that rent RV’s for people that don’t use them full time, like an airbnb. I wasn’t going for some huge land-yacht, just something big enough for one or two people, and agile enough to tackle the camp and logging roads I like to explore.

Fortunately, there is a category of RVs, or camper vans, called “Class B” which falls into these parameters. These are usually high-roofed commercial vans, visualize the typical Amazon or FedEx delivery vehicles, that have been converted into an RV. A common chassis is the Mercedes Sprinter with 4-wheel drive. Dodge, Ford and Nissan make vehicles that are almost indistinguishable from the Sprinter. As far as I can tell the Sprinter is the only 4×4. There are many variations in outfitting and the Revel and Storyteller are widely described and reviewed. Google either of these and you’ll see many videos and blogs describing them. I checked out and found a Storyteller near me.

The sign-up and reservation process was easy. I signed up for 3 and a half days so I could pick up in the morning and return in the evening. Once I paid, I was put in contact with the owner. My reservation was a few weeks out and I was able to get a preview look at it so I could prepare as much as possible.

On the road…
I picked up the the 2023 Storyteller Mode Classic 4×4 in Wednesday morning (23.01.25), and took it home to load up my gear. There was a bin of clothing, a bin with food, coffee maker, and “stuff”, my “I hope I never have to use this” duffel, a portable toilet (much more about this later), my “office” backpack, my hiking backpack, and some bedding. I ran a few errands with the van and found that gear was sliding around all over the place due to the slick plastic floor and lack of tiedowns. Fortunately, I prepared for this. The reviews told me the Storyteller had L-tracks on the floor and I ordered some clips ahead of time. I attached these, prepped some ropes, and was able to firmly fasten everything. By about 13:00 I was on the road – a bit later than I wanted. Days are still short in January and I wanted to get to Quinalt Lake before dark. I expected the drive to take about 4 hours.

After a stop for coffee in Longview, WA, I got on the highway again and discovered I was in what is apparently a known condition called “limp mode” (Google it), however there were no dashboard warning lights. Aaaarghhh!!! Up to this point, the Sprinter had been behaving like a large, powerful sedan. It accelerated easily onto the highway, kept speed on hills, and, generally, was a joy to drive. I called the owner, who had no resolution but would do some research.

After reviewing the dash pictures I took for the owner, I noticed that there was a yellow engine check light on. Very subtle, when compared to the boldly displayed text message on the screen that told me to add DEF fluid. The check engine light can be caused by many things, all boiling down to “send in for maintenance”, which wasn’t really an option. Owner said I should carry on.

It didn’t disable me but the van now had all the acceleration of a 70’s VW bus loaded with Boy Scouts and their camping gear. Been there, done that! At this rate, I wasn’t going to make it to my preferred first stop on the north shore of Quinalt Lake – I didn’t want to navigate the forest roads and try to find a campsite in the dark. I checked the iOverlander app and found a spot right off the highway just before Quinalt Lake.

I parked on a spot about 100 yards off the highway on NF-2258, or Quinalt Ridge Road. I backed into a spot just as it got completely dark, and settled in for the night. I still had cell service so I was able to call home and do a little (fruitless) research into “limp mode”. During the night I could still hear the highway. The gravel road announced any passing cars, of which there were only a few. The only noteworthy incident was around 5:00 when a car stopped just past my spot on the road. The driver couldn’t avoid seeing my bright white van. He got out, rummaged about in the back of his station wagon and fed his dog. He did have a pretty big flashlight that he didn’t shine directly at me, but it did light up the forest. He also entertained me with some rock music. Eventually he packed up and went on his way toward the highway. Perhaps a “resident” from further up the road, trying to discourage any new neighbors? Back to sleep.

Day 2…
Got up around 7:30, had breakfast, took some pictures, and headed out to Quinalt Lake. Still in “limp mode”. Drove a ways up South Shore Road and then went to North Shore Road. Drove all the way out to North Fork Ranger Station. See pictures. Partly cloudy and some sun all morning, making for some nice pictures. Retraced a lot of where I was in 2020. No time for serious hiking. The fern field was totally brown – sad. You can compare pictures to the ones I took in 2020. I checked out the Quinalt Inn, and the person there said it had been a really hot summer.

Headed to Forks after lunch, started raining and drizzling. Picked up a green salad and a fruit salad at the market, reset power, and fueled up. Still in “limp mode”. Headed to Ho Campground and settled in to overnight there. No cell service but could text home via satellite link.

Day 3…
A beautiful rain forest winter morning! Everything was wet and sparkly, the sky was partly cloudy and the low morning sun was creating some nice effects. There was even a rainbow over the van! I had breakfast, headed to the parking lot and booted up for some hiking. I took the Hall of Mosses trail and the sun shining through the moss-covered leaf-less trees created some awesome and creepy pictures. The mile or so was as much as my hip and knee could take so got back on the road again.

Going south on 101 I stopped at some of the beaches and roadside views. Checked out campgrounds around Quinalt (all closed) and headed for a boondock just north of Neilton on NF-2303. I selected a spot on a power-line access road. This was a bit more open and sky was still only partly cloudy. Maybe see some stars?

Cell service allowed me to call home. I did a little walking about, took pictures, had dinner. I also tried out the Halo shower. Note – turn on the vent. And, when using the vent open one of the windows a little. The van is sealed pretty tight and the vent labored without some inflow. Shower worked OK, the instant heater had a lot of trouble keeping up with the flow. Way better than not having one, though. Some reading and then lights out. Highway was close enough that I could hear trucks. It did cloud over and drizzle, so no stars 🙁

Day 4…
Got up around 6:45, was still dark but I wanted to be ready to go when it was light enough to see. Usual cereal with blueberries and almond milk, and coffee. Cleaned up as much as possible and drove out at 7:45. Headed home. The Sprinter briefly got out of limp mode and then resumed after a stop. Totally weird because there was no indicator, and the vehicle had less than 6000 miles on it.

Got home, unloaded gear, cleaned, rinsed off mud, and returned to owner at ~ 13:00.

I really look forward to doing this again – once the “limp mode” issue is settled. A key advantage of camping close to hiking and scenic sites is being there early. If I was staying at the motel in Forks, as I have in the past, I’d have to get up, check out, and drive to my destination. It’s nice already being there at sunrise 🙂

Here are the pictures. You should maximize the slide viewer (in the top left corner) to properly appreciate them. These were taken with a Samsung Galaxy S21 phone. The pictures are in high resolution and may take a few seconds to load. You can click on the “+” in the top left corner to zoom in.


  • 2023 Storyteller Mode Classic 4×4 (2022 Sprinter chassis)
  • Galaxy S21 phone
  • Garmin inReach Explorer+ for satellite texting
  • Thetford Porta Potti 565
  • L-track clips for tie-downs:

Injuries: None. Haven’t been hiking or walking a lot lately so hip and knees easily tired.

Costs: The 3 1/2 day rental was $1057.90. This included 125 miles a day. Additional mileage was $0.40 per mile with tax. The vehicle got 13 miles per gallon, and at about $5.20 per gallon of diesel, that added another $0.40 per mile. Add in the periodic DEF refills and operating cost approaches a dollar per mile, not counting maintenance. Something to bear in mind for longer trips, or purchase considerations. My total driving distance was 642 miles. Would have been more with more daylight and less limping.

Comments, observations…

The Storyteller is a stock item so it makes some compromises. Clearly, if I was building my own I would do it a little differently.

  • A curtain behind the front seats would provide privacy for eating and toilet use while in areas with other people around, without need for installing all the window shields.
  • The second row seat is too wide. I kept bumping into it and it really cramped the cabins space while trying to use the galley.
  • A longer counter would be nice, even if it extended under the bed area. I didn’t use the induction plate, but when I set it out as a trial it used up most of the available space.
  • Even with the beds folded up, I had a hard time visualizing suiting up for snowshoeing or skiing for just one person, much less two. Not sure how I would fix this but needs to be considered for future trips, or a custom design. I saw some custom designs that eliminated the “lounge” area and had a bench seat and table at the back, thereby opening the central area.
  • The indicator LEDs are a nuisance at night. The USB outlet had a bright blue LED that lit up the cabin. A towel over it fixed that. Since I was using the inverter for the electric blanket, the microwave was on and it’s timer light added to the night lights. A piece of cardboard fixed that. Bring black vinyl tape next time.
  • Being able to sit or stand on the roof is fun. Also a great platform for taking pictures.


The toilet…
Having access to a toilet, in comfort, is a significant modern convenience. As one ages and the personal plumbing becomes less reliable, this is even more noticeable. In the course of reviewing the Class B RVs in general, and reading reviews of the Storyteller in particular, there was information about the toilet options that are available. Discussions covered built-ins with black water tanks, cassette systems, and totally portable options. The Storyteller comes with a portable. These are essentially two-part systems consisting of a top seat with a reservoir for the flush fluid, and a bottom reservoir that is the holding tank. After reading Joe’s review of the Thetford Porta Potti 565 on, I decided to get that, since the Storyteller came with a smaller one.

The Thetford 565, as compared to others, is almost normal toilet height, and the seat and opening are almost normal toilet size. Other models are lower and have small openings, which can make wiping and peeing while sitting uncomfortable.

As a test, I used the Thetford exclusively for both #1 and #2 at home for two weeks. One week I tried the vinegar option recommended by Joe, and for one week I tried a chemical option. Vinegar works fine and smells less, so I stayed with that for the trip.

  • Use septic tank friendly toilet paper. Mine was bamboo-based.
  • Guys – sit for #1!
  • In addition to the electric flush, I also used a spray cleaner to rinse the bowl after each use. I would also spray the bowl before a #2 to reduce sticking and streaks. Use the electric flush with each wipe to encourage the TP to fall into the hole.
  • Spray and wipe bowl to be sure it’s clean before closing the seal.

I set the toilet into the shower well on the Storyteller. The extra hoses and cleaners nestled around it to hold it in place. The lid to the well stayed open. (Sorry, no picture – one of many I forgot to take.) It worked well. There was no smell in the sealed van. Everything was closed up most of the time due to the weather. It was nice to have it available during the night and first thing in the morning.

I don’t mind having the spare toilet. It can be handy as a bedside toilet during illness, can be used during emergencies, and, of course, will be used for future camping trips. Even if I decide to go car tent-camping, it might be nice to have.

Happy wandering 🙂

What’s in Your Pack?

What’s in Your Pack?

The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared!” and I’ve taken this to heart ever since I first heard it. For example, when I wear contacts, I always keep my glasses with me because you never know when you might lose a contact or need to take them out. My eyes get dry, so I usually have a bottle of eye drops in my pocket. There’s also an extra bottle in my desk and one in the car center console. Things like this are easy to do, and if you overlook them, while they’re not life threatening, they can be a nuisance.

When you go for a walk in the local park, there is little reason to take more than your house keys and a few bucks for a coffee on the way home. Maybe take some nuts or bread crumbs for the squirrels. But if you go for a longer hike in wilderness where you could end up with a sprained ankle several miles from your car, you might want to take some extra precautions. Here’s what I have in my day pack: (I also have most of these on my bike, along with the spare tube, tools, and pump.)

  1. Small First Aid kit with:
    • Insect repellent! Don’t let some mosquitoes, no-seeums, or horseflies ruin your outing.
    • Assorted sizes of band aids, some big enough to cover a good-sized blister.
    • Small tube of Neosporin (original formula) This is a good antiseptic cream, and, because it’s mostly petroleum jelly (Vaseline), it can serve as lip balm, hand lotion, lubricant, de-squeaker, etc. It’s also great for rubbing inside the nostrils in very dry climates.
    • Needle for draining blisters
    • Eye drops, ibuprofen
    • Cold pack for heat stroke, sprains, and snake bites.
    • Emergency Whistle – these are extra loud (ear-splitting up close) and can attract attention a lot better than calling for help.

    I like to buy the stock first aid kits you can get at sporting goods stores and then modify them. I get them big enough so that after I take out the fluff (excess small bandaids, first aid manuals, etc.) I can put a lot of the stuff listed below into it. Be sure to check the contents regularly and replace tablets, ointments and dried out bandaids.
    First Aid Kit

  2. Pocket Tool: I used to carry a standard scouting knife for many years. This had a single blade, can opener, bottle opener and awl (a pointed thingy for punching holes in leather or canvas.) Then I carried Swiss Army knives with a few more tools, like scissors and files. I especially loved the tooth pick and tweezers they had. Unfortunately, my collection of Swiss Army knives is collecting dust now because I can’t open them anymore – they require younger, stronger fingernails. Now I have a collection of multi-tools. These are easier for me to open and have some extra tools I can use on my bike. I usually wear this on my belt so it is always close. I also put a miniature one in the first aid kit as a backup.
  3. Fire-starter: There are basically three kinds: matches, butane lighters, and magnesium blocks. Ordinary matches can deteriorate after a while, particularly in damp climates. The flint in butane lighters can crumble to dust in the same conditions, and magnesium blocks are only suitable for starting camp fires. They don’t work well for lighting candles or camp stoves. So, for matches get some good quality ones from you adventure supplier (sporting goods store). For butane lighters, get the electronic kind. The piezo spark generator will never wear out. If you also bring a magnesium block, be sure you know how to use it. Practice with the same knife you’ll be taking. I carry the magnesium block as a backup to one of the other two. It’s unbreakable, waterproof and can start hundreds of fires. Here are some videos showing how to use the magnesium fire starter:

  4. Space Blanket: This is a super strong sheet of aluminized Mylar that can be used to keep you warm and dry. It can be used as a shelter. I’ve tested it as a stretcher by rolling opposite ends around walking sticks, and grabbing the Mylar and the sticks at the same time. Clearly, you’ll need two people to carry the injured one. One drawback to Mylar is that a tiny nick can quickly tear all the way across the sheet. A blanket-sized sheet folds down to the size of a handkerchief.
  5. Strong cord: You’re not going mountain climbing with it, but you need enough to turn your poncho or space blanket into a shelter. It should also be thin enough to be used as a replacement shoelace.
  6. Toilet paper or pocket-size package of facial tissue: You can get special small packs of TP at your sporting goods store, or take a roll that’s about 3/4 used, flatten it, and stick it into a durable sandwich bag. It comes in handy when the local facilities are out, or for field emergencies. Other uses include starting fires, blowing noses and cleaning wounds. Make sure it stays dry and bring a spare bag to pack out the used paper.
  7. Extra water: This is in addition to your other water. Always carry extra, especially in hot, dry climates.
  8. Extra bandanas: These can be made into sweat bands, bandages, towels and bathing suits. The bathing suit trick requires several.
  9. Sun screen, depending on the season and locale.
  10. Poncho: Get the kind that’s made from a plastic fabric instead of vinyl sheet. It will be lighter and stronger. Most come with grommets at the corners for attaching string. Potential uses are almost infinite: raincoat, windbreaker, sun shade, picnic blanket, tent, privacy screen, and so on.
  11. Flashlight: While a flashlight may seem excessive for a day hike, I’ve come across enough caves, hollow trees, abandoned huts, and interesting culverts to appreciate having one handy.
  12. And last, but not least, a plastic bag for collecting trash you might find along the way.

Day Pack
Yes, I know, it seems like a lot. All this goes in my day pack along with my regular supply of food and water for the day, camera, and any other mission-specific gear, and most of the time, they just stay at the bottom of the pack. However, you just never know when some of this might come in handy.

Happy and safe wandering, and BE PREPARED!