You know Southern Arizona from the tour books: Forests of majestic saguaros framed by rugged cliffs, washes and grasslands. The Williams family was ready for a feast for the senses. Or so they thought.
It was Kyle Williams’ first taste of boondocking in the desert, and his family was stoked. A Lazydays senior graphic designer who recently relocated to Tucson from Florida, Kyle and his family were eager for the desert to work its magic. This late-February trip for a mountain-biking event was just the ticket.
“I’m down for this,” Kyle exclaimed to his wife, Kim, the evening before their trip. Ever since their move west, the Williams family had longed to take the RV for a desert adventure. The fact that Kyle could set up a Lazydays display at this special event made the trip even more appealing.
Mountain Bike Paradise
24 Hours in the Old Pueblo is an annual event which hosts some 1,700 racers and hundreds more onlookers, RVers and hiking enthusiasts. Set amid stunning scenery, the must-do 24-hour race for mountain bikers included four days of camping, an industry expo, entertainment and a variety of other activities.
Kyle would drive a 27-foot Class C Thor Motor Coach Chateau, towing a 19-foot R-Pod that contained a Lazydays exhibit for the event. Even with Kyle’s marketing responsibilities, there would be ample time to hike some cool trails through canyons and corrals, enjoy campfires and participate in active, outdoor family entertainment.
The Williams family RVs ready to hit the road.
“We always enjoy traveling together,” said Kyle of his family, which includes Kim, daughter Kai and their seven-year old shelter dog, Archie, an Australian shepherd/collie mix. “I’ve been with Lazydays three years and we feel so lucky to have these opportunities to get out and experience the RV lifestyle,” he noted.
The plan was to load up and leave midday. There would be plenty of time to drive the to the event, arrive refreshed, pick a camping site and set up. But on the day of departure, Kyle was running behind schedule. Kim, always good-humored about family adventures, was worried.
“I’m prepared,” he protested, although warily eying the diminishing daylight. This was a first-come, first-served event, with people showing up early to claim spots. It was close to 6 p.m. when the Williams family finally began the journey along Highway 77. Their Chateau was a confidence builder with its sturdy
construction and steadfast handling. With Kyle and Kim in the cockpit and Kai perched in the top bunk with Archie, the family enjoyed the sunset, buoyed by the magical colors just beginning to paint the rocks. They were just traveling 20 miles north of Tucson and were ready for a great weekend ahead.
This event inspires creativity
First-Timer at the Turnoff
It was dark when Kyle finally made it to the turnoff. “Oops,” he thought, remembering the late start. The roads had become more uneven and washed out in unfamiliar rough terrain. Even though he was a long-time back-country adventurer, Kyle was feeling a bit uneasy as he maneuvered down some steep washes.
“We knew one of the racers, so I called him,” explained Kyle. Pete, the mountain biker, hadn’t been able to save Kyle a spot, with so many already camped at the late hour. “I had a few more RVs behind me also looking for a spot, so I kept driving,” said Kyle. With the roads getting smaller, Kim began to give Kyle worried sideways glances. But the family also saw campers already settled along the road having a good time, so they kept going.
Bump. Slide. The motorhome drove forward. “I make it across some washes,” recalled Kyle, “but then I came to this one …”
Steep and dotted with rocks, the large wash looked like trouble. The end of a long day, coupled with Kyle’s inexperience in the dark desert, prompted a few missteps and grumbles. Kyle edged down the wash when … plunk! The motorhome bottomed and was stuck.
Almost immediately, campers nearby gathered to help. “You gotta punch it,” urged one. With palms sweating, Kyle again called Pete, who immediately came over to help.
This is one way to keep rattlers out of your tent.
The crowd grew, offering advice and muscle. As one group unhooked and secured the R-Pod (they were on a hill), others orchestrated assistance for the stuck motorhome. After hitching it to Pete’s truck, a group stood ready at back, with Kyle in the cockpit. “It was a comedy scene,” remembered Kyle, as the friendly, socializing campers attempted to also follow instructions. Back and forth they swayed. Even campers stuck behind the Chateau were out pushing and enjoying the evening. After 45 minutes of dedicated team effort, the motorcoach gave a mighty grunt and popped out of the sand. The crowd cheered.
“It was late, but I still needed to inspect for damage,” said Kyle. It appeared the generator muffler had been ripped off the Class C, and one septic pipe was dragging on the ground. Ouch!
Safety required that the team secure the R-Pod further onto the shoulder so others could get by. With the R-pod at an awkward angle and fellow RVers promising to keep watch, Kyle drove to Pete’s campsite, where other generous campers had rearranged vehicles, allowing Kyle to squeeze in.
After settling his family in for the evening, Kyle went back to check on the R-Pod. His new-found buddies had regrouped and moved it to the side of the road. Grateful for their help, Kyle surveyed the damage to the brand-new, never-been-scratched retro toy. The tongue had dragged on the rocks, and the connector cable had gotten crushed under part of the pod and grinded the lights. Exhausted, Kyle knew the only thing to do that night was to get a little sleep, then return up that crazy dirt road again to somehow pick up the R-Pod and reposition it at the expo.
Before sunrise, Kyle was up and out, gingerly maneuvering his Class C to pick up the R-Pod. Arriving at the wash, he looked around. No R-Pod. Where was it? Frantically, he called upon one of the group who had helped the night before. Sleepily, the camper drawled, “Well, we needed to clear the road for others so the organizer came by with his truck to take it away.”
The expo at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo
“Where did he take it?” Kyle asked as politely as possible. “Why, to the expo area, of course!” said the camper easily.
Kyle was dumbstruck by the kindness of his new desert friends. They’d come through in a big way. Not only was he helped out of the wash, but the R-Pod had been towed by the event organizer to a prominent spot amid the hubbub of the industry expo area. “I was just bowled over by everyone’s kindness,” said Kyle. “My leaving late made me vulnerable in an unfamiliar area. I should have paid a price for that mistake, but instead, the generosity of strangers was amazing.”
Thanking everyone, Kyle hurried over to set up the R-Pod. Despite the problems, the R-Pod was now settled in the best spot it could be, right at front gate near the event hospitality station and expo.
“The Lazydays exhibit was awesome,” exclaimed Kyle. “We had RVers, bikers and families streaming by all day.”
With earlier mistakes behind them, the Williams family was free to explore other aspects of the event — including hiking, music and grilling — as the bikers raced by. The day ended at the campfire, with the Williams clan sitting in the desert, listening to the stories of fellow campers. The family felt like they had wandered into a cathedral of saguaros. They marveled at the beauty of the desert, as s’mores by the fire lulled everyone to a relaxed and happy state.
The main (or mane) event!
“Anyone who tells you RVing is perfect all the time is just lucky,” smiled Kyle. “A camping trip like this is the stuff memories are made of.”
What did Kyle learn? Check out his pointers below. He enjoyed this desert boondocking so much that he started discussing a new trek with Kim and Kai just after the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo adventure.
“Plan all you want,” Kim laughed as the family headed back down to Tucson. “As long as we stay out of the washes!”
Kyle’s 10 Best Bets for Desert Boondocking
- Map Manifesto: Make sure you plan your route and are familiar with the terrain and conditions of turnouts along the way.
- Vehicle Smarts: Know your vehicle’s limits. Read the owner’s manual and do a practice run prior to travel. Inexperience got the best of me because I did not know my clearance.
- Pre-Trip Equipment Check: Be ready for adventure by checking the generator, tires, battery, wipers, engine oil, fluids, lights and filters.
- Daylight Driving: It’s not a good idea to go into desert in the pitch black, especially with no reservations! Approach the desert (or any terrain you’re not familiar with) with respect.
- Accessorize for Safety: Be sure the vehicle is stocked with first-aid essentials and emergency tools, including gadgets like jumper cables and flashlights.
- Pack Pre-Made Meals: It’s important to stock the larder when you’re boondocking. Precook as much as you can to create a self-sufficient sampler everyone enjoys. You never know when you’ll need quick burrito wrap!
- Simple Necessities: Sometimes the simplest things are the easiest to forget. Pack the toilet paper, plates and sunscreen. Bring a journal to document exciting new discoveries and the wealth of learning experiences. Bring games and your cell phone to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot in the desert. Allow the kids a regulated bit of Internet time. After all, every eight-year-old needs at least one Taylor Swift video!
- Pet-Friendly Camping: Even dogs as easygoing as Archie can have problems in unfamiliar territory. It takes a little coordination and planning, but remember to bring portable bowls, plastic bags, a long lead and plenty of water.
- Boondock Camping and Courtesy: Being a good neighbor is essential. When you’re dry camping, take care not to run your battery down. Find a level area. Keep your campsite clean. It’s all about camaraderie and respect for nature.
- Patience: So often on this trip, our tempers could have gotten the best of us. Instead, we all stayed calm, and laughed about it with strangers. Getting upset or frustrated is not your friend while boondocking!