It’s supposed to drop to 6°F in Chapel Hill tonight, and our new motorhome is not winterized. But our plumbing is safe because right now we’re camping on Hilton Head Island, having escaped the brunt of Winter Storm Helena. We had originally planned a “shakedown cruise” for February to check out all the new Allegro systems and identify anything that needs to be fixed under warranty. Seeing that snow and freezing rain would probably trap us in our house this weekend, we drove 5½ hours south to Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort, a beautiful wooded campground that is walking distance to shopping and restaurants.
The drive itself was surprisingly easy as we traveled on interstate freeways, two-lane roads, and small town streets. We adapted quickly to the larger driving footprint of the Allegro, and the view from the expansive front and side windows is spectacular. This is the first time we had driven the new motorhome fully loaded with our gear, and the bottom-weighted coach made steering/tracking easier than when I first drove it empty last weekend. Parking at our tree-lined campsite was rather challenging, and that’s when I truly missed the form factor of the Free Spirit. And nowhere in the cab is there a gauge for fuel economy . . . probably wise, since there are some things I just don’t want to know right now.
Normally we would be bicycling on the island’s extensive network of bike paths, but the Hilton Head weather so far has been rain, wind, and unseasonably cold temperatures. So we’ve mostly been inside cooking, reading, watching a movie and an NFL playoff game, working on our computers, and reading a mountain of instruction manuals. Not our usual camping recreation plan, but certainly a legitimate test of our indoor living space, and it seems like we made some good decisions on the floor plan and the options we selected.
This is a trip we would not have done in the Free Spirit, which is better suited for weather that encourages us to spend most of our daytime hours outside. Even if we did attempt this particular trip, we would have had to winterize the Free Spirit since the nighttime temperatures dropped well below freezing. But the Allegro has no externally exposed plumbing like the Free Spirit; the fresh water and wastewater tanks and all “exterior” plumbing features are located in basement storage bays that are vented with warm air from the propane-fired furnace. Just to be sure, I’m monitoring the temperature of the most critical compartment (the “wet bay” where the water pump, outside shower, and tank valves are located) using a wireless Netatmo sensor system that can transmit remote temperature data over a WiFi connection. As I write this, the wet bay is 71°F while the outside temperature is 30°F.
With a 70-gallon fresh water tank and plumbing protected in this way, we’ve got ample running water for days of full kitchen and bathroom use. For electricity, we have four house batteries that can be recharged by a 7 kW generator (fueled from our 80-gallon gasoline tank) that automatically starts if the battery voltage drops too low. When we’re using the batteries, all of the 120V electrical outlets stay powered thanks to a 2 kW pure sine wave inverter. These components are all part of an optional electrical package that includes a 20-cubic foot residential refrigerator, so we can pack more food and rely less on grocery stores while traveling.
Of course, none of that energy and water independence matters right now – we are at a full-hookup campsite that is walking distance from a grocery store. But we will face frigid temperatures when we return to Chapel Hill tomorrow. When we get back, I’m going to try storing the motorhome with the furnace thermostat set in the low 40s, and I will continue monitoring the coach and wet bay temperatures remotely. I will also use our Piper NV remote camera (see this blog post) to keep a remote eye on the propane gauge. We should be able to leave the refrigerator turned on and the pantry stocked, all part of a plan to keep the Allegro ready for shorter getaways when time permits – or when the weather chases us away.
[My "winterizing alternative" setup is detailed here.]