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Choosing a new rig

July 29, 2006—I always knew that Gertie wouldn't be my home forever. In fact, two years ago when I was first making my plans to go fulltime, I considered buying a larger Lazy Daze in which to start my new life. After selling my condo in New Jersey, I had enough money in the bank to do it. But in the end, I decided that I'd stay with Gertie for at least a year, and see how I liked fulltiming before I decided to upgrade. Gertie's a very good fulltiming rig for a single person, and even though she's old, I keep her in top shape.

Still, there are things she doesn't have that I wish for. More payload capacity... the power to climb hills, and maybe tow a car... a separate desk and dinette, so I wouldn't have to move the computer out of the way to eat breakfast... a proper office chair... a generator, so I could run my air conditioner on hot days like this without plugging in.

Yes, I've learned a few things in the past year. When I started out as an RVer, I was dead set against generators—the noise, the maintenance requirements, the whole idea. I wanted to do everything with clean, silent solar power. And as long as my travels were during the fine-weather months, I pretty much could. But last winter I learned the hard truth: that no matter how many solar panels I added (I now have eight), it wasn't enough to satisfy my computer's fairly hefty power needs when the days grew short and the nights grew long. I found myself resorting to desperation measures like running Gertie's engine for an hour in the morning and again in the evening in an attempt to make up the power deficit. It was inefficient, smelly and bad for the engine. I ended up spending the month of February tethered to shore power in a commercial campground, and hating it.

And then this summer I realized how vital it is to have a generator if I want to be able to boondock without roasting alive. As I write this, it's 103° F. outside at 6:00 p.m., tomorrow's high is predicted to be 104°, and the only reason I can stand it is that I'm plugged into shore power and running the air conditioner more or less around the clock to keep the inside temperature below 85°. If I were boondocking, as I prefer to do, I'd be baking. In short, I've learned that generators have their place.

Similarly, I was against towing for a long time. I didn't want the extra complications, the loss of maneuverability—and anyway, Gertie simply doesn't have the power to pull anything bigger than a kiddy car. But I've spent several months traveling with my friends Kate & Terry, and thanks to them I've been to many places in their little Tracker that I would never have gone to in Gertie. It's become clear that without a towed vehicle (a "toad," in RVers' whimsical parlance), I miss a whole lot of experiences. So I've gradually changed my attitude about that as well.

Kate and her Tracker

But Gertie can't tow, and Gertie has no space for a generator. So I'm always weighing the pros and cons of buying a new(er) rig versus holding onto Gertie as long as I can. (After all, I have quite a few thousand dollars in upgrades invested in her!) I've checked out other people's rigs, and thought about what I'd do with more space. One in particular that changed my thinking was my friend Tami's. She'd taken a 26.5' midbath Lazy Daze—their most popular model—and altered the rear lounge so that instead of two sofa/beds, it had a single sofa/bed and a desk.

Tami's office

Now that was an arrangement I could go for! I've always felt that RVs have way too many seats and way too little workspace to suit my needs. After all, I'm a single man who works on the road—not a family of four that entertains lots of guests. Tami's adaptation yielded a better functional balance: her coach still had seating for three or four people at the dinette in the kitchen, plus the sofa in the rear... but the desk and chair provided space to do all kinds of work.

Since I run a freelance graphics business on the road, workspace is very important to me. In Gertie, everything happens on one small dinette table, athough my "sideboard" adds some space. It can get awkward at times. Doing my taxes is no fun.

Gertie lounge

You may be wondering why I don't turn the sideboard into a desk like Tami's. The answer is that the sofa base is still there under all those storage drawers, and that makes it impossible to get your legs under the work surface. Even if I got rid of the dinette table and widened the sideboard's top surface by 18" to form a desk, the narrow aisle would make it uncomfortably tight—I wouldn't be able to push my chair back far enough to get up from the desk. No, I'm afraid that I've gone about as far as I can with modifying Gertie's layout.

But thanks to Tami, I now had an idea of what I wanted: a 26.5-footer with a sofa and a desk in back. It became a matter of when to do it... and how to pay for it. I've said that I have the money to buy a new rig. But doing so would pretty much use up my nest egg, and that's not a secure feeling. So I held back... until my money-wise friend Holly suggested financing half the cost of a new rig and taking the rest from savings, leaving me with a decent financial cushion. That was a compromise I could live with, and so I resolved to order a new Lazy Daze from the factory this coming winter for delivery in the spring. (Despite having no dealers and virtually no advertising, Lazy Daze has a three- to four-month waiting list for its coaches—testimony to the high regard in which they're held.)

I planned a modified version of the "Tami floorplan": unlike hers, my desk would run the length of the side wall and wrap around onto the rear wall. I'd substitute an Aeron office chair for the Lazy Daze "barrel chair"—expensive, but worth it. (One of my only regrets at leaving New Jersey was that I couldn't bring along my Aeron chair.) I began to draw plans and think about possibilities. I was on my way to a new rig!

Wyoming outback

As Robert Sheckley once wrote, "It's only in stories that coincidences are unusual. In real life they happen all the time." The very next day after I made the decision to order a new rig, Kate spotted a "for-sale" ad in my own Yahoo Lazy Daze group for a late-model Lazy Daze that seemingly had just about everything I wanted, including the gorgeous red/maroon color scheme that I've always coveted. I even knew the seller, Mike Schafir; I'd answered some questions for him when he was picking out the rig a few years ago. Now he was planning to upgrade to a thirty-footer, and had placed his 26.5' midbath on the market.

I called Mike, and we quickly struck a deal. I learned afterward that the ad had only been posted a little over an hour before I phoned... and that there'd been three other people hot on my tail, ready to grab it if I hadn't gotten there first! I was extremely fortunate to get Mike's rig; recent-model Lazy Dazes are snapped up almost instantly when they come on the market.


Mike's rig is perfect for me because it has virtually the same options I would have ordered from the factory, but it's priced about $15,000 lower than a new rig. It has only 15,000 miles on it, so it's just nicely broken in. It has the Thermopane windows that LD introduced in 2003—a big help in staying warm in winter and cool in summer—and the Onan MicroQuiet generator that also premiered that year, which is much quieter than the old Emerald model. And of course it has a far more powerful engine than Gertie (and gets better gas mileage to boot!), plus lots of other goodies.

On the other hand, it doesn't have 589 watts of solar panels, four AGM house batteries, a 2,000 watt inverter/charger, two catalytic heaters, or some of the other niceties that Gertie boasts. I'll have to add those things to bring this rig up to the "Gertie standard." And it has two sofas in back, so I'll have to rip one out before I put in my desk. But that's OK; I've already done major surgery on a Lazy Daze sofa... last fall when Bill Haas and I cut his couch in half to make room for a glider rocker. I know I can do this.

The new rig will need a new website, of course. It'll be called "Skylarking," which fortuitously is a synonym for "having carefree fun"... like a skylark performing aerobatics for the sheer joy of it. This "Gertie" site will of course link to "Skylarking" when the time comes—perhaps in a month or two.

And what of my beloved Gertie? Well, an old friend of mine has offered to buy her. He's an experienced RVer and a man who can fix almost anything, so I know he'll take good care of her. I know it will be very hard to say goodbye to her, though, after five years of traveling together. The adventures we've had! The sights we've seen! The people we've met! I'll never forget Gertie, who introduced me to the wonderful life of an RVer.

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