Picking Up Our Pod
Updated: Nov 26, 2020
After months of research, Wendy and I settled on purchasing an R-Pod 172 travel trailer as a way to spend six months exploring national parks en route to my parents’ house in Maryland—our final stop before moving to France in the Fall of 2017.
Our biggest challenge was to find something to accommodate us all while still being affordable and light enough for our minivan to tow. The R-pod fit the bill, with its 2,600-lb tow weight, bunk beds, and dinette/queen(ish) bed.
After hunting for the best price, we pulled the trigger in September of last year by putting a downpayment on a 172 with Tom’s Camperland in Surprise, AZ (only 5 1/2 hours away according to Google Maps). The dealer explained that due to a production backlog, our pod probably wouldn’t arrive until January or February. But we got a call shortly before Christmas letting us know our new trailer was ready for pick-up!
Since we already had plans to visit my family in Maryland for Christmas, we decided to pick up the trailer on January 4th—the first day Tom’s opened after the new year. The plan? Do the walk-through with the dealer, then camp for two nights at the nearby White Tank Mountain Regional Park.
The reality? We left Los Angeles at 6:45 on Wednesday morning, expecting to arrive at Tom’s around 1pm. But the GPS kept estimating a 3pm arrival. What does it know, I thought. Sure, I was going 55 because for some reason I thought that was the fastest we were supposed to go with a Thule box on the roof. But the idea of getting there that late made me uncomfortable. What time do they close? Will I have to drive the trailer in the dark? Will we have to set up camp in the dark?
Then, three hours into the trip, I realized I’d forgotten our checkbook. We’d spent so much time planning what to pack for our first camping trip that I forgot we needed to finish paying for the trailer first! We use an online-only bank; same-day cashiers checks and wire transfers are off the table.
After several phone calls, we finally got approval to increase the debit card point-of-sale limit for this one purchase. However, unsure whether to believe the service rep, we devised a back-up plan: we happened to have three different debit cards on us and could hopefully pool them to pay off the trailer without tripping any “You’re a terrorist or fraudster” switches. (Ultimately, we did have to use our back-up plan because our point-of-sale transaction was denied.)
Now the GPS had us arriving at 3:30pm. You little bastard! Wendy looked at her phone. The time showed an hour later than the clock in our car. Dammit! Arizona was an hour ahead! “You know, I don’t know where I read we can only go 55mph with the Thule. I think we can go faster. It’ll be fine,” I told Wendy. Fifty-five, seventy-nine—potayto, potawto. Off we went, finally passing the tractor trailers who had blown past us earlier in the day.
Turns out the dealership could not have been nicer. We worked with Dave, who explained how everything works and answered all of our questions thoroughly. He was so friendly that I decided to ask if he’d mind installing two things we’d brought with us—a propane gauge and battery cut-off switch. “Oh that’s easy,” he said, looking at the propane gauge. In less than a minute he had screwed it onto the bottle. Yep, that was easy. “But your battery cut-off switch,” he continued, “isn’t the right kind. You want a waterproof seal and it’s hard to get one with that.” Damn you R-pod owners shopping list on Amazon.
“Want it?” I asked Dave.
“No, that probably cost you a lot,” he said.
“Eight bucks. You can have it, in case you can use it for anything around here.”
“Hmm,” he said, moving it around in his hand. “Let me see if one of the guys can put it on for you.” And they did, free of charge.
We completed our trailer primer around 5pm. As a final step, Dave asked me to get in our van so he could show me how the brake controller works. He moved the switch to the left and the numbers went up. “Like this?” I asked, moving it all the way to the left. Rather than showing a number, the display said “s.h.”
Shit. “Did I break it?” I asked.
“Hmm, it has a short,” he answered.
So no, I didn’t break it. But it was broken.
Seven-thirty rolled around and the problem hadn’t been solved. It was dark. The campground closed at eight. The children had been trapped in some sort of seat for more than 11 hours. Defeated, I left a message for the campground notifying them we couldn’t make it that night, but would like to keep our reservation for tomorrow. We unpacked our food from the van and put it in the trailer’s refrigerator/freezer. (With the exception of our water bottle filled with brandy, which we retained.) We schlepped to Subway and then the Days Inn. This sucks, I thought, then smiled at Wendy and said as convincingly as I could muster, “Camping’s supposed to be an adventure, right?” Cue the brandy.
We headed back to Tom’s in the morning and within an hour, Dave had solved the problem. Camping World had used a white wire with green rather than a green wire with white. Simple as that. So he fixed it, showed me how to work the controller, and off we went to White Tank.
I had been afraid to tow the R-pod, but turns out it pretty much does what our van does. Takes a little longer to get going but it stops really well and I don’t even have to adjust my turning radius. I can even see with my regular mirrors. That’s not to say it’s easy to back up. When we arrived at the campsite, I wasn’t doing so hot trying to back it into our spot. After a couple of tries, where I’d so far been unsuccessful getting it into the driveway, I heard a woman nearby ask if we’d like some help. Hell yes.
Within an hour of our arrival, Wendy and I were connected, level, and unpacked. While I realize we were working with a best-case-scenario campsite (completely level with hookups), it was comforting to have this accomplishment under our belts. We had envisioned this day—pulling a trailer into a park and camping—and we were finally living it.
**** 2/5/17 UPDATE: I sent a letter to Camping World asking for reimbursement of about $180 for the hotel, meal, extra night of dog sitting, and labor cost for incorrect installation. They came through and offered to refund us more than $300 for our troubles. Good customer service – we’ll be back.