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Old 07-11-2017, 12:08 AM   #1
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8 days of boondocking in our 2017 AI - a report of our shakedown trip

I'm going to break this thread up into several posts because it will be pretty long.

This was our first big trip in the AI. 3000 miles and 7 states over 8 days. Temps ranged from middle 50's to a high of 110. Mostly sun, some rain, some intense wind. Roads ranged from 80mph freeway to 15mph creeping along on something akin to a jeep trail that was supposed to be "road construction" but was more like road DEstruction. Never once plugged in and wild camped, campground camped, and camped on BLM land.

Over it all, the AI was excellent. Not a single squeak or rattle (which is amazing given some of the "roads" we were on..... ). At the start, the steering was perfect at any speed, but after all of the abuse, I do have a wiggle in the wheel above 70mph and will need an alignment. I'm not surprised given the conditions.

On with the report.....

WAIT, YOU BOONDOCKED IN YOUR AI? FOR 8 DAYS?!? -

I know a lot of people lament the AI's perceived weakness in this area, but given how we travel, it worked surprisingly well unplugged. This was a huge boon for our trip because it was scheduled a bit last-minute so we didn't have reservations anywhere. This turned out to be a real eye-opener and really showed why these Class B's are so versatile. We rolled into one of my favorite areas in central Oregon Saturday night (first day of the long July 4th holiday) in an area where there are 6 campgrounds and they were all full. Mind you these are not reservable, so a total of about 150 camp sites had filled up. No worries. We just drove down a few forest service roads, found a nice quiet spot to pull into, and viola, we were set. The next day we were able to find a spot in my favorite campground, right on the river.

Something that you quickly discover when boondocking is you rarely find a level spot, and it can be a real chore to get the rig set up. Well....since the '17 AI has an electric compressor fridge, being level no longer matters. This, in my opinion, is HUGE. It didn't matter where I parked or how sloped the ground was, the fridge worked fine and I didn't have to monkey with leveling blocks, pads, ramps, or any of the other "stuff" I've had to use in the past with rigs that had an absorption fridge. I will NEVER own anything other than an electric fridge going forward. I've been permanently spoiled.

Oh, about the batteries. They never went below 12v. 8-9hrs running the fridge with a few hours of fans, some lights, the water pump now and again, and charging up various electronics (tablets and phones) didn't put much of a dent in them. This was the big surprise for me. After reading about how pathetic the batteries are I was impressed with how well they performed. We would drive anywhere from 1hr to as much as 8hrs in a day, and this was plenty to charge everything back up for another night.

Here are a few pics of our camping spots:

Wild camping -



Riverside campground -



Canyon campground -



Up next:
- Size matters
- Vehicle performance in heat, 8% grades, and high winds.....
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Old 07-11-2017, 05:12 AM   #2
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Good to hear, and sounds like you had a great trip.

We spent about a month in the Rockies some years back, traveling like this....spending a night or two in one NF site before moving on to another, never having a problem with our batteries.

The flexibility of this kind of travel is what these rigs are meant for.

Enjoy.

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Old 07-11-2017, 06:09 AM   #3
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Nice write-up. Can you provide some info on your battery and solar setup?

Thanks
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Old 07-11-2017, 07:04 AM   #4
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Nicely done! LB_3 and I are both employed and have limited time off, so the longest we've been able to boondock is eighteen days across six thousand miles. I intend to lengthen that, and hopefully before this year is out.

Of course, during that interval, we did seize opportunities to dump wastewater and take on fresh water (and other essential supplies such as pizza). No need to pass up any such chance.
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Old 07-11-2017, 07:13 AM   #5
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Looks like y'all had a blast! Nothing like the freedom to travel wherever and whenever ya want.

Thank you.
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Old 07-11-2017, 08:52 AM   #6
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8 days of boondocking in our 2017 AI - a report of our shakedown trip

Thanks for sharing! Looking forward to reading the rest of the trip report! We used our '17 AI lounge over the long weekend on a trip from Huntsville, AL to Orlando, FL with my wife, our 3 teenagers and my sister-in-law and her 2 sons. 8 passengers, temps in the 90s, beyond horrible traffic through Atlanta, and drove straight through. Not a single complaint from anyone - everyone rode in comfort, played video games and watched movies on the TVs, got snacks and drinks from the fridge, went to the bathroom when they wanted (my 8 year old nephew went it seemed every hour - I figure that alone saved me an hour of stopping and aggravation), and stretched their legs when needed. Everyone's luggage fit in rear cargo area and in overhead compartments. Meanwhile I could keep the cruise set between 75-80 mph (when traffic permitted) without the motor breaking a sweat. Contrasting our trip with your couple boondocking trip really illustrates how versatile these vans are.
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Old 07-11-2017, 09:23 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dalwyn View Post
Nice write-up. Can you provide some info on your battery and solar setup?

Thanks
Batteries are what comes with the AI, so two 80Ah Lifeline 24T's for the house.

Solar is the single 100W panel that comes standard on the '17 but I replaced the Atkinson solar charge controller with a Renogy MPPT controller. This made a huge improvement in solar charging performance as it keeps my batteries at 13.2v vs. 12.7v.
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Old 07-11-2017, 09:33 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by InterBlog View Post
Nicely done! LB_3 and I are both employed and have limited time off, so the longest we've been able to boondock is eighteen days across six thousand miles. I intend to lengthen that, and hopefully before this year is out.

Of course, during that interval, we did seize opportunities to dump wastewater and take on fresh water (and other essential supplies such as pizza). No need to pass up any such chance.

I left my job when my wife became ill and my work wouldn't give me the time off to care for her and our daughter. My family comes first so I resigned. Now that she is fully recovered, I'm back looking for work, but in the mean time I'm taking full advantage of the time off and spending it doing things like this. Turning lemons into lemonade and creating lifelong memories for my daughter, one beautiful day at a time.....
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Old 07-11-2017, 11:10 AM   #9
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SIZE MATTERS -

I've traveled and camped in Class A's (up to 40ft), C's (up to 28ft), trailers (hard side and pop ups), and now a Class B. Each have their pluses and minuses, and fit a different style. Over the years, I've come to realize that no matter how you travel and camp, the one constant is you have a lot more opportunities and options the smaller you are (total length in the case of towing a trailer). This idea really made itself evident on this trip. Since we just went without much forethought or planning (and went on the busiest travel/camping weekend of the year..... ), we had no reservations anywhere and just a rough idea of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see and do.

At 24ft long, these rigs fit pretty much any campsite there is, whether it be a campground, BLM land, or a wide spot along a forest service road. When we pulled through the six, yes SIX campgrounds at our first night's destination, it was obvious this was going to be "fun". We ended up tucking into a spot along a forest service road, listening to the wind in the trees and the faint sound of a nearby creek cascading over rocks. Wonderful! No way a Class A or car/trailer would have fit there, and certainly no way to get a Class A leveled. Our next destination had us pulled in front of a relative's 2 car garage at their lake cabin....perfect fit! The biggest challenge was showing up at Yellowstone National Park with no reservation. As some of you may know, Yellowstone has some reserve-able campgrounds and some first-come, first-serve campgrounds. My strategy was to camp just outside the park on some BLM land and get up early and hope to find a spot before they all filled up. It turns out that due to our small size, we had quite a few choices and found a nice spot at Indian Creek. It was funny when I walked up to the camp host and asked about spots she asked "how big is your rig?". I said "24ft". She said "Oh, that's easy, you should fit anywhere".

Something else to consider is driving. Again, for those familiar with Yellowstone, you're pretty much out of luck in a big Class A. With those, I think the best strategy is to park it outside the park and use your toad to travel those small winding roads. They are simply too big to navigate in there. Even the width of the Class C's was problematic at times, especially at the Darwin stops....you know, the places where the people pull to the side of the no-shoulder road to get out and get close to the wild animals (bear, bison, antelope, moose, elk, etc) and see which one wins the Darwin award for the dumbest way to die. These traffic jams happened daily, and more than once I saw Class C mirrors smash into each other (on rental rigs of course.....), trucks pulling trailers get trailer wheels stuck on curves, and on the west side of the north loop between Mammoth and Norris they are doing MAJOR road construction which caused all manor of mayhem (think bombed out jeep trail and you'll get the idea). Through it all, having a Class B proved to be perfect (in some cases, a 4x4 Class B would have been better...... ).

I took this picture at a rest stop that I think pretty well sums up my point:





Next up:

- Vehicle performance in heat, 8% grades, and high winds.....
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Old 07-11-2017, 11:12 AM   #10
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Great perspective in the rest stop photo.
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Old 07-11-2017, 12:06 PM   #11
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Be careful letting your battery drop down to 12.0v. 12.2v is ~50% state of charge on those Lifeline batteries.
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Old 07-11-2017, 01:12 PM   #12
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Be careful letting your battery drop down to 12.0v. 12.2v is ~50% state of charge on those Lifeline batteries.
Good point, and I should be clear that my batteries were typically 12.1/12.2v in the morning.

That said, even at 12.0v, which according to the Lifeline site is 40% SOC (60% DOD), the resulting reduction in lifespan is only 20%, going from approx. 1000 cycles (if you never go below 50% DOD) to 800 cycles. If we go on 3-4 week-long camping trips a year (which is the only time we'll deep discharge the batteries...the rest of time we're taking long day trips, etc), that's about 30 discharge cycles per year. The math says the batteries will die of old age long before they die from use.

FWIW, when they do die, I think I'll be going with four 6v "golf cart" batteries for less money than the cost of replacing the Lifelines and have 220Ah of usable capacity, which is nearly 3x what the Lifelines provide. If I can make it overnight on 40-50Ah, I should be just fine. Of course if the next gen graphene batteries are available by then, I'll be dumping chemical batteries altogether.....
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Old 07-11-2017, 01:46 PM   #13
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Batteries are what comes with the AI, so two 80Ah Lifeline 24T's for the house.

Solar is the single 100W panel that comes standard on the '17 but I replaced the Atkinson solar charge controller with a Renogy MPPT controller. This made a huge improvement in solar charging performance as it keeps my batteries at 13.2v vs. 12.7v.
OK - changing the solar charge controller is a big help. Probably the most cost effective change you can make to an Interstate. Too bad Airstream doesn't use a better controller. I doubt you could have done what you did with a stock Atkinson controller.
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Old 07-11-2017, 03:24 PM   #14
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OK - changing the solar charge controller is a big help. Probably the most cost effective change you can make to an Interstate. Too bad Airstream doesn't use a better controller.
Definitely agree.

What really puzzles me is Airstream added 2 more panels on the 18's for a total of 300W, which is a great move, but stuck with the same crappy Atkinson controller. That seems like a huge waste of solar power. The panels are about $150-170 each, and a good MPPT controller is about the same. They would have been much farther ahead if they switched controllers and dropped a panel. Same cost, but 2 panels w/ MPPT would be SO much more effective than 3 panels w/ the Atkinson.....
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Old 07-11-2017, 03:58 PM   #15
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FlyFishinRVr, you must be a mind reader. We just got back from a wonderful trip to central oregon and was just thinking about a week long one to Yellowstone. And I was thinking about posting about it here and get some feedback!!! So your post and detailed experience is wonderful.

FYI with our 300 amp hour lithium with similar use to yours plus using the Microwave on the inverter for 5 minutes or so, we use up about 30% of our capacity. This is with "coulomb" counting metering which is far more accurate than voltage measurements.

Thanks again.
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Old 07-11-2017, 04:16 PM   #16
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FlyFishinRVr, you must be a mind reader. We just got back from a wonderful trip to central oregon and was just thinking about a week long one to Yellowstone. And I was thinking about posting about it here and get some feedback!!! So your post and detailed experience is wonderful.

FYI with our 300 amp hour lithium with similar use to yours plus using the Microwave on the inverter for 5 minutes or so, we use up about 30% of our capacity. This is with "coulomb" counting metering which is far more accurate than voltage measurements.

Thanks again.
LOL! That's awesome....and a little spooky.

Absolutely go to Yellowstone! The AI is the perfect vehicle for both the campgrounds and the roads (just beware of that west section of the north loop), and right now Old Faithful is feeling frisky and having some really big eruptions. The timing is still slowing and is now 95 minutes between blasts, but according to frequent visitors, recent blasts are about as high as they ever get. Also, hit all the "big attractions" (Old Faithful, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs, etc) early in the day because the parking areas become a nightmare once the park starts getting busy (typically around noon). Visitors totally disregard parking areas designated for RV's so even at 24ft you will find it difficult to find a place to put the AI after lunch.....
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Old 07-11-2017, 11:01 PM   #17
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VEHICLE PERFORMANCE IN HEAT, 8% GRADES, AND HIGH WINDS -

When I was doing my research re. what RV to buy, there were a few things I wanted: smooth, quiet ride and enough power to deal with western camping (i.e. driving through the mountains). I'm happy to say that the turbo diesel in the Interstate provides all the power I need and is no louder than my SUV when climbing up a hill. Very impressive when you consider the Interstate is over 5 tons and can still return over 20mpg on the freeway.

Speaking of over 5 tons, that's really felt coming back down those grades. Normally that's not an issue because you can use the engine and transmission to keep the coach at a safe speed, but it didn't seem like the Mercedes setup was up to the task. In conjunction with the usual downhill truck braking technique (apply brakes to slow down, then let up to let brakes cool), downshifting worked fine, but be aware that the transmission alone isn't strong enough to get the job done. This isn't a big rig with Jake brake!

I've seen posts asking about safe crosswind speeds. Well, on the trip home coming through the middle of Nevada we got into the front of a thunder storm that was rolling through and it was gusting WELL over 30mph. It was wild watching a rocky slope get hit with one of these gusts and throw up a huge cloud of dust. Whenever I saw that, I knew to hang on because I was about to get hit too. What surprised me is the van would get rocked pretty good, but it was nothing like what I felt when driving a Class A or C. In the AI, it would stay in the lane just fine. In the Class C's I've driven, gusts like that would push me into the next lane and nothing I did would prevent it. The A's were somewhere in between depending on size, make, and model. So....to answer the question about safe crosswind speed, I think the answer is unless it's a tornado, you'll be fine if you just SLOW DOWN. The best thing you can do to keep control of ANY vehicle in strong cross winds is to slow down to a safe speed for the conditions. I've seen so many people think they can keep going 70mph in bad conditions only to have a close call. Arrive a little later than planned, but get there in one piece.

Finally, the heat. I don't care where you live, 110* is HOT. It's even worse when you're traveling west in the afternoon and the sun is trying to melt you through that huge front window. What worked for me was to turn the front dash control so it was blasting cold air onto the front window as well as out the cab-facing vents. This made a really big difference in the radiated heat coming through the windshield. I did run into something odd though. After 1-2 hours with the AC on full blast, it would start making a high pitched sound and even with the fan on full speed, the amount of air coming out of the dash vents was severely diminished. Whenever that happened, I just switched the AC off for a minute or two, then turned it back on and viola, full speed air would once again come out of the vents. I don't know if the AC was freezing up or what, but it sure was strange. When it was working normally, the AC did an excellent job of keeping us cool up front no matter the outside temp. Once we stopped for the night, all that absorbed heat would radiate back into the van, so we needed to run the Fantastic fan for 1-2hrs to pull cool air in from the outside until everything cooled down.

Next up:
- What broke or caused problems
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Old 07-12-2017, 08:41 AM   #18
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Thanks for your detailed post. We bought a 2017 Interstate a year ago and have 16000 miles so far. I would echo most of your views on the machine now that we have resolved most of the quality control issues at Airstream. We have only tried a couple days of boon docking due to concerns about the batteries. I am very interested in your installation of the solar controller. Did you do it yourself? Which model Renogy did you install?
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Old 07-12-2017, 08:47 AM   #19
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As a Florida residents we rarely get temperatures over 95 but that is still hot! We installed a high grade window tint on the front and side windows and it is remarkable how much that helped in keeping the front cooler. The cost was less than $300 and worth it for the comfort!
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Old 07-12-2017, 09:02 AM   #20
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A/C freezing is a common Sprinter problem. It usually only happens when hot and humid above 100degF with fan on high speed. Solution as you found is to turn off A/C for a few minutes to let ice on the coils melt and then is will work again.
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