We’re gonna need a bigger boat

We probably both realized that our current RV wasn’t going to cut it the moment we decided we were going to go for the long haul. But neither of us said anything. Instead, we spent about a month discussing various modifications and storage solutions that would make the Alpha Uno work. NOTE: Alpha Uno has become an easy way to differentiate between the first RV and the new RV.

The finally straw for the Alpha Uno came when we took our recent trip to Manzanita. We had finally acquired all of the parts to tow the Jeep and this would be the first test. We need to be able to tow a vehicle for many reasons: there are places that we just can’t take an RV and yet want to see, safety in case the RV breaks down, and ability to make quick supply trips without breaking camp, etc.

After driving to Manzanita and back we learned that the Alpha Uno was capable of towing the Jeep, but just barely. We seriously struggled up the steep inclines on the way to the coast.  The RV is rated as capable of towing 3500 lbs and the Jeep weighs in at 3400 lbs. We made it, but it was an eye-opening drive.

We stopped for dinner after we dropped the RV off at storage and we both finally said out loud what we had both been thinking: we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

When we bought the Alpha Uno we had no idea that we would want to take it on a trip around the entire US. The reality is that this type of trip requires a different type of RV. Specifically, we needed an A Class RV. For those unfamiliar, this is the type of RV that more resembles a bus. The Alpha Uno is a C Class, meaning that is was built on a van chassis. C Class RVs are generally more equipped for weekend excursions than cross country adventures. A Class RVs tend to have greater amenities that are geared toward long-term travel. For example, A Class RVs have greater storage capacity both inside and underneath the RV, bigger holding tanks, larger kitchens, and bigger more powerful motors capable of towing a vehicle.

Now that we had said it out loud there was no turning back: we were buying a bigger boat. But how on earth were we going to do that?

In our typical fashion, the next week was a hectic scramble of emails, phone calls, and internet searching all towards coming up with the necessary funds and finding the right RV for our trip. Once we set our sights on something, we tend to act fast and devote all our energy towards making it happen.

We listed the Alpha Uno for sale on Craigslist that Sunday and sold it on Wednesday. We technically sold it for more that we bought it for, which we were pretty proud of, but given what we put into it, we only broke even.

By Thursday we were certain that we had found our bus. We found a vintage 1964 MCI passenger bus in Sacramento, California that had been converted into an RV. It had a shiny all steel exterior and classic slanted windows. We were in love. We talked with the owner and he loved our story about traveling the country. He seemed like a genuine guy so we put down a deposit and made plans to drive down to Sacramento and pick it up that weekend.

We left immediately after work and took off for the 10 hour drive from Portland to Sacramento. We stopped for the night at a hotel in Medford, Oregon, about half way. We were going to meet the owner with the bus at a truck stop in Sacramento around noon.

We knew it wasn’t going to be our bus as soon as we saw it across the truck stop parking lot. In the advertisement photos it looked shiny and new (for being a 1964). From across the parking lot it looked dingy and dented and they were scrambling to shine it up before we arrived.


The owner really was a genuine guy but the bus was not in nearly as good of shape as had been advertised. The conversion was not done professionally. There were rough cut edges on much of the interior cabinetry.  And we seriously doubt that the engine was actually rebuilt, as advertised. With a bus of that age, a rebuilt engine makes a huge difference. After speaking with the owner more we learned that he had purchased the bus from a friend that intended to make a long cross-country trip, similar to our own trip. However, his friend became very ill and was unable to make the journey. So, this guy purchased his friend’s bus. But then, he put it in storage for two years and didn’t do anything with it. His assurances of the bus’s road worthiness primarily came from his friend, two or so years ago. In then end, we just couldn’t risk taking on someone else’s project vehicle with a questionable engine. We forfeited our deposit, thanked him for his time, and took off for the 10 hour drive home to Portland. We felt utterly defeated.

On the way home I decide that I wasn’t going to let this set-back defeat us. I was going to find us our bus. I had 10 hours and decent cell service. I ended up using up just about all of the data usage in our phone plan searching all the various for-sale websites, but I finally found our RV. There was a Safari Serengeti in Bend that looked perfect. When we got home at around 1am, I sent an email to the owner saying that we could come check it out the next day. Bend is about 2 hours from Portland so we were gearing up for yet another road trip.

I woke up around 7am to check my email for a response from the seller. And there it was! It was still available! We were certain it would have already sold. Brandon said that he had never seen me get out of bed that quickly.  I shot up like a rocket to read that email. It opened with “Gosh. What a bummer”. I was crushed. It was gone. But then I kept reading. She wrote, “Gosh. What  a bummer to drive all the way to Sacramento and have it not be the right one. . .Yes, our motorhome is still available.” So I jumped out of bed (after maybe 5 hours sleep) and got dressed. This was going to be a productive weekend after all.

The drive from Portland to Bend is absolutely gorgeous. Bend is up in the mountains at around 3,000 feet. For reference, our house is around 300 feet and we are at a high elevation for Portland. So the climb up, following the Deshcutes River, is fantastic. From the top you can see multiple snow covered mountain peaks, even in the heat of summer. I highly encourage it.

When we got to the seller’s house and saw the RV we were blown away. It was so shiny and clean. And unlike most A Class RVs, this one was actually cool looking! It wasn’t just a white fiberglass shell with some strange swirly design painted on the side. It was blue and silver and as sleek as you can get in 37 foot bus.

Furthermore, the sellers had remodeled the interior. They took down the weird wall paper and painted it a very attractive shade of green, put in wood floors, and a new couch. It was beautiful. And the mechanical aspects were just what we were looking for. A big diesel engine with enough power to tow a Jeep. This thing basically has a semi engine. It is a diesel pusher, meaning that the engine is in the back of the bus, pushing it forward. The engine is underneath the queen size bed in the back and is pretty much the same size as the mattress. Needless to say, Brandon was very happy. It was also in great shape with low milage and impeccable records.

We were sold. To make it even better, I had a personal connection with the seller. The RV was being sold by a couple and the husband graduated from Texas State University around the same time that I did! We didn’t know each other. We studied in totally different departments, but it was a fun connection to come across half way across the country. Furthermore, the sellers were just wonderful people. We only met the wife in person. The husband was working in Alaska at the time, but we spoke with him on the phone. They were the type of people that I would be friends with. This is to date the only business deal that I have ever sealed with a hug rather than a handshake.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to drive the RV home that day because we had all of our money tied up in cashiers checks from the possible bus purchase in Sacramento. So, we put down a deposit and went home to wait through a very long work week until we could go pick up the new Alpha 1 the following weekend.

The next week was a very long week. To make matters worse, we had not yet told our respective bosses about the trip we were planning so we could not be as frank as we would have liked to be about what was going on in our personal lives.  So, we suffered our excitement in silence.

Friday finally came and we prepared to pick up our new our RV the next morning. The plan was to drive down in my car and Brandon would drive the rig home while I followed. We bought a set of walkie-talkies so that we could communicate during the drive. That turned out to be a very good decision.

The purchase went smoothly. The owners even invited us to visit them at their home in Washington state. They really were wonderful people and we may still take them up on their offer.

Next was the drive home. Brandon has driven all sorts of vehicles, but this is a very big vehicle. It is 37 feet long. Our first obstacle was just filling up on diesel, but Brandon executed the maneuvers through the fill-up station flawlessly. Then we were on the road for the long haul through the mountains. We had lots of fun communicating through our walkie-talkies. My call sign was Mother Goose. Brandon was Rubber Ducky.

“Rubber Ducky, do you read me? This is Mother Goose.”

“I read you Mother Goose. How does pizza sound for lunch?”


However, we ran into trouble after about 30 minutes of driving through the mountains. I hear Brandon on the walkie-talkie saying he has no brake pressure. I didn’t even process what that meant at first. He had no brakes! But he was still able to slow down and pull over to the side of the road. Phew!

Then came a frantic discussion about what on earth we should do. There were many hills left to go and we certainly weren’t attempting that without brakes.

Thankfully, Brandon was able to diagnose what the problem might be and concluded that if we were able to cool down the brakes they should work properly again. His suspicion was a sticky brake pedal. If the pedal was sticking it might have been partially depressed while we were climbing the mountains, heating up the brakes and causing the loss of pressure. If we could cool them down, and keep them cool, we would make it home and could get the problem checked out.

We called the sellers and told them what was going on. They had told us about the sticky brake pedal but had never experienced actual brake failure. Of course they were happy to come help us if we got into any more trouble along the way. Again, these guys were great people.

The solution Brandon came up with was to continue to drive the RV, but very very cautiously. We needed the air flow of driving to cool the brakes. Given that we were on a mountain road we created a serious traffic jam by driving so slow. There was only room to pass us every couple of miles. But we did what we had to do and just plodded along with our flashers on. After a while the brakes cooled and we regained full brake pressure.

We made it home to our storage lot without further incident, but it was a very tense drive.

I am not sharing the story of our trouble with the RV brakes to disparage the sellers or to discount the RV that we decided to purchase. It is just one part of the adventure. The sellers told us that they had never had such catostrophic problems with the brakes and we absolutely believe them. I think we were just the lucky souls driving the rig when it happened to experience problems. We likely exacerbated any issues by driving through the mountains for our maiden voyage. Furthermore, we were able to drive the RV to a truck repair shop to have the brakes looked at and were able to get everything fixed as good as new. It’s just Murphy’s law. He never shows up until the worst possible moment (i.e., on a mountain pass).

Overall, we are so very much in love with the new Alpha 1. When Brandon and I first went to look at the RV we had two different points of focus. We had been though many discussions of what we were looking for, what was a deal breaker, what we were capable of fixing ourselves, what needed to go to the pros, etc. We have different areas of expertise so we tend to just divide and conquer. Brandon was checking out the engine and every mechanical component he could get a look at without breaking out the tool kit. I was meticulously reviewing the interior, opening every cabinet and and zooming in on every surface. When we came together to share our findings Brandon said, “Lets do this.” and I just said “Yep. This is the one.” A quick kiss and back to the business of buying an RV that would totally change the current trajectory of our lives. That’s just how we work – division of labor and total trust in the other’s abilities.

What really sold us on this RV was that we could imagine ourselves living it it. It felt like home. And in less than a year, it will be.

For more pictures of the new Alpha 1 go to https://alpha1ontherun.com/the-alpha-1/

2 thoughts on “We’re gonna need a bigger boat

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