We started researching the many different types of RVs in 2015. We first began learning the lingo, Class A, Class B, Class C and what the difference was between them. It took a while to understand the difference between a Class B and Class C. Class A was easy – it’s a great big honkin’ bus! Of course, the B and C came down to how they are made. The Class B is basically a converted van and Class C is a separate house built onto a bare chassis.
After one year of tedious research on YouTube, we had narrowed our search down to Road Trek and Pleasure-Way. It was time to start going to RV shows to finally do some touching and viewing up close and personal. Our first RV show was in Tucson, Arizona at the Pima County Fairgrounds. We told the eager salesman we wanted to see the Class B motorhomes, so he led us through a minefield of Class A and C RVs to a huge warehouse, but just before we walked through the double doors a very beautiful RV to our left caught our eye. We looked over at it and started to ask the salesman about this amazing motorhome when he quickly whisked us through the doors and into a maze of Road Trek and Pleasure-Way vehicles.
We went through each one slowly and methodically, but nothing really appealed to us. They were either too short, too skinny, too cramped or not planned out very well. The one thing I disliked the most was the wet bath! I had no desire to take a shower while sitting on the toilet.
After about an hour of perusing these Class B motorhomes, we decided to go back outside. The moment we went through those big double doors again there it was! This beautiful motorhome that we couldn’t take our eyes off. Our first thought was why didn’t the salesman show us this motorhome? Surely its a Class B, it’s too small to be a Class A and it doesn’t have the big-honkin’ thing hanging over the top of the cab so it can’t be a class C either. We thought, “Is there another category of motorhome we have never heard of?”
On the side of the RV was one word, “Unity” that was it, just “Unity.” There weren’t any spotty dogs, no fancy names like Tornado or Four Winds, or Switch Blade, no swirly do-dads on the side, just “Unity.” Who makes this beauty? We had never heard of Unity, on the door of the cab was another word, “Leisure.” We lost track of the salesman at that point, we just wanted to walk inside this beautiful home on wheels and see what it had to offer.
The moment we walked into the coach we were wowed! The quality workmanship and attention to detail were amazing! And no wet bath – a full separate shower! I was sold on the Unity! However, MaryAnn was still very cautious about spending all that money on something we had never done before. This particular model was called an Island Bed. At that point, every salesman within fifty yards of us tried to get us to buy it, but we weren’t ready for that, we needed to do our homework first. We had never even camped in an RV let alone drove one so we weren’t about to buy one either, but we went home with “Unity” on our minds. It would be another year of research before we were ready to go to another RV show.
In January 2017 we flew to San Francisco to another big RV show in Pleasanton, CA. There we met our hero, Dean! We must have watched hundreds of YouTube videos with Dean walking us through each motorhome, showing us the storage, climbing up on the roof, etc. – even climbing inside some of the storage bins! At the RV show, Dean showed us all the various models of the Unity, Serenity, and Wonder. We almost bought a Unity MB but weren’t completely sure about it just yet. We left that show more convinced than ever that Leisure Travel Vans were the best quality made motorhome on the market!
When we got home we had decided what we wanted was the Unity FX. We needed an extra living space since we didn’t go to bed at the same time. That way the person still up or getting up earlier than the other had a place to hang out while the other was still sleeping.
Our next step before buying a motorhome of our own was to rent one and take it camping. Since it was next to impossible to find a Leisure Travel Van for rent, our first rental was a 2007 31 foot Class C (the brand I won’t mention) from an online rental company. It was 110 degrees Fahrenheit outside when the air conditioner stop working. We took it back to the owner and got our money back.
We then rented another Class C by another large brand from a popular RV rental company. We arrived at our campsite late, around 9 pm. I hooked up the electric and water lines and went back into the RV. About twenty minutes later there was a knock on our door. It was the camp host. He said there was a lot of water leaking under the RV. Come to find out not only had the fresh water tank been leaking outside, but it had also leaked into the black water tank and filled it to overflowing from the toilet all over the floor of the bathroom! On top of that the next day it was now 118 degrees Fahrenheit, the generator wouldn’t work, the refrigerator stopped working, the air conditioner kept blowing a fuse, and the rental company kept giving us the run-around and even tried to say it was all our fault. When our rental contract ended, we took the RV back and demanded a refund. The rental company gave us half our money back.
Next, we rented a third Class C motorhome, only 6 months old. MaryAnn tried to open one of the windows and it fell off in her hand. The shower door was missing, the microwave shimmied itself back inside the cabinet while we were driving so that we could barely reach it. This was a 32 foot RV that was so poorly planned out that we couldn’t use the kitchen unless the slide was out. It didn’t have house batteries, an inverter, or a generator, so the only way the appliances could be used is when it was plugged into AC electric power.
We also discovered we didn’t like the gas engines in these RVs. The engines are so huge and loud that we couldn’t have a conversation inside the cab while driving, and of course getting 4-8 miles to the gallon was a real downer!
All of these wild and challenging experiences didn’t discourage us from buying an RV. It only convinced us that a Leisure Travel Van was the right choice for us. After we dropped off the last rental, we drove to an RV dealer in Phoenix that had a brand new Serenity on the lot, that we could test drive. We knew it had the same Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis as the Unity so it would help us in our quest to one day buy our own RV.
After climbing out of the huge gas engine Class C’s we had been renting and easily getting into the Leisure Travel Van, the difference was like night and day! This was a superior vehicle. The ease in handling and the powerful engine were amazing!
We decided to call a dealership in Tucson about the possibility of ordering the Unity Island Bed. In the course of our phone call, we found out that they had a Unity FX on order, which was due to be shipped in about six weeks! We made the deal and took delivery of our first RV, a 2018 Unity FX! We couldn’t be happier with our choice!
In our first ten months of ownership, we drove over 21,832 miles, visited 19 states including Alaska, and even made it to British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. But by the end of our first year of ownership we had driven our Unity FX over 26,700 miles, visiting 26 states including Alaska, also British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, and Manitoba, Canada and back! We love our Unity!
The only issue we have had since taking delivery in September 2017 was the replacement of one of our solar panels.
We aren’t golfers, we aren’t bikers, we aren’t fishermen or hikers–we’re explorers. We just want to see as much as we can for as long as we can until our time on this earth is over.
For those of you that have not had a chance yet to attend the Leisure Travel Vans Annual Fall Rally in Winkler Manitoba Canada I thought I would write about our experience attending our first one. It was an absolutely phenomenal event and I would highly recommend attending if you ever get a chance. This year LTV used a lottery system to select the 79 RVs that attended and that method will help to widen who has an opportunity to participate in the rally in the future.
Everyone arrived on Wednesday, September 5th and were escorted to their preassigned location at the Winkler Bible Camp. There were some electric and water hookups and a centralized dumping station. The first activity was a Meet and Greet which included an Ice Cream Social with some very unique flavours like Charcoal Honeycomb (odd colour but great taste) and Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake. We started meeting fellow LTV owners and had great conversations about travelling adventures. This engagement continued through all the fantastic meals we had over the next three days.
The Leisure Travel Vans team had prepared a jam-packed agenda and naturally, Sharon and I signed up for something in all available time slots. On Thursday morning we attended the Mercedes Benz Seminar covering how to take care of your Sprinter chassis and also seeing the all-new 2019 Sprinter. The Mercedes reps covered things such as ensuring you use the correct engine oil with specification 229.52, carrying extra DEF at all times, and the implications of using Biodiesel.
In the LTV Technical seminar, the engineers went over various house systems and talked about some of the new things they are testing out.
In the afternoon we took the bus to the LTV factory in Winkler for the LTV Cultural tour where you visited various departments and talked to staff about their functions and their Continuous Improvement (CI) efforts. The CI efforts have helped the factory become more efficient and continue to improve the already great quality of their products.
Many people went on the actual factory tour hosted by Dean but we had seen it a few times before. Lastly, I attended Claude Angers very inspiring photography class where he taught you several techniques to make your photos more interesting and to present your travel story in a better way.
We had a Mennonite meal for dinner which included perogies, kilkte (noodles) and ham followed by Campfires on the Beach complete with S’mores kits. Later in the week, they did a random draw with four lucky winners getting to take home the LTV collapsible fire pits.
Friday started off with Waffles cooked over open flames by the LTV staff for breakfast with all the fixings.
We signed up for the Pembina Threshermen’s Museum tour in the morning (while others went golfing) and the museum volunteers had prepared local agriculture and heritage demonstrations throughout the morning which included the following:
On the grounds they also had the original CPR Train station from Morden Manitoba built in 1906, Peter Dyck’s Taxidermy Wildlife Exhibit (his wife toured us around the exhibit and told us stories of his adventures), a Semlin Sod House as built in the 1800’s, and a North West Mounted Police Outpost (as well as various other historic buildings). It was very interesting learning about the history of this prairie area and seeing how day to day tasks was performed.
In the afternoon we went on the Elemental Stone Tour where we visited artist Todd Braun’s five-acre site to see the amazing rock sculptures he had created. He toured us around the property to see his works and to marvel at his stories of obtaining and positioning the enormous stones and how he carved them by hand. He even told us about a local granite driveway that he created that took the equivalent of 11 years work to create! Most of his stones have been sourced from gravel pits and fields across Manitoba and represent many different time periods in history.
Once the bus returned us to the Winkler Bible Camp we attended Dennis Thorig’s very detailed presentation on their 2018 group trip to Alaska. The group consisted of 22 RV’s (43 people) and covered a 62 day trip in May-July of 2018.
To finish the week we had a Steak Dinner followed by a Coffee House and entertainment by ventriloquist David Pendleton who had us rolling over with laughter!
Hopefully, this helps give you some idea about the Winkler LTV Rally 2018. I really can’t say enough about the LTV staff that hosted this event and how hard they worked to make our experience fantastic. In addition, we established so many new friendships that I know will flourish for many years to come. We also learned a great deal about LTV the company and our RV that is home for several months of the year. You really should add this to your travel bucket list.
This is a story about a “highway” that is more like a paved horse trail. The road meanders between and through spectacular granite formations. Spruce and pine forests surround it. Colorful aspen and birch trees, in season, peek through the evergreen forest. This is about a 14-mile drive that will remain indelibly lodged in our travel memories.
But this is getting to a cherry sundae before a sumptuous meal. As an entree, we should start our journey at Custer State Park in the iconic Black Hills of South Dakota. The Park, situated at the southwest corner of the state, is a 71,000-acre home to abundant wildlife such as buffalo, elk, white-tailed deer, not-so-wild donkeys (more on this later), prairie dogs, and more. It is not uncommon, as we experienced, to be stuck in a traffic jam caused by a herd of buffalo crossing the road.
We took the scenic Wildlife Loop Road, an 18-mile loop through open grasslands. Along the way, we spotted at least three herds of bison, and two of these sightings were of the close-encounters type.
“Look! They’re crossing the road!”
Just as Joanne was hitting the brakes, I took my camera out, hoping to capture the event and get a great shot before the bison moved on. Turns out I could have taken a thousand images before they finally gave us a breach large enough for our motorhome to safely proceed. By the third encounter further in the loop, we were seasoned veterans, the excitement of the first crossing having already dissipated. It remains, however, a spectacular sight.
Once passed the visitor center, a recently renovated stone and wood beam structure worth the visit, we came to a stop at a place where wild donkeys roam freely. Sadly, these donkeys are more domesticated than your real wild variety, as guided tourist vans include this stop on their daily routes and feed the animals. We are not certain this is the best way to care for these so-called “wild” animals, as they seem totally dependent on humans for their food.
The loop road took us to Highway 87, where we turned north to start the journey on Needles Highway. This road, planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck nearly 100 years ago, was completed in 1922. Not quite knowing what to expect, we started our journey from the south, heading northwest towards Sylvan Lake. There are warnings about the size of vehicles that can safely make it through the few tunnels along the road. Do not underestimate these warnings. as those tunnels are very narrow and of low clearance.
This side trip was almost a non-starter, because rain and fog had rolled in early that morning. But explorers we are, so we ignored the weather and threw caution to the wind and moved on bravely. Our traveling companions preceded us, slicing through the mist and fog to the point where we could barely see the distinctive Unity taillights ahead.
What strikes you at first as you proceed along the road is the feeling that you are in someone’s driveway. The narrow pavement is well maintained and there are no dividing lines. There is no shoulder to speak of on either side of the road, so meeting another large vehicle demands careful execution on both parts, notwithstanding the poor driving conditions we encountered. Eventually, we arrived at our first major challenge of the day.
Iron Creek Tunnel is 9 feet wide and 11 feet 4 inches tall. Our Unity’s width is 7 feet 10.5 inches, with a height of 10 feet 6 inches. Easy peasy.
We stopped the vehicles and marveled at the workmanship involved in blasting a hole in such a massive granite wall. Either Governor Norbeck had foreseen that our Unity would fit nicely into the opening 100 years earlier, or LTV designers got it just right. Either way, we were thankful to be able to safely proceed through the tunnel and resume our journey towards what would become one of the most challenging driving feats we had ever encountered: Needles Eye Tunnel.
Needles Highway was named after the granite structures that stand like needles. Although not of the same geological composition, they reminded us of the rock structures at Chiricahua National Monument. The needles took on eerie ghost-like silhouettes as we continued the climb along a winding track, craning our heads to peek at them through the fog and rain, slowing down to a crawl as the Sprinter’s gears downshifted and our RV bravely powered its way uphill, en route to the next highlight of our trip.
The tunnel is 8 feet 4 inches wide and 11 feet 4 inches tall. Easy peasy? Hmmm, not so sure about that one…
“This is barely larger and taller than our motorhome,” I said hesitantly.
“Who measured this tunnel?” someone asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “but one thing I am certain of is that our side mirrors will need to be folded in.”
Our traveling companions, who (gamely) chose to go first, tucked in both side mirrors, turned on their headlights, and valiantly inched themselves into the tunnel. Sparks did not fly! We were impressed, albeit wavering a little bit as our turn was up.
Thanks to our friend Joanne Chenail-Trépanier for this video of the crossing.
We both managed to conquer Needles Eye Tunnel unscathed. It was only after congratulatory high fives that one of us looked up and said, “Hey – there’s the Needle’s Eye!”
We wondered how many people cross the tunnel and continue on without seeing the whole reason why they are there in the first place.
The road at this point descends towards Sylvan Lake, where we would eventually take Highways 89 and 385 for a visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial.
This would be our last stop along the highway, because the next tunnel was too low for our motorhome. As we arrived, the lake was shrouded in a veil of fog. We could barely distinguish the shoreline or any of the beautiful features that contour the lake. Nevertheless, as we walked the path towards the water we met with two fishermen silently casting their lines into the fog. You could only just see their silhouettes from a few feet away. But as luck happens to those who wait, the fog slowly started to rise, lifting its veil from the beautiful features around us. I approached one of the men as he was tending to his fishing rod and asked him if I could make a portrait of him as he cast away, resulting in a beautiful image in a dramatic setting. It was a perfect bookend for a dream-like journey.