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.
It’s late July in Georgia. The temperatures are soaring and the humidity could drown you. Feeling a bit wilted, we decide to head to the mountains for a respite from the sweltering temperatures. We drive up highway 5 through Ellijay remembering its wonderful Fall Apple Festival. Then on through the rest of the apple capital of Georgia until we finally see signs for Blue Ridge.
Blue Ridge is a favorite destination for us. We often camp at Morganton Point Recreation Area in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The campground sits along the edge of crystal-clear Lake Blue Ridge. It may not be the best-equipped campground, but its proximity to the lake, a remarkable assortment of hiking trails, and all the other area attractions make its rustic demeanor less problematic.
Downtown Blue Ridge is an afternoon well spent browsing the shops, having lunch or dinner in one of the local restaurants, and perhaps, spending some time talking with the folks at the Oyster Fly Rods shop. This is a fly-fishing country in north Georgia and the master fly rod wizard is Bill Oyster.
If your timing is good, you can watch him as he creates another masterpiece through a window into his workroom. Or, if you’re feeling nostalgic, hop a ride on the old train to McCaysville. It’s a four-hour trip winding through the mountains and over a historic iron bridge.
Along with kayaking and maybe a dip into the lake, we thought we would head into town and then take a side-trip on the way back to camp. We have in mind a particular north Georgia farm – a fourth-generation family-owned and operated apple orchard.
We had heard about Mercier Orchards while visiting Lane Peach Orchards near Fort Valley in South Georgia. The market operation at Lane’s is quite a spectacle with peach sorting in the summer and corn mazes in the fall. In their market, they carried a few products from Mercier that peaked our curiosity. The saleswoman there told us about Mercier’s expansive orchard operation, their growing variety of products, and their forward-thinking approach to agritourism. Having been in the tourism industry for most of my career, I was curious about what they were doing.
Now, a year later, we are on our way to visit this legendary family operation. As we came up a ridge we saw acres of small trees on either side of the road. I was expecting big apple trees similar to the ones at my childhood home in New Jersey. These were much smaller and planted pretty close together. I wondered if they might be part of Mercier’s nursery operation.
The Mercier Orchard Market appeared on the left – a rather large building with a giant apple marquis. We pulled into their spacious parking lot easily finding a spot for the Unity with a pond and orchard as a backdrop. We walked to the market entrance expecting to walk through the building to the orchards. Instead, we were caught up in the crowd of visitors rushing into a large, warehouse-type market. Surprised by the sheer size of the place and the tantalizing smell of freshly baked pies, we happily picked up a shopping basket and walked around.
Every shelf in the main market space was stacked with peaches. Overflowing baskets of yellow and coral-colored obs with a divine fragrance. Each rack held a different variety and all inviting a taste. How does one choose among so many options? A Mercier employee approached and guided us to the tasting station. There we were served a slice of each variety of peach to help us make our decision on which to purchase. All were delicious and each had a distinct flavor. Who knew there was such a big taste difference in peaches? But then again, I wasn’t expecting peaches.
Come to think of it, why are there so many baskets of peaches? Where are the apples? I strolled around the market and found baskets of fresh berries, tomatoes, okra, zucchini, squash, onions – but no apples. Hmm. I spotted the employee who helped me with my peach quandary and asked, “Where are the apples?” She just smiled. “Apples aren’t ready yet. They will be on the market sometime in August. Right now, the ripe crop is peaches.” An apple orchard growing peaches? The woman smiled and proceeded to show us around the market.
There were baskets of berries, peaches, fresh vegetables, the bakery with its fabulous fried fruit pies, shelves full of the local honey, and refrigerator cases of apple cider and juices. Expecting apples, we were more than surprised to learn how many other fruit products are grown and sold at Mercier Orchards market. But the real surprise is in its history.
The orchard is in its fourth generation as a family-owned enterprise. Originally, Bill and Adele Mercier purchased 25 acres in the north Georgia mountains back in 1943 and it has grown to 300 acres with over 100,000 trees. Those trees are primarily dwarf and semi-dwarf apple trees in over 50 varieties yielding between 75,000 to 100,000 bushels of apples every year. Those small trees I saw on the drive in were the dwarf trees! The close planting proximity allows a greater yield and the shorter height makes picking the apples easier.
Interestingly enough, 70% of their apples are sold through their market and “U-Pick” events, where visitors can pick and purchase their own fruit. The program is available on weekends while the fruit is in the season (make sure to call ahead to find out what is available). The “U-pick” events offer strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, and, of course, apples. More than 600,000 people visit the orchard annually and some 100,000 of them come during the fall-peak apple season.
We learned from our guide that the Merciers also grow 15 varieties of peaches, 2 types of strawberries, and 7 varieties of blueberries. Not to mention blackberries and nectarines. This is far more than just an apple orchard! That 500,000 people who visit outside of apple season know what we are just discovering: Mercier Orchards has a secret – there’s more to love than just the apples! With our basket full of peaches and fresh veggies, we were ready to check out when our guide asked if we have visited the hard-cider and wine tasting room.
Although Mercier Orchards has been making fresh apple cider for over 40 years, they began hard-apple-cider production just six years ago. Using their own apples and champagne yeast, they grow, press, ferment and bottle all of their hard cider on-site. And, as it turns out, hard-cider and fruit wines are the fastest-growing part of Mercier’s business.
The tasting room is laid out similar to a craft brewery tasting room with comfortable seating areas (including an outdoor deck with views of the orchards), attractive product displays, and a long, wood bar with seven different varieties of hard apple cider on tap. Located off to the side of the market and connected through the gift shop, the tasting room is a quiet and enjoyable space.
Our tasting host walks us through the menu of seven apple ciders currently on tap and two wines. Since they offer so many ciders, our host suggests a flight of four different ciders to sample. We chose four with interesting names: “A Cold Day in Hops” is infused with El Dorado hops and has the same hoppy taste of beer, “Black Bee” is made from Arkansas black apples and bit of local honey to give a smooth finish, “Legends” is made with a proprietary Mercier apple with a bold apple taste, and “Grumpy Granny” is cider made from Granny Smith apples with a strong, tart flavor. Each is unique in taste, depending on the variety of apples pressed. Anticipating the typical sweetness of apple cider I was surprised by how dry they tasted. More like a wine than a cider. They would be a great compliment to a pork roast or even a burger.
Our tour was complete, but in talking to our guide, we learned there are a number of activities, events, and tours available year-round. The obvious fall apple season is stunning with brimming bushel baskets of all sorts of apples. Bring the family for a tractor tour of the orchard and the “U-Pick” pumpkin events. Just remember the crowds are also brimming during this “high” season.
If you come in the winter, think about settling in with a cup of hot cider and delicious baked goods from their cherished family recipes. In springtime, you’ll find apple blossom tours – a lovely way to enjoy the North Georgia Mountains! Or, come in early summer when the “U-Pick” season begins and pick your own bounty of strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. What we expected to be a quick stop while we were in Blue Ridge turned out to be an attraction worth visiting all year long!
Blue Ridge and the North Georgia Apple Country is a slow-paced and enjoyable weekend visit. Here’s a sample 3-day itinerary to get your planning started:
Talk of a tropical storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico has caught our attention. Though it’s a slow moving and disorganized system, the forecasters are pretty geared up about it. Right now, we’re on an RV trip along the East Coast of Florida. This is not the first time we’ve had severe weather threaten our RV travel. On our trip to Maine along the east coast, we dodged hurricane Irma and tropical storm Jose, staying barely two days ahead of the storms as they ‘chased’ us up the coast.
We’re en route to the Panhandle of Florida for our family vacation and the forecast is grim. Even though we purchased a Leisure Travel Van Unity MB for road trips, we still rent a vacation beach house to accommodate our growing family. In advance of the beach house vacation, we are traveling in our Unity, enjoying the beaches of the Southeast coast. Heading west, we will try two new spots on the Florida Panhandle before arriving at our final destination of St George Island, just south of Tallahassee.
The first spot to explore is Cape San Blas. We’ve heard a lot about this beach with its tall sand dunes and wildlife preserve. We have a glorious stay there among beautiful sugar-sand beaches, rolling dunes, and spectacular turquoise water. The weather is perfect, yet, the storm clouds on the horizon and increasingly rough surf prompt the Park Rangers to raise the red flags warning of rip current danger. The tropical storm in the Gulf seems to be sending an unwelcome emissary in advance of its arrival.
After lounging on the beach, we venture out to tour nearby Port St. Joe and its quaint downtown. There are no indications of storm preparation here. The grocery store is well stocked, the businesses operating normally and, when asked, most residents scoff at the threat of the forecast tropical storm. They weren’t worried so we didn’t worry either and enjoyed a few more days at an RV Resort near East Point.
Beach House move-in day finally arrives and, along with it, cloudy skies and intermittent rain. Preparing breakfast, we hear a lot of noise outside. We step out to see the resort staff turning picnic tables upside down. All the pool furniture is gone, and we are surprised at how many of the RV sites around us are vacant. When we arrived, the resort was fully booked for the Memorial Day weekend. The site vacancies are a little unsettling and just a bit eerie.
The small lobby of the beach house rental office is crowded with people. Everyone seems to be talking at once. At the reception desk, the agent tells us we cannot check in because the island is being evacuated ahead of the storm. Fielding questions about the evacuation and when we might return, the agent wearily replies, “Everyone must leave the island by 5 pm and the evacuation order will not be lifted until after the storm makes landfall – provided the bridge and island are OK.” A gentleman brushes by us muttering, “Where am I supposed to go?” It was then we realize we don’t have a place to go either. We’re eight hours from home, every RV park is booked for the Memorial Day weekend, and we are in the direct path of a Tropical Storm – in an RV!
We call our kids to break the bad news. They had just started their trip from Atlanta and now had to turn around for home to wait and see what the next 24 hours would bring. We all hoped that the storm would pass by quickly enough to salvage most of the week at the beach house. In the meantime, we needed to figure out what to do.
A bite to eat, a place to ponder our options sounds like a plan so we walk to the Blue Parrot, a favorite haunt on St. George Island. We eat our lunch watching the rough surf from our beach-side table. Jim breaks the silence summing up our predicament; “The island is being evacuated and we have to get across the bridge before the wind picks up. Let’s see if we can find a spot at the RV park we just left. It’s on the mainland and we should be safer there.” With all the bad weather reports surely the RV resort would have a cancellation, we reason. So, after lunch, we head back over the bridge along with a fleet of other disappointed vacationers.
As we approach the RV resort we notice how close it is to the water. There was a good reason for the storm preparation that interrupted our breakfast this morning. The forecast warned of storm surge reaching four feet – enough to swamp the resort and much of highway 98 we enjoy so much. We had seen the damage here from the last hurricane when the road was practically washed away, not to mention the devastation to properties near the road. If the larger, class A coaches were headed inland, maybe we should too – but where and how far inland would we have to go?
Tallahassee is two hours away, and we might find an RV park there. A quick internet search doesn’t turn up much. We remember a Walmart about 45 minutes drive from here. We’ve never boondocked in a parking lot before but maybe this was the time to give it a try. The decision hung in the air. Should we stay here, go to Tallahassee, or try the “Walmart experience”? We head inland to find a safe haven.
The kids tell us they are planning to leave for Tallahassee on Monday, stay there overnight, and drive to St. George on Tuesday hoping they could resume their vacation. We hoped they were right and, in positive anticipation, shopped for the beach house supplies.
By the time we finished our shopping, news from the Panhandle announces the evacuation of RV and mobile home parks along highway 98. That confirmed our decision to head inland. Rather than look for an RV park, we decided to boondock in the Walmart parking lot and join up with the kids in Tallahassee on Monday.
Jim speaks with the Store Manager and we chose a spot near the loading docks. Out of the way of traffic, the area is quiet. Several tractor trailers are already parked for the night. We make sure to leave plenty of clearance on either side for any incoming freight trucks. Even though we couldn’t put out the slide, the Unity was cozy and comfortable in the increasing rain and wind. As the storm drew nearer to the coast, the rain became torrential. We were glad we had chosen to come inland. We cooled down the unit with the air conditioner running on the generator, then shut it down for the night. A small fan running on the house battery would have to do for sleeping.
We are up and on the road for Tallahassee early the next morning. Stopping for breakfast, we listen to the forecast predict a storm landfall between Apalachicola and Pensacola. We knew the further west it made landfall, the better St. George Island would fare. The only reasonable hope was for the storm to weaken.
The kids call alerting us to their re-start from Atlanta and we meet up with them at a hotel on the south side of Tallahassee. A relaxed dinner together and an evening of storytelling finishes the day. Tucking in the grandkids, we are grateful for the comfort of the family after an uncertain day. Now, we just have to wait and see how St. George will fare in the storm.
Tuesday morning brought the storm landfall a bit further west than expected and the damage was negligible in the area around St. George. As we drive along highway 98 we notice the RV resort hasn’t suffered any obvious damage and a few big class A rigs are already lined up at check-in. The wind is gusty and the rain comes in short bursts, but the drive to the island is uneventful – except for the excitement of the grandkids!
In all, the evacuation of the island and our dilemma of finding a safe haven was a good lesson in planning. We were traveling before the start of the hurricane season in the Gulf, so figured we were safe from severe weather. We quickly learned that storms don’t follow a schedule! You can be sure that emergency planning is now a part of our regular trip planning process.
An RV is a fabulous way to travel. At the same time, it is vulnerable to severe weather. We have encountered storms on almost every RV trip but each time we learn how to prepare a little better. Now when we are planning a trip, we identify typical severe weather seasons in a destination and, if possible, avoid them. Take the time to do a bit of emergency planning for your next RV trip and know what to do to keep you and your RV safe.