Stanley and the Lance

Our home on wheels the past three summers – a Lance camper perched on a 3/4 ton Chevy Silverado, here parked for lunch with a gorgeous view of Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska. Note the hitch for towing our C-Dory 22 Angler. This photo was taken on May 21, 2012.

Our first summer in Alaska, we lived aboard our C-Dory 22 Angler, GillieGillie’s pilot house and cuddy cabin made for a cozy nest, and the spirited little Toyota Tacoma that did the pulling over the 8,000 plus miles we drove that summer was, simply, the most enjoyable vehicle either one of us has ever driven. The 43 days we spent traveling in that rig made for a summer for the books. In fact, we talked for some time about traveling all across North America in this rig: exploring blue highways both on land and on water, envisioning jaunts down to the Florida Keys, out to Martha’s Vineyard, across the country to Catalina Island and everywhere in between. We even talked about launching the C-Dory at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and cruising all the way down the Ohio and the Mississippi to New Orleans.

But when we made the decision to move to Alaska, rent out our home in Sacramento, and spend our summers on the Kenai Peninsula…

A carved wooden hummingbird given to us by our daughter, Maia, on a trip that passed through a First Nations village in British Columbia greets us each time we open the door. Framed artwork and other personal touches make our camper a home.

After months of comparative shopping and researching campers and trucks, we still felt like we didn’t know as much as we would have liked. On the other hand, we knew enough to be comfortable making a decision. We’ve been very happy with both the Lance Camper and the Chevy Silverado 2500 it sits on.

The camper has a queen-size bed, lots of windows and skylights providing natural lighting, a three-burner propane stove with oven, an air conditioner and heater, a good shower and flush toilet, a TV and sound system, a great refrigerator/freezer, lots of storage space and enough room overhead to be comfortable for a person of my height (I’m 6′ 1″). We added a solar panel, which we highly recommend; even on cloudy days the battery charges. We also have a generator which, although rarely used, has been much appreciated the couple of times we’ve needed it.

A pair of Xtratuff boots – iconic of Alaska anglers and boaters – is ready at the entrance. 

Stanley is a name conferring strength and dependability – like Stanley tools. Fitted with airbags (extra shock absorbers), our three-quarter ton Silverado has performed superbly carrying the camper and towing our 4,500 pound boat. Given a steep mountain grade, Stanley shifts down as if to say, “All right.” Nothing more. No groaning and straining, no needless extra shifting, just a simple, straightforward, “All right” and up the mountain we go. And kicked into four-wheel drive, this truck has the grit to power through even loose beach sand with the camper – a test we didn’t intend to put the truck through and won’t be repeating.

We went back and forth regarding two options: gas or diesel, and dual rear wheels or single. We opted for a gas engine and single wheels, and after three summers of putting this rig to the test we can say without hesitation that with the right tires, single wheels are fine. And we’re happy we don’t have to deal with the noise of a diesel engine (or impose that noise on our neighbors). That being said, the fact is we don’t put a lot of miles on our rig. A diesel engine offers some real advantages to campers engaged in extensive traveling.

To anyone contemplating a rig like this, we have one firm recommendation: Start by choosing the camper you want, then match it to the right truck. 

This watercolor by Homer, Alaska artist Leslie Klaar depicts a boat much like our C-Dory heading off for a day of fishing in the great Northwest. It hangs near the door of of our camper.

A Lance Camper, a C-Dory and Two Mighty Trucks

A mighty little truck. The first year we came up to Alaska, 2009, we used our C-Dory as our camper and towed it up and back – more than 8,000 miles over 43 days with our 2004 Toyota Tacoma. We had a sunroof, which proved to be just the thing for wildlife photography. Here the rig is parked in front of Muncho Lake in Northern British Columbia. Right after we took this photo, three Rocky Mountain Sheep ewes and their several lambs crossed the road right in front of us. (See C-Dory 22 Angler: A Boat for Alaska)

I have long admired the line from Robert Frost’s poem The Road not Taken, “…Yet knowing how way leads on to way…” for the simple, universal truth it holds. When we purchased this boat, we had no idea we’d be towing it to Alaska, using it as our camper both on land (it was a great conversation starter in campgrounds) and on the water. Nor did we have any idea that we would fall so hard for this great state. I don’t recall who spoke first, but on our way back to California that summer at some point one of us turned to the other and said what we’d both been thinking: “We need to figure out how to move up here.”

A few months later, we had job offers in the Alaskan bush, a new Lance camper and a Chevy Silverado 2500 pickup truck. We were ready!

The camper is equipped with air conditioning, heat, a shower and toilet, three-burner stove, a surprisingly large and very adequate refrigerator-freezer, TV, stereo, queen-sized bed, small dining table and comfortable seating, skylights and lots of cupboards and cabinets. Good headroom, too. We’re comfortable living small, so for the two of us it’s a plush set-up. We keep reminding ourselves that we’re preparing for a future chapter in our lives when, hopefully, we will live aboard a sailboat. An item we installed that has proved indispensable is the solar panel which, even on cloudy days, supplies enough of an extra trickle of electricity to make life easier.

It was a red-letter day when we got our Alaska license plates! That morning we walked into the DMV in Haines where a friendly clerk gave us a couple of driver’s license booklets to study. We walked to a nearby coffee shop, had our soy lattes, returned to the DMV, took the test, got our photos taken, and were issued licenses.
Although we are in the heart of a near-record cold spell, we’re over the hump in the school year and our thoughts are beginning to turn toward another summer in Seward, exploring the Kenai Peninsula and boating and fishing the beautiful waters of Resurrection Bay.
Gool ol’ Stanley, our reliable Chevy Silverado 3/4 ton, loaded up on her maiden trip to Alaska.