• Jason Bontrager

Highway to Heck - Part 3

When a family member or friend returns from a trip, I often ask, “How was your trip?”

Most of the time, I get the answer, “Good!” Occasionally I get the reply, “Uneventful.”

Usually, the last reply comes from seasoned travelers in a hushed voice so as not to let the luck fairies hear them. I know why that reply is given as I have been reminded why on this trip. Thankfully my trip from Albuquerque to “Flag” was uneventful.

Expo West went well, barring that Donavon and the crew, on Friday, suffered through sustained winds of 20-30 mph. High winds and a dry environment contributed to high dust. One of our 10’x20’ tents was taco’d on Friday. The wind picked it up and folded it in half. The guys back at HQ have since repaired the damaged tent framing, and it’s now back in commission. Many podcasters and YouTubers had a hard time recording and filming that day. The wind is evident in this video from Friday at Overland Expo West.


Thankfully, having arrived so late on Friday, the wind had subsided and remained so for the remainder of the weekend. After the last 3 days, I was a bit tired, but I was rearing to go on Saturday morning. The unfortunate thing about driving to the shows and trying to get there in a rush is that it ALWAYS leaves you drained whether you’ve had vehicle issues or not. Often we drive to shows to save money, see the country, and get a chance to use our campers, but we never leave with enough time to spare to get proper rest.



After this trip and a couple of others this year, I’ve decided that when I drive to an expo, I either need to plan out the trip and take a little extra time to get there and back or hire a transporter to take my vehicle out and then fly to the destination. It also depends on the distance to the expo. There’re benefits to both, but those are the options. In fact, as I write this, I’m on a plane to Teton Overland Rally now, and Bluey (my Tacoma) arrived there this morning.




It was great to be at Overland Expo West. There is always positive energy at these events. It’s fun to be around folks that love the outdoors and want to outfit their rig with gear to help them go further out into the wild. It’s also never easy to walk away from the show without purchasing the next piece of equipment to complete the kit. Aaaahhh, “The Kit.” Donavon and I love refining our kits. It’s a little bit of an addiction. I think it’s safe to say our wives don’t like that we love this.


Since we started Skinny Guy Campers, I have found myself working on my truck(s) more often, so much so that Aimee has dubbed it (them) “my girlfriend.” I’ve installed everything from body armor from CBI and C4, Baja Design lights to DMOS trail shovels and Cascadia solar panels.

Even with all the issues that could go wrong on a road trip, getting out and traveling is why we started this company. It’s what we encourage others to do. Skinny Guy Campers is just a small way we feel we can contribute to getting people feeling more comfortable spending time “out of doors.”

Outside is where we will find what is more important in life. We are less likely to find it on a phone screen or behind a desk. There are so many distractions in life, but when I spend a night in the Skinny Guy Camper (even though our mattress is thin), I always get a great night’s sleep.

We buttoned everything up from Overland Expo West on Sunday afternoon after the show ended at 3. It still amazes me HOW FAST we can break down our products and bug out. We’re always the first to bug out. Breaking down a Skinny Guy Camper takes (legit) between 5 and 10 minutes. Most other RVs and campers take between 10 and 60 minutes. Believe me, I know. I used to own a company (Jayco) that built them.

We all hit the road, Donavon back north to Montana in the Ram 2500 and model 6.5, Justin and his wife, Michelle, off to Baja California in Ghost, my Ram 2500 and model 6.5 with our dealer TAV (Tactical Application Vehicles), and me headed back east in my trusty rented Tacoma. I was off to Albuquerque to get my GMC serviced on Monday morning at RNS Auto Services.


Later that evening, I arrived back in Albuquerque at a hotel near the airport parking. I parked in the hotel parking and walked to the airport parking lot. I drove the GMC to the hotel, parked it near the Tacoma, and transferred everything needed for the next few days over to Tacoma as I wasn’t sure how long the GMC would be in service at RNS.

I arrived at RNS the following morning around 8:30. Sam was there and greeted me. He knew I was coming that morning but wasn’t quite ready to get my truck in. His diesel mechanic was finishing up another job before getting the GMC moved in. I biked back to the hotel to get the Tacoma as I would need a mode of transportation to get around town while my steed was at RNS. I returned to RNS and just hung out there for the day. I didn’t want to be a pest, but I wanted to be present in case they had an issue that needed answers.


Alas, come the end of the workday; the truck wasn’t done. ☹ Even though I was saddened about this, I reminded myself that Sam had put me at the front of the line to get my truck repaired. I really appreciated it. I hadn’t re-booked my accommodations for that evening, so I decided to move to a different hotel. I went to dinner near UNM and then made my way to downtown Albuquerque where I would stay that night.

The next morning I went to the local 3rd wave coffee bar. Their coffee was good but not nearly as good as my local favorite back home, Embassy Coffee.



Hi ho, hi ho, it’s back to RNS we go. I made my way back to the shop. I got to know Sam today. We chatted a bit amidst his stream of in-flowing customers and the incoming phone calls. His customer service skills are impeccable. He was very empathetic and made folks comfortable with him and his shop. I could also get a decent amount of work done while waiting. Around 3 PM, Sam told me the water pump and clutch fan replacements were done being installed.

Sam’s dad works for him and routinely gives rides to patrons to and from the airport to return rental cars used while their own vehicles are in for service. This time he followed me back to the rental car facility at Albuquerque airport, waited on me to make the return, and gave me a lift back to the shop. I paid my bill, thanked Sam profusely, and headed to TAV to pick up my trailer.


Before I left RNS, Sam said if I had issues with the truck outside of Albuquerque, to give him a call, and he’d come and get me personally. That’s excellent customer service. Sam will be Governor of New Mexico one day; you just wait and see. I arrived at TAV minutes later, worked with the guys to get my trailer out of their backlot, hitched up, and headed back east.

By this time, it was early on Tuesday evening in the week before Memorial Day weekend.


Aimee and I had been planning to take the kids down to Florida for fun in the sun as it was their last week of school before the summer break. However, my truck issues had delayed my return to Indiana to make the trip down with them. Therefore, I decided to drive straight to Florida. This would also allow me extra time if I had truck issues on the way back to take care of them before Aimee and the kids arrived.



I took off. I made it to the Napa stores in OK City and Tulsa the following day and returned the parts previously purchased to fix the GMC. With all the parts returned, I made my way to Arkansas and passed the border around 1:20 PM on Wednesday. I decided that I would continue due east for Florida if I had the energy. Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama flew by. I finally crossed into the panhandle of Florida around midnight on Wednesday.

No issues with the truck so far. Woohoo! What amazed me the most was how long the panhandle of Florida really was. I ended up making it to the Tampa area around 8 AM. Finally.


I’m happy to say the ride to Florida was uneventful, as was the ride back to Indiana early the following week.

While in Florida, I purchased and shipped home several other components and upgrades that I felt would help prolong the life of my trusty GMC “Monster” and help restore my confidence in the steed. High Ground Outfitters installed everything upon my return. Those parts included a Mishimoto Performance radiator with new red coolant hoses, a secondary transmission coolant fan with a dash-mounted on-off auxiliary switch, and we swapped out the transmission oil (which I guess was a bit sludgy). Whoops.

I’ve since taken Monster on a cross-country road trip to Colorado, pulling the trailer with another vehicle on it, and I’m happy to report the trip was uneventful.

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