Living the W: A Family Trip with the President of Winnebago Outdoors
Living the W: A Family Trip with the President of Winnebago Outdoors
The Bowers take the Solis on a road trip filled with special moments & van life fun!
By: Beth & Huw Bower
Starting a new life in the RV world feels like a natural fit for our family. I’m Beth, the wife of Huw Bower, who is the new President of Winnebago Outdoors. When I met Huw in Scotland at age 19, we frequently took hikes together up Arthur’s Seat (an extinct volcano in Edinburgh) and had running races around the craigs and down the slope. We were the best of friends with a shared love of the outdoors and of adventure. Ten years later, Huw proposed to me at Maine’s Acadia National Park, and we spent our honeymoon in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, backcountry camping.
We have been fortunate to continue enjoying a life enriched by nature, as we have spent time living and traveling on boats during Huw’s career in the boating industry. With our two sons, we have extensively boated Lake Michigan, both coasts of Florida, the Keys, the Bahamas, Chesapeake Bay, and the Intracoastal Waterway.
These experiences have bonded our family in a way that makes us value teamwork, flexibility, and simplicity. Most of all, it has imparted in all of us a genuine enthusiasm for getting outdoors and for learning more about the world around us.
Entering the Winnebago world is a new and exciting opportunity for our family – which consists of my husband, our two boys, our Welsh Corgi, and me. We are avid boaters, accustomed to taking long trips while living on board. Given our prior experience inhabiting small spaces together and working as a team to get to various destinations, we are enthusiastic about similar adventures on land.
Packing Up & Hitting the Road in the Solis
In mid-January, my boys and I packed up a Solis and pointed it south from our home in Illinois. It was the perfect getaway vehicle! With the constraints of COVID-19 and the challenges it brings to long-distance travel, we felt the Solis would be an ideal, safe option to reunite our homeschooled boys with their grandparents. Plus, it would provide a quarantine space right in the driveway, should we need it. We were able to travel the long distance from Illinois to Tidewater Virginia safely, comfortably, and with very limited contact with others when stopping for gas.
The fear of exposing my parents quickly dissipated as I packed up, and started up, the Solis with confidence.
Having traveled in boats, I’d like to say I’ve mastered the art of packing light, but I found myself loading some boxes into the vehicle for storage at my parents’ house the night before our trip! The storage space and layout in the Solis is fantastic. As the boys and I packed it with our clothes for two locations and climates (Virginia and Florida), sleeping bags and pillows, coolers of food, fishing gear, an inflatable paddleboard, homeschool supplies, laptops, and a printer, we marveled at how there were still storage areas and spaces we could have filled.
The in-floor storage, easily accessible side cubbies, and multiple cupboards with magnetic door holders were well spaced and utilized every area of the Solis, without compromising on space for passengers. The boys and I didn’t feel cramped when traveling, and the dog was happy and secure in her crate, instead of at our feet.
Driving the Solis was another surprise for me! I’ve driven SUVs, mini-vans, and boats, but never a Winnebago. It felt daunting to climb up into the van and back it up out of my driveway. Fortunately, the rear-view mirror is equipped with a camera, so I had full view of what was behind me, as well as large side-view mirrors to help me along. I took it for a test-drive around my neighborhood, town, and on a stretch of nearby highway to make sure I could handle it before heading south. I felt comfortable quickly. The Solis was responsive and smooth, and my worry about taking it on a long trip disappeared.
Enjoying the Safety & Comforts of Van Life
Arriving in Virginia, the boys and I were filled with joy to see my parents and to know we made the first leg of our trip so successfully. We felt safe, secure, and, if necessary, were able to stop to spend the night somewhere.
This realization, and the comfort it brought me, was driven home especially during our stretch through the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. A band of heavy snow blanketed the road for a stretch of the trip, faster than the plows could handle. The boys and I pulled off the highway and relaxed in a rest area while we waited for the snow to subside and the plows to clear our way. We walked the dog and reveled in the snowfall with her, turned on the Truma propane heat, easily assembled the table in front of the back passenger seats, and swiveled the front seats to face each other while enjoying snacks and playing Boggle - a favorite family game.
Using the Truma heat system was easy, efficient, and quickly warmed the Solis. The control panel is clear, almost intuitive, and it’s also simple to monitor how much battery power and propane is available on a gauge to the right of the Truma. While I wasn’t able to plug in the Solis battery at this stop, I was assured by the monitor and the knowledge that not only driving had kept it charged, but the solar panel on top of the vehicle adds to its charge.
Should we have had an issue starting the Solis back up, there was a battery boosting switch to the left of the steering wheel - something I didn’t need once the snowfall subsided.
Sharing the Solis Love
My Dad is a former electrical engineer and a master at discovering how things work, so he had a big smile on his face when we arrived in his driveway. He and I enjoyed watching a few Solis videos on the internet together, downloading a “How To Solis” app on my iPhone and exploring the finer details inside the vehicle.
We also ordered an adapter for the power cable, so I was easily able to connect the 30-amp cable to the outlet in his garage to keep the battery charged. We learned how to clean and fill the water tank which has a wonderful, illuminated gauge to help keep track of levels while also providing a soothing, ambient light to the kitchen workspace.
We found it was just as easy to turn on heat for the water on the Truma as it was turning on the vehicle heat, and that there was also a switch to turn on heating plates for the gray water tank should the temperature drop below zero outside. We did not use the bathroom, given the easy access to the house, but found on the “How To” resources that it is a simple process to empty the tank.
Overall, we were both pleased with the ease and efficiency of the Solis, and my Dad felt good about sending the boys and me off on the next leg of our journey to Florida.
Family Bonding Along the Way
The boys and I decided to break up our trip further south with a stay at the Jekyll Island Campground off the coast of Georgia. The sun was just setting over the marshlands of the barrier island as we passed through grand stucco and terra-cotta columns and under rows of palms on the Island entryway.
My oldest son captured the pink and golden-hazed sunset on camera from his passenger side window while admiring the beauty. My younger son was excited to know there is a turtle rehabilitation facility there at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and we all were looking forward to visiting Driftwood Beach, perhaps finding hidden handblown glass treasures along the way - a special island event that takes place through February.
The Jekyll Island Campground was a treasure in itself. We were greeted by two helpful and friendly managers who escorted us to our site in their golf cart, helped me back in, and showed me where the hookup and facilities were. We had plenty of space, privacy, and peace, even though the campground was fully booked.
It was dark by the time we settled in. The boys were tired and hungry, and I had yet to try cooking dinner in the Solis. My oldest son is now a fast-growing teenager who cares a great deal about dinner, so his demeanor suddenly dulled from enthusiasm to exhaustion.
I quickly set up the main bed in the rear of the vehicle. It couldn’t have been easier! With a simple pull of a holding lever, it folded down, the cushions perfectly fitting on top. I made it up like a normal bed with a mattress cover,
sheets, a heavy blanket, and two pillows. He curled up immediately with a bag of pretzels, recovering and finding a book to read.
My youngest jumped at the opportunity to help in the mobile kitchen! We opened the sliding side door of the Solis for ventilation and were grateful for the full-sized screen that zipped down the middle with a magnetic seal off to the side for fast entry and exit.
I effortlessly lit the gas burners with the press of a button to boil water for pasta and heat up chili to put on top. As the pasta cooked, we realized I had forgotten to pack a strainer, so our youngest thought quickly and poked holes in a paper bowl, remarking, “It’s camping, Mom! It makes you creative!” I smiled at his resourcefulness and thought about the truth in what he said. Here we were, over a thousand miles from our home in Illinois, with not a single cell phone, iPad, or television interrupting our evening, and just the three of us relying on our wits, good humor, and sense of adventure.
How fortunate we were to have this moment out of the house, safely distanced in a pandemic, enjoying the simplicity of life outdoors, and away from screens, together. It was also at this moment that I found the two boys sharing the book on the bed, my youngest with his arm around his older brother. My boys were happy and my heart was full.
We had a great night’s sleep with windows open and screens keeping out mosquitos. It could not have been easier to set up the pop-top for the boys. With quick release handles and a gentle push, the top lifted and a simple-to assemble aluminum ladder helped the boys climb up with their sleeping bags and pillows. They appreciated the vent at the top for air circulation as well as the side windows with both a screened and a sealed option.
I had plenty of space to fully stretch my legs in the main bed and could roll over on both sides with lots of room. We awoke refreshed and ready to tackle our last leg to Florida, where we would meet my husband at the Island Inn on Sanibel Island.
Full Hearts & Flexible Fun
When on Sanibel, we were able to take the Solis onto the Causeway Islands, driving right onto the beach. We were early risers one day and drove out there to do some fishing as the sun rose. It was an unseasonably cool morning, so the boys and I were grateful the main bed was still set up with the warm blanket.
We cozied in, watched the sun sparkle on the water and waited for it to rise a bit higher before hitting the beach with the fishing poles. How fortunate we were to have everything we needed right there to not only stay warm and make hot chocolate and coffee, but to have all the tackle and supplies we needed to enjoy our morning on the beach.
We were now feeling the benefit of how flexible a Solis can be and appreciating its versatility. We were warm, safe, and dry in the mountains of Pennsylvania, as well as on the beaches of Florida. It truly is a vehicle designed to take you anywhere, and we can’t wait for our next trip!
To learn more about Huw, his professional background, and his new role as President of Winnebago Outdoors, read this recent Q&A feature.