Interview with Dan Wiekert, Northstar 8.5 Adventurer Owner

Truck Camper Adventure is proud to present this interview with Dan Weikert. Known as “dweikert” on the Internet forums, Dan has worked as a self-employed IT consultant since 2008. His career began in 1976 as an electronics technician and evolved into work as a computer systems and network administrator. He currently holds Microsoft System and Cisco Network certifications. For recreation, Daniel grew up hunting and fishing with his father and older brother. At age 18, he discovered skydiving and is currently a certified senior parachute rigger with over 900 jumps. Now, at age 61, Daniel enjoys using his truck camper to camp stream-side at remote fly fishing destinations in the western United States. Daniel currently resides in York, Pennsylvania.

TCA: Thanks, Dan, for taking the time to talk with us. How long have you been interested in truck campers?

Dan: The simple answer is 2008, but as usually happens what I ended up with wasn’t what I first thought I wanted. In the ’70’s I had a conversion van and I liked the convenience and freedom of having a place to sleep wherever I went. As I got older and retirement became a visible light at the end of the tunnel, I started thinking about a Class-B. But my plans quickly changed from a conversion van to a pickup and truck camper after an uncomfortable test drive. There wasn’t enough foot room for me. It became apparent this was the better solution since it doesn’t require a dedicated vehicle. I can still use the pickup for hauling mulch, lumber, etc., and I have the option of upgrading either the truck or the camper without having to do both if there’s ever a problem with either.

TCA: You own a Northstar 8.5 Adventurer. Why did you chose that particular make and model?

Dan: I wanted something relatively small and light to get me to remote fishing spots, but with enough features that I could comfortably ride out a day or so of bad weather. I considered a pop-up for the aerodynamics, but the stealth camping ability of a hard-side won out. The Adventurer 8.5 is a 7-foot-wide, non-basement model which fit my needs nicely. I ordered the camper custom and I optioned it out on the phone with Rex Willett himself. Some factory options I added were the Dometic DC compressor refrigerator and 135 watts of solar. Even though it isn’t listed as an available option when I asked if it could be built with dual propane tanks, “No problem” came from Rex just like I was asking for the outside shower, which I also got.

TCA: Which tie-down and turnbuckle system do you use to secure your truck camper?

Dan: Torklift tie-downs and Fastguns.

Picking up the camper at Northstar’s factory in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Aerial view of Dan’s solar panel arrangement on his Northstar Adventurer 8.5.
Closeup of the Bluesky 2000E MPPT Charge Controller in Dan’s camper.

TCA: Have you made any modifications yet to your truck camper?

Dan: Oh yeah. I upgraded the 135 watts of solar to a much larger 400 watt system. I also added an accumulator tank to the plumbing to reduce pump cycling, added a switch to turn the water pump on and off in the outside shower compartment, a Dish Tailgator, a Xantrex Prowatt 600 watt Inverter, a TV and a bracket to hold the Dish Receiver, the Coleman-Mach 8 Cub Air Conditioner, replaced all the lights with LED’s, and added rear and side cameras to eliminate that huge blind spot on the passenger side.

TCA: Wow, you have an impressive solar power system. What’s your record for total amp hours harvested in a single day? What kind of charge controller are you using?

Dan: I’m using a BlueSky MPPT 2000E controller. It’s the one Northstar installed at the factory. I never actually measured the amp hours harvested in a single day, but I’ve seen in excess of 20 amps going into the batteries. My four 100 watt panels are pretty much the limit for this 25 amp MPPT controller, but this setup suits my needs so I feel no great desire to upgrade.

TCA: Can you tell us more about your truck?

Dan: Sure, it’s a 2008 Chevy Silverado, 2500HD, extended cab, short-bed with the Duramax diesel and Allison transmission.

TCA: Did you need to make any suspension modifications to your truck?

Dan: I added a Hellwig Sway bar and Firestone air bags before I drove to the factory to pick it up. With the air bags I got a little more bobbling than I liked so I replaced the stock shocks with a set of KYB Monomax and added a set of Hellwig Load Pro springs. Now with about 15-20 pounds in the bags just to trim up the height the drive is quite comfortable. I also upgraded the tires and wheels from the stock 3,042-pound rated 245’s to a set of 3,415 pound rated 265’s. I’ll be adding a Titan spare tire auxiliary tank this year giving me another 30 gallons on top of the pathetically small stock 26 gallon tank. Not to carry the camper, but to eliminate range anxiety out west.

TCA: Do you have any regrets in your choices? Anything you wished that you done differently?

Dan: About the only thing I wish I could’ve done different is buy a one-ton truck and save some modifications. But GM didn’t and still doesn’t have a one-ton extended cab 6-foot bed. At least the diesel 2500’s come with the same rear axle and brakes as the 3500 GM trucks.

TCA: Have you made any mistakes relating to truck camper that would help our readers?

Dan: Nothing serious comes to mind, but I will say when you winterize don’t forget the outside shower.

Rear Mounted Tailgater Satellite Dish on Dan’s camper.
Raynolds Pass FAS in Montana, the morning after Dan’s first night camping in his new camper.
Boondocking in Colorado.
Fishing area on the North Fork of the Blackfoot River in Montana.

TCA: Which engine type do you prefer, diesel or gas?

Dan: I owned nothing but gas before I bought this truck. I had done some camping under the cap on a Toyota Tundra and didn’t care for the performance climbing the mountains out west. For any hauling, the diesel now has me spoiled and if I had to replace this truck, it would probably be another diesel. For grocery getter cars and trucks, a gas engine is fine.

TCA: What kind of mileage are you getting hauling your truck camper?

Dan: If traffic permits, I like to keep the cruise in the 63-65 mph range. On a 4,400 mile trip from Pennsylvania to Yellowstone National Park and back, I averaged just under 14 (13.97) mpg. That said, driving into a strong head wind and/or making time at 75 mph will have me in the low 12’s to high 11’s. Alternatively, on that same Yellowstone trip, I had one tank that got 16.9 mpg, but that was only half a tank with half of that spent driving 35-45 mph in Yellowstone and the other half the downhill run from the East entrance of the park into Cody, Wyoming. So weather and geography can have just as much influence on mileage as how heavy my right foot is. Empty I generally get 16-17 mpg driving mostly two lane country roads, 19-20 mpg highway if I can keep the speed under 65 mph. All hand calculated though I’ve found the computer in my truck is usually pretty close.

TCA: What tires are you using on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?

Dan: I’m running Toyo Open Country AT’s, a reasonably aggressive AT tread for off-roading, but still good for the long highway drives. I’m happy with them. As for the pressures, I’m running 65 psi front, and 80 psi rear.

TCA: Do you have any favorite places or trails you like to explore? What was the most difficult and challenging?

Dan: My trips are generally fly fishing destinations for trout. There’s so many places left for me to explore I don’t know that I could pick a favorite yet. I do find myself returning to the Yellowstone area frequently. My most difficult trip so far was on the Grand Mesa in Colorado. Most of the roads there were well maintained, this particular road wasn’t. It’s the only “road” I’ve been on so far where I had to get out a few times to pick my path. I passed a group of campers with quads as I pulled onto that road/trail and got lots of looks. Just as I got setup they came motoring past. I still wonder if they were checking to see if I needed a tow. To be honest, there was one muddy stretch that, had I tried to cross, I probably would have.

TCA: What are your favorite states where you like to fish?

Dan: Montana and Colorado have received most of my attention so far, with Montana getting the most. Still, I plan to explore more of Colorado, Wyoming and eventually give the fly rod a rest and check out the scenery in the desert Southwest, Utah, Arizona, etc. Meteor Crater and Monument Valley are on my bucket list.

TCA: What’s the most worrisome or scariest moment you’ve experienced during your travels?

Dan: Worrisome was when I left the Interstate in Montana with just under a half tank of diesel and the low fuel light had been on for about 10 miles before I finally got to the next station. The only scary moment was in the mountains of Tennessee where, had I known that bend in the road was that sharp, I would’ve been going much slower. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the rig held that corner which boosted my confidence in the collision avoidance abilities of my rig, but also got me to lighten up on the right foot on those unknown mountain roads. There’s usually frequent pullovers that I’ll make use of if there’s anyone behind me wanting to go faster.

Fresh trout on one of Dan’s fishing trips.
Old Faithful in Yellowstone.
Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.
Skydiving over Maytown, Pennsylvania in the early 1980’s. Dan is wearing the tan jumpsuit and blue helmet.

TCA: Have you had any notable run-ins with wildlife on your travels?

Dan: A couple, both on the same day in Yellowstone though fortunately the vehicle wasn’t involved. People may be surprised to learn buffalo cause more human injuries than all other wildlife combined in Yellowstone Park. Mostly because people seem to think they’re just dumb animals and try to take a selfie with one. This day while hiking to a stream I had to get off the trail to allow a pair of buffalo going the opposite direction to pass. Due to the terrain I could only get about 15 feet off the side, apparently it was enough.

Later that day coming back the same trail I spotted a fox that walked right up to me, probably thinking I was going to throw some food. All I had left on me was a chocolate and peanut butter protein bar so the decision was easy not to feed him. If I had some of the beef jerky I left in the truck I might have been tempted. He hung around while I took a bunch of pictures until I started walking, then he turned and trotted back the direction he came and disappeared around a bend. A few seconds later he came back around the bend and looked at me as if saying “Are you coming?” He then sat down in the middle of the trail until I got closer, then he got up and disappeared around the bend again. That was the last I saw of him.

TCA: What foods do you like to eat when you’re out exploring?

Dan: I’m no gourmet. Hotdogs and hamburger are typical, eggs and toast for breakfast. The exception being when I can sample the local fauna. I generally fish catch and release, but if I’m fishing a place where harvesting is legal and the trout population is high, you can’t beat the taste of very fresh wild trout.

TCA: Do you have any other hobbies as they relate to the great outdoors?

Dan: Obviously fly fishing. I started that around age 13. At age 18 I discovered skydiving. Nothing I’ve done before or since compares. I had the van for some of those years and appreciated not being in a tent the many times I overnighted at the airport. Around Haley’s comet’s last visit I got interested in amateur astronomy. I try to schedule my trips west around the new moon, not just for better fishing but for the dark skies. Next year I plan to watch the total solar eclipse streamside in Wyoming, but I’ll go where I have to be to find clear skies. Coincidentally, that eclipse is on my birthday. Wonder if that portends anything.

TCA: Do you have any tips for us amateur anglers who don’t get out as much?

Dan: For the experienced and wannabe fly fishers, just about any body of water worth fishing has a fly shop in the area supporting it. Find that and make it your first stop when you get to the area. They’re generally more than happy to select an assortment of flies that will probably work for the time of year you’re there. They may even recommend a few places where fishing is good. If your experience level is low and it’s in your budget, hire a guide for a day. Even if you can read a stream and know where to cast, having someone familiar with the water and knowing which flies work in the conditions you’re fishing can save a lot of frustration and knot tying.

TCA: This has been great talking to you, Dan. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me. Do you have any final advice for our readers?

Dan: My pleasure. To the readers, just recognize there are limits to both the rig and the operator. No doubt in more experienced hands my rig could go to even more remote locations than I’ve taken it. I’ve never done any serious off-roading or rock crawling, so I try not to get too far out of my comfort zone. Especially when you remember I camp solo, so I try not to get myself into any place I can’t get myself out of. Basically, be safe, have fun, and if you can do both at the same time, all the better.

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About Mello Mike 312 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure Magazine. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a truck camper and Jeep enthusiast, and has owned and restored several Airstream travel trailers. He enjoys college football, hiking, travel, off-roading, photography, and fishing. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years and now works as a project manager for a major banking and security firm. He also does some RV consulting and RV inspections on the side.

1 Comment on Interview with Dan Wiekert, Northstar 8.5 Adventurer Owner

  1. Dan, it’s nice to see from whence you came, truck camper wise. You have a good twist to your life experience which takes you out of B&W into technicolor. You made a lot of good choices.
    jefe

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