EXCLUSIVE: First Timer’s Five Day Journal
Question: How do you find your RV Community?
As new, or even more experienced RVers, it can get lonely out there on the road, in new places and strange campgrounds. Especially if you’re living and traveling full-time.
While RV people are generally very nice, and extremely helpful if you seem to be having any kind of problem with your rig, everybody has their own schedule, routine, and reasons for traveling, and we’re all on our way somewhere…
It’s hard to strike up a lasting friendship on the last day, when you’re going through your checklist, getting ready to go, stowing the hoses and unplugging the power, and now the guy next door wants to chat and get to know you!
Another question: How do you learn to RV?
Even if you grew up camping with your family, or you’ve owned different starter RVs, maybe progressing from a pop-up, to a travel trailer, to a 5th Wheel, or smaller Class A, B, or C motorhome… or if you’ve never had those experiences…
When you buy or upgrade to a brand-new or new-to-you big, complicated motorhome: How do you learn to RV?
Answer: Join The AIM Club & attend an AIM Rally… ASAP!
We were headed to our first FMCA Rally in Tucson, AZ, when we first encountered The AIM Club (beyond the brochure I had picked up at NIRVC) on a day trip to the Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa, FL.
Talking with NIRVC’s Brett Davis, President & CEO, and Angie Morell, National Director of Sales, they encouraged us to join AIM at the “Tucson Pre-Rally”: California Dreamin’ in San Diego, CA, for a different kind of rally experience. To compare…
As Angie explained: “The AIM Rally is like an all-inclusive cruise for luxury RV owners: resort camping, all meals & entertainment included!”
And so much more, as we discovered…
Sunday, March 13th
Because Russ and I are both “Working From Home” full-time in our 2016 Entegra Aspire, we travel on weekends and roll into full hook-ups on Sundays to set up for the work week ahead. We reserved ahead and arrived a few days early for AIM: California Dreamin’ at Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay in Chula Vista, CA.
So, first thing, I have to point out the INCREDIBLE VALUE of an AIM Rally:
Sun Outdoors Camping & Resort Fees for 4 nights (Standard Back-In)
Total = $597.84
That’s what we paid, just for camping.
Compared to the total cost of an AIM Club ALL-INCLUSIVE
Rally Fee TOTAL = $675.15
WHICH INCLUDES ALL of your overnight camping & resort fees (4 nights) AND
- Dining: “most, if not all meals”
- Educational Seminars & Technical Training
- Fantastic Excursions & Fun Activities
- Evening Happy Hours
- Nightly Entertainment
At a fabulous luxury RV resort, with about 200 of your new best RV friends (AIM Rallies limited to 100 motor coaches) and AIM event coordinators. (And do these people know how to party and have fun!)
DAY 0 – First Timers
Wednesday, March 16th
If you’re nervous about being new and not knowing anyone…
Each day, during our early arrival time, we watched big, beautiful motorhomes roll into the resort. We suspected they might be with AIM, but as total newbies to this event, we had no way of knowing.
Until Tuesday, when two gorgeous Entegras, one after the other, came around our corner and parked down the row. Followed by a truck, towing a large utility trailer…
And then things really started happening.
With a post from Tommy Townsend (AIM Club President) on the AIM Club Facebook Group a few days before:
“Hotdogs @ 5:30 March 16. Come on down to SITE 48… bring your favorite drinks & chairs, see you soon…”
So we got ourselves together and walked down the row Wednesday evening, with our chairs and favorite beverages.
Something to note (again): We were first timers. Relatively new RVers. I’m a fairly introverted writer-type. And while my husband is more outgoing than I am (usually)… we didn’t know anybody.
Honestly, it wasn’t easy, walking up to this gathering group of strangers. To an outsider, they all seemed to know each other. (In reality, they didn’t. Many of them were first timers and newbies, just like us.)
Instantly, we were pulled into the group. Everybody was very friendly and welcoming. We popped open our chairs, squeezed into a row, and made at least two dozen new friends that first night, including our hosts: Tommy & Bonnie Townsend.
And Randy, the NIRVC AIM Rally Man – cook, driver, equipment wrangler & good guy to know – manning the grill.
Best first-timer/newbie entry question (Be Brave!):
“Hi, I’m [YOUR NAME HERE]! Where are you from?”
Day 1 – Registration & Schedule
Thursday, March 17th
Re-registration at the campground today. We didn’t have to change sites, but I had to go up to the office to re-register with the AIM group. I met Heather (AIM Events Manager) and Corinna (Membership Coordinator) while I was there. They were both welcoming and incredibly helpful to everyone coming in for the event.
AIM Event Registration began on the pool deck at 1:00 pm. We picked up our name badges and goodie bags, signed up for activities (Whale Watching Cruise and Craft Class), and met at least two dozen more new friends… only 150 to go!
You’re already an AIM Club Member, right?
If you purchased your motorcoach at National Indoor RV Centers – NIRVC, you received one year FREE membership to The AIM Club in your new owner’s package! If it’s been more than a year, or you purchased your motorhome elsewhere – it’s okay! Any owner of a Class A, B or C motorized coach is encouraged to join AIM for Exclusive Member Benefits & Discounts, including Member Rallies & Events. Click here to Join/Renew AIM Today!
Day 1 – Happy Hour & Dinner
Yes, it’s true: The majority of – but not all! – attending AIM members are retired and travel part-time. AIMers are no exception to the universal law: Retired people arrive and line up early for meals and events. They are very social, active, and fun – ready to party!
Sadly, Russ and I are not yet retired or independently wealthy. Russ works full-time from the RV for a large tech company, on Zoom all day with international partners and clients in all time zones. I write and manage our website and blog, and coordinate our household and full-time travel arrangements.
At this point in our lives, we try to arrive right on time. Sometimes we’re just a little late, but it was never a problem at the AIM event. There was always plenty of delicious food & beverages left, and open chairs at one table or another, with welcoming new friends of all ages and levels of RV experience. Always interesting conversation.
Dinner was an elegant buffet line service: Chicken & Pork w/ Cranberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, Mixed Vegetables, Salad & Dinner Rolls. With Raspberry Cheesecake for dessert!
Followed by live music and dancing on the pool deck, under the stars…
All Inclusive Motorhome (AIM) Club Rally @Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay Day 1. Thursday. St Patrick’s Day. Everyone in green. Did I mention this is our first RV Rally? An RV Rally is like a big group camp. An AIM Club RV Rally is group glamping on superchargers: all inclusive with camping, meals, Happy Hours, entertainment, and super fun activities – like dinner at the San Diego Zoo, and a Whale Watching Cruise, and Dinner on the Flight Deck of the USS Midway! It’s only the end of Day 1, with 3 more very full days, but I’m sad that it’s almost over!
Day 2 – EDUCATION & Ending The Day With A ROAR
Friday, March 18th
One of the truly unique and wonderful things about the AIM Club and every AIM Club Rally is the support and active, enthusiastic involvement of the Sponsors: Especially NIRVC, Freightliner (Platinum Sponsor), and exclusive product/service sponsors, including ProTeng, RettroBand, SkyMed, and Tireminder TPMS/Internet-On-The-Go.
Brett Davis, NIRVC President & CEO, and Angie Morell, National Director of Sales (& NIRVC’s YouTube Superstar!), attend and fully participate at every AIM Club Rally, out there at all the activities, and on the dance floor every night, with an incredible team of people who put these events together:
Chuck Lasley – AIM Club Director of Events & Safety Products – emcee’s every meal, participates in every activity & adventure, and coordinates seminars & OTR Distributions (more about that in a minute).
Heather Smith – AIM Events Manager – coordinates EVERYTHING & everybody during the event, after scouting all the resort locations, activities & logistics, months ahead of time.
Corinna Clark – AIM Membership Coordinator – not only helps us all get involved in AIM, also participates in every rally, event, activity, and adventure.
I’ve mentioned Tommy & Bonnie Townsend – AIM President & Treasurer, respectively – who host each and every event and serve as all-around caravan Wagon Masters. They are amazing, and fun!
And Randy the Rally Man (Heather shared that unofficial title with me), who keeps a fairly low profile, but is involved in every event and activity, in some way.
Cordova & Corey – OTR: On The Road Distributions. These outstanding techs, and others who help them, are involved in education, sales & installation of the various products available to AIM Members, with special discounts at AIM Rallies & Events. They tend to be busy during the day, but still show up on the dance floor every night!
AIM Club Members enjoy exclusive information and access to the most up-to-date safety and technology products available in the RV industry at seminars, presentations, and informal Q&A sessions during AIM Rallies.
Day 2 – EDUCATION
10:00 am seminar: Proteng fire safety presented by Chuck; TireMinder TPMS & Internet On The Go, presented by sponsor Michael Kilbourne. I took extensive notes and learned more than I ever anticipated – all very interesting.
After the seminars, half the group went on the Whale Watching Cruise. (We signed up for Saturday’s adventure.)
At Noon, I went to the Craft Session: Making a tree collage out of jigsaw puzzle pieces. It was like a Pinterest Challenge, or one of those cooking shows where you start with a picture of the thing. You have an idea of what you want to do. And in the end, the thing doesn’t look at all like you thought it would. But it was a lot of fun, and I made a dozen more new friends… how many does that make now?
1:00 pm – Russ met me for lunch, which was delicious: Steak & chicken fajitas buffet served by the resort – AND – Fresh-Cut French Fries, made by Randy the Rally Man, which quickly became a highly-anticipated mainstay every day for the rest of the event (and at AIM FMCA events, too!).
[Honestly: You should attend an AIM Club Rally just for Randy’s French Fries.]
It is always so easy to sit down anywhere at meals and events. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming.
The combined knowledge and experience of the owners of 100 motorhomes is incredible: Big discussion at lunch with another Entegra owner about batteries and the generator. We’ve been having trouble with AGS and boondocking. (Thank you, Larry & Ruth Bizek!)
Day 2 – Ending The Day With A ROAR!
The zoo was fantastic! We met up with Newmar friends, boarded big, open two-decker buses for a private tour of the zoo (twice around to visit all of the animals at twilight). And then to a dining venue by the elephant habitat for a wonderful buffet dinner, catered by The San Diego Zoo:
Chicken & Roast Beef with mashed potatoes, amazing veggies: delicious sautéed mushrooms & brussel sprouts, salad & rolls. Desserts. Yum. (I keep describing the food, because I figured you’d want to know!)
AIM Club Rally @Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay – Day 2!
Full breakfast served at 9:00am. They feed us really well here. So very well, yum! Followed by seminars about RV safety equipment & Internets. Half the group went on a whale watching excursion today. We go tomorrow. Some of us enjoyed a craft project, making tree pictures out of jigsaw puzzle pieces. (I am better at putting puzzle pieces together than crafting with them! ) 1:00pm – Lunch!!! The day goes by so fast. Amazing dinner tonight at the San Diego Zoo, with a private bus tour of the zoo and a Wild Animal Encounter show. A truly magical, memorable evening, after-hours at the zoo! Beautiful full moon tonight…
Day 3 – Whale Watching: Our Three Hour Tour…
Saturday, March 19th
AIM Club Rally Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay – Day 3!
Full breakfast served poolside at 9am. Whale Watching Cruise today — WE SAW A WHALE!!! (This does not always happen!) Very cool! 3 hour tour… came back to a roving musician (in the back of a pick-up truck), followed by an adult beverage cart! Prelude to a fun evening: Happy Hour & Dinner, Dancing to a DJ after dinner on the pool deck. Super fun! Great group of people.
The Whale Watching Cruise was incredible. We saw sea lions and several bottle-nosed dolphins in the harbor. We went out a long way toward the horizon. Our friends on the cruise the day before (Friday) didn’t see any whales, but they did enjoy seeing a mega-pod of dolphins at play around the boat.
And then, suddenly, for us: A WHALE!!! A huge gray whale. With barnacles. It came to the surface several times. It didn’t jump, but we could see the spray from its spout. And, once, the enormous tailfin smacking down on the water in a deep dive. The captain circled the boat around to watch and follow the whale, which came to the surface several times.
We got back late afternoon, with Happy Hour & Dinner scheduled at 5:30pm. I was going to lay down for half an hour before getting ready for dinner, but then a pick-up truck came rolling around the corner, with a guy playing guitar and singing from the back of the truck. Followed by an adult beverage cart! For The Win!
Tequila Sunrises (at sunset) & dancing in the street to great live music with our neighbors across the way #rvlife
Russ Caldwell – AIM Club Group
The adult equivalent of ice cream truck music but is instead the “adult beverages” parade and bar cart! AIM has chosen our location well!
I didn’t get a chance to lay down.
We were late for Happy Hour and had the pleasure of joining another random group to sit with, which was wonderful. Two dozen more new friends!
Dinner was excellent: Chicken with mushroom sauce. Green beans. Caesar Salad. Wild Rice. Dinner rolls.
I am going to miss this experience. We danced to a DJ after dinner, but it looks like the dance party went on, long after we came back to the rig. Super fun. (AIM Club Facebook Group Photos. As Tommy says, “What happens at AIM, goes on the Facebook Group!”)
AIM Members: JOIN the AIM Club Facebook Group to keep up with all the latest news and past, present & future events!
Day 4 – The USS Midway: Experience of a Lifetime
Sunday, March 20th
9:00 am – Breakfast poolside. Breakfast burritos. Yum.
Robert (Freightliner guy) brought around a backpack with Bailey’s Irish Cream: “Would you like cream with your coffee?”
[Apparently, another AIM Rally Tradition, like Randy’s French Fries.]
10:00 am seminar – Freightliner Chassis (with Robert!). We learned so many things. (Even if you’re not on a Freightliner Chassis, the fundamentals are the same, and good to know.)
1:00 pm – Lunch with our Newmar friends: Fajitas & Randy’s French Fries.
2:00 pm – Open Q&A with Entegra’s Ted Cook – Regional Sales Manager: Changes and new innovations coming, current supply chain and delivery updates, and all about DEF head failures, with a suggestion to avoid trouble:
My non-technical summary of Ted’s suggestion (with some additional help from Ted): Run DEF down to 10 – 20% before refilling to avoid having DEF inside the tank going bad (expired or contaminated), and then sending the wrong information or diagnostic about the DEF to the processor. If you run your tank down to even 20%, you then put in good DEF at a ratio of 5 to 1, which means your DEF would be better.
3:00 pm – Back to the rig to prep for departure tomorrow. Russ did all the outside things. I spent most of my time inside pulling out all our clothes to find outfits for tonight: Red, White & Blue.
It was to be a “Patriot-Themed Dress Up Night!” and I saw from the pictures of past events that AIMers like to dress up and go all out on these occasions. But it was also expected to be cold & windy on the open deck of the aircraft carrier. We all did the best we could!
The USS Midway is stunning. So enormous and complex. Such an overwhelming sense of history, warfare, and sacrifice. We explored the flight deck and the museum displays on the deck below: airplanes and helicopters, flight operations and personnel operations on such an enormous ship.
We had the great pleasure of touring the USS Midway with our new friend, AIM neighbor and Navy / NASA veteran, 90-year-old Newmar owner and lifetime AIM Member (since he bought his Newmar last year): Don Hagge of Tigard, Oregon. (That’s a picture of Don, standing with the type of plane he flew in the Korean War.)
During announcements before dinner, Chuck Lasley asked all the military veterans in the group to stand for applause and appreciation.
As a proud Navy Mom (and daughter, and granddaughter) – as an American – that moment on board the USS Midway was incredibly emotional, to be able to thank so many in our midst who have served and sacrificed for our country.
It was a beautiful night, under the stars and lights of the ship and downtown San Diego. Dining and then dancing on the deck of the USS Midway to an excellent band: The Swing Cats. We closed them down, with the entire AIM team, Brett Davis, Angie & many NIRVC team members, and, of course, 200 of our new best friends.
Final day at the AIM Club rally in San Diego, CA – Wow, what a day! Seminars today: learned all about Freightliner Chassis, which we happen to be riding on, and Q&A with Entegra Ted. Entegra upgrade envy! We’ve started thinking about Charlie-The-Unicorn RV as maybe our “starter RV” (but don’t let her hear that!). Dinner & Dancing under the stars on the USS Midway… it was amazing.
Day 5 – On The Road Again
Monday, March 21st
And, suddenly, it was over. But not completely…
After a lovely Continental Breakfast, we finished packing up Charlie-The-Unicorn RV and joined the line of big, beautiful AIM motorhomes heading out.
Many of us were on the road to Tucson, for the FMCA 104th International Convention & RV Expo (Rally): Sunsets & Saguaros, where there would be more than 1,500 RVs, 150 Exhibitors, and thousands of RVers of all types. A very different rally experience, indeed.
NIRVC and AIM were there in Tucson, too, with dinners and evening entertainment open to ALL. That’s a whole ‘nother article, for another time. It was huge: Epic. Fun. Educational.
But, as far as making lifelong friends, finding your RV Community, and learning how to RV in these big, beautiful motorcoaches (Class A, B, or C), direct from industry experts and fellow owners…
Join The AIM Club & attend an AIM Rally… ASAP!
Sherri Caldwell is the founder of BooksAndTravelUSA.com Full-time RV Travel Blog & Book Club/U.S. Literacy Project. With her husband, Russ, she is currently living, working, and traveling full-time in their 2016 Entegra Aspire 40P: Charlie-The-Unicorn.