Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Survived RV-ing. Got the T-Shirt.

Make 2000-mile round trip in an RV with family and giant dog.  Check that off my bucket list.

You guys.  We got home at 1:28 a.m last Thursday, after driving straight thru for about 9 hours one day and 14 hours the second day.  Shane drove the whole entire trip, both ways, because he is the actual model that they used for Superman, except that now I think he needs a vacation from our vacation.  His superpower is that he can drive for two days straight and still smile.

At my prior post, I was packing the RV with our wholeentirelife, plus possibly some stuff we never use because what if we have a medical emergency and someone needs a wound stitched ON THE ROAD; plus enough stuff to have a yard sale to raise gas money for the trip home because we always have some financial crisis whenever we leave town and find ourselves scrounging under the driver's seat for cash for that last tank of gas; plus EVERY CRUMB of food in the house; plus EVERY SINGLE PIECE of clothing in the house, because what if it gets too hot/cold/windy/wet/dry or we need to go swimming in a river suddenly; PLUS my husband, our teenager, my mom and all of her luggage, AND a 70-pound English mastiff puppy for good measure, because who wouldn't want to take a 70-pound dog in an RV with no tip-outs, with walkways the width of your kneecaps? Bindi has added "knows how to back up while standing in a moving RV" to her short but growing list of handy tricks, so we feel like she's definitely special.
Who could leave this face at HOME?

We crammed all of this into a new(to us) RV that we'd never test-driven further than the nearest gas station, made sure the basic things worked like lights, water, and the generator, slammed the door, and drove it ALL THE WAY TO ALAMEDA, CALIFORNIA, because we keep pretty strictly to our code of living by the seat of our pants.  From our house, Alameda turned out to be exactly 1,006,000,000,000 miles away, but we thought we could take turns driving and it'd all be a hoot, right?  I pictured us playing Scrabble along the way and telling family stories as we cruised through Washington, Oregon, and California.
Image result for rv traveling

Oregon turned out to have A LOT more uphill climbs than I remembered.  After living there for 5 years and driving back and forth to Idaho a lot, I remembered, like, ONE.  There were actually about a thousand, give or take.  It turns out that I-5 through Oregon is JUST HILLS.  It's literally just...a freeway--straight through the middle of a mountain range.  I remember it being much more fun to drive when we were younger, in our (then) new BMW 328xi, but the whole experience in a 28' RV shaped like a giant SAIL was somewhat less exhilarating.

And we didn't play Scrabble OR take turns driving.

Because WIND.  Add to the nonstop hills, the fact that the wind blew, hard.  The. Whole. Way. Picture riding inside a breadbox inside a windtunnel inside a hurricane, pretty much all the way right up to my aunt's doorstep in Alameda.

I may or may not have seen this out the window at one point

Because of the WIND, we didn't switch drivers except that one time when Shane laid down in the back bed at a rest stop, in need of a nap, and I figured I could definitely drive this thing down a straight freeway in the Columbia River Gorge for awhile, because how hard can it be, right?  I think he lasted all of five minutes on the bed before he tiptoed up to the front, stepped over the dog, and said lovingly in my ear Pull over.  You're going to kill all of us.

In my defense, I was totally staying between the lines, even though I think I maxed out at a speed of like 47 mph.  No wonder the drivers of RVs always look like they're 100 years old, all hunched over and crabby.  The wind pushed us around so much that the only place that felt safe was the front seats.  The further back you got, the more it felt like you were in a shuttle launch, with all the crash-warning alarms blinking.  Every time any of us went in the back of the RV, we thought this is it.  This is how it ends.  We're just going to be blown out of control and roll over a hundred times and we'll all die.  I don't want to die in an RV bathroom in my pajamas.

We also ended up driving through northern California in the midst of a 3-year drought and a heat wave at about 5 p.m., so there were lots of OH MY GOSH HOT comments every time we stopped, which was about every hour, because the RV needed gas in every town to compensate for our 8 mpg fuel consumption, and the dog needed to get out at pretty much every single rest stop for the entire length of I-5.

Just kidding.  It was actually more like every *few* rest stops.

And as an aside, can I just say for the record that Oregon has some of the nicest rest stops I've ever seen in my life?  Like, you could live there.
Image result for plantation
OK, not THIS nice.  But still.

Then things started going awry.  About halfway down I-5, we realized the generator wasn't going to work for longer than a few minutes at a time before it died, even though on all our test runs at home, it had worked fine.  It was also so loud that we knew that if we started it up within an acre of any humans, we'd cause a evacuation, so we'd been hoping to run it while we were driving, to keep things charged and possibly use the air conditioner, because Sacramento.  Apparently there was an issue with the relay breaker flux capacitor fuel pump thingie.

So...no generator = no A/C + no charging of the things.

Having no way to charge our phones along the way, I realized that mine was at about 22% battery as we approached Sacramento, and we still needed it to navigate into San Francisco.  I can not even imagine how we all ever did this stuff with just...maps.  Oh. My. Gosh.  I turned my phone off and hoped that the battery wouldn't die in the dark, in the middle of San Francisco traffic.  Because the one thing I did NOT pack was a map.

Right about the same time, I realized that the wet spot on the carpet by the sink wasn't from the dog splashing her drinking water.  Our hot water tank was leaking under the cabinets, (yes, the same hot water tank we had spent an entire 98-degree evening struggling to fit back into a hole that was, I promise, not as big as the tank itself). The spot was spreading.  I looked under the sink cabinet area and assessed the situation.  All the cleaning supplies I brought...soaked.  All the dishtowels and washclothes we brought...soaked.  RV kitchen carpet...soaked.  Wait--Who puts carpet in a kitchen??  

stay focused

I stuffed a large towel under the sink to soak up the leaking, and we stopped at a rest stop north of Red Bluff and laid our motley batch of wet towels to dry out in the sun on a picnic table.  The staff at the rest stop gathered around to ask us, nicely, if we were doing our laundry?  Because if so, it's probably not really appropriate to lay out your laundry to dry on the picnic tables, ma'am.  We reassured them that they were just wet towels, and since the surface of the tables was 1,000 degrees, the towels dried in about 30 seconds, and we were on our way.

I also had an opportunity to actually YELL at my very first complete stranger, because Bindi is very shy around new people and dogs (as in: she panics if they approach too fast).  This woman pulled up in her Mercedes to a rest stop and let both her dogs out, unleashed, where they proceeded to pee everywhere except the area marked PET AREA.  She then watched unconcerned as one of her dogs ran straight for us, where we were sitting with Bindi at a picnic table, on a leash, like normal people do.  Bindi saw the strange dog and went into full panic-reverse mode, straight backwards up Shane's leg.  I completely forgot my diplomacy skills and shouted at this lady, "Leash.  Dog on leash please.  Leash your dog.  LEASH WOMAN!!!"

She huffed off to her Mercedes and drove away.  No apology.  Not even, "Oh, I'm sorry, but I'm just way too special to follow leash laws.  Those scratches look like they hurt."

I've never yelled at a stranger before, but it felt kind of freeing...

We continued on.  The wind never let up for the entire trip, but I speak for both of us when I say that the last 45 minutes into the Bay area at 9:30 p.m. that night ranked in our top 2 scariest road trips.  We paused about an hour outside the city to text my cousin and suggest that maybe we should spend the night at a campground and come into the city in the daylight the next morning. "Oh, no, you're so close! It's only another hour! Just come the rest of the way!" We were like, "Right.  Because, how hard can it be?"  So we headed back onto the freeway, checked my phone (19% battery), and hoped for the best.

Imagine trying to handle a giant box of an RV in strong gusting head-winds, driving 70 mph on a 19-lane 5-lane freeway full of crazy city traffic, while trying to navigate to an unknown destination in the dark.  Shane's a great driver and the calmest man I know, but I've literally never seen him so stressed.  It took all his concentration to keep us upright and also not run over the various insane drivers who kept cutting in front of the RV at 70 mph with like 3 feet of space to spare, without signaling.  

We were both getting tenser by the minute.  Our daughter gave up watching through the window and decided now would be a good time to face the back and PRAY.

Our conversation the last few miles consisted of fun stuff like this:

Him:  We're in the middle lane.  What lane do I need to be in?  What lane WHAT LANE WHAT LANE?!?  WHATLANE???

Me:  Hold on.  My phone's still powering on.

Him:  Hurry UP please.  The freeway forks in 1/4 mile.

Me:  Almost done...I can't make it start up any faster.



Google Navigation Voice:  In 1/4 mile keep left to take the exit towards I-580 south Alameda/San Francisco/Mexico/Brazil and I-880 south San Francisco Airport/I-80 west Fairfield/San Rafael/Napa/blahblah.

Him:  What?? I just need to know which exit.

Me:  I think we keep left.  Ok--Yes.  This is good.  So...Stay left.  LEFT.  Change lanes NOW.

We find ourselves off the freeway under a tangle of what seems like all the freeways and overpasses ever built, driving in the dark, in the industrial part of Oakland.

Google Navigation Voice:  Keep left at the fork.  Keep right at the fork.  Slight right onto Jackson. Use the left lanes to continue onto Central Ave.

Us:  ...did it just say keep left AND keep right? WHICH fork??   AH MIGASH.

Him:  We're going to die.  Can you see any street signs? Where are we?

Me:  No, it's too dark.  Wait.  It says Jackson on the sign there, behind that tree branch.  I think.  No, wait--that's Santa Clara.  Nevermind.

Him:  Just TELL ME WHERE TO TURN, because there are four lanes here, and I can't get across all of them in one block.  Why can't we see any SIGNS?

Me:  I've never been here, so I know as much as you do right now.  Yes, wait-- OK, we're on Central. OK, turn left up here.  You need to be in the left lane.  I think.  Yes.  Move over a lane now.  LEFT.  LEFT LANE RIGHT NOW TURN HERE.

Google Navigation Voice:  Your destination is on the right.

We made it.  Then we saw the alley my aunt was directing us to drive into with this 28-foot motorhome.  C'mon back!  You guys.  It was the smallest alley I have ever seen.  Like the kind of alley that was probably installed when the milk man delivered milk with a one-horse cart, and it is used by apartment dwellers who drive those little electric hybrid city cars, very slowly.  It was lined with brick apartment entries on one side and a solid wall of hedge on the other, and it was exactly 8 inches wider than the whole motorhome.

On our first try, we went in at the wrong angle, caught the trees with the RV stair that had somehow slid out, and bent it all to heck.  When I tried to open the door to check out how badly we'd mangled the step, I could open the door about an inch and a half before I hit the trees.  The step was ruined, so it couldn't be pushed in.  Start over.

He backed up, out into the 4-lane street full of Friday-night traffic, straightened the RV more, and tried again.  This time we were lined up right, but the alley was so narrow that he literally was pushing through all the bushes the whole way back for about 100' to where the parking area was. One really stubborn bush actually broke off our exterior running light and left a set of 4 scratches the whole length of the RV.  As Shane passed one brick apartment entryway, he reached out the driver's window and gently pushed their potted plants out of the way so he could inch past it.


The whole way down the alley, I was following him with a flashlight, wondering are we going to have to back out of this alley? Because if we are, we'll just have to sell the RV in pieces, right here in the alley and fly home.  I wonder if I can put Bindi on an airplane? We can NOT afford plane tickets.  It turned out to be a U-shaped drive-through, so we didn't have to sell the RV.

By the time he turned off the motor, I think my skin was the only thing actually holding me together.

Once parked, we knew we couldn't use the generator in the small space we were in without somehow building a new muffler for it, but we figured no problem, we'll just plug our 60' power cord into my aunt's storage unit outlet.   But no, because the outlet turned out to be 70' away.  Which didn't matter, because the outlet was the wrong amperage anyway.

Holding firm to our "wing-it" creed, we used the onboard batteries all week, got a jump-start when it was time to leave, drove out the other entrance to the apartments (which turned out to be much wider, thank goodness), and did the whole trip in reverse, in daylight.

About an hour outside of San Francisco, we realized we're out of water, so...no toilet, no shower, no washing dishes.  Also still no generator, so also still no A/C or charging of the things.  And why do I smell the septic tank??

Break time.

We found an overnight RV camp ground about half way home and were able to plug into actual electricity, refill our water, dump the septic, charge the things, and continued on home.  I won't even bother marveling at the small-ness of the camp spots at this lovely, shaded RV park by a river.  I stepped out of our door and nearly hit my face on the slide-out of the camper next to us.  Yes, they were that close.  On all sides.  Because:  Hey, suburban life is a drag.  I know! Let's go CAMPING, so we can live EVEN CLOSER to our neighbors. 

this is roomier, by comparison...not even kidding

Aside from the stressful trip getting there and back, it turned out to be a seriously awesome visit with a group of my family that have never before, and may never again, all be in the same city at the same time, so everything was worth it.

And we got to see some beautiful scenery.
Heading down the Gorge

Columbia River

Mt Shasta 

Cool hills outside Fairfield, CA

Unloading.  Because why not?

Shasta again on the way home

Mt Hood from Portland freeway, after going 21 miles in stop/start rush hour traffic. why

But hey--I had time to knit this sock...

If anyone's interested, we also have an RV for sale.


  1. I LOVE YOUR WRITING! Now the next blog post will be about Aunt Dobi's little apartment? What a wonderful reunion!

    1. Patty, thanks!! I love hearing that, and I loved that we did this trip. Can't tell you how much we appreciated seeing you all.

  2. I used to live at Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield and went to Redding and Mt. Shasta for Christmas one year. It is awful this time of year. Glad you made it back!

    1. We almost moved to Sacramento for Shane's job one year, but didn't like the area. We thought if we drove farrrrrr enough "out", we'd find somewhere we'd like, to buy a house. We kept driving and driving. When we saw Shasta, we were like " OK, we can't commute this far", lol.

      We did, however, end up in Santa Rosa area for awhile and LOVED it. :)