Thursday, April 9, 2009

The First Trip - the Jersey Shore

After bringing the rig home to Maryland, my first trip was to the Jersey Shore to spend Memorial Day weekend with my son, Josh, and his wife and in-laws. It would be the first time I rigged the trailer for travel on my own. And I couldn’t have picked a better time and place for my inaugural trip. Who goes to the Jersey Shore on Memorial Day weekend?

I had bought a “caddy” to haul my motorcycle. It attaches to the trailer hitch on the trailer (an odd arrangement, a trailer hitched to a trailer) and holds the front wheel off the ground in a wheel-shaped cradle so the bike is dragged along on its rear wheel. Here’s an important point not mentioned in the directions: take the motorcycle out of first gear before driving off. Otherwise you’ll leave a long skid mark on the pavement. Just like the one I left.

Before I left the skid mark, I left some metal shavings. It turns out that properly attaching the tie-down straps is critical to the bike remaining upright when in motion. Who knew? I dragged the bike several feet on its side, doing no good for the chrome on the exhaust pipe. And not being on its wheel, I didn’t notice the first gear problem.

At that point it was simpler to leave the bike and caddy home.

The drive was uneventful. Slow, but uneventful. Slow because changing lanes in Memorial Day traffic is hard enough if you’re a State Trooper with lights and siren. If your 50 feet of blind spots, it’s simply not worth the stress. Uneventful for pretty much the same reason. The only crisis being the one of confidence when selecting a place to stop for gas, watching for overhead clearances and big, open places where turns are possible without taking out gas pumps and trailer bodywork.

The campground was another story. I don’t think they actually had a trailer arrive there in the past several years. Every trailer was anchored to a foundation, and the entry road included lots of overhead obstructions (in another time and place – trees). One of these trees was in the middle of the road, leaving narrow lanes around each side.

In every one of the United States that I have driven, your drive on the right side of the road. This campground must have been an Indian Reservation with its own traffic rules, because there was a car stopped dead in my lane around the tree, facing me. Two high-school aged girls were in it, one apparently the driver, except she didn’t. She sat in her seat staring at me like I was entertainment, never even trying to move.

Josh had met me at the campground, and he got out of his car a patiently explained to them that they were blocking the road. It was all pantomime to me from my truck, but the driver’s hand jumped to her mouth in surprise, and she gave a little embarrassed smile and wave like it had never dawned on her that she was an impediment.

She put her car in reverse, and still smiling apologetically to me, backed into someone else’s car. So she stopped, still blocking the road, and ran into the trailer where the car she’d hit was parked and came out with a spray bottle and paper towels. Not the owner of the car – cleaning supplies. She then started spraying and wiping the spot of the collision, like Windex would repair bent sheet metal..

Josh gave her a friendly little signal, and again the hand leapt to the mouth, and with another sheepish grin, she got into her car and moved it out of the way, taking only three or four more passes at forward and reverse than were strictly necessary.

I despair for our youth.

I drove to our assigned spot, and right past it. I passed it because it was so small, and so obstructed by trees, and the road so narrow that I couldn’t imagine a trailer would fit, let alone be backed in. Let alone by me.

It was Josh who saved the day. First of all by thinking that I could do it, both inspiring confidence and causing me to question his judgment. Second, by standing within the range of my rear-view mirrors and giving very good instructions. And third, by climbing the tree and holding the branch out of the way so I could pass under it.

The remainder of the weekend was spent without incident. Or maybe I just don’t remember after all the wine. Either way, it was a success.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Trip Home

My son, Josh, went with me to pick up the rig and bring it home. He took the video in the previous post, laughing at my tentative first efforts. What does he know? He’s just a kid. In my mind, anyway. And maybe his wife’s. And his stepson’s. And his friend’s. Hell, he’s just a kid.

Stepping on the gas and going, turning corners, staying in your lane – these are all the things you think about and pay attention to. What creeps up on you and revs up the old adrenal gland is stopping. You’re driving toward an intersection, thinking about all those other things, and applying the brake by habit. Applying it way too late. Then applying it harder. Then glancing left to see if the trailer is passing you.

It’s not, of course. The trailer has brakes of its own, and they work. When you’re finally stopped and your breathing has started, you realize just how much friction it takes to bring 24,000 pounds from rolling 60 feet every second, to rolling none. For the next hour, the problem is stopping too soon, and pissing off everyone behind you.

The trip took over five hours, and I drove the first two or three. It was surprisingly easy on the Interstate, the biggest obstacle trying to maintain speed up the hills of western Pennsylvania. So easy, in fact, that I decided to let the kid take a turn. It turns out he has some abnormal issues.

Did you see the X-Men movies? The chick, Storm? The one who can bring on torrents of rain and all sorts of nasty weather. Apparently, she’s really pissed at Josh for some reason. I think they used to date. Anyway, she unloaded and he got to navigate the rig through the waterfall called I-70. I pretended to sleep and did mantras – om mani padme skid.

In any event, we made it OK, and the worst part was putting $174 worth of diesel in the truck.

Stay tuned. The next episode includes The First Back-Up and my despair for the future.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The First Ride

When I made the decision to live in a travel trailer, I’d never been inside of one. It’s kind of like deciding to move to Rio de Janeiro without speaking Portuguese. It sounds like fun, and it looks like fun, but just maybe you ought to see how you look in a Speedo before venturing onto the beaches at Ipanema.

So I went to Hershey, PA to see my options. The event was advertised as The World’s Biggest RV Show. That might well have been true – I wished I’d had an RV to travel between the acres of campers and trailers and motorhomes. But more fun that the vehicles were the crowds. It was a cultural Noah’s Ark, with at least two of every possible human size/ shape/ color/ culture/ dress/ etc. I recommend the show, but only if you’re prepared to walk a marathon.

Following that introductory course in transient living, I studied hard and delved deeply into the esoterica of what one magazine calls “life on the road.” I learned the difference between gray water and black water (a very important difference), about inverters and converters, air ride, air brakes, air pressure, air conditioners, and of course from many of the RV sellers that I contacted, air heads.

Here is the lesson – who you buy it from is as important as what you buy. I eventually bought mine from a couple near Phoenix, and it was worth the 2,335 mile trip to meet them and see the truck and trailer. They are lovely and honest people, the rig was in perfect condition, and when I picked it up, I could have gone to the grocery store for food and I would have been fully trained and equipped. Byron did the training, and his wife, the lovely Billie, provided everything I could ever need. Pots and pans, dishes and utensils, cleaning supplies, towels, sheets, everything. Study over, tests passed, time to graduate to life on the road.

Here is the video of my first trip. It was about 50 feet. In the rain. With two stops along the way.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why I'm doing this & why it will get better

On the Internet, there is no body language, no facial expression, no tone of voice. So there needs to be a prologue to this note. Here it is:

People should be standing in line to get my life. It's been that good, and I am very grateful for all of it.

I offer that because some of what follows might seem to wander into whining. It’s not. As we all know, stuff happens, and some of it happened to me. I think of it as the balloon payment on the mortgage of my life.

Last year, my wife died. It took two years, and she was just 58. We’d been together 40 years, married 38. I miss her every day.

That background was necessary to understand the genesis of the Tour. After her death, I found myself in an unfamiliar town where we’d moved to better manage her illness. The only people I knew were medical professionals. I thought a lot about roots then, and their importance. I’d never noticed I only had one until it was torn up. With it gone, there was nothing to prevent me from blowing away. So I did.

I gave the material embodiments of our life away, to family and friends and finally, for those unique items that for some reason no one else wanted, like the 5’ simulated palm tree with holographic fronds, to charity. I bought a 36’ travel trailer, a 1-ton pick-up truck, and a motorcycle, and then I hoisted sail to let the wind do as it pleased.

I started e-mailing family and friends little anecdotes about the transient life. Things like taking an hour and forty minutes to back into a campsite while everyone watched like it was a bloopers episode; or pulling up to the diesel fuel pumps for the first time and having to cash in my 401K to pay for it; or the day the tide came in and made it the underwater campground. Now, I’ll post them here.

Enjoy the ride. I intend to.