RV Learning Curve is Steep
We go about our everyday life blissfully unaware of how easy it really is. We get in our car in the morning and go to work. We only have to worry about traffic jams slowing us up, or maybe a minor fender bender. Work involves a routine that we could do in a daze. We come home, order a pizza, then throw our few pieces of silverware in the dishwasher.
Then our life changes. At least it did for us. We decided to buy a 46 foot 5th wheel, with no previous experience in driving one, setting one up, or living in one. We set out on the road on Thursday, May 3, 2018 determined to see America and LIVE, live deeply.
As Henry David Thoreau said:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms...”
John and I are both over 60. We asked ourselves, can we do this? Can we shake up our lives completely? Are we capable of handling the physical demands of setting up and maintaining a large RV?
These questions came with only one possible answer—not trying would be something we would have to live with for the rest of our lives, and we didn’t want to live with “what ifs?” Instead, we chose to live in the moment, live simply, but live deeply, savoring the moment, not putting off our happiness. So we decided to shake things up and change the course of our lives. Off we went.
Instead of a car, we got in a large dually named Clyde (short for Clydesdale—because it’s huge and pulls 30,000 pounds). We attached an RV that is 13 feet 9 inches high to the back of it, and set off on our grand adventure. And it IS an adventure--just one filled with new learning experiences…such as detouring because you can’t fit under a bridge. Each day is different. There is no such thing as a routine, at least not yet. Meals require much more planning. Pizza can’t be delivered to a national forest. We turned down the dishwasher in the RV for more cabinet space. I AM THE DISHWASHER. Flushing a toilet takes on a whole new meaning. You have to empty your holding tanks—all of them. Water is limited. The list of negatives goes on and on.
Before you think we are regretting our decision, let me just say that that is far from the truth. The truth is that we are seeing life as a GREAT adventure, one that does has its ups and downs, but one that is also exciting, challenging, and enriching. Every day we know we are living—living fully.
But there’s a huge learning curve. Here are the top 5 things we have learned so far:
1. Buy your diesel on the interstate, not at a regular-sized gas station.
Finding diesel for your truck can be difficult when you are in new territory. Now, compound that difficulty by towing a large RV behind your truck and you have a whole new set of problems.
· First, where do you find a station that offers diesel?
· Can you get into the station, as well as leave it without hitting another car or stationary fixture? Think before you pull in.
· Can you get your RV under their overhang? One of my favorite moments this past week was running into a gas station to find out their overhang height (it wasn’t posted), only to have the clerk look at me blankly and say, “I don’t know.”
· Most importantly, don’t wait too long to start looking for an appropriate gas station. We start looking when we are half empty, and even then, last week we got dangerously close to empty before we found one that would work. Use some good apps and expect them to be wrong on occasion. We use GasBuddy, iExit, Google Maps, iPilot, and our Garmin.
2. The scenic route can be dangerous to your health as well as to your marriage.
See America. Maybe. But not when you’re just learning to drive a 46 foot RV. Your GPS allows you to avoid many things, including highways. My husband wanted to see the “real” America, so as we were leaving Lexington, Kentucky, he decided to take the back roads. Imagine my joy in seeing America as we traveled through downtown Lexington during early morning rush hour traffic, navigating road construction, narrow lanes, stop and go traffic, and low bridges and power lines. My nerves were shot, my knuckles were white, and my marriage was in danger by the time we got out of Lexington.
3. Second black and gray tanks are not to be ignored. If you do, you might overflow the RV with some nasty stuff.
Know your RV. Ignorance is not bliss. We knew we had two black tanks and two gray tanks. What we didn’t know was that they weren’t connected, even though we had clearly seen the separate dump connection. It was like we were in denial…until the smell. We had ignored the second set of tanks for three weeks, even washing two loads of clothes without having the second gray tank open. I don’t have to tell you the source of the odor. You can guess. So plan ahead. Do you need to dump and flush? Do it when water is available.
4. If you don’t think you can fit into a parking spot, don’t try. Go find another.
A recent estimate on our awning repair was over $800. We need a new awning, and awning bar, because John was DETERMINED to get into a difficult parking spot. It was at a sharp angle and up a hill. NOW we know that it wouldn’t have leveled, but at the time he just wanted to prove he could maneuver it. In the process, he almost slid down a mountain, which would have resulted in his death. The monetary damage was to our truck and RV. There are scratches down the side of both, plus he bent an awning bar, ripped the awning, and tore off a roof vent. National forests have trees, lots of trees. So, in the future, we will scout the area better and if we can’t fit into our reserved spot we will ask for another. And we will get the awning repaired next week.
5. Plan ahead and know what facilities will be available at your next stop.
Blissfully traveling from one part of the country to another in an RV takes planning. Those who say it doesn’t obviously have a much more laid back attitude than I do. For instance, we like to know what hookups are available. Also, are there any sharp turns in the park that we can’t navigate? Can we even navigate the roads to the park itself? Bridges and low power lines can stop your forward progress. If you show up at a state park with no water in your tanks, be prepared to be miserable. Yes, you can take a shower in the shower house, but what about water for your morning coffee, the toilet, and washing dishes? We use a trucker’s atlas we bought at Pilot to determine if our route is safe, and when in doubt about the facilities available, I call ahead. It makes for a happy camping experience.
Do you have your own #RV learning curve list? We would love to hear what you have learned on your travels. And for those of you who are not RVers, leave the pizza delivery person an extra big tip next time.