Saturday, June 29, 2019

Our RV Adventure, Day 5: Lazy Sunday

(To start from the beginning, see Our RV Adventure: Introduction.)

The RV in front on my mother's house in the rain.
The RV in front of my mother's house in the rain. 
Sunday, May 5, Washington, DC  

I sleep well until twilight, when Dusty using the litter box awakens me. I get up and remove the evidence, add to their water, and add some dry food as a snack. I don’t know the time because my phone is dead.

We are planning to leave DC tomorrow morning. Cathleen thinks we should cancel tomorrow's reservation in Sweetwater, Tennessee, and reserve a closer KOA in Wytheville, Virginia. That would divide the drive to Tennessee in half, which is more realistic. I'm not sure how that will work, because the second day we want to see my aunt, uncle and cousins in Sewanee, and then go to Lebanon (east of Nashville) to see her sister and brother-in-law. She says we can’t drive 16 hours tomorrow (based on doubling the Google Maps estimate). I don't think it will take that long. I had thought we could solve this by leaving DC early tomorrow morning.

Cathleen is not feeling well. The arboretum tour involved hills and took a lot out of her. I suggest that we could cancel the Tennessee leg of the trip and go home from DC if necessary. I make her tea and an egg frittata in the RV. After breakfast, she feels better.

It turns out that it is too late to cancel the Sweetwater KOA, so I propose a compromise. We could leave before 6 a.m. tomorrow, then go as far as we can, be it Wytheville, Sweetwater, or elsewhere. We agree and go into my mom's house. 

We take real showers in the house. I do my full set of exercises for the first time since leaving home. I hesitate to call it a workout. It’s mostly exercises I learned from various physical therapists for various injuries over the years. It is particularly helpful to stretch all these muscles when driving great distances. 

While Cathleen takes a shower, my mom and I watch TV and chat. First some of Space Patrol, a 1950s black and white science fiction TV show, then some of a western TV show called Hondo (like the John Wayne movie). Later we will have some Hallmark movies on in the background as we chat, and she knits. 

We are too late to go to my mother’s church, so we watch a online service from Parkside Church in Ohio. We think my mom, with her McPherson heritage, might enjoy Alistair Begg's Scottish accent. As it turns out, a substitute preacher, Terry McCutcheon, is preaching with an even more pronounced accent. We have to help each other understand a few phrases. My brother Nathan said to call him after church, which ends up being almost 3:00 pm.

Nathan, his wife Stacey, my sister Mardi, and their kids arrive, and Mardi's husband Alberto after them. Mardi’s daughter had a couple of soccer games, but one was rained out, and Alberto had several games to coach, one rained out. Mardi tries to order from a Georgetown restaurant called Harmony, but it won’t deliver. We end up ordering from Bambu, as usual, which is fine. My mom says not to order her anything, but she ends up eating some, which is good. We play several games of Sequence, Mardi’s favorite, partly in honor of her birthday three days prior. I realize later that I failed to take any pictures of this. Cathleen helps my mom organize her medications and supplements.

Mom is upset that the children went into the RV. I say that it is locked so they can’t get in. She opens the front door of the house and emphatically points at the RV and says, “They’re in there!” I say “OK, calm down,” and go into the other room to check on the two kids. Their screens are there without them. Maybe they were raptured, I thought. But mom is right. I call Cathleen and she says she is giving them a tour of the RV. Thank you for reducing their screen time, Cathleen!

We sing “Happy Birthday” to Mardi. Some give gifts, but we donate to the Alzheimer’s Foundation as Mardi had requested on Facebook. Mardi gives us gifts to deliver to Conor & Laura’s baby shower.  

We hug everyone good night and say goodbye. Our plan is to wake up at 5 to get through the restricted inbound-only rush hour lanes before 6. It will be Monday, after all. We plan not to shower or eat before leaving. We are in the RV and asleep before 10.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Our RV Adventure, Day 4: Celebrate with Joy

(To start from the beginning, see Our RV Adventure: Introduction.)

Saturday, May 4, West Chester, Pennsylvania  

Cathleen wakes up at 5:22 am in response to the cats jumping and moving about restlessly. I was able to sleep through that, but not through her making them and herself breakfast. I go to the bathroom and flush a chemical pod down to the black water holding tank, which I forgot to do yesterday.

At 7, Cathleen says “I'm tired.” I say, “me too.” She says “You have to watch the cats. It’s your turn.” I complain about needing sleep too. We both fall asleep until 10.

Lots of beautiful bird songs in this campground, which is very rustic. Blue jays, cardinals, robins, sparrows, and many I don’t recognize.

Unhooking the RV is fairly quick. Flushing the black, then gray water tanks is almost fun! The order is important, by the way. Filling the freshwater tank was faster than I thought, to overflowing. Checkout is at noon, but I had thought it was 11. We actually check out at 12:30. I text Liam that checkout was 12, not 11. “Wasn’t that half an hour ago?” he asks. Ha ha. We stop at Target for bottled water, and I use the bathroom. We get to Liam’s at almost 2:00.

Hello, Joy! We greet Joy, who we met at graduation last May with her family, including parents, siblings, aunt, and grandparents. We liked all of them a lot. Joy also visited us from St. Louis last summer. They were both gymnasts in college and have been a couple since Valentine’s Day 2018. It has been a long-distance relationship since graduation.

We unload and reassemble the bike, put the cats in their strollers, and set them up in Liam’s apartment, as surreptitiously as we can.

The four humans eat a late brunch in town. I am tempted to get the French Toast BLT, but opt for a normal breakfast. We share jalapeno hush puppies. Liam treats us. My boy is all grown up!

After checking on the cats, we go to Tyler Arboretum. Liam is drawn to the tree house exhibit. In the "crooked goblin shack," Joy says it is very loud. And there are a lot of bees. Cathleen says they are the territorial Carpenter Bees, and to walk out slowly. Catastrophe is averted.

Kier, Joy, Liam, and Cathleen in front of the Crooked Goblin Shack
Kier, Joy, Liam, and Cathleen in front of the Crooked Goblin Shack.
We photograph Liam and Joy under a canopy of lilacs that Cathleen says looks like a chuppah. Joy gets the remark, but Liam not immediately.
Joy and Liam in the Tyler Arboretum in Media, Pennsylvania.     Kier and Cathleen and lilacs
Joy and Liam in the Tyler Arboretum. Kier & Cathleen copy them, emphasizing the lilacs.
Our favorite tree house is probably the one built like a giant Gibson acoustic guitar.
Gibson guitar themed treehouse in the Tyler Arboretum. The head with the tuning pegs is on the left.
Gibson guitar themed tree house in the Tyler Arboretum. The head with the tuning pegs is on the left. 
Cathleen gets tired of all the walking. We should probably leave anyway because we are expected in DC tonight.

Cathleen in her birdhouse.
Cathleen in her birdhouse. 
We go back to Liam’s, get the cats, hug our hugs, say our goodbyes, and leave for DC. It is about 6 pm. My sister texts me, asking for an ETA, suggesting that we use something with GPS. I consider asking what GPS is or whether there’s an app for that but keep it to myself. Google Maps is most effective as a real-time traffic reporter and re-router. However, its time estimates assume that you are going at least the speed limit and not stopping. We are definitely not driving as fast as we would in a car, and we’re stopping more often. Things keep happening. Cathleen has decided that we should double the Google Maps time, based on our first two days driving. I think that’s a bit overstated.

We are only in Delaware for 21 miles, but we make a gas stop there. I overhear some motorcyclists joking a few pumps over. I can’t hear what they’re saying.

A few miles later, on I-95, as we drive a wide descending curve at 65 mph or so, a group of motorcyclists on smaller Japanese bikes, not Harleys, weave in and out of traffic heedlessly speeding, and rather recklessly. I’m sure that the group includes those from the gas station. They have red Spider-man logos on their black leather jackets.

As we approach Baltimore, we know that the two tunnels under the harbor do not allow vehicles with propane on board. A Good Sam campground directory advised using the Francis Scott Key bridge. As we approach it, we see are occasional warning signs for motorcycles that the bridge has open joints. For us, we get a sign saying, “All Vehicles over 5T GVW Must Use Right Lane.” Our RV is more then twice that weight. It seems pretty steep from the northern approach. Later, I find that it is 185 feet high. 
(See for more information.) It’s a little unnerving to look over the side. We survive. So far, that is our goal. 

The Francis Scott Key Bridge over Baltimore Harbor.
The Francis Scott Key Bridge over Baltimore Harbor. 
Shortly thereafter, perhaps due to vibrations while crossing the bridge, something falls with a loud bang inside the RV. Cathleen gets up and finds the offending object. It’s a heavy piece of metal pipe, about 6” long and a half-inch in diameter. Cathleen is afraid that it might be part of the stove and wants to be sure I closed off the propane. Safety dictates closing the propane when driving, but apparently people often leave it on for heat or refrigeration. We have been closing it off when we drive.

We pull over at a rest stop to investigate. First, I get out and verify that the propane valve is shut. We look around, in, and under the oven for missing parts, but find nothing. We do see an old un-popped Jiffy Pop pan stuck behind a drawer. I turn around and notice that the TV that is mounted above the cab-overhead bunk has fallen onto the mattress, face down. The “pipe” is actually a large hinge-like part of the swivel TV stand which has somehow fallen apart. It could have been worse. The way the bunk folds over when driving has and will prevent the TV from sliding around on the mattress. It seems to be missing a small part or two, but we’re not interested in remounting it now. We get back on the road. There goes our ETA.

It’s May 4, so the Maryland Department of Transportation tried a “humorous” PSA on an LED sign:
We had hoped to get to my mother’s house in the evening, but it’s almost 10. My brother and his son are there. Our nephew, now 13, is already taller than he was Christmas. His T-shirt says: “National Sarcasm Society: Like We Need Your Support.” He tells us about the geological layers of Earth and how some scientists want to drill into Hawaii, which is well-known to have volcanoes. He does not approve.

I warm up leftovers from the RV for us. Nathan has brought cinnamon rolls for dessert. 

My sister Mardi and Alberto arrive with their daughter, 11, who has trouble staying awake, having just returned from a class trip to King’s Dominion amusement park. She seems to sleep with one eye open for a while.

We bring them up to date on our adventure thus far. My mother is clearly tired, as are we, so we go to our bedroom on wheels before midnight.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Our RV Adventure, Day 3: Family Time

(To start from the beginning, see Our RV Adventure: Introduction.)

Friday, May 3, West Chester, Pennsylvania  

I hear a garbage truck in the distance at about 7 am. I wake again at 9:30 temporarily. Liam calls at 10:30 am, so we rouse ourselves. He drives up from town in the used Honda Civic we gave him for graduation, which is about 40 minutes away. Meanwhile, I eat breakfast.

Liam calls from the office parking lot. I walk down to greet him and officially check in. He gets a guest pass for his car. I ask, and the KOA manager says they don’t carry the Motor Carriers Road Atlas, or newspapers, because people don’t buy them. He blames GPS. He mentions the “trucker’s atlas,” which might not be the same thing as the MCRA. We walk to our campsite and we give Liam a tour of the RV. Cathleen makes him a veggie burger for lunch. I excuse myself to hook up the sewer and flush the holding tanks. I’m glad I learned about this ahead of time. It made this much easier than I feared.

I shower for the first time in the RV. I wanted to wait until after the sewer work. I use the “navy” method. Turn on water to get wet. Turn off water. Lather up. Turn on water and rinse. The water heater only holds 6 or 10 gallons, I forget which.

I haven’t flossed since Tuesday. This is how civilizations crumble. Better floss tonight.

After Cathleen takes a shower, Liam wants to drive us to his apartment. We’ll take the cats, so Liam and I walk to his car and drive it to our site to load them. We strap one carrier with both cats into the back seat with Cathleen. Then both strollers, cat litter box, and some cat food go in the trunk.
Liam walking to KOA office
Liam walking to the KOA office. (Tomorrow we'll have a better picture of him.)
Driving to town, the winding, hilly roads seem easier, unsurprisingly, in the Civic. Liam hasn't paid a pet deposit, so we avoid other tenants and quickly stroll them in. Smuggling cats.

We hang out at Liam’s apartment, just relaxing and conversing about his job, bouldering, his life. The cats are free to roam. We put a YouTube video on TV featuring birds and squirrels eating food. It is so therapeutic not to have to drive for a day.

Liam’s girlfriend Joy is flying in from Boston tonight. Her flight is delayed. He doesn’t want to have to drive us all the way out there in the dark after getting her from the airport, which is fine with us. So, he’ll return us to the KOA before that.

Putting cats into Liam’s car for the ride back, Tallulah freaks out, and scratches Cathleen. We have not seen her act this crazy on a trip, and she's been to DC three times, Cornell University, and Niagara Falls. Not a good sign. Too many locales, perhaps. The rattling RV doesn’t help.

Dusty (foreground) and Tallulah lazing on our RV bed.
Dusty (foreground) and Tallulah lazing on our RV bed.
Back in the RV, the cats are fine. We can’t find the beef broth that Cathleen needs for a recipe. Shredded beef, quinoa, cauliflower and broccoli. She does without the broth. 

This is one of the smaller "Class C" RVs, the smallest (and cheapest) rented by Hometown RV. Not much floor space, crowded. It would be nice to have a bigger one, but I don’t relish the thought of driving an even bigger rig. 

After washing dishes (and our earlier showers), Cathleen asks to know about the holding tanks levels. The gray water tank already shows "Full" on the dashboard. I'll deal with it tomorrow.

We are asleep before midnight. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Our RV Adventure, Day 2: Mountains and Rivers

(To start from the beginning, see Our RV Adventure: Introduction.)

Tuesday, May 2, Perrysburg, Ohio

We sleep until 9:30. We decide not to take showers. I check the tire pressure, but the hubcaps block the gauge I have on the front tires. The rear tires are OK. We are at 268.7 miles.

When we are about ready to go, I decide I want to get a Rand McNally Motor Carrier’s Road Atlas from Walmart. I go in. They don’t have it. Just as well, I forgot my wallet. I use their bathroom. I continue to avoid number two in the RV. Somehow it is 12:45 when we leave the parking lot.

We stop at the Admiral Perry rest stop and get gas. We’re at 347.3 miles (plus about 16 miles from the RV rental place to our house via tollway). Another 24.5 gallons for $65.81. I’m not used to these numbers with my Honda.

Rest stop at 4:45 pm. We passed last night’s prospective destination 15 minutes ago, which we cancelled by not showing up, losing $31.92. Looking at getting into the West Chester KOA after 10:30 tonight. We call to let them know. “When do you think you’ll get here?” he asks. “About 10:30,” I say, optimistically, if not honestly. They say it’s fine. They’ll leave a packet outside the office with directions to our campsite.

After driving many hours, my hands don't want to close all the way, so I frequently flex them and try not to grip the steering wheel too tight. Age.

Cathleen is driving on I-80. Traffic comes to a complete stop 40 miles into Pennsylvania. Google Maps tells me that we can save 49 minutes by exiting and taking local roads to the next entrance. We go for it, passing over the Allegheny River and through a picturesque little town called Emlenton (pop. 582). Large old houses inhabit the gently sloped wooded north bank of the Allegheny River, which eventually meets the Monongahela and Ohio rivers at Pittsburgh, 70 miles SSW. A deer crosses the road safely in front of us. The detour seems to be a double blessing. 
The bridge over the Allegheny River to Emlenton, Pennsylvania (courtesy Google Maps street view).
The bridge over the Allegheny River to Emlenton, Pennsylvania (courtesy Google Maps street view).
Looking east over the Allegheny River
Looking east over the Allegheny River from the same bridge (my photo).
The distant bridge is I-80, whose traffic jam we are avoiding.
We eat at a rest area. Cathleen planned the food. I have been worried about the refrigerator, but it’s working fine. It’s 8.30 pm. We’re at 540 miles.

I pee in the RV bathroom while Cathleen is driving. It’s worse than standing up to pee in an airplane bathroom during turbulence, but better than trying in a Porta potty in the back of an otherwise empty moving truck. I’m guessing about the latter. I emerge unscathed. 

Cathleen drives the steep, winding Pennsylvania mountains like a champ. At the bottom of one hill, we stop for gas, and I take over driving. It’s after midnight. But we are determined to get to our reserved KOA.

Bumps, braking, swerving and the like make things move around, prompting us to wonder aloud what fell, shifted, or opened a door or drawer. They all latch closed, but that’s not always enough. At one stop, we see that my acoustic guitar has opened the wardrobe door and fallen out upside-down. Fortunately, it is in its hard-shell case and emerges unscathed.

We arrive at the KOA a bit later than our 10:30 pm guess. It is 2:00 am. The place is silent and quite dark. It is a hilly forest setting, but with a variety of unlit RVs all around. We retrieve an envelope from in front of the office. The map is clear. We drive three fourths of the way around the campground to get to our site. The pamphlet mentions quiet hours from 11 pm to 8 am. The speed limit is 5 mph, and the crunching gravel road is hilly. We get to our site, one of the last remaining vacancies. We must back in. We decide that I will back up in the dark with Cathleen standing outside behind, directing. I keep saying “Shhhh” whenever she speaks. We are eventually parked. Cathleen goes in to set up the house for sleep. The cats are freed from their little houses (but stay in the RV). I go out to hook up the water and electric for the first time. It’s not difficult. We have a sewer hookup, but I will not do that in the dark. By the time we get into bed and fall asleep, it is 3:30 am.
Campsite hookups at KOA
Campsite hookups at the West Chester, Pennsylvania KOA, next morning.
The white hose is fresh water. The yellow cord is electric. Out of sight is sewer. 
To be continued...

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Our RV Adventure Day 1: And they're off, way off; or Let's get this home on the road

(If you missed the introduction, see Our RV Adventure: Introduction.)

Wednesday, May 1, Naperville, Illinois

Cathleen sets her alarm for 8, but I wake up before that. In fact, we are awakened by the low-battery beep of a CO/explosive gas detector at 2:45 a.m. I had unplugged it to take on the trip, and the battery must be dying. I replace the battery. While I’m up, I take clothes out of the washer and throw them in the dryer.

At noon, we take an Uber to the RV place, which is pretty far in Carol Stream. This is our first time driving the RV, or any RV. I take the wheel first. It drives like a moving truck. If you have driven a 24-foot moving truck, which I have, you know this feeling. The back of the truck is a little wobbly and doesn’t necessarily want to stop with the front. Stuff slides around if it is not battened down. It is 24’6” long, 11’4” tall, and 8’6” wide. I don’t know if that includes the side mirrors, which necessarily stick out like Alfred E. Neuman ears.

We decide to take the interstate home to avoid having to drive it through residential Wheaton on our first outing in the RV. We hadn’t planned to take this route in advance, so the I-Pass is still in the staging area. When we get to the first toll booth, we have to use the cash lane, where I use one of two one-dollar bills from my wallet. I can’t reach the dollar intake from the driver window, so I have to open the door and step out. Luckily, it is the middle of a Wednesday, and no one honks in impatience.

We make it home without incident. First, we eat lunch. Then, we load up the thing. We parked it on the street because our driveway is on an incline. This makes for a lot of carrying.

The house has a kitchen in the front and a bed and bath in the back. (See yesterday’s floorplan.) It’s a queen size bed adjacent to a tiny bathroom with shower and toilet (with a door). The kitchen is on the right front side of the house. It has a sink, a 3-burner stove with oven and an overhead microwave. Next to that is a small refrigerator and freezer. Across from all that is a table seating four, which converts into a bed. An accordion divider separates the kitchen from the bed and bath. Outside of the bathroom is a smaller sink with a medicine cabinet. There is a wardrobe and drawers and many overhead cabinets. We fill many of these, but not all. Clothes, food, first aid kit, plates and utensils, maps, mop, broom, bucket, etc. A tower-style electric heater, which was recommended.

There are several large storage compartments available only from the exterior. I spend an unplanned amount of time trying to fit Liam’s bicycle into the largest of them. He texted us the night before requesting that we bring the bike. First, I take off the quick-release front tire. It almost fits. Then I take off the less-then-quick release rear wheel (due to the chain and derailleur). I get all three parts in, but my hands are greasy now. After washing, I put the two cat strollers in the same storage compartment, protected by garbage bag covers. In other compartments, I put 4 folding butterfly lawn chairs, tool bag, tire air compressor, 100-foot extension cord (only good for 20 amps). I won’t use most of this, but who knows?

We lock up the house and leave at 4:00 pm. We have reserved a spot at a KOA near Cleveland. If we drive fast, and don’t stop, it would still be 11 pm Eastern Time when we get there. Rush hour is building. We definitely wanted to leave before now.

At 22 miles, I say “We’re 1 percent of the way through our trip.” Our estimate is 2200 miles.

I-294 is slow, under construction with lanes closures. Not fair. Winter just ended. Saturday, it snowed.

Traffic is moving again. On our right, a group of deer frolic among some decaying tree trunks in a meadow. On our left, a billboard says, “All of the liquor, None of the clothes.”

We are taking our two cats with us. Tallulah is a small 4.5-year-old female from Tennessee. She is easily startled, but an excellent hunter. Dusty is a 3-year-old Bombay male, black with brown tufts on his chest (hence the name). He is very smart, very active, very affectionate, and can bother Tallulah too much. When we are moving, they are in a pair of mesh and nylon pet carriers. They look like small round-top tents, are zippered to each other and are seat-belted to the kitchen table bench seat. Both cats are veterans of long car trips in minivans and sedans. But not RVs, with the rattling and truck sounds. 

Dusty cries and we try to console him from the front. One of them poops in their shared carrier (not in the litter box). I think it is Dusty, but Cathleen thinks Tallulah. We exit at 127th and Cicero to clean up. We are only 31 miles into the trip. Later, when Dusty is crying, Tallulah bops him on the nose, which stops him. The next day, we will separate the carriers.

We start making progress. But we are hungry. It is 7:30 CT. We stop at an Indiana rest stop. I am so glad Cathleen brought the arepas. We eat the filling cold, in tortillas heated in the microwave. Delicious.

There is no way we make it to Cleveland tonight.

This should have been a 2-week trip. One RV author mentioned a common RV strategy of driving one day, camping one day. But I couldn’t take two weeks off at this time. Not to mention the added expense.

We stop at the Elkhart, Indiana rest stop at 9:30 pm (EDT) for gas, leg-stretch, and possible bathroom visits. I go into the men’s room, which has 3 stalls, all full. I use the urinal and go to fill up the RV gas tank. The tank holds 55 gallons, and I fill it with 22 gallons @ $2.999. That’s like $66 for 140 miles, I think, which would be 6.36 mpg. That has to be wrong. The “F” on the fuel gauge when we picked it up was not all the way full. That is, the gauge goes above F when the tank is completely full. We’ll see at the next fill-up. I’d been led to believe anywhere between 8 to 10 mpg. If you use the generator, that also takes from the gas tank. After filling the tank, I go back to the men’s room, which is thankfully empty. My strategy is not to use the RV toilet for number two unless I have to.

Driving, we stay to the right lane, below the speed limit. When a semi passes on the left, the air pushes us to the right. We are 11’4” tall after all. In fact, it’s a blessing because it gives us a buffer from the trucks. 

Cathleen starts driving at 10 pm ET. Every bump rattles the whole coach. Bridges, all over the Indiana Toll Road, are the worst. One specific metallic noise is bothering her. I get up to investigate. Walking around the moving RV is not unlike a bus or airplane in motion. The stove top grill is making the noise. I wrap it in a rag towel. It works. The supplies list comes through!

She has some other suggestions. Can you open the blinds in the “bedroom”?

The cat food bowls are moving across the dining room table. Duct tape on their placemat. I discern that the next most annoying rattle is from the coach door and its companion screen door. If I just ball up our comforter and shove it between the door and the bottom step, that should fix it. Just kidding.

A truck passes by lit up like a liquor store at Christmas. Did I mention it was night?

Cath has to drive a 6-mile gauntlet of narrowed one-lane construction bordered by concrete barriers.

At the Tiffin River, Ohio rest area, there is an RV overnight parking lot, but $20 seems steep for no hookups. Plus, it would mean another hour driving tomorrow. But it’s after midnight, so it already is tomorrow. Later, I realize that there was an electric hookup, a central dump station, and a shared tall hand pump for water like you might find on a farm. 

I take over driving in light rain, with a fog blanket. On Google Maps, Cathleen finds a Walmart outside Toledo and calls. Walmart is a well-known overnight RV option. Supposedly, the etiquette is to talk to the manager before parking in their lot. It is called boondocking or dry camping. Just stay out of the way of shoppers. We exit the Ohio Turnpike at 1:17 am, according to I-Pass records.

It takes a while to find things and get settled in the RV. We don’t get to sleep until about 2:15 am.

The RV in the Walmart parking lot.
The RV in the Walmart parking lot, next morning. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Our RV Adventure: Introduction

On March 23, Cathleen tells me she has had a waking dream that we should rent an RV and see our far-away family members. We should drive it to Philadelphia to see our younger son Liam; to DC to see my mother, brother, and sister and their families; to Tennessee to see my uncle, aunt and cousins; and to see her sister and brother-in-law, also in Tennessee.

Cathleen’s brother had owned an RV and sold it through Hometown RV in Carol Stream, Illinois, about 9 miles or 25 minutes from us. She sends me a link to a rental RV that she has found on their website.

About 15 years ago, we went to an RV rental place with the kids. I remember the RV we looked at being dingy. We ended up doing something completely different: flying to Seattle and driving a rental SUV to Glacier National Park. Which was awesome.

In the summer of 2016, we had considered an RV rental trip, but I researched it, reading such articles as “The True Cost of Renting an RV” which had put me off the idea.

Cathleen is persuasive. I haven’t seen my aunt and uncle for 10 years; she hasn’t for 15 years. She didn’t visit DC with me over Christmas. We haven’t seen where Liam lives. She hasn’t been to her sister’s in five years, even longer for me. 

We plan the route. I see that we can’t do it in a week. We’ll need at least eight days. We estimate the cost. Including rent, gas, campgrounds, and everything, it would approach $3,000, which seems crazy. Cathleen argues that my employer has changed from twice-monthly to biweekly pay periods, so we’ll have a so-called “extra check” that very week. She handles the budget and is usually more fiscally conservative than me, so I relent. We get reactions from our family members. They’re excited. I’m sold on it now. 

I ask for the first eight days of May off work. We watch YouTube videos about RV experiences, and fictional movies like RV and Albert Brooks’ 1980s yuppie mid-life crisis movie, Lost in America. Surf the internet, learning about types of RVs, pros and cons. Before we put a deposit down, we want to see the RV in person.
Sunseeker 2300 floorplan
Sunseeker 2300 floorplan
At Hometown RV, we get a tour of the Forest River Sunseeker 2300. It’s in pretty good shape for being six years old with 72,000 miles on it. It seems big to us, but it’s one of the smaller RVs on the lot. We put a $500 deposit on it.

Here’s a link to a video tour of the same model elsewhere. 

We come back a week or so later to check the VIN, license plate, and some things we now had questions about that we didn’t know to ask before.

We take some books out of the library. I think one is worth owning, so I buy a copy of it (RVing). One of the authors’ names seems familiar. On the author blurbs, it says she worked at Rand McNally, so that was where I knew the name from. I had done much typesetting for Rand McNally in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the meantime, I have been enjoying Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg’s blog dispatches from South America, and I’m inspired to do something similar about our RV trip.

Two days before leaving, we buy some stuff at Walmart: two 25-foot drinking water hoses, a water filter, two packages of four rolls of “nautical” toilet paper, chemical for cleaning the holding tank, and a pair of rubber gloves. They do not carry the Rand McNally Motor Carriers Road Atlas (MCRA), which includes trucker-specific information such as weight limits, low clearances, and hazardous material restrictions.

I would order the MCRA from Amazon, but we stopped mail so that tomorrow is our last mail delivery. I find a mobile app called CoPilot GPS. I use it on a free trial, and it’s OK, but I have trouble figuring out why it uses a specific route. Is it to avoid tunnels, or low clearances, or something else? I don’t think we’ll use it.

Normally, Hometown RV does a video walk-through inspection of the RV and gives you an orientation to the RV systems when you pick it up. Because we are trying to leave Wednesday morning, they offer to get that out of the way the evening before. Which brings us to…

Day 0

Tuesday, April 30, Naperville, Illinois  

I leave work at 4:30 for the first time in ages. Cathleen is picking me up to go to the RV rental place for orientation.

The RV we are renting for 8 days is a Class C, smaller than the Class A tour-bus-looking RV that Robin Williams drove in the concisely and aptly named movie, RV. It is basically a Ford E-350 van chassis with a house built onto it.

Our orientation is very informative. I had already consumed much of the information from YouTube videos and library books, but it helps to have the systems in front of you. Propane for refrigerator and heat. Generator which takes gasoline from the gas tank to provide electricity to the “house” or “coach” when you are not plugged in to “shore” power. There is a battery specifically for the coach. A freshwater tank which needs a pump. City water hookup which does not. Grey water and black water holding tanks. Grey water is from the sinks and shower, while black water is from the toilet. The large sewer hose and valves for emptying these. I assume I will have to do this. Electric hookup (30-amp shore power has a larger plug). Cable hookup (for the RV TV).
Sewer dump hoses in an exterior storage compartment.
Sewer dump hoses in an exterior storage compartment.
We don’t get to take the RV until tomorrow after 10:30 am, when they open.

We stop by a grocery store on the way home and eat at 7:30.

Cathleen bakes gluten-free bread and makes chicken and avocado arepas for tomorrow’s dinner. While doing laundry. I am tasked with gathering things from her supplies list to put in the living room for “staging.” The list is long. Even when we travel in a Honda Accord, we take everything but the kitchen sink. In this case, the kitchen sink is already in the vehicle.

We stay up way too late. The cats are by turns suspicious, excited, hiding, meowing.

To be continued... 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Father's Day

Kier and sons in DC, December 2003

On Sunday, my older son visited me for Father's Day and helped me transfer a song I recorded 27 years ago from cassette to computer. The song, "Handed Down," acknowledges what I received from my father that I want to pass on. When I wrote the song, this same son was 6 months old. Now he and his wife are a month from having their own child. Meanwhile, my dad is still going strong at 86 years old. You can listen to the song at [After my father's death in 2023, I made a slideshow video of the song:] 

Handed Down (1992)

I remember protest marches
Where everybody had a dream
We'd get together and make things better
Eliminate war from the scene
A dozen years have passed in darkness
Maybe now we can redeem
What our souls were needing
As if our hearts were bleeding
You introduced me to Marx and Lennon
Of course I mean Groucho and John
Double features and weekend matinees
Woodstock or Woody would be on
No more sundaes at the Waffle Shop
Just like the Senators, it's gone
And so we too are distant
And though our visits are not frequent...
I hope I can hand down
What's been handed down
What's been handed down to me
I've always thought I had a happy childhood
That means that you did something right
Driving lessons and model airplanes
And more important what is right
Now I find myself where you were
Parenthood is such a fight
For sleep, for reassurance
To bring the past into the light
I hope I can hand down
What's been handed down
What's been handed down to me
I've had some help in learning my role
Cause every father is a son
When that son becomes a father
He's thought of what is to be done
Patience is not the highest virtue
Selflessness could be the one
And now I want to tell you
I think some battles have been won
I hope I can hand down
What's been handed down
What's been handed down to me