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. 

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