We had to cover some serious miles in week one, and the majority of those miles took place in the first couple of days in the middle of Tornado Alley. So there was no tiptoeinginto a life of pulling around a mobile home — we cannon-balled right in. Starting from Manhattan, Kansas, we needed to be in Telluride, Colorado in 48 hours for a Bluegrass Music Festival. No problem, we thought. What’s 750 or so miles?
However, we learned quickly that each mile would be stubborn and hard-earned. We sometimes wondered aloud if the endless setbacks were discouraging signs advising us to turn around. Besides seeing mountainous landscapes and tree-lined rivers, we learned a lot about what life on the road will be like for us. We learned from our mistakes – some of which were very big (literally) mistakes. At times, we felt the powerful forces of nature against us, and we also suspected the skepticism of friends and family who secretly wondered how long we would last. But in the end, both ended up being strong motivators to keep us going.
Lesson No. 1: Don’t expect much out of the camper in strong winds.
• Our original departure date was delayed due to 30 mph winds in Kansas. Yes, even for Kansas that blows…see what I did there? You can plan all you want, but Mother Nature is a diva.
• Weather conditions didn’t improve much the next day, but our traveling timeclock was ticking. So picture this: On the interstate in 20+ mph winds with the hazard lights on and we’re unable to drive above 50 mph without the camper violently swaying side to side in the lane. The swaying could be unpredictable with anonymous gusts of wind or towering semis passing by, both of which could send the camper and expletives flying. You know you’re a threat on the road when other drivers keep a far distance or speed around you with concerned faces.
SIDE NOTE: We actually did anticipate the swaying camper to be a potential problem, and we thought we had done enough research and preparation to combat the issue, including installing a weight distribution bar, a sway control bar, and scaling up or towing vehicle to an F250. We’re not complete dummies.
• We reached our first stopping point at Wilson Lake, but we were optimistic thinking we had reached safety just because the camper was parked. That night was like a scene out of Twister. Gusts of 68 mph wind rocked our camper from side to side like the first night of Bonnaroo while the radar showed that we would be in the middle of a severe thunderstorm until the early hours of the morning. We sat silent with nervous glances out the window and panicked searches on our phones for how strong of wind gusts it would take to flip over our camper – especially since it rested precariously alongside the edge of the lake. Why do we assume Google can solve everything? In case you’re wondering, Google says people have survived up to 100 mph winds in their camper. Phew. Putting all of the camper slide-outs in and cramming the three of us into the back bedroom was our best plan, and we survived the night and woke up to a surprisingly sunny morning.
• The next day’s drive to get us close to Telluride was estimated to be around 11 hours, but our trip that day would take us 14, and we wouldn’t make it all the way to Telluride. We learned no more than an hour into the drive NOT to partially fill up your camper’s fresh water tank. It’s either all or none, or else your driving is subject to the aggressive slosh of water, which adds a constant sway to your ride. After finding an off-ramp to dump out our fresh water, we made another stop to reorganize the load on the back of the camper since there was still so much unpredictable sway. Later, as we began to enjoy gorgeous mountain views, we entered our first major pass with all the confidence that driving a turbo diesel truck brings. However, high altitude, mid-day temperatures, and a near-capacity load bet against the climb. The truck started to feel the pull of the camper and overheated. We sat on the side of the road, our bodies slumped in defeat, and wondered if we’d blown the truck’s motor. A million thoughts flooded our minds. “How much will this cost to fix? This camper is too big…there’s no way this will work. Are we capable of handling this situation? Does AAA help us in a bind like this? Am I going to have to walk back down this mountain?” One thing was clear: we were in over our heads. Lost in our own self-doubt, we let the truck cool down and then kept driving since we didn’t have much else of a plan. Three Wal-Mart stops later (we’ve thought hard and still can’t figure out what we needed so badly to have to stop multiple times in one day), after the sun had gone down, we set up camp in the dark at Ridgway State Park in Colorado.
Lesson No.2: We bought too big of a camper.
• After the much-anticipated day at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, we set out to run errands to help with the truck issues and to learn more about potential camping sites in the area. While leaving the Auto Zone parking lot, (and remember the purpose for the Auto Zone trip: to buy materials to fix the issues with the truck+camper combo), Carl attempted to make a wide turn and after we felt a tug from the back, we discovered that he had clipped the back side of the camper on a telephone pole. The collision ripped the back corner off of the camper. Yep, there were witnesses, and the very kind that are helpful in such a situation. The kind of folks who stare and shake their heads and make sounds like “Ooooh”. So, to be clear, we ripped the back corner of the camper. We smoked the side of a telephone pole. And then we drove away. We didn’t report it…was that a hit and run?
• With an appointment five days away at a local mechanic to look at the truck, and with no RV parts stores within an 1.5 hour drive, we had hit the lowest part of the trip. The only immediate remedy we could think of involved a 12-pack and a secluded camping destination away from it all. We thought it made sense to boondock without power to give Carl time to try to fix both the truck and the camper for the next several days. It would also get us off the road and away from any future catastrophic situations.
• After driving 20 miles on a windy gravel road – taking about 1.5 hours with the truck and camper – to a beautiful spot, we temporarily parked and Carl set out on the moped to scout a camping site. He had found the perfect one, and all we needed to do was turn the truck and camper around to get back to the spot a couple minutes away. After several attempts at turning around, and after leaving scratches on the sides of the camper from invading tree branches, it was clear there would be no turning around on that gravel road. So, the only option was for Carl to back the camper down the narrow curving road for at least a quarter mile.
Spoiler alert: We did make it past the first week and carried the lessons with us. From Montrose, we headed north to the town of Buena Vista. Coming up next, lessons from week two: 1) We live off the grid! and 2) Moving Day is the worst.