Last year when I officially retired we made a decision to purchase a used (1999 Coachmen) motor home. We love to travel and have always said this is one thing we really want to do when we retire and are still young enough to physically do it. Since we are first time RV’ers there are some rather basic things we’ve learned (some the hard way) and so one year and 5,000 miles later, while we haven’t lost the desire, I (we) are much wiser about RVs and driving one cross country. Here is my list of ten things.
- Truck drivers may be professionals but I don’t think they like my motor home much. Before leaving I made a decision that my top speed would be 60 MPH. If you’ve driven on the Interstates much you probably know where I’m going with this. Most truck drivers are courteous (some not so much) and most of them drive at least the speed limit. Being passed by a semi tractor-trailer rig is scary enough if you’re in a passenger car, but magnify that by about ten and you can understand part of the reason for number two on this list.
- The interstate may not be the best choice. Because I felt like we were a turtle racing rabbits most of the time, we decided to travel the side roads as much as we could. We found that most of them are as good, or better, than the interstates. The best thing was I didn’t have to deal with truckers so much. Also, whenever Betty would yell at the last minute that she wanted to STOP!, it was easier to hit the brakes and turn around, if I needed to.
- Side winds can be dangerous. Because we’ve traveled this stretch of highway before a few times I knew that the winds can whip through pretty bad. This trip was no different, except that now I was driving what seemed like a huge sail. Through eastern Arizona, most of New Mexico, Texas and the western part of Oklahoma, we experienced pretty consistently high winds. One thing I learned – mornings are typically less windy. The problem with that was, we were on vacation, and my relaxed and “smell the roses” wife hated getting up early; hence the reason we traveled mostly later in the day.
- Not all campgrounds are created equal. Perhaps the most enjoyable (and free) camping spot we had was not even a campground but a secluded spot in the Coconino National Forest. We treasured the peace and quiet so much that we stayed two nights. We are self-contained so we can go about three days before we need to find a dumping station. We also discovered that State Park campgrounds are less expensive than most and some have full hookups.
Our favorite state park was at Foss Lake OK where we spent one night and loved the campground and view of the lake. We stopped at our first KOA in Tucumcari, and thought it was pretty cool because it had a laundry and really good, service minded management. However, we found that not even all KOAs are created equal. They are privately owned and managed so there can be big variations in the level of service and hospitality. I don’t want to forget Walmart because some may not know but they will allow RV’ers to stay overnight in the parking areas for free. It’s perhaps not the most romantic camping spot but can be a nice quiet place to stop and sleep for the night. Also convenient if you need to stock up on some items at the store.
- Oklahoma City bridges will make your teeth rattle. Another good reason to avoid the interstates may be the bridges in Oklahoma City, and several other cities, for that matter. While the roads are pretty good (In fact, many of them had been recently resurfaced), the highway department seems to have stopped when they got to the bridges and overpasses. They were full of broken concrete and pot holes that not only made your teeth rattle, but also made everything in the coach sound like it was going to fall apart. In this case, city streets were definitely a better choice.
- Halfway to MI is not the time to turn around and go back – OR sometimes it pays to be a Redneck! About halfway on our trip to Michigan, in the middle of nowhere, Betty informed me (not too calmly) that she could suddenly see the road and tire between the floor and wall in front of her seat.
When I pulled over to check it out, I seriously considered whether it was time to give it up and go home. Believe me, these are the times that test an RV’ers soul and you learn you can do more than you thought you could. Fortunately, after a stop at a hardware store, purchasing a few big bolts and washers, and creating a little red neck temporary repair, we drove merrily (though somewhat naively) on our way again, feeling fairly confident we’d actually make it to our destination. More about this in numbers nine and ten.
- There are way too many places to visit between AZ and MI.
In the beginning, we were both enamored with enjoying the new freedom of having no solid deadline for reaching Michigan. On the other hand, I didn’t realize that 60+ years of habits are hard to break. I’d forgotten how really goal oriented I am, and began pushing to get there. Betty has always wanted to stop along the way to “smell the roses.” (Really, though, we sorta had a goal because we were expecting a new great-grandson in a few days.) So, it became a bit of a challenge to keep on track and not be rushed. In the end, we did what we always do, and just compromised; it just took a little more effort since my wife was more committed to no deadlines than I.
- Illinois highways are almost as bad as OK bridges. Not much to say here, except the roads in this state were some of the worst we experienced along the way. Apparently, the state really is broke! Since part of the reason for this trip was to visit all we could of the old Route 66, it was important to get to the starting point which is in Chicago at Grant Park on Lake Michigan. Let me just say, this was really a bad goal to have while driving a motor home. Add the downtown traffic factor and that Chicago was getting ready for their July 4th celebration, and you have a couple that couldn’t WAIT to ditch this big city. All we could do was drive through and wave hello to the spot where it all started, because there was not one space to park.
- Sometimes it’s a good idea to take the baby home to Mama. One very good thing about being from southern Michigan, is that it’s a mere hop and skip to Motorhome Mecca in Middlebury, Indiana, the home of Coachmen and all things RV. If you want to update and repair, this is the place to be. We found a number of salvage places that sell brand new, excess RV parts and décor for pennies on the dollar.
Betty’s the nester, so updating the interior was a must for her. We bought updated lights, cabinet hardware, new sinks, faucets, and a new window for a fraction of their retail cost. Another good thing about going home is that we both come from a family full of DIYers. That’s why we were able to play the favorite aunt and uncle card and persuade our (very loving) nephew, Kevin, to install new carpet. After hearing what this usually costs, we’re eternally grateful for the great price he gave us. And that doesn’t even count the sweet corn, tomatoes and onions he gifted to us from his garden the next day. With help from grandson-in-law Randy, I replaced the window, did repairs to the sidewalls in some areas that had been damaged by water leakage, and the coach looks almost new.
- Some things may be more important than starting the return trip on schedule. Since my red-neck fix I’d been studying and stewing over what to do for a permanent fix on the sidewalls, and discovered that Coachman will talk you through almost anything. They couldn’t have been nicer. I discussed the problem with their service manager, he told me how the coach was made and gave me some ideas on a fix. Not only were we able to find out how to repair the coach correctly, but he also gave me some special bolts to use in making the repair.
Family to the rescue again – we called Betty’s farmer brother, Tom, and made arrangements to spend a day in his outstanding farm shop to try to repair the problem. Long story short is that with Tom’s generous help and his son, Leon’s, welding skills we did a first rate, better-than-new repair and felt 100 times more secure about the stability of our coach for the trip home. At the same time, he and I decided that we could suggest some critical design changes to Coachmen about the way the walls are attached to the floor – but I guess that will have to wait for another trip.