Hi Everyone! This post has been a long (very long) time coming, but it’s finally here. To answer your questions – Yes we left California, and Yes we made it to New England, and Yes it happened back in July, and no I don’t have a good excuse for not posting all this time! Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the story of our departure and subsequent struggles.
Planned Travel Day – July 14, 2013
Our original planned departure date was July 14th. Ok, our original original planned departure dates were May 1st, then June 1st, then July 1st, but ultimately we settled on July 14th because Kathy’s contract position finally ended on July 1st, and Kathy needed a week or two to unplug from work and kick into travel mode – while I needed to finish installing the tow plate on our Honda Fit as well as wire the taillights, etc..
We didn’t leave on July 14th.
It’s incredible how long it takes to unplug yourself from a location, even if you’ve only been there for just over a year. Added to that was the huge amount of stuff that needed to be installed, setup, configured, tied down, organized, and stored. When you’re in one location for a long time you almost forget that when driving you can’t have loose stuff all over the place. Everything needs to be stored, or stuck down, or secured, and that takes time.
Added to that, I opted to install the tow plate myself, wire the taillights myself, setup the auxiliary braking system myself, and so on. In general I’m pretty handy, and I figured I could tackle these jobs myself (and I did), but they took longer than I anticipated and as a result we moved our departure date again to July 21st. We were fortunate that our ‘space’ was reserved for August 1st, so we had flex time all the way up until the last day of July if we needed it. Whew!
Travel Day! July 21, 2013
On the 21st we really did leave Tustin, California. It wasn’t smooth – or easy, but we left. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we didn’t pull out of the RV park until 5pm. Yep, we started our trip across country right before dinner time, but at least we left.
We had a minor hiccup leaving the park. For some reason every driveway entry/exit in Tustin is very steep. RVs like ours have a long overhang behind the rear wheels, so once the wheels reached the road, the back of the RV hit the RV Park driveway. That wouldn’t have been a problem as our RV frame rails have ‘bumpers’ for just such an occurrence.
What was a problem was my rather nifty sewer hose holder that I attached to the frame rail. The bracket that held it in place was about an inch below the rail, so when the rail hit the driveway, my sewer hose holder bracket was vaporized instantly. The holder was designed out of a 5″ PVC fence post, and the bracket was also PVC.
Once the bracket got destroyed, the fence post hit the ground on one side and started dragging, so I immediately pulled over (which I was going to do anyway to attach the car). The problem was the second bracket was still attached to the RV and we were on a suddenly busy street (It was 5pm after all), so I grabbed my hacksaw and started cutting through the bracket . . . at which point my hacksaw blade broke. So I grabbed a mini hacksaw I have in my toolbox . . . and that blade broke too. Must have been my frantic hacking in the middle of traffic! Finally I grabbed the whole thing and torqued it off the bottom of the RV, threw it inside, and attached the car.
Now we weren’t sure that the car was setup correctly as we hadn’t tested everything (or anything) yet. I plugged in the ‘umbilical cord’ (cord that connects the RV signal lights to the car), tested the brakes and blinkers (they all worked), made sure that car was in neutral, and started to drive. Everything seemed ok, and we were finally off!
The problem with driving in Southern California is that there’s a horrible amount of traffic. We were driving on a Sunday (intentionally), so the traffic wasn’t bad compared to most days, but there was still plenty of it. This is a little intimidating when you’re driving a 32-foot-long RV and towing a car behind it. Added to that, our route took us on some of the most traffic-filled roads in Southern California including the 55 (yeah, Californians say the 55, the 405, and so on. We’re weird like that), the 91, and then Interstate 15 over the Cajon pass.
The good news is that our Aspect is easy to drive. It drives like a large and very long van. It took me a bit to feel really comfortable with it, and mostly I stuck to the right lanes and kept it at 65 and I was fine.
We Struggle in Barstow, California
Fast forward to about 8pm. We knew there was an In ‘N Out in Barstow, and In ‘N Out is our favorite fast food chain. We were both hungry, so Kathy suggested that we stop and I did. That was my first mistake.
My second mistake was noticing all the big rig parking just off the exit and completely ignoring it. BIG MISTAKE. Here’s the thing about towing a car 4-down: You can only go forward. I’ve had people give me funny looks when I say that, but it’s true, and here’s why. When you tow a car with 4 wheels on the ground, the front wheels can still turn freely. That’s fine when you’re going forward, but when you go in reverse the wheels of the car invariably turn and the car immediately jackknifes which can break the tow bar or result in you hitting the car. All bad things, so only go forward when towing 4 down!
This matters because as we approached the In ‘N Out we saw a large relatively empty parking lot and we decided to park in it. There was a truck towing a large boat parked there, and another large RV that wasn’t towing a car, so we pulled in and parked across a bunch of open spaces. Big Mistake.
After eating it was time to go, and I looked at the other exit from the parking lot to see if we could make it out. This needs some illustration, so I’ve included a helpful image of the parking lot –
I didn’t include cars except for the Silver BMW SUV parked right where I needed to turn, but there were more cars at the top near the stores. The only way I could make it out of the lot was to navigate between the BMW and a curb (in black) so that I could make the sharp turn down the driveway (I never would have made it).
Note that I hadn’t fully grasped how to drive the RV while towing a car. What didn’t click for me up until that exact moment was that as I turn the RV in one direction, the back of the RV swings in the other direction and takes the tow vehicle with it. That means you need to have relatively wide open areas to turn – like a road or a truly empty parking lot. I didn’t have either.
For some crazy reason – lack of sleep perhaps? – I thought we could make it out anyway. It would have been difficult to turn around, so it seemed like the best plan at the time. I started to drive forward and as I turned I could see that our tow vehicle was going to hit the BMW. I hadn’t even cleared the parking lot divider on the right side, but there was no way I could complete the turn. Fortunately Kathy was spotting me from outside!
I tried to back up (remember that you can’t and shouldn’t do that!) and the car started jackknifing into the BMW. Bad to worse! Finally I got out and disconnected the car. It was inches from the Beemer. I assume the BMW owners weren’t watching or else I’m sure they would have confronted us. If they were watching and left us alone then I really appreciate it!
Once we parked the car, I started driving the RV forward again. I just cleared the BMW and started to turn. My front wheels made it past the lot divider, but my rear wheels didn’t as I was turning hard to the right. This was brought home to me loudly with a BANG as the wheel hit and everything shook and clattered around me.
I finally came to my senses and realized I was never going to make it out of the lot that way. I backed up, got the RV facing the other direction, reconnected the car, and finally left the parking lot.
Suffice it to say, I was over-tired and made several bad decisions. We were lucky that I didn’t hit the car, hurt our car or RV, and made it back onto the highway in one piece. By then it was 9pm.
Our First Fuel Stop
We started our trip with close to 3/4 tank of fuel, so we drove all the way to Arizona before filling up. If you live in California you know why this is significant – California has some of the highest gasoline prices in the country, and driving into Arizona saves you at least 20 cents a gallon – which is a big savings when filling up a 55 gallon tank!
‘Normal’ gas stations are a bit of a crapshoot for RVs, especially when towing a car. If the pumps are parallel to the station then you can usually pull in one way and out the other. If the pumps are perpendicular to the station it gets a lot more tricky as you can’t always clear the space between the pumps and the station while pulling through with a car in tow and turning.
[box]Another thing to note about Truck Stops like Pilot and Flying J: many of them have free loyalty cards that give you an extra discount on fuel. Pilot’s card saves you 2 cents a gallon and it’s free to sign up. Not a huge savings I admit, but every little bit helps.[/box]
Truck stops are usually better with a couple caveats. If you have a diesel RV then truck stops are much better as you can pull into the truck entry and fill up easily. Gas RVs still need to use the car pumps, so even though truck stops tend to be bigger and easier to enter and exit, my comments about normal gas station pumps still apply.
After our experience at the In ‘N Out and considering it was after 11pm, I wasn’t up for anything challenging so we pulled into the Pilot Travel Center off exit 9 in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
Some of the Pilot Travel Centers have what they call ‘RV Islands’ – easily accessible gas pumps that are ideal for RV’s towing a car and that have both gas and diesel. Fortunately the Pilot off exit 9 had an RV Island, and as my confidence was still shaken it was a welcome sight!
Sleeping at a Rest Area
We got back on the road just past 11pm and saw signs for a rest area about 30 miles away.
There are three awesome things about traveling in an RV:
#1 – You have a bathroom with you at all times. No dealing with sketchy and poorly cleaned restrooms in fast food joints, or the mixed bag you get at rest stops. This saves you time searching when there are no rest stops in sight, too.
#2 – You have a kitchen and a refrigerator with you. No need to eat fast food or whatever you can find.
#3 – You have beds and couches. If you’ve ever tried to sleep in your car then you know why this is so awesome. Laying vertical for a couple hours makes a huge difference when traveling.[/box_right]In general I recommend against sleeping at rest areas. Rest Areas are sometimes untended and a large percentage of the people that use rest areas late at night are intoxicated or up to no good – and I’m basing that assumption on reports I’ve read that after midnight 1 in 6 drivers is intoxicated.
Of course truckers regularly sleep in rest areas, and if you’re tired than you’re always better off to stop and sleep than to drive. Driving while tired is just as dangerous as driving drunk!
The guideline I try to stick to is no more than 3 hours at a rest stop (at night). That works out to 1 hour making food, stretching, checking email, etc.. and 2 hours of sleep. I find that with 2 hours – even when I’m really tired – I’m refreshed enough to get back on the road and get where we’re going.
In this case we were both very tired as it was after 11pm, so we stopped for 3 hours then got back on the road at 2am with plans to stop again at 5am for another 3 hour stint further up the road.
And that’s exactly what we did. The rest areas in Arizona are generally beautiful as they’re full of red rock. Of course the first stop it was pitch black, but during the second stop we watched the rocks light up as the sun rose and it was beautiful!
Welcome to New Mexico!
Distances are vast in the west, but on the plus side the roads are straight and wide and there isn’t much traffic. The drive through Arizona was uneventful and we entered New Mexico about mid day.
Our goal for the night was Albuquerque as Kathy had a meeting to attend there, and then we planned to visit the surrounding area including a stop in Santa Fe.
One last thing – Tucumcari is a town on the edge of New Mexico – about 1,000 miles from where we started in California. The play on words (it’s a long way to Tipperary) was too much for me to resist. I’ll cover that in my next post. Until then, happy trekking!