The Magic that was this Journey

Thursday, February 17, 2011

4. 2/16/11 – This Old RV

Short note, as I am posting: I couldn’t sign onto wifi in Barstow because my darned wifi switch on the computer was turned off!  Geeze Louise.  But, there’s always gold amongst the dross – if I had wifi there, I wouldn’t be at this café, eating an excellent salad (not too many salads being served in the rig) in the warm sun.

It’s been a week since I posted a blog. I’ve been distracted and I haven’t had internet access since Monday morning.

I had a marvelous weekend driveway surfing in Sacramento with friends Catherine/Wayne and their three grandkids (whom they’ve adopted). While I had non-stop access to wireless and was surrounded by people in a global city (also a test-market city), I wasn’t focusing on the research/blog.  I had a first draft of a paper to finish and deliver (two weeks past the re-negotiated deadline) and was shown a non-stop good time by my hosts, particularly Bessa, Arielle (8 year-old twins) and Francis (5 years old). More on my Sacramento visit in another blog.

This Old RV has been taking my time, energy and attention when I am on the road.  I am not an experienced RVer (as a mechanic in Fresno said to me, I will be at the end of this trip). I am traveling in a 1991 Odyssey with a 6 cylinder Toyota truck engine and a Toyota truck chassis.  In the late 80s, early 90s, Toyota sold the chassis/engine combination to a number of U.S. RV manufacturers and there are a variety of “Toys” out there.  Toyota stopped selling to manufacturers in about 1994 so every Toy is an This Old RV. I’ve seen a few other Toys, but only in state or county parks.

I am traveling with a vehicle and a house.  Both are 20 years old.  Thankfully, the vehicle part of this rig is performing with excellence (I feel like I should cross myself or something to ward off the evil eye! I do have a Greek evil eye warder-offer in the rig so maybe I’m ok). I sunk big bucks into engine maintenance before I left and the high performance is likely a reflection.  I was impressed with how the rig did climbing the mountain pass out of California’s Central Valley region and into the Mojave Desert (which is where I am now, waiting out a ferocious wind storm, including sand devils and tumbling tumbleweeds). I climbed about 4,000 feet (started at sea level) and was able to maintain a reasonable speed – even passed a few trucks.  I’ve been a bit worried about how the rig will perform in mountain passes – the real test is the Rockies, but that’s later in the trip.

The folks I bought this rig from took very good care of it but the house part of this vehicle is quite old and has its troubles. Today, for example, I was on the roof in the wind storm, tightening the bolts that secure the lids on the black/gray water tank vents.  They have been jangling in the wind since I bought this Beast and I just figured out today that I could fix it.  I applied new duct tape to a tear in one of the vent covers while I was up there. I’ve had to tighten pretty much every bolt/screw in this place, deal with a shower stall that won’t drain properly, replace running light covers, learn how to be an experienced dumper of waste water tanks, fix various other small problems, etc.  It’s been nonstop!

And, this baby bounces and shimmies across the road with every pothole and bump.  And, let me tell you, there are plenty bad sections of road.  In addition, there is nothing about this Beast that is aerodynamic.  The wind has its way with it – quite nerve-wracking to travel in high winds (already had two high wind days and I don’t think they are over).

The biggest challenge has been the rig’s “front door.” The deadbolt literally fell apart Monday.  It was the end of a harrowing day of driving.  I had been parked in a driveway for three days and needed to empty my tanks but both possibilities near Sacramento ended up being a wild goose chase – I lost a few hours of travel time in these failed attempts. The dogs were anxious (they are best when we are not moving) and the failed attempts to empty the tanks didn’t help, the wind was blowing, the road sucked and I was in heavy, aggressive California traffic for much of the trip from Sacramento to Fresno.  I had planned to make it further than Fresno but it was not to be.  I parked for the night at a Walmart parking lot (not a bad situation and one I will repeat).  I spent 2.5 hours trying to fix the deadbolt situation; I did get a new RV deadbolt from Walmart but it took forever to install and the problem still wasn’t fixed!  It’s a door problem.  And the door SWUNG OPEN ON THE HIGHWAY AGAIN ON TUESDAY!  TWICE! I spent another hour or so today working on it and I’m closer to a solution, but it’s not fixed. Oh, and I had to reapply weather stripping to the door.

At home, James (Kate’s partner) takes care of all my fix-it needs (and I am deeply indebted to him).  On the road, there’s just me and the kindness of strangers (quite a bit of kindness, as it turns out).  I sure am learning my way around a tool kit.

Yesterday there were a couple of men ahead of me, checking into Shady Lane (it is neither) RV park in Barstow, CA.  I listened to the staff member make the same joke to each – that they should take extra candy and put it on “the wife’s” pillow to sweeten her up.  Both the men had similar responses about getting lucky.  Big laughs. No similar joke with me.  After I registered I saw a huge bus-like RV pull in, towing a car, and on the side of the RV it said, “roughing it in comfort.” And I thought, “no, I’m roughing it in comfort, you are doing something completely different.” 

These RVs mostly carry couples – the men do the driving and the women are passengers. I’ve seen many RVs so far – none are driven by women. The only other singles I’ve encountered are men.  In the coupled RVs there seems to be a clear (and traditional) demarcation of duties – at least I presume this as I never see the women until they come out for a breath of fresh air.  All the outdoor work is done by the men.  I’m presuming the interior is the domain of the women. And, there’s not much climbing on roofs or spending inexplicable hours trying to repair a door going on with these fellow travelers because these other RVs are relatively new and spiffy!  (I am aware that at this time of year it's mostly retired folks RVing and there may be some generational stuff going on here.)

One of the compelling stories I’ve heard over and over while I’ve been in California is that there are “two Californias:” the “haves” and the “have nots.” I certainly am seeing both in living Technicolor. Nice is a “have not” town. Barstow is a “have not” town.  Where I visited in Sacramento is a “have” neighborhood.  The two worlds are radically different.  

There also seems to be several RV worlds – one of the men, driving and taking care of business, my world and then the world of folks who live in their RVs full-time (whom I am seeing at all RV park stops).

Earlier, I wondered why all the folks I am channeling for this trip are men.  Where are the great woman travel writers?  Are they not piloting their own journeys? If so, part of me doesn’t blame women for not doing so – this has been more difficult than I imagined.  Some research for the next time I have wifi – women travel writers.  Do they exist?

Next stop: Joshua Tree National Park - Black Rock campground.

Oh, and California is a freaking LONG state.  I’ve been on the road two weeks and it will take 2-3 more days to get to Yuma, AZ.

(written 2/16 – posted 2/17)


  1. I think Americans have a different attitude about solo women travelers than most. Before I left for a solo two-month trip across Eastern Europe the summer before last, people asked me, "you're traveling alone? Aren't you scared?" The Europeans, Canadians and Aussies I met during my trip asked me, "you're traveling alone? Aren't you lonely?"
    Kudos to you for being a pioneer.

  2. Cheryl, If you look at 19th Century travel writing a fair number of women pop up. (I reviewed at least one book on the subject plus research for a thesis that never came to fruition.) But as for the 20th Century...not so much. Re. Walmart: Interesting how they are connected to outsourcing in many realms but have in a way "in sourced" camping, or at least diverted it from the more traditional venues.