Filed under: Family Camping, Humor, Preparation & Readiness, Roads & Routes, RVing & the Legal System, Safety on the Road, Uncategorized
Unforgettable RV Trips — A Series — Number 1
We were a young family with two children. We loved camping and often went out six or more times a year but, as our family grew, things were becoming complicated. During a tent trip to the Smokies, our youngest had breakfast in his highchair while sitting outside—in his snowsuit. It was then that we decided it was time for a change.
We began putting money aside for one special trip every year in a rented RV. We still went tent camping in between our RV trips whenever the weather was mild, and even purchased a VW camper in 1970. Well, not the official VW camper, that was beyond our budget. We bought a new VW van and then made some modifications, including a jalousie screened window, a roof vent, an exterior oil cooler, a front-end spare tire mount, a large rooftop rack and a storage box-bed-bench seat. Between our van, our tent and a sometimes-yearly RV rental, we spent the next fifteen years roaming the east coast between Maine and Tennessee. We were happy, but we still had a dream; to own our own RV someday and go fulltiming.
It wasn’t until 2008 and after an early retirement, that we realized that dream and spent 2010 wandering across this beautiful country of ours in our own RV. I’ve decided to share some of our early and more recent camping trips with you in a series of stories; the good, the bad, and the ugly. This first story took place in 1974 when we rented our first RV; a 26′ Winnebago Minnie Winnie. The story covers the first evening of our trip in the rented motorhome.
After months of planning and saving, we were finally ready. We picked up the RV after work on Friday and spent the evening packing for our first big, two-week trip; to Washington D.C., Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, Williamsburg, Roanoke, Chincoteague, Assateague, the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge-Tunnel, and home.
Where should I begin? At the beginning, I guess, because that’s when all the excitement started. After a rushed dinner, my wife and I spent several hours carrying everything we thought we would need out to the RV. After years in a tent and then in our VW van, we were thrilled with all of the space we had: cabinets, a closet, a dining table, separate beds, basement storage and a bathroom! Wonderful! Luxurious!
Later that evening, my wife found me standing in the darkened living room, staring out the window at the RV.
“What’s up? She asked, “Did we forget anything?”
“God, I hope not!” I responded, “I think that half of our house stuff is out there!”
“So, what’s bothering you?”
“What’s bothering me is that the RV is just sitting out there. We’re paying rent on it and it’s just sitting there!”
“So?” She asked.
“So, let’s leave tonight!”
“You’re crazy! We’ve never driven a RV before and it’s dark!” She warned.
Well, youthful optimism and my stubborn insistence that everything would be okay finally won the argument and we made our final preparations to leave that night, determined to drive as far as we could and then park somewhere for the night. Mistake #1.
Years later, I’ve learned that such a trip shouldn’t be rushed; it requires a lot of careful planning and execution. But that night, all I could think of was to go, go, GO! Of course, with all of the running around and packing, I hadn’t paid any attention to that day’s weather news and was unaware of the huge thunderstorm that was moving northward toward the city. I also had only a vague idea of what roads I would take, but since I was born and raised on Long Island and knew all of its routes and byways, I didn’t foresee any problems. Hah!
As I’ve written in these pages several times before, during my 66 years years I’ve learned that, while I make my plans, God stands by laughing.
We left Huntington just after eight PM and headed west on the I-495, the Long Island Expressway, or L.I.E., also known as the “World’s Longest Parking Lot.” An hour later, we were sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the L.I.E., only half-way to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the B.Q.E., the next step in our planned route—and were already looking for an alternative. The traffic was terrible. My goal was to drive over the Verrazano Bridge from Brooklyn to Staten Island and then use the Outerbridge Crossing; the Goethals Bridge, to cross into New Jersey and onto the southbound New Jersey Turnpike, I-95. I had received advice from friends and neighbors about the best way to reach the Verrazano; the problem was that the advice we got was conflicting.
It began raining very hard at that point as the thunderstorm moved in from the West. It was then that I remembered one neighbor’s advice about using the Belt Parkway as an alternate route to reach the bridge. The Belt runs along the South shore of Long Island through Queens and Brooklyn and then winds northward to the Verrazano. The only problem was how to get to the Belt; I wasn’t sure about how to get there from where I was. As we crawled westward through the driving rain of the thunderstorm, an exit came up for the Van Wyck Expressway – South. We took it. Mistake #2.
A word here about my Spouse and navigating: She’s has never been big on maps and believes that she doesn’t need to be. Although she’s better about it now—it only took about 40 years—she still feels though that, if I’m driving, then I should know where I’m going. She’s feels that she’s busy enough helping me to drive the vehicle; jumping around and yelling about invisible dangers on the road and stamping on her invisible brake pedal every few moments. Anyway, I drove south on the Van Wyck until I reached and merged onto the Belt Parkway. Yay! Wrong. Mistake #3.
The Belt was worse than any road we’d been on up until then. It, too, was bumper-to-bumper and, as an added attraction, was flooded with rain water. As it curved this way and that on its journey to New York City, the lane markers were underwater and therefore invisible. Because of this, cars were wandering from lane-to-lane on every curve. A funny thing about all those cars; I noticed that most, in fact, all of the traffic on the Belt—except for me—was of the 4-wheel variety; they were all cars. I was the only non-car; a virtual behemoth trying to steer his way through all those 4-wheelers wandering willy-nilly from lane-to-lane—all the while half-blinded by the driving rain and the bright flashes from all the lightening crashing down around me. It took a while for me to realize that trucks; RVs, weren’t allowed on the Belt Parkway.
After the umpteenth near accident, we (her; she decided and I went along with it) left the Belt and went looking for advice. Mistake #4. We were in the middle of a section of Brooklyn known as Bedford-Stuyvesant, or Bed-Stuy. For those of you who haven’t heard of Bed-Stuy, think of the old TV show, “Lost In Space,” with Robbie the Robot running around, waving his arms in the air, yelling “DANGER! DANGER.” People from the east end of the Island, when asked about Bed-Stuy, think about gangs swinging down on ropes, ready to strip your car and rape the women folk in ten seconds flat. But luckily, because of the torrential rain, the gangs must have all been home, sharpening their switchblades. We drove around through knee-deep puddles for a while and, finding no help, drove back to the Belt and surrendered to the fates.
Days later, or so it felt, we came to the entrance ramp for the Verrazano Bridge. Thank God it wasn’t closed due to high winds, something that I learned was very common in weather like we were having. As it was, the RV blew from lane to lane all the way across. Thankfully, most sane people had already fled from the roads, so there wasn’t any traffic.
The storm continued as we drove across Staten Island and crossed the Goethals Bridge, or Outerbridge Crossing. We made our way onto the New Jersey Turnpike, I-95 South. We went as far as the very first rest stop on the turnpike and wormed our way in between a couple of the many huge 18-wheelers that had wisely put in for the night. After picking up all the pots and pans and broken or not dinnerware, we got the kids in to sleep and turned in for the night, exhausted by our journey.
Two hours later, the storm was over and we were awakened by a new noise outside. I peaked out the window at the 18-wheelers on either side of us. They were still there, but it was then that I noticed what one of them was transporting; a herd of very scared and very noisy cattle! MOOOO! MOO-OOOO! Great, just great…
Till Next Time,