Long Live The King
One era ended and another began recently as my long-awaited camper was built and delivered to the dealer, Berryland Campers, in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. It was a crazy ten days.
I took a week off work from my flourishing Retail Career in the frozen foods section at Bi-Lo and set off for Daphne Alabama, near Mobile, an area that has certainly grown up since my last visit there during the nineties. A Longhorn Steak House called out to me just after filling up at Sam’s Club, where diesel is cheapest around. I completed the journey across Mississippi and into Louisiana and the dealer in the morning.
My unit was all set up in a garage where a Technician spent about three hours with me teaching me as much about the rig as was possible to forget. Another employee showed me how to hitch up, then did it for me. I stayed the night on the dealer’s RV site. They guy asked me if I wanted to drive it over and back in. It was a great temptation to get behind the wheel then navigate the sixty feet of my life savings behind my mirrors without bouncing off too many of the parked-everywhere rigs, then take forty-eleven tries at backing into the RV site, getting close enough to the utility pole without backing over it and plunging the state of Louisiana into total darkness, but I demurred and let the task be done by the man who knew what he was doing.
Dinner that night was a frozen lasagna from Publix that I had picked up in Alabama that morning before setting off. I wasn’t about to try to unhitch, drive somewhere for dinner then try to hitch back up again by myself. For the morning, I had brought instant oatmeal, instant coffee, cream, a saucepan, a dish or two and some cutlery. I unplugged the power cord, the water hose and unable to stall any longer, inched out of the dealer’s lot towards the nearby on-ramp and Interstate 10.
Can we just get to the pictures? Click here.
The first time I pulled my 26′ trailer down I-75 and in the rain, a transport truck passed me and the air movement first pulled me towards him as he drew alongside, then pushed me away as he passed me by. I was sure that I was headed for the rhubarb. This fifth wheel has fourteen feet more surface to push and pull. I wondered how much more difficult it would be to handle when a transport passed me.
When it happened with this new trailer, I heard the transport as it passed. Didn’t feel a thing. No pushing, no pulling, no white knuckles clenching the steering wheel for dear life. I read on the RV forums all the time about people who claim their Datsun pickup pulls their apartment-on-wheels just fine. But there is nothing like pulling seven tons with a diesel dually. That morning, that first transport passing, my pickup became worth every penny spent.
I set the cruise control at 70mph but quickly noticed that I was getting 9.1 miles per gallon. Ouch. I backed it off to 65mph and the mileage increased to 10.1 mpg, more where I had hoped to be.
For reasons that would make your eyes glaze over, I had to avoid the state of Florida and take secondary highways through Alabama and Georgia. I had phoned ahead to an RV park in Alabama, about half way home. Having worked at a busy RV Park close to the I-95 corridor, the road that brings all the New Englanders and Frenchmen to Florida, where planning ahead and reservations are a must, I was a little surprised at the easy-going attitude at this Alabama RV Park.
“Well,” said the woman when I phoned, ” we don’t actually come to the park on Sundays, so pick a spot and we’ll catch up with you on Monday.” I was very pleased that the sites were pull-through and involved minimal backing up, only to get properly positioned in the site. It appears that they don’t actually come to the park on Mondays, either. I went to the building that I assumed was the park office. It was better described as the Laundry Building with a desk in the corner, envelopes, a pen and a rate sheet. Leave exact cash or a check. I haven’t written checks in years since going to online banking but I had taken a couple to the dealership to pay for the camper. I wrote a check for $26.05, placed it in the Drop Box and was on my way.
Once again, the trailer pulled like a dream. I had called ahead for reservations at a park in Georgia for later on that evening. “Oh, we don’t take reservations,” said the man, “just show up.” Okay, once again a huge difference from my experience along a busy corridor.
The truck has a 38 gallon tank. At 10 mpg, that gives me a total-til-empty range of 380 miles. However, once I’m down to a half tank, I start to look for gas. While traveling through Dothan, Alabama, I spotted a Wal-Mart that sold diesel at a very competitive price. Despite pulling 40′ behind me and my lack of experience, my Scottish genes simply couldn’t say ‘no’. I thought of Thomas Edison who quipped that he had discovered ninety ways to not make a lightbulb before achieving success. I just learned how to not get gas at a Wal-Mart, despite the reasonable price.
After circling the parking lot and forgetting a cardinal rule – watch the trailer tires in the rear-view mirror to make sure that you have swung wide enough – I jumped a curb before getting to the gas area. The diesel pump lane was being used, giving me the opportunity to reconnoiter the situation. There was no way I could fill up here as the gas pump islands were facing the wrong way. The pump islands have to be parallel with the road. These pumps were at a 90º angle to the road and the Kwik-Mart building where you pay. I managed to not jump any more curbs on my way out.
Further down the road I found a Shell station with a separate diesel island where the pumps were on the correct angle. The diesel island had a canopy/roof over it, as did the gasoline pump island that I thought I could drive through to exit the station. Neither had clearance signs but the diesel island appeared plenty high enough, well over the 14′ height clearance that I needed. While I was filling up, the Shell lady came out to the diesel island to let me know that the canopy over the regular pump island was a lot lower, I couldn’t exit that way. I’d have to back up then drive around the station, like the gas truck does. Oh, you mean the gas truck that’s sitting there filling your tanks? So I had to back up then maneuver round the building and past the fuel tanker to get back out on the road. Thank you, Lord, for another learning experience.
Later that day when I checked into the Georgia RV Park, the owner didn’t take payment, he said to pay in the morning. I was ready to go by 8:30 but waited until 9:00 for the office, which opened at 9:30, to open. However, there was a rate sheet and Drop Box outside for us ‘early birds’. Three checks in four days… a record in my financial life.
Except that it’s around sixty feet long, this truck/trailer combo really is an effortless drive. The only other situation that I had was through Waycross, Georgia where I had to make a right-hand turn then pass under a railway bridge that said merely, “Low Clearance”. Well, thanks a bunch for the clarity. I made the turn and inched underneath without event.
I have now been living in this ‘camper’ for two weeks. By comparison to the 26′ box, this is a mansion on wheels. This isn’t ‘camping’, it’s a home where the view out the winnder is whatever and wherever you want it to be.
The 26′ box sold on Craigslist within 24 hours. Cleaning it out, I was astonished at how much I had squirreled away. There is no longer anything tying me to Georgia or Lake Harmony. My site rent here is paid through next Tuesday. Next stop… Magnolia Springs Alabama.
Let the Hare-Brained Scheme officially begin.