Monday, July 2, 2012

Traveling in a money pit

6/27/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser
Roughing it along the Colombia River

RV travel is expensive. I came to this brilliant conclusion as my husband and I were tooling down the interstate, in our home on wheels to visit family in California. Yes, it’s a great way to travel. We eat our own cooking, use our own bathroom and very night we sleep in our own bed. But such luxury comes at a cost. Some trips more than others.

Our Suncruiser is a nice rig and a far cry from the tiny tent trailers that we camped in with our children in the 1970s. It’s also a notch up from the 23-ft. Tioga that we bought new for $35,000 in 1985. I was scared to death that we couldn't make the payments! It cost  $10,000 more than our four-bedroom house where we raised three kids. Scary. But we traveled to every state in the western U.S. in that rig, including all the national parks, without a generator or air conditioning. It was called ‘roughing’ it.

Twenty years later, we handed it over to our oldest son and purchased our current rig complete with generator and air conditioning. I call it the money pit. Chuck says I’m too negative. I say that I’m realistic. In this economy everything is a money pit. ‘Things’ like houses, cars and RVs are insatiably hungry. You just look at them and they gobble up money.

Every year, before travel season begins, we take a trial run in the RV to see what has gone wrong over winter. Usually, we head up to Leavenworth, WA for their annual Maifest. It’s a beautiful drive with the sun shining and the snow glistening in the mountain crevices.

These shake down cruises always start out optimistically. The oil is changed, fresh water stored, tires inspected, the engine compartment checked for mice and beehives (yes, we have found both) and every inch of the rig is spit-shined to a glossy glow. We’re so na├»ve.

Something is always lurking in the corners to jump out and sabotage us. One year we went to Mt. Rainier and kept throwing fan belts. We stopped at every RV repair shop along the route. Little did we know that the original replacement had been the wrong size and subsequent dealers just followed suit. It was an expensive trip.

And then there was the time that we pulled into Icicle River RV Park and smoke started pouring out of the dashboard. That got everyone’s attention! Soon our camping neighbors were bombarding us with helpful suggestions-none of which worked. Ultimately, a local mechanic determined that it was a back up light fuse causing the problem. We simply removed it until we got back home.

This year’s trial run was a good news-bad news situation. The good news was that the problems revealed themselves on a short trip. The bad news of course, was that it was time to feed the money pit.

Driving over Stevens Pass, the rig’s back-up camera started jumping and the picture turned fuzzy. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t—“Oh, look, the picture’s back! Oh, no, it’s gone!” Finally, the screen went blank. Of course, as Chuck put it, that was only a problem if he was backing up. Then, we were back to Tent/Tioga camping days and I was the back up system. Needless to say, our camera was pronounced dead and we purchased another. Ka-ching!

Later, on the hottest spring day of the year, without warning, the cab air conditioning went out. No amount of coaxing could get it to work. Our local service dealer tried charging it but the compressor was shot. An entire system had to be ordered and installed. The money pit was ever so happy to be fed twice. Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

Chuck drives our RV and that’s a big responsibility.  My hat is off to him and all drivers struggling to keep their rigs between the lines on pot holed roads that were built at the turn of the 20th century for Model T cars. When things get really dicey, he practices what we call driving by Braille on the shoulder line: bump-bump-bump. He also practices keeping his cool while snarling at drivers who think a big rig can stop on a dime as they dart around us, then pull in front and slow down.

All of you ladies out there who ride ‘shotgun’ in an RV know that yours is also an important and difficult job. I have been the navigator on hundreds of trips with only a paper map as a guide. Now I have to fight with our GPS lady—Tammy Tom-Tom—to determine the best route to our destination. Most of the time she does a great job but sometimes she gets a little wacky and we argue. Once she tried to get us home via Shoestring Rd. into London (a logging road into a non-existent town). I won.

In addition to looking for Starbucks, restaurants, outlet stores and antique shops, I also entertain Chuck as I share tidbits from my favorite news source—The Los Angeles Times. As he drives, I catch us up on who’s performing at the Hollywood Bowl (Il Divo!); the price of real estate (Harrison Ford’s property sold for $8.1 million) and columnist Steve Lopez’s current interview with a former L.A. police officer calling for drug legalization.

I am also charged with finding a gas station that has an easy exit and reasonable prices. We spent an obscene amount of money on gasoline this trip. It cost less in California and was mostly under $4 per gallon but you do the math… we filled or partially filled up our 75 gallon tank six times. The first time we handed over $268 for a tank of gas, I nearly croaked.

No matter how you travel—by air, land, sea or RV—it is expensive. So plan wisely my friends but travel often because family time is priceless. This trip we attended our son’s installation as pastor of a new church; our grandson’s graduation and an 80th birthday party for a dear friend. It was worth every penny.

Happy summer to all!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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