By Margaret McGovern
A lot has happened to us in the last year and a half.
Eight years of winter sailing on our catamaran, Sunshine, came to a tragic end in May 2015 when the Coast Guard tried to help us by towing our boat in the Gulf of Mexico and ended up sinking her.
But life goes on. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off and search for another adventure.
Back on land in Greenwood for that summer, we began to think about buying an RV. As much as we love the ocean, we have not visited a lot of the western United States. After lots of reading and tramping around RV lots, we decided on a 37-foot fifth wheel, an RV that extends over the bed of a pickup truck.
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We spent the rest of the summer reading and studying about our RV, purchasing the necessary equipment and supplies, and making trial runs to state parks. When summer ended and the temperature began to drop, we packed up and headed south and west.
That first winter on the road was a learning experience. There is a big difference between an RV and a boat when you are looking for a place to spend the night. On our sailboat, we could drop the anchor anyplace that offered a little shelter and was shallow enough for the anchor to reach the bottom.
We usually planned in advance, but sometimes we simply discovered a place along the way. It might be a deserted island off the coast of Belize or a cove along the mainland of Honduras.
Finding a good place to park an RV is quite different. If you don’t plan ahead and make reservations, you might find yourself spending the night in a Walmart parking lot (yes) or a rest area along the interstate (not yet).
Pulling an RV and piloting a boat are also very different. On a boat, the only times you might run into something was usually at a dock, in a marina, or getting too close to bridge pilings or other boats.
Driving an RV, the whole world is an obstacle course. Fences, guard rails, gates, diesel pumps, overhead canopies, curbs, cars, trucks, trees and many other hazards jump out at you around every turn. And those hazards sometimes leave permanent marks on your brand new RV for all the world to see.
One of the first things you learn driving a 19-foot truck towing a 37-foot RV is that you must make extremely wide turns. Cutting a curve too closely can leave a path of destruction in its wake. Campgrounds are notorious for narrow roads and trees close to the road.
Many of the state and federal parks were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1933 and 1942, before RVs became so popular and so big.
Roads, bridges and campsites in those parks often reflect a time when tent campers were more common and travel trailers were small.
Overhead hazards are everywhere. Our RV is 13.6-feet high. It is difficult to judge how high a branch or an electric line is. Sometimes you just have to chance it and be ready for the consequences if you misjudged.
Fortunately, most low-clearance bridges and overpasses are clearly marked. Those measurements are accurate unless the road beneath has been repaved many times, rendering the markings obsolete.
Walmart became our friend while we traveled. The parking lot was always big enough for us to park our rig and we could purchase most everything we needed, including prescription refills, at any Walmart store.
Another difference between a boat and an RV becomes evident when you park, or anchor, for the night. With a boat, one person is at the steering wheel and another is at the front of the boat. You pick your spot, drop the anchor, and then back down to secure the anchor. It’s not quite that simple, but almost.
There are few things that can threaten a 47-year marriage, but backing a fifth wheel into a narrow campsite is one of them. The process defies common sense. If you want your rig to back to the left, you turn the steering wheel to the right, and vice versa.
Since the pivot point is in the bed of the truck, the RV doesn’t respond right away. Judging when it will begin to turn is a talent that we haven’t yet acquired. Some campgrounds have pull-through sites that don’t require backing in, but we usually seem to get assigned to the back-in sites. Watching fifth wheel drivers try to park their rigs is considered great entertainment at most campgrounds.
Our first season on the road was very positive and lots of fun. We made it all the way to Pancho Villa State Park in New Mexico, right on the border with Mexico. We saw amazing scenery, met interesting people, explored small towns and big cities, and learned a lot.
The most beautiful wild flowers are in Texas. New Orleans is probably our favorite city so far, with great music and pralines to die for. Most states have better roads than Indiana, except for Louisiana, which has terrible roads.
Texans drive the fastest. The speed limit on most two-lane roads in Texas is 70 mph, sometimes 75 mph. Southern New Mexico is a desert, with dust storms and road runners. We have learned some history along the way.
Mexican independence fighter Pancho Villa raided the small town of Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916 and then fled back across the border. U.S. General Pershing arrived in Columbus with 12,000 troops and crossed the border looking for Pancho Villa. He was never captured. And finally, pick up an armadillo under its arms, never by the tail.
This winter, we are traveling again. We have gained some skills and are still working on others. We have made it to Texas and are headed to California, then maybe Oregon, then maybe Seattle. Where we go depends on the weather and on our mood and imagination. The adventure continues!
Phil and Margaret McGovern of Greenwood are spending the winter traveling in their RV. Margaret, a commercial real estate broker and former mayor of Greenwood, writes about the couple’s journey. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.