“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” was Charles Dickens opening line in “A Tale of Two Cities.” That also describes our last several weeks on the road with our RV.
I had not realized how many mountain ranges there are in Nevada. Traveling from east to west, you spend most of your time going up and going down. The mountains are beautiful and breathtaking.
However, riding in a truck pulling a 37-foot RV around an outside curve at 6,000 feet with only a guardrail between you and straight down is also breathtaking.
We crossed over into Arizona, still looking for warm weather. We found a great campground called Gilbert Ray, our first experience with real desert camping. Saguaro Cacti were everywhere. Those are the ones that are tall and have long arms and other appendages.
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It was here at Gilbert Ray County Park that we experienced our first Worst Time. This campground was our first without a water spigot at each site, only a few spigots dotted here and there around the park. We would need to fill our RV’s 64 gallon fresh water tank.
We have three holding tanks. The one for fresh water, one for gray water (dishes and showers) and the one for black water (toilet). The tank openings are next to each other and not clearly marked.
If you make the mistake of hooking your fresh water hose to the black water tank, don’t open the drain, and turn on the water, the fresh water eventually pushes the black water back up through the system, overflows the toilet onto the bathroom floor, and flows out the bathroom door and down the steps to the living area before anyone notices.
It took a couple of hours of cleanup with bleach water to get things back to normal. We have agreed that we will not speak of this again.
The weather was getting warmer as we crossed into California. The fields were green with cool weather crops and it felt like spring. We blew a tire on the RV, but were able to maneuver safely off the road and called our roadside assistance folks.
They arrived quickly, put on the spare, and we were back on our way. (That did not rise to the level of a Worst Time.) The weather was glorious and drought-stricken California was finally getting rain. We parked for the night in a casino parking lot with several other RVs, did a little gambling on the slot machines and I won $35. We celebrated with a delicious dinner at the casino.
Our next stop was a city campground at Hesperia on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The fee was to be $20 per night. The manager asked Phil if he was a veteran and when Phil said he was, the manager reduced the price to $10 per night.
Later, we wondered how the manager knew to ask that question. We suddenly realized that Phil was wearing the Coast Guard shirt that was a gift from the crew after they sank our boat. It was a true definition of irony.
After a few days, we moved on north and decided to boondock for a few days. Sometimes called “dry camping” or “free camping” it means camping without hookups. We found what sounded like a great location on Bureau of Land Management property called Tumey Hills, south of Sacramento.
Our phone app described the access as a gravel road. It was surrounded by mountains and had a shelter and restrooms, but no electricity or water.
As I mentioned, there had been an abundance of rain in California after six years of drought. The gravel road our app described started out gravel but quickly became mud several inches deep.
The truck and the RV both began to slide off the road. There was no way to turn around, so Phil switched to 4-wheel drive and we slowly managed to move forward, throwing mud all over the truck and RV. The only reasonable place to park was in a high fenced in area where the restrooms and shelter were located. It was not ideal but would have to do. At least we would be out of the mud.
The RV and the truck were both caked with dirt. Phil leveled the RV and we opened the slides. Amazingly, nothing was out of place inside. We tried to think of positive things about this campsite. We were surrounded by high hills. I could see sheep grazing at the top of one hill. It seemed like a quiet place.
Suddenly we heard gunshots close by. A little investigating revealed that several men had set up a target range not far from our campsite. They continued their target practice all afternoon and finally around dusk they packed up and left.
First thing the next morning the shooting began again, this time there were several different groups in different locations shooting at paper targets. It was like being in a war zone. We ate a quick breakfast and decided to move on.
To exit from our small campsite, we had to pass through a narrow gate. We were going to have to leave the same way we came in, which required turning around in a small space. The truck is 19 feet, the RV is 37 feet.
We would have to move forward and back numerous times to get turned around. On one of those maneuvers, we jackknifed just enough that the front of the RV touched the left rear window of the truck, which exploded into shards of glass.
We cleaned up the glass, Phil fashioned a piece of cardboard to fit the window, and we continued maneuvering. Finally, we managed to get turned around, crept through the narrow opening in the fence, and exited the campsite. The mud on the road had dried enough that our 4-wheel drive could carry us through that area and we said farewell to Tumey Hills and Worst Time No. 2.
Since then, we have found lovely warm weather, spent several days with a dear friend who lives in Davis, California, reconnected with cruising friends for dinner one night, made a quick trip by plane to Seattle to spend a long weekend with our 1-year-old granddaughter and her parents, and are currently loving the beautiful vistas and culture of Arizona.
Those two Worst Times pale in comparison to all the Best Times we are enjoying on this trip. We love our serendipitous way of traveling. We go where the mood and the weather take us. We change our plans in a whipstitch if we find something interesting.
We don’t make reservations and often don’t know from one day to the next where we are headed. For us, it’s an ideal way to spend our winters. We hope there are many more best times to come and only a few more Worst Times, which are quickly forgotten.
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.