As the time to leave home in my RV grew closer, I decided that I’d throw a little get-together to say goodbye to my friends and show off the work I had done on my RV, Eddie.
I posted an event on Facebook and invited my friends to come by the house, and then remembered that I no longer owned any furniture. Duh!
Over the last several months, I had been slowly selling off all my worldly possessions so that I would not have to pay to store them while traveling in my RV. Personally, I don’t get very attached to stuff, but I did feel a bit bad about selling the furniture I inherited from my grandparents. Clearly, it was expensive and they had paid a pretty penny for it, but my brother didn’t want it, and I wasn’t going to allow owning stuff to keep me from traveling. So, along with my many other furnishings, out went the antique Mediterranean furniture.
I revised my invitation telling people to bring lawn chairs, etc., and a couple of hours later, a friend of mine contacted me and offered to let me have the party at her very nice (and furnished) home just a few miles from mine. I once again revised the invitation to state that people would not need to BYOF (Bring Your Own Furniture) in addition to the BYOB.
I was relieved to have a place to have the going away party, but when I thought about how I was going to get Eddie safely parked in front of my friend’s house, my stomach sank as if I had just begun a descent down a steep roller coaster ride. You see, my friend lived kind-of at the top of a hill, and you practically needed mountaineering gear to hike up one side of her driveway.
The day of said even arrived and I drove Eddie over to my friend’s house, and pondered how to get her into the steep driveway. Eddie is built on a van chassis and has a very long rear end that goes many, many feet back past the rear wheels. This means that inclines are not your friend when driving her. As the back wheels begin to climb, the tail end drops…and can drag, which it did as I made the very careful entry into her driveway.
In this case, it wasn’t the bumper itself that hit the pavement, rather, it was the “V”-shaped braces that come down from the frame (not sure what the proper term for them is) that got stuck on the asphalt. I stopped when I heard/felt them drag, and got out to have a look. It did not appear that backing up would help the situation, and going forward would likely be ok if I could make it another foot, so I proceeded.
When I got back in, released the brake, and gave her some gas, Eddie put up a fight. She didn’t want to go forward. So, I put her in reverse. Same problem. I got out and checked again. Six of one, half a dozen of the other – it wasn’t going to be pretty either way. Since my objective was to make it into the driveway, I opted for forward.
I climbed back in Eddie again, released the brake, and gave her enough gas to get her unstuck. There was a loud metal snapping noise and then she lurched forward. I had made it into the driveway. A visual inspection of the “V”-shaped braces confirmed that one of them had broken. I hoped that they weren’t very important… I really hoped I would never need to find out.
If I’m being completely honest here, this concerned me greatly. I wanted to travel all the way to Alaska, but I couldn’t make it into my friend’s driveway without breaking something? I had already figured out about a week prior that I could not get into my own driveway with the car on the tow dolly because it bottomed out – and that was just a small dip. How in the hell did people get anywhere in these things? Surely, between Arkansas and Alaska there were a few dips in the road.
Once Eddie was parked, I got out the stack-jacks I was sold at an RV dealership and tried to level her out a bit. 100% level wasn’t going to happen, but I needed to try to do something. I quickly realized the futility of trying to use stack jacks for anything.
For those of you who do not know what stack jacks are, they are pyramid shaped metal frames with a big screw of sorts that comes up about 10” through the center. You turn the center piece in one direction and the jack becomes taller. If you turn it in the other direction, it gets shorter. The piece you hold onto to turn is about 4” long, which does exactly jack shit for leverage when you are trying to level a 13,000 lb motor home. I had bought and mounted scissor jacks for the front to replace the ones that were broken. The back end, however, had another style of jack that I was not able to find, so I had let the dealer talk me into getting a set of stack jacks. Bad idea.
Not having had to level Eddie in my own driveway, I did not have any experience with jack placement in the rear, and had positioned them along the edge of the motorhome. When it became abundantly clear that there was no way I would be able to level her this way, my friend’s husband offered to loan me his bottle jacks, which are an hydraulic jack, and much easier to use.
So, I moved my worthless stack jacks out of the way and he put his bottle jack in the same place. In a couple of minutes, Eddie was looking much more level and ready for guests. I busied myself in the kitchen with snacks and such and when the first guests arrived, I took them on a tour of Eddie.
When we stepped back outside onto the driveway with the intention of showing them the decal my brother had put on her back side, I noticed that the wall of the RV was bowing out where the bottle jack had been placed. I quickly undid it and the bow went mostly back to normal shape. Clearly, I should have positioned the jack on the frame near the center, but the old broken jacks had made it look like they were braced on the outside edge.
Crap. I hadn’t even taken her anywhere except a couple of miles down the street, and I’d already caused two separate incidents of damage. Would I really be able to make this crazy trip I had planned, or would it be doomed within 10 miles of the house? So far, it didn’t look very good.
The party went well and I had a number of friends stop by to wish me well throughout the evening. When everything had wound down, I thanked the host for having the party for me, we cleaned some dishes, and I went back outside to lower the jacks and try my best to get out of the driveway without doing any more damage.
Slowly and ever so carefully, I gently maneuvered Eddie out of the U-shaped, slanted driveway and onto the street. Since I went out a different direction, I was able to avoid scraping – a good thing, considering the marks I left in the asphalt outside were more than just a little noticeable.
It was pitch dark by now and this was my first trip ever driving Eddie in the dark. The suburb where I lived was pretty quiet and traffic-free, except during rush hour when everyone flees the city and tries to come home, or vice versa. I made my way through the streets of my friend’s neighborhood and then turned left onto one of the main drags that led to my house.
One of the upgrades I had made to Eddie was to add a backup camera which allowed me to see, much like a rear-view mirror. I had tested the backup camera during the day and found that it was definitely worth the time, expense, and effort to install it. Since the rear-view mirror which was installed was rather pointless as it only allowed me to look into the rig behind me and not behind the rig itself, I had removed it and in its place I had mounted the backup camera monitor.
Anyone who has ever had driver’s ed knows that as you drive, your eyes should always be moving – side to side, checking the side mirrors, and glancing up at the rear-view mirror from time to time. And, so, being in extra careful driving mode in the dark, I was doing just that as I rounded a long curve just before my house in an area that was wooded and low-lying (read: kinda swampy).
I glanced up at the backup camera monitor and noticed some bright red flickering something or the other. Well, that wasn’t normal. I wasn’t sure what it was – perhaps a malfunction? The camera seemed to have a night vision type function, so the display looked nothing like it does during the day, but something wasn’t right.
I glanced back up at the camera and watched as now hundreds, and then thousands of reddish-orange swirly bits whipped up like the embers from a flame. There was a red glow that was also now apparent near the bottom center of the screen. Holy shit! Was my rig on fire?!?!?!?
I tried in vain to turn around in my seat and glance behind me, but that’s not really very easy to do, plus I wasn’t yet comfortable driving sitting in the regular position. On this stretch of road, there were two lanes divided by a yellow line. There was no shoulder and no side streets where I could turn off to make an emergency stop to check out what was wrong. Locals flew down this stretch of road, often striking deer that would come near the road to graze. Stopping here on this long curve would be terribly unwise, because there would not be enough stopping distance.
The longer I drove down the road, the more intense the images became. More and more embers seemed to leap up and swirl around the camera. The total distance of this stretch of road was maybe a mile and a half, but it seemed to stretch on forever. The turn to my house was the first street that I would come to after this stretch, and when I finally made the turn I glanced up at the monitor again as I pulled off to the side of the road and put it in park. There was a red glow, but very few orange swirlies. Maybe the wind from driving had been fanning the flames.
I jumped out of Eddie and ran to the back to assess what was wrong. When I reached the end of the rig and looked up, I saw…nothing. There was nothing there. Nothing. Nada. Just my red running lights and brake lights. I walked back up to the cab and stared at the monitor. A wispy little orange swirly or two flew by.
Puzzled, I went to the back of the rig again and climbed up the ladder and looked at the backup camera. It was then that I realized what I had seen were not flame embers, but bugs that were drawn to the light. Apparently, the bugs were very numerous in the swampy stretch of road I passed through on my way home. That was what was making the “flames.” One day I would laugh about this, but that day would not be this day.
I drove the block or so to my house and carefully guided Eddie back into my own driveway. This was going to prove to be an interesting trip. I could already tell, and I hadn’t even left home yet.