Learning to Drive an RV
I don’t know about you guys, but road trips are a blast for me. Put me in a car, give me the open road, and you won’t hear from me again for a good long while. On trips where there are other people present, I’m usually the driver or contribute the lion’s share of driving.
I’m pretty content behind the wheel and I’m able to drive for really long periods of time – like 13-17 hours at a stretch with only really quick stops here and there for bathroom breaks. I’ve always been that way.
When I got into my RV, Eddie, in May of 2015 and took off headed east on Interstate 40 from Little Rock, I didn’t really have a particular stop envisioned for the evening, but figured at around Nashville or so, I should probably make up my mind exactly where I planned to go. Nashville is about 6 hours from Little Rock, and that seemed like a good “half-way point” for a day’s drive.
The eastern stretch of I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis is some of the absolute worst interstate in the US. It is one of the most trafficked interstates, and it is always under construction. A car trip to Memphis from Little Rock is no fun. I was about to find out that being in an RV was much, much worse.
One of the first things that you realize when you have a large and long vehicle – mine was 49’ in overall length – is that you really notice when a semi truck passes you. I was taking my time and driving the speed limit, so truckers would frequently pass me. The mass of air that they give off as they push their bulky bodies at 70+ mph is more than just a bit noticeable when it hits you. In fact, it really shoves you hard away from the passing truck.
This would be all well and good because then you aren’t likely to slam into them, except that if you don’t correct that shoving then you will likely end up on the shoulder. To correct your course, you actually have to steer, ever so slightly, in the direction of the passing truck. This keeps you in your lane.
However, as they reach a certain point, then there is a mini vacuum of sorts that begins to suck you towards them, so steering in their direction becomes somewhat of a problem. With lots of practice, you eventually develop a feel for how to steer correctly, which is more like a mini-serpentine motion. You intentionally weave back and forth just a tiny bit with your steering and that keeps you headed straight – but I didn’t know that yet, so every time I got passed, it was life or death for me.
Interstate 40 to Memphis from Little Rock is full of potholes and very rough road. The on-going construction means there are frequent stretches of narrowed single lanes for with concrete barriers separating you from oncoming traffic at 70-ish mph merely feet away. As if that weren’t enough, this area is all delta land which is flat and mostly treeless, so winds rip through there in mighty gusts at random intervals.
An interesting thing I noticed is that you can sometimes read invisible wind coming across certain fields of crops by watching them move like you do the waves when you sail. I knew that knowledge wouldn’t be completely useless, although honestly I had hoped to use it sailing rather than to avoid slamming into concrete barricades while driving an RV, but whatever works.
In a little over two hours I was just outside of Memphis, passing through a town known as West Memphis, Arkansas. The condition of the interstate went from bad to horrible, the traffic increased, and the wind kicked up. By the time I got through West Memphis and then Memphis, I was a mess.
Not only was it difficult to hold the RV straight in the winds and correct for the passing trucks, but the roads were so bad that they knocked my passenger side mirror arm completely out of position so that I could only see out of the driver’s side mirror and the backup camera. The whole right-hand side was invisible to me. This made it completely impossible for me to pass someone and get back into the right-hand lane – not that I would dare do that on this day, but it kind of sucks not at least having that option in case you really must do it.
The word “terrified” is woefully insufficient to describe my state of mind as I tried to pull off after I cleared Memphis traffic to adjust the passenger-side mirror. 49’ of overall length of vehicle is not something that you want to maneuver without being able to see Every.Single.Thing around you, but with a great deal of luck, I somehow managed to do it successfully without causing harm to anyone or anything.
I’m not a drinker outside of the occasional glass of wine here and there, but there are situations so stressful that they can drive you to drink. If I would have had a bottle of tequila handy, I would have downed it like a 15 year old would a soda. In reality what took about two and a half hours to drive seemed like I had been driving for days. Adjusting to RV driving was not easy. This was not at all like taking a road trip in a car. I was ready to stop, but the crazy adventurer in me said to keep going, so I did.
I drove another couple of hours before RV driving finally became too much. About 10 miles west of Jackson, TN I called it quits for the day. Nashville was still another two hours east of Jackson, and I wasn’t even close to where I thought I’d be at my “half way point” for the day. I had only driven about 4.5 hours, but I didn’t care. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to have stopped moving.