When you picture a 29’ Class C RV, “Stealth” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind. But in my young RV Life, I was determined to be a stealth-nomad, flowing in and out of cities, flying under the radar and living free!
I’m not quite sure where the idea came from, but for some reason, when I first starting living full time in my RV, I equated “full-time RVer” with “Outlaw”. Who knows where I got the idea -or maybe it was just an excuse to let my inner outlaw/rebel come out to play. Or maybe, since,I was dropping out of society and living on the fringe, I thought I was suddenly invisible. Whatever the reason, I was convinced that normal rules and laws no longer applied to me. I scoffed at “No Parking” signs and laughed at warnings of “No Trespassing”. Nope- I’m FREE: mere mortals’ rules don’t apply to Tilly, Capone and me!
Boy, did I get a rude awakening!
Yeah, my 29’ Class C RV and me – not so invisible. And as FIVE security guards, cops and property owners told me in my first eight weeks of my new life, laws most certainly DO apply to me! Perhaps even more so now that I was living on the fringes; and in some peoples’ eyes a dirty, freeloading, homeless vagrant. (I also thought showering didn’t apply to me anymore either! When I do something, I go All In! lol).
It was a real wake up call.
I’d read a lot about stealth camping before I started my new life and I knew a 29’ monstrosity like Tilly would never exactly be “stealthy”. Still, being the rebellious person I am, I was determined to make it work. I spent about two months pushing my luck, determined to find places to ‘stealth’ camp in cities and towns around the Bay Area. I had some success, but also had more than my share of knocks on the door in the middle of the night or early in the morning, making me mosey on down the road!
Here is what I learned about stealth camping in a Class C RV:
No Trespassing means NO trespassing – even if you THINK no one is looking! Seriously I’d be on a desolate road or a gravel parking lot that seemed like no one EVER goes to, and sure enough, I’d get a visit from a farmer in a dually pick-up telling me to go: even when I gave them my “I’m a woman alone and need a safe place to park” spiel. They were nice about it, but still kicked me out.
Street Parking – In cities where you can find street parking, warehouse districts work well. You can even turn on the generator, because no one is around on nights and weekends. And on weekdays, it’s so noisy with big rigs, no one will notice your generator running.
However, it’s not always easy to find street parking. It’s amazing how many cities make it illegal to park on streets overnight. Just because you find a warehouse or commercial district, doesn’t mean you can park there. Woodland, CA for example, just off I-5, has absolutely NO Parking on any commercial or warehouse streets in the entire city! So, you either have to keep searching, go to another city or just take your chances (like I did and got kicked out in the middle of the night).
I’ve also had good luck parking overnight on streets near medical offices, apartment complexes and parks and baseball fields. As long as they’re away from houses and there aren’t any “No Parking” signs.
I also found that community colleges can be good places to park: when school is not in session (often Sundays and vacations). Otherwise permits are enforced and I learned the hard way, campus security will knock on your door at 7 am with an actual police officer and ask you to move. But if you know for certain the campus is closed, it can be a great place to park AND get free wi-fi! I stayed at a Community College in California for two or three nights.
New housing subdivisions are also great stealth camps! I’ve spent four or five nights in areas where new houses and neighborhoods are being built. The streets are there, maybe even the foundations of houses, but they’re not occupied yet. Park there when construction crews aren’t working or get in late and leave early before they get there. I stayed in one for 2 nights in a row and was never bothered. (Do a google search for “Model Homes” and you can often find new developments)
Walmart. We all know that Walmart is RV friendly and you can often park overnight there. Unfortunately, many cities aren’t as accepting of this practice and have local ordinances making it illegal to park overnight in Walmart parking lots. So, before you go parking in any old Walmart, check ahead of time to make sure it’s ok. Here’s the resource I use: http://www.walmartlocator.com/no-park-walmarts/. I’ve also seen RVs park overnight in Walmarts on the Do Not Park list (Medford, OR, for example). If you’re in a bind, go in and ask management. You may be able to get away with it if local law enforcement is lax.
I’ve stayed at a couple of Walmarts – one was loud and a little sketchy (Rancho Cordova, CA) and the other, quite pleasant (Gardnerville, NV). While Walmart is never my first choice, it works in a pinch -and beats getting a knock on the door in the middle of the night!
I’ve also stayed near Truck Stops, off remote country roads, boat launch parking lots (I got lucky on that one, the next night they closed and locked the gate!), residential streets where the houses are behind big brick sound-walls, dead end streets, parking lots behind warehouses and local and regional park parking lots that didn’t have “No overnight parking” signs.
Tips for successful stealth camping in a Class C RV:
Don’t attract attention to yourself: If you must park someplace where sleeping on the street would be frowned upon, do your best to stay under the radar. Walk your dog somewhere else, so they don’t see you coming in and out of your RV. Leave your lights off or put up blackout curtains. Don’t run your generator and don’t put out your slides if you have them. Parking your RV on the street is not a problem – SLEEPING in it is. So we want to give the impression no one is inside.
Explore the city or town you’re in for the best spot: Some of my best spots have been discovered by driving around. And sometimes, I just have to take a chance. Recently, in Medford Oregon, I camped near a warehouse in a gravel lot. I felt safe and slept well. I decided to stay put for a few hours in the morning and work and drink my coffee (it was a Sunday). I got a visit from the property owner telling me I couldn’t be there (even though there were no Private Property or No Trespassing signs). He was nice and explained that they’d had a lot of problems with vagrants. “in fact”, he said, “It’s not safe for you to be here.” Of course, “safe” is relative and the ‘vagrants’ could very well have been people just like me. Nevertheless, I moved on.
Use Google Maps and Google Earth. This is one of my best resources for finding areas to park. You can look for parks, forest roads, commercial centers and medical parks and get street level views. This is very helpful! You can also Google search “warehouse space for lease”. This usually gives me an address so I can find the warehouse district.
Ask people. I was once kicked out of a community college by a Police Officer who, when I asked where a better place to park might be, gave me the name of a business owned by a friend of his who wouldn’t mind me being there overnight. Of course, the conversation was completely off the record. But he was very helpful. As a woman, I find most men want to help me if I pull the “I want to feel safe” card.
All in all, my outlaw days are mostly behind me. I prefer the safety and solitude of the forest and no longer need to stay near cities and towns. But there are times it can’t be avoided and I’d rather take my chances stealth camping than spending $35-$50 to stay in an RV/Trailer park jam packed with residential mobile homes.
What are some of your questions/concerns/experiences stealth camping? I’d love to hear from you.
AAA has lost my business forever. I don’t know what kind of crap they pulled with me, but when I was stranded on the Interstate on a Sunday afternoon with transmission fluid spewing out of my RV, they abandoned me. That is unforgiveable.
On February 27, the day I bought Tilly (Click here to learn about her name), I signed up for AAA’s premier roadside assistance- I KNEW, with an older RV, I would need it! I signed up online and within a couple of weeks my shiny new card arrived in the mail. In April, I got stuck in a tight spot and called them. The AAA tow truck came and pulled me out. I paid nothing – everything was covered. No problem.
Fast forward to last month. I’m sitting on the shoulder of I-5, 115 miles outside of San Francisco, with white smoke and transmission fluid spewing from poor Tilly. It was the day after the awning blew off in a terrible storm in Weed and, as you can expect, I’m at my wits’ end. “Here we go again,” I tell myself… the RV-Lemon saga continues… “Don’t panic, that’s what AAA Roadside Assistance is for! It will be alright. Everything will be fine.”
WRONG! Because, remember, the universe freaking hates me!
The operator tells me, “Ms. Higgins, your account says it’s valid until February 27, 2017, but it shows that it’s inactive. I’m not sure why that is. Would you mind holding while I contact member services?”
Great, now what? “Yes, of course. Thank you,” I reply curtly, trying not to panic.
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…
After what seemed like a million tick-tocks, the operator comes back. “Ms. Higgins. It seems your account is inactive because of an issue with our payment.”
WAIT. What??? “An issue with my payment? What kind of issue with my payment?” Ok, losing my cool here…
“I don’t know ma’am; I’d be happy to transfer you to member services if you like.”
You have got to be kidding me. I was gritting my teeth and clutching the phone to my ear, trying like hell to not dump all the frustration of the past couple of days onto her, “O. Kay.” Deep breath, slowly, deliberately, in a terse and very measured voice, “If. There. Was. A. Problem. With. My. Payment… then how… was I able… to get service… TWO MONTHS later-in April???”
Truth be told, I’d gone through this with them in Joseph, Oregon when my starter died, but I got off the phone before it was resolved, because I walked to the mechanic quicker than they could figure out the problem. I was kicking myself; I never called them back. I just never got around to it. I figured it had to be a glitch in their system. How could I not be covered? I had a card. I had service two months after I signed up. They have my email address and phone number; they never communicated that there might be a “problem with my payment”! How can that happen?!?
“I’m not sure ma’am. That shouldn’t have happened. I’d be happy to transfer you to member services and they can explain.” The operator seemed to forget that I was on the side of a busy Interstate on a Sunday afternoon, with big rigs jolting me as they zoomed past, and red fluid flowing like a river of blood from underneath my rig… She seemed to forget, I was not in the mood for corporate shenanigans.
Trying extremely hard not to scream expletives at her (we both know I can swear like a sailor) and reminding myself, “you get more bees with honey than vinegar. Be nice and maybe she’ll feel sorry for you and send a big blue and yellow truck to come to your rescue.” Slowly, and using every ounce of self-control I spat, “IF. For whatever reason. there WAS a problem with my payment – though I don’t know how, since I used the service two months later AND you never notified me of a problem – and I pay today, can you tow me?”
“No ma’am there’s a 48-hour waiting period.”
Of course, there is!
“I’m very sorry ma’am.” She didn’t sound nearly sorry enough and I was barely able to get off the phone without completely going off on her.
This is no time to feel sorry for yourself. Get yourself together.
Finding a Tow for a Class C RV Isn’t Easy!
I googled tow trucks. The first two places I called were too busy to come and get me. Really. Too busy to even TRY to help me…
The third would have cost me $600 (I was trying to get towed 60 miles to where my car was stored). But he told me to call Sander’s Heavy Towing, out of Williams – the town closest to me. Sander’s wasn’t too busy to send a truck and it would only cost $175.
Within an hour I was sitting in the passenger seat of the big white tow truck with Capone on my lap, pulling into the yard of Harper’s Auto Repair in Williams CA. The owner, Dave just happened to be there and he and the Tow Truck Driver (forgot his name, let’s call him TTD) greeted each other like old friends. After explaining that my transmission busted, TTD and Dave laughed and joked about fun stuff while I impatiently brooded over my shitty luck. Dave said I could stay in the yard, behind their locked gate (which he’d leave unlocked so I wouldn’t be trapped inside).
TTD backed me into a spot in the cluttered yard, and before leaving, gave me his cell number in case I needed a ride to town. The tiny center of Williams was about two miles away- and it’s not much of town. With a population of 5,123, its claim-to -fame is being an Interstate rest-stop with half a dozen authentic Mexican restaurants (there’s a heavy farm-worker population), a tourist trap hotel and restaurant called Ganzella’s, a couple local hotels with names like Stage Stop Inn, and your usual Interstate fare: fast food, convenience store gas stations, a Motel 6, a Ramada and a Traveler’s Inn.
Breaking Down and Living at a Garage in an RV
TDD pulled away, Dave left and dummy-locked the gate and there I was, behind a cyclone fence in a gravel lot that smelled like old grease, in Bumfuck California; 60 miles from my car and my California “home” base. For neighbors, I had train storage containers, old cars that didn’t run anymore – and several that probably did – old campers and industrial-looking ‘stuff’ strewn about.
Ok, this is part of the adventure! I’ll make the most of it. Look at me getting through my first breakdown and sleeping at an auto repair shop! I tried to console myself: “I knew this day would come, and here I am… dealing with it!” Look at me making lemons outta lemonade! Kum-fucking-baya!
I ate dinner and then Capone and I walked around the acre-sized yard, noticing a full bright moon and an eerily cloudy, moonlit night. I got out my camera: at least I can practice my nighttime photography.
Monday morning: I was anxiously peeking out my RV window at 7:45, waiting for them to open shop at 8am. I gave them exactly 7 minutes to get settled before walking into the shop and introducing myself to the first guy I saw, who happened to be the service manager, Brent. He was expecting me; Dave had already called him. Brent said he didn’t want to wake me, so was going to give me a few more minutes before knocking on the door. I appreciated that, but I’d been up for two hours. Let’s get going…Fix the rig so I can get back on the road! My anxiety was working in overdrive, unlike my transmission.
While Brent got all my info, a mechanic grabbed my keys and hopped in to drive Tilly onto their one-and-only heavy-duty rack. She wouldn’t budge. They filled the empty transmission with fluid. Still, she refused to budge. The transmission was locked up. I killed it. (Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you the part where I tried to save $175 and drive the 5 miles to Williams. I made it about a mile before the big old rig just wouldn’t go anymore… so back to the side of the Interstate we went, calling Sander’s Tow back, admitting defeat: “Yeah, I didn’t make it. I’ll need you to come and get me after all.”)
They pushed and pulled Tilly onto the rack and started poking away. The transmission pump was “shattered” Brent said. That’s what caused the whole mess and the transmission to lock up; something about air and fluid and seizing parts. His lengthy explanation went in one ear and out the other: just tell me how much it will cost, how long it will take and when I can get on with my life!
When I asked Brent if I killed it by trying to drive to Williams, I never got a conclusive ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Or at least I didn’t hear a conclusive ‘yes’. So, I’m going with, ‘no’. “You need a new transmission – if we can even find one for that truck,” Brent confirmed my biggest fear, but what my gut already knew. I’d known the transmission would need to be replaced – eventually. It didn’t have a low gear, and it slipped a couple times… I just hoped “eventually” would be a year or two down the road.
Oh, lord, here we go again. “What do you mean IF we can find one???”
“Well, I don’t know that we can get one for a truck that old. Or how close we can find one,” Brent replied.
A million terrifying thoughts went through my mind in a split second. What if they can’t find a transmission? What if it can’t be fixed? What if Tilly is broken for good? Where will I live? Will I be able to sell her? Could I live in my car? Oh NO. What will I do? Dear Universe: whatever I did in a past life to make you insist on shitting on me in this one. I’M SORRY!!! OK???. Really, I mean it! UNCLE!!!!
Brent said he would get to work right away to find a transmission, “Don’t worry. I’ll do my best.” Somehow hearing “don’t worry” from of a man I’d just met an hour before, calmed me a little. I plopped down in one of the stiff cold lawn chairs in their very garage-like waiting room with concrete floors, an Arrowhead water dispenser with a stack of red keg-beer cups next to it and a table cluttered with coloring books and crayons, The Bible, a copy of the Constitution and Guns & Ammo magazines – for the adults I presumed. They graciously gave me their Wi-Fi password and I got to work while I waited for news from Brent.
Within a few hours Brent came back with the news. He found solutions! A brand-new transmission shipped in from the east coast, $4700; a rebuilt transmission done out of Sacramento (50 miles away), $3700 – with a nationwide Napa service warranty. A thousand dollars is a thousand dollars. I went with the rebuild. “Three days,” Brent told me, “to pull it, send it to “the guy” and re-install it. We should have you back on the road by Thursday” he said.
Well there goes the money I was going to save as my emergency fund from the sale of my car. But at least I had the money and theoretically, I could be back on the road in a few days! (I know how these things go, I wasn’t holding my breath!) I’ll believe it when I feel the rumble of the road under my butt and smell my black tank wafting in the breeze!
I wasn’t about to sit around the garage for 3 days, so I set out to get my car. There is no UBER in BF California, so I texted TTD and asked if he would give me a ride. “Sure, I have the day off and nothing to do. How about if you just fill up my tank and I’d be happy to drive you?”
“Awesome!” And within an hour he came to pick me up. The car was a Mercedes that could only take premium and apparently, his monster-sized tank was bone dry; my good-Samaritan ride cost me $57. Beggars can’t be choosers: I was grateful for the ride.
A couple hours later I returned to the shop in my car. Tilly was still on the rack, still in the process of pulling the transmission. Apparently, my RV is like the heaviest truck or RV ever – they had a hell of a time pushing/pulling it onto the rack – so there was no way they were taking it off. No yard camping for me tonight – I get to sleep IN the garage! Woo-hoo another adventure. Just Capone and me and the smell of old oil, exhaust and grease! Look at me living the dream!
My circumstances weren’t ideal, but I went to sleep that night, in the eerie creaky garage, full with gratitude. The kindness that two strangers had shown me that day; Dave letting me – a stranger – stay in his garage and TTD taking 2 hours out of his day to drive me to my car, gave me solace and even a little happiness. Kind people make me happy!
Getting a New (Rebuilt) Transmission for My RV
Tuesday morning: I was mobile and had no desire to sit around the garage for 3 days. I drove 115 miles to San Francisco to visit one of my oldest and dearest friends. I lived in San Francisco when I first moved to California 28 years ago and fall in love with The City all over again, every time I cross the Bay Bridge. Spending 3 days “living” there again; walking the hilly city streets, breathing in the foggy sea air, basking in views of the Bay, drinking rich, smooth espresso, eating mouth-watering vegan Indian, Mexican and Mediterranean food, all within a few blocks of her flat, and catching up with my friend almost made all my RV troubles fade away.
Friday afternoon: Of course, the transmission didn’t get rebuilt on time. So, they pushed the “on the road” date to Friday. I reluctantly left my friend and the city I love, Friday at 12:30 for my long drive back to the garage – and my Rig!!! Four and a half hours later (thanks to Bay Area Friday traffic), just as I exited I-5, a few miles from the shop, my phone rang. It was Brett. The new transmission wasn’t working. Of course, it’s not. I wasn’t even surprised. Welcome to my life.
It was installed, but on the test drive, it wouldn’t automatically shift into gear and it started in 3rd (or something like that). And of course, they waited until 10 minutes before I was due back to tell me this. If I’d known earlier, I would have stayed in The City, but I wasn’t about to turn around and drive back.
It was Friday. Another 3 nights in the yard (they moved me outside!). At least I had power, WI-FI and my car.
STRANDED in a Broken Down RV: Week #2.
Monday and Tuesday: testing and troubleshooting. Their testers were kicking back codes that didn’t make sense. They called the transmission guy and another Ford transmission expert to help. “It needs a new PCM (the transmission’s computer),” Dave tells me. They order a new PCM
Wednesday: I couldn’t take it anymore. I was about to explode. I felt anxious. Angry. Trapped. I wanted my home back. I wanted to get back on the road! I wanted open space and peace and quiet.
I drove 40 miles to escape in a movie (The Accountant – a disappointment: too violent). It was too hot to leave Capone in the car, so I leashed him up and walked up to the popcorn counter to buy my ticket, like he belonged there! The mood I was in, I mentally dared anyone to challenge that I needed him to keep me sane. And they must have sensed it, because even as he pulled on the leash to grab every piece of popcorn that fell to the floor from my overflowing bucket, the staff just stood by and said nothing.
I returned to the shop at 4:00 hoping for good news. I didn’t get it. The PCM solved one problem, but it still wouldn’t shift right. Dave said the guy who did the rebuild needed to tow my rig to his place in Rancho Cordova, 70 miles away! I was about to cry. Really. How much can a person handle? I try to be optimistic but then this shit happens, time and time again, it can be hard to not feel like the universe hates me. HOW can this keep happening?
“B…b..but. Where will I live?” Dave offered up his 5th Wheel that was parked in back, until my RV was running again. “Rancho Cordova isn’t safe,” he said, “and the guy won’t let you stay in his garage.”
Ohmyfucknggod! Oh, ok, Universe, so I’m just supposed to forgive and forget you shitting all over me because this man, who doesn’t know me from Adam is being so helpful and kind?? Well it won’t work; It’s not enough!
“But before we do that, I’m going through it with a fine-tooth comb. I want to make sure we didn’t miss something, before I send it back to him. Because if he finds the problem, you’ll have to start all over and he’ll treat you like a new customer and it could cost you a lot more.” He and his mechanic were there until 9 that night working on it, while I worked inside. That’s the night the monster-sized spider came to visit me.
I heard happy “YES’s” coming from under my hood. I ran out to see what they were celebrating. They found the problem!!! Oh, praise the universe! I will be free, free at last… Not quite, I was cautiously optimistic…
They said they needed one more part and one more day and I should be ready to go. “We’ll see.”, I thought.
Thursday. Waiting for a part…. I was out of water. My black tank was getting full. I needed a shower. I went to a hotel.
Friday. SUCCESS!!! The tranny was shifting on her own!!! By 1:00 they were done! Dave took me for a test drive to teach me what to listen for in case the transmission acts up again. I noticed the difference immediately – so THIS is how my transmission is supposed to sound? A gentle purrrr, not a rough high-pitched ‘whir’. The RV has always run rough and loud, so I never noticed it was revving high on the freeway (I don’t have an RPM gage).
The problem? What caused this whole mess? A blown fuse. Yep – a freaking FUSE.
Since early in the summer the fuse for my radio, speedometer and odometer kept blowing. I’d keep changing it out. I even had the bright idea to replace the 15-amp fuse with a 20-amp – my thinking was, more amperage would mean less blowing! (I now know how dangerous that is.)
So, I changed the fuse four or five times, until it wouldn’t take one anymore; it would spark and blow out before I even got it all the way in. So, without a working speedometer, there was no signal to the CPM telling it was time to shift gears. Apparently, since the fuse blew, I’d been driving without a 4th or 5th gear. All my freeway driving: 3rd gear. THAT’S what broke my transmission. THAT’s why my engine always felt super-hot under my legs even on cool days. THAT’s why it seemed loud and sluggish, even after putting in a new catalytic converter.
It was a goddamn fuse.
But at last my transmission was repaired (and while it was there I had an oil change, tune up, new U-Joints and new engine mounts: no more high revving, clunking or clinking!) Two weeks, and $5400 later, I was driving out of the yard!
I decided to stick around through the weekend to drive the hell out of it to make sure nothing broke again. I wanted to stay close to the shop that did the work and knew the history- rather than head to Nevada and risk breaking down in the middle of the desert and having to start all over again.
I went back on Monday for one more test drive with them- everything was working great!
But I couldn’t leave just yet – I was still waiting on client invoices that were now 2 weeks past due… (nothing was going my way that month!)
It was another week before I could be set free of the Bay Area. Three weeks of stress, hustle and bustle, traffic, crowds, and sensory overload. It took me about a week of decompressing alone in the national forest to start feeling ‘normal’ again. It’s been two weeks since I left, the RV is running great and I’m finally feeling free again.
When you Live in an RV Repairs and Maintenance are Critical!
THE MORAL OF THIS RV LIVING STORY: DO sweat the small stuff! If I had had the fuse checked out right away, maybe I could have prevented all of this! Sure, it may have cost a few hundred dollars to tear apart the dash and find the problem, but that would have been nothing compared to the THOUSANDS and WEEKS I spent getting a new transmission.
When we live in a mobile home, we can’t take anything for granted. I learned that I have to take better care of Tilly and not ignore the little things. This isn’t just a car- this is my home!
I’ve always been a go-with-the-flow kind of woman. I don’t sweat the small stuff. In fact, some of my best and most memorable experiences have come when my best laid plans went haywire.
I’m not quite sure where that free-spirited woman went when I had RV troubles AGAIN recently, but somewhere around day seven of being stuck in a mechanic’s garage in middle-of-nowhere California, my “go with the flow”, happy, carefree sunny disposition leaked right out of me, like the fluid from my busted transmission.
Here’s the story (Part I):
I left Oregon, where I’d enjoyed a relatively peaceful and pleasant summer, to go back to the San Francisco Bay Area to sell my car. It was the one possession I hadn’t sold. I held onto it as a safety net – a back-up plan – just in case my new life didn’t turn out. By the end of summer, I knew it was time to let it go.
It was a chore I wasn’t looking forward to. My plan was to sell it fast and get the heck out. I had no desire to spend more time than necessary in an expensive RV/Trailer park or stealth camping in the overpopulated, traffic congested, retail flooded Bay Area city.
It was another rainy day when I left Sisters, Oregon and a storm was threatening the Pacific Northwest. As I approached California, under dark and foreboding skies, I felt lucky; it seemed I’d missed the worst of the storm! “How lucky am I?” I thought!
My first stop was the Modoc National Forest off highway 97, northeast of Weed, California. It was about 3pm and I was ready to call it a day and search for a spot to camp. I reveled in the dichotomous landscape: high desert terrain and lava strewn fields on the western side of highway 97 and lush forest thick with Ponderosa Pines on the eastern side. I was in awe of nature’s contrast, and excitedly explored forest roads to find my little piece of it to call home for the night. I eventually found a wonderful spot to camp nestled among the conifers, but didn’t have a cell signal. I enjoy being unplugged occasionally; work can wait!
Late the next morning, I decided to set out in search of a new place to camp, with a cell signal – and I wanted a cappuccino! It was a cool and gloomy morning. Dark gray clouds and moisture hung heavy in the air; rain threatened but so far no more than a few drops had seeped from the heavy clouds. So, I headed to a café in Weed, scouting for a new place to camp along the way.
Little did I know I’d be driving into the eye of the storm! Holy cow! I’d driven in high winds before, in the central valley of California, but that was nothing compared to what I drove through on the way into Weed. The ten mile stretch of highway 97 outside of Weed is posted with bright orange wind socks and signs warning of gusty winds. With the storm blowing in, it was insane! Within a few miles, I was driving in heavy pelting rain and RV-rocking gusts. They blew me to the left, then to the right and then came up under me like Capone and I were going to be blown to Oz.
At times the invisible wall of wind raged at me like a locomotive, pushing so hard against my RV that even with the gas pedal all the way to the floor I was barely moving forward. I struggled to keep it on the road, cranking my steering wheel to the right and then to the left. Above me, things were whipping and snapping and cracking as the fury of wind swarmed my RV. I was afraid my air conditioner would get ripped off and leave a gaping hole in my roof. What the hell is flopping around up there? Should I keep going? Turn around? Pull over?
Pulling over didn’t make sense, I just wanted to get the hell out of it, not sit in it. I’ll admit I was freaked out. I was afraid the walls of my RV would go flying off and all my worldly possessions would scatter about the road and the desert. As I pressed on, I thought about how exposed and vulnerable I am in my RV-home. You just don’t worry about these things living in a sticks and bricks house (at least, not in California!).
I motored on, swinging, swaying and jerking all the way. Just get to town. I can do this. It will be ok. My hands gripped the wheel as if stuck with superglue. Just get to town. I thought if I could make it to town everything would be ok, that the storm would magically disappear amid stores and shops and cafes that smelled of espresso and scones. As if society, would magically make the bad weather more cordial and polite.
After a terrifying 30-minute roller coaster ride I finally made it to town. I parked on the main street near the café, got out and was instantly pelted with beating rain and wind so strong I was walking sideways. Ok, this is serious. But. Must. Get. Coffee.
With almond milk cappuccino in hand, I slant-walked back to my RV. The short walk drenched everything that my rain jacket didn’t cover. I climbed in, cranked the heat and sat in the driver’s seat, listening to the howling winds and rain beat up my poor old RV. The storm was getting worse, there was no way I was driving back to camp. I needed to find a place off the main street to park and ride it out.
Two blocks away I found a gravel parking lot, but it was posted with big bold signs, “Souvenir Shop Customers only. All others will be towed away!” So, I drove past it and down a side street. As I turned into a residential neighborhood, a gust of wind swirled around me knocking the rig sideways. CRASH!! CRACK! RIP! BOOM! What the —-??? Uh-oh, that was me!
The horrendous expensive sounding Crack came from the passenger side. I slowly inched into a curbside parking place and jumped out. As I rounded the front of my rig I immediately saw the source of all the commotion; my awning was partially unrolled, jutting out from the side of the RV. The vinyl awning hung there, suspended in mid-air, rain-soaked and flopping pathetically in the raging pacific Norwest storm of the year. The other end was completely unhinged and resting in the rushing water of the curbside gutter. Are you freaking kidding me?
Giant drops of rain barreled at me. The wind howled and slapped against me. No time to cry about it… better get to work!
As I stood in the rain, numb and dumb with frustration, staring at the mangled mess, I noticed the pull-down strap madly flapping in the wind. I had an idea! Yes! I grabbed the strap and hoisted the broken end of the heavy awning up toward the arm that had previously connected it to my RV. Yes, this will work! I wrapped the strap around the arm a few times and secured it with a knot. I stepped back to inspect my handy work; the awning hung across the side of my rig like a broken arm in a sling. That’ll work!
Feeling happy and proud that I’d (temporarily) solved my problem, I hopped back inside and drove back to the souvenir shop’s empty gravel parking lot. I dared the universe: Go ahead, tow me!
For two hours, my RV rocked and bounced in the gale-force winds. Powerful gusts pounded at the walls and rain banged on the roof, making it nearly impossible to concentrate on my work. Things cracked and whipped and snapped all around me: oh nooo what’s going to break next? I was completely stressed out and terrified that the flimsy walls of my mobile-home would disintegrate and blow away in the 50mph gusts.
Finally, after a couple hours, the winds decreased to maybe 25 or 30 mph and the rain, while still pouring, wasn’t coming down in sheets anymore. I was growing antsy; I couldn’t sit in the parking lot forever. I had to figure out what I was going to do with the crippled awning, I slipped into my rain coat and waterproof hiking boots and once again, ventured out into the storm for a closer look at the damage.
I hoisted myself up the slippery ladder and onto the roof to inspect the broken arm. Ever the optimist, I thought, “maybe I can reattach it!” Working quickly in the heavy rain and wind, it looked promising. All I had to do was hoist the awning onto the roof and drop it back into the slot at the top of the arm. Piece of cake!
I climbed back down, tied a rope (an extension cord. I couldn’t find my rope!) around the awning, flung the other end up on the roof, climbed back up and hoisted the heavy monstrosity onto the roof. But it wouldn’t go back in the slot, it was too bent. Ugh. Ok, now what?
Maybe I can secure it to the roof?!? I searched for something to tether it to that wouldn’t cause more damage. No luck.
I had no choice but to remove the whole awning by disassembling the side that was still connected. And of course, I hadn’t brought my tools with me; climb back down, gather my wrench and pliers from my pathetic tool set and climb back up the slippery wobbly ladder.
I was freezing cold and soaked to the bone. Gusts of wind swooped up and rocked the RV beneath me. With numb hands and the entire weight of the awning pressing against the in-tact arm, I wrenched at the nuts securing it to the roof. With a jolt and a pop and a snap the awning broke free, forcefully snapping back against my hand with an excruciatingly painful blow, and then crashing to the ground ten feet below. FUUUUCK! OW-OW, FUCKING OUCH!
I looked down at my hand expecting to see it dangling off my wrist. Or at the very least covered in blood. Surprisingly it was still intact, no blood and despite hurting like hell, everything seemed to move as it should- with great pain, but at least it moved. How am I going to climb down off the roof with a lame hand? Oh my god, could this day get any more fucked???
With my lame hand, I managed to get off the roof and inside my pain-in-the-ass home. I was drenched to the bone, my hand was throbbing, my awning – a deal breaker when I bought the RV – was toast. Overcome with frustration, worry and pain, I broke. As I pulled my two tiny ice cube trays from the freezer and rested my hand between them, the tears I’d been choking back broke free and streamed down my freezing, rain-soaked face.
Fear and worry overwhelmed me: What am I going to do? I’m stuck in this stupid storm. My hand is crushed. My awning is on the ground. The frame is dangling off the side of my RV. I can’t drive like this!
I gave myself some time to feel the pain; allowing the tears wash away the frustration. Then with my good hand, I wiped the tears and rain from my face, got out of my wet clothes and into warm dry ones and devised my plan. But I couldn’t do anything until I could use my hand again, so I sat for another hour icing it and listening to the storm carry on outside.
I ended up securing the flopping metal frame in place with plastic ties. Now what to do with the awning? I was tempted to leave it there, but in good consciousness, couldn’t just leave my garbage for someone else to deal with. So, when my hand was functioning again, I went back out in the rain and tried to shove my 20’ one-hundred-pound awning through my door – no go. It wouldn’t fit. Well, now I have no choice. I can’t take it with me. I dragged it into the trees and drove back to the safety of the forest, where I could try to put day’s troubles behind me.
Later, as I lay in bed looking at the cloudy sky through my back window with the emergency release handles, it hit me: I can get the awning through here!
The next morning, on my way to the Bay Area, I stopped at the gravel parking lot, hoisted the long, heavy awning to my back window and shoved it into my rig. It wasn’t easy; it was heavy! Once inside, it stretched from the back window, across my bed, through my kitchen and dining area, all the way to the driver’s seat. Oh, this is going to be fun. How the heck am I going to l live with this? I had to move it to one side to get in the fridge, to the other to get in the bathroom. I had to step over it to get to my kitchen and then again to get my seating area. I told myself all I had to do was make it to my home base in the Bay Area where there’s a Camping World. I’ll get it fixed tomorrow. I’ll just have to live with it for one night…
Or so I thought…My adventure wasn’t quite over yet. I didn’t make it to my destination in Vacaville, to my car or to Camping World.
Four hours after hoisting the broken piece of my RV inside, I was just sixty miles outside of Vacaville, cruising along I-5, excited about getting close to my home base and trying to decide where I’d spend the night when I looked out my rear window and saw nothing but white. Great, now what? Through my driver side mirror, I saw heavy white smoke billowing from underneath my rig. Oh my freaking god, are you kidding me right now???
I pulled over, jumped out, ran to the passenger side and squatted down too see my biggest fear realized; red fluid was spewing out into a huge puddle beneath my engine. I stood motionless, looking toward the sky, paralyzed with disbelief. Dear universe, why do you hate me?