Sunday, August 5, 2012

Road Trip Part 1 - "F*** Me It's Huge!"

May 2012

Today was the big day I had anticipated for a while. RV pick up day (well, more like afternoon after the rather long journey over the SF bay on the metro to the pickup point!). Our first thought upon arriving at the Cruise America depot was “wow, there are a lot of RV’s.  As we entered the depot there was literally row upon row upon row of RV’s ranging in size and all parked bumper to bumper pretty much whilst mechanics and sales people ran around them looking productive and members of the public looking gormless going “yeah, I like this one. I can drive it easy”.  The second thought was “oh fuck that’s a big thing…”. The RV we were getting was huge. Like 30ft by 12ft by 6ft huge. Quite a jump from the tiny Honda Jazz I run around in the UK!

The RV. If you didn't realise..
Settling in.
The usual admin malarkey had to be performed, including watching an incredibly long and boring video on how to put a sewage pipe on (as the girls found out later, its not as easy as it looks…) and the staff not knowing what Wahid’s Tunisian drivers license was. We were also required to check the RV over for scratches, bumps etc which lead us to try and look like we knew what we were doing, whilst at the same time failing. Epically… Eventually however we were handed the keys and wished a good trip. Meaning we actually had to get in the RV and drive away. Preferably without hitting anything on the way out at least. Gulp…

Wahid drove first. Simply because he was French and therefore was conditioned to driving on the right side of the road. Obviously… The first destination was Target to pick up the rest of our traveling group, who were supposed to be shopping for essentials to pack the RV out with. However upon arriving at Target it was decided that Walmart was cheaper. And so entire shopping trolleys of stuff were ‘relocated’ to certain aisles and left. Running away giggling furiously in the process! Ah well, never gonna be back there again! Once arriving at the new location of Walmart, an AGES spent going around loading things into trolley that we hoped we would need, and then loading onto the RV it was my turn to drive. *one massive gulp*. To say I was nervous would be a understatement for sure! My first thought was “fuck me this is a long vehicle” and the second being “how do I actually get this thing to go forward?”. Being an American vehicle it was automatic with an indicator style gear change stick (like in the movies, instead of a traditional British one located where a manual gear stick would be). That definitely took some getting used to! Starting off from the Walmart car park wasn’t too bad, apart from the tight corners and me going “fuck fuck fuck!” every 30 seconds. I was quite surprised at how easily the RV fitted in the lanes on the road. Yes it was much wider than anything I had ever driven but my main worry (well one of them) of being too wide for the lanes didn’t seem to be too much of an issue. Thank God. The RV was an old one and this could be felt through the handling of the old girl. It was much slower to respond to everything and the steering wheel a lot looser than what I was used to. And obviously this is on top of the thing taking longer to respond anyways simply because of the size of the damn thing! And the wind got to it which was a nightmare at times too!
First time driving. It's concentration on the face, not terror...!

Despite all these issues I was surprised at how quickly I got used to the size of the damn thing. And I enjoyed the challenge of getting to know how to drive what was in essence a small truck! My drive that day was a pretty long one – from Newark (just outside SF) going south to Watsonville (yeah never heard of it either…). The route was a mixture of freeways, interstates and highways, with a  few neighbourhood roads thrown in when we got lost! We also went down an amazing mountain highway with awesome curves and hills and stunning scenery. Well it would have been awesome in a car, and I was told the scenery was cool but I was driving the RV and swearing constantly, trying not to close my eyes in terror! Despite driving for a fair few hours, we didn’t make much distance (which we weren’t planning on doing anyways considering it being the first day. And the fact that we kept having to pull over to try and work out what button did what thing on the dashboard. I kid you not – it took me nearly 10 minutes to work out how to turn the lights on. More worrying-ly every time I hit the brakes or turned a corner, water came flying out of the back of the RV. We eventually worked out it was from the cap of the bit where you fill the RV with water which didn’t have a seal on it, and with nothing we could do about it we had to leave it alone and hope sprays of water didn’t piss off other drivers!

We eventually found an RV park to stay in, well after dark and only after the owner took pity on us poor foreigners and let us enter the park after hours. It was about 9.30pm by the time we got to the park (we got lost – a habit repeated incredibly often despite the use of a satnav!) and the next challenge presented itself – backing into the spot. Now one to shy away from a challenge, and having the realisation that the RV park was the best place just to get on with it (I mean, whats the worse that can happen?!) I went for it. And with a fair bit of confused shouting, the help of a seasoned RV-er and park owner and a lot of swearing on my behalf I managed to back the RV in safely. Followed by a hige sigh of relief that the $1000 excess wasn’t on my head any more. Once all the hook-ups (water, power and sewage – the latter being the prized job that everyone fought to do every night) had been connected, we assumed all was well and we could get some food on and chill out for the evening. Oh no. The RV was had other ideas and after some polite conversation with the site owner and seasoned RV-er was folded ourselves back into the RV to be confronted with water all over the floor. Fuck. Calling back the seasoned RV-er it was discovered that the plugs had been left closed and taps on in the bathroom, causing an overflow of water. Great start to the evening only made better by the seasoned RV-er then proceeding to poke around the RV and rattle off a list of about 15 things that was wrong with it. Typical…

There being not much we could do that evening, as well as it being dark and cold by that point, we simply opened some hard earned beers, get food one (which with Wahid being an amazing cook was pretty damn ace) and get our heads down. A feat much easier said than done with 8 of us in the RV! This task in itself took over an hour with different sleeping arrangements tested out and moved around in an effort to try and fit everyone in. Eventually it was figured out - to some extent – and the sounds of sleep filled the RV for the first time of the trip.

The next morning we woke up next to some beautiful surroundings. The RV park was set right next to the a lake, with mountains in the distance and morning mist still clinging to the water. This was exactly what the RV trip was about! The morning was a lazy one – with no showers in the park, it meant 8 people had to take turns to use the tiny RV shower. A time intensive activity for sure! Being worried with a few things with the RV I got another RV-er to have a look, and then rang Cruise America to ask some questions. Being told everything was fine and not to worry, we didn’t. How wrong that turned out to be…

Looking out over the lake

The destination for the day was to be The Big Sur along Route 1 of the California coast. Barney took the wheel to begin with, needing to get over his (I quote) “fear” of the size of the RV.  On route we took a little detour to a beach at Carmile (never heard of it) and some of the lads were silly enough to want to go swimming in the Pacific. Absolute crazies! Although they did come pretty much straight out again after feeling the temperature of the water! It was then onto the Big Sur with me behind the wheel again for a little while. Route 1 is a fantastic drive, twisting and turning along the coast, with some absolutely stunning scenery around.  I really enjoyed the drive, despite the size and poor handling of the RV and it was a great place to get a feel for the RV and get used to it more. The only thing I didn’t like where the mental American drivers who when stuck behind us (it was a single lane highway) would try and overtake in the most ridiculous places, really freaking me out. Bloody yanks...

Beach antics

Driving into the Big Sur and failing to find either an RV park or campsite with spaces or showering facilities, the decision was taken to save some money and stop on the side of the road next to the sea. The evening was again one of many firsts and discoveries, such as not knowing how long the battery could support the lights, how much water the RV could hold etc etc. We worked out that the RV didn’t have enough gas to run the generator, and so Jon and myself had to shoot off (well, as near to shooting off as possible in the size of the damn thing!) to the nearest gas station (luckily we had passed it previously and knew where it was) to top up the tank. At $6.66 a gallon. Yeah you read right (for any non-US readers, the average price in the US was around $3.20 a gallon and in Cali it was nearer to $4.20 in comparison). An absolutely outrageous price, but not one we could do much about considering our perceived situation. Luckily the others we had left behind had got the BBQ going, and so when we returned dinner was cooking (ish) and we froze in the unexpected cold of the coast clutching beers and laughing at Barney worrying about cliff collapse. Poor bugger...

(map taken from Google Maps)
(photo credits to Amy, Eshe & Kimberley)

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