Sunday, June 20, 2010

RV Driving and Living – First Impressions & Tips

You wouldn't believe how much experience can be gained in a mere week or so in an RV. It's nothing like any vacation or trip I've ever been on and obviously takes some getting used to.

Below are my first impressions and tips, in no particular order. Trying to prioritize is more effort than it's worth at this point. More will follow as I become more experienced and,  hopefully, wiser.

At the moment of writing, I am sitting in spot # 21 
of Forks Campground at Bass Lake, California, 
not far from the southern entrance (or exit, as the case may be)
to Yosemite National Park, and my main concern as I sit in a rented folding chair under the tall pine trees is my sincere, ardent hope not to see a black bear emerging from the woods. My husband's sincere, ardent hope is the exact opposite, I'm afraid.

By the time I upload these pebbles of wisdom I will probably be comfortably seated at a real live computer with real live Internet connection at friends in Sparks, near Reno, NV. Here I'm as WiFi-less as a lost geek in the woods.

But enough prattle. I promised you a list of tips and impressions:

1. Make sure your legs are long enough. A typical RV driver's cabin is not designed with petite, short-legged ladies in mind. During my first day of driving, I wore my chunkiest, thick-soled Timberland shoes, sat as far forward as I could and still my thighs were too short for the depth of the seat and my toes just about reached the gas pedal. Which meant I had to strain my right thigh and buttock muscles in order to get the van going. Once we got to Las Vegas, where we stayed with dear friends Sandy & Sheila Epstein, Sheila gave me a cushion she could dispense with. Placing that behind my back gave me the few extra inches required to drive more comfortably.

My short legs and the slipperiness of the step from the cabin to Earth also meant that the easiest way for me to get down was to hang on to the safety belt with both hands and rappel down until my feet touched solid ground.

2. Watch out for those side mirrors. They stick out about an arm's length from the body of the vehicle on either side. It's very easy to scrape them against anything on the right-hand side of the vehicle. If you're lucky, it's only soft, flexible branches of overhanging bushes or trees. If you're less lucky it could be a rock wall, another car, a lamppost or sign post, or a host of other obstacles.

Also, each side has two mirrors: a large one, and a smaller, convex one underneath it. When you're in the passenger seat, you watch the lower mirror to see traffic behind you as well as how close you are to the white line, while the upper one is useless. When you're in the driver's seat, remember to watch the upper mirror for a true picture of the traffic behind you. Both mirrors will show you how close you are to the dividing line. If you stay close to the dividing line, chances are you'll be a safe -- though often tiny -- distance from the right-hand line, beyond which may be an abyss, a steep cliff, or just very rough terrain.

3. Watch your head! During the first week you are guaranteed a few bumps and bruises. You may remember to duck when moving from the living space to the cabin, but you might very well straighten up too soon, too abruptly. So you'll either bang the front or the back of your head.

4. Cabinet attack! Similar to the above. There are so many cabinets, that you will inevitably bump into them and accumulate a few bruises. A cabinet door or drawer may also swing open suddenly, if it wasn't properly secured and the RV is not on level ground. This is all part of an RV novice's life.

5. Rattle, rattle, bang, crash. As you drive, your ears will tell you that the RV is falling apart behind you. Not so. It's probably just the pots, pans, cups, plates, cutlery, and dish detergent that are swaying hither and thither. Also the tube of toothpaste that you left, out of habit, next to the "bathroom" sink; the bottle of shampoo that came crashing down from the tiny shelf in the shower; and possibly the alarm clock you left on the dinette table. You get the idea. Lesson: Secure everything before setting out. Like on a boat, said my cousin Ellen, whose parents had a house-boat. But most of us did not grow up on boats, so this is a new lesson: Don't leave anything kicking around or resting freely on a surface. Yes, it's a bit of a nuisance to put everything away each time anew before starting to drive. But it's better than all that clanking and clanging. The RV will continue to make some clanging noises anyway, depending, I guess, on the age and quality of the vehicle. So you don't need to add to it.

6. If you suffer from motion/car/sea sickness, an RV is not for you. While it may be ideal for rocking a cranky baby to sleep, it tends to make a normal adult dizzy. When stationary, the vehicle sways and rocks gently with every move and step. If you're lying in bed and your mate takes a few steps in the "room", you feel like someone rocked your waterbed. When you're in the shower or toilet, you feel like you're in an airplane toilet in turbulent weather at 36,000 ft.

7. Assign cabinet space logically yet creatively, and be consistent about putting things back where they belong. Sounds like Mommy telling off her teenage kids? Well, if Mommy did her job properly when you were young, it will serve you in good stead. There are so many cabinets and drawers, but some are more easily accessible and sensible than others. I have placed my brand-new purple yoga mat in the cabinet right over my pillow. So before getting out of bed I reach up and pull it down, so I can drag it onto the floor for my sun salutations. I've put the spare bed linen and towels in the other cabinet over the bed, because that made sense to me. If your inner logic says these items belong in the cabinet over the "front door" – so be it; so long as it makes sense to you and you won't go looking for a fresh towel under the sink.

You know how cabin crew on board a plane always tell you to open the overhead bins carefully, because items may have shifted and might fall on your head? Well, same here. You may think you put that bottle of ketchup or tin of sardines on the right hand side of the cabinet over the kitchen sink, but…

Our washbasin has a neat-looking medicine cabinet cum mirror above it, just like in a real home. Only the bottles and tubes I placed there refuse to stay upright, and come tumbling down every time I open the cabinet door. Manufacturers – take note: I think you should have placed a thin rail or mesh thingy across the shelves, to help keep items in place.

Another obvious-sounding tip: To the extent possible, put heavy things in lower storage compartments and light, soft things in the upper compartments. You'd rather have your sweatshirt falling on your head than your hiking boots.


You'll notice that I haven't really said anything about driving the 25-footer, except the bit about the side mirrors. I have done a few hours of driving so far, including two u-turns I'm very proud of. But I haven't done any tricky driving – just plain, straightforward, 55 mph driving. Some uphill with the engine groaning, some downhill with foot on brakes, but nothing fancy. Except  for contending with strong side winds. Throughout our trip so far, most days have been very windy. In Williams, Arizona, walking to the center of town, I thought I'd be blown away, literally.  Driving in open terrain with forceful winds buffeting the long rectangle that is the RV, you feel it very vividly as you hang on to the steering wheel and carefully correct your heading, trying to keep the vehicle from veering into the other lane.

The interior of the RV. Remember -- you can't leave anything on any surface while driving. Gotta put it all away

Bass Lake:

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