I grew up in a family with an RV. Back in the day, we called it a motorhome and there are more stories of our motorhome trips than I can begin to recall. The main ones entail my mother and I in the front next to my dad saying “Are we ok?” “Are we going to slide off the mountain?” “Dad, why did it sound like our motorhome just gave birth to a 100 lb steel structure?” (on the LA freeway no doubt). And the best: “Uh, I think we are too tall to go under that overpass…” In Boston. In 5 o’clock traffic…So fast forward 35 years and my husband and I are on an RV trip to Big Bend in west Texas with our three teenagers. We took this trip two years ago at Christmastime and several of my friends told me they knew some crazy stuff was going to happen, so I better document it…I think they just wanted to rub it in because their Christmas trips were to Italy, Cabo and New York. Whatever.
Day 1: We departed the RV place in Katy at 11 am after packing up everything we own from our house and transferring it all to a 35 ft RV. As we rolled down the road scaring people out of our way, Wayne realized he had left the key that opens the storage bins under the RV back in Katy. You don’t just take a quick U-turn in a behemoth like we are in. After hopping a few curbs, which results in everything wildly shaking side to side inside the RV, I quickly popped two Dramamine and some Advil. The whiskey hadn’t been opened yet. We cruised down the road for 9 hours without any real issues (other than dropping $250 on gas).
We pulled into Balmoreah State Park in absolute darkness at 9 pm. It appears God chooses not to shine the moon over here. We hooked up to electricity, etc. and proceeded to put a fight out between the girls sleeping on the pull out sofa.
That’s when we heard it…
The sound of a military cargo jet landing in the middle of the RV. Yes, that would be the blower fan for the heater. That doesn’t stop making that noise. All. Night. Our two options were: go deaf or freeze to death. I gave each option a try individually and decided that deafness was far greater than death. I am 100 percent serious when I say I woke up singing the theme song to the new Disney movie Frozen. No joke.
Every time Jack rolled over in his bed (which was quite often), the RV would shake side to side which caused me to wake Wayne up in the middle of the night telling him someone was on top of the RV. For a split second I thought that some west Texas teenagers had gone RV tipping for fun. I am scared to step outside and see our fellow RV’ers here…they have probably been waiting since daybreak to see what idiots live in the cargo jet.
Of course, I slept very little, but everyone else slept fine. We will be heading to Alpine, Tx later to find a space heater. But first we will be going to Balmoreah Springs this morning to die. I mean swim. Prayerfully, our wet suits will keep us warmer than our RV did last night.
Day 2: Thankfully, today was a catastrophe-free day. However, I have yet to master the art of cooking on the stovetop while Wayne winds the RV through the west Texas mountains. Boiling water on one stove top and cooking grilled cheese on the other was challenging especially when he yelled “big left curve in 20 seconds!”…And for the record, it wasn’t 20 seconds. More like five.
The day started out by pouring my overindulged body into a wetsuit. As I waddled to the Balmoreah spring, the kids yelled “Mom, it’s warm!” Warm for an Eskimo. There were two guys from Alaska in the water, and of course, they thought they were in a hot tub. We swam with thousands of minnows in beautiful water. After frolicking long enough in the water with our snorkel gear, everyone jumped off the high dive. I was in mid jump when I realized Wayne was recording it all on his iPhone. A 46 year old woman in a WETSUIT doesn’t need to be recorded jumping off a high dive.
I made the mistake of getting out of the water thinking our fun was over. Since I stood around shivering with nobody coming out, I proceeded to go back in the water to “warm up”. This time I chose to enter by slipping on the algae covered steps and landing flat on my butt. I looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo where his feet are running in place 100 times. This time with 6 other non family members watching. Wayne proceeds to tell me good advice too late: “Honey, be careful!” The only other injury was when Elizabeth asked Wayne to toss her her snorkel gear and he hummed it at her like he was throwing it in from the outfield. Let’s just say her forehead caught it.
We purchased 3 space heaters in Alpine and drove 3+ hours to Lajitas (which is where the phrase “out in the middle of nowhere” was coined), where we are parked for three days at the Maverick RV Ranch. We all experienced something I guarantee none of you ever have: a shower in the clubhouse of an RV park. I have obviously adjusted my expectations because I have to admit it was a fabulous shower. (Oh, in case you are wondering why we didn’t shower in the RV, it’s because you can only turn the hot water on for 10 seconds at a time.) And I didn’t care that I was schlepping a toiletry bag and sporting wet hair as I waved at our neighbors for the next three days as I trudged back to our spot. We might come home complete rednecks.
We drove our bright yellow jeep to Big Bend for a 5 mile hike. Not a good idea to break your brand new hiking shoes in on a hike like that. Kept my pace at one fall a day…beautiful views but not beautiful enough to agree to Wayne’s idea of an additional 5 mile hike. We proceeded to take a scenic drive (code: car sickness) where Wayne thought it would be fun if he took pictures and drove at the same time. We wound up at the Santa Elena Canyon where we could look across the Rio Grande and see Mexico 20 feet away. Muy bonita.
We took a shortcut for off road vehicles (I think the root word for Wayne is “shortcut”) for 14 miles which trimmed an hour off our trip and cut five years off my life. Got a text message from AT&T saying “welcome back to the United States”. Can’t wait to get that bill.
We took a two hour horseback ride through the mountains after hiking Big Bend State Park (not National). Our horse guide was a guy named Willie from Terlingua. He was a 22 year old college drop out (lasted half of a semester). He asked if any of us had ridden horses before, and I guess he thought we said we were all pros.
He proceeded to take us up 1,100 feet in elevation on our horses….through numerous switchbacks on rocky trails. We ended up on the top of a mesa where Willie parked us (for a break to stretch our legs) at the edge of a 800 ft sheer vertical drop off. Did I mention he was a college drop out? He could have cared less that Wayne was at the edge throwing a rock over to count how many seconds it took to hear it hit the bottom. Let’s just say I cared.
Another day in the books. Another night under the pitch black sky of West Texas. So pitch black that I almost walked into the wrong RV after doing laundry.
Well, I am wrapping our trip journal up. It’s been a great trip and I highly recommend making a trip to Big Bend if you have never been there. God really shows off there. And go in an RV if you want some crazy stories that will turn into folktales to tell your grandchildren. It really was a lot of fun (lots of work!) and we definitely had some family bonding time. Literally. If anyone wanted time to themselves, they were only able to turn around or go to the bathroom. That was about as much privacy as one could get in a 35 ft RV.
We left Lajitas (Big Bend) and went to the Davis Mountains. Hooked up at the state park and did some hiking. We went to the famous University of Texas McDonald Observatory’s “star party” that evening. This time we didn’t have our bright yellow jeep to scoot around in. We had to unhook and take the behemoth through the mountains to get to the McDonald Observatory.
Boy, I missed our jeep. Enjoyed looking through telescopes bigger than our house at stars thousands of light years away (whatever that means). The folks at the observatory were quite serious about nobody using lights (flashlights or car headlights) to interrupt people’s night vision. So my one nanosecond use of a flashlight to look for my family (whom I had lost because I couldn’t see in the dark!) didn’t go over so well.
Wayne proceeded to joke around with the lady at the registration desk, who had the sense of humor of a door. He asked her for directions to get out of the bus parking lot (which is was the qualification of our RV)…she said something like “it doesn’t matter which way you turn. All roads lead to the highway.” Apparently not. We took a right and started up a steep climb. Keep in mind that Ft. Davis’s altitude is higher than mile-high Denver, so these inclines are steep.
After my ears stopped popping from the increase in altitude, we quickly realized that we were going the wrong way. Hmm. Have to turn around somehow. We wound up at a dead end which happened to be the private residence of the lead astronomer for the observatory. Of course it was. Wayne got out to navigate the turn around and told me to get in the driver seat. I had to do a 9 pt turn while taking animated hand signals from him in the rear view camera. All I could see was Wayne wildly waving his arms in the air with a guardrail behind him through the RV’s rear view camera. Behind the guardrail was a cliff. Why do we always have to get so close to drop offs???
I just prayed the brakes would work. Apparently, the kids (most of them at least) sensed the impending danger…but their reactions varied. Jack: “Mom, you got this. You got this. It’s all good.” Elizabeth: “Are you nervous? Are you nervous? Are you nervous?” To which I replied: “I’M ABOUT TO BE IF YOU DON’T STOP ASKING ME THAT!” Caroline didn’t pick her head up from her book once. We finally made the turn and descended the mountain with our headlights directly shining on the observatory. Hopefully centered on the registration desk.
We headed out of the Davis Mountains yesterday to make our long trek home. Took a quick hike before we left, where I heard Jack say something you don’t want to hear on a hike: “Look. A javelina and her babies.” Literally 15 feet in front of him. Made it down the perpetually rocky hike with Elizabeth having foot pain and Caroline having altitude sickness. Our hiking for the trip was done. Done.
We spent New Year’s Eve in an RV park in Junction, Texas (our halfway point home) literally 20 feet from the interstate, hovering over an iPhone watching college football. Another signal that our trip was almost over: the potty stopped up. Ma and Pa Dahmer were camped next to us in what appeared to be a 10×10 structure made of lincoln logs. A hatchet was prominently thrust into a log outside their cabin.
As I trudged to the office bathroom this morning in Caroline’s boots, a pajama top covered with a jacket and yoga pants, I heard a rooster crow.
That’s when I knew it was time to come home.