Our New Adventure, Part I: Damn You, GPS!
Our new adventure began, more or less, one Friday morning in early March while I browsed various Craigslist ads for a used Class A RV. I was trying to keep an open mind about what might work for us. After all, our dream had hatched with visions of us toting about an iconic silver travel trailer, inspired by so many folks and families we follow on Instagram. We had thought long and hard about buying an Airstream, spending hour upon hour playing house in various models at Vogt RV in Fort Worth (patient folks, bless their hearts) while we tried to imagine what life in one might be like. The Airstream tugged at every single heartstring we had, but we found ourselves asking the same questions over and over. Do you think George could lay down here? I wonder if George could turn around? Where do you think George will sleep?
You see, George is our Irish Wolfhound. You might think getting a big dog (or miniature horse, depending on your perspective) into an Airstream really isn’t a big deal, and I know there are some folks that manage to squeeze one or two of the giant mutts into their trailers, but I just couldn’t imagine it. He likes to shadow my every move, is ridiculously awkward, terrible at reverse, and tends to stretch out on the floor like a broken AT-AT. For us, it just felt like too much to squeeze one giant dog, one tiny dog (our Chihuahua, Dakota), one tiny human, and two adults into our dream trailer. Particularly when we can see our family growing to include one more tiny human (maybe…possibly…who really knows?) within a couple of years.
So, there I was, begrudgingly surfing Criagslist for RVs, and not Airstreams, when I stumbled upon a pristine 2013 Itasca Meridian 42E owned by a couple who lived near West Palm Beach, Florida. I knew that Itasca was actually made by Winnebago, a manufacturer with a decent reputation in the RV industry and even a bit of history with it’s own iconic designs. The coach had less than forty-five hundred miles and, from the photos, looked cherry inside and out. I exchanged a handful of emails with the owners, talked briefly with them on the phone, and made airfare that evening to go out and see it in person. When St. Patrick’s Day arrived, I boarded Southwest flight 858 to West Palm Beach by way of Atlanta. The owners were nice enough to scoop me up from the airport. We spent a couple of hours together going over the coach from top to bottom, and after a trip to the bank I was kicking back in our new home later that afternoon.
The owners very generously booked two nights at the John Prince Park campground in Lake Worth, wanting to give me enough time to get acquainted with the coach before hitting the open road back to Texas. The park itself was quite nice, if a bit crowded and packed with Snowbirds. Though I wanted more time to walk the park and explore — I had even seen an alligator earlier that day in the lake by the park’s entrance — I was too excited about our new coach to leave it. Instead, I spent the evening reading manuals while stretched out on the comfy couch and watched the occasional shirtless French Canadian strut by, their freshly bronzed pot bellies proudly on display.
I slept beautifully on the sumptuous, king sized programmable air bed, but managed to work myself into a ball of nerves for the big departure when it was time to leave the next morning. You see, I’d never driven an RV before, much less a forty-two foot motor coach. The plan was to meet a friend of mine who was flying from Texas that morning at a nearby Walmart where we would stock up on a few essentials and hit the road. Dave and I have shared a couple of epic motorcycle trips in the past, but this would be our first trip together in the same vehicle. He’s a firefighter with lots of experience driving big shiny red trucks and I was more than thrilled to have him tag along should I land myself in a pickle. An hour before departure, I studied the park map and walked the route I would take to exit the campground. I had decided to leave everything after that in the hands of my snazzy new GPS, the Garmin RV 760LMT. It was advertised as an essential item for any RVer; simply set it up with the size and weight of your coach and it would custom tailor a route suited to your vehicle’s dimensions. I had already plugged in the specifications of the Meridian into the GPS before leaving Texas (be prepared!) and I was confident it would take me on the safest, roomiest route to Walmart. I programmed my destination and spent the rest of the hour seated in the driver’s seat of the coach drumming up the courage to actually put the damn thing in drive.
Exiting the park was much, much easier than I had imagined. Swing wide. Watch mirrors. Swing wide. Watch mirrors. That was my new mantra. My fear was that Snowbirds would spring forth from their nests by the flock to watch me fail miserably in the first twenty-five yards of my thirteen hundred mile journey. The first turn was a three-pointer, but I cleared both trees with ease and ruffled nary a feather. Happy dance. I was born to for this crap.
I came to the park exit and made a wide right onto Congress, headed north. I had looked at the route to Walmart on Google Maps the night before while trying to find an easily accessible place for Dave and I to meet, and I remembered it as a straight shot up Congress, or thereabouts. It seemed, however, that my GPS remembered it differently. The GPS had a reassuring, trustworthy female voice, and my mind had been so full of excitement, that I figured I must have remembered it wrong, so I blindly gave into her suggestion to make my next left. After all, she was my Navigator. So far, so good. I’m clipping along the busy three-lane road, comfortably nestled in the soft ultraleather of my oversized captain’s chair, feeling a bit like Jean-Luc Picard. My Navigator indicated that my next turn was approaching on the right. I ordered the thrusters set to reduced throttle and prepared for the next waypoint.
The waypoint arrived, the turn was made (beautifully, I might add), but something seemed…off. “Navigator, why have you chosen to take me down a residential street?” I asked, but she simply reassured me that I was still on route and that my next turn would occur in one-point-three miles. I can do this, I thought to myself, and brought the thrusters up to approximately ten percent. Despite my sweaty palms, I managed to dodge the parked cars and playing children, often with only tenths of inches to spare, fairly certain I was the only living person who wouldn’t have had a heart attack in that situation. I reassured myself that my Navigator may have chosen this route because of some obstacle I had not noticed on Google Maps, such as a low overpass that my craft’s nearly thirteen feet of height could not clear. Then I saw the sign just adjacent to the next four-way stop: no vehicles over eight tons. Poop.
Thanks to the previous evening’s study session, I knew the coach’s gross vehicle weight rating was over forty-four thousand pounds, or twenty-two tons. Even though the coach was basically empty, I had a hunch that I was pretty well over the eight ton weight limit. I gave my Navigator some nasty side-eye and cursed her fouled directions. “Is this a test?!” I yelled. She simply indicated I was to continue forward. We’re not even five miles from the campground and she’s already lost all credibility. “Damn you, GPS!”
At this point, my palms weren’t the only thing sweating. If I couldn’t manage the stress, I knew I’d have a nasty case of swamp-butt within minutes. I had to get a grip. I pulled up to the stop and furtively glanced at my three rather dismal options. I randomly chose to turn left if only because, in my ten minutes of experience, I’d developed a slight preference for left turns.
Within moments, I knew that I had made a good decision. I could see cars whizzing by ahead, perpendicular to the road I was on, at speeds that could only indicate another major roadway lay ahead. In the meantime, I managed to pull up my destination on my iPhone. If the road up ahead was Military Trail, and it had to be, I’d be just two right turns and a left from my destination. I eased back into my captain’s chair and let my heart rate begin to drop. I can do this. “Make your next right onto Kirk in point one miles,” said my incompetent Navigator. No thanks, I got this.
Within minutes, I had the pearly gates of my glorious destination in my sights. Well, they weren’t so much pearly as palm-treed, but it was still something to rejoice. I expertly managed my last turn and guided the craft onto the sweeping drive that lead to Walmart. In general, I’m not a fan of Walmart, but I was feeling pretty thankful to be visiting this one, just north of Palm Beach International. I took another left that lead to an empty portion of the parking lot, managed to whack a few unavoidable tree limbs, and precisely slotted the beast across six or eight parking spots. My Navigator smugly indicated I had arrived at my destination. I pushed the button marked “N” on the transmission panel, pulled the air-brake parking knob, and killed the engine.
I promptly yanked the GPS from it’s suction-cup mount and powered it off, already wondering if I still had the box at home so that I could ship the infernal device back to wherever I bought it from. I pushed up out of my captain’s chair and walked back to the sofa when I felt a thought delicately tugging at the edge of my mind. It brought with it that nagging, uncomfortable suspicion one gets when part of you realizes you might have made a mistake. No, I thought, certainly not my fault.
I sat down on the couch,powered the GPS back on, and opened up the settings panel, navigating the menus until I found the option for toggling the GPS mode. There it was, the setting that nearly killed me. Well, maybe taking a twenty-two ton vehicle down an eight-ton road wouldn’t have killed me, but it might have proved itself more than uneventful. Death might have happened later had I not discovered the problem when I had. That’s right folks (and Jenn, if you’re reading this), I made a mistake. In my effort to be as prepared as possible for my trip home in our new home, I had taken the GPS out for a test run back in Texas. In a car. So, I had cleverly set the GPS to “car mode” which ignores all RV-specific route avoidances. I had also, quite uncleverly, forgotten to set it to “RV mode” before the start of this new adventure. I toggled the setting, apologized to my new Navigator for the way I had treated her, and laughed at my own ignorance, fairly certain that this first day of the trip home would simply prove to be just the first of many adventures!