Full time travel is most definitely not always a bed of roses, and our trip from Cape Blanco down to Klamath, California was a vivid illustration of many of the things that can make living on the road annoying. And of course they all happened on the same day. So for those interested in disaster voyeurism, or those who have been hate-reading all my blog posts with intense jealousy of our “perfect” lifestyle, sit back and enjoy this tale of woe.
At the outset I should make clear that despite the breathtaking scenery that we and other travelers regularly encounter, no traveler is immune from the challenges of daily life. We still get depressed when reading the news about the latest mass shooting. We are still susceptible to colds, food poisoning, and other normal health challenges. There might be a special misery involved in getting a gastrointestinal illness when living in a space with a microscopic bathroom, but the difference is marginal. However, there are several challenges that are unique to our current traveling lifestyle.
In general, the top challenge is just the physics of driving your house all over the place. We have a relatively small rig when compared to many other full time RVers, but with the truck and trailer we are still 12,000 pounds of combined weight barreling down the road in a 46-foot long package. All that weight makes uphill and downhill sections much trickier when towing. Our relatively longer stopping distances require the driver to constantly be alert for numbskulls pulling out onto the road right in front of us and similar hazards. Our drive down US 101 along the southwestern Oregon coast was extraordinarily scenic for the passenger, which happened to be me, but Ken was forced to stay resolutely focused on the winding roadway that has just a short guardrail keeping the southbound traffic from plunging down cliffs into the Pacific below.
In short, driving the rig is mentally exhausting, and the navigator is also on high alert during the drive, so we typically limit our travel distances to around 200 miles. When we need to cover more miles, like when we towed our newly-purchased trailer from New Jersey to Florida, we will rotate drivers on a regular schedule to ensure we can stay alert and safe. The upshot is that even a travel day when nothing goes wrong is still a challenge. And plenty of things can go wrong. That’s what our story is about today.
The Case of the Exploding Flour
In years of flying on commercial flights, I have generally scoffed at the ubiquitous warning that items in the overhead bins may have shifted in flight. But as a person who has been clocked in the head by everything from pot lids to cookbooks falling from our overhead cabinets, I am here to tell you that items in overhead bins may shift during travel. Our entire house experiences extended earthquake conditions when it is towed at 50+ miles per hour, even if the roads are relatively smooth. Thanks to the laws of physics, our overhead bins experience disproportionate amounts of jostling while en route. Even though we have a clever arrangement of lipped cabinets, perfectly-sized bins, and latched doors, the rear cabinets over our dinette are particularly susceptible to changes in their contents, so every single time we move our house part of our set-up routine involves slooooowly opening these cabinets while jamming our hands behind the doors to catch any errant items before they fall out.
All of this is a long way of saying that it’s not unusual to have items fall out of cabinets while we are traveling. Thanks to a combination of minimalism (we don’t have a lot of valuable “stuff”) and the purchase of durable items (Corelle is the best!) we generally haven’t been too alarmed about any of these events. They are typically just a nuisance to be dealt with upon arrival by putting everything back in its assigned place. On our trip from Oregon to California, we experienced yet another of these events, but with a slightly more difficult clean up. One of our upper pantry cabinets worked its way open and the contents spilled out onto the floor. Most items remained intact, but a container of flour basically exploded, blanketing the entire kitchen area in a layer of organic whole wheat flour. Ugh! Just another annoying thing we had to deal with after a stressful day of driving in order for the house to be usable.
RV Park Drama
Every time we travel to a new area, we are encountering a new situation. In planning our travels and making reservations, we carefully study reviews and satellite maps of campgrounds to choose our campgrounds and even specific campsites with features that we prefer, like a good angle of entry for parking or the orientation of our panoramic windows towards the best views. Despite all this planning, we still run into unexpected situations.
For our visit to Klamath, we made reservations in a private RV park, which is somewhat unusual for us when visiting areas known for their scenic beauty. We are visiting the area to hike in the redwoods, and there are quite a few campgrounds located in state parks just steps from the best hiking trails. However, at this time of year the area is prone to cloudy/rainy weather. The campgrounds in the state parks are generally in heavily forested areas, where we would not be able to generate solar power, yet none of the California state campgrounds offer electric hookups. The state park camping price of $35/night seems a little outrageous considering that you get nothing more than a heavily shaded parking space, when private RV parks in the area offer full hookup sites for comparable prices.
So we made our reservation at a private park in Klamath, located smack in the middle of a long chain of redwoods parks and along a scenic river famed for salmon fishing. Since it is off season we were able to secure a direct riverfront site at a campground that had decent online reviews. We arrived at the campground around 2 pm on a Saturday, only to find that the office was strangely closed and apparently would not reopen until 9 a.m. Monday morning. Normally, when the office is closed the managers leave an envelope for “late-arriving” campers who have reservations, containing instructions on how to get to your site, campground rules, door codes for the bathhouse, etc., but we found no such thing. All we found was a site map taped to the door showing which sites were open, and generic instructions to take any available site. We saw that our reserved site was marked as “taken” so we proceeded to our site ….. only to discover that it was already occupied. We went back to the map on the office door to find an alternate, and slowly came to realize that the other sites we liked that were unoccupied were marked as “taken” or “in use,” while the suitable sites that were shown on the map as “open” were actually occupied, and by people with so much outdoor gear strewn around that it appeared they had been living in the spot a while. There was a total disconnect between the information on the RV park map and what we were seeing with our own eyes. So in an effort to deal with this situation we pulled into a random site that was both physically unoccupied and marked on the map as “available,” only to discover that the utilities were really strangely placed and some would not reach our rig, leading us to question whether we were even in a site at all. Overall, we were left feeling extremely confused about what was going on, and there was simply no one around to ask. We didn’t even see any other campers walking around the RV park. In the proud tradition of the clever nicknames used by House Hunters, we’ll call this place the Reality Distortion Field.
We were so freaked out by the Reality Distortion Field that we decided to leave the trailer hitched up and to proceed on foot to scout the immediate vicinity. There were two other RV parks on the same stretch of road as Reality Distortion Field, so off we went to investigate. We were happy to find signs of human life at the RV park just next door. A friendly camper named Leroy generously give us the lay of the land. Like much of the land in this area, the RV park is owned by the Yurok Tribe so it earns the nickname Tribal Lands. We learned from Leroy that the on-site park manager had just changed, the tribe was sending a new manager shortly, and the temporary on-site manager was away for the day visiting his sick mother. We also learned that Leroy is 6th generation Yoruk (I didn’t ask why the earlier generations were not tribal members) and received a not-so-brief lesson in the location of the tribe’s historic fishing grounds along the Klamath River. After some consideration, perhaps bowled over by the sheer volume of information from Leroy, we elected to tow the trailer out of the Reality Distortion Field and pull in next door at the Tribal Lands.
Getting into the new site proved surprisingly challenging. Once again, the layout of the sites was extremely puzzling, in part because the utility posts were placed really oddly. We ended up pulling into a pull-through site backwards so that we could hook up to the utilities. Leroy somehow got ahold of the former park manager, and encouraged us to settle in. He suggested that if the on-site management didn’t show up by Monday, we could just head over to the tribal offices down the road to pay for our camping. Thanks to Leroy, we received the password for the park wifi so we could evaluate our options, because of course situations like this happen in places without any cell phone service.
Once we got sort of settled, we started having more concerns about our situation. Did Tribal Lands even accept short-term campers? We generally prefer to stay in RV parks that cater to short-term transient visitors rather than permanent residents, and from looking around Tribal Lands we saw exactly zero other campers who seemed to be passing through the area. The dense cobwebs on the utility posts and inside the power box were not exactly reassuring. How much might Tribal Lands charge us? Were we even eligible to stay there without being members of the tribe? We interacted with several other people in the campground, and every single one was a tribal member. Did Leroy have any sort of authority at all to allow us to stay there? One of the other residents was a young woman who seemed relatively perceptive, and when we relayed to her some of the information we received from Leroy she just rolled her eyes and suggested that Leroy had no idea what he was talking about. We also had no clue when someone with real authority might show up, so we were worried that we might be trapped at the campground for days waiting for that to happen.
After thinking all this through, we weren’t happy with our situation. So we took advantage of the park wifi to evaluate the 5+ other RV parks in the immediate vicinity. While they all looked somewhat sketchy, with weird websites and uninspiring satellite views, we decided to drive to the closest one that seemed like it might meet our requirements. Well, we’re glad we made the effort to swing by Normal RV Park. As you might guess from the nickname, this place was normal. The sites are laid out in a normal fashion, utilities are located in a typical spot, and each site sports the obligatory picnic table. There was a manager on site (the owner, actually, who lives on the property) who could check us in, assign us a spot, and take our payment. We could even pay with a credit card — Tribal Lands reportedly only accepted cash. It took our stressed-out, addled brains about 15 seconds to agree that we should pick Normal RV Park as our new campground. So we headed back to Tribal Lands to re-hitch the trailer and move down to Normal RV Park for the duration of our stay. On our way out we paused just long enough to thank Leroy for his efforts on our behalf and politely decline to purchase “genuine Yurok hats” from him.
After a long day of driving, and being parked (albeit temporarily) at three different RV parks in one day, and being inundated with confusing situations, we were pretty relieved to finally get settled in at Normal RV Park. We pulled into our easy-to-access pull-through when apparently the universe decided it was not done torturing us, because it was time for…
Another Mechanical Issue
While there was no shortage of spots in Normal RV Park — only about a half dozen were filled out of hundreds — the friendly owner had assigned us to one with a concrete pad since the grassy spots tend to get soggy in the rain. After pulling up onto the pad and parking, but before we unhitched, we decided we were sitting at a slightly odd angle, so we should try to straighten up a bit. Ken fired up the truck and I took up the spotter position to help guide him. Ken slowly depressed the accelerator, and while the truck tried to pull, the trailer wasn’t going anywhere. When he tried to reverse, the trailer rolled back slightly and then stayed in place as if glued to its spot. I walked around the truck and trailer several times to see if there was a rock or other obstruction blocking any of the tires, without success. We thought the hitch might be uncoupling somehow, but it looked perfectly normal. The truck and trailer just would not move, for no apparent reason. We did get a clue when I mentioned that I could hear the trailer brakes engaging, and another clue when they released when we disconnected the electronic tow cable from the truck.
Given what a frustrating day we had already experienced, it didn’t take very long for us to say, “F#$% this. We are straight enough in the space.” We chocked the wheels, set the jack, unhitched, connected our utilities, and slumped onto the couch in exhaustion (after wiping off most of the flour, of course). Luckily Google can answer virtually any question, and after a little research via the Normal RV Park wifi, we diagnosed the source of our problem, and it wasn’t even the trailer. Apparently the 2015 and 2016 F-150 models are known to experience issues with the “box” that talks to the trailer. Our trailer has its own brakes, and in normal conditions they are proportionally engaged as the truck brakes are engaged, so the longer we depress the vehicle brakes the harder the trailer brakes engage. The failure of our trailer brake controller in the truck means that as soon as the truck is connected to the trailer, it tells the trailer to “ENGAGE BRAKES AT MAXIMUM AT ALL TIMES!!!” with the result that the trailer won’t budge.
While this is a fairly big problem, because we can’t move the trailer until it gets fixed, there is good news. The fact that this catastrophic failure randomly occurred when we happened to already be parked in a camping spot is a real stroke of luck. There is an aftermarket replacement trailer brake controller that we can order and install ourselves, or we may take the truck down to the nearest Ford dealership in Eureka, California. Either way, we’re pretty confident that we can get the issue resolved during the week we were already planning to spend here, and we’ll still be able to tackle all the hikes we wanted to accomplish in the redwood forests. Plus, we’ll have yet another story to tell — as evidenced by this really long blog post — and we know people love stories filled with awkwardness and drama.
Virtually all the things we find most annoying about our lifestyle are related to the actual process of relocating. Once we get parked in a spot, we tend to really enjoy all the places we see and the things we do. We were already planning to slow down our travel in 2019, and this experience helps cement that decision. If we stay at each spot an average of 7 days (or more!) rather than 5 days, then we will cut down on the sheer number of travel days that we will have to endure. Since we’re planning to be in areas rich with destinations in the next year, we shouldn’t get bored staying in place for longer periods. Fewer travel days mean less chance of one of us yelling “You have got to be kidding me!” in utter frustration, which pretty much sums up our recent terrible travel day.