Posted by: trevormeers | July 5, 2012

Home, Sweet Motor Home

It was the only rental vehicle I’ve ever had that came with a pep talk. “You’re gonna do great, buddy,” Kip the service technician told me as we circled the Moose Lodge parking lot in northern Indiana.

Our convoy at rest on the first night.

This was the shakedown cruise, my 10 minutes to prove I could handle a 31-foot RV worth almost twice as much as my first house. Kip was pumping me full of confidence until he stuck this in at the end: “One time, I had a lady that almost took out one of these lightpoles with a 40-foot motorcoach. You know, it’s 35 grand to do a paint job on one of these.”

With that little reminder hanging in the air, Kip handed me the keys, told me not to worry about emptying the sewage tank unless we really used the toilet a lot and sent me off for five days of recreational motoring as part of a program designed to let writers sample the RV lifestyle.

Despite having the dimensions of a bus, the Mirada proved surprisingly easy to pilot. A dashboard screen gave me a constant rear view via a camera tucked over the back window. When I turned on a blinker to change lanes, a side camera came on, showing me any lurking Mini Coopers moments before I turned them into crushed cans. The Super Bowl could grow jealous of the TV coverage provided by this RV.

After a three-hour drive to our first campground, I felt fairly confident about how I’d handled the behemoth on the highway. But when Teri saw Alli in the driver’s seat later in the week, pretending to drive, her constant back-and-forth adjusting of the steering wheel indicated her role model may have been a little flightier at the controls than he thought.

Inside the campground, we faced the gauntlet I’d been dreading for weeks. Most guys realize by about age 15 that backing a large vehicle into a tight space is sure to make you sweat like you just jumped rope in the hayloft. Anticipating some tight squeezes between pine trees and fire pits, I’d already drilled Teri on the hand signals to use when guiding me and the Mirada back into a campsite. I asked that nothing I yelled in the heat of the moment be held permanently against me.

Fans of 1980s TV will remember BJ & The Bear, in which a trucker had a chimp for a traveling partner. In our case, it was Big Ted the giant teddy bear.

Once we entered the narrow asphalt drives of the campground, I faced an unanticipated obstacle. Kids on bikes swarmed around the Mirada like minnows circling a whale shark. I was busy enough watching the tree limbs and parked vehicles on either side without worrying about which kid was about to become a Schwinn sandwich under my back wheels. I shooed them away and monitored the security cameras all around for signs of trouble.

Finally, I crept safely to Site #337 and backed into a reassuringly wide spot. The other campers were jammed in around us like we’d landed in the infield of a NASCAR race, and we could hear them whispering about our rig. “Look at the size of that thing!” one kid said. “That’s what’s known as a motor home,” one guy whispered to his kid from the step of a tired-looking trailer.

Further reinforcing my image as an elitist camper was the public evidence that I’d never actually set my palatial RV up for the night. We spent 10 minutes uncoiling and retracting various cords and slide-outs as we figured out the drill. The Mirada’s control system is more sophisticated than the engine room of some submarines. On a panel near the bathroom, lights reported on our store of fresh water, battery power and amount of “gray” and “black” water sitting in holds somewhere below. Another light told us what was going on in the “aux tank,” which sounded vaguely like something from Apollo 13 and was an item I didn’t need to worry about, according to Kip.

The first job upon parking was to level the RV, which was accomplished in our high-end ride by pressing a button to deploy the automated jack system. As I sat in the driver’s seat, I heard electronic motors spinning and felt the Mirada rocking back and forth, settling into its happy place.

The view out of our living room window.

“Dad!” Allison yelled from outside. “The front wheels are off the ground! I am not sleeping in there like that!”

I gingerly climbed out the screen door on the side and surveyed the situation. Sure enough, the front wheels of the 31-foot monster were elevated like an oil change was imminent. I reassured Teri by saying, “As automated as this thing is, I’m sure that’s fine. They would set something to keep that from happening if it was bad.”

Even I didn’t have a lot of faith in that answer. So I climbed back to the cockpit, ginger as a teenager sneaking home at 2am. I pressed the manual buttons to lower the jacks until the front wheels made landfall. That night, anything set on the table had a tendency to roll into your lap, and Teri referred to approaching the bedroom as “going up the hill.” But it seemed like a better plan than risking the Mirada falling off its perch at midnight. (When I returned the RV, Kip’s boss told me it was no problem to ride the jacks alone. “I’ve seen ‘em with three wheels in the air,” he said.)

After a few nights, we’d assimilated almost completely to the rolling homestead. Allison plugged in the power cord when we parked. The jack system no longer made me carsick. The drive-in-size windshield turned out to provide nicely unobstructed views of the countryside. I came to enjoy having cold Arnold Palmers waiting in the fridge whenever I felt like a beverage. And the last night, as we read bedtime stories on the queen-size bed, I was so convinced we were at home that I was startled to notice the flicker of a campfire through the side window.

“I wish we had this for two months,” Allison said. If that happens, I’ll need Kip to provide a refresher on dumping that sewage.

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