Back in the spring of 2007, Doug and I were looking ahead to our 20th wedding anniversary, which we would celebrate in August. We wanted to do something special for the occasion. A trip to Alaska had long been on our "some day" list, so I began ordering maps and books to help us make that trip a reality.
We decided to make it a driving trip, looking forward to the scenic drive across the United States, up through Canada, and along the famed Alaska Highway. I thought it would be fun to go in an RV so that we didn't have to worry about making reservations ahead and sticking to a schedule. Neither of us had ever done any camping of any kind, but we (or maybe I should say "I") began shopping for an RV.
Our first consideration, of course, was a rental. But we soon found that we could purchase one for the price of renting one for the five or six weeks that we would need it. Our everyday vehicle was a minivan, which wasn't really equipped for towing a camping trailer; so we focused our search on small motorhomes.
We found an older model Toyota motorhome that had low mileage and was in pristine condition, just an hour or so away. Unfortunately, another couple was looking at it when we arrived; and they bought it. Ultimately, we found one (not a Toyota, though) on an internet RV trading site, about four and a half hours from home, and drove over to see it on the Saturday before Memorial Day.
The couple that owned it had it all set up in their driveway, with the awning out and the refrigerator cooling, so that we could see that everything worked. One of the first things we noticed when we stepped inside was that there was no stove. This couple had taken it out to give themselves more counter space and some storage space where the oven had been. They said they did all of their cooking outside with an electric skillet or a small charcoal grill.
The motorhome was a Class C, the type that's on a van chassis, with an extension over the cab. It was on a 1993 Chevy chassis, and the age was showing on the outside, with some discoloration of the paint and chipping of the pin striping. The interior looked in very good condition for its age. It was 20 feet, from bumper to bumper, which seemed a nice size for two beginners. So, after spending several hours with the man who owned it showing us how everything worked, plus taking it for a test drive, we bought it.
Doug wasn't too thrilled with it on the drive home. He drove the RV, and I followed in our minivan. We had borrowed a set of walkie-talkies from friends, so we could communicate with each other. Doug didn't think the brakes seemed very responsive, and there's just a lot weight on the chassis, making the handling significantly different from the minivan he was used to driving.
We stopped for a sandwich on the way home and couldn't get the radio to shut off in the RV. We wound up pulling the face off the radio, deliberately breaking it so that it wouldn't run the battery down.
We had found signs of mice in the coach, so we went out the next day to buy some mouse traps. Didn't want to take a chance that we had just brought the little varmit home with us. We never caught anything, but there were some messes to clean up.
Over the next few weeks, we readied the RV, which we had taken to calling "Harvey, the RV." We bought a new radio for it...one with an auxiliary jack so that we could listen to our MP3 player. We also replaced the original captain's chairs, which we didn't think would be comfortable enough for our long journey, with some used leather ones that we found at a shop that does vehicle conversions to accommodate disabled people. We had the front of the extension over the cab painted because it looked pretty shabby. And we spent hours cleaning and polishing everything, inside and out.
The previous owners had called it "Little Chuggy," which they had emblazoned on both the front and back of the unit. The new paint took care of the one on the front, but it took a lot of elbow grease to erase that less-than-flattering name from the back. Doug persisted, though, until it was barely visible.
Hours were spent by Doug, studying the manuals and consulting friends with experience in camping. We met more neighbors during the time Harvey was parked in our driveway than we had in the 18 years that we had lived in the neighborhood. If people saw us outside working on the RV, they would stop in for a tour.
Of course, we also scheduled an appointment with our mechanic, for a thorough going over. It turned out that Doug's concern over the brakes was well founded. The front brakes needed some work. It also appeared that some of the vehicle's wiring had been chewed by rodents. And the coach battery was found to have a bad cell and needed to be replaced.
Then there was the day when the microwave popped loose and was hanging askew in its cabinet. Doug had to call on some of his tool and die making skills to figure out how to get it securely remounted, but it was probably more secure when he finished than it ever had been.
One of those camping-knowledgeable friends who came to offer assistance also discovered a problem with the generator. It turned out that the carburetor was bad and had to be replaced.
As the time of our departure drew closer, we had some trial runs, camping in our driveway, just to experiment with the sleeping arrangements to be sure we had things adequately figured out. Then, a couple of weeks before we were to leave, we went to a real campground where we could do the full hookup procedure.
That evening, we were sitting in our camping chairs outside our little Harvey, reading books. When the mosquitoes began to pester us, we lit a citronella candle, put it between us, and continued reading. Later, it occurred to me how funny that probably looked. Most people at campgrounds sit around a campfire in the evening, and there we were sitting around a candle.
We had hoped to depart the last week of July, but we had to delay it for a couple of weeks as Doug was caught up in a round of doctor appointments. There was concern that he had sleep apnea, and they really wanted him to get a CPAP machine before we left on our trip. So they rushed him through the sleep clinic and mask fitting. He picked up his machine on August 2, and we left on our trip six days later.
Before we left, our friends, Jim and Sandy, gave us a going-away gift bag, including a dew rag for Doug to help him keep his head warm at night and some scrunchies for me to use with my gray ponytail. (I usually get my hair cut every couple of weeks and colored once a month. We didn't know for sure how long we'd be gone, and I had joked about coming back with long gray hair, tied back in a ponytail.)
Sandy had also made two cards for us...a farewell card and an anniversary card.