Part 2: Collision! Or, The Best Way To Start Any Trip

(I thought I should write about RBG. But I’ve already done that on Facebook. And others are more eloquent. I thought I should write about the ACLU; but I’ve already done that and donated. So instead, I’m just going to write about something more personal and less fraught with global importance. The fight can wait for an evening).

Our Travel Trailer Odyssey, Stage 1: Manchester Beach KOA, Mendocino Coast

Thursday, August 20th

It seems like mishaps and broken pieces are just part of the RV life.

On our recent 10-day trip through Northern California and the Oregon Coast, fleeing the fires that had not yet spread that far north, we fell into conversation with a road veteran, a pleasantly-white-haired man with a new Airstream trailer. Having retired from Chicago and sold almost all their homes and belongings, they were committed to the road life.

But even veterans run into snags. We told him about our RV door randomly popping open on our prior test trip; he told us that on their shakedown cruise in the new Airstream, the door got stuck shut (fortunately, he and his wife were on the outside) and they had to get a locksmith to come out to the middle of nowhere to replace the lock.

Dings and scrapes. Things that happen by chance. That’s also the general view of the Camping World service technician when we took in the trailer for servicing.

And it definitely needed some servicing after our trip. Mostly because of the first day; in the name of efficiency, we decided to get everything that was going to go wrong out of the way at the start. We got the trip started with a bang, literally. Or at least a stressful shriek of metal scraping on metal.

A Road Of Twists And Turns

We left Sacramento on a Thursday morning, eager to escape the buttery-grey haze caused by the LNU Lightning Complex fires.

The drive to the Manchester Beach/Mendocino Coast KOA promised to be long. Google Maps estimated between 3 1/2 and 4 hours; knowing that a) we were hauling a trailer; and b) I was doing a lot of the driving, we figured 4 1/2 hours was a decent estimate.

We took US-101 north to Cloverdale, then took CA-128 west towards the coast. Traffic dropped but remained steady as we meandered through a narrow valley that was fortunately full of pull outs to let traffic go by.

At Boonville, adhering to Google Maps, we turned on to Mountain View Road. In retrospect, this seems to prove that Google can’t really be spying on us, because it couldn’t possibly have thought this road would be a good choice for a travel trailer.

Let’s just say that if there were ever a road that demanded a “Trucks and Trailers Not Recommended” sign, it would be this road. But no such sign exists. However, we might have guessed it was a bad choice by looking at the Google Map preview of the road; it has more twists and turns than the plot of Knives Out.

(Later that evening, settled at campground, I happened to be reviewing the reservation details – don’t ask me why; but when I’m staying at a hotel, I always review the binder of policies and amenities like I’m a reviewer for AAA – and saw the following advice: “We DO NOT ADVISE taking Mountain View Road from Boonville. Stay on 128 to Highway 1 and proceed south.” Whoops. On the other hand, they link to Google directions on their website, so I think we’re all a bit to blame here.)

The road soon became steeper than a penguin’s learning curve in flight school, with sharp turns and cutbacks thrown in just for kicks; the road’s width decreased until it became as narrow as an Originalist’s reading of the Constitution.

Which might still have been okay, because we weren’t in a hurry, except that we weren’t the only travel trailer/mobile home on the road. As we started down a steep hill and rounded a sharp corner, oh, look, a Cruise America motor home coming the other way.

You know that law of physics that says that two objects can’t occupy the same physical space at the same time? It’s true. All too true.

If we had each gone slowly enough, we could have maneuvered our car and the trailer to create enough space to pass each other comfortably; but the other driver was a bit over-optimistic about a possible gap, tried to slip through and … a lot of scraped paint, twisted metal, and a punched-in second fastener for our storage compartment on the front corner of the trailer later, our enthusiasm for the day was considerably diminished.

But at least no one plummeted off a cliff. It’s the small victories that count.

Entertaining The Neighbors

As we carried on down the hill, back to the wide open spaces of the coastal highway, we expected any moment to hear the sound of something important clattering in a catastrophic way. But calamity was avoided, at least for the moment.

We managed to pull in to the KOA all in one piece, around 5:00 pm. And then the fun began. And by fun, I mean the stress and un-fun of trying to back a travel trailer into an angled campsite in front of a large audience.

Because it was late in the day, most sites were occupied, and most people were relaxing in front of their tents and trailers, just looking around. It soon felt like every eye was on us. Probably because they were. For a certain set, watching newbies navigate must be hilarious. Probably because it can be popcorn worthy.

To be fair, we really didn’t know what we were doing yet; we’re better now. And maybe we were just tired and fragile and reading too much into the blank stares and general attentiveness. And we didn’t yet have the mirror extenders added to our side mirrors, which made it harder to line up our trailer with the parking slot.

Until you know what you’re doing (or until you master a series of hand gestures), backing into a trailer site goes like this:

  • “Crank the wheel all the way right, then come back.” Then the trailer starts veering in an unintended direction, opposite of what you wanted.
  • “Wait, stop. That’s not right. Crank it all the way to the left instead.” It still goes in the wrong direction, which seems to violate the laws of physics.
  • “Wait, that can’t be right. It’s still going the wrong way.”
  • “Go forward. Keep going. Keep going. Go fifty yards away and then try to come straight back at top speed.”
  • “Stop, that’s a tree!”

The knack for back-in sites, it seems to me, is one of those things that you can’t describe or teach until you know how to do it; and similarly, you can hear people teach it all the time, but it won’t make sense until you learn it. People tried to help, showing with hand gestures what to do, but it didn’t really help, at least not right away.

But finally, after what felt like 30 minutes but what was probably only 27 in reality, we managed to get more-or-less properly aligned within the site.

And then, well, things got much better. We set out the chairs, had a beer, enjoyed the airy feel to the campground, which somehow felt quite open despite the abundant coastal trees, and savored the wisps of fog that still crept in from the nearby beach.

Have you been to a KOA? It’s not exactly wilderness; it couldn’t be, not with a pool, a convenience store, a communal Kamp Kitchen, non-waterfall or rusty-bucket-based showers, etc. But this one, at least, was wilderness-adjacent; which is really the whole appeal of travel trailer life. You can be close to the wilderness but still have an enclosed bathroom, a microwave, and a fridge. It’s no wonder KOAs are popular.

The beach proved to be lovely. We walked there the next morning, on a grey foggy day that drew a mysterious veil atop the dancing waves. Paloma got to play in the warm grey sand, and there wasn’t a fire to be seen anywhere.

So that first day wrapped up pretty well. Until M broke her toe (not that we knew it was broken right away). Because there was always going to be one more thing up the day’s sleeve.

Thank god, the next day proved to be better. For the next day, there were whales.

%d bloggers like this: