2020 Road Trip: Lessons from Week One

A week ago we left Spokane. Our itinerary focused around three stops: dropping off our motorcycle trailer in Idaho for repair and consignment sale, then on to the Des Moines Iowa area, then Washington DC area. The latter two stops are to see kids and grandkids.

Before we started, we picked up a map for our new rig, and proudly filled in the states we had already seen. We told many people that we saw 34 states in our previous RV travel, and that is true. But six of those states were not places we went in an RV. We saw those in a rental car while the RV was parked near Cleveland. For the sake of the map, we decided these shouldn’t count. So when we left Spokane, our map looked like this, with the addition of the red line showing how far we have come this week.

With all of our previous vacation itineraries scrubbed by COVID-19, and with most of our “un-visited” states within reach, we decided to see if we could pick up as many of them as possible. My “RV Trip Wizard” itinerary includes all 20 of the continental states that we area missing. We will see just how far we get on that plan.

The first week has been filled with spectacular scenery and unexpected surprises: dramatic fires, three road closures, unexpected lack of camping availability, rookie mistakes, unforeseen rules and the usual plethora of routine learning experiences. Here is my top 10 list of our 2020 first week “lessons from the road.”

1. Expect the unexpected:  the story of our first day

We left Spokane on Labor Day, September 7. It looked like an innocuous day on the calendar, and the weather report was good except for some gusty winds. As everyone on the west coast knows by now, those “gusty winds” would cause wild fires that would force the evacuation of over 10% of the entire state of Oregon, cause massive issues in California, and totally wipe out some small communities near Ellen’s home town of St. John.

Just before we arrived in Ritzville, Interstate 90 west and US 395 south would both be closed. We were forced to exit and wait. As more vehicles arrived, we were eventually hemmed in on all sides and could not move…for 8 hours. When the roads finally opened, we drove to Tri-Cities in the dark. There we found another road closed (unrelated to the wind). An hour long detour meant we did not get to our campground until almost midnight.

And what did we find? The campground double booked our campsite. In almost 100 campsite bookings since we began traveling, this had never happened to us!

And that was just the first day…

2. The COVID travel experience:  weird but workable

About 95% of RV travel is a perfect social distancing situation. Social contacts are minimal, and normally outside or in controlled environments. Over the course of a week, we have discovered that most people have adapted to the “new normal” of masks, six foot separation, and extra sanitation. Some even add humor to the situation.

3. New packing lessons abound:  “Fits there” doesn’t mean “belongs there.”

Packing for a two month trip in a new rig can be a challenge. I was so proud of myself that I found so may places where things fit just perfectly. But experience is a good but harsh teacher. As an example, if you have to get hoses out every time you move, and you move every day or two, that nifty little space in front of the hose bin needs to be EMPTY. It is not storage space!

4. Two years and sometimes still a rookie

I have connected the sewer hose to my rig a hundred times. Early in the process I discovered that it is ESSENTIAL that you check to make sure that both black and grey water valves are shut before you uncap the line to connect the hose. Very early on, an unfortunate experience with a black tank made me really conscious of that rule. But my layoff showed through. Fortunately grey water this time, but UGH!

5. Sometimes you can outrun smoke…for a while

As you can see by our map above, we moved first south, then east. While moving south, we were caught in the midst of the massive smoke cloud that has blanketed the west. As we moved east, the smoke would steadily clear. Then we would stop, sleep, and wake up to find it had caught up with us. This has now happened three times. Maybe by the time we get to the badlands we can safely outrun it.

6. State parks are better than we realized

When we had a fifth wheel, we never stayed in state parks, because they typically cannot accommodate rigs our size. Now that we have a smaller, more nimble rig, we have discovered what we were missing. Two of our first five stops were state parks, and they were the best two stops so far!

And even the sagebrush of eastern Oregon is beautiful in the morning light.

7. September weather can be 30 degrees…or 90.

Our second night from Spokane, the weather dropped below freezing. Almost a week later, we are in 90 degree afternoons in eastern Wyoming today and South Dakota tomorrow. Neither of these states is noted for warm days. Be prepared.

8. Hudson’s Bay blankets are timeless

To go along with number 7, there is almost nothing that can match the nighttime warmth of a Hudson’s Bay camping blanket. We packed two of them. Each is approximately 75 years old, handed down from Ellen’s father. Among the best things we packed.

9. Different RVs yield very different travel experiences

There is no perfect RV. Our fifth wheel had a residential fridge, dishwasher, space, and top of the line amenities. It was also heavy, required copious electricity, and forced us to bypass almost every scenic view along the way. “Beauty” was like a trophy wife — pretty, but demanding.

Our little 27′ RV, on the other hand, rattles down the highway, and all its amenities are designed to be functional (as opposed to pretty). In terms of size, things are designed to be just big enough. This is the tom boy who lives next door.

If you remember Gilligan’s Island, they are Ginger and Mary Ann. We loved the first when we were full-timing. Right now, we are really enjoying the simplicity and flexibility of “Cutie.”

10. A week without wifi – wow!

For a full week, we have camped in locations that had no WIFI, which is why it has taken so long to post this blog entry. We have also had no TV. We can get email and some Internet on phones.

It has been surprisingly relaxing…