California to Wisconsin or Is RVing Really for Me?

Updated on January 24, 2019

Homeward Bound

It's right there, keep driving...
It's right there, keep driving...

With a new tire where the one with the bulge and low to no tread had been replaced in Visalia, we bid my Aunt Pat farewell and headed out Highway 80 toward Reno. Our planned destination was Austin, NV. It was really a beautiful ride. From a long succession of warm days, it was nice to see snow covering the hills right along the highway. At a Reno Starbucks when asked where we were headed, the cute girl with the Letterman gap smile said, “Well, there sure won’t be a Starbucks there, I can tell you that.” We all laughed and off we went, looking forward to a night in the middle of nowhere. About 30 miles up the road from that coffee stop, the rig started to shake in the same way that led us to the original replacement a week ago in Visalia. We’d come about 800 miles since then with no problem. Ugh. Actually, there was a great deal of profanity spewing forth from The Captain’s mouth, but we’ll just leave it at Ugh for the telling of the story.

Having just passed the “No Services for 57 Miles” sign where the 80 connected us to the 50 (which, according to Little Johnny Colson, is “the loneliest highway”) we went back to Fernley, NV. Oh, you’re not familiar with Fernley? It’s just before Lovelock. And by “just,” I mean about 50 miles, which seems to be the approximate distance between signs of civilization out here.

We pulled into Paul’s Truck and Trailer Repair where we were told how lucky we were because it was clear that the problem was the bearings and they only knew that because of all the time they’d spent figuring out on the RV they pointed to in the garage. At this point, I was considering the whole thing very fortuitous as Paul’s Truck and Trailer Repair was just behind Terrible’s Casino. “Wasn’t your dog’s name Terrible?” I asked Jim about his childhood pet. “Yep.” “Were you good to that dog?” “The best.” “Alright then, Terrible wants to do something nice for you today.” Believing this wholeheartedly, we walked into Terrible’s with one of us expecting to walk out with $2,000. Yes, that was the figure decided upon for reasons unknown, or more to the point, nonexistent. Do I need to tell you how it turned out? You know.

We got our money’s worth in entertainment and went back to Paul’s to find our truck ready to go. Three hours and $200. Not great but not awful. Oh, and it wasn't those bearings; they fixed a U-joint. After thanking the crew profusely and tipping the one guy well, we left feeling lucky to have not been completely ripped off. We could still make camp in Austin by dinnertime. No, we couldn’t.

That U-joint might have needed repair, but it was not the immediate cause of our trouble. Halfway up the onramp, the shaking commenced, and we went back just before Paul’s Truck and Trailer Repair in Fernley, Nevada closed for the day. After taking another look, the guy relegated to staying to appease us as everyone else drifted away suggested a tire place in town. Purcell’s was closed but would open again early Saturday morning. We rolled into an RV spot behind the Best Western. Not the remote starry night we had anticipated, but there was cable.

Purcell’s couldn’t help us. Back at Paul’s, Jim asked Paul to switch the new tire purchased in Sacramento with the spare from the Visalia switch just to see what happened – something was bound to happen. It was 30 miles to the blowout. “What was that?!” “That thing that was going to happen happened,” was the official answer. For the record, it was a rear inside tire that had not even aroused suspicion up to this point. We limped into a nearby rest stop. You know how sometimes they’re so pretty and clean and look like a nice place to have a picnic? This wasn’t like that.

It was desolate and smelled bad. The bathrooms were so nasty that everyone who entered made one sort of horrible sound or another. Thankfully, we travel with our own toilet, and I didn’t have to go anywhere near those. Remember pay phones? There wasn’t one, and we had no cell signal. The inconvenience of switching back to flip phones had been negligible up to this point but here’s where the rubber met the road – or, in our case – exploded all over it. Jim approached a pair in a car, and one offered a smarter phone to call road service (while the other was clearly not in agreement that this was the right thing to do). That call was cut off before the full report was made, but we hoped they had enough information.

After about an hour a guy pulled in with his two young boys. The kids were little, like three and five. They were running around, shaking off the drive and that guy let Jim use the phone to call in our dilemma again. In fact, this guy wanted to take a shot at fixing it himself which was an exceptionally generous offer. Of course, we declined. In the time it took me to make tuna sandwiches and coffee and walk around and read a little and write a little our mobile tire guy showed up from about 50 miles away. He explained how a tire might look ok while the inside is separating from the outside, getting ready to blow with no warning. So, there you go.

Picnicker's Delight
Picnicker's Delight

We still had a spare and felt confident driving into the night, knowing we would not be making our Yuba State Park stay in Utah but wanting to get as far as we could. It was a gorgeous drive but leaving wherever the hell we’d just been after 3:00 left us in the dark for a lot of it.

After hours of the kind of driving that lends itself to hallucinations, listening to a good ghosty book in the pitch dark, I said, “I hope we’re somewhere soon.” With that wish barely past my lips, we rounded a bend and saw the sparkling casino lights of West Wendover, the last city in Nevada. There was a spot for us at a KOA behind the Red Garter Casino. We thought about going over for dinner and a last shot at that $2,000 but a simple dinner, sleep and the promise of a nice long morning that included a shower won out. It was a pretty morning for eating oatmeal outside looking at mountains. In the interest of personal peace of mind, The Captain stopped at a used tire trailer in Wendover to replace the spare before the drive to Carbondale, CO where we arrived around 9:00 p.m.

Missy, Patron Saint of the Spareless
Missy, Patron Saint of the Spareless
Bonneville Salt Flats
Bonneville Salt Flats
This, only dark out
This, only dark out

Now, truth be told, I just wanted to go home, home, home. I knew our friends would understand if that was just what we did. That never came up, though, and I’m so glad. The feeling of being home was just what I got when we walked in their door. Actually, I got it with the hug from Anne outside before we even walked in. The decompression had begun, and we spent a few days in what turned out to be the physical, emotional, spiritual equivalent of a meditation/spa retreat. Jim did a lot of fly-fishing, alone and with Little Johnny Colson when he wasn’t working. The first thing Anne and I did was go to the Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs, which was a most excellent choice.

We ate our meals in, visited, played Scrabble, read, and generally gave in to total relaxation. Sometimes we’d all be in different rooms honoring an unannounced but understood quiet time. On the second day, I went to work with Anne at her little storybook preschool in the woods. After the sweetness of that tour, I drove a few miles down a gorgeous Rocky Mountain highway and spent a few hours in Aspen. A walk down Main Street, taking in the la-de-da-deness, led me to Explore Booksellers (which Anne had tipped me off about). This warm, inviting shop is in a Victorian House, and one could easily lose track of time going from room to room, browsing and reading. It’s my understanding that when the founder died, the store might have closed but for the unwillingness of the community to let it go. The business has changed hands – maybe more than once - since then. From there, I picked up an amazing curry chicken sandwich at The Grateful Deli. It was a gorgeous day, cool and sunny; I enjoyed every bite of that sandwich on a park bench with a view of snowcapped mountains. After a little more poking around, I went back to meet Anne for the spectacular drive home to Carbondale.

Sweet little preschool in storybook land
Sweet little preschool in storybook land
book
book

In going back and forth to the rig during our stay, we noticed a smell that did not dissipate before we headed out. The morning of our departure we spent some time looking everywhere. We pulled out drawers and supplies from every conceivable source. We finally decided an animal had died somewhere under the vehicle but still had no evidence at all for that scenario. Once on the road, we realized the smell disappeared – thank you! – and figured whatever it was had shaken off on the road.

Colorado to Nebraska

About 20 miles out from our relaxing retreat there was a large bang simultaneous to all of the contents under the sink flying across the camper area toward the cab of the truck. I turned off the audiobook. The Captain checked for a phone signal. Yes! We calmly sat there and started guessing exactly what had happened. Individual bets placed, we got out and found that day’s mangled tire (the one that had been switched out at Paul's).

There was nothing to do but laugh, have a reassuring hug and make the call. But before we took another step, Cicero of Down Valley Truck & Tire pulled up in front of the RV. We stood there staring. “Where did you come from?” He just pointed up and said, "When I saw you guys hugging, I knew I had to stop and help you." As he put on our spare, the road service operator set up payment for him. We stood on the side of the shoulder of I-80 while he told us a very moving story, shared his faith, and talked about life in general. He wrapped it up by telling us about a woman in his church who said he should change the name of his business to Bah. Bah? Yes, bah, Black Angel of the Highway. He was certainly our angel that day. We were all hugging by the end of that episode. Heck, I even cried a little.

Cicero appears
Cicero appears
Spare?  Sure, we got a spare.
Spare? Sure, we got a spare.

Now with no spare and home in sight, we thought we’d just barrel through. Yeah, I’d be shaking my head now, too. Then we hit some bumpy road in Nebraska, and it was determined a new set of tires was in order. In keeping with the theme of not making it to the semi-planned destination, we stopped 75 miles or so short of Gothenberg, NE (home of the Pony Express Stations and Museum). I picked Ogallala as the alternate stop because of the Lonesome Dove reference. Indeed, Ogallala is the Cowboy Capital, and I’m happy anywhere Gus and Call have been. New since Gus last saw Clara; we stopped for a big meaty meal at the Golden Spur Steakhouse. Something about the landscape gave me a taste for chicken fried steak.

Our waitress, Virginia, literally served us with love. She could not have been nicer to us if we were her very own. When she brought that plate of warm potato bread with honey cinnamon butter, it felt like we were the only ones getting that treat. A look around suggested all those other people were our cousins because they had it, too. There was enough meat, mashed potatoes and gravy and corn left for another meal the next night. Jim had a black and bleu burger which also made two meals. He had a side of cowboy beans that were delicious but didn’t quite reach the tastiness of our neighbor Brian’s beans. That little bowl of corn was so good that I asked Virginia what the secret was. She couldn’t tell me, but she did give me a hint and swore me to secrecy so I can’t tell you. If you’re in Ogallala, though, go into The Spur and have some. You’ll see what I mean.

The Country View RV Park was nearby and comfy as could be. It was a good thing we didn’t take on the last stretch to Gothenberg because the minute we got settled the wind started blowing in strong, steady gusts till the wee hours. We rocked like a boat on choppy water. If only one of us could sleep, I’m glad it was The Captain as he was driving us across Nebraska the next day. We were up and out early for coffee and Subway breakfast sandwiches. While a fast food breakfast did not seem like the best idea, especially after my Spur feast the previous night, I would not have missed starting my day with the sweetest young man you could hope to meet working there in the You Are Nowhere gas station Subway.

We were just ahead of a major storm system and, once in the clear, stopped in Kearney for those tires. My questioning of where in the mix the brand new tire purchased in Sacramento might be was not received well and it was impossible to predict whether we would actually find it necessary to speak to one another before arriving home the next day. I was able to ascertain that it is now the spare. Throughout the day, we listened to Amy Poehler’s “Yes, Please”, which was mildly incongruent with the mood du jour but we each laughed from our own sides of the cab and be the time we hit Adel, Iowa we were able to enjoy our Spur leftovers and each other’s company on our last night away from home.

We took our time showering, eating breakfast and enjoying the pretty morning before embarking on the last leg of our winter journey. It’s amazing the difference 4 matching rear tires make on a dually. It was smooth sailing out of Iowa, with a stop for me to make sandwiches and another in Dubuque for coffee at Jitterz. The Midwestern air and landscape had started feeling like home a few meters into Iowa. Home was in sight and it was looking good.

We rolled in to a welcome that still gives me a little lump in my throat when I picture it. There was a pot of peanut stew from one neighbor, a loaf of homemade bread from another, and a plate of cookies on our table from another. There were hugs and notes and smiles and hula hoop exhibitions. This is life on our block with the wonderful people we have been gifted with as friends and neighbors. We’ve been home for a week now and I have barely left the house. There’s no way to describe the feeling and if I tried it would be really sappy. Suffice to say, Dorothy was right, there really is no place like home.

Jim greeting the neighbors
Jim greeting the neighbors
Welcome home from our loved ones
Welcome home from our loved ones

Post Script

You know that smell? It did come back. Propane. Guess we’re luckier to be home than I even thought. In the words of the immortal Roseanne Rosanna Danna, “It’s always something!”.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 Michelle McKiernan


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    • M Lynn Moore profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle McKiernan 

      4 years ago from Madison, WI

      Thanks, Stella. Our very first trip was 5 weeks moving to Wisconsin from California via Canada. It was fantastic. We had no experience and no trouble. That was 11 years ago in the same rv so we're doing ok, too.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      4 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Never give up. We just got through buying a whole set of tires for our motor home. I love my home on wheels. I have only had one breakdown in 6 years and that was with our old motor home. Not bad. This is a wonderful story and so are all your photos. Will be looking for the next one. Nice to meet you, Stella

    • M Lynn Moore profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle McKiernan 

      4 years ago from Madison, WI

      Nothing in the offing but you never know...

    • Frenchie Kisses profile image

      Frenchie Kisses 

      4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Wonderful! Enjoyed the photos! When is your next adventure?

    • M Lynn Moore profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle McKiernan 

      4 years ago from Madison, WI

      Why give up now with all those new tires?! Yes, The Captain and I will carry on.

    • profile image

      Mama Kay 

      4 years ago

      Although I've thoroughly enjoying reading your RV journal since December 2015, this final chapter was my favorite. You surely do have a way with words, my little girly girl. So many mishaps would have made me put a "FOR SALE AS IS" sign on your traveling home on wheels.

      Do you plan to continue your marriage?


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