Thursday, May 24, 2012

Achieving My Goal and Beyond ...

Our first view of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

   We have put on some miles since my last post!  After two rallies in Lodi, California, we finally made it out to Yosemite National Park with no rain.  While in Lodi, George and Sharon Del Rosario, our newest instructor (and first female in the 21-year history of the school), gave a number of seminars at the Good Sam and WARE rallies including one "For Women Only" -- which a number of men actually chose to attend.  One unfortunate rally attendee actually learned about tail swing out the hard way when making a corner while exiting the fairgrounds and damaging a parked car.

Sharon Del Rosario, the school's first female instructor, has been RVing since 1979, including 8 years as a "solo".

   Because I learned from Dennis Hill to do my pre-trip inspection, as we prepared to leave Lodi, I noticed an oily substance on the ground beneath our engine compartment.  It turned out to be coolant which was leaking from one of the hoses.  Had I not noticed this, it could have meant a lot of trouble and expense later on, but we were able to get to Freightliner in Sacramento for a repair before hitting the road.  They allowed us to spend the night and worked us in the following day.

A relaxing evening at Freightliner in Sacramento, California before hitting the road ...

   We met up with Frank Piccolo and his wife, Sharon, who showed us Old Town Auburn.  Frank has been a valued instructor for the school in the Bay area and Northern California for a number of years.  I always enjoy hearing stories of students who begin a lesson extremely fearful and, by the end of the second day, emerge as confident and safe drivers.  Frank's feedback is always outstanding, and we are so proud to have him on our team!

Frank and Sharon Piccolo at Auburn Gold Country RV Park
   Not only have I been able to give George lots of relief along the highway, I have become something of the official parking driver with George's excellent guidance from the ground.  And  the parks we have encountered included some extremely tight spaces that have required some real maneuvering to get into and out of without doing damage to property or our rig.  I am 100% convinced it has been much easier to take his directions behind the wheel than to attempt to tell him which way to move the RV to get it where I want it parked -- okay, I'm blonde like that!

One of our tight parking spots I managed to back into with George's help...

   Before saying good-bye to California, I achieved my goal of driving on California freeways and practicing more mountains in a non-lesson situation.  As we entered Oregon, I had not planned it, but I conquered a new milestone -- driving in the rain.
Mountain drives along California's freeways ...

   So, just having first taken command behind the wheel within the past six months or so, I am confident that I can drive the Mandalay in traffic, in the mountains or in the rain, and I can park it with assistance.  It's truly hard for even me to believe! George is proud of me and can even sleep while I'm behind the wheel.  I am proud of me.  I no longer feel helpless to drive in an emergency.  I'm not an expert.  I'm not overly confident.  I am practicing and improving with each and every trip!

Friday, April 13, 2012

New Challenges -- Rain, Snow, and California Freeways

   Tuesday George drove from where we were staying in Bakersfield, California, north on Highway 99 to Chowchilla.  Without hesitation, I was called upon to change seats and back into our site with George's great assistance on the ground.  

   We have established a mutually understood set of hand signals visible from the driver's side mirror, which makes it surprisingly easy for me to navigate our big rig into amazingly small parking spaces!  I have to admit that for me, it is a lot easier than attempting to direct George into small spaces.  Our directions include slightly left, more left, slightly right, more right, straight back, and stop.  It works especially well if you remember to take it SLOW (again my hero, Dennis Hill's, favorite admonition)!  We realized recently, when I got us into something of a jam while attempting to direct George to pull forward, that we also need one that looks quite different from a distance than straight back which indicates a need to move forward.  I will emphasize that I do not rely solely on George's signals and check my mirrors frequently while backing, which helps keep things slow and ensures that I see things which may not be visible from his point of view on the ground.

   George and I have been in California now for several weeks and had just had a conversation about how delightful the weather has been (that may have been my first mistake).  He has done most of the driving as we encountered some serious traffic in San Diego and LA, and some strong winds in some more mountainous areas.  I must admit that George and I have many years of Midwesterner in our collective brain's programming, and GPS also seems to have some difficulty with the California freeway system, telling us to exit where there may be three or four exits in a row, and we admittedly have taken the wrong one a few times.  But before we leave this absolutely gorgeous state, I am determined to conquer the California freeway!

   The reason we had stopped in Chowchilla was because we were unable to see Yosemite National Park a few years back while in the area, and I wasn't about to miss it this time!  I had allowed two days here on our way to the WARE Rally in Lodi for that purpose.  I ran to the store and stayed up late packing the picnic basket and cooler, ensuring we had batteries for the cameras and looked forward to a peaceful drive and maybe a hike or two with the dogs, and lunch in the park.  As an afterthought, I checked the weather and Yosemite's website and was shocked to find that chains for your car "are a must" with a forecast of 100% rain and snow at elevations over 5000'.  Well, photos in the rain of Yosemite don't really interest me, and then there is the issue of mountain roads in the snow with chains.  So, my dream is crushed, we have eaten our picnic in the motor home while looking out at the rain, and we will be on the way to Lodi hopefully in the sunshine tomorrow.  

   We will return to visit Yosemite after the rally, but the weather certainly put a kink in our plans.  I'll just chalk it up to part of the adventure of RVing.  But it brings up another challenge -- I need to practice driving the coach in the rain -- learning to use the wipers, getting the feel of wet pavement beneath me, dealing with some impairment in visibility.  There are no plans to drive in the snow, or extremely high winds, and we will avoid the rain, if possible.  But rain is a real possibility for which I need to be prepared.

   Do I feel completely confident?  No, but I am getting there.  And practicing what I have learned and recognizing what I need to practice feels very empowering!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Maneuvering into the tight spot

   The driving skills I have been acquiring really came in handy today when we arrived at our campground east of Los Angeles to find the site we had been assigned was not going to give us satellite access for the trees.  We asked the manager if we could relocate, which caused George to turn the coach around to approach a back-in on the other side of the park.

   My gut told me that George needed to pull further forward before he began backing into this rather tight spot, but he started back despite my forward signal and I thought it would be okay so we proceeded -- WRONG!  The next thing I know we are straddling the street with the mud flap folded forward and the bottom of the radiator about to make contact with the concrete.  I stopped George and asked him to get out and look over the situation and, with the help of a kind neighbor, we managed to hold the mud flap up to keep it from damage against the pavement as George inched forward to correct this approach.

   As George proceeded to explain to me how I should direct him into the spot on the second try, I asked if it might be easier if I got behind the wheel and followed his direction.  Dennis Hill, the former owner of the RV School, always suggested that as crazy as it seems, the more experienced driver should be on the ground directing the less experienced driver into the site, and I have to admit that today's encounter made a believer out of us!  And our new neighbors were more than impressed -- I even got a "bravo, bravo, bravo!" from the lady.

      Note to self -- first instincts are usually right, even if you're not sure of the reason.  And, my first instructor, Dennis Hill, is one smart dude!  We are believers in his method and are going to heed his excellent advice from this day forward!  And now we can enjoy a relaxing evening, despite the challenges presented by backing into a rather tight spot.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Women Drivers

   George gave a seminar for women only at the Gypsy Journal Rally in Yuma, Arizona, recently.  There were about 30 women in attendance (and a few men, too).  Approximately one fourth of those in attendance drive their RVs regularly and a small number drive only occasionally, but the majority of the women indicated they never drive it.

   Sadly, we often hear from women wanting lessons only after their partner becomes incapacitated or worse.  We just returned from Quartzsite, Arizona, where we helped a delightful lady who was competent but afraid to drive and her husband was no longer capable of doing the driving.  

   There still seems to exist that negative preconceived notion of the "woman driver" in the mindset of some men.  Even sadder, some women I have known even buy into it!  I personally think women today, having driven carpools and "Mom's Taxi" to soccer practice, choir, etc. are exceptionally good drivers.  Most of us were driving well before we met out spouses and often have better driving records to prove it.

   It may be time to gently remind the husband when he expresses these kinds of doubts.  If you can drive a car, you can probably drive the RV!  And, wouldn't it be good to know how, just in case it became necessary?

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I never experienced a fear of heights until after the birth of my first child.  Shortly thereafter, I thought I was going to "lose it" on the ferris wheel at the county fair.  And then a few months later, we attempted the trip to the top of the St. Louis Arch -- a sight I hope never again to experience!

For nearly forty years I have avoided air travel like the plague.  I had hoped the fear would dissipate once the kids were grown, but it didn't.  I bought the books and avoided the mountain roads whenever possible.  I reluctantly made the trip to Silverton from Durango but lived in fear of the trip on to Ouray because of the stories I had heard about Red Mountain Pass.

Little did I know when we took ownership of the RV School that I would become a guinea pig.  Yes, we were in Congress, Arizona at the Escapees' North Ranch park when our instructor, Denny Orr, pointed out the mountains in the distance and the two lines along the side of the face of them and told me that was where he took his students.  I later shared this information with George, whose reaction was "Oh, Denny is just kidding."  I was rather confident that Denny was not kidding about the matter.

As fate would have it, around the first of February, a new instructor we were wanting to train did not have a student and was scheduled to leave the next day.  So, we decided that the thing to do was to allow him to ride along as Denny gave me another lesson.  

The Mountain Directory West states that Highway 89 is "Not recommended for trucks pulling trailers over 40' long."  Between Congress and Yarnell, Highway 89 has a 5-6% grade with lots of 25 and 30 mph curves and some 20 mph hairpin curves for approximately 5-1/2 miles.  This is what it looked like from the dog park in the distance...

Weaver Mountains between Congress and Yarnell (highway lines are barely visible near the top).

Denny began with some serious backing exercises.  I backed the Mandalay onto a small side street, into his driveway between Dennis and Carol Hill's awning and Denny and Susie's rooftop.  We then began the climb up the mountains, on a road on which I told Denny I probably would not have allowed George to take the motor home.  After a short break at the top in Yarnell, we began the drive down the mountain where I pretty much had to look at the valley below me and watch the rocks that jutted out nearly to the roadway.  I could do this!  I had not one but three instructors on board!

At the end of this lesson I felt much more confident.  I could back it.  I could climb mountains.  I could descend mountains.  Actually, I think it probably felt better from the driver's seat than riding along next to the cliff.  Another pat on the back!

More Miles

Well, it wasn't the reason I learned to drive the Mandalay, but it certainly proved to be helpful when we found ourselves in Florida and needing to be in Arizona, a drive of over 2000 miles, in just five days.  My husband, George, had never complained about being the sole driver, and we typically only took on around 250 miles per day so he was sure to get plenty of rest.

My capability was a huge relief for him as we departed Ocala, Florida on January 13, 2012.  I think I may have actually put on nearly as many miles as George during this journey.  It was a great opportunity for me to get more miles under my belt as we headed west on I-10.  I even drove over the 18-mile bridge in Louisiana with confidence.  I still need practice backing and turning, but feel that I am well on my way!

I learned how tiring driving the motorhome can be, (especially in the wind), and George learned it is not all that easy to fix a sandwich or take a nap while the coach is in motion.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Someday is now!

My grandmother never drove a car. She walked. She took a taxi, or my granddad drove her wherever she needed to go.

For over five years and over 55,000 miles across this beautiful country, I sat comfortably in the passenger seat of our 41'6" long Mandalay motor coach with a 400 horsepower Cummins diesel engine thinking someday I would learn to drive it.  After all, I had lots and lots of excuses -- we are in a hurry, my husband enjoys driving, there is probably road construction ahead, etc., etc., etc.  Oh, yes, and I almost forgot to mention that my husband, George, just so happened to be an instructor for the RV Driving School!  He teaches other women how to drive RVs I would share with fellow RVers.  Of course I understood the importance of learning to drive it, but honestly, it IS huge and intimidating.  

My day of reckoning came in late November of 2011, while in Livingston, Texas preparing to assume ownership of the RV School and thinking how ridiculous it would sound to tell people I actually do not drive our RV.  However, the thought of sitting in the driver's seat and encountering construction barriers or making a sharp right turn in traffic sent my heart into panic mode.  So, November 28, 2011, Dennis Hill, the owner, took me out to a local parking lot where he gave me a lesson. We adjusted the mirrors, I learned the controls to the left of me and on and around the steering wheel.  Then I actually moved it!  And I moved it again!  And I made right turns until I was blue in the face, and when I perfected that we went out onto the local highway.  I couldn't believe I actually merged the thing!

And then, as if planned, suddenly what I most feared had come upon me -- those orange construction barrels that narrow the road and signal danger!  Since I couldn't very well bail out of the driver's seat, I watched the mirrors closely to ensure that I was as centered in my lane as possible (and I probably held my breath just a little bit) and we actually survived my first construction encounter!

The lesson was completed and I had not even frightened the two male instructors on board.  Me, someone's grandma, actually drove this humongous mechanical marvel, and words are inadequate to describe the euphoric feeling of conquering that fear that I was somehow incapable of navigating our RV in and out of parking lots and streets and onto the highway.  Someday had come and gone!  I really did it, and for the first time in a long time, I could actually admit to being extremely proud of myself!!!