Previously in our story, we were about to set out for Texas but had discovered water flowing from the storage compartments of the Edmund Fitzgerald when we tried to fill the fresh water tank. Being the plucky adventurers that we were, we decided to depart as planned and deal with the water problem where it was warm (it was below freezing in St. Louis). We strapped in and rumbled off to our first destination, the diesel pump.
We were running on fumes, but there was a fuel station we’d used before about a mile away. One of the first things you learn when driving a Class A motor home is to be very cautious about pulling into a filling station. It’s not enough that it sells the correct fuel (which is usually easy to tell from the signage). It’s not enough that it has plenty of headroom (which you can usually see before you enter). It needs to provide your land behemoth with a graceful entrance and exit, and that’s not always easy to see before you commit. But the guys at Fast Lane (where we bought the Edmund) had introduced us to this station so we knew we could get in and out without running over anything as fragile as median curbing.
Another idiosyncrasy the unenlightened learn their first time at the pump is that, if your almost empty tank holds 148 gallons (like the Edmund’s), the pump is going to cut you off at a preset dollar amount WAY before you finish filling up. Usually you just complete your transaction then start a new one until you have all you need, but this morning, our Discover cards declined payment after Nan filled the Honda and I put $100 in the Edmund. Fortunately Visa still liked us, but Discover shouldn’t have hung us out like it did and we were both a little nervous about it. Later Nan called and got it straightened out. We left the gas station and rendezvoused at a mall parking lot to hook the Honda to the back of the Edmund. I found it disconcerting that there were vultures sitting on the mall parking lot light poles watching me hook up the tow bar. Really.
We got to the interstate with no further problems and began the drive to Tulsa Oklahoma where we were going to spend the first night. We’d originally planned to make the trip to South Texas over four days but since we were starting out so late, we wanted to cut the travel time down to three days. Our reservations were all blown and we’d decided to wing the trip, staying the nights at Walmarts as needed. But since we hadn’t been able to put any water in the fresh water tank, Walmart would no longer work for us, we wouldn’t have a water source for flushing and whatnot. Nan was able to find a KOA in Tulsa where we’d be able to hook up to the “city water” at the campsite and enjoy indoor plumbing. We felt pretty good as we roared down the road at a steady 65 MPH (the max the tow package would allow) into the darkening skies, paying little heed to the dire weather forecast for Tulsa.
Time for another Class A learning experience. Just because you are a manly man who has driven 19 hours at a stretch in your salad days doesn’t mean you can do the same thing in your 42 foot land behemoth. Unless you just pull over on the shoulder and become a road menace, there are only three places you can take a break without risking ending up in a dead-end: truck stops, rest stops, and restaurants with signs that say “Buses Welcome!” You don’t see one of these, you keep moving, no matter how tired you are or how hungry you are or how much you need to stretch your legs or how fast that morning cup of coffee went through your system. You can’t just pull over anywhere you feel like it and take care of business. You just. Keep. Going.
You learn to take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves and you learn to make sure you have food and drink aboard (remember, we had no fridge and no fresh water at this point though we were supposed to). But the first day on the road wasn’t too bad and we had a nice, warm KOA waiting for us in Tulsa. Pity we had so much trouble finding it.
As we approached Tulsa the skies began to unload. By the time it was dark, the rain had turned to sleet. We had two GPS systems running, the built-in Garmin GPS in the Edmund and Wayz on Nan’s smart phone. Even though they differ sometimes, they both agreed on the directions to the KOA. When we got off the interstate, we realized we were about to go through a toll both and neither of us had the cash to pay the toll. Surely they would take credit cards. They don’t take credit cards. Nan writes them a check as the line of cars grows behind us.
Two miles latter we spot the KOA sign on a side road and turn down it. The sleet has reduced visibility to about thirty feet at this point. As we approach a T intersection, both the Garmin GPS and Wayz are telling us to take a right. Just as I commit the Edmund to a right turn, Nan notices a sign on the fence in front of us that says the KOA is to the left.
Time for yet another Class A learning experience. When you are towing a vehicle, you never just back up. Never. You unhitch the tow vehicle and THEN back up. It’s dark, it’s sleeting, I’m blocking the road, both GPS systems are telling me to take a right, it takes me about one tenth of a second to decide I’m going to keep turning right. We follow the GPS maps about a half mile down a suburban side street to what is supposed to be the entrance to the KOA. It’s not. I stop the Edmund, put the hazard lights on, and indulge myself with some extremely foul language. If this is a dead end, we’re going nowhere until the sun comes up. Nan’s Waze program is telling us to take the next right, but Wayz doesn’t know we’re driving an RV and may expect us to turn our “car” around in a cul-de-sac. The Garmin GPS has out of date maps (it nags me about it every time I turn it on but I haven’t found a way to update them without an iPod at that point). So what does the savvy traveler do when two GPS systems have failed him? He turns to a THIRD GPS system, in this case Google Maps, and plots a route though the narrow subdivision streets. And, yes, Waze would have taken us down a dead-end.
Google took us back to the main road so we could make another run at the KOA. I couldn’t see anything behind me, the rear camera was covered with sleet. It was so dark and visibility was so bad all I could see was the front of the Honda in the side view mirrors as we turned some very tight corners on some very narrow roads. The Honda could have been dragging a whole string of mailboxes behind me for all I knew. Given the power of the Edmund’s C12 diesel engine I could have been dragging six cars behind me and I wouldn’t feel it. This time we turned left at the T intersection and entered grounds of a casino. And entered the KOA. Turns out this KOA was just an enhanced section of a casino parking lot.
We checked in at the casino’s main building and found our site, not a problem, the sites were mostly empty. So the first night of our journey to warmth found us in a sleet encrusted swampy park where once again we couldn’t hook up to the “city water” for fear that it would freeze overnight. I checked the Honda to make sure it was all there and not dragging any mail boxes or lawn jockeys, then we filled up a two gallon water jug (for flushing if need be) and slogged back to the casino building for a pretty dismal meal. Bar food only. It was a very small casino. Then back to the Edmund to go to bed in our even tinier than usual bedroom. I hadn’t extended the slideouts for fear they’d either drag a bunch of slush in when I retracted them in the morning or, worse, freeze up and allow us the dubious pleasure of spending more time in slush covered Tulsa.
Tomorrow was bound to be better.
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