Six days, 1,170 miles, two South Africans, and one Cruise America RV
The RV, or recreational vehicle, is a symbol of the American Dream. Today we know them as camper vans and solar-powered adventure-mobiles—the rigs that make dreams possible. But when we were growing up, we had clunky, ginormous, two-wheel-drive vehicles we lovingly referred to as motor homes. I was lucky enough to have one, and I remember it fondly. So earlier this summer when my boyfriend’s mother came for a visit from South Africa, I had an idea. Why not rent a Cruise America RV to show her what this wonderful country is all about?
The goal of the trip was to see as much of the state of Colorado as we could, with a pit stop in Utah, while dodging wet spring weather. We rolled out of the rental lot in Denver with a 19-footer (the smallest option) with a quintessential golden retriever painted on the side door—perfect—to embark on a journey that would cover 1,170 miles over the course of six days. As we rolled over the first curb, all of the cupboards flew open and a mug the size of a softball went hurtling towards the driver’s head. The trip was off with a bang.
When my boyfriend moved stateside seven years ago, he picked the central U.S. because of its natural resources. High mountain peaks that fill with snow in the winter and melt into loamy fun in the summer, and the otherworldly desert just next door. Our tentative map took us through these stomping grounds in an exhausting tour; one peppered with dirt roads completely inappropriate for ceramic dishware and mountain bikes hanging off the back.
We zoomed west into the sun at a pace of something that felt like 95 miles per hour (but was probably more like 50), and quickly decided the slow lane was the lane for us. I bounced around in the back of the rig, quickly becoming nauseated as I tried to work remotely from the world’s slipperiest table. Catching the rogue item here and there and trying not to let my laptop fly from under my clutches, I looked up to find us at our first destination—Aspen. We parked outside Gucci, absentmindedly noting that we were probably the only RV within city limits, and went off for cocktails. The classiest stop on our trip, these city streets wouldn’t last for long.
If you want to get to the very essence of RVing, take the philosophy of backpacking and smash it like a mosquito. Instead of packing one pair of socks and a flask, you’ve brought four pairs of shoes and three six-packs. Instead of throwing a pencil and notepad into your pack for jotting down Thoreau-like ruminations, you’ve brought your laptop and a power cord to check your inbox. And when it comes to the actual motion of the thing? You’re not placing one foot in front of the other in walking meditation, but careening down the highway completely out of control at any speed over 25 miles per hour. Add in a slight side-wind, and you’d better be driving on a four-lane highway.
The next morning we rose with the sun, clinked coffee mugs in front of the Maroon Bells, and put the pedal to the floor (literally) to climb the eight-percent grade McClure Pass. Our next destination was one that we’d never had the opportunity to explore—the small mining town of Paonia. We pedaled our bikes up Jumbo Mountain, got way too tipsy wine tasting in town, and wandered up a steep dirt road to find a place to camp. That night, we learned an important RV lesson: the grey-water holding tank is smaller than the freshwater tank. Our strict no-bathroom policy was rendered useless as we suffered the toxic smell of dirty shower water sitting stagnant all night long.
After a night in the mountain biking mecca of Fruita, we finally crossed the border into the storied desert. My boyfriend’s mom, despite our groaning, liked to call this place “The Moab,” akin to “The Kalahari,” and we had no choice but to give in to the foreign faux pas. Here we realized that a Saturday is not the time to visit The Moab. We were relegated to the mass parking lot on Kane Creek Road, which happened to be infested with both RV’s and ants.
During the course of any well-executed RV trip, chances are you’ll come to a glaring realization. You’ve become that guy with the RV. You know, that guy. The one holding up traffic. The one with the big “RENT ME” sign on the spare tire. The one that inevitably has to pull into an RV park to dump waste and fill up again to continue the yucky circle-of-RV-life. The whole thing begins to look a little anti-outdoors, actually. But that wasn’t at all our intent.
By day four, the RV was dirty. It reminded me vaguely of a frat house. Personal space didn’t exist, and everything was sort of musty smelling. Was it beer? As long as I could ignore my domestic impulses, the daily routine was becoming enjoyable in its own right. It went something like this: make coffee, run out of fresh water, pack up camp, drive, ride mountain bikes, fill up fresh water, pitch camp. We got hangry. We got carsick. We laughed. Alright…I was the one who got hangry and carsick. But with only two more days remaining, I was determined to make the most of it.
Besides, I’d been waiting for this part. A year before, I had ridden Captain Ahab and Porcupine Rim on my hardtail. It was painful. Now, I was back and ready to do it again on a full suspension Yeti. Over the next two days we pedaled for hours on end, knocking out Ahab and all but the very top of the Whole Enchilada. We endoed. We got flat tires. We had an absolute blast.
Finally with epic sunburns and road rash, it was time to say goodbye to The Moab. We sped through areas we would’ve liked to explore, hurried along by office jobs and a flight back to South Africa. We ate a pizza in Crested Butte and parked alongside the river at an incredible campsite, enjoying our sixth and final night. The next morning I was back on my computer, sliding around on the built-in table as we descended from the mountains into Denver—ready for a shower and a real internet connection, but sad to see it all come to an end.
Everyone asked me why I would ever suggest going on such a trip. Was I out of my mind? Did I want to sabotage my relationship? Oh, please. If there is a vehicle bound for the mountains, I’m going to be in it no matter what the circumstances. The following are my recommendations for how to survive a similar trip and make it one to remember.
Make sure everyone has space
Ideally, you won’t be going on an extended road trip with several type-A personalities. Unfortunately for my travel companions, I am type-A. To make sure I didn’t get kicked off the RV, I went on a self-imposed time out every now and then. Luckily I was working remotely for several days, so I was able to concentrate on my inbox for a mental reprieve.
Practice being flexible
With any group, especially family members, people are bound to butt heads. Make sure everyone is kept a happy camper, even if it means sacrificing what you’d like for dinner or where you’d prefer to pitch the tent. And for when things actually go wrong, like when you miscalculate the holding tanks on your RV, being flexible really comes in handy.
Agree to take the scenic route
The entire point of an RV trip, at least in our case, is to enjoy the long way. Make sure everyone is on the same page about your goals, whether it’s getting somewhere by sunset or committing to an open and lenient schedule.
Assign everyone a job
If you’ve ever tried making dinner with three people in a 19” vehicle, you know how important it is for people to have tasks. If one person makes the campfire while another enjoys a beer in a hammock and you prepare dinner, you’ll all avoid stepping on toes, both literally and figuratively.
Appreciate the ridiculousness
You’re with family. It’s going to be hectic. No matter how many times you’d like to pull your hair out, remind yourself that this is probably never going to happen again. The fact that you decided to go on such a trip is really, really cool, and ten years from now, that’s all you’ll be able to remember anyway.
WHERE TO RENT:
Cruise America offers three models of RV, from compact to large. Base rates start at $150 per day, plus $.34 per mile. Cruiseamerica.com