Traveling West on Wheels

    My dad and I stand beside our motorhome while traveling out west in 1994.

    While traveling via RV on vacation may not be the most cost-effective mode of transportation because of current gas prices, it once gave families an affordable alternative to pricey getaways.

    There are a number of recreational vehicles to rent or purchase when preparing for a trip, typically categorized by motorhomes, travel trailers, or truck campers. Motorhomes typically come in one of three “Classes”–A, B, and C. The Class A vehicles are the largest and are what comes to mind when people think of an RV. Class B motorhomes are the smallest and resemble a large van, with Class C vehicles offering a similar style, but with an added bed section over the cab. Travel trailers, also referred to as the towables category, include the basic travel trailer and fifth wheels, the last of which has a front section that sits on the bed of the truck. Travel trailers have a simple rectangular shape.

    When I was young, my family owned a Class C motorhome that we took on many vacations including out west to visit some of my family. I was four years old when we took to the roads, through Arkansas and stopping for a length of time first in New Mexico. We then made our way to Breckenridge, Colorado where my aunt had moved years earlier. Accustomed to seeing the neighbors to the right of our house purchase several large RVs over the span of a few years, our Class C was extremely modest–probably less than modest considering my parents purchased it from the roadside and we later ended up in mountainous terrain with limited brake ability (after my dad took a hammer to a broken part).

    Even when our neighbors would drive their large RV out of their extended garage when springtime rolled around, opening all three of the built-in slide out sections, my mom never let that affect her anticipation for our trips. When he would finish polishing his shiny new RV, which looked as if it had been driven directly from a showroom, my mom was packing our brown and tan-striped motorhome with the essentials. She said although the larger vehicles were beautiful, she preferred our smaller model, which she said was great for families because of the ample sleeping room. While travel trailers expand to create more living space, they often have the same amount or even less sleeping space than a Class C motorhome,

    My mom touted this as a great means of travel, because you were able to bring necessary belongings, have food in the vehicle, along with a bathroom, which was perfect for families with young children. I was able to stay entertained rather than forced to sit in a cramped car for hours on end. Having several beds handy was perfect for taking a nap, where neck and back problems are common outcomes of extended car travel. Another positive feature of RV travel is the conversations that begin with other people camping when you’re parked. Unlike staying in a hotel, people were more willing to get to know one another and share campsites, which is a big part of these types of vacations. Meeting new people is often one of the most rewarding parts of RV trips.

    We ran into trouble on the route from New Mexico to Colorado, when our brakes began to fail us. We pulled into a repair shop and after a quick investigation, were told a new part would not arrive for three days. My mom described the town as one you wouldn’t want to stay in for three minutes, let alone three days. After reading the concern on her face, my dad, raised on a farm, proceeded to hammer away at the broken part of the brakes. When it finally came loose, he removed it, piled us back into the motorhome, and we were on our way to Colorado. This may not have been the most effective way to solve our brake issue, but my parents seemed more concerned with getting out of that town than the possibility of us driving off a mountain.

    We made it safely to Colorado, and I’m not sure if that part of the motorhome was ever actually repaired (probably not). My mom, deathly afraid of the mountain roads that lacked guardrails, always opted to lay on the floor in the center of the motorhome with her eyes closed, probably pretending she was somewhere else. I, on the other hand, had my nose and fingertips pressed up against the window, looking down into the steep valleys below with childhood interest in the unfamiliar environment.

    On our way back to Michigan, the only issue we ran into was a traffic jam in Missouri. This, my mom said, would not have been that big of a problem for most people, as it lasted only two hours. However, this was on a road that lacked trees, so those without a bathroom in their vehicle (most people), were forced to hold it or create a human bathroom stall. People piled out of their cars and began to huddle around one person at a time in their group, providing a protective barrier as they did their business. These people hadn’t even signed up for a camping trip, yet here they were, roughing it more than us–a family actually on a camping trip. I felt gypped. I wanted the real experience, peeing on the side of the road included. All in the name of travel. But I suppose this is the exact reason why many opt for RV travel rather than backwoods camping.

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