Friday, May 13, 2005
The Beginning: Euless to Beaumont, TX
This is a Friday, the launch date of our new Jayco fifth wheel on an actual trip! I needed to travel from Dallas to Palm Coast, Florida, to attend a two-day class on one of the FAA's arcane data-collection programs, and I thought, "Why not take Homer and let the government pay for part of the expense? (Homer, by the way, is the name of the new trailer. It should be noted here that we have always had a penchant for naming things in our household. The green Dodge pickup we bought to pull Homer is named "The Hornet." Why? I don't know, I guess because it's green, and the diesel engine makes a buzzing sound. Our cat is named Elvis, and Sandy even named the goldfish in our little pond in the back yard - Elmer and Louise. Go figure.)
Over the past couple of weeks, we've been preparing Homer and the Hornet for this trip. The Hornet got a new fifth wheel hitch, a new louvered tailgate with a v-cutout for easy trailer hookup, new running boards (the step up into the ¾-ton Hornet was too much for Sandy), and a new satellite radio. I wanted to get a GPS navigation system, but I ran out of time (and money). Although I've never owned one before, I chose the Dodge pickup solely because of the Cummins engine and its legendary reputation for reliability and ease of service. Now that I've driven the Hornet for a while, I really like the truck as well as the engine. It seems very solid and, with the powerful engine, hardly knows the 7,500-pound Homer is behind it. I'm really very pleased with the whole rig.
Over the past two weeks, we've made several trips to the storage facility where Homer lives, to drop off stuff for our trip. One of the many things we didn't anticipate was the huge number of items required to "stock" an RV. It was much like setting up housekeeping all over again as newlyweds! Using checklists provided in the Jayco owner's guide as a starting point, we quickly overran those onto two small tablets - one list for the things we already had that needed to go to out to Homer and another for the things we would need to acquire. Sandy concentrated on the household items and I fussed over things like what tools and other hardware to take along. This wasn't easy, as we really had no frame of reference for this, except for the special items needed like a voltage tester and water pressure regulator, which we learned we needed by spending countless hours researching RV travel in magazines and the Internet. For everything that went aboard Homer, we gave special consideration to size and weight. While Jayco has been as generous as possible with storage space, it is still at a premium, and there is the maximum gross weight of the trailer to be considered. We opted, for example, for a flat-screen TV, as it weighs much less than the old-style sets of comparable screen size. Another example is the vacuum cleaner. RVs are little houses, and they need all the housekeeping chores we occasionally did back at the manse. We thought about using one of the little portable handhelds, but Sandy needed one that could be operated from a standing position. We found a Eureka model at Wal-Mart that has a collapsible handle to aid in storing it. It works great, doesn't use bag refills, and at forty bucks, is a steal!
Sandy was terribly anxious about leaving our seventeen-year-old daughter, Mindy, behind, but she was headed to a church camp retreat that would keep her occupied for a good deal of the time we were away. Mindy has always been a good kid, and we really don't worry about her getting into trouble. She was completely ecstatic, however, at the thought of finally being independent of her smothering parents for a few days. We think this will be a bit of a shock for her, though, as she really isn't cognizant of the prodigious support system that her parents provide for her. Sandy is already experiencing separation anxiety about Mindy's leaving the nest, even though she hasn't even begun her senior year of high school. Halfway into our first day, Sandy was a weepy mess because Mindy didn't answer her cell phone right away.
We knew there would be countless learning experiences on this trip, and the first one came quickly. Even though we had been schlepping the new housekeeping items out to Homer for several days, we elected to leave some things until the day of departure. My plan was to leave the house early and drive the Hornet out to the storage facility to pick up Homer. It should have taken no more than an hour for the round trip, but I was suddenly entangled in a traffic jam due to a major accident. This was unexpected, as I was going in the opposite direction of the usual morning rush traffic into Dallas. On the way back, with Homer in tow, a train blocked the road in front of the storage place for what seemed like an eternity. I marveled at the predictability of the fact that life is so unpredictable. What are the chances these events would have occurred if I weren't in a hurry? Sometimes it seems as though God arranges little demonstrations like this to remind us how incapable we are of controlling fully our destiny and how we should be more dependent upon Him to guide our paths. Personally, I think this was a test to see if I would say bad words if no one else was listening. (I think I did, but I didn't say them very loud, and I didn't pound the steering wheel, if that matters.)
The result of God's little lesson in humility was that I didn't get back to the house with Homer until about 0930, which was approximately the time I had earmarked for our departure. This was not the only complication: Sandy had not yet put fully into practice certain resolutions she made to reduce the endless preparation time she requires to do, well, anything. For all of our 29 years of marriage, she has been fastidious about her hygiene and appearance, and for that I am grateful. Until recently retired, she held a job as a teacher and, due to the need for punctuality, she had always allowed at least two hours for her incomprehensibly complex morning preparation ritual before launching from the garage with all the subtlety of a Saturn 5 rocket. I've been extolling the benefits of simplifying our lives as we get older and she agrees, in theory, that that would be a good thing. Putting this into practice, however, has been a challenge for her, and it's not something that I wished to comment on this particular morning.
By the time we got everything on board and closed up the house, it was straight up noon! This was not good, as we needed to be in Beaumont, some 300 miles away, for the first overnight. As we pulled out of our neighborhood, we were terribly excited about the new adventure, but both of us had the nagging feeling that we had forgotten something. It turned that we had—our jackets. We determined we would buy some inexpensive outerwear if we needed it.
We stopped in Ennis at a favorite little Chinese restaurant for lunch. We knew their entrees to be large, so we shared one and agreed that we had plenty to eat. Total bill for a good hot lunch—six bucks. Can't beat that.
Back in the Hornet, all was uneventful as we winded our way down through the Big Thicket of East Texas, across Lake Livingston and by the bucolic Escapees RV compound as we neared the Texas coast. We discovered a drawback to the Hornet: The capacity of the fuel tank. I think it holds about 27 or 28 gallons, but that doesn't get us very far pulling Homer. I'm trying to ignore the gas mileage, however, because I don't want that to be a limiting factor in my full enjoyment of this RV passion that I've had for such a long time. I've decided not to even calculate the mileage; it is what it is. Another discovery about diesel fuel: Not every gas station has it! It's not hard to find out on the interstates, but when I get on the blue highways, I start looking for a good fuel price when the fuel gauge gets down to about 1/3 of a tank. On the interstates, it's easy; we look for a truck stop, and they always have a pretty good price. Out in the hinterlands, however, the price can be up to 50 cents a gallon higher in some places, so you have to be observant.
We had called ahead to the Gulf Coast RV Resort and told them we would be arriving late. They were very friendly and gave us instructions about how to handle our check-in after office hours. We arrived around sunset and had enough daylight left to find our spot and get set up for our first time in an RV campground! Gulf Coast's sign-in procedure was a snap, done at a small desk set up outside their office. We filled out a short registration form and took an information sheet that gave us all the information we needed to find our spot. They had even drawn an arrow on a map of the park, indicating the path we should follow. It was a piece of cake, and we were impressed at their organization. All their parking spaces were pull-throughs, so getting Homer situated for the night was no problem. Gulf Coast's roads and pads were all concrete and perfectly level, so I didn't have to fuss with leveling Homer.
We chose Beaumont as the first stop not only for its distance from Dallas, but for its wireless internet connectivity and its proximity to a restaurant that we had wanted to try for a long time. This was Sartin's Seafood, having received rave reviews by some of our kinfolks who live nearby. We were not disappointed. We ordered a seafood platter, and everything tasted as though it had been swimming just hours before. Again, the one entrée provided plenty of food for both of us. I tried some of their barbecued crabs and, although the flavor was wonderful, I found the work required to get at the little bits of crabmeat was not worth the hassle.
We went back to Homer and turned in for the night. We found it hard to fall asleep, thinking about all the new experiences coming at us so fast. We were also adjusting to our new mattresses. These we had custom made at a small mattress factory in Fort Worth on the same day we took delivery of Homer. As with most lower-end RVs, Homer's mattresses, the standard factory issue supplied by Jayco, were hopelessly inadequate. We pulled Homer straight from the RV lot to nearby Fort Worth Mattress factory, where they pulled out the old mattresses and installed the new ones. We asked that the old ones be given to the underprivileged, and they were pleased to do so. The eleven hundred bucks for the custom jobs turned out to be money well spent. We're very picky about our beds, and getting a good night's sleep is essential to our enjoyment of the next day.
The next morning, we took advantage of the free continental breakfast served by the park. They had a couple of waffle irons fashioned in the shape of Texas, and we simply poured in the pre-measured batter and cooked them for two minutes according to a timer on the cooker. They were quite good, and we enjoyed the camaraderie of other RV'rs taking advantage of the free goodies. Well, I don't guess it was actually free, as the overnight rate was around thirty dollars. We learned upon checkout that if we had been members of Passport America, we would have gotten a 50% discount. I plan to sign up before the next trip.
The one hickey for this place was the unavailability of the wireless internet. It was not working at the time of our visit, and I voiced my disappointment on the critique sheet. It is amazing how dependent we have become on the internet for information. Our trip to Florida was largely planned using the internet and, without it, I felt disconnected and in some kind of time warp.