I'll Have What She's Having
Barbara Wentzell Jaquith
© Copyright 2020 by Barbara Wentzell Jaquith
Roadways like this terrify me. All that Zen mindfulness practice just flies right out the window, exactly as I imagine our vulnerable bodies will do when we encounter the speeding vehicle that is approaching around every blind corner. It’s all about to end with the screech of tires, the crunch of metal on metal and the shrill shattering of breaking glass. Today, I am sure I am simply going to die in anonymity on this frightful back road.
The route approaching this park should have been a forewarning. From the time we left the highway, the width of the pavement gradually narrowed down while the washed out ditches along the sides deepened and dropped off precariously. At the actual entrance to the campground, the road shrunk to a rocky ribbon that was barely passable for two vehicles. Our trailer is long, especially when you add the length of the truck. Also, the two vehicles don’t turn together on a dime. They need time and space to react, the truck turning first and the trailer following its lead. The two are like an old married couple communicating in their own way. The truck says, “We need to turn right here and right now.”, and the trailer simply ignores it for a few minutes until it’s good and ready to respond. Only then does it begin to make the turn.
As we made the tight bend into the campground area itself, it became clear that the designer of this place was a serious tree lover and not one tree was cleared unnecessarily. While it is woodsy and beautiful to look at, there is a very limited entry into each individual campsite. Just to add to the challenge, boulders had been placed at the corner of the campsites by that sadist tree hugging campground designer who wanted to be sure that no pine tree was injured by vehicles. Every campsite at Pine Grove Furnace requires backing in with little room for error. The pit of my stomach began to tighten.
Inching carefully through the campground towards our assigned site, we counted up from site number one to site number twenty-four and thus far, I had not seen any space that I thought we could squeeze into. And then, there it was, the magic number twenty-five; our designated home for the night was a narrow gap between two enormous trees, flanked by boulders on either side of the entrance. I closed my eyes trying to get a mental picture of the angles and adjustments that would be necessary to cram us in reverse into this impossible space. In this moment I imagined myself as the portly lady looking down at the airplane seat knowing that there was going to be a massive squeeze factor involved if this was going to have any chance of working.
As a traveling couple, Arnie and I have a distinct division of skills and talents. Arnie drives forward and I do all of the backing up. Being big believers in playing to our individual strengths, we divide our labor according to what we are best at. My nerves get the better of me driving on the highways with the big rigs, making me a menace on the road. And Arnie is challenged when it comes to the intricacies of moving two vehicles joined with a swivel hitch in reverse gear. While he struggles with left vs right, for some inexplicable reason, it comes natural to me. I can wipe my mind clean for a short time and operate on pure fear and intuition. I think it comes from raising four kids, which also involves a fair share of pure fear and intuition. But between us, we have a full skill set, so we make it work.
When we pull up to a new campsite with Arnie at the wheel, we always stop the truck and switch drivers. I get behind the wheel while he gets out and gives me directions for backing us into the site and aligning us with the utility hook ups. Most of his directions I ignore. As I indicated, he’s not strong with the left/right thing. We apologize after the fact for anything we said while parking the trailer.
Sometimes we back right in with no issues and other times we are a spectacle. Today, I was pretty sure there was no way to avoid being a spectacle. I felt little confidence when I said to Arnie, “I will try this, but there’s pretty much no way are we going to cram this rig into that spot.” I climbed into my big black stallion of a truck and placed my hands firmly on the wheel. Just like a rodeo rider in those few seconds before the gate flies opens to release the bronco, I said a quiet prayer, took a deep breath and said to my husband, “Okay, let’s go.”
Easing the truck back and forth with small adjustments, I eased the trailer through the obstacle course. “Zen mind”, I chanted trying not to notice how close the trees were. When the anxiety arose, I tried to notice and name it without succumbing to it. “It’s only a thought.” I reminded myself several times. But it was more than a thought; it was a freaking big boulder.
Remarkably, after holding up traffic for twenty minutes and inching backwards at a painfully slow pace, I was surprised to find that we were in. I could feel the relief wash over me as I leaned out the window to look at Arnie with gratitude that once again we had prevailed over a challenge by working together. “Am I close enough to the hook-ups?” I asked. It seemed like slow motion as he turned around to check and then back to me with a sheepish look on his face. “Oh-oh, there’s no hook ups on this site.”
No hook-ups? Boondocking (camping without access to water, sewer or electric hook-ups) is a perfectly acceptable practice for some campers, but we travel with a parrot and two little dogs who are all somewhat fragile and susceptible to cold. We cannot be without electricity to keep them warm. We looked at each other, sharing this very special “Oh Crap” moment. Perhaps we should have looked to check on utilities before we went to all this trouble, but we were tired, hungry and road weary after days of rain along this trip and we missed an important detail. We won’t blame Arnie who made the reservation and walked the site to inspect it while I backed up. What would be the point of placing blame? No point at all, so we won’t blame Arnie. Nope, none at all.
Just then, along comes a Fairy Godfather by the name of Ron the Campground Host. Ron has a big grin and a helpful heart. He spied us standing at the site pondering our options and walked up, stating the obvious, “Wouldn’t you folks rather have a site with electricity?” He had one such site left for one night and one night was all we needed. But now, I would have to do an encore performance.
So, in forward gear again, Arnie pulled the truck out and headed gingerly down the road to the new campsite that had hook ups. Surely, the next one would be easier after the practice run I just executed. But the universe does not operate with fairness and the new site appeared to have all of the unique challenges of the first one with one significant addition. Now I had an audience. In the adjoining campsite, sat three men in lawn chairs under the canopy of a huge trailer. They had obviously had no problem backing their boy-toy in and were all settled with a roaring campfire already blazing to ward off the chill. Turkey season in Pennsylvania started the next day and these guys were in full regalia, camo jackets, hats, etc. The stage had been set for some serious performance anxiety. I was on stage and the audience was ready to critique.
Now I truly believe that this moment was karmic payback for all of the times we have spied on couples setting up tents for the first time or attempting to park a brand new trailer. It’s not very kind, but it’s cheap entertainment. It’s natural to rubberneck at the spectacle of others grappling with the tasks of setting up camp. I knew these three guys were thinking that this is going to be good. They unapologetically stood up to rearrange and position their chairs for a full view of the upcoming events.
And I did not disappoint. Backing into the second site was an excruciating instant replay of the first time, this time with an evolving pinched nerve in my neck from cranking around to note how crazy close the trailer was to the pine tree on the left. Time seemed suspended while I maneuvered the truck and trailer carefully between the bushes, boulders and trees, all the while acutely aware of the peanut gallery.
After several attempts and another twenty minutes of adjusting the coupled vehicles by inches at a time, the trailer finally slipped backwards into the site at an acceptable angle and it was even close enough to hook up the electric and water. I gunned the motor once and then hopped out of the truck, standing tall to face the mighty turkey hunters. “Show’s over boys! Back to the beer!” They laughed and gave me thumbs up.
Later one of them came over to chat and shared with me that he thought I did just fine and that if I had needed help, he knew I would have asked. That was nice, but I probably would have only asked for help if I’d backed over my husband. Maneuvering that trailer gives me a feeling of empowerment and competence. In the big scheme of things, there are skills that are far more important and valuable than backing up a trailer. This is a small thing compared to the life changing skills that some people perform on a daily basis: like brain surgery or peace negotiations. But when I hoist myself up into the truck and prepare to shift into reverse I do feel like I am representing all of the sisters who thought they couldn’t do something because it’s a man thing. Each time, no matter how long it takes me, I feel as if I accomplished something solid and validating. Everyone needs something that makes them claim their worth and backing up a trailer is mine! I am woman, hear that engine roar. Or, something like that.
Exhausted from the tribulation, we decided to take a ride into one of our very favorite small towns. Milford, Pennsylvania is charming with nice shops run by local artisans, trendy cafes and great restaurants. It is a throwback little town with a laid back vibe, an escape for folks who need a day trip or long weekend break from the city. They come out to stay at one of the quaint inns and sit out on the porch for dinner, watching the world pass by at a quieter pace. Our favorite spot is the serene wrap-around porch at 203 Broad where we like to enjoy a bite to eat, a drink and quiet porch time.
The fare here is vegetarian, the service warm and friendly and on this particular day, it was a perfect way to wind down. We settled in to de-compress from our long day of travel and stressful parking experience. We ordered a nice glass of wine with dinner and heaved a sigh of relief to be somewhere relaxing for the next couple of hours before heading back to camp.
I had just taken my first sip of wine when we heard the unmistakable roar of Harley Davidson motorcycles coming up Main Street, shattering the peace as they approached. Right in front of the tranquil porch where we were unwinding, three huge black bikes carrying four leather-encased people slid in to one parking spot. The first biker pulled in with a smoothly executed semi-circle in order to face his bike outward towards the street. He finalized his theatrical arrival with that bone rumbling exercise of gunning the motor a couple of times before he flicked down the kickstand and dismounted. A second fellow did the same thing, gracefully angling his mount into the space, shutting down the ear splitting engine and athletically swinging a leg over his bike. The third rider pulled in but had to do some maneuvering to fit into the remaining space. She pulled in and then eased her bike back and forth several times looking for a level spot to drop the kickstand. Unsatisfied, she moved it to the next parking space rocking the bike back and forth with her hips to find her perfect sweet spot. She sat on that rumbling beast with the motor running for an awkwardly long moment before she shut it down.
Of course every guest on the porch was watching it all in awe and fascination. It’s that rubbernecking thing I had experienced myself back at camp. Its voyeuristic entertainment and we cannot help ourselves. Every head on the porch was turned and all eyes were on the leather clad woman with the long legs and the black biker boots rocking her Harley into position. From under her reflective helmet, long kinky blonde hair protruded in wind-blown wisps.
As we gawked, one of the handsome fellows slipped out of his leather jacket revealing a crisp long-sleeved white shirt. Setting his helmet carefully on the seat of his ride, he walked over to the girl and took either side of her helmet in his hands. He seductively unbuckled it, slid it gently off and set it on the ground. Everyone on the porch took a collective breath as he tilted her head back and planted a long romance novel kiss on her. Among the many other things going through my sixty-five year old mind was the thought, “Doesn’t her neck hurt?”
When the amorous couple finally came up for air, the porch audience let their breath out collectively. We held our applause, but continued to stare spell-bound while he helped her dismount her bike and led her up the stairs onto the porch. Her heeled biker boots claimed her presence as they thudded on the steps. They chose a table and slid down into the chairs. Of course, they were speaking French. They ordered coffee and pastries and every other woman on the porch was thinking, “I’ll have what she’s having please.”
The irony is not lost on me. I back up a thirty-four foot trailer attached to a giant pick-up truck fifty yards into an unbelievably small space in the woods and I get a token, “Good job Babe”, from my husband who is busy hooking up the sewer.” This stunning young woman with the chic raised-with-wolves look backed a motorcycle two feet into a spacious parking space and she practically gets consummated on Main Street. I mentioned this to Arnie. He looked confused or perhaps he was yet to fully recover his senses.
But despite some inequities in the rewards that this beautiful young woman and I got for our similar performances that day, here’s what I know. As women, we really need to celebrate our accomplishments at each and every season of our lives. So Biker Chick, I celebrate your bravado, your raw love of life, your confidence in your sensuality because I was once you and one day, you will be me in the wonderful and natural evolution of life and love. Flaunt it, toss it and swag it girl so that you remember this time well as you move through all the seasons of your life. Meanwhile, here’s to all the women who know how to gun their own motors. And to the men who get to come along for the ride.
I am an artist and author with a home base in Conyers, Georgia. I explore the countryside in an RV in search of new subject matter for writing in the good company of my husband, an Entlebucher Mountain Dog named Journey and an African Grey Parrot named Cracker.
During our travels, I love to meet sorts of inspirational characters and hear their stories of the human experience. As an older writer, I value all of the roller coaster rides that life has offered me to help craft stories. My vision is to provide readers with inspiration and practical life insights through storytelling.
I have recently published a non-fiction book about the RV lifestyle, based on over 100 interviews conducted with seasoned travelers and personal anecdotes from our own travel. You can view details on my author's page here.
am is skilled at backing a trailer, read Kenneth Grahame's, The
Wind in the Willows at
least once a year
and am most comfortable sitting around a campfire in a flannel shirt
with a dog in my lap.