Best Laid Plans

Stephanie Whitson

© Copyright 2020 by Stephanie Whitson

Photo by Isaac Moore on Unsplash
                                       Photo by Isaac Moore on Unsplash

Stephanie and her family went on their first road trip in their new RV and learned they did not know everything about how best to travel. This is a story full of surprises guaranteed to make you chuckle.

The idea was simple. Pack up our RV and boondock across California and Nevada, continue through until we arrive in Louisiana. We wanted to save money and figured dry camping was the best way to do it, while still being able to travel. As with any best-laid plans, there will always be hiccups. Be prepared to be entertained as you read about our adventures into the land of boondocking. The idea was simple: open up the app and pick a site that has reviews. Well, we had planned on staying near Mt. Shasta, but we realized we weren't sure of cell coverage so we continued onward.

We used the same app to find a place called Guzman Campground in California and it was a nice enough camp area. There was a picnic table, fire pit, and even a river running right through the camp. This was called Guzman Campground in California, but we made the decision to move on because if any other campers would come down we would not have been able to get back out. Our next stop was in an OHV area. We found it using the same app as the other site. After finding a spot that had a bathroom and plenty of space, we unhooked the trailer from the truck and set out to level the trailer. We found we did not have enough leveler blocks to make the trailer level. At one point we had the front half extended all the way and it still wasn’t level. We decided it wouldn't work for us, as we wanted to be able to stay in one spot for at least a week. We spent another hour hooking the trailer back up and headed out on the road once again. At this point, we were running out of daylight and running low on gas. So, we decided to move on and the next area we would make work for us. So, again we used the app and found free camping on Fish and Wildlife land in Nevada. We finally found our spot! Flat and level! The only downside was the ridiculous cell coverage out there!

Now, here comes the fun part! While we were camping out in this beautiful area, we lost the ability to use our lights, a/c, and even the outlets. After doing some guess and checking along with some trial and error we figured it out. Our trailer was not charging while we were towing it behind us, so we used our truck batteries to charge the RV. It was not the news we wanted to find out. We were in the desert in the early summer and it was already in the mid-80s. When we had set up the trailer at this spot, we discovered one of our stabilizers was horribly broken. Instead of it facing the ground, it was now sitting perpendicular to the ground with a couple of bolts broken off. I think it was broken when we had been exploring the desert roads looking for a place to park.

My husband, Jesse had wandered down the road to try to get cell coverage and he managed to find some volunteers who work for the Nevada Fish and Wildlife. They ended up helping him out with a landline. After several days of playing phone tag, Jesse finally got a hold of Blue Dog RV in Las Vegas. During several phone calls between the Las Vegas dealership and our hometown one, we discovered there was nothing actually wrong with the batteries, except our truck doesn't have enough power to charge the batteries. One of the volunteers helped us out with charging our batteries on a charging station there and also lent us a generator to use while we stayed. The volunteers allowed us to stay longer than the time allowed due to our circumstances and after 11 days we finally were able to be on our way.

The day before we left, there was a cold spell coming through which caused the temperature to drop to the mid-50s, so I was happy to finally be able to head towards Las Vegas for our appointment. Even though our appointment wasn’t for several more weeks, I was looking forward to getting out of the cold temps and discovering a new place I had never seen.

We pulled out the same app and found a station to dump and fill our tanks. Once we did that, our next goal was to locate a place near Las Vegas to wait it out until our appointment time. Again, the plan was to choose a location using the app and stay out for two weeks. We drove straight through from Reno to Las Vegas, with the plan to make one stop midway through for lunch, which we did at a truck stop. We took a few more hours to reach the outskirts of Las Vegas and it was at this point, we had to admit our so-called easy plan was not in our cards. There was a lot of traffic and at one point we had slowed down to a mere 7 miles per hour. The traffic was going at such a slow pace, we were afraid we might run out of gas at one point. But, let’s go back to the beginning of the slow traffic outside of Las Vegas. We kept on seeing signs directing traffic to a certain lane if you were there for an EDM event. We had no idea what the signs were referring to since we definitely were not from the area. We figured we might as well keep going towards our destination we had picked out on the map. We had made it through Las Vegas and finally coming out on the other side near the Air Force Base when the accident happened. We were in the very left-hand lane and to our right was another lane of traffic. Mind you, we were crawling along at a snail’s pace of maybe 8 miles per hour. There was a small Toyota Camry being driven by a young-looking girl. She was getting pretty close to our GMC Truck and 37-foot trailer that my husband actually honked his horn at her, which is saying a lot since in 5 years that was the first time I can recall him using the horn. The young driver had the audacity to put up her left hand to shield her face from us as she tried to cut us off. I say tried because her maneuver only accomplished her driver’s side mirror being broken off as well as part of the front bumper. We did the only thing we could do and it was to stop where we were and get out to exchange information with the other driver. My husband had the good fortune to record all the damage and where we were parked and he also took a picture of her license and insurance card. We had called Highway patrol to report the accident, but after about 20 minutes the young-girl driver took off to make it to the event. We had no choice but to stay put since the long line of traffic was not letting us pull out into traffic. Our gas gauge was reading super low because it had taken us nearly 4 hours to go from one side of Las Vegas to another. Eventually, as it neared 9 pm, a highway patrolman arrived. He only happened to come by because of reports of a large vehicle impeding traffic, which was out vehicle, but he wasn’t there for the accident. We told him about the accident and what happened and we were reassured we would not be in trouble for impeding traffic. The patrolman was nice enough to tell us where to go to park the trailer overnight since the area we were headed towards was the site of the event everyone was heading towards. He was also nice enough to direct traffic so we could actually leave the scene.

Picture driving for close to 9 hours with 4 of those hours being stuck in traffic, only to find out we were headed towards a location not available to use. Needless to say, we were beyond tired and our patience with each other was running thin. I pulled open my trusty phone and located the place we were directed by the patrolman. We pulled into the parking lot, set the trailer up for sleeping and everyone was out within minutes. Finally, we were able to get a good night’s rest.

But our story does not end there, instead, I was woken up by a knock on our trailer door. I grabbed my phone and saw it had only been an hour since we parked. I jumped out of bed and went to open the door, with a horrible feeling in my stomach. I took a deep breath and prepared myself.

You can’t stay here,” a security person said.

We were in an accident and a highway patrolman told us we could park here tonight,” I said.

We used to allow it, but not anymore,” another security person said.

Alright, let me wake up our kids and we will leave. Do you have any suggestions about where we could go?” I asked.

I’m thinking some of the hotel-casinos should be available,” they said.

Thanks,” I said.

I went back inside and told my husband what happened, so we woke up the kids and left the parking lot. Our next destination was a hotel-casino and of course, we came across another problem. This time the problem was a security patrol for the casino told us we could not park there unless we were also staying at the hotel. He did give us two suggestions of where we could park for the night. We tried the first suggestion, which was a street on the side of the hotel which was not their property, but there was no space for the long trailer we were towing. So, we went to the second location which was on the other side of the hotel-casino and it was a parking lot for long-haul truck drivers. We located a space between two trucks and made up the dinette and recliners into sleeping spaces for the kids, so we would not have to hassle with trying to make room for the slide-out. We managed to get the kids settled and in their beds somewhere around midnight and I set my alarm for 5 am in order to leave very early in the morning.

We woke the kids up very early and headed out on the road again. This time, we went to a park close-by so the kids would have a chance to run around and I would have time to make them some pancakes in the trailer. While the kids were running around and playing on the playground equipment, my husband and I sat down to discuss our plans. Which if you have been paying attention never seem to go according to plan.

The desert weather started to warm up rather quickly and we just wanted to find a spot to park and stay because at this point we were tired of driving around all day. Plus, we were running very low on gas. I pulled out my trusty phone and opened the app we had been using to find places. After consulting the app and the map on my phone, we found a nearby free camping area, so we piled back into the truck and headed towards yet another new spot. We had agreed that however the area looked, we were going to make it work. We found the area rather easily and after exploring the area for about 15 to 20 minutes we found an area that would fit our long trailer. The area we had chosen was the National Desert Wildlife Area and it was beautiful! The area had large open spaces all around for the kids to explore and there were plenty of desert lizards for them to chase. The best part about this area was the visitors center, which had public bathrooms, filtered water stations and even a junior ranger program for the kids to complete. The visitors center even had paved trails and plenty of wildlife to find.

It was during this particular stay we found us yet another problem. The batteries on the Rv were running low after a few days and we had no idea why it was happening. According to the service departments, we had consulted, our batteries were new and there was no reason why they shouldn’t be charging the batteries. There was another RV parked at another spot within viewing distance who was using a generator the night before, so I made my husband go down to talk to them about borrowing their generator. During our travels, we had come across many fulltime RVers who were always so friendly and helpful, so I didn’t think it was weird to go ask. After about 20 minutes my husband came back from their campsite with the guy who was camping along with the generator. It was fortunate I had convinced my husband to go ask because he had a Chevy Silverado, which the engine is built similarly to a GMC Sierra. They were talking about their trucks and it was found our fuse in the truck which allows it to charge the RV while it is being towed was a 30 amp and it was blown. We were not surprised it was blown since our trailer was a 50 amp trailer. The helpful neighbor also told us about a local car part store where we would be able to get a new fuse for the truck. We used his generator for the night, gave it back to him the next day, and headed towards the car part store. Luckily, the store had exactly what we needed, but unluckily we were running low on gas and we had run out of money.

So, for the next 12 days, we were stuck at the campground. During the course of 12 days, we had run out of room for the black tank to hold any more liquids from the bathroom, we also had run out of the water to drink. So, at the 8-day mark, we resorted to walking down to the freshwater refill stations at the visitor center to refill out gallon water jugs. We had to do this 2 to 3 times a day in order to have enough water for 5 people in the hot desert air. Typically, you are only allowed to park in the same spot for 8 days, but the park ranger understood we were waiting for money to come so we could leave again. Our truck battery had died because we had drained it before the nice people down the road had lent us their generator and the nice park ranger charged it for us even though there was a rule against it.

Our next stop was an outdoor monument which consisted of seven painted boulder totems 35 feet tall. They were in all kinds of bright colors and we were able to get some amazing photos. When we arrived, there were a handful of people at the monument, but when we left 30 minutes later it was very crowded. We pulled out the trusty app once more and located an area where there would be space for our large trailer. We headed towards the Lake Mead area on the Las Vegas side. We spent an hour or two driving around to find a level enough spot for our trailer. We finally found an area that would work, but we found yet another problem with the trailer.

Our 7 pin plug that went from the truck to the trailer had been shredded. The cord was so long we had to wrap it a few times before plugging it in, but my husband who was in charge of the cord forgot to wrap it causing it to get shredded. Luck was on our side this time because he was able to use his construction and electrical knowledge to splice all the wires back together. We had every intention of staying for at least a week, but we ended up leaving after 3 days. What was wrong with this location, you may wonder. One word: Flies! There were so many flies in the area we killed dozens every day and it got so bad I had to sleep with a blanket over my face in order to sleep. That was the final straw and we left.

Next, came our appointment for our RV we had been hanging around Las Vegas for, and luckily they did not mind we were almost 20 minutes late for our appointment. We explained to them what was going on with the stabilizer and they pointed out the broken light on the RV which we had not seen but figured it happened when the young girl ran into our trailer. We left the RV at the dealership and went to get something to eat at a buffet. We took our time eating as it was air-conditioned and it was nice to just sit and enjoy the cool air. We spent some time after eating at a local park, which happened to be across from the RV dealership service department. We wasted another couple hours at the park before deciding to head across the street to check on the progress. We were told they would order the needed part and we have to come back to the location to get it replaced. My husband and I both thought it was odd they couldn’t ship it elsewhere. Actually, let me back up a minute and say they could ship it elsewhere, but they would have to charge us a freight shipping fee. We decided to come back once the part was in, in order to save money because this trip was starting to get expensive.

Our first stop out of Las Vegas was to do some grocery shopping before hedging to a fill station to get some water on board. We finally were able to leave Las Vegas and continued on with our trip. Once we left the area, we knew we needed to purchase a generator, and the trusty app located a nearby store that had generators on sale and allowed overnight parking. If you have never been to a Cabela’s you definitely should as it had everything any outdoor person would need and lots of things you might not need but would appreciate. In this particular Cabela’s there was a giant fish tank and all sorts of lifelike animal statues. It was at this store we were able to purchase a generator at a lower cost than if we had purchased it from our home state, which was surprising because our home state has no sales tax. We were able to spend the night in the parking lot as most Cabelas allow overnight parking for their customers. We spent the night at Cabela’s the next morning and headed towards the Grand Canyon as it was next on our bucket list.

There weren’t any more mishaps with the trailer or our travels until we had left the state of Arizona. We were headed towards Louisiana in order to visit friends, but first, we needed to get across New Mexico and Texas. We had checked out the route and saw there were plenty of rest areas on the highway we were traveling. But, we kept on coming upon closed rest areas, so when we finally got to a rest area it was very late. We had run out of drinking water to drink, so while I took one of the children with me to use the restroom, my husband filled up one of the empty jugs with water in the dark. No big deal, right? Wrong! When I got back in the trailer, he told me he tried the water, but it tasted weird to him. I looked for the jug and my mouth dropped open. It was the dirtiest water I had seen on our trip. It was so dirty, it looked like river water. Luckily, he was the only one who had tasted it, so he was the only one who had a stomach ache.

The next morning, we left the only rest area we were able to find on the way through New Mexico and stopped at a visitor center on the other side of the border, near Amarillo, Texas. The visitor center had overnight parking available, so we planned on staying there. We had access to clean water, clean bathrooms, and all kinds of travel maps inside. We consulted the visitor maps and the trusty app on my phone finding a new location we could camp at for free.

We went to Lake Meredith, which was about 35 -40 minutes outside of Amarillo and it was also the only National land in Texas available to camp for free. Lake Meredith had some full hook up spots for RVs, but those were paid to camp spots. There were many more areas around the lake available to camp for free, which we definitely put to good use. Our stay at Lake Meredith was great. The view was amazing and there was also a public shower which was pretty clean. Well, if you ignored the Texas-sized bugs that found their way into some of the bathrooms, I couldn’t complain.

It was getting to be near the end of our allotted 2 week stay when the Texas winds got to be too much for even my husband. Up until this point, the winds would keep me awake throughout the night from the rocking trailer, but it was day 12 when the winds and rain rocked the trailer around so much, it actually woke him up. I had suggested we leave the area before the winds got any worse, but he wanted to stay one more night, so we did. That night was the windiest and noisiest nice of our stay at the lake. My husband had to keep on going outside to adjust the stabilizers and he was blown over a few times.

The next morning we packed up the trailer and got it hooked up to the truck. Everything was going great. We had the cat in the truck, all the RV gear packed up and I loaded the kids into the truck. The kids were climbing into the backseat and I heard the window cracking like frozen lakes cracking ice. I instantly yelled at the kids to get out and miraculously they listened without asking questions or complaining. My husband came over to see what was the matter and that’s when I noticed how badly the back window had cracked. The entire window was cracking and after some investigation, we discovered the culprit. The wind storm had lifted the hardtop cover off its hinges and had cracked the back window. Seeing as it was not going to stay together and it was also summer in the southwest, we made a decision to break it out the rest of the way and worry about replacing it at a later time. We left the lake area, stopping at the nearby ranger station in order to let them know about the broken glass, but we also had another reason to stop. Leaving the lake area, we found we had a low tire and the ranger was able to help us with filling up our tire.

We had already picked out the next few locations we would be staying at on our way towards Louisiana. Our next stop was a city park in Borger, TX and as luck would have it there was a park across the street with a splash pad. In the state of Texas, there are no national forests or public lands but there are city parks all over which are free to stay at for 24 - 72 hours. It was lucky we were able to find a park nearby because the low tire we had filled before leaving was not completely flat. Up until this point, I had never changed a tire or done any work on a vehicle. My husband and I had a difficult time removing the spare tire which was located under the truck. I believe it took us nearly 30 minutes to remove it and that was only because we were able to read the badly written instructions in the owner's manual. I don’t even want to think about how long it would have taken if we hadn’t located it. The thing which took the longest was piecing together the jack. I had always thought vehicle jacks were all one piece, but we found the jack was in 4 different pieces under the back seat. Once we managed to lift the backseat up and piece the jack together, the sun was starting to set. Somehow the kids were behaving and did a good job making sure we were hydrated while working in the hot desert air.

By this point, my middle daughter had decided she didn’t want to see San Antonio as she wanted and we decided we did not want to drive across the hot state of Texas. We stayed at the free RV park for 2 days before leaving once again. We were tired of the heat and made the decision to head towards Colorado as it would be cooler in temperature. Plus, we could still make it to see Mt. Rushmore before heading home for some appointments.

We made it into Trinidad, Colorado staying the night at a parking lot for a big grocery store while we figured out our next plan. I wanted to drive up I-25 North through Colorado jumping from one rest stop to another, but my dear sweet husband did not want to drive on a major highway. We ended driving on a byway called Highway of Legends which drained our gas tank because it was all uphill into the mountains. We were running low on gas, but there wasn’t any place for us to turn around, we had no choice but to keep going. We were fortunate enough to finally find a parking area where some Recreation Volunteers were working. We ended up waiting a couple of hours while he finished some work before bringing us some gas. Next, he had us follow him as he drove us down the mountain and onto another side road.. He was leading us into the free camping area of the mountain range we were driving through when we ran out of gas. We had no idea where he was taking us, as we did not know the area at all. Eventually, he stopped leading us into the mountains and he found us an area big enough for our trailer.

The area was beautiful! There was a river running next to the camp and there were many birds and butterflies flying around. There was a problem with our beautiful campsite because that was just how our trip had gone and why stop the lucky streak. The area had next to no cell coverage. In fact, my littlest one and I walked down the mountain road to find cell coverage. We ended up making some landmarks with stones and sticks to let my husband know the good area. We really needed to have cell coverage so we would know when our bank account had money again. The other problem with our campsite was the elevation. We were so high up it felt as though my head was being crushed. I had headaches every day and when I would go on a walk down the road to check on our bank account, I felt as though I had run a race, but I had only walked a mile down and up.
Our luck got even better when we ran out of water to flush the toilet with, so we ended up having to use the outdoors.

Everyone managed to deal with this except for the child who was deathly afraid of anything flying. When she would go outside to relieve herself she would scream. It got to a point where she had to be covered up with a blanket and I had to sing to her so she wouldn’t hear the insects. Our drinking water had run out and we almost decided to drag the trailer down the mountain just so we could find water, but I was able to flag down a truck that happened to be a park host. He was the park camp host which happened to be 1 mile further up the mountain and he told us we could use the well water pump at the campground. We loaded all the empty water containers along with the kids into the truck, filled up all the containers, and drove back down to our campsite. I had never been so happy to have water before in my life.

My husband would walk down the mountain to find good cell coverage using the landmarks I had made. He would use the time to download new books to read on his phone and also to check in with ○his dad. It was during one of these walks, he managed to get a hold of our hometown dealer where we purchased our trailer from. It was during this conversation he made an appointment to get our trailer fixed. We were tired of waiting for the Las Vegas location to call us about our part and it turned out they could have shipped the part anywhere. Our appointment was not for several weeks, so we knew we had time to take our time driving back home.

We were also lucky enough to be caught up on the mountain with a rainstorm lasting for days. On a walk to check our phones for messages, we discovered there were flash flood warnings for the mountain, so we made the decision to get off the mountain as soon as possible. So the morning of July 2rd we left our campsite from high up in the mountains, or actually I should say we tried. There wasn’t any flooding, but we discovered our truck battery had died from the door not being closed all the way.

We managed to flag down another truck on the mountain road. While we got the truck and trailer ready to leave, our kids were in charge of flagging down help. It didn't take very long before help arrived and our truck was charged enough to start once again. Finally, we were on our way off the mountain.
But wait! As we were leaving we found our second flat tire of the trip. This time, it was one of the RV tires and by flat, I mean completely flat. We drove the trailer down the mountain until we were able to find space on a level road in order to change the tire. This time we were able to get it changed in much less time than the truck flat tire. We used the stabilizer jack to lift the tire off the ground, swapped out tires and we were on our way in about 20 minutes.

We finally arrived at the Trinidad grocery store where we had parked overnight when we had first arrived, but to our dismay, the money we were hoping to be there was not. We didn’t stress too much though because the next day was July 3rd and my husband always got paid between the 1st and the 5th. Plus, with the day after being a holiday, we were pretty sure there would be money soon. So, we spent some time in the grocery store and was able to get a couple of items for food. We also decided we were tired of traveling and decided to head home in time for the holiday..

I had set my alarm for 5:30 am, in order to wake up my husband so he could check the bank account. We were thrilled when at 5:45 am there was notification the money had been deposited into his account. I grabbed his card, told him he was in charge of getting the kids up and I ran into the store to get bagels for breakfast. We were not able to take off as soon as I would have liked because we needed to get the tires fixed for the truck. So, after we got that done and we filled up the gas tank, it was closer to 9 am when we finally left Trinidad.

We were driving North on I-25 through Colorado and discussing where would be a good area to view the Fourth of July Fireworks from. We were partway through Colorado when I asked my husband if he would be able to drive all the way home. I had to rephrase what I meant which was if he could drive all the way home by July 4th fireworks at home. I pulled up the map on my phone and he told me we could make it with lots of driving. The next part was to convince the children. It hard as I thought it would be because they were over driving and wanted to be back home.

The first leg of the trip home went alright. The back window was still gone, so there was a lot of wind coming into the truck and at one point our middle child started crying because she was tired of being in the truck. Once we got her calmed back down, she was fine for the rest of the trip. We drove into Wyoming and made a stop at another visitor center. This one had a miniature museum complete with a skeleton of a Wooly Mammoth which the kids enjoyed. We only stayed at the visitor center long enough to ask which route was best to get back into Oregon and have time to stretch our legs before getting back on the road.

Our next stop was another grocery store parking lot in Rock Springs, Wyoming which allowed overnight RV parking. We picked up some food for dinner from inside the store and promptly crashed. We set our alarms for 5 am since the next day was a holiday and we wanted to get on the road early. After grabbing breakfast and loading everyone back into the truck, we were back on the road by 6:30 am.

We drove across the Wyoming-Idaho border without any issues and continued into Oregon without any issues. We pulled into a rest stop on the side of the road, so we could all get out and stretch our legs before making the final stretch home. All we needed to do was drive across most of Oregon and we would be back home. There were no more exits to take, it was just a straight shot on Highway 20 straight into Bend. But, alas! There had to be one more kink in our great plan.

Pop! What was that sound and where did it come from? Oh, great another flat tire on our truck, but this time it was the other side. We were near nothing and so we had no choice but to pull over and swap it out. We were very thankful we had made time to get the other flat fixed before traveling home. Once we got it fixed we pulled into the small town of Burns where we managed to park the trailer and find another grocery store to get some early dinner. By this point, we were only a 3-4 hour drive from Bend. We almost decided to stay the night in Burns, but seeing as we were so close to our final destination we powered through.

We pulled into Bend at exactly 9 pm, which gave us an hour before the fireworks display happened. We were finally home.

Sephanie is an Oregonian with a passion for writing stories both real and made-up. She recently adopted the RV lifestyle and has learned a lot about what it means and what family really means. She is a stay at home mom of three children who she also homeschools. She has not had anything published but is currently working on writing her first book.

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