(Excerpt from our forthcoming book Dear Bob and Sue: Season 3 – not yet available for sale.)
January 6, 2018 (Saturday)
Chiricahua National Monument
Dear Bob and Sue,
Ok, sorry about that. I had to go and flush the blue thing down the toilet. When I left you last, Ben had just given us the keys to the RV and headed back to his workstation to finish his resignation letter.
Pulling out of the parking lot, we learned the first lesson of RVing: anything in the back that wasn’t secured will sooner-rather-than-later end up on the floor—which is where our luggage landed about three blocks later. At the next stop light, Karen’s hair straightener came sliding down the aisle and settled between us in the cab. “How did your hair straightener find its way out of your luggage?” I asked. “Wait, more importantly, what happened to your New Year’s resolution to leave it at home?”
“Yeah, well, that was the champagne talking,” she said.
“Champagne? It was 9 o’clock in the morning!”
“It was a mimosa. Without the orange juice.”
Despite the startling load shift occurring behind us, we were buzzed with the sense of excitement we always feel at the start of a new road trip. Until then, I thought Karen was merely going along with the RV rental idea just because I wanted to do it. But over in the passenger seat, I could see she was beaming; she was genuinely excited to try living out of a large, metal box on wheels for a week.
Her enthusiasm was a relief to me; the last time we drove a truck this size it didn’t go well, and I wasn’t sure what to expect this time. A few years ago, when Justin and Rachel moved from Seattle to Denver, I did what good Dads do: I rented a U-Haul to carry all their crap across five states. Matthew came along to help. When the truck was loaded with all their worldly possessions, and it was time to take off, the three of us climbed into the front seat of the cab, but for the life of us, we couldn’t find the middle seatbelt. Over a two-day stretch, we drove that U-Haul fifteen hundred miles to Rachel and Justin’s new home while they followed behind in their car. Karen rode unbuckled in the middle seat, which was no wider than a flight attendant’s jump seat on a plane, for the entire 1,500 miles. We even took a side-trip to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument to see Custer’s Last Stand.
Not having a seatbelt was a source of constant anxiety for Karen; she was sure that I would roll the truck down the side of a mountain in Montana while eating a Big Mac and driving with my knees, and then she’d become a human projectile because she wasn’t strapped in. “Rachel’s garage-sale loveseat with a cat pee stain is belted in the truck better than I am,” she kept reminding me. Every fifty miles or so she asked, “Are you sure there isn’t a seat belt for this middle seat? Doesn’t it seem odd that there isn’t a seat belt for the middle seat?”
“Sweetie, I’ve looked several times. If there is a seat belt, I can’t find it. I’ve looked, you’ve looked, Matthew’s looked; there’s no seat belt. If you’re that worried, Matthew will trade spots with you,” was my reply. I knew there was no way she was going to let her 20-year-old baby boy ride in a truck without a seat belt.
That’s how the trip went all the way to Denver: Karen thinking that each sharp turn in the highway would be her last. The funny thing is, as soon as we parked at their new apartment, Karen stepped out of the truck and instantly noticed her seat belt dangling beneath the middle seat. “What the hell is that!?” she asked. I think she’s still a little bitter about that incident. Every so often I test the waters. All I have to say is, “Remember the time you rode all the way to…” and she scrunches her lips and squints her eyes at me.
There were no scrunched lips or squinted eyes this morning though, as we headed southeast on I-10 toward Tucson. Not having driven a rig like this before, I planned to take it easy, drive the speed limit, and stay in the right-hand lane. Everyone else could go around me; we were on vacation and in no hurry. That plan lasted about ten miles. Soon I was passing slow pokes and feeling at ease driving our tiny house on wheels seventy miles an hour down the highway. Other than not having a rearview mirror, the RV is similar to driving my truck. In fact, it can fit in a normal-sized parking space.
“We should buy one of these,” Karen said as she peered into the back to make sure our luggage had settled into a spot where it wouldn’t be sliding around every time I hit the brakes or gas pedal.
“You think after riding in the passenger seat for forty-five minutes you have enough info to make a buying decision?” I said.
Her enthusiasm came as a shock to me; I had anticipated Karen being more skeptical of our RV trial. “Let’s see how you feel at the end of the week.”
North of Tucson, before we got into the busiest part of the metro area, we decided to pull off the highway to find a grocery store and a place to eat lunch. As I turned onto the exit ramp, Karen sighed and said, “This is my dream come true.”
“Renting an RV? I had no idea,” I said. “We should have done this sooner. Heck, we could have visited most of the national parks in an RV had I known.”
“No, not that. I meant going to In-and-Out Burger,” she said, pointing out the window.
Now I was really concerned. “Ok, you never eat hamburgers,” I replied. “If you’re an alien who’s taken over my wife’s body, please tell me now.”
“Look over there, you can park in the Wal-Mart parking lot. We can get food for the week at Wal-Mart and then walk to the In-and-Out.”
I circled the parking lot a couple of times to find a space that was just right, which is my usual routine, but this afternoon I was extra particular; I wanted a spot where I could pull forward when we left. I didn’t want to back the RV for the first time in a crowded parking lot with unleashed children darting around and only my side-view mirrors to guide me. It took a while, but I found the perfect spot.
When I shut off the engine, Karen asked, “Do you think you parked far enough away from the store?”
“We couldn’t be any further away and still be in the same parking lot,” I replied.
“Exactly. That’s what I meant,” she said.
I thought to myself as we walked through the parking lot, just my luck, I got stuck with an alien who’s a wise-ass just like my wife.
Between swimming through the sea of humanity at Wal-Mart and braving a hungry horde to get a couple of hamburgers at the In-and-Out, we were more than ready to spend a couple of days off the beaten path in the semi-wilderness of Chiricahua National Monument. Honestly, I’d never heard of the place before Karen suggested it last summer as a potential destination for this trip.
The monument is in the southeastern corner of Arizona, about a 2-hour drive east of Tucson. Chiricahua was made a national monument in 1924 to protect its unique rock formations and judging from pictures we’ve seen, it has some bizarre-looking hoodoos, spires, and balanced rocks. Seventeen miles of day-use hiking trails snake through its 12,000 acres, and about 50,000 visitors a year come to hike, camp and work on their life list of birds. We’re hoping that our stay here will be a nice break from the winter weather back home. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and in the mid-50s, which is typical for this time of the year. It can get cold at night though in January, often dipping below freezing.
When we arrived this afternoon, we went straight to the visitor center. Karen asked the ranger on duty about hikes in the park, and the ranger whipped out a map with all the trails, most of which seemed to be centered in one general area. “In the morning you can take the park shuttle to the end of the scenic road and then hike back to the visitor center,” she told us. “It’s mostly downhill, and you can choose the Echo Canyon trail which will take you straight back, about a four-mile hike, or you can do a combination of trails and see more of the park.” She drew on the map with her highlighter. “This is about a nine-mile hike we call the Big Loop, and you’ll hit all the highlights. And if you hike at least five miles, you’ll earn a really cool ‘Rock the Rhyolite’ pin.”
“Yes!! I want one of those!” exclaimed Karen. “What’s rhyolite?”
“It’s a type of volcanic rock found in the park,” the ranger explained.
We put our name on the shuttle list, and the ranger assured us that she’d be driving the shuttle and would pick us up at the Bonita Canyon Campground at 9:00 am sharp. She emphasized the word sharp; we got the feeling she runs a tight ship here at the Chiricahua.
“One more thing,” I asked the ranger. “How do you pronounce the name of the park?”
“Cheer-i-COW-wa,” she said slowly, emphasizing the ‘cow.’
On our way out the door, I noticed a sign with pictures of skunks on it. I read it out loud to Karen: “Did you know? There are four species of skunks in North America, and all four live in the Chiricahua Mountains.”
“We’re having such a good trip so far; I’m going to act like I didn’t hear that.”
“Four types of skunks: striped, hooded, spotted, and hog-nosed. I hope we see all four. Oh, and look at this,” I continued. “The sign says the campground is experiencing a high number of skunks… ‘If the skunk acts aggressively or strangely, report the encounter to the camp host in site #19.’”
“Not listening,” Karen replied, as she walked toward the parked RV.
The Bonita Canyon Campground was a short drive from the visitor center, maybe a mile at the most. When we found our site, I asked Karen to get out and direct me as I backed into our space. Most men pride themselves on their ability to back up their rig. For whatever reason, my self-worth has never been tied to my parking ability. I readily admit I’m not a skilled backer-upper under the best of conditions.
Once Karen was standing at the back of the campsite, she began giving me a series of hand signals that either meant I was supposed to circle the campground a couple of times or park the RV in the trees.
“Why aren’t you backing up!” she hollered.
“Because I don’t know what it means when you point at the sky with your left hand and make circles with your right fist! I’ll start backing up, I just need you to point left or right!”
As I slowly backed up, Karen pointed to her left. Apparently, I wasn’t turning in that direction sharply enough because she became more and more emphatic with her pointing. Then she was gone.
“Sweetie!” I called out, but there was no reply. “Karen!” I called again with a little more urgency.
“What!? Why did you stop!” she replied.
“Because I can’t see you anymore. You have to keep moving as I turn. If you can’t see me in my side-view mirror, then I can’t see you.”
She reappeared in the mirror and said, “Ok, Ok, I got it! Keep backing her up!”
“Don’t know what fist circles mean!” I hollered.
“Sorry, a little more to the left and you’re there,” she said. A couple of feet later I got a confident stop sign and thumbs up from my lovely wife. Our little house was set for the evening.
“You know, some of the men at the other campsites were watching you back up,” Karen said. “A few of them were shaking their heads when you almost hit me.”
“First, I didn’t almost hit you, and second, I don’t care. I’m fine knowing that I’ll never make it as a truck driver.”
With the parking brake on and the keys safely placed in a spot we’d both agreed would give us the best chance of remembering where we put them two days later, we began unpacking and organizing. As I’m writing this, we’re sitting in the camp chairs that came with the RV, having a beer. We’ve been RVers for about seven hours, and we’re loving it.
To share this post on Facebook, use the Facebook icon in the upper right-hand section of this page.