Roughing It In Broken-Down Luxury by Kitty Baker

There’s a story and lesson to be learned from my first RV experience: Twenty years ago, I wanted to sleep beside a rushing mountain stream. I wanted to get a close look at the Grand Canyon and rough it in the Rockies with a little luxury, but I was naïve about waiting too late in the season to rent a recreation vehicle till a Denver dealer assured me he had one small motor home available for rent.

Things started going wrong when we arrived at the agency. The boss had partied the previous night and seemed uncertain where to find our rental. When our home on wheels arrived my daughter said, “Whoa! Big!” “Pump broke on the 12 foot model. You can have this for same rental” We decided we could handle 24 feet and turned ecstatic with our giant toy house with kitchen, bath, closets, everything. Light that gas. Turn that dial.

The boss ticked off the systems-lighting propane gas, coolant system, hot water pump, electrical system from two batteries, camp hookup, freshwater storage and sewage drainage systems. “Remember how to do that,” I said to Donna.” “Do you have printed instructions?” she asked the boss who assured her nobody needed them. I kicked a tire to show I didn’t need them either. “Where’s the jack?” “Under the driver’s seat.” I looked. “Should there be a handle with it? Where’s the lug wrench?” That should have clued me, but I signed the papers and we drove off with the boss calling into the high-noon air, “Have a great trip, superstars.”

Half a block from the agency, Donna said, “We’re running on fumes. We need gas.” Although the manual claimed the tank would hold 36 gallons, we could pump in only 22. No matter. We had yogurt, cheese and eggs in the fridge, health and junk food in the cabinets and miles to travel and mountains to see.
I stopped feeling like a gypsy 125 miles later. We needed gas-getting five and a half mpg. Eight men at gas stations from Alamosa to Del Norte concluded we needed plugs, points and timing, but not one could do the job. They all really wanted to help because Western men enjoy helping helpless women. They called other garages to find a mechanic on duty on Saturday afternoon. Finally, a tactiturn mechanic said: “Don’t need plugs, there’s no points. You need a new air filter.” It cost two collars to call the boss. “Superstar, I want you to do something for me. Have that filter put in. I’ll pay. Bare spare
Content to be getting ten mpg, we slept that night along Wolf Creek in a field of wildflowers. On the way to the Grand Canyon our milk froze twice, soured once, sewage overflowed a disposal drain and we toughened to cold showers when the water line malfunctioned, but I baked a chocolate cake near the North Rim. When we stopped for gas at Jacob Lake, a Navajo said, “You might get through the desert and back to Denver on that rear tire. I wouldn’t chance it.” I pulled off the spare-tire cover. Worn to the core, with a seven-inch split. I called collect expletive deleted. The boss authorized a B.F. Goodrich Tracker LT for $95. Next surprise: wrong lug wrench and jack handle.

We made it to the desert with engine stalling once, and overnight it died. Men materialized out of the sagebrush. “It’s your carburetor.” “The battery’s shot.” “It’s the magneto.” A retired German baker said, “If it was strudel, I’d know for sure. I think it’s your condenser.” They jumped the battery and we made it to a Dodge garage in Cortez where a mechanic knew. “It’s your alternator.”

We returned the RV cleaner and in better repair than when we rented it. The mechanical skill and advice, not always correct, of 19 men was needed for us to travel 2,000 miles. I have since rented five RVs, all in perfect condition, because I learned the necessity of carefully checking renters’ reputations.

Readers thinking of a recreation vehicle adventure should start planning months ahead by visiting local agencies found in the yellow pages under Recreational Vehicles-Renting and Selling and by going online. Lightweight RV News is one site that lists safety rules.