I have an appointment to have the Wrangler fitted for a proportional braking system on Wednesday. We have been using Mountain Road RV in Sabattus, Maine for servicing at the recommendation of the prior owner of our Coach....
Proud owners since July 31st of this lovely "floats on air" home on wheels that we bought, this 40' land yacht that I test drove for about a half hour before we blindly decided to dive in, feet first because our arms were flailing, to this world of full time life in a motor home. Our plan all along has been to see this Great United States of America, never having to rely on airplanes or cars, just Michelle and I and the "bus". How did it happen? Not sure I really know.....
Up until about 6 months ago, Michelle was (and still is, for just a few more days) a very well respected, deeply entrenched, and highly successful insurance executive for a major company, spending fully 27 years of her 45 year life employed with just this one company. she started out answering phones as a child and steadily worked her way up, always a major contributor, to where she is now. Over the last couple of years, the thought of "doing something different" has been gently gliding in and out of her mind.
As for me, I have always been a bit of a chance taker. Did my time for the USAF as a young man and went in to the automobile industry almost thirty years ago. I first met Michelle through an online dating service and we have been co-habitating for almost five years. She has two children, the youngest of which has recently graduated from high school and entered the work force. The eldest works nearly full time and is an ongoing college student. Aren't they all?
I can't begin to pinpoint the day we decided to entertain the whacked out notion of pulling up stakes and entering the life that a lot of you live. We have never been campers, prefer to take our vacations beach side on an island somewhere, and have always kind of viewed the RV world as a non-option for us. Surely it is a bug infested, too close for comfort, dirty, muddy existence that can only be enjoyed by the left turn loving Nascar Crowd? Guaranteed we would park next to Bubba and his vertical family tree at almost every beer-can-ridden stop along the way? Wouldn't we be better off just flying and lounging in the nicest hotels we could afford? Then what the?????? are we thinking.....
I remember the day we thought of it. Not sure who said it first, doesn't really matter. I just remember the look we both gave each other and knew that somehow it was going to happen. Yes, we both, in more or less the blink of an eye, knew that we were going to sell or rent the house, liquidate or store almost every thing in it, trade our 4 month old luxury Sport Utility for a soft top Jeep Wrangler, buy the nicest, biggest, best darned Class A out there and hit the road.......and we did'nt know the first thing about how to get started.
Michelle is a go-getter, but also very meticulous and thoughtful in her planning and execution. Me, I am the "forest" guy when they talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees. I don't see the trees. I just look at a challenge and say "We got this", never having a care or concern about "how" "we" going to get it. Good thing I have Michelle. She is the tree person.....comes up with the answers when we have challenges and is a very good steadying influence for my rather care-free approach to nearly everything. She has been both the influence that I need and influenced by me. I love her with everything that I have to give and she returns it three-fold every day. But enough of the sentiment.....
When we kicked in to this adventure, we were looking for a relatively "stress-free" life....this has been about as stress free as watching our youngest take her drivers test, and alternately hoping that she passes and hoping that she doesn't. Every decision has taken careful thought, planning, financial juggling and also usually entails some type of coin flip or 3 round wrestling match between Michelle and I.
The first thing was to see what we could buy for a coach. I quickly found out that the least expensive 40' Class A that had any appeal to us was going to cost somewhere in the vicinity of "we can't afford it" and "do people really buy these?". For a couple of hundred thousand dollars you can get something basic that nobody wants.......and will certainly depreciate about half by the time the engine warms up for the first time. What if we didn't like this life? Could we really just take about half of whatever we did spend and throw it in the garbage? That is a lot of money and not a risk that either of us were willing to take. So, on to the second-hand market. A little research taught me quickly that second hand is the way to go. When I read repeatedly that it takes a solid year to get the bugs out of almost every new one that is purchased, I couldn't imagine why anyone would buy one. As an automobile Sales Manager for years and years I wonder how people would perceive me if they had to spend 100 bucks in fuel to get their car back to the dealer 6 times in the first 12 months just to make the heater work, or be able to hear the stereo........ but in reading up on it I found that this type of occurrence is commonplace and coach customers readily accept it. Wow!
I started scanning the internet looking for a nice second hand coach that was well kept and reasonably priced. I looked at coaches from Maine (where we live) to California. The thought process being that if we could make the right deal, it would be worth the price of the flight there and the fuel to "get her home". For around 120k, we could get a nice 4-5 year old Tiffin or Newmar with some amenities and not have a 2000 dollar a month "mortgage". Talk about confusion......it seems that there is no "market" value on these things, the dealers just ask what ever they want and hope....And private sellers? Wow!!!! Seems like almost every one that I came across was being offered by somebody that could absolutely reassure me that theirs was being offered at a "sacrifice" price.....Honestly, after a while I didnt know which way was up! To be fair, I did talk to plenty of really nice and honest dealers and private sellers, all of whom treated us with the utmost of respect and sincerity.
So, every now and again you buy the winning scratch ticket and this is certainly what happened to us in the end. Michelle's Mom and Dad have a local buddy that is in his mid 80's. He and his wife had a ten year old Newmar Dutch Star. A 40 ft Class A with a 350 HP Cummins Turbo Diesel coupled with an Allison 6 speed, all laid together in a spartan chassis. 50 thousand one owner miles, meticulously cared for, and hiding in plain sight about 10 miles from our house. Don Hill, the owner of this bus, and his wife Joanne had decided that making the trek to Florida every year was getting to be a bit much for him. A couple of eye surgeries later and he was calling it quits. Said his eyes were fine and was even able to prove it to me by showing me that he only needed a small flashlight to see his odometer in the middle of the day. Good Decision Don!
Don and Joanne are two of the craftiest people I know....Don was a woodworker by trade and has a beautiful wood shop attached to one side of his home. At 86 years young he still spends a good portion of his days in his wood shop, churning out the most marvelous handmade wood products you have ever seen. In his 75 years of using planers, band saws, routers and the like, he managed to keep 7 of his fingers relatively intact and only lost 3, not bad! And the stories he told about how he lost those three are very interesting, but not for the faint of heart. I will leave those stories with Don. You can ask him about it if you like. Joanne is a Quilter, and really quite masterful at it. She has a beautiful quilt supply shop on the OTHER side of the house and in the times I have been there, you just see customer after customer, even the occasional tour bus, roll in and out, buying some of the highest quality fabrics and patterns in huge numbers from this quaint little shop tucked away on a side street in picturesque Windham, Maine. Although both are well into their octogenarian years, neither shows signs of slowing down. God Bless them both as they have really been an inspiration to me.
After a little bit of haggling, We all agreed on a price that worked. We are happy to say that for what we spent, we feel like we got the best deal on the planet. Don had just recently completed some repairs, maintenance and upgrades including 6 new tires, new turbo, new engine brake, fresh oil change and quite a few woodworking enhancements.....Additionally they gave us all the little stuff that you need on a bus, ground tarps, external lighting, additives, tools, cabling and electrical, many many things that never would have crossed our minds as novices. We are truly lucky to have met them and will be forever grateful. I have also received many, many hours of comical tutoring from Don around how to operate and maintain the coach that we have dubbed "America".
Our fist orientation tour was scheduled for Labor Day. We made reservations at a beautiful place in bar Harbor, Maine Called Hadley's Point Campground. To be clear, Michelle and I are not campers. Michelle has always said that the very last thing she wants to do when taking a vacation is live like a homeless person. We have friends that leap at the opportunity to pitch a tent whenever it is presented. Not us. It's cold, buggy, uncomfortable, boring and just plain silly as near as we can gather. These friends of ours will spend a day loading up their vehicles and trailers with supplies, 4 hours driving somewhere, 7 hours setting up "camp", a day and a half sitting around a fire, 4 hours breaking down and cleaning up and another 4 hours driving home. And when they get home they have to put everything away! We were to meet 6 of these lost souls at Hadley's. We also brought along a good friend of ours, Chip, to enjoy the ride, have a few adult beverages, and sleep on our fold out coach. Chip is a bit of a kindred spirit to Michelle, their relationship began as an acquaintance of an acquaintance type of thing and over the years their friendship has grown and survived divorces, tragedy, and a few other ups and downs. I consider him to be a great friend and an excellent conversationalist.
A 40' motor home is a very big vehicle and a rather small house. The run to Bar Harbor was not only to acquaint ourselves with how to operate the bus but also get a sense of co-habitating in it. Michelle and I both have very strong personalities. Although we do describe ourselves as soul mates, space is important. There have been times when I am sure she has felt the State of Maine was not big enough for the both of us so living in cramped quarters will either prove to be charming or harming to our relationship. So off we go.....
We live in the Portland Area of Maine and Bar Harbor is about 180 miles drive for us. I got Bus Anxiety after about 45 minutes...Not sure if Bus Anxiety is the appropriate medical nomenclature for what happened to me but it is what I choose to call it. Somewhere between putting the coach in drive and about 45 miles in I began to feel an impending sense of doom, a surety that I felt within my bones that we were going to die in this thing, that a slight wind would topple the bus on to it's side or that I would simply drive it in to a ravine. An hour in, and Michelle was looking at me more frequently, and I knew she was on to me. An hour and fifteen and I began praying for an exit, anything to get me out of the Captain's Chair....and was steadily cruising along at about 50 miles an hour, certain that any speed over that was risking catastrophe. Finally, Michelle asked me if I was ok, to which I replied...."No." She readily admitted that this was not the response she was looking for ...
We did manage to find a closed weigh station with enough of an off-ramp for me to pull over. I welcomed it like it was the last chance I would have and immediately pulled over. After a half hour of steadying myself on the side of the road, worrying more about whether a tractor trailer was going to ram us at 70 mph than any bus anxiety that I had, I pronounced myself ready and willing.
I gently pulled in to traffic and immediately exited 1/2 mile later in to a local town. Having not yet purchased towing insurance and not sure what lie to make up about why the bus needed to be towed home, and unable to create a sufficient enough health emergency to be whisked to the local hospital by ambulance, I decided that I was just going to have to power through this. Somehow, I would have to summon the courage to face the Tiger. A half hour later, we were once again on our way ....
After what felt like three days of driving, we reached Hadley's a couple of hours later. Finally!
A half hour or so of set up and we were ready to begin enjoying bus life in the Motor Home America!
A few adult beverages later and we were ready to go visit our friends located a couple of "streets" over in the tenting area. They had arrived shortly after we did but we had not yet visited as we wanted to give them plenty of time to set up and enjoy ourselves a bit too .... It was a pretty humid day and the AC on the bus had come in handy although most of our time had been spent outside on the patio watching the day unfold around us.
As I said before, tenting is too much work. We walked over and kibitzed for a half hour, watching everyone sweat and not really wanting to join in...this was after all, not what we signed on for. Enough about that!
Back to the comfort of our Coach. Oh yeah, did I tell you I forgot to level it?
I am an early riser. Typically, any sleep I get past 4 am in the morning is a big bonus for me! So, after a really good nights sleep, I found myself up puttering about the coach, listening to Chip's gentle snoring, the likes of which made me want to put a pillow over his face and watch him slowly slip away. The only thing that prevented this was the fear of getting caught. I had to believe the authorities would question asphyxiation with no apparent cause in an otherwise healthy guy. Not a risk I wanted to take.
At about 5 am- Michelle came out of the Bedroom, very uncharacteristic for her to rise prior to 7 am or so. What could be the reason?
As she stealthily traversed the length of the hallway to where I was enjoying coffee in the living room, and slowly came in to the morning light, I began to see a look in her eye, a posture that I had not seen before and sensed an attitude that I can only describe as "tense". She wasn't holding any weapons so I did not fear for my life but something in the air told me that there was definitely going to be a rumble.
"STOP MOVING AROUND THE BUS!!!!" STOP THE EARTHQUAKE!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING???!!!
Incredulously, I did not know what I had done but was far too terrified to reply with anything except "OK!!!!" Sorry!!!! As a man I have learned that it is best not to defend, always best to apologize, and hope that things will work themselves out. Being right and dead is just not an option for me.
I should have leveled the bus. Although the bus was definitely listing to port and you had to get a head start to walk from the front uphill to the bedroom area, I had declined the prior day on general principle. Hadn't I done enough? I didn't realize that allowing to let the bus rest on its cushion of air, floating gently above 6 very large pneumatic tires would create a very unpleasant trampoline effect. Couple this effect with someone (Michelle) that cannot sleep unless she has an extremely quiet environment and you have a recipe for divorce....At this moment I knew that I had messed up. I had better retreat immediately or it was going to be a very long couple of days. For the balance of the morning I would welcome the day....outside. Almost since the beginning I have said that Michelle can hear morning dew drying on the windows. I now know it to be true.
The rest of our maiden voyage proved to be relatively calm. It rained enough that Patti, one of the brave tenters, proclaimed that she had never seen this much. My faith in Coach life was bolstered with the knowledge that regardless of the elements, we had a clean, comfortable spacious area to hang in, entertain our soaking wet friends, and enjoy a relaxing weekend....I will tell the story about leveling the bus another day!!!!
I know we have made the right decision. At least I think we have. Stay tuned....Our journey begins October 25th.....We are heading to the Charlotte area for a bit, and then who knows....You can follow our travels here and on facebook at www.facebook.com/everywhereamerica
Hope to see you there!