Family motto adopted from the famous Roman General Motus Redundus, “Noli zelotypa esse, esse agita,” “Don’t be jealous…. be planning.”
We are the Amators, family of 4 + 1 (plus Boston the Maltese Wonder Dog). After visiting well over 30 countries and seeing many of the World’s Wonders, our family decided to move into a 1985 Winnebago motorhome (aka The Chief) and pachinko our way across the United States for a year. We’re living in our drivable aluminum box full-time as we brace ourselves for whatever adventure throws our way. We’re nothing if not plucky. Here are the Top 5 Disasters from our first year of full-time travel.
It’s usually when you’re not expecting it that adversity drops in for a visit. It was a sunny Wednesday morning. Scott guided the Chief down a lonely Tennessee highway. He and Nate were en route to Maine for the official kick off of Adventure Year. He glanced into the side-view mirror. How odd. He was being pulled over by the police.
The police officer came up to Scott’s window and asked, “Sir, why are you going 55 in a 75 MPH zone?” Scott explained that 60 MPH was the top line for the old Chief. The officer noticed that Scott’s eyes were bloodshot. Welcome to question purgatory.
The officer started, “Are you under the influence of different types of drugs and alcohol?” “No.” “Drinking?” “No.” “Marijuana?” “No.” “Heroin?” “No.” “Meth?” “No.” “Any other illegal drugs or legal prescriptions?” “No and No.” Jeeze, what’s going on in Tennessee these days?!
Next came the traditional, “Where are you from? Where are you going? What’s your story?” When Scott said he just moved back to the U.S. from Bogota, Colombia… well you could almost hear a pin drop.
Figuring he had some pretty decent cartel biggies on his hands, the officer brought out the drug sniffing dog. Scott was unruffled… until the dog alerted. Drugs! No one would believe that we just bought the RV and the drugs weren’t ours. Time to call me and prepare to go to jail.
Three more police cars appeared. Another dog appeared. More alerting. They tore the RV apart with motivation. On a scale of 1 to 10, this was an 11. We’ve never been to jail. How does that work?
To read the rest of the story, click here and the epilog, here. Let’s just say, we feel confident we could deal with this situation again should anyone else mistake the Chief for a prop in Breaking Bad.
We’re traveling in a mobile petri dish. In the last six days, every one of us except Evie, whom we believe has made a deal with Kokopelli, has experienced violent reverse peristalsis, the old up-chuck, in the last few days. Jack also decided that it’s OK to wet the bed again. And Boston, poor Boston, has decided that he needs to “mark” his territory in response to a previous owner’s dog. It’s either that, or poor Boston ate something that is preparing him for a doggy colonoscopy. Of course, living in a closed environment, we all shared in Boston’s agony.
Read it here.
In the movies “There Will Be Blood” and “Giant,” hitting a gusher was greeted with excitement and dreams of future fortunes. In our case, it wasn’t so well received.
We were on I-10 somewhere west of El Paso.
We’d been dry camping – camping without water hookups – for five days. No fresh fluids come into the RV, no fluids… no matter what they are… go out. We needed to empty the toilet tank, and fill the water tank.
We found a rest area that offered a free toilet dump station. I didn’t occur to us that “Free” meant that everyone in Texas had already filled it. Scott put the toilet hose into the dump hole. Two seconds later, the hose came alive and bucked up into the air. The underground dump tank was full and had rejected our offerings. The hose took on a life of its own as it sprayed a geyser of our best effluent high into the dry Texas air. If it hadn’t been brown, you’d think we’d struck oil.
At first, it was hilarious. Then… the brown mist started drifting… Read it here.
I had already earned my Co-Pilot and Navigator certificates for flying Chief. This was my first chance to solo and earn the coveted crossed water pump chevrons of a Pilot!
“Return your seatbacks and trays to their full upright and locked positions,” I announced as I fired Chief up and got us underway.
We forged ahead through the rain and the construction on I-45. Suddenly, the rear-view camera went out. Code Yellow. Not too scary. I asked Mom to be my co-pilot and stay glued to the side mirrors to let me know when cars were approaching. Then the windshield wipers died. Code Orange! I thought that I might have to make a stop to check things out… when I realized I couldn’t hear the engine. Code Red! This is not a drill!
Fortunately, Chief had enough forward momentum going that I was able to coast into a breakdown lane. Camera out. Wipers out. Engine out. I correctly determined that… we had a problem.
With some magic that would make McGuyver proud, I invented a duct tape style solution. We limped back out into traffic.
I stopped at the first parking lot I saw and called our Grey Beards, our cadre of wise old experts. After a consultation, I confidently pulled out of the lot…unfortunately, right over a curb. We teetered to one side as Instapots and pans rained down. I checked again. I still had all my tires (but I did manage to rip off the automatic doorstep). Onward.
We were almost to our destination. Evie began to scream, “Mommy, help! Jack pooped! Gross! Pull over.” “I can’t pull over, Sweetie. Mommy’s driving. We’re almost…,” and then it hit me. Not so much hit me as it enveloped me. Me to Mom, “Mom, did you flush the toilet?” This is a major in-flight no-no. The toilet can not be flushed while Chief is in motion. Used? Yes. Flushed? No. A piece of toilet paper was propping the toilet seal open, exposing us all to the Cesspool From Hell. Emergency!! “Turn the water pump on and flush until the toilet seals before we all suffocate!” Things started to go black…
It was a day we won’t soon forget. Mom is still recovering. Read it here.
The North Yungas Road, in Bolivia, Is considered to be the most dangerous road in the world. A narrow road without guardrails built into the sides of cliffs, an errant driver experiences a tumbling plummet of thousands of feet before a very sudden stop. I would like to nominate the stretch of California Highway 78 that runs from The Salton Sea, through six mountain ranges, and deposits the driver into the rolling hills of Southern Orange County for that crown. On the map, the route looked like someone had dropped a handful of spaghettini on it.
We’d heard that seeing the desert flowers in bloom was a once-in-a-lifetime treat. That seemed like enough motivation to drive through the Anzo Borrego Desert, a bowl of badlands surrounded by no less than six mountain ranges.
As we began our own personal Yungas Road journey, I saw a sign that said that trucks were limited to 35’ in length. Anything longer than that couldn’t make the hairpin turns driving through the mountains. We were “only” 33”, so I figured we could handle it.
A terrifying 25 MPH was all he could muster up the steep grades. After a bit, I found a pullout to let the 20+ cars behind us go by. There were gestures. I returned them.
Coming down the grade, we were able to pick up speed. A little too much speed. We smelled that sweet aroma of… burning brake pads.
Then the engine overheated.
We all agreed that day…no more mountain driving! Read it here.