Category Archives: Driving Me Insane

Our RV research and driving tales of the road

The Grand Plan(s)

I may not always implement, but I do love to plan – especially when mapping is involved. While we never got the RV of our dreams, and we haven’t done a road trip lately, I still have the maps for my planned RV trips.

My main goal was to find a route we could do relatively easily and relatively cheaply. (Relatively being the key word.) I was thinking a couple of trips within the State of Texas would give us a good distance to cover but still not take as long as driving to Ohio – it’s half the distance to Big Bend as it is to Cedarville (approximately.)

So, these are all the routes I had in mind. Don’t fall in love with a dreamer.

Hooked

We went to Ohio to spend Thanksgiving with the grandkids, and we were on a bit of a time constraint, so we flew. We actually had decent seats (by today’s low airline standards), and I as I looked out the window as we flew over a number of the Flyover States, I realized I really didn’t want to fly any more.

It’s not a fear of flying, it’s not even a hatred of how all airlines have become cattle cars. It’s just you can’t see anything from the window of a tube at 35,000 feet.

I missed driving.

For someone that grew up dreading family road trips – mainly because the parental stress was palpable – I have now come full circle.

I would have rather been in a car.

You can stop when you want. You can just pull into a hotel and sleep if you want. Sure, it takes longer than flying, but that’s not really a hardship – if you have the time (and don’t have an ocean to cross.)

I think an RV is in my future. Then, I won’t have to fly any more.

Joy.

Hotel Camping

So, we made the trip North to Ohio, and since we survived, we will repeat it this summer. I still think this drive would be a good RV run, but with rental costs where they are, it’s cheaper to drive and stay in a hotel (which pains me.)

Once you’ve decided not to fly, and discovered you can’t take the train, there are still many routes to Ohio. They all have their quirks. We had done much of the “standard” (various online map-suggested) way (Texas through Arkansas and Tennessee, then north) when we were driving my mother-in-law back and forth to New Jersey years ago (she refused to fly, and my wife refused to drug her.) So, we would take I-30 to I-40 to I-81 to I-78 and onto New Jersey roads from there. To go to Ohio, you just head north in Nashville on I-65, instead of going east past Knoxville to I-81.

We decided to try a new way North – across Arkansas, but then, instead of going west through Tennessee, head north just before the Arkansas-Tennessee border, and avoid the mountains (hills?) of Tennessee.

I wanted to avoid Tennessee because the hills are very pretty, but only when you can see them. Invariably, we went through in fog or torrential rain. Plus, that section of I-40 is very popular with truckers, so you are dodging 18-wheelers in torrential rain or fog.

So, I looked at the map, and I-55 heads north just before the AR-TN line, and puts you on I-69. It turns out I-69 is still in the planning stages in some areas of Kentucky, but the existing parkways that will eventually be upgraded to Interstate are gorgeous, and there’s not much traffic. You do pass through towns instead of around them, but it wasn’t bad. Eventually, you end up on I-65 (where you would have been from Nashville) which takes you to I-75 which takes you to I-70. Cedarville is between Dayton and Columbus, east of I-70. (Dayton and Columbus are your two main choices , if you decide to fly.)

There are probably better (faster) routes through Ohio, but it was getting dark by the time we crossed the border, so we just followed the GPS’ advice.

This turned out to be a very pretty route, through Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky and on into Ohio. We will use this route Southbound next time, so we can visit some distilleries, and possibly sidetrack to see the Ark (not Arkansas, Noah’s Ark).

Heading home, we just drove west on I-70 out of Ohio, through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Oklahoma. This has pretty hills in Missouri (and some interesting stops), and when you enter Texas from Oklahoma, you’re almost home. There’s probably the least amount of different highways, as I-70 takes you to St Louis, and I-44 takes you to Oklahoma. We took a “short cut” in Oklahoma and took one of their toll roads (very nice, and our TollTag from home works in the toll booths) to US-69 (very small) which merges eventually into US-75. US-75 becomes Central Expressway in the northern suburbs before you hit Dallas.

All these routes are mapped on my Texas & New Jersey railroad site, as the extension railroad – the Texas & Ohio. The Northern route home from Ohio is actually part of the last route we took home from New Jersey on one of my mother-in-law’s repositioning cruises. So, we had been past the kids’ house before they were ever there.

The lessons learned were mostly past lessons relearned: don’t drive through major cities during rush hour, driving through towns is quaint, but kills a schedule, arriving after dark on a new route is not always fun, and don’t drive a new way with new things to see when on a strict schedule. Also, on a two-day trip, go beyond halfway the first day, and drive the non-scenic route home (it’s faster.)

We drove from Dallas to Blytheville, AK the first day, which seemed an easy drive. (Your first day should not seem easy.) Blytheville to Cedarville, OH the second day was a bit too long for one day but too short for two, especially since you deal with Louisville and Cincinnati either late afternoon or early evening. We had told the kids we wouldn’t see them that night, which was correct, we got in well after the grandkids’ bedtimes.

Going home, we went from Cedarville to Lebanon, MO, which was not a bad drive, except for missing an exit and touring part of the outskirts of St Louis, and then onto Dallas the second day. The drive home the second day would probably be faster on the Interstates, even though it looks further. You can do 70 on the Interstates, but on the US highways, it’s still 65 or 55 (and slower through the many small towns.) You would miss Muskogee, but now we’ve been there.

Financially, an RV rental would have replaced our hotels (one night up, five nights there, one night back), but we spent just over $1000 on hotels. We would spend significantly less in an RV park. The gas would have been more expensive (as our Escape gets better mileage than an RV), and the food would have been the same. (Also, the hotel is maybe five minutes from our kids, so you also have to factor in convenience. There isn’t an RV Park that close, and I’m not dry-camping in their yard, although they’ve offered.)

So, a $1500 RV rental seems pretty expensive compared to just driving our car and sleeping in hotels for a vacation.

I’m hoping someone can correct my math.

Rentals

So, thinking of driving up to see the kids in Ohio, and thought, “This would be a good time to rent an RV.”

Oops.

So, the first one I looked at was CruiseAmerica and it’s about $1500 for a Class C (the smallest RV they have) – which is more than flights and a hotel, possibly much more. There are about 900 miles included in the rental, so by the time we got there, we’d be paying thirty-five cents a mile the rest of the time, and all the way home.

Why is it so expensive to rent an RV? It seems to be one hobby that is very difficult to test-drive.

Part of it may be our needs – the kids are two days away by car (assuming you don’t just drive straight through, and we’re too old for that), so that’s two days back. So, just going up, saying, “Hi” and returning is a four-day rental. I was looking at a nine-day, because we need an extra day to return the unit – we would never get back early enough to turn it in the last day.

Driving School

Looking around for an RV driving school – one was mentioned on Facebook so I have to go find it.

It seems like your options are test drives at the dealer, renting something similar to what you want, or buying and learning as you go.

Rentals may risk less of your money but they seem very expensive to me.

So, off to find the post on school.

Southwest RV Super Show Notes

Virginia and I wandered around the RV Show yesterday, and got some answers and a few more questions. It’s always nice to actually see the vehicles up close and personal, as opposed to just seeing photos online.

We know a Class B won’t work for us. It’s too small or we’re too big, but it’s not happening. Here’s a question though – why are they so bloody expensive? There were many Class B rigs that were priced higher than Class As that dwarfed them in size. A Class B is a just van conversion, so I really wonder what’s driving up the cost.

A Class C would be very tight for us, depending on the model. I’m not willing to write off the entire class, but Virginia has.

We could get a travel trailer or 5th Wheel, but it was confirmed the dogs couldn’t ride in the trailer while we’re moving. We weren’t really considering this as an option just because of the possible cold or heat (depending on location) but we hadn’t considered the ride. Apparently, it gets pretty bumpy back there, so it’s confirmed the dogs have to be in the truck with us. If we got a large enough SUV, we could pull a smaller travel trailer, but not a 5th Wheel, and it would depend on the towing capacity. So, if we get a 5th Wheel, we need an extended cab or similar to make this work. (I would prefer a 5th Wheel to a travel trailer for stability and maneuverability.) I’m concerned about three dogs in a confined space that includes us and movement.

So, a Class A may still be the best choice, but Virginia is afraid to drive one, so that’s a major problem to solve. I need to find an RV school – we asked one of the sales team about lessons, and I don’t think there is such a thing at many dealers, who will let you take a test drive, but that’s because you’re thinking about buying it.

I would like to drive a 5th Wheel rig, just for the experience, but that may be even more difficult to arrange.

Research continues.

Early Research

Virginia and I spent part of the afternoon at Motor Home Specialist in Alvarado yesterday. The first lesson of RVs is that none of the dealers are very close to town. For example, Alvarado is literally on the other side of Venus (but Venus has a Whataburger). The second lesson is that dealerships are big – especially if they have a decent selection. This is the first dealership for anything I’ve ever visited that will lend you a golf cart to get around. 

You trade your drivers license for the key to a golf cart (it will start any of the guest golf carts) and you are then released to wander the 160 acres. This is truly low-pressure sales (and a show of great faith.) The RVs are all open – you can wander in, turn on the A/C if it’s not already on, open the cabinets, turn on the TVs and lie in the beds. The only request is that you not test the toilets, which seems reasonable.
We wandered around until heatstroke threatened, but we learned quite a bit. For example, I may be a bit large for a Class C. So, we’re looking mostly at Class As. Now, Virginia is concerned about the driving. That’s for another weekend.

Our RV Specs So Far

  • Table & Chairs. Much like asking for a table rather than a booth when we go to restaurants, I either need movable chairs or to lose some weight. Movable chairs seem easier to accomplish.
  • Washer & Dryer preferred – maybe not a deal-breaker, but the ability to do laundry in-house (even minimal loads) would be nice.
  • Square shower – there are some long, thin showers available. We are not supermodels.
  • Oven – a requirement for an Italian. I’m grateful she’s not asking for two.
  • Side & Rear Cameras – we need to see what we’re about to hit.
  • Auto-leveling – why do manually what a machine can do?
  • Toad-ready – we will need a car eventually.
  • Two (or more) AC units – this was easily proven by looking at RVs in Texas in August.
  • Bed over cab would be more useful than bunks, from a space-utilization standpoint
  • Bunkhouse non-optimal – it takes up space that we need for dog crates. This can’t be a unique requirement. 
  • King Bed preferred – did I mention we’re not supermodels?
  • Three slides – although this is a Virginia requirement. I just want enough room, and I’m not hung up on how you get it.
  • Full-side slide preferred – this is probably going to solve my room issues.
  • Leather furniture – cheap protection against the dogs. We learned this in the house.
  • Doggie window preferred – really, we need three. I’m sure the dogs won’t bark at everything. Maybe this is optional.
  • Bath 1/2 preferred – two baths is probably overkill. One may not be enough.
  • Distinct areas preferred – in spite of the open floor plan movement, having spaces that can be closed off would give the dogs separate spaces.

Toad?

As newbies, there are many questions we have. (The ones that concern me most are the ones we don’t have yet.) The one that came up early was – do we need a toad?

In this case, it’s not a frog’s cousin, it’s a small vehicle that is towed behind the RV, so you have local transportation when you get to a stopping point.

If you don’t have a toad, then every time you want to go somewhere not in the RV park, you have to disconnect everything and drive away. Then, you get back and have to reconnect everything.

This is a pain.

However, to me, adding a few extra feet and a tow vehicle behind a rather long vehicle already can also be a pain.

So, I asked for advice on a Facebook group – where else would I go?

“Hey, can I survive without a toad?”

I got three answers.

Yes. No. It depends.

Well, that pretty much settles it.

Of course, the other option is to buy a truck and just pull a trailer.

So, question one is still open.