Category Archives: Driving Me Insane

Our RV research and driving tales of the road

Big Bend Adventure, Updated

We’re filling in our travel plans as we get closer to actually doing a drive across the State. So, naturally, this is the year gas prices are skyrocketing.

We were just going to drive straight down to Terlingua (587 miles, 8 hours, 51 minutes per Google Maps), but then we watched some of the videos of the existing bubble places (we’re staying in the new section that opens in July, so we don’t even have the official address yet), and they are dark at night. Very dark. This is, of course, one of the selling points, but if you don’t know where you’re going, it may be difficult to find under the stars.

I have experience with finding a place to stay in the dark. I spent over an hour on a business trip in Massachusetts, driving circles around my hotel because there were no street lights and my GPS wouldn’t sync.

Now, Massachusetts probably doesn’t have coyotes, rattlesnakes, and the other denizens of Big Bend Country, but Terlingua does, so I’d rather not arrive there in the dark, with no GPS, no streetlights and only a vague idea of where we were going.

So, I added an extra day of vacation, and we decided to drive half-way or so the first day, and then we can make it into Terlingua in the daylight. Half-way is pretty much Midland, but I decided to keep going a bit further, and that’s how I found Monahans. It has a Hampton Inn, which is where we stay on a lot of our trips, because they are very predictable, and have breakfast.

The new overnight gave us a 399-mile, six-hour drive on the first day, and left us with 188 miles and about three hours for the second day. Now, we’re not arriving at night, unless we really sleep in.

We decided that on day two, on the way to Terlingua from Monahans, we will stop and visit Marfa. It is a testament to the size of Texas that if you are going to be within a couple hours of a place, it’s “close enough to visit.” We always wanted to visit Marfa and this was a good time, even if it is slightly out of the way, and even if we can’t easily get there at night for the Marfa Lights.

I was thinking about taking a day in Terlingua to just go to Marfa, but it’s just over 100 miles (and almost two hours of driving), which means a lot of driving, so it is faster to visit on the way down. If we leave Monahans relatively early, we can be in Marfa by lunchtime, grab some food, wander around a bit, and still make it to Terlingua before dark – which was the whole purpose of stopping in Monahans in the first place.

Now, we have a 399-mile, six hour drive to Monahans on the first day. The second day is now two hours and 133 miles to Marfa, hang out in Marfa, and then finish with 109 miles and a bit under two hours to get to Terlingua.

Of course, after I booked in Monahans, we realized we could stop and visit family in Midland on our way. So, now we’re working on that.

It’s a big State, but there are friends and relatives everywhere.

We’ve booked a Jeep tour in Big Bend National Park one day, and we’re still planning what to do the other days.

We’re just waiting for instructions on how to get into our bubble, and where in the complex it actually is located. That’s an email a couple of weeks or so before we leave.

Texas Trails

I am trying to track our multiple trips around the Great State of Texas to see where else we need to visit. (This includes the planned Big Bend trip.) We still need to go to the Panhandle. We still have far West Texas. We’ve covered a lot of ground, though.

We cheated and flew to the Valley. We landed in Lubbock because of weather in Dallas. Everywhere else, we drove.

Big Bend Country

This is the longest drive across Texas I think we’ve planned. From Dallas to Terlingua, and then into Big Bend National Park (and Big Bend Ranch State Park, if we have time.) We are going so we can sleep in a bubble.

It’s almost 590 miles according to the step-by-step driving instructions from the Google Map. If we went in the other direction, we’d be halfway to the kids in Ohio. The difference is that this drive is all within one State. (El Paso is even further away, and in a different time zone.)

I have been trying to get Virginia to go to Big Bend for years, but she never had much interest. I finally realized I was using the wrong approach.

“Hey, do you want to visit a ghost town in the middle of nowhere?”
No.

“Hey, do you want to see Big Bend? It’s only ten hours from here, and you can’t really fly there.”
No.

“Hey, do you want to drive half-way to Ohio, in the other direction?”
No.

“Hey, do you want to sleep in an inflatable bubble?”
Tell me more. What is this bubble of which you speak?

It has taken me longer to see all the regions of Texas than it has to visit most of the other States. This is a bit sad, but it shows the size of the State.

I grew up in Dallas, and am still here. I went to college in San Antonio. I worked in Houston for a couple of years. I’ve sailed on a cruise ship from Galveston. I had a college girlfriend from the Valley, and we visited her family. My family used to go to Port Aransas.

I spent a weekend in Midland years ago, helping a college classmate find an apartment. (I heard when his wife from St Louis landed and saw all the glory of West Texas, she cried. They may not have been tears of joy.)

Midland was about as far west in Texas as I have been. Once we get past Midland, it’s new territory for me. Plus, I flew to Midland, so I didn’t really see the landscape.

The Spousal Unit has been as far west as Weatherford, I think – we went to the Peach Festival one year. She may have been farther west to rescue a dog. (She reminded me we did spend an hour or so in Lubbock one year when Southwest needed to divert for storms in Dallas.)

She’s been through East Texas, because it’s on the way to New Jersey and Ohio. She’s been to South Padre and the Valley. She’s been to Galveston and Houston. She’s been to San Antonio, Castroville, Hondo and D’Hanis. We visited the Hill Country one year for Spring Break.

After this trip, we still have the Panhandle to visit. I think I’ve covered the other regions of the State.

RV Plans

So, for a couple of months after I left IBM in 2017, we were seriously considering getting an RV and hitting the road, mainly because we couldn’t afford a cruise ship. Being the planner that I am, I had a bunch of routes mapped out, just in case. (We’re still in the house. Sigh.)

So this is the only map that we actually didn’t travel. (Actually, we’ve driven parts of it in the car, so I guess that counts somewhat.)

The Grand Plan(s)

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=1GkFFsgqx6U-AJB4ciP7Jo3IZQBc&w=640&h=480]

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.