Hell On Wheels
BEFORE GASOLINE WAS $4 A GALLON, my husband and I decided to rent an RV, load up the young Hammacks and drive to Canada. Like many of our half-baked follies, two weeks on the road with three small children seemed like a good idea in the preliminary stage.
My longstanding preoccupation for homes on wheels is a fetish hatched from the confines of the backseat of my parents’ Buick, where I spent a good portion of my cramped, formative years, sitting between my brother and sister. I hearken at the slightest suggestion of any mode of travel that includes legroom and an adjacent bathroom.
Think of it: there we’d be, seeing the U.S.A. (and Canada!) for days and days, stopping only for Kodak moments and souvenir shopping. We’d be making our own meals and snacks in the RV’s kitchen, enjoying long naps sprawled across a queen-size bed and taking as many bathroom breaks as we jolly well pleased – racking up the miles the whole time. And every night, we’d be camping!
Camping! Now there’s a word I’d never paired with the pronoun “I.”
I was never a Campfire girl (therapy pending), but I’ve known people who have gone camping before and, with the exception of the occasional rainout, none of these people had ever complained about roughing it. The closest I’d ever come to camping as a kid was sleeping on the back patio when our air conditioner broke. It was the way I imagined camping must be: lying on a back-spraining cot, paralyzed by fear that a June bug would land on me, crawl into my ear, go to my brain and lay eggs. (I’d seen this happen once on a made-for-TV movie.)
We began our camping adventure by flying into Salt Lake City. Our swanky palace-on-wheels was brand new, with a full tank of gas and a mere seven miles on the odometer. It smelled clean, had glittery knobs, handles and switches, nice curtains on the windows and fresh cushions on the furniture – amenities that turned out to have a shelf life of about 12 Hammack hours.
Our first night of camping took place in beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where we’d located an RV park in a lush, green valley. Upon arrival, we learned about water and power hookup, as well as the sobering (and all-too-rustic) lesson of ridding the holding tank of “solid waste.”
With those preliminaries out of the way, we were eager to venture outside and take in the majesty of this ski resort town. Why, we wondered, weren’t the other campers frolicking about the majesty, too? They were all holed up in their darkened RVs! Road-weary, no doubt.
Opening the RV door for our exodus, we were assaulted by robin-sized mosquitoes and a plague of June bugs – the kind that, most certainly, would land on me and my small children during the night, crawl into our ears, go to our brains and lay eggs.
We spent the entire evening swatting at flying insects in the dark and cursing the great wide open, but it wasn’t until bedtime that we discovered what “roughing it” really means: polyester-blend sheets.
Soon enough, the RV had become a prison: our own little hell on wheels. During our 13-day sentence, we cut a gravel-spitting, double-wide swath from Old Faithful to Saskatchewan, Mount Rushmore to Devil’s Tower, tallying up two tire blow-outs, one dead battery, ambivalent brakes and cracks in the fiberglass paneling (the result of fighting among the inmates).
Two weeks had only been the prelude to the misery of the last night, beginning with a desperate search for an RV park upon our return to Salt Lake City, and ending in the back parking lot of an old Safeway on the wrong side of town.
With no hookup for power and water, there was no A/C, no shower and no way we would sleep through the night in the stifling heat on our synthetic sheets. We opened the windows for a cross breeze, which originated just upwind from us at the Safeway’s dumpster.
The many deliveries at 4 a.m. (by 18-wheelers that beep in reverse) might have roused me from sleep had I not already been lying awake, paralyzed by fear that we’d be shot in the back of a grocery store parking lot before dawn, or worse, that a bug from the nearby dumpster would somehow get into the RV, land on me, crawl into my ear, go to my brain and lay eggs.