Life’s Little Surprises

While waiting on the welding repairs to our 1975 Travco, I thought Throwback Thursday would be an appropriate time to post this story I wrote about our first family RV trip in April 2011:

Last April our family experienced our maiden RV voyage to Florida. The 22 year old motor home was parked by the highway the September before, a For Sale sign taped to the window. Now we rumbled  down the highway on Camp Wannahockalogie’s trip to the unknown.

The vehicle was professionally examined and pronounced sound. We had nothing to worry about. We had maps and campground reservations. Nothing would slow us down.

Then I saw the leak. Stepped in it, actually. While stopping at a roadside rest for a snack, my sock suddenly felt cold and wet. A thin stream of water seeped across the floor from under a seat.

“We are going up and down hills,” my husband suggested. “Maybe the reservoir tank’s overflow leaked.” It was a small dribble. I sopped it up, leaving a towel on the floor to catch any more.

After two days on the road, we arrived at a lakeside campground in the Ocala National Forest. First we wanted to cool off. We donned our swim gear and hit the small beach/swimming area. The water was cool and clear. Minnows circled around us, nibbling at the hairs on our legs.

We were not in the water long when my husband pointed to a spot just beyond the roped off safe area. “Look at that!” I saw a stick floating on the water.

“That’s not a stick,” he said, pulling our eight year old son onto his shoulders for a better look.

“Neat! Mom, it’s a real wild alligator!” said the boy.

Sure enough, a three foot long gator swam lazily up to the swimming area. When his snout touched the rope, he perked up, saw us and paddled off in the other direction.

The boys swam for another hour, hoping to see more of inland Florida’s denizens. I had seen enough and beat a hasty retreat to the RV. It was a small alligator but I did not want to meet its mama.

We gathered back at the RV for dinner. The leak progressed lazily across the linoleum. I reached into the fridge to pull out some burgers for the barbecue and cold pop to drink. The food was room temperature.

We knew if the RV was not level, the fridge would not function. It looked on the level, but just in case we disconnected the sewer, water and hydro and wiggled the RV back and forth, trying to improve the situation. After a few hours, the fridge was still not doing its job.

A quick trip to Walmart secured a Styrofoam cooler and bags of ice. This became our fridge for the remainder of the vacation.

It was getting late, and darkness settled over Lake Waldena. Sitting by the campfire we listened to the croaking of many frogs, but they sounded different than the amphibians back home. These fellows sounded raspy, like they all had a bad sore throat. The next morning I commented on the moonlight serenade to one of the seasonal residents. “Them’s not frogs,” he said. “Them were gators!” He went on to explain that if we had shone our flashlight out over the shallows, we would have seen the red reflection of many pairs of eyes. “The bigger the gap between the eyes, the bigger the gator,” he noted, adding that their favourite snack is your pet dog. Many a collar and tag have been found in the belly of captured alligators.

The local wildlife was not done surprising us. The next morning as my husband walked to the showers, he came within inches of stepping on a three foot long bright green snake, basking on the sidewalk. With visions of lying prone and foaming at the mouth from a snake bite, he yelled, jumped back and was ready to run when our local friend called out “Hey, Canadian! That one’s not poisonous!”

For our last day, we travelled to the Atlantic to swim in the ocean. No snakes. No alligators. The water was chilly and the breakers were  exhilarating. Our son watched two men surf fishing on the beach. They let him try. He reeled in a grunt and a whiting – a highlight of his trip.

Our first RV on Ormond Beach, Florida, April 2011.
Our first RV on Ormond Beach, Florida, April 2011.

Next day we reluctantly packed up for the long drive home. The little leak had become a stream, so we drained the reserve water out of the RV. The leak dried up once it stopped being fed, but we had no water on board except a few water bottles we could not keep cold due to the non-functional fridge.

We travelled north out of Florida, through Georgia and onward. We were ready to stop for the night when we reached Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Next morning, I noticed a billboard advertising “Caverns of Luray”. Something twigged in my memory. I recalled as a child seeing a reel of Luray pictures in my uncle’s Viewmaster. With no particular images in my mind, but not knowing if I would ever have the chance again, I wanted to see the caverns.

The boys were indifferent. By now they were ready to go home. Their attitude changed as soon as we stepped into the massive caverns. It is an alien world in the Caverns of Luray, filled with formations, colours and textures seen nowhere else. A very helpful self-guided audio tour steered us through the maze, pointing out special stalactites, stalagmites and columns. We spent hours in awe of this natural wonder. Although claustrophobic, I never gave it a second thought traversing the majesty and beauty of Luray.

Finally it really was time to get home. We would drive straight through. No trouble until we crossed the Pennsylvania border. It was getting dark, and a storm was brewing. After sunset the rain teemed down in sheets, wind blew wildly and thunder roared. Crack! A plastic wheel well cover careened off into the darkness. Lightning illuminated the slippery roadway weaving up and down the mountains. Local radio reports were telling people to get to higher ground. And I discovered our windshield leaked.

The original window seal had shrunk, exposing the edge of the windshield on the driver’s side  to the weather. Water rained down on me almost as hard as outside. I was soaked. The rain did not stop until we were most of the way through New York State. The border guard must have thought I’d peed my pants.

We discovered the thermostat had blown in the fridge, not a costly repair. The leak originated in the hot water heater. The ancient unit had finally rusted through and needed replacing. A simple re-caulking fixed the leaky windshield, and a new wheel well cover was installed.

As for the vacation, we had the time of our lives. What could have been major issues became minor annoyances we laugh about to this day. We had a great family experience, saw new things and did not let life’s little surprises get in the way, but if you happen to find a fuel cap for a 1988 Ford Holidaire at a gas station in Georgia, please send it my way.

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