There's certain things you'd think you can always expect to be there, and most of those things are really large geologic formations. That's why I was pretty surprised when I finally managed to get myself to the Grand Canyon, only to find that it was gone. Well, I suppose it wasn't really gone, but the white fog was so thick that it may as well have been. I'm sure the Grand Canyon is a majestic sight, but what I saw had all the aching majesty of a piece of fresh copier paper.
Still, It was in there somewhere, and I suppose that's good enough for me. After our detour to see America's Largest Hole, we soon realized that the glacial pace of our old Dodge RV and the vast distance we had yet to cover would necessitate a change of travel plans, from something more adventurous and meandering to something more practical and direct. So, we're foregoing goofy UFO souvenirs from Roswell and heading out on the I-40 for a long, tedious slow burn out to the East.
I'm writing this the day after a marathon 10+ hour session behind the wheel and before another one, so I'm in an ideal spot to describe what this sort of long, straight driving is like in the RV/trailer combo. It's a bit of an unusual driving sensation, marrying as it does the disparate concepts of terrifying and boring.
That's not to say it's all bad — when the road is straight and empty, the ponderous progress of the big fella is almost soothing. It's satisfying to lap the miles when the scenery is bright and beautiful and my animal and human family is right behind me in our little moving house having fun. Once things get a bit trickier, though, the joy melts away faster than the flavor in a stick of Fruit Stripe.
Big trucks are a constant source of discomfort, since every time they pass me, their vast wake of air never fails to shove the RV firmly to the shoulder, which means it takes some quick and careful wheel re-positioning to get back on the road without flinging everything around. At night, when long convoys of these brutes go whizzing by on a narrow two-lane road, it's actively alarming. You find yourself making those funny sorts of woahwoahwoah sounds you might make if you were a cartoon person, precariously balanced on the edge of a skyscraper.
Night driving in narrow road-work areas is a study in ass-clenchery as well. The ersatz roadways they build with traffic cones or pylons always feels uncomfortably cramped, and the serpentine curves and changes in elevation cause the two-box train to torsion and wobble like a drunken robot conga line. You're constantly making corrections with the wheel, feeling with your whole body the subtle but significant shifts of weight of the whole 10-wheeled mass of RV and towed car.
So far, I've only been a passenger for a small chunk of the trip, and during that time I realized what a crappy passenger I can make. My wife was managing the ungainly bulk just fine, but I found myself being way too paranoid of how hard she was pushing the old Dodge, which made me realize both how ingrained the instinct is to not push an old car is in me, and how hard it is to not be a colossal pain in the ass as a passenger. Eventually, I let go and made myself relax and enjoy the ride. Being in the living section of an RV on the road is sort of like being in your house during one of those rolling LA earthquakes, just stretched out for hours instead of seconds. Or maybe being on a boat, though, sadly I have more experience with earthquakes.
All told, driving this thing in a straight line for long periods of time can be pretty tricky, and this may be the type of driving I'd most willingly give over to an automated car. Or, better yet, a nice humanoid robot who can just climb in the drive's seat of this very RV and drive me around, so I can lounge in the back and play Mario Kart with my kid, like the world intended.
Even in the long, open middle of our country, there's some interesting automotive surprises around. Like this surprise auto museum hidden inside a gas station! What are the odds of that?
The collection isn't super-exotic, consisting mostly of 50s American Iron, but there are some curious outliers, like a '79 Spitfire and what may be the best-maintained Trans Am I've seen in years. Look at that Golden Chicken scream.
Oh, and more importantly, there's a Yoda dressed as a Texaco worker. Maybe it's Yoda's little-heard from younger brother, Yomert, who disappointed Yoda's dad by shunning the Jedi academy to take a job at the Texaco station in a crappy part of Coruscant. He's not famous, but I heard he has a bitchin' landspeeder.
Here's another nice surprise for lovers of cars and car-related culture: late at night, in the tiny town of Shamrock, TX, we passed a familiar-looking building, though the familiarity wasn't from anything in, you know, reality. This building, the U-Drop Inn, is a lovely example of unusual Art Deco design (inspired by a nail in the dirt, Wikipedia tells me) and was the basis for Ramone's Body Shop in the Pixar movie Cars. Neat, right?
It's been really great reading everyone's comments in the past posts, even if I haven't always been able to respond. So, here's a couple answers to two persistent questions:
Gas: This brute is thirsty. Figure 6 MPG or so. The tank is amazing because I swear it's gotten 10 gallons bigger since I started the trip. I think it's 40 gallons. Also, when I fill up, the pump has automatically stopped at $100.00 three times! Weird, right?
Stench: You'd think with me up front, three animals in the car, and a toddler this thing would smell like Stewed Jew in a Pet-Feces Compote. Incredibly, it either has good enough ventilation that it doesn't or my olfactory nerves have so overloaded that I just can't tell. Either way, the upshot is that I'm amazed I don't find the smell awful in here.
The past two days have been mostly blurs of long stretches of road and massive skies. At this very moment, I'm outside of Elk City, Oklahoma, and my goal is to make it to the Lane Motor Museum by Saturday, where I think I should be able to drive something nice and bizarre. Back on the road!