BY ANN GROGAN
Our big RV adventure touring in North America got off to a rocky start! Jim and I left our friends and family in Aberdeen, Scotland for Amsterdam from where we would fly to Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. The date was September 11, 2001, and we were at the airport in Amsterdam ready to board when all flights were cancelled because of the American tragedy.
It was chaos at the airport. We had to leave our luggage, find a hotel, and re-book our flight. We were very lucky to get accommodation, as there was a business convention in Amsterdam, as well as the 25,000 people who were stranded there all desperately looking for somewhere to stay. We found a reasonable hotel in the heart of Amsterdam which enabled us to do the tourist bit during our enforced five-day stay: canal cruise, walking all over the city, and, of course, visiting the Red Light area, which was very interesting. The down side was the four flights of very narrow stairs up to our very narrow room! There was no elevator, so we were glad the airport had kept our luggage!
Our run of bad luck continued at the Vancouver International Airport where we joined the huge queues through passport control. (They were being extra cautious.) Jim’s daughter wasn’t there to meet us as she’d been given the wrong arrival time, and when she did arrive her car wouldn’t start and we had to get a jump start.
Our baggage didn?t arrive with us, so we had to walk around Vancouver for five days in more or less the same clothes, and another three days in borrowed clothes. However, our golf clubs arrived two days before the other stuff!
Within the first week, we acquired a three quarter ton truck and a 25-foot (eight-metre) 5th wheel trailer. We were delighted with it! It has a bedroom, a little bathroom with shower, a sitting room and a kitchen area with fridge, freezer and cooker. Then we bought kitchen equipment, utensils, towels, bed linen ? all the stuff you need to set up home! We also bought a TV and shopped around for a laptop computer and mobile phone.
For the first 10 days we stayed with Jim?s daughter in Steveston Village, which has the harbour, the sea, wharfside restaurants ? it?s really lovely. Then we moved into our RV and onto a RV campsite. Hitching the truck to the trailer was a bit difficult at first ? there are about 12 things you have to check and it took three attempts, but Jim became far more proficient with time.
Before we headed south I wanted to see a bit of Vancouver. The buildings downtown are something else ? so tall! And we visited Stanley Park and had a great day.
On October 5th, we crossed the border into Washington State. Because of the extra security it was a two-hour wait before our trailer was thoroughly searched.
We were a bit nervous towing the trailer at first and both of us kept glancing nervously in the mirror to make sure it was still behind us. As we drove over the border into Washington the truck was jerking quite a bit and we thought, ?Oh No!? ? but it turned out to be the road and everything went smoothly once we hit a decent surface. Phew!
En route for Coos Bay, on the Oregon coast about 230 miles (389 km) away, we stopped overnight in Millersylvania State Park, Washington. It was pitch black when we drove in as State Parks generally have no electric lighting except in the restrooms and many of them have no hook-ups to electricity or water. (Wilderness camps have no hook-ups either and only pit toilets! So far we?ve given them the big miss.) We just drove into the first site we could see by the headlights, hooked up and settled down for the night. In the morning we woke up to find ourselves surrounded by water. We thought it had been raining until we realized there was no water anywhere else ? just around us. We discovered that we hadn?t fixed our water hose on properly and we?d been leaking all night! By this time we could see we were in a lovely clearing surrounded by huge trees over 45 metres high and the sun was shining, so we decided to stay over another night and explore the trails and nearby lake.
There were quite a few empty sites so we hastily moved our trailer before anyone noticed we?d created a flood. That evening we had a meal by our campfire, as did everyone else around the site. All you could see were campfires and children playing by torchlight.
The next day we entered Oregon and drove through Portland and on to Florence on the coast where we stayed the night, again in a State Park. This one wasn?t as nice as it was too closed-in by trees. Here Jim had his first experience of backing up the trailer ? a few hours later ?. actually it was only about half an hour!
We learned that our campsite was surrounded by sand dunes, some as high as 150 metres so we took a walk to see them. We climbed one ? considerably smaller than 150 metres ? but still pretty steep. The sight from the top was quite magnificent: miles and miles of huge sand dunes. We couldn?t see the sea but we could hear it. (At least Jim said he could and I took his word for it.) Quite a few campers had their sand buggies with them. Driving like crazy up and down the dunes seemed to be the thing to do. We left that to the younger group and headed off to Coos Bay, a drive of about two hours.
The first thing we did on arrival was go to the beach to watch the sunset. It?s a spectacular coastline with huge waves and fantastic cliff formations, really dramatic. We stayed at Coos Bay for five days exploring the coastline. We watched the two resident sea lions in one of the nearby harbours compete with the seabirds to catch pieces of fish discarded by the fishermen cleaning their fish on the quay. The fisherman had caught tuna fish as big as 10 kilos ? and here?s me thinking it only came mashed up in cans! We also visited one of the bars in Coos Bay where there was a jam session in progress. The performers were very good and the place had a good atmosphere, although people kept disappearing outside for a few minutes. This made Jim a bit neurotic about someone stealing his truck and he felt compelled to go check. Some guy bought everyone in the place a drink five minutes before we arrived. Just our luck!
The next day was cool and rainy so we decided to move on to Santa Cruz, California, where we intended to stay until mid-December. We did the 600-mile journey (965 km) with one overnight stop in a rest area ? what?s called ?dry camping?. Apparently Wal-Marts and McDonalds welcome campers staying overnight in their parking lots ? you can imagine the size of their parking lots! The problem is you have to use your own power and after two days you have to empty your ?grey water? and you need a dump in a campsite to do this. So, it?s a one-of situation, when necessary. Rest areas are handy for overnight stops too.
We crossed into California, going up and down some pretty steep mountain passes, some as high as 3,000 feet (900 metres). Mount Shasta is 14,362 feet (4,377 metres) and always has a snow covering. Now we were on flat, prairie-like terrain and we passed farms growing rice, olives, pumpkins and grapes. The highway went on straight into the distance as far as the eye could see ? just like in the movies. I saw my first buzzards and my first raccoon and skunk, albeit they were lying dead on the road. I also had my first shot at driving the trailer, and it was actually easier than I expected, probably because there were no corners to turn! It was only for a short spell ? Jim loves his truck and hates parting with the wheel. (Or is it my driving?)
In Santa Cruz the campgrounds were full and a lot more expensive than anticipated. Monthly rates were reasonable but there were waiting lists. In addition, construction work on a huge power plant had drawn loads of new people into the area with not enough reasonable rental accommodation. We had driven confidently up to a site and nearly died when we couldn?t get in. Our confidence in towing had improved, but not to the extent where we wanted to trail round all the various sites. Luckily we had bought a mobile phone, so we spent ages phoning around before finding one place with a vacancy ? expensive, of course. We stayed there one night and a German chap told us about a nice campsite in King City about 50 miles (80 km) south. The drawback was that it was inland about an hour and a half from the coast. But none of the various private sites in Santa Cruz had any monthly vacancies and they were too expensive per night. The State Parks had no hook-ups and you could only stay 15 nights maximum, anyway. So we decided to go to King City, and make day trips to places like Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Carmel and Pebble Beach.
King City was quite a nice town, but not very exciting and a high percentage of the occupants were Mexican who didn?t speak English. This area grows garlic (you can smell it as you drive down the highway), artichokes, strawberries and loads of vineyards.
The campsite was very nice and handy for the local golf course, so we spent a couple of pleasant weeks there. We visited San Francisco for a day, leaving the truck on the outskirts and getting the local train in, where a Korean lady from Los Angeles joined us. Her husband was attending a convention in San Jose so she was taking the opportunity to see San Francisco. The three of us spent a great day: taking the cable car to Fisherman?s Wharf and a tram tour of the city conducted by a driver with a sense of humour, viewing the streets where all the famous car chases in movies take place, lunching in Chinatown and visiting Italian town. It was a great day!
We spent a day in Santa Cruz and another doing the 17-mile (27-km) drive from Pacific Coast to Carmel. We visited the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course and walked round Carmel hoping to see Clint Eastwood! We came across a shop called Fideaux: ?dogs and cats outfitters? ? only in California. We spent another day at Cayucos and just had to have a beer at the local saloon that looked just like the ones in the western movies, made of wood but lacking the hitching post for horses!
On October 26, we moved to Pismo Beach, on the west coast north of Los Angeles. This campsite had a heated outdoor pool and was close to the beach and a 9-hole golf course, as well as lots of shops and restaurants. We went to an excellent disco with great music and a mixed age group and we went along to square dancing lessons where we met some really nice people. The age group was from 40?s through to 92!
I found the shops really strange. In some towns the whole place looks higgledy-piggledy with huge fast food places, mixed with little places and service stations dotted in between. The prettiest places we visited were Carmel (beautiful!), Santa Cruz and Cayucos. Food in the supermarkets was as expensive as at home and dearer in some cases. (Little cans of tomato puree were US$6 in one supermarket!) Gas was definitely cheaper, but in some places it was US$1.79, in others US$1.43. Our truck does 12 miles (19 km) to the gallon ? 9 miles (14 km) to the gallon with the trailer, so of course we went for the cheapest fuel whenever possible.
There were RV parks are all over the place. The private sites tended to have better facilities such as electricity, water and sewage hook-ups, and sometimes Internet connection, as well as swimming pools, laundry facilities, showers and rest rooms. The State Parks tended to offer just the site and not great restrooms. In Oregon and Washington the State Parks had a mix of non-hook ups and hook ups, but in California very few State Parks had any hook-ups.
And so we became seasoned RVers within a few short weeks of being newbies!