Our first great adventure with our 2004 Newell coach (Zane) was to be a trip from our home in the mountains of North Georgia to spend 4 days in New Orleans and 2 days at Gulf Shores State Park, then RTB (that’s military talk — Return to Base). Start date Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014. RTB January 3, 2015.
Given that this was our first trip together in our new coach, the first time Wendy would be driving with a toad (our Jeep Grand Cherokee attached at the tail), and the first time she had slept in it away from home (although we live in Zane full time) this was a big deal. And so began the questions.
- What if she breaks down? Well, we’ll unhitch the toad (Jeep) and Wendy will drive home while Clay sees to the repairs in Timbuktu.
- What if we get off the freeway and find ourselves in a “too tight to turn” scenario? Well, we’ll unhitch the toad and back out, then re-hitch the toad.
- What if we get mugged? Everyone I talked to about going to New Orleans looked at me with the bug eye and then proceeded to tell me of their experience of a mugging or smack down while in NOLA. Hmm. OK. We’ve been in some dicey places outside the U.S. and managed to use our heads to stay out of trouble. So we’ll just go with our eyes wide open, watch our backs, and avoid walking alone at night.
OK, worst fears dealt with because we have a plan. So let’s do this thing. New Orleans French Quarter — Gulf Shores Alabama — RTB.
We left the mountains of North Georgia on Christmas Eve with Wendy at the helm. Her first time driving our 45′ 7″ behemoth with our Jeep attached to the tail. No problema. The RV driver training we got in November paid off in spades.
So what do you do when you’re not driving?
The co-pilot’s job is to put their feet up on the dash and look calm.
Additional duties may include:
- scouting ahead on Google Maps to see satellite views of the next stop (truck stop, rest area or RV resort) to strategize the approach plan. Driving something this big requires fairly detailed planning for turns.
- answering navigational questions that may occur. Our Garmin GPS (for RV’s) gives us warning “dings” when there’s upcoming heavy traffic, a speed limit change, a curving road, etc., usually 1/2 mile before the event. So the usual pilot question is “What was that ding?”
- starting and stopping the audio book (Audible.com, Overdrive.com) playing on Clay’s i-phone, which is connected to the whole house stereo. How much fun to hear a great story while you’re tooling down the road. Overdrive is a digital download of books and audiobooks attached to your local library card downloaded to your phone. We like free.
- wander around in the kitchen, bring up snacks, use the facilities, take a nap in bed. Goof off.
As you can imagine, the co-pilot job rocks!
Wendy and I made it a point to set very low expectations. We never got up until we wanted to on this trip (there were some epic sleep ins!). We planned it out so we drove only 4 hours a day, max. Some days we traveled only 1.5 hours. We changed drivers every 1 to 1.5 hours. We love this relaxed attitude. We typically had the wheels rolling between 10 and 2pm. And we typically parked for the day between 1 and 4pm.
Yes, there were some anxious moments. Even with the best laid plans, we missed our turns twice. Once with Clay at the helm and once with Wendy. The result? Some very tight turns with nary a foot to spare. The lesson? As we got more comfortable and confident, we got more relaxed with our planning. Not good!
New plan? Be vigilant about every detail of the satellite map when planning our entry and exit from stops (truck stops, rest areas, and RV resorts). Planning is not hard or unpleasant. It’s fun. The electronic tools we have for planning our trips are amazing. So don’t get lazy. Use them to their fullest. AllStays is our favorite app for where we are now.
How far did we go and what did it cost? 1240 miles in 26 hours of driving. We used 177 gallons of diesel at $2.71 for a total cost of $480 at 7.1 mpg. Hmm. We couldn’t have flown two people on that 3 legged trip as cheaply, either commercially or in my small plane. And if we had driven our car we would have had much higher expenses with hotels and meals. As I look at what we typically have done on a 10-day trip, this was by far the cheapest vacation we have had in a good long while. (Of course, there’s the cost of the motorhome, but let’s pretend that budget-buster away for our little financial fantasy.)
There’s just something amazing about sleeping in your own bed and eating out of your own fridge at all these places, whether you’re in the French Quarter of New Orleans or a rest area or a sandy campground on the Gulf. This bed of ours is by far the most comfortable bed of our lives. And waking up and opening the blinds to see a new view is amazing.
And driving in Zane is fun. Unlike all the new RVs we test-drove at dealerships which squeaked and groaned in their joints with every bend in the road, this 2004 Newell, which is built of aluminum around a massive steel chassis that looks like it belongs under a locomotive, this thing is quiet. The Series 60 Detroit Diesel is some 40 feet behind you in the back. You can hardly hear it humming away. And the view out the massive front windows is — shazaam!
So this first trip gets a big thumbs up. And we love Zane.
What did we see and experience on our trip? That will need to wait for another post. Soon.