This is a story about the second, maybe it was the third, (but it won’t be the last!) time that I questioned if we had really lost our marbles when we decided to risk it all on a motorhome almost a decade older than us. In late July we set out from Orlando, en route to the Bay Area of California, to start our new lives as camp hosts. We had bought the RV in Missouri, had her fixed up in Nashville after being watched over by a guardian angel on the dangerous journey in between the two places, and had a short pit stop at my parents’ house to load her up and prepare her for coast to coast travel. Brakes, checked. Oil, changed, AC, still broken! It’s okay, we would have to go without. I had a playlist made with state-themed music! What could go wrong!
We had a small hiccup in Missouri. We were still newbies at that point and it was our first time setting up the RV at a campground for an overnight stay. We arrived around 6 and Nathaniel used his last few hours of daylight to hook her up for the first time. Hoses were unraveled and connected, electric plugged in, even sewer. I know now that this was all totally unnecessary. If I were going to stop for less than 24 hours again I would hook up the electric, fill the fresh water tank for use while we were there, and only set up sewer connections if we were planning to go a few days without dumping afterwards. I would have planned a microwave dinner instead of fussing with the propane. You travel, you learn. I laugh at how meticulous we sued to be when we were strangers to our rig and this lifestyle. I cooked my first meal in the RV, a beautiful mix of canned food that we had leftover from our camping trip, we washed dishes, and headed to bed early. Our plan was to disconnect and leave around 4 am the next morning. Alarms buzzed at 3 so we would have time in the morning. Nathaniel took charge of the hookups (I still could not connect our propane if there was a gun to my head, never had to and I never will!). I made lattes with my espresso machine and foraged for some leftover breakfast bars, took the dog out, and buckled into the passenger seat. The engine clicked when it should have turned over and no amount of prodding would convince her to start. A neighbor came by the night before while I was showering and pointed out that our headlights were still on. Must be a dead battery. Triple AAA was called, arrived promptly, and we were a little shaken, but mobile once again, less than half an hour later. Our plan was to make it from Missouri to Texas by sundown. We had a tight schedule to keep. The plan was to be at the Grand Canyon by my birthday, by Nathaniel’s house for his mom’s birthday a few days later, and arriving at the park within a week.
Singing along to my playlist and cruising down the 10, we heard a pop. Not a good sign. A few miles later we heard a louder one, and Nathaniel lost control of the steering. It locked up and he had to muscle the massive rig to the side of the road. Once it turned off, it wouldn’t start again. So, it is definitely not the battery this time. Another call to Triple AAA. This time they were not as prompt, and we boiled in the un-airconditioned tin can on the side of the highway for HOURS. We couldn’t even step outside to give the puppy some fresh air because the side of the road was littered with shards of glass and metal from blowouts and wrecks in the past. Hungry, parched, and sweltering, all we could do was wait. I settled in with my book, Nathaniel played on his phone until we were afraid it would die, and we hoped Bingo’s cooling gel mat would keep him from overheating. Every half hour we would get a call telling us it would be another hour or so. Finally, the offices closed at 5 pm, and we couldn’t get through to anyone. We had to hope that someone was on their way to rescue us. It was just us in the motorhome, because Nathaniel’s car was being shipped to California where it would meet us, so we truly were stuck. I couldn’t even cry, I was frozen in suspense. About three and a half hours after our initial call for help, a tow truck stopped in front of us and we rushed out to meet the driver. He said it would be about half an hour of work to hitch the RV to his truck, and we had a 30 mile journey to the park we had reserved for the night. I called ahead to tell them we would be getting towed in, and probably staying a few extra days. They were sympathetic and assured us our spot would be open until Thursday, so we had three days to get back on our feet and back on the road.
Our tow truck driver let us ride in his cab, where he had seating for one passenger, and a bed in the back. Apparently the delay in our rescue was finding a driver who had space for passengers AND a puppy. I prayed that Bingo could hold his bladder for the length of the trip, since we were posted up on the guy’s bed with a pile of his work clothes in the corner. On the way we learned about his extensive farm, with over 90 cows. He said it takes that many to finally start turning a profit, but his kids aren’t interested in maintaining it in the future, so for him it’s just a hobby. He also has llamas, chickens, one donkey, and a “handful of horses.” He’s from West Virginia, and worked in the coal mines when he was a boy. His dad was the foreman and he was on track to take his place after high school. He decided he didn’t want to spend his life in a mountain, so he saved his money and moved to Texas to see what he could do with all that wide open space. Apparently, quite a bit!
We pulled into Mill Creek Ranch Resort looking a little bit ridiculous, with our broken down home in tow. They directed us to our spot and got us checked in. Right away, I didn’t want to leave. Our spot was directly adjacent tot he water, a small manmade pond stocked with fish and equipped with paddle boats for guests. Plenty of walking trails dotted their way along the grounds. A large infinity pool, a hot tub, and life sized lawn games were scattered throughout. There was even a small dog park where Bingo could get some energy out. Across a bridge, multicolored cabins studded the roadside. They looked like tiny homes with massive decks, fire pits, and views primed for the sunset. Our spot had a large purple flowering tree next to our picnic table that lit us in the golden hour. I was enthralled.
I scanned our check in information, where the brochure had an ad for a mobile RV tech that I would call first thing tomorrow. Tonight, all we could do was thank the lucky stars at night, big and bright, for our safe arrival. The tow set us back $500, and the extended stay would put a small dent in our carefully planned budget, but I was thankful to be stuck in such a beautiful place.
The next day, Monday, was a flurry of calls, voicemails, and research about the area. There seemed to be three mobile RV techs who could come look at it. All three didn’t seem to have anyone manning their office, so I called, and called again, and left voicemails that started spiraling into desperation. The resort rules prohibited RVs older than 10 years, and we were obviously the black sheep of the luxurious motorhomes around us. The office staff never said a word about it. I’m so grateful for their kindness.
Day 2. Tuesday. Only 48 hours until we had to vacate our spot. Upon studying their map I realized we were in a “deluxe” space, being charged the standard rate. It gave us a beautiful view! But it meant the incoming visitors probably would not want our rig blocking the view that they had reserved. More calls were placed. In between pacing and waiting, I took Bingo to explore the grounds. His happiness relaxed me a little bit, but the cloud of uncertainty was looming over my head. HIs car was being shipped to California, we had no way to get to an auto parts store to investigate the issue for ourselves. No ride-share companies or cabs would pick up anywhere around the tiny town. It was 100 degrees in the shade, but we would walk if it came down to it. I had a call returned from one place, Captain Jack’s, that would charge $750 up front to make the mobile call. After that, the same rate applied per hour. Any parts would be ordered through their supplier, which could take 3 business days to arrive. It wasn’t great, but its what we got, so I scheduled the appointment for 3 pm the next day. After 5 with no hope of reaching another mechanic, we decided to check out the pool and relax.
I admire Nathaniel’s ability to compartmentalize. I am anxious. A planner. If I have a flight at 3 pm, I’ll set my alarm for 5 that morning, with incremental reminders of how much longer I have to get to the airport. He attacks problems with tact and strategy, and then can put the issue away if he can’t do anything about it at the moment, and go about his day as if nothing is wrong. Maybe I can absorb this quality through osmosis or something. I rub his arm and beg his calm to transfer to me. He suggests a sunset swim, and I decide to take a cue form him and put the issue out of my mind. It is what it is. It will be what it will be. There’s nothing I can do in this moment to change anything. We think about life in Texas. The sprawling landscape. The cheap houses. The friendly people we’ve met since arriving here. The resort offers monthly spaces. We decide if we can’t get our issue fixed, we’ll have a tow over to the long term resident area. He’ll work in the resort, I’ll find a coffee shop in town. We’ll ship the car to Canton, TX and live happily here until we have the money to move on. We’ll cut our losses and junk the RV, come back to this resort to get married, laugh with the staff over our misadventure. I feel better and use this clarity to drift off to sleep, imagining cowboy boots and lots of red meat in my future.
Day 3. Wednesday. Last full day before our necessary check out. I miss a call from the office while I’m out with the dog, and trek down there like the voicemail asked me to. I have a pit in my stomach imagining the way their sweet southern accents will explain that we need to leave, also our RV is ugly, and we don’t fit in in their waterfall pool, country club aesthetic. I brace myself and approach the counter. As I open my mouth to apologize, the receptionist brightly asks if we have found anyone to fix our engine yet, because if not, the owner’s friend has offered to come out and take a look around 11. I tell her about Captain jack’s and she says she’ll give him a call anyways, maybe we’ll find the issue and save a few thousand dollars that way. I want to hug her, cry, bake her a pie?? I don’t know I’m so relieved!! I bounce back home to tell Nathaniel.
Nathaniel has spent the past few days digging around in the engine and consulting the internet trying to figure out where the issue lies. We hope that it’s the alternator, and will only be about $600 in parts. However, that’s buried beneath everything, so labor may add up to more than we paid for the rig itself. Right on time, at 11 am, a pickup truck parks behind us and the owner’s friend climbs out.
To this day, I don’t know his name. I call his Angel because that’s what I believe he was. Angel is a bigger man, Texas through and through. He and Nathaniel compare notes on what he suspects, and the parts he hasn’t checked yet. My job is to sit in the bedroom and keep Bingo away from the open engine compartment. I try to lose myself in a book, but really just strain to hear the technicalities being discussed twenty feet away from me. After an hour or so of moving in and out, climbing underneath, and a few murmurs of “hmm that does seem tricky” later, the boys tell me to stay put, and set off in Angel’s truck to raid the AutoZone. They return with a box the size of an Orange. I’m curious now, but afraid to ask any questions that may jinx it. A few minutes later, after a bit more fiddling, they try the key, and the engine roars to life. I hold still. I wait for the shut off. Or the explosion. And it doesn’t come! There she is, purring like a 28 year old kitten, fixed up and ready to go. The boys venture outside to double check that everything is back where it belongs, and I follow them. Nathaniel broaches the delicate question with a throat clear and a muttered “so, how much do we owe ya?” He asks for $20. Twenty. Dollars. I run inside and pull all the cash I have out of my wallet. I shove about $218 into his hands and offer to buy him tacos, a beer, anything! He humbly declines and thanks US for letting him tinker around a bit. He misses working with his hands, ever since he retired from the military where he was one of the few people certified to repair the B-52s. I’m in shock. Nathaniel is in awe. Our savior drives away in a beat up pickup truck, our lives are changed forever.
To celebrate we did what he asked us to, and walked down the road to his favorite taco stand, where we had some delicious tacos and some kind of weird nachos. A celebratory swim, one last sunset walk around the grounds, and a relieved call to the office thanking them for everything and assuring them that we would be checking out tomorrow filled our night until bedtime. The folks at Mill Creek Ranch Resort saved our trip, saved our savings accounts, and are the reason why we are where we are right now. We never could have made it to California without them. To this day when we see the words ‘Mill Creek” we think of it as a good omen. I will forever be grateful for their patience and their hospitality. That night, almost asleep, thinking about karma, destiny, angels, the kindness of humans, I sat up with a start. There was a phone call i had forgotten to make. It didn’t matter in the end. Captain Jack’s never even showed!! The bastards.