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Our First Trip as RV Owners

A shot of a wet, black road advancing toward the horizon and lined with pine trees.

My family isn’t big on fancy vacations to distant lands. We’re more of a “strap on the surfboards, pack the card games, fire up the RV and hit the road” type of family. My memories of RV life are fond and aplenty.

I remember Easter morning wake-ups with candy-filled eggs hidden around my Grandparents’ motorhome, and s’more-filled evenings around campfires on the beach.

And climbing the winding roads through Yosemite, headed to the warm and glassy lakes on the other side of the Sierras for the annual rendez-vous with the "McClure Gang,” comprising my sweet grandparents and a handful of their church friends. The Gang spent entire summer days playing Eighty-Eight while my sister and I were hardly out of the water long enough to dry off.

I remember road-tripping all the way out to Missouri for a Shipley family reunion where Uncle Wendall made a fork walk and taught us how to hunt for snipe.

And living in a motorhome for a year and a half while we built our house. I was just in middle school, one of a family of four, a cat and a puppy packed into in a 26-foot 1976 Dreamliner. Let me tell you, we were living the life!

So, life on the road in confined spaces with far too many people (and pets) is part of my heritage. It’s something I have long wanted for myself as I entered adulthood. When the time came for my parents to sell the old family RV and get something a little more “with the times,” my fiancé Darren and I quickly claimed our stake. We flew to my hometown of Crowley Lake, California to drive it back up to Seattle.

We had to keep the RV family legacy alive and keep that little beauty in the family a bit longer. “It still has some life left,” we convinced ourselves.

My dad gave Darren and me the rundown on all its quirks. I didn’t pay much attention because a) it’s not my department, Darren takes care of all that; and b) I was like “Pshhh, I know all this because it’s been our rig for years!” Needless to say, the list of how-tos was long and complex, and while my dad tried to thoroughly brief us on what we were getting into, nothing could have prepared us for our maiden voyage north.

In anticipation of selling it, my parents had stripped that thing bare. We raided my sister’s linen closet for blankets and towels so we could survive the two-day drive home through the mountains, in the dead of winter.

We hit the road with nothing but a roll of toilet paper and a few black water treatment packs. So began the 850-mile trek through the Sierras, past the Biggest Little City in the World, around Mount Shasta and over the Siskiyous in our rickety little RV we’d nicknamed the Dutchess. The steering was a little wonky due to a sway bar that needed fixing, and it made for a sketchy driving at times, especially when gale-force winds whipped for miles through the barren wasteland north of Reno. We were scared, man!

Oh and I forgot to mention, we’d also commandeered my dad’s classic canoe and strapped that baby to the top. In the wind, the canoe acted like a sail and made things even more dramatic. I sure wasn’t going to man the helm under those circumstances. So I co-piloted like a champ and provided snacks. Snacks and directions are vital to a road trip. Vital.

We survived the windstorm and made our way into Trinity National Park, and into another state at long last—Oregon, where they pump your gas for you. Don’t mind if I do! We camped our first night in a charming KOA in Klamath Falls. After a solid ten hours on the road, for whatever reason, I pulled down my visor. Out jumped a hideous monkey my sister and brother-in-law tied to a string to prank us. They got us good! It’s an on-going joke, and we keep passing it back and forth each time we visit each other.

The hideous monkey stayed perched on the visor for months. Perhaps because seeing it made us laugh, or perhaps because it reminded me of the fun I always had with family in that RV growing up. And the coolest part is that we get to keep our family way of travel alive, but do it all in our own way.

After we recovered from our monkey scare and got situated in our end spot, we fired up the oven and popped in a frozen lasagna, tossed a bagged caesar salad, and even cracked open a few beers—like you do when you camp. Ahhhh, we made it halfway home and could rest up before we had to drive through the Siskiyous and the horrifying Portland freeways.

Sometimes an empty road ahead of us feels like a sign of our craziness. As if it’s saying “What ARE you thinking? No one road trips in the winter.” To which we say, “We do!”

Water droplets on an RV window with a blurry road in the background.

The 6 a.m. wake up call came way too soon. After a few cups of Keurig coffee, we were ready for the final leg of our drive home. The Siskiyous are wet and a bit snowy come mid-March. But the snow wasn’t sticking, and it was early enough in the day that the roads weren’t terribly icy. So we made our way slowly and surely through the twists and turns, coming out the other side looking forward to smooth sailing on I5 to Portland.

Three short and comparatively easy hours later, we parked the rig alongside our quiet creek in the ‘burbs south of Seattle. With such a long drive on a short timeline, and an old RV that needed a little TLC, we counted it as quite the accomplishment. We were proud to have an RV as old and tired as it was in our driveway, because it meant it was the beginning of something pretty awesome.

That maiden voyage “over the mountains and through the woods” was the first time Darren and I had an RV to call our own. The first time we managed a harrowing drive just fine and learned a few things along the way. The first meal we shared together in our new rig—In-N-Out, complete with the paper cook’s hats and all. The first time navigating ourselves through snowy mountain passes and Portland’s confusing interchanges. Together. As real adults and RV owners. I’m excited we’re continuing the Shipley way and making RV life how we roll. Here’s to many more firsts on the open road, in familiar and new campgrounds alike, and along rainy shores in the great Pacific Northwest and beyond.

A few things we learned along the way:

  1. As long as you have RV rated toilet paper and a tank full of water, you’re good to go.

  2. Used RVs can show you a good time. It’s like your first home. You start small and simple and keep working up from there.

  3. Proper snacks are a must and some simple made-in-advance staples go a long way to make a roadside sammie next-level. Pickled red onions and herb mayo make magic, my friends.

  4. You must have ample games on hand. My faves? Phase 10, Uno & Skip Bo. You can never go wrong with the classics.

  5. Allow for happy accidents. No reservations can makes us Type-A planners nervous, but sometimes it leads to discoveries that allow you to linger longer where you want, and speed through the places you don’t love.