By Claudia Carbone
Every year, to celebrate three back-to-back birthdays in my family, we try to get together the first week in August. This year, granddaughter Isabella turned 18 and daughter Kathleen reached 52 on August 4, a birthday they share proudly with Barack Obama. The next day, grandson John Dylan (JD) celebrated being 26 as well as earning his masters degree and moving to Colorado from Omaha to start a new life adventure.
This all happens annually in Crestone, Colorado, a small hamlet at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range in the beautiful San Luis Valley where one of my sons owns a 35-acre piece of property. In normal times, I would book a room at the inn in town while all the kids pitched tents on Nick’s land.
Not this year.
With the coronavirus whirling about, we didn’t want to do the hotel thing. So my partner Larry and I decided to travel via the mode de jour: a rental RV. Seemed the safest way to go; and, hey, we needed an adventure after COVID-cabin fever!
Six weeks prior to leaving, we drove to the nearest Cruise America RV rental lot about 40 minutes from our house that we found online. Boy, were they busy! RVs of all sizes were coming and going in and off the lot. Some were waiting to be sanitized; others were being worked on. In the office, we waited a short while before the harried clerk helped us. She took us out to look at the different sizes: Large, Standard, Compact, Truck Camper. We chose the Standard that has three sleeping options—a queen bed in back, a converter queen above the cab, and a single bed converted from the dinette. It is the same as a Compact except it has the queen bed. With Larry at 6’ 4”, we needed two good beds.
Features include air conditioning, fresh-water toilet, two-burner gas cooktop (no oven), fridge and freezer, microwave, two sinks, shower and generator. We were happy to know we could bring our Black Lab Henry. If we wanted to tow a boat, we could have (but didn’t).
On the day of pickup, we called per instruction to confirm the appointment time. It was two hours later than they originally said due to the rush of people renting the things.
I enlisted my son-in-law to go with Larry to get the beast so he could get familiar with it as the alternate driver. I didn’t want to be that person! They both watched a required 35-minute orientation video on the operating systems, such as the electrical and propane systems, functions of the water pump, cleaning out waste (“dumping”), heating and cooling systems and safety features. “One of the best ‘how-to’ videos I’ve ever seen,” Larry said. There was a lot to learn. No wonder they don’t rent to anyone younger than 21.
Though they showed them how to attach a bike rack onto the back, we just loaded our bikes into the “hall” space in the RV and tied them down with bungee cords.
This would have been the time to buy a provisioning kit (kitchen essentials) for $110 and/or a personal kit (bedding and towels) for $60. We chose to bring our own stuff, but it helps to use the website as a checklist. The one thing we forgot was a broom. We tracked in a lot of dirt from our meadow campsite that landed on the floor and eventually into the sheets from our our bare feet.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how much storage space we actually had. Tightly secured drawers and cabinets were everywhere, including a large space under the belly for big items like coolers. And the fridge and freezer were large enough for the cold food we brought. Since we did our cooking on an outside grill, we never used the stove.
We found four electrical outlets to charge our phones in the living area. There are none in the cab unless you have an adapter for the cigarette lighter. A control panel on the inside entry controls water heater, generator and water pump. It also has a test button that indicates fluid levels on all systems.
Driving the RV
The three-and-a-half hour drive was rough! Affected by wind, and with a stiffer suspension, the RV reverberated every distortion on the road. It is, after all, a 10-foot-wide box going down the highway at high speeds! Don’t expect it to drive like a passenger car. It struggled a little going up hills. Going downhill, Larry engaged the “tow haul” downshift button to slow the vehicle. Overall, Larry said it was not difficult to drive. To me, it was noisy. We could hardly hear the radio or music on our phones. Then it started to hail, and it got really noisy!
Sleeping in the RV
The queen bed was quite comfy and cozy in its little corner. The converter queen above the cab, not so much. It’s made up of two long pads that would separate a couple of inches as Larry tossed and turned, making him toss and turn even more! And every time either of us got up to walk a few steps to the bathroom, the whole vehicle rocked like a boat! Light sleepers may need a sleep aid to make it through the night. I’ve heard some motorhomes have stabilizers that stick in the ground, but this one didn’t. Blackout curtains kept the morning sun at bay until we wanted to start the day.
You always think you won’t have an emergency when renting a vehicle. Well, we did! When we arrived at Nick’s property, we parked in his meadow. The spot we picked was a little uneven, so in order for the fridge and freezer to operate properly, we had to make it level. One of the guys found a couple of pieces of wood to place under the tires. It was dark by then, and he didn’t see the nails sticking up through the wood. We didn’t notice anything until the next morning during coffee around the campfire.
Aw, geez! We had a flat!
Larry immediately tried the 24/7 assistance hotline, which was a problem as we were in a dead zone for cell phones. Walking around, he finally found a spot and made the call. It was answered with, “Thank you for your call. All our technicians are with other customers. Please leave your name and number and we will return your call.” Nooooo! Being in the middle of nowhere, we couldn’t be sure they would ever be able to connect with us.
Eventually, they did. They dispatched a local repair service guy to fix the tire. After two attempts to find us in the meadow, he took off the punctured tire and replaced it with a new full-size spare that was in the storage compartment. Waiting for the phone calls and finally the repair took an entire day, loping off time to ride bikes as planned. To CruiseAmerica’s credit, they called several times to check on the repair and took good care of us. They even credited us for a lost day.
Because we stayed on private property, we had access to fresh water and power. You can also find those hookups at RV camp sites (for a fee), as well as dumping stations for waste. Larry paid a fee up front to bypass having to dump our waste (which I’m told can be a nasty job – wear gloves!). Since it was just the two of us, we didn’t generate much!
However, to avoid a “maintenance fee” and “dog hair fee,” we had to clean the RV ourselves. I thought this was a waste of time since it goes through rigorous cleaning for COVID at the lot.
Would I do it again? Probably not. For what we paid for the rental—roughly $235 per night without the extra fees—plus gas, I’d rather stay in a nice hotel with maid service.
But then there’s this virus. . .