Put the key in the ignition, then turn it to the accessory position.
Wait a moment for something…I forget what (it’s been nearly a week, as I write).
Turn the key to start it up. The massive diesel engine rumbles to life.
Foot on the brake pedal, then push the yellow thing on the dash to release the parking brake.
Push the button to shift the transmission into reverse, then slowly back the rig out of our curved driveway and into the cul-de-sac.
A few back and forth maneuvers, then a thumbs up from Brian, who’s spotting me. He jumps in and we roll out of the neighborhood.
Not only is this my first time driving our RV – it’s the first time we’ve been able to ride together in it since the previous owner took us for a spin. It’ll be better when we’re both comfortable enough driving that there’s no need to be hyperaware, but even though this a Driver’s Ed trip we’re happy to share it.
It’s a 10-minute ride to our parking spot, most of it on a four-lane highway. There’s a little traffic because it’s a main route through the area where we live, but since it’s a Sunday evening it’s nothing too crazy. Challenge, but not overly dangerous.
Which is good. The last thing I want to do is run into someone. Or something. When you’re driving your house around there’s always that potential to ruin pretty much everything in your life at once.
Despite that ever-present thought, I’m not freaked out about driving 30,000+ pounds/41+ feet. Hypervigilant? Uh, YEAH. Cautious AF? Damn straight. But scared? Nah.
When we get to our parking spot, I have to work a bit to back it in. Brian gets frustrated with me because I have never been exposed to the (apparently) Universal Backing Up Hand Signals™ that he tries to use to guide me in.
I tell him later there’s only one hand signal I instantly recognize, but he is not amused.
While I’m working on getting into the spot he offers to take over, since this isn’t actual RV driving (or some other such excuse for being impatient). Nope. I insist on finishing the job. Couple more back and file moves and I’m in, and it’s damn near perfect.
I’m mildly amused at the fact that Brian was more impatient with me parking the RV than with my driving, when I could have killed us both. Is parking anger a man thing or just a Brian thing?
We’ve since talked about my parking job and lack of schooling in (apparently) Universal Backing Up Hand Signals™. I’m certain we’ll revisit the topic though. In part because I couldn’t stop laughing about Brian’s incredulity over me not knowing these supposedly universal signs, but also because it’s a really good idea to figure out how to work as a team when you’re moving a 41+ foot/30,000+ pound vehicle.
It’s a milestone – not a feat of strength
It felt great to get over that first-time giant-vehicle-driving hurdle. I wished I could tell someone who’d appreciate the milestone and maybe hear their experience.
As with finding the rig in the first place and every other RV-related thing we’ve been able to cross off our list, it’s hard for people who aren’t trying to live this life to understand much about it. That’s why both Brian and I frequent online RV forums. We read about others’ experiences and learn from them, and sometimes share a little of what we’ve experienced so far.
When I posted to the RV to Freedom group about finally driving the rig, I was excited and wanted to share. But I also hoped it might encourage others to get over their fear – especially other women.
The RV to Freedom group is a good mix of experienced RVers and newbies, and has been an encouraging and helpful source of information on the realities of full-time RV life. Most of the comments on my post were along the lines of good job, way to go, etc. But some were from women who were afraid to even try driving their rigs.
I get that it may be a generational thing for some, but there’s absolutely nothing about driving a modern RV that requires testicles, or even much strength. It’s got power steering and brakes to handle its bulk. All we have to do is watch carefully and guide.
We bought the rig from a 70-year-old man who handled it just fine. Does being female make me less competent than a septuagenarian, no matter my age? No – it does not.
If a person is that uneasy about driving a rig then no, they should not immediately head for the open road. But there are parking lots to practice in. Less-traveled roads to take. And RV driving schools, if you want more confidence in less time.
Becoming comfortable behind the wheel of an RV is about overcoming anxiety, not gender.
Being capable matters
Even though I’m not taking the RV on a solo road trip any time soon, with more than three months into ownership it’s time I got more comfortable with its operation.
I appreciate that Brian and I can team up for setup, takedown and driving. Even though we’ve so far followed the “pink jobs/blue jobs” division of tasks, there is good reason to cross-train and also to share the load for tasks that are no fun for anyone.
In the comments on my post to the RV forum, “I need to learn to drive our rig in case something happens to my husband” came up a few times. I like to think that Brian and I are in decent shape and not at the age where a health event would take one of us out. But you never know.
A week ago yesterday, Alexi (a Facebook friend) experienced the RV equivalent of being thrown into the deep end. Her husband Shane ruptured his achilles tendon while playing on the beach with their three-year-old. Shane will be out of commission for six to eight weeks.
Suddenly, Alexi found herself in the driver’s seat, towing their 28-foot travel trailer for the first time.
You can read the rest of the story on their blog, but as the title of their post suggests: Expect the unexpected.
Alexi and Shane are relatively new RVers, maybe 15-20 years younger than we are. Pretty sure a ruptured achilles tendon was nowhere on their list of things they expected.
Ain’t no room for a spoiled princess
While Brian and I may be statistically more likely to have age-related health issues than Alexi and Shane, that’s not the only reason I should to learn to handle our rig. Kindness is an equally important reason.
Despite growing up in the ’70s, being a girl in my family afforded no special privilege or pass. My sisters and I filled in for the sons my dad was denied – dirty jobs and all. Brian, on the other hand, was raised by parents who had the opposite mentality. As the only boy, he dug ditches while his sister played.
Feeling forced to do a thing simply because of gender gets old, even when that thing isn’t quite as onerous a task as digging ditches. Never learning that there are things society doesn’t expect you to do because of gender has had mostly only upside for me. A minor complaint is that I can’t feel OK about pulling the girl card. 95% of the time that is a bullshit tactic.
Sometimes it does make more sense for one of us to handle a thing than the other, and that’s OK. Neither of us is so hung up on gender roles that it matters whether it’s a traditionally male or female thing. I suck at automotive repair, and Brian’s not great at cooking when there’s not a grill involved.
As former single parents, we each lived through years of doing it all, alone. Once we got married, teaming up and stepping back into more traditional and limited roles provided a welcome break. Neither of us, however, has forgotten how it feels to shoulder all responsibility. I won’t sit on my ass and let Brian take care everything in the RV just so I can avoid breaking a nail.
I can handle shit – let me try
We’re still looking at when we can do another camping trip, and considering a cheap campground that has no sewer hookups. That means instead of hooking up a hose that empties into a hole in the ground, we’ll have to cart our sewage up to the dump station.
As often as the tanks will need to be emptied, and to the extent that brute strength isn’t required, I can’t justify leaving it to Brian.
Same goes for leveling the rig, putting slides out, connecting to water and electric and nearly everything else involved in moving an RV.
And, of course, driving the 41-foot beast.
Boy, I’ve got a lot to learn.
My friend Liz published a hilariously awful book of RVer stories entitled “Tales from the Black Tank.” The book includes an epic ordeal from Robert of Exploring the Local Life about hauling his family’s sewage using a portable tank like we bought.
In Robert’s case, masculine strength alone wasn’t enough, and getting his shit together (with other shit, at the dump station) was a horrid, uphill struggle.
I’m hoping that we have a different and vastly superior portable tank, but every time I think of our upcoming trip I see myself in Robert’s shoes.