Traveling in an RV with 9 big dogs, your 20-year-old son, one of your favorite authors and a guy named Emmit, I can only describe as both surreal and real.
For me the journey began early that morning while waiting for my ex-wife to pick me up. She had graciously offered to bring our son the 45-minute drive to my house in the High Desert in Southern California–Hesperia to be exact–and then drive us to the AAA to rent a car for our return trip. My son and I decided to drive back instead of flying from Maine. We could hang out and have fun. A car needed to be rented.
We needed to be about an hour and a half away in Orange County in about two hours. The rush was on and AAA was doing its best to get us out the door, but it just wasn’t working. We finally got out of there at like 2:05 pm. We needed to be in O.C. at 3 pm. Our navigation system informs us we will be there at maybe 3:15 pm. Okay, relief! Not too late.
Now it’s 2:15 pm and Mr. David Rosenfelt is calling me asking how long until I get there. “Umm? About 3:15 pm. Running a little late,” I tell him. “You’re already there? I thought we were meeting at 3 pm?”
“Yeah, we’re all here now,” he says, and I think, great! We’re holding up the whole trip! I tell him that we will get there as fast as we can. David is concerned that I am going to speed to get there and calms me a bit by telling us to drive safely. A few more phone calls are made to each other trying to speed things, up. Could I give Dave my driver’s license number so he could give it to the RV rental place so I could be listed as a driver. No, they can’t do that. A call back, yes, they can do that. Does my son want to drive? Things like that.
Finally we arrive! I spring out of the car at the RV rental place. I figure the RVs are gonna be lined up, running and just waiting for my son and me to get there. Nope! Turns out, the RV guy wasn’t really that helpful and didn’t really have everything ready. I never got all the details, but it was obvious the service and attitude of our “RV” rental guy needed some work. All my panic was for nothing; we were there at least an hour before we could leave to load up the food and dogs.
The loading of the dogs was something else. It was actually, I believe, the easiest part of the prep. We arrived at David’s place probably around 6 pm or so. It was a few hour of loading up all the groceries and dog supplies. The amount of stuff David got for us for that trip—well, I can’t even begin to imagine how much the trip was costing him.
Then the dogs came out. Specific dogs on specific RVs. It was almost time to go, and there was an air of excitement and obvious anticipation. The whole day had taken longer than expected. I was late, the RVs took forever, loading took forever and seemed to take longer because we were already behind schedule. I think it was well after 8 pm before we actually got on the road. It was dark, I know that.
One of the dogs in our RV was Simon, sort of a blond Lassie kinda dog. The softest fur and you just want to pet him. It’s almost an uncontrollable urge; you can’t resist it. At one point while the dogs were being loaded, Simon snapped at either me or another dog, I was in the process of reaching toward him but another dog was also pushing in on him, so who knows. It was at this point David tells me to be careful with Simon, that he’s bit two people for no reason. As I recall his story, one of them was his wife, who I believe needed stitches. This gave my son and I pause. So the whole trip we would give Simon a lot of room. But he is just so friendly you want to reach out and pet him. Then again, we kinda figured that’s how he gets you. He plays the sweet blond Lassie and then, when you’re guard is down, he bites your face off!
Now, at this point I want to add that I am a night person. I just think better, quicker and am more awake at night. I don’t have vampire delusions, I am not some kinda closet goth or emo, I don’t spend all day listening to the Cure. I have just always been a night owl is all. And, when it comes to driving, I don’t drive for long periods of time during the day normally. But at night I will and can drive from sundown to sunrise and not nod once, I can do anything at night. So it’s night and I am not driving. Emmit is driving. He’s doing an amazing job of driving and I am thrilled; it will be nice to have someone else who can drive at night just in case I don’t want to drive, maybe I get sick or something. It’s just always nice to have a backup plan. But, Emmit is a “beast!” as my son would say, implying he can drive forever!
A few hours later we’re at the state line in Nevada. We stopped to let the dogs out and feed them. That was fun. It was our first stop and we didn’t have a routine down yet. One of the dogs–and I wish I could remember her name–got loose. An amazing pit bull mix. She was so sweet and timid, she just broke my heart with her sweetness. But boy, does she love to run! Several of us went chasing after her with no effect, but a few calls from David and she dutifully returned.
After the dogs were all returned to their RVs, a few of us were going to walk over to the gas station / mini-mart. I told David I’d walk with him. David is already looking defeated, tired and just a little frustrated. After all, we were only at the state line, already far behind schedule, and it was beginning to sink in, I think, that this trip wasn’t going to run as smoothly as he had hoped. So with all that in his eyes, he says to me with utter seriousness, “No, I’d rather walk alone.” He was so serious and I completely understood. I nodded and said that I understood. He looks at me and says, “I’m kidding.”
I am known for saying the most outrageous things with a straight face; it’s my thing, you could say. I get irony, I get sarcasm. I pride myself on being able to read it a mile away. But when David said, “No, I’d rather walk alone,” and I didn’t pick up on it, I just laughed inside. It was just funny. David is like that if you don’t know him. He is so calm and even-tempered, and things just flow out of his mouth and you can’t help but believe him. I just love David. Not that I want to take long walks on the beach with him. It’s just that I was a cop for a while and I’ve seen a lot of bad people, people who were just wrong, and it forever left me with a low opinion of humanity. But David, well, the world is just a better place with him in it.
So back to the road trip. We all load up in the RVs after our dog stop / mini-mart stop. We manage to drive another hour or so, making it just past Vegas. We find a place to stop, and it is decided that we are going to just stop for the rest of the night and start fresh early in the morning.
My son and I step out of the RV. I am one of those horrible smokers. I wouldn’t smoke in the RV with the dogs, let alone the three other humans that don’t smoke. So I would wait for dog walks and gas fill-ups. My son came out with me, and we sat on the curb watching the hills a few miles away in the darkness. Just over those hills was the most amazing lightning. It was almost non-stop, hypnotic even. We just sat on the curb and watched. It was comfortable outside and we figured we’d just sleep right there on the curb to the far-off sounds of lightning and thunder.
We mostly talked; it was a couple of hours and we were finally starting to get tired, but then we feel a drop of rain. Then another. The lightning is actually really close now. I decide that I will have one more smoke, then we will step back in to the RV. I don’t want to do this because I know the dogs will go nuts, it will wake up everyone in every RV, and soon after that all the dogs in all the RVs will be barking. But we have no choice; by the time I am done with my smoke it’s really starting to come down. So we step inside the RV and of course the dogs go nuts! Everyone wakes up. I feel so bad!
A few minutes later my son and I are in the back bed, the dogs have started to calm down, and finally it’s quiet again. Peaceful even…and then that lighting and thunder that was so relaxing to watch and listen to is now directly over us. With an intensely bright flash and thunder so loud and strong it shook the RV, the rain started to pour and the dogs started to bark all over again. Just 12 hours into this trip, only about four hours from Los Angeles, and it’s officially an adventure!
I wish I had more pictures. I quickly found out that my awesome new Droid Bionic takes lousy photos in a moving RV. No matter what I tried, every photo I took was hopelessly blurry, so I soon just gave up with the pictures. I eventually shot some video here and there, nothing much, but at least enough to see what it was like on the road. I plan to put the video together later today and to add it to this story somewhere. Fortunately, Cindy took a lot of photos for her Facebook Woofabago page, which you can view here. I will post a few of my photos as the story continues, but I apologize now for the blur.
The next morning we headed out and after our first stop, early afternoon now, I am asked to drive. It’s overcast; I can do overcast without a problem. The problem I have with driving during the day is the bright sunlight. It just is so bright, it seems everything is a blurry, blinding glare even with sunglasses on. It just makes my eyes tired and that makes me think that I am tired. But it’s overcast and I think, okay, this won’t be a problem, I can do this for a while. Hell, I have driven in my car from California to Miami, Florida, only stopping for gas. I have done this twice, just a few years ago. I love to drive long distances. No problem!
I get behind the wheel and all is well…for about a minute. The steering is horrible on this RV. You ever notice how people drive on TV? How animated they are with the steering? You are watching them drive from the vantage point of the windshield and they are really turning that wheel back and forth while supposedly driving straight. This RV was worse than that. You really couldn’t keep the thing going in a straight line–it was a constant battle. No matter how much you corrected it, the RV would just wander to the right or left. It didn’t have a preference, it would just wander from side to side no matter how straight you try to keep it. It was frustrating me but I could deal with it.
That was, until the sun came out. We were on some sort of winding road and that didn’t help either. I didn’t really notice the RV was swerving to the right. I was looking up ahead and thinking about the next car I was going to have to pass and how far behind the rest of the pack is behind me. However, looking back at it, I must have nodded for a second. Because even though I was looking ahead, how did I not notice the swerve? Anyway, I jerk the wheel to correct, which makes everyone panic thinking I was swerving to miss something in the road. And since nothing was there, I must have nodded. Or David and Emmit must have thought to themselves that just driving the RV was going to be too much for me. I pulled over and Emmit again took over driving. I felt defeated.
I never drove the RV again and I felt bad about that. I mean, it’s why I was there. I was supposed to be a driver. If I don’t drive then I serve no purpose on the trip. I still feel bad about that. Thankfully my son was there. He made me look good. I mean, he did everything he could. He spent most of the 3,000 plus miles sitting on the floor by the RV door just because we feared the door would swing open if one of the big dogs fell down the steps and hit it. He picked up poo in the RV without being asked, he kept the dogs in the little fenced area that we would set up for them at each stop. I couldn’t believe this was my lazy teen son. Though he’s not a teen any more–he’s 20 now and will be 21 in a few more months. But my kid, the hard worker? Hard working without even complaining once? Wow, I was so proud of him.
Everyone on this trip seemed to give it their all. I am still amazed how everyone seemed to come together and help out. I think of everyone involved in the trip, I probably did the least since I wasn’t driving. I wanted to do more, I wanted to drive, I wanted to help more, but honestly, at times there was just nothing for me to do. Everyone was on everything. That’s how amazing everyone on this trip was. I would walk over to help feed the dogs: “We got it,” they would say. Got any more dogs in the RV that need to be walked? “Nope” the response would come. Sure, there was always another RV to head over to as we would walk one RV full of dogs at a time, and that’s what I would do. But no matter what I did, it always seemed that everyone was always more busy than I was. Maybe it was just in my head: driver’s guilt? I don’t know. But everyone on the trip was amazing. The only issue that really slowed us down is that we ended up stopping at some point in the middle of the night to sleep, and that was never part of the plan. And it was more difficult for me because I was a night person. I could have driven another RV if someone was tired. I know we could have pushed through, and I felt that it was my fault that we didn’t. Driver’s guilt again.
Poor David. The trip was going to take so much longer than he thought. At some point it must have seemed to him that we would never make it to Maine. After driving for hours it seemed we always had to stop either for gas or to walk and feed the dogs. It was hard to make progress and he was concerned, not for himself but for everyone else who had flights they needed to catch on Friday. The plan was to arrive on Thursday in Maine. It was becoming more and more obvious that it was going to be at least Saturday before we got there. It didn’t take that long, but it sure seemed like it was going to. It was weighing heavily on David’s mind, I could tell, and I kept trying to tell him not to worry about it. We were volunteers. This wasn’t a job, we were all in it for the long haul: for David, for his wife and, of course, for the wonderful bunch of dogs.
The dogs were amazing throughout the trip, I kept thinking. It wasn’t comfortable for them and they were all stoic, like they knew this was all being done for them. I miss them all. What a bunch of characters they all were. You would think the problems of the trip would have all revolved around the dogs, but it just wasn’t so. They were the easiest part of the trip. The more difficult issues were the trying to schedule all the humans, the RVs drinking gas like it’s free, the getting tired. But the dogs, they were truly the easiest part of the whole thing.
As we passed into Utah I was surprised by a few things. First, the Rocky Mountains were exactly what I expected and yet still breathtaking. I tried to snap some photos from the windows of the RV and, as you can see, they too were blurry. Second, I don’t know if I expected to see or rather had hoped to see, but not once during the whole time in Utah did I see any Mormons on bikes in white shirts and black pants. I expected oceans of them. This was their homeland, damn it. But not a single one could I spot. Disappointment.
Utah seemed to go on forever; it was like driving along the 10 Fwy and you finally reach Texas. The states fly by until then. But when you hit Texas along the 10, it’s Texas for what seems like days. If driven straight through it’s about 15 hours of suicidal deer and dirt until the you get to the eastern side, then it starts to get a little more green, a little more humid and a little more beautiful. Utah is like that. Long, dry, and never ends. It’s just dirt, weeds and red rock formations that stand stoic like tombstones.
Then, when I thought Utah would never end, we stop and I discover we’re in Colorado now; and I am confused at first. We stop at a park and it looks like a park in Redlands, California, my son used to play baseball at. It was eerie to me how much it looked like Redlands. You know you’re a thousand miles away from home and yet your eyes are telling you that you’re back in California. Strange.
After Colorado the states were kind of a blur until we got to Ohio. We had the complete pleasure of stopping at a hotel owned by George Kentris. I believe it was a Comfort Inn. They had a sign out front for us that read, “Welcome Woof-A-Bago” with little paw prints on it. We were all so tired by this time. Mr. Kentris also owned a Taco Bell across the street. He offered us all free rooms and all we could eat at the Taco Bell. His generosity was so overwhelming to me at the time. I don’t think we took advantage of the rooms other than a few of us using a room or two to grab a quick shower.
Several of the hotel employees came out to greet us and see the dogs. They made us all feel so special. I wanted to stay there so bad. Not that I was really tired at this point; I had gotten a short but deep sleep at our last stop. I think I wanted to stay there because it was just nice that of all the places we stayed, finally someone was giving David a break. Hotel rooms, food, gas, those RVs can rip through a tank of gas faster than I can tear through a 20-piece chicken McNuggets! And now we’re offered free rooms and food? Sign me up! But we were so behind schedule, there just wasn’t time for play.
It was late afternoon as we left there, and the night seemed to fly by. All of a sudden we were in New York! I had never been there and somehow when I looked at the road ahead (no signs) I just knew we were in New York. The streets were different, something about the lines and the side of the road. It just felt like New York to me. New York, like Utah, seemed to be there forever. I was thinking we were gonna be there by morning; it was late Thursday night now and I thought for sure by 6 or 7 a.m. we’d be there. Oh, I was so wrong. I tried to get some sleep because I knew I’d be renting a car in Maine and from Maine I would be driving down to Georgia. I needed some sleep. I don’t recall what time I went to sleep, but I was awake around 7 a.m. We were still in New York! It was the second time I felt defeated on the trip. Not that I wanted the trip to be over or that I wasn’t having an amazing time. It was just a matter of expecting one thing and then being hit with something else.
But a decision needed to be made soon by my son and me. The Hertz rental I was getting was in Portland at the airport. David lived another hour or so past that. So, do Nick (my son) and I drop out of the trip when we get to Portland or do we continue all the way to the end? My choice was to continue to the end, of course. But was that the wisest way to go? That would mean someone would have to then, after driving cross country, jump into a car and drive me an hour and a half back to the airport. It just seemed like the best thing to do was to part ways when we hit Portland. God, I didn’t want to do that. I felt like I was abandoning my friends. The more I thought about leaving early, the more I started missing the dogs too. I had come a long way with Simon. Simon had bonded with my son and me. Toward the end of the trip he would even come up to us and nudge our hands with his nose, wanting to be petted. This was like an honor to us. We cautiously did so and each time managed to come away with all our fingers.
Shortly before or after noon we arrived at the airport and were dropped off. I was handling it okay until David’s wife came out of one of the RVs. She started toward us and then, with tears in her eyes, she thanked us and hugged us both, and I was on the verge of losing it. I could feel my eyes tearing up and kept thinking, “Don’t blink, don’t blink!” knowing if I looked down or blinked the tears welling up in my eyes would fall and it would be all over. In that moment, a hug and the words she said were so beautiful and heartfelt I just wanted to jump back into the RV and keep going. But our time was over now. It was time for my son and me to leave that adventure. Our Woofabago 2011 was now over and our new adventure was about to begin.
In the end, I can’t thank David and his wife enough. I know he sees it as though we all did him a favor, but I think for most of us, if not all of us, it was he who did us the favor. For that I am forever grateful, and if the dogs ever need to be moved again, I would so love to do it all over again.