Turns out I was wrong. The pop-up trailer I thought would be perfect for me, the one that would accompany me on countless adventures, providing comfort and convenience in both exotic and pedestrian locales, proved almost immediately to be unworthy of my high expectations. Like my last girlfriend.
In California’s Alabama Hills, the pop-up performed adequately in the sunshine. But come nighttime, bugs by the swarm soared through the less-than-zipped-up zippers to attack my reading light, and I was forced to create an illuminated diversion, setting up a bright Coleman lantern at one end of the trailer, then reading by dimmed headlamp at the other
end, my ingenious tactic thereby requiring me to shoo away flying critters only every other sentence.
In my own rough-hewn manner, I’d managed to subdue the bugs, but I couldn’t figure out how to put the lightning in its place. The bolts assaulted the Sierra Nevada’s highest peaks, including the continental United States’ highest, Mt. Whitney, with such violence and unending resolve that had I not been hunkered in my canvas-walled, tinderbox-on-wheels just a few miles away, I’d have applauded the lightning for its raw brilliance.
As it was, however, I sat worrying that the trailer was not grounded (the metal stabilizing arms spiking into the dirt gave me my first clue) and that the large metal supports at each corner would soon act as lightning rods when the storm reached me. Wondering if I was just a paranoid chicken (then remembering that I’d recently read about Boy
Scouts in a tent killed by lightning not too far from where I sat quaking), I decided to rearrange the gear in my Ford Explorer, then crawled in, the peace of mind provided by the four rubber tires offset by the discomfort the cramped vehicle provided. That’s the first time in my life I remember cursing the fact that I am 6 feet 2 inches tall. Bleary-eyed and neck-cricked, I cursed the trailer the next morning.
So a couple months later, when a windstorm in Joshua Tree National Park played arrhythmic percussion with the canvas walls and then disassembled the pop-up’s support bars without my consent (depositing one section only inches from my left eye), I decided to part with the rickety rig, then managed to sell it for a few bucks more than the few bucks I had paid for it.
SO THE HUNT BEGAN ONCE again. For years I’d looked at passing Road Treks and Pleasure-Ways with envy because their compact size seemed to grant a fuel-efficient, economic mode of travel, one still overflowing with amenities. However, these Class B motorhomes are not low-end rigs; they retain their value well, and I’m broke. I opted instead to
test-drive a few Vanagons, then decided I didn’t like the fixed steering column or the position of the steering wheel, not to mention the lawn-mower sound emanating from the rear of the vehicle. Disheartened and about to convince myself that all I really needed was a tent (and the love of a good woman — a good woman who didn’t mind sleeping in a tent), I checked out Craig’s List on the Internet for the umpteenth time.
Posted there, out of my price-range but only a couple miles from me, was a 1989 Dodge Xplorer Class B motorhome. I interpreted the list of work that had been done recently to mean either that the rig had been totaled or that someone was lying. Receipts for all the work were available to review upon test-driving the vehicle, the ad said. The photos looked
great, so I made an appointment for the next morning.
When I pulled up to the van, I had trouble believing it was 17 years old. It had various dings and bruises, but it retained the luster and bearing of a once-great beauty. The young man who soon unlocked the Xplorer’s door told me that he was selling it for his friend in England. Then he said the van wouldn’t start. I fought the impulse to walk away, then jump-started the van. Inside, the Xplorer definitely looked used, and it had a distinct smell of wet carpet. I pulled away from the curb wondering why I was bothering with any of this, since, despite appearing to offer the stove, refrigerator, toilet and closet space I wanted, the van cost too much. I drove it anyway, thought it handled well and that
the engine sounded good. I told the guy I’d think about it, then headed home, telling myself that the dead-battery, the interior smell and the price were enough to make me keep looking.
HE CALLED ME A WEEK LATER and said that his buddy, the van’s owner, needed money badly, and the price was now $1,500 less. I figured the battery issue could just be a switch left on, that I could easily clean the carpet and that at the new price, I’d regret not purchasing the van. I stopped at the guy’s apartment the next day with cash.
It turned out that the owner in England didn’t really own the van, since he hadn’t filed the necessary paperwork when he bought it a few months ago. This was news to the poor guy doing his so-called friend a favor. He was visibly fed up, especially since he was only receiving a token sum for his troubles. Due to the English owner’s oversight, the
title had reverted back to the previous owner, a Florida resident. The price dropped another $500. A little voice screamed, “That’s it. We’re done here,” but I found myself dialing a Sunshine State area code. The guy on the end of the line was reassuring. He told me he would quick-title the van to me, then said the new transmission was still
under warranty. He asked what I was paying. I told him. “It’s worth every penny of that,” he said.
And I agree. I have since flipped off the switch that had been draining the battery, and have replaced the carpet. In fact, I just wrote this column in a campsite at the beach, sitting in my new RV.