7 Unexpected RV Maiden Voyage Lessons That Really Happened
S upposedly there’s a difference between a shakedown trip and a maiden voyage. A shakedown trip is a trial journey before a rig is declared operational.
Since we’ve lived in Vivian Vanleigh for many months, we assume it’s functional.
And given the fact we now have working brakes after a two-month endeavor of trying to have them repaired, we consider our first solo trip as a maiden voyage.
A maiden voyage should take place after a successful shakedown. We combined the two and hoped for the best.
WELCOME TO OUR VIRGIN VENTURE
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
— Mark Twain
RV TRAINER WISDOM
I started on the inside; DH on the outside.
Going through our tasks, I hear the RV trainer’s wisdom ringing in my ears:
• Take it slow. No one wins a prize for finishing first.
• Use your checklist even if you think you know what to do.
• Check and double-check your departure checklist.
TIME TO GO
Soon it was time to go.
Cats in their crates? Check! ✔︎
Slides in? Check! ✔︎
Brakes and signals test complete? Check! ✔︎
Walk around the rig in opposite directions looking for potential problems. Check! ✔︎
We pull out of our space with care and head toward the RV Park exit. We soon approach our first right turn and hear the RV trainer’s words:
• Push it out… push it way out!
• Use your resources. Take all the lanes you need even if they’re not yours.
• Two lefts make one right!
MAIDEN VOYAGE LESSON #1
ALWAYS TRAVEL WITH AN RV SPECIFIC GPS
We arrive at Peach Country in less than an hour.
The only mistake we made was driving through Johnson City, which took us down narrow roads and sharp turns. We should have taken the truck route, but instead followed our navigation system.
This mistake made us think about buying an RV GPS before our next trip.
MAIDEN VOYAGE LESSON #2
POSITION HITCH PIN DOWNWARD TO AVOID ENTANGLEMENT
Checking in at Peach Country was a breeze. Katie, the manager, understanding this being our maiden voyage, made sure things are easy for us.
Maybe too easy.
She reserved a simple pull-through site for us right at the entrance next to a lovely Bradford Pear tree.
Since hitching up and departing was less stressful than we expected, and it is a holiday weekend, we extended our stay to another night.
And why not? We have our home with us!
Now it’s time to unhitch.
The hitch pin chain got tangled into a Chinese knot making it impossible to pull out of the hitch pin.
I climbed into the truck bed and pulled the pin with all my might while DH used a pair of pliers to push the pinhead inward to get the thing unstuck.
MAIDEN VOYAGE LESSON #3
BE PATIENT WHEN UNHITCHING. TIME IS YOUR FRIEND.
Now it was time to unhitch for the second time.
Now the hitch stuck!
We couldn’t get it off the truck.
Up and down and all around we position the truck and rig to get the thing off, but it stuck tighter than Gorilla Glue.
Oh my gosh, we need to go back to home base and have someone look at this.
Why won’t this thing come off?!
You could sense the anxiety rise around the rig like heat after a hot summer rain.
I head to the manager’s office to ask for help just when the hitch cooperates.
It slid right off without a care in the world.
It was a miracle!
Or was it?
A quick email to the RV trainer showed we did everything right. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting used to the thing and using trial and error.
The un-hitching part is tricky. Sometimes it works better than others with no rational explanation. One thing I’ve discovered with the CURT hitch; when you pull into a site there is pressure on the back of the kingpin, i.e., the front of the jaws of the hitch. I try to pull to the place where I want to stop, then gently nudge the truck back to try and center the hitch on the kingpin. Hold the latch as your wife raises the front end of the trailer and stop raising when the hitch releases. There is no absolute method to do this, in fact, I struggle with it at times after having done it hundreds of times, so just be patient and don’t beat yourself up over it. You’re probably not doing anything wrong; it’s just the way it is. Happy Travels!
Bob, RV Driver Trainer, RV Driving School
MAIDEN VOYAGE LESSON #4
BE PREPARED FOR CATAWAMPUS RV SITES
Now it’s time to hookup (not the college term here). 😉
We start with the RV leveling system.
Our leveling system is hydraulic and only requires a push of a button. It’s fun to see the rig do its thing with the jacks.
Up and down the levelers go until you hear a beep and the display reads Success!
The levelers sink into gravel causing us to purchase RV SnapPads, which are permanent jack pads, made from recycled rubber.
The pads prevent sinking in soft ground (think heavy rains) and create better stability by spreading the load of the RV over a larger surface area. They also avoid leaving rust on concrete and sinking in hot asphalt.
The next step is to plug in the electric to turn the AC on for the cats. They are still sitting in their crates inside the air-conditioned truck while we unhitch.
Now it’s time to extend the slides. Again, a simple push of a button is all it takes. Another success!
We fall into our roles again where I prepare the inside while DH works on the outside.
Our black water hose isn’t long enough to reach the sewer?
Now, what do we do?
Thankfully we had an extension, but what if we didn’t? And our power cable barely reached the electric socket.
Some sites are catawampus with weird positioned water, electric, and sewer lines, so it’s essential to prepare.
We are lucky this time because of the way DH thinks “what might happen,” and then prepares for the “just in case.”
Our mantra is: Prepare for the worse and hope for the best.
MAIDEN VOYAGE LESSON #5
IF IT LOOKS LIKE A TOURIST TOWN, IT PROBABLY IS
It was easy to put things back into order inside the rig since we don’t have a lot of “stuff.”
The cats stepped out of their crates as if nothing changed and went about their business.
We looked at each other and smiled. We did it!
THE QUEST FOR PEACH COBBLER
We had an early dinner at a nondescript Japanese restaurant not worthy of a review here. But heck, we’re in Fredericksburg and should have peach cobbler, right?
A quick online search led us to Fredericksburg Pie Company.
Nope. Sign on the front door not only says they’re out of pies, but they’re CLOSED.
The upscale German bistro, Otto’s, located smack-dab in the middle of a quintessential Fredericksburg neighborhood should have peach cobbler.
Nope. No peach cobbler.
What about Rathskeller Restaurant on the main drag through Fredericksburg in the stone basement of the old Keidel Hospital?
Nope. No peach cobbler.
But we tried their peach pudding that didn’t get the job done.
After dessert, we strolled passed fudge shops, popcorn emporiums, and T-shirts racks, along with many other tourists as we head back to the truck.
The way Fredericksburg is developing, it won’t be long before a Ripley’s Believe it or Not! and a Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks crops up like San Antonio has across from the Alamo.
Oh well. We might not find peach cobbler in a town known for its peaches, but we are feeling peachy ourselves. 🍑
Our Maiden Voyage is a huge success!
MAIDEN VOYAGE LESSON #6
BE CAREFUL CHOOSING “WHEN IN ROME” RESTAURANTS
The next day was wide open since we didn’t have to pack and head out until the next day.
So what to do?
But LBJ did. In fact, Lyndon B. Johnson was born in Stonewall, lived in Stonewall, and died in Stonewall.
So it seemed natural to visit the “LBJ Ranch,” a.k.a. The Texas White House, now known as the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park located only 2 miles from the RV Park.
But first, it was time for a late breakfast, early lunch combo.
RV maiden voyage restaurant experience at Lindig’s Cafe, Stonewall, TX
Photo by: What’s Outside Our Door
WHEN IN ROME
Lindig’s Cafe is a hop, skip, and a jump from Peach Country RV Park on Hwy E 290. The restaurant is so close we can see it from the RV window.
Lindig Cafe isn’t much to look at, but we embraced the “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” mentality.
Off to Rome, we go. But we forgot to wear our Roman robes as Lindig’s appears to be a local restaurant reserved for local people.
And being the out-of-towners we are, we got the “You’re not from around these parts, now are ya?” look you see in old Western movies when the mysterious foreigner walks into the saloon and the ragtime piano music stops playing.
A waitress from the front yells for us to sit anywhere. She soon brings menus and announces breakfast is over.
So lunch it is.
Once again, using the When in Rome, mantra, DH orders the chicken fried steak. I decide on a baked potato and salad with a side of fried (of course) zucchini.
Nothing is good. My salad tastes as if it came out of a bag and the chicken fried steak is bland.
Everything looks sticky and dirty. We quickly leave deciding never to return.
But guess what??
That’s right. Lindig Cafe has peach cobbler! If you go, let us know how it is.
THE LBJ NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is confusing, as it’s split between a National and State Park.
So at first, you’re not sure which park you’re visiting.
The natural direction is to start at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site since it’s at the front entrance.
We start at the Visitor Center where a helpful park ranger provides a map and a free driving permit.
Wildflowers dot the landscape as we follow the map along the Pedernales River.
Our destination is the LBJ Ranch located across the river, operated by the National Historical Park, not the State Park.
We stop at interesting sites along the way, such as the one-room Junction School where four-year-old LBJ attended in 1912, his reconstructed birthplace and the Johnson family cemetery where Lady Bird and LBJ are buried.
Driving through the idyllic pastoral scene, you half expect to see the former US President and Ladybird walking hand-in-hand through the wildflowers.
Cows meander throughout the park, so watch your step, as there are sizeable unsightly cow patties spattered all over the sidewalks.
Arriving at the Texas White House, you enter another Visitor Center where you purchase a $3.00 ticket for the tour.
And guess what I found in the gift shop while we were waiting for our tour?!
A National Park Passport book that’s as big as a binder! It even comes with a shoulder strap!
My inner nerd couldn’t resist.
Yes, it’s big, but there’s lots of space where I can use it as a purse when we’re out visiting parks.
How exciting to receive our first National Park cancellation stamp and sticker! The first of many!
LBJ State Park Welcome Sign
Photo by: What’s Outside Our Door
LBJ National Park Cancellation Stamp
Photo by: What’s Outside Our Door
The Texas White House
Photo by: What’s Outside Our Door
THE TEXAS WHITE HOUSE
Our tour guide leads us outside to The Texas White House. It is nice our group is small on a Memorial Day weekend.
The Johnson home is 8,400 square feet but feels smaller with the low ceilings and small rooms typical of the 1960’s style.
Our guide is full of anecdotes to make the tour more interesting. But many of his stories are disturbing, such as:
• How LBJ enjoyed picking up his Beagle dog by the ears because he liked hearing the dog yelp.
• How he drove unsuspecting guests around the ranch and then pretended he didn’t have brakes (we know how that feels!). He then plunged the car into the river. Passengers panicked until they realized the vehicle was an amphicar designed to float in water.
• And how LBJ only had one picture of Lady Bird that he hung in the bathroom above the toilet so he could view her face as he urinated.
We headed back to the RV Park to rest before an early dinner as we have grand plans for the night!
We have a wonderful meal at Burger Burger on E. Main Street in Fredericksburg.
The “Hold the Beef” burger is delicious, and so are the fries. Our waiter is attentive and personable.
We enjoy sitting outside and watching the tourists.
But the real treat is still waiting!
OLD TUNNEL STATE PARK
We have come here to witness an extraordinary event that takes place at sunset – the emergence of 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats 🦇 from an old railroad tunnel built in 1913.
The Fredericksburg and Northern Railway was fraught with difficulty from the onset. Our Park Ranger shared stories of lack of discipline for time schedules, passengers covered in soot from open windows, and overall financial mismanagement.
The railway finally closed in 1942. That’s when the bats took over!
Travel down the winding Old San Antonio Road over low water areas and narrow bridges to find the Old Tunnel State Park. German settlers developed the area in the 1800s. Evidence of their settlements is visible throughout the drive.
The half-mile serene Old Tunnel Nature Trail is open 365 days a year from sunrise until the time when the ranger program starts near dusk. Various species of plants are identified along the trail. You can also see the entrance to the bat tunnel here.
Mexican Free-tailed bats commandeered this abandoned railroad tunnel in 1942. The bats are active May through late October. In the winter they head back to Mexico. The entrance is visible on the nature trail.
Educational programs are provided Thursday through Sunday by a Park Ranger on the lower level. Soon after the program, the bats magically emerge!
Witnessing the sunset emergence of 3 million bats in proximity is spectacular. You can see, smell, and feel the animals are they trail out of the cave like wisps of smoke similar to the soot exhaust from the train long ago.
The twinkling fireflies add to the experience like little Tinker Bells blessing the event. It’s a magical moment and a significant ending to our Maiden Voyage.
All is well with the world.
Until it’s time to hitch up again…
MAIDEN VOYAGE LESSON #7
PREPARE PETS EARLY FOR DEPARTURE
As we prepare for departure, we can’t find the cat!
Fourteen years ago, Harley was 100% feral, as you can see from her right clipped ear. After years of living in a loving environment, she is now 90% “normal” cat and 10% feral.
It’s the 10% feral that gets us every time.
She hid after noticing our preparation activities and seeing the cat carrier DH brought in from the basement.
We found her in the bedroom wedged between the wall which is the slide!
As she was facing out towards us, we couldn’t get a hold of her, as she will shred you to pieces if you confront her.
The 10% feral in her is fierce!
After much discussion, we decided it was safe to leave Harley in the rig for several reasons:
• It wasn’t hot outside.
• It was less of an hour drive.
• Moving the slides in would not harm her.
BACK TO HOME BASE
As soon as we returned to home base, we turn on the A/C and unhitched.
The 90% “normal” Harvey came out soon, and all was well.
But it was another lesson learned we will be prepared for on the next trip.
CONCLUSION: LESSONS & ACTIONS
Vern Law, the former Pittsburgh Pirates baseball pitcher, said, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, and then the lesson afterward.”
Our first test of hitching up didn’t create one lesson, but seven!
Keep reading for the actions we took for the 7 Unexpected RV Maiden Voyage Lessons that Really Happened!
Lesson #1 Outcome: Always Travel with an RV Specific GPS
After traveling narrow roads in Johnson City, TX not designed for RVs (we even passed a sign that said No Trucks!), we thought we needed to purchase an RV specific GPS. However, after studying many negative reviews, we bought an old-fashioned paper atlas designed for truckers.
According to Amazon, the Deluxe Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas is the #1 selling trucker’s road atlas in North America. It is a heavy duty laminated and spiral bound atlas that should last many years.
We bought it to avoid restricted routes and low clearances. It also has a city-to-city mileage chart that will be handy measuring distances between RV Parks.
Lesson #2 Outcome: Position Hitch Pin Downward to Avoid Entanglement
Which direction to position the hitch pin may seem like an easy lesson to learn, but when the fifth-wheel hitch pin became tangled, it was a bugaboo to straighten.
Remembering to position it down each time will save us a ton of time. And that’s precisely what happened on our return trip.
Lesson #3 Outcome: Be Patient When Unhitching
This lesson should become more comfortable with time. In fact, on our return trip, the hitch didn’t stick at all. We plan to keep practicing with this one!
Lesson #4 Outcome: Be Prepared for Catawampus RV Sites
Lesson #5 Outcome: If it Looks Like a Tourist Town, It Probably Is
When you full-time RV travel, you want to visit beautiful places and create lasting memories.
As a result, spending precious time and money in typical tourist towns may not be the best choice. We learned to avoid high traffic tourist areas that cater to fudge, popcorn, and cheap T-shirt connoisseurs.
Lesson #6 Outcome: Be Careful Choosing "When in Rome" Restaurants
We now know to check and double check online reviews before visiting restaurants instead of “winging it.” Just because a restaurant is “local” doesn’t mean it’s good.
Lesson #7 Outcome: Prepare Pets Early Before Departure
Instead of waiting to pull the cat carrier out the day of our departure, we place in the rig, so it’s not a strange item to Harley.
Now we can scoop her up and put her in the carrier before she knows what’s happening.
What’s Outside Our Door explores the full time RV life creating inspiration, wonderment, and knowledge for a freer, simpler, and happier way to live explained in 15 Tips to Take Full Time RV Living to the Next Level and The Ultimate Step-by-Step Full Time RV Guide for Beginners ebooks. They also publish the free Full-Time RV Life bi-monthly newsletter of 8 things worth sharing about full-time RV living you might find interesting.
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