Recently, I heard someone say the best advice he ever heard about transitioning to a full-time RVer was to give it a year because the first year is the hardest. It’s not bad advice. Still, I remain convinced the best advice is to get the RV and experience weekend and week-long trips before you start full-time RV living. Had I done that, my first 72 hours of full-time RV living wouldn’t have been nearly as difficult. I can laugh now when I say this but it doesn’t make it less true: those first days are not for the faint of heart.
I shared the story of arriving at the Oliver Trailer factory on October 23 for my scheduled pickup only to have it postponed a day due to an emergency at the factory. In the same post, I shared the play-by-play of the next day for the actual pick up, from arriving at orientation to driving the trailer to the campground and getting set up for the night. Finally, I shared my decision to scrap the plans I’d made for November and December—plans I’d spent months researching and planning and even paying for—to go to Washington state because it’s where some RVing friends were staying.
In that last post, I said the reason for the change of plans was that I wanted to be near something familiar. Plus, my friends would help me get to know my rig and I’d feel less intimidated about the big life change I just begun.
All that is true but what I didn’t share in that post was just how hard those first few days were. I didn’t express the doubt that filled my entire being. I had given up everything—stability of a good job with great benefits, long-time friends, a house and community I knew well—for an inkling that the RV life would allow me to create the exact life I wanted. What I couldn’t allow in, but engulfed me nontheless, was the question: what if I was wrong?
What I didn’t share in that post was the details of the first 72 hours. I knew that someday I’d circle back and tell the story. I thought it would be a good post to mark my first four months on the road. But when I sat down to write about it, I found I still wasn’t ready.
But now, almost eight months have gone by since those first 72 hours and I finally feel ready to share the whole story.
First Night in Quill (the Oliver Travel Trailer)
After orientation at the Oliver showroom, I drove the trailer for the first time. Luckily it wasn’t very far, just a few miles down the road to the campground where Oliver keeos two spots set aside for their use. Phil and Brent, who’d done my orientation, followed me.
Phil and Brent got me hooked up to power/water/sewer. They opened the awning because we hadn’t gotten to that during the orientation. The camp host came by and had me fill out paperwork. It was past quitting time for them which meant it was dusk when Phil and Brent bid me a good night. They departed with the understanding they’d come back the next day for anything we might have missed.
I had no more than 30 minutes before dark. It was just enough time to transfer blankets, pillows, pet necessities, some clothes and food to the rig. The last thing I moved out of the van was the cat and the dog.
I stepped into our new home. Shut the door. And that’s when I got nervous.
I was in a rig I still knew nothing about. I was in an area of the country I knew nothing about. And all of this I had chosen. I closed the window shades so I didn’t have to see black outside. Focusing only on the tasks at hand, I set up beds, food and water bowls, litter box, etc.
I’ll spare you (and me) the minute-by-minute of that very long night. But let me say, I hope never to have to repeat it. However, I will share a few things, one funny, most not.
One Funny Thing
I peed outside. Yep, just like backwoods camping. I was too nervous with all the rig’s newness to use the composting toilet. In the future I’ll do a complete post about the composting toilet but let me say here, I didn’t use the thing for the first month I had the trailer. It intimidated me. And that was even after tons of research before I decided on the upgrade so I was quite familiar with how they worked. I even purchased the coconut coir before I left Alaska to make the compost.
There was a campground bathhouse the camp host had pointed out. But in the dark, it seemed miles away. I woke Solstice up to come with me every time I needed to go outside during the night.
Not Funny Things
First, we froze. Even though I made up a separate bed for the pets (which was going to be our first night ever of not sleeping in the same bed), they piled onto mine. And I didn’t even care. We slept with our heads under the covers and, still, we were cold.
I got up several times to check the furnace. It was on. I could hear it working. At first, I thought it simply must take hours to warm up the trailer. But hours later, it was still cold. And it never got warmer. Finally, I concluded something was wrong. But what do you do when it’s the middle of the night? Nothing. You suffer through.
The cold made it hard to sleep. But the truth is, I doubt I would’ve slept anyway. My head was a tornado of thoughts and emotions.
One of those spinning thoughts was about the pets. As tumultuous as I felt, I managed to not cry. Until I started thinking about them.
In hindsight, I can say I understand the ridiculousness, but at that moment, it was my truth. I’d had Kitty for 12 years and Solstice for 10. During those years, they had regular visits to the vet, teeth scaling and vaccines. Solstice had many trips to the vet for infections during her first year. In year five, she had allergy testing done and now gets allergy shots every three weeks.
I managed all of it—financially, time-wise (taking time off work for vet appointments), pain-in-the-behind-wise (administering medicine), emotionally, etc. But as I lay freezing and squished under the covers in my new trailer, the responsibility of two pets felt like a weight I simply could not bear.
With the black of night crushing in around us, I obsessed that these two creatures were completely dependent on me. For every single thing in their lives from their health care to their food, from their mental and physical stimulation to their love and affection. I was responsible. And at that moment, it was responsibility I felt certain to fail. How could I possibly take care of them? They deserved better than me, better than someone who quite possibily just made a horrible decision about her own life.
If I screwed up my life, so be it. I walked in with my eyes open. But I felt terrible for them. They had no choice. Poor things were just dragged along for the ride. Maybe they had no interest in Supersizing their lives. Maybe they liked the life they had.
Suffice it to say: it was a terrible terrible night.
The Next Day
The light of a new day was a welcomed relief. Somehow things never seem quite as bleak in the daytime. But still, I was left with: okay, now what?
I did not know what to do with myself. My head wasn’t able to wrap itself around the idea of moving in. Solstice kept falling down inside the narrow isle of the trailer. The wind started blowing outside causing the awning to shutter.
The awning, I figured, I could address. I went outside to retract it. It wouldn’t move. I tried several times. I pulled out my orientation notes to see if I missed a step. Nope. Tried again. Images of the awning ripping off the trailer after less than 24 hours of ownership became the new obsession. I called Oliver and left a message for Phil.
By midafternoon I managed to walk the small campground. I found the bathhouse. Again, I tried to close the awning. It was perfect timing because as I struggled, the camp host drove by. He stopped and asked if I needed help. I told him my awning was broken.
He took the pole you twist to roll the awning in and out with, threaded it into the hook and closed the awning. Effortlessly. No kidding. I’d tried at least a dozen times. More. In a recent post I shared the things that have surprised me about RV living and one of those is the physicality of it all. The awning falls in this category. Turns out I just wasn’t putting enough elbow grease to the task. It’s weird because it really felt like I was twisting hard though not too hard as I feared I might break it.
As a brief, albeit embarrassing, aside, I will confess I haven’t opened the awning since. Too scared. When I took the trailer into Oliver to have some work done, I had them open and close it in front of me. So, it works. I meant to test it at the Oliver Rally with plenty of Oliver owners around in case I got in a jam. Then I completely forgot. It remains on the “to do” list.
Late in the day, Phil and Brent were back. I told them about freezing the night before. I could tell by the looks on their faces, they thought I was a dope. But, to their credit, they didn’t say a word.
Inside the trailer, I showed them the thermostat was set to 80 degrees and no heat was blowing out of the vents. I was no a dope. Something was definitely wrong, they confirmed.
The short version of what followed is the vents, which aren’t supposed to leave the factory floor closed, left the factory floor closed. There are three vents for heat in the trailer. One is beneath the curbside bed. The other is at the floor in the kitchen. And the final one is in the bathroom. Phil and Brent worked until they were open and warm air was blowing out. Or so they told me.
I’d been told multiple times about the systems in place with Oliver’s checklists and two final inspections. But at the same time, from the forum, I had learned that Oliver had recently more than doubled the production of the trailers. Many were noting that with the increase in production there was a decrease in quality control. In my case, it turns out the closed vents weren’t the only thing that made it past the both final inspections. But that’s a story for another day.
They left nearly at the same time they had 24 hours earlier. It was near dark so the pets and I settled in for our second night in our new home. It was pretty much a repeat of the night before, only not quite as cold. I was still peeing outside. My obsession reverted back to the overwhelming sense pet responsibility I felt.
We three again piled in my single bunk-sized bed. We didn’t have to cover our heads on that second night, but there was still a big chill in the air. At least I got a little sleep.
A new day dawned and I needed groceries and a coffee maker. I’d already skipped one day of coffee and that was one day too many. On my way to the store, I’d pass the Oliver office so decided to stop in and tell them I was still cold.
The answer I got was that most RVers carry a small space heater to supplement their furnace. It wasn’t an answer I particularly liked considering how Oliver touts the trailer as 4-season and the nights were only in the high 30s and low 40s. Made me wonder whether one really could stay in the trailer in below freezing temperatures.
Let me pause again here to say that six months later, I went back to the factory for warrantee work. I asked them to check the vents again. It would turn out that the vent in the kitchen was never opened which meant the furnace was only putting into the trailer half the heat it’s designed to. I say half because I usually keep the bathroom door closed resulting in the main area having two vents. I haven’t been in cold temperatures since the fix to see what kind of difference it will make.
After leaving the office, I headed to the store. Now my list included groceries, a coffee maker and a space heater. While wandering the isles in Walmart, I stopped at the DVDs. They had the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. My favorite of all the Disney movies. I have it as a VHS and even brought a VCR with me so I could play some of the VHS tapes I’d kept (though most I downsized).
But DVDs take up less space, so I decided to purchase it.
That evening, back in the trailer now warm because of the space heater, I turned on my television for the first time since I got in the trailer. And I watched Beauty and the Beast.
I’m not sure I can adequately express what it was like. It was like a giant exhale. In my sticks-and-bricks life, I hadn’t had cable or regular television but I did have Netflix and I owned a bunch of DVDs. My nightly routine included watching a movie.
So, when I watched a movie in the trailer, for the first time since I took possession of it, I had a sense of calm. I was cozy and comfy. My pets cuddled around me as the Beast showed Belle his library (you might even remember I previously wrote about this scene). For the first time in three days, I experienced something familiar. And the next day I would make coffee in my new house. Also something familiar. A simple cup of morning coffee.
And it made all the difference. The pets didn’t feel like the burden they had the previous two nights. The black night didn’t seem quite so dark. Finally, I had a glimpse of the life I was trying to create.