It is always tough to write about the loss of a loved one, and this will be no exception. I am sorry that my first blog post in more than two years has to begin so somber, but when I looked at the Caller ID on my phone on a recent Thursday and saw “Northeast Georgia,” I knew the person on the other end of the line was going to tell me the news that the end had come. Even when you know they will be in a better place, able to run free again after spending the last six months barely venturing out into the sunlight, it does not make it any easier. Of course, as you might have guessed, I’m talking about the sale of our recreational vehicle, Dusty Roads.
It is what we wanted, and having someone named Myles facilitate the sale helped ease the pain we knew we would feel once the sale was complete. So, it is with this blog post I remember the life and times of Dusty Roads.
The summer of 2020 was unique for everyone. The pandemic was in full swing and it was affecting how families spent their time together. No, we didn't spend more time outdoors hiking; no, we didn’t visit one of the many beautiful lakes within a 45-minute drive; no, we didn’t plant a garden; no, we didn’t do home projects. Instead, we drove five miles up Interstate 85 to kill time at Bob Ledford’s Adventure Motorhomes. You see, we had been bitten the summer before by the RV bug when we rented one to travel to Oklahoma for a family reunion. You can read about RV basics we learned on that trip here. So, what started out as “just looking” talk soon morphed into “our kids are in middle school, this is the perfect time to go on adventures, how can we not buy a mobile home on wheels? it would be a disservice to our family” talk. Then, after spending approximately 4,357 hours watching YouTube videos on various RVs, we settled on the perfect vessel for family fun, the Winnebago Sunstar 29ve.
Hard times are when a man has worked at a job for 30 years - 30 years - and they give him a watch, kick him in the butt, and say, 'Hey, a computer took your place, daddy.' That's hard times!
We quickly realized that there is no way we could set out exploring this great country in a vehicle without a name. We settled on the name Dusty Roads. On the surface it seems to explain itself. It’s an RV, it travels on roads to campsites that can be dusty, but oh is it so much deeper.
As stated earlier, the world was fighting through a pandemic and I began to think – What person really knew hard times? And then it hit me, Dusty Rhodes knew hard times. For those of you who don’t know who Dusty Rhodes is, well I am sorry. He was a professional wrestler who touched the lives of many. Our souls became connected one fateful day in the 1980’s when I was able to touch his shoulder as he entered a match at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium, aka The Big Brown Box. He would be our guiding star on the road; afterall, he was the “American Dream.” What speaks more to the American Dream than throwing some wheels on a cardboard box, stuffing it full of modern amenities, then parking it in the woods and calling it camping? Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t think of anything, because there's nothing more dreamy.
I've wined and dined with kings and queens, and I've slept in the alley eating pork and beans.
First Trip: Table Rock State Park
In the RV world when you buy a new rig, that first trip is called the shakedown trip. It is one you like to keep close to home to test all the systems and see which ones don’t work. For a brand new RV owner, it is also a nervous time because you have no clue what you are doing and you just want to get to your campsite with the least amount of attention drawn to yourself. That is precisely why I booked a pull-thru site. This would take away the issue of having to back the RV into the site and seemed like it would make us the least noticeable arriving. Little did I know that this pull-thru site required you to first drive through the entire small loop which might as well have been a magnet to pull everyone out of their RVs to watch. Next, I did not realize that our site was elevated and perched directly facing another camper who might as well have popped some popcorn to watch the show we were about to provide. Long story short, the site wasn’t level and I thought it would be a great idea to try these plastic leveling blocks that I had watched a YouTube video about. First attempt backing up onto them resulted in me spinning the wheels in the dirt and gravel then gunning directly over the blocks while Clay screamed “That’s too far!!!!!!!!!!!” The second attempt, while I successfully got the tires on the blocks, embarrassingly failed when one of the blocks cracked, making a noise so loud only a sonic boom would have rocked the campground more. We eventually got level and survived our one night shakedown trip without any major RV issues.
Theme Parks Visited: Dollywood; Disney World
At Dollywood you must stay off site, but Disney has its own campground known as Fort Wilderness. It is just like all Disney’s other on-site properties: very well maintained, clean and infinitely more expensive than any place you would stay off site. Fort Wilderness is a lot like Sea Pines on Hilton Head, with wonderful bike trails meandering through pine forests, only this resort is full of campers and not Ohioans.
Parking Lots Slept In: Cracker Barrel (Mount Vernon, IL); Walmart Supercenter (Nebraska City, NE) You haven’t lived until you pull into a Cracker Barrel around midnight and fall asleep to the buzz of a major interstate. Don’t worry about setting an alarm clock, the street sweeper that cleans the parking lot at 4am will take care of that.
Bodies of Water Camped On: Lake Hartwell; a small drainage ditch in Pigeon Forge; Yellowstone River; Colter Bay on Jackson Lake
Water shoes. I scoffed at the idea that I would need water shoes on our trip out west when Clay asked me months before if I wanted her to add a pair for me to the Amazon order she was placing for herself and the kids. That decision backfired at Colter Bay on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park. A little backstory: I had promised Jack two days before we arrived at Colter Bay that I would swim with him there. He wanted to stop and swim when we were knocking out destinations in Yellowstone. I said, “We are not stopping. We will be staying on a lake the next two nights, and I will swim with you then.” Well, Day 1 at Colter Bay had passed and I had not gotten in the water. Now it was around 6pm on Day 2. I thought Jack had forgotten my promise and even if he did remember, there is no way he would want to swim this evening. You see, a cold front had come through that day and the temperature was around 60 degrees (coincidently about the same temp as the water) and it had just finished raining.
Dad, do you want to go swimming?
Jack, are you crazy, it’s freezing.
Dad, but you…..
I had to live up to my word no matter how bad I did not want to get in that water. If you are not familiar with Colter Bay, the beach area is all rock, not all small pebbles either, more of a combo of small and large river rocks. Here enters the time where some sort of swim shoe or sandal would have been helpful. Instead, I entered the ice water painstakingly slowly, as each step felt like a shard of glass jamming into my foot and with the fear that the next step would cause my ankle to twist in ways only reserved for GI Joe figures. If you are having trouble visualizing this, let me help. Picture a tall, skinny, pale man taking slow steps into the water while with each step his body was moving as if he had just been hit with a cattle prod. Finally, I reached a depth where I could dive under and when I came up and regained consciousness from the shock of the water temperature to see the smile on Jack’s face as he jumped up and down cheering me on was priceless. The cold water quickly turned to exhilarating water and Jack and I enjoyed a swim with the Tetons as our background. What started out as a big inconvenience turned out to be one of the more magical memories of our trip for me.
Closest Time to Causing an Interstate Pileup
Thankfully this was a time when only I was in the RV, or the life and times of Dusty blog post would have been written a year earlier because the PTSD Clay would have experienced moving forward would have been too much to overcome. The scene was Interstate 85 on a Friday morning rush hour. I was traveling to have some safety steering features installed on the RV on the other side of Atlanta. The traffic was moving, but all 27 lanes were tight. (Before we proceed any further, if you have never ridden upfront in a gas RV, it is loud. The engine sits right in between the two seats, so combined with the noise of everything in the rear of the RV rattling and the radio volume on 87 to hear over everything, it is loud.) I’m in the middle lane gripping the wheel like I’m driving in a green-white-checkered finish at Talladega when I hear a faint honking sound on my right side. I think to myself, “I wonder what nutcase is doing that.” It wasn’t until about honk 73 did I catch something moving in my peripheral vision. I look over and see a guy in a landscape truck waving his hat and honking the horn. Must be a fellow Winnebago connoisseur, so I give him the polite head nod to confirm, yes we are fellow RV family members. But he is not stopping and now I can see he is screaming something and pointing toward the rear of the RV. I immediately think I got a tire going down, so I scream “tire!?!!!” Must not be that I think, he’s still screaming and pointing. I quickly realize he is screaming “Door Open!!!!!!!!!” I look in the side mirror to see a storage compartment door is opening and closing as I drive.
My mind is racing. How am I going to get over? What if a table flies out? There will be a pileup!!! And then it happened, when what can only be described as what Moses must have seen at the Red Sea. I am not sure if it was the hand of God or Jimmy Carter off his boulevard, but the outer two lanes parted and many went up an exit ramp and I was able to maneuver over to the shoulder. Once the tachycardia subsided, I stepped out and secured the door and averted what was sure to be a newschopper worthy story.
Spending fall Saturdays in Clemson has been something our family has done together since our kids could breathe. We love where we tailgate and we had decided when we got Dusty that we would rather park where we have always parked and not try to get an RV spot in a different area of campus. Two of our parking spots had always been angled parking, but in the summer before the season we learned that those spots had been changed to parallel spots along a sidewalk. I began to think, since we have two spots next to each other I bet Dusty could fit there. After Clay read every word ever written on Clemson parking guidelines, we determined that there was nothing in print that said we could not do this. Remember, Clemson has designated RV parking and where we park is only cars. But many of these cars have tailgating trailers that take up lots of space, so Dusty would have to be ok.
We were excited to tell the kids we were going to take Dusty to some games. We thought they would love the idea. Wrong. I believe my teenage daughter said things like, “Why can’t we be normal!” “You can’t even park that thing there!” “I will not be seen in that RV.” Full confession, we weren’t so sold on the idea either. Dusty would stick out like a sore thumb, and Clay had the fear that we would get to the parking area and be turned away by the police checking the parking passes.
The Treaty of Versailles, I mean the compromise with our daughter, was reached before the first game we decided to attend in Dusty. The parking attendant's reaction was still an unknown. I remember pulling out of our drive and Clay and I both looking at each other like “what are we doing?” Nevertheless, we marched on. As we got closer, Clay had talked herself into the reality that we were going to be arrested and serve life sentences with Dusty only having limited visitation rights.
The moment of truth had arrived. As we approached, the parking lot officer was still in her car because we had to get there so early. Oh, I forgot to mention that we had to arrive earlier than everyone and not take the chance I would have to parallel park Dusty. So we were arriving Clark Griswold early. The look on the officer's face could only be described as one of total bewilderment. I just pointed at the two passes, never slowing below 10 mph and Clay grinned from ear to ear and waved like she was the grand marshall of a Christmas Parade. We made it to our spot unscathed.
We had a great season tailgating in Dusty We enjoyed every conservation starting,
-“Is that your RV?"
-“I didn’t know you could park that here.”
As if you needed this confirmation, Dusty was undefeated.
Campgrounds Camped: Table Rock State Park (SC), Bear Den Family Campground (Spruce Pine, NC); Twin Lakes (SC), Creekside RV Park (Pigeon Forge, TN), Savannah (GA) KOA Holiday, Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground (FL), On-Ur-Wa RV Park (Onawa, IA), Badlands/White River KOA (Interior, SD), Nomad Dispersed Camping (Wall, SD), Mount Rushmore KOA Resort at Palmer Gulch (Hill City, SD), Billings KOA Holiday (MT) the World’s First KOA, Yellowstone RV Park (Gardiner, MT), Canyon Campground (Canyon Village, YNP), Colter Bay RV Park (GTNP), Gros Ventre Campground (GTNP)
Favorite Camping Views: Dispersed Camping overlooking the Badlands (SD); Gros Ventre Campground (GTNP) with a view of the Cathedral Group
Notable Parks, Monuments and Sites Visited: Table Rock State Park (SC), Pisgah National Forest (NC), Blue Ridge Parkway (NC), Great Smoky Mountains (TN), Badlands National Park (SD), Dignity of Earth and Sky Statue (Chamberlain, SD), Mount Rushmore National Monument (SD), Crazy Horse Monument (SD), Custer (SD) State Park, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (MT), Yellowstone National Park (MT/WY), Grand Teton National Park (WY), University of Wyoming Cowboy Stadium (Laramie, WY), Death Valley (Clemson, SC)
Places That Felt Infinitely More Appropriate To Visit in an RV: World Famous Corn Palace, Bush’s Baked Beans Headquarters, Prairie Dog Feeding, Bucee’s, Arthur Bryant’s BBQ, Wall Drug
One RV Ironman Completed: Jackson, WY to Nebraska City, NE to Greenville, SC in 32 hours 10 minutes, which required sleeping for a couple hours in a Walmart parking lot.
Bugs Obliterated: 4,393,596,782,412
Whether Dusty took us across the country or 30 minutes from home, all the locations had one thing in common: they provided an escape from our everyday reality. Well eventually that everyday reality, combined with the reality that last minute trips are difficult due to overwhelming campground demand, we came to the realization that we are not going to be able to take many big road trips over the next couple of years. You see, Dusty, like any RV, is meant to cruise the open roads. Lack of use is not kind to recreational vehicles, and Dusty deserved better than to sit in a warehouse full of boats, cars, and other Dusty wannabes. It did not hurt that the RV market is still hot, and within a couple weeks of listing Dusty a new home was found.
Dusty may be gone, but our RV bug hasn’t gone anywhere. The amazing memories we created in Dusty will be enough to fuel our desire to return to the open road one day in the future. Be on the lookout for Dusty’s Comeback Tour 2030, the same year I do another blog post.