OK, technically the RV doesn't have a clutch. It's an automatic. But believe me, we had vehicle problems, mainly us getting into the vehicle. For some reason, we found it quite hard to actually pack up the RV and set off on Friday evening. By the time Dom had gone to the Cruise America depot in Oakland to pick up the 25 foot beast and actually parked it up outside the house, it was raining hard and it was supper time for Max and Oli - not ideal conditions for setting off. So we delayed, and delayed...and delayed, and frankly a take-out and the Frost/Nixon DVD were beckoning on Friday evening...what more can I say? We all slept beautifully.
By Saturday morning, Max was asking us continually, 'Are we ray-a-go?' Which perhaps indicates how many times Dom and I had asked each other the same question and still found an excuse to delay departure for another five minutes. Suitcases in, cot in, bedding in, saucepans in, food in, oh the joy of putting child car-seats in. Finally we were 'ray-a-go' and actually it was all quite good fun. Dom was wearing a stetson and cracking me up by imitating an airport shuttle-bus driver: 'United Airlines - Domestic' he announced, as he mimicked the 'kcccrrrrk' of the intercom system into his hand. I got my camera out and took some departing shots of the Golden Gate Bridge through the dirty streaked back window of our new home.
About an hour into our journey Max announced he wanted to do a pee. Pulling up quickly off Highway 101 isn't easy but our first opportunity was an access road to a landfill site. Forgetting we had a loo on board I bundled Max out of the RV to pee on the grass. Turkey vultures soared overhead, their wings whistling like fireworks. Max was delighted by the trucks that passed us to and from the landfill. Dom and I found the whole thing rather depressing and both began wondering what on earth we were up to.
Setting off again at an average 50 mph we finally arrived in Bodega Bay, the coast resort which Hitchcock chose as the location for 'The Birds', his film where murderous ravens attack the local villagers. Nice. We weren't exactly sure where we were heading but as we approached the fishing harbour we spotted what was clearly the RV park down by the water. We turned towards the sea. The rain was coming down steadily. Another turn to the left and instead of finding a welcoming RV park we found a sprawling trailer park. We stopped in a layby. Two boy racers with bass booming out of their saloon cars swerved in next to us, revved loudly and sped off. Dom and I exchanged looks.
We did eventually find the Bodega Bay RV Park. The friendly owners Jill and Joe took our money and directed us to lot 12, our parking spot for the night. Joe helped us hook up our electricity. Our motorhome was dwarfed by the others there - huge great buses with extensions and porches and patios. Our next door neighbour was sitting in the doorway of his RV in cozy slippers drinking a beer. A woman walked past with her labradoodle called Turbo. I kept announcing that this was our first ever night in an RV. 'Are you looking for sympathy?' Dom asked. I was really looking for some advice. I wanted someone to say, 'Ah, I remember our first night in an RV, we didn't know what we were doing, but we've had the best fun ever - when you get into it, it's just brilliant.' All I was getting was a friendly nod, no great insight into the appeal of this gig. Max however, was loving every minute. He kept looping the vehicle, climbing into the driver's seat, pressing buttons, clambering out of the driver's seat, running round to the door on the vehicle's side, trying to get his hands on the hook up. I was in a panic every time I lost sight of him.
We decided to go for a walk and Joe directed us through the eucalyptus trees to the sea. It was meant to be a half hour hike but within ten minutes Max was hoiking his trousers up to his armpits and looking distinctly like he needed the loo. Time to head back to the RV. And frankly, lacking the energy or the inclination to manouver the RV out of it's parking spot and drive to the water, we realised that that was it for the day. We'd driven all the way to Bodega Bay to see an RV park in the rain. Dusk was approaching. The wind was getting up. The forecast was a storm coming in off the Pacific. It was time for an early supper and time to put Max and Oli to bed. That's when the real fun started.
7pm, Max and Oli are in their pyjamas. We've skipped the washing stage because it's too stressful to achieve anything in the 2ft square shower/loo. We suddenly hear a loud beep from an alarm above Max's bed. It reads Carbon Monoxide Detector. I press the reset button. The light starts flashing green and red. Just in case we haven't taken enough attention of it, the alarm starts chirping. I press reset again. More chirping. It's now pouring outside but we decide to open a window. Max announces he's scared of the alarm. Dom gets on the phone to Cruise America Traveler's Assistance. Nicole, at the other end of the line, tells us the 'coach' battery is dying, it's not a carbon monoxide leak. Relief. To confirm her diagnosis we notice that the lights inside the RV are gradually dimming and the heating's stopped. She advises we run the engine for 20 minutes. Problem solved, but there's still just a hint of anxiety over the carbon monoxide detector. We briefly consider driving home then and there but decide we should try and stick it out.
Fast forward to 9.30pm, the storm is raging outside, Max is asleep in his bed at the back of the 'coach'. Oli's sleeping in his cot, taking up all the rest of the available space. Dom and I are reading in our 'over-the-cab-bed' (above the driver's seat). That's when the Carbon Monoxide Detector starts up again. Miraculously the kids don't wake up and Nicole tells us we've probably got a dodgy 'hook-up'. But there's no-one to talk to at the RV park. Nicole and I dispatch Dom, in his boxers, into the darkness and rain and gales to disconnect the electricity so we can start the generator. I search for the torch but find there's no battery in it. Again we consider driving straight back to San Francisco, but we figure we are actually safer here than on the roads in the dark in this weather. It takes 3 attempts, including 20 mins running the car again, to get the generator going. Nicole starts talking about getting a new coach battery dispatched to us in Bodega Bay in the morning and I tell her, as politely as I can, that as long as the RV will start in the morning, we are driving it straight back to the depot. There's a nervous cough at the other end of the 'phone before she informs me that all Cruise America rental offices are closed on Sundays. We have this ball and chain til Monday whether we like it or not.
At some point in the evening Dom and I had started writing a list of pros and cons of RV travel. The cons list is growing by the minute. I'm reminded that it is in fact Valentine's Day...so much for romance!
With the generator running, any chance of sleep seems to be rapidly disappearing - it sounds like those boy racers revving up right next to us. And I'm still anxious about carbon monoxide. Every half hour I can't stop myself from jumping down from our bed to check the children are still breathing. After two hours trying to get to sleep we decide to switch the generator off. Amazingly the heating stays on but I'm so nervous about it going off again and my children freezing to death that I can't sleep with the anxiety of it and I keep up my half hourly vigil checking them. On one of these excursions I move a seat cushion that's leaning up against the fridge (we had to dismantle the seat in order to fit Max's car seat in). That's when I see ANOTHER flashing light. It's right on the floor and I crouch down to see it says LCP Gas Detector - not another one. It's flashing green and it's not beeping so I persuade myself we are safe. But sleep? You must be joking. By 2am the rain on the roof sounds like hail stones and I can see the dark outline of the trees swaying aggressively against the night sky. Finally at 5am our faithful carbon monoxide detector, like the budgie in the coal mine, starts singing to us yet again. This time Max does wake up - and wakes up with all the excitement of Christmas morning. Which of course wakes Oli. We run the engine again, and can't pack our bags fast enough. By 6.40am we are on the road and rattling our brute of an RV back to the city. But that's not end of it...oh no, just as we make a final turn towards home Dom swipes another vehicle's wing mirror. There's the sound of splintering glass. Our wing mirror is shattered. We park up in the rain and when we finally get home, dispatch ourselves to bed feeling much the same as you might after a long-haul flight, jet lagged and exhausted. Dom and I agree that we will never go near an RV again. Ever.