Three weeks after the death of my first husband, I packed my motorhome and fastened my seat belt in the driver’s chair. My family shook their heads in collective dismay, some muttering that I should downsize my 38-foot rig. Why? Due to illness, James Paul had never driven the motorhome. I had already crossed the country twice behind the wheel of my rig. I knew when my husband became desperately ill that I wanted to continue the RV travel we both loved.
At the end of October, sunlight sparkled on the mountainside’s leaves of red, gold, and orange. James Paul had served several years as president of the board of directors at our membership resort, Treasure Lake, in Branson, Missouri. The annual meeting approached and our friend, Donald Payton planned to honor him at the meeting. I determined that my first solo trip would be more difficult if I waited until spring. Besides, I wanted to be present for my husband’s tribute.
However, when I started the motor and glanced at his empty passenger seat, I was unprepared for the realization that I was truly on my own. My pit bull Carmen, inherited from my son, leaped into the seat. Although her personality mimicked a lamb, no one would dare cross my path with her riding shotgun. I blinked back the tears and turned out of my driveway.
Everything on that first trip flowed smoothly. With my confidence bolstered, I planned a second trip two weeks later to view the Christmas lights of Silver Dollar City. My nine-year-old granddaughter accompanied me—a tradition we had shared since she toddled.
The day before our departure, a friend who traveled solo unexpectedly phoned. She traveled in our area and we made plans to meet in a town on Arkansas Highway 65, my route to Branson.
Jasmine and I pulled out of Heber Springs in ample time. On the ascent of what folks in my hometown call “the mountain,” the motorhome lost power. I managed to drive into an auto shop on the right of the highway. The technicians looked it over and found no problem. Thinking it was a piece of trash that momentarily floated through the gas lines, I tried the steep incline again. The motor hummed with no problem. Yet, without cell phones in 1999, I could not alert my friend of our delay.
Fortunately, she did not give up on us. In caravan style, she trailed me out of the designated parking lot back onto Highway 65 north, climbing higher into the Ozark Mountains. On a long, steep hill a few miles south of Harrison, Arkansas, the motorhome lost power again. Slowly, I maneuvered into the vacant parking lot of a closed resort and called my road service. I was glad to have my seasoned RVing friend at my side. We thought, perhaps, the problem was a dirty filter. The technician arrived shortly with a new one. However, I asked him to stay with us until Harrison, in case we had more problems. Within two miles, the coach lost power again. We slowly rolled into an RV park at the edge of town. I called a dealership and made an appointment to take the motorhome in the following Monday. Our weekend of Christmas shows and lighted displays in Branson turned into a daily commute from Harrison, Arkansas, to Branson, Missouri.
My dog, Carmen, traveled with us from Harrison to Branson in the backseat of my toad. Trying to make the best of the situation, we spent the first day at Silver Dollar City with Carmen on a leash. (Today, the park no longer permits dogs as guests.) As dusk fell, we returned her to the parked vehicle so we could go into some of the theaters. When we returned, she had had diarrhea—something that had never happened to her before. The stench sickened us. After cleaning the mess the best I could, we journeyed 30 miles back to Harrison with all windows down and my granddaughter gagging.
Fortunately, some friends happened to be returning to Heber Springs from Branson and offered to pick up Carmen and deliver her home to my daughter. We spent another day taking in Christmas shows. On Sunday, we drove home in the van so Jasmine could return to school. The ailing motorhome remained in the campground. On Monday, I returned to take it into the garage. When the technicians hooked it to a computer, they discovered a sensor had failed. The time to order the part and fix the problem stretched over several days. Once again, I drove back to Heber Springs, and returned by the end of the week to pick up my rolling home.
If this had been my first trip out alone, I might never have made another.
However, I had had enough life experience to understand that things going wrong are not always a sign to give up. I had other mishaps along the way—driving away from home with the electrical cord still plugged in. Leaving my Branson resort with the antenna up. And dealing with a toad that refused to shift back into gear after unhooking. By persevering, I also had the adventures of a lifetime and memories to cherish and laugh over when I hang up my keys.