the (often) meandering travels of a student anthropologist
It's a five hour drive from Ellis, Kansas to Denver, Colorado so I aim for an early start.
While it's been good to be in one place for two nights, to have an acceptably hot shower, good wifi, and catch up on classwork, I find I'm people hungry. The anxiety-ridden days of driving, the almost desolate campground, and nonstop gusting winds have left me jones'ing for social contact. And, being engaged in conversation by a city worker while I dump my tanks before getting on the road (really, you gonna watch me do this?) doesn't quite suffice. I'm desparte to see Rick and also get to the campground where I have reservations for the next week (until they close for the season). At $25 a night with electric hookups, it's by far the most affordable camping option the area has to offer.
Two hours into the drive and I discover the wrapped fuel line doesn't make a difference.
In fact, the issue seems worse. Alarmed, as the stuttering escalates beyond my prior experience, and on straightaways now, I pull into the rest stop at Burlington, Colorado and pop the hood. I feel panicked. I'm just not sure what to do other than let the engine cool for several hours, and maybe even wait to get on the road again late, when the sun has set and the temperatures have dropped. It's only 70 degrees, but...
After talking to a groundskeeper and the two local ladies in the visitor's center, I find my way to a mechanic a few blocks away. He's blunt. He's adamant. It's vapor lock and there's no cure for it. He drops a quart of automatic transmission fluid in the tank, no charge, and sends me on my way. I gas up and not knowing what else to do, again, head west. I worry about the long distances between cities but at least the shoulder is flat and wide if I have to pull over. I count off the miles between exits under my breath. By the time I get to Limon, Colorado, and the Flying J, the stuttering is dogging every one of those miles. I'm mentally a wreck. Travel centers (aka truck stops) have become my oasis. I can stay here overnight. I can be around people. Even better, there is a mechanic at this one!
$460-some dollars later I have nursed two cokes, watched an episode of NCIS sunk deep in an enormous leatherette lounge sofa surrounded by truckers (also broken down), and Juno has a new fuel pump.
I am impressed with the speed to get everything diagnosed, ordered and installed. I have crawled under the truck myself and seen the leak. I have listened to the mechanics argue whether vapor lock is real or a myth concocted by mechanics who can't diagnose the real problem. My head is spinning. Have I bought a lemon or not? Despite the option to stay put and enjoy the 24 hour I-Hop, I decide to press on. Even though I know I'll hit Denver at rush hour. A stray cat rubs people's legs outside the entrance and I flee, knowing I can't rescue it. I just want to get to a place I know, my boyfriend, and a place I can regroup for a week.
And, of course, the problem reoccurs. However, the cutting out, whether the fuel pump helped or the temperatures have dropped as the afternoon sun sets, is much less problematic. As I sit on 70 through Denver, bumper to bumper, I again use the method of one foot on the gas, and one on the brake to ensure I don't stall out. I tell myself I needed a new pump, anyway. It wasn't money thrown away. By the time I reach Lakewood to pick up Rick, however, it's dark, and I have no nerves left. I left them somewhere back at the Purina pet food plant that welcomes you to the metropolis.
Picking up a pizza and bottle of wine we negotiate the dark back roads to find the after hour entrance to the park. I don't drive well in the dark and am both amped-up and exhausted. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop although Juno seems to be behaving for the moment. I'm doing the discourteous faux pas by arriving late to a park and trying to set up while others are settling in to sleep. The signposts numbers are invisible in the pitch black, and, by the time I get in our spot and leveled the pizza is cold.
We squabble and snap at each other. It's inevitable.
Our ill tempers escalate into a fight. He is upset over the mechanical issues and, of course, that I am so frazzled and had to deal with it. He says it's time to cut our losses and sell. If it's not reliable what good is Juno? All I can think about is how he hasn't taken more than a minute to praise me for all the work and renovations I've done since he's last seen her. But at this moment I am secretly in agreement. I don't want to drive this anywhere else. In short, I am now petrified of this "beast". I've made the biggest mistake of my life and the gods are laughing.
Fortunately, Bear Creek Lake Park is a beautiful place to take peaceful walks and get my bearings over the next days. See my RV Parky review here. I've put so much into the renovations I can't give up now. There has to be a mechanic here that can fix this...
Of course, despite the warm weather coming across country, I won't escape winter.
Several days in and the old man rolls in with a vengeance. As I watch deer run across the road outside my window each morning, the temperatures drop into the twenties, it snows...
I meet my first solo female nomad.
She's heavy-set, and from my estimation in her mid-twenties. Parked in the space across the road from mine, she also has a Class C RV that is as old as Juno but looks, to my mind, a little more worse for wear. The generator bay door is missing, it seems to sag around its tan and brown edges, and she tells me the main door is stuck and she can't open it from the inside. We talk as she gives her dogs a potty break. She shivers in her colorful pajamas. I notice her eyes are ringed in black cat eyeliner behind her fashionable red glasses. I learn she is from a nearby state and spent most of her money for gas in getting here. Her dogs are the type that have been pigeonholed as aggressive breeds by apartment complexes, and she tells me fiercely that she'll be homeless before she abandons them. She has been fortunate to master boondocking in the nearby neighborhoods, parking on the streets, but to stay warm, and take advantage of the amenities, she stays here at the park for a night or two when she has enough money. She works as a freelance graphic designer, taking jobs online where she can find them.
As I share my tale of getting across country, she confides some of her own mechanical concerns and I realize that she knows even less than I do about her rig's engine.
She's using fuel injector treatment for her carburetor. That night I get on the forum to verify, yes, that's a bad idea, and to get some ideas about some of the other symptoms she's experiencing. I worry that she doesn't have the skills she needs, in lieu of funds, to maintain her vehicle. Unfortunately, she leaves early the next day and we don't speak. After she's gone I think about her situation. She's one of many living in their vehicles that are one step from being homeless. From our conversation I gather she lives week to week on small jobs here and there, choosing between gas money and groceries. Having to move her rig every 24 hours to avoid parking fines, a mechanical breakdown could bode the end of her ability to live in it. Because I have a safety net, it leaves me feeling uncomfortable, as well as deeply saddened.
Despite videos touting this lifestyle, I expect I've had my first glimpse of a darker reality.