Our Winter Trip to Arizona (Part 1)

by Ed Boothman

After a great summer at the lake we saw the leaves starting to turn and the smell of fall was in the air. Our thoughts turned more and more to our planned winter stay in Arizona.

We had made reservations with a Mesa RV park and I was anxious to get behind the wheel of my new diesel pusher(a 1999 Beaver Contessa). A departure date was set for late October and we found ourselves counting down the days. Our surprise early snowfall the first of October further stimulated our anticipation.

Gail had always wanted to see the Oregon coast and it was decided we would drive first to the west coast and then south on the US 101. This would mean we would need to drive through the Rocky Mountains in late October, which I was a little concerned about. I was also told by a few experienced travelers that taking a 40' motorhome, towing a car down the 101 could present a few challenges.

As the end of October grew closer I was watching the weather forecast for the best time to make our run through the mountains. A date was soon set and the motorhome was loaded and ready to go.

Departure day gave us an overcast morning with an optimistic weather forecast. The first 3 hours was great driving conditions with a few sunny breaks. As we drew closer to the mountains the weather started to deteriorate and we soon found ourselves in a winter blizzard. I had almost decided we would stay overnight in Hinton (the last stop before the mountains), but soon the clouds parted and it became a sunny day. We decided to proceed and were soon driving past the town of Jasper in very light snow. The light snow soon turned to heavy wet snow as it started to get dark. This is just what I was trying to avoid and it was 10 times worse then I ever thought it would be. The headlights on every motorhome I have owned have always been marginal and this one was no exception. Now the wet snow was clogging up my wipers leaving me narrow streaks that I could just see through. Now the road was white with one set of tracks that left no reference to where the shoulder was. If I tried to stop I would be risking someone running into me, if I tried to pull over to the shoulder that I could not see I could end up going down the side of the mountain. I can honestly say I have never been so scared in a driving situation in my life. But it gets worse!

In the dark and through the tiny slits of view my wipers have left me I can see a few cars and trucks pulled to the side of the road. Of course there are no pull over spots left for me as I go by the sign that says chain up area. Hmmm… I am driving a 40' 15 ton motorhome with summer tires on and dragging a car and I am about to try to climb one of many mountain grades. All I could do was put the peddle down and grasp the steering wheel even tighter with my white knuckles.

The next few hours of driving was an experience I never want to live through again but we soon saw the lights of Valemount in the distance. We quickly found a service station that allowed us to park overnight.

The storm we hit was not in the forecast I saw one day before departure, but that is the chance you take when you do mountain driving in the winter.

The next morning was clear and overcast but I was not getting back on the road until I was confident we were past the storm. I could get no radio or TV reception so, as a last resort, I went to our CB. I quickly got a response from a trucker telling me it was clear through to our next stop Clearwater, where we were going to meet up with John and Gail our travelling companions in their motorhome.

That trip was uneventful with the exception of the washboard. Wow, I have never seen anything like it. The storm had gone through about a 10-mile section of highway that left enough snow on the road to create the worse washboard I had ever seen. We were going about 10 mph and it was like driving down a railroad track without the rails. That was a long 10 miles.

By late afternoon we were at Clearwater and met up with our friends. They had left two days before us and had smooth sailing all the way.

I decided to do a thorough walk around the unit to see how it had weathered the storm. Before we left I was concerned about my tow car getting rock strikes as it was being towed. We spent much time and expense mounting a bra on the front of the car to protect it. That turned out to be a bad choice. As the sand and rocks accumulated on the hood they worked their way down to the top edge of the bra, sanding the bra edge down to the metal. I was now starting to call this trip my ongoing gong show.

The next morning we were off the Chilliwack. This trip produced some long steep grades. To my surprise, John was soon leaving me in dust with his 25' gas unit pulling a small car. I had expected better performance with my 330 HP pusher but we were carrying a big load. We were soon in the lower mainland with the fall colors and milder temperatures.

We planned on staying at the Wal-Mart store there but it turned out to be a very small lot. Fortunately there was a larger mall across the road and we spent the night there. This gave us another chance to inspect the units where we discovered much of the rubber was missing from the front tires on John's new car. John was new to car towing and the company that sold him his tow bar went to great lengths to show him how to take it on and off but did not tell him he needed to unlock the steering to tow it. He took the car for a quick test drive and everything worked fine.

In the morning we were off to the US border and then Burlington, Washington. There was a small challenge at the border as they had concrete barriers set up that only left a few inches on either side to get a motorhome through. We made it through and were soon blissfully following the instructions of our GPS taking us to Burlington. Unfortunately, the GPS gives no consideration to the size of unit you are driving and we soon found ourselves on a narrow windy road in very picturesque countryside. This was OK until the top of the motorhome was brushing trees and some of the corners were putting the right wheel of my trailer in the ditch. You should never blindly follow the instructions of your GPS if you are driving a big motorhome. I would learn this lesson many times on my trip.

The GPS soon had us on a narrow gravel road with a sign that said: bridge washed out. Hmmm… Now what are we going to do? The road was very narrow and I had no choice but to disconnect the trailer to get turned around then reconnect the trailer. John ended up getting stuck in his attempt to turn around and it was a two hour wait for the AMA.

The tow truck driver told us how to get to the next town about twenty miles away. By now it was pitch black outside and it was pouring rain. We drove the 20 miles on the narrow windy road in the pouring rain which had us doing about 40MPH in a 60MPH zone. We soon had a long line of cars behind us but there was nothing we could do about it. When we finally reached a main highway and found an area we could pull over, many of the cars going by gave us a blast on the horn. I don't think they were saying hi.

The next morning we made it to Burlington where we had arranged to have a new washing machine installed in the motorhome. We had ordered it several months before to insure everything was ready, but of course there were some surprises and we needed to stay two nights in their parking lot.

We soon made it to the US 101 where we came across many breathtaking views of the ocean surf. There were even a few stop-and-look points where we could get our big units in. It was slightly stormy which made the surf even more dramatic.

The girls wanted to get in some shopping and were watching for outlet malls. Soon they spotted a sign that led us to one. We found ourselves needing to manoeuvre through some tight spots but finally made it to a large mall parking lot. John and I had our fill of shopping after a few minutes but the girls were in there for a few hours.

We were back on the road again and I was soon understanding why the 101 is not the greatest for a large motorhome pulling a car. Narrow roads steep hills with endless turns. Gail was sitting back marveling at the breathtaking scenery while I was trying to make it up and down the hills loaded with tight curves. This was not fun for me but she was enjoying it.

Oh yes, we did run into a straighter section but it was, of course, one of the many road construction sights we came across. It was already just a two lane highway and they had put up plastic pylons for about a 5 mile section which further narrowed the highway. Whoever decided on the location of those pylons did not understand that the crazy Canucks were coming. As I am driving down that section I can hear the pulsing of the pylons tubing under the motorhome. John told be after that he thought he ended up getting most of the ones I missed.

Of course we are going down the west coast in the rainy season so it was poring rain most of the time we were traveling.

Soon we are at one of our planned stops, Tillamook Oregon, where they have the famous Tillamook cheese factory. We found an RV park and spent the next few days there. The tour of the factory was quite interesting and we all came out with enough cheese to do us for a while. We even found a great aviation museum in the town.

To Be Continued...

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