Our Viking RV at night in the woods

Night at Huntsville State Park

This is the third in a short series about buying our first RV and taking our first RV trip.  Our last post ended where we got hitched-up and ready to pull out of our driveway (we live in the country – no HOA to complain about a trailer on the property).

Getting to the campsite

Before we pulled-out, we checked the tire pressure and noticed that the right trailer tire was low.  No big deal, we thought, it’s probably just temperature-related.  We’ll air-up at the gas station.  And we did.  Then we tooled merrily on down the road, with me (Katie) watching the trailer in the mirror with my peripheral vision.

We chose Huntsville State Park for our first RV camping experience.  A short trip to Huntsville – the city – could solve all of our problems if anything went wrong.  It’s got great hiking trails, and the fishing is good enough.  Since we keep our state park passes current, we only had to pay the site fee.  Unfortunately, we chose Easter weekend to go camping, and the park was packed.  It’s not uncommon to get to Huntsville State Park at noon on a busy weekend and find the line to enter the park backed-up almost to I-45.

We beat the line.  Check-in was smooth, but I made a note to myself regarding courtesy – we need to get checked-in, and move the trailer so that someone else can pull theirs in.  Potty breaks can wait until you’ve got the trailer parked.

Setting-up our RV for the first time

Site choice at Huntsville State Park is first-come, first-served.  Dean gave me my pick of spots, so I chose the one directly across the road from the fishing pier (see, I was thinking of him!).  If we had more experience maneuvering a travel trailer, getting into the site might not have taken as long as it did.  With everything connected, we’re probably about 30 feet long, and from the far end of the pad to the opposite side of the road is probably just barely 30 feet.  Either way, we stopped with the rear stability jacks a few inches from the back of the pad, and the truck straight.  The nose of the truck was hanging over the other side of the road.

When we got out, that right trailer tire was low again.  Obviously we had a slow leak.  No big deal, we thought.  We’ll just swap it with the spare and go about our weekend, then fix it when we get home.  Yeah…  That’s not how that went down.  First… we hadn’t made sure that our sockets or four-way lug nut wrench would work.  After a call to the dealership, we found out that our wheels require a thin-walled 13/16-inch socket.  We found out later that this is basically a spark plug socket.  Or, at least, a spark plug socket will do in a pinch.

Second… The problem was in the valve stem.  We think we tweaked the pin inside the stem when we aired it up at the gas station.  If, like Dean, your after-school job was fixing tires, this is an easy problem to solve.  You just pull and replace the valve stem.  If you’re like us on that day, you open your tire repair toolbox and discover that you have all of your tools, except your valve stem puller.  It seems that when he fixed the lawnmower tire a few weeks earlier, the valve stem puller didn’t make it back into the toolbox.  Dean organized that toolbox with custom-cut foam for each tool that belongs in there.  Each tool lay in its designated spot, but for the one glaring vacancy where the valve stem puller should have been.

We learned something, though.  RV people really are some of the nicest people you’ll meet.  The easiest way to meet them is to pull into your camping spot, and look like you’ve got a problem.  When we looked-up from realizing we had a tire problem, there were three people from neighboring sites standing behind us asking, “What’cha got there?”  Five minutes later, five people and half a dozen different tools showed-up.  Dean and I are both introverts, so it was a bit overwhelming, but more appreciated than I can express.

Camping in our RV for the first time

Despite the issues with the tire, this was easily the most relaxing weekend we’ve had in years.  We got to spend a lot of time just watching nature, whether it was the lake, the people, or the alligator with the piece of survey tape stuck to his head.  We pulled out the bicycles and did a couple of laps on the pavement from the fishing pier to the swimming hole and back.  I pulled the camera out that night and took photos of the lights on the lake, and the stars.  We took a hike around Raven Lake.

I slept like a baby on that mattress, with the breeze blowing through the open windows.  It’s no more comfortable than the average RV mattress, and significantly less comfortable than our mattress at home.  But my mind had unwound and my body was exhausted.

When I awoke the next morning, Dean was storing his fishing gear in the basement.  He can no longer say that he hasn’t been fishing in years.  He can still say he hasn’t caught anything in years.  But, it’s not about the catching, for him.  It’s just about the technique of fishing, about dropping a hook in the water and seeing what happens.


Breaking camp and heading out

Just like when we hooked-up at the house, we went down the checklist for hooking-up at the park.  We made sure that:

  • Everything from outside got stowed
  • Everything inside got secured
  • We secured all of the external hatches
  • All the umbilical lines got disconnected and secured
  • The dump station boxes were easily accessible
  • We secured the trailer to the tow vehicle and all the safety systems functioned as intended

There is one thing that intimidates new RVers on their first RV trip more than anything else: dumping the black tank.  In the rural parts of the country, most of us have septic systems.  We’re familiar with the workings of having a small sewage plant so close.  We find it less intimidating than the, “city slickers,” do, I think.  Of course, with a sticks-and-bricks home septic system, you usually contract with someone to empty it for you every few years.  With an RV, it’s a do-it-yourself job.

Honestly, emptying the black tank was mostly anti-climatic.  We found two pinholes in our hose (yuck!), but that’s why you wear gloves.  After talking to friends who RV, you definitely don’t want to leave the hose unattended at either end.  I don’t know all the things that can go wrong where it connects to your RV outlet, but if the dump station is full…  The specific words used to describe it were, “gravy flowing down the road.”

The drive home was more stressful than the drive to the park.  I attribute that to the fact that we were driving on the spare tire.  I can’t say for sure if there was definitely more sway, or if it was just a product of me being paranoid.  My perception was that the trailer did sway a little more on the way home.

All in all, I would call our first RV trip a success.  We’re looking forward to taking it back out again in a few weeks.

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