Small House Big World


Holy Sh*t I’m Driving a Living Room

Anna Edgren • January 26, 2015

At the time of our RV purchase, Kelly did not have his driver’s license, as he hadn’t needed to drive while living Chicago with its glorious public transit options (or… Uber). When it came time to purchase the RV, Kelly tried to obtain a new license, but due to some unforeseen bureaucratic issues with the State of New York, was unable to do so in a timely fashion. That meant there was only one person who would be able to test drive the sucker – ME.

Luckily, I have always loved to drive. As a teenager learning to drive, I happily gathered my 50 hours of required road experience by driving my whole family from northern Michigan to Washington State. Not to mention how many times I’ve driven 12+ hours by myself to my family’s cabin in Minnesota. The open road is my friend. The largest thing I have ever driven, however, is a minivan (see above teenager-driving-across-the-country story). I have never come close to driving anything even half as terrifying as a 37 foot home on wheels.

On day 1 of our RV shopping, I got my chance! The first RV I drove was a 2002 Fleetwood Bounder. I basically took it around the block (luckily it was a big and mostly empty block). I went REALLY SLOW at first, and managed to keep it on the road without any trouble. Of course while driving it I felt about a thousand sizes too big for the road and like my sides were hanging off the road just tempting people (and/or trees) to hit them.

Once I was feeling comfortable, I got it up to about 50 mph! Things were going swimmingly. And then – a corner. The dreaded right turn. It turns out nicking the curb in an RV is a bumpy affair. We got to experience the magic of the curb-nick not once but twice. Whoops!! The turning radius on this thing is a bit different than my Accord… Luckily they are pretty sturdy buggers and the very kind and lovely salesman laughed it off and said I was decidedly not the worst he’d ever supervised (…thanks?). But really, I was proud. Sure I hit 2 curbs, but I definitely gained some confidence in my abilities and figured out the feel of such a monster vehicle.

The next RV I had the chance to drive was a diesel pusher. For those not familiar with the terminology (as I was not), this means that the diesel engine is located in the back of the vehicle, unlike a gas model where the engine is in the front. The feel of driving in a diesel pusher is a bit unnerving. Initially pressing the gas pedal down was a chore – it was HEAVY. Then once the pedal is depressed, it stays depressed with only a cursory touch of the foot. An odd sensation. I could immediately tell that the diesel felt stronger and more powerful, and with the gas pedal maintaining speed, it felt unstoppable. Luckily for all of us, it was not. At the first red light I put the brakes to the test and they worked like a charm (whew). I definitely liked the feel of the diesel pusher and would not be opposed to driving one in the future, although this particular model turned out to be a bad apple.

When we finally made our RV purchase, we had our hearts set on this bad boy before we even drove it, which of course is a dangerous thing to do. We were nervous to drive it not only because driving a giant RV is scary, but also because we NEEDED it to work right. We wanted it so badly. Luckily it ran just fine. A little squeaking from a possibly shot alternator belt, but at the price of this unit, we are willing to fix a few things up.  I drove us down to a nearby parking lot, and then back to the dealership again. No more curb hitting! Miracle.

When we decided to buy our beautiful Pace Arrow, I had to drive it an hour and a half from Cascade, MI to Dexter, MI, where my parents live so we could spend some time hanging out in it and cleaning it out.  The hour and a half drive was a great little test. And luckily, we passed! I managed to navigate the highway through Detroit on a Monday during rush hour, which at my beginner level I consider to be a notable accomplishment. Learning to use the mirrors was one of the more difficult parts. There is a rearview camera instead of a traditional rearview mirror, making cars to the right of the vehicle tricky to spot.  I also had to pay a lot of attention to how much distance I put between our rig and the cars in front of us, to allow enough breaking time. My parents live in an area where the normal drive involves going under a bridge that measures just over 11 feet high. We clock in at 11’3, so we knew we’d have to find a new route around. We knew about this issue ahead of time, and somehow managed to remember to take the alternate route even in our harried state driving our new RV home for the first time. 

My parents have a long driveway, about 150 feet. It is straight and goes right up to the garage, with no convenient loop or turnaround at the end (thanks for nothing, mom and dad). So driving up the driveway was easy, and then I spent the next 4 days silently worrying about whether or not I would be able to back it out of there. Good news: Heck yes I would.  With Kelly’s directional arm flailing and shouted words of encouragement, I was able to back it out no problem.

Driving on the open road was one thing, but going to get gas in a small enclosed area was quite another. We only had about a quarter of a tank before our trip back to the storage lot, so it had to be done. The station closest to my parents house happens to be designed for trucks and highway traffic – amazing. We had no problem getting in and getting out. The trick; move very very slowly and don’t back yourself into any weird corners. So far so good. 

We managed to get it back to the storage lot without any horrifying incidents (aside from calculating that we get about 5 miles per gallon of gas, that was pretty horrifying). I look forward to having the chance to drive it more and improve my skills. I do keep in mind, however, that I have yet to encounter an RV owner who doesn’t have at least a few tales to tell of being stuck some terrible jam, so I have resigned myself to the fact that someday I will have mine. But I will try to stay optimistic!


drivingtest drive

Anna Edgren • January 26, 2015

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  2. Arele Reid February 22, 2015 - 12:27 am Reply

    When I worked for Concord Trailways I crove them backwards as much as forwards. After a while you get used to finding spots in both mirrors that you try to keep in the same place. On a curve, you have to adjust that a bit – but it seemed to me the brain figured out the wiring pretty quickly to do the transformation to drive in reverse almost as easily in forward – for short distances anyway. Glad you have the back camera though, becuase that’s the thing you can never tell.

    • Kelly Reid February 26, 2015 - 10:39 am Reply

      Its grainy and black-and-white, but it does the job.

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