When we were doing our research, and watching our YouTube videos, and feeling pretty smart for preparing as best we could, we learned many things. (By the way, I want to give a shout out to Mark and Trish from Keep Your Daydream for inspiring us and teaching us and making this whole adventure more fun. You should definitely check out their blog, their YouTube channel and check them out on Instagram too.)
But back to our next lesson. One of the things we learned from all our research was that it is critically important before you take your rig out on the road, that you know exactly how high your rig is off the ground. This is so that you know for sure whether you will fit under certain overpasses and such that might have low clearance. It is especially important you know this in advance, because at the moment you are rolling towards a low overpass is NOT the time to wonder about it. I knew I should have gotten up on the roof of our travel trailer and measured its height. I had planned to do just this. You can probably see this coming, but I never got around to measuring anything.
So now here we were, off on our first major vacation in our new travel trailer. We had taken a one-week shake-down trip close to home, but this time we off on a real adventure. Our plan was to drive from Maine, all the way down to the Virginia/Delaware area for three weeks, staying in three different campgrounds while there. This was a big deal for us, and represented the first real test of our ability to live and work on the road in our new rig.
For many years we were involved with a motorcycle club, and as a result we have taken many trips south or west from Maine over the years to points around the country. We are therefore very familiar with all of the route choices presented to us for our journey south. What we failed to appreciate however, is that most of those trips south or west from Maine over the past 20 years were done on the back of a motorcycle. You see, when you are on the back of a motorcycle, you think about very different things than you have to think about when towing a thirty-five foot long travel trailer. Major highways with six lanes and lots of traffic are not the most fun thing when you are on a motorcycle. We tended on those trips to seek out alternate routes that had less traffic and were more scenic. Better all-around for a motorcycle.
Those years of experience therefore had led us to prefer the Parkways that can take you through New York State to any of the major highway options. Among our favorites was the Sawmill River Parkway, because of all the beautiful historic stone bridges you go under when you are on it, and the fact that it is just two lanes with a lower speed limit. Perfect riding for a motorcycle.
So back to our adventure. We were rolling south through upstate New York. It was after dark, and it was (of course) raining. We had been on major highways all day and we were tired. Finally, out of the gloomy darkness we spied the sign for the Sawmill Parkway. With relief I put on my blinker and took the exit, looking forward to the relative peace and quiet of two lanes instead of six. As we rolled onto the parkway, we passed a sign that I only noticed out of the corner of my eye, but that seemed to indicate some sort of rule about “Passenger Cars Only”. Ginger noticed the sign too and looked at me pointedly. “Are we a passenger car?”
Looking back now, I realize that it might be possible I answered this question a bit too hastily. “Of course we are dear. This is a pick-up truck I am driving, and that my love is a passenger car. They mean commercial trucks and stuff.” Remember those words as our story un-folds, K?
Of course the flaw in my logic was that even if I decided my pick-up (which is rolling on 35’s with a 5″ lift) is still a passenger car, that does not take into account the 35′ long travel trailer I was hauling. With the bliss that can only come from ignorance, we rolled onto the Sawmill Parkway. In the dark. In the rain.
Things started out well as we enjoyed the relative quite of the parkway. The first bridge we passed under was no problem – I think the clearance was 11 feet or so. The second bridge we passed under gave me more pause with a clearance of only 10.5 feet, but we sailed under that one too without issue. Things quickly went south from there however. Later, as we looked back on this whole experience I found this article about why the bridges over the Sawmill Parkway are so low. Turns out it was by design, but I’ll let you read about that for yourself.
The next bridge we approached warned of a clearance of only 9.5 feet. I am just shy of 6 feet tall, and envisioned that if I stood on my tip-toes I might reach something 9 feet high. There was no way I could reach the top of the rig from the ground. No way. With visions of having to back-up all they way down the Sawmill Parkway to the last exit, I jammed on the breaks, hit my hazard lights, and pulled the rig over into the shoulder.
There in front of us was a bridge, but it had a sign on it stating 11.5 feet of clearance. The warning for the 9.5 foot bridge referred to another bridge we had not reached yet. I was not sure what to do at this point. Roll forward towards a bridge I knew I would not fit under, and hope there was an exit that would allow us to get off this nightmare, or start backing up now until I reached the last exit behind us to get off the parkway. About then the rain started really coming down in buckets.
So there we were, sitting on the side of the Sawmill River Parkway in New York State, in the dark, in the rain, with traffic trying to move around us (as we could not help but block part of one lane), but slowly and surely beginning to back up behind us. It was clear we were going to have to do something here. It was just about then that I I noticed the blue lights flashing in my mirror as a New York State Trooper rolled up beside us. Not knowing whether I was facing a summons, or being offered assistance, it was with some trepidation that I rolled my window down.
Sitting in the squad car next to me was a very friendly looking female officer. She happened to be black, and was smiling at me the way I would imagine she would smile at one of her children if they had completely screwed up, but she was going to help bail them out anyway. “Sir?” she leaned over, shouting to be heard over the rain. “What are you doing on the Sawmill Parkway with that thing? This is passenger cars only!”
I contemplated all my possible answers, quickly scrolling through them for the most reasonable-sounding one. “I thought this truck was a passenger car!” I yelled back to her. She shook her head in the same slightly-amused, slightly-annoyed way and said “Not towing that thing you’re not!”. I nodded in solemn agreement and asked her what I should do now? “If you can fit under this bridge right here, there’s an exit just around the next corner. Take it!”. It was at that moment I knew that we were being protected by angels, or fairies, or some-such other ministers of grace.
I leaned out the window to thank her so very much for her kindness and noticed that the traffic had now backed up quite a bit in both lanes. “I will get right off this thing! Thank you officer!”. And with that she blocked the lane so we could pull out, then ran ahead of me, turned off her blue lights, and proceeded to lead us to the exit in question.
Unfortunately our adventure was not over, as this last-exit-before-disaster had dumped us out in what can only be described as a winding upscale neighborhood in suburban New York. The streets were incredibly narrow with no shoulders. It was all residential houses, with cars often parked on the street. Not at all an area I would want to navigate with the trailer, let alone at night. In the rain. Not only were these streets narrow and difficult to navigate, but they wound around and interconnected like a spider web, and our GPS kept insisting that the best thing for us to do was to get back on the Sawmill Parkway. This meant we had to constantly decide whether to listen to the GPS, or do the best we could with a map.
Before long we found ourselves headed down a steep hill, thinking we were making our way to a major highway when we passed a sign that said “Sawmill Parkway Ahead”. At the bottom of the hill, just visible in my headlights, it was obvious that this road came to a Stop sign, and we were going to have to chose left, or right.
I came to a stop right there, blocking the road for now. For a long terrible moment we sat and contemplated our situation while the rain started to come down even harder. Our choices were clear, if unpleasant. We could either back-up the hill we had just come down (a distance I guessed would be close to a mile before we got to a spot we could turn around). Or we could move forward, even if the road ahead WAS the Sawmill Parkway, and deal with one emergency at a time.
While I sat there for a minute weighing my options, Ginger, (having reached her stress-management threshold), busied herself with having a small break-down and began hyper-ventilating in the seat beside me. After some contemplation, I decided that even if that road at the bottom of the hill WAS the Sawmill River Parkway, I would only have to backup a little on the Parkway itself to turn around and head back up the hill we were on.
I rolled forward. As it turned out the Gods had decided they had had enough fun with us for one night, and the road below was in fact an access road that could have taken us back to the Parkway, but also gave us an option to get on the Interstate. We opted for the Interstate.
And so, on a dark and rainy night in upstate New York, we faced our first trial-by-fire with the new travel trailer. In the end we came out of it un-scathed, and learned a lot in the process. That is really all this is about – learning as we go. I know there is a ton more we need to learn, but I look forward to being out on the road again to begin the lessons.
Look for more updates on our RV adventures in coming posts!