Home Day 1

Westward Ha! - Innocents on the Road to Perdition

In the late spring of 2012, we embarked on a near-cross country journey in a 24 year old Fleetwood Bounder motorhome. I, my wife Melissa, and her older brother Howell ('Hal') headed for Salt Lake City, Utah. Melissa and Hal are agents for a marketing company promoting oils and unguents for topical application, and had signed up for the annual convention and rah-rah sessions full of motivational speakers and next-door-neighbor success stories. The convention occupied the last few days of June, so we planned a two week ride out there and back, spanning the last week of June and first week of July.

A few weeks before we started out, Hal and I began to overhaul the motorhome. It's provenance was somewhat interesting. Hal had been living in Florida for the past two decades, and this Bounder belonged to an old friend of his, and had been lived in full time. Friend Larry came in to some money at one point, and bought a larger and more luxurious camper to live in, so when the time came for Hal to come to New Jersey, he bought the Bounder and moved up here. Through circumstances that have no real bearing on this tale, we ended up buying the Bounder from him, and he ended up moving in to our home about half a year after he moved north. So we more or less co-own it, for all intents and purposes.

The Bounder was a fairly well put-together motor home in the 80s and 90s. It's 34 feet in length, which was rather long for the late 80s but is just mid-sized now. It's based on a Chevrolet truck chassis, and uses the simple, moderately powered, but reliable Chevrolet 454 cubic inch engine for power. This is the same engine that powers the Suburban and other large Chevy trucks and pickups, so you could say it's either wildly overpowered for a pickup truck, or woefully inadequate for a 20,000 pound RV. I truthfully believe the former.

The RV required some much-needed maintenance. The ride was rough and jarring, due in no small part to the lack of front air suspension bags. These are slim rubber tubes that fit inside the coil springs of each front wheel, and when inflated with the appropriate amount of air, help to smooth the up-and-down dolphin like movement of an RV, and keep the whole beast more level and smooth. It had come from the factory with air bags, but the intervening years, and stationary life in hot, humid Florida, had reduced them to ribbons.  Hal replaced them, after much swearing and grunting, as well as renewing the engine drive belts, adding a new battery and alternator. I pitched in where I could, removing and installing a new toilet and mucking about inside the RV tightening things that had loosened up, and lubricating things that had tightened up. A wash, wax and some shine-bright on her, and we were ready to go.

The Bounder, clean and ready to go

Our trip was loosely laid out. We knew we had to be in Salt Lake City for the particular days allocated to Hal and Melissa's function. We knew we had to be home sometime around the eighth or ninth of July. We wouldn't have a lot of time to stop and visit at any particular spots of interest, but we hoped to still see a lot of America, and would have about five days in Utah itself. After examining maps and looking back on my own handful of cross country trips, it was decided that our outward bound leg would utilize various interstates across northern Maryland, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, take I-80 across Iowa, Nebraska, and southern Wyoming, then into Salt Lake. Coming back we'd use I-70 through Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, and I-64, eastwards from Saint Louis through Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and then more or less home to southern New Jersey. I was especially looking forward to driving the relatively new sections of I-70 in Colorado, recent additions to the country's highway system that provided spectacular driving through some of the most compelling Rocky Mountain scenery in the country.

Our plan was to head west, cross the upper part of Maryland through Hagerstown and Frederick, slide up into Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh to connect with I-70, and then head due west through the tip of West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana. In Indianapolis, we'd head northwest on I-74 through Illinois towards the Quad Cities area of Davenport, Iowa where we would hook up with I-80 for the rest of the trip west to Salt Lake.

I'd driven the I-80 route at least twice in my lifetime, but not recently. In the mid-70s I did it in a U-Haul truck, moving to California to finish college, a fresh-faced 20-something newlywed.  I remember the endless plains of Iowa and Nebraska, the towering bluffs of southern Wyoming, and the dry, dusty basin of Nevada before finally breaking through the peaks of the Sierra Nevada and seeing California gold.  18 months later, after my last final exam, I and my extremely-homesick first wife headed back over the Donner Pass to Pennsylvania.  We wouldn't be going quite so far west this time, but I was curious to see how much, if at all, the general tone of the trip had changed. Huge truck stops, tourist attractions and roadside diversions may come and go, but 2,000 miles of roadway can't have morphed that much.  One difference is that the 55 MPH speed limit established nationally back then has thankfully been lifted, but I didn't think the RV would spend much time at 75 or 80 anyway. As a matter of fact, a creaky old RV at 60 is at least as exciting as a passenger car going 20 or so miles faster.

Morning of our departure. Temperature 92' F at 8:30AM. Humidity 84%. Heat Index north of 100. Such fun...

Day 1-Friday
NJ to Ohio
Day 2-Saturday
Ohio to Iowa
Day 3-Sunday
Iowa to Wyoming
Day 4-Monday
Wyoming to SLC
Day 5-Tuesday
Salt Lake City
Day 6-Wednesday
Salt Lake City
Day 7-Thursday
Salt Lake City
Day 8-Friday
Salt Lake
Day 9-Saturday
Utah Farm
Day 10-Sunday
Utah Parks
Day 11-Monday
Utah Parks
Day 12-Tuesday
Colorado to Kansas
Day 13-Wednesday
Kansas to Missouri
Day 14-Thursday
Missouri to West Virginia
Day 15-Friday
West Virginia to NJ