Driving Lessons: A tale of the road to hell and just how did you get that dent?

One of the first things people ask me about the motorhome is if you need a special license to drive it.

No, you don’t. Anyone with a driver’s license can get behind the wheel of one of these 30,000-pound behemoths and drive away.

Joe has driven many a U-Haul truck to move us around. He probably doesn’t need lessons. I’m another story.

I like small cars. I feel comfortable in them. My first car was a 1975 Honda Civic. It was blue and looked like pregnant roller skate. I’ve also owned a Ford Aspire. (Our joke was it aspired to be a car.)

I currently drive a red and black Mini Cooper. It’s a stick with a turbo. I love playing race car driver on the interstate on ramps. So, going from a Mini to a Jayco Precept that you’re not supposed to drive more than 55 mph is a stretch for me.

I wanted to learn to drive the motorhome. I have women friends who also travel in RVs. One can only back her Class C into a parking space with her husband’s directions. She never drives it on the road. The other ruined the tailgate of her truck when she didn’t remember to do something when attaching a fifth wheel.

I don’t want to be limited. Why should Joe have all the fun? And how would I cope if, God forbid, something happened to him and I didn’t know how to drive the thing?

Besides, getting lessons lowers your insurance. That’s incentive enough. So, we spent $600 for two solid days of lessons.

When I told people what we were about to do I got some strange looks.

When I told my cousin Joy I was going to take RV driving lessons she gave me an eye roll. Joy used to work for her father who owned an RV dealership near Pittsburgh.

She turned to her brother Kevin. Do you remember when Dad taught us to drive an RV?

He just threw us the keys and told us to move it on the lot, Kevin replied.

I think that’s sort of like throwing someone in a pond to teach them to swim.

I told a knitting friend that Joe and I were driving the motorhome to Ohio to learn how to drive a motorhome. She cracked up. She turned to another friend next to her. She’s driving a MOTORHOME to Ohio to learn how to DRIVE a MOTORHOME. I totally get the irony.

In early May we drove out to Columbus for our lessons.

Monday morning we met our instructor Terry Bacus of RV Driving School in a Walmart parking lot.

Terry

Terry Bacus

Terry and I hit it off. Over the course of the lessons we learned Terry had fought in Vietnam. He married Mary, whom he lovingly calls Grumpy, and he has small dogs.

Terry has been a police officer, a school administrator and is now a driving instructor. This summer he and Mary will travel to Washington State in their motorhome to be camp hosts in a beautiful state park overlooking the Pacific.

terry and grumpy

Terry and Mary 

As we drove around the Walmart lot, Terry told me to stop then pull straight into the intersection until my hips are even with the curb and then turn the wheel all the way before giving the coach gas. It worked well.

After I felt comfortable driving around the lot, Terry told me to drive to purgatory, which was his name for the two-lane back country road through Ohio farm fields.

Stay to the left, stay to the left, he called out, when I drifted over to avoid oncoming traffic. Take as much of the other lane as you want.

What about the other drivers?

They’ll move. You’re bigger.

It’s true, the other drivers moved.

I was driving cautiously, ok slow, and the drivers behind me didn’t like that. One guy honked just as he passed me making me jump.

As we motored I got more comfortable. We went onto a four-lane divided highway. No problem.

Then we got off on the road to Hell.

road to hell one

It was a twisty, turny road through old coal towns. There were retaining walls to avoid, 90 degree turns and old telephone polls that lean out into the road. We went up hills with steep grades and back down again.

I did ok.  The road to Hell wasn’t that bad.

Ohio

Ah, but the devil’s in the details.

Terry guided me into a state park for practice parking the motorhome. Using hand signals, he guided me on to a parking pad next to a small stone wall guarding a drain.

Then it was Joe’s turn to guide me.

Pull out and we’ll guide you into another space Terry said. Standing next to the space they wanted me to pull into, Terry and Joe began chatting.

I started to pull out and forgot the first lesson Terry taught me. I didn’t pull straight out of the space BEFORE making the turn. I cut it short.

By the time the men noticed I was going to hit the stone retaining wall it was too late.  I scraped the side of the coach and dented a luggage door.

dent

I was terrifically upset. (I didn’t cry, in case you ask.) I’d always thought Joe would be the first to dent the motorhome.

Terry was mortified. He kept apologizing. It wasn’t his fault I’d forgotten his first lesson to pull out straight.

Joe wasn’t upset. I guess he always thought I’d be the one to put the first dent in the motorhome.

We took a break to chill for a while before going at it again. Under Joe’s direction I parked the motorhome again with no problems.

We continued back down the road to Hell, then purgatory and finally back to the Walmart parking lot.

us with Terry

Terry told me he’d sleep in the back with me driving anytime. High praise I’d say.