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First RV Vacation in Maine: 'Take Wide Turns'

First RV Vacation in Maine: ‘Take Wide Turns’
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I’m standing in the parking lot of a large RV dealership south of Boston, notebook in hand, scribbling furiously as our rental agent points out every button and lever on the 33-foot Winnebago we’ve rented for a weekend of October leaf-peeping up the Maine coast. I have a bad feeling.

Two hours in, and we’ve learned how to run the water pump, check the batteries, slide and retract the expandable living room and bedroom, charge the walkie-talkies, level the rig on uneven ground, run the electrical system, fire up the rear-view video camera, take a hot shower, and properly dispose of what our rental agent politely calls “the, uh, black water.”

What we haven’t discussed is how to drive the thing. This RV is big — a very large, very wide, very brand-new vehicle. But when I point out that neither I nor my husband, Scott, has ever driven anything larger than a haul-it-yourself moving van, the agent gives me a no-big-deal shrug. “Just take wide turns,” he says.

Somewhere, down in some primitive corner of my brain, a red flag tries, and fails, to catch my attention. Instead, I soldier on. Scott and I have long had a romantic notion about RV vacations: hitting the open road, parking by the beach, roasting s’mores under the stars, sleeping on high-thread-count sheets. Our kind of roughing it! A second honeymoon, really, since we got married just a month ago. And since we’re in a celebratory mood, I want a luxury RV. It’s 33 feet long, you say? Sign me up.

And so here we are, with our brand-new marriage, in a gleaming Winnebago Voyage so fresh from the assembly line that we have to pull the plastic off the seats. In a few minutes, we’re expected to fire up this monster and drive it to Bar Harbor. And back. I let Scott take the first shift.

We soon learn what the agent meant by “taking wide turns.” To keep our rear end from sideswiping the neighboring lane, we learn to drive halfway across the intersection before cutting the wheel. It’s our first major RV lesson, of many to come. After two successful rights and one left, Scott resumes breathing.

As copilot, I do my best to anticipate lane changes, check the mirrors, and watch for traffic. I try to massage his shoulders, but our throne-sized front seats are set so far apart that we can’t touch, even with arms outstretched. One thing is clear: It’ll take two of us to pull this trip off. Looking over at Scott, who’s holding so steady behind the wheel in rush-hour traffic, I realize that never — not even as we said our vows — have I felt so very married.

It’s dark by the time we get to the Point Sebago Resort on the northern shore of Sebago Lake. With Halloween only two weeks away, the place is done up with pumpkin-topped streetlamps and spooky skeleton tableaux. Even though we’re riding our brakes down the narrow dirt road that leads to our campsite, we still manage to miss the turn. That’s when we learn our second RV lesson: Braking takes awhile. By the time we come to a stop, we’re a good two blocks past the turnoff. But we’re equipped! We have our handy rear-view camera, its monitor mounted in the center of the dashboard. We turn it on and lean into the ghostly gray glow as Scott slowly, slowly backs up to the …

Cruuuunnnch. A terrible sound. A grinding, gritty, shuddering sound. We freeze, lean into the picture, searching. There’s nothing behind us. What is it? I run around to the back and stop dead. We’re perched on a large rock, a mini-boulder really. The rock’s pale color makes it indistinguishable from the road on the black-and-white screen. We didn’t see it coming. It’s invisible, but solid. There’s an ugly crack running up the back of our fiberglass frame. Scott looks horrified; I feel faint.

Chastened, we ease off the rock and drive slowly to our campsite. We hook up the lines, balance the rig, and soberly unpack our things. At the flick of a lever, the port-side bedroom wall slides out just enough to make the room feel downright spacious. The bed is so comfortable. We fall asleep within minutes and dream guilty dreams.

Morning, and my optimism returns. The sun is shining, the forest is quiet, the air smells of leaves and woodsmoke, and we can heat our coffee in a microwave. Sure, last night was a bit of a setback, but the damage is purely cosmetic. We begin to think that the crack might not be such a bad repair after all. I call the dealership to report the damage, and the agent kindly downplays his dismay. “Well,” he sighs, “I suppose that’s why they invented insurance.”

We walk around the clear lake for a while, collecting leaves and skipping stones. I manage to skip one of my rocks five times: plink! plink! plink! plink! plink! In a rush of confidence I make an announcement: Today, I’m going to drive.

Two hours later, I’m lying on the couch, elbows crooked over my eyes, felled by a tension headache so powerful that I had to pull over on a road outside Camden. It’s not that the driving was so difficult. It’s that my shoulders were up to my ears all the way from Sebago. “I tried, I really did,” I whimper. And that’s the end of my driving. Lesson number three: To drive a 33-foot RV, it helps to have nerves of steel.

We stop for ice cream in Camden, stroll the shops — and I can’t help but think how much more fun this trip would be if we could just, well, stay at a nice inn. Scott cheers me up with more talk of the open road, and we head out of town with just enough time to get to Belfast before dark. We’ve booked a site at the Moorings Oceanfront RV Resort, a friendly campground with a private beach and sweeping views of Penobscot Bay. We’ll spend two nights there, take a side trip over to Bar Harbor for a day of hiking, then head down through Freeport, and home.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

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