We moved into Betty Jo (the Airstream) in February, yet, it wasn’t until the 9th of April that we actually hit the road. Our Maiden Voyage, our first trip outside of our little comfort zone, our shake down cruise. The start of an adventure or at least the start of OMG what are we doing?
Reservations were made, our courses were plotted, and mentally we were as ready as we could get.
Our first destination was Grayland Beach State Park in the SW coastal area of Washington State. Our reservations were from a Saturday through Wednesday. Quesstimating it to be around a seven-hour drive from Anacortes, we made the decision to break up the drive and leave the day before — a Friday. Unfortunately, due to scheduling it was late in the day when we finally left town. This meant driving through Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. If you know the Seattle area you know that rush hour traffic is a continuous onslaught of stop-and-go from Everett to Olympia — adding extra time to our already long commute. Our goal was to make it to somewhere past Olympia and stop for the night. We had discussed the route of the Peninsula but didn’t feel comfortable, or ready enough, to brave a Washington State Ferry, so the I-5 corridor it was.
We were somewhat dreading this drive. Over the years, we had driven this route on I-5 many, many, many times, but never towing an over 6,500 lb trailer. But once we hit the Seattle traffic we sort of found our groove and our flow and just breezed down the highway like any other commuter. I had feared the “closeness” of other vehicles next to us, especially semi-trucks, but soon realized that was an unneeded fear. Betty Jo obediently followed behind and stayed snug in her lane.
I found an RV park just outside of Olympia for our night stay. The RV park was Elma RV Park in Elma, WA. We arrived at 6:30 p.m. tired and hungry. They were helpful and accommodating when I called and asked if they had a pull-through just for the night. I explained we were newbies on our Maiden Voyage. The office was closed but someone met us upon our arrival and made sure we made it in to our spot safely. Technically it was “not” a pull-through but two back-end spots they converted to a pull-through to accommodate us. The next morning, they greeted us with homemade cookies, friendly faces, wonderful advice on getting out of the site, and a good luck for our journey.
One RV Park down, now on to the next.
The sun shined on our drive from Elma to Grayland. The drive on Hwy 12 to Aberdeen is always so beautiful. We stopped in Westport for lunch and a peek at the ocean. It had been years since we had last visited the coast and I inhaled deeply the salty smell of the waves as they crashed ashore.
We arrived at Grayland close to 2:30 pm, checked in and found our spot… our first back end. Luckily, all of our neighboring RVers were out enjoying the sunny day instead of sitting in their camp chairs watching us figure out how to get Betty Jo into her home for the next few days. Finally, after several attempts, quite a bit of frustration, and back and forth, she was in, hooked up and ready to chill. And, so were we.
I made the reservation early in February. I read reviews, I studied the map, I went back and forth on sites looking for one that looked easy enough to get in and out. The choices were limited, many were already booked or closed for the season. Our spot, however, for this time of year, was too shady. I had wished I had known that. As for the park — it was a lovely location. Peaceful, quiet, refreshing. The ocean, the only reason for me being there, was quite the distance and there was marshland between the park and the beach, I found that a little disappointing, I wanted to hear its roar at night as I slept, instead it was a faded distance hum.
Our next major stop and reservation was Fort Stevens State Park outside of Astoria, Oregon. But we had five nights between the two state parks to figure out. I wrestled with this for weeks on where to stay. I tried Cape Disappointment State Park but they were full. Another state park highly recommended.
I had settled on the Raymond RV and Marine Park for a couple of nights after we left Grayland. It was right on the Willapa River, had decent reviews, and the pricing was reasonable. I called and asked if they had anything available and would the site be easy for a newbie to get into.
The photos for a lot of these places online, do not do some of the places justice, and do not always tell a complete story, especially for a newbie. Sometimes the reviews are helpful. For example Elma — the reviews said nice park, nice people, but tight spaces. Once we got there and looked around, it was a park with really tight places. As a newbie we would not have stayed there if we had to back into a spot, we aren’t talented (or experienced) enough to even try that.
For Raymond RV, the reviews were fairly good but the photos were kind of iffy on whether or not we could park there. We pulled into the park, there was only one spot left and it was extremely tight. The park actually sits next to a marine business and it was a decent enough park, but for a newbie that spot was frightful. I called the office and she assured me we could get in it and they would help, but she was tied up for thirty minutes so she told us to hang out and wait. We ate a quick lunch and just stared at the space. The more we stared, the more we came to the conclusion — NO WAY! We called her back and said sorry but the space was too tight for our comfort level.
I then found an RV Park on the south side of Astoria who had pull-throughs, full hook-up, and could accommodate us for five nights. It was the Lewis and Clark RV Park and Gulf Course. It is managed by a mother and daughter and they went out of their way to help and accommodate us. The park is clean and very well maintained, quiet and peaceful, clean laundry room which you have to yourself when you do laundry, and great customer service. There is propane on site. The spaces are spacious, most with full hook up. No picnic tables though. Relying on Google Map, we missed our turn and got a little lost and side-tracked so we had to call for directions and they talked us right to the front door. I would gladly go back and stay for a while.
The day before we were scheduled to start our stay at Fort Stevens State Park, we took a drive over to the park and nosed around a bit. We found the spot where we would be staying, planned our route in, and then checked out a few of the touristy parts of the park. Normally, you don’t have this option to check out a park before you get there, but I am glad we did. As newbies, pulling into an unknown park for the first time can be quite suspenseful and not always in a good way. We had a pull-through site but it was one where you angled in because it had a curve. There was an Airstream in our site as we drove by, so this gave us a clue of how it would look and how we would fit. Again, like Grayland, there are a lot of trees so a lot of shade, which would be great in the summer on a hot day, but not in mid-April when it’s still chilly out. And the mosquitoes were out and quite large.
Fort Steven State Park is a beautiful park, filled with history and historical sites. It was a joy to meander around and feel the history. There were trails weaving in and out of the park, perfect for walking or biking. A small herd of elk would be seen munching around the park and an occasional eagle would fly overhead. Our second night there we drove out to see the Peter Iredale shipwreck on the beach and to just enjoy the song of the ocean waves. We also spotted whale mist from their spouts off the coast, whether it was humpbacks or gray whales, I am unsure, but to see that was a highlight for me.
One of the the many things you learn as a newbie RVer is accepting that plans change, sometimes constantly. You also need to learn “how” to plan, this is just something you learn over time and through experience. I had planned the end of our Maiden Voyage jaunt too tightly, only allowing one day to return back to the Bellingham, WA area, making for too long of a drive home. In a car, no problem, but like many said, driving an RV or towing fatigues you quicker and so keep your driving time short. Based on that advice and after experiencing fatigue from the drive down, we left our spot at Fort Stevens a day early, allowing us two days to return, instead of cramming it into one.
It was also good practice for us to travel without a plan since we won’t always have one. I opened my Harvest Host App on my iPhone and found an Harvest Host about mid-way. If you are not familiar with Harvest Host (click on the affiliate “link” for 15% off,) check out their website and with other fellow RVers who use them. They are hosts of farmers, wineries, breweries, museums, and more. I signed up, not just because it was a place to stop for the night on the way to somewhere, but for the experience. What fun it will be to meet people, experience small businesses across the country, and to create fond memories.
Our host for this night was Sandstone Distillery in Tenino, WA.
As part of being a guest, the hope is you will support the business. After we settled in, we went into the little shop they set up, peddling their many bottles of distilled alcohol and was pleasantly surprised. What an amazing treat. The hosts were gracious and had amazing stories about their business and how it got started. My husband tried a sampler of some of their whiskeys and enjoyed it, but for me it was the variety of vinegars with the most amazing offerings of flavors. The business is owned by a husband and wife and their son. When I asked about the vinegars the son turned to his mom to explain. You could tell immediately how passionate she was about them and when I asked about ways to use them my mouth watered listening to her talk about some of her favorite ways to cook or even how to just use them for health benefits. I immediately bought two bottles.
Our Maiden Voyage was a mixed bag of emotions, trial and error, tension, delight. There is, obviously, still much to learn. Many of us do this for the freedom and the memories. Our Maiden Voyage was also about decompressing, for finding the time to allow our stressful emotions from the last few months, the last few years, especially the last year — the time to explode or let go. It also allowed us the time to do what we love — photography and food.
It wasn’t just a “shake down cruise” for Betty Jo, but a shake down cruise for us.
Fond Food Memories
Dylan’s Cottage Bakery — Wonderful tasting breads and the best mouth-melting long john I had ever eaten.
Brady’s Oyster — We stopped here to pick up some halibut for the BBQ and also found a mouth-watering Cajun Tuna dip to accompany.
Frite and Scoop — I confess, I cannot pass up a good ice cream shop and it was good. I also had to stop here to find out what a ‘frite’ is.
The Naked Lemon — It was hard to connect with this bakery, the hours never seemed to match mine, but once we finally did, OMG YUM!!!!!
T. Paul’s Urban Cafe — Don’t let the outside fool you. This delightful hole-in-the-wall was a special find. Great food, fun decor, and the friendliest service.
The Coffee Girl — Just like I cannot pass up an ice cream shop, Tony cannot pass up a good coffee shop and they were good. Located in the old Cannery building for Bumble Bee Tuna, this place had the original counter where they served coffee to the workers. Nice to know that sometimes history in some form continues.
The International Mermaid Museum and Garden — Okay, I’ll admit it, it was the name that drew me in. Mermaids was a good start, but International? It was a delightful museum — filled with fun facts and stories of mermaid folklore from all of the world. After enjoying the museum take the time to walk and enjoy the expansive garden and then stop in the wine shop.
We found our next family addition here — meet Pink.
She is a delightful Flamingo who makes a nice addition.
The United States Coast Guard was doing a training exercise right off the path at the Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. Loud and fun to watch. Luckily it was just an exercise and not a rescue.
Ecola State Park — For years we had driven right past this park in our hurry to get to Cannon Beach, this time we made an effort to stop, not only once, but twice. So grateful we did.
Ecola State Park - Photo by Tony Locke
Not every Airstream trip needs to be an epic adventure – especially your first. Set the foundation for a lifetime of successful trips with these tips for your first time towing an Airstream. Read more on Airstream's blog.
I have watched countless YouTube videos about storage and about how to arrange and pack your various cupboards in an RV. A few talked about how they prepare for travel day, how they pack and secure items. There are vast opinions and just as many vast options on what to use and how to use them.
As we started to move into Betty Jo, I planned what went where and foremost in my mind was – how will this be secured on travel days? It’s still a work-in-progress and will continue to be for quite some time I am sure. In the rush to get out of the house, some items were stuffed into whatever nook or cranny was available (just don’t peek in our closet.) The real secret was remembering where things ended up.
On travel days, we have a list of what needs to be done during departure, this includes securing everything in the interior. One video showed how they use towels for protection and cushioning, especially in the overhead bins where they keep their dishes, so I held onto older towels just for that purpose. Soft items, like towels and napkins are now valuable commodities whose added purpose in life is to serve as cushioning. It may not always be pretty, but is is useful.
On another trip I must not have added “enough” cushioning to the cupboard where our dishes were and after a bumpy ride I opened the door to find them scattered and shattered on the floor. It was a unique way to prove to the hubby why we should not have kept our breakable dishes and now needed to shop for the non-breakable kind. :-)
You can spend a small fortune on baskets and plastic storage bins. And there is the RV favorite and must-have – Command Strips. I had no idea there was such a large variety of Command Strip products... and uses.
Nesting items, collapsible items, and collapsible dishes are now my new favorite things. I have always had a fondest for baskets, now I have a legitimate excuse and need for them, especially the soft and flexible kinds.
Travel days, require a lot of forethought and time. We are on our first “maiden” voyage and I am happy to say that all of that forethought and planning (and extra, extra, cushioning) kept everything safe inside during the long haul from Anacortes, WA to Astoria, OR.
And, I learned my lesson, be very wary and careful when opening the overhead bins, you never know what will come tumbling (or exploding) out of them.
We used the larger Command Strip hooks for clothing and towels. The smaller ones were useful for some of our small art pieces that we hang on the walls.
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No matter the length of a relationship, communication ebbs and flow over the course of time.
At each stage of a relationship, communication changes, sometimes it is like you are of the same mind, other times you wonder, “What the hell are they saying?”
As RV (Airstream) newbies, we are learning a whole new way and new form of communication. We are negotiating on a sign language that we both understand. I am struggling with walkie-talkie etiquette, having never used one. Our biggest struggle has been “How” to give directions that make sense, sometimes you think it should be one way but it is actually the opposite. Yet, this form of communication is critical and necessary for safety and for our sanity.
Even after forty-five years of togetherness, we are not always on the same page. We are working hard to find a system and a form of communication that works for us. One without blame, without tears (me), without foul language (me, again,) and without getting mad. There is definitely frustration, sometimes with ourselves, other times with the other person, and most of the time with the truck and the Airstream. There are days, when we just nail it and learn from it and think we’ve got this. And days where we wonder why are we doing this?
We use respect (most of the time), we strive for patience, and we try to listen intently and recognize the other’s frustration.
As we move along in this journey, our communication is growing, it is evolving, and it’s defining itself. Most days, it is easier and more fluent.
Now, if only we could get Jack (the Ford F250) and Betty Jo (the Airstream) to once again COMMUNICATE!
When we first brought them together, it was beautiful. Like any new relationship they went out of their way to please the other, dancing along the roadway as if they were one. We installed a ProPride Hitch to make it more seamless and to make sure they stayed together and stayed safe. The first few times, hitching them together was a breeze, like they were meant to be together, and like we knew what we were doing. I was feeling quite proud of us and even a little cocky. After all, we've got this!
But just like that… the honeymoon ended.
They stopped working together. Hitching has become a huge frustration, a bitter fight each time. I have been tempted so many times to just rip the ProPride hitch off and send it back. All of the measurements we worked so hard to gather, no longer worked. We can no longer just line things up and seamlessly bring them together like before. And the weight distribution bars seem off and the ride seems rougher. The OCL (over center latches) use to just lock into place, but now the driver-side latch seems to have a hard time locking. And our frustration with the system, the hitch, sometimes spills over towards the other person.
What are we doing wrong?
It all started when we left Betty Jo alone for a night. Jack was getting a little update to the bed of the truck to help organize tools better. When we returned the next day, it was late in the day, and no matter what we did, we could not get them to connect. It was like Betty Jo was upset that we left her behind and decided she didn’t want anything to do with Jack. Frustrated, cold, tired, hungry, we decided to let them sit overnight and try again in the morning.
Since that time, Betty Jo has held a grudge and each time we struggle to hitch up. Jack can’t seem to find his way to connect, we spend up to a half hour or more trying to line them up. But eventually (and grudgingly) they will cooperate.
Yes, the honeymoon was definitely over.
As you watch the countless YouTube videos on backing up and hitching, I have yet to find one that really addresses how to be a really good Spotter, how to “learn” to give better directions. Our frustrations came from me not knowing, or understanding, what I was really supposed to be directing him (the driver) to do. Sure I can learn to say passenger side and driver side but there is actually more to giving good directions to the driver than words and sign language.
I realized I needed to better understand “how” the truck works to give better directions. As part of our learning curve, we have found that it works better if I back up the truck and Tony works with Betty Jo and the hitch, he understands it better and has more knowledge of what to do to fix it. He is also better at giving directions, at being a better Spotter, more so than I.
Somewhere down the road, we'll trade again and I will be the Spotter. I will have more experience and more understanding of "what" I am instructing the driver to do. Till then....
The reality is - the issue is really end-user inexperience, not the lack of communication between a truck and an Airstream.
Though I still believe Betty Jo and Jack are having some sort of squabble but they just need to get over it before we hit the road. LOL
Flexibility is Key… So I am learning.
I have never been one to shy away from change, but I am older now and change is a little more challenging than it used to be. Selling everything we own and planning a life on the road has been a BIG change, bringing an end to a long chapter with so much history. Now, we are starting the beginning of a new chapter, not yet written, yet with so many possibilities and unknowns.
As we get older, flexibility isn’t what it used to be – mentally or physically. Things are tighter, slower, more stubborn.
As an RV newbie, one of my first exposures to flexibility was the constant need to change our schedule, what sometimes felt like daily. For the past several years, our life had been complacent – get up, go to work, eat dinner, watch some television, go to bed – REPEAT! It was comfortable, consistent, and cautious.
Now our world changes constantly and requires long range planning, not what-should-we-do-for-the-weekend type planning.
We chose an RV park close to home while we finalized jobs and the rental we lived in for eleven years. I made the assumption that we would just stay at that RV Park for about ten days, change location, stay a week, change location, and so on. The goal was to get some experience in locally before hitting the full-time road, but life dictated otherwise and here it is almost two months later and we’re still here.
I found myself having to keep asking (and apologizing) “can we please stay a little longer?” The RV park is managed by the Swinomish Casino and Lodge in Anacortes, WA, and their understanding and ability to work with us as been nothing short of generous and amazing. In return we had to be flexible and move into different spaces to accommodate people who, unlike me, made reservations ahead of time. The Lodge staff was great and did what they could to minimize our moves.
In about two weeks, come hell or high water, we hit the road. Life isn’t quite done with us though, we head south to the Oregon Coast, then back to Bellingham, WA, then back to Oregon, then back to Bellingham, then finally back to Oregon. This was not part of the original plan when we planned to do the coast, but then life isn’t always as planned, so it’s best to stay – Flexible.
After all, you don’t always know where life… or the road is going to take you.
It was the first of February, 2021, and after years of planning it was hard to believe our dream was coming true as we drove to Snohomish, WA to pick up our 2018 Flying Cloud 27FBQ Airstream.
As complete newbies with no towing experience, the thought of the driving the hour home, towing Betty Jo behind us, gave us pause and set our nerves on edge. But as we hit the road and she obediently followed behind, we slowly relaxed into the drive home, checking our mirrors constantly to make sure she was still there. :-)
It all happened so fast once we made the decision to set forth on this journey. With not much time or experience to plan, we pulled her up in front of our home. Parked out on the street, she looked forlorn and lost. And my anxiety level spiked. I felt like an overprotective parent, watching her intently, making sure no harm came to her
The plan was to sell off everything we owned and to be out of the house we had rented for eleven years by the end of February. But what to do with Betty Jo in the meantime? I called around and found a close-to-home RV park with pull-through spots (we were not ready to back end yet) and full hook up. Friends accompanied us on our maiden voyage, to provide moral support and advice if we needed it. Luckily we had watched many YouTube videos on what to do upon arrival, we made a check list like many suggested (only we left the list at home), still we arrived and pulled in and hooked up almost as if we had done this many times before.
I will admit, it took some time for me to adjust and feel comfortable in the RV. I had never camped as a child, or as an adult, this was all so new. I had read advice from seasoned RVers to start out slow and simple, to adjust to RV living, not just jump in. Once she was parked and hooked up, we started to slowly move in. We spent the nights in our new home, but we still cooked and showered at our old home for almost two weeks, mostly because we were spending the days getting ready for the BIG estate sale and it was also a sort of mental transition
We weathered much in our new home, including many weather conditions. Anacortes, WA does not see snow often, but this year it snowed for two days, we received well over a foot and Betty Jo was a trooper. As the storm approached, it was tempting to stay at the house and stay warm, but we decided this is our life now, it was time to get used to it, so we stayed with Betty Jo. There was a lot of advice online so we filled up the fresh water tank, unhooked the hose from city water, made sure the propane tanks were full and settled in as the storm approached. In the morning, we got up and immediately checked on Betty Jo to see how she fared, other than a lot of snow and a few icicles hanging from the roof, she did just fine. We brushed off the icicles and attempted to brush off as much snow off the roof as we could. It was a good lesson for us and taught us much about using the various systems and how they work in the Airstream. In the Pacific Northwest, this time of year we get a lot of rain and Betty Jo has passed many leak checks as Mother Nature poured outside. She also weathered high winds, bouncing and then shaking it off as if it was a strong breeze. On the sunny days, she shines in all her glory, reminding us of her strength and her beauty.
We had much to complete in our home town so it has delayed us hitting the road, but to be honest I am so glad we did it this way. We needed the time to adjust, to learn to live in the Airstream, but now we are anxious to hit the road and really explore what this life style is really about.
Time to journey onward. To explore. To create new memories.
As we roam the roads and highways, looking for that next fantastic stop, keep track of our travels in our Airstream - Betty Jo