The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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Jackson Center, OH

I couldn't wait to get my repairs done - especially eager to have a plumbing system again. It gets downright inconvenient when you can't take showers, do the dishes or use the bathroom in your own home, and I was so very ready for convenient living again. I arrived at the Terra Port the night before, knowing from previous visits how things work around here. At 7:00 am on the day of your scheduled service appointment, a nice Airstream service technician arrives at your trailer with a John Deere tractor and gently raps on your door. His expectation is that you will be ready to exit your trailer so that he can immediately haul it away with his John Deere. This 7:00 am get-up-and-go doesn't seem to be a big deal to anyone around here. To me, it's like what I imagine childbirth to be: extremely painful, but somewhat necessary. Even when you're the last trailer to go, as I coyly requested on that first morning retrieval, it's still not easy.

airstream terraport

Every trailer in the service center is assigned a service technician dedicated to working with you until all problems are solved. Bill was my guy. After he kindly introduced himself, I asked if he wouldn't mind me hanging around to take photos of whatever it was he was going to do. He smiled and said sure, as long as nobody could recognize him, since he was on witness protection. No problem, I said. I was probably just going to post them on my website. What better place to hide out than Jackson Center, I thought. Glad my guy was easy-going.

So I lurked and hovered about, took photos and tried not to pester Bill too much while he trouble-shooted and fixed. I learned a bunch about my trailer and figured the $90/hour was worth the education and the accomodating nature of the service center. Being in the middle of summer and very hot, it was tricky keeping Harley and Peyote comfortable and safe. I wanted the opportunity to shadow Bill, but the only place I could leave my pals was in the truck, and it was too hot for that, so I asked Bill if he could get the inside stuff done first in the early morning hours, so I could get Harley and Peyote back in the trailer with the air conditioning on as soon as possible. He was happy to oblige. With the animals in the trailer, it also gave me a good excuse to be in there myself, giving me an opportunity to catch up on lost sleep in my own bed.

The water damage from the panoramic window leak amounted to the ripped-up linoleum (under the bed and in the storage compartments) and staining on the linoleum that was visible in the living area. I was assured that my floorboard was not compromised and that I didn't need to rip up more flooring to help with the drying. Airstream uses marine-grade board for the floor, in addition to painting an 8" protective coating on the perimeter, so it can apparently handle a swim, as long as it gets to dry out. The linoleum was my first real damage that was not covered by insurance, and so I would have to live with it. Down the road, I would like to install a nicer wood floor.

So, over 3 days, here's what Bill did:

- front panoramic window sealed inside and outside - why the floor got soaked when I drove through pounding rain - 3 hours - I was told this was a maintenance issue, and I have serious doubts about that
- gray tank connection leak - 4 hours - all troubleshooting time - tore everything apart only to find the source at the easy-to-access connection under the oven when I asked why that water line was going there
- roof seals - regular maintenance - 3 hours
- brakes checked/adjusted: .3 hours
- repack wheel bearings - regular maintenance
- bathroom fan fixed (stopped working)- .5 hours

airstream service center

This is stuff I could attempt myself now, after seeing how the pros do it in JC. If I'm far away from Jackson Center and can find the time, tools, and resources, I will probably go ahead with the do-it-yourself-adventure.

After my work was done, I stuck around the terraport for awhile just to make sure all things were working properly. Bill found one gray tank leak and was confident from his testing that there weren't anymore, but I wasn't convinced that he had resolved the shower leak that I had discovered back in Maine. Since that first leak was very pricey to find and involved tearing things apart before looking under the easy-to-reach oven, I decided to try to find that shower leak myself and I DID find it (yay!) - the shower hose connection at the wall was loose. While tinkering with the rest of my trailer, I accidentally broke an awning bracket and then also decided to have the guys install MaxxAir covers on both of my vents, which I ordered from Amazon because Airstream'a catalog only offered the old models and I was interested in the most current (and improved) models. This meant waiting another couple of weeks for the service schedule to accomodate me, but that was okay. Jackson Center is a good place to get work done with zero distractions and I had a bunch of stuff to catch up on.

During my stay, I took the tour again - this time on Friday, when there aren't any workers on the line. This is good because it gives you an opportunity to get close to things and really take a look at the materials and how they are built. I suggest doing the tour twice - once with the workers building the trailers, and then again on Friday, when you can get close enough to inspect and touch things. I asked Don, the tour guide, if I could nab a piece of the scrap aluminum they were throwing away because I needed something for my WBCCI (Wally Byam Caravan Club International) numbers, and he graciously picked out a really nice piece with no scratches. I didn't want to put the numbers on my trailer for a couple of reasons: I think it ruins the look, and if you leave them on too long and try to take them off, it ruins the finish.

wally byam numbers

Another bonus to hanging around the terraport is that you get to meet lots of other friendly Airstreamers. I was walking Harley on a leash when he spotted Spartacus, who was off leash and joyfully approaching us. Since Harley is still unpredictable with other dogs, I yelled hello to the people to make myself and Harley known, and Conni immediately called Spartacus back. Harley and I went over to introduce ourselves and the dogs were immediately BEST of friends so we let them both off-leash. Same age, same energy. There's nothing better than watching the joy of two young dogs playing and wrestling hard and running derbies around each other. Thanks to our wise and knowing dogs, Conni and I also became fast friends. She was there with her husband Paul and son Alex. Conni and Alex had just finished a summer jaunt with their Airstream and decided to stop in at the factory and get some stuff done. Paul, who couldn't be with them for the entire trip because of his job, met them along the way at various places, Jackson Center being one of them. They lived in Atlanta, and since I was headed for the North Georgia mountains, we were sure to see each other again. It's uncommon, and always nice to meet other women who aren't afraid to tow a trailer on their own.

black and white dog

dogs sparring

happy dog

The terraport is comprised of three circles to park your trailer spoke-style, all with full hookups, but none with shade. Here in the summer, you are at the mercy of the sun beating down on you. Because it's so hot here, walking Harley on the sidewalk during the day isn't the best idea. So I take him for air-conditioned rides in the car disguised as photo hunts. We drive around the area and see things like corn, farms, corn, cows, corn and the rare young deer running back from the road and being guided into the safety of the corn rows by its mother. A very sweet sight that I wish I could share with a photo, but all I have is this (you have to imagine the deer):

corn stalks

By Friday night, the terraport is mostly empty. It is relatively far from the road and there is a nice large piece of grass at the back with a huge shade tree and picnic area that serves as a lovely yard for frisbee-playing with Harley. At this time of year, the chorus of vibrating cicadas begins around dusk and provides a very loud soundtrack to the evening. Not quite like the soothing woodland sound of spring peepers, but it is a familiar mark of summer in Ohio. And then there are the tremendous thunderstorms that roll through in the middle of the day. You can't help but be thankful for the relief that the rain will bring to the sweltering heat, but in the middle of the afternoon the sky turns a dense black in the distance and as it creeps towards you, you brace yourself for the terribleness of its attack. It feels like the Shadow of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings, and the dramatic shows of lightning and wind and rain against this pitch black sky are truly powerful. I love thunderstorms, and these are some of the best I've seen, but there is a very real threat of tornados here. Airstream has a good system for getting everyone to reliable shelter, so that kept my mind at ease.

airstream factory

I had a craving one night for the fried pickles at B-Dubs' (Buffalo Wild Wings) and there happened to be a B-Dubs in neighboring Sidney, so I impulsively made the drive. Thanks to my friend BobG in Cleveland, I discovered this restaurant chain. B-Dubs is nice because they have a friendly bar for solo people like me to eat and drink and chat and watch the tvs that surround the bar area. They also have great 25-cent specials on wings, that makes it easy to sample their large selection of sauces.

Coincidentally, Airstream Bill was celebrating his birthday with friends and family there that night and he invited me over. I ended up celebrating with them, absorbing their spirit of the local culture, and enjoying myself way more than I had expected from my impulsive fried-pickle-itch. They gave me the nickel-and-dime tour of Sidney, highlighting the Big Four Bridge (where someone fell in the cement while it was being poured and never came out) and I learned that Bill was a motorcycle-riding fool. Not-so-surprising, we became fast friends.

Big Four Bridge Sidney Ohio


Bill's got a vintage Moto Guzzi motorcycle and after work one day, he took me for a ride through the cornfields around his small home town of Sidney. First stop on the tour was Tawawa Park, nearly 400 acres of beautiful trails and creek and ponds. It's an ideal place for Airstreamers to escape the terraport and enjoy the day outside in a shady park. I couldn't believe this place had escaped my radar.

moto guzzi ride

tawawa park

I spent some time getting to know Bill and his family and friends and what it's like to live in Sidney. People here, for the most part, go to work, and come home, maybe get some groceries at the Super Walmart. There's not much "going out" because there's really not that much going on. Small downtown businesses don't survive here. Typical of many small towns, the town square has become a ghost town of empty or struggling storefronts. Restaurants are limited to a couple of ubiquitous chains in the Walmart shopping plaza, except for The Spot, a legendary local diner. Church is a strong guiding force, as are media personalities Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Fox News Entertainment. Bill, like most people in these parts, was born and raised here. Married and had a family here. He's never lived anywhere else. Never wanted to. This is mystifying to me, and a somewhat terrifying concept, so I was intrigued to understand how people could be content with this small world and not be scratching at the door.

There's a strong bond between family generations and friends, and recreation usually involves visiting each other's home in the evening, having a beer or two, and maybe sitting around a campfire. Staying close to family and friends comes before personal interest and ambition and there's a calmness and slowness to life, all of which creates a sense of safety and security that many people crave. Employment here is primarily factory jobs and Walmart. Besides the Airstream factory, there's a large Honda factory, and other smaller manufacturing plants. It's not uncommon for people to retire from the first job they got out of high school. With endless acres of corn fields, corporate giant Cargill is the primary money source for the farmers. It's central western Ohio, but there's a definite Kentucky influence here. The southern dialect is noticeable. Correct grammar is probably known, but it's not widely embraced. AC/DC and Def Leppard are commonly heard from open car windows in the Walmart parking lot. Everyone is welcome with open arms, but new ideas aren't usually the favorite thing on the menu here. It's a way of living that in some ways reminded me of my childhood in Cleveland, and however opposite it might be to my beliefs and and how I like to live, it nonethless touched my heart.

Ohio farmhouse

When I finally did get back in the service center, this was the additional work I had done:

- installed maxx air covers - yay!!!! - no more worries about leaving the animals during hot and/or stormy weather
- straightened equalizer hitch bracket
- replaced cracked awning bracket
- shower hose leaked from the backside of the wall - sealed
- door resealed

I went back to Cleveland for a few more weeks. I wasn't quite ready to head south yet, and Dad had just got a patio set for the backyard, so there'd be backyard barbecues nearly everyday. It's an interesting change of attitude for me, wanting to spend more time in Cleveland. It used to be that I would only visit for the winter holidays and couldn't leave Cleveland soon enough. Now I was going back to spend more time, for no real reason except that it was nice to spend time with family and friends. I thank my Airstream for this, and summertime. It's far more enjoyable visiting family for an extended period of time when you have your own home to go back to and when the weather is nice enough to be outside.

black cat

family portrait

I accidentally left my grill at Bill's house when I left Jackson Center, so on my way down to Kentucky I stopped in to pick it up. A stopover in the driveway ended up being a couple weeks. It was just too much fun spending time with new friends, riding the Moto Guzzi, watching Harley and the kids play (they LOVED each other), seeing hot air balloons, and walking in Tawawa Park. I was even able to coax Bill away from Sidney to get sushi in far-away Dayton, gawk at the historic fighter planes at the National Museum of the United States Airforce, and explore Chateau La Roche Castle in Loveland.

hot air balloons

hot air balloons

hot air balloons

We went to the Applefest in downtown Sidney, and I found a bright shiny moment of pure collective consciousness during the laser-light show when they played Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA and the whole town joined in to sing "...'cause there ain't no doubt I love this land. God Bless the USA. I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me.." ....followed by Journey's Don't Stop Believing.

Just before it was time to go, Bill and I figured out a great way to keep the sliding door shut on my screen door. It's the small door that Harley always opens with his nose and sometimes tries to jump out of. It also lets the flies in when Harley leaves it open. When I was in Oregon, I had seen an RV door rigged with a spring to snap it shut, so we went to Home Depot and got a few springs to try. Bill riveted one on, and it worked beautifully, even looks nice. Awesome. As a parting gift, he even gave me an extra torque wrench he had lying around. Thanks, Bill!

airstream dog
(photo courtesy of dad)

Airstream door spring

It was tough leaving Ohio, having had such a nice time with new friends and family, but I had already stayed longer than intended and the call of the open road was beckoning.


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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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