The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
THE ULTIMATE AMERICAN ROAD TRIP
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Junction, TX

FREDERICKSBURG
My heater had been making a really loud noise that prevented me from using it, so I made an appointment at Camper Clinic in Buda to get it fixed. When I got there and turned it on, of course it wouldn't duplicate the problem. Still, they were able to get some other little things taken care of and when I left in the early afternoon I decided to get to Fredericksburg and decide from there where to spend the night.

Fredericksburg is a small town originally settled by German immigrants, about an hour's drive west of Austin. I was able to park the rig at the visitor's center, so Riley and I could take a walk down Main Street. It was a nice place with shops, cafes, and restaurants, many with some kind of German flair. We stopped at the dog store and Riley picked out a felted wool ball and some treats. He tried on a cowboy hat, but didn't think he'd wear it enough to justify the cost. So we went back to the trailer and decided on South Llano State Park as our stopping point for the evening. I set the GPS to get us there, and away we went.

 

NOWHERE TO TURN - or - NEVER, EVER TRUST YOUR MOBILE GPS UNIT
It was early evening, the park was about an hour and a half away and it seemed like a pretty straight shot. It was later than I usually like to stop, but since I was only going to spend one night and move on to Big Bend National Park, i didn't mind pulling in at nightfall. Like other parks, I knew there was a chance they would close the gates, so I was anxious to get there as soon as possible. As the sun was setting, I obediently followed the Australian on my Garmin GPS and turned left on a narrow, curvy road. According to the map, I'd be there in 5 miles. Good, because it was starting to get dark and I was in the middle of nowhere with only a quarter tank of gas.

As I approached what should have been the road to the park entrance, my heart sank. It was a complete and utter DEAD END. My worst nightmare. I almost threw the Australian out the window; he had failed me in the worst way. Up until then, I had felt pretty confident about my backing up abilities - as long as I didn't get stuck by myself on a remote, narrow, curvy dead end road at nightfall in the middle of bad-ass Texas with no cell coverage.

I considered spending the night and waiting until morning, but I didn't know how friendly the locals might be and preferred not to set myself up for an uncertain encounter in the middle of the night. So I decided I had no choice but to back up on this narrow, curvy road in the dark. Peyote and Riley were agitated and were ready to get out of the car. I carefully started to back up, watched my relatively useless mirrors, straightened up, turned a little this way and that way, pulled forward to correct my position and repeated this over and over again. Peyote was meowing incessantly and trying to sit in my lap or get down by my feet. Riley was panting and fidgety and also trying to be in my lap. I remembered passing a turn-around spot just a little way's back....if I could just make it there. But there was this curve in the road and it was incredibly difficult negotiating it when I couldn't see the back corners of the trailer. I was doing pretty well, though, and felt confident that I was making progress and we would get out of this situation fairly quickly. That's when the fence (or tree) jumped out and hit the trailer. I heard something make contact, but didn't see it and it only sounded like a scrape, so I pulled forward and kept at it.

I never reached the turn-around i had seen on my way in. The trailer seemed to favor a small dirt path that I hadn't noticed on my way in and as I tried to correct it out of that I realized that there may just be enough room to turn around here. It was really tight, and as I pushed the trailer off the road and the 4-Runner into the brush on the other side, I hoped and prayed there wasn't a hidden ditch that would get us stuck. Finally, I was pointing in the direction of out, cried a sigh of relief, and headed back to civilization. When I got within cell range, I called the park for accurate directions and stepped out to check on the trailer. Holy crap. That tree (or fence) really did a bang-up job on the rear panels of what used to be a very pretty trailer.

Shaken, and with tears in my eyes, I rolled into the park and collected myself for talking to the park staff. They expressed their regret and confirmed that many GPS units led unsuspecting folks down that road. They offered to help in any way they could and gave me a back-in site. How funny that was to me (of course, all the sites were back-in), and they volunteered Jayson to help me in if I wanted. Yup, I sure did, but I got to the site before Jayson and got in there just fine on my own. I thought for sure I had more serious damage than just the cosmetic exterior, so I asked him to take a look. He was pretty confident only the panels had been damaged. In my mind there'd be axle and hitch damage, propane hazards and plumbing leaks. I pulled everything out of the interior compartments and checked for any signs of trouble, but it actually looked okay. I stood on the hitch and rocked the trailer - it sounded fine. Later that night, Jayson came by to check in and make sure everything was okay and it was. I felt like I had come to a very helpful friendly place and was so thankful to Jayson for helping me out and checking in on me.

Since it was the weekend, I had to wait until Monday to call Geico and find an Airstream service center that could do the repair job. As the days went by, the damage looked less and less severe. My car was running fine. The trailer systems were running fine. Everything was fine, except for the glaring ugliness on the outside. On Monday I hitched up and drove back to Camper Clinic in Buda where they estimated the repair to cost $11,000. Parts would take 7-10 working days to arrive, so I drove back to South Llano River SP, which had come to feel like home over the weekend and was the perfect place to spend an extended period of time. After spending that day with the folks at Camper Clinic, I was not impressed with the way things were managed there, and for such a big job as this, I decided instead to trust my gut, take a risk and have a Dallas shop do the work. And with great relief, my Geico agreed to cover the repair cost.

 

SOUTH LLANO RIVER
Nestled between the pristine South Llano River, and 2200 acres of wooded hills, this state park is a perfect place to be "stuck" in. I'm not really stuck, I can drive the trailer just fine, but since I'm going to Dallas eventually, I might as well take a break from driving. It's peaceful and relaxing and it's given me a chance to finally pull this website together, rest, and refocus. Since I left Manatee Springs, I've done a lot of driving and our stops have been relatively short, so it was time to slow down. The temperature here has ranged from high 90s during the day, to freezing temperatures at night and it's been almost always sunny.

Riley and I go to the river everyday. It is shallow enough that I can walk along in the river while he splashes around and swims. Mostly, it's about knee-high, so it's great fun for both of us, especially on the hot days. I throw him rocks and when it's shallow enough, he roots around under water looking for that exact rock. There's a pretty good current and at times, no matter how hard Riley swims against it, he doesn't go anywhere.

Peyote and I have found a great activity we can share in: bird-watching. Now that I've put a seed feeder and a hummingbird feeder just outside the dinette windows, there are all sorts of birds that come to visit, and there is never a lull in the activity. The birds here are a far cry from the pigeons that would ocassionally land on our windowsills in Portland and Peyote is really fascinated by the variety of species. I can tell because she is glued to the window all afternoon and studies them intently. To my knowledge, I've seen 3 kinds of doves (white-winged, mourning, and inca), lots of northern cardinals, black-chinned hummingbirds, black-crested titmouse, summer tanager, spotted towhee, white-crowned sparrow, house finch, lesser goldfinch, kingfishers (by the river), lots of wild turkeys...and more - but they're hard to identify!

One of Riley's new favorite activities is armadillo-chasing. They're much slower than squirels, though, so he quickly catches up to them and then doesn't know what to do when he's on top of it. I usually have to call him back, but that was a good 5 seconds of fun for him. He doesn't chase the deer or the rabbits that we see all over the park, though.

I've met lots of people and seen the campground change character as people come and go. The weekend ushers in a wave of visitors and it's buzzing with energy for a couple of days. Then Sunday comes around and they disappear and the campground is quiet again. I've tried a few different sites here and finally settled on a site with a concrete pad and covered picnic table, right across the way from the camp hosts Olin and Virginia. It's nice to have them close by - they keep an eye on things and are always a source of good-natured conversation. An extra bonus of this site, is that the Airstream is angled so that the damaged corner is hard to see. The concrete is nice because it's tick season, and they don't tend to congregate on the cement. We were overrun with ticks at a previous site, so we had to flee to this one.

The Llano River is a brilliant aqua-blue color when the sun shines:

 

TWISTED SISTERS
Riley and I went for an exploratory drive one Saturday afternoon, choosing the roads that were marked as scenic on my atlas, and soon found ourselves surrounded by Harleys. As it turns out, motorcyclists travel far and wide to ride these roads in the springtime and they're in Hawg Heaven - it's truly a fun and spectacular ride. Routes 335, 336 and 337 are known, at least in the world of Harleys, as The Three Sisters. Centered around Leakey and Camp Wood, they are a rollercoaster ride even for those of us in a "cage" - that's a car. With a speed limit of 70 mph, they twist and curve, climb and dip through some of the most spectacular hills and ranch land. We crossed rivers and climbed steep grades, passed grazing camels and stopped at Lost Maples State Park to stretch our legs. The blue sky was a clean canvas for sculpted white clouds, and it was a day of beautiful sights.

 

CELEBRITY ENCOUNTER
I came home one day to find the Airstream Life trailer parked directly across from me. Rich is the publisher of the quarterly mag Airstream Life. Along with his wife Eleanor and daughter Emma, they have been living and working out of their Airstream for the past four years and he's kept a daily blog of their travels. I've referred to his blog on a number of ocassions for tips and suggestions and had plans to contact them soon. I noticed that they didn't unhitch, so they were probably only staying for the night and I immediately went over and introduced myself. They were caravanning with friends from Maine (!), Susan and Adam, who were traveling in an Airstream as well, a one-of-a-kind prototype motorcoach. On their way to Austin, they had just come from Big Bend and were taking it easy for the evening before heading out in the morning. Their talk of Big Bend got me anxious for my repair work to be done, and they generously gave me their guidebook and literature of the park.

It was a pleasure to meet them all and especially nice to see the family really enjoying life on the road. Since we're both full-timing it in our Airstreams and also producing magazines along the way, it was a most inspiring chance encounter.

 

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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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