By Dave Hamby
I could hear the boom of thunder off in the distance as my wife, Teri, shook my shoulder. “Honey, wake up!” she whispered tersely. “It’s storming outside and I’m worried about the awning.”
Indeed, the motorhome rocked in a gust of wind, despite our hydraulic leveling jacks. Our 22-foot main awning was flapping furiously, threatening to rip off and blow away like a Texas tumbleweed.
We were camped far outside Texas, though, in Duluth, Minnesota. What we were experiencing was the whipping winds and icy, driving rain of a spring storm “” the type that can form quickly over the Great Lakes and blow inland without warning. Just hours before as I was setting up our camp, the sun set on a cloudless, beautiful Minnesota evening.
New to the experience of full-time RVing, I’d felt compelled to set up all four of the awnings on our type A motorhome, as well as unhitch the car, raise the television antenna, and generally erect and assemble every option. It would take weeks before I’d come to realize that setting forth each great wind-catcher (a moniker we’d given the awning on our previous RV) and erecting every coach accessory was not required for a one- or two-night stop.
Before embarking on our great full-time motorhome adventure, Teri and I had read all of the instruction manuals and immersed ourselves in RVing 101. We took all the warnings very seriously about how a high wind can damage the awning. Both of us agreed that setting up the awnings was a man’s job “” me, because I wanted to demonstrate my macho prowess; she, because her IQ is several points higher than mine.
Teri already had been out of bed and assessing the weather situation at the first hint of danger. Part of the reason for her caution was because she suspected neither of us really knew what we were doing. Another part was because we had just purchased this condo on wheels and paid more in sales tax for it than we had spent in total on our previous motorhome.
Our new diesel-pusher coach is a basement model replete with countless bells, whistles, gewgaws, and what-have-yous. As such, there were many features we weren’t familiar with and I’m sure a few we still don’t know exist.
Peering out into the stormy night, Teri fumbled with the row of switches next to the entrance door before she found the one to our porch light and was able to peek outside to check for damage. She didn’t want to turn on the inside lights, because both of our daughters were asleep in the front of the coach. Our 13-year-old was on the sofa across from the door, and the 11-year-old was on the dinette that converted into a bed. The mood lighting would have to be enough.
By the time Teri had decided to wake me, the wind had really picked up. I got out of bed half asleep, slipped on my shoes, and stepped out into the night to rescue our awnings.
It was only while I was stepping out into the storm that I discovered my feet hadn’t landed on any steps. The three steps that were supposed to be making the transition from coach to ground had gone AWOL.
Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re walking along and you step off of a curb, only to discover the road isn’t there? You know, the type from which you awake with a jerk. (My wife tells me she wakes up with a jerk all the time, but she loves me anyway.) While I remember things happening in slow motion, I still didn’t have time to react as I realized there wasn’t a step under my foot. All I could do was eek out a “Whaaa” as I executed a swan dive into 6 inches of icy Minnesota mud from my lofty 3-foot pedestal. It took a few seconds of flailing around in the muck before I could sit up, catch my breath, and shout, “What kind of dirty dog would steal our steps?”
Caitlin, our 13-year-old, was awake on the couch pretending to be asleep. She witnessed the whole thing. She said that when I stepped out of the door I looked like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. I was there, and then I just disappeared. This worried her for a second or so, but she knew I was okay when she heard me shouting.
Teri knew exactly what had happened. In the course of my fumbling around with the switches and opening the door to peer out, she had inadvertently retracted the electric steps and then locked them in the closed position, so they wouldn’t open automatically with the door.
Nanoo, our younger daughter, jumped out of bed and peered out the window. “Why is Daddy playing in the mud in the middle of the night?” she asked her sister. “He’s going to wake up all of the neighbors.”
“Shut up and pretend you’re asleep,” her older sister advised her. “He’s not having fun out there.”
I managed to catch my breath and get to my feet, then resumed my quest to save the awnings. As I rolled them up, the pelting rain washed most of the mud off of me. Because I was able to figure out what had happened, the steam coming out of my ears warmed me up some.
When I finished, I opened the entry door and hit the switch for the steps, which unfurled with a bang against my shins, almost sending me into the mud for a second time.
I climbed aboard. As I stood dripping just inside the doorway I asked, “Does someone want to get me a towel?” Three of the faces I loved the most were staring at me “” one concerned, two confused “” and all three trying very hard not to laugh.
The silence lasted only for a few seconds before Caitlin ventured, “Watch out for that first step. It’s a doozy!” All four of us howled with laughter.
The girls were still giggling and snickering after I’d showered and climbed into bed with clean, dry pajamas. They couldn’t sleep because of the storm and because of the mirth and merriment surrounding my plunge into the mud. I couldn’t sleep because I was figuring out how I could wire in a remote cutoff switch to make darn certain that the episode didn’t happen again.
The only casualties of that night were a bruised shoulder, some muddy clothes, and a night’s sleep. Actually, it was a small price for the laughs we’ve had over it since.
The awning didn’t fare so well in a later adventure, but that’s another story.