A former Miami Dolphins football player, now an FMCA member, details his family’s cross-country RV experience.
By Tim Ruddy, F347673
From 1994 to 2003 Tim Ruddy anchored the Dolphins offensive line, many of those years as center for legendary quarterback Dan Marino. How Tim and his family embraced motorhoming after his retirement from a successful career in professional football is the subject of this three-part story, which began last month. Part 3 will appear next month.
When last we left our intrepid heroes Tim and Kim Ruddy, they were planning something virtually unheard of in this day and age: a seven-week cross-country summer trip with two kids and three dogs. The goal was simple: to arrive home with all travelers alive and their collective sanity intact.
We were feeling pretty good as our land yacht set sail on Thursday, May 25th, departing a day early to get a jump on the Memorial Day traffic. After watching the movie RV, we decided to give our coach a name, preferably one without the word “turd” in it. We decided on the “Happy Bus.”
We made it a whole 35 minutes before our first catastrophe. I heard a muffled peep from behind me and the words “I’m sorry, Daddy.” This was my daughter’s code for one of her mistakes, the old “apologize first, then explain the problem later” routine. The fun had officially begun.
She went on to explain how she had left her retainer at the house. This was the same retainer that had just been replaced after being broken (God only knows how). This also was the retainer that was supposed to be in her mouth at all times, and even had a special bright pink case so that it practically jumped out at you from the counter if someone managed to coax it out of her mouth. Luckily, we knew the prized item’s whereabouts. To solve the problem, I sent the family in for some dinner, and I unhooked the towed car and headed back to the house. I could have sworn I heard neighbors chuckling and pointing from their porches as I drove in, dashed into the house, then dashed back out and drove off. We lost about an hour and arrived at our destination a little after 1:00 a.m. Not a great start, but we traveled about 250 miles that night.
The next day we made it almost a whole day without a snafu, but it was the author’s turn to make a mistake. We had pulled into a rest stop outside Atlanta to refuel when my wife came walking out of the convenience store toward me in a rushed fashion. She seemed upset, so I began to wonder what I had done wrong. I went through the usual checklist (toilet seat up, left the bread open, drank the milk from the carton, etc.). As it turned out, she had noticed some suspicious-looking characters eyeballing her and the kids and had decided that we needed to leave ASAP. “No problem,” I said, relieved that I wasn’t the one in trouble. We all got in and took off in the Happy Bus.
As we rolled into our campground about 20 miles up the road, I went in to the office as usual and registered us for the night. Then I noticed something funny. One of the credit card slots in my wallet was conspicuously empty. It seems in my haste at the previous rest stop, I had left my card at the counter and driven off without paying. Now to save face, I just had to remember the name of the rest stop, call to make sure they had my card, drive back, and retrieve my card without telling my wife or children. Alas, to keep a secret of this magnitude is impossible, so I was forced to confess my sins and take the family with me to retrace my steps and get my card back. My penance was having to listen to my wife begin every cell phone conversation for the next two weeks with “Guess what Tim did on our way up here?” We now had driven about 620 miles (not including the retracements).
The difficult thing about RVing from Florida is the time it takes to get virtually anywhere else in the country. For example, it’s roughly 400 miles to reach the Georgia-Florida border from our home when traveling Interstate 75. The boredom problem becomes exaggerated when kids are involved, so my wife and I decided to plan ahead this time. We brought books, magazines, games, and puzzles “” things to pass the time on the long driving days.
Unfortunately, the children didn’t see those items in quite the same light. My son “” let’s just call him Gameboy “” was convinced that summer reading meant squinting at the explanation for the next level on the 2-inch-by-2-inch LCD screen. My daughter, whom we’ll call Television, wanted to spend the summer marveling at how the in-motion satellite dish on our RV delivered crisp pictures from virtually anywhere. We compromised and let the kids do a little bit of everything, including some schoolwork, as we made the climb out of Florida.
Leaving Atlanta we traveled to the Little Rock, Arkansas, area. We found a nice little amusement park in nearby Hot Springs called Magic Springs. It was a good value as far as theme parks go, and very entertaining. There was one roller coaster called the Gauntlet that scrambled both my brain and my stomach. Even Television felt a little woozy, which is saying something. We were surprised at the number of attractions there, as well as the large number of tattoos and “muffin tops” in attendance. For those unfamiliar with the term, “muffin tops” are the love handles of Rubenesque girls that roll over the sides of their jeans when they wear belly shirts, much like the way the top of a muffin lops over the side of the muffin cup. It seems that many of today’s youngsters are not getting as much exercise as they need, or they just don’t have any mirrors at their house.
We passed through Oklahoma City and stopped for lunch at the giant cross near Groom, Texas, a pretty awesome sight. This steel cross rises 200 feet into the air near Interstate 40 and is visible from at least 10 miles away in either direction. The site itself also contains sculptures re-creating the Last Supper and the Stations of the Cross, along with some other impressive exhibits. After lunch, we turned north at Amarillo and headed into New Mexico, staying at the local KOA in Clayton. The park has many activities, and the owners have children roughly the same age as Gameboy and Television, so it was a nice fit. As many of you know, the average age at RV parks can be well over the highway speed limit, and for some reason the septuagenarian crowd just doesn’t like to hang out with our children. The park brought in a circus performer who was in town for a show to perform some magic tricks and make balloon animals for the kids. My wife remarked that finally I wasn’t the only clown in the RV park. Thanks, honey.
After a short ride up Interstate 25, we were in Colorado, a state in which we’ve always managed to have a lot of fun. We visited some old friends in Boulder and then spent a week outside of Breckenridge. During this week of outside activities, our old friend Mr. Retainer decided to alter our plans once again. It seems that when a retainer is stepped on, it tends to lose its shape and not fit right. Who would have thought? And who would have thought that the metropolis of Breckenridge would not have an open orthodontist appointment within a 60-mile radius? We finally found a local dentist who was nice enough to solve our problems, at least temporarily.
Gameboy decided that he was jealous of his sister getting all the negative attention, so he found a way to break his glasses. This was much easier to fix, as we found a shop in town that was happy to sell us a pair, with a little upcharge for express service, of course.
In spite of our various repairs, a week of hiking, fishing, biking, horseback riding, and other activities wound down, and I hoped that the kids would not remember how their father looked like a drunken sailor while trying to ice skate.
From there we headed west through Glenwood Caverns and into Utah, a state that is terrible for my back. Why, you ask? Well, as you know, Utah is famous for its natural beauty, most of which is nestled into its many national parks and recreation areas. Unfortunately, most of these parks are not equipped with TCPDs (tired child portability devices). Invariably, about halfway down a long, looping trail, Television would say, “Daddy, I’m too tired to walk anymore. Will you please hold me?” And like a good Dad (or dumb sap), I’d give in, as I usually do. So this year I got a 70-pound-added walking tour of Zion National Park. Thank God for the shuttle bus.
We spent a night in Las Vegas, which was almost more than I could bear. Somehow people handing out pornographic fliers in front of the M&M’s World store is not my idea of good, clean family fun. We walked quickly up the Strip and showed the children the volcanoes, pirate ships, fountains, and flashing light displays as the sun was setting. They were especially excited to see Siegfried and Roy’s cats. Observing Television fresh with excitement, I thought I could coax some extra walking out of her, but it was no use. She got me for the last mile back to the car. We had survived Vegas without gambling so much as a quarter.
We soon crossed into California, and toured parts that I had never seen before. We were amazed at how much of this populous state is still arid wasteland. It was easy to understand how wildfires get started so easily.
Our first stop was outside Visalia, about 30 miles from our next day’s activity, Sequoia National Park. This stop represented the low point for preparedness on our part. We got a late start that morning, so we decided to just get to the park and eat there. Big mistake. The first visitors station is just inside the park but has no food or beverage service. The ranger informed us that 20 miles up the road was a full-service ranger station with a gift shop and deli. No problem. Twenty miles should take about 20 minutes, right? Not so fast. What the ranger forgot to mention was that there were more than 100 switchbacks in that 20 miles, and by the time we got to that rest area, we had three passengers the color of split-pea soup and one dad who had just gotten an earful from all parties involved. That being said, the giant sequoias were inspiring, particularly the General Sherman Tree, the largest living organism in the world. We were able to walk through, drive through, and examine up close many of these amazing giants.
Our next big stop was a family reunion of sorts at Yosemite National Park. My brother is in graduate school at Cal-Berkeley, so he and a few of my other family members decided to meet us there. We camped just outside the entrance to the park, arriving a day later than the other family members. I found my two brothers ailing from a 16-mile hike to the top of Half Dome. I was glad I didn’t have to go, since I’m not sure I could carry Television for more than a few miles. The granite monoliths and waterfalls there defy description, particularly the view from Glacier Point.
I would like to publicly thank a member of the National Park Service for a special feat performed in our service one day at Yosemite, but he escaped without telling us his name. He was probably afraid that we would follow him home. It seems that Television had removed her retainer to eat that day and had wrapped it in a napkin, without telling anyone. She then went to use the rest room before embarking on another tour around the park atop my shoulders. Honestly, I was glad she was lightening the load. Television relishes exploring rest rooms for some reason. We had cleaned the scraps from the table while she was gone so we’d be ready for our next adventure. I think you can guess what happened next.
Television returned and asked where her retainer was. Of course, it had made its way into the dumpster. But not just any dumpster. This was a bear-proof dumpster, with a 200-pound steel lid, and no handle to open the top of it. Luckily, our ingenious park worker pried open the lid with a shovel, and Television was inserted to retrieve her precious cargo. Her “Dumpster Dive” was a success. Unfortunately, she was so excited to a) get her retainer back and b) get the killer look off her mother’s face, that she unwrapped the retainer and popped it into her mouth, straight out of the dumpster. I almost had a visit from my own lunch after watching that.
On our way out of California, we stopped at Lake Tahoe to do some tubing and waterskiing, and stopped by the Pioneer Memorial in Donner Memorial State Park, erected in honor of the Donner party and others who crossed to California during the mid-1800s. The statue is fairly impressive, a metal sculpture atop a roughly 22-foot-high brick pedestal. The shocking part is that the height of the pedestal represents the depth of the snow encountered by the Donner party during their infamous crossing. It’s hard to comprehend trying to get a covered wagon through 22 feet of snow. It certainly gave us a greater appreciation of the American pioneer. Inspired by this, we were ready for our final push north before making the turn for home.
Next month: Part 3 — Final leg, final thoughts.