Tim Ruddy, former Miami Dolphins center and current FMCA member, invites readers to join him on the final leg of his family’s cross-country RV journey.
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 a three-part story, which concludes this month as the Ruddys complete a two-month summer trip in their Tiffin Allegro. Parts 1 and 2 appeared in the May and June issues, respectively.
Getting back to Florida in the motorhome was an interesting ride for our family “” me; my wife, Kim; our son, Braden; and our daughter, Kailyn “” and not without a few bumps. Our trip was only roughly planned out. We knew all the places and parks where we planned on staying, but we didn’t have set dates, except for high-volume times such as holidays. As we headed up the West Coast, our nimbleness would be put to the test.
After leaving Lake Tahoe, we were supposed to camp in the Redding, California, area. I generally don’t pay too much attention to the weather, but in the middle of a 95-plus-degree day near the lake, our neighbor said, “Don’t go there. It won’t be cool like it is here in the mountains.” I looked at the forecast and saw 114 predicted for the area, so we decided to change plans and head farther north for cooler pastures. However, we still had to travel straight through Redding, and as we did, I noticed the dashboard thermometer registered 118 degrees. As I drove, my mind strained to remember what temperature all the fluids and systems in the RV were rated for. I at least wanted to avoid spontaneous combustion. We managed to do that, and next headed for the alpine meadows near Crater Lake, Oregon.
Crater Lake National Park was awe-inspiring to all, no matter which lookout you chose. Unfortunately, we found half of the Rim Drive still snowed in on June 28. The experience conjured up memories of driving into Yellowstone National Park the previous year in a snowstorm on June 15. A Crater Lake ranger told us they had received 45 feet of snow the winter before, and it just had not melted enough to plow yet! We were amazed, since it was 70-plus degrees and sunny on the days we were there, not to mention the heat wave just to the south. The boats weren’t running yet, so we couldn’t get to Wizard Island, in the middle of Crater Lake, but to tell you the truth, I’m not sure we could have made the hike down the steep side of the crater to the boat launch ramp. We were content to look on in amazement, and to build a snowman, of course.
Some of the best landmarks are the ones you invent on your trips. For example, we look for the best city and town names on our journeys. The winner this year was the quaint little town of George, Washington. I just love the cleverness, don’t you? We had a similar experience near Diamond Lake, Oregon, when one of our children yelled, “Look, Dad, Mount Crumpet!” I instantly caught the Dr. Seuss analogy, thinking my daughter, nicknamed Television, was going old school and watching classic cartoons. Shortly thereafter, I realized that she was referring to Mount Thielsen in Oregon, which bears a striking resemblance to the tip of a soft-serve ice cream, if not the famous mountain home of the Grinch.
On an even less serious note, one of the great things about RVing is having everyone, pets and all, in the same living quarters. You can’t help but spend family time together. And one of the worst things about RVing is “” you guessed it “” having everyone, pets and all, in the same living quarters. The latter is particularly true in the case of traveling with a sick dog. Our 12-year-old Welsh terrier, Rudger, also known as the Sprinkler, decided he was going to come down with an ailment during our trip that defied diagnosis. He was fine, almost excited during the day, yet he would howl and whine all night. We probably would have invested in one of those shock collars that activate when the dog barks, but we had nowhere to receive a mail-order package, as we were traveling often during those days. We became concerned that maybe Rudger was finally showing his age and getting ready for the big fire hydrant in the sky. We called a veterinarian friend, who asked us a few questions and then recommended we wait a few days to see if he settled down. He was still howling after about five days.
The most interesting thing about this saga was observing our children’s reaction. They are close enough in age to not remember Mom and Dad’s sleepless nights with them, so they were totally unfamiliar with the idea of something keeping them awake at night. Their processes went from polite rebuke (“Please stop barking”), to bribery (“I’ll give you a treat if you stop barking”), to anger (“STOP BARKING RIGHT NOW!”), to a sideways-logic therapy session (“Why won’t you stop barking? Why do you need to bark? What do we have to do to get you to be quiet?”), and, finally, to capitulation (“Dad, we give up . . . . make him stop”). I remembered how my wife used to say those same things years ago (with a few additional words for emphasis) and thought to myself, “Just wait till you have kids.”
Anyway, the problem corrected itself after about a week when we discovered our little dog, Mimmy, was in heat. It seems the Sprinkler was the first to identify her condition, and, shall we say, was struggling with that knowledge. With another catastrophe averted, we pressed on.
We headed up the coast to Oregon and camped near the giant sand dunes at Pacific City. I knew what was coming next. The children could hear the sand dune calling them, saying, “Climb me! Climb me!” The kids made it about halfway up, but, of course, they wanted me to go to the top. So I did. As I strode valiantly (gasped and crawled) to the summit of the dune, I heard a faint voice from below say, “Honey, did you bring extra batteries for the camera?” I was crushed.
The kids and I took about three tons of sand off the dune with us as an unintended souvenir, and my wife’s punishment for the battery affair was trying to find a way to clean it out of the motorhome.
Nearing the Fourth of July, and running out of room as we traveled north, we decided that a stay in Seattle was in order. It is truly an amazing city. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the fishmongers throw fish at the Pike Place Fish Market, which, incidentally, is right down the road from the original Starbucks coffeehouse. We saw caffeine-addicted pilgrims paying their respects to “Latte Uno” as we passed by. The shopping and seafood near the Sound were right up my wife’s alley.
We always like the children to get some form of a history lesson on their summer journeys, so we took them to Seattle’s Museum of Flight, near Boeing Field. We wanted the children to see how people had to travel before RVs became readily available. Seriously, though, the museum features a diverse display of aircraft, including the last commercially flown Concorde and the first jet-powered Air Force One. It was entertaining and educational for everyone, although the engineer in me probably had the most fun.
After we left Seattle, we tried to pick up some speed in order to get to my brother-in-law’s house in Michigan a little earlier than planned, due to some scheduling conflicts. We cruised out of Washington and through the beauty of northern Idaho into Montana. There we visited a friend and former NFL player who owns a ranch about an hour outside of Billings. As we visited the Red Lodge Rodeo for the Fourth of July, we joked at how our friend was treated like redneck royalty. The fireworks provided a great set against the background of Big Sky Country. Upon leaving Montana, we made the mandatory stop at Wall Drug in South Dakota and set a course for Michigan.
It’s interesting how questions that you never even thought to ask get answered on RV trips. For example, whatever happened to all the fun playground equipment that kids frolicked on for years before schools and parks removed them? You know: the see-saws, trapezes, and 10-foot-high slides with no side rails. The answer: they’ve been moved to RV parks. It seems that the RV park has become the default repository for all the old playground equipment that we grew up on. It was great to see my kids hang upside down, whoosh down metal slides, and bounce all over this old stuff as though it were the outdoor version of an Xbox video game. They even picked up a few splinters. It’s too bad this stuff isn’t made anymore.
As all RVers know, just when you think you’re running smooth, the road gods take revenge. Our next stop was an unexpected two-night stay outside Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on the side of a Cummins dealership. It seems our new Cummins engine needed some fresh air, so it burst a fuel line, causing a breakdown and spraying fuel all over the engine compartment and a good portion of Interstate 29. To add insult to injury, we had to be towed backward 60 miles to Sioux Falls. However, the Cummins crew did an excellent job of repairing and cleaning up our coach. Aside from the strange looks from the truckers, our weekend went well. The Hot Harley Nights celebration made the Sioux Falls evenings fun, and the Great Plains Zoo became a nice day trip.
We were now behind schedule, so some catch-up driving was in order. We decided to make the trip from Sioux Falls to southern Michigan in one fell swoop. I think I fell asleep at the wheel for a few hours, but we were on Interstate 80 in Iowa, so it really didn’t matter. Everything looked the same when I woke up as when I dozed off. All kidding aside, the day went smoothly with the exception of the orange sign jamboree that is the south side of Chicago. We finally arrived in Michigan at 1:30 a.m. after a 12-hour drive. Since I couldn’t remember what color my RV was, and I certainly couldn’t tell by looking, I decided it was time for a wash and wax. The in-law visit went fine (those earplugs were a lifesaver), and we soon were headed south.
Next we rolled into Atlanta, where the road designers should be placed on a pedestal . . . and then hung. Traveling through this area was difficult, thanks to the traffic, but we made the best of it. We definitely were winding down now and thinking of the work that needed to be done when we got home. We stopped to visit some old friends and my brother, and then came face-to-face with the grim reality of a return to “regular life.” We drove the familiar route down Interstate 75 and the Florida Turnpike.
As we made our triumphant return on July 20, we had covered 8,500 miles in our motorhome, covered another 1,000 in our Jeep Wrangler, and I was covering my eyes as my wife backed the RV into the driveway.
It’s hard to relate all that’s been learned from our RV journeys. It’s particularly interesting that, while each member of the family viewed the same sights, we each came away with different takes on the activities and events during the trip. For example, I was utterly amazed at the size of the giant sequoias, but the kids’ reaction seemed somewhat tempered. Later my daughter said, “We thought there were going to be trees there that we could climb.” And while they were impressed by the views from the Space Needle in Seattle, their excitement grew to a fever pitch when they saw the amusement park operating below.
Like that amusement park trip, all good things must come to an end. Our trip ended after two fun-filled months on America’s highways and byways. It was such a stark contrast to go from the natural beauty and tranquility of the American West to the man-made metropolis of South Florida. It seems that everything is artificial here, from the waterfalls in people’s yards to certain parts of your neighbors’ bodies.
Being gone also made us realize how many people shelter themselves from the real world and live through the exploits of others. When I see people buying gossip magazines and studying the lives of the “stars,” or talking incessantly about TV reality shows, I want to scream at the top of my lungs: “Go see the real world! It’s right outside your door!” Yet it seems most people either don’t know or don’t care to know. My hope is that this changes, and they can come to enjoy the beauty that is the real America.
One thing is for sure: you can travel for long periods in a vehicle with children. Many of my friends with children have said, “I don’t know how you do that with the kids.” While we weren’t exactly cruising the country in a hatchback, we were on top of each other for the better part of two months. But what a fantastic way to spend time together as a family.
The kids get so much from seeing the natural wonders and historical landmarks of our great land. It’s true that some of the activities are beyond the limits of what they comprehend now, but others were covered in school in previous years or will be shortly. The children thoroughly enjoyed this cross-country trip and are already asking about our next one. Now, our dogs are a different story. They all fared well on the journey, but I’m still trying to find someone who makes an exterior mounted pet carrier for the RV. Better yet, I’m looking for three of them.
On a more serious note, our summer trips make me proud to be an American, to be able to see what our troops are fighting for around the world. You see the small towns and out-of-the-way places where these brave kids come from. Places where duty and honor still have a special meaning. You see the symbols of the freedom we often take for granted, and you learn through the various landmarks and monuments the stories of those who risked their lives in years past so that we could have the liberty we enjoy today. If there is one lesson my children learn, let it be about those souls who paid the ultimate price so that America could be the pillar of strength that it is today.
So what do you take from a coast-to-coast RV trip? How do you wrap it all up into a neat and tiny little package, like they do on television? It’s easy: you don’t! One of the grandest things about traveling in a motorhome is the ability to take life at your own pace. If an activity lasts an extra day, so what? It’s about getting away from home and enjoying your family, as well as the surroundings of our great country.