It never really occurs to me how majorily wrong things can go travelling - they usually do in my case and generally I roll with the punches because short of deportation, most things you can fix with a cellphone, Wi-Fi, a credit card, and sense of reason. From most of my feck ups comes great opportunity. Opportunity to learn, to really experience the heart of a county and its people when you are facing your latest challenge and most of all to laugh.
Listening to Keith Urban and drinking Corona Beer in our RV tonight in the small town of Girdwood about 30 miles south of Anchorage in Alaska, my sidekick and I are thinking how did we get so dam lucky?
What started out as the biggest frig up since Dunkirk has ended just how we hoped it would and to look out the window tonight just a few minutes off midnight (its still daylight if you can believe it) and be surrounded by snow capped mountains, leafy trees and hear the pitter of rain drops on the roof of the camper is almost too much. But you know what, I am going to suck it up and enjoy it because its just reward after the shit of a day we have had.
I booked an RV Camper online back in April through a crowd called Motorhomerepublic.com. I think they must be some sort of brokering agent throughout the world with a contact number in NZ. The quoting process and support line access was so good that I was confident that the 19ft camper we had booked was going to be the best thing about my month away. They aren’t cheap and the particular one I booked worked out about $180 NZD a day base rate.
All things considered, the luxury of being able to share the costs with someone after traveling solo for so many of my adventures and having the combined accommodation and travel costs nailed down, it didn’t seem to outrageous despite the additional mileage costs quoted @ at 19c a mile.
After spending the night at a youth hostel on a 6-inch mattress, sleeping like a baby at the Bent Prop Inn in downtown Anchorage, we were keen to get the show on the road. A courtesy shuttle from the RV supplier agreed to pick us up and deliver us to collect the Vehicle. Laura, the driver of the van was the only pleasant thing about the whole “Clippership Rental “ experience. She had only worked there for 6 days so I expect the barrage of complaints about the outfit hasn’t had time to wear her down yet. Nothing goes at any great speed in Alaska (unless you are on the highway that is) and so arriving to see a yard littered with RV’s in various states of preparedness with travelers leaning against outbuildings should have been alarming at midday I guess. A small doubt did pass my forehead but I told myself to relax. Thank Christ I did that as I had 30 minutes to relax before even being able to speak to the girl behind the desk. Multi tasking is clearly not a skill present in the engine room of the Clippership RV office and while one girl did appear to be trying to process the number of people waiting in line, she clearly found monitoring the activities of her small terrier who was roaming about the office dragging a long lead, jumping on the furniture and ransacking waiting luggage for tidbits of food distracting. The Manager seemed content in the chaos staring at his computer screen blankly.
Finally, after parting with $1950 (which did include a $500 bond and $16 for special toilet paper,) and signing the dotted line, we were off to the wanderly wagon for the tour of inspection before departure.
Access in was initially difficult as the hydraulic steps refused to move when the button was pushed and the warning bells started to ring a little louder. A mechanic got them working with a bit of a belt and a couple of goes with the operating switch but in my mind I was starting to develop a nervous twitch. My own experiences with steps protruding from my horse truck in transit have not been pretty, and I had visions of them getting stuck out making an open invitation for a bear to enter the den!
Completing the external inspection was an education and thank god for some good old kiwi commonsense and experience is all I can say. As we ventured round the van identifying existing damage, there was a few standouts that raised my level of concern. They weren’t biggies, things that a roll of duck tape and number 8 wire would have fixed but no real major headaches until I asked about the spare tyre. “ What spare tyre” said the eejit who had just fixed the steps? I said “I am not going into the back blocks of bum fuck Idaho without a spare tyre!” He was furious and said smartly “its bum fuck Alaska maam”. I said find a bloody tyre and moved inside for the internal inspection.
Viv hasn’t done any camping in motorhomes so her excitement was infectious as she opened and closed cupboards inspecting storage space and envisiging where on earth her large purple suit case was going to be stored over the next week. She doesn’t travel as lightly as myself as I think the last couple of years working in the Middle East has encouraged her to like large and lots of whatever is going!
I asked the staff member to assemble the second bed to make sure everything was working before we departed and she looked at me like I had grown another head. After wrestling to remove the table (that didn’t seem to fit in the gap required to transform the bed space), and nearly knocking herself out she finally had to admit defeat and confess that perhaps she needed assistance. Into the already cramped space bounced a little African American teen with teeth so white you could see yourself in them and a head like a Goldilocks pot scrub to try and fix the thing.
Tensions had begun to rise as I made my way back to the office to see the eejit who wore the title of Manager. He was about at much use at a chocolate teapot and didn’t seem to care about our concerns – why would he? His payment was in the bank and he had a hand of solitaire needing played. We gave him an hour to get the show on the road while we went to a diner next door to diffuse the situation. It was bad, and we both knew that we needed to ditch that deal and get out while we could. With no working phone, and no idea what we were going to do, we ordered a mocktail drink so that we could legitimately access the Wi-Fi at the Peanut Inn. Googling furiously on my laptop we looked for alternative suppliers before deciding to ring back the hostel we had stayed in for a recommendation. I tried to call on Skype but couldn’t get through so Viv asked the waitress if we could borrow her phone. Thankfully she was really helpful and didn’t want to take the large tip we pressed into her hand as we rushed back to the circus.
Michael at the ABC Motorhomes was such a godsend when he picked up the phone. His level voice and sense of calm at the other end of the phone as he told me they had something they could fit us into was a relief, we just needed to get there – and get our money back from the first contract.
Returning to the Clippership office we put on our big girl panties and entered the office having emptied out the camper of all our stuff. The spare tyre had been attached hideously to what used to be a tow bar and the missing part of the bed had been found. The ladder and petrol tank cover was still missing and the propane alarm had been located but the back bumper was still hanging in bits and we were over it.
The card shark at the computer thought he could keep the$500 cancellation fee so he was happy as hell. Until Vivienne Mary threw a wobbly in the office demanding negotiations. She drew breath and quietly said $200 is all you are getting buddy. I think he knew she meant business so in a desperate last bid he said $ 250 and we agreed, less the $32 toilet paper previous paid for in cash. I don’t want to calculate how much that is in kiwi dollars or I might be really grumpy.
Laura the new girl was hanging about the porch and you could see she sympathized with what we had been through and offered to drop us off in the courtesey shuttle . Pulling into a competitor company in a sign written van was amusing as hell and the RV’s lined up on the lot were impressive. Michael recognized us when we got to the counter. He hadn’t had lunch and had been flat out as the place was mad with people coming and going but he remembered my distress call despite not leaving my name.
We waited for nearly two hours to get that RV on the road because of the last minute nature and other circumstances but the whole time they were apologetic and couldn’t do enough for us. We were happy to wait. The day was buggered but the camper they were offering us was like a palace compared to what we had previously been in. 22 feet of pure Ford 350 luxury complete with a slide out living room, 33inch TV, stereo with surround sound, large numbers of charging points, a generator, and fully equipped with the necessities of a good motorhome trip. (and enough room for that goddam purple suitcase!)It was nearly 6pm when we left the lot, nervous as hell about driving that gas-guzzler on the wrong side of the road without incident but my sidekick had a paper map to accompany the Navman I had brought from NZ as a security measure to ensure I get to the required destination. We were as happy as a pig in the proverbial, didn’t matter we are a day behind schedule because we are still in once piece, still laughing and off to Walmart to get some food and beer to hit the road Jack!