New truck? Didn’t make my butt look big, but definitely caused a weight problem, plus much crying and swearing.

Warning: I don’t come off well in this story.

I was petulant. I whined. I yelled at my husband (even though it wasn’t his fault). I stomped, swore, shook my fist at the heavens, hyperventilated, and lost sleep.

I considered all kinds of unspeakable acts to try to get out of what I considered a horrifying situation: having to take a written test and an actual driving test in order to get the license I needed to tow our 5th wheel legally.

“Wait. What?” you say. “Emily. Haven’t you been driving that get-up for more than three years already?”

Yes. Yes, I have. I even wrote about what it was like to learn how.

But… our May 2017 upgrade to the new BFT (B is for Big, T is for Truck, and you can figure out the F), a 2017 Dodge Ram 3500, caused us to gain enough combined vehicle weight rating that it bumped us up into a new level of driver’s licensing requirements in our home state of Texas.

Oh hello, Hell. How very unpleasant to encounter you. I am not gonna like this.

If we’d stayed under a 26,000-lb Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCVWR) with the truck/5th wheel combo, as we had with the prior BFT, a 2012 Chevy Silverado 3500, we could have kept our regular old Class C licenses, and motored on as usual.

But the Ram put us over the limit of 26,000 pounds GCVWR. Thus, Class A non-commercial licenses would be required to keep us legal on the roads. And that meant:

  • Written test
  • Driving test
  • Dammit and FML

Top: under 26,000 lbs GCVWR with the Silverado
(Orrrrr… maybe not. See embarrassing update at bottom of page.)
Bottom: over 26,000 lbs GCVWR with the Ram

We bought the new truck in Kentucky in May, and registered it in Texas, but then continued to travel out of state until after Christmas. When we returned to the Lone Star State, we started working through the license upgrade process.

In January, we studied the appropriate material from the Texas Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Handbook.

Don’t panic.
If you’re doing this for an exempt/ non-commercial license like we did, there’s a lot of material in here you can skip.
(Screen cap of handbook cover from dps.texas.gov)

In February, we took our 20-question multiple choice tests, and both of us passed on the first try.

We then scheduled our driving skills tests for March, and here’s where things go sideways for me.

Since The Toad was all set up and hooked up for our latest work camping gig as the home sweet home it is, we borrowed a friend’s trailer for practicing and testing purposes. Because his trailer is rated in the same weight class as our 5th wheel, we were able to use it legitimately on test day.

The trailer’s class is 14,000 lbs, which put our GCVWR at about 26,000, which is what was required for the test.

But practice didn’t go well for me.

It probably went even worse for my patient, long-suffering husband, who coached me through it, but he never let on. Yes, nominations for his sainthood will be accepted. Maybe not by the folks at the Vatican, but definitely by me.

I hit curbs. I backed in the wrong direction. I couldn’t get the feel of the damn thing. And worst of all? I knew it was my fault.

I know I should have been making myself practice these skills all along — it’s been 3.5 years since we bought the RV — but I haven’t.

On the outside, I swore. A lot.

On the inside, I cried.

But I knew I needed to do this. I could see the benefit of the training. And I drew inspiration from the knowledge that I’m far from the first woman to drive a big-ass contraption like this. I know women who RV solo. Hell, I’ve interviewed three of them.

As stated above, yes, I have been towing our 38′ RV all this time.

And in the limited situations in which I’d take the wheel, I was very good at it. So good that Tim would usually nap or work on his laptop while it was my turn to drive.

I was safe, skilled, and conscientious — at going forward. On highways. And into parking spots in gigantic lots where I had zero likelihood of having to put our 10 tires, 13+ tons, and 60 feet of vehicular insanity in reverse.

In other words, I was a wimp about it, and relied on Tim as a safety net for doing the tricky stuff.

(Go ahead. Close your eyes and shake your head from side to side with an audible sigh of incredulity. I deserve it, and I’ll wait.)

In order to pass the road test for this license upgrade, I’d have to be able to show proficiency in situations that I have almost always effectively avoided: in-town driving, backing up, and parallel parking.

And after our second practice session, I felt so demoralized and incompetent that I rescheduled my test for a later date, because to be quite honest, I would not have passed me. I knew I was unqualified, and I did not want to go through the trauma of failing the test and having to repeat it.

So with Tim’s help, I dug back in, because I know I need to be able to do these things on my own, without coaching, even though I hate all of it, and I don’t want to do it.

I decided to approach the parking and backing skills like I did yoga.

What???

Hear me out.

When I started doing yoga, there were poses I couldn’t access (yoga-speak for “pretzel myself into”). After regularly practicing the same maneuvers over and over again, I could then perform them correctly, and with ease, almost every time — which is exactly what needed to happen with the trailer.

And on those occasions when I messed up a yoga position? I knew how to make a series of tiny corrections to get myself back on track without damaging anything  — which is exactly what needed to happen with the trailer.

And power to the namaste, y’all. That’s what worked! I’m still not what anyone would call great at parking and backing up, but I’ve progressed enough to know how and when to pull forward and fix it — which is what I had to do during the parallel parking portion of my test, and it’s the only “bad” mark I got. I passed!

Tim’s report card is on the left, with perfect marks.
Mine’s on the right, with that one ding for parallel parking control, but I am thrilled beyond coherent speech that it took me only two tries.

So now we’ve completed the whole process, we’re legally licensed just in time to roll out of Texas again, and wow, I hope we never have to repeat that. Our next home state may be determined in part by whether or not we’d have to!

Practice makes perfect-ish.
It also occasionally crushes safety cones.
Sorry, safety cones. I never meant to hurt you.


Important note: I intentionally did not try to tell you whether or not you might be required to upgrade your license or how to go about doing it, because this story is about me. But someone I am lucky to know, an ever reliable source of information and recommendations, has already done those first two things. If you are a Texas RV’er, you’ll find all the information you need in this very thorough FAQ by my friend, David, of Landmark Adventures.


Embarrassing update: Tim read this post, and said, “Um… I guess maybe I didn’t make it clear, or didn’t even tell you, but… we were over the weight limit with the Silverado too.”

Ack! Just not as much??? Meaning we went from somewhat illegal to even more illegal, which is all really just plain illegal? Oy. Back to hyperventilating…

Yosemite Revisited: More Tips, Less Snark

You may recall that I had less than charitable things to say about our visit to Yosemite last July. The park is spectacular; it’s our timing that was all wrong.

Emily “You Can Embroider That Shit on a Toss Pillow” Rohrer

But with summer travel planning season upon us, I thought it might be a good idea to offer up some information that campers might find a little more helpful than my pissy rant of 2016. So here ya go:

If you’ve got your RV pointed toward California this summer for a swing through Yosemite National Park, be aware of three things:

  1. You’ll never forget the scenery,
  2. Unless you’re a photography genius, you won’t be able to capture all that majesty in pixels, and
  3. It’s gonna be crowded — really, really distressingly and disproportionately crowded, to DisneyWorld-esque levels. 1200 square miles is not big enough for all the people, because every single one of them spent significant time, effort, and money to spend part of their summer vacation there, and they are going to have their Experience of a Lifetime, visiting the same top 5 park attractions as you are.

For information on RV camping at Yosemite, click on Visiting Yosemite With an RV, but be aware that even the folks in charge recommend staying outside the park, and shuttling in using public transportation.

From the NPS web site, “Since parking for RVs and trailers is limited in Yosemite, we strongly encourage you to park your RV outside Yosemite and use YARTS to travel into the park if you’re not staying the night in Yosemite.”

If you do want to try to stay in the park, first make sure your RV will fit, and that you can survive without hookups for the duration of your visit. There aren’t any. However, dump stations with fresh water are available at 3 of the 10 RV-accessible campgrounds, and generator use is allowed, but only at posted hours.

Yosemite campground map
(Source: NPS.gov)

It probably goes without saying that you’ll want to make your reservation as far in advance as possible, or, if you’re feeling lucky and adventurous, you can try for a first-come/first-served spot.

When we visited Yosemite last year, we set up The Toad in a private RV park in Lee Vining, CA, which is about 12 miles east of the westernmost entrance at Tioga Pass, and a nearly 2-hour drive to the main visitor’s center in Yosemite Valley. (Be aware that Tioga Pass/Hwy 120 closes from October-May due to snow, so using Lee Vining as your home base is not always a good option.)

Source: Google Maps

We had to visit in the summer because my husband and our younger son were hiking the John Muir Trail, and that’s something you want to accomplish when there’s little or no snow. And if you’re hiking the whole 211-mile thing, like my husband did, you have to go through Yosemite.

But now that we know what the Yosemite crowds are like in the summertime, we will never do that again. Our schedule is no longer bound by school calendars, and we will use that to our advantage by visiting the more popular national parks at off-peak times in the spring and fall.

How bad was it? Imagine crowds of tourists from all over the planet, hollering to each other in umpteen different languages, trying to enjoy the exact same spot you are, stopping to consult their maps right in your path, posing for selfies in front of everything, dealing with children who have obviously just had it, and/or driving slowly with one arm out the window to shoot video that nobody will ever want to view.

Lower Yosemite Falls, and a very small portion of the day’s tourists

By about 2:00 p.m., I was eyeballing the bear lockers in the parking lot. You’re supposed to put your food items in there, rather than leaving them in your car for bears to tear apart while you’re off exploring. But by mid-afternoon, I was ready to take all the food out, and put half the tourists in.

These are bear lockers. Big enough for tourists, yes?

That said, I found the park to be most enjoyable in the early morning hours. If you can get in and get some sight-seeing and hiking done before what seems to be the Witching Hour of 10:00 a.m., you’ll have a lot more space and breathing room to take in and truly appreciate some of the most eye-popping scenery in the country.

And hey, if you’ve only got one day to spend in the park, try this itinerary from Oh, Ranger!, one of my favorite resources. Be warned: everyone with one day to spend is going to be trying to see the same list of attractions as you are.

There will be crowds.

You will need patience.

Good luck!


Author’s note: Portions of this article appeared previously at OwnLessDoMore, and a version of this post is published at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Backpackers stink! And so does Yosemite in July. OMG, just… don’t do it.

Emily "You Can Embroider That Shit on a Toss Pillow" Rohrer

~ Emily “You Can Embroider That Shit on a Toss Pillow” Rohrer

Close your eyes and place yourself in your favorite outdoor setting, be it a state or local park, hiking trail, beach or lakefront cabin, wooded grove, waterfall, even your own back yard. Then…

Open your eyes and contend with a DisneyWorld-esque crowd of tourists who are trying to enjoy the exact same spot with you, stopping to consult their maps right in your path, posing for selfies in front of everything, dealing with children who have obviously just had it, and/or driving with one arm out the window to shoot video that nobody will ever want to look at — because every single one of them spent significant time, effort, and money to get there, and they are going to have the Experience of a Lifetime, dammit, same as you.

That’s what Yosemite is like in July.
Squirrel! This is one of the thinner ones you are likely to encounter if you walk more than a mile on a trail. The ones closer to more popular areas are both tame and fat. Quelle surprise.

Squirrel!
This is one of the thinner ones you are likely to encounter if you walk more than a mile on a trail, at which point the human traffic decreases considerably.
The squirrels closer to more popular areas are both tame and fat.
Quelle surprise.

By 2:00 in the afternoon, it was not hungry bears that park visitors had to worry about. It was me. To quote late comedian John Pinette, “I’d lost my cherub-like demeanor.”
Although I managed to keep most of my words in my head, under my breath, or inside the truck while following others, I did uh, quite a lot of swearing and name-calling. On the plus side, my expletive-filled rants rather seem to have impressed my 19-year-old!
These are bear lockers. Your supposed to put your food items in there, rather than leaving them in your car for bears to tear apart. By mid-afternoon, I say we take the food out of the lockers, and put half the people in.

These are bear lockers.
You’re supposed to put your food items in there, rather than leaving them in your car for bears to tear apart while you’re gone.
By mid-afternoon, I say we take the food out, and put half the tourists in.

We know what summer crowds are, and yes, we know how to avoid them. However, if you’re hiking the John Muir Trail, you have to do it when there’s little or no snow, and if you’re hiking the whole thing, you have to go through Yosemite.
Since Tim (husband) and Dane (our younger son) hiked the northern third of the trail this week, they had to exit there, at the Happy Isles Trailhead, which meant I had to depart our home in Lee Vining by 0530 to get into the park by 0730, in order to get a parking space in the closest lot to their exit point.
Due to jumping a little late into the permitting process, my guys had to start their hike there inside the yellow circle at Red's Meadow last weekend and go north. Next week, I'll drop them off at Red's Meadow again, and they'll complete the southern part of the trail.

Due to jumping a little late into the permitting process, my guys are unable to hike the trail end to end. They had to start their hike inside the yellow circle near Red’s Meadow last weekend and go north.
Next week, I’ll drop them off near Red’s Meadow again, and they’ll complete the southern part of the trail. Total mileage: 211

It was awful — awful for me with the hordes of domestic and foreign tourists in the valley, and also awful for Tim and Dane out in the “wilderness.” Tim said that three years ago when he came through while hiking sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, he could go hours and hours without seeing another hiker. This year? Minutes. It has clearly become a thing, and that’s kind of a shame, and it’s difficult to reconcile the happiness of knowing more people are getting out there and enjoying back-country hiking, with the utter dejection of having to share.
Rant over. Sorry. I know I have issues.
But I still got some cool photos, with minimal numbers of people in them. My apologies for not labeling all of them. I have a terrible sense of direction, so even if I were to look at a map to try to figure out what I was looking at, I won’t remember exactly where I was or which direction I was facing, so it’s kind of a lost cause. No pun intended.
Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

IMG_7275 IMG_7262 IMG_7260
IMG_7232
Upper Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls

Lower Yosemite Falls

Lower Yosemite Falls

IMG_7251

IMG_7243

Mirror Lake

IMG_7242

Mirror Lake, the other direction

IMG_7238

My Guys (Dane refused to smile. In many ways, he's still the 2-year-old we know and love.) Since it was Tim's 50th birthday, I hiked in to meet them. They'd put in about 62 miles in 6 days, with the stinkydirty clothing to prove it! But because of some crossed signals about our meeting point (they took the high road, I took the low road), I in fact put in a longer hike than they did that day! Boys: 11 miles. Emily: 12 miles.

My Guys
(Dane refused to smile. Boy might look like a man, but in some ways he’s still 2.)
Since it was Tim’s 50th birthday, I hiked in to meet them. They’d put in about 62 miles in 6 days, with the stinkydirty clothing to prove it!
But because I’d been exploring the park for a few hours already, and there were some crossed signals about our meeting point (they took the high road, I took the low road), I in fact put in a longer hike than they did that day! Boys: 11 miles. Emily: 12 miles.

Yosemite, we will visit you again, but we’ll shoot for early May or late September next time, mmmkay?


After a lengthy cool down period (like, almost a year), I revisited this post and wrote a somewhat more helpful — and a lot less snarky — version, for those who might be interested in a summer camping trip to Yosemite. It’s here.

Home for the month: not lake side, nor even lake view, but kind of lake near

After ten days of “leave at 8:00, commute 45 minutes to Norfolk, work on house all day, drive 45 minutes back home, shove something edible in our faces, get clean, go to bed, and repeat,” we took today off to explore our home at Davis Lakes Campground.

Here we are. Our spot's off to the right, near the recreation area. And the dumpsters. The spots around the lake are all parallel parking for better views, although "parking" seems like too temporary a term for some of the set-ups we saw.

Here we are.
Our spot’s off to the right, near the recreation area. And the dumpsters.
The spots around the lake are all parallel parking for better views, although “parking” seems like too temporary a term for some of the set-ups we saw.

IMG_5905

Many lakeside encampments blur the line between temporary and permanent, with patios and other covered structures built on.

IMG_5900

The Plunging Swirling Hole of Transport to the Middle of the Earth! OK, so it’s probably just a drainage thing, but there’s no fence around it, which is astounding, because if I were 8 years old? First place I’d go.

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Best part of camping here: daily bunny outside our doorIMG_5869

Funniest part: signs

IMG_5872

True story: the odometer in the BFT hit 99,999 as we rolled by this sign a few days ago.

IMG_5871

Every RV’er needs to review the departure checklist. No spouse left behind! Well, not by accident anyway.

FullSizeRender 2

Um… this is a section of our lease. It very clearly and consistently follows the “If you’re not sure when to use an apostrophe s, just use it everywhere” rule.

IMG_5904

No fish were using the sinks today.

IMG_5903

… of gravity?

Worst part: lack of time and/or warm enough weather to enjoy the lakes

Don't let the sunshine fool you. It's 67 degrees today. So not beach weather. Talk to me when it's 20 degrees warmer.

Don’t let the sunshine fool you.
It’s 67 degrees today — not beach weather. Talk to me when it’s 20 degrees warmer.

IMG_5874

But hey, I’ve got a sassy new shirt to wear when we do get a chance to spend a day on the lake. Thanks, B!

You just can’t drape yourself over an Airstream

I know. I tried.

There's no hood, and draping myself over the top just wasn't going to work. Too many witnesses. Here's the best I could do.

There’s no hood, and flopping languidly over the top just wasn’t going to work. Too many witnesses (including that guy inside). This here’s the best I could do.

We’re in Houston for the 52nd Annual RV Show — which makes it older than we are, but younger than most of its attendees, although we were happy to see so many young families there on opening day yesterday. And by happy, I mean we didn’t grumble over dodging a few strollers, witnessing a few melt downs, and returning a sippy cup that had been left behind by a little girl who’d been understandably distracted by an electric fireplace.

Opening day is on a Wednesday. Hooray for no weekend crowds! (Remind me of this when we go back with friends on Saturday.)

Opening day is on a Wednesday. Hooray for no weekend crowds!
(Remind me of this when we go back with friends on Saturday.)

The show boasts a convention hall filled with more than 600 RVs of all varieties, from those cute little teardrop travel trailers (basically a towable hard-sided tent with a grill on the back) to conversion vans, to luxury motor homes with price tags in the six-figure range. One of those prices actually started with a 6. Not kidding. We walked through it. Meh.

Price tag for a much less expensive mobile home. Yes, you could buy an actual house for that, but would it come with a Lifetime Womanfy?

Price tag for a Mobile Suites fifth wheel, a few of which are for sale here if you want to see what such a thing looks like.
Yes, you could buy an actual house for that, but would it come with a Lifetime Womanfy?

After an incredibly expensive and nearly inedible lunch purchased from the only open concession stand we could find inside the NRG Center (Kirby Cafe. Don’t eat there. Seriously. Starving is better.), we attended a seminar called “Making Electricity on the Road: Generating & Using Power Efficiently.” I made it through solar and wind generators before my mind wandered off and landed on the true ol’ Texas cowboy sitting next to Tim. You know you’re in the presence of the real thing when he’s wearing a Wrangler shirt and pressed jeans, and his hat matches his boots, which match both his belt and suspenders.

This is Billy Thibodeaux, who's been a presenter here for more than 20 years. He's got miles and miles worth of knowledge to share, and it's certainly not his fault that I am so easily distracted.

This is Billy Thibodeaux, who’s been a presenter here for more than 20 years. He’s got miles and miles worth of knowledge to share, and it’s certainly not his fault that I am so easily distracted.

Anyway, after that we meandered in and out of what felt like about 800 RV’s — yes, even though there were only 600 there, and we stuck mostly to fifth wheels, with the exception of one mobile home, and the aforementioned Airstream.

We saw lots of nifty features, some more interesting and/or useful than others.

Yes

Wine rack: Yes!

Yes

Another yes!

Ewwww

Strip of LED lights above bed: Ew and no thanks.

Why, why, whyyyyyyyy?

Bathroom with a screen door: No, hell no, and seriously WTF, y’all?

The captain is in command -- of a fold-out porch.

Relax, captain. You’re in command — of a fold-out porch.

That's Tim on the right, getting the undercarriage report from the salesman of this unit. We uh, we could be in trouble...

That’s Tim on the right, getting the Undercarriage Report from the salesman of this 2016 Highland Open Range.
We uh, we could be in trouble…

And at the end of our long day (health app says I walked nearly 4 miles), this is how we found each other.

And at the end of our long day (health app says I walked nearly 4 miles inside that convention hall), this is how we found each other. I’d taken a seat; he’d marched on.

We’re gonna take two days off to consider a few things, and then go back again on Saturday with friends, and what the hell, maybe the checkbook and a pre-approved loan too.

Strap in, y’all. Road could get a little bumpy ahead…