We limped into our campsite in Midland, Texas. On the outside, everything looked fine. The truck was running well, the camper looked as she should. Except, when we pushed the button to extend the slide on the camper, we only heard the motor whirring underneath. We pulled in knowing we had a project on our hands, and it looked like it was going to be a costly one, too. Even though we were less than thrilled with the situation, we were ecstatic to be in a place where we had friends…friends who were already offering us a place to stay and asking what we needed. In a lifestyle where we often feel like we are in it alone, we felt a sense of community when we really needed it.
We had pulled over in a Baptist church parking lot about halfway through our drive from Roswell, NM, to Midland when all of our hopes for a travel center, picnic area, or rest stop along the 2-lane highway we were on had quickly faded away. We typically do not invite ourselves into church or other private parking lots, but we had literally not seen another reasonable pull-off and we have a mostly potty-trained toddler and it was lunch time. We hoped the Baptists would understand.
From the moment I hit the button to extend the slide, I knew something was wrong. It just did not sound like the other thousand times I had put it out. But we had urgent business to attend to, and I tried to reason it away.
It is important to note that the one major complaint I have about the layout of the camper is that we cannot get to the bathroom without extending the slide about a foot. This makes it a little less convenient when looking for a place to stop, especially when it is such a treat to use our bathroom and not one in a rest area or gas station.
Will had been walking Daisy and heard the odd sound as well, so when he came in to start putting something together for lunch (another huge perk to traveling with our whole house behind us), he pushed the button to see what was going on. And that is when we went from “a weird sound but the slide is moving” to “oh no.”
And that is also where our quick stop in the Baptist church parking lot turned into a nearly hour-long ordeal with Will crawling under the camper, trying to assess the situation, then ultimately bringing the slide back in using his drill and our hopes and dreams.
When we pulled into Midland, we had already started pricing new motors and asked about adding another day onto our stay on check-in. We had no idea how long (or how much) this project was going to take.
Now, if you have never been to West Texas, let me paint a picture for you: it is windy, it is dusty, and it smells like oil. Pulling into town, we saw a tumbleweed wearing a sock and looking to acquire more. It literally rains dust from the sky. I stood by the truck and watched dust accumulate on the door handle and at the base of the windows. And yes, at least in our campground, we could consistently smell oil.
So, here we were, staring at the camper, standing strategically so the camper blocked the wind and dust from our faces, trying to figure out how to best get the slide out. While back in the parking lot, Will had tried the “quick” solutions, only to realize we had the wrong tools (thanks Coachman!) or to have the next option fail (the drill barely cut it the first time and was no help on this attempt). He was on his third solution, and he really was not sure what that was.
It turns out the solution was for him to lay under the camper (with dust flying all around) and manually open the slide, not even a quarter of an inch at a time, using a handheld wrench. It was painful to watch, so I can only imagine how Will felt. Our setup process that typically takes 15–20 minutes from parking to leveling to opening the slide and hooking up utilities took well over an hour. The girls were restless. Bird had not napped. All the RV parts stores that we needed to call were getting ready to close. The situation felt grim.
However, after getting Bird a nap, tracking down and pricing new motors, and ultimately canceling our plans to see our friends that evening, Will was able to take a close look at what was going on and optimistically proclaim that he would be able to fix it without replacing the whole motor. He made the first of several trips to Home Depot and eventually was able to get us back up and running (a year on the road will make you resourceful if nothing else!). Instead of close to $1,000, Will fixed it for less than $20. It is amazing what one rogue screw can do!
We ultimately decided to stay the extra night in Midland anyway since we lost our first evening and much of the next day to the repairs, and we are so glad we did. When we were finally able to meet up with our friends, it was exactly what we needed.
The one thing that has been getting to me recently is our lack of friends on the road, so any chance we get to interact with friends or family is an opportunity I jump at. When the friends happen to also be parents with small children, it is even better. For the 3 days we were there, Will was able to talk fatherhood with one of his close friends, I was able to talk motherhood, and Bird was able to play with kids near her age and bask in the glory of ALL THE TOYS. Will went quail hunting, and Bird and I went on a playdate to the farmer’s market and playground. It was a weekend we absolutely needed in more ways than we knew.
It was also yet another glimpse into the looking glass of what might have been had Will not been laid off, as Midland was a potential landing spot had he been transferred. And unlike our visit earlier in the year to Houston, this was a glimpse that was not entirely negative. Even with the dust and all the things that go along with West Texas, we found places where we could experience nature (in a visit to Sibley Nature Center), we played at fun parks (looking at you, Dennis the Menace park), and we felt welcome.
While Midland is not the place we want to call home, it reminded us about some of the important aspects of what we are looking for when we settle down, namely a sense of community. We know we want to find those friendships, find those people who will be there for you, and have that innate feeling of belonging. Having just a weekend of those feelings made us crave it more than we have in a long time and helped us realize that we may be more ready to find our landing place sooner than we thought.