Black Beauty – RV
First, I have to tell you…I have a tremendous amount of respect for this vehicle. If a 5’2” granny who had never ridden in, taken care of, nor drove an RV, can take this puppy to Alaska and back…well, that kinda says it all, doesn’t it?
Black Beauty easily handled tight switchbacks in the Canadian Rockies, Diablo Peak in Death Valley, the tunnels in Zion National Park–and the potholed road on the way to the Bridge to Nowhere, Cordova Alaska.
In March of 2009, the recession was well underway. Not knowing if I would have a job or home in the future, I thought buying a small RV while I had a job was a good idea. At least the puppies and I would have a place to live besides ‘tent city’ or the tunnels under Vegas’s highways.
I asked if they had any Class B RVs. Usually, I get snickers and snorts when I ask that question. Most dealership don’t seem to want to bother with Class B vans. “Sure,” the salesman said, “we have two.” He guided me over to the Winnebago ERAs.
Since I had been researching Class B’s for some months, I knew the ERA 170X—and its price tag! Way out of my league. I loved the HUGE windows, front seats that swiveled and all inclusive kitchen/bath—BUT. I had a budget. He said “make an offer.” I picked up Black Beauty $35,000 below list, right at my budget.
The footprint on this baby is 24’1”long, 6’4” wide and 9’7” high. She easily maneuvers into tight camping sites, like this one at Lake Mono. Since I didn’t need the campsite area, I shared it with two Canadian motorcyclists. One of the guys had sleep apnea and needed electricity for his machine. (I knew I had just booked the last available campsite with electricity within 100 miles.) This was bear country. It was getting dark, and the temperature was dropping as fast as the setting sun.
I sleep really well in my queen-sized bed, tucked safe and sound inside Black Beauty’s well-designed interior. Izzy’s growls keep all critters a safe distance away, even the ones on two legs. With both gas and electric heaters, we are always warm and comfy.
Black Beauty is just as at ease camping beneath the red rocks of Snow Canyon State Park, Utah, as she is sharing the Alaskan State Ferry with a bunch of obnoxious Iditarod mush dogs locked in small boxes on long trailers pulled by pickup trucks. She kept Izzy and Spaz feeling safe and secure during our adventures crossing Prince William Sound (to Cordova) and the Gastineau Channel (to Juneau).
One of the many times I relied on the flexibility of this wonderful beast, was crossing the Bridge to Nowhere or Million Dollar Bridge. A guy on the ferry said there was camping on the other side of the bridge. We crossed in the middle of the night, pouring rain, not a soul for 40 miles.
There was nothing, NOTHING on the other side of the bridge. The road abruptly stops. My lights hit a muddy turnaround. No road, no gravel, no nuttin’!!! I slowly ‘felt’ my way down the ramp from the bridge, and once clear of the structure, started turning around. The short wheel base makes this maneuver possible. I’ve had to do it many times, so I knew with a bit of patience, we could do it when it was THE most critical. NOW.
As we headed back over the bridge, I noticed the signs. What the heck? A little research later…the bridge fell into the river (critical for the Copper River salmon). To save the salmon, they simply lifted the broken section and welded it back to the rest of the bridge—crooked, but there it was! Geez! They LET people drive over this bridge!!!!!
Before heading back, we swung through the state campground right BEFORE the bridge to see if there were any campers. Nope. It was after midnight. I stopped to relax for a minute before tackling the only way back: the pot-hole filled obstacle course, Alaska Route 10, back to Cordova.
In spite of the rain, I rolled down the window for some fresh air, and gave the puppies some much-needed quality time. About the time our nerves settled, a thunderous boom shook the van. I waited for the flicker of lightening. None came.
An ear-piercing crackle sent the puppies running for cover. Shaking, I put the van in gear, slowly picking my way through potholes in the campground, waiting for a giant tree to come toppling down on top of us. Turning a corner, my lights blazed on a warning sign.
What we almost missed during this dark, rainy and frightful night was one of the most memorable experiences of the entire Alaskan Adventure–the Childs Glacier was calving.
After the thunder and crackling, came a splashing sound never heard by the likes of this desert roadrat. Black Beauty is an amazing vehicle, but I was pretty sure she didn’t float. It was time to get the heck out of there before the tsunami hit.
Now, don’t think Black Beauty’s vacation was all work and no play. She found a few interesting characters along the way. This fellar’ fell in love with the purring sound of her 6 cylinder, 154 -hp turbo diesel engine. Who could blame him?
Everywhere we go, everywhere we stop, Black Beauty draws roadtrippin’ wannabes to her. “What IS that? Who makes it? Can I look inside? What kind of gas mileage do you get? You drive THAT by yourself?”
Black Beauty makes quite a statement in campgrounds. Her deep metallic gray stands out in a sea of white RVs and campers.
“Must be hot” one old man grumbled to his wife. “I open the doors for a nice breeze, or turn on the air conditioning, if needed,” I reply. “Humph.”
One time, I drove around a strip mall parking lot looking for a drive-thru spot. The van is the same width of a truck, and about 1.5 times as long. I found one, and pulled in. I got out heading for Starbucks, when a guy in a red Audi sports car drove up. He said had pulled out of the mall, but turned back when he saw me driving around, and parking the RV. He could NOT believe how easily the RV maneuvered. “What Is that thing???” (Giving no credit to my driving skills!)
On the right, we stopped for a quick hike at Pinnacles National Monument, California. Bear country. We didn’t stay too long. Puppies didn’t like what they were sniffing on the trail, and pulled me back to the security of Black Beauty.