Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Driving a Whale

Monday was moving day. We’re taking The Bus from Mahomet to Sycamore, IL., where we’ve rented space at an RV park. It’s a little less than 200 miles the way we came. There also a detour due to construction on the two-lane state highway we’d normally take north, so I planned to take I-57 about 40 miles until I could cut over to our normal route.
The wind was gusting that day, my friends. And while driving The Bus isn’t hard, it did take all of my attention to learn how it responds while nature was trying to blow it off the road. One feature of The Bus is it’s great width — 9 feet wide measured from one rear-view mirror to the other. Interstate highway lanes are usually 12 feet — so there’s a foot and a half on each side to spare. Some state and county roads are less than 12 feet. This could get interesting.
I’m not sure if this is the right way to describe it, but I drive by instinct. In other words, normally, when driving a car, I don’t think a lot about the basic mechanics of what I’m doing. To stay centered in my lane, I’ve learned where my eyes should be relative to the lane itself — slightly left of the greasy streak running down the center of the lane. My mind has this information imprinted on it, programmed in, and my mind works together with the muscles of my arms to automatically keep the car centered in the lane. I could be thinking about work, our kids, my misfortune in being a Cubs fan, or anything else, and the car stays in the center of the lane. Works great when driving a car… doesn’t work as well with The Bus. No, it took a while to re-program my mind so that it knows my eyes should now be a couple feet closer to the center-line. Aha! And, a couple feet closer to the rear-view mirror of the semi-trailer truck that’s barreling toward me at a closing speed of 130 mph! After an hour or so without “smacking” even one rear-view mirror, the terror subsided, and I started to settle into a groove.
Another great feature of The Bus, is it’s length. The car that I normally drive has a wheelbase, the distance between the front and rear wheels, of 100 inches. The Bus, on the other hand, has a wheelbase of 258 inches, and it’s almost 40 feet long overall. When a gust of wind hits from the right side it starts to blow The Bus off the left side of the road. Aah, but I’m an intelligent person and, not wanting to die by hitting a bridge abutment, I gently apply corrective steering toward the right to counter the wind and in order to stay in my lane. At the same time, the wind decides to stop blowing for a few seconds and my intelligent, gentle corrective steering input to the right is now taking me rapidly off the right side of the road! Jeesh! Where’s the wind when I need it? The right thing to do now is to apply quick opposite correction, to the left — just as another gust of wind hits, from the right, multiplying my quick opposite correction to the left. About now, the front of The Bus is pointed at the International House of Pancakes restaurant on the west side of the road and the back of The Bus is pointed at the Flying J truckstop on the east side, and the guy driving the UPS truck behind me wonders why there’s a motorhome sideways in the road ahead. The only thing that can prevent disaster at this point is a frantic correction the right and a quick prayer that the wind keeps blowing long enough to get this thing under control. I can only report what it was like from the inside of The Bus — others will have to say what it looked like from outside. My guess is that it looked a lot like a whale moving its tail from side to side while swimming up an interstate highway.
After the first few miles things smoothed out. It got easier to keep The Bus going in a straight line. I learned not to over-correct; learned that smaller steering inputs were all that were necessary; learned to relax. By the time we made it to Sycamore, driving The Bus seemed much more natural. And Dar’s color and breathing are pretty much back to normal.