5,000 Miles and Counting: An Update on Honeybear the Camper

“Hitch-up” is one of my favorite camper terms. “I’ve got to go ‘hitch-up’ my camper”—even better--“my rig.” It sounds like a task that should be completed on dusty ground and leave you with black grease streaks on your hands. The connotation, of course, derives from the idea of “hitching-up” horse, or mule, or ox-drawn wagons. It’s easy to quickly imagine a Hollywood- style Western scene where the mules need to be un-hitched to rest or the horses need to be quickly hitched-up to outrun the posse. But I think some of that dusty, greasy, Western/Cowboy sentiment is built into the word, the way it sounds. Your mouth is forced to huff into the “h,” barley acknowledge the short vowel, and then spit out the “t” and “ch” as one before dropping the responsibility of language into your gut for the implied dash and low “u.” Then, the whole verbal phrase ends on an up-beat “p,” full of promise. Huff, spit, gut, promise: hitch-up.

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When I hitch-up Honeybear in the morning, especially when I hook the safety chains into place and wind the jack foot back into driving position, I sometimes imagine she’s a Conestoga and we’re headed for the frontier—then I hope I find a McDonalds with a spacious drive-through I can steer her around so I can get an egg McMuffin.

After a few ticks of the odometer over 5,000 miles, I can hitch and unhitch without second-guessing myself too much and I don’t have to remind myself to mentally add thirteen feet to the back end of my truck when changing lanes. I’ve become a better camper and the camper has taken care of me, but the miles have taken a toll on Honeybear. In order of appearance, here are the biggest camper issues I’m managing right now.

The Electrical Short:

Way back in Maryland I ran into trouble plugging in the camper at a Boondocker Welcome site. Even when I flipped all my breakers to the off position, the camper blew the reset button on a 20amp plug. The host and I ran through a series of tests with different extension cords and outlets before we found a combination that wouldn’t flip a breaker inside the rig or reset his plug. The problem popped up again in Connecticut and a few times in New York. In Canajoharie, New York, switching extension cords miraculously fixed the problem, so I found a hardware store and tested five different cords of varying length and capacity, none worked.

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Through trial and error, I’ve figured out that the problem only happens if I’m dropping my camper from its usual 30amps to 15amps through an adapter and that adapter is plugged into a GFI plug (the type with a reset button usually installed in spots where an electrical current might meet water—like a bathroom or an exterior garage outlet). On a normal plug without the reset feature, everything works. I’ve been told it’s a short somewhere and a few people have offered to tinker around with it, but now that I know what to avoid, it’s something I can work around. Next time I’m home in Florida and not depending on the camper electricity, I’ll search for the short.

The Cabinet:

The worst rainstorm I’ve endured on this journey so far (knock on all the available wood) hit me at a convenient time: while I slept inside my cousin’s house in Massachusetts. A deluge of rain and a few cracks of lightning tore across Southern Mass and I didn’t worry because I sat safely in a house and the camper sat safely tucked away on a suburban street.

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The next day, I headed out to the camper for fresh clothes and felt a tiny bit of water on my bed under one of my clothes cabinets. “I must have,” I convinced myself, “left a window cracked open during the storm.” Not a problem. Cousins let you wash damp sheets in their washing machine for free! They even have dryer sheets. By the time I left the safety of my relatives for Vermont, days later, I’d almost forgotten about the dampness.  

Vermont proved to be as lovely as I’d imagined. I ate maple syrup FRYO and waded through a calendar-perfect river. When I headed towards a spot in the mountains, I expected a retreat from life on the move. What I found was one of the worst roads I’ve encountered. I felt the truck slide from one side of the narrow dirt road to the other and the camper jolt against the hitch. For a second I told myself the experience actually brought me closer to the real Conestoga wagon experience, then I hit a bump and the reverberation of the camper bottoming-out against the ground shook my hands clinging to the steering wheel. “Fuck the fucking Conestoga wagons,” I told myself, “I’m going to get to this spot and never leave.”

I made it, backed into the spot, opened the camper door, and found one of my clothes cabinets hanging from the ceiling by a single screw.

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I’m going to save the gory details of this one for another day, but in short, I ripped the cabinet from that last screw like a child’s loose baby tooth and threw the whole thing in the bed of my truck. Water from the storm in Massachusetts had leaked in through a weak seam on the roof, not a cracked window, and seeped into the pressed wood cabinet. The terrible road shook the camper so badly, the wood couldn’t hold the screws and the cabinet detached from the ceiling. After I patched the seam using my cooler as a ladder, I readjusted the clothes to fit elsewhere and tried to stay positive—with one less cabinet, the tiny camper really did feel more open.

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The Door Lock:

This one is still a mystery to me. On my first day in Acadia National Park, my door jammed so that I had to pry it open with a hammer and a flat head screwdriver. I assume the problem came from the constant bouncing the door endures on the road (pulling a camper down an average road is like putting your house through a .04 magnitude earthquake), but the problem showed up so suddenly, that I thought the solution would be equally quick—a new door handle with a new lock.

I removed the old lock, after locking myself out two more times, and tied the door shut with a rope from my hammock on my way to Home Depot. In fifteen minutes, I bought the new handle and changed it out in the backside of the parking lot, but this one wouldn’t stay shut. I fiddled around with it for a while longer before deciding that the actual problem could wait to be fixed, all I needed was a solution. I headed back into the store and bought a gate lock I could adhere to the wall and the door itself, bypassing the faulty lock.

The instructions for the gate lock advised I pre-drill holes for the screws and measure the distance between the two sides with a measuring tape, but I only had a limited tool-kit I lined up the two sides using my hip to hold the left half while I marked the drill spots on the right with a pen and switched. An older couple slowly drove past me as I started the screws with a few good hammer whacks and began twisting the screwdriver by hand.

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It took longer than expected but my temporary solution is still working (again, knock on all the available wood).

So, after 5,000 miles, Honeybear is holding up, but she’ll need a little TLC on our next extended pitstop.