Throwback Thursday: I’m sharing again this post first written two years ago when my Beloved and I were living more-or-less full-time in a 355-square-foot RV. Camping season is upon us, and sometimes even the bad experiences are worth it because they make great stories. Like this one …
# # #
Interested in the differences between camping and glamping? Take this quiz, followed by a cautionary tale.
1. Your food is stored:
- A. In a cooler on ice.
B. In a refrigerator with an ice maker.
2. You sleep on a:
- A. Sleeping bag on the ground.
- B. Bed. With sheets.
3. Your entertainment includes:
- A. A 50-inch fire pit and marshmallow sticks.
- B. A 50-inch flat-screen TV connected to a satellite dish.
4. Your primary tool for tidying up is:
- A. The plastic bag from Wal-Mart that originally carried your groceries.
- B. The central vac.
5. Your plumbing system is best described thusly:
- A. You wash your dishes in a bucket, you take a sponge bath in a bucket and you pee in a bucket.
- B. You wash your dishes in a sink with a pull-out spray spout, you bathe in a hot-water shower and you pee in a toilet that flushes.
If you answered mostly As, you’re camping. Fun, because who doesn’t like s’mores cooked over a flaming campfire, right? If you answered mostly Bs, you’re glamping. Lucky you.
Of all these elements of a great adventure, the primary determinant that separates the campers from the glampers is the plumbing.
But when the plumbing goes bad, as illustrated by Hollywood to great comic effect by Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and Robin Williams in “RV,” a glamping trip becomes Chinese water torture in a flash. Or a flood. Depending.
Our worst problems on the road have been plumbing problems. My Beloved has replaced the toilet in our RV twice, for example, but nothing compares to the incident at Site 82.
It all began one sunny afternoon with a loud and terrible noise that could be described as a cross between a clunk and a crunch.
I was inside, my Beloved was outside. I ran to the door and leaned out, “What was that?!”
“I don’t know,” my Beloved replied, his eyes wide. “But where is that gushing sound coming from?!”
Lo and behold, a pipe beneath the camper was spurting. And the underbelly of the camper was seriously deformed.
Our first instincts were to sniff the air.
“Doesn’t smell like black water,” I said, a tiny bit relieved.
If you’re not sure what black water is, it’s the stuff in National Lampoon’s “shitter.” No further definition is necessary.
RV plumbing also includes something called “gray water.” This is the tank that contains the rinse water from the shower and sinks. In our RV, our gray water is further separated into “galley water” which comes specifically from the kitchen drain.
A lake of cold soapy water infused with food particles and coffee grounds was quickly forming beneath our camper in Site 82.
After a bit of hand-wringing (me) and crawling through the damp gravel under the camper to scope out the damage (my Beloved), we determined the galley tank had become unmoored and the exit pipe busted.
Plan A: Call a repairman.
We located a RV repairman with “trusty” in his brand name and, wonder of wonders, he answered his cell phone.
But, being the week before Memorial Day weekend, he was not only trusty but also busy. He could pencil us into his schedule in two weeks.
Two weeks?! We were scheduled to leave this campground in three days. And we have non-refundable reservations at a highly-prized campground east of here.
Not only that, the trusty repairman was well-connected, and he said knowingly that RV service centers would probably make us wait eight weeks.
Plan B: Repair it ourselves.
First, my Beloved had to take things apart, which began by eviscerating the underbelly of the camper to expose the plumbing system. After much grunting and groaning and rolling around on the damp gravel while I fetched various tools from various cubby holes (“what’s the difference between a wrench and a socket wrench again?”), he determined the parts required to fix the problem.
And then we went to bed. Exhausted.
The next day, we made not one but two visits to Home Depot. The repairs required the following tools, most we already owned (because my Beloved hoards tools the way I collect shoes) and a few we purchased:
- Floor jack.
- Utility knife.
- Screwdriver. And screws, of course.
- Sockets and ratchet (“there is no such thing as a socket wrench”).
- Sawzall (borrowed).
- Hammer. But not nails.
- PVC pipe.
- Zip ties.
- Ratchet straps.
- Compression union.
- Plastic fender washers.
- And, since no job is complete without it, duct tape of the gorilla variety. Because it’s “super strong.”
Also, cardboard. It’s amazing how much easier it is to crawl around beneath a camper when there’s a bed of unfolded cardboard boxes over the gravel.
At the end of Day 2, my Beloved left the underbelly exposed in order to let the silicon in the piping dry and so he could check for leaks.
On the morn of Day 3, no leaks could be found. Yay! So my Beloved commenced in stitching together the camper underbelly like an experienced cosmetic surgeon (and I continued my role as nurse who handed him the correct tools). He even spray-painted the white plastic fender washers black to match the belly skin. To impress the zerk greaser, I guess.
As most disaster stories are told, it’s said “it could have been worse.” This is true of this story, too.
Our gray water tank could have broken three days earlier when we were camping in a place where the ground is optimistically described as “loamy.” Negative Nellies might describe it as spongey. But in any case, when combined with rain, it was the perfect ingredient for making mud. And Mother Nature delivered rain three of the four days we were there.
But even worse, it could have been our black water tank. In telling our story to a fellow camper while cooling off in the pool at the end of Day 2, she related a story of a black water tank explosion that could only be fixed after the work of waste cleaners in haz-mat suits to the tune of $2,400.
Our repairs cost only $67.38.
# # #
Epilogue: We went on our merry glamping way as scheduled after the Incident at Site 82. Since then, we’ve experienced flat tires and broken axle connections while traveling with our trusty RV, but fortunately, the black water flows as it should: Downstream and contained in PVC.