Just North of Normal Part 3 – Wide Open Spaces & Cramped Quarters

Captain’s Blog 6/25/16


We’re somewhere just out of Rugby, North Dakota. The huge sky, expansive landscape, and fresh air draw a sharp paradox to the cramped quarters inside the RV which at this point smells like a porta-potty on wheels. You know those porta-potties at the fair where you hold your breath for the duration of your hurried stay? Well in this porta-potty you can’t told your breath because you are traveling down the highway at a breakneck 55 mph for hours on end. I now understand why dogs – who have a even better sense of smell than humans – prefer to stick their heads out of the window. I find myself doing the same thing. I crank open the window just a crack and stick my nose out, inhaling deeply. I would open the window the whole way but I don’t want the wind ripping the window out entirely – a definite possibility in this 1990 Mallard Crapwagon LX.

Let’s back up just a little bit. Yesterday I got the rare pleasure of driving probably the last Mallard RV alive – which I have dubbed the “Lame Duck” – for several hours across the rolling hills of North Dakota. Most other Mallard RV’s were burned at the stake in fervent religious services in an effort to irradicate the foul language that frequently accompanied Mallard ownership. It was remarkable then, that I found myself driving such a special vehicle. The joy of such an occasion was wearing thin since the North Dakota cross winds were impressive and incessant. In lame duck fashion the Mallard would almost lift off, dragging its one lame wheel along the highway. Just as flight was about to be achieved we’d lose favorable wind and all four wheels would hit the ground again with a jolt and a burst of tire smoke, making the driver saw at the wheel in an attempt to straighten the Lame Duck’s path. The fun of floating weightless around the inside of an RV for 5 second intervals soon wears off, both for the driver and the passengers. Lucky for us, Matt saved the day by forgetting to empty the sewage tank again, which gave us the ballast we needed to get forward traction. I couldn’t help but notice signs warning against drunk driving which made me laugh. It’s so empty out here that I could get hammered, drive 100 mph in any direction, and hit less things in a week than a sober New Jersey driver hits in a day.

In the evening we were planning on staying at friends cousin’s uncle’s in-law’s house that my brother’s church buddy from a different denomination knew from a mission trip twenty years ago. Or something like that. It’s a Mennonite thing, you wouldn’t understand (unless you are the member of an Italian mafia family or other nationally based, tightly knit group of distant relatives). Our expected arrival time was 9 o’clock but we arrived fashionably late at around 11 o’clock that night. Our hosts were gracious and the food tasted amazing. We also had the extraordinary opportunity to use a shower that was bigger than a shoebox and a toilet that wasn’t mounted above an axle. It was the highlight of the trip so far.

The next morning we hit the road again and promptly found that the generator wasn’t working. We stopped in the middle of the highway to investigate. A nice feature of North Dakota is 1) You can stop in the middle of the highway without even annoying anyone since there isn’t anyone around and 2) If there is someone around they will stop and see if you need help. It’s classic rural America at it’s finest.


After much poking and prodding we discovered someone had turned off the breakers for the camper. When you have so many children stuck in one box, the odds of having an elbow, finger, or knee turn off something necessary goes up.

UPDATE: I found that the vent in the bathroom has a powered computer fan in it. I turned it on. It sounds like a bat being thrown into a meat grinder but it has alleviated some of the funk in the trunk.

My wife is starting to question the sanity of my side of the family.

Read Just North of Normal Part 1

Read Just North of Normal Part 2

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One thought on “Just North of Normal Part 3 – Wide Open Spaces & Cramped Quarters

  1. Reply
    Lisa - June 28, 2016

    Oh my word. Thank you for the good laugh. I nearly cried laughing over the first two paragraphs. Maybe because my family has similar memories of traveling in a camper.

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