Heading north on the Maricopa Highway toward Wheeler Gorge Campground in Southern California, I was finally comfortable behind the wheel of the 25-foot-long RV.
I'd gotten accustomed to the rental's hulking mass, adjusted to its vague steering and learned to ignore the clanging cutlery and cooking implements, which registered their noisy protests from the kitchen cupboards whenever the road got rough.
And then, about 15 minutes past downtown Ojai, I saw the sign by the side of the road. It noted a tunnel ahead, one with 13 feet, 4 inches of clearance.
Before leaving Cruise America's Carson branch a day earlier, I'd watched an instructional video that included a segment about the vehicle's dimensions. Now, a few hours into my family's three-day camping trip, it was information I could only vaguely recall.
As we approached the tunnel, I was thinking the husky RV was 12 feet tall -- but was far from certain. I asked my wife, Jessica, to look it up on her mobile phone.
Things had been going well, so as the RV rattled deeper into Los Padres National Forest, I decided to chance the tunnel, which bored through a rocky hillside blanketed in chaparral. I ducked instinctively. Our two children, both under the age of 6, yelped gleefully in the darkness.
The mid-June trip, my family's first in an RV, was borne out of the coronavirus crisis. Like many others, our vacation plans had been roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic, so we sought an alternative that would allow for social distancing. And RVs typically feature all the necessities for traveling in isolation, including a bathroom and kitchen.
This vehicle, a standard model from Cruise America -- the biggest RV sales and rental outfit in the U.S. -- had those amenities and more. The question was, would our vision for the trip square with reality?
Our departure from L.A. on a midweek morning was a giddy one. These days, leaving the house for any reason is exciting, to say nothing of a trip like this. Jessica put on Tom Cochrane's early-'90s hit "Life Is a Highway," and even our children -- with their questionable grasp of sarcasm -- were rolling their eyes.