Ladies, Start Your Engines!

By Valerie Mayleben #98522
Illustration by Cole Carter #110412.

My grandmother never drove a car. My mother drove cars but all the while cursing everyone that got in her way and without ever having passed an examination. Until just over a year ago, I could boast an excellent driving record and lots of really good excuses why I remained in the passenger seat of our 40-foot diesel pusher for over five years and 55,000 miles, despite the fact that my husband, George, had been teaching RV driving lessons to students of the RV Driving School for as many years.
I saw other women driving big rigs and knew on an intellectual level it was probably a good idea to learn—someday. But big, expensive and intimidating was what I felt in my heart and what trumped logic every time. George easily convinced me that he enjoyed driving the motorhome. When we talked about taking time for me to get acquainted with driving, it conveniently seemed we were always in a hurry. And I was fairly certain that, if I did take the chance and get behind the wheel out on the open, less-traveled road, the dreaded construction barrels and concrete barriers would be just over the next hill. So time went on, and George drove relentlessly without complaint.

The day of reckoning came as we were in the process of becoming the owners of the RV Driving School. More than half of the students are women, I told myself. I could only imagine what would go through the minds of men and women when they asked a simple, basic question such as whether I drive our motorhome and my answer is a truthful “no.” Since I am also an extremely bad liar (detectable deceit quickly finds its way to my face), that was not an option.

So many fears began surfacing as the pressure to get behind the wheel closed in on me. Many stories of accidents and mishaps came to mind such as the tale of the towed car that passed its motorhome. And the mere thought that caused my palms to perspire and sent my heart into overdrive was simply making a tight right turn in traffic!

We were preparing to leave Rainbow’s End Escapees Rainbow Park in Livingston, Texas, when Dennis Hill #67914, the former owner, took me out to prove that I could, like so many women, do this. George sat quietly as Dennis took me through a pre-trip inspection, mirror adjustment and usage and familiarization with the multitude of buttons and knobs that surrounded me. While in a large, empty parking lot, I started and stopped and then began to make turns until I felt confident I could manage them.

Next, we ventured out to the highway and, just as I feared, narrowing the road before me stood those scary orange construction barrels! I watched my position in the lane and survived without injury or damage. I drove in town and actually pulled into fuel pumps. I was amazed at what I had accomplished so quickly. A month later, I was driving the 18-mile bridge along I-10 fearlessly.

As fate would have it, I have become something of a guinea pig. A few months later, instructor Denny Orr #51818 was demonstrating for a new instructor at the Escapees North Ranch RV Park in Congress, Arizona, with me at the wheel. We did the usual starting, stopping, turning, backing, and then Denny proceeded to direct me up the curvy mountain grade towards Yarnell. I have feared heights for most of my adult life, and I was terrified. This was exactly the kind of road I would have convinced George to avoid at all costs. But I had two instructors and an instructor-to-be on board, so I was frankly too embarrassed and outnumbered to offer up any resistance.

The RV did exactly what I commanded it to do. Oddly, I felt better behind the wheel next to the centerline than while riding so closely beside the cliff high above the valley. We made it to the top and took a quick break before heading back down the mountain. I watched the signs and winced a little as the rocks jutted out towards the top of the rig and the valley loomed ominously below. But again, the RV did exactly what it was supposed to do, and I gained a tremendous amount of confidence.

George now directs me into and out of tight spaces, since he better understands the manner in which our motorhome maneuvers. Curious neighbors come out and applaud me! I find that I am actually more comfortable while in the passenger seat than ever before, because I better understand how the coach handles and what George is doing. My dear husband is delighted to get a break, and often a nap, while we put on many more miles, thanks to my newly found courage. I am honestly proud of myself, and it is an awesome feeling. I have conquered a humongous fear, and George and I are truly traveling as a team.

As owners of the school, we are in a unique position to understand the importance of women knowing how to operate their RVs, and not only in emergencies, as comfort and competence require practice. I could cite many examples, but the stories run the gamut of medical conditions, injuries and, in the worst-case scenario, the untimely loss of a spouse.

The very saddest excuse we hear, though, is that of the fearful partner. One seemingly reasonable guy we encountered told us, “I would need to be sedated and restrained before my wife got behind the wheel of our rig.” His wife, though she wanted to learn, gave us the sheepish nod of the head in response. This is not exactly a desirable attitude for the adventurous spirits that typically adopt the RV lifestyle. Women have driven your children and their friends to doctor appointments, practices, recitals, sleepovers and even those screaming busloads of children en route to and from school safely for decades. We are good drivers and we care. So lighten up, guys, and give her the nod of confidence she rightly deserves!

After more than a year, and with a whole lot of miles behind me, I am still learning. The fears I believed were unique to me I now understand are quite common. So, women/grandmas, I challenge you. The time is now to put your big-girl pants on and give your daughters and granddaughters a legacy to brag about. Ladies, start your engines!

Valerie Mayleben #98522 has been full-time RVing since 2006 with her husband, George, and their two Shelties. George and Valerie assumed ownership of the RV Driving School www.rvschool.com in January of 2012. Valerie blogs about her driving experience at: www.valeriedrovethemotorhome.blogspot.com

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