By Travis Naughton

I would like to report for the first time ever following a Naughton family RV trip that last weekend’s getaway to Smithville Lake went off without a hitch. I would like to report that, but naturally I cannot. After all, it would not be a Naughton family outing without some measure of adversity/near-death experiences.

After loading up all of our supplies Friday afternoon, including a flatbed trailer with six bicycles snugly ratchet-strapped to its deck, we departed the greater Ashland metropolitan area approximately one half-hour behind schedule. By the time we reached Columbia a few raindrops began to fall, which mixed nicely with the greasy collage of bug guts plastered to the RV’s windshield.

Shortly thereafter we picked-up my mother-in-law Glee, who was the guest of honor for the weekend. Friday was her last day of work, making Saturday her first day of retirement. Plus Sunday was her birthday, (and it was a big one). The Naughton and Hecker families, headed by Glee’s twin daughters Bethany and Charla, were excited to help her celebrate those milestones. A few more minutes were lost during the stop, but soon we were underway once again.

By the time I merged onto I-70, in an RV and trailer with a combined length of over 40 feet, I could see in my rear-view camera that the bikes I had so meticulously arranged and secured had fallen over. Moments later we travelled through a rough stretch of road, and I watched helplessly as one of the bikes bounced up into the air and landed precariously on the side rail of the trailer. I could also see the tie-down strap flapping in the wind, securing nothing. That, my friend, was disconcerting.
As we continued westward on the bumpy and congested interstate, cars and trucks blasted past our stricken caravan, oblivious to the eminent disaster that was unfolding around them. I searched frantically for a safe place to pull over, after we passed beyond the Columbia city limit sign, but I could see that the narrow shoulder would not be able to accommodate the dual rear wheels of the motor coach. After hitting another big bump in the road, I risked another quick glance at the dash-mounted rear-view monitor just in time to see Alex’s bike sliding even further to the side, causing it to dangle dangerously close to the brink. I hit the brakes, flipped on the right turn signal, and yanked the wheel toward the shoulder, praying that the rig would not be rear-ended, side-swiped, or swallowed-up by the rain-softened soil along the edge of the slippery, narrow shoulder.

I felt the right-side tires of the RV plow into the earth, followed immediately by the right tire of the trailer. Still going over 50 mph, I held the wheel straight as the brakes and the dirt eventually slowed our progress to a halt. I hopped out of the camper and had just started re-strapping everything down when my bride suddenly appeared at my side. As dozens of cars and eighteen-wheelers streaked by us at 70 miles per hour—mere inches away—I told Bethany to get back inside because, “Our kids need one of us to survive this!”

Dodging raindrops and Mack Trucks, I managed to strap the bikes down again. I climbed back into the RV and assumed my place behind the wheel, shaken but unharmed. Hoping the worst was behind us, we enjoyed relative calm for approximately ten whole minutes. That’s when a vicious cold front slammed into us, buffeting our 12-foot high motorhome with 20-30 mph winds for the remainder of the trip. The gusts were blowing from our right to left, and keeping the rig between the lines on the road proved to be impossible. I was happy just to keep it on the pavement.

At the end of our 175-mile drive was a dark, wet, and very cold campground (located north of Kansas City.) When we arrived I disconnected the trailer, set up camp, and enjoyed a few therapeutic beers with my brother-in-law Doug. The troubles of the journey were soon forgotten. Until the next morning, that is. In the light of day I saw that Tiana’s bike had a flat tire. As I lifted it off the trailer I saw that the tire was not simply flat, but rather it was shredded. And so was the alloy wheel. Chunks of metal were missing. Upon further investigation I discovered that in my haste to quickly batten everything down while risking my life on the side of the road, I had placed the rear wheel of Tiana’s brand new bike (the bike she got for her birthday just one month ago) against the inside of the left wheel of the trailer. As the trailer tire turned for the next 160 or so miles, it had effectively become a grinder that chewed the bike tire to bits. Luckily, the trailer wheel and tire were undamaged.

Despite the ruined bike tire, a non-functioning generator (that was just serviced two months ago), another broken awning part, and a few brushes with death, I am happy to report that our RV adventure delivered lots of fun and special memories.

Happy retirement/birthday, Glee!