TRAVELS WITH TOBY WEEK 1: Go West, young (at heart) men, go West

Wednesday, March 9
10:06 a.m.
Somewhere between Yuma, Arizona and El Centro, California

Toby Thorpe

As I enter the first installment of this series, we are only about three hours from San Diego, where we will turn around and head back, with three of us traveling on two wheels. And, while the RV trip itself has been largely uneventful, the preparations and the start were a bit, shall we say, interesting.

On Saturday, May 5, my bride of almost 42 years delivered me, my bicycle and probably too many clothes to the residence of our RV landlord in Charlotte, and after our goodbyes I headed out driving a 30-foot Coachmen RV up I-77 and US 421 toward our first rendezvous point in Vilas, just west of Boone.

But obstacle No. 1 reared its head in Wilkesboro, about 40 miles short of Vilas, when, in an attempt to park the RV, I rubbed a neighboring car, scratching it and breaking out a running light on the RV.

Thank the Lord for insurance!

After making acquaintance with two friendly Wilkesboro policemen and one very understanding Nissan owner, I got back on the road, traveling much more carefully up the mountain to the home of Mike and Marilyn Stanley, where our third rider, Earl McMahon, awaited, ready to check out the vehicle and start packing.

At this point, I had the good fortune of meeting Tom Holt, Mike’s neighbor, who has traveled by RV for eons.

He took one look at the broken running light, and said, “I can fix that.” Then, without delay, he went to his shop and came back with the exact part we needed and installed it. Meanwhile, he gave us helpful tips on important RV matters such as how to empty the waste tanks (release the black water first, followed by the gray water), how to properly hook up power, water and waste hoses at RV parks (at older parks you may need a power adapter), and helpful (but late) driving tips (always turn wide).

By then, I had figured that last one out by myself.

The next day consisted of attending church, (where Mike’s son-in-law, Bradley Swift, is the pastor), completing the packing and a planned early bedtime in preparation for an early morning departure.

Then, obstacle No. 2 appeared as Mike, while eating supper, broke a tooth.

Fortunately, Marilyn, a dental hygienist, was able to call in a favor from a former employer, and by 10:30 p.m., Mike was back home and, although short one molar, ready to go.

After a little-later-than-planned departure on Monday, we picked up our fourth member of the troop as we passed through Murphy where Keith Holloway, a retired teacher and college buddy of Mike’s, and more importantly, an experienced bus driver, awaited. Keith took the wheel and guided us through the Ocoee River Gorge, Chattanooga and Tullahoma, Tennessee, all the way to Memphis by nightfall.

With Earl at the wheel for an overnight shift, we awoke in Sayre, Oklahoma at daybreak to a landscape I had heard about, but only seen in photos.

I’m a homebody. I had never been further west than San Antonio, Texas. So the flat, scrub-brush dotted prairies and plains were amazing to me. And more amazing sights awaited as we passed through the Texas panhandle (pastures, with windmills for power generation, as far as one could see). Crossing into New Mexico the land became rockier as we traveled west, and flat-top mountains (mesa) were prominent to the north.

And even though the road we traveled seemed flat and straight, we were surprised to learn (thanks to road signs) as we entered Arizona, that we were over 6,000 feet above sea level. That made the blanket of snow we encountered at Flagstaff less of a surprise. Then after a long downhill, we saw the silhouettes of cactus against the lights of Phoenix as we overnighted in a Walmart parking lot.

So here we are, headed into California. In 1962, Lester Flatt called it home to “swimming pools and movie stars,” but where we are right now, “rocky ground and six-dollar gas” is a more accurate description.

Thursday will hold a chance to stretch our legs. For me, a meeting with Jeremy Ayslett, a church planter with the North American Missions Board, awaits. Earl will touch base with a sponsor rep, and Mike and Keith will be reconfiguring our storage in the RV to make for easier access once we start pedaling.

Next week: Tune in for a pedal stroke by pedal stroke account as the two-wheel part of our journey begins.

Click HERE to read the first installment of this series.

Toby Thorpe is a retired parks and recreation director and a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press. He will file reports from the road for The SNAP. To donate to his fundraising effort (the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering – North American Missions Board), visit or Follow along as well using #pedaling4annie.